Articles By Braden Gall

All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/class-2011-notre-dame
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-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Charlie Weis was a good recruiter. He landed Athlon Consensus 100 stars like Dayne Crist, Michael Floyd, Cierre Wood, Jonas Gray, Kyle Rudolph, Trevor Robinson, Deion Walker, Shaquelle Evans and Chris Watt.

What do all of those names have in common? They all play on the offensive side of the ball. Certainly, some of those names turned out to be better (and worse) than advertised – with the jury still out on a few as well. But heading into 2010, Robinson, Floyd, Wood, Rudolph and Crist were the foundation of the Irish offense.

Yes, Weis landed some AC100 defensive talent as well – Ethan Johnson, Steve Filer, Darius Fleming and Manti Te’o to be exact.

The first observation is that, from 2008 to 2010, more that twice as many (nine to four) offensive AC100 prospects signed with Notre Dame than did defensive recruits. The second observation is that other than Te’o, those defensive names have probably not lived up to the recruiting ranking (Johnson has been solid and Fleming is a contributor).

In 2007, the Irish went 3-9, ranking 72nd nationally in scoring defense and 96th against the run. The win total, and most defensive stats improved in 2008, but then tumbled again in 2009. The 6-6 campaign was burdened by the 86th ranked total defense, 89th ranked rush defense and 63rd ranked scoring defense.

Enter Brian Kelly.

In one year, Kelly improved the scoring defense to 23rd and the rushing defense to 50th. Most importantly, the Irish won eight games for the first time since 2006.

Despite being known for his offensive guru-ness, Kelly has maintained a defensive focus on the recruiting trail. The 2011 class is the greatest example of this small shift in recruiting philosophy from the previous regime to the current staff.

More specifically, the defensive line has been a primary focus of the new coaches. Of the nation’s top 25 defensive end prospects, Kelly landed five of them – including three of the top seven and two of the top four. All told, the Irish signed seven defensive ends giving Kelly arguably the nation’s top end class in 2011.

Here is NCSA scout Randy Taylor’s in-depth look at the D-line class for Notre Dame.

Three defensive backs, a linebacker and a couple of athletes will also help the defensive side of the ball.

On the offensive side of the ball, Kelly's focus was once again the line of scrimmage. Five stellar blockers - including a trio of national recruits - restock the front line of the offense. Toss in the nation's No. 4 tight end and the offensive skill players should have plenty of space with which to work. All five AC100 signees in this class will play along the line of scrimmage.

As is the case with every Fighting Irish signing class, the entire nation was used to fill this group. Fourteen different states were used to pull players. From California to New England to Texas and into the deep South, the Notre Dame name still resonates with young athletes. Simply look at the 11 nationally rated prospects that signed in this class - it took nine different states from every region of the country to land those 11 athletes.

Nationally rated signees:

No. 22 Aaron Lynch, DE (Cape Coral, Fla.)
No. 27 Ishaq Williams, DE (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
No. 40 Ben Koyack, TE (Oil City, Pa. - pictured)
No. 41 Matt Hegarty, OL (Aztec, N.M.)
No. 45 Stephon Tuitt, DE (Monroe, Ga.)
No. 105 DaVaris Daniels, WR (Vernon Hills, Ill.)
No. 149 George Atkinson, ATH (Livermore, Calif.)
No. 164 Ben Councell, DE (Ashville, N.C.)
No. 194 Troy Niklas, OL (Anaheim, Calif.)
No. 223 Conor Hanratty, OL (New Canaan, Conn.)
No. 239 Anthony Rabasa, DE (Miami, Fla.)

Teaser:
<p> How did the Class of 2011 look for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame?</p>
Post date: Monday, February 21, 2011 - 17:27
All taxonomy terms: Big Ten, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/11-team-rankings-big-ten
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The finalizing of recruiting in the Big Ten for 2011 symbolizes the end of an extremely transitional year for the country’s most lucrative conference. (Well, at least it's over for now.) Heartland powerhouse Nebraska is now recruiting to the Big Ten, and it didn’t take long for the Huskers to assert their influence, finishing No. 2 in the league rankings this fall.

The regime change in Ann Arbor has come full circle as Michigan man Brady Hoke has concluded his first recruiting session. Yet, Hoke and Michigan – which spends barely half of what Ohio State spends on football – will likely need another year to see the full impact of the transition.

Ohio State, on the other hand, leads the league in football spending ($31.7 million) by a wide margin, and it clearly pays off on the recruiting trail. The Bucks have had the top class in this league three of the last four years and have been in the top two in seven out of eight years.

Michigan, which finished fourth in recruiting (and tied for seventh in league play) this season, was fifth in football spending ($18.3 million) last year.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes (23 signees – 6 AC100)
Quarterback Braxon Miller, the nation’s No. 2 signal-caller, was supposed to be the QB of the future for Ohio State. With the suspension of Terrelle Pryor, Miller may have a chance to see the field right away (although it's a long shot). Miller and a couple of pass-catchers represent a small group of skill players that includes zero running backs. The youth already on the roster likely limited the need for offensive playmakers.

A pair of talented AC100 Grants leads a talented group that will play in the defensive back seven. Four linebackers and four defensive backs replenish the back end of a defense that loses a majority of its starters. The defensive line should be in great shape as potentially three AC100 recruits head an excellent D-line class.

Thirteen of Ohio State’s 23 signees hail from in-state. Six players from the Buckeye State landed in the AC100, and Jim Tressel signed five of them.

No. 18 Curtis Grant, LB (Richmond, Va.)
No. 30 Braxton Miller, QB (Huber Heights, Ohio)
No. 36 Doran Grant, CB (Akron, Ohio)
No. 48 Michael Bennett, DL/OL (Centerville, Ohio)
No. 80 Ken Hayes, DE (Toledo, Ohio)
No. 94 Steve Miller, DE (Canton, Ohio)
No. 111 Ryan Shazier, LB (Plantation, Fla.)
No. 178 Brian Bobek, OL (Palatine, Ill.)
No. 185 Chase Farris, DL (Elyria, Ohio)
N0. 209 Evan Spencer, WR (Vernon Hills, Ill.)

2. Nebraska Cornhuskers (19 signees – 3 AC100)
Athleticism should not be a problem at quarterback for Nebraska. Jamal Turner and Bubba Starling, two of the top ten quarterback recruits in the nation, are tremendous athletes who could end up playing a variety of positions (or even sports) if they do not stick at quarterback. Aaron Green is the nation's No. 4 running back, and along with five stellar offensive lineman and two athletic quarterbacks, the ground attack for Big Red should be just fine.

Bo Pelini used nine different states to compile his 19-man class, including powerhouses Ohio, Florida, Texas and California.

No. 25 Aaron Green, RB (San Antonio, Texas)
No. 85 Jamal Turner, QB/ATH (Arlington, Texas)
No. 100 Tyler Moore, OL (Clearwater, Fla.)
No. 101 Charles Jackson, CB (Klein, Texas)
No. 116 Bubba Starling, QB/ATH (Gardner, Kan.)
No. 251 Todd Peat, DT (Tempe, Ariz.)

3. Iowa Hawkeyes (24 signees - 1 AC100)
Kirk Ferentz went into 12 different states to put this excellent haul together - from New England out west to Nevada and back down south to Florida. AC100 running back/athlete Rodney Coe and a small but very talented three-man O-line group have the ground game in good shape for the forseeable future. A deep linebacking class isn't highly rated, but that seems to be the way Ferentz likes it. This might be Iowa's best class since that highly touted 2005 bunch.

No. 77 Rodney Coe, RB (Edwardsville, Ill.)
No. 152 Jordan Walsh, OL (Glen Ellyn, Ill.)
No. 246 Austin Blythe, OL (Williamsburg, Iowa)
No. 249 Ray Hamilton, TE (Strongville, Ohio)

4. Michigan Wolverines (20 signees)
Anytime a team has to deal with a coaching change, maintaining recruiting momentum can be very difficult. So Michigan fans will likely see Hoke's real recruiting ability in 2012. For now, a solid defensive-minded group should help to improve the Wolverines' biggest weakness. Four defensive backs, linebackers and defensive ends each can only help what has been a pathetic unit for the Maize and Blue. Two dramatic offensive scheme changes in less than four years will make fitting the right pieces into the right places interesting in 2011. Names like running back Justice Hayes and tight end Chris Barnett should be able find a home in any scheme, however.

As should be the case for Michigan, the states of Ohio and Michigan supplied a majority of the class. Thirteen of the 20 hail from one of those two states.

No. 131 Justice Hayes, RB (Grand Blanc, Mich.)
No. 172 Brennen Beyer, DE (Canton, Mich.)
No. 207 Blake Countess, DB (Owings Mills, Md.)

5. Michigan State Spartans (21 signees)
The crown jewel of this class is linebacker Lawrence Thomas. Ranked in the top 10 (11) nationally by two services and No. 150 by ESPN, Thomas has one of the most interesting evaluation lines. His size could push his hand down into the dirt at D-end, but he could also end up as a tackling machine in the middle. Thomas leads a great front-seven class that includes three ends, two tackles and four linebackers. A deep and talented offensive line group adds plenty of depth to the offensive front as well. Mark Dantonio teams have always been strong at the point of attack on both sides of the ball, and this class should help continue that trend.

No. 34 Lawrence Thomas, LB (Detroit, Mich.)
No. 258 Brandon Clemons, OL (Milford, Pa.)

6. Penn State Nittany Lions (16 signees)
Size is what keeps this class from national prominence. But the names JoePa did land were of the high-quality variety. The offensive line, in particular, is strong. Three nationally rated recruits, headlined by AC100 talent Angelo Mangiro, help to remedy what has turned into a question mark on recent Nittany Lion teams. A three (or four) man collection of talent at defensive end restocks the pass rushers as well. Depending on where athletes Bill Belton and Shyquawn Pullium end up, the wide receiver class could eventually be viewed as underrated.

No. 84 Angelo Mangiro, OL (Succasunna, N.J.)
No. 109 Anthony Zettel, DL/OL (West Branch, Mich.)
No. 170 Bill Belton, ATH (Atco, N.J.)
No. 181 Donovan Smith, OL (Owings Mills, Md.)

7. Wisconsin Badgers (20 signees)
This is a typical blue-collar Badger class, the only difference being the areas of focus. The secondary, wide receivers and tight ends got the most focus because of the youth and depth along both lines of scrimmage. Five DBs, three WRs and three TEs address the passing game on both sides of the ball. As has been the case in recent UW recruiting, the Badgers have dominated the in-state talent. This year they landed nine local prospects.

No. 174 Melvin Gordon, RB (Kenosha, Wisc.)

8. Illinois Fighting Illini (27 signees)
Ron Zook used 12 different states to land biggest class in the league. Talent-rich states like Florida, Georgia, Ohio and South Carolina have been Zooker stalwarts for players for years. Eleven line-of-scrimmage players should help the Illini improve up front, while three wide receivers, two running backs and three athletes should replenish the depleted offensive skill positions.

No. 241 Jon Davis, ATH (Lousiville, Ky.)
No. 262 Dondi Kirby, WR (Monroeville, Pa.)

9. Minnesota Golden Gophers (24 signees)
Deep, six-man offensive line class leads Jerry Kill's first recruiting class.

10. Indiana Hoosiers (21 signees)
One of the better Hoosier classes in recent memory is headlined by talented defensive back group.

11. Northwestern Wildcats (17 signees)
Watch out if Pat Fitzgerald starts to land nationally rated players from Texas.

No. 203 Christian Jones, WR (Spring, Texas)

12. Purdue Boilermakers (15 signees)
The smallest class in this league is noticeably lacking in star power.

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Friday, February 18, 2011 - 14:17
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/11-nascar-driver-countdown-recap
Body:

The Daytona 500 is right around the corner - and after that little football game that still needs to be played - the Great American Race is the next marquee sporting event on the sports junkie's calendar.

To kickoff our 2011 NASCAR coverage, Athlon Sports is counting down to the start of the 2011 Sprint Cup season with a top-30 driver countdown. Each driver profile offers a driver bio, in-depth 'state of the franchise' analysis, predictions for 2011, quotes from around the garage and past statistics. 

Athlon Racing Editor Matt Taliaferro will release two drivers per day until after the Super Bowl, where he will release the top ten drivers for 2011 one per day leading into Speed Weeks.

Keep track of the Athlon Sprint Cup driver countdown here until No. 1 is released on Feb. 18:

Mon., Jan. 24th: No. 29 David Ragan and No. 30 David Gilliland
Tues., Jan. 25th: No. 27 Bobby Labonte and No. 28 Marcos Ambrose
Wed., Jan. 26th: No. 25 Paul Menard and No. 26 Regan Smith
Thur., Jan. 27th: No. 23 David Reutimann and No. 24 A.J. Allmendinger
Fri., Jan. 28th: No. 21 Kasey Kahne and No. 22 Brian Vickers

Mon., Jan. 31st: No. 19 Juan Pablo Montoya and No. 20 Brad Keseloswki
Tues., Feb. 1st: No. 17 Jeff Burton and No. 18 Ryan Newman
Wed., Feb. 2nd: No. 15 Mark Martin and No. 16 Kurt Busch
Thur., Feb. 3rd: No. 13 Dale Earnhardt Jr. and No. 14 Jamie McMurray
Fri., Feb. 4th: No. 11 Kevin Harvick and No. 12 Denny Hamlin

Mon., Feb. 7th: No. 10 Martin Truex Jr.
Tues., Feb. 8th No. 9 Joey Logano
Wed., Feb. 9th: No. 8 Matt Kenseth
Thur., Feb. 10th: No. 7 Greg Biffle
Fri., Feb. 11th: No. 6 Kyle Busch

Mon., Feb. 14th: No. 5 Tony Stewart
Tues., Feb. 15th: No. 4 Clint Bowyer
Wed., Feb. 16th: No. 3 Jeff Gordon
Thur., Feb. 17th: No. 2 Carl Edwards
Fri., Feb. 18th: No. 1 Jimmie Johnson

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports' 2011 Driver Countdown leads NASCAR fans through Speedweeks in Daytona.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 18, 2011 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, SEC
Path: /columns/national-notebook/11-team-rankings-sec
Body:

The rich get richer. It is a cliché to end all clichés, but it applies to the SEC in recruiting these days (otherwise, someone needs to investigate who butters the recruiting service bread – but that is a story for another day).

Nine teams landed at least one Athlon Consensus 100 member. Of the 269 “nationally rated” recruits, the SEC landed 79. The SEC also landed 37 AC100 talents. Both of which equate to roughly one of every three elite prospects signing with an SEC school. With five straight BCS National Championships under its belt, the SEC has a right to stake claim as the most talented conference in the nation.

As a point of reference, the ACC had five teams sign 15 AC100 prospects. Two Big East schools signed one each. Three Big 12 schools signed 11 AC100 recruits. Five Big Ten teams signed 11 AC100 players. And the Pac-12 came the closest, as six schools signed 17 AC100 athletes.

Editor's Note: A nationally rated recruit is a anyone who received at least one Athlon Consensus 100 vote. There were 269 in 2011.

2011 SEC Recruiting Team Rankings:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (22 signees – 8 AC100)
Nick Saban’s reach on the recruiting trail is no more evident than with this Bama class. The State of Alabama is one of the most territorial states in the nation – meaning it can be impossible to pull players from the Yellowhammer State if Bama (or Auburn) wants him. And Saban still pulled five (two AC100’s) talented in-states, but of his 14 nationally rated recruits only three come from Alabama. Saban went into Maryland for the nation's No. 1 offensive lineman in the nation. He went into Florida for the nation's No. 1 defensive back (Hasean Clinton-Dix). He went into Ohio for the No. 5 linebacker in the nation. He landed the No. 2 player in the state of North Carolina. The list goes on and on.

Overall, Saban used 11 states from coast-to-coast to put together what many believe is the best class in the nation. No team landed more AC100 talents than Bama, including four nationally-rated defensive ends and three nationally rated wideouts.

Nationally Rated Recruits:

No. 2 Cyrus Kouandjio, OL (Hyattsville, Md.)
No. 10 Hasean Clinton-Dix, S (Orlando, Fla.)
No. 32 Trey DePriest, LB (Springfield, Ohio)
No. 42 Dee Hart, RB (Orlando, Fla.)
No. 46 Jeoffrey Pagan, DE (Asheville, N.C.)
No. 53 Brent Calloway, LB (Russellville, Ala.)
No. 63 Xzavier Dickson, DE (Griffin, Ga.)
No. 79 Marvin Shinn, WR (Prichard, Ala.)
No. 118 Bradley Sylve, WR (Port Sulphur, La.)
No. 144 Malcolm Faciane, TE (Picayune, Miss.)
No. 159 LaMichael Fanning, DE (Hamilton, Ga.)
No. 175 Danny Woodson, WR (Mobile, Ala.)
No. 189 D.J. Pettway, DE, Bama (Pensacola, Fla.)
No. 205 Jabriel Washington, DB (Jackson, Tenn.)

2. Auburn Tigers (24 signees – 8 AC100)
Yes, winning a national championship will help recruiting. Of the eight AC100 signees, five committed post-National Championship. No team in the nation closed stronger over the final months of the recruiting calendar than the Tigers. The offensive line class is astounding. Three of the four are AC100 (four of the top 15 nationally) prospects, including what could be the nation’s No. 1 center (Reese Dismukes). Toss in a game-changing running back in Quan Bray and a superstar quarterback who is a physical running presence (sound familiar?) in Kiehl Frazier, and the Auburn power rushing attack should be in good shape for years.

On the defensive side of the ball, defensive back and linebacker got plenty of attention after the loss of many seniors. Nine players signed to play in the back seven of the defense.

Excelling inside the state in head-to-head battles with rival Bama will always be key for Auburn. Despite missing on some battles (Brent Calloway, for example), Gene Chizik’s 10 in-state signees doubled the five Saban landed – a good sign for War Eagles everywhere.

No. 7 Christian Westerman, OL (Chandler, Ariz.)
No. 50 Kiehl Frazier, QB (Springdale, Ark.)
No. 62 Erique Florence, S (Valley, Ala.)
No. 74 Quan Bray, RB (Lagrange, Ga.)
No. 78 Kris Frost, ATH (Matthews, N.C.)
No. 82 Gabe Wright, DT (Columbus, Ga.)
No. 86 Gregory Robinson, OL (Thibodaux, La.)
No. 95 Reese Dismukes, OL (Spanish Fort, Ala.)
No. 115 Jonathan Rose, DB (Leeds, Ala.)
No. 193 Brandon Fulse, ATH (Fort Meade, Fla.)
No. 222 Robenson Therezie, DB (Miami, Fla.)
No. 260 Thomas O’Reilly, OL (Marietta, Ga.)

3. Georgia Bulldogs (26 signees – 6 AC100)
Of the eight nationally rated recruits to sign with Georgia, seven of them are from the Peach State. Mark Richt capitalized on a fantastic year for talent in the state of Georgia by winning recruiting battles for local stars like Isaiah Crowell, Ray Drew and Jay Rome. In fact, 19 of the 26 signees hail from in-state, and Richt landed five of the top six within his borders. Only one player in this class does not come from a neighboring state (Jonathan Jenkins, from Connecticut via a Mississippi community college).

This class is versatile and balanced. Six linemen restock the front line on offense, while AC100 talents Rome, Crowell and quarterback Christian LeMay offer a future star at three key skill positions. The secondary got the most attention – and talent – on the defensive side of the ball. Star power in the form of Malcolm Mitchell and Damian Swann, create a great foundation at the back end of Todd Grantham’s unit. Drew headlines a solid seven man front-seven haul.

No. 9 Isaiah Crowell, RB (Columbus, Ga.)
No. 14 Ray Drew, DE (Thomasville, Ga.)
No. 31 Jay Rome, TE (Valdosta, Ga.)
No. 55 Damian Swann, DB (Atlanta, Ga.)
No. 60 Christian LeMay, QB (Matthews, N.C.)
No. 61 Malcolm Mitchell, CB (Valdosta, Ga.)
No. 146 Sterling Bailey, DE (Gainesville, Ga.)
No. 161 Corey Moore, DB (Griffin, Ga.)

4. LSU Tigers (22 signees – 5 AC100)
This might have been the most talented senior class in the history of Pelican State football. Much like Richt in Georgia, Les Miles capitalized on a rich in-state collection by landing six of the top seven Louisiana prospects. Sixteen of the 22 Tiger signees hail from in-state – including the nation’s No. 2 offensive lineman (La’El Collins), No. 1 defensive tackle (Anthony Johnson) and No. 2 wide receiver (Jarvis Landry).

The skill positions are well represented with four nationally rated receivers and backs (depending on what happens with Jeremy Hill). The Johnson tandem at defensive tackle provides plenty of bulk up the middle as a four-man secondary class – which could grow to six – replenishes the defensive backfield. Keep an eye on former elite Georgia recruit Zach Mettenberger at quarterback. The struggles at this position over the last few years might have been the only thing holding this team back – well, other than terrible end-game management.

No. 3 La’El Collins, OL (Baton Rouge, La.)
No. 8 Anthony Johnson, DT (New Orleans, La.)
No. 19 Jarvis Landry, WR (Lutcher, La.)
No. 81 Jermauria Rasco, DE (Shreveport, La.)
No. 89 Kenny Hilliard, RB (Patterson, La.)
No. 114 Odell Backham, Jr., ATH (New Orleans, La.)
No. 171 David Jenkins, CB (Carrollton, Texas)
No. 180 Jeremy Hill, RB (Baton Rouge, La.)*
No. 197 Trevon Randle, LB (League City, Texas)
No. 236 Mickey Johnson, DT (Covington, La.)

* - Hill is still committed to LSU and could still sign pending the resolution of an arrest/charge stemming from a “serious crime” back on Jan. 12.

5. Florida Gators (19 signees – 3 AC100)
This Gator class does not have the star power of the last Florida hauls, but bleeding hearts do not need to be shipped to Gainesville just yet. The nation’s No. 1 quarterback, Jeff Driskel, steps onto campus with a chance to push the incumbents (all three of them) for playing time.

As usual, Urba – uh, Will Muschamp – focused inward on the Sunshine State and locked up 12 (of his 17) signees from in-state. It was a great year in the state, even more so than normal, and names like Driskel, Blakely, Leonard, Roberson, Story and Saunders make that clear in 2011.

Defensive back was a huge area of concern and the Gators landed one of the best DB classes in the nation. Led by Marcus Roberson and Louchiez Purifoy, the secondary class is six deep with plenty of versatility for the new Gator staff.

No. 17 Jeff Driskel, QB (Oviedo, Fla.)
No. 67 Mike Blakely, RB (Bradenton, Fla.)
No. 73 A.C. Leonard, ATH (Jacksonville, Fla.)
No. 106 Marcus Roberson, DB (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)
No. 132 Ja’Juan Story, WR (Brooksville, Fla.)
No. 138 De’Ante Saunders, ATH (Deland, Fla.)
No. 142 Jacoby Brissett, QB (West Palm Beach, Fla.)
No. 182 Javares McRoy, WR (Lakeland, Fla.)
No. 187 Jabari Gorman, LB (Miami, Fla.)
No. 257 Trip Thurman, OL (Dover, Del.)
No. 264 Louchiez Purifoy, DB (Pensacola, Fla.)

6. South Carolina Gamecocks (31 signees – 2 AC100)
It only took half of a decade, but Steve Spurrier is starting to flex his muscle on the recruiting trail. After keeping Marcus Lattimore at home, Spurrier landed the nation’s No. 1 in Jadeveon Clowney. This was a huge recruiting coup and further speaks to the Gamecocks ability to recruit against the traditional powers of the SEC.

In terms of size, this is one of the biggest classes in the nation. And with a class of this size, comes tremendous balance and depth. Every level of the defense will be getting at least five players – five DBs, two DEs, four DT and five LBs. The six-man offensive line group (hopefully) solves the blocking issues the other USC has had for decades.

Other than Damiere Byrd, the offensive skill guys lacked star power but have plenty of potential. With elite playmakers already featured on this offense, the new faces will have plenty of time to develop.

No. 1 Jadeveon Clowney, DE (Rock Hill, S.C.)
No. 65 Brandon Shell, OL (Charleston, S.C.)
No. 188 Phillip Dukes, DT (Manning, S.C.)
No. 224 Sheldon Royster, S (Jersey City, N.J.)
No. 250 Damiere Byrd, WR (Sicklerville, N.J.)

7. Tennessee Volunteers (27 signees – 2 AC100)
Derek Dooley and the Vols staff closed well, building upon the late recruiting momentum from the 2010 class (reports indicate that Tennessee could be in a for a huge 2012 class). The states of Georgia and Florida were very kind to the Big Orange, supplying 13 of the 27 signees. All told, Dooley used nine states.

With recent news about one particular starting defensive back, finding depth in the secondary was key. This five man DB class could easily grow to as many as eight if the “athletes” end up on defense. Three defensive tackles and running backs each also add depth to two major positions of need. Six offensive lineman, headlined by Nashville AC100 talent Antonio Richardson, help what was an already very young group. In very similar fashion, the linebackers (who will be very young in 2011) get plenty of help from nationally rated tackles Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson.

No. 56 DeAnthony Arnett, WR (Saginaw, Mich.)
No. 68 Antonio Richardson, OL (Nashville, Tenn.)
No. 112 Marlin Lane, RB (Daytona Beach, Fla.)
No. 151 Marcus Jackson, OL (Vero Beach, Fla.)
No. 153 Curt Maggitt, LB (West Palm Beach, Fla.)
No. 166 A.J. Johnson, LB (Gainesville, Fla.)
No. 186 Cameron Clear, OL/TE (Memphis, Tenn.)

8. Ole Miss Rebels (27 signees – 2 AC100)
A nasty five-man wide receiver class leads another large haul for the Rebels.

No. 66 Nickolas Brassell, WR (Batesville, Miss.)
No. 92 C.J. Johnson, LB (Philadelphia, Miss.)
No. 158 Donte Moncrief, WR (Raleigh, Miss.)
No. 192 Tobias Singleton, WR (Madison, Miss.)
No. 263 Aaron Morris, OL (Jackson, Miss.)

9. Arkansas Razorbacks (30 signees – 1 AC100)
Deep, balanced class headlined by stellar offensive line haul.

No. 52 Brey Cook, OL (Springdale, Ark.)
No. 120 Mitch Smothers, OL (Springdale, Ark.)
No. 238 Tevin Mitchell, DB (Mansfield, Texas)
No. 253 Lonnie Gosha, DE (Lake Butler, Fla.)

10. Mississippi State Bulldogs (22 signees)
Solid, balanced class which could have been better without Facebook.

No. 216 Darion Arrington, DT (Wiggins, Miss.)

11. Kentucky Wildcats (24 signees)
Excellent haul offers tremendous balance at all positions.

No. 167 Darrian Miller, OL (Lexington, Ky.)
No. 219 Glen Faulkner, DB (East St. Louis, Mo.)

12. Vanderbilt Commodores (21 signees)
Great offensive line of scrimmage class featuring four OL and three TE.

Teaser:
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Post date: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Pac 10
Path: /columns/national-notebook/11-team-rankings-pac-12-0
Body:

The addition of Utah and Colorado has added two large states for talent to the west coast conference’s footprint. Both states produce quality athletes that most Pac-10 schools have already been recruiting for years. Colorado will likely need some time – and maybe some new facilities and dedication from its alumni base – before it begins to assert itself on the recruiting trail.

But Utah should see an immediate bump in “clout” on the recruiting trail. While the Utes didn’t land in the top 25 nationally, they did finish in the top half of the new Pac-12. With a strong in-state base, Utah should be able to use better recruiting budgets to dip into talent rich areas like California, and the rest of the Pac-12 footprint, more effectively.

Editor's Note: A nationally rated recruit is a anyone who received at least one Athlon Consensus 100 vote. There were 269 in 2011.

2011 Pac-12 Recruiting Team Rankings:

1. USC Trojans (30 signees – 6 AC100)
So much for NCAA violations slowing the Trojan machine on the recruiting trail. So how can a team with 10 less scholarships per season sign 30 prospects? First, nine will count back a year (2010) as they enrolled early. Second, USC only enrolled 14 new players last fall, giving them some extra space for this group. And Lane Kiffin will need it.

Kiffin signed 15 nationally rated recruits – including the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver (George Farmer) and two of the top ten quarterback prospects in AC100 near-misses Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. Six offensive lineman and another AC100 wideout in Victor Blackwell, add tremendous depth to the offense. Four highly-touted linebackers and six elite defensive lineman replenishes the recently thinned-out defensive front.

A trio of athletes will help bolster one backfield – whether that is in the secondary or offensive skill corps.

After a long run of national success under Pete Carroll, Kiffin landed 22 of 30 recruits from inside the home state of California.

Nationally rated recruits:

No. 6 George Farmer, WR (Gardena, Calif.)
No. 35 Greg Townsend Jr, DE (Beverly Hills, Calif.)
No. 64 Marqise Lee, ATH (Gardena, Calif.)
No. 70 Cyrus Hobbi, OL (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
No. 71 Victor Blackwell, WR (Santa Ana, Calif.)
No. 99 Antwaun Woods, DT (Woodland Hills, Calif.)
No. 103 Max Wittek, QB (Santa Ana, Calif.)
No. 108 Cody Kessler, QB (Bakersfield, Calif.)
No. 121 Amir Carlisle, RB (Sunnyvale, Calif.)
No. 124 Aundrey Walker, OL (Cleveland, Ohio)
No. 130 Tre Madden, LB (Mission Viejo, Calif.)
No. 133 Lamar Dawson, LB (Danville, Ky.)
No. 141 Christian Heyward, DT (San Diego, Calif.)
No. 183 Anthony Sarao, LB (Absecon, N.J.)
No. 266 Javorius Allen, ATH (Tallahassee, Fla.)

2. Oregon Ducks (23 signees – 3 AC100)
There may not be a single team in the nation that has elevated its national “recruiting stock” more in the last decade than the Ducks. Certainly, having great people in place is key – and a few shekels from Phil Knight hasn’t hurt either – but this team was not recruiting at this level just eight to ten years ago.

The Ducks’ new clout was no more apparent than on NSD when longtime USC verbal DeAnthony Thomas switched to Oregon. Of the seven nationally rated recruits in this class, only one came from in-state and only two hail from California. Chip Kelly used Arizona, Texas, Iowa, Ohio and Florida to pull elite level talents.

With four wideouts, two running backs and a trio of versatile athletes, Kelly’s dynamic fast-paced offensive attack is well-stocked with future stars. Thomas and wideout Devon Blackmon are open-field dynamos who are virtually impossible to stop in space. It will be interesting to see where AC100 athlete Colt Lyerla lands. Tight end, defensive end, outside linebacker, wide receiver and H-back are all in the mix – a good problem to have with a 6’5”, 230-pounder.

Otherwise, great offensive line (5) and linebacker (5) classes make-up the rest of this outstanding class.

No. 5 DeAnthony Thomas, ATH (Los Angeles, Calif.)
No. 39 Colt Lyerla, ATH (Hillsboro, Ore.)
No. 58 Devon Blackmon, WR (Fontana, Calif.)
No. 117 Andre Yruretagoyena, OL (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
No. 122 Christian French, ATH (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
No. 126 Anthony Wallace, LB (Dallas, Texas)
No. 136 Tacoi Sumler, WR (Miami, Fla.)

3. Cal Golden Bears (22 signees – 3 AC100)
One of the most underrated recruiting jobs of this season was Jeff Tedford and the Cal Golden Bears. Three AC100 talents, and 11 nationally rated recuits top a deep and talented haul for a team that struggled mightily on the field in 2010. Five stellar defensive line signees – including four nationally rated players – add tremendous size and depth to the front line. A three-man running back class should provide the next in what has been a very long line of incredibly productive tailbacks at Cal (headed by AC100 talent Brendon Bigelow). The secondary also got plenty of focus as at least four, and potentially six, new faces slated to play in the defensive backfield.

No. 45 Viliami Moala, DT, Cal (Sacramento, Calif.)
No. 87 Brendon Bigelow, RB (Fresno, Calif.)
No. 90 Todd Barr, DT (Lakewood, Calif.)
No. 137 Brennan Scarlett, DE (Portland, Ore.)
No. 143 Avery Walls, S (McDonough, Ga.)
No. 145 Stefan McClure, DB (Vista, Calif.)
No. 162 Mustafa Jalil, DT (San Diego, Calif.)
No. 169 Maurice Harris, WR (Greensboro, N.C.)
No. 190 Jason Gibson, LB (Gardena, Calif.)
No. 230 Jordan Rigsbee, OL (Chico, Calif.)
No. 232 Kyle Boehm, QB (San Jose, Calif.)

4. Stanford Cardinal (19 signees – 2 AC100)
It will be interesting to see just how much Jim Harbaugh meant to Stanford recruiting. In a short period of time, he elevated Stanford to national recruiting power. This class, with nationally rated stars from Georgia, Florida and Colorado, is once again a diverse collection of new faces from across the fruited plains. Recruiting nationally is nothing new for the smart kids from Palo Alto, but Harbaugh took it to another level. This class used 13 different states with no more than five players coming from any one state (CA). Stanford closed well and posted an excellent class, but the true barometer will be in 2012.

No. 69 James Vaughters, LB (Tucker, Ga.)
No. 88 Wayne Lyons, CB (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)
No. 179 Kelsey Young, RB (Norco, Calif.)
No. 228 Brendon Austin, OL (Parker, Colo.)

5. Washington Huskies (23 signees – 2 AC100)
Steve Sarkisian is to Washington what Kelly, Harbaugh and Kiffin have been to their respective programs. He immediately upgraded the standing of the program in the minds of recruits everywhere. Most importantly, however, he has locked down the Evergreen State. All four nationally rated recruits – and five others – from in the state of Washington signed with the Huskies. Keeping in-state talent at home will be key for the future of Sarkisian’s squad. This class is long on offensive skill players: two QBs, two RBs, an elite TE and four WRs.

No. 33 Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE (Gig Harbor, Wash.)
No. 57 Kasen Williams, WR (Sammamish, Wash.)
No. 229 James Sample, DB (Sacramento, Calif.)
No. 235 Danny Shelton, DT (Auburn, Wash.)
No. 268 Bsihop Sankey, RB (Spokane, Wash.)

6. Utah Utes (19 signees)
Texas, California and Utah supplied 18 of the 19 signees, led by seven skill players.

No. 211 Harvey Langi, RB (South Jordan, Utah)

7. Oregon State Beavers (24 signees)
Deep class headlined by massive eight-man defensive end class.

8. UCLA Bruins (16 signees – 1 AC100)
Small class is built mostly of offensive prospects, including four O-lineman.

No. 97 Brett Hundley, QB (Chandler, Ariz.)

9. Arizona Wildcats (21 signees)
Not a lot of star power, but a versatile and balanced collection.

No. 212 Ka’Deem Carey, RB (Oro Valley, Ariz.)
No. 269 Rob Hankins, LB (Dallas, Texas)

10. Washington State Cougars (27 signees)
The second biggest class in the league adds depth to every position on the two-deep.

11. Arizona State Sun Devils (14 signees)
Quality, not quantity, is the way to describe this class for Dennis Erickson.

No. 206 Micahel Bercovici, QB, ASU

12. Colorado Buffaloes (19 signees)
Quality defensive back class, but Buffs have a long way to go to compete in new Pac-12.
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon takes a look at the team recruiting rankings from around the nation. Today, we look at the Pac-12.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 14, 2011 - 18:00
All taxonomy terms: Big East, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/11-team-rankings-big-east
Body:

Since conference realignment took place back in 2004, either Pitt or West Virginia has won every Big East recruiting crown. In fact, in four of those six years since, the Panthers and Mountaineers claimed the top two spots in the team rankings. But 2011 is a different year and for the first time someone other than those two will claim the recruiting conference championship.

Greg Schiano’s bunch dramatically underachieved on the field this fall, but his staff excelled off of it. Charlie Strong and the Louisville Cardinals had a similar season – although the red birds from Kentucky clearly had a better season on the field than Rutgers. Strong made it pay off by landing one of the best UL classes in recent memory. These two classes are very even, each claiming one star Athlon Consensus 100 recruit. Both have a solid claim to the No. 1 spot. However, Rutgers running back Savon Huggins is easily the best signee in this conference and the Knights class was much bigger. Schiano gets the edge.

Another surprise sits at No. 3. One would expect Pitt or WVU to land in the three-hole, but the Cincinnati Bearcats put together one its best hauls in recent years as well. After never performing “well” on the recruiting trail – and winning multiple league titles anyway – Butch Jones put together a better class in 2011 than any during Brian Kelly’s tenure.

Editor's Note: A nationally rated recruit is a anyone who received at least one AC100 vote. There were 269 in 2011.

2011 Big East Recruiting Team Rankings:

1. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (24 signees – 1 AC100)
Schiano has made a living reaching into neighboring states and dipping down into Florida to land talent during his stay in Piscataway. But with over half (13) of this class hailing from inside of New Jersey, it appears his focus this session was directed inwards. Huggins was the state’s top prospect and Rutgers also landed the No. 3 and No. 6 players in the state. The surrounding area, and the Sunshine State, still helped out. Pennsylvania (3), Virginia (3) and New York (2) shipped talented players to Rutgers while Florida sent two up North.

The defensive line was a clear area of focus. Three ends and four tackles replenish the D-line with excellent depth. A pair of quarterbacks and a trio of talented running backs help the offensive backfield. This was an excellent year for Rutgers’ recruiting as it appears Schiano has some of his momentum back after a poor season on the field.

Nationally rated recruits:

No. 28 Savon Huggins, RB (Jersey City, N.J.)
No. 156 Marquise Wright, DT (Paramus, N.J.)
No. 215 Miles Shuler, WR (Long Branch, N.J.)
No. 240 Al Page, DT (Bronx, N.Y.)

2. Louisville Cardinals (19 signees – 1 AC100)
It doesn’t take long to see just what type of value and experience Strong brings to the recruiting trail. His connections in Florida paid huge dividends this recruiting rotation as the three nationally rated recruits that signed with the ‘Ville all hail from Miami. The next three best prospects each come from Florida as well. In fact, 12 of the 19 signatures originated from the Sunshine State. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the jewel of this class and might be the most highly touted signal caller to ever sign with Louisville (who wasn’t a legacy from inside the city limits at least). With six of the 19 signees slated to play in the secondary, defensive back was clearly a big need. Three receivers and four offensive lineman highlight the offensive side of the ball.

No. 96 Teddy Bridgewater, QB (Miami, Fla.)
No. 110 Gerod Holliman, DB (Miami, Fla.)
No. 200 Eli Rogers, WR (Miami, Fla.)

3. Cincinnati Bearcats (24 signees)
Jones clearly knows where the good players reside. The states of Florida (6), California (3), Georgia (4) and Ohio (8) make up nearly 90-percent of this class. A loaded offensive skill group is headlined by star tailback Jameel Poteat – who rushed for nearly 3,000 yards and 40 TDs over the last two seasons. Jones channeled his inner Kelly as up to 13 (six WR, three RB, two QB, two ATH) new faces could play an offensive skill position.

A strong pair of quarterbacks should be the future of the Bearcats signal calling. Local product Patrick Coyne and Land O’ Lakes, Fla., native Stephen Weatherford give the Cats a great future at the QB position.

No. 201 Jameel Poteat, RB (Harrisburg, Pa.)

4. West Virginia Mountaineers (22 signees)
As usual, the Mounties did well in Florida as they landed six talented Sunshine State prospects - including the gem of the class in running back Andrew Buie. West Virginia has finished one or two in the Big East recruiting standings in five of the last six years, so this was certainly not the type of class fans are accustomed to seeing. But most of this class hails from high-level states Texas, Florida, Ohio, Georgia and Pennsylvania, so Mountaineers fans need not worry too much.

No. 165 Andrew Buie, RB (Jacksonville, Fla.)

5. Pitt Panthers (20 signees)
It has been an interesting year for the Panthers. On the field, Pitt lost five times but split the conference title three ways. Then fired their head coach only to hire someone else that needed to be fired. Now on its third coach of the year, Pitt limped home to Signing Day. That being said, this class has clear areas of strength. Defensive and running backs should be well-stocked after this haul. Five pass-catchers bolster the receiving corps as well. Interestingly, only three total prospects will play along either line-of-scrimmage – a place that Pitt is normally very strong.

No. 254 Lafayette Pitts, ATH (Pittsburgh, Pa.)

6. Syracuse Orange (26 signees)
The biggest class in the league should help Doug Marrone continue his own agenda.

7. South Florida Bulls (21 signees)
Underwhelming class but took advantage of a loaded year in the state of Florida, signing 14 from in-state.

8. UConn Huskies (16 signees)
Right where they have been in recruiting every year and it hasn't affected them much.

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Friday, February 11, 2011 - 15:05
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/11-team-rankings-acc
Body:

When Florida State officially handed the reins to Jimbo Fisher, it expected to inject some energy and passion into its program. But after a trip to the ACC Championship game in his first season, Fisher has exceeded all expectations on the recruiting trail. Clemson was the Clemson we have all grown to know and love. The Tigers surged late in the recruiting process and had one of the best National Signing Days in the nation. North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami all finished in the top half of the ACC as usual.

But the real story in the ACC this recruiting session was in Charlottesville, Va. Mike London vowed to refocus the Cavs efforts in-state on Commonwealth prospects and refocus he did. Of the top eight players in the state of Virginia, the Wahoos landed five including the No. 2 player in the state. The rival Hokies did not land any of the top eight Virginia prospects.

Editor's Note: A nationally rated recruit is a anyone who received at least one AC100 vote. There were 269 in 2011.

2011 ACC Recruiting Team Rankings:

1. Florida State Seminoles (29 signees – 7 AC100)
Ever since the coaching change, Florida State recruiting has been on a roll. With arguably the most balanced class in the nation, the Noles added depth to every position. The offensive line, which was a major issue for the better part of a decade, got loads of help with eight new prospects projecting to contribute up front. Five defensive tackles, five defensive backs and three running backs – nine of which are nationally rated – add quantity and quality to those positions. In a loaded year in the Sunshine State, Fisher landed three of the top four prospects in Florida. Of the 29 signees, 22 of them hail from in-state – including the top 12 players in this class.

Nationally rated recruits:

No. 11 Karlos Williams, S (Davenport, Fla.)
No. 12 James Wilder Jr., ATH (Tampa, Fla.)
No. 13 Tim Jernigan, DT (Lake City, Fla.)
No. 26 Nick O’Leary, TE (West Palm Beach, Fla.)
No. 47 Bobby Hart, OL (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)
No. 75 Kelvin Benjamin, WR (Belle Glade, Fla.)
No. 93 Nick Waisome, CB (Groveland, Fla.)
No. 104 Giorgio Newberry, DE (Ft. Pierce, Fla.)
No. 123 DeVonta Freeman, RB (Miami, Fla.)
No. 127 Jordan Prestwood, OL (Plant City, Fla.)
No. 147 Keelin Smith, S (Port St. Lucie, Fla.)
No. 154 Rashad Greene, WR (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)
No. 195 Tyler Hunter, S (Valdosta, Ga.)
No. 214 Derrick Mitchell, DT (Jacksonville, Fla.)
No. 255 Nile Lawrence-Stample, DT (Davie, Fla.)

2. Clemson Tigers (29 signees – 5 AC100)
Few teams perform better year-in and year-out on NSD than the Clemson Tigers. With the top two players in this class committing on NSD, 2011 was no exception. Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony are the top two linebacker prospects in the nation and both announced on the final day (along with a few others). This five-man linebacking haul is probably the best in the nation. AC100 athletes Sammy Watkins, Charone Peake and Mike Bellamy add elite level play-making ability to an offensive in desperate need of depth at the skill spots.

The job Dabo Swinney did outside of the Palmetto State was outstanding. Of the eight nationally rated recruits to sign with the Tigers, six hail from other states – which is a testament to the staff’s ability to cultivate relationships. The state of Florida, in particular, has turned into a stronghold for Clemson talent.

No. 15 Tony Steward, LB (St. Augustine, Fla.)
No. 16 Stephone Anthony, LB (Wadesboro, N.C.)
No. 24 Sammy Watkins, ATH (Ft. Myers, Fla.)
No. 29 Mike Bellamy, RB (Punta Gorda, Fla.)
No. 37 Charone Peake, WR (Roebuck, S.C.)
No. 150 Eric MacLain, TE (Fayetteville, N.C.)
No. 208 Spencer Region, OL (Cullman, Ala.)
No. 213 Lateek Townsend, LB (Bennettsville, S.C.)

3. North Carolina Tar Heels (25 signees – 1 AC100)
Despite a tumultuous season and a seat that continues to increase in temperature, Butch Davis still managed to land a great class. He has been able to recruit nationally for years, and in 2011, Davis pulled the top four players in this class from outside of the Tar Heel State. Other than defensive back – which clearly got more attention (six signees) – every position is evenly represented. Two TEs, three RBs, three OLs, two LBs, two DEs, four DTs, one QB and one WR fill the 25-man class.

No. 83 Kiaro Holts, OL (Indianapolis, Ind.)
No. 102 Travis Hughes, LB (Virginia Beach, Va.)
No. 119 Delvon Simmons, DT (McKeesport, Pa.)
No. 128 Landon Turner, OL (Harrisonburg, Va.)
No. 173 T.J. Thorpe, ATH (Durham, N.C.)
No. 218 Marquise Williams, QB (Charlotte, N.C.)
No. 261 DeVonte Brown, DT (Fayetteville, N.C.)

4. Virginia Cavaliers (26 signees – 1 AC100)
The Cavs finished 10th in the ACC in the recruiting rankings last year. They finished eighth in 2009 and 10th in 2008. This is the best class in recent UVa memory and London, along with former star safety turned secondary coach Anthony Poindexter, deserves all of the credit. The energized Virginia staff has done a remarkable job rebuilding the school’s image within the state. Of the 26 signees, as many as 19 could end playing on the defensive side of the ball – no shock for a head coach who played and coached on that side of the ball for every year of his career.

No. 76 Demetrious Nicholson, CB (Virginia Beach, Va.)
No. 157 Darius Jennings, DB (Baltimore, Md.)
No. 168 Clifton Richardson, ATH (Newport News, Va.)
No. 227 Dominique Terrell, DB (Manassas, Va.)
No. 244 Jay Whitemire, OL (Alexandria, Va.)
No. 252 Brandon Phelps, CB (Damascus, Md.)

5. Virginia Tech Hokies (21 signees)
This was not a vintage Hokie class. Of course, this is compounded by how successful rival Virginia was in-state this year. Tech lost most of the big, in-state battles. That does not mean, however, that this is a talent-laden class with loads of potential. With seven defensive line recruits, including nationally rated stars Kris Harley and Corey Marshall, Bud Foster should have plenty of talent to work into his front seven. Also, a unusually deep tight end class adds loads of depth at a position that is normally thin for every school.

No. 233 Kyshoen Jarrett, CB (East Stroudsburg, Pa.)
No. 243 Kris Harley, DT (Indianapolis, Ind.)
No. 259 Corey Marshall, DE (Dinwiddie, Va.)

6. Miami Hurricanes (16 signees – 1 AC100)
Much like the Hokies, this class is not, especially in terms of size, what most Canes expect from its recruiting efforts. And missing out on most late targets hurt too. But this is a team in transition and the class size should be back up to normal in 2012. That said, the quality is still strong. Gems Anthony Chichillo (a third generation Cane legacy) and Jalen Grimble lead a strong defensive line class while RB/ATH Kevin Grooms can make plays at a number of positions. This class also adds plenty of depth to the linebacking corps as four solid prospects signed with the Canes.

No. 43 Anthony Chickillo, DE (Tampa, Fla.)
No. 140 Jalen Grimble, DE (Las Vegas, Nev.)
No. 191 Kevin Grooms, RB (Hollywood, Fla.)
No. 237 Dallas Crawford, CB (Ft. Myers, Fla.)

7. Boston College Eagles (23 signees)
An above-average haul for the Eagles, led by talented secondary and offensive line classes.

No. 177 Albert Louis-Jean, DB (Brockton, Mass.)

8. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (22 signees)
Versatile class – five “athletes” – full of players Paul Johnson hand-picked for his system.

No. 198 Vad Lee, ATH (Durham, N.C.)

9. Maryland Terrapins (20 signees)
Terps use 10 states, and two coaching staffs, to land solid class highlighted by offensive skill players.

10. Duke Blue Devils (20 signees)
Duke used 11 states to land quality collection of talent, including six O-line signees.

11. North Carolina State Wolfpack (20 signees)
Not a highly touted group, but Tom O’Brien has never cared about star ratings.

No. 242 Hakeem Flowers, WR (Greenville, S.C.)

12. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (14 signees)
One of the smallest BCS classes in the nation with nearly half coming from Florida.

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Thursday, February 10, 2011 - 17:40
All taxonomy terms: Big 12, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/11-team-rankings-big-12
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With two less teams signing players in the Big 12, the talent-hoarding taking place in Austin and Norman has actually gotten worse (or better, depending on the angle). Of the top 30 players to sign with one of the Big 12 ten, 23 are heading to Texas or Oklahoma . This is not a shocking revelation, as the Horns and Sooners have been stockpiling talent for decades. Yet, this season – even with stronger-than-usual classes from Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas – this league is still dramatically top heavy. Oklahoma and Texas landed 10 of the 11 Athlon Consensus 100 recruits who signed in the Big 12 and 15 of the top 17 overall.

Editor's Note: A nationally rated recruit is a anyone who received at least one AC100 vote. There were 269 in 2011.

2011 Big 12 Recruiting Team Rankings:

1. Texas Longhorns (22 signees – 7 AC100)
As usual, the Longhorns got started early and held on for an elite haul. With 17 nationally rated recruits, Texas finished with an embarrassment of riches. Running back Malcolm Brown is the gem of the class, but playmakers Quandre Diggs, Josh Turner and Jaxon Shipley should also provide plenty of fireworks on the outside. Throw in seven touted line-of-scrimmage recruits and Texas has one of the most balanced groups in the nation. As usual, Mack Brown was able to handpick the local Texas stars to fill his class. Of the 22 signees, only athlete Josh Turner, from Okahoma City, played his prep ball outside of the Lone Star State.

Nationally rated recruits:

No. 4 Malcolm Brown, RB (Cibolo, Texas)
No, 23 Steve Edmond, LB (Daingerfield, Texas)
No. 38 Quandre Diggs, ATH (Angleton, Texas)
No. 49 Sedrick Flowers, OL (Galena Park, Texas)
No. 51 Desmond Jackson, DT (Houston, Texas)
No. 59 Josh Turner, ATH (Oklahoma City, Okla.)
No. 98 Jaxon Shipley, WR (Brownwood, Texas)
No. 107 Garrett Greenlea, OL (Klein, Texas)
No. 125 Leroy Scott, DB (Pasadena, Texas)
No. 134 Sheroid Evans, DB (Sugar Land, Texas)
No. 135 Quincy Russell, DT (San Antonio, Texas)
No. 160 Cedric Reed, DE (Cleveland, Texas)
No. 210 Mykkele Thompson, ATH (San Antonio, Texas)
No. 221 M.J. McFarland, TE (El Paso, Texas)
No. 225 Kendall Thompson, LB (Carthage, Texas)
No. 248 David Ash, QB (Belton, Texas)
No. 267 Josh Chochran, OL (Hallsville, Texas)

2. Oklahoma Sooners (17 signees – 3 AC100)
This was not a vintage Sooner class – as the sheer number limits its upside. But the quality remains the same for Bob Stoops. The defensive line got a lot of help with three nationally rated tackles and one end. The highest ranked prospects in this class, however, will have their hands on the ball as wideout Trey Metoyer and running back Brandon Wililams upgrade the skill positions. Look for scholarship numbers to be back up again next year. Much like Ohio State last year, there is nothing to worry about in Norman - they might have landed an athlete or two.

Nationally rated recruits:

No. 20 Trey Metoyer, WR (Whitehouse, Texas)
No. 21 Brandon Williams, RB (Brookshire, Texas)
No. 91 Jordan Phillips, DT (Towanda, Kansas)
No. 129 Nathan Hughes, DE (Klein, Texas)
No. 163 Danzel Williams, ATH (Arlington, Texas)
No. 176 Marquis Anderson, DT (Cibolo, Texas)
No. 217 Jordan Wade, DT (Round Rock, Texas)
No. 220 Dylan Dismuke, OL (Duncan, Okla.)

3. Texas Tech Red Raiders (27 signees)
After a seventh place finish in the Big 12 recruiting rankings a year ago, Tommy Tuberville made big strides on the trail in 2011. Five nationally-rated recruits highlight a deep and talented group corralled by Big 12 recruiter of the year assistant coach Robert Prunty (according to Rivals). With Texas and OU dominating the Lone State State, it was important for Tech to reach outside of its borders. Tuberville used nine different states to fill out this class. That being said, the top five names in this class still hail from in-state.

Nationally rated recruits:

No. 139 Jace Amaro, TE (San Antonio, Texas)
No. 204 Kenny Williams, RB (Pflugerville, Texas)
No. 226 Michael Brewer, QB (Austin, Texas)
No. 234 Le’Raven Clark, OL (Rockdale, Texas)
No. 256 Bradley Marquez, RB (Odessa, Texas)

Teaser:
<p> Athlon begins its look at team recruiting rankings for the class of 2011 with the Big 12.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 - 18:11
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/sunday-takeaway/lived-hype
Body:

As Commissioner Roger Goodell said while presenting the trophy that bears the name of the greatest Packer legend of them all, “Vince Lombardi is coming back to Green Bay.” Five quick observations from the Packers’ 31–25 win over Pittsburgh, which at first blush makes my top 10 Super Bowls of all time:

• The game lived up to the hype — almost. Going in, this one had the potential to surpass the 44 that came before it, and Super Bowl XLV far outshone about 35 of its predecessors. The outcome was in doubt until the final two minutes, and we saw a career-making performance from a superstar quarterback. But the game fell slightly short of ascending to the top five of all time. On the negative side of the ledger: There were no lead changes; no two-minute heroics, like in the Steelers’ win over the Cardinals; the game didn’t go down to the last play, like Titans-Rams; and there were no real signature plays, like David Tyree’s helmet catch. But those are small quibbles. The game was great.

• Aaron Rodgers is the game’s best quarterback. He now has as many Super Bowl wins as his Packer predecessor, Brett Favre. He’s 4–1 as a starting quarterback in the playoffs, and in his one loss (to the Cardinals last year) he put up 45 points. He joins two Hall of Famers, Joe Montana and Steve Young, as one of three quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns in a Super Bowl win. And as great as his stats were — 24-of-39 for 304 yards, three touchdowns and a 111.5 passer rating — they would have been better were it not for about six drops and the first-half loss of Donald Driver to an ankle injury. He’s not Brett Favre yet, but he’s poised to eclipse Brett’s legend in Green Bay and build an unmatched legacy of his own.

• Turnovers and mistakes were the difference in the game. Aside from the final score, the key number was 3–0 — Green Bay’s advantage in turnovers. Obviously, Nick Collins’ 37-yard pick-six, with an assist from the Packer pass rush, was critical. (An aside: Teams with pick-sixes are now 11–0 in Super Bowls.) Just as critical was Rashard Mendenhall’s momentum-changing fumble courtesy of Clay Matthews’ yellow hat with the Steelers driving toward a potential go-ahead score. Eight plays and 55 yards later, the Packers had a 28–17 lead. There were also some head-scratching penalties, notably on special teams, that damaged the Steelers’ cause. Of course, if the Steelers had won, we’d be talking about Green Bay’s dropped passes.

• The Steelers’ renowned headhunters and heroes of previous Super Bowls, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, were largely invisible. The Steelers did sack Aaron Rodgers three times, but their lack of physicality, as typified by their MIA stars, was surprising. The Pack were successful with a few probing runs from James Starks, and the Steelers weren’t able to take Rodgers out of his game with their blitzes. Physical advantage to the NFC, for once.

• Musically, the evening was far from Super — Xtina mangled the Star Spangled Banner, and the Black Eyed Peas were as forgettably bland as their namesake legume. Usher and Slash did their best to try to bail out the headliners, to no avail. When the highlight of the most important set of your career is a pair of cameos by other artists, you haven’t exactly killed.
 

Teaser:
<p> As Commissioner Roger Goodell said while presenting the trophy that bears the name of the greatest Packer legend of them all, “Vince Lombardi is coming back to Green Bay.”&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Sunday, February 6, 2011 - 17:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/thompsons-tenure
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson and quarterback Aaron Rodgers are forever linked in NFL history. And Thompson is just fine with that.

The journey for the current most important Packer employees came to a head during the summer of 2008, when Thompson had to make the toughest decision in his career as an NFL player, VP of Football Operations and General Manager.

A native of Atlanta, Texas, Thompson was an undrafted free agent linebacker by the Houston Oilers out of SMU. He made only eight career starts in 10 seasons but played on special teams in 146 of his possible 147 games – a testament to his gritty, hard-nosed mentality.

His first big mark on the front office of an NFL franchise was his performance as the VP of Football Operations in Seattle. Along with Mike Holmgren, Thompson helped rebuild the Seahawks organization, before taking his current GM position in Green Bay. Thompson proved to be the architect of the only Seahawks team to ever make it to the big game, when Seattle made it to the Super Bowl the year following Thompson’s departure to Lambeau Field.

In 2005, he began his tenure with a bang by releasing two fan favorites – longtime Pro Bowl safety Darron Sharper and starting guard Mark Wahle. Thompson then entered his first draft with the team, netting Aaron Rodgers, safety Nick Collins and linebacker Brady Poppinga (currently on IR).

In 2006, he made his second key move by firing head coach Mike Sherman and hiring familiar Packer face Mike McCarthy – who served as O.C. and quarterbacks coach in Green Bay previously. The move was met with mixed reviews, as McCarthy was a relatively unknown head-coaching candidate at the time.

A.J. Hawk, Thompson’s second first-round pick, has not lived up to the hype, Hawk did have his most productive year in 2010 filling in for injured starters Brad Jones, Brandon Chillar and Brady Poppinga. But in the middle rounds, Thompson found gem Greg Jennings and contributors Johnny Jolly and offensive linemen Daryn Colledge, Tony Moll and Jason Spitz.

By 2007, the will-he-or-won’t-he saga of No. 4 began in earnest. Much to the chagrin of Brett Favre, Thompson refused to give in to internal (and external) pressure to trade for head case Randy Moss. However, he did pull the trigger to trade for running back Ryan Grant from the New York Giants for a sixth-round pick. The 2007 NFL Draft netted running back Brandon Jackson, linebacker Desmond Bishop, wideout James Jones, kicker Mason Crosby and fullback Korey Hall. Thompson’s bunch finished with a 13-3 record and hosted the NFC Championship Game.

The first few years of Thompson’s tenure were filled with unpopular moves. He let well-liked veterans walk in free agency. He did very little during the off-season, implementing a stingy spending philosophy – the Packers had a league-low team salary in ’06 and ’07. Despite his shrewd roster maneuvers - how about signing undrafted free agent Tramon Williams in November of his first season even though he had never played a down? – smooth was not a word that came to mind when describing Thompson’s leadership in Green Bay.
 

Teaser:
<p> Packers' GM Ted Thompson had a rocky start to his tenure. But his gambles have paid off as his team is poised for an NFL Championship.</p>
Post date: Sunday, February 6, 2011 - 11:01
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/super-bowl-brother
Body:

Athlon's Managing Editor Mitch Light had a chance to sit down Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers. He has an interesting perspective on the Super Bowl. He is the brother of the Packers’ starting quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and he is a quarterback himself — a junior at Vanderbilt who will battle incumbent Larry Smith for the starting assignment next fall. We spent some time with Jordan to talk about his brother’s run to the Super Bowl.

Might Light: How cool has this been to see your brother experience so much success?

Jordan Rodgers: It’s been awesome. I was only able to make one game during the regular season, the last game of the season, at Green Bay vs. the Bears. I was able to make the last two playoff games. It was a ton of fun to be able to watch my brother and his team have the type of success they are having. It’s a dream come true for him, to make it to the Super Bowl. He is going to be the starting quarterback in the Super Bowl. I am so happy for him.

ML: Do you watch the game as a fan? Are you nervous? Or do you just focus on him?

JR: I am definitely nervous, but not as nervous as my parents are when they watch. I’m usually focusing on him. Being a quarterback myself, I like to watch the game to see what he does. If he takes a hit that I know hurts or could be an injury, I get a little worried. I do get nervous.

ML: Were you in the stands in Chicago or in a suite?

JR: Freezing my butt of in the stands like everyone else. My parents, my brother and I were sitting in the end zone. I was freezing. It was a great game to watch.

ML: Did people know who you guys were?

JR: No. Not really. There were obviously a lot of Bears fans around us. I don’t think anyone noticed who we were.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon had a chance to sit down with Aaron Rodgers younger brother, Vandy quarterback Jordan Rodgers.</p>
Post date: Sunday, February 6, 2011 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/all-time-super-bowl-team
Body:

In selecting an all-time Super Bowl team, it’s important to establish clear criteria. While there is nothing more subjective than all-time teams, the criteria is certainly individual performance, but performance that leads to team success carries more weight. Multiple game appearances help, so longevity counts.

All-time Super Bowl Team:

QB Joe Montana, San Francisco
This is one of a couple of positions where there is no argument. With four Super Bowl wins, Montana has a career passer rating of 127.8, the best ever. Joe Cool tossed 11 touchdown passes to six different receivers with no interceptions. During his Super Bowl career, he threw 28 passes on third down, completing 19 of them for 14 first downs and one touchdown. There was no one better in the big game.

Notables: Tom Brady, New England; Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh; John Elway, Denver; Kurt Warner, St. Louis and Arizona

RB Franco Harris, Pittsburgh
There is no shortage of candidates at running back. Harris rushed for 354 yards in Pittsburgh’s four Super wins in the 1970s and had another 114 yards receiving. In the four games, Harris had 18 touches on third down resulting 10 first downs and three touchdowns. And Harris is the only runner with more than 100 carries in history.

RB Roger Craig, San Francisco
In three Super Bowls for San Francisco, all wins, Craig amassed 413 yards from scrimmage with four touchdowns, including 101 yards receiving in Super Bowl XXIII.

Notables: Larry Csonka, Miami; Emmitt Smith, Dallas; Terrell Davis, Denver; John Riggins, Washington

WR Jerry Rice, San Francisco
Rice is another no-brainer. Let’s see: most receptions in a career (33), most yards receiving in a career (589) and game (215), most yards from scrimmage in a career (604), the only player to score three TDs in a game twice. Oh, and he earned an MVP. And 77 of his receiving yards and a touchdown came at age 40 for Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII.

WR Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh
Fans who saw him in the Super Bowl probably remember flying, acrobatic catches. But Swann meant more to the Steelers than just a couple of circus catches. He is second all-time with 364 receiving yards, all coming in three Super Bowls. In his first Super Bowl appearance with the Steelers, Swann was limited to punt return duty.

Notables: Deion Branch, New England; John Stallworth, Pittsburgh

TE Jay Novacek, Dallas
One of quarterback Troy Aikman’s favorite clutch targets, Novacek scored the first Dallas touchdown in both Super Bowl XXVII and XXX. In three wins he totaled 148 yards and two scores on 17 catches.

Notables: Shannon Sharpe, Denver and Baltimore; Marv Fleming, Green Bay and Miami

LT Jon Kolb, Pittsburgh
The only constant along the Pittsburgh offensive line during their run of four Super Bowls in the 1970s, Kolb led the way for Franco Harris’ running and protected Terry Bradshaw in the passing game.
Notables: Mark Tuinei, Dallas; Matt Light, New England

LG Nate Newton, Dallas
Emmitt Smith became the all-time leading NFL rusher thanks in large — and we do mean large — part to Newton. In Newton’s three Super Bowls, the Cowboys scored 52, 30 and 27 points.

Notable: Bob Kuechenberg, Miami; Russ Grimm, Washington

C Jim Langer, Miami
Langer anchored the line during Miami’s back-to-back titles in the 1970s. In Super Bowl VIII, Miami rushed 53 times for 196 yards, most of it straight up the middle with bruiser Larry Csonka.

Notables: Ray Mansfield, Pittsburgh; Mike Webster, Pittsburgh

RG Joe Andruzzi, New England
In three New England wins, the Patriots rushed for 372 yards, and Andruzzi helped protect MVP Tom Brady allowing him to stay comfortable in the pocket.

Notables: Jerry Kramer, Green Bay; Gerry Mullins, Pittsburgh; Larry Little, Miami

RT Erik Williams, Dallas
The heart and soul of the Cowboys’ offensive machine was the offensive line. Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin were the beneficiaries.

Notables: Forrest Gregg, Green Bay; Norm Evans, Miami

Teaser:
<p> Athlon picks the best that have ever stepped foot on the big stage.</p>
Post date: Saturday, February 5, 2011 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/editors-predictions-super-bowl
Body:

Athlon's editorial staff offers its predictions and insight for Super Bowl XLV:

Steven Lassan, Editor (@AthlonSteven)
This looks to be one of the more even Super Bowl matchups in recent memory. The Steelers and Packers are virtual mirror images of each other, with Pittsburgh owning a slight edge at running back. The status of Steelers' center Maurkice Pouncey is one of the biggest question marks surrounding this game. Offensive line issues have been a concern for Pittsburgh all season and losing one of the best centers in the league is a major issue. If the Steelers get quality play from Doug Legursky and can establish Rashard Mendenhall on the ground, Pittsburgh should have the edge. The Packers won't be afraid to push the tempo on offense and get the Steelers out of their rhythm. Pittsburgh's secondary has been vulnerable at times this year, which faces a difficult task trying to slow down Aaron Rodgers and one of the NFL's top receiving corps. It wouldn't be a surprise to see this game play out like Super Bowl 43. The Steelers will take an early lead, only to watch the Packers get on track on offense and pull ahead in the fourth quarter. However, the experience of the Steelers in the Super Bowl, and Ben Roethlisberger's ability to make plays in the clutch gives Pittsburgh title No. 7. Steelers 27, Packers 24.

Braden Gall, Editor (@AthlonBraden)
It is downright scary how similar these two teams. Improv talent at quarterback that would impress even the crowds at The Apollo. A Defensive Player of the Year in the secondary - and (almost) at linebacker. Two of the most dynamic 3-4 front-seven schemes to ever grace a football field. The difference will be the power running game of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The two front-seven match-ups to watch are Packers' nose guard B.J. Raji against injured center Maurkice Pouncey and whoever is blitzing against Green Bay's rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga. In the passing game, both nickel packages will have their hands full with third and fourth receivers - Aaron Rodgers abused Bears' nickelback Tim Jennings. Expect both quarterbacks to make plays against the blitz, but whoever can convert on third and short, and around the goalline, will win. I will take the Steel Curtain defense to stop the Pack when it counts. Pittsburgh 20, Green Bay 14.

Rob Doster, Senior Editor (@AthlonDoster)
I like the Packers, but to me, there are a couple of keys. For one, the Packer pass rush will need to put Ben Roethlisberger on the ground. Hitting Big Ben is not enough; he’s the king of sloughing off sacks and turning losses into big plays. Plus, Aaron Rodgers will have to continue his magical run. It seems unlikely that the Pack will have much success on the ground, so the onus falls on Rodgers to make plays through the air. This is Rodgers’ opportunity to stamp himself as a truly elite quarterback. I think he’s up to the task. Packers by 3.

Charlie Miller, Editorial Director (@AthlonCharlie)
With two defenses that thrive on keeping offenses off balance, expect big plays and big mistakes by both offenses. Both teams will be stingy on defense, and both teams can run the ball. Both quarterbacks can handle blitzing schemes and answer with clutch plays. The difference will be that the Steelers’ quarterback will make one or two key mistakes giving the Packers’ defense the advantage. Aaron Rodgers will protect the ball better while still making key throws for Green Bay. Green Bay 27, Pittsburgh 20.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's editorial staff offers their collective insight on Super Bowl XLV.</p>
Post date: Saturday, February 5, 2011 - 02:01
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/beat-super-bowl-picks
Body:

We asked our stable of beat writers for the their thoughts on the Super Bowl. Of the 16 we polled, eight picked the Steelers and eight went with the Packers, with all but one writer predicting a final margin of seven points or less.

Here is what Beat Nation thinks about Super Bowl XLV:

Jason Wilde, ESPN Radio Milwaukee
Green Bay's brilliant run through five elimination games -- two to finish the regular season, three road victories in the NFC playoffs -- comes to an end against Pittsburgh's hard-hitting defense. The Steelers are what the Packers hope to be in the next 10 years with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, but their first Super Bowl trip ends in disappointment. Pittsburgh 27–24.

Manish Mehta, New York Daily News
The Steelers defense will carry the franchise to its seventh Super Bowl title. Ben Roethlisberger will make a handful of plays out of the pocket in critical moments to help Pittsburgh prevail. Pittsburgh 24–17.

Aaron Wilson, Ravens Insider
Blitzburgh finally encounters an offense and a quarterback it can't bully and intimidate. Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger will get swarmed by Clay Matthews and Co. as his suspect offensive line gets exposed. Packer 31, Steelers 23.

Charean Williams, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
I picked the Saints before last season, and they made me look smart. I picked the Packers before this season, so I'm sticking with them to the bitter end. Green Bay 20-17.

Shalise Manza Young, Providence Journal
The Steelers have the Super Bowl experience advantage, but this is Aaron Rodgers' time to step up and prove that he truly is one of the best quarterbacks in the game. Green Bay 27-24.

Terry McCormick, Titaninsider.com
The Steelers are always formidable in the glare of the Super Bowl spotlight, but Aaron Rodgers has had the hot hand throughout December and January and will finish the task on Sunday night. Green Bay 27-23.

John Niyo, Detroit News
Experience says the Steelers, but I'll go with Aaron Rodgers and the big-play potential of the Green Bay offense in this one. Green Bay 28–24.

Scott Bordow, Arizona Republic
New England's Tom Brady showed the one way to beat the Steelers is to spread the field and get rid of the ball quickly. Green Bay does that better than anyone with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a terrific fleet of receivers. Green Bay 24–20.

Teaser:
<p> We polled&nbsp;our stable of beat writers for the their thoughts on the Super Bowl.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - 18:29
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/national-signing-day
Body:

-by Braden Gall

National Signing Day elicits one of two responses from sports fans. One is a ravenous, insatiable desire to tie day-to-day happiness to the decisions of teenage boys. The other is an aloof, antiquated view of the reality of college football.

Neither is better nor worse than the other. Ether way, National Signing Day is a polarizing afternoon of pseudo-sport.

The truth likely lies somewhere in-between. To those who send death threats to 17-year-old kids who have decided not to sign with YOUR team and instead with an in-state rival, the word “relax” comes to mind ((strangely, said recruit actually went running back to the first team). And to those who sit in their ivory sports tower and look down their noses at recruiting rankings and the importance of NSD, I say, join the 21st century.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football. It always has been. There just weren’t message boards back when Woody Hayes had a 200-man roster. There weren’t star ratings when Bear Bryant pulled Sam Cunningham into his locker room after Alabama got rocked at home by USC in 1970. Yet, having good players was no less important to Bryant or Switzer or Osborne or Schembechler or Majors.

There wouldn’t be seven different full-time recruiting services even available to compile the Athlon Consensus 100 if recruiting didn’t matter. The key, like most things in life, is moderation (something the media has a tough time with, occasionally). Can we not simply sit back and enjoy the pouring of college football’s foundation? Does NSD have to be filled with either animosity or condescension?

The aged, fuddy-duddy fans of college football need to learn that recruiting matters and that the rankings, by in large, are about as good as we can do at attempting to project teenagers' “earning potential” at 16 years of age.

The other, crazier, end of the spectrum also needs to realize that there is still hundreds of hours of weight lifting, practice drills, film study and actual coaching that has to take place before a short list of signatures turns into wins and losses.

And The Winner Is...

Auburn. No, Cyrus Koundjio has yet to officially send in his LOI. Alabama. No, it could still whiff - or connect - on both of the top two recruits in the nation. I know, Florida State! Well, not if Jadeveon Clowney and Koundjio both go to the same school in the Yellowhammer State. USC? Texas? Georgia? Ohio State?

With the top two players in the nation still unsigned, one of the closest races in recruiting history has yet to come full circle. Six, maybe even seven, teams have a legitimate claim to the 2011 recruiting National Championship. But with Auburn, Alabama and Florida State's classes so evenly matched, how can anyone award a recruiting crown without knowing where the top two players in the nation are playing football?

If both Clowney and Koundjio end up signing with the Crimson Tide, they will deserve the crown with a nation-best nine AC100 signees. If neither ends up in the state of Alabama, then Florida State's impressive haul will likely be the best collection of talent. If one goes to South Carolina (or Clemson) and one stays with Auburn, then the Tigers might have the best group.

What does all of this conjecture mean? That after years of effort and millions of dollars spent recruiting - and 10 hours of mothership coverage later - National Signing Day 2011 will end without a clear recruiting champion.

ESPN has Florida State atop its rankings, Rivals has Alabama and Scout is giving it to Auburn. But until Clowney and Koundjio finally make-up their minds, us recruiting fans are in a holding pattern.

Where did the AC100 land?

Teaser:
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Post date: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - 11:25
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/class-2011-team-rankings
Body:

With less than 24-hours left until National Signing Day 2011, Athlon Sports takes a look at the top classes in the nation with a little help from national recruiting analyst JC Shurburtt of 247Sports.com. With the nation's No. 1 (Jadeveon Clowney) and No. 2 (Cyrus Kouandjio) players still left on the board - along with dozens of other Athlon Consensus 100 members - these rankings could still move plenty before the end of NSD 2011.

1. Florida State (25 total commits - 6 AC100)

No. 11: Karlos Williams, DB
No. 12: James Wilder, Jr., ATH
No. 26: Nick O'Leary, TE
No. 47: Bobby Hart, OL
No. 75: Kelvin Benjamin, WR
No. 93: Nick Waisome, DB

JC Shurburtt's take: Jimbo Fisher and company have corralled most of the top talent in the state of Florida in this class. It’s one of the best years on record for talent in the Sunshine State. Safety Karlos Williams (Davenport, Fla./Ridge Community) and tight end Nick O’Leary (Palm Beach, Fla./Dwyer) are the two headliners, but there is more out there.

2. Texas (22 commits - 7 AC100)

No. 4: Malcolm Brown, RB
No. 23: Steve Edmond, LB
No. 38: Quandre Diggs, DB
No. 49: Sedrick Flowers, OL
No. 51: Desmond Jackson, DT
No. 59: Josh Turner, ATH
No. 98: Jaxon Shipley, WR

Shurburtt's take: Mack Brown and company had a losing season and plenty of coaching turnover, yet they suffered very little on the recruiting trail. Linebacker Steve Edmond (Daingerfield, Texas) and running back Malcolm Brown (Cibolo, Texas/Steele) are the two headliners. Guard Sedrick Flowers (Houston, Texas/North Shore) may be the best at his position in the country.

3. Alabama (21 commits - 5 AC100)

No. 10: Hasean Clinton-Dix, S
No. 32: Trey DePriest, LB
No. 43: Demetrius Hart, RB
No. 63: Xzavier Dickson, DE
No. 78: Marvin Shinn, WR

Shurburtt's take: Top to bottom, this is another outstanding class for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Defensive tackle Jesse Williams (Arizona Western) is the top junior college prospect in the country. Safety Hasean Clinton-Dix (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips) was a huge pull out of Florida. National Signing Day and beyond will be big. The final chapter in the story of this class has not yet been written.

4. Auburn (23 commits - 7 AC100)

No. 8: Christian Westerman, OL
No. 50: Kiehl Frazier, QB
No. 53: Brent Calloway, RB
No. 74: Quan Bray, RB
No. 78: Kris Frost, ATH
No. 86: Greg Robinson, OL
No. 95: Reese Dismukes, OL

Shurburtt's take: The Tigers have another excellent class and swiped one of the top offensive line prospects in the country, Christian Westerman (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) from Texas down the stretch. Reese Dismukes (Spanish Fort, Ala.) is one of, if not the, top center prospect in the country.

5. Notre Dame (22 commits - 5 AC100)

No. 22: Aaron Lynch, DE
No. 27: Ishaq Williams, DE
No. 40: Ben Koyack, TE
No. 41: Matthew Hegarty, OL
No. 44: Stephon Tuitt, DE

Shurburtt's take: Fighting Irish have one of the top defensive line classes in the country. Aaron Lynch (Cape Coral, Fla./Island Coast), Stephon Tuitt (Monroe, Ga./Monroe Area) and Ishaq Williams (Brooklyn, N.Y./Abraham Lincoln) are three elite prospects tat that position. Linebacker Ben Councell (Asheville, N.C./A.C, Reynolds) saw his stock improve perhaps more than any other prospect in the Southeast this season.

6. LSU (22 commits - 4 AC100)

No. 3: La'El Collins, OL
No. 7: Anthony Johnson, DT
No. 19: Jarvis Landry, WR
No. 89: Kenny Hilliard, RB

Shurburtt's take: The Tigers were dominant in-state this recruiting cycle. Offensive tackle La’El Collins (Baton Rouge, La./Redemptorist), wide receiver Jarvis Landry (Lutcher, La.) and defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (New Orleans, La./O. Perry Walker) are among the top prospects at their position in the country. Defensive end Jermauria Rasco (Shreveport, La./Evangel Christian) is still out there for LSU.

Teaser:
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Post date: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/defensive-end-u
Body:

Notre Dame is known for several things. Iconic symbols like Touchdown Jesus, the Golden Dome, the Gipper, Leprechauns speak to the rich tradition of South Bend, Ind. However, this year’s recruiting class may give the Irish a new nickname: Defensive End U.

For all of the success that Charlie Wies had on the recruiting trail, the defensive front never seemed to get enough attention. The old regime’s biggest issue was the defensive side of the ball – whether they missed on big name recruits or simply didn’t focus enough effort/time/money on it. All of that has changed now, as Coach Brian Kelly’s first two classes are loaded with defensive line recruits. This has been Notre Dame’s biggest weakness for years, but no more. Look for the depth and talent along the defensive front to translate into more wins for the Irish very shortly.

With six committed players - including three Athlon Consensus 100 members - listed as defensive ends, and an outside linebacker who looks like an end at the next level, the Irish are dramatically improving their defensive line. It is one of the single most difficult positions to find and this particular group is deep, can run and will play the game in the opponent’s backfield. Kelly has landed three of the top seven defensive end prospects in the nation. He is slowly, but surely, turning the defense around in South Bend - and it starts with one of the best D-line classes in the nation.

AC100 No. 22: Aaron Lynch (6-6, 255) Island Coast HS (Cape Coral, Fla.)
Great looking prospect who passes the eye test. Has a good motor, can penetrate and redirect. Outstanding upside with a chance to be special. Could play early. Is ranked as the No. 3 DE in the nation.

AC100 No. 27: Ishaq Williams (6-5, 225) Lincoln HS (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Terrific length and athleticism, runs well and uses his length to eat up space. Should be a dominant defensive end once he develops his technique. May contribute immediately. Is ranked as the No. 4 DE in the nation.

AC100 No. 44: Stephon Tuitt (6-5, 250) Monroe HS (Monroe, Ga.)
Another big athlete that can move. This kid could play inside or outside on run downs. He’ll be a very good end to set the edge and could move inside on passing downs to get pressure from up the middle. Is ranked as the No. 7 DE in the nation.

Anthony Rabasa (6-3, 215) Columbus HS (Miami, Fla.)
A good penetrator, uses hands well, good quickness off the ball and can redirect. Is a solid defensive lineman that will be good against the run and pass.

Tony Springmann (6-6, 260) Bishop Dwenger HS (Fort Wayne, Ind.)
Listed as a defensive end by some but may project to offensive tackle. The good news is he could be a very good offensive tackle as he has feet, good knee bend and good size to build on.

Chase Hounshell (6-5, 250) Lake Catholic HS (Mentor, Ohio)
Has good feet, knee bend and can roll his hips delivering a blow and creating leverage. Most likely a defensive tackle. His upside could be on the offensive side of the ball. A versatile player.

Ben Councell (6-5, 225) AC Reynolds HS (Asheville, N.C.)
Listed as an outside linebacker, Councell is an athlete that can run and redirect with a good frame to carry more weight. A versatile kid that can play with his hand on the ground or standing up. Another athlete that could play early.

Teaser:
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Post date: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/sunday-takeaway/pro-bowl-it-what-it
Body:

In his typically long-winded, eloquent manner, Bill Belichick summed up the Pro Bowl: “It is what it is.”

What it is is a bad joke masquerading as a professional football game. Yesterday’s 55–41 NFC win featured eight turnovers, dozens of disinterested participants and 49,338 fans who had to be wondering why they had paid money to watch the comedy of errors. The game wasn’t even as close as the score would suggest, as the NFC built a 42–0 first-half lead and cruised.

Unlike the NBA All-Star game, which is a defense-free showcase of athleticism and offensive genius, the Pro Bowl featured plenty of offensive ineptitude. Peyton Manning threw an interception on his second pass of the game. Matt Cassel did likewise. In all, AFC quarterbacks threw it to the guys in blue five times.

Just how incompetent were the offenses? The MVP of a game that saw 96 points and 854 yards of offense was a defensive player: Washington’s DeAngelo Hall, who had an interception and returned a fumble 34 yards for a touchdown.

Can we all agree that it’s time to take this sideshow out back and shoot it? The good people of Hawaii paid the league $4 million to give their fans an NFL showcase, and this is what they get?

The Pro Bowl’s unfortunate spot on the calendar — unlike every other major sport, the NFL holds its all-star game after the season — has always made it the stepchild of professional all-star games. The inherent injury risk, the reluctance of many top players to take part, the poor quality of the game itself — all combine to make the Pro Bowl a monumental irrelevancy.

With all that said, and as if you care, I will tell you that there’s a new Pro Bowl scoring king. David Akers passed his mentor, Morten Andersen, to become the game’s all-time scoring leader with 52 points.

The Main Event

Now that the undercard is mercifully over, it’s time for the real show. It’s Super Bowl Week, and here are some early thoughts:

• Pittsburgh will need to run the ball successfully to win, a task made more difficult by the absence of injured center Maurkice Pouncey. Watch Rashard Mendenhall’s carries and yards as the game progresses.

• The Packers will need to put Ben Roethlisberger on the ground. Hitting Big Ben is not enough; he’s the king of sloughing off sacks and turning losses into big plays.

• Aaron Rodgers will have to continue his magical run. It seems unlikely that the Pack will have much success on the ground, so the onus falls on Rodgers to make plays through the air. He’s facing a defense that’s effective against the pass, but not elite; the Steelers allowed 214.1 yards per game through the air, 12th in the NFL. This is Rodgers’ opportunity to stamp himself as the game’s best quarterback.

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Monday, January 31, 2011 - 12:56
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/everybodys-no-1
Body:

With the (re-) release of the 2011 Athlon Consensus 100, and for the first time in the brief four-year history of the truest and most accurate high school recruiting top 100, the nation's No. 1 prospect has been selected totally unanimously. Seven of the hardest-working, most sophisticated scouting sites on the web each spent thousands of hours watching internet film, talking with coaches and scouting in person the best that America has to offer in 2011. And they all agreed that one player stood above the rest.

For the first time in the brief four-year history of the AC100 (2008-present), every first place vote went to the same player.

Athlon Consensus 2011 No. 1 prospect: Jadeveon Clowney

Hometown: Rock Hill, S. Car.
High School: South Pointe H.S.
Ht: 6-foot-6
Wt: 240

His resume:

As a senior, Clowney was unstoppable. He registered 162 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 29.5 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and scored five touchdowns. He won the South Carolina Mr. Football Award as well as Area Defensive Player of the Year honors. Clowney posted 24 sacks as a junior and 10 as a sophomore.

What he can do:

Clowney is a dominant edge player with great length and athleticism. He has terrific quickness off the ball and gets into the blocker to eliminate their ability to use leverage against him. He plays with urgency and a motor. His ability to chase down the ball is outstanding. Once he gets turned, his “run down” speed is one of his greatest attributes. He also shows signs of good hand speed and strength.

Clowney is able to get penetration and be disruptive in the backfield. Whether he sets the edge or not, his agility and acceleration allows him to pursue to the boundary and will limit the opponent’s success outflanking the defense.
JD, as he’s called, also uses his basketball type body and skills to get up to block passes and affect passing lanes.

What he needs to improve:

Pad level is first and foremost. Like most tall and long players protecting their chest is a big concern. At the next level he’ll see some long armed offensive tackles with feet that will “lock on” and control his energy and impose their will. Once he learns to play with more leverage and use his hands and arm length to keep blockers off his body he will limit their chances to contain him.

Right now JD relies mostly on speed and a swim move. As he develops a rip move and uses his quickness and body lean to go inside or out he’ll be difficult to block versus the pass or run. Jadeveon’s redirect is a symptom of his length. It takes him time to gather plant and explode to change direction.

What he’ll get to:

The sky is the limit. There are certain improvements he’ll undoubtedly make. In a big time weight program JD will get bigger, stronger and faster. The coaching at the next level will help him develop all his tools to be a dominant pass rusher and be tough to run away from for sure. Clowney’s biggest improvements will need to come against the run game right at him as well as counter and reverse action where the offense will try to use his straight line speed against him. As he develops the discipline to set the edge to his side and play within the defensive schemes his opportunities to dominate will be more likely.

What are his expectations:

A freshman contributor and maybe a starter as a weak or field end as the season progresses. A sophomore starter and possible all league player. As a junior he’ll dominate his half of the field and maybe an early entrant to the NFL draft.

What could go wrong:

If he doesn’t take the coaching and/or isn’t willing to pay the price in the weight room, the film room and the class room. If the experts are right, it appears Jadeveon will attend South Carolina or Alabama. At South Carolina he’ll be coached by - Brad Lawing who has coached outstanding defensive ends like, Eric Norwood, current linebacker for the Carolina Panthers and current linebacker for the Detroit Lions, Julian Peterson.

At Alabama he’ll be coached by – Chris Rumph in his first year with the Crimson Tide and who played for South Carolina. For the last five years he’s coached the ends at Clemson. Rumph has coached standouts as Da'Quan Bowers at Clemson who led the nation in sacks and tackles for a loss in 2010 as a junior and Phillip Merling a defensive end with the Miami Dolphins.

Regardless of which school JD chooses and when he will be a difference maker in the recruiting classes national ranking as well as almost for sure the lucky school’s rankings by the BCS pollsters.

It is likely an announcement will come on his birthday, Feb. 14 - nearly two weeks after National Signing Day (Feb. 2).

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Monday, January 31, 2011 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /columns/mlb-fantasy/2011-mlb-fantasy-rankings
Body:

Spring Training is right around the corner, and for us baseball junkies, that means fantasy drafts are, too.

Where has the left side of the infield gone? Should I even draft a catcher? Just how deep is the outfield position this summer? With the thawing of spring every season come unique and intriguing fantasy decisions in March that win championships in October. Like how early should I draft Stephen Strasburg in a keeper league this year? What about Johan Santana?

While we still have over a month until voluntary report dates (Feb. 14th can’t get here quickly enough), it is never too early for fantasy owners to start digesting mock drafts, big boards and keeper options.

With that, Athlon Sports has perused the World Wide Web for the latest and greatest positional rankings and brought them together for a one-stop shop. Big (-ger) media names like ESPN, CBS, Athlon Sports and Yahoo! were incorporated as well as a variety of smaller, yet no less insightful, sites like FantasyPhenoms.com, DeepLeagues.com, RotoChamp.com, HardballTimes.com and RotoProfessor.com.

Each site’s rankings — including Athlon’s own rankings, which will be released early in February — were compiled and averaged into one “consensus” ranking.

Here is the scheduled release plan for nine different positions on the fantasy diamond as well as The Big Board:

Thur., Jan. 13th: First Base
Fri., Jan. 14th: Starting Pitchers
Sat., Jan. 15th: Catchers
Sun., Jan 16th: Middle Relievers
Mon., Jan. 17th: Shortstops
Tues., Jan. 18th: Third Base
Wed., Jan. 19th: Closers
Thur., Jan. 20th: Second Base
Fri., Jan 21st: Outfield

Wed., Jan 26th: Consensus Top 125

Fantasy drafts are still a good month away, so there will be plenty of free agent signings, trades, injuries and more to account for as we head into Spring Training. So stay tuned as we will update our rankings consistently.

As a reminder, Athlon MLB preview magazines hit newsstands Feb. 1 and can be ordered online here.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon will begin building its 2011 MLB Fantasy online draft kit by releasing positional rankings each day.</p>
Post date: Sunday, January 30, 2011 - 16:50
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /columns/mlb-fantasy/2011-fantasy-ranks-3b
Body:

While we still have over a month until voluntary report dates (Feb. 14th can’t get here quickly enough), it is never too early for fantasy owners to start digesting mock drafts, big boards and keeper options.

With that in mind, Athlon Sports has perused the World Wide Web for the latest and greatest positional rankings and brought them together for a one-stop shop. Big media names like ESPN, CBS, Athlon Sports and Yahoo! were incorporated as well as a variety of smaller, yet no less insightful, sites like FantasyPhenoms.com, DeepLeagues.com, RotoChamp.com, HardballTimes.com and RotoProfessor.com.

Each site’s rankings — including Athlon’s own rankings, which will be released early in February — were compiled and averaged into one “consensus” ranking. (Age on Opening Day 2011)

1. Evan Longoria, TB (25)
Three seasons as a professional, three All-Star game appearances. Toss in a trip to the Fall Classic and there aren’t too many 25-year-old third baseman who can match Longoria’s resume. The Rays’ star has topped 660 at-bats two years in a row and sports a career .283 average, .881 career OPS, and 162-game averages of 99 runs, 31 homers, 114 RBI and 12 stolen bases. Youth, consistency and production make Longo the top choice at the hot corner.

2010 Stats: 96 R, 22 HR, 104 RBI, 15 SB, .294/.879

2. David Wright, NYM (28)
Wright did what most fantasy owners believed would happen after only 10 HR in 2009. He hit 29 round trippers – two more than his career 162-game average. His power inconsistency should be far behind him. With a healthy Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Jason Bay and developing Ike Davis, there should be plenty of ducks on the pond for Wright – who is shooting for his sixth 100-RBI season in seven years. The only concern would be his career-high 161 whiffs last fall. His walk rate dropped too. Plate discipline will be huge for DW in 2011.

2010 Stats: 87 R, 29 HR, 103 RBI, 19 SB, .283/.857

3. Alex Rodriguez, NYY (35)
From 2000 to 2009, A-Rod averaged 677 at-bats, 119 runs, 44 homers, 124 RBIs, 18 swipes and an absurd .304/.401/.587 line. However, the Bronx Bomber hasn’t topped 600 ABs since ‘07, finishing with a career low 74 runs and .270 average last year. His 30 homers the last two years are his worst total since 1997. There is no way A-Rod will ever return to his 2001-2002 glory days, but a 90-35-120 line is certainly attainable at a position of serious scarcity.

2010 Stats: 74 R, 30 HR, 125 RBI, 4 SB, .270/.847

4. Ryan Zimmerman, WAS (26)
A case could be made for Zimm to top this list. This will be his sixth full season, and he will play the entire year at 26 years of age. He set career highs in BA last season, and his on-base percentage has risen four straight season resulting in a career high .388 OBP. If he returns his counting stats to 2009 form (110-33-106), the Nats could have the top fantasy 3B in baseball.

2010 Stats: 85 R, 25 HR, 85 RBI, 4 SB, .307/.898

5. Kevin Youkilis, BOS (32)
Obviously he is ideal at third base, but his numbers are good enough to play at first if your league allows. The injury bug struck many of the top first basemen last year, and Youkilis was no exception. He put up his usual solid numbers in 102 games before season-ending thumb surgery in August. After three seasons of playing 145+ games from 2006-08, the Greek God of Walks has played 136 and 102 the last two seasons. While a thumb injury is a concern, Youk should be healthy this season and in the middle of a loaded lineup. You won’t get a 35-45 homer season, but the numbers across the board will be more than solid - especially at a position as scarce as 3B.

2010 Stats: 77 R, 19 HR, 62 RBI, 4 SB, .307/.975

6. Jose Bautista, TOR (30)
This fantasy story is well-documented and might be the single most intriguing in all of fantasy-dom. Which one does not belong: 16, 15, 15, 15, 13, 54? Hmm, that is an easy one. Those are Bautista’s home run totals for the last six seasons. Can he hit 20-25 dingers in 2011? Certainly, but how does a career .238 hitter (prior to 2010) maintain his stellar percentages (.260/.378/.671) from last year?

2010 Stats: 109 R, 54 HR, 124 RBI, 9 SB, .260/.995

7. Adrian Beltre, TEX (32*)
What do Beltre’s 2004 and 2010 have in common? They were massive fantasy seasons – and contract years. The five seasons in between his two walk years? He posted averages of 74 R, 21 HR, 79 RBI, 10 SB with .266 BA and .759 OPS. Beltre has topped .280 in only three seasons in his career. You guessed right: 2004, 2010 and way back in 2000. The .334 and .321 marks of ’04 and ’10 are so absurdly out of place that it is tough to see him even coming close to .300. This all being said, Beltre is hitting in the middle of a high-powered attack in a hitter's park. If he struggles this season, Beltre’s legacy will be his lack of effort when money wasn’t on the line.

2010 Stats: 84 R, 28 HR, 102 RBI, 2 SB, .321/.918

* - turns 32 on April 7.

8. Michael Young, TEX (34)
Young has played in at least 155 games in eight of the last nine season. He has topped 170 hits in all of those as well. The move to DH should extend his career a bit, but don't expect the big power numbers that come from most DH's. However, something just below his career averages of 96 R, 16 HR, 85 RBI, 9 SB, .304/.802 is likely. Get Young this season while eligible still at 3B, beacuse at 34, there are not too many usuable years left for the former batting champ.

2010 Stats: 99 R, 21 HR, 91 RBI, 4 SB, .284/.774

9. Aramis Ramirez, CHC (32)
Last season was a tale of two halves for Ramirez — which has been the story his whole career. However, 2010 was argubaly his worst split. Ramirez hit .207 with 10 homers and 32 ribbies in the first half. In the second half (in nine fewer at-bats), he posted a more than adequate .276 BA with 15 dingers and 51 RBI. If he can stay healthy, and if he can produce before July, Ramirez owners should be in for good things seeing as how this is his walk year. This will be the 32-year-old's final chance at a big contract.

2010 Stats: 61 R, 25 HR, 83 RBI, 0 SB, .241/.746

10. Mark Reynolds, BAL (27)
Not too many players have ever had a higher strikeout total (211) than batting average (.198). Of course, not too many players have struck out 200 times three straight years. Wait, he is the only player to ever top 200 Ks in any season. Certainly, playing through the hurt hand could have affected his totals, and Camden Yards should help the average slightly. The change in parks should have little effect on his power totals. You know what you are getting from Reynolds.

2010 Stats: 79 R, 32 HR, 85 RBI, 7 SB, .198/.753

Teaser:
<p> Athlon scours the web to compile its first consensus fantasy MLB rankings for 2011. Today, we focus on Third Base.</p>
Post date: Saturday, January 29, 2011 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /columns/mlb-fantasy/2011-fantasy-ranks-ss
Body:

While we still have over a month until voluntary report dates (Feb. 14th can’t get here quickly enough), it is never too early for fantasy owners to start digesting mock drafts, big boards and keeper options.

With that, Athlon Sports has perused the World Wide Web for the latest and greatest positional rankings and brought them together for a one-stop shop. Big media names like ESPN, CBS, Athlon Sports and Yahoo! were incorporated as well as a variety of smaller, yet no less insightful, sites like FantasyPhenoms.com, DeepLeagues.com, RotoChamp.com, HardballTimes.com and RotoProfessor.com.

Each site’s rankings — including Athlon’s own rankings, which will be released early in February — were compiled and averaged into one “consensus” ranking. (Age on Opening Day 2011)

1. Hanley Ramirez, FLA (27)
After a colossal 2009 season that included hitting career highs with a .342 average and 106 RBIs, Han-Ram seemingly loafed through the 2010 campaign — failing to score 100 runs for the first time ever and dipping below the .940 OPS mark for the first time since his Rookie of the Year breakout in 2006. Still, if last season’s “slump” is the worst-case scenario, chalk up Ramirez as the top shortstop in fantasy. After all, he’s entering his prime with a 30-30 HR-SB year as well as a 100-RBI effort already under his belt and a career .313 average over nearly 3,000 at-bats. If Ramirez puts it all together, he could be the most valuable player in fantasy.

2010 stats: 92 R, 21 HR, 76 RBI, 32 SB, .300/.853

2. Troy Tulowitzki, COL (26)
While Han-Ram has averaged 152 games over his five-year career, Tulo has played 150 games in just two of his first four seasons — playing 101 games in 2008 and just 122 last year. But Tulowitzki only needed three-quarters of a season to put up a full season’s worth of stats last year, thanks in large part to a 15-HR, 40-RBI month of September. And the Rockies decided that former Dirtbag’s bat — along with his glove and leadership — was worth a seven-year, $134 million contract extension this offseason. If Tulo can stay healthy, he may be nearly as valuable to fantasy owners.

2010 stats: 89 R, 27 HR, 95 RBI, 11 SB, .315/.949

3. Jose Reyes, NYM (27)
After plying in only 36 games due to a calf injury in 2009, the switch-hitting speedster bounced back with a solid 2010 season. Still, as expensive as Reyes is on draft day, Reyes’ owners would like to see a return to his 2005-08 heyday. During that four-year run, Reyes averaged 113 runs, 14 HR, 66 RBIs and 65 stolen bases. Reyes is still in his prime at 27, so it’s likely that he will return to his fantasy All-Star status.

2010 stats: 83 R, 11 HR, 54 RBI, 30 SB, .282/.749

4. Derek Jeter, NYY (36)
The Captain has played in at least 148 games in 14-of-15 seasons, scored 100 runs in 13-of-15, had 14 stolen bases in 13-of-15, hit 10 home runs in 15-of-15, had 66 RBIs in 14-of-15 and hit .290 in 14-of-15. But last season’s .270 average — following a .334, 18-HR, 66-RBI, 30-steal, 107-run campaign in 2009 — caused a contract-year panic. Call him “washed up” if you will, but keep in mind the value of a shortstop whose 15-year baseline has been 148 games, 100 runs, 10 homers, 66 RBIs, 14 steals and a .290 average.

2010 stats: 111 R, 10 HR, 67 RBI, 18 SB, .270/.710

5. Jimmy Rollins, PHI (32)
J-Roll had the worst season of his career, setting or matching career lows in games (88), at-bats (350), HR, RBIs, stolen bases, average and OPS. While Rollins may never return to his 2007 MVP form — when he hit .296 with 139 runs, 20 triples, 30 HRs, 94 RBIs and 41 steals — there is a great chance that, health permitting, he bounces back to the roughly .270-hitting, 100-run, 15-HR, 70-RBI, 30-SB guy fantasy fans enjoyed from 2001-09.

2010 stats: 48 R, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 17 SB, .243/.694

6. Elvis Andrus, TEX (22)
Elvis’ rocket arm and effervescent attitude make him a more valuable real ballplayer than fantasy contributor. Elvis will likely be a target for inflated fantasy expectations due to the fact that his impact on the diamond for the Rangers far outweighs his fantasy numbers in cyberspace. Right now, the 22-year-old is a pure speed threat with a chance to score 100 runs and steal 40 bags. An improvement on the .260 average would be nice, but don’t expect any power numbers from the Venezuelan wunderkind.

2010 stats: 88 R, 0 HR, 35 RBI, 32 SB, .265/.643

7. Alexei Ramirez, CHW (29)
The “Cuban Missile” has averaged 147 games, 73 runs, 18 HRs, 72 RBIs and 13 steals while hitting .283 over his first three seasons. There may be some room for improvement — with an outside shot at a 20-20 HR-SB year and/or an average approaching .300 — but a “what you see is what you get” scenario isn’t so bad, either. A middle class man’s Han-Ram, this Ramirez won’t cost you a first round pick but could man shortstop for a fantasy title team.

2010 stats: 83 R, 18 HR, 70 RBI, 13 SB, .282/.744

8. Stephen Drew, ARI (28)
J.D.’s little brother has been on a career roller coaster of batting averages (from .238 in 2007 to .291 in ’08 to .261 in ’09 to .278 last year). But Drew’s power has been fairly consistent, as the FSU product has averaged 16 HRs and 69 RBIs over four full seasons. Last season was the first time Drew has hit the 10-steal plateau after more than doubling his attempts (from six in both ’08 and ’09 to 15 last year). If he keeps running, Drew is a decent option once the bigger names are off the board.

2010 stats: 83 R, 15 HR, 61 RBI, 10 SB, .278/.810

9. Rafael Furcal, LAD (33)
Hamstring and back injuries have allowed Father Time to catch up with the speedy Furcal. Over the last three seasons, the aging shortstop has played in 283 games — 97 last year, 150 in ’09 and 36 in ’08 — but missed 203 contests due to nagging injuries. Last season, Furcal hit .333 with an .898 OPS, six HRs, 35 RBIs and 14 steals in 58 games before the All-Star break, then went .243, .702, two HRs, eight RBIs and eight steals in 39 games after the break. If you buy him on draft day, look to sell high in June or July.

2010 stats: 66 R, 8 HR, 43 RBI, 22 SB, .300/.826

10. Starlin Castro, CHC (21)
Starlin definitely has star power and could potentially be one of the steals in this year’s fantasy draft. Castro stole nine of his 10 bags and hit .322 after the break — absolutely raking in July and August (hitting .347 over 219 at-bats). The power may be a few years away, if it ever arrives. But Castro could be a Robinson Cano-style high-average hitter, who (unlike Cano) can steal 20 or more bases. The sky is the limit for young Castro.

2010 stats: 53 R, 3 HR, 41 RBI, 10 SB, .300/.755

Teaser:
<p> Athlon scours the web to compile its first consensus fantasy MLB rankings for 2011. Today, we focus on Shortstops.</p>
Post date: Saturday, January 29, 2011 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/super-showdown
Body:

Athlon's Steven Lassan, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall discuss the matchups for Championship Sunday in the NFL:

Follow us on twitter: @AthlonBraden / @AthlonSteven / @AthlonRush

1. If all things are equal, and you had to win the big game, would you rather have Ben Roethlisberger or Aaron Rodgers under center?

Nathan Rush: Big Ben has a 10–2 playoff record and two Super Bowl rings. A-Rodg didn’t win a playoff game until Philly Pro Bowl kicker David Akers missed from 34 and 41 yards in the Wild Card Round. Granted, wins over a soft Falcons club and familiar Bears foe are impressive. But it will take Rodgers playing well against the Steel Curtain in the Super Bowl for me to even think of mentioning him in the same “big game” class as Roethlisberger — whose current peers include Starr, Staubach, Plunkett, Griese and Elway; it’s Aikman and Brady company with just one more win. When we start talking fantasy quarterbacks, then I’ll take Rodgers over Roethlisberger.

Steven Lassan: Tough call. Rodgers is the better passer, but Roethlisberger finds ways to win games and is not the game manager some make him out to be. Roethlisberger is more than capable of winning a game on his own now – something he wasn’t ready to do in his first couple of seasons in the league. Critics will knock Roethlisberger’s off-the-field decisions, but let’s remember he’s never been cited or arrested for the two supposed incidents. The two quarterbacks had interesting debuts, with Rodgers having time to sit and learn behind a legend, while Big Ben was thrown into the fire in his rookie year. Rodgers is having an unbelievable postseason, but Roethlisberger also brings experience to the table and as Super Bowl XLIII showed, the ability to deliver when the game is on the line. I’ll take Roethlisberger now, but with more experience in the big game, I’d give Rodgers a slight edge.

Braden Gall: Big Ben has a chance to enter rarified air with a third Super Bowl win. Would he be the worst quarterback in NFL history with three championships (Bradshaw, maybe)? I know that sounds weird but Roethlisberger does not even belong in the same breath as guys like Aikman, Montana, or Brady. And I don't think he is in the same ballpark as guys like Elway, Griese, Stauback or Starr in terms of ability. Does anyone actually think Roethlisberger is a better QB than Peyton Manning because he has one more ring? Yes, two rings are two rings, but Rodgers is a better all-around player/teammate/leader/member of the community. I will take the more complete player.

2. When it is all said and done, who will be regarded as the better player? Charles Woodson or Troy Polamalu?

Nathan: For one game, I’ll take Troy Polamalu. For a career, give me Charles Woodson. The 1997 Heisman Trophy-winning Michigan man is a seven-time Pro Bowler, the 1998 Defensive Rookie of the Year and the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year. Over 13 seasons, Woodson has 47 INTs returned for 833 yards and 10 TDs, along with 22 forced fumbles, 13.5 sacks and 607 tackles. And the corner-safety-linebacker hybrid — which Polamalu also is — has gotten better with age. Over the past three seasons, Woodson has a combined 18 INTs for 396 yards and six TDs, 10 forced fumbles and seven sacks. But it’s really not about the stats. Woodson is a dependable, physical cover corner who can run, jump and jockey with the biggest, baddest receivers in the league; he also blitzes from the slot and plays the run. And, as a younger man, Woodson was an electric runner, receiver and punt returner — just ask Ohio State (or Peyton Manning, for that matter).

Steven: Polamalu. Although shutdown/playmaking corners like Woodson are harder to find, Polamalu is the key to Pittsburgh’s defense. Without Polamalu, the Steelers are a good defense. With him, the Steelers own an elite defense. Both players have a similar resume, but Woodson boasts the 2009 NFC Defensive Player of the Year award. It’s only a matter of time before Polamalu gets one in the AFC and with a few more years to play than Woodson, should end up with a better resume.

Braden: If you could guarantee the same exact number of games played, this is a no brainer for the Pola-molecule. The only issue that even makes this a conversation is Polamalu's inability to stay healthy. Woodson's numbers might be better at the end of the day, but few players have ever had as much raw physical talent, career success and respect amongst his peers and community as No. 43.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's editors debate some burning issues as we head into Super Bowl XLV.</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 27, 2011 - 10:50
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /columns/mlb-fantasy/2011-fantasy-ranks-1b
Body:

While we still have over a month until voluntary report dates (Feb. 14th can’t get here quickly enough), it is never too early for fantasy owners to start digesting mock drafts, big boards and keeper options.

With that, Athlon Sports has perused the World Wide Web for the latest and greatest positional rankings and brought them together for a one-stop shop. Big media names like ESPN, CBS, Athlon Sports and Yahoo! were incorporated as well as a variety of smaller, yet no less insightful, sites like FantasyPhenoms.com, DeepLeagues.com, RotoChamp.com, HardballTimes.com and RotoProfessor.com.

Each site’s rankings — including Athlon’s own rankings, which will be released early in February — were compiled and averaged into one “consensus” ranking. (Age on Opening Day 2011)

1. Albert Pujols, STL (31)
If you get the first pick in the draft, do not overanalyze it. Nothing in fantasy sports is an easier and safer choice than King Albert. He had the worst batting average (.312) of his ten-year career in 2010 and still led the National League in runs scored, home runs and RBIs. Pujols simply never has a bad year. If you took his worst numbers in each category for a season (.312/.955 with 32 HRs, 103 RBIs, 99 runs scored), he’d still be an All-Star. If you took his three-year average from 2008-10 (.331/1.074 with 42 HRs, 123 RBIs, 113 runs scored), you’d have the best player in the game.

2010 stats: 115 R, 42 HR, 118 RBI, 14 SB, .312/1.011

2. Miguel Cabrera, DET (27)
The Tigers’ big slugger is the closest thing we have to Pujols when it comes to top-flight production and consistency. If Detroit had been in postseason contention last year, Miggy may have taken the MVP after leading the American League in RBIs and on-base percentage. Cabrera hit .292 in his first year (2008) for the Tigers but has hit .324 and .328 in the two following seasons. His three-year average in Detroit (36 HRs, 119 RBIs, 97 runs scored, 38 doubles, .954 OPS) is as good as it gets in the AL. He is another easy draft choice; just sit back and watch the numbers pile up.

2010 stats: 111 R, 38 HR, 126 RBI, 3 SB, .328/1.042

3. Joey Votto, CIN (27)
In 2008, he showed signs of being a solid hitter while finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting. A .322 average with 64 extra-base hits in 2009 suggested Votto was going to move to the top of second tier of National League first basemen, right behind Pujols, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez. In 2010, he clearly jumped into the first tier with an MVP season in which he led the NL in both on-base and slugging percentage. Votto is entering his prime, and all signs point to another stellar year for this crushing Canadian.

2010 stats: 106 R, 37 HR, 113 RBI, 16 SB, .324/1.024

4. Adrian Gonzalez, BOS (28)
It can be risky in fantasy analysis to get too preoccupied with ballpark factors, but it’s difficult to see Gonzalez’s move from PETCO to Fenway as anything but incredibly positive. His 2007-10 average (34 doubles, 34 HRs, 105 RBIs) in the pitching-friendly San Diego can only increase in Beantown. Additionally, the stacked Red Sox lineup will give him many more opportunities for runs scored and batted in. Like David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and Adrian Beltre in the recent past, look for A-Gon to put up huge numbers in the land of the Green Monster.

2010 stats: 87 R, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 0 SB, .298/.904

5. Mark Teixeira, NYY (30)
Was his 2010 decline in batting average (.292 in ’09) a sign of something bigger or just a function of battling a deep bone bruise in his right thumb? We tend to think the latter, as Big Tex had trouble gripping the bat late in the season and hit only .220 with three homers after September 1. An “ailing” Teixeira still led the American League in runs scored, and he still hit the 30 HR/100 RBI plateau. Even with his annual slow start, look for the Bronx Bomber to return to his usual high production levels.

2010 stats: 113 R, 33 HR, 108 RBI, 0 SB, .256/.846

6. Prince Fielder, MIL (26)
His production fell off big time in 2010 after an incredible 2009 campaign (141 RBIs). Fielder had monster seasons in 2007 and ’09 (averaged 48 HR, 130 RBI, 1.013 OPS), but those were followed by significant dropoffs in 2008 and ’10 (averaged 33 HR, 92.5 RBI, .875 OPS). Will he continue the pattern of having a Top 10 fantasy season every other year? Fielder is playing for a mammoth free agent contract and has shown good plate discipline (114 walks in ’10), but the .471 slugging percentage and 57 extra-base hits must raise red flags when drafting in the first or second round.

2010 stats: 94 R, 32 HR, 83 RBI, 1 SB, .261/.871

7. Kevin Youkilis, BOS (32)
Obviously he is ideal at third base, but his numbers are good enough to play at first if your league allows. The injury bug struck many of the top first basemen last year, and Youkilis was no exception. He put up his usual solid numbers in 102 games before season-ending thumb surgery in August. After three seasons of playing 145+ games from 2006-08, the Greek God of Walks has played 136 and 102 the last two seasons. While a thumb injury is a concern, Youk should be healthy this season and in the middle of a loaded lineup. You won’t get a 35-45 homer season, but the numbers across the board will be more than solid.

2010 stats: 77 R, 19 HR, 62 RBI, 4 SB, .307/.975

8. Ryan Howard, PHI (31)
This is as low in the rankings as Philly’s big bopper has been in a few years. From 2006-09, his average season (102 runs, 49.5 HRs, 143 RBIs, .967 OPS) was stellar. However, the numbers were down in 2010 as Howard turned 30. He was leading the NL in RBIs when an August ankle injury sidelined him for three weeks. Howard hit .231 with eight HRs and 27 RBIs in the 39 games after he returned, but then had a postseason full of strikeouts and no RBIs. He’s still a great source of power stats, but his OPS decline and the aging Phils’ batters are definitely eye openers.

2010 stats: 87 R, 31 HR, 108 RBI, 1 SB, .276/.859

9. Kendry Morales, LAA (27)
The Angels’ slugger had a breakout season in 2009 (.308/.924 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs). He was on that type of pace through 51 games last season before breaking his left ankle while celebrating a game-winning grand slam against the Mariners on May 29. With Morales out for the year, the Angels struggled on offense and did not have a .300 hitter on the club. He looks to be an up-and-coming hitter in his prime, but you have to worry a little about the lack of pop in the Angels’ lineup. With L.A. whiffing in free agency, opposing pitchers may work around Morales this season.

2010 stats: 29 R, 11 HR, 39 RBI, 0 SB, .290/.833

10. Justin Morneau, MIN (29)
His season was ended on July 7 by a concussion, but he had career-highs in on-base and slugging percentage at the time of the injury. Target Field is a tough park for home runs, and Morneau hit 14 of his 18 long balls on the road. The Twins were second in the majors in on-base percentage, so the former MVP will hit in the middle of a loaded lineup. While the lingering effects of a head injury is always a concern, Morneau should be healthy and a solid value if you miss out on the top six to eight guys.

2010 stats: 53 R, 18 HR, 56 RBI, 0 SB, .345/1.055

Teaser:
<p> Athlon scours the web to compile its first consensus fantasy MLB rankings for 2011. Today, we focus on First Base.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - 16:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/inside-paint
Body:

Athlon editors Braden Gall and Mitch Light have resurrected Inside The Paint: Athlon Sports College Basketball weekly podcast.

Listen to Inside The Paint: 01.26.11

Every week, the guys break down the latest and greatest from around the world of NCAA hoops. This week, Light offers his mid-season awards, predictions for the big weekend of action and more.

Special guest Clark Kellogg also stops by to talk Buckeyes, coaching, the tourney and more.

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - 13:33

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