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Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-23-rutgers-scarlet-knights
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-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 23 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (20 total signees)

Big East Rank: 1st
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 1
National Signees: 5

Where They Got 'Em:

Six players from New Jersey were considered "nationally rated" prospects in the 2012 class. Rutgers signed the No. 1, No. 5 and No. 6 players in The Garden State. Putting up a fence around New Jersey has been the one recruiting issue keeping the Scarlet Knights from regualarly competing for BCS bowl bids. With 11 of this year's 20 signees hailing from in-state, the Knights not only claimed one of the best classes in school history but also won the Big East recruiting championship.

Pennsylvania (6), Maryland (2) and Florida (1) supplied the rest of the class as Greg Schiano's lasting impact on the program will be his ability to comb these four states for talent. In fact, Rutgers needed only four states to sign one of the best classes in program history.

Areas of Focus:

Rutgers had to deal with a late coaching change less than a month before Signing Day when Schiano left for the NFL. In short order, the Scarlet Knights elevated seven-year assistant Kyle Flood to the top spot. Only time will tell if he was the right man for the job long-term, but his hiring certainly kept together one of the best classes in school history. That said, it can be a terrible mistake to hire a coach simply to hold together a recruiting class.

The top prospect in the state and in this class is local defensive lineman Darius Hamilton. The 6-4, 260-pound lineman has every imaginable resume bullet point: Productive, talented and a champion with an NFL pedigree. Famed Don Bosco Prep won 46 straight games and four state titles during his time there. His father, Keith, played 12 stellar seasons for the New York Giants. And he is considered the fourth-best player at his position in the nation, whether it's tackle or end. He is a sure-fire all-conference-type player.

Hamilton speadheads a small four-man front seven class. Nationally rated linebacker Quanzell Lambert leads a LB class that's small as well. He helped Creek High to its first Group III state title in school history with 102 tackles and three sacks. The 6-5, 250-pound Julian Pinnix-Odrick joins Hamilton on the D-Line, and in-state tackler Steve Longa is the other linebacker. Despite this group being small in numbers, two of the top five players in this class will land in that section of the defense.

Jevon Tyree (5-11, 180) and Davon Jacobs (6-0, 170) are the only defensive backs to sign with Rutgers in this class.

On offense, the offensive line was the clear area of focus — and fans in Piscataway know all too well about the O-Line issues at Rutgers. Two of the top five players in this class, J.J. Denman (6-6, 310) and Chris Muller (6-6, 315), will land along the offensive line. These two big hog mollies lead a deep, six-man OL class. Massive tackle prospect R.J. Dill (6-7, 310) is already enrolled and preparing to contribute. This is one of the best offensive line classes in the nation and should go a long way to improving an area of weakness for the Knights.

The major area of depth in this class is at wide receiver. Nationally ranked Leonte Carroo, from the same program as Hamilton, leads four wideout signees into Rutgers. He won four state titles with Hamilton and finished with 82 receptions, 1,548 yards and 18 touchdowns in his final two seasons. Carroo also anchored the state 4x400 title-winning relay team as well.

Carlton Agudosi brings a massive frame (6-6, 200) that will excel in the vertical passing game and in the redzone. Ian Thomas (6-1, 200) and Ruhann Peele (6-1, 190) round out the stellar pass-catching class.

Athlete Delon Stephenson, younger brother of current Scarlet Knight Daryl, could land at defensive back, receiver or even tailback.

Should Stephenson lands in the backfield, he will be joined by one other tailback and one future signal-caller. Blake Rankin (6-4, 190) is the lone quarterback signee after an incredibly productive dual-threat season at Bloomsburg High in the Keystone State. He posted 2,129 yards and 20 touchdowns passing to go with 1,476 yards and 28 touchdowns rushing in 2011. He did, however, break his ankle in the district championship game.

Tailback Desmon Peoples (5-8, 175) started for three seasons on a team that went 27-2 over that span, including the school's first Class AAA state title.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 1, WR: 4, TE: 0, OL: 6, ATH: 1
Defense: DL: 2, LB: 2, DB: 2, K/P/LS: 1

AC100 Recruits:

14. Darius Hamilton, DL (6-4, 260), West Paterson (N.J.) Don Bosco

Other National Signees:

159. J.J. Denman, OL (6-6, 310), Yardley (Pa.) Pennsbury
185. Leonte Carroo, WR (6-1, 190), Edison (N.J.) Don Bosco
197. Chris Muller, OL (6-6, 315), Perkiomenville (Pa.) Boyertown
243. Quanzell Lambert, LB (6-1, 230), Sicklerville (N.J.) Timber Creek

Early Enrollees:

R.J. Dill, OL (6-7, 310), Mechanicsburg (Pa.) Trinity
Kyle Federico, K (6, 185), Ponte Verda (Fla.) High

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
18. Oregn Ducks
19. South Carolina Gamecocks
20. Tennessee Volunteers
21. Washington Huskies
22. Virginia Tech Hokies
23. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
24. Sat., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The Rutgers Scarlet Knights landed the No. 23 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 2, 2012 - 06:50
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-games-watch-weekend
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Saturday, March 3

West Virginia at South Florida
It’s a matchup between two Big East bubble teams that would love to close the regular season with a win. It’s hard to say which team needs this game more.

Pittsburgh at Connecticut
The Big East schedule-makers probably didn’t envision that these two teams would have a combined 21 league losses (at least) on the final weekend of the season.

Oklahoma State at Kansas State
Kansas State followed up wins at Baylor and Missouri by losing at home to Iowa State. The Cats rebounded with a win at A&M on Tuesday. Frank Martin is begging for more consistency from his team.

Southern Miss at Marshall
Southern Miss is on the verge of its first NCAA  appearance since 1991. Winning at Marshall isn’t a must, but the Golden Eagles could use another solid victory away from home.

Washington at UCLA
Washington will be tough for the Selection Committee to evaluate. The Huskies have plenty of talent but lack quality wins.

Georgetown at Marquette
Marquette’s five-game winning streak ended Wednesday night at Cincinnati. Georgetown has the size to punish the Golden Eagles in the paint. This is an intriguing matchup.

Cincinnati at Villanova
The Bearcats have been living life on the bubble for the past two months. They should be in good shape after beating Marquette and Louisville at home in the past 10 days.

Northwestern at Iowa
This could end up being the most important regular-season game in the history of Northwestern basketball. No pressure, Wildcats.

Vanderbilt at Tennessee
The Commodores rolled past Tennessee with ease in Nashville, but the Volunteers have been a tough out in Knoxville.

Alabama at Ole Miss
Bama heads into the final week of the regular season playing its best basketball of the season. Anthony Grant will have the Tide in the NCAAs for the first time since ’06.

Louisville at Syracuse
Louisville had Big East bully Syracuse on the ropes at the Yum Center, but committed some costly turnovers late in the game. The Cards will have to be nearly perfect to win in the Dome.

Arkansas at Mississippi State
The Bulldogs’ late-season slide has put them in must-win mode. Arkansas beat State by 10 in Fayetteville, but the Hogs have struggled mightily on the road.

Seton Hall at DePaul
This is a tough spot for Seton Hall. A win at DePaul does nothing to enhance its NCAA Tournament profile, but a loss would prove fatal.

San Diego State at TCU
Fort Worth has suddenly become one of the tougher places to play on the MWC circuit. The Frogs have defeated Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico in consecutive home games.

North Carolina at Duke
The stakes couldn’t be higher when these two arch-rivals get together Saturday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The winner will be the outright ACC regular-season champ and earn the No. 1 seed in the league tournament.

Texas at Kansas
Texas can wrap up an at-large invite with a win over Kansas in Lawrence. That, obviously, is no easy task. The Longhorns most likely will head to the Big 12 Tournament needing to win a few games to feel good about their NCAA chances.

Sunday, March 4

Kentucky at Florida
Kentucky has already wrapped up the SEC title, but it’s always fun when the Wildcats and Gators get together in Gainesville. Florida could improve its seed a spot or two with a win.

Illinois at Wisconsin
The Fighting Illini's slide continued Thursday night at home vs. Michigan. A win in Madison is always nice, but Illinois probably needs to win the Big Ten Tournament to make the NCAAs.

Virginia at Maryland
It's not quite time to panic for Virginia, but the Cavs aren't playing their best ball of late. Selection Sunday will be a lot less stressful if they win this game.

Ohio State at Michigan State
Michigan State has already clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title. The Spartans will win the outright title with a win over the Buckeyes.

Purdue at Indiana
Purdue has played its way into the NCAA Tournament by winning four of its last five games. The Boilers would love to get some revenge after losing to IU in West Lafayette in early February.

NC Sate at Virginia Tech
NC State is showing signs of life after beating Miami at home on Wednesday night. The Pack needs to win this game in Blacksburg and then win a few games at the ACC Tournament.

Teaser:
<p> This is the final weekend of regular-season play in many conferences in college basketball. Here's a look at some of the big games of the weekend.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 20:42
Path: /columns/garage-talk/chad-knaus-appeal-ingenuity
Body:

by Vito Pugliese

As if starting out the 2012 NASCAR season by getting turned mid-pack on the second lap of the Daytona 500, it was announced Wednesday that Chad Knaus, crew chief for the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, will be suspended for six races and fined $100,000 for tinkering with the C-posts of the car prior to qualifying for Daytona. Also on involuntary leave will be car chief Ron Malec, another key cog to the five straight championships Jimmie Johnson and team won from 2006-10.

Should the suspensions hold up — team owner Rick Hendrick has stated they will appeal the penalties — Hendrick Motorsports doesn’t exactly hurt for a talent pool from which to pull. It is rumored that a potential replacement atop the pit box could be No. 48 lead engineer Greg Ives, or Mike Baumgartner, former car chief on the No. 24 team of Jeff Gordon.

“Our organization respects NASCAR and the way the sanctioning body governs our sport. In this case, though, the system broke down, and we will voice our concerns through the appeal process,” Hendrick said in a statement following the announcement of the penalties.

Chief among Hendrick’s concerns (as well as mine): If what NASCAR found was repaired before the car went onto the racetrack, why are suspension being handed down? That’s akin to slapping a radar detector on the windshield, but never actually pulling onto the highway at 90 mph.

The C-post sheet metal on a Cup car is a manufactured and stamped piece that is produced for the teams, and in NASCAR terms, not something they encourage be modified and fiddled with — even though there were some cars during Speedweeks in Daytona that had similar modifications, though not to the same degree as the No. 48.

The way the infraction was discovered seems a bit obtuse, as well. While there wasn’t a stated specific rule against what was used, the first statement regarding the piece was that NASCAR “didn’t like how it looked.” Further explanation from competition director John Darby that NASCAR, “did some additional inspections with gauges and stuff,” which resulted in the pieces being cut off, replaced, and more in line with what NASCAR wanted to see on that area of the Lowe’s Chevrolet.

Which brings me back to my original point of contention, as well as that of Hendrick and many in the garage: If the part was never used in competition, was identified and remedied during inspection for the biggest race of the year, where really is the justification for such a staunch set of penalties?

Adding further fuel for confusion is the track history this particular car had established over the last year, having won a race (Talladega) and competed in three others. The car had also been taken to the NASCAR R&D Center for evaluation, where apparently nothing egregious or objectionable was discovered. There was not a statement from NASCAR that the car was ordered to never come back to the racetrack, nor was it confiscated and held for evaluation like the tail section of the stealth helicopter used by SEAL Team Six in the Bin Laden raid and as one of Tony Stewart’s JGR Chevrolets was several years ago when NASCAR didn’t like what it saw.

Knaus is a bit of an anomaly in NASCAR. Name one other crew chief that is given the credit (or even recognized) for the success of a driver and race team as much as he has been since 2002. It’s usually the driver who gets the credit and the crew chief who shoulders the blame if things go wrong when a pilot is unable to produce. Not until Johnson won his fifth straight title did the driver start to receive due credit for actually winning these things; most attributed it to Knaus building a better mouse trap than his competitors — including the rest of his Hendrick Motorsports (and Stewart-Haas Racing) stablemates.

While improved safety was the initial focus when NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow was rolled out in 2007, it was also engineered to prevent the mangled and twisted bodies of the previous generation of NASCAR racecar. The Bizzaro World smeared and bent bodies were constructed to develop maximum downforce and sideforce while in the corners did not remotely resemble anything on a car dealership lot. These machines also required a substantial amount of time and dollars spent in the wind tunnel, money that has been long in coming since the economic downturn of 2008.

With the dawn of the second iteration of the CoT, the 2013 machines legitimately do look like their street-going counterparts, and in the interest of cost control and maintaining aesthetic integrity, further body massaging on NASCAR racecars will continue to be discouraged more than close contact at a high school dance.

Part of the allure and lore of NASCAR, that has been missing in recent years, has long centered on the trick cars and pieces that have actually been on the track in competition — and won. From Junior Johnson’s “Flying Banana,” to Bill Elliott’s 9/10-scale Thunderbird that dominated the super speedways of the mid ’80s, to Smokey Yunick driving his car away after NASCAR had removed the gas tank as a result of questions about its fuel mileage, it used to be the individuals who prepared the cars were recognized as much as those who wheeled them into Victory Lane.

That Knaus is routinely singled out for trying to exploit the rules and simply build a better car — some of which never even make it into competition — flies in the face of NASCAR’s efforts the last few years of returning to its roots, and getting back to the formula that worked so well in the past. He also seems to be singled out for simply doing a better job than his competition, which is to build faster racecars that win races and championships. If there isn’t a specific rule against it, how is it illegal? And if something is out of tolerance during pre-race inspection (key word: “pre”), and is then brought up to code, what is the justification for suspending the guy for a month and a half?

While fines and suspensions are bad enough, even more damaging is the 25-point docking in both driver and owner points, levied, putting Johnson in the awkward position of having -23 points going into the second race of the season. It has been a rough start to 2012 for HMS, with virtually every affiliated car suffering damage or falling out of the Daytona 500 (the exception, of course, being Dale Earnhardt Jr.).

So what does this mean for the No. 48 team at Phoenix? Is the season over before it even really started? Knaus and Malec will still be allowed to show up and compete until the appeal process runs its course. The potential for distraction is clearly evident, though, as these types of penalties for a championship-caliber team will likely overshadow anything revolving around Danica Patrick or Matt Kenseth’s second Daytona 500 victory.

It might also provide some foreshadowing as to the future of Knaus within the walls of HMS.

As the stress and friction of the 2011 season took its toll, Knaus took a rare vacation and extended time away from the shop prior to the start of the 2012 campaign, going on an African safari. Knaus’ time, effort and expectations of his team are legendary (and borderline obsessive compulsive). With as much success as he has had overseeing operations on the No. 48, might he want to pull back off the road and move into a leadership role within Hendrick Motorsports as a whole?

While a $100,00 fine is nothing to sneeze at — relative to sponsorship dollars, race winnings, exposure and championships that have been generated since Knaus and Johnson were united in 2002 — it is a pittance compared to what has been generated since then. But is Knaus going to tire of the constant hen pecking, suspension, fines and bad press that come whenever he tugs on a fender or is in the lab of his little shop of horrors trying to put together the missing piece for “The Fix for Six”?

In the end, should the suspension hold up and Knaus is sent home for six weeks, NASCAR might just have woken a sleeping giant. If he’s not at the racetrack, that simply leaves him more time to cook up new ideas of Lex Luthor-like diabolical proportions.

Follow Vito on Twitter: @VitoPugliese
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese examines the penalty levied by NASCAR on crew chief Chad Knaus for actions at Daytona.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 19:15
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-primer-catchers
Body:

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

TIER 1

1. Joe Mauer, Twins Although the sickly Mauer may have to play the season in a Hazmat suit, his combination of résumé and career stage makes him the No. 1 choice at this perennially anemic position and a potential “best buy.” Target Field precludes anything resembling his .365-28-96-94 showing of 2009, but even .300-15-80-70 is something no catcher’s done since then.

 

2. Carlos Santana, Indians Though it’s just his second full season, we’re confident in projecting Santana as the 2012 positional HR and RBI leader. Of his last 90 hits, 47 went for extra bases. The rub is that his average was never above .245 after April 10, but .270 should be doable this time around.

 

3. Brian McCann, Braves McCann is the safest — if not the highest-ceilinged — pick in the tier, given that only three catchers (Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, Jorge Posada) have ever exceeded his ongoing six-season run with minimums of 18 homers and 71 RBIs. His other categories are essentially neutral.

 

4. Mike Napoli, Rangers We were all over Napoli last year (“Thirty homers wouldn’t surprise…” — exactly what he hit), albeit as a projected DH. Now that he’s unambiguously a catcher (with some moonlighting at 1B), he merits a whole new level of fantasy deference. He holds the all-time record at the position with a HR in 6.6% of his ABs, but there are few prospects of anything close to another .320 AVG.

 

5. Matt Wieters, Orioles Wieters is looking a lot like McCann at this point, although he’s three years behind Brian’s age curve. Doubtful if there’s a ton more upside left, but 2011-type lines (.262-22-68-72) should be the norm for awhile.

 

6. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks In the two years (2009, 2011) he’s been the Snakes’ primary catcher, Montero has averaged .288-17-73-63. That’s good stuff, but his injury proclivity casts a shadow.

 

7. Buster Posey, Giants (F) As he’s yet to play a full season, what we’ve seen from Posey to date is nothing more than a few bona fide hot streaks. Clearly he can be a special player, but, like Mauer, he’s emasculated by his ballpark (.697 career OPS at home, .915 elsewhere).

 

TIER 2

8. Alex Avila, Tigers Avila can hit, but whether he can hit .295-19-82-63 again is dubious. The AL’s third-highest batting average on balls in play (BAbip) at .366 suggests that many of the holes he found were providential.

 

9. Wilson Ramos, Nationals (B) Ramos pinged .227 in a May-through-August malaise, but he bracketed that with .358 in both April and September. One of our sleeper specials last year at 23, he’ll round out those edges and edge into 20-jack territory very soon.

 

10. Jesus Montero, Mariners Montero is this year’s Santana, but with all the breathless expectations and hold-your-breath uncertainties of being four years younger. His .996 OPS was the fifth-highest ever at his plate appearance level (69) by a 21-year-old in his first season. But will he follow in the footsteps of three of those ahead of him (Willie McCovey, Ted Williams, Albert Pujols) — or the fourth (Daric Barton)?

 

11. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays Arencibia is all about how you weigh 25 homers and 75 RBIs against 350 outs. Matt Nokes and Piazza are the only rookies ever to have hit more bombs, all as a catcher. Then again, only Adam Dunn and Vernon Wells had a lower 2011 AVG (.219) at his plate appearance level.

 

TIER 3

12. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (E) Molina obliged the fantasy “age-28 rule” with personal bests of .305-14-65-55, but his prospectus is more aligned to his full-season career norms of .274-8-54-38. A major attraction is that he’s kind of a robo-catcher who, unlike most at the position, is predictably decent.

 

13. Kurt Suzuki, Athletics Batted .276 in 2008-09, then .240 in 2010-11. Combined for 86 RBIs in ’08 and ’11, but 159 in ’09-10. See the pattern here? Neither do we. One thing you can count on is that he’ll play — an AL-high 528 games caught in that span.

 

14. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers Ran out of gas last year (.188 AVG in his last 34 games), but slightly exceeded expectations. More apt to be serviceable than a star.

 

15. Geovany Soto, Cubs His seasons can be characterized as huge-poor-good-fair, in that order. Even when he’s got his “Arencibia” on, he has value since McCann and Napoli are the sole catchers to have hit more home runs since 2008.

 

 

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

 

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: The Big Board
2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings

2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid

2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield

2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield

Teaser:
<p> Joe Mauer, Carlos Santana, Brian McCann and the rest.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 15:09
Path: /columns/garage-talk/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-picks-phoenix
Body:

by Jay Pennell

Few could have predicted the 2012 season would open with such historic and unforeseen events taking place at Daytona. Rain delays, prime-time racing on a Monday, jet dryer explosions … I‘m surprised the Mayan calendar didn’t signal the end of civilization when the checkered flag fell.

Although the racing was a bit unpredictable and the potential for danger (i.e., bad fantasy days) lurked around every corner, hopefully our advice was able to set you apart from the other fantasy players in your league.

Our “safe bet” pick of the week, Matt Kenseth, took home his second Daytona 500 trophy; our “fantasy favorite,” Dale Earnhardt Jr., made a last-lap move to finish second; and our “darkhorse” pick of Joey Logano scored his first top 10 in The Great American Race with a ninth-place run.

Not a bad start to the long season that is fantasy NASCAR.

With Daytona finally in the rearview mirror, teams were forced to make a quick turnaround this week to get their equipment to Phoenix International Racing for Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500.

While most weekends the teams would use a plethora of notes from past races, Phoenix is still a bit of a wild-card track. Repaved after last February’s event, the Sprint Cup Series returned to a freshly-paved and reconfigured PIR in November.

This weekend, teams will be relying on notes that are only one race old.

Last time the stars of NASCAR hit the newly-configured track in the desert, Kasey Kahne took the win in now-defunct Red Bull Racing equipment. Despite knowing the organization was shutting down and the support from the team was not what it once was, Kahne persevered and was able to save fuel and take the checkered flag out front.

Now driving for Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne enters the 2012 season with long-time crew chief Kenny Francis once again at his side. Finally piloting reliable and consistent race-winning equipment, many are looking at Kahne to have a strong year — even possibly contending for the championship.

The initial part of the season has not gone as planned for Kahne, however. First, he missed his time in the bright lights of the NASCAR Media Tour while serving a jury duty requirement, then he had surgery on his knee before heading to Daytona. He promptly wrecked early in the Budweiser Shootout, was forced to a backup car after sustaining damage in practice for the Daytona 500, and was caught up in one of the many incidents late in the race.

So perhaps there could be no better track for Kahne to visit than the site of his only win in the last 83 races. Kahne has the potential to begin his breakout year this weekend, so keep an eye on him to be a strong play among fantasy ranks.

While Kahne took the checkered flag last November, defending series champion Tony Stewart had the dominant car that day. Leading 160 of the 312 laps, Stewart was on a mission and coming off a strong win in Texas the week prior. In the closing laps he chased down Kahne, title contender Carl Edwards, and took third from Jeff Burton, earning another all-important point in the Chase.

This weekend, Stewart could once again be among the strongest cars in the field.

Heading to the first race of the rest of the season, Stewart’s newly-assembled team — with crew chief Steve Addington and competition director Greg Zipadelli — will show their true colors as they are forced to deal with the short turn-around time. Seasoned and successful veterans in their own right, this week’s performance will show how they are able to cope with adversity in new surroundings and produce results on the track.

Stewart is a driver that gets the job done no matter the circumstances, and I’ve got him as another strong fantasy driver this weekend.

By looking at the numbers and finishing order from last November’s race at Phoenix, one might hesitate to go with the driver I am suggesting for my “safe bet” pick. But for the second week in a row, I think Roush Fenway Racing’s Matt Kenseth will be the safest play to rack up fantasy points.

Is it because he won the season-opening Daytona 500? Not really, although it helps his momentum and the No. 17 team’s confidence early in the year — but that’s not the reason.

Last November, Kenseth sat on the pole and led 49 laps with a strong Ford. Running at the front of the field much of the day, his finish was ruined late when Brian Vickers drove him into the outside wall as a payback from an incident at Martinsville a few weeks before.

This weekend, Kenseth is coming off a strong Speedweeks, plus Vickers is not in the race. I look for him to have yet another solid run Sunday in Phoenix, making for a safe bet when it comes to your fantasy lineup.

Aside from the favorites, I also have my eye on two drivers that are flying a bit under the radar this weekend: AJ Allmendinger and Martin Truex Jr.

Allmendinger enters the weekend off a disappointing start of the season in Daytona. Pumped about his new opportunity with Penske Racing, an incident on pit road ruined his chance to run up front and contend for the win.

Heading to Phoenix, Allmendinger returns to a track he scored a sixth-place finish at in November after starting on the outside of the front row.

Along with his strong run that day, Penske Racing’s No. 22 with Kurt Busch had a great day going, leading 57 laps, until he ran out of fuel late in the race. Partner Allmendinger’s solid showing with the No. 22 car’s ability to get up front and lead laps, and this weekend has “darkhorse” written all over the Dinger.

For Truex, last November’s Phoenix race went about how the majority of his races transpired. After starting fifth, the team was able to stay up front and show its strength, but was caught a lap down in the pits late in the going to finish 20th.

This year, Truex believes he has a car capable winning the race. Also, he is running out of excuses. It is a contract year for the New Jersey native, and Truex simply cannot afford another lackluster season.

With the overhaul that has taken place at Michael Waltrip Racing, Truex is now the senior driver on the team (not by age of course — Mark Martin wins in that category) and is confident in his team’s abilities. This week, I think it starts to show.

Follow Jay on Twitter: @JayWPennell
 

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy NASCAR predictions for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 12:56
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/no-20-jim-furyk
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Dream Team, if you will. If you're drafting a majors fantasy squad, these 20 players should be sitting atop your board. After a 2011 season that saw international players capture three of the four majors, we're expecting a slight resurgence from the Americans, most notably from the familiar name at the top of the list. But it’s worth noting that six of our top eight hail from outside the States, giving this list a decidedly international flavor. 

Three of the four reigning major winners are on this list, and collectively, this group owns 23 major championships, with that number a virtual certainty to grow this year — especially since 13 of these elite players have yet to win their first and are entering 2012 hungry for that career-defining breakthrough.

Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee. 

No. 20: Jim Furyk

Born: May 12, 1970, West Chester, Pa. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 16 | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,529,690 | World Ranking: 61

Brandel Chamblee's Take:
The only difference between 2010, when Jim Furyk won the FedExCup, and 2011, when he had one of the worst years of his career, was one club, the putter. Jim switched to a long putter late in the season to try to find answers on the greens, but they wouldn’t come until the Presidents Cup, where he switched back to the conventional method and looked like the man who had 16 wins and a U.S. Open title in his career. 


At 41 years old, Jim might not have that many great years left, but I have long thought of him as the Hale Irwin of this generation. Hale won a third U.S. Open late in his career, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Jim won his second in 2012.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 65
Wins: 1

2011 Performance:
Masters - T24
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - T48
PGA Championship - T39

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 4th (1998, 2003)
U.S. Open - 1st (2003)
British Open - 4th/T4 (1997, 1998, 2006)
PGA Championship - T6 (1997)
Top-10 Finishes: 18
Top-25 Finishes: 31
Missed Cuts: 13

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

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Counts Down The 20 Greatest Golfers for Majors Season</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 12:28
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-coaches-hot-seat-spring-practice-edition
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

With spring practice kicking off across college football, it's never too early to start thinking about the coaches on the hot seat for 2012. Athlon's editors recently met to vote on their top 20 coaches on the hot seat as preseason workouts begin, with Boston College's Frank Spaziani topping the first release for 2012. Stay tuned to AthlonSports.com as we will update the hot seat watch during the offseason and throughout the regular season.

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat Ranking: Spring Practice Edition

1. Frank Spaziani, Boston College (20-19, 3 years)
Spaziani’s win total has been on a steady decline over the last three years, and the Eagles got off to a miserable 1-6 start in 2011. An injury to running back Montel Harris hampered the offense, but the team also didn’t get much improvement from quarterback Chase Rettig. The Eagles return 16 starters for 2012 and finished last season by winning three out of the final five games. With the ACC moving to 14 teams, Boston College can’t afford to watch the program slip too far.

2. Mike Price, UTEP (45-52, 8 years)
The Miners returned only nine starters and were picked to finish last in Conference USA’s West Division last season. However, UTEP showed some signs of life and escaped the cellar of the division with a 5-7 record. Although Price has a successful resume, the Miners have not won more than six games since posting eight in 2005. Price’s tenure started off well, as UTEP posted 16 wins in his first two years in El Paso. However, the program seems to have leveled off and considering Price will be 66 when the 2012 season kicks off, it may be time for a change.

3. Joker Phillips, Kentucky (11-14, 2 years)
Phillips may have bought himself some time with the 10-7 victory over Tennessee in the season finale. However, the win total has declined over the last two years and with some heavy personnel losses and question marks, the Wildcats will struggle to reach a bowl game in 2012. With Vanderbilt on the rise in the SEC East, Kentucky fans have to be feeling a little restless about the future of the program.

4. Derek Dooley, Tennessee (11-14, 2 years)
Although Dooley has been on the job only two years in Knoxville, he will have one of the hottest seats in college football in 2012. After posting four double-digit win seasons from 2001-07 under Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee has not won more than seven games in each of the last four years. Dooley didn’t inherit a full cupboard, but losing to Kentucky in the season finale raised the pressure on him going into next season. Assuming the Volunteers can win eight games and reach the postseason, Dooley should be safe for 2013. However, another 5-7 or 6-6 season could be enough for new athletic director Dave Hart to make a change.

5. George O’Leary, UCF (50-51, 8 years)
With UCF moving to the Big East next season, 2012 is going to be an important season for O’Leary. If the Knights slump to 5-7 again, the program will likely make a coaching switch to build some momentum for the change in conferences. O’Leary’s teams have been inconsistent throughout his tenure, and the team failed to build off the momentum from the 11-3 season in 2010.

6. David Bailiff, Rice (23-38, 5 years)
Outside of winning 11 games with Texas State in 2005 and 10 with Rice in 2008, Bailiff has never won more than five games in any of his six other seasons as a head coach. Winning at Rice is not an easy task, but the Owls should be able to reach the postseason more frequently in Conference USA. Another mediocre 4-8 year will probably spell the end of Bailiff’s tenure at Rice.

7. Randy Edsall, Maryland (2-10, 1 year)
There’s really only one word to describe Edsall’s first year in College Park: Disaster. The Terrapins won only one contest in conference play and finished the season on an eight-game losing streak. Edsall does not seem to be well-liked by the players, and his handling of Danny O’Brien’s transfer was a public relations nightmare. Edsall did a good job at Connecticut, but another 2-10 or 3-9 debacle will be tough to take.

8. Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech (13-12, 2 years)
In 17 years as a FBS head coach, Tuberville has recorded only four losing seasons and odds are in his favor that the Red Raiders will bounce back in 2012. Last season’s 5-7 record didn’t sit well in Lubbock, especially since Texas Tech missed out on a postseason appearance for the first time since 1999. The defense has been a disaster through Tuberville’s first two years, and the Red Raiders are on their third defensive coordinator in three seasons. While it may turn out to be nothing, Tuberville is part of a group that is being sued for investment fraud. Although Tuberville may be cleared, it's a distraction for a team that needs all of its focus on the field in 2012.

9. Dan Enos, Central Michigan (6-18, 2 years)
The Chippewas won three MAC titles under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, but have posted just six wins over the last two years. Enos is regarded as a good recruiter, and the Chippewas have some promising talent returning in 2012. However, Central Michigan needs to win more than three games next season for Enos to stick around in 2013.

10. Jeff Tedford, California (79-48, 10 years)
After posting 28 victories from 2004-06, hopes were high in Berkeley that the Golden Bears were ready to emerge as a national power. While California has posted at least seven victories in four out of the last five years, the program is danger of getting passed by Washington in the pecking order of Pac-12 North powers and hasn’t been a factor the last two years in the conference title race. A renovated stadium and the defection of assistant Tosh Lupoi to Washington has only ratcheted up the pressure on Tedford going into 2012.

11. Robb Akey, Idaho (19-43, 5 years)
Akey led the Vandals to 14 wins in 2009-10, but has just five victories in his three other seasons.

12. Rick Stockstill, MTSU (35-40, 6 years)
After winning 10 games in 2009, the Blue Raiders have posted just eight wins in their last two seasons. The two victories posted by MTSU are the program’s worst since 1980. Stockstill needs to show this team is back on track in 2012.

13. Bobby Hauck, UNLV (4-21, 2 years)
Hauck inherited a difficult situation, but the Rebels haven’t shown much progress over his first two years.

14. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (96-66, 13 years)
Ferentz has a solid record and has built up some job security after taking the Hawkeyes to 10 bowl appearances. However, Iowa’s win total has slipped the last two years and there are concerns from the fanbase that the program has gone stale.

15. DeWayne Walker, New Mexico State (9-29, 3 years)
The Aggies have only two winning seasons since 1999 and with the future of the WAC uncertain, this program needs to turn things around to make it more attractive for a spot in the Sun Belt or the Mountain West/Conference USA merger.

16. Todd Berry, UL Monroe (9-15 (2 years)
Coming off a 5-7 season and with 14 starters back, expectations were a bowl game for the Warhawks in 2012. However, ULM regressed to 4-8, leaving Berry’s career record at a dismal 38-74.

17. Dabo Swinney, Clemson (29-19, 3 years)
Swinney has led Clemson to two ACC Atlantic titles and is coming off a solid 10-4 season. With two of college football’s highest-paid coordinators – Chad Morris and Brent Venables – there’s no excuse for the Tigers to win seven games in 2012.

18. Jeff Quinn, Buffalo (5-19, 2 years)
The Bulls improved their win total by one game in Quinn’s second year, but he has yet to continue the momentum Turner Gill established during his four seasons in Buffalo.

19. Dave Clawson, Bowling Green (14-23, 3 years)
Clawson opened his tenure at Bowling Green with a bang, finishing 7-6 with an appearance in the Humanitarian Bowl. The Falcons won only two games in 2010, but bounced back with five victories last year. Bowling Green seems to be back on the right track and should be in contention for the MAC West title. However, another 2-10 season may make it difficult for Clawson to keep his job.

20. David Cutcliffe, Duke (15-33, 4 years)
It’s not easy winning at Duke, but Cutcliffe is still looking to get the Blue Devils back to the postseason. After winning nine games in his first two years in Durham, Cutcliffe has led Duke to just six wins over the last two seasons.

Related College Football Content

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

Teaser:
<p> With spring practice kicking off across the nation, Athlon takes a look at the top coaches on the hot seat and who needs to have a big season to return for 2013.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 05:51
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-21-washington-huskies
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 21: Washington Huskies (25 total signees)

Pac-12 Rank: 5th
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 2
National Signees: 5

Where They Got 'Em:

The two most important states for talent for Washington will always be the home Evergreen State and the talent-rich state of California. Steve Sarkisian apparently agrees, as he signed 15 prospects from the Golden State — including the top player in the state and top safety in the nation — and five from Washington. These two states made up 80% of the 2012 Husky class.

Additionally, he went into Colorado to get his quarterback of the future, landing the top player in that state. Arizona (1) and Hawaii (3) supplied the rest of the class, as Coach Sark needed only five states to land a bulky 25-man class.

Areas of Focus:

Washington was having a solid class in 2012, but Husky Nation got a huge boost when Sarkisian started rebuilding his coaching staff. Stealing star recruiter and D-Line coach Tosh Lupoi from Pac-12 North rival Cal sent ripple effects up and down the West Coast. He was directly responsible for landing the top player in this class. New coordinators Justin Wilcox and Eric Kiesau, as well as developing star recruiter and new linebacker coach Peter Sirmon, clearly injected a new energy into Husky recruiting. Washington has made a big financial statement that it is committing to returning to national prominence.

The No. 4-rated quarterback in the nation spearheads a stellar offensive class for quarterback guru Sarkisian and new offensive coordinator Kiesau. Mullen High's Cyler Miles was arguably the best quarterback in San Antonio during the U.S. Army event — one that also featured Notre Dame's Gunner Kiel — and might be the most game-ready signal caller prospect in the nation. He was 7-of-8 passing for 155 yards and scored twice as he earned Co-MVP honors of the national showcase. Miles is a fantastic athlete who has a great arm and is clearly a winner — as his back-to-back state championships in 2009 and 2010 would indicate. He is the sure-fire heir to Keith Price.

But just to be sure Miles doesn't take anything for granted, Sarkisian also signed in-state dual-threat quarterback Jeff Lindquist. The 6-3, 234-pounder threw for 1,908 yards and 22 touchdowns while rushing for 826 yards and 12 scores on the ground. Lindquist is no slouch himself and will undoubtedly push Miles every step of the way.

Five stellar offensive linemen make up the bulk of the offensive signing class. Three of the best in-state blockers — Nathan Dean, Jake Eldrenkamp and Cory English — lead this deep group of future hog mollies. Eldrenkamp won four straight state championships with Bellevue, English claimed his league's Offensive Lineman of the Year honors (Class 4A) at Auburn High, and Dean might have the most raw talent and upside of the bunch.

Three talented wide receivers join the squad led by the nationally rated Jaydon Mickens. The 5-11, 175-pounder earned Co-MVP honors of the Semper Fidelis All-American Game following his third straight trip to the CIF playoffs. Mickens is also a sprinter and long jumper on the track team. The lone prospect from Arizona, Kendyl Taylor, comes to Seattle after catching 87 passes for 1,132 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2011. The do-everything athlete was also used in the ground game to the tune of 558 yards on only 68 attempts. Expect Coach Sark to have fun finding ways to use Taylor in the future. Dwayne Washington is the biggest of the trio at 6-1 and 205 pounds and is also a sprinter and long jumper. He posted a 66-reception, 1,338-yard, 15-TD season of his own in 2011.

Running back Erich Wilson II and fullback Psalm Wooching add some depth to a backfield that loses one of the greatest Huskies of all time in Chris Polk. Wilson II (6-1, 190) rushed for a Serra High school-record 2,106 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2011, while Wooching (6-3, 217) rushed for 250 yards and three scores in the BIIF state championship win for Kealakehe High.

On defense, the class begins and ends with Shaq Thompson and the secondary group. Thompson is the nation's No. 1 defensive back (safety) prospect and is the top prospect from the state of California. It took two plays in the U.S. Army All-American bowl for fans to realize that Thompson was absolutely the real deal. The younger brother of former Cal cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson and a former Cal commitment, Thompson enters college listed at a stout 6-2, 215 pounds. He could easily bulk up and be one of the best linebackers in the Pac-12 as well. He has a Sean Taylor-like combination of size and speed and will be the clear-cut best prospect in this class. There might not be another prospect in the nation with as little downside as Thompson.

Nationally ranked cornerback Brandon Beaver and the versatile Cleveland Wallace restock the outside of the secondary. Beaver is one of the West Coast's top covermen, and Wallace excelled at running back, wide receiver, return specialist and defensive back in San Jose. Darien Washington is listed at "DB" and could be used in a variety of spots in the defensive backfield.

Nationally rated defensive end Pio Vatuvei leads a small three-man defensive line class that heads to Washington. Yet, the defensive line could grow should some of the linebackers in this class grow themselves.

Cory Littleton (6-4, 218) and Kalei Auelua (6-1, 227) could each grow into defensive ends but will start as linebackers. Ryan McDaniel, the highest-rated of the bunch, was an excellent running back in high school. The hard-nosed Blake Rodgers rounds out the four-man group.

Overall, this is an extremely versatile group in which fans could see plenty of position switching. Landing Thompson is one of the biggest recruiting victories of the entire 2012 cycle, and Miles appears poised for great things in college.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 2, RB: 2, WR: 3, TE: 0, OL: 5, ATH: 0
Defense: DE: 1, DT: 2, LB: 4, DB: 4, K/P/LS: 2

AC100 Recruits:

6. Shaq Thomspon, S (6-2, 215), Sacramento (Calif.) Grant
91. Cyler Miles, QB (6-4, 218), Centennial (Colo.) Mullen

Other National Signees:

257. Jaydon Mickens, WR (5-11, 175), Los Angeles (Calif.) Dorsey
260. Brandon Beaver, CB (6, 176), Long Beach (Calif.) Dominiquez
265. Pio Vatuvei, DE (6-3, 272), Patterson (Calif.) Patterson

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
18. Oregon Ducks
19. South Carolina Gamecocks
20. Tennessee Volunteers
21. Washington Huskies
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The Washington Huskies landed the No. 21 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 05:51
Path: /college-football/lsu-tigers-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

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

LSU Tigers 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 13-1, 8-0 SEC

Spring practice: Mar. 1-Mar 31

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 5, K/P — 2

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Zach Mettenberger, 8 of 11, 92 yards, 1 TD
Rushing: Michael Ford, 127 att., 756 yards, 7 TDs
Receiving: Odell Beckham, 41 rec., 475 yards, 4 TDs
Tackles: Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid, 76
Sacks: Sam Montgomery, 9
Interceptions: Four tied with 2

Redshirts to watch: CB Jalen Collins, DT Mickey Johnson, DL Quentin Thomas, OL Jonah Austin, CB David Jenkins, DB Micah Eugene

2012 Schedule

SEC 2012 Schedule Analysis

Sept. 1 North Texas
Sept. 8 Washington
Sept. 15 Idaho
Sept. 22 at Auburn
Sept. 29 Towson University
Oct. 6 at Florida
Oct. 13 South Carolina
Oct. 20 at Texas A&M
Nov. 3 Alabama
Nov. 10 Mississippi State
Nov. 17 Ole Miss
Nov. 23 or 24 at Arkansas

Offensive Strength: LSU might possess the best combination of offensive line experience and running back depth/talent in the entire nation. This team has been built on a physical offensive presence up front and 2012 could feature the best power rushing attack in the nation.

Offensive Weakness: One doesn't have to search to hard to find the biggest question mark on offense. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee were not championship quarterbacks and it was the primary reason LSU failed so miserably in the BCS title game. And entering 2012, one very large (try 6-5, 220 pounds) question mark still exists under center: Can former Georgia Bulldog Zach Mettenberger become the leader — and passer — that Les Miles needs to win his second championship?

Defensive Strength: Just like the offense, this unit starts with a dominate front line. The loss of Michael Brockers certainly hurts, but eight of the top ten defensive lineman return. This group includes the top two sack masters in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Much like the offensive line, this has a chance to be the top unit in the nation.

Defensive Weakness: Replacing Morris Claiborne and Brandon Taylor will be much tougher than a team with a Heisman finalists returning to the secondary likely expects. That said, there is still loads of talent in the defensive backfield, so the biggest question mark has to fall to the linebackers. Kevin Minter is the only returning starter and is a solid player, but the star power on this defense is clearly up front and in the secondary. On a unit that really has no weaknesses, this group could be considered the biggest question mark.

Spring Storylines Facing the Bayou Bengals:

1. Coping with the pain. This team arogantly and prematurely used the words "greatest ever" to describe iteself entering its national title remmatch with Alabama. After one of the worst performances in BCS history, LSU is trying to regroup and refocus on winning a national championship — and it has as good a chance as any team in the nation to do so in 2012. Few 13-win coaches have ever been under as much scrutiny as Les Miles will face this fall, so simply getting back onto the field this spring will go along way to put January 9 in the rearview mirror. All of his doubters had been silenced by the 13-0 start, but after his team appeared woefully underprepared, all of the same questions about Miles' coaching ceiling have resurfaced. To quote The Hat himself, do the Bayou Bengals have the "chest" to rebound from their performance in New Orleans? Only time will tell, and time, like spring football, cures all.

2. Is Mettenberger the answer under center? Jefferson was downright atrocious in the title game and Lee never got a chance to spark the offense. On a team that has one of the best collection of running backs in the nation and returns four of five offensive lineman, the quarterback position is the glaring issue. If Mettenberger is that good, why didn't he push for playing time in 2011? The LSU coaches and players feel that without the competition, Mettenberger will be more comfortable in his role and should develop into the passer most expected from the highly-touted prep prospect. Make no mistake, Mettenberger and the Tigers can win most games by turning around and handing it off. But against that team from Tuscaloosa, or Los Angeles for that matter, the quarterback will have to make plays.

3. Just how good is the Honey Badger? Yes, he made the big plays. Yes, he was the Heisman finalist. Yes, he has the cool nickname. But many believe (correctly) that Morris Claiborne was the best cornerback on the team. With the additional loss of strong safety Brandon Taylor, more of the onus will fall to the Honey Badger to be a leader on and off the field. Without the Jim Thorpe winner on the other side, and with at least one suspension under his belt already, Tyrann Mathieu becomes the best and most important defensive back in Baton Rouge.

4. Miles plays a lot of names along the defensive line and in the linebacking collective, so replacing two starters at linebacker shouldn't be a huge stumbling block for LSU. Yet, Ryan Baker, Karnell Hatcher and Stefoin Francois have moved on and filling those gaps will be key this spring. Considering the amount of talent still on the roster — and a stellar five-man in-coming LB class as well — Miles shouldn't struggle to find playmakers. Tajh Jones, Lamin Barrow and Luke Muncie will get the first crack at earning a starting spot.

5. Sorting out the carries in the backfield. This is clearly an issue every team in the nation would like to have, but deciding who gets the bulk (if anyone) of the carries in 2012 could be a big part of the spring. Michael Ford led the team in rushing (756 yards), Spencer Ware got the most carries by a wide margin (177 to 127) and freshman Kenny Hilliard might have played the best down the stretch in 2011. Hilliard and Ware led the team with eight touchdowns. Toss in Alfred Blue, who rushed for 539 yards and seven scores of his own last fall, and Miles has a gluttonous collection of talent in the backfield. All of whom likely want the football.

Related Content Links

2012 Very Early SEC Predictions
Athlon's Very Early Top 25 for 2012

2012 Recruiting Rankings: No. 13 LSU Tigers

College Football's Top 10 Spring Storylines for 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews LSU's spring practice and some of the key questions facing the Tigers for 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 05:50
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-sleepers-and-busts-starting-pitching
Body:

— by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter), published on Mar. 1, 2012

Who are the biggest sleepers and busts to watch out for on the fantasy diamond?

Using Athlon Sports’ consensus Top 150 as the barometer, here are some potential sleepers to keep an eye on and some possible busts to be wary of when it comes to drafting your fantasy teams this season.

Note: Ranking in the Top 150 is listed, if applicable. UR means player was not ranked in the Top 150.

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

2012 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher Sleepers:

Ricky Romero, Toronto (No. 99)
There were three lefties in all of the majors that produced a sub-3.00 ERA with at least 15 wins and at least 225 innings pitched last season. They were Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee and Romero. Over the last three years, he has started to develop into the ace Toronto needs. His innings, strikeouts and wins have all increased three years in a row while his ERA, WHIP and BAA has dropped in each of those seasons. He was the No. 13-rated starter in fantasy last year and should finish around there again — or 13 spots higher than his No. 26 positional ranking.

Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay (unranked)
The AL Rookie of the Year needs no introduction but is getting overshadowed in the rankings by the darling of Game 1 of the ALDS Matt Moore. Moore is a stud in his own right, but is ranked much higher than his teammate. Both are proven commodities but can still be had on the cheap for one more draft. Hellickson isn’t ranked among the top 40 starters, coming in behind the likes of Cory Luebke, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Beachy and Gio Gonzalez. His 13-win, 117-K, 2.95-ERA, 1.15-WHIP season was good for 22nd in the final SP ranks last year and with a small innings jump from 189.0, Hellickson could creep into top-20 territory fairly easily.

Jordan Zimmerman, Washington (No. 131)
After Tommy John surgery in 2009, Zimmerman proved last season that the hype surrounding his MLB debut was no joke. He posted career bests in wins, innings, strikeouts, ERA and WHIP. His BAA has dropped in each of the last three seasons (albeit in a small sample size) and will be pitching for a team with a much improved offense. He should not have a problem outperforming his 34th ranking in the starting pitching pool.

Daniel Hudson, Arizona (No. 96 overall)
Everyone should know the story by now. Hudson posted a 6.32 ERA and 1.79 WHIP in 2010 before being traded to Arizona. He went 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in nearly 80 innings to finish 2010. He finished his first complete season in 2011 with a tidy 16-12 record, 3.49 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. As long as the innings jump doesn’t effect him too much (at 6-3, 232 it shouldn’t), Kirk Gibson will undoubtedly rely on the young righty again. Arizona will contend again and plays in the offensively challenged NL West — both good things for the rising star. If there is a mid-level starter who has the talent and situation to vault himself into the “Ace” category, it might be Huddy #2.

Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees (unranked)
Quietly out there on the West Coast, Kuroda has developed into one of the more dependable, if uninspiring, starters. He was the No. 24-rated starter in the game last year and has never had an ERA over 3.76 or a WHIP over 1.22. For where he is going in drafts — he is the No. 48 starter in the rankings currently — his value is excellent. Yes, he just turned 37 last month. But he now pitchers for the Yankees and will likely see his win total increase while maintaining his above-average 7.2 K/9 rate of the last two seasons.

2012 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitching Busts:

Mat Latos, Cincinnati (No. 91)
From 2010 to 2011, Latos regressed in almost every major fantasy category. With 10.1 more innings pitched, Latos won five fewer games, struck out four less batters and saw his ratios slip from 2.92/1.08 to 3.47/1.18 (both still useful). But now he moves from the fantasy friendly PETCO Park in San Diego to the hitterish Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. And for a player who has dealt with injuries over his first two seasons, pitching for Dusty Baker could be the kiss of death. Don’t overpay (the word of the day).

Michael Pineda, New York Yankees (No. 85)
For a pitcher to post a .211 BAA and 1.10 WHIP in his first 171.0 innings pitched in the majors is remarkable. The massive righty also collected more than a strikeout-per-inning in his rookie year. Yet, Pineda deteriorated over the course of the year from a 2.01 April ERA to a 6.75 July and 4.70 August. He failed to win a game over his final seven starts as well. His win total (9) should easily go up in the Bronx, but expect his ratios to be closer to his final month (4.00, 1.17) than his stellar first three months. The move to the AL East and Yankee Stadium will act as the primary culprits. He will have a long career in pinstripes, but fantasy GMs will overpay in 2012.

Ian Kennedy, Arizona (No. 63)
Kennedy’s talent has never been the issue and his minor league track record suggests he has staying power. The question is cost with the D-Backs ace. The likelihood of him repeating a 21-win season are slim and none, so is using a top 5-7 round pick on him worth it? His career line before 2011 was 253.2 IP, 10-14, 4.33 ERA, 1.31 WHIP. I expect a much better line than that, of course, but he should return to earth this season and that screams over-valued to me.

Gio Gonzalez, Washington (No. 124)
His innings, strikeouts and wins have gone up every year for the last three seasons. And his ERA has dropped in three straight campaigns as well. However, he still puts entirely too many people on base to pitch in Washington as opposed to Oakland. His 1.41 career WHIP indicates as much. In fact, his BAA and WHIP both increased slightly in 2011 from 2010. He has a chance to be a dependable fourth fantasy starter but is likely going too high in drafts.

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 05:40
Path: /nfl/dontari-poe-has-best-performance-combine
Body:

After Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III wowed scouts over the weekend, Memphis nose tackle Dontari Poe stole the show at the NFL Scouting Combine when the defensive prospects took to the field-turf at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday and Tuesday.

Poe weighed in at 6’4” and 346 pounds, as the fourth heaviest prospect since 2000 — just eight pounds lighter than the 354 pounds that Alabama’s Terrence Cody shamefully tipped the scales at in 2010. Unlike Cody, however, Poe was in tip-top shape, ready to run, jump and lift.

Before Daytona International Speedway caught fire on Monday night, there was a jet-fueled nose tackle torching the track in Indianapolis on Monday morning. Despite being just under 350 pounds, Poe ran a scorching 4.98 in the 40 yard dash. The time was nearly a full second faster than Cody’s 5.71 two years ago and a hair quicker than the 5.03 run by Ndamukong Suh, who worked out at 307 pounds and was drafted No. 2 overall that same year.

Along with a fast 40, Poe posted a 1.70 in his 10-yard split, showing the type of short-distance explosion more common to a hybrid end-linebacker edge rusher than for a zero-technique nose tackle. But Poe isn’t just a 350-pound track star; he also ripped off a Combine-best 44 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, an eye-popping 29.5-inch vertical leap and an 8’9” broad jump.

Several of Poe’s defensive tackle peers and first-round candidates looked good, but not nearly as good — including Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox (4.79 in the 40, 30 reps on bench press), Connecticut’s Kendall Reyes (36 reps on bench press, 34.5-inch vertical) and Clemson’s Brandon Thompson (35 reps on bench press, 31-inch vertical).

From head to toe, this year’s defensive end class was more impressive. South Carolina stud Melvin Ingram — who worked out with the D-linemen but will likely be a 3-4 outside backer at the next level — continued his ascension up draft boards. Ingram ran a 4.79 in the 40, 4.18 in the 20-yard shuttle, 6.83 in the 3-cone drill and posted a 34.5-inch vertical at 264 pounds, while also lifting 225 pounds 28 times on the bench press.

Ingram’s close friend, North Carolina’s Quinton Coples, won the weight in — at 6’6”, 284 pounds and 33 1/4” arm length, compared to Ingram’s 6’1”, 264 pounds and 31 1/2” arms. A classic 4-3 end, Coples also performed well in drills, running a 4.78 in the 40, lifting 25 reps of 225 and skying for a 31.5-inch vertical.

USC’s Nick Perry, another likely stand up guy in a 3-4 scheme, was a workout warrior — with a 4.64 in the 40, 35 reps of 225, a 38.5-inch vertical and 10’4” broad jump at 271 pounds. Those totals stack up favorably to 2006 No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams, who ran a 4.66, lifted 35 reps and had a 40.5-inch vertical at 295 pounds.

Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus is a 4-3 end who led the nation with 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles in 2011, then had a respectable showing at the Combine — with a 4.68 in the 40, 27 reps on the bench and a 32-inch vertical. Clemson’s Andre Branch, likely a 3-4 outside backer, ran a 4.70, had a 32.5-inch vertical and an impressive 10’ broad jump.

Among linebackers, Boston College tackling machine Luke Kuechly stood out — running a 4.58 in the 40, a 4.12 in the 20-yard shuttle, lifting 27 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, posting a 38-inch vertical leap and a 10’3” broad jump. NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock — a B.C. alum — gave the 6’3”, 242-pound backer the Matt Ryan treatment and it was well deserved.

The Alabama slammer duo of Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw did not go through a complete workout. But Hightower impressed with a 4.68 in the 40 at 6’2” and 265 pounds, and Upshaw weighed in at an imposing 6’2” and 272 pounds. Expect the entire NFL scouting community to be in attendance at Alabama’s Pro Day on March 7. After all, this year’s Crimson Tide draft class just won Nick Saban two BCS national titles in three seasons.

Arizona State head case Vontaze Burfict entered Indy with question marks swirling around and did little to answer them on the field. Burfict seemed unprepared for Combine combat, running a sluggish 5.09 in the 40 — slower than Poe despite the Sun Devil being nearly 100 pounds lighter.

On Tuesday, the defensive backs held their track meet, with Central Florida’s Josh Robinson winning the foot race by posting a Combine-best 4.33 in the 40-yard dash — to go along with a stellar 38.5-inch vertical and 11’1” broad jump. LSU gunner Ron Brooks ran 4.37 and South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore posted a 4.40 in shorts.

The top two cornerbacks were clearly LSU’s Jim Thorpe award-winner Morris Claiborne and North Alabama’s talented but troubled Florida transfer Janoris Jenkins — both of whom received plenty of attention from Prime Time, or Neon Deion as it were. Dressed in the same highlighter-yellow Under Armor shirt as prospects, Sanders was quick to chime in with advice for a group of twentysomethings that aren’t old enough to have seen Prime in his prime.

“Open those hands up,” Sanders shouted at Claiborne, who ran a 4.50 with fists balled up.

Claiborne measured in at 5’11”, 188 pounds, with long 33 1/4” arms. Like Patrick Peterson — his LSU teammate who went No. 5 overall last year — Claiborne excelled in position drills, catching the ball at its highest point and showing the turn-and-go balance and agility of the excellent return man he is.

A compact yet fluid 5’10” and 193 pounds, Jenkins has an airport full of baggage off the field but looked the part of an All-Pro on the field turf. After starting his career under Urban Meyer at Florida, Jenkins — who ran a 4.46 in the 40 and posted a 10’1” broad jump — was kicked off the team by new coach Will Muschamp before transferring to North Alabama to play for Terry Bowden.

“I’m going to talk to him,” reassured Sanders.

“You should,” said NFL Network analyst Charles Davis, “because he is tal-en-ted.”

Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick is still a first-round lock, but was nowhere near as impressive as Claiborne and Jenkins in football-related drills. But Kirkpatrick has a rare size-speed combo — running a 4.51 in the 40 (and posting a 35-inch vertical and 10’ broad jump) at 6’2” and 186 pounds. Plus, the Saban product has held his own against the SEC’s best during his days in Tuscaloosa.

Another member of the Crimson Tide secondary was noticeably absent, as consensus top safety Mark Barron sat out the Combine while rehabbing from hernia surgery; and Barron is also likely to miss Alabama’s Pro Day. Due to a phenomenal career at Bama, Barron will likely be the first safety off the board even without working out. But that didn’t stop Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith from doing all he could to close the gap between the Nos. 1 and 2 safeties. Smith ran a 4.57 in the 40, had a 34-inch vertical and a 10’2” broad jump after measuring in at 6’2” and 213 pounds with 32 5/8” arms.

In the end, however, all anyone wanted to see was NFL Network’s face of the franchise Rich Eisen run the 40-yard dash in full suit and tie. This year, Eisen wore colorfully customized Under Armor cleats, rather than dress shoes, and ran a personal-best 6.03 in the 40 — coming closer and closer to the 4.27 his broadcast partner Deion famously ran en route to his limo waiting outside in 1989.

Pre-Combine 2012 NFL Mock Draft
NFL Combine — Offensive Players (Feb. 25-26)

NFL Combine – Defensive Players (Feb. 27-28)

by Nathan Rush
 

Teaser:
<p> Rich Eisen runs the 40-yard dash, Deion Sanders critiques defensive backs but Memphis 350-pound nose tackle Dontari Poe steals the show at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 21:00
Path: /columns/garage-talk/backseat-drivers-fan-council
Body:

by Dustin Long

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

So on to Year 2 of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council.

Members had much to talk about with the Daytona 500, especially the idea of the race being held on a Monday night after rain forced this year’s event to be held then. Here’s what members had to say about that and other topics.


MONDAY NIGHT RACING?
With the Daytona 500 being held on Monday night this year, should Daytona change its race schedule to have the Trucks run on Saturday night, Nationwide on Sunday night and the Daytona 500 on Monday night?

72.4 percent said No
27.6 percent said Yes

What Fan Council members said:

• That would be great!

• No. You do this and you decimate the at-the-track experience on which the sport is built. In its essence, it is not a TV sport, (it) is a live spectator event.

• I'd rather see Trucks Thursday night (Duel earlier in the afternoon) and Nationwide Friday night and Daytona 500 on Saturday night with Sunday open for a rain delay.

• YES, YES, YES! It was magical! It is such a big event it deserves a big prime-time slot!!! If the networks can show every other sport on primetime, surely NASCAR can show one or two races a year in the prime-time slot!

• Why do we constantly want to change something that has worked for many, many years???

• Got to ask, WHY? Fans travel great distance to see the 500 and by racing on Monday night it would be hard on many. If it ain't broke don't fix it!

• It would be too hard to get people to attend the race. A scheduled Monday night race is an interesting idea, but it needs to be tried at a track where there is enough potential local fans to make it work, not a place like Daytona, where the majority of fans travel a great distance. I would suggest Texas, Charlotte, or Richmond. Las Vegas might also work, as it not only has a large population, but most of the people who are traveling there aren't trying to do it just for a weekend.

• No, leave it scheduled as it. Do they play the SuperBowl on Monday night?

• Worst idea ever.

• Worth contemplating!

• I'm not sure this is the savior or the sucker. I will say that holding the race on Monday night in primetime gave a big boost to coverage for the non-racing fan. I had non-racing friends calling me all day ... to explain things to them. It was great. They all want to go to a race now!

• I love getting off work and coming home to the excitement of the truck race. It starts my race weekend on the right note. Friday night races provide an awesome transition from work week to weekend. Also, the Daytona 500 is too long to run on a 'school night.’


WOULD YOU GO TO A MONDAY NIGHT DAYTONA 500?
Should the Daytona 500 ever move to a Monday night, Fan Council members were asked if they could get time off to attend the race or would they be forced to watch it on TV.

54.7 percent said they could NOT get time off from work to attend a Monday night race.
45.3 percent said they could take time off from work and would go to a Monday night race.

What Fan Council members said:

• I've never been to the Daytona race, but I'll be going next year. When I travel from the West Coast to races on the East Coast, I always give myself a few extra days after the race to enjoy the area (and hopefully cover rainouts)!

• It wouldn't change my mind about coming at all. The Daytona 500 is special and worth taking vacation days.

• In order for me to attend a race on Monday night, I would have to take Monday and Tuesday off. I haven't been to Daytona yet, but the chance would be even less if it switched to Monday night.

• It doesn't matter when the Daytona 500 is. It could be scheduled for a Wednesday for all I care - I'm there. However, it is TONS easier if it's a Sunday night.

• I wouldn't try to get time off from work to attend. Weather in Florida is unpredictable as it is. Navigating the nighttime temperatures in Florida in February would virtually guarantee that I would not attend the Daytona 500. The idea of heading into the Florida sunshine, taking a warm break and watching the finest drivers in the world, sounds a lot like heaven. Spending a chilly night in open grandstands makes me want to be in front of my television and I can stay home and watch television. I've attempted to work it into my plans the past two years, but that would take it out of my plans.

• When I go to races, Mondays off are often required for travel. For Daytona, I'd take Tuesday too! But I wouldn't take two days off for every race on the schedule.

• It would be sold out either way, but why penalize hard working people by making them take an extra day from work when the race can be run on Sunday, which won’t cost them a vacation day?

• My Boss would say no cause he’s a jealous baby.


BEST OF SPEEDWEEKS
Fan Council members were asked what was the best race during Daytona Speedweeks. This is how they voted:

43.4 percent said the Daytona 500
27.5 percent said the Budweiser Shootout
12.3 percent said the Nationwide race
11.1 percent said the Truck race
4.1 percent said the qualifying races
1.6 percent said the ARCA race

What Fan Council members said:

• I can't say it was the 500. Even with all of the crazy things that happened (jet dryer accident and all), I just didn't think the racing was that exciting. The Shootout and the Duels were better in my opinion.

• I enjoyed all the racing! Every race has its own excitement. Honestly, I enjoyed the 2 hour delay. Twitter was hilarious & got some crazy texts from my friends!! Best start to the 2012 season ever!! :)

• Actually, none of the above. I don't like pack racing and the resulting "Big One" crashes. In my opinion, the restrictor plate racing and the tracks that require them have outlived their usefulness. Daytona and Talladega just allow the cars to go too fast and with the plates the cars either are forced to run in big packs, or the 2-car tandem that most fans, myself included, do not like. When running in packs, the tiniest mistake, which would not be an issue on other tracks, cause the huge crashes that take out many other cars. ... I am probably a minority of one with this opinion, but I think both restrictor-plate tracks should be demolished and replaced by 1-mile tracks that can provide great racing.

• The 500 had a little bit of everything for everyone. If people didn't like this race (sans the timing) then they need to stop watching NASCAR!

• I thought trucks were most exciting. I especially. loved that rookie John King went to Victory Lane.

• Daytona 500 hands down. Even though the finish of the Budweiser Shootout was probably better, the energy that comes with the 500 cannot be beat. Every lap you are on edge seeing your driver navigate the field. There was a whole lot of action, early drama, bizarre events, and an exciting finish. Great race.

• The Nationwide race seemed to just capture the spirit of Daytona and sure has set the stage for a different looking Nationwide series this year (I hope).

• I think all the work that NASCAR and the teams put into fixing the plate racing over the offseason was dead-on. There was just enough of pack racing, side-by-side and just a bit of tandem stuff to keep your attention throughout the race. They should be very proud of what they were able to do for the race fans.

• Sorry NASCAR, you made the Sprint Cup race boring.....

• Finally NASCAR has taken the time to listen to the drivers and fans and get back to the pack style of racing!


RATING THE DAYTONA 500
Fan Council members were asked how they rated this year’s Daytona 500. Here’s how they voted:

50.9 percent called it Good
33.4 percent called it Great
13.8 percent called it Fair
1.9 percent called it Poor

What Fan Council members said:

• I really liked having The Pack racing back, as opposed to the Pod racing of the last 18 months. Still couldn't watch the entire race without putting my hands over my eyes a few times (close calls!), but it was very exciting!

• The racing was awful. Two lines, no one could really pass. The most exciting thing was the explosion and resulting fire. Seems like NASCAR can't get racing back in "racing.’’

• I was worried that the solution to the 2-car tandem would be worse than the 2-car tandem but was thankfully proved wrong!

• The 'events' were eventful, but the racing was fair. I'll probably remember the jet dryer incident for years - if not forever, but I won't remember the actual racing.

• I'm still speechless about it.

• The pack is back, which is somewhat lame.

• I attended the race, as well as the rain delays! This was in no way a great race. There was very little great racing action. But then again, I never really expect great racing action from Daytona.

• It was nice to get away from the "pairs competition" we had been seeing. However, there was not much ability to pass or control one's destiny. NASCAR still has some fixing to do on this package.

• Anyone thinking that 43 cars running in a single pack is the way to go then they are the same ones who love the big wrecks!

• I thought I’d seen it all until (Monday) night! One of the best!!

• The racing was awesome!!!


BUILDING MOMENTUM
Since the Daytona 500 can provide momentum for the sport, Fan Council members were asked if they were more excited or less excited about the NASCAR Sprint Cup season after this year’s 500:

84.0 percent said they were More Excited
16.0 percent said they were Less Excited

What Fan Council members said:

• BRING IT!

• Neither, actually, but that was not an option.

• Just glad the new season is here & Daytona is behind us

• Matt Kenseth is my driver and he won with a dominant car after winning his duel race, so I'm definitely more excited about the coming season.

• Junior is in second place ... what’s not to be excited about?

• Actually probably about the same but that wasn't an option. Definitely not less.

• This really pumped me up for the upcoming season. 

• I love Matt Kenseth, but he just isn't the right winner to carry the momentum NASCAR had from last season. Carl or Tony, even Denny or, of course, Dale Jr would have been great winners to carry some excitement and momentum into 2012. I'm excited for this season, but the 500 isn't the reason why.

• Nothing about this sport has really excited me for years now. Generic cars, generic drivers and generic racing.


Fans can join the Backseat Drivers Fan Council by sending Dustin an email at dustinlong002@gmail.com.

Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
 

Teaser:
<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council gives its opinion on Daytona Speedweeks.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 19:34
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/tiger-woods-not-amused-hank-haney-tell-all
Body:

There's clearly some ill will between Tiger Woods and star instructor Hank Haney over Haney's book about his former pupil. Titled The Big Miss, the book chronicles Haney's teaching relationship with Tiger, which spanned six years and 31 PGA Tour victories, including six major championships. Despite Haney's insistence that the book isn't a tawdry tell-all, Tiger expressed his disappointment in the (as yet unread) book, slated for release prior to The Masters. "I think it's unprofessional and very disappointing," Woods told ESPN.com earlier this year, "especially because it's someone I worked with and trusted as a friend. There have been other one-sided books about me, and I think people understand that this book is about money. I'm not going to waste my time reading it."

Tiger's bad feelings reached a crescendo prior to this week's Honda when a reporter asked him about the passage in which Haney asserts that Woods came close to ditching golf to join the Navy Seals. "I've already talked about everything," Woods told the reporter. He then told the persistent scribe, "you're a beauty" and to "have a good day." As for lingering resentment over the book? "It's still the same. Nothing has changed in that regard at all."

Earlier this year, Haney plead not guilty to the charge of besmirching his former pupil. "I was a witness to greatness," Haney told the AP. "And I get asked the question all the time about Tiger. I wanted to talk about it and I wanted to share it with people. That's the bottom line."

It seems that the simple fact that Haney is spilling the beans about their relationship is what has raised Tiger's ire. Woods never has been about sharing. He always has been private in the extreme. His splits from former agents, caddies and instructors were the result of those individuals sharing too much of Tiger’s life for his liking.

“I’m not sure I understand the unprofessionalism part," said Haney. “He hasn’t read the book. There are a lot of positives in there. I think he’s the greatest golfer who ever lived."

Now that excerpts are leaking, though, we have a better idea of what's getting Tiger's goat, including the assertion that Woods' pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 career majors became a burden. "There was more urgency and less fun," Haney writes. "Tiger was more irritable and impatient. He never mentioned (Jack) Nicklaus' record, but it started to weigh more heavily at every major. And Tiger's actions indicated he believed he had less time to do it than everyone else thought.

"In retrospect, 2007 was when Tiger began to lose the joy of playing and began to look at his career as something he wanted to get over with sooner rather than later."

Woods still insists that he'll catch Nicklaus, even if it takes longer than anticipated. "It's going to take an entire career to do it, and that's something I knew starting out."

Woods should have considered the law of unintended consequences before wading into this discussion. Tiger's protestations assure this book an extra boost of publicity. As if it needed any.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 17:16
Path: /columns/nascar-news-notes/nascar-penalizes-hendrick-motorsports-crew-chief-chad-knaus
Body:

 

by Matt Taliaferro
 
NASCAR has suspended Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec six races for C-posts on the No. 48 Chevrolet that the sanctioning body did not approve of in pre-qualifying inspection in Daytona. Both will also be on probation until May 9. In addition to the suspensions, Knaus has been fined $100,000 and driver Jimmie Johnson and car owners Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick have been penalized with the loss of 25 driver and 25 owner points.
 
The suspensions will be deferred, however, until an appeal hearing is completed.
 
A statement released on Wednesday stated: "The No. 48 car was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4J (any determination by NASCAR officials that race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules detailed in Section 20 of the rule book or has not been approved by NASCAR prior to the event); and 20-2.1E (if in the judgment of NASCAR officials, any part or component of the car not previously approved by NASCAR that has been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance will not be permitted -- unapproved car body modifications)."
 
A closer look at the NASCAR Rulebook reveals this about Rule 20-2.1E: "Streamlining the contours of the car, beyond that approved by the series director, will not be permitted. If, in the judgment of NASCAR officials, any part or component of the car not previously approved by NASCAR that has been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance will not be permitted."
 
Hendrick Motorsports responded with a statement of its own, saying it plans to appeal the penalties.
 
“Our organization respects NASCAR and the way the sanctioning body governs our sport,” said owner Rick Hendrick. “In this case, though, the system broke down, and we will voice our concerns through the appeal process.”
Teaser:
<p> NASCAR nails crew chief Chad Knaus for infractions in Daytona.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 14:58
All taxonomy terms: Tim Tebow, NFL, News
Path: /news/tim-tebow-taylor-swift-dating
Body:

The rumor mill is working overtime as reports are coming out that Broncos QB Tim Tebow and singer Taylor Swift were spotted having dinner Monday night at an Italian restaurant. The possible pairing has already earned the nickname Swebow. Of course, we kind of like the sound of Taybow. 

Teaser:
<p> We're calling them Taybow.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 14:23
Path: /overtime/nascar-drivers-race-bathroom-video
Body:

During Monday's bizarre Juan Pablo Montoya crash that left drivers waiting around for a couple of hours, two drivers kept racing…sort of. Dale Earnhardt Jr and Brad Keselowski both made a mad dash for the Port-o-Potty at the Daytona track. There was some drafting and a little bumping along the way before Earnhardt nudged out Keselowski. 

Teaser:
<p> Dale Earnhardt Jr and Brad Keselowski race to the bathroom during Daytona crash break.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 09:38
Path: /college-football/2012-cincinnati-bearcats-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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

Cincinnati Bearcats 2012 Spring Preview

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

Spring practice: March 1-April 17

Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 7

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Munchie Legaux, 55 of 116, 749 yds., 5 TDs, 4 INTs
Rushing: George Winn, 40 car., 219 yds., 2 TDs
Receiving: Anthony McClung, 49 rec., 683 yds., 6 TDs
Tackles: Maalik Bomar, 61
Sacks: Walter Stewart, 6
Interceptions: Two players tied with 3

Redshirts to watch: OL Parker Ehinger, OL Daniel Murray, DL Brandon Mitchell

Early Enrollees: DB Kevin Brown, RB Deionte Buckley, DL Jonathan Burt, LB Errol Clarke, QB Bennie Coney, TE DeShawn Dowdy, DB Marcus Foster, QB Trenton Norvell, DL Josh Posley

JUCO transfer to watch: RB Aaron Harris

Transfers to watch: OL Sam Longo (Ohio State)

2012 Schedule

Sept. 15 Delaware State
Sept. 29 Virginia Tech (Landover)
Oct. 6 Miami (Ohio)
Oct. 20 at Toledo

Big East conference schedule for 2012 has yet to be released.

Offensive Strength: The Bearcats suffered some heavy losses through graduation and return only four starters on offense in 2012. The receiving corps should be a strength, especially with Anthony McClung (49 catches) and Kenbrell Thompkins (44 catches) back in the mix.

Offensive Weakness: With so many losses, a number of positions need to be highlighted as a weakness. Munchie Legaux has experience, but Zach Collaros will be missed at quarterback. Isaiah Pead is gone after earning Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors last season. The Bearcats lose three starting offensive linemen, including guard Randy Martinez and tackle Alex Hoffman (both All-Big East selections last year).

Defensive Strength: Some key players are gone, but Cincinnati returns enough of a core to remain one of the best defenses in the Big East. Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills, Jordan Stepp and Walter Stewart is a good starting point up front, while three starters return in the secondary. Pass defense was a weakness for Cincinnati last season, but safety Drew Frey is back (a first-team All-Big selection last year), and help could come in the form of Malcolm Murray, a junior college transfer that missed last season with a knee injury.

Defensive Weakness: Although Cincinnati feels good about this group in 2012, it won’t be easy replacing linebacker JK Schaffer and tackle Derek Wolfe. Schaffer and Wolfe were both first-team All-Big East selections in 2011. While the secondary has a lot of bodies returning, it’s uncertain if that will translate into improvement.

Spring Storylines Facing the Bearcats:

1. The Bearcats engineered quite a turnaround last season. After finishing 4-8 in 2010, Cincinnati was predicted by most to finish in the second half of the Big East standings. However, credit coach Butch Jones and the staff for making the proper adjustments throughout preseason, as the Bearcats finished 2011 with a 10-3 record and a Liberty Bowl victory over Vanderbilt. Jones appears to have Cincinnati on the right track and received a contact extension in January, ensuring he should stick with the Bearcats for the next couple of seasons. Stability for Cincinnati is important, as Mark Dantonio was there for only three years before bolting for Michigan State, and Brian Kelly spent three seasons before jumping to Notre Dame. One concern for Jones and the coaching staff was the loss of co-defensive coordinator Tim Banks to Illinois. John Jancek shared the defensive coordinator title with Banks last season, but will be in charge of the all of the playcalling duties in 2012.

2. The glaring offensive question mark for Cincinnati in 2012 will be who replaces quarterback Zach Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead? Munchie Legaux started three games in relief of Collaros last year and finished with 749 yards and five touchdowns through the air. He also added 185 yards and two scores on the ground, but completed only 47.4 percent of his throws. Jordan Luallen threw only four passes as a backup last year, but will also get a chance to compete for the No. 1 position. Luallen has excellent mobility, but the coaching staff needs to find out if he can be a consistent threat as a passer. Legaux was rated as the No. 12 dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school by one recruiting service and will get better with more playing time. If Legaux and Luallen are unable to secure the No. 1 quarterback spot, the Bearcats will have to turn to true freshmen Trenton Norvell and Bennie Coney or redshirt freshman Patrick Coyne under center. The early frontrunner has to be Legaux, but how much he improves as a passer during the year will be critical to Cincinnati’s Big East title hopes.

3. It’s unlikely Cincinnati will be able to replace Isaiah Pead’s production (1,259 yards and 12 touchdowns) from just one player in 2012. George Winn is the team’s top returning rusher after recording 219 yards and two scores last year. Winn will likely share carries with sophomores Jameel Poteat and Ralph David Abernathy IV. Poteat averaged 4.7 yards on 23 attempts last season, while Abernathy made his biggest impact on special teams with an average of 26.5 yards per kick return. Poteat has a good mix of size and speed, while Abernathy is best suited as a change of pace option at 5-foot-6. The Bearcats won’t need 1,000 yards from one back, but they have to spread that production among Winn, Poteat and Abernathy. One other concern for the rushing attack will be three new starters on the offensive line.

4. After finishing seventh or worse in the Big East in scoring, passing and total defense in 2010, Cincinnati had one of the most improved defenses in the conference last season. The Bearcats ranked sixth in the Big East in total defense, but held opponents to 20.3 points a game and ranked second nationally with an average of 3.5 sacks a game. With a couple of key players and co-defensive coordinator Tim Banks gone, can Cincinnati continue to improve on this side of the ball? Four starters depart, including All-Big East first-team selections in linebacker JK Schaffer and tackle Derek Wolfe. However, the defensive line is solid with four key contributors back, and the secondary cannot be any worse than it was last year. A big reason for the improvement on defense was 33 forced turnovers last season. The Bearcats need to stay aggressive and keep their forced turnovers and sack numbers high in 2012. With inexperience stepping in at quarterback and running back, the defense may need to carry the day for Cincinnati early next season.

5. Assuming the Big East finds an eighth team for 2012, the Bearcats figure to catch a break in the schedule. Cincinnati had an unbalanced home/away schedule in conference play in 2011, as it hosted three games and played four Big East foes on the road. If the schedule from last season is reversed, the Bearcats will host Rutgers, South Florida and Pittsburgh – all teams predicted to be in the same tier next season. Cincinnati will have to travel to Louisville, but the schedule seems to be very manageable for a run at the Big East title. 

Related Content Links

College Football's Top 10 Storylines for 2012 Spring Practice
Grading College Football's New Coaches for 2012

Athlon's Very Early Big East Predictions for 2012

Athlon's Early Top 25 for 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon takes a spring overview of the Cincinnati Bearcats - a team expected to challenge for the Big East title in 2012.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 07:42
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-sleepers-and-busts-outfield
Body:

— by Mark Ross, published on Feb. 29, 2012

Who are the biggest sleepers and busts to watch out for on the fantasy diamond?

Using Athlon Sports’ consensus Top 150 as the barometer, here are some potential sleepers to keep an eye on and some possible busts to be wary of when it comes to drafting your fantasy teams this season.

Note: Outfield includes all players who have OF eligibility. Ranking in the Top 150 is listed, if applicable. UR means player was not ranked in the Top 150.

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

2012 Fantasy Baseball Outfield Sleepers:

Michael Cuddyer, COL, 1B/2B/OF (No. 120 overall)
Cuddyer, who also has eligibility at two different infield positions, put together a pretty solid 2011 season (.284, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 11 SB) and his numbers should get a boost this season as he moves from the Twins to the Rockies. Besides the home park advantage (switching from Target Field to Coors Field), the Rockies' line up packs more offensive punch than the Twins. Colorado finished tied for seventh in the majors in runs last season, while Minnesota was 25th.

Andre Ethier, LAD, OF (No. 150 overall)
Ethier was bothered by knee pain throughout much of last season and ended up having surgery on his right knee last September. If the knee was the reason behind the precipitous drop in his production (11 HR, 62 RBI) in 2011, he could be a late-round steal. Three seasons ago, Ethier posted a 31-106 season, along with 92 runs scored and 42 doubles.

Corey Hart, MIL, OF (No. 93 overall)
Hart missed the first three weeks of the season, but he still managed to finish it with 26 home runs, 80 runs scored and a .285 average. In the second half alone he posted a .297-16-37 line with 49 runs scored. Hart, who spent most of last season batting leadoff, could move down in the order and get the chance to drive in more runs, especially with Prince Fielder now in Detroit. If that happens, a repeat of his 2010 campaign (.283-31-102) is not out of the question.

Adam Jones, BAL, OF (No. 92 overall)
In 2011, Jones posted the best all-around season of his short career, batting .280 with career highs in home runs (25), RBIs (83) doubles (26) and stolen bases (12). If he can cut down on his strikeouts (113) and find ways to get on base more (.319 OBP), his numbers, especially runs scored (68) will get better. Improved plate discipline combined with Jones’ talent and tools, could very well translate to a .280-30-100 season with some speed thrown in for good measure.

Kendrys Morales, LAA, 1B/OF (UR)
If healthy, and that’s a rather large “if,” Morales could put up huge numbers in an Angels lineup that now includes Albert Pujols. In 2009, Morales broke out in a big way with a .306-34-108 season and was on pace for similar numbers in 2010 (.290-11-39 in 51 games) before breaking his ankle celebrating a walk-off home run. He hasn’t played in a game since May 29, 2010, but if he’s able to prove he’s ready during spring training, he could pick up where he left off almost two years ago.

Logan Morrison, MIA, OF (No. 142 overall)
Morrison gets more attention off the field, thanks in large part to his active Twitter account, than on it, but this may be the season that changes that. Morrison hit 23 home runs and drove in 72 in 123 games last season. A career .290 hitter in the minors, Morrison could be in for a huge 2012 if he can improve upon his .247 batting average from 2011.

2012 Fantasy Baseball Outfield Busts:

Michael Bourn, ATL, OF (No. 65 overall)
In the case of Bourn, it’s all about over-paying or over-drafting for one or two categories. Bourn will steal bases, as he has averaged 58 swipes the past three seasons, and score runs (94 in 2011), but don’t expect him to do much more. He has 13 career home runs in six seasons and his .294 batting average in 2011 was 31 points higher than his career .263 mark prior to that. Put the whole package together and I don’t see a player you necessarily want to draft in the seventh round.

Nelson Cruz, TEX, OF (No. 54 overall)
Will Cruz ever play a full season? That’s the question fantasy owners have been asking for the past three years as the Rangers’ slugger has tantalized with his power (33 home runs in 2009, 29 in ’11) and all-around talent (.318 average in 2010, 20 SB in ’09), but has yet to put it all together. He’s played no more than 128 games in any of the past three and his batting average dropped 55 points last season compared to 2010, while his strikeouts increased by 35. His potential alone is worthy of a fifth/sixth round selection. However, to this point, the overall production and reliability just hasn’t been there.

Josh Hamilton, TEX, OF (No. 32 overall)
Hamilton, whose history of injuries and off-the-field issues is well documented, has played in more than 133 games in season just once. In 2008, he played in 156 games and put up MVP-worthy numbers (.304, 32 HR, 130 RBI). The only other time he played in at least 133 games was in 2010, when he won the AL MVP with a .359-32-100 campaign. Otherwise, he has played in 90, 89 and 121 games his other three seasons. If you draft Hamilton in the fourth round, you are hoping for the 2008 and ’10 seasons and not the other ones. The fact that you don’t know which one you are getting is more than enough reason to let someone else take him that early.

Desmond Jennings, TB, OF (No. 58 overall)
I like Jennings and fully believe he will develop into a fantasy stud, I just don’t think it will happen this season. After all he has a grand total of 311 plate appearances in his career. He was called up in late July last season and after a hot start (.333, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 14 SB in 37 games), he struggled mightily (.160, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 6 SB) in September. Although I have no doubt he will get there, perhaps as early as next season, I think it’s a little early to call Jennings a top 60 overall player in 2012.

Michael Morse, WAS, 1B/OF (No. 79 overall)
First, let’s give credit where credit is due: Morse clubbed 31 home runs, drove in 95 and hit .303 in his first full season. So by calling him a “bust,” I’m not saying he’s going to pull an Adam Dunn this season and bottom out, but I am concerned that he won’t put up similar across-the-board numbers. You can’t ignore his low OBP (.360) and ugly walk-to-strikeout ratio (36:126). The power will probably still be there, but don’t be surprised if the average dips and he profiles more along the lines of a Mark Reynolds (No. 113) when looking at the complete package.

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

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

Teaser:
<p> Who are the biggest sleepers and busts to watch out for on the fantasy diamond?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 07:08
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-20-tennessee-volunteers
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 20: Tennessee Volunteers (22 total signees)

SEC Rank: 8th
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 0
National Signees: 4

Where They Got 'Em:

The state-by-state breakdown of this Tennessee class is exactly what a quality Volunteer class should look like. Derek Dooley used a heavy Southeastern focus mixed with talent-rich states like Ohio (2), Texas and Michigan to round out his class. Tennessee (4), Florida (5), Georgia (4), Louisiana (2), South Carolina (2) and North Carolina (1) provided the bulk of this haul. Without an elite naturally talented in-state recruiting base, the Vols have to be competitive in the thoroughly combed SEC states.

With a loaded (relatively speaking) in-state year in 2013 looming, new defensive coordinator and ace recruiter Sal Sunseri should make his presence felt more in the next cycle than in 2012.

Areas of Focus:

2012 will be a make or break season for Dooley, and all of Vol Nation knows it. Landing a top 25 class was imperative to keep the barking dogs at bay, and Dooley was able to accomplish that. And he did so in the face of massive coaching turnover. Dooley used elite level junior college talent — which can be a double-edged sword — and excellent coaching hires to ink the No. 20 recruiting class in the nation.

The hiring of Sunseri and former Vol Jay Graham have brought some excellent rising clout to the Big Orange recruiting trail. While a few names defected from this class following the coaching departures, undoubtedly these two deserve a lot of credit for not only holding the class together but also landing some big names down the stretch.

The biggest, both literally and figuratively, names to commit to Tennessee come from the JUCO ranks with the 6-6, 380-pound defensive tackle Daniel McCullers and five-star wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. A two-time NJCAA All-American, Patterson excelled as a wideout (61 rec., 924 yards, 15 TD), a return man (48.2 yards per kick return on 10 attempts) and in the ground game (32 att., 379 yards, 6 TD). These two are joined by former Alabama Crimson Tider Darrington Sentimore — who played 11 games as a freshman for Nick Saban back in 2010. McCullers and Sentimore are high-quality prospects who can contribute immediately to a D-Line that needs help.

Patterson leads a wide receiving class that is one of the best in the nation, and combined with Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers, will form arguably the deepest receiving corps in the nation. Three of the four nationally ranked players in this class are headed to the WR position and each brings a different skillset to the offense. Alton "Pig" Howard is a smallish speedster who can be used in a variety of unique ways. He posted 2,630 yards receiving and a 1,000-yard season (2010) as a wideout with 2,147 yards rushing and a 1,000-yard season (2009) over his final three prep campaigns. He scored 48 times over that span. The 6-5, 220-pound Jason Croom brings a long frame and big-time deep threat ability. He also ran track and played basketball and should be a fantastic vertical threat. In-stater Drae Bowles is the highest-rated of the bunch and might be the most complete. He finished his high school career with 171 receptions, 2,569 yards and 23 touchdowns — all while playing linebacker and defensive back on the other side of the ball. Add in tight end Justin Meredith to the mix, a guy who averaged 25 yards per catch as a junior, and the Vols boast the top pass-catching unit in the SEC.

With Tauren Poole graduating, the Vols needed to replenish their backfield, and three new faces come to campus in this class. Louisiana tailback Davante Bourque is the highest-rated of the bunch after rushing for 3,368 yards (8.4 ypc) and 57 touchdowns over his final two seasons at Crowley. Bourque has the most upside as a true three-down back, but smaller back Qeunshaun Watson and bruiser Alden Hill offer excellent complimentary pieces. Hill, who is already enrolled in class, finished as his school's all-time leading rusher (4,745 yards, Marlington, Alliance, Ohio) while Watson posted his own school record with a 1,790-yard senior year (Clarke Central, Athens, Ga.).

The big JUCO talents along the defensive line are joined by two true freshmen — 310-pound Michigan product Danny O'Brien and Lakeland, Fla., talent Trent Taylor. But make no mistake — Sentimore and McCullers are the likeliest to contribute early on the D-line.

Three linebackers signed with the Vols in this class with an oustide chance of a few other converts. The lengthy tandem of Justin King and LaTroy Lewis add tremendous athletic ability to the middle level of the Tennessee defense. Lewis, at 6-4 and 235 pounds, has some serious upside as an edge rusher but missed most of his senior season with a broken bone in his foot. If he fully recovers, he could easily outperform his recruiting rankings. King, who played quarterback and running back on offense as well as LB, brings a serious speed-size combination. Additionally, the Vols signed Florida linebacker Kenneth Bynum two weeks after National Signing Day. The 6-3, 213-pounder was formerly committed to Cincinnati, and Dooley's patience with him further indicates the issues at linebacker for Tennessee. Where and how these three end up will be key to how Dooley and Sunseri attack the potentially loaded 2013 class to fill a major area of need.

The defensive backfield got an excellent boost as well from a four-man defensive back class. Future safety LaDarrell McNeil is the top-rated player in this class and was once an AC100 talent. He led his team in tackles with 124 stops in 2011 and will likely make an immediate impact in the secondary. Cornerback Deion Bonner is the top coverman of the bunch after back-to-back all-state selections at Georgia powerhouse Columbus-Carver. He was named 2011 Co-MVP of the Georgia All-Star game. Bonner is joined on the outside by Sunshine State speedster Daniel Gray.

Even though quarterback is the least of Dooley's concerns at the moment, the Vols still landed a good one in Florida product Nathan Peterman. Offense-Defense named the Florida 6A first-teamer as the National Scholar-Athlete of the Year. His 36 passing touchdowns in 2011 rank second all-time in St. Johns County to that guy who wore No. 15 for the Gators.

Positional Breakdown:

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

AC100 Recruits:

None

Other National Signees:

112. LaDarrell McNeil, DB (6-1, 195), Dallas (Texas) Wilmer-Hutchins
180. Drae Bowles, WR (6-1, 198), Jackon (Tenn.) Christian
219. Alton Howard, WR (5-9, 180), Orlando (Fla.) Edgewater
240. Jason Croom, WR (6-5, 200), Norcross (Ga.) High

Early Enrollees:

Cody Blanc, ATH (6-1, 200), Knoxville (Tenn.) Central
Alden Hill, RB (5-11, 180), Alliance (Ohio) Marlington
Justin Meredith, TE (6-5, 225), Anderson (S.C.) T.L. Hanna
Nathan Peterman, QB (6-3, 210), Fruit Cove (Fla.) Bartram Trail
Darrington Sentimore, DL (6-2, 273), Norco (La.) Destrehan (Gulf Coast C.C.)
Trent Taylor, DL (6-2, 271), Lakeland (Fla.) Lake Gibson
Tino Thomas, DB (5-11, 195), Memphis (Tenn.) Melrose

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
18. Oregn Ducks
19. South Carolina Gamecocks
20. Tennessee Volunteers
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The Tennessee Volunteers landed the No. 20 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /columns/nascar-news-notes/long-and-short-it-dissecting-daytona
Body:

by Dustin Long

For a moment, well, actually about two hours on Monday night, it appeared as if the Daytona 500 would conclude one of the greatest weekends in racing upsets.

As crews doused a jet fuel fire and then washed Turn 3 with Tide, Dave Blaney was in the lead. Rain appeared on its way. The race was past the halfway mark. If it was called, Blaney, who had to race his way into the 500, would be the winner.

It seemed a fitting end to what had been a crazy few days at the track. Wild rides, wild finishes and unlikely winners made Daytona a place where dreams come true — instead of that Disney place about an hour down the road.

It began with the Camping World Truck race when John King, making only his eighth career series start, won and upon climbing out of his truck in Victory Lane, said: “Man, I’m a rookie, I’m not supposed to be here. Oh my gosh. This is unreal.’’

King, in his first race for Red Horse Racing, had never finished better than 15th in a Truck race before Daytona. He called Friday’s victory “feature win number three’’ for his career, noting he’d won one dirt late model racing and one late model race.

His victory didn’t come without controversy, though. Contact from King’s truck caused leader Johnny Sauter to crash during the second of the three attempts to finish the race under green.

“I’ve never pushed in my life,’’ King said of the drafting at Daytona. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart.’’

The next day, the Nationwide Series topped King’s dramatics when James Buescher, running 11th in the final corner of the final lap, won. Yes, he was 11th on the final corner and won the race when the 10 cars in front of him wrecked.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Buescher said of his victory.

It was hard to believe, considering those collected in the crash among the leaders included Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

So, it was with those finishes as a backdrop, the sport faced a trifecta of upsets with Blaney in first as the clock moved beyond 11 pm EST on Monday.

But the track was repaired, the rain didn’t stop the race and Blaney didn’t win (finishing 15th). Instead, Matt Kenseth held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle in a car that had overheating issues, fuel problems, a bad tachometer and radio woes throughout the race to score his second Daytona 500 victory. Kenseth’s victory brought a sense of order — the Roush Fenway Racing cars had been strong all week and Kenseth won his qualifying race — amid all the chaos of Speedweeks.

PRIMETIME  Sunday’s rainout and rain Monday afternoon gave the sport and its fans a chance to see what it would be like to have a prime-time weeknight Cup race.

It’s something some fans have called for in recent years. The theory being that it would draw a larger TV audience than a Sunday afternoon race or a Saturday afternoon race.

FOX reported that Monday night’s Daytona 500 drew an 8.0 rating, down eight percent from last year’s race, which was held on Sunday afternoon. Monday night’s rating was up four percent from the 2010 Daytona 500, which was twice delayed by a pothole.

FOX also reported that the total audience watching at least a portion of Monday night’s race was 36.5 million, up from last year’s 30 million.

So, let the debate continue if it’s worth it for the sport to run a prime-time weeknight race.

FUNNY BUSINESS?  Did Greg Biffle protect teammate Matt Kenseth, who was leading, from Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the green-white-checker finish that decided the Daytona 500?

Here’s what Earnhardt and Biffle had to say about the final lap:

Earnhardt: “I know that they're teammates, but his group of guys that specifically work on that car or travel down here to pit the car during the race, his crew chief, Greg himself, they work way too hard to decide to run second in a scenario like that. I'm pretty sure that … if (Biffle) had an opportunity to get around Matt and had a chance to win the Daytona 500, he would have took it immediately.

“He's trying to do what he could do. If I were him, I can't imagine what his game plan was in his head, but if I were him, I would have tried to let me push him by and then pull down in front of Matt, and force Matt to be my pusher and then leave the 88 for the dogs.’’

Said Biffle: “Once (Earnhardt) got against my bumper ... I was about three-quarters throttle, and then once we got straight I pushed the gas down. I thought that we would drive up on the back of (Kenseth’s car) without a problem. It must have just pushed enough air out in front of my car that it pushed (Kenseth’s) car out about five or six feet in front of me and I couldn’t get any closer.

“We were all going the same speed, so when I moved over, Matt moved over real easy and Junior is against my back bumper. So, I am trying not to wreck because he is shoving on me, and I am doing this down the back(stetch) thinking, ‘I am not going to be able to get a run at him.’

“The only thing I could have done was got real straight down the backstretch and pushed the brake pedal down and kept going straight and slow our cars down a fair enough and then let Junior make a run at Matt around (turns) three and four and we could have moved up beside him coming off the corner and then Junior and I would have had to dice it out to the line. That is probably what I should have done.’’

PIT STOPS  Matt Kenseth collected $1,589,387 for winning Sunday’s Daytona 500. David Ragan, who finished last, collected $267,637. Ragan ran one lap before he was eliminated by a crash. ... Last year, eight of the 12 drivers who made the Chase finished 20th or worse in the Daytona 500. That could be good news for Jimmie Johnson (42nd Monday), Jeff Gordon (40th), Brad Keselowski (32nd), Kasey Kahne (29th) and Ryan Newman (21st). ... The difference in limiting the tandem draft? Last year’s Daytona 500 featured 74 lead changes. Monday night’s race had 25 lead changes.

Follow Dustin on Twitter: @DustinLong
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long dissects the week that was at Daytona International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 23:11
Path: /college-basketball/pressure-west-virginia-northwestern
Body:

Which team is under the most pressure in this final week of the regular season?

Patrick Snow: I think the West Virginia Mountaineers are under a ton of pressure if they want to make a fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Bob Huggins’ club is currently tied for ninth in the rough Big East, and WVU has not been playing quality ball down the stretch. After starting the season at 15–5 overall and 5–2 in league play, the Mountaineers have lost seven of their last nine games. Those seven defeats include four home games, and WVU suffered a very tough loss last Friday after blowing an 11-point halftime lead against Marquette. Seniors Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones have led the team all season but have been inconsistent lately. WVU travels to South Florida on Saturday to face a Bulls club that has been very tough this season. A quality road win in the last regular-season game could be the difference-maker in getting the Mountaineers off the bubble, instead of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Huggins’ return to Morgantown.

Mitch Light: There’s a bunch of options here, but I will go with Northwestern, which is scratching and clawing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. The Wildcats are currently 17–11 overall and 7–9 in the Big Ten with an RPI of 43. They close the regular season with a home date with Ohio State on Wednesday and a tricky road game at Iowa on Saturday. If they beat Ohio State, they will be a virtual lock for the Tournament. If not, however, Bill Carmody’s club will head to Iowa City in must-win mode against an Iowa team that beat Indiana and Wisconsin in its last two home games. There’s no denying that this will be a stressful week for everyone associated with Northwestern basketball.


What conference tournament are you most looking forward to?

Patrick Snow: I am very excited for the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament this weekend. We all know the success that the CAA has had in recent NCAA Tournaments, producing two Final Four teams over the last six years — George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011. Even though three league squads (Drexel, VCU and George Mason) have 23 wins or more, I’m not sure that multiple teams will be invited to this season’s March Madness. That fact will make for a very exciting and pressure-packed league tourney. Three other CAA teams — Old Dominion, Delaware and Georgia State — have double-digit win totals in league play, so it should be wide open in Richmond. Drexel is the top seed on the strength of 17 consecutive victories, while fifth-place Delaware has won eight straight CAA games. VCU and George Mason will also be tough outs, as the CAA tourney figures to produce an electric atmosphere with multiple teams trying to reach their NCAA Tournament goal.

Mitch Light: I think the Missouri Valley Tournament in St. Louis — or Arch Madness, as it’s called — will be fun to watch. The league has two very good teams at the top in Wichita State (16–2) and Creighton (14–4) and then incredible balance with five teams finishing in a tie for third place at 9–9 in the league. Wichita State is the obvious favorite, but Creighton boasts the Valley’s best player in sophomore forward Doug McDermott, the son of head coach Greg McDermott. Looking for a sleeper? Indiana State was a bit of a disappointment this season with an 8–10 league record, but Greg Lansing’s club returns most of the key players from last year’s team that won the MVC Tournament title.

Nathan Rush: The SEC Tournament is must-see TV. Kentucky is the prohibitive favorite to win the national championship. But can the Wildcats cruise to the SEC crown, as they have in each of John Calipari's first two seasons at UK? If they are tested in a do-or-die tournament setting, how will Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the young Cats react? Also, the SEC has two of the more intriguing NCAA Tournament wild cards. Both Florida and Vanderbilt have the firepower to make a run in March. But if the Gators and Commodores don't get hot at the right time, either (or both) could easily stagger early in the Dance. UF and VU are hit or miss. But which is it? Then there's Alabama, a well-coached club that can stifle just about any offense on the right night. There is plenty of NCAA Tournament insight to be gleaned from the SEC Tournament — which, coincidentally, is in New Orleans, the site of this year's Final Four.



 

Teaser:
<p> The regular season is winding down in the Big Six power conferences. Several teams are in desperate need of some quality wins.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 11:45
All taxonomy terms: Daytona, Juan Pablo Montoya, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/juan-pablo-montoya-wreck-makes-wild-daytona-500-video
Body:

Although Matt Kenseth took home the checkered flag at the Daytona 500 last night, most spectators will be talking about the bizarre crash involving driver Juan Pablo Montoya. The crash took place while under caution when Montoya crashed into a jet dryer filled with about 200 gallons of jet fuel. The collision sparked a massive fire that scorched the track and delayed the race for more than an hour. 

Teaser:
<p> Driver crashes into jet dryer, sparking massive fire</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 09:12
Path: /columns/nascar-monday-recap/primetime-thriller-kenseth-wins-wild-daytona-500
Body:

by Matt Taliaferro

The 1979 Daytona 500 is considered by many to be the most noteworthy in the event’s 54-year history. A snowstorm blanketed much of the East Coast, providing a captivated audience; a last-lap battle for the win, ending in a wreck and a surprise winner; and of course, an infamous post-race fight in the infield between Cale Yarborough and brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison.

The 2012 edition of The Great American Race did its best to top it. And just may have done so.

Rained out for the first time ever, the Daytona 500 took NASCAR’s premier turn on a weeknight, prime-time slot on network television, and it didn’t take long for the storylines to develop. A wreck on Lap 2 eliminated five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, along with Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick, Trevor Bayne and David Ragan.

A somewhat subdued period followed, as drivers filed in line, ran in formation and waited to make their moves as the possibility of rain kept crew chiefs chewing their pencils. A Ryan Newman single-car spin, a blown engine in Jeff Gordon’s Chevy and another blown powerplant, this in David Stremme’s ride, punctuated a largely two-by-two affair.

And then, it all went up in flames.

While under caution for Stremme’s blown engine, Juan Pablo Montoya’s rear wheels locked up as he was catching up to the field due to a faulty transmission. His No. 42 Chevy crashed violently into a jet dryer that was blowing debris off of the track, igniting the safety vehicle into a ball of jet-fueled fire. Two hundred gallons of jet fuel burned on the track as safety personnel attempted to put out the blaze and then remove the vehicle while questions circulated that the race may not be resumed.

A two hour and five minute red-flag period ensued while NASCAR and track personnel repaired the surface, cleaning the spilt fuel and patching damaged areas of the surface. Meanwhile, drivers exited their parked cars on the backstretch, taking to Twitter — Brad Keselowski is believed to have gained 55,000 followers during the break — huddling around unlikely leader Dave Blaney’s car and doing television interviews.

Once racing resumed — at midnight in the eastern time zone — and with 40 laps remaining, Matt Kenseth inherited the lead. And it was a lead he would hold for the duration, which included two additional wrecks, the first with 13 laps to go that involved seven cars and the second, an eight-car affair that took the race into a green-white-checker finish.

In the two-lap overtime conclusion, Kenseth held off teammate Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. when the pair failed to piece together a run that could dethrone Kenseth’s powerful Ford.

“It was like the 17 (Kenseth) had more motor at the end,” an incredulous Biffle said. “It was like he floored it and we couldn’t catch him.

“I thought Junior would push up to his back bumper and I’d side-draft him (Kenseth) and go by him and then it’d be me and Junior over here at the (finish) line. But it wasn’t meant to be.”

Earnhardt squeezed by Biffle for second. Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton rounded out the top 5.

The win was Kenseth's his second of Speedweeks 2012 after taking checkers in his Gatorade Duel race on Thursday, and his second Daytona 500 triumph in the last four years. It was also earned under difficult circumstances, as his Ford experienced water system issues early in the race (nearly falling a lap down) and radio problems late.

“Our car, for some reason, was a lot faster out front than it was in traffic,” Kenseth said. “It took a long time to get to the front, but like Thursday (in the Duel) once we were in the front, it was hard for anybody to get locked onto you.

“My car was one of the faster cars, so it was harder for some of the cars to push you and stay locked onto you. And I learned a little bit on Thursday about the last couple laps there, and kind of what to do and what not to do and what this car liked. And we had enough speed once we took the white (flag), I felt sort of OK about it, but I still thought they were going to get a run and pass me. By the time I got to (Turn) 3 and could see they couldn't get enough speed mustered up to try to make a move.”

So while the final lap may have lacked the fireworks seen in the ’79 edition, the rest of the event certainly had more twists, turns and downright surreal circumstances. Earnhardt, for one, was just happy to get out of a long Speedweeks with a clean car and a solid finish.

“You know, you bring such a nice car down here, and the chances of you tearing it up is pretty high. Odds are always kind of high you get caught up in something like what we saw at the end of the race. But I was really happy to be able to take the car home in one piece, and liked the way the motor ran, liked the way the car drove.”

And in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, following a race that was supposed to be completed on Sunday afternoon, Earnhardt summed up a marathon weekend well: “It was a little bit of a bizarre week with the rain and all that, but you know, we stuck around and got it all done.”

Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Teaser:
<p> Matt Kenseth wins the first weeknight Daytona 500 run in prime time.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 08:57
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-19-south-carolina-gamecocks
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 19: South Carolina Gamecocks (25 total signees)

SEC Rank: 7th
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 2
National Signees: 5

Where They Got 'Em:

If South Carolina could use only three states to recruit talent, it would probably survive just fine. Florida, Georgia and the home Palmetto State have supplied the majority of the roster for most of the Steve Spurrier era in Columbia. While inking only five in-state prospects in 2012 — the fewest since the 2007 class — Spurrier absolutely dominated in the state of Georgia. With 12 signees from the Peach State this cycle, South Carolina has landed a total of 23 prospects from the neighboring state over the last two years — and has signed a total of 42 Georgians over the last five years. Florida supplied a solid trio of talents this year as well.

North Carolina added three prospects, including a pair of already enrolled blocking brothers, while New Jersey and Pennsylvania added one apiece to the Carolina class.

Areas of Focus:

Spurrier has to like this skill class. The best tailback in the nation, Marcus Lattimore, doesn't count, but his return to the lineup and the arrival of seven stellar offensive skill freshman should more than make up for the loss of Alshon Jeffery. Shaq Roland is the top prospect in this class and is the nation's No. 3 overall wide receiver. He led his squad to an unblemished regular season and claimed South Carolina Mr. Football honors with nearly 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2011. He also earned Offensive MVP of the Shrine Bowl.

Roland is joined in the receiving corps by nationally rated Kwinton Smith and Jody Fuller. Smith has a massive frame (6-4, 206) and was also a baseball star in high school while Fuller also earned a Shrine Bowl invitation after 68 receptions and 11 touchdowns as a senior. Two tight ends, early enrollee Kelvin Rainey and prep schooler Jerell Adams, completely restock the pass-catching depth chart for the Gamecocks.

In the backfield, AC100 prospect Mike Davis might turn out to be the gem of this class. The bowling ball of a tailback rushed for 1,923 yards on 213 carries — yes, that is over 9.0 yards per carry — and 21 touchdowns in 2011 for Stephenson. He was a rapid riser in the rankings as the season wound down and excelled at the U.S. Army All-American event in San Antonio. He is the No. 8-rated running back in the nation in what turned out to be a loaded year for RBs. In-stater Kendric Salley rushed for over 5,000 yards and 90 touchdowns in his prep career and gives South Carolina one of the deepest backfields in the SEC.

Brendan Nosovitch is the lone quarterback in this class. He comes to South Carolina from Pennsylvania as the state's all-time record holder for total yards with 12,877 and second all-time in passing yards with 9,249. The football in the Keystone State certainly isn't what it used to be 30 years ago, but I shouldn't have to remind South Carolina fans of who dots the PA prep quarterback record books. Try Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, George Blanda, Rich Gannon and Johnny Lujack. Nosovitch isn't a five-star talent, but he was incredibly productive and won a state title as a junior. He should easily outperform his middling recruiting ranking.

Five stellar offensive line prospects signed with South Carolina this cycle. A pair of brothers, Clayton and the nationally ranked Brock Stadnik, are already enrolled and will participate in spring ball. Clayton is slotted to play center, while Brock and the 6-foot-9 Mason Zandi bolster the tackle position. Joe Harris and Cody Waldrop both tip the scales at over 300 pounds and will both play guard.

The secondary got the most attention on the defense as Spurrier lost plenty of talent to graduation and early NFL entries. Nationally rated Chaz Elder leads half a dozen defensive back prospects headed to South Carolina. The versatile coverman could end up as one of the biggest cornerbacks in the league at 6-2 and 190 pounds, but also excelled as a safety. Jordan Diggs is slated to play the hybrid 'Spur' position for the Gamecocks, while T.J. Gurley and Kyle Fleetwood are expected to play safety. Chris Moody and Rico McWilliams add tremendous depth to the outside, as they should land at cornerback. This is a deep, versatile and complete defensive back class that should outperform its recruiting rankings as well.

The front seven, which should be dominant once again in 2012, didn't need too much attention. Spurrier added five names to this group with end Darius English heading the defensive line class and Kaiwan Lewis topping the linebackers. Lewis helped lead St. Joseph's to an unbeaten state championship season in the Garden State, while the 6-6, 215-pound English claimed Georgia's 5A Defensive Player of the Year honors after 21 sacks in 2011. End Jhaustin Thomas and tackle Carlos Hood will team with English to add depth to an already stacked front line for South Carolina.

Positional Breakdown:

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

AC100 Recruits:

41. Shaq Roland, WR (6-1, 173), Lexington (S.C.) High
54. Mike Davis, RB (5-9, 216), Lithonia (Ga.) Stephenson

Other National Signees:

221. Brock Stadnik, OL (6-5, 287), Greensboro (N.C.) Western Guilford
222. Chaz Elder, CB (6-2, 187), Union City (Ga.) Banneker
235. Kwinton Smith, WR (6-4, 206), Hamer (S.C.) Dillon

Early Enrollees:

Kelvin Rainey, TE (6-3, 216), Yulee (Fla.) High
Brock Stadnik, OL (6-5, 287), Greensboro (N.C.) Western Guilford
Clayton Stadnik, OC (6-2, 265), Greensboro (N.C.) Western Guilford

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
18. Oregn Ducks
19. South Carolina Gamecocks
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The South Carolina Gamecocks landed the No. 19 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 05:56
Path: /college-football/2012-acc-schedule-analysis
Body:

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

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

Boston College

Sept. 1 Miami
Sept. 8 Maine
Sept. 15 at Northwestern
Sept. 22 Bye Week 
Sept. 29 Clemson
Oct. 6 at Army
Oct. 13 at Florida State
Oct. 20 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 27 Maryland
Nov. 3 at Wake Forest
Nov. 10 Notre Dame
Nov. 17 Virginia Tech
Nov. 24 at NC State

* The Tom O’Brien Bowl. The Eagles will close out the 2012 season with a road trip to Raleigh to take on former coach Tom O’Brien. Boston College has won four out of the last five games against the Wolfpack, including a 14-10 victory in Chestnut Hill last season.

* Coach on the hot seat? There’s no question coach Frank Spaziani needs to get into a bowl game to save his job. If the Eagles are to get back into the postseason, they will have to make up some ground in the early portion of the schedule. November is a brutal month with road trips to Wake Forest and NC State (likely bowl teams) and home games against Notre Dame and Virginia Tech.

* A tricky non-conference schedule. Boston College should be able to beat Maine on Sept. 8, but there’s no guarantee it beats Army, Northwestern or Notre Dame. The Black Knights are a difficult team to prepare for after a short week, while the Wildcats beat the Eagles 24-17 in Chestnut Hill last season.

* The Eagles finished 2011 with a 24-17 victory over Miami. The first opponent for 2012: the Hurricanes. These two should be quite familiar with each other by the end of the game on Sept. 1.

* Road trip. The Eagles didn’t get a break in terms of the schedule in October as they have to travel for back-to-back games against Florida State and Georgia Tech.

* Crossover opponents with the Coastal: Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech

Clemson

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

* The Tigers will open the 2012 season in Atlanta as the second game in the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff. NC State and Tennessee will meet in the first matchup of the ACC-SEC/Chick-fil-A challenge on Friday night in Atlanta. Clemson hosted Auburn last season, posting a 38-24 victory on Sept. 17. Last year’s win snapped a 14-game losing streak to Auburn. 

* ACC Atlantic title game? Clemson and Florida State are the early favorites to claim the 2012 Atlantic Division and the Sept. 22 matchup will be huge for both teams. The Tigers’ revamped offensive line will face a huge challenge as it goes against Florida State’s defensive line. Clemson has not won in Tallahassee since 2006.

* The open date comes at a good time for Clemson. The Tigers are off on Oct. 13, one week before hosting Virginia Tech. Clemson easily handled the Hokies in two meetings last year, but this will be a key matchup as both teams try to stay alive in the national title picture.

* The back half of the schedule isn’t overwhelmingly easy, but getting Wake Forest, Duke, Maryland and NC State is a pretty favorable run for Clemson.

* Trap game? After hosting Virginia Tech on Oct. 20, the Tigers have a five-day turnaround to take on Wake Forest in Winston-Salem.

* As usual, Clemson will close out the year with South Carolina. The Tigers have lost the last three matchups to the Gamecocks. The season finale with South Carolina is the final matchup in a three-game home-stand to close out 2012.

Duke 

Sept. 1 Florida International
Sept. 8 at Stanford
Sept. 15 North Carolina Central
Sept. 22 Memphis
Sept. 29 at Wake Forest
Oct. 6 Virginia
Oct. 13 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 20 North Carolina
Oct. 27 at Florida State
Nov. 3 Clemson
Nov. 10 Bye Week
Nov. 17 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 24 Miami

* The schedule doesn’t start with any favors. Mario Cristobal has built FIU into a Sun Belt power and a 2,800-mile trip to Palo Alto — with or without Andrew Luck — will be downright impossible for Duke.

* An 0-2 start is likely before winnable non-conference tilts with North Carolina Central and Memphis.

* The road schedule, while impossibly brutal in conference, actually works out for a team of Duke’s stature. The Blue Devils have little chance of upsetting ACC powers Virginia Tech, Florida State or Georgia Tech, so why not play them on the road? That gives Duke a better chance of upsetting lesser teams like Virginia, North Carolina and Miami at home. It feels like fuzzy logic, but if Duke wants to make a bowl, it has to upset the “lower-tiered” teams in its division.

* Surprisingly, the Blue Devils don’t end the 2012 season with North Carolina. Duke has played the Tar Heels in the season finale six out of the last seven seasons.

* Duke caught a bad break in scheduling as its bye week is two weeks before the season finale.

* Crossover opponents with the Atlantic: at Wake Forest, at Florida State, Clemson

Florida State

Sept. 1 Murray State
Sept. 8 Savannah State
Sept. 15 Wake Forest
Sept. 22 Clemson
Sept. 29 at South Florida
Oct. 6 at NC State
Oct. 13 Boston College
Oct. 20 at Miami
Oct. 27 Duke
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 8 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 17 at Maryland
Nov. 24 Florida

* Two FCS opponents. With West Virginia backing out of a scheduled non-conference matchup, the Seminoles were forced to scramble and add Savannah State to fill the Sept. 8 date. Only one FCS win will count to bowl eligibility for Florida State in 2012.

* Home cooking. The Seminoles won’t have to leave Florida until their Oct. 6 date against NC State. The first four games are at home, with a trip to South Florida on tap for the fifth week of the season.

* Trap game? One week after traveling to take on South Florida, the Seminoles have to hit the road to play NC State on Oct. 6. The Wolfpack has defeated Florida State two out of the last three times in Raleigh.

* Rematch? It’s interesting the ACC scheduled the Florida State-Virginia Tech showdown so late in the season (Nov. 8). These two teams are the early favorites to meet for the ACC title on Dec. 1, so there could be two meetings within three weeks between the Seminoles and Hokies.

* A trip to Blacksburg. Florida State’s trip to Blacksburg on Nov. 8 will be only the third meeting with Virginia Tech as an ACC member during the regular season (not counting ACC Championship Game appearances). The Seminoles lost their last appearance at Virginia Tech, falling 40-21 in 2007. However, the schedule makers gave Florida State a break, as the Seminoles have a bye before playing the Hokies this season.

* ACC Atlantic Championship Game? With Clemson and Florida State expected to be the frontrunners to win the ACC Atlantic, the Sept. 22 meeting could have a significant impact on the division race. Considering the Tigers have some heavy losses on the offensive line, Florida State catches a break by getting Clemson early in the season.

* Instate rivals. Can the Seminoles continue their string of recent success against their rivals in the Sunshine State? Florida State has won three out of the last four against Miami and two in a row against Florida.

* Crossover opponents with the Coastal: at Miami, Duke, at Virginia Tech

Georgia Tech

Sept. 3 at Virginia Tech (Labor Day)
Sept. 8 Presbyterian
Sept. 15 Virginia
Sept. 22 Miami
Sept. 29 Middle Tennessee
Oct. 6 at Clemson
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 Boston College
Oct. 27 BYU
Nov. 3 at Maryland
Nov. 10 at North Carolina
Nov. 17 Duke
Nov. 24 at Georgia

* Either Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech has represented the Coastal Division in all seven ACC Championship games with the winner of the Techie Bowl earning the division crown all seven years. The game holds even more importance in 2012 as these two budding rivals will play on Labor Day night to wrap-up the first weekend of the 2012 season. Fans won’t have to wait long for what could be the most important Coastal Division contest of the year.

* Georgia Tech didn’t want to be victim of a FCS upset after a Labor Day matchup. Remember Virginia Tech in 2010? The Yellow Jackets will have to play on a short week after matching up against the Hokies, but Presbyterian should pose little threat to Georgia Tech.

* The top three teams in the Atlantic Division will be Florida State, Clemson and NC State. While the Jackets have to play at Clemson to start October, Paul Johnson’s bunch misses Florida State and NC State this fall.

* The Yellow Jackets will need to have a great summer camp because the first month of the season will determine just how good they will be in 2012. After the brutal opening weekend trip to Blacksburg, Georgia Tech plays key division foes Virginia and Miami before the calendar flips to October. And with a road trip to Clemson looming on October 6, Tech plays its toughest four ACC games in the first six weeks of the season.

* The non-conference slate for Georgia Tech is always highlighted by some clean, old-fashioned hate and 2012 is no different. The season culminates with a trip to Athens — which isn’t a bad thing for Tech, where three of the last four wins in the series have come Between the Hedges. An intriguing visit from BYU at the end of October will offer an interesting change of pace in the heart of the ACC schedule.

* Crossover opponents with the Atlantic: at Clemson, Boston College, at Maryland.

Maryland

Sept. 1 William & Mary
Sept. 8 at Temple
Sept. 15 Connecticut
Sept. 22 at West Virginia
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 6 Wake Forest
Oct. 13 at Virginia
Oct. 20 NC State
Oct. 27 at Boston College
Nov. 3 Georgia Tech
Nov. 10 at Clemson
Nov. 17 Florida State
Nov. 24 at North Carolina

* The Terrapins finished 2011 riding an eight-game losing streak. Maryland should be able to start the year 1-0 with William & Mary visiting College Park on Sept. 1. The Tribe finished 5-6 last year and was decked 40-3 by Virginia in the season opener.

* The Randy Edsall Bowl. Edsall’s tenure at Maryland is off to a horrible start, but how much more scrutiny will he face if Connecticut beats the Terrapins on Sept. 15? Edsall coached the Huskies for 12 seasons, leading them to a 74-70 record and one BCS bowl appearance. Remember when Edsall took over he proclaimed Maryland to be his dream job? You can bet the Huskies haven’t forgotten that or how Edsall left them for Maryland after the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma.

* Maryland and West Virginia is a solid rivalry, but it’s a series that has been dominated by the Mountaineers recently. West Virginia has won six in a row over the Terrapins and this year’s game will be the final non-conference game for both in 2012. With conference play starting up after this matchup, it’s the final tune-up opportunity for both teams.

* Maryland has met Virginia every year since 1957. The Terrapins have lost four out of the last five games in this series.

* The Terrapins have a brutal stretch to close out the 2012 season – Georgia Tech, at Clemson, Florida State and at North Carolina. A lot can change before November, but it’s not out of the question the Terrapins will be at least a touchdown underdog in each of those matchups.

* Insignificant note: Maryland’s schedule alternates home and road games all year.

* Crossover opponents with the Coastal: at Virginia, Georgia Tech, at North Carolina

Miami

Sept. 1 at Boston College
Sept. 8 at Kansas State
Sept. 15 Bethune-Cookman
Sept. 22 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 29 NC State
Oct. 6 at Notre Dame (Solider Field, Chicago, Ill.)
Oct. 13 North Carolina
Oct. 20 Florida State
Oct. 27 Bye Week
Nov. 1 Virginia Tech
Nov. 10 at Virginia
Nov. 17 South Florida
Nov. 24 at Duke

* For a young team that has to replace most of its leaders, Miami gets no favors in non-conference play. A nasty trip to the Little Apple in Week 2 is a likely loss. A long road trip to Solider Field in Chicago to face Notre Dame has loads of national appeal, but the Irish should be a heavy favorite. And a home test against in-state rival South Florida is never easy — in fact, the only time these two have played in Miami Gardens, USF won 23-20 back in 2010. Bethune-Cookman is the only clear-cut non-conference win for Al Golden.

* The last regular season matchup between Miami and Notre Dame occurred in 1990.

* The Hurricanes are set-up for a strong second half push, but it might come at the expense of early season losses. Four of its first six games are on the road, including a key division game against Georgia Tech. Those types of road games — at Kansas State, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame — can be great learning tools for a young team. Yet, most learning experiences are losses and that could be the case with this first month of play. Toss in a home game against a quality NC State team and 3-3 becomes a very likely first half record for Miami.

* With those road tests out of the way early on, the Canes have a chance to make some big statements over a four-week period of time. Right in the heart of the conference slate, Miami plays three straight home games and gets its bye week. Now, those games are North Carolina, Florida State and Virginia Tech, but should Miami learn from its tough first month, it could easily pull off a key upset during its four-week home-stand.

* Crossover opponents with the Atlantic: at Boston College, NC State, Florida State

NC State

Aug. 31 Tennessee (Atlanta)
Sept. 8 at Connecticut
Sept. 15 South Alabama
Sept. 22 The Citadel
Sept. 29 at Miami
Oct. 6 Florida State
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Maryland
Oct. 27 at North Carolina
Nov. 3 Virginia
Nov. 10 Wake Forest
Nov. 17 at Clemson
Nov. 24 Boston College

* The Wolfpack will open the 2012 season in Atlanta as part of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Challenge. NC State and Tennessee will play on Friday night, while Clemson and Auburn will meet on Saturday. NC State and Tennessee have met only twice, with each team winning once. The last meeting came in 1939.

* NC State will be the first of two ACC teams to take on Connecticut in 2012. The Wolfpack take on the Huskies on Sept. 8 and Maryland hosts Connecticut on Sept. 15.

* South Alabama (NC State’s Week 3 opponent) is transitioning to FBS status and will play a full Sun Belt schedule in 2012.

* NC State is riding a five-game winning streak over rival North Carolina.

* The Wolfpack have not played Miami since 2008. NC State has won the last two matchups against Miami.

* Three of NC State’s last four games are at home.

* The Wolfpack’s matchup against Florida State on Oct. 6 could be a sneaky game in the Atlantic Division title race. NC State was shutout by the Seminoles in 2011, but knocked off Florida State in 2010. 

North Carolina

Sept. 1 Elon
Sept. 8 at Wake Forest
Sept. 15 at Louisville
Sept. 22 East Carolina
Sept. 29 Idaho
Oct. 6 Virginia Tech
Oct. 13 at Miami
Oct. 20 at Duke
Oct. 27 NC State
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 10 Georgia Tech
Nov. 15 at Virginia (Thur.)
Nov. 24 Maryland

* The road schedule isn’t all that daunting in conference for the new Tar Heels staff. Trips to Miami, Virginia, Wake Forest and Duke should all be manageable for a team that expects to compete for eight or nine wins.

* Another huge schedule break for the Tar Heels: Three of the top five teams in the ACC will visit Chapel Hill: Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and NC State.

* The crossover schedule is very manageable as well. The aforementioned trip to Wake Forest is no gimmie and NC State is a quality opponent, but there is no Florida State or Clemson on the slate. This should make adjusting to life in the ACC just that much easier for new head coach Larry Fedora — who has plenty of offensive talent to work with in 2012.

* The Tar Heels have a tricky non-conference date against Louisville in Week 3. The Cardinals should be the favorite to win the Big East title in 2012. North Carolina defeated Louisville 14-7 in Chapel Hill last year.

* By playing Georgia Tech on Nov. 10, North Carolina won’t have much time to prepare for Virginia on Nov. 15. The Tar Heels will only have five days of rest. 

* Crossover opponents from the Atlantic: at Wake Forest, NC State, Maryland

Virginia Cavaliers

Sept. 1 Richmond
Sept. 8 Penn State
Sept. 15 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 22 at TCU
Sept. 29 Louisiana Tech
Oct. 6 at Duke
Oct. 13 Maryland
Oct. 20 Wake Forest
Oct. 27 Bye Week
Nov. 3 at NC State
Nov. 10 Miami
Nov. 15 North Carolina
Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech

* The Cavaliers feature maybe the toughest non-conference schedule in the ACC this fall. Penn State at home will be a tough challenge, despite all that the Nittany Lions have gone through over the last year. A trip to Fort Worth to battle TCU is a tall order. And don’t forget about a visit from WAC champion Louisiana Tech. Those are winnable games for a team that wants to compete for an ACC title. With a road test against Georgia Tech slipped between games with Penn State and TCU, fans in Charlottesville should know all about their 2012 team by September 22.

*  The good news for Virginia in conference play is what isn’t on the schedule. Like North Carolina, the Cavs miss both Florida State and Clemson. The only way Mike London’s squad will face the Noles or Tigers will be in the ACC Championship game — a test that London would be happy to see.

* After a brutal start to the season, Virginia gets a stretch where four of five ACC games will be played at home. Divisional swing games against Miami and North Carolina, as well as must-wins against Maryland and Wake Forest, will come in the comforts of Scott Stadium. This all, of course, leads up to a nasty season-ending road trip to Blacksburg for the Commonwealth Cup.

* The Cavaliers’ final three opponents are all from the Coastal Division.

* Crossover opponents from the Atlantic: Maryland, Wake Forest, at NC State

Virginia Tech

Sept. 3 Georgia Tech (Labor Day)
Sept. 8 Austin Peay
Sept. 15 at Pittsburgh
Sept. 22 Bowling Green
Sept. 29 Cincinnati (Landover)
Oct. 6 at North Carolina
Oct. 13 Duke
Oct. 20 at Clemson
Oct. 27 Bye Week
Nov. 1 at Miami
Nov. 8 Florida State
Nov. 17 at Boston College
Nov. 24 Virginia

* In each of the seven ACC Championship game seasons, the winner of the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech game has gone on to win the Coastal Division. This fall should be no different as these two enter 2012 as the favorites once again. However, this year they will square off in Week 1 and I can think of no better way to end kickoff weekend with the most important game in the Coastal Division in primetime on Labor Day night. The good news? Frank Beamer will have all summer long to prepare for the Jackets’ triple option attack — which has worked well for bowl teams of late.

* There will be a three-game stretch as the calendar flips to November that will determine if Virginia Tech is a national power or merely another quality Frank Beamer squad. A road trip to Clemson to face the only team that beat the Hokies in the regular season in 2011 will resonate across both ACC divisions. Then back-to-back primetime Thursday night games following the bye week will give voters plenty of chances to see the Hokies against quality competition. First, a trip to Miami could carry division implications and finally Florida State comes to Blacksburg on November 8 in what could be an ACC title game preview. This game could carry National Championship repercussions as well should both teams develop as expected along the offensive line.

* Virginia Tech is playing its second game in Landover in the last three seasons. The last meeting in Landover was a 33-30 loss to Boise State.

* Florida State and Miami take on Virginia Tech after a having a bye week.

* Overall, this is a tough schedule that features two intriguing non-conference tests, a huge Coastal swing game right out of the gate, two potential ACC championship game previews, the Commonwealth Cup and two road trips to North Carolina and Miami. Should Hokies continue their run of ACC dominance, it will have most assuredly earned it in 2012.

* Future ACC opponents. Pittsburgh will likely join the ACC in time for the 2013 season and is slated to be in the Coastal Division. The Panthers and Hokies have not met since 2003.

* Crossover opponents with the Atlantic: at Clemson, Florida State, at Boston College

Wake Forest

Sept. 1 Liberty
Sept. 8 North Carolina
Sept. 15 at Florida State
Sept. 22 Army
Sept. 29 Duke
Oct. 6 at Maryland
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Virginia
Oct. 25 Clemson
Nov. 3 Boston College
Nov. 10 at NC State
Nov. 17 at Notre Dame
Nov. 24 Vanderbilt

* Wake Forest opens the year with a solid FCS opponent in Liberty. Interestingly enough, the Flames are led by former Buffalo and Kansas coach Turner Gill. Former North Carolina quarterback Joe Dailey is also on Gill’s staff.

* The Sept. 8 matchup with North Carolina is the only ACC conference game that weekend. The rest of the ACC will be playing non-conference games.

* The Demon Deacons have had solid success against Florida State recently, knocking off the Seminoles 35-30 last season and claiming two out of the last three matchups in Tallahassee.

* If the Demon Deacons want to get back to a bowl game, there’s an important three-game stretch in the early part of the season. Wake Forest will be favored to beat Army and Duke, and will have to travel to College Park to take on Maryland. If the Demon Deacons can pick up three wins in that stretch, combined with a win in the opener against Liberty, this team should be in good shape to reach the postseason in 2012.

* Short week. Wake Forest has to play at Virginia on Oct. 20 and then hosts Clemson just five days later.

* The Nov. 17 meeting with Notre Dame will only be the second time the Demon Deacons and Fighting Irish have played. The first matchup took place last season with Notre Dame winning 24-17.

* Wake Forest will close out the regular season against Vanderbilt for the fifth time in six seasons. The Demon Deacons have won three out of the last four against the Commodores, but lost 41-7 in Winston-Salem last season. 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon takes a look at some of the key matchups, notes and observations for the 2012 ACC schedule.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 05:54

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