Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: Olympics, Olympics
Path: /olympics/weirdest-olympic-sports-all-time
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The 2012 Summer Olympics are just around the corner. Millions of viewers around the world will be glued to their TV sets watching popular events such as basketball, gymnastics and swimming. But there are some sports, historically and today, that have us wondering one thing—WHY?!

Here is a look at some of the weirdest actual events in the history of the modern Olympics.

Live Pigeon Shooting

The 1900 Paris Olympics has the distinction of being the only Olympics where athletes killed animals for sport. Belgium’s Leon Lunden took home the gold with 21 downed birds, with a total of 300 birds being killed during the competition.   

 

Tug-of-War

Remember playing Tug-of-War in elementary school during gym class? In the early days of the modern Olympics, this event was a mainstay of the games, with the Tug-of-War being held at every Olympiad as a track-and-field event between the years 1900 and 1920. The sports’ greatest scandal came in 1908 when the City of London Police Club purportedly wore illegal footwear that was so heavy the men had trouble moving their feet.

The champions were as follows: 1900, a combination Swedish/Danish team; 1904: the Milwaukee Athletic Club, representing Team USA; 1906: Germany/Switzerland; 1908: The London Police Club, representing Great Britain; 1912: Sweden; and 1920: Great Britain.

 

Racewalking (20km and 50km)

It seems ridiculous that racewalking continues to be an Olympic sport while more popular sports like baseball and cricket continue to be snubbed by the Olympic Committee. For the uninformed, Racewalking differs from running in that competitors must maintain contact with the ground at all times with at least one foot. While the event is very technically difficult (competitors are continually judged for proper form and docked if caught using illegal technique), there is nothing exciting about watching a bunch of people walking at a brisk pace. Finally, it doesn’t help that the athletes look like constipated penguins when competing. See for yourself. 

 

Rhythmic Gymnastics

Olympic Committee members, if you’re reading this, please vote to eliminate Rhythmic Gymnastics for 2016. While there’s no denying the technical difficulty and beauty of the competitors’ performances, this activity has no place in today’s Olympic Games. The sport is simply painful to watch and is guaranteed to put viewers at home into a deep coma. Proponents argue that the sport combines elements of modern dance, ballet and artistic gymnastics but that does not prevent the uninitiated viewers from seeing a bunch of girls dancing around with a ribbon and hula-hoop. 

 

Rope Climbing

One of the more unusual events in the history of the modern Olympic movement, Rope Climbing was part of the gymnastics programs in 1896, 1904, 1906, 1924 and 1932. Starting in a seated position, competitors raced to the top of a roughly 8-meter rope and were judged on both their time and style. In the 1986 Olympics, 

The sport is enjoying a resurgence in France and the Czech Republic, giving hope for those who wish to see this event return to the Olympic Games. 

 

Dueling Pistols

It is hard to believe that dueling pistols was an actual Olympic event, but it was part of the 1906 Athens Olympics. Despite the name of the event, competitors were forced to fire at mannequins with bulls eyes affixed to their chests. Evidently, the lack of bloodshed made this shooting event unpopular, as it was not renewed in future Olympics.   

 

Solo Synchronized Swimming

Solo Synchronized Swimming was an official Olympic sport between 1984 and 1992. What’s most shocking about this is that it took the IOC three Olympics to realize that the sport is an oxymoron since a person swimming alone cannot be synchronized with someone else. In reality, competitors were judged for their synchronization with the music. Quite frankly, we’re OK if this event never returns from the abyss of retired Olympic sports.    

 

 

—By Eric Chalifour

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.

Teaser:
<p> Examining some of the strangest sports of the games</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 06:01
All taxonomy terms: News, Olympics
Path: /news/11-olympians-who-are-more-famous-something-else
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For these former 11 Olympians, being famous for their athletic efforts at the games just wasn't enough.

Herschel Walker

Everyone remembers the former running back as one of the great sports icons of the 1980s; Walker finished in the top three of the Heisman Trophy voting after all three of his seasons at Georgia, and he won the award in ’82. He was also an accomplished sprinter for the Bulldogs track team. Walker played professionally in the USFL and NFL from ’83 to ’97, but many probably have forgotten about his brief foray into Olympic bobsledding: He was on the U.S. two-man team in ’92, and finished seventh.

 

Princess Anne

The princess competed in the 1976 Olympics on Britain’s equestrian team, where she did not medal, though she did medal in the European Eventing Championships. Obviously, Her Royal Highness is far more famous for representing her country than for her athletic feats.

Bill Bradley

The Princeton basketball star became the youngest member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic basketball team, which won gold. Bradley later went on to a successful NBA career, but became just as (and maybe more) famous as a U.S. Senator from New Jersey from 1979 to 1997 and a Presidential candidate.

 

 

 

Babe Didrikson Zaharias

The Texan won two golds and one silver in the 1932 Games between the javelin, high jump, and 80-meter hurdles. She also dove, roller-skated, bowled, and played baseball and basketball outside the Olympics, but was most famous as a dominant golfer (she won 82 amateur tournaments) and a founding member of the LPGA, where she won 41 events and even played in three PGA men’s events as well. She may be the greatest female athlete of all time.

Larry “Buster” Crabbe 

The Hawaiian swimmer won bronze in the 1500-meter freestyle in 1928, and the gold in the 400-meter freestyle four years later. He later starred in over 100 movies, including roles as Tarzan and Flash Gordon.

Ben Nighthorse Campbell

Campbell immigrated to America at age 6, then competed for his country in judo in the 1964 Olympics, where he was injured and did not medal. A military veteran-turned-politician in the 1980s, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987 to 1993, then as a Senator from ’93 to 2005. Campbell switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican side in 1995.

Bruce Jenner

Those of us who grew up in the 1970s know Bruce Jenner as one of the most famous Olympic athletes of his time. Jenner finished third in the decathlon at the 1972 Munich Olympics and won the same event in 1976 in Montreal. He won the Sullivan Award and the AP’s Male Athlete of the Year in ’76 as well. Sadly, later generations know him as the stepfather to Kourtney, Kim and Khloe and father to Kendall and Kylie on the E! reality series, Keeping up with the Kardashians.

 

Bob Mathias

The Californian won the decathlon in 1948 and in ’52, and also took Stanford to the Rose Bowl the latter year. He served his state in the U.S. House of Representatives from ’67 to ’75 as well.

Jim Thorpe

Thorpe was the male counterpart of Babe Didrikson, excelling in just about every sport he ever tried. As far as Olympic sports, that included the decathlon and pentathlon, in which he won gold in both at Stockholm in 1912. Those medals were taken away from Thorpe when it later became known he’d taken money for playing baseball, but he was re-awarded them in 1983. He later played Major League Baseball and also in the NFL, where he was elected to the Hall of Fame. After Thorpe’s death, the Pennsylvania town of Mauch Chunk renamed itself “Jim Thorpe” even though Thorpe had never been there.

Johnny Weismuller

When Weissmuller was nine, he contracted polio, and doctors recommended swimming as therapy. What a suggestion that turned out to be: He won three swimming gold medals in the 1924 Games and then two more in Amsterdam four years later. The handsome Weismuller became a model one year later before Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cast him as Tarzan in the 1932 hit, Tarzan the Ape Man. He would appear in six more Tarzan movies, and later, 13 Jungle Jimfilms while working for Columbia.

Jim Ryun

Ryun won silver at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City in the 1500 meters, four years after becoming the first U.S. high school runner to break four minutes in the mile. From 1996 to 2007, Ryun served his native Kansas at one of its U.S. Representatives.

 

By Chris Lee, VandySports.com (@ChrisLee70)

Teaser:
<p> These athletes made their mark away from the games.</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 05:28
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-training-camp-storylines-watch
Body:

NFL training camps are underway as teams have begun their preparations for the upcoming season in earnest. Here are a few storylines to keep an eye as players and teams return to the practice field.

Quarterback Battles
The most wide-open battles for starting quarterback spots are in Arizona, Jacksonville and Miami. Cleveland, Seattle and Tennessee are some other situations that bear watching for different reasons. For the Browns and Titans a decision has to be made on whether to go with the “young” quarterback over the veteran on the roster, whereas the Seahawks appear ready to hold a three-man competition for their starting job.

And then there are the Jets. While Rex Ryan’s team may not be starring on “Hard Knocks” this season, the Jets’ training camp will still attract its fair share of attention, as the media is sure to provide plenty of coverage on the daily Mark Sanchez vs. Tim Tebow “battle.”

Related: 2012 Training Camp: Quarterback Battles to Watch

New Eras Begin in Indianapolis and Washington
There appears to be no quarterback controversy in both Indianapolis and Washington as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are expected to be the starter for their respective teams come Week 1. Expectations are high for the first two picks of this year’s draft as Luck will attempt to the take the place of a future Hall of Famer, while Griffin will be tasked with leading a once-proud franchise back to the Super Bowl.

No one, however, is expecting either of these scenarios to occur in 2012, especially considering Luck is joining a team that was able to take him at No. 1 overall because it went 2-14 in 2011. The starting quarterback isn’t the only thing that’s new in Indy in 2012 either, as owner Jim Irsay brought in a new general manager (Ryan Grigson) and head coach (Chuck Pagano), in addition to overhauling the Colts’ roster during the offseason and through the draft. Now fellow rookies Grigson, Pagano and Luck hope to transform the Colts into a new version of the team that dominated the AFC South from 2002-10.

The situation in Washington is a little different as head coach Mike Shanahan and owner Daniel Snyder want to win now. That’s easier said than done considering the Redskins are in the NFC East, the same division as the defending Super Bowl Giants, not to mention the Cowboys and Eagles. So while no one is expecting the ‘Skins to win the division this season, an improvement on last season’s 5-11 showing must happen. Otherwise, Shanahan may not be around long enough to see if Griffin was worth trading up for in the first place.

Peyton’s New Place
Luck is the starter in Indianapolis because, after 14 seasons, Peyton Manning is no longer there. After cutting ties with the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 1998, the coveted free agent decided to sign a five-year contract with Denver, much to the delight of both Broncos’ fans and John Elway, the Hall of Fame quarterback and team’s executive vice president of football operations.

Elway and the rest of the Broncos’ front office is pinning their hopes of another Super Bowl title on Manning, who last played in an NFL game in January 2011. Manning appears to be healthy after missing all of last season because of multiple neck surgeries, but no one knows for sure until they get a close look at him in action, both in training camp and in preseason games.

Denver head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy are comfortable handing the offense over to Manning, and the team has made multiple moves during the offseason to provide No. 18 with more weapons. However, it will be for naught if the Broncos don’t make the postseason, or worse, if Manning succumbs to injury once again. After all, Manning’s current backup is former Chicago Bear Caleb Hanie, who could end up losing that job this season to second-round pick Brock Osweiler.

Bountygate Hangover?
Without question, no team had a worse offseason than New Orleans. Thankfully, with training camp opening on Tuesday, the team can finally turn its focus to this season. Or at least that’s what they would like to do.

The truth is that the questions about the bounty scandal and the NFL’s punishments stemming from it, won’t go away anytime soon, especially since Saints head coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma are both suspended for the entire season because of it.

General manager Mickey Loomis and interim head coach Joe Vitt, both of whom will be serving multi-game suspensions themselves once the regular season starts, will get the bulk of the questions, but the players will not be immune to the constant queries. One can’t help but wonder how much of a distraction this will be for the Saints during training camp.

At least the Saints do have some good news to talk about as franchise quarterback Drew Brees and the team finally came to agreement on a new five-year contract worth $100 million, including a record $60 million guaranteed. Then again, Brees has already filed an affidavit in support of teammate Vilma’s appeal of his season-long suspension by the NFL.

One way or another, Bountygate isn’t going away anytime soon. This just adds another obstacle for the Saints to overcome as they prepare to defend their NFC South crown against an Atlanta team that won 10 games in 2011 and a Carolina team that should be even better in Cam Newton’s second year.

Dynasty in Philadelphia?
Apparently Michael Vick didn’t learn anything from the mistake made by his former teammate Vince Young, who declared the Eagles a “Dream Team” prior to last season, only to watch them finish a disappointing 8-8 and miss the playoffs. In fact, you could argue Vick went a step further than Young’s bold prediction when he said in a recent interview that he thinks the Eagles could develop into a dynasty.

Before Vick and the rest of the Eagles can even start to mention their team in the same breath as the Steelers from the 1970s or the 49ers from the ‘80s or even the Patriots from the 2000s, they may want to win one Super Bowl, something the franchise has yet to do in its history.

For what it’s worth, the Eagles look to be a legitimate playoff contender in 2012, as the team took a different route to improving its roster this offseason. Unlike the free-agent spending spree that took place in 2011, this time around the Eagles used trades and the draft to further bolster their defense, while signing key offensive playmakers LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson to contract extensions.

So once again the Eagles look the part, at least on paper, to be a contender not only in 2012, but also beyond. But if last season showed the team and everyone else anything, it’s that the games aren’t played on paper. If the Vick and his teammates have any hopes of laying the groundwork for a possible dynasty, it needs to start this season; otherwise head coach Andy Reid may be looking for a new job.

— By Mark Ross, published on July 24, 2012

Related NFL Content

2012 NFL Training Camp: Quarterback Battles to Watch
2012 NFL Head Coaches: Who is on the Hot Seat?
Ranking the NFL's Top 10 Head Coaches in 2012
2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the NFC's Best Coach?
2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the AFC's Best Coach?

2012 NFL Quarterbacks: Ranking the Best and Worst Starters

Ranking the NFL’s Best Backup Quarterbacks

The 10 Worst NFL Teams Since Expansion

NFL Quarterbacks Rewrote Record Books in 2011

Miami Dolphins QBs Since Dan Marino: An NFL Horror Story

2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers


AFC South
Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs

Oakland Raiders

San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings


NFC South
Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

St. Louis Rams

Click here to order your Athlon Sports Pro Football 2012 Preview magazine

Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Training Camp Storylines to Watch</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 09:01
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-training-camp-quarterback-battles-watch
Body:

Position battles are always one of the main focuses during training camp and no position garners more attention and scrutiny than quarterback. While the majority of NFL teams are set when it comes to their starter under center, there are several teams that are searching for an answer as training camps get underway.

As it stands right now, the starting jobs in Arizona, Jacksonville and Miami appear to be completely wide open. Cleveland, Seattle and Tennessee are unsettled to different degrees and when it comes to the Jets, let’s just say it’s a made-for-TV storyline that everyone will be watching.

Duel in the Desert
A year ago, Arizona thought that it had found their long-term answer when the team acquired Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia. Not only did the Cardinals send cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round pick to the Eagles for Kolb last July 29, they then signed him to a five-year contract worth more than $62 million.

So far, the returns have been nothing short of disastrous, as Kolb went 3-6 as the Cardinals’ starter last season, completing less than 58 percent of his passes for 1,955 yards and accounting for fewer touchdowns (nine, all passing) than turnovers (11 total). Kolb also had to deal with a foot injury and a concussion that cost him the final month of the season. To make matters worse, backup John Skelton had better numbers (1,913 yards passing, 14 TD, 11 INT) in fewer starts and led the Cardinals to a winning record (5-2) in those games.

The Cadinals’ training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz., got going on Tuesday, so now is the time for Kolb to show head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the rest of the coaching staff, the front office and his teammates that he’s the guy to lead them back to the playoffs, otherwise Skelton may get an extended look and a legitimate shot at the starting job. Sixth-round pick Ryan Lindley out of San Diego State also bears watching.
Prediction: The Cardinals have too much invested in Kolb to not give him another chance. However, I think he will under a short leash and they will turn to Shelton should he struggle once again.

Does Gabbert Get Another Chance in Jacksonville?
In Jacksonville, Blaine Gabbert did little, if anything at all, in his rookie season to show that he has what it takes to be a capable starting quarterback in the NFL. It also doesn’t help that the Jaguars have a new head coach, Mike Mularkey. On the other hand, the regime change presents Gabbert a chance to start over with a new coaching staff, one led by Mularkey, who helped develop Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan during his time as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator.

Whether Gabbert will get the chance to prove his worth come Week 1 remains to be seen, as he will more than likely have to hold off Chad Henne in training camp to remain the Jaguars’ starter. Nathan Enderle and Jordan Palmer are also expected to participate in training camp with the Jaguars.
Prediction: As bad as Gabbert was in 2011, it’s entirely too early to completely give up on him. Jacksonville isn’t expected to compete for a playoff spot, so I think Mularkey will give Gabbert another season to show if he’s the long-term answer or not.

Who Starts in Miami?
Just like Jacksonville, Miami also has a new head coach as former Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin takes over the Dolphins. The first-year head coach will experience plenty of new things running his first training camp in Davie, Fla., one of those being he won’t see Aaron Rodgers out on the field in a red jersey.

Instead Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman will have to decide if their starting quarterback for Week 1 will be Matt Moore, David Garrard or first-round pick Ryan Tannehill out of Texas A&M. Moore went 6-6 as the ‘Fins’ primary starter last season, putting up respectable numbers (2,497 yards passing, 16 TD, 9 INT) in the process. Garrard spent nine seasons (2002-09) in Jacksonville, five of those as the starter, before sitting out last season with a back injury. He appears to be fully healthy and some reports label him as the early front-runner for the starting job.

Tannehill appears to be the long shot at this point because the team wants to give the No. 8 overall pick as much time as they can to develop. After all, Tannehill is the first quarterback taken by the Dolphins in the first round of the draft since 1983. That year, Miami selected a certain University of Pittsburgh quarterback at No. 27 overall. That quarterback was named Dan Marino and he worked out pretty well. The Dolphins are hoping history will repeat itself with Tannehill, even if it may take some time to see the finished product on the field.
Prediction: Garrard may reportedly have the early lead, but I think Moore will overtake him in the end and be the Dolphins’ Week 1 starter. Moore, who turns 28 in August, showed last season what he’s capable of and he presents more upside than Garrard, who’s 34. I also don’t think Tannehill gets on the field for a single snap this season. He’s the future and they are going to take their time with him.

Browns Could Turn to “Old” Rookie
Cleveland also used a first-round draft pick on a quarterback, taking Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden at No. 22 overall. Unlike Tannehill, Weeden appears to have a very good shot at starting for the Browns in Week 1, provided he performs better than incumbent starter Colt McCoy in training camp.

Weeden is not your typical NFL rookie, just as he wasn’t a typical college quarterback for the Cowboys. At 28, Weeden became the oldest ever taken in the first round of the NFL Draft when the Browns took him. In fact, Weeden is four years older than McCoy, five years older than Cam Newton, last season’s AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, and nearly two months older than Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP.

Whether Weeden follows more the path of McCoy or Newton (minus the rushing numbers) in his first season remains to be seen, but it does look like the Browns are willing to put him out on the field early, perhaps starting in Week 1, to find out.
Prediction: You don’t draft a 28-year-old rookie quarterback and not find out if he can play in the NFL, right? I think Weeden gets the call in Week 1 and it will be up to him if he keeps the job or not.

Three-Way Battle in Seattle
Prior to the draft in April, it looked like Seattle settled its quarterback situation when it signed free agent Matt Flynn in March. The Seahawks signed Flynn, who served as Rodgers’ backup in Green Bay, to a three-year deal worth $26 million with $10 million guaranteed.

One thing Flynn’s new contract doesn’t seem to guarantee, however, is the Seahawks’ starting job as early indications are that head coach Pete Carroll will give Flynn, incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson and third-round pick Russell Wilson out of Wisconsin equal snaps with the first-team offense.

Jackson went 7-7 as the Seahawks’ starter in 2011 and has 34 career starts under his belt, compared to a grand total of two for Flynn. Then again Flynn threw for 518 yards and six touchdowns in his lone start last season, and you don’t sign someone to a contract like this to be the backup, do you?

And what about Wilson? Could the highly polished and accomplished college quarterback who slid down everyone’s draft board in April because of his size (5-11) prove everyone wrong by wresting the starting job from the two veterans? Whoever ends up under center come Week 1, it should make for an interesting couple of weeks at Seahawks’ camp in Renton, Wash.
Prediction: Jackson has had his chances as a starting quarterback for two different teams. And while his record (17-17) as a starter for both the Vikings and the Seahawks is respectable, I think there’s a reason the team committed three years and all that money to Flynn. Besides, Seattle’s already gone down this road with another Green Bay backup quarterback once before and that worked out pretty well for the team.

The Future is now in Tennessee?
Tennessee Titans training camp in Nashville also bears watching because it’s possible that Jake Locker, the team’s first-round pick (No. 8 overall) in 2010, could unseat veteran Matt Hasselbeck for the starting job. Hasselbeck put together his best season since 2007 as he nearly led the Titans to the playoffs in his first season not in a Seattle uniform.

However, Locker showed signs of what he’s capable of in the five games he played in last season. In fact, the rookie fared so well that Titans’ head coach Mike Munchak has already declared that there will be an open quarterback competition for the starting job in training camp, which starts up on Friday for the veterans.

Early indications are that Locker will have to clearly out-perform Hasselbeck in order to wrest the Week 1 starting job away from the 13-year veteran. Whether that happens or not, it does look like the 36-year-old Hasselbeck will be turning the reins over sooner rather than later to the 24-year-old Locker.
Prediction: Locker is the future in Tennessee, but I don’t see that starting in Week 1. I think Hasselbeck holds off the rookie to start the season, but wouldn’t be surprised to see Locker take over by the end of October or early November.

The “Battle” Everyone Will Be Watching
Age is certainly not the issue as far as the Jets’ starting quarterback situation goes. Mark Sanchez is a little more than a year older than Tim Tebow, but head coach Rex Ryan has already made it clear that Sanchez is the starter and Tebow is the backup.

Of course that means little to the media throng that will descend upon Jets’ training camp when the two report on Thursday. After all that’s what happens when you play in the media capital of the world and the team shows it faith in its incumbent starter by trading for a guy who attracts more attention than anyone and fared better as a starter last season.

For all the criticism regarding his abilities as a passer, Tebow had a better record (7-4) as a starter than Sanchez (8-8) last season, and that doesn’t include his win over Pittsburgh in the first round of the AFC Playoffs. Sanchez actually had his best season in terms of statistics in 2011, but all that production (3,474 yards passing, 26 TD) didn’t carry the Jets to the playoffs.

And in New York, which also is home to the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, winning and playing in the postseason is what truly matters. So while Sanchez may be the clear-cut starter, Tebow will see his share of snaps under center too.

The pressure is on Ryan and the Jets to get back to the playoffs this season. Sanchez may be the starter, but if Tebow and the team produce better results when he’s under center, Ryan may have no choice but to make the switch.

So while Sanchez’ status as the Jets’ starting quarterback is clear in July and August, come September his job security will come down to what he does with the football when it’s in his hands.
Prediction: Despite his best efforts, the quarterback situation is persistent distraction throughout the season for Ryan and the rest of the team. Sanchez’ poor play at the start of the season leads to a near 50-50 split on snaps come October. Sanchez requests a trade at season’s end, if not sooner, and the Jets end up drafting a quarterback in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, meaning we get to revisit this again next season.

— By Mark Ross, published on July 24, 2012

Related NFL Content

2012 NFL Training Camp: Storylines to Watch
2012 NFL Head Coaches: Who is on the Hot Seat?
Ranking the NFL's Top 10 Head Coaches in 2012
2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the NFC's Best Coach?
2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the AFC's Best Coach?

2012 NFL Quarterbacks: Ranking the Best and Worst Starters

Ranking the NFL’s Best Backup Quarterbacks

The 10 Worst NFL Teams Since Expansion

NFL Quarterbacks Rewrote Record Books in 2011

Miami Dolphins QBs Since Dan Marino: An NFL Horror Story

2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers


AFC South
Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs

Oakland Raiders

San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings


NFC South
Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

St. Louis Rams

Click here to order your Athlon Sports Pro Football 2012 Preview magazine

Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Training Camp: Quarterback Battles to Watch</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-10-biggest-changes-2012-season
Body:

Simply put, college football fans may never again witness the pure volume and amplitude of changes which will take place as the 2012 season unravels itself. Below is a list of the top-ten changes, in ascending order of significance (defined by national impact and/or the precedent for the listed change):

10. New Coordinator Sets at Auburn and Iowa
Auburn followed up its 2010 National Championship season with a less-than-stellar 8-5 (4-4 SEC) record. Gus Malzahn dropped the reins of the Tigers’ offense to become head coach at Arkansas State. Meanwhile, Ted Roof left Auburn’s defense to take over at Penn State (following a one-month stay at UCF). Gene Chizik hired Temple’s Scott Loeffler to lead the offense. Taking what the defense offers, Loeffler expects to establish the run but that task will not be easy with a giant question mark at quarterback. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder came over from the Atlanta Falcons and was well received this spring. One of the nation’s top set of bookends (Nosa Eguae and Corey Lemonier) will help him develop pressure but anchoring against the run will be an important goal to cement this season.  Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz never lost a coordinator in his 13 years at Iowa – until this past offseason, when he lost both. This year, Greg Davis takes over the offense while Phil Parker will lead the Hawkeyes’ defense. Parker coached Iowa’s defensive backs during all of Ferentz’s tenure at Iowa so, to say the least, he is familiar with the old system which should reduce that unit’s learning curve. Davis spent the last 13 years leading the Texas offense, which begs a focus on whether Iowa can control the line of scrimmage in this season’s running game.           

9. Mike Stoops Joins His Brother – Brent Venables Leaves for Clemson 
The venerable Venables was a fixture on Bob Stoops’ defensive staff for the past 13 years during which time many fans wondered how he would fare with another school. It was not under ideal circumstances but Venables gets the chance to hold his own reins and start anew this season With Mike Stoops’ dismissal as head coach of Arizona, his brother, Bob, sought a staff reunion which brought Mike to Norman as a supposed co-defensive coordinator with Venables. The situation was not comfortable for any of the men involved and a disastrous Orange Bowl performance by Clemson against West Virginia opened the door for Venables to take over Tigers’ stop-unit. The changes injected new blood and enthusiasm into both programs. Mike set out to simplify the Sooners’ defensive scheme while Venables set out to instill toughness in his athletic Clemson personnel.

8. The State of Arizona Starts Over
As stated above, Mike Stoops was dismissed from Arizona last season, and the Wildcats find themselves under the leadership of Rich Rodriguez. Unlike Rich Rod’s last transition (where he pounded the square-peg of a read-option spread scheme into the round-hole of plodding pro-style personnel with no prior spread knowledge or experience), he now inherits a program that has a basic understanding of spread concepts and a quarterback in Matt Scott who has the tools to make the offense run. A focus on passing this spring paid surprising dividends for Scott and the offense, though things may change as he becomes a live target this fall. Meanwhile, in Tempe, Pitt’s former head coach sprinted his way into the Arizona State teamhouse this offseason. Graham’s tenure at Tulsa proved he can squeeze production out of his brand of the spread and that the system is capable of producing on the ground as well as the air. The Sun Devils came out of spring camp without a named starter under center though some insiders feel there is a “slight edge” to Mike Bercovici (Brock Osweiler’s backup last season).

7. Arkansas Picks Up Bobby Petrino’s Pieces
Arkansas fans may have wished the news out of campus was a mere April Fool’s joke but, alas, it was not. Bobby Petrino wrecked his motorcycle with 25-year old Jessica Dorrell on board. As word of his affair with the engaged Dorrell continued to leak, and the extent of Petrino’s attempt to cover-up the affair and incident became clear, Arkansas became the last school to require a new head coach for the 2012 season. Former Razorback assistant coach John L. Smith was brought in to assure continuity and stem the bleeding. Many eyes will be on Arkansas this fall to see whether the hire is simply a band-aid or if Smith can lead the talented ‘Hogs to success in the nation’s toughest division (the SEC West).

6. 28 New Head Coaches
There are 124 teams in the FBS, so nearly a quarter of them are subject to new skippers this season. No fewer than 14 of the programs with new head coaches are from BCS conference-affiliated schools and they include four of the more storied programs in the country (Ohio State, Penn State, UCLA and Texas A&M). Florida Atlantic turns to Carl Pelini to take over for Howard Schnellenberger, who hung up his sport coat after 52 years of coaching.

5. Rule Changes
Safety, safety, safety. Stopping shy of installing Velcro flags on waists, the NCAA has made several rule changes with a nod towards reducing the incidences of players placing themselves in the game’s most unsafe positions. Having resolved that more injuries occur during kickoff returns than any other play, the NCAA implemented three rules designed to reduce their frequency. First, teams will kick off from the 35-yard line (instead of the 30). Second, no player can line up further than five (5) yards behind the line of scrimmage prior to the kickoff so that running starts by coverage personnel will be shortened. Perhaps the most impactful rule-change, though, is a “carrot” rather than a “stick.” From now on, touchbacks from kickoffs will result in drives beginning at the 25-yard line instead of the traditional 20-yard line. We all know that concussions have become a ‘hot topic,’ so two new rules have been implemented to seek their reduction. Any player who loses his helmet during a play (except due to an opponent’s facemask violation) will be required to leave the field for one play. Moreover, a player who loses his helmet during a play must quit the play rather than continue without the helmet. The final change to be highlighted here is that, seeking to reduce the incidences of players flipping over onto their heads, players may no longer leap over blockers in an attempt to block a punt.

4. Playing Without Historic Players Under Center
At the end of last season, the NCAA lost the most prolific career passer in its history (Houston’s Case Keenum [19,217 yards, 155 TD’s]), its winningest quarterback (Boise State’s Kellen Moore [50-3]), its most efficient single-season passer (Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson) and last year’s Heisman Trophy winner (Baylor’s Robert Griffin III). Yet, none of those players were the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft (Stanford’s Andrew Luck) and, potentially, next year’s most productive NFL rookie signal caller could be Oklahoma State’s former starter, 28-year old Brandon Weeden. These programs don’t simply have an opening to fill in their roster – they have gaping craters. So, too, do Michigan State (replacing Kirk Cousins), Arizona State (Brock Osweiler) and Texas A&M (Ryan Tannehill). The staffs at each of these schools have their work cut out for them in 2012.

3. West Virginia and TCU to the Big 12
With the loss of Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC (see below), last year’s ten-team Big 12 dropped to eight members. West Virginia committed to join the Big 12 and the Big East sued. Twenty million dollars later, the Mountaineers freed themselves from their former conference and joined the Big 12. TCU joined WVU as a new Big 12 member having never set foot in the Big East which they had formerly committed to join. The change was seamless as West Virginia took over Missouri’s conference schedule and the Horned Frogs took over A&M’s. TCU brings its historically elite defense to the land of the spread offense, while WVU quarterback Geno Smith has found the luster added by the increased schedule-difficulty in the Big 12 has enhanced his presence in preseason Heisman Trophy discussions.

2.  Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC
Winners of the last six national championships, the SEC’s expansion was a matter of ‘want-to’ rather than ‘need-to.’ Perhaps with an eye towards a national move towards ‘super-conferences,’ the SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M to bring the conference to 14 members. Missouri will compete in the Eastern Division and, given the volume of players returning to the Tigers from its 2011 edition (along with the nation’s top recruit at receiver [Dorial Green-Beckham]), it should compete from the start. A&M opens up Texas to the SEC market and brings 350,000 alumni to the fan base but many question marks exist given the brand-new staff (Houston’s Kevin Sumlin took over this spring) and loss of last year’s quarterback, Ryan Tannehill.

1. New Beginnings in Happy Valley
As he continued to stamp his own renewals, the nation wondered whether Joe Paterno’s tenure at Penn State might end poorly but nobody could have imagined the carnage of the few weeks which ultimately ended his 46th year at the helm of the Nittany Lions. Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on the strength of accusations from several men that Sandusky sexually abused them when they were young boys and the story suggested knowledge of at least one incident reached the Penn State football offices without meriting a substantial response. When the nightmarish smoke cleared, Joe Pa was fired and all but two of his coaches were let go while the fallout also claimed the jobs of the school’s President and Athletic Director. Rising from the wreckage was the refreshing leadership of former New England Patriot offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien, who assembled a competent and hungry staff. The nation’s eyes will be on Happy Valley this fall and it is wise to remember that: a) the players had nothing to do with the Sandusky debacle; and, b) the magnitude of change to be experienced by the Nittany Lion faithful is unprecedented. Well over two generations of fans witnessed the late-Joe Paterno lead Penn State from the sidelines. Today’s world demands immediate satisfaction with such intensity it is safe to say that no other school will ever lay claim to such a feat.

 

Brock Murphy is a freelance college football writer and analyst and can be reached at bgmurphy91@yahoo.com

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's 10 Biggest Changes For the 2012 Season</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 04:55
Path: /olympics/michael-phelps-ryan-lochte-rivalry-comes-london
Body:

Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are two of the most decorated, dominant swimmers in U.S. history. Rivals in the pool and friends out of it, they’re poised to take their personal rivalry to London for the 2012 Olympic Games, where they’ll showcase it with the world watching.

Phelps will arrive in London looking to add to his record haul of 14 gold medals and cap off a career that has already established him as arguably the greatest Olympian in history. Four years ago, he took Beijing by storm, winning eight gold medals and providing some of the Games’ indelible images. Phelps’ gold medal total surpassed fellow swimmer Mark Spitz’s seven at the 1972 Games as the American standard, leaving even Spitz in awe of this pool prodigy.

“Epic,” said Spitz of Phelps’ performance. “It goes to show you that not only is this guy the greatest swimmer of all time and the greatest Olympian of all time, he’s maybe the greatest athlete of all time. He’s the greatest racer who ever walked the planet.”

Phelps remains a threat for gold even in the twilight of his career, says rival and fellow gold medalist Ian Thorpe.

“I believe Michael is the very strong favorite to win three gold medals in London, and is a 50-50 contender to win another three,” Thorpe told the UK website Sportsvibe. “In my mind winning multiple golds in London would be just as impressive as winning eight in Beijing. Of course what he achieved in China was phenomenal. There’s no way I’ll ever see that again in my lifetime.”

If anyone can threaten Phelps for current swimming supremacy, it’s Lochte, who won five titles at last year’s world championships to Phelps’ four before out-swimming his rival at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June. “If we look at the results, just the numbers, Lochte looks better,” Thorpe said.

Lochte is also outpacing his countryman on the hype meter heading to London after Phelps mania reached its peak four years ago. But together, they comprise a TV ad exec’s dream pairing.

And even if Lochte dethrones Phelps as king of the pool in the minds of Americans, Thorpe says that Phelps’ place in history is secure.

“To keep on doing it, Games after Games, is what makes Michael so special,” Thorpe said. “The man has dominated world swimming for a decade now. How can he still have such desire when he’s accomplished everything there is to in sport?

“He’s the greatest swimmer in history.”

Teaser:
<p> USA swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte highlight the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 04:51
Path: /olympics/lolo-jones%E2%80%99-redemption-run
Body:

Long before she was trending on Twitter and spiking ratings for HBO, Lolo Jones was one hurdle away from achieving her lifelong dream of winning an Olympic gold medal. But Jones — who entered the 100-meter hurdles final in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as the fastest qualifier and prohibitive favorite — clipped the ninth of 10 hurdles and staggered across the finish line in a disastrous seventh place.

“The race was just going so smoothly. In the middle part, I caught my rhythm; everything was clicking. And it was just like a golden road, like the light shined down, like ‘Ahhh!’” Jones explained to the Associated Press after her race. “And then, just disaster. I didn’t even see it coming. I hit that hurdle and completely lost balance. For me, it normally happens about twice a year…It’s just crazy that it happened at the biggest race of my life.”

For Lori “Lolo” Jones, overcoming obstacles with undeniable grace and poise is nothing new. She has been a world-class hurdler — on and off the track — for her entire life.

One of six children raised by a single mother in Iowa, Jones once attended eight schools in eight years. She has lived in the basement of a Salvation Army church and was separated from her family and lived with four different local families during her career at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines.

Jones persevered through the hard times and came out on the other side in a full sprint at top speed. After being named Gatorade Midwest Athlete of the Year, Jones enrolled at LSU. While in Baton Rouge, she became an 11-time NCAA All-American and two-time member of the NCAA national title-winning 4x100-meter relay team.

Since establishing herself as an American record holder (60-meter hurdles) and Olympic heartbreaker, Jones has had substantial physical impediments placed in her way. Spinal surgery in late 2011 put her 2012 Olympic dreams in jeopardy. But, in typical Lolo style, she jumped over the barrier and kept on going.

Something of a Tim Tebow of track, the attractive Jones has made headlines by asserting that she is still a virgin, and she credits her Christian faith and old-fashioned hard work as the secrets to her success. With London calling, Jones is ready for her run at redemption, but she knows that winning that elusive gold medal won’t be easy. But she’s ready for whatever is in her way.

“They put the hurdles there for a reason; you have to get over them,” she says. “If you can’t get over them, you’re not meant to be the champion.”

Teaser:
<p> Lolo Jones aims for gold in the London Olympics.</p>
Post date: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 06:42
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-training-camp-dates-and-locations
Body:

The 2012 NFL season doesn't officially kick off until Sept. 5, but for all intents and purposes the road to Super Bowl XLVII gets started this week. Training camps for all 32 NFL teams are starting up as the preparation for the upcoming season kicks into high gear.

Some teams hold training camp at home, while others like to hit the road, but either way it's a great opportunity to get an early glimpse of how your favorite team is shaping up, not to mention a long sought-after autograph or two.

Below are dates and locations for 2012 training camps for all 32 NFL teams:

Team Site Location Rookies Veterans
Arizona Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ 7/23 7/23
Atlanta Atlanta Falcons Facility Flowery Branch, GA 7/25 7/25
Baltimore Under Armour Performance Center Owings Mills, MD 7/22 7/25
Buffalo St. John Fisher College Pittsford, NY 7/9 7/25
Carolina Wofford College Spartanburg, SC 7/16 7/27
Chicago Olivet Nazarene University Bourbonnais, IL 7/25 7/25
Cincinnati Paul Brown Stadium Cincinnati, OH 7/26 7/26
Cleveland Cleveland Browns Training Facility Berea, OH 7/24 7/26
Dallas City of Oxnard Fields Oxnard, CA 7/25 7/29
Denver Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre Englewood, CO 7/25 7/25
Detroit Detroit Lions Training Facility Allen Park, MI 7/23 7/26
Green Bay St. Norbert College Green Bay, WI 7/25 7/25
Houston Methodist Training Center Houston, TX 7/22 7/27
Indianapolis Anderson University Anderson, IN 7/25 7/28
Jacksonville Florida Blue Health & Wellness Practice Fields Jacksonville, FL 7/26 7/26
Kansas City Missouri Western State University St. Joseph, MO 7/26 7/26
Miami Miami Dolphins Training Facility Davie, FL 7/26 7/26
Minnesota Minnesota State University, Mankato Mankato, MN 7/26 7/26
New England Gillette Stadium Foxboro, MA 7/19 7/25
New Orleans New Orleans Saints Training Facility Metairie, LA 7/24 7/24
NY Giants University at Albany Albany, NY 7/26 7/26
NY Jets SUNY Cortland Cortland, NY 7/23 7/26
Oakland Napa Valley Marriott Napa, CA 7/29 7/29
Philadelphia Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA 7/22 7/25
Pittsburgh Saint Vincent College Latrobe, PA 7/25 7/25
San Diego Chargers Park San Diego, CA 7/22 7/25
San Francisco Marie P. DeBartolo Sports Center Santa Clara, CA 7/21 7/26
Seattle Virginia Mason Athletic Center Renton, WA 7/27 7/27
St. Louis ContinuityX Training Center Earth City, MO 7/24 7/28
Tampa Bay One Buccaneer Place Tampa, FL 7/18 7/26
Tennessee Baptist Sports Park Nashville, TN 7/24 7/27
Washington Redskins Park Ashburn, VA 7/16 7/25

— Published on July 9, 2012

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2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

Click here to order your Athlon Sports Pro Football 2012 Preview magazine

Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Training Camp Dates and Locations</p>
Post date: Sunday, July 22, 2012 - 14:40
Path: /college-football/aj-mccarron-emerging-star-sec
Body:

How impressive was AJ McCarron’s performance against LSU in the BCS title game? He had surgery on his shoulder three days later.

In fact, McCarron’s whole season was pretty remarkable, and not just because he led Alabama to the national championship as a first-year starter. On Sept. 24, on the seventh play against Arkansas, he dislocated the shoulder on his throwing arm and sprained the AC joint and the labrum. He was often in so much pain that he couldn’t practice. Yet, when then-Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain told him that the gameplan for the rematch with the Tigers would involve a heavy dose of passing, McCarron just bit down on a chunk of leather and let it fly.

Okay, so he didn’t exactly hit LSU with a flurry of bombs. It was more like a tactical approach, with plenty of short throws. But McCarron finished 23-of-34 for 234 yards and no interceptions in the Tide’s 21–0 victory. Anybody surprised by his showing would have been positively stunned to know how much pain he had been in throughout the season. Until early January, that is.

“That night, in the championship game, it didn’t hurt a bit,” McCarron says.

When the 2011 season dawned, Alabama’s biggest question mark was under center. Gone were Greg McElroy and his 24–3 record as a starter. Neither McCarron nor Phillip Sims had distinguished himself particularly during spring drills, so McElwain and head coach Nick Saban didn’t designate a starter. But once the summer drills started, McCarron emerged and became a steady hand. As he approaches the start of his junior season, there is no doubt about his primacy, just as there are no questions about his health.

In new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s wide-open, spread system, McCarron should be even better. His arm strength has improved, thanks to an aggressive rehab program after surgery — “It feels like a million dollars,” he says — and his approach to defending the Tide’s title is aggressive and unwavering

“Do you want to be basic?” McCarron asks. “Do you want the (freshman) class of ’09 to walk off campus with two national championships, or do you want to be a dynasty and legendary and win three championships in four years?”

Now, some might say that being part of two title squads is anything but basic. (McCarron redshirted during the 2009 season.) But McCarron has a reason to be angry, and it’s not just to push himself to do better things. He grew up under extremely difficult financial circumstances, raised on “grilled cheese and French fries,” as he puts it. If the people in his neighborhood in Mobile hadn’t looked out for him and his brother, Corey, the sandwiches and fries might not have even made it to the table.

“It affected me tremendously, coming up from nothing at all,” McCarron says.

McCarron talks about how well his parents hid the family’s financial struggles from their children. If they hadn’t paid the cable bill, or the phone was turned off, it was simply a matter of workers tending to the lines. “My dad played it off so well,” McCarron says.

Because money was never plentiful, when the quarterback gets some now, he tends to hold onto it. His teammates tease him, because he checks the price before buying something. Anything.

“I’m super cheap,” he admits. “When you come from nothing, when you do have some money, you don’t want to blow it and go back to the way it was.”

The hard times have taught McCarron about what’s important. For instance, during the spring, Corey stayed with him after transferring to Tuscaloosa from South Alabama, where he played tight end. Corey got the bedroom. AJ took the couch. “He rules the place,” AJ says.

On the field, big brother is in charge. While Corey rehabs an injured ankle and prepares to make a bid for playing time at tight end, AJ gets ready to build on a fine debut season, during which he completed 66.8 percent of his throws for 2,634 yards, 16 scores and only five interceptions. Although the Tide relied heavily on running back Trent Richardson, who has moved on to the NFL, McCarron showed his ability by making few mistakes, even after getting hurt.

The shoulder injury came on a third down scramble on Bama’s first possession against the Razorbacks. On fourth down, Saban called for a fake field goal, with the holder (McCarron) supposed to throw the ball to tight end Michael Williams.

“I thought I broke my collarbone, because my bone was poking into my shoulder pads,” ­McCarron says. “I told (Williams), ‘I have no idea where this throw is going to go.’”

Of course, the ball was a perfect strike to Williams in the flat, and he took it 37 yards for a touchdown. It was just another highlight in a near-perfect season that ended with the big triumph in New Orleans against LSU, which had stumped the Bama offense in their early-November meeting, a 9–6 yawner.

As Alabama prepared for the Tigers, and McElwain informed McCarron of the plan, the quarterback was completely confident he could handle the added responsibility.

“They brought me along gradually last year and taught me how to play the game,” McCarron says. “In the national championship game, we knew they would be keying on Trent, so they gave me a chance to make plays.”

McCarron’s 34 attempts were his highest total all year. He didn’t take too many chances downfield, but he was accurate, kept the ball moving and allowed the Tide to build a lead slowly with five field goals. It wasn’t exactly the Run ‘n’ Shoot, but it was effective and kept LSU’s vaunted defense from controlling the game.

“He’s a very competitive guy,” LSU coach Les Miles says. “He really makes quality decisions and is very heady. He improved significantly during the back end of the season.”

That kind of talk makes McCarron happy, but he views complacency as an enemy and can’t wait to be the focal point of the Tide offense.

During conversation, he seems a bit arrogant. After a while, you just realize that he’s driven to excel and not interested in struggling in anything ever again. He’ll graduate next December (in only three-and-a-half years) with a degree in Health and Environmental Science, and he relishes the chance to lead the way this season.

“I think it’s huge,” he says of the opportunity. “If you are a competitor, you want the football. If you want to be considered the top dog, you’ve got to make big plays in big games.

“That’s where the greats come from.”

Even if they’re hurt.

— by Michael Bradley

This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 SEC Preview Annual.

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Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 Team Preview

SEC 2012 Heisman Contenders

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Teaser:
<p> Alabama Football: AJ McCarron is an Emerging Star in the SEC</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 06:35
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-weekend-rundown-july-19
Body:

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

Injured All-Stars
The start of the second half has not been kind to several players who took part in the All-Star Game in Kansas City. Joey Votto, Jose Bautista, David Ortiz, Matt Holliday and Ryan Braun have all either been placed on the disabled list or left a game early due to injury this week. And that’s just the all-stars (see "Other DL and Injury News" below).

Votto actually initially injured his left knee sliding into third back on June 29, but he didn’t officially go on the DL until Tuesday. The 2010 NL MVP, who was having another stellar season (.342-14-49) at the plate, is expected to miss three to four weeks after undergoing surgery to repair torn cartilage in the knee.

Bautista was the next to go down as the Toronto slugger left Monday’s game against the Yankees after feeling pain in his left wrist after hitting a long foul ball. X-rays were negative, but an MRI revealed inflammation and the Blue Jays put him on the DL on Tuesday. Bautista got off to a slow start at the plate, and even though the average (.244) may not be as high as last year’s .302 mark, he was second in the American League in both home runs (27) and RBIs (65) before he went on the shelf. The team is hopeful this will not turn into a lingering issue that will either keep him sidelined an extended period of time or affect his swing when he does try and return.

Ortiz also left his game on Monday early as he injured his Achilles circling the bases after teammate Adrian Gonzalez had hit a home run. Ortiz limped noticeably as he rounded third and crossed home plate. Aftterwards he and the team sought two different opinions before the decision was made to place him on the DL on Wednesday. The team is hoping this right Achilles strain will keep him out only the required 15 days.

Even though both left the same game early and were held out of the starting lineup the next day, for now it appears that neither Holliday nor Braun will be out for an extended period of time. Holliday left Tuesday’s game in Milwaukee after being hit in the leg with a pitch in the first inning. Braun left six innings later with an apparent groin strain while playing left field. Both were held out of the lineup on Wednesday, although Holliday did strike out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth. Both are off on Thursday and hope to be back in there on Friday.

The injury news hasn't been all bad for all-star-caliber players, however. The Red Sox and Dodgers each got a pair of big bats back in the returns of Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury and Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, respectively, while Yankees ace CC Sabathia and Phillies ace Roy Halladay each made their first starts off of the DL on Tuesday night. The Cardinals’ Lance Berkman, the Mets’ Jason Bay, the Marlins’ Emilio Bonifacio, the Red Sox’ Clay Buchholz and the Rangers’ Alexi Ogando are some of the other players who have recently returned from extensive DL stints.

However, this doesn’t change the fact that there is a lot of talented, not to mention high-priced and more than likely highly drafted, hitters languishing on the DL. Chances are just about every owner out there has seen one or more of their big bats get bitten by the injury bug at some point this season. Consider this all-star lineup of players currently on the DL:

1B – Joey Votto
2B – Dustin Pedroia
SS – Troy Tulowitzki
3B – Evan Longoria
OF – Jose Bautista
OF – Jayson Werth
OF – Giancarlo Stanton
C – Victor Martinez
DH – David Ortiz

A Little Help?
If you are one of those unfortunate owners who are going to have to make do without the services of a Votto, Bautista or Ortiz for the next few weeks or longer, I don’t need to tell you that you won’t find a suitable replacement on your waiver wire. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some intriguing 1B, 3B and/or OF options out there. All of these are currently owned in less than 70 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

Tyler Colvin, 1B/OF, Colorado – Colvin has shown what he can do with regular playing time as he’s sporting a handy .291-13-40 line in a little more than 200 at-bats. With Todd Helton on the DL, Colvin should continue to get plenty of opportunities from here out. And while Colvin undoubtedly benefits somewhat from calling Coor Fields home, his home/road splits are very similar. He’s managed a .299-7-23 line at home and a .283-6-17 on the road.

Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego – The subject of many a trade rumor, Headley does a lot of things well enough to merit roster consideration. He maintains a respectable batting average (.268), while offering both some pop (10 HR) and speed (10 SB). If he does get a new address via a trade, it will be interesting to see what the 28-year-old switch-hitter can do away from Petco Park, where he’s just a .259 hitter with two home runs so far this season.

Torii Hunter, OF, Los Angeles Angels – Nothing about Hunter’s current numbers (.272-10-39) necessarily stand out, but keep in mind two things. One, Hunter missed more than two weeks in May due to personal reasons, and he’s currently hitting second in the Angels’ lineup, behind Mike Trout and in front of Albert Pujols. In the No. 2 spot this season, Hunter has produced a .311-4-23 line, to go along with 23 runs scored.

Adam LaRoche, 1B, Washington – LaRoche has had a nice rebound season after injuries devastated him in 2011 (.172, 3 HR, 15 RBI in just 43 G). LaRoche leads the Nationals with 55 RBIs and is second in home runs with 16, while batting .257.

Cody Ross, OF, Boston – Ross may not be on the wire much longer after the damage (3-for-5, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 3 R) he did last night against the White Sox. On the season, Ross has put together a .269-15-47 line and even with Ellsbury and Crawford back, you have to figure Bobby Valentine will find a way to keep his bat in the lineup, especially with Ortiz on the DL. Ross is especially dangerous against left-handers as he is hitting .328 with nine home runs and 24 RBIs in 67 at-bats against southpaws this season.

Kyle Seager, 2B/3B/SS, Seattle – Believe it or not, but Seager has more RBIs than Votto (58 to 49) to go along with 11 home runs and eight stolen bases as he been a bright spot in what has otherwise been another dismal season for the Mariners.

Alfonso Soriano, OF, Chicago Cubs – After hitting no home runs in April, Soriano has cranked 17 since, two of those coming after the All-Star break. Soriano is currently hitting .272, which is nearly 30 points higher than last year’s .244 average. A notorious free-swinger, Soriano has already walked 21 times this season, compared to 27 for all of 2011.

Other DL and Injury News
*Jason Bay returned to the Mets’ lineup on Tuesday, a month after sustaining a concussion when he slammed into the outfield wall trying to make a catch. Bay, who has struggled mightily at the plate this season, went 2-for-4 with a home run in Wednesday’s loss to the Nationals, his second game back.

*Dodgers’ right-hander Chad Billingsley went on the DL on Tuesday with elbow inflammation. Billingsley, who is 4-9 with a 4.30 ERA in 18 starts this season, is expected to return to the mound on July 23, the first day he is eligible to be reinstated from the DL.

*Minnesota closer Matt Capps went back on the DL on Tuesday with right rotator cuff irritation. Capps was sidelined briefly in June with shoulder issues, which led to his first DL stint, and the problem only got worse upon his return. Capps is expected to be out several weeks at the very least.

*Gavin Floyd went on the 15-day DL on Tuesday with right elbow tendinitis. An MRI revealed no structural damage and the White Sox right-hander is hopeful of returning to the mound on July 23. The team activated Philip Humber (right elbow flexor strain) from the DL to take Floyd’s place in the rotation. Humber, who tossed a perfect game against Seattle earlier this season, pitched six innings and gave up two runs in a 7-5 victory over Boston on Tuesday.

*Baltimore right-hander Jason Hammel underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Monday. Hammel injured his knee in Monday’s start against the Tigers, one he left after three innings. The team is not expecting Hammel, who leads the teams in wins (8), ERA (3.54) and strikeouts (106), back until September.

*Arizona outfielder Jason Kubel, who missed the team’s previous three games due to hamstring soreness, promptly returned to the lineup on Wednesday and hit two home runs off of Cincinnati’s Mat Latos. It was reported that Kubel may be headed to the DL because of the hamstring issue, but given his successful return last night, that’s probably a non-issue for now. Kubel has handled his adjustment to the NL quite nicely as the lefty swinger has managed a .295-17-63 line in his first season in a Diamondbacks’ uniform.

*Toronto third baseman Brett Lawrie suffered a bruised right calf when he fell into the photographer’s well chasing a pop foul in Wednesday’s matinee against the Yankees. At first glance, the injury appeared to be much more serious, but X-rays were negative and Lawrie is day-to-day. The Blue Jays are off on Thursday and Lawrie said he hopes to be back in there on Friday against Boston.

*Houston infielder Jed Lowrie is expected to be out four to six weeks after spraining his right ankle and suffering nerve damage in his leg on a play at second base in Saturday’s game against the Giants. Lowrie was tied for third among shortstop-eligible players with 14 home runs at the time of his injury.

— By Mark Ross, published on July 19, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Weekend Rundown: July 19</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/oklahoma-state-football-cowboys-team-rise-big-12
Body:

Mike Gundy still remembers his dizzy response to the news that T. Boone Pickens was presenting a record $165 million gift to Oklahoma State athletics in 2005.

But then, how could he forget, with Pickens’ mega-donation stamped so permanently on Gundy’s program?

“I didn’t actually fathom the numbers that were involved, and that somebody would actually give that kind of money,” Gundy says. “But I had been in on or around the discussions enough to know that our only chance was to be able to at least somewhat re-do the facilities here.

“Everybody knew that Boone had made tons of money. And that he had the money. Still, you don’t give away $165 million. So I was stunned.”

These days, it’s Gundy and the Cowboys who are doing the stunning.

While Pickens provided the leaping-off point for a Cowboys program that has moved into the neighborhood of college football’s elite — and with a chance to stay, not to rent — it was only Step 1 in OSU’s rise to national prominence.

Gundy had to have a multifaceted plan, and then he and his assistants and the players had to pull it off. In January 2012, the project was all but complete, when the Cowboys capped their first Big 12 championship with their first BCS bowl appearance, rallying past Stanford for a 41–38 overtime win in the Fiesta Bowl.

In a season of firsts, the Pokes posted the only 12-win season in program history, the final step in a stunning progression. Oklahoma State had incrementally built toward the 12-win mark, winning nine, nine and 11 games in the three seasons before 2011.

But it all started with the plan and Gundy’s stated No. 1 step: Be unique.

“We started with how to separate ourselves and how to make ourselves different than we had been the past 60 years here,” says Gundy, who, as a former player and assistant coach, was all too aware of the program’s lackluster history. “We knew if we just kept going forward with the same program, it wasn’t going to work.”

First, Gundy hired Larry Fedora to install an up-tempo spread offense in 2005, moving away from Les Miles’ power-oriented attack and shifting the recruiting emphasis away from elite offensive linemen to a more plentiful supply of difference-making wide receivers.

“I brought Fedora in here, wanting to be no-huddle and play fast,” Gundy says. “We were kind of the innovators of that in this league, other than Mike Leach (at Texas Tech).

“Then we said we had to be different in recruiting, in order to recruit equal to or better than Texas and Oklahoma.”

Again, Gundy’s plan was to be unique.

The Cowboys held satellite camps in Texas in an effort to enhance their visibility in a key target state and to make it easier for prospects to check out what they had to offer. They sold high-scoring offense. They sold the promise of playing in a football palace, the renovated Boone Pickens Stadium. And they sold comforts — everything from bigger, better beds to training table chefs willing to cook mom’s favorite recipes.

“We had to have our niche,” Gundy says. “What could we do to be different? We knew we had to have an everyday lifestyle for our players that was equal to or better than anybody we recruited against. And one that they were comfortable with, so that our players could recruit other players. Or we didn’t feel like we had any chance at all at Oklahoma State. We didn’t think we could have players on our team that were sour and still recruit against teams that were tradition-rich, who could recruit no matter what.

“We had a number of discussions as a staff on what’s really important. Ultimately players win games. You’ve got to get the best players here. And we’ve got to keep them happy so that they’ll want to perform.”

Step by step, the pieces of the plan came together. And as the Cowboys built their model, the players came. Gundy and his staff hit on premium players like Dez Bryant, Zac Robinson, Russell Okung, Kendall Hunter and Perrish Cox.

“From there, we got to seven and nine wins, we were playing head-to-head with Texas and Oklahoma when they were No. 1 in the country,” Gundy says. “So people began to believe in us. And we started to get a few more good players each year.”

Then came the next wave, featuring Justin Blackmon, Markelle Martin, Joseph Randle, Justin Gilbert and others. And the program’s enhanced status appealed to Brandon Weeden, a 2001 OSU baseball signee who finally made it to Stillwater once his try at a professional baseball career had fizzled.

Eventually, the roster revealed landmark depth, featuring arguably the strongest top-to-bottom talent base in school history.

Along the way, the Cowboys broke down barriers. They took down Texas A&M four straight times. They beat the Longhorns back-to-back — in Austin. And finally, they popped Oklahoma 44–10, giving Gundy his first head coaching win over the Sooners and completing the meteoric rise.

“A helluva lot more satisfying,” says Weeden, who returned to Oklahoma State for his senior season, putting the NFL Draft on hold for another year. “I came back to beat Oklahoma. I came to Oklahoma State to beat Oklahoma. To win 12 games, be able to go to a BCS game — all the things we accomplished — and to beat them like we did, that’s pretty special. You always want to win the big ones.”

OSU’s task now: to keep on winning, especially the big ones.
Weeden and Blackmon are gone, along with several other key members of a senior class that will go down as the most successful group in school history.

“Preseason magazines aren’t going to be that fired up about us,” Gundy says about predictions for 2012. “We’re not going to be ranked very high. But I expect our players to play very well…

“I expect to win a lot of football games.”

OSU’s profile has never been brighter. Along with the wins and the recent championships, Gundy carted off two national Coach of the Year awards and was rewarded with an eight-year, $30.3 million contract extension. The Cowboys play fast, score a lot and in 2011 became a Nike preferred team, further enhancing their image with recruits who admit to digging the creative uniform combinations.

“Now, we’re in a position where people do know who we are,” Gundy says. “And people do believe in us. Our recruiting is different. Players believe and they’re different. We don’t have a player on our team who hasn’t won a minimum of nine games a year.

“Winning’s become a habit here. And people expect it.”

And the Cowboys expect it, too, no matter the outside perception.

Two years ago, OSU was in a similar spot. A successful group that included Robinson, Okung, Bryant and Cox departed. But rather than fall back, as many predicted, the Cowboys made a statement about the strength of the program, surging to 11 wins and setting up their sensational 2012.

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who left with Miles for LSU because he didn’t think the Cowboys had “as many bullets as the top programs,” returned last year to join Gundy and the new landscape in Stillwater.

“When I left, I didn’t think we had a chance to win every game,” Monken says. “From a coaching perspective, I’ve said this a number of times, I want to be somewhere where you have a chance to win every game. And when that isn’t reality, then I don’t want to be a part of it.

“I really feel with the facilities and with Mike and the other coaches, I think we have a chance to win every game.”

Monken had left just as Pickens was just opening his wallet. Eventually, Pickens’ gift opened doors to a positive future that once seemed off limits for OSU.

“Boone is so big in the big picture,” Gundy says. “We couldn’t have gotten started without him. He’s like the money guy you get to invest in a company. He invested in the company, got the company started. Then the company hired people, had workers, the coaches and players, who made the company run.

“And the company now could pay the investor back.”

— by John Helsley

This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Preview Annual.

Related Big 12 Content

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Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

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2012 Oklahoma State Cowboys Team Preview

Oklahoma State’s Top 10 Players for 2012

Can Oklahoma State Win the Big 12 With a Freshman Quarterback?

Big 12 2012 Heisman Contenders

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Teaser:
<p> Oklahoma State Football: T. Boone Pickens Has Launched Cowboys Rise to Power</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - 05:30
All taxonomy terms: London 2012, Olympics, trivia, News, Olympics
Path: /olympics/10-surprising-facts-about-olympics
Body:

With the 2012 Summer Olympics coming soon, sports fans will be overwhelmed with facts, figures and features of every kind imaginable. But we found a few things you probably won't learn. Here are 10 surprising facts about the Olympic Games. 

1. Gold medals are mostly made of silver.

Despite the popular belief that the Gold Medal is composed of pure gold, this hasn’t been the case since the 1912 Olympics. Today’s Olympic Gold Medal is an imposter, made almost entirely from silver with approximately 6 grams of gold to meet the standard laid out in the Olympic Charter. The London Games medals are the biggest Olympic medals ever, weighing in at 400 grams. With gold selling at $1,571 an ounce, an Olympic medal made of pure gold would cost upwards of $20,000. 

 

2. The Olympic Torch Relay is not an ancient tradition.

The Torch Relay has its roots in the controversial 1936 Berlin Olympics. Carl Diem, Chief Organizer of the Olympic Games, conceived of the relay as a propaganda tool for the Nazi Party to showcase the supposed superiority of the Aryan race. The relay passed through Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia, who would all succumb to Nazi rule within 10 years. 

 

3. Only three modern Olympic Games have been cancelled.

The games were cancelled due to World War I (1916) and World War II (1940, 1944). 

 

4. At least one of the Olympic Rings' colors appears in every national flag.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder off the modern Olympic Movement, conceived of the five-ringed symbol. He specifically chose the different colors—blue, green, yellow, black, and red—because at least one of those colors appeared on all the national flags of the world.  

 

5. Only five countries have been represented at every modern-era Summer Olympic Games.

Greece, Great Britain, France, Switzerland and Australia. 

 

6.  Only one person has ever won gold medals during the Summer and Winter Olympics.

American Eddie Eagan has this distinction. In 1920, Eagan took home gold in boxing. He later earned a gold medal at the 1932 Lake Placid Games in the team bobsled event. 

 

7. Two athletes have won gold medals competing for two different nations.

Daniel Carrol first won gold in Rugby representing Australia in 1908 and then again in 1920 for the United States.  Kakhi Kakhiashvili won his first gold medal in Men’s Weightlifting competing as part of the Unified Team in the 1992 Barcelona Games, and later as a Greek citizen in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. 

 

8. Athletes in the ancient Olympic Games competed in the nude.

In fact, the word “gymnasium” comes from the Greek root “gymnos” meaning nude. As such, the literal translation of gymnasium is “school for naked exercise.”

 

9. The first Olympic drug suspension did not occur until 1968.

Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall, a Swedish Pentathlete, tested positive for alcohol. He purportedly drank several beers before the Pentathlon and was thus suspended from the competition. 

 

10. The youngest Olympian in the modern era is Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras, who competed in the 1896 Athens Olympics at the age of 10.

Other young Olympian facts: At age 13, springboard diver Marjorie Gestring is the youngest female gold medalist in history, while 14-year-old Kusuo Kitamura is the youngest male individual gold medalist.  

 

—By Eric Chalifour

Teaser:
<p> Little-known facts about the gathering of nations.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - 04:38
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Fantasy
Path: /FantasyHelp
Body:

Athlon Sports has all the tools and resources you need to help you put together a championship-winning fantasy football team. First and foremost is the unique and ever-important Athlon Sports 2012 Big Board, the most accurate consensus top 150 list of fantasy footballers on the web. If you are curious to see how eight different sites rank the top players in fantasy football for the upcoming season, that's the place to start.

Besides the Big Board, Athlon's player rankings will be updated frequently and additional articles, team reports and other content will be added here each day. Be sure to bookmark this page and revisit it often.

Player Rankings:

Athlon Sports Big Board: Top 150

2012 NFL Fantasy Football Athlon's Top 250

Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: QBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: RBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: WRs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: TEs

Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: IDP Top 75
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DLs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: LBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DBs

Additional Analysis:

15 Best Fantasy Football Sleepers

2012 Fantasy Football Rookie Roundup: Quarterbacks

2012 Fantasy Football Rookie Roundup: Running Backs

2012 Fantasy Football Rookie Roundup: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends

Fantasy Football 2012: Breakout Sophomore Players

Fantasy Football 2012: Players Coming Back From Injury

Fantasy Football: 10 Biggest Injury Concerns at Quarterback

Fantasy Football: 10 Biggest Injury Concerns at Running Back

Fantasy Football: 10 Biggest Injury Concerns at Wide Receiver

Fantasy Football: 10 Biggest Injury Concerns at Tight End

How 2011 Fantasy Football Busts Will Do in 2012

Who's Number 1?

Feature Articles:

Fantasy Football 2012: Best Offensive Lines to Help the Running Game

Fantasy Football 2012: The Cure for Your Tim Tebow Obsession

Fantasy Football 2012: Decline of the Running Back

Fantasy Football 2012: The Rules for Picking Rookies

Other Resources:

2012 Bye Week Cheat Sheet

2012 Fantasy Football Mock Draft I

50 Funny Fantasy Football Team Names

Team Reports:

Interested in playing Daily Fantasy Football this season? Athlon Sports is partnering with FanDuel to bring you the best in fantasy football games. See how much you can win.
 
You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.
Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Fantasy Football Tools and Resources</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - 16:24
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-head-coaches-who-hot-seat
Body:

NFL Training Camps open up in a little more than a week, which means players will soon start fighting for coveted roster spots. Players aren’t the only ones, however, who could be fighting for their jobs. A number of coaches enter the upcoming season on the proverbial “hot seat.”

Below is a look at the coaches who really need to win in 2012 or otherwise start polishing up their resume.

2012 NFL Head Coaches Hot Seat Rankings

1. Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers
After missing the playoffs for a second straight season with a team that many expected to contend for a Super Bowl title, some were surprised that Turner got a reprieve for this season. There’s little doubt that this is Turner’s last stand with the Chargers, who should be able to compete with the now Peyton Manning-led Broncos for AFC West supremacy in 2012. For his career, Turner has a sub-.500 record (107-113-1) in 14 seasons and has only been to the playoffs four times. Two of those appearances have come in his five seasons with the Chargers, but if Turner has any hopes of keeping his job, just making the playoffs may not be enough this season.

2. Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles
Reid is the most tenured coach in all of the NFL as he enters his 14th season leading the Eagles. The franchise’s all-time leader in wins (126), Reid has taken the team to the playoffs nine times, won six division titles, one NFC Championship, and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIX following the 2004 season. However, after signing several marquee free agents, the Eagles’ so-called “Dream Team” stumbled out of the gates in 2011, starting the season 1-4. They never really got any momentum going until the end, when they won four in a row against non-playoff teams, and finished the season a disappointing 8-8. Owner Jeffrey Lurie has not come out and said so publicly, but it’s pretty clear that Reid and the Eagles need to not only make the playoffs this season, but get beyond the first round. Otherwise there will probably be significant changes, starting at the top.

3. Rex Ryan, New York Jets
Last season was the first in three that Ryan did not lead his Jets to the playoffs, although he did get them to just a win away from the Super Bowl in his first two. However, when the team you share the city with has two world championships in the past five seasons, it’s pretty clear that you need to do more than just talk a good game. Ryan seems to have moved on from his annual Super Bowl guarantees, which is a wise move on his part. Besides, if he and the Jets don’t fare better than 8-8 this season, the only guarantee he will need to worry about is one coming from owner Woody Johnson about his job security.

4. Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Garrett may be entering just his second full season as a head coach, but let’s not kid ourselves here, the Dallas Cowboys aren’t your typical NFL franchise. Garrett has posted a winning record (15-13) in his tenure, but the ‘Boys went 8-8 in 2011, missing the playoffs for the second straight season. Jerry Jones isn’t known for being a patient man and with a potential coaching free agency pool that could include the likes of Super Bowl winners Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, Brian Billick and Jon Gruden, Garrett can ill afford a slow start or losing season.

5. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings
Just like Garrett, Frazier has been in charge of the Vikings for only one full season. However, that’s where the similarities end between the two coaches as the Vikings and Cowboys are in two entirely different situations. The Vikings are in complete rebuild mode and no one is expecting them to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. That said, if Frazier isn't even able to improve on last year’s 3-13 dismal showing then no one would be surprised if owner Zygi Wilf goes with someone else to oversee the rebuild in Minnesota.

6. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
Lewis has accomplished quite a bit in his nine-season Bengals’ tenure, most notably two division titles and three playoff appearances. However, he’s yet to post consecutive winning seasons or playoff berths either, and overall has a losing record (69-74-1). If the Bengals are unable to build upon last season’s wild card berth, this may end up being Lewis’ last season in Cincinnati.

7. Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears
After starting the 2011 season 7-3, the Bears stumbled miserably down the stretch finishing 1-5 and missing the playoffs. Season-ending injuries to both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte played a significant role behind the team’s collapse. That’s why new general manager Phil Emery addressed the depth at both quarterback and running back as well as added wide receiver Brandon Marshall during the offseason. With these moves and others, Smith and the Bears really have no excuses should they miss the playoffs for the fifth time in the last six seasons. If that happens, Smith’s run in the Windy City could come to an end.

8. Chan Gailey, Buffalo Bills
Like the Bears, the Bills got off to a great start (5-2) last season, before watching it all come apart and finishing a disappointing 6-10. The Bills focused their offseason efforts on upgrading the defense, highlighted by the signing of marquee free agent Mario Williams. If the team doesn’t show signs of taking that next step in 2012 and posts an eighth straight losing season, the first casualty will more than likely be the 60-year-old Gailey.

9. Pat Shurmur, Cleveland Browns
The Browns haven’t been in the playoffs since 2002 and have had two winning seasons in the past 10. No one is expecting them to contend for a playoff spot in 2012, especially since they are in the same division as Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but there’s no reason they can’t win more than four games this season either. The Browns have put together several solid drafts recently, highlighted by this year’s first-round picks Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden. If Shurmur and his team doesn’t start showing some results on the field, chances are someone else will get the chance to coach the young pups in 2013.

10. Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs
Injuries devastated the Chiefs early and often last season, but that still wasn’t enough of an excuse for Todd Haley to save his job. Crennel took over, went 2-1 in the final three games, and should get a healthy Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and other key players back this season. Now it’s up to Crennel to show he’s the right man to lead the Chiefs back to the playoffs. Even though he and general manager Scott Pioli have a relationship that goes back to their days with the Patriots, Crennel’s track record as a head coach (24-40 with Cleveland from 2005-08) isn’t exactly the strongest.

Four More Names to Watch

Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans
Kubiak led the Texans to their first-ever 10-win season, division title, playoff appearance and playoff victory in 2011 and then signed a two-year contract extension that takes him through the 2014 season in June. So why is he even mentioned here, you ask? Because for the first time in franchise history, the Texans are not only expected to make the playoffs, but compete for a spot in the Super Bowl. Kubiak’s never had to coach a team with such high expectations, so what happens if the Texans don’t meet said expectations?

Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Yes Payton won’t be coaching this season, so he can’t do anything to “hurt” his resume, if you will. However, given the damage done, not only to Peyton’s reputation and wallet, but also to the Saints’ franchise itself, because of the bounty scandal, you can’t help but wonder if perhaps Payton has already coached his last game for the Saints. He is under contract through the 2015 season, but I have to think should he want out of the Big Easy or vice versa, something can be worked out. Did I mention Payton has a house in Dallas?

Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins
What’s a coach with 157 career wins (14th all-time) and two Super Bowl titles have to worry about? Perhaps nothing, but Shanahan has gone just 11-21 in his first two seasons in Washington. His contract runs through 2014 and it pays him $7 million a year, but money has never been an issue for Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Shanahan's best seasons came when he had a quarterback named John Elway on his roster. Will he be able to revisit that success with his new field general, No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III? More importantly, will he get enough time to even find out?

Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals
Whisenhunt has won two division titles and led the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII in his five seasons so far in the desert. The problem is, both playoff appearances and the NFC Championship came with Kurt Warner leading the offense. Since Warner’s retirement, the Cardinals have gone 13-21 and missed the playoffs the last two seasons. Arizona’s quarterback situation entering training camp is uncertain at best and how that turns out this season could play a significant role in Whisenhunt’s future with the team.

— By Mark Ross, published on July 16, 2012

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2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the NFC's Best Coach?
2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the AFC's Best Coach?

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2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers


AFC South
Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs

Oakland Raiders

San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings


NFC South
Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

St. Louis Rams

Click here to order your Athlon Sports Pro Football 2012 Preview magazine

Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Head Coaches: Who is on the Hot Seat?</p>
Post date: Monday, July 16, 2012 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Maryland Terrapins, College Football
Path: /college-football/maryland-football-can-randy-edsall-turn-things-around-2012
Body:

The Maryland Terrapins were going through their spring football paces — not that anyone noticed. Practices were generally closed, and there ­wasn’t much buzz coming out of College Park, something that would seem to be a problem for a program desperate to generate revenues.

So what was getting out of College Park? The players — 25 of them since coach Randy Edsall took what he famously called his “dream job” in January 2011.

Columnists all over the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., media fishbowl called for Edsall’s job during the 2–10 debacle that was his first season at Maryland. Gloom and doom dominated the offseason, low-lighted by the departure of the 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year, quarterback Danny O’Brien, who added his name to the list of transfers. He’s ticketed for Wisconsin, suddenly the preferred destination for ACC quarterbacks looking to finish their careers elsewhere — after NC State’s Russell Wilson headed to Madison last year.

Edsall said he was “disappointed” about O’Brien’s decision but said he wanted players who were “all in.” That announcement came less than two weeks after Edsall and his revamped coaching staff brought in a 25-man recruiting class that was ranked sixth in the ACC by Athlon Sports.

“I think everyone has a bad taste in their mouth in terms of what took place last year,” says Edsall. “We’re going to focus on 2012 and work to improve each and every day, and know we have to let our actions speak louder than our words.”

Straight from central casting as a granite-jawed football coach, the tall, fit Edsall took over for frumpy Ralph Friedgen and was charged with building on the Terps’ nine-win 2010 season.

“Good to great,” is how then-fledgling Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson characterized the move.

“I came here to win championships,” Edsall said in his introductory press conference. “I’m a coach, and I want to win at the highest level. Every year our goal is to win the ACC championship. That’s what we’re going to shoot for each and every year, because if you don’t, there’s no sense for me to be here.”

What a difference a year makes.

“When you go through change and a transition, being in this as long as I have, it doesn’t happen overnight,” the coach said this spring. “It’s not basketball, you can’t change it with one guy. I just wish every season ticket holder could have come to watch our workouts.”

Heck, Anderson wishes fans would just show up at all. He’s got eight varsity sports on the chopping block because of flagging revenues, in large part because the Terrapins can’t sell football tickets in a tough market. From Day 1, Edsall did little to move the needle with fans, who saw him as a fallback choice and would have preferred the offensive fireworks of Mike Leach.

Edsall couldn’t get out of his own way after taking over. His original transition plans took a hit a month into his tenure when his defensive coordinator, holdover Don Brown, left to become the coordinator at Connecticut, of all places. The bad publicity continued when, in an informal press gathering, Edsall mentioned offhandedly that he couldn’t believe what a state the team’s academic affairs were in.

Suddenly, as he had forecast, Edsall was losing players to academics (and losing three scholarships to an Academic Progress Rate that was substandard in 2009-10). It was soon announced the Terps would lose practice time as well, the result of Friedgen’s team breaking rules by working out too much in 2010.

Edsall and the Terrapins administration self-reported the violations and imposed a penalty of two-and-a-half fewer hours of practice time per week. It was a move that proved disastrous as injuries forced young players into expanded roles, particularly on defensive coordinator Todd Bradford’s side of the ball. Bradford’s defense allowed 457.2 yards and 34.2 points per game, figures that ranked near the bottom of the FBS. The Terrapins allowed fewer than three touchdowns only once all season, and opponents never scored fewer than 28 points in the last seven games.

Of course injuries quickly cut into the team’s experience and depth; notably, converted All-ACC safety Kenny Tate suffered a knee injury before he could get comfortable as a linebacker. But the Terrapins never adapted to the new defensive system, giving up an average of 5.9 yards per play and allowing foes to convert 54 percent on third downs.

The Terrapins built an 18-point lead against Clemson only to go into a shell and fall 56–45. They lost 38–7 to a Temple team that simply ran over them, a sign of big trouble in the fourth week.

Ballyhooed offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s system didn’t fit either. A hurry-up offense couldn’t protect that shorthanded defense, and the spread option didn’t suit the pass-happy O’Brien.

The loss of Torrey Smith in the NFL Draft hurt the receiving corps. Returning receivers dropped the ball literally and figuratively. Injuries on the offensive line, most notably to team leader Andrew Gonella, hampered the running attack and limited O’Brien’s effectiveness in play-action. Special teams were far from special. Seemingly each week, the coverage units gave up a big play or suffered a big penalty that helped unhinge a team that had little margin for error.

Not surprisingly, Edsall now has three new coordinators. Former NFL defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, late of the University of Houston, has come aboard to install an attacking 3-4 scheme loaded with guys who played last year thanks to all those injuries. Eight starters, including the entire linebacking unit, were sidelined for at least three games.

Running backs coach Andre Powell takes over the special teams, having served in a similar capacity at Clemson and North Carolina.

On offense, former Maryland assistant Mike Locksley, recently the head coach at New Mexico, returned to put in a pro-style spread that should be able to take advantage of quarterback C.J. Brown’s strengths. Locksley, who has always made his bones as a recruiter, came aboard in time to help the Terps sign the surprisingly strong recruiting class.

Stefon Diggs, a 5-star athlete/receiver from nearby Olney, Md., is the biggest signee in recent Maryland history, and one of a handful of newcomers who is expected to inject some life back in the offense.

Meanwhile, Edsall is doing a lot of the things he said he would. The team’s grade-point average in the spring and fall — the first two full semesters on his watch — were the first two times the Terps had a cumulative GPA over 2.5 in eight years.

And as for the 25 departed players over the past year? In some ways, it is addition through subtraction, particularly if Edsall & Co. can recruit like they did this winter.

“I think all of our players understand what the program is that we have at the University of Maryland,” he says. “They get that we’re trying to make them better people, better students and better athletes. They understand that and they’re all in.”

— by Mike Ashley

This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 ACC Preview Annual

Related ACC Content

Ranking the ACC Wide Receiving Corps for 2012
Ranking the ACC Offensive Lines for 2012

Grading CFB's First-Year Coaches from 2011

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers

ACC's 2012 Heisman Contenders

Athlon’s 2012 ACC Predictions

Athlon’s 2012 All-ACC Team

2012 Maryland Terrapins Team Preview

ACC’s 2012 Heisman Contenders

Teaser:
<p> Maryland Football: Can Randy Edsall Turn Things Around in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, July 16, 2012 - 06:13
All taxonomy terms: Overtime, News, Olympics
Path: /overtime/25-twitter-accounts-follow-2012-summer-olympics
Body:

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games kick off soon, and it's easy to get overwhelmed with information. To help you cut through all the noise, we’ve rounded up our Top-25 favorite London-bound Twitter accounts to offer insight into the lives of your favorite Olympic athletes, the most up-to-the-minute coverage of Olympic news and in-depth analysis from the top sports journalists covering the London Games. 

25.  @ShawnJohnson

Shawn Johnson was one of the breakout stars from the 2008 Olympics, leaving Beijing with four medals for Team USA Gymnastics.  Johnson had hoped to overcome a knee injury that had plagued her training since 2010 but recently announced her retirement from gymnastics and will not compete in the London Games.  However, Johnson has stated that she will be cheering Team USA on from the stands. With a loyal following of 160,000+, Shawn Johnson may be the most influential Twitter source on women’s gymnastics. We expect her to provide quality analysis from gymnastics events at this year’s Olympic Games.  

 

24.  @KelliAndersonSI

Despite being a relative newcomer to the world of social media, Kelli Anderson, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, offered solid online coverage of the US Olympic Swimming Trials.  Look to Kelli to provide valuable insight on the proceedings in the pool at the London Games.  

 

23.  @AroundTheRings

Around The Rings is the self-described “world leader for news coverage of the Olympics” and has covered every Olympics since 1992.  They’ll have reporters on the scene at the London Games, so look to Around the Rings for exclusive content and interviews with your favorite Olympians.  With the London games rapidly approaching, their Twitter presence has grown tremendously with an abundance of Olympics-related news being posted daily. 

 

 

22. @BBC2012

Judging from their extensive coverage of the Olympic torch relay, the BBC will serve as the go-to source for content from the host country.  

 

 

21.  @USOlympic

Follow the official Twitter page of the U.S. Olympic Committee to receive up-to-the-minute news about Team USA from the Olympic Trials through the London Games. Expect to see links to stories featuring Team USA athletes and live updates from the London Olympics.  

 

20.  @hunterkemper

Four-time Olympian Hunter Kemper competes in one of the most grueling events in all of sports, the triathlon. The 36-year-old interweaves training details with comical tweets chronicling the trials of being a young father.

 

19.  @FranklinMissy                 

A year after she won five medals at the World Aquatic Championships, 17-year-old Missy Franklin is poised to turn into a bona fide star. She actively updates her Twitter feed, keeping an open dialogue with her fans.  Follow her on Twitter now to get a head start on getting to know one of the promising young athletes for these upcoming games.  

 

18.  @NBCOlympics

For those of us in the States, NBC is the exclusive broadcaster of the games. Their tweets should be a great resource for coverage and links to live video.

 

 

17. @Mo_Farah

Unfamiliar with Mo Farah?  This Somali-born distance runner is the UK’s “finest ever distance runner” and is a favorite to medal in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters following an outstanding performance at the 2011 World Championships. He already has 110,000 people following him on Twitter, and for good reason. His #MoBot move has recently gone viral, and he allows fans an inside glimpse into the training regimen of an elite Olympic athlete.

 

16. @rebsoni

Rebecca Soni is a USA Swimming Olympian who medaled 3 times (1 gold, 2 silver) in the 2008 Olympic Games. She was the 2011 World Swimmer of the Year and should be a leader of the 2012 iteration of Team USA Swimming. 

 

15.  @AshtonJEaton

Ashton Eaton, a 24-year-old phenom, seems ahead of schedule in his rise to Decathlon stardom after unseating Trey Hardee and Bryan Clay at the Olympic Trials and setting a new world record score of 9039 despite very wet conditions.  Eaton enters  as the favorite to win the Decathlon, although anything can happen in this event as 2008 Gold Medalist Bryan Clay’s failure to qualify for Team USA illustrated. On Twitter, Eaton converses with fans and fellow competitors and will certainly be updating his fans with inside information as the “world’s greatest athlete” attempts to improve upon his world record.  

 

14.  @hopesolo

Hope Solo is still riding a wave of support following the US Women’s Soccer National Team’s run to the finals of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She, along with many of her teammates, has used Twitter to increase awareness and interest in women’s soccer.  Follow her to read the inside scoop on Team USA’s attempt to avenge their loss to Japan in the 2011 World Cup Finals.

 

13.  @MichaelPhelps

Michael Phelps will again dominate media coverage of the upcoming Olympic Games. Despite increased competition from teammate Ryan Lochte, Phelps will likely cap his athletic career in London by becoming the most decorated Olympian since the modern games began. The reason he is not higher on this list is that his tweeting is pedestrian, at best. Regardless, Phelps is one of the most dominant athletes of all time and will be a topic of conversation throughout the Summer Olympics.

 

12. @usainbolt

Usain Bolt may be the most electrifying athlete in all of sports, and all eyes will be on him as he attempts to not only win Olympic Gold, but improve upon his own records in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Bolt likes to post images of his training using Instagram and provides a comprehensive behind-the-scenes look at how this dynamic track athlete trains.  

 

11. @ryanlochte

Ryan Lochte, two-time winner of the World Swimmer of the Year Award, may just eclipse his rival Michael Phelps at the London Olympics. Lochte’s pre-Olympic hype is so great that even despite a less-than-stellar Twitter feed, he is a must-follow athlete. Lochte interacts consistently with his nearly 120,000 followers and offers fans previews of his upcoming training and races.  

 

10.  @stevewilsonap

Steve Wilson is the European AP Sports Editor and has been covering the Olympics for 20 years. Residing in London, Steve will be one of the leading journalists covering these Olympic games. He will be a go-to source for all breaking Olympic news.

 

9/8. @gabrielledoug and @jordyn_wieber

Just as Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson captured the hearts of the American people back in 2008, 16-year-old Gabby Douglas and 17-year-old Jordyn Wieber should continue the storied legacy of Team USA Gymnastics in London. Jordyn Wieber looks the part of a champion; she has been nearly unbeatable over the last four years, conceding an all-around title only twice over this time period. One of those defeats, however, came at the hands of Douglas in the VISA Championships, which also served as the US Olympic Trials.

Both athletes are very willing to interact with their fans on Twitter and offer a glimpse into the everyday lives of these incredible athletes as they train for the biggest moment of their athletic careers.

 

7.  @AbbyWambach

Abby Wambach, five-time winner of the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year and co-captain of Team USA Women’s Soccer, is one of our favorite athletes to follow on Twitter.  Constantly tweeting admiration for fellow Team USA athletes, Wambach’s Twitter page beams with USA pride. 

 

6/5. @mistymaytreanor and @kerrileewalsh

For two Olympics, the dynamic duo of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh has dominated the sport of beach volleyball. They’ll be back again to defend their gold medal from Beijing; however, they face stiffer competition this time with Brazil’s top pair acting as the defending world champions from last summer.  Both women have embraced Twitter as a means of expanding their sport's exposure, providing a daily account of their preparation for the Summer Olympics. A new mother, Walsh tweets often about her two young children and the challenges of parenthood. Chances are that if you tweet at one of the two, they’ll answer your question. 

 

4. @alexmorgan13

The youngest player from the US Women’s National Soccer Team, Alex Morgan burst onto the scene last summer in the FIFA World Cup with fiery play at forward in addition to her jaw-dropping looks.  Her nearly 540,000 followers receive constant updates of Team USA’s training and commentary on other sporting events.  Follow her now and be kept in the loop as the USWNT tries to avenge their loss to Japan in last year’s World Cup Finals.  

 

3.  @KingJames

When he’s not dominating the basketball court, LeBron James takes to Twitter to share the perks of being a star NBA athlete, and photos of Team USA's basketball team. Choose him if you’re going to follow any of the basketball players from this year’s version of the "Dream Team." We figure 5.4 million followers can't be wrong.

 

2. @Olympics

With over 1 million followers, the Olympics tweets should be filled with behind-the-scenes photos and insight and links to breaking news.

 

1. @lolojones

Lolo Jones was a near lock for Olympic gold in 2008 when an unfortunate misstep on the penultimate 33-inch hurdle resulted in a disappointing 7th-place finish.  In the past month, Lolo has received enormous attention for her HBO Real Sports inteview in which she admitted that her most arduous challenge has not been training for the Olympics, but rather keeping her vow to remain a virgin until the 29-year-old is married. However, her sex life (or lack thereof) should not be the reason to follow Lolo on Twitter. Her social media talent matches her talent on the track. Unafraid to poke fun at herself, Lolo loves interacting with her fans and should provide some witty tweets from London. She hopes to put the ghosts of her past behind her and finally bring home Gold for Team USA in the 110m high hurdles.  

 

—by Eric Chalifour

Teaser:
<p> Tweeting all the inside scoop from London.</p>
Post date: Monday, July 16, 2012 - 05:45
All taxonomy terms: crossword, Monthly
Path: /monthly/july-2012-crossword-solution
Body:

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, July 13, 2012 - 14:46
Path: /college-football/washington-football-husky-resurgence-coming-seattle
Body:

Steel rubble was strewn everywhere. Wooden seats were shredded into kindling. The artificial playing surface was ripped out of the ground in chunks. This was Husky Stadium just weeks after the 2011 season ended, gutted and subjected to massive renovation. Once stately and sacred, the place was a mess.

This also aptly described the University of Washington football program during the darkest period of its 122-season existence: Specifically, an agonizing seven years through 2009 bereft of postseason games and winning records. Among the low points of the fallout, a near whiff (a 1–10 finish in ’04) and a complete whiff (an 0–12 showing in ’08).

While contractors are now busy reshaping Husky Stadium into something decidedly smart and high tech, aiming for a 2013 unveiling, fourth-year coach Steve Sarkisian has been remodeling everything else. By all accounts, with consecutive winning records (both a modest 7–6) and bowl trips (Holiday, Alamo) as the barometer, the youthful and energetic leader has a Husky resurgence well under way.

“I like him,” former Huskies coach Don James says. “I think he’s a competitor. It’s real solid looking. I think he does a lot of things real well.”

After leaving his USC offensive coordinator post to come to Seattle, Sarkisian gained immediate credibility by beating a third-ranked Trojans team in his first season. In his second season, he enhanced that credibility by upsetting USC and Nebraska, including toppling the Cornhuskers in the Holiday Bowl. Sarkisian has brought life to a program that had been sadly mishandled, and he put fans back in the seats, even if those seats were old and worn.

Yet for every two steps forward for the UW newcomer, there has been a stumble. After it was noted repeatedly how Sarkisian had kept his staff together and consistent for three seasons, he was forced to replace five of his nine assistant coaches this past winter, firing three on his defensive staff following Baylor’s 67-point outburst against the Huskies in the Alamo Bowl. And after signing the state’s top five prospects for his second recruiting class, in effect closing down the borders, Sarkisian landed only one of the five best locally produced players this past February, his home territory duly compromised.

“Steve realizes he has to continue to grow and get better,” UW athletic director Scott Woodward says of the staff turnover.

No one said it was going to be easy. While the legendary James brought the Huskies a co-national championship in 1991, countless pro football-bound players, and 14 bowl games in his 18 seasons, Sarkisian represents the fifth coaching successor in the 19 years to have followed the James era. The other four were fired. Plus, the talent level was extremely worrisome when Sarkisian inherited the Huskies: In the two NFL drafts preceding his arrival in Seattle, no UW players were selected.

Sarkisian, 38, has used his enthusiasm and a UW checkbook flush with Pac-12 TV money to restock the coaching staff, pulling touted defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon, both former Oregon players, away from Tennessee; offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau and defensive line coach and ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi from California; and reputable secondary coach Keith Heyward from Oregon State.

“The challenge for myself is to not just incorporate these guys to our staff, but we need to really get this camaraderie, this cohesiveness, and I think we can be there,” Sarkisian says.

Adds Woodward: “It was obvious there needed to be a change. There’s a case to be made for continuity, and (a) case to be made for new blood coming in.”

The UW coach also has used his considerable charm and energy to compile recruiting classes steadily ranked among the top nation’s 25, landing such 5-star players as tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, wide receiver Kasen Williams and safety Shaq Thompson.

“I could have gone anywhere, but I wanted to come make my mark where you could do something special,” says Seferian-Jenkins, who picked the Huskies over Texas and a host of others. “You could go to a lot of places that have won national championships. I wanted to do something different, and that’s build this place from the ground up.”

Usually when a college football program collapses to such epic depths, severe NCAA violations are involved. In this case, the erosion began when the Huskies fired Rick Neuheisel in 2003 for casually betting in an NCAA Tournament basketball pool. The erosion gained serious momentum when offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson reluctantly replaced Neuheisel and couldn’t hold things together, and it became epidemic with the hiring of Tyrone Willingham, whose old-school demeanor never connected with recruits, fans or media members.

Some righteous alums have pointed out that this disastrous period could have been avoided: Gary Pinkel, the successful Missouri coach and former UW offensive coordinator, was passed over when Neuheisel was hired to replace a fired Jim Lambright. Instead, a coaching carousel resulted, and lopsided losses in front of diminishing crowds became commonplace.

“We were on the cusp of it getting a lot worse,” says Ron Crockett, Emerald Downs horse racing track owner and a leading UW athletic donor. “If this had gone one more year, we would have lost a significant (portion of the) fan base. And the fans don’t come back right away.”

The Huskies have everyone on board now as the recovery process picks up steam. Players and fans are caught up in Sarkisian’s enthusiasm. Alums have supplied the necessary funding to overhaul Husky Stadium. There is a rampant impatience to restore UW football to its past glory — hence the recent mass coaching casualties, which included defensive coordinator Nick Holt, someone whom Sarkisian had brought with him from USC.

As a new Husky Stadium rises from its lakeside location, and the team is temporarily housed in the Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field across town, UW fans have purchased most of the 3,200-plus premium seats seen only on websites and in drawings, up from 550 in the old stadium configuration. Among them are 45 patio suites, which have sold out and drew nearly double the necessary number of people or groups willing to purchase them.

Stadium renovation was debated tediously without resolution for six years before Woodward stepped up and said it was time to get it done. He challenged others to jump on board, and they did. Everyone understands the commitment involved now.

“I feel like they know what they’re doing, all the way down,” says Seferian-Jenkins, only a sophomore and an All-America candidate. “To have those coaches replaced, it was sad to see them go — I loved all of them. But it’s a business, first and foremost, and you don’t forget that. I’m happy where we’re headed.”

— by Dan Raley

This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Preview Annual.

Related Pac-12 Content

Ranking the Pac-12 Wide Receiving Corps for 2012
Ranking the Pac-12 Offensive Lines for 2012

Athlon’s 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

Athlon’s 2012 All-Pac-12 Team

2012 Washington Huskies Team Preview

Washington Huskies Top 10 Players for 2012

Pac-12 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Teaser:
<p> Washington Football: A Husky Resurgence Coming to Seattle</p>
Post date: Friday, July 13, 2012 - 05:04
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-weekend-rundown-july-12
Body:

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

First-Half Fantasy Duds
The National League All-Stars vanquished their American League brethren 8-0 in Kansas City on Tuesday. This means two things: 1) the NL champion will have home field advantage in the World Series and 2) all teams will return to game action on Friday. Is there any doubt as to which of these is more important?

That said, in conjunction with our Fantasy All-Stars that we unveiled last week, here are Athlon Sports’ first-half Fantasy Duds. These are the guys who were drafted high, but have yet to produce in accordance with where they were taken.

Remember, for the purposes of this exercise, it’s all about production, value and ADP (Average Draft Position). This also is not meant to serve as any prediction on whether he or not we think they will produce more along the lines of their high ADP in the second half. This is merely an informed opinion based on what these players have already done.

Note: ADP values listed are according to Yahoo!
UD = Undrafted

Catcher: Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians (ADP 44.2)
Simply in terms of catcher-eligible players, Santana (.221-5-30) has been awful. But when you add his lack of production to the fact that on average he went in the middle of the fourth round, he’s been atrocious. Twenty-one other catcher-eligible players have more home runs than Santana’s five, including the likes of A.J. Ellis and Michael McKenry. Notorious strikeout-machine J.P. Arencibia (76 K in 249 at-bats so far) has a higher batting average than Santana right now (.225 to .221), not to mention eight more home runs and 11 RBIs.
Dis-Honorable Mention: Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers; Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves

First Base: Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox (9.6)
While Albert Pujols may have not played up to his top-five overall status in the first half, he has been swinging the bat considerably better lately. After starting off with a .217-0-4 April, The Machine put together a .326-4-19 June. The power’s still not what we are used to seeing from Pujols (eight in May, only six since), but his 14 home runs on the season are still eight more than Gonzalez has hit. A top-10 overall player in his own right, Boston’s first baseman hasn’t hit for power, which has hampered his run production (45 RBI). On top of that, his average (.283) is currently 55 points lower than what he managed last season. Put it all together and you get a first-round pick that’s been out-performed by the likes of Allen Craig, Adam LaRoche, Chris Davis and Tyler Colvin, to name a few. And all have done so with considerably fewer at-bats.
Dis-Honorable Mention: Santana, Cleveland Indians; Napoli, Texas Rangers; Michael Young, Texas Rangers; Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

Second Base: Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers (89.7)
Dustin Pedroia (.266-6-33) has certainly been a disappointment, but he’s been dealing with a thumb injury that finally put him on the disabled list right before the All-Star break. Dustin Ackely (.233-5-24) has yet to live up to the hype, but he’s also in his first full season in the majors. Weeks has no one but himself and his free-swinging (100 Ks so far, 107 all of 2011) ways to blame. Weeks enters the second half with a batting average (.199) under the Mendoza line and he hasn’t put up the power (8 HR, 29 RBI) or provided the speed (8 SB) to offset what has always been a weakness in his game. Weeks was 10th in ADP at his position and was taken on average in the middle of the eighth round, but at this point he’s probably nothing more than waiver wire fodder.
Dis-Honorable Mention: Young, Texas Rangers; Pedroia, Boston Red Sox; Howie Kendrick, Los Angels Angels; Ackley, Seattle Mariners

Third Base: Michael Young, Texas Rangers (57.3)
Evan Longoria gets a pass here because he’s been injured most of the season. Even though his owners have undoubtedly paid a price due to his extended absence, which has now reached who-knows-when-he-will-be-back territory, they can’t say he didn’t produce (.329-4-19, 15 R in 82 at-bats) when he was in the lineup. Instead, we have to head to the end of the alphabet to find the most disappointing third baseman to this point with Young edging out Ryan Zimmerman (ADP 36.2) for this “honor.” Neither has done all that much at the plate, but in Zimmerman’s case, he can at least lay some of the blame to the fact he has, yet again, been slowed by injuries. Still with nearly 60 fewer at-bats than Young, Zimmerman has out-performed his hot corner counterpart across the board, with the exception of average (.243 compared to Young’s .270). Sadly, it appears that age may finally be catching up to the 35-year-old versatile Ranger.
Dis-Honorable Mention: Zimmerman, Washington Nationals; Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

Shortstop: Jose Reyes, Miami Marlins (20.6)
Similar to Longoria at third, Troy Tulowitzki avoids the LVP tag at shortstop because of his extended stint on the DL. Reyes, on the other hand, isn’t as lucky. It’s not that Reyes has been horrible in his first season in a Marlins’ uniform, it’s just that he has come nowhere near to producing along the lines of his ADP. The second shortstop to go off of the board after Tulowitzki, Reyes is currently hitting .264, which is more than 70 points lower than he did last season when won the NL batting title with the Mets. And when it comes to Reyes, if he doesn’t get on base, he can’t do what he does best — steal bases (20 so far) and score runs (41). While he is currently tied for sixth in the majors in stolen bases, it should be pointed out that Zack Cozart is among those shortstop-eligible players who have scored more runs than Reyes to this point.
Dis-Honorable Mention: J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles; Erick Aybar, Los Angels Angels; Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

Outfield: Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks (12.5)
Identifying the LVP outfielders is no easy task as injuries have certainly impacted the position (Matt Kemp, Jacoby Ellsbury, etc.), not to mention there are some, like the aforementioned Gonzalez, who also have outfield eligibility that have severely under-performed. In the end, however, there is little question that Upton has been the biggest disappointment in the outfield thus far. Big things were expected of the Diamondbacks slugger, who after finishing fourth in the NL MVP last season was fourth among OFs in terms of ADP. Going in the middle of the second round on average, Upton has been hampered by a thumb injury and just hasn’t produced (.273-7-37) like an MVP candidate. He’s certainly capable of a monster second half, but the whispers that the Diamondbacks may be looking to trade the 24-year-old can’t help his confidence right now.

Outfield: Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays (48.5)
Jennings suffered a sprained knee in May, which sidelined him for more than three weeks, and the speedy Ray has struggled to get it going at the plate since his return. Much was expected of the 25-year-old, who was drafted along the lines of a top-15 outfielder after a promising 63-game sample the end of last season. In fact, Jennings has played the same number of games (63) this season as he did following his call up last July 23, but hasn’t been able to match last season’s production. Jennings posted a .259-10-25 line with 20 stolen bases and 44 runs scored in 2011, compared to the .231-5-23 line with 15 stolen bases and 32 runs scored he has so far in 2012.

Outfield: Michael Morse, Washington Nationals (69.1)
Morse, like Jennings, has spent a fair amount of time on the DL already as he didn’t even make his 2012 debut until June 2. However, Morse grabs the final outfield spot here because he was the No. 18 overall outfielder in terms of ADP, and to this point he has managed a grand total of four home runs and 16 RBIs. No question Morse was one of last season’s breakout fantasy stars after he posted a .303-31-95 campaign, but I also think owners were a little too eager in expecting an encore. At this point, owners will gladly welcome Morse finishing the season with totals that are similar to his second-half production (.299-16-46) in 2011.
Dis-Honorable Mention: Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox; B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay Rays; Kendrick, Los Angels Angels; Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners; Chris Young, Arizona Diamondbacks; Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres

For both SP and RP we will pick one fantasy dud from each league.

AL SP: Dan Haren, Los Angeles Angels (49.9)
Neither league is devoid of candidates for first-half LVP at SP, although injuries do have quite a bit to do with that. In the AL, the race comes down to Haren and Jon Lester, both of which were top-15 starting pitchers in terms of ADP, have ERAs above 4.40, WHIPs above 1.30, and to this point have combined for the same number of wins (11) that Texas’ Matt Harrison has. Even though Haren has apparently been bothered by back stiffness for most, if not all, of the first half, it didn’t shelve him until his last start before the All-Star break. So whether he was just trying to be a gamer and pitch through the pain or not, he’s the first-half AL Cy Yuk winner, if you will. Haren was the fifth AL SP to come off of the board on average, meaning he was being taken around the fifth round. In 17 stars so far this season, he has a grand total of six quality starts, while he’s given up five or more earned runs in six other starts. Yes, he’s been the victim of some poor run support a few times, but of his six wins, two of them came when he gave up six and five earned runs, respectively. He’s also given up 122 hits in 103 2/3 innings. Haren owners can only hope that his back issues are the source of all that ails him and that he can return pain-free and look more like his old self in the second half.
Dis-Honorable Mention: Lester, Boston Red Sox; Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays; Ricky Romero, Toronto Blue Jays; Ervin Santana, Los Angeles Angels

NL SP: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco (27.8)
As bad as Haren, Lester and some other SPs in the AL have performed, there are no Cy Young Award winners among them. That’s not the case in the NL where two-time recipients Lincecum and Roy Halladay, along with Cliff Lee, all have failed to pitch according to their top-five SP ADP. Halladay can lay some of the blame to a lat injury, while Lee has a grand total of one win – that’s right one – in 14 starts. But then there’s Lincecum. If he’s hurt, neither he nor the Giants are telling, and at this point there’s not even a reason for them to try and hide it. In 18 starts, Lincecum has twice as many starts in which he’s given up five earned runs or more (8) than he does quality starts. The strikeouts are still there (104 in 96 2/3 innings), but he’s already walked nearly half as many (50) as he’s struck out and he’s surrendered 103 hits. His ERA currently stands at 6.42, which is nearly two and a half runs higher than the 4.00 ERA he posted as a rookie in 2007, and nearly three and a half runs higher than his 2.74 ERA from last season. It’s not like Lincecum has a hit a speed bump, it’s more like he’s fallen off of a cliff.
Dis-Honorable Mention: Lee, Philadelphia Phillies; Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies; Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks; Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs

AL RP: Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers (109.4)
Even more so than with starting pitchers, injuries have completely devastated the RP ranks. In the AL alone Joakim Soria was lost for the season before it even started, while Andrew Bailey has yet to throw a pitch for the Red Sox. Then you had future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera and Sergio Santos go down after that. So while Valverde hasn’t been horrible (3 W, 16 SV), his inclusion here is related to the fact he was the second AL closer in terms of ADP, behind only Rivera. Valverde was taken on average in the middle of the 10th round and while that may not seem all that high, there’s a saying in fantasy baseball that goes “don’t chase saves.” Valverde was a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunities last season. He’a already blown three this season and his 16 ER in 35 innings (4.11 ERA) is just two less than he gave up all of last season in 72 1/3 innings.
Dis-Honorable Mention: Jordan Walden, Los Angeles Angels; Brandon League, Seattle Mariners; Francisco Cordero, Toronto Blue Jays

NL RP: Heath Bell, Miami Marlins (100.1)
The NL RP ranks were not immune to the injury bug either as Ryan Madson was lost before the season, Drew Storen has yet to throw a pitch this season, and Brian Wilson had to have Tommy John surgery in late April. Several other closers either lost their jobs, temporarily or permanently, and/or have spent time on the DL themselves. Bell gets the nod here because he hasn’t been hurt and even though he was removed as the Marlins’ closer at one point, he got his job back. However, it looks as if that will change as soon as the Marlins get back on the field Friday with manager Ozzie Guillen saying he will employ the closer-by-committee approach. Then again that’s what happens when you blow six of 25 save opportunities, while giving up nearly twice as many walks and hits combined (63) as innings pitched (34 2/3). That’s bad for any closer, but Bell was the sixth closer in terms of ADP, meaning he was picked, on average, even earlier than his AL LVP counterpart Jose Valverde.
Dis-Honorable Mention: Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs; John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers; Jonny Venters, Atlanta Braves

DL Watch and Other Injury News

*Roy Halladay is scheduled to make a rehab start on Thursday and could be back in the Phillies’ rotation as early as next week. Halladay went on the DL in late May with a right latissimus dorsi strain. Halladay (4-5, 3.98 ERA) hasn’t pitched like his usual self, so it will be interesting to see if he returns to his Cy Young form or not.

*Matt Kemp (hamstring) is expected to return to the Dodgers’ lineup soon, perhaps as early as Friday. Kemp has been on the DL since May 31 with the hamstring issue and the Dodgers have sorely missed his bat. Although he didn’t play in the All-Star Game on Tuesday, Kemp did captain the NL team in the Home Run Derby on Monday. He only hit one home run in the first round, but some questioned him even participating in the first place. If his expected return ends up getting delayed, Kemp will have some explaining to do. The Dodgers also hope to get Andre Ethier back soon as well. Ethier went on the DL effective June 28 with a left oblique injury, but has played in a couple of minor league games recently and said he hopes to be activated on Friday too.

*Atlanta sustained a big blow on Sunday when rookie shortstop Andrelton Simmons broke his right little finger sliding into second base in the game against the Phillies. Simmons is expected to be out at least a month. Besides fielding everything in sight, the 22-year-old was hitting a respectable .296 with three home runs and 15 RBIs in 115 at-bats since making his major-league debut on June 2.

*Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton had surgery on Sunday to remove some “loose bodies” from his right knee. He is expected to be out anywhere between four to six weeks. Justin Ruggiano will probably get the bulk of the playing time in Stanton’s place and could be worth a look if you have room on your roster. Ruggiano is batting .390 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in only 82 at-bats.

*The Braves also placed set-up man Jonny Venters on the DL last Thursday with a left-elbow impingement. Venters, who was so important to the Braves’ success in 2011 prior to the team’s late-season collapse, hadn’t pitched nearly as well (3-3, 4.45 ERA) prior to him going on the DL.

— By Mark Ross, published on June 12, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Weekend Rundown: July 12</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 12, 2012 - 13:43
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Longhorn Network vice president for production Stephanie Druley still shakes her head when she sees Manny Diaz walk into the LHN studios near downtown Austin to be interviewed.

When her brother called to say Diaz was a candidate for the Texas defensive coordinator job in January 2011, after Will Muschamp had left to become head coach at Florida, Druley didn’t believe him. That’s because Druley remembered Diaz as a 21-year-old production assistant at ESPN, toiling away, cutting up film of NFL games in a tiny screening room in Bristol, Conn., while aspiring to become the next Dan Patrick.

“The Manny you see now is, in many ways, the Manny we knew back at ESPN,” says Druley, who ascended from an associate producer of NFL programming at ESPN to the senior coordinator of all NFL programming and then to VP of LHN.

Manny was a very intense guy who had a super strong work ethic, worked hard and takes an extreme amount of pride in what he does,” Druley adds. “He set high expectations and achieved them, and he has that sneaky sense of humor, too.”

Long before Diaz landed the defensive coordinator job paying $625,000 per year at Texas; long before he helped coach players like Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and Stephen Tulloch as an assistant at NC State under Chuck Amato; and long before he coached the likes of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox at Mississippi State under Dan Mullen, Diaz was an aspiring broadcaster helping put together “SportsCenter.” His final job at ESPN was compiling highlights of Tiger Woods’ first Masters victory in 1997.

As a 21-year-old production assistant, Diaz even became a songwriter.

Diaz found himself in the House of Blues in New Orleans leading up to Super Bowl XXXI between the Packers and Patriots trying to convince a blues band to put his lyrics to music for the intro of “NFL Countdown.”

“The lead singer’s name was Coco Robicheaux,” Diaz says laughing. “It was like out of a movie. So I wrote this song that was all about like Cheeseheads, Packers and Patriots. And the guy was like, ‘This isn’t a song. Where’s the melody?’

“And I was like, ‘The melody is your job. I just wrote a bunch of words that rhyme about the Packers and Patriots.’ Low and behold, they pulled it off and it aired.”

Druley laughs at the thought now.

“We were all stuck in this office in the mall connected to the Superdome, and Manny was putting that musical tease together,” Druley says. “That’s one of the lasting images I have of him at ESPN.”

Diaz’s journey from production assistant to one of college football’s hottest coordinators would take a dramatic twist a couple days later in New Orleans during a 6 a.m. interview of then-Patriots coach Bill Parcells.

For months, ESPN analyst and former Green Bay Packers star receiver Sterling Sharpe had been telling Diaz he would make a good coach because of the way he broke down film for the on-air hosts. Diaz had studied journalism at Florida State because he loved sports and wanted to be in the arena but didn’t want to be in the stands like a fan.

Sharpe had gotten Diaz believing there was a step between playing the game and covering the game — coaching the game. As Diaz watched ESPN’s Tom Jackson interview Parcells, the feeling finally crystallized inside of him.

“I want to be him,” Diaz thought, looking at Parcells. “I want to coach. I want to be the one being interviewed, not the one conducting the interview.”

Diaz’s father, Manny Sr., the son of Cuban refugees who became a successful attorney and later the mayor of Miami from 2001-09, asked his son, “What makes you think you can be Bill Parcells?”

And the kid who accompanied his father to Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes games in the Orange Bowl responded, “What makes you think I can be a big dog at ESPN?”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to Bill Parcells’ level,” Diaz says now, looking back. “But I don’t know if I would have ever been on air at ESPN or any other place, for that matter. But it was clear at that point, I had to go try and be a football coach.”

Diaz’s first big break came while he was working in the football office at Florida State and an entry-level quality control job came open. Diaz got it, and over the next two years in that role, he soaked up everything he could from Bobby Bowden and legendary FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews during a run that included a national title in 1999. All the while, Diaz’s wife, Stephanie, was supporting him by working in the FSU athletic department after giving birth to Colin, the first of three sons, in July 1997.

Amato was impressed enough to take Diaz with him as a graduate assistant to NC State in 2000, when Amato was named head coach of the Wolfpack. Stephanie Diaz took a job teaching middle schoolers at a Catholic school in Durham, N.C., to feed the family.

After the 2001 season, there were two openings on the NC State defensive staff, and Diaz was named linebackers coach and given play-calling duties.

“That was the biggest break,” Diaz says.

In that 2002 season, Diaz found himself calling plays against Texas Tech’s Mike Leach in a game that NC State won in overtime in Lubbock.

“It was wild,” Diaz says.

The Wolfpack went on to win 11 games that season, finished No. 12 in the country, beat Florida State, took down Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl and had one of college football’s best defenses.

After three more seasons with Amato, coaching the likes of defensive end Mario Williams and linebackers Stephen Tulloch and Manny Lawson, Diaz became defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State, a job he held for four years. Diaz was then named defensive coordinator at Mississippi State under Dan Mullen in 2010, a season in which the Bulldogs posted a 9–4 record, including a 10–7 win over Florida in The Swamp.

When Mack Brown’s program took a downward turn after playing in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game and slumped to a 5–7 record in 2010, Brown replaced half of his staff, including both coordinators. Brown called coaching colleagues in the SEC, who said Diaz’s defense gave them fits. It’s a scheme predicated on getting upfield and attacking gaps with a lot of zone blitz pressure. Brown was able to land Diaz — and more than doubled his salary (from $260,000 at Mississippi State to $625,000 at Texas).

Manny certainly took an unconventional path to getting into coaching,” Brown says. “Not many people go from journalism and interning at ESPN into coaching, but if you really get to talking to him, you realize he’s always had a passion for sports, and particularly football.

“He really enjoys studying and learning the game, and I’ll give him credit — when he decided it was the route he wanted to go, he took a big gamble, switched careers and jumped right into it. He was very fortunate to be around so many great coaches as he worked his way up, because they were great mentors for him.”

At the age of 38, Diaz is well on his way to becoming a head coach. Texas led the Big 12 in both rush and pass defense in 2011, and the Longhorns defense has a chance to be better in 2012. If Diaz’s side of the ball plays at a championship level this season, it could be his last as an assistant coach.

Meanwhile, Druley and Diaz still share a good laugh about that blues band intro to “NFL Countdown” at Super Bowl XXXI back in New Orleans.

“You would hear updates about Manny at North Carolina State or Mississippi State,” Druley says. “Then, he went to Texas, and I sent him a note letting him know that it was my alma mater. Little did I know I would be joining him a month later in Austin (with LHN).

“But Manny is sort of like my classmate at ESPN who is now the guy coming back for the reunion who was super successful.”

— By Chip Brown

This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Preview Annual.

Related Big 12 Content

Athlon’s 2012 Big 12 Predictions
Athlon’s 2012 All-Big 12 Team

2012 Texas Longhorns Team Preview

Big 12 2012 Heisman Contenders

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<p> Manny Diaz is one of college football's top rising stars in the assistant ranks.</p>
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Championships. Leadership. Awards. Longevity. Statistical records. Likeability. Talent development.

An NFL head coach can be evaluated with many criteria. Generally, winning championships over a long period of time is the easiest (or not-so-easiest) way to the top of any ranking. Who does more with less? Who gets his team to the playoffs the most consistently? Who is the best motivator? Whose team is best prepared come crunch time? And who has the shiny hardware to back it up?

So as of July of 2012, Athlon Sports has magically given the reins of an NFL franchise to you the fans. And you have your pick of the 16 AFC head coaches. The question becomes:

Which AFC coach would you hire to lead your franchise?

Here is Athlon's take:

Note: Age is as of Sept. 5, 2012, the first game of the 2012 NFL season

1. Bill Belichick, New England (2000-present), Cleveland (1991-95)
Age: 60, Regular season record: 175-97 (17 seasons), Postseason record: 17-7 (10 appearances)

Love him or loathe him, there’s no debate who’s No. 1 in the AFC. Not only is Belichick the dean of AFC head coaches (and second-longest tenured in the NFL behind only Philadelphia’s Andy Reid) and a three-time AP NFL Coach of the Year recipient (2003, ’07, ’10), the hooded one is already 10th all-time in career wins. Last season Belichick also became the first head coach in NFL history to win at least 13 games during the regular season in five different seasons (2003, ’04, ’07, ’10, ’11).

In the end, however, what really sets Belichick apart from his peers is his postseason success. His 17 postseason victories are the third-most in NFL history and then there are the five AFC Championships and, of course, the three Super Bowl titles, including back-to-back in 2003 and ’04.

2. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh (2007-present)
Age: 40, Regular season record: 55-25 (5 seasons), Postseason record: 5-3 (4 appearances)

The second spot came down to a pair of AFC North head coaches – Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin and Baltimore’s John Harbaugh, who are strikingly similar on several levels. Tomlin has one more year under his belt, but he and Harbaugh have identical regular-season winning percentages (.688), playoff records (5-3) and have split their 10 head-to-head meetings.

It’s extremely close, but for now Tomlin gets the edge over his division rival because of his Super Bowl ring, two AFC titles and a 2-0 edge over Harbaugh in their head-to-head playoff meetings. The fact that Tomlin has won 10 or more games in every season but one so far in his career doesn’t hurt his case either.

3. John Harbaugh, Baltimore (2008-present)
Age: 49, Regular season record: 44-20 (4 seasons), Postseason record: 5-4 (4 appearances)

Younger brother Jim may get more of the headlines and attention for his work with the 49ers, but that shouldn’t take anything away from what the elder Harbaugh has accomplished in his first four seasons as an NFL head coach. Under the older Harbaugh brother, the Ravens haven’t won fewer than nine games in the regular season and have won at least one game in the playoffs each season.

The next step for Harbaugh and his team is getting over the hump in the AFC Championship game. The Ravens are 0-2 in their conference title game, including last season’s gut-wrenching 23-20 loss to the Patriots in Foxboro.

4. Gary Kubiak, Houston (2006-present)
Age: 51, Regular season record: 47-49 (6 seasons), Postseason record: 1-1 (1 appearance)

Despite a sub-.500 record, Kubiak has earned his No. 4 ranking due to his transformation of the Texans from expansion team to Super Bowl contender. It took longer than fans, and probably owner Bob McNair, had originally envisioned, but the first fruits of Kubiak’s persistence and labor came forth last season in the form of the franchise’s first 10-win regular season, division title, postseason appearance and playoff victory. Kubiak has produced a .500 or better season in four of his six seasons at the helm of the Texans. That’s no small feat for any team, let alone an expansion team that had to start from scratch.

5. Rex Ryan, New York Jets (2009-present)
Age: 49, Regular season record: 28-20 (3 seasons), Postseason record: 4-2 (2 appearances)

Some of the bloom has come off of Ryan’s rose as his Jets failed to make the playoffs last season after finishing 8-8. However, Ryan still has yet to post a losing record in his three seasons and did come a game away from the Super Bowl in each of his first two seasons. The bombastic Ryan is perfectly suited to handle the media circus that comes with being a head coach in the Big Apple. In fact, you could say he relishes the spotlight that comes with the job.

But with the spotlight comes the glare, and there’s nothing Ryan can say that can change the facts when it comes to the championship pedigree of the two New York teams. The Giants have won two Super Bowl titles in the past five seasons and a total of four since the Jets won their only Lombardi Trophy, way back in 1969. Ryan has shown he can talk a good game, but he also knows he better back it up with the results on the field, starting this season.

6. John Fox, Denver (2011-present), Carolina (2002-10)
Age: 57, Regular season record: 81-79 (10 seasons), Postseason record: 6-4 (4 appearances)

Fox’s record may not look that impressive, but in 10 seasons as the Panthers’ head coach he won three division titles and led the team to Super Bowl XXXVIII following the 2003 season. Fox’s overall .506 winning percentage in the regular season is also largely the result of his disastrous 2-14 campaign in 2010, his final season in Carolina. Otherwise, the Panthers finished no worse than 7-9 in any of the other nine seasons he was at the helm. He also took the Panthers to two NFC title games, coming up short against the Seahawks in 2005.

Now in Denver, Fox turned a Broncos team that went 4-12 in 2010 into an AFC West division champion in 2011, albeit one with an 8-8 record. Expectations are even higher this year for Fox and his Broncos, who will have Peyton Manning directing the offense.

7. Mike Munchak, Tennessee (2011-present)
Age: 52, Regular season record: 9-7 (1 season)

Munchak’s got only one year as a head coach on his resume, but he led the Titans to three more wins than the previous season and just missed a wild card berth in his rookie season. Munchak had the unenviable task of replacing mainstay Jeff Fisher, who had been the franchise’s head coach the previous 17 seasons, but now there’s no question whose team this is.

It’s only fitting that owner Bud Adams would hand-pick Munchak as Fisher’s successor. After all, Munchak is entering his 31st season with the Houston/Tennessee franchise. The team’s first-round draft pick in 1982, Munchak spent his entire 12-year playing career as a member of the Oilers’ offensive line and then joined the coaching staff in 1994. Inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2001, Munchak spent 14 seasons as Fisher’s offensive line coach before succeeding his friend and former boss as the Titans’ head coach last season.

8. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati (2003-present)
Age: 53, Regular season record: 69-74-1 (9 seasons), Postseason record: 0-3 (3 appearances)

Lewis deserves plenty of credit for the two division titles and three playoff appearances he has led the Bengals to in his nine seasons in charge. Remember, when Lewis and the Bengals won the AFC North title in 2005 that ended a 15-year playoff drought for the franchise.

However, Lewis also deserves his share of the criticism for his teams’ lack of consistency. Under Lewis the Bengals have yet to post consecutive seasons with a winning record or back-to-back playoff berths. The 2005 season was followed by an 8-8 finish, while the '09 division crown was preceded by a 4-11-1 showing. Lewis led the Bengals to a wild card berth last season, which more than likely saved his job considering the team went 4-12 the year before.

9. Mike Mularkey, Jacksonville (2012-present), Buffalo (2004-05)
Age: 50, Regular season record: 14-18 (2 seasons)

Mularkey is on his second team, but it should be pointed out that he wasn't fired from his first head coaching gig. Even though his second Buffalo team didn't fare as well as the first one (9-7 in 2004, 5-11 in '05), it was Mularkey, and not the team, who made the decision to go in a different direction.

Mularkey resumed his coaching career in Miami before serving as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator the past four seasons. During that time, he helped the Falcons to three playoff appearances and oversaw the development of quarterback Matt Ryan. He now will direct his efforts to turning around a Jacksonville franchise that has missed the playoffs the past four seasons and, more importantly, see if Blaine Gabbert can become a capable NFL quarterback.

10. Norv Turner, San Diego (2007-present), Oakland (2004-05), Washington (1994-2000)
Age: 60, Regular season record: 107-113-1 (14 seasons), Postseason record: 4-4 (4 appearances)

Turner is the most difficult veteran head coach to rate for this exercise. He gets points for his longevity, as his 14 seasons as a head coach is second only to Belichick’s 17 among his AFC peers. He also has won 107 regular-season games, making him one of only 35 coaches in NFL history to surpass 100 victories.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that he has a sub-.500 record in his career, has only made it to the playoffs four times, and is on his third team. Half of Turner's 14 seasons as head coach have ended with a .500 or worse record. That said, Turner also could very well lead his Chargers to the AFC West division title and/or the playoffs this season, so there’s the potential for him to write a new chapter to his coaching career in 2012.

11. Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis (2012-present)
Age: 51, First season as NFL head coach

Pagano has yet to coach his first NFL game, let alone a game on any level for that matter, but considering his background, you have to like his chances. Pagano is the fourth former Ravens defensive coordinator since 2002 to become a head coach. Two of the members of this club – Marvin Lewis and Rex Ryan – are still on the job with the team that hired them and rather high on this list, while the other, Mike Nolan, didn’t enjoy quite the same success. Nolan went 18-37 in four forgettable seasons as the 49ers' head coach. No doubt Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay and Colts’ fans alike are hoping Pagano follows more in the footsteps of Lewis and Ryan, rather than Nolan, when it comes to his head coaching tenure.

12. Joe Philbin, Miami (2012-present)
Age: 51, First season as NFL head coach

Philbin, like Pagano, is 51 years old and entering his first season as a head coach at any level. Philbin has nine years of NFL coaching experience, all of those with Green Bay. Prior to becoming the Dolphins’ 10th head coach in franchise history, Philbin served as the Packers’ offensive coordinator for the past five seasons, where he worked with future Hall of Famer Brett Favre and reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.

The quarterback situation in Miami is slightly more unsettled than the one in Green Bay or even Indianapolis, where Pagano has Andrew Luck, this year’s No. 1 overall pick, to build around. And in the end, much of Philbin’s success as a head coach will be tied to his ability or inability to identify and develop his franchise quarterback. Could it be Ryan Tannehill, the first quarterback taken by the Dolphins in the first round of the draft since Dan Marino in 1983? Only time will tell, but this much is clear - Philbin’s Fins will need to show signs of progress early if he hopes to be in charge long enough to find out.

13. Pat Shurmur, Cleveland (2011-present)
Age: 47, Regular season record: 4-12 (1 season)

Shurmur’s first season as the Browns’ head coach was anything but impressive, but it’s what he does from here out that really matters. The Browns are probably at least a year or two away from contending for a playoff spot, but thanks to some recent strong drafts, the postseason should become a realistic goal in the near future.

Shurmur was hired by Cleveland president Mike Holmgren after two seasons as the Rams’ offensive coordinator. During that brief tenure, he helped the Rams improve from 1-15 in 2009 to 7-9 in 2010, thanks in large part to the performance of quarterback Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Now Shurmur has two new offensive weapons to build around in 2012 first-round picks running back Trent Richardson (No. three overall) and quarterback Brandon Weeden (No. 22). The path back to respectability and competitiveness in the AFC North needs to start this year, otherwise Shurmur is sure to hear it from the Dawg Pound.

14. Dennis Allen, Oakland (2012-present)
Age: 39, First season as NFL head coach

Allen by far was the hardest one to “rank” for this. Not only is he the current youngest NFL head coach at 39, he only has a total of 10 years of NFL coaching experience under his belt. He’s been a coordinator a grand total of 18 games, as he served as Fox’s defensive coordinator in Denver last season. A fast-riser in the NFL coaching ranks, he now gets to prove his mettle in the revolving door of head coaches that is Oakland.

Allen is the Raiders’ 18th head coach in the franchise’s illustrious history, but their eighth since 2000. Allen is also the first hire made by new Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie and the first Raiders’ head coach with a defensive background since John Madden retired following the 1978 season. Given the franchise’s history and reputation, Allen could either make a name for himself as the next great Raiders’ head coach or be simply known as the guy who kept the seat warm for whoever’s next.

15. Chan Gailey, Buffalo (2010-present), Dallas (1998-99)
Age: 60, Regular season record: 28-36 (4 seasons), Postseason record: 0-2 (2 appearances)

Buffalo could surprise and earn a playoff berth in 2012, but if that happens, I suspect more of the credit will go to the Bills’ offseason additions, namely free agent signee Mario Williams, than to Gailey himself. Gailey does have a winning season and a division title in his four seasons as a head coach. However, he’s yet to win a playoff game and has won a total of 18 games since posting 10 wins in his first season as the Cowboys’ head coach in 1998. Gailey enjoyed more success in his six seasons as Georgia Tech’s head coach (44-32) than he has in four pro seasons.

16. Romeo Crennel, Kansas City (2011*-present), Cleveland (2005-08)
Age: 65, Regular season record: 26-41 (5* seasons)

Crennel is getting a second chance in Kansas City, but that’s mainly because of the disaster that Todd Haley left behind. Crennel went 2-1 in the Chiefs’ final three games last season following Haley’s dismissal, posting the best winning percentage (.667) in his career during that small sample size. Crennel won 10 games with the Browns in 10-6, but that wasn’t even good enough to make the playoffs, and he went 14-34 (.292) in his three other seasons at the helm in Cleveland. He’s also 65 years old, so this is more than likely his last head coaching shot.

*Crennel served as the Chiefs' interim head coach for the last three games of the 2011 season.

— By Mark Ross, published on July 10, 2012

Related NFL Content

2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the NFC's Best Coach?
2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the AFC's Best Coach?

2012 NFL Quarterbacks: Ranking the Best and Worst Starters

Ranking the NFL’s Best Backup Quarterbacks
The 10 Worst NFL Teams Since Expansion

NFL Quarterbacks Rewrote Record Books in 2011

Miami Dolphins QBs Since Dan Marino: An NFL Horror Story

2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

Click here to order your Athlon Sports Pro Football 2012 Preview magazine

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Post date: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 05:44
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In March 11, 2011, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch columnist Bob Hunter dropped the news — Kirk Herbstreit was leaving Ohio and relocating his family to Nashville. The guy who any serious college football fan knew played quarterback at Ohio State and still contained much love for his Buckeyes found that living in Columbus was no longer bearable.

There was his growing celebrity as ESPN’s face of college football, but something else, too. It turns out that some fans — and this does not just apply to one isolated football program — really are so fanatical about their team they cross over that line separating passion and reason.

To Herbstreit, who like his father before him had been an Ohio State captain, “80 to 90 percent” of fans were great. But he told Hunter: “It’s the vocal minority that make it rough. They probably represent only five to 10 percent of the fan base, but they are relentless.”

This, in an essential way, goes against how we think of sports fandom and root, root, rooting for the home team. It would seem to follow that if there was one place where a nationally known commentator could exist comfortably, it would be among those of his own tribe.

To Christian End, a psychology research professor in Ohio whose primary work involves the brains and metaphorical hearts of sports fans, this parable of the prodigal sports commentator actually makes perfect sense. And lest fans of other college football franchises reach for a stone to cast at fans of Ohio State, know that the available research says we all, as sports fans, are susceptible to the same sort of irrational behavior on behalf of the old alma mater.

End, a professor at Xavier (and huge Musketeer hoops fan), tells about a study done in 1992 — the same year Herbstreit completed 46 passes for 271 yards in a 13–13 tie with Michigan — that tested just how much fans value loyalty and punish any hint of disloyalty.

People were asked to read different articles about their favorite team — some described a tight, thrilling victory by their favorite team and others described a tight, crushing loss by their favorite team. Some of these people were huge fans of the team, some were not. Key to the study was this — some people were told the author was “loyal,” some were told the author was “disloyal.”

The researchers noticed two things above all else. The most positive reactions came from big fans of the winning team reading an article by an author described as loyal to the winning team. The most negative reactions came from those big fans of the losing team reading an article by an author described as “disloyal” to the losing team.

“We do know that fans highly value loyalty,” End says. “That is central to that identity to a sports fan, this sense of, ‘I will be loyal, through thick and thin.’”

If criticism comes from another ESPN analyst, like say a certain former Heisman Trophy winner from Michigan, Buckeye fans might resent it but not with the same intensity they would reserve for a critic with actual Ohio State connections.

“You can see how they might think, ‘Desmond Howard, he’s the Michigan guy, but I don’t expect that from my own,’” End says.

Fill in the blank with a college broadcaster and the same dynamic could apply — David Pollack talking about the Georgia Bulldogs (or the Florida Gators), Todd Blackledge about Penn State (or Pitt).

End tells about one of the most famous psychological studies connected to sports, which dates back to 1951. Titled simply: “They Saw A Game,” it involved a Thanksgiving week college football clash between Dartmouth and Princeton, back when Ivy League football mattered so much that Time magazine featured the Princeton star, Dick Kazmaier, on its cover.

After a game that became famous at the time for its brutality — Kazmaier left the game with a broken nose and concussion, Dartmouth’s star had his leg broken — researchers questioned fans of both teams about what they saw. Later, they also showed fans of each side a replay of the game on film. What they found was at the time seen as a psychological breakthrough: Princeton fans claimed many more penalties and dirty plays were committed by Dartmouth and Dartmouth fans claimed just the opposite.

Writing in The Journal of Abnormal Psychology (which may or may not tell you something about us sports fans), the researchers came to the conclusion that “the game actually was many different games,” and what fans chose to notice and remember differed based on their own connections to the competing schools, according to who they wanted to win.

End says the more broadcasters and journalists are aware of that psychological truth, the better equipped they are to guard against subconsciously projecting bias.

CBS lead basketball analyst Clark Kellogg, another Ohio State alum, seemed to get that when explaining his approach to Sports Illustrated’s media columnist Richard Deitsch before last year’s NCAA Tournament: “I have drank and swallowed the Kool-Aid. I’m Scarlet and Gray. There is no denying that. I’m a Buckeye fan, and we all are fans of certain teams and programs and particularly our alma mater. When calling a game, I am representing CBS and Turner and my professionalism has to rise above where my personal interests lie. Whether people accept or acknowledge that fairly, I cannot control.”

When scandal strikes
On the other end of this spectrum, consider a young sportswriter named Mark Viera, Penn State Class of 2009. Last fall he found himself caught in what he described as “a maelstrom” of events that rocked the proud football program and the legendary coach Viera had covered as an undergraduate just a few years earlier.

Viera helped The New York Times report the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal, a task made somewhat less difficult by two things. One, Viera could introduce himself as a Penn State graduate and win the trust of people weary and skeptical of the media hordes that had descended on Happy Valley. Also, Viera says, he had never become a Nittany Lion fan.

“I did not have those heartstring affections that many people do,” he said. “I never developed this rah-rah affinity for Penn State football.”

That helped Viera, but, as evidenced in the many thoughtful pieces written by media members with Penn State ties, in some cases covering the scandal meant grappling with personal affections that had built up over many years. Malcolm Moran, a Penn State professor who for three decades covered college sports for the Times, Chicago Tribune and USA Today, saw some of the school’s finest budding journalists forced to reconcile their still developing sense of professional duty with their embedded sense of loyalty. “Several students had conversations with me on the verge of tears with the thought that their work might be contributing to the downfall of the program,” Moran says. “There was enormous emotion.”

Viera said at times he found longtime university supporters and employees reaching out privately to offer support and encouragement. At some level, even those with the strongest feelings about the Nittany Lion program wanted the truth to come out, whatever the consequences.

Covering the beat
Brett McMurphy is CBSSports.com’s national football writer and a member of the Football Writers Association of America’s board of directors. The issue of objectivity is so important to him that he pays close attention to the colors he wears covering games.

When he covered the University of South Florida for The Tampa Tribune, athletic department officials often implored him to “be positive,” an entreaty most beat writers hear in some form many times every season. When McMurphy reported in 2009 that former coach Jim Leavitt had hit a player, one booster in particular told him he should not have dwelled on that “negative” news. But that same booster, after Leavitt was fired in part because of the incident, asked McMurphy for his ring size because he said Skip Holtz would lead the program to a Big East title.

McMurphy is himself an Oklahoma State graduate, and as a national correspondent, he has been tasked with covering the program’s rise to national prominence. After an article last year detailing the program’s past struggles, in which he pointed out the old condescending “Okie State” term had at times fit the program, some fans suggested he was not positive enough.

So he replied, in part, by pointing out as an alum he had a unique perspective. But as might have been predicted by the sports fan psychologists — or by Kirk Herbstreit himself — that may have only served to anger the most partisan of fans even more.

Root, root ... for the story
Bob Kesling has been paid to observe college sports in general and his alma mater Tennessee Vols in particular from many vantage points.

For years, he was sports anchor for Knoxville’s NBC affiliate, covering the Vols as journalist first. Later he became involved with the regional broadcasts of Southeastern Conference football and basketball games, as a play-by-play announcer. In 1999, he succeeded the legendary John Ward as the radio voice for the Vols.

One thing has remained constant, Kesling says — he always cheers for a good story to emerge.

“Most announcers, they just want a good game — there’s nothing worse than a 54–7 game in football, I don’t care who is winning,” Kesling says.

And when he’s at his best, Kesling is following advice from mentors like Ward and Lindsey Nelson, a UT graduate and broadcast sports pioneer. Like Ward, he considers his first duty to be a reporter. And Nelson always told him, “Tell the story. You are not the story. The story is the story.”

Wes Durham, who has done play-by-play for Georgia Tech now for nearly two decades, has understood that since he was a teenager and his father, Woody, was laying out the story to North Carolina fans as the radio voice of the Tar Heels.

Durham says he knows some Tech fans may wish he came across as more ardently “a homer,” in part because so many fans in Georgia well remember the unabashed fan-in-the-booth persona of longtime Georgia announcer Larry Munson. That’s just not Durham’s style.

The key to connecting reliably with fans, he believes, is just that — be reliable, be consistent, be real. His father told him that he aimed for accuracy but expected anyone listening to understand he called games through “light-blue-tinted glasses.”

“You can dissect how the relationship between the announcer and the fan base works, but they want you to be real — and fans know real,” Durham says.

Consider, as one final example, an exchange on one of the newest of media platforms, Twitter, where “being real” is greatly valued. Desmond Howard had asked his followers, on Easter Sunday in 2011, how they judged a person’s character, and an Ohio State fan snarked that if you are “from Ohio and went to mich” it said a lot.

“Says I made a GREAT decision,” Howard offered. At which point Herbstreit jumped into the fray and offered, “even on easter they don’t take a break. Haha!”

But by the end of the exchange, the Ohio State fan offered the two rivals-turned-colleagues the highest of praise: “College Gameday is the best show on tv. Luv it.”

Being real. Being transparent. Being reliable: It may not please all of the fans all of the time, but for analysts, play-by-play guys and sportswriters, that is usually a winning game plan.

— by Zack McMillin

Related College Football Content

Athlon’s 2012 College Football Predictions
Athlon’s Top 25 for 2012
College Football Realignment Winners and Losers
College Football’s Top Assistant Coach Hires for 2012

Teaser:
<p> Can College Football Analysts Avoid Bias When Covering Alma Maters?</p>
Post date: Monday, July 9, 2012 - 03:19
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-weekend-rundown-july-5
Body:

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

First-Half Fantasy All-Stars
The 83rd Annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game will take place in Kansas City next Tuesday, which means after Sunday’s games, everyone will take a four-day break. So as we get ready to take a slight respite from the action on the fantasy diamond, we wanted to present our first-half fantasy all-stars.

As you will see, many of our picks will not be at the midsummer classic next week. The reason for that has nothing to do with San Francisco Giants or any other team’s fans stuffing the ballot boxes either. After all, when it comes to a fantasy all-star, it’s about production and value, or in this case, ADP (Average Draft Position).

For example, Miguel Cabrera is the No. 1 first baseman (and third baseman for that matter) right now in fantasy baseball in terms of statistical production. However, that’s no real surprise, considering he was drafted in the first round and in many cases, was the first player taken overall. So without further ado, here are Athlon Sports’ first-half Fantasy All-Stars:

Note: ADP values listed are according to Yahoo!
UD = Undrafted

Catcher: Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies (ADP 199.5)
With apologies to Yadier Molina, Ruiz gets the nod behind the plate because of his consistent offensive production throughout the first half, not to mention he was 13th catcher drafted in terms of ADP. Ruiz, who was previously best known for being Roy Halladay’s personal catcher, is currently second in the both the National League and majors in hitting with a .357 average. That’s nearly 100 points higher than the career .265 batting average he carried entering 2012. On top of the high average, Ruiz is second among all catcher-eligible players in both runs (40) and RBI (48) and has already hit 13 home runs. His career high before this season was nine.
Honorable Mention: Molina, St. Louis Cardinals; A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox

First Base: Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays (197.4)
This was a close race between Encarnacion and the Angels’ Mark Trumbo, but the Blue Jay gets it in the end because of slightly better run production and a slightly higher ADP. It also doesn’t hurt Encarnacion’s case that he’s a current Top 10 player overall, thanks to a solid .298-22-56 line, along with 52 runs scored and eight stolen bases. That overall production puts him right up there with Toronto teammate Jose Bautista, whose ADP was more than 190 spots higher at 5.3. This means that Encarnacion, who on average went in the 18th round, is putting up roughly the same numbers are Bautista, who went in the first round. Besides, I have a feeling that you will see Trumbo’s name again.
Honorable Mention: Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels; Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles

Second Base: Trevor Plouffe, Minnesota Twins (UD)
Several candidates to choose from here, but Plouffe gets the nod over Aaron Hill and Jose Altuve for two main reasons. First, because he’s second only to Robinson Cano in home runs for second-base eligible players and second, because he went undrafted. Plouffe has come out of nowhere to mash 19 home runs in just 212 at-bats. He’s not going to hit for average (.250), but if you were lucky enough to pick Plouffe off of your waiver wire (and you still may be able to as he’s owned in just 75 percent of Yahoo! leagues), you will gladly take the production in the other categories, especially the home runs. It also doesn’t hurt that Plouffe carries eligibility at shortstop, third base and in the outfield too.
Honorable Mention: Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks; Altuve, Houston Astros

Third Base: Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels (192.6)
Ta-da! Didn’t I say you would see Trumbo’s name elsewhere? Both Trumbo and Encarnacion are first- and third-base eligible (Trumbo also has OF eligibility), so it’s only fitting that these two share the corner infield spots on our fantasy all-star squad. Trumbo has been moved all over the diamond – 1B, 3B, LF, RF – by Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia, while also logging some time at DH so he can keep his bat in the lineup. And while he’s spent the most time in the outfield, he gets the nod here at third base, where he’s arguably the most valuable to his fantasy owner. Trumbo is currently hitting .310, which is more than 60 points higher than his career batting average (.249) entering this season, but when it comes to Trumbo the average is gravy. The run production is what you are hoping for, and in the first half, he hasn’t disappointed as he’s already hit 20 home runs and driven in 55, and thrown in four stolen bases for good measure.
Honorable Mention: Plouffe, Minnesota Twins, Jed Lowrie, Houston Astros

Shortstop: Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals (223.0)
Plouffe could lay claim to this spot as well, but in order to spread the accolades around, we’ll go with Desmond here. Besides, it’s not like Desmond’s a slouch in the power department himself. He’s already hit 14 home runs, which ties him for second with the aforementioned Lowrie for the second place among shortstop-eligible players. But Desmond’s value goes beyond his power, as he’s second only to Kyle Seager in RBI (47) and has scored 43 runs to go along with eight stolen bases. Put it all together and it’s a nice package considering Desmond was the 18th player selected at his position in terms of ADP.
Honorable Mention: Plouffe, Minnesota Twins; Seager, Seattle Mariners

Outfield: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (245.3)
Oh to be 20 years old and a top-15 fantasy player. That’s what Trout is, which is even more impressive considering he didn’t even play his first game of the season until the end of April. All he’s doing is leading the American League in both batting average (.343) and stolen bases (23), while scoring 52 runs and adding 10 home runs and 36 RBI. The main reason his ADP was so low is no one was sure when he would be back in the big leagues. The only question now is how high will he go next year?

Outfield: Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals (105.8)
Entering this season, no one was really sure what to expect from the 35-year-old Beltran, who was joining a Cardinals line up that wouldn’t include Albert Pujols. Well halfway through the season, the answer so far is a top-five outfielder. Beltran leads the NL in RBI with 63 and is second to Ryan Braun in home runs with 20. He’s batting .304 and has added eight stolen bases. Not bad for someone who was taking on average in the 10th round.

Outfield: Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox (222.4)
Rios gets the nod for the last outfield spot over Melky Cabrera and some others because he was pretty much an afterthought following his .227-13-44 2011 campaign. He’s already driven in more runs (45) in just 79 games so far this season, to go along with 11 home runs, 13 stolen bases and a .317 average. He has gone from a guy who was taken on average in the 20th round to a top-15 fantasy outfielder.
Honorable Mention: Cabrera, San Francisco Giants; Alejandro De Aza, Chicago White Sox; Josh Reddick, Oakland A’s; Jason Kubel, Arizona Diamondbacks

For both SP and RP we will pick one fantasy all-star from each league.

AL SP: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox (202.9)
Sale has established himself as one of the most dominating starters in all of baseball despite the fact that earlier this season the White Sox temporarily moved him back to the bullpen. The left-hander is second in the AL in wins (10), ERA (2.19) and WHIP (0.95), while striking out 98 in 102 2/3 innings. The only concern with Sale in the second half has to do with workload. He’s already pitched more innings this season than the past two combined (94 1/3). Don’t be surprised if the White Sox limit his starts the rest of the way, especially should they drop out of the playoff race.
Honorable Mention: Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox; Jason Hammel, Baltimore Orioles; Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers; Jarrod Parker, Oakland A’s

NL SP: R.A. Dickey, New York Mets (251.2)
Is there any real debate here? Dickey leads the majors with 12 wins, while leading the NL in WHIP (0.88) and complete games (three). He’s also third in the NL in ERA (2.15) and second in strikeouts (116), which is very impressive considering he’s a knuckleballer. He’s the clear-cut favorite for the NL Cy Young Award at this point, should get the start for the NL in the All-Star Game on Tuesday, and on average he was drafted in the 23rd round. Any questions?
Honorable Mention: James McDonald, Pittsburgh Pirates; Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks; Chris Capuano, Los Angeles Dodgers; Kyle Lohse, St. Louis Cardinals

AL RP: Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels (UD)
Relief pitchers are a little tricky because not all leagues treat them the same, so with apologies to Jim Johnson and Fernando Rodney, who are currently No. 1 and 2 in saves in the AL, my vote goes to Frieri. A situational guy in San Diego, Frieri has made the most of his change of scenery as he has seized the Angels’ closer job by the throat. He only has 10 saves so far, but don’t let that one category take away from his overall body of work. Besides a win and seven holds, he’s also struck out 60 in just 36 innings and has a 0.75 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. That sort of production should play in any league, regardless of format.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Cook, Oakland A’s; Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners, Johnson, Baltimore Orioles; Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays

NL RP: Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds (218.2)
He’s hit a bit of a rough patch here lately, but that shouldn’t take away from his impressive first-half performance. Chapman has made the transition from set-up man to closer for the Reds, and has been flat-out unhittable for extended stretches in both roles. Overall he’s put together four wins, nine saves and six holds and has struck out a remarkable 66 in just 37 1/3 innings. His ERA stands at 1.93 and his WHIP is a miniscule 0.78.
Honorable Mention: Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers; Tyler Clippard, Washington Nationals; Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants

DL Watch and Other Injury News

*The Rangers announced earlier this week that Yu Darvish would not make his final scheduled start of the first half. The team said there is nothing wrong with the 25-year-old right-hander, they are just skipping his spot in the rotation to give him some extra rest with the All-Star break on the horizon. Rookie left-hander Martin Perez will take his place and face Minnesota on Friday.

*Ryan Dempster could be activated from the DL on Sunday to start the Cubs’ first-half finale in New York against the Mets. Dempster has been on the DL since June 18 with a sore right latissimus dorsi muscle and wasn’t expected back until after the All-Star break. However, his bullpen sessions have gone well and he’s hopeful that the team will let him take the mound on Sunday. Even if he does go on Sunday, expect the right-hander to be on a strict pitch count.

*Andre Ethier was placed on the 15-day DL on Wednesday with a left oblique injury. The move was made retroactive to June 28 and was done after the Dodgers initially thought it would not be necessary. Ethier has not played in a game since June 27 when he sustained the injury on a check swing against the Giants. The Dodgers are hoping to get both Ethier and Matt Kemp (hamstring) back in the lineup shortly after the All-Star break.

*In other Dodgers injury news, shortstop Dee Gordon suffered a dislocated right thumb in the eighth inning of their 4-1 win over Cincinnati on Wednesday night. Gordon did not return to the game and was scheduled to have an MRI today. It’s not known if he will be able to return to the lineup right away not.

*After getting shelled (6 ER on 9 H in 4 1/3 innings) in his last start on Tuesday in Cleveland, Dan Haren disclosed that he has been dealing with back pain most of the season. The Angels’ right-hander was scheduled to undergo testing on Thursday to find out more and as of right now, it’s unknown whether he will make his next scheduled start, on Sunday at home against Baltimore, or not.

*The Rangers also are expected to activate left-hander Derek Holland from the DL on Saturday to face the Twins. Holland went on the DL in early June due to a stomach ailment and shoulder fatigue.

*Dustin Pedroia was held out of the Red Sox lineup on Wednesday because of soreness in his right thumb. The Boston second basemen has been dealing with the thumb for several weeks now and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. He is scheduled to get the thumb looked at on Thursday and don’t be surprised if the team takes it easy with him so he can get some extended rest with the All-Star break starting on Monday.

*The White Sox have said that Chris Sale will not make his final scheduled start on Sunday. The left-hander has already thrown more innings this season than in the previous two combined, so this will allow him to get some extra rest. It also will permit Sale to be available to pitch in his first All-Star Game on Tuesday in Kansas City. By rule, any starting pitcher that goes on the Sunday before the All-Star Game is not permitted to pitch in the midsummer classic.

*Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton was held out of the starting lineup for the Marlins’ Thursday afternoon game in Milwaukee because of soreness in his knee. It marks the third straight game the slugger has missed, but he said he hopes to be back in the lineup no later than this weekend. Either way, this is definitely a situation that bears monitoring. Stanton is part of the NL roster for Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Kansas City and right now he’s scheduled to participate in the Home Run Derby on Monday.

— By Mark Ross, published on July 5, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Weekend Rundown: July 5</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 5, 2012 - 14:49
Path: /nfl/nfl-quarterbacks-rewrite-record-books-2011
Body:

NFL training camps are set to open in three weeks, but before we set our sights on the upcoming season, let’s take a look back at 2011. Although the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots to capture Super Bowl XLVI, the 2011 NFL season may as well go down in the history books simply as the Year of the Quarterback.

Consider this, an NFL-record 11,356 points were scored last season, while games averaged an all-time high of 693.7 total net yards per game. Much of this offense was due to the increasing dependence on the pass as there were an average of 459.4 net passing yards per game.

To put it another way, more than 66 percent of the yards accumulated last season came via the pass. What’s more, the league-wide passer rating for quarterbacks was 84.3 last season, while the touchdown-interception ratio was 1.472:1, both of which are all-time highs.

The increase in offensive production is nothing new necessarily as the passing-related records that were set last season were previously broken in 2010. However, a closer look at last season’s quarterback production reveals that the men pulling the trigger put together some truly historic performances.

For starters, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees set the single-season record for passing yards with 5,476, breaking Dan Marino’s previous mark of 5,084 in 1984. He also set new single-season records for completions (468), completion percentage (71.2 percent), 300-yard passing games (13) and consecutive 300-yard passing games (seven).

Brees also became the first quarterback in NFL history to for throw for at least 350 yards in four consecutive games and finished the season with eight such contests. He has the opportunity to make even more history in the fall as he will enter this coming season having thrown at least one touchdown pass in 43 consecutive games. This is the second longest streak in NFL history, trailing only Johnny Unitas’ run of 47 games.

If not for Brees, Marino’s single-season passing mark would belong to New England’s Tom Brady. Brady passed for 5,235 yards last season, the second-highest single-season total in NFL history. Brady got off to a hot start last season, becoming the first quarterback in history to throw more than 900 yards in the first two games and more than 1,300 in the first three.

Brady also threw 39 touchdown passes in 2011, giving him 300 for his career. He became just the sixth quarterback in NFL history with 300 touchdown passes, joining Brett Favre (508), Marino (420), Peyton Manning (399), Fran Tarkenton (342) and John Elway (300).

Brees and Brady weren’t the only ones to break the 5,000-yard mark in 2011, however, as Detroit’s Matthew Stafford passed for 5,038. Entering 2011, only two quarterbacks in NFL history had ever thrown for at least 5,000 yards in a season — Marino (1984) and Brees (5,069 in 2008). In fact, six of the top 20 single-season passing totals in NFL history are from last season, and a total of 11 of them have happened in the past five seasons overall.

Stafford also connected on 41 touchdown passes in 2011, as he, Brees (46) and Aaron Rodgers (45) all threw for 40 or more scores. Until last season, no other season in NFL history had more than one quarterback with 40 or more touchdown passes.

What’s even more impressive about Rodgers’ performance is that the Green Bay quarterback threw those 45 touchdown passes in just 15 games. Rodgers sat out the Packers’ regular-season finale, which not only cost him a shot at 50 touchdown passes, the current single-season record set by Brady in 2007, but also the opportunity to join the 5,000-yard club.

Rodgers entered the final week of the regular season with 4,643 yards or 300.9 yards per game. Even though he still needed 357 yards for 5,000 on the season and five more touchdown passes for 50 remember this – his replacement, Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn torched the Lions for 480 yards and six scores in Week 17.

Although he didn’t get 5,000 yards or 50 touchdown passes, Rodgers did earn a spot in the NFL record books in two other places. He established a new single-season mark for passer rating (122.5), topping the previous record of 121.1 set by Manning in 2004, and he also took home league MVP honors after leading the Packers to a near-perfect 15-1 record in the regular season.

Collectively, there were 121 individual 300-yard passing games in 2011, the most of any season in NFL history. The previous mark was 104 such games in 2009. There also were 18 individual 400-yard passing performances, which broke the previous record of 13, set in both 1986 and 2004.

One of the quarterbacks who helped contribute to both of these record-setting totals was Cam Newton. The Carolina signal caller made history of his own when he passed for 422 yards in his NFL debut in Week 1 against Arizona. He followed that up with a 432-yard game against Green Bay in Week 2. Before 2011, no rookie quarterback had ever passed for more than 350 yards in his first NFL game, let alone more than 400 in his first two.

The NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year finished his inaugural season with a record 4,051 yards passing and 14 rushing touchdowns. The 14 rushing touchdowns were not only the second-most in the NFL in 2011, it was the most ever by a quarterback. And Newton wasn’t the only quarterback who showcased his dual-threat ability in 2011 either.

Former Denver quarterback Tim Tebow finished last season with 660 yards rushing, second only to Newton’s 706 among quarterbacks. However, Tebow did all of his ground work in just 14 games, 11 of those as the Broncos’ starter, compared to Newton’s 16.

Tebow also was second to Newton in rushing touchdowns with six. But Tebow accomplished something with one of those rushing scores that neither Newton nor any other quarterback in NFL history had done before.

In Week 11 against the Jets, Tebow had a 20-yard touchdown run with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter to propel the Broncos to a 17-13 win. It was the first game-winning touchdown run of at least 20 yards by a quarterback in NFL history and it came against the Jets, who Tebow was later traded to in the offseason.

Fittingly enough, Tebow also made his own contribution to the Year of the Quarterback with his arm even though his regular-season passing numbers (1,730 yards, 12 touchdowns) were pedestrian at best. However, in the wild card round of the AFC playoffs against Pittsburgh, Tebow became the first quarterback to average 30 yards per completion (minimum five) in a postseason game.

Against the Steelers, Tebow completed 10 of 21 pass attempts for 316 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. His second touchdown pass, an 80-yarder to Demaryius Thomas on the first play from scrimmage in overtime, not only gave the Broncos an improbable 29-23 victory over the Steelers, it also represented both the longest touchdown pass and the quickest (11 seconds) score in overtime history.

So between the exploits of gunslingers like Brees and Brady and the dual-threat playmaking ability of the likes of Newton and Tebow, 2011 was clearly the Year of the Quarterback. This coming season will no doubt feature its fair share of impressive aerial performances, especially with promising rookies Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III scheduled to make their debuts, but the bar has already been set pretty high for the 2012 season to top what happened in 2011.

No doubt NFL fans can’t wait to see what happens when the 2012 NFL season kicks off this fall. September 5 can’t came soon enough.

Note: Research assistance provided by Elias Sports Bureau and Athlon Sports contributing writer Bruce Herman

— By Mark Ross, published on July 3, 2012

Related NFL Content

2012 NFL Quarterbacks: Ranking the Best and Worst Starters
Ranking the NFL’s Best Back-Up Quarterbacks

Miami Dolphins QBs Since Marino: An NFL Horror Story

Robert Griffin III Talks Heisman, Baylor and Redskins

Teaser:
<p> NFL Quarterbacks Rewrite Record Books in 2011</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/andy-katzs-big-slip-during-nba-draft
Body:

Bulging disc is not an easy phrase to say, especially on live television. Unfortunately for ESPN's Andy Katz, he had a bit of a slip up while trying to discuss why former Ohio State forward/center Jared Sullinger could fall in the draft. Sullinger did slip, but was selected with the No. 21 overall pick by Boston.

 


Ouch.

However, Katz wasn't the first ESPN personality to slip up while trying to discuss bulging disc injuries. Sportscenter anchor Steve Levy fell victim to this phrase in the 1990s, and as you can tell by the video, it's not easy for former ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann to keep it together.

 

Teaser:
<p> Andy Katz has a big slip up during the NBA Draft.</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 28, 2012 - 22:01

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