Articles By Braden Gall

All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/spring-primer-sec-east

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Spring Primers: ACC Coastal | ACC Atlantic | Big 12, Part 1 | Big 12, Pt 2 | Notre Dame | Big East, Part 1 | Big East, Pt 2 | SEC West | SEC East | Big Ten Leaders | Big Ten Legends | Pac-12 North | Pac-12 South

Florida Gators

2010 Record: 8-5, 4-4 SEC
Spring practice: March 16 – April 9

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 4

Spring storylines facing the Gators:

1. Two words: Regime change. Even if Urban Meyer is still living in Gainesville and offering daily advice to the new coaches, Florida will need to break in a brand new, albeit very experienced, coaching staff. Will Muschamp and Charlie Weis, and to a lesser extent Dan Quinn, will have loads of talent with which to work, so the pressure immediately falls to the coaches.

2. And Weis’ first order of business is to pick a signal caller – a position that saw running backs, tight ends and receivers line-up to take the snap a year ago. In Weis' pro-style scheme, expect John Brantley to reassert himself as the prodigy he was touted as prior to 2010. After flirting with transferring after last fall, Brantley has quickly changed his tune and is excited about the new scheme that fits his pocket-passing skills better. Expect a lot of reps for Brantley this fall.

3. The offensive skill players are freakishly deep and talented. And it appears that the quarterback is happy. So that leaves an offensive line that has to replace 48 starts from four starters from last fall. Xavier Nixon, James Wilson, Matt Patchan and Jon Halapio need to gel quickly along the front line if they expect to give Brantley the time he needs to throw.

4. No one should be deeply concerned about replacing names like Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens with names like Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd and William Green. But finding replacements for Ahmad Black and Will Hill at safety should be a major focus of Muschamp this spring. There is no shortage of talent, but Matt Elam and Josh Evans will need to take on much bigger roles at the back-end of this defense.

Redshirts to watch: OL Chaz Green, LB Michael Taylor, WR Chris Dunkley, LB Chris Martin (transfer)

Fantasy tip: Brantley went way too high in drafts a year ago based largely on anticipation. He didn’t fit the system and struggled. Yet, with a year of experience and a new scheme, Brantley could actually be undervalued this summer.

Early Enrollees: RB Mike Blakely, QB Jeff Driskel, TE A.C. Leonard, DL Clay Burton, WR Javares McRoy, DB Pop Saunders, P Kyle Christy

Georgia Bulldogs

2010 Record: 6-7, 3-5 SEC
Spring practice: March 10 – April 16

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7

Spring storylines facing the Bulldogs:

1. One of the first orders of business will be to rebuild the wide receiving corps. All-world superstar A.J. Green is gone and will be tough to replace. So is Kris Durham. But plenty of untapped talent returns in the form of the speedy Tavarres King (who will play flanker) and the supremely gifted Marlon Brown. Rantavious Wooten, Michael Bennett, Israel Troupe and Chris Conley will get a chance to show what they can do. King and Brown have the most physical gifts and should be Aaron Murray's top targets this fall.

2. Each year it seems Georgia enters the season with a major strength at the offensive line. But lately, it doesn't seem like they have ever been able to reach their full potential. Now with Clint Boling and Josh Davis gone, it must rebuild again. This time with a new general as Mark Richt hired Will Friend from UAB to take over the O-line duties when Stacy Searels bolted for Texas. Ben Jones will return at center and Trinton Sturdivant and converted guard Cordy Glenn will likely man the tackle spots. Finding solid guard play this spring will be key for Friend and the O-line.

3. Three of the four starting linebackers are gone, including potential first-round pick Justin Houston. This group also lost its coach when Warren Belin left for the NFL and was replaced by another NFLer Kirk Olivadotti. It appears that converted safety Alec Ogletree (movement seems to be a theme of this practice) and Christian Robinson will handle interior work while Cornelius Washington and USC transfer Jarvis Jones battle for outside playing time. Look for plenty of freshmen to be in the mix come summer camp too. This will be a key position to watch this spring.

4. Keep an eye on the development and maturity of the backfield. Murray's talents are obvious and he needs to continue on his career path. After a sprained ankle in a soccer game in February, Murray expects to participate fully in spring practice. A quarterback needs to gel quickly with his receivers and can never work too hard on his efficiency. The tailbacks need even more work. Caleb King and Washaun Ealey have serious issues focusing but have all the ability in the world. If either of them could simply stay out of trouble, they could start and excel at running back. These two knuckleheads might not feel the depth chart heating up yet, but when star freshman Isaiah Crowell shows up, they better be ready to compete.

Redshirts to watch: RB Ken Malcome, WR Michael Bennett, OL Brent Benedict, OL Kolton Houston, NT Mike Thornton

Fantasy tip: Murray is a special player and will be high on my draft board - especially if the wide receiving corps comes together quickly. Ealey is the fantasy misnomer. If he starts all 12 games, the sky is the limit for his production - first or second round good. But he needs to do some serious maturing if he expects to start every game.

Early Enrollees: QB Christian LeMay, WR Christian Conley

Kentucky Wildcats

2010 Record: 6-7, 2-6 SEC
Spring practice: March 23 – April 23

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 8

Spring storylines facing the Wildcats:

1. Morgan Newton set career highs in yards, attempts and completions in his start in the BBVA Compass Bowl last winter. But the burly passer failed to separate himself from the competition. Coordinator Randy Sanders said it will be an open competition, and Newton has the athletic ability and the experience edge over the other options on the depth chart. Who would have thought life without Michael Hartline could look so bleak?

2. The first thing Kentucky could do to help its signal caller is find replacements for two of the school's best. Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke and Chris Matthews have all moved on to the NFL. That is 3,571 yards from scrimmage Sanders is trying to replace. It's easier said than done. Raymond Sanders, CoShik Williams, La'Rod King, Matt Roark, Brian Adams and a pair of redshirt tailbacks will be vying for touches. One or two players needs to step up and give the quarterback dependable options - beit at running back or wideout.

3. The secondary and linebackers return largely intact and could be some of the best in the SEC - as far as Kentucky standards at least. Most of the talent returns up front as well, with the exception of Ricky Lumpkin and DeQuin Evans. Look for the right combination of Taylor Wyndham, Collins Ukwu, Mark Crawford, Donte Rumph and Luke McDermott to settle in up front.

Redshirts to watch: TE Alex Smith, RB Brandon Gainer, RB Miles Simpson, DB Dale Trimble

Fantasy tip: With uncertainty surrounding the Kentucky offense, the only sure thing could be running back Raymond Sanders. However, Sanders isn't a lock to get 1,000 yards this season and fantasy owners should take a wait and see approach with the Wildcats.

Early Enrollees: DL Jabari Johnson, LB Tim Patterson, QB Maxwell Smith

South Carolina Gamecocks

2010 Record: 9-5, 5-3 SEC
Spring practice: March 15 – April 9

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 7

Spring storylines facing the Gamecocks:

1. Every spring article written over the last three or four years should begin with keeping Stephen Garcia out of trouble. The supposed returning starter was suspended for a big chunk of spring practice this year, due to what many believe was a curfew incident at the bowl game. If the Tiger can never change his stripes, it might be Connor Shaw time in Columbia. If Garcia can ever stay focused, with the talent at the skill positions, he could make a run at SEC Player of the Year. One thing is sure, Steve Spurrier's patience is wearing thin.

2. The guy carrying the ball is most certainly NOT an issue for this team. In fact, Marcus Lattimore might be the most talented running back in the nation. But replacing two key starters along the line, Garrett Chisolm and Hutch Eckerson, as well as very underrated fullback Patrick DiMarco, is an issue. A great offensive line is what South Carolina has been missing for years and it held up just enough (eighth in SEC rushing and sacks allowed) to get the Cocks to the title game. Filling a hole left by an all-SEC performer is no easy task.

3. Finding a replacement for star defensive end Cliff Matthews will be key on defense. To lesser extent Ladi Ajiboye, LB Josh Dickerson and DB Chris Culliver all need to replaced as well, but Matthews was the big threat - he single-handedly ended Matt Simms career. Whether it is Devin Taylor, Melvin Ingram or Chaz Sutton, Spurrier needs to find someone to fill the void. Otherwise, this defense returns a ton of talent in the secondary and plenty of experience at the linebackers. Of course, there is that small defensive end recruit from Rock Hill whose arrival this summer could help stimulate competition too.

Redshirts to watch: CB Victor Hampton, LB Qua Qilchrist, WR Nick Jones, OL A.J. Cann

Fantasy tip: Do not think that you can draft Marcus Lattimore too early. Adrian Peterson might be the only player in the country better than Lattimore at his own position - yes, I am including the NFL. Filling holes up front and getting consistent quarterback play are small questions which may affect Lattimore's draft stock. Tough to go wrong with freak of nature Alshon Jeffery either.

Early Enrollees: OL Kaleb Broome, QB Martay Mattox, DT Kelcy Quarles, DB Brison Williams

Tennessee Volunteers

2010 Record: 6-7, 3-5 SEC
Spring practice: March 22 – April 16

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 6

Spring storylines facing the Vols:

1. Yes, it is true that there are some talented young options at receiver stepping into prominent roles this season. Justin Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers and Zach Rogers have all the raw ability in the world to make plays. They just don't have the experience. Or the luxury of having Denarius Moore, Luke Stocker and Gerald Jones out there to plow grass too. If Hunter can get a little bigger/stronger and Rogers stays motivated, this has the makings of an outstanding strength of the team rather than a weakness.

2. To Tyler Bray, Stocker was a nice safety net over the middle that will be missed. But to Tauren Poole, he was his lead- or seal-blocker. Another blocker, guard Jarrod Shaw, needs replacing as well. However, the only good thing about having an extremely young offensive line, as the Vols most definitely did a season ago, is that they can only get better. There could be a lot of talent in this group, but they have to continue to make strides as a whole.

3. Big holes were left by the exodus of Chris Walker and Gerald Williams, and to a lesser extent Victor Thomas. Young, highly touted freshman Jacques Smith and Corey Miller got their feet wet last season but need to take big steps this spring. Finding some rush ends to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks will help take the burden off what could be a thin linebacking corps that loses senior leader Nick Reveiz. The front-seven is likely the biggest question mark on this team, but the Vols have a lot of young, talented options.

Redshirts to watch: LB Martaze Jackson, P Matt Darr

Fantasy tip: Tyler Bray looks the part at quarterback, but the offensive line is still very young. Losing the veteran presence of Moore and Jones on the outside will also put more pressure on the young receiving corps of the Vols. Look for Poole to be the only legit weekly fantasy starter from this unit.

Early Enrollees: QB Justin Worley, WR Vincent Dallas, OL Mack Crowder, OL Marcus Jackson, TE Brendan Downs, DB Justin Coleman

Vanderbilt Commodores

2010 Record: 2-10, 1-7 SEC
Spring practice: March 18 – April 17

Returning Starters: Offense – 10, Defense – 8

Spring storylines facing the Commodores:

1. With more returning starters than any other SEC team, Vandy needs to get its coaching staff settled into its new routines quickly. And picking a quarterback is first priority. Larry Smith is the incumbent with the most experience but lacks consistency. Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of Super Bowl Champion Aaron, is still recovering from injuries that have plagued his career on West End. This should be the first, big decision for James Franklin and his new staff.

2. The running game will have to be productive to give the quarterback any chance to succeed. The good news is the Dores return an O-line that is completely intact - but without definition yet. The running backs are extremely talented but can never stay on the field. Getting the big uglies up front to gel quickly - and keeping the explosive Zac Stacy and Warren Norman on the field - will be key for this offense.

3. The secondary should be a major strength of this team, but replacing a pair of linebackers and a defensive end is needed. Luckily the most talented player on the team is linebacker Chris Marve, who returns to lead this unit. Finding solid contributors around him and solidifying the defensive line are going to be the focus of the defensive staff.

Redshirts to watch: WR Chris Boyd, DT Vince Taylor, DE Kyle Woestmann, OL Andrew Bridges

Fantasy tip: These two tailbacks are talented. The issue is the offensive line, quarterback's consistency, injury concerns and a brutal SEC schedule. IF Stacy or Norman can stay healthy and get the bulk of the carries, there could be some sneaky spot-starts in 2011 - like Elon, Army and Wake Forest.

<p> Athlon takes a look at some of the key questions from around the SEC East this spring.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /columns/mlb-fantasy/2011-fantasy-baseball-big-board

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Fantasy baseball mock drafts have begun in earnest. The third edition of the Athlon Consensus Fantasy Baseball Big Board, based entirely on the same principles and simple algebraic equations of the Athlon Consensus 100, has been expanded and updated for the third time. Athlon and Yahoo's rankings have been deepened to 150 names, allowing the Consensus Fantasy Big Board to extend to 200. Although, ACFBBB just doesn't have the same ring as AC100.

With issues breaking all over spring training - most notably Adam Wainwright and Chase Utley - there has been plenty of movement in big board. Names like Zach Greinke, Mike Stanton, Brian Roberts and plenty of others should see their stock fluctuate plenty between now and Opening Day.

The ability for the fantasy owner to see exactly where each expert ranks a player in a one-stop shop can be invaluable. Each of us eventually places our own value on a player, but this composite ranking can be an excellent starting tool. Also, keep in mind that if a player is not ranked in the top 150 by a given service, his block will be blank - whether he was No. 151 or No. 300.

Here are some of my most basic observations on 2011 drafts:

- You can get plenty of speed from your outfield late in the draft. And I am not talking about rounds 6-10 with names like Alex Rios, B.J Upton or Shane Victorino. I am talking about upside youngsters who you can get much later and still provide your team with plenty of speed. Michael Bourn, Brett Gardner, Austin Jackson, Jose Tabata, Angel Pagan and Dexter Fowler could easily be plus players in at least three categories.

- As deep as first base really is, there are just are not too many 100-35-110 guys out there. I have taken Mark Teixeira in the first and second rounds of my respective keeper league drafts. In a ten team league, you have to have big time production from your first baseman.

- If last year was the year of the pitcher, why pay for it this season? If I told you my rotation for this season was Tommy Hanson, Brett Anderson, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Tim Hudson and Ricky Romero? That sounds like an 8th, 10th, 11th, 14th, 15th and 18th to me? I would take that every time.

Special thanks to and for their help with the compilation of rankings.

Positional Rankings and Capsules: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP | MR

(Updated: 03.16.11) Here the new and improved Athlon Consensus Fantasy Baseball Big Board:

<p> Athlon brings the best from around the web - and inside our walls - to offer fantasy players a one-stop rankings shop.</p>
Post date: Sunday, March 20, 2011 - 18:00
All taxonomy terms: Big East, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/spring-primer-big-east-pt-2

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Spring Primers:
ACC Coastal | ACC Atlantic | Big 12, Part 1 | Big 12, Pt 2 | Notre Dame | Big East, Part 1 | Big East, Pt 2 | SEC West | SEC East | Big Ten Leaders | Big Ten Legends | Pac-12 North | Pac-12 South

Cincinnati Bearcats

2010 Record: 4-8, 2-5
Spring Practice: March 29 – April 16

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 11

Spring Storylines facing the Bearcats:

1. The biggest issue on the offense will be finding replacements for All-Big East center Jason Kelce and fellow blockers Samuel Griffin and C.J. Cobb. The trio combined for 36 starts a year ago, throw in the loss of all-league tight end Ben Guidugli, and the Bearcats have some serious holes up front. It won’t matter how athletic Zach Collaros if he has no time to throw. Finding the right combination on the O-line has to be priority No. 1 for Butch Jones.

2. With the loss of Guidugli and all-everything receiver Armon Binns – and his 1,101 yards of production – Cincy will need some pass catchers to step up. D.J. Woods will be counted on the most with Anthony McClung manning the other side, but new faces Dyjuan Lewis, Kenbrell Thompkins and others will have plenty of opportunities to make plays.

3. Can this be the best defense for the Bearcats since moving to the Big East? Cincinnati was a respectable 39th in the nation against the run but 88th against the pass and nearly dead last in turnover margin (119th). There are a lot of veteran, experienced faces in the secondary. Stopping the pass must be a focus for a group that returns all 11 starters.

Redshirts to Watch: WR Dyjuan Lewis, DL Camaron Beard, LB Solomon Tentman

Fantasy Tip: Woods appears to be poised to the next big-time fantasy receiver from Cincinnati. But keep an eye on redshirt freshman Dyjuan Lewis, he was a highly touted prospect who could bring big play ability to the passing game.

Early Enrollees: DB Malcolm Murray (JC), WR Shaquille Washington

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

2010 Record: 4-8, 1-6
Spring Practice: March 29 – April 30

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 5

Spring Storylines facing the Knights:

1. Rebuilding the defensive line will most definitely be an issue for Greg Schiano. The loss of end Alex Silvestro and Jonathan Freeny, as well as tackler Charlie Noonan, will be a big blow to a unit that was 65th nationally against the run a year ago. Some new faces will have to step up around a small group of returning players with experience: Scott Vallone, Justin Francis and Michael Larrow.

2. The secondary also losses two experienced players in all-conference safety Joe Lefeged and coverman Brandon Bing. In an effort to replinsh this area of the defense, Schiano has already started moving players around. Running back Jordan Thomas is moving to corner, Khaseem Greene is sliding down to linebacker and corner David Rowe is moving to safety. Despite the loss of Lefeged, there will be a lot of options in the back end for the Knights to work with.

3. Schiano has already come out and themed this spring with change. Be it offensive players getting moved to the secondary or Jeremy Deering being moved to running back. Settling the depth chart seems to be a tall order for the Knights. The good news? The offensive skill spots are so deep and talented that they can loan some players to the defense and running game. Adjusting to all the new players in the new places is exactly what spring practice is for.

4. While Scarlet Knight fans eagerly await the arrival of the affable star recruit, running back Savon Huggins, the rest of this offense has few holes to fill. Replacing center Howard Barbieri is the only issue for a unit that may finally have found a quarterback in Chas Dodd. Otherwise, this is a talented and experienced offensive corps returning that should need only fine-tuning in the spring.

Redshirts to Watch: DB Lorenzo Waters, WR Brandon Coleman, DB Rashad Knight, OL Betim Bujari, OL Chris Fonti

Fantasy Tip: Do not be afraid to snag elite running back recruit Savon Huggins, or the explosive Deering for that matter, late in drafts. The pieces are in place for this offense to excel in 2011 and Huggins could step in a make an immediate impact.

Early Enrollees: P Anthony DiPaula, C Dallas Hendrikson (JC), DL Kenneth Kirksey, DE Djwany Mera, DB Johnathan Aiken

South Florida Bulls

2010 Record: 8-5, 3-4
Spring Practice: March 3 – April 2

Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 6

Spring Storylines facing the Bulls:

1. Pick a quarterback. B.J. Daniels is dripping with raw athletic ability but has been inconsistent and has dealt with injuries. Walk-on Bobby Eveld earned himself a scholarship with his play in Daniels absence. There is no reason for Daniels not to step-up and take this job.

2. Something that does not help a team’s quarterback situation are holes along the offensive line. Replacing three starters up front will be a major issue this spring. With loads of talent in the form of returning starters (Demetris Murray, Lindsey Lamar), those returning from injury (A.J. Love), transfers (Darrell Scott, Dontae Aycock) and incoming freshman ready to produce, settling the O-line quickly is of the utmost importance.

3. On defense, it will be tough to replace three All-Big East performers from each level of the defense. There is a lot of speed and talent sitting on the defensive side of the depth chart, so it is time for the highly touted guys like Ryne Giddins to take over leadership roles and become the stars they looked like as recruits.

Redshirts to Watch: DT Todd Chandler, DE Brandon Wilkinson, WR T.J. Knowles, QB Jamius Gunsby, WR Deonte Welch

Fantasy Tip: Daniels has the ability to be a special player. His ability to make things happen with Michael Vick-type speed and explosiveness is a raw commodity. It would be great to see him develop as a passer and owners could find themselves a steal in the mid-to-late rounds.

Early Enrollees: QB Matt Floyd, LB Mike Jeune, LB Antoine Pozniak

Syracuse Orange

2010 Record: 8-5, 4-3
Spring Practice: March 8 – April 16

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 5

Spring Storylines facing the Orange:

1. Finding a replacement for talented Delone Carter and his 2,254 yards over the last two seasons will be key. Antwon Bailey has the look and the ability to step in and be very productive. He needs to prove it. Replacing starting stalwart at center in Ryan Bartholomew will go a long way in helping Bailey excel. A name Orange fans are very familiar with should have a chance to win the job, Macky MacPherson – the grandson of famed Syracuse head coach Dick MacPherson. Finding a tight end to fill in for Jose Cruz will also be key in he running game.

2. Cuse loses a dynamic duo at linebacker in all-league performers Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue. Strongside tackler Marquis Spruill will slide inside, so Doug Marrone needs to fill some holes with guys like Dan Vaughn, Brice Hawkes and Mario Tull.

3. The middle of the defense isn’t the only issue. The back-end needs to be addressed as Mike Holmes, Max Suter and Da’Mon Merkerson have all moved on. Safety should be fine with Phillip and Shamarko Thomas return with a combined 159 tackles from a year ago. Finding suitable covermen will be key this spring. Jeremi Wilkes, Kevyn Scott, Jay Bromley and Ri’Shard Anderson will battle it out.

4. It looks like Ryan Nassib has what it takes to be a winning quarterback. But the Orange hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons since the late 90’s. There will be a lot of pressure on Nassib to improve on an already very respectable 19-TD, 8-INT stat line.

Redshirts to Watch: WR Jarrod West, DT Max Beaulieu

Fantasy Tip: From what Bailey showed last season when filling in for Carter, he has a chance to be a great bet for 1,000 yards and 7-10 TDs. With this offensive line, expect another solid fantasy back from the Orange.

Early Enrollees: TE Louis Addazio, OL Lou Alexander (JC), DB Dyshawn Davis, LB Siriki Diabate (JC), DB Jaston George, WR Jeremiah Kobena

<p> Athlon takes a look at some of the key questions from around the Big East this spring.</p>
Post date: Sunday, March 20, 2011 - 17:01
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/charlie-sheens-ncaa-bracket

Every March, the nation is united around the drama and excitement of the NCAA Tournament. Luckily, Charlie Sheen has taken it to another level. Through the mastery of Sheenglish, Athlon has put together a tournament unlike any other. Do not expect all the top seeds to move on, like the Obama bracket, but there will be a lot of winning.

The sports world has never seen brackets like these...

The Winning Regional:

Charlie Sheen NCAA Bracket

The Tiger Blood Regional:Charlie Sheen NCAA Bracket

The Warlock Regional:
  Charlie Sheen NCAA Bracket

The Troll Regional:

Charlie Sheen NCAA Bracket

The Sheen Final Four:Charlie Sheen NCAA Bracket

After torpedoing Fingertip Poetry, "An F-18, Bro's" Cinderella run came to a brutal end when it ran up against Winning. Nothing else needs to be said. The improbable deep tourney run by "Scoreboard" was highlighted by upsets over "Murdering you violently," "Seven Gram Rocks," "Clowns," "Losers" and, of course, "John Stamos." It took them all the way to the promised land, but since Scoreboard's never lie, they were out-won by Winning.

<p> A look at March Madness through the evolved brain of Charlie Sheen.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 14:14
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /columns/bracket-breakdown/2011-ncaa-tournament-central

March Madness 2011 is upon us!

Not all of us Athlonians may love the term "Big Dance", but (unfortunately for the dissenter) the term is uber-fitting. The little guys get a chance at greatness. Cinderella goes to the ball. Anything can happen. That is why they play the games. On any given Sund...well, all of the silly cliches apply.

Like them or not.

The NCAA Tournament is a special event, and not only for the sports fan. A nation is captivated by that One Shining Moment. A nation is united in its love for tiny Northwestern State or Nashville's own Belmont. So, of course, 2011 is sure to provide its share of drama, and Athlon Sports will have you prepared for three weekends of pure jubilation — or heartbreak.

Play Athlon Sports Bracket Breakdown contest for a chance at $1,000,000 - or a trip to Jamaica.

Sign-up for Bracket Breakdown here

In-depth regional previews from Nathan Rush:

East Region Preview

West Region Preview
Southwest Region Preview
Southeast Region Preview

An interesting prediction from one of the hoops world's best Ken Davis:

Davis: Duke Will Cut Down the Nets

Consensus Final Four picks from all nine members of the Athlon Editoral staff:

Editorial Predictions: Final Four

Athlon continues the season series as the guys answer the biggest questions about the tourney:

5 Burning Questions: Tournament Edition

Athlon's Managing Editor Mitch Light sits down with Braden Gall to offer his bracket busters:

Inside the Paint Podcast: 2011 Tournament Edition

Who is the most popular No. 1 seed? Who is the least? Who is most likely to be upset? Athlon dives into the numbers of the NCAA Tournament:

Million Bracket March: A Numbers Game

For a lighter look at the NCAA Tournament, check out Charlie Sheen's bracket:

Charlie Sheen's NCAA Tournament Bracket

<p> Athlon editors pick the Final Four and preview each region with upsets, predictions and more.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/spring-primer-notre-dame

- by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2010 Record: 8-5
Spring Practice: March 23 – April 16

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 8

Spring Storylines facing the Irish:

1. Fortunately, there may only be one glaring question mark on this football team heading into the summer of 2011. Unfortunately, that big uncertainty comes at the game’s most important position. Dayne Crist has starting experience, loads of raw talent, a touted pedigree, difficulty with consistency, a history with injuries and an almost too perfect name for South Bend. Tommy Rees has an unblemished, albeit very limited, starting resume and limited physical tools. (The Brady Quinn-Joe Montana comparison could only be better if it was actually Joe Montana’s son instead of Rees.) That being said, Brian Kelly hasn’t exactly had trouble finding productive field generals. The best bet is that Crist will get the chance to expand on the flashes of brilliance he has demonstrated in the past. This will be an interesting spring for Golden Domer passers.

2. The defense, which for the first time in years was a major strength down the stretch in 2010, returns all but three starters. Finding replacements for Ian Williams up the middle at tackle and Darrin Walls on the outside looks to be the only issue on defense. Covermen Gary Gray and Robert Blanton were elite recruits who appear to be living up to the hype, so the secondary should be in good hands. The defensive ends on this team, including the nation's best incoming DE class, should also be in great shape. Sean Cwynar will return to the nose guard position with 33 tackles of experience from last season. Can he man the interior or will he need help? This is likely the biggest — and really only — question mark on this defense heading into the summer.

3. Establishing the running game. Robert Hughes and Armando Allen, as well as guard Chris Stewart, have moved on. Cierre Wood showed flashes of electric ability last year — he actually led the team in rushing. Can his smaller frame hold up between the tackles, or will Kelly need to find a bigger, complementary back? Does Kelly's offense even need a three-down workhorse back? With four excellent starters returning along the line — and elite pass catchers stretching the field on the outside — the running game should be plenty productive this season.

4. Notre Dame doesn’t exactly get overlooked too often. This team has the makings of a preseason top ten unit. Loads of returning NFL talent, a rock star head coach and an outstanding incoming freshman class mean the lights will be brighter and more plentiful than usual. It also means that every team on the brutal 2011 slate will have the Irish circled. They have to be ready to take everyone’s best shot. However, Kelly doesn’t seem like the sort of coach who allows complacency.

Redshirts to Watch: DT Louis Nix, OT Christian Lombard, TE Alex Welch, QB Andrew Hendrix

Fantasy Tip: Brian Kelly offenses have been fantasy havens for years. No matter who plays quarterback, Wood, Floyd and Riddick could all be elite options in any league format. Even tight end Tyler Eifert has a chance to be productive at an incredibly thin position.

Early Enrollees: QB Everett Golson, DL Aaron Lynch, DE/LB Ishaq Williams, DL Brad Carrico, K/P Kyle Brindza

<p> Athlon previews spring practice for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 11:03
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/editorial-picks-final-four-2011

Athlon's editorial staff offers its predictions and insight for the 2011 Final Four:

Mitch Light, Managing Editor (@AthlonMitch):

Ohio State, Texas, Kansas, Florida

Nothing too bold with Ohio State and Kansas, both No. 1 seeds. I think Texas is ready to flip the switch back on and play like it did when it jumped out to an 11-0 start in the Big 12. The Horns are outstanding on defense and have the parts to get it done on offense. I'm not in love with my Florida pick, but there weren't too many teams in the Southeast Region that got me excited. The Gators are a very difficult team to guard because they can get scoring from all five spots on the floor. Ohio State over Kansas in the championship game.

Rob Doster, Senior Editor (@AthlonDoster)

Ohio State, Duke, Kansas, Florida

Yes, it’s a boring, chalk-heavy quartet, which on the surface might seem an unlikely outcome in an era of parity that lacks dominant teams. But these clubs have separated themselves from the pack with talented, balanced and versatile rosters, as well as great coaching. The Gators are a bit of a wild card after laying an egg in the SEC Tournament finals, but they arrive at the Dance having won 10 of 12, a stretch that included seven wins over tournament participants. Finals Prediction: Ohio State over Kansas – The best player (Jared Sullinger) on the best team will lead the Buckeyes to their first national title since the days of Jerry Lucas.

Charlie Miller, Editorial Director (@AthlonCharlie)

Ohio State, Kansas, Duke, Florida

I tried to find a reason not to pick the No. 1 seeds, but Ohio State and Kansas are just too strong with inside and outside weapons that are not susceptible to slumps. I’m not sure where the real threat to Duke is. I’m not a believer in San Diego State, and I suspect UConn will run out of gas soon. Many believe that Florida is overseeded, but they are getting better every week, and Billy Donovan has been here before.

Braden Gall, Editor/Host (@AthlonBraden)

Ohio State, Kansas, Duke, Wisconsin

The Buckeyes were the best team in the nation with the best player in the nation. Does a true freshman point guard and big man wearing Scarlet and Gray in the Final Four sound familiar to anyone? Duke, with Kyrie Irving, would be the best team in the nation, but experience still counts for something. Mason Plumlee will have to stay out of foul trouble and impose his will Zoubek-style. Kansas, if it can get consistent play from the re-energized Tyshawn Taylor and inexperienced Josh Selby, will make a serious push for a second national title in four years. The Badgers are the surprise team. They have two Wooden Finalists and a phenomenal coach. Also, they can shoot from the outside, never turn the ball over and knock down the freebies from the stripe. Look for Bo Ryan to finally break through in a region that matches-up well with his hard-nosed defensive style.

Patrick Snow, Editor (@AthlonSnowman)

Ohio State, Duke, Pitt, Louisville

Experience means a ton in March, and Coach K will have Duke ready to perform so I’ll take the Blue Devils to make their second straight Final Four. March is also a time for great guard play, and Pitt has a quality veteran duo in Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker. Add in seniors Gary McGhee and Gilbert Brown on the font line, and you have an experienced team that is ready for a Final Four breakthrough. The Louisville Cardinals are my surprise pick for the Final Four. Rick Pitino had his crew playing well at the end of the season, and the former championship coach has a hungry group. The Buckeyes only lost twice this season, and both of those were on the road to a ranked opponent. OSU cruised through the Big Ten with deadly outside shooting and the inside presence of Freshman of the Year Jared Sullinger, and they’ll use the same formula to cut down the nets in Houston.

Nathan Rush, Editor

Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Texas

Those are my physical four that make it to the Final Four in my bracket, with the Buckeyes bullying their way to the national title behind Jared “Big Sully” Sullinger. Although my Final Four was a little chalky — with three No. 1 seeds advancing — those teams are top seeds for a reason. The Longhorns are my longshot, but I’ve liked this burnt orange crew all season and think they have what it takes to make it to Houston. In the end, however, Ohio State has too much — talent, depth, size, shooters and coach Thad Matta — and will climb the ladder to cut down the nets as national champs.

Steven Lassan, Editor (@AthlonSteven)

Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Duke

Ohio State and Kansas finished the season ranked as the top two teams and should be the teams to beat on the road to Houston. Figuring out which other two teams will join them in Houston could be one of the more difficult decisions for office pool entries. Pittsburgh is bound to breakthrough and reach the Final Four at some point, while Duke could get San Diego State in Anaheim for the right to advance to Houston. It seems unlikely all four No. 1 seeds will advance to the Final Four, but I don't see any better options. The Panthers are the No. 1 seed I feel the most uneasy about, but I can't find a team that will beat them in the Southeast Region. National Champion: Ohio State

Matt Taliaferro, Senior Designer/Editor (@MattTaliaferro)

Ohio State, San Diego State, Louisville, Pitt

The selection committee did Ohio State no favors by placing them in the toughest region, but this Buckeyes team is still good enough to play its way through it. San Diego State may still be an unknown to many, but the Aztecs won’t be for long — this team is for real. Louisville seems to be playing its best ball right now, and Rick Pitino can steer the Cards through their minefield of a region. The Cards will face Pitt in the Final Four. The Panthers will skate through the easiest region of the bracket.

Corby Yarbrough, Graphic Designer/Editor: (@AthlonCorby)

Ohio State, Duke, Notre Dame, Pitt

Only once have all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four (2008), and I came close to picking all four No. 1s. But it can't be that easy, can it? History says no. So I went with the senior-laden Fighting Irish to upset Kansas in the Elite Eight and make the Final Four. However, Pittsburgh will avenge its Jan. 24, 56-51 loss to Notre Dame en route to the title game. So Jamie Dixon, you need to get the Panthers past the Elite Eight for once as to not make me look a fool. On the other side of the bracket, the nation's No. 1 team, Ohio State, cruises to the semifinals, sneaks past Duke on the way to the championship game and then wins it all with a victory over Pittsburgh.

Mark Ross, Assistant Editor:

Ohio State, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas

There's a reason Ohio State is the overall No. 1 seed, and even though the Buckeyes are in the same bracket as my beloved Tar Heels (not to mention Syracuse, Kentucky, Xavier and Washington), they have too much balance for anyone to stop them in the East. After Ohio State, the next most complete team in my opinion is Kansas, who I believe will be playing with a chip on their shoulder following last year's stunning loss to Northern Iowa. As much as I favor complete teams when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, I also think there are certain players who are capable of carrying the load when the stakes are at the highest (think Danny Manning in 1988). I put Kansas State's Jacob Pullen in that category. Yes, BYU's got Jimmer Fredette, but I like the bearded one's supporting cast more than Jimmer's. Finally, I think Texas' front line and perimeter defense (fifth in the nation in 3-point field goal defense) will be too much for the defending champion Blue Devils to overcome, propelling the Longhorns out of the West bracket and the opportunity to win it all at "home."

Kristine Chaklos, Editorial Intern (@KristineChaklos)

Ohio State, San Diego State, Kansas, Pitt

Although it doesn’t hurt having a freakish talent in Jared Sullinger on your team, Ohio State will make the Final Four because they are the most balanced group in the nation. Jon Diebler is shooting over 50 percent from 3-point range (a crucial asset to have in the tournament), they dominate on the boards (+5.4 per game), hold opponents to less than 60 points per game and have a great bench. The Buckeyes also possess possibly the most important tournament quality for any team: A great coaching staff, led by Thad Matta. This Kansas is just as explosive and deep as its 2008 national championship squad. Although Duke is always dangerous with the invaluable Singler-Smith-Krzyzewski magical bromance, San Diego State has been special all year — losing only twice to BYU. The Aztecs have six wins against the RPI top 50 and have proven to be a great cohesive unit. I’m tempted to pick wildcard BYU in the Southeast because I’m a victim of Jimmer-fever, but I have to go with Pitt to represent the unbelievably competitive Big East conference in the Final Four.

<p> Athlon's editorial staff offers its predictions and insight on the 2011 NCAA Tournament.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Big 12, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/spring-primer-big-12-pt-2

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Baylor Bears

2010 Record: 7-6, 4-4
Spring practice: Feb 28 - Apr 2
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 5
Spring storylines facing the Bears:

1. This offense has a chance to be special if two things can happen in 2011. The Bears can find a replacement for Jay Finley and Art Briles can keep Robert Griffin healthy. Finley's skill will be missed, but there are some talented options returning in the form of Terrance Ganaway and Jarred Salubi. With a solid offensive line and loads of talent ready to catch passes, keeping Griffin out of the infirmary might be the biggest concern on offense. Briles better have a large stack of red No. 10's ready to go. Filling Danny Watkins' shoes on Griffin's blindside will be imperative to keeping RGIII upright.
2. The Bears made a bowl game for the first time in nearly two decades, but they proceeded to allow 291 yards rushing and four touchdowns on the ground to Illinois. Replacing more than one key all-conference player up the middle — tackle Phil Taylor, two linebackers and both safeties — doesn't do anything to help the 104th rated defense either. Veteran coordinator Phil Bennett's first order of buisness is to find a way to improve his defense — especially if Baylor wants to continue its slow rise up the Big 12 food chain. Watch out for AC100 sophomore safety Ahmad Dixon — it is his time to shine.
Redshirts to watch: OL Troy Baker, RB Jacob Bennett, DB Tuswani Copeland, DE Kedrick Dial, DT Sean Watson
Fantasy tip: With a star at quarterback, deciphering the Bears' receiving corps could provide huge dividends. Kendall Wright, Josh Gordon, Lanear Sampson and Terrance Williams each caught at least 40 passes last season.
Early Enrollees: DB Jay Johnson, DL Trevor Clemons-Valdez, DL Nick Johnson (JC), DB Josh Wilson (JC)
Iowa State Cyclones
2010 Record: 5-7, 3-5
Spring practice: Mar 22 - Apr 16
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 7
Spring storylines facing the Cyclones:

1. Paul Rhoads was one overtime point against Nebraska away from two straight bowl games at Iowa State. Once, he did it with loads of senior leadership on defense, and then he almost did it again with senior explosiveness on offense. Filling massive voids at quarterback, running back, tight end, receiver and a couple of offensive line spots will be tough to do. The signal caller will be the key. Jerome Tiller and incoming junior college trasnfer Steele Jantz look to be the favorites early on. Sophomore tailback Shontrelle Robinson will look to build on his 6.2 yards-per-carry average from a year ago.

2. Tight ends do not technically count towards offensive line "returning starters" but losing Collin Franklin, as well as blockers Alex Alvarez and Ben Lamaak, means the front line needs to be addressed. It won't matter how talented the Robinsons and Tillers of the world are if there are no running lanes or time to throw. Rhoads does have three solid players returning on the line, so finding a threat at the tight end position would help the development of all of the offensive skill players.
3. The front line of the Cyclone defense returns almost completely intact. As do the linebackers. And the collection of corners is deep and experienced. But Rhoads lost not two, but three contributing safeties. Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield — who combined for 20 tackles a season ago — will need to step into much bigger roles this season. Finding leadership at the back end of what could be a very strong unit will be the key on that side of the ball.
Redshirts to watch: DB Adrian Bennett, OL Shaban Dika, DL Brandon Jensen
Fantasy tip: With the loss of the only three fantasy options on this team, someone will have to step up. Is Johnson ready to carry the load? Can Tiller improve his efficiency?
Early Enrollees: LB Jevohn Miller, QB Steele Jantz (JC), WR Aaron Horne (JC)
Texas Longhorns
2010 Record: 5-7, 2-6
Spring practice: Feb 24 - Apr 3
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 6
Spring storylines facing the Longhorns:
1. Texas has the best built-in advantages of any school in America, a national championship head coach in Senator Mack Brown and the prettiest roster in the conference. So it really all comes down to the quarterback, right? Texas went from the winnginest signal caller in history to under .500. Garrett Gilbert played in every game last season and looks to have plenty of ability but Connor Wood is making a huge push. No announcement on the starting job will come until deep into the heat of a Lone Star August, so is Brown (or one of his new aids) leaking information to motivate Gilbert? Or does he think Wood has passed the local product on the depth chart? This could be one of the most intriguing position battles to watch during the spring — and summer.

2. A really easy way to help whoever plays quarterback will be finding a consistent running game. Jamaal Charles, who isn't the typical between-the-tackles back, has been the only productive running back to wear Burnt Orange since Cedric Benson. There are loads of names on the roster, but Brown has to find a consistent performer. However, names like Shead, Johnson, Whittaker and Monroe could all be simply keeping the seat warm until freshman star Malcolm Brown shows up this summer. Of course, running the football is much easier when the offensive line is actually blocking defenders. Finding suitable replacement for Michael Huey, Kyle Hix and Britt Mitchell (and their combined 30-plus starts from a year ago) will be extremely important. Luckily for Horns fans, they got some good players down on the 40 Acres.
3. The defensive front for Texas, despite losing Sam Acho, should be loaded with rising stars. But the secondary has to replace three cornerbacks — two of whom earned all-conference recognition. Names like Kenny Vaccaro, Carrington Byndom and early enrollee Quandre Diggs have tons of ability but big shoes to fill. Vaccaro, with help from veteran safety Blake Gideon, needs to step into a leadership role this spring.
Redshirts to watch: DT Taylor Bible, LB Tevin Jackson, DT Greg Daniels, OL Dominic Espinosa, WR John Harris, DB Bryant Jackson, WR Chris Jones, RB Traylon Shead and QB Connor Wood.
Fantasy tip: Keep an eye on sophomore-to-be wideout Mike Davis. He had an excellent first year in Austin and could blossom into the star Texas needs on the outside.
Early Enrollees: QB David Ash, DB Qaundre Diggs, TE M.J. McFarland, LB Chris Moss
Texas A&M Aggies
2010 Record: 9-4, 6-2
Spring practice: Mar 22 - Apr 16
Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 9
Spring storylines facing the Aggies:
1. Can the Aggies handle the pressure? This team will return more starters than anyone in the Big 12 and will have a litany of NFL talent dotting the offensive depth chart. Yet, there are still plenty of crimson and burnt orange names above TAMU in the Big 12 hierarchy, so there would be no reason to be complacent. However, the inability to handle preseason expectations has ended many a would-be good season before it ever got started. Staying focused on the hard work at hand is first and foremost for Mike Sherman's staff.
2. Replacing all-everything sack master Von Miller will be the biggest issue this defense faces. Combined with the loss of all-Big 12 honorable mention linebacker Michael Hodges, Sherman has to address the middle level of his defense this spring. Garrick Williams will be the leader of this group as names like Kyle Mangan, Charlie Thomas and Sean Porter will work to replace the huge void left by Miller. Finding that edge rusher to match Miller's production will be the toughest task. Departed defensive end Lucas Patterson, along with Miller and Hodges, accounted for 18 of the team's 29 total sacks in 2011. Hybrid Damontre Moore will do his best to pick up the slack as he is poised for a much bigger role this fall.
3. Along the same lines as handling expectations, there has been a strange case of senioritis that has affected Aggie quarterbacks. Reggie McNeal, Stephen McGee and Jerrod Johnson all underachieved in their final campaigns. Can Ryan Tannehill maintain his high level of play from a year ago?
Redshirts to watch: OL Shep Klinke, DT Ivan Robinson, DL Gavin Stansbury
Fantasy tip: With the amount of talent returning to the Aggie offense, make sure you get in on some of the high-scoring action from College Station. The quarterback, two running backs and three receivers could all justify a roster spot. (Just make sure to pick the right one!)
Early Enrollees: LB Donnie Baggs, OL Joseph Cheek, DB Johntel Franklin (JC), LB Steven Jenkins (JC), QB Johnny Manziel
Texas Tech Red Raiders
2010 Record: 8-5, 3-5
Spring practice: Fri 18 - Mar 26
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 5
Spring storylines facing the Red Raiders:
1. A team that has had 11 straight 3,000-yard passers wouldn't normally have any issues finding a quaterback. But the biggest question for this spring, Tommy Tuberville's second as head coach, is settling on a signal caller early. Last year's Texas Tech two-step hurt this team, so Tuberville has made it clear that Seth Doege will be the starter. Doege has taken most of the spring reps with the first unit and appears to have the job in hand. This is a huge step in the right direction for the Red Raiders. Talented backups Jacob Karam and Scotty Young stand waiting should Doege stumble at any point before Week One.

2. Dramatic shift in offensive scheme or not, running the football has always been a big part of Tuberville's coaching strategy. Tech was ninth in the Big 12 and 75th nationally — which was actually a dramatic improvement over the 115's and 94's of the Leach era, but probably not where Tuberville wants it. Additionally, gone is leading rusher Baron Batch. Eric Stephens and Aaron Crawford lead a deep running back corps that will play behind an offensive line that returns largely intact. Keep an eye on true freshman Ronnie Daniels, whose big frame offers a different style to the backfield — at both running back and wildcat QB. A great ground attack would make breaking in a new man under center much easier.
3. With new defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow comes a third new scheme in as many years. The shift from a 4-3 under Ruffin McNeill to 3-4 under James Willis didn't go as planned — try 114th in the nation in total defense. Glasgow has switched back to a four-man front with his 4-2-5 arrangement, and the players have responded thus far in spring. The issues at quarterback, or a productive running game for that matter, won't mean much if the Raiders cannot improve on the defensive side of the ball. Much is being asked of the new coordinator.
Redshirts to watch: QB Jacob Karam, S Desmond Martin, QB Scotty Young, DE Jackson Richards
Fantasy tip: Will this be the year that Tech returns to Tuberville's roots and looks to run first? Eric Stephens leads a deep group of tailbacks who could be sneaky late-round picks.
Early Enrollees: QB Michael Brewer, ATH (RB) Ronnie Daniels, LB Blake Dees, WR Derek Edwards, WR Marcus Kennard (JC), DB Jeremy Reynolds
<p> Athlon takes a look at some of the key questions from around the Big 12 this spring.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 15:12
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-recruiting-rankings

by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

There are many different facets of the recruiting world to consider when dealing with any sort of ranking.

First, consider the source. Different scouts look for different attributes and value things differently. For example, favors quantity slightly more while web-counterpart tends to lean ever-so slightly to the quality side of things. Who runs these companies? Whose best interest do they have at heart? Does the four-letter network evaluate its own commodities (SEC, Texas, etc) differently? What about Tom Lemming and NBC - and their giant Notre Dame contract? As a public disclaimer: SEC websites generally have the biggest subscriber bases and therefore make web recruiting companies the most money.

This is actually how Athlon Sports spawned the Athlon Consensus 100 to begin with. Why shop at one store, when you can shop at seven - all at once? Eliminating travel time, parking and annoying sales people. The AC100 is designed to offer the truest and most accurate representation of the nation's top 100 high school football prospects. It pulls regional, conference and monetary biases out of the rankings and gives recruitniks the best possible set of rankings anywhere on the web.

Whether it is team, conference, national or positional rankings, Athlon Sports has the recruiting junkie covered:

Conference Rankings:

ACC Team Rankings
Big East Team Rankings
Big 12 Team Rankings
Big Ten Team Rankings
Pac-12 Team Rankings
SEC Team Rankings

Class of 2011: Notre Dame

Everybody's No. 1: Jadeveon Clowney

Athlon countsdown the Top 50 recruiting classes of 2011:

Wed., Feb. 23rd: Teams 41-50
Thur., Feb. 24th: Teams 31-40
Thur., Feb. 24th: Teams 21-30
Fri., Feb. 26th: Teams 11-20

Mon., Feb. 28th: No. 10 Oregon Ducks
Tues., Mar. 1st: No. 9 Clemson Tigers
Wed., Mar. 2nd: No. 8 LSU Tigers
Thur., Mar. 3rd: No. 7 Georgia Bulldogs
Fri., Mar. 4th: No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes

Mon., Mar. 7th: No. 5 Auburn Tigers
Tues., Mar. 8th: No. 4 USC Trojans
Wed., Mar. 9th: No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide
Thur., Mar. 10th: No. 2 Texas Longhorns
Fri., Mar. 11th: 2011 National Recruiting Champion: Florida State Seminoles

2011 Positional Rankings (dates coming soon):

Editor's Note: I hold off on publishing positional rankings until all schools have officially posted heights, weights and positions of incoming freshmen.

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tigth Ends
Offensive Line
Defensive End
Defensive Tackle
Defensive Back

Stay tuned to Athlon Sports for an in-depth nationwide preview of spring practice starting Mon., March 14th.

<p> Athlon collects its team, conference, national and positional recruiting rankings for the recently signed class of 2011.</p>
Post date: Sunday, March 13, 2011 - 10:10
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /columns/short-hops/nl-west-difference-makers

Athlon continues its in-depth preview of the 2011 MLB season. This week, we single out some important names that should be key difference makers for every team. Today, we look at the NL West.

2011 Difference Makers:
AL East
| AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: J.J. Putz, RP
Putz had two remarkable years as Seattle’s closer in 2006-07, with 36 and 40 saves, and will provide a significant upgrade if he just comes close to repeating those numbers. The previous regime did not put a premium on the bullpen, but new GM Kevin Towers believes in building a staff from the back forward, as the Putz signing shows. Putz lives in suburban Phoenix, a big selling point, and was effective as a setup man with the White Sox last season, going 7–5 with three saves and a 2.83 ERA.

Colorado Rockies: Chris Iannetta, C
Iannetta was the starting catcher on Opening Day each of the past two seasons but soon lost the job. The Rockies intend to give Iannetta, who hit .197 with nine homers and 27 RBIs in 61 games, more of an opportunity to work through his offensive struggles. He is expected to bat eighth, where he can supply some power and lengthen the lineup but won’t be shouldering a heavy load. Nonetheless, the Rockies need more offense from him. He should benefit from the presence of new hitting coach Carney Lansford, who worked well with Iannetta as the hitting coach at Triple-A in 2007.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp, OF
There is no question that Kemp has star-level talent. But he seemed to regress in 2010, creating the perception that he was more concerned with fame (he was romantically linked with pop singer Rihanna) and its trappings than with maximizing his talent on the field. Manager Joe Torre and his coaching staff (the now-departed Bob Schaefer and Larry Bowa, in particular) seemed unable to reach Kemp. Getting the most out of Kemp will be one of new manager Don Mattingly’s big challenges in 2011.

San Diego Padres: Jason Bartlett, SS
Having spent several years in Boston’s front office, Padres GM Jed Hoyer saw plenty of Bartlett with the Rays. “He was hard to play against,” Hoyer says. “He’s a pest. He gets on base. He has good at-bats. He’s a good all-around baseball player. There was always a focus on that breakout year he had, but even before that season you didn’t want to see him in the batter’s box. He’s a player you didn’t want to play against.” Bartlett is eligible for salary arbitration after making $4 million last season. He can become a free agent after the 2011 World Series, but Hoyer hopes the Padres can keep Bartlett beyond one year.

San Francisco Giants: Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Sandoval has shown he is among the most talented hitters in the league, but the Giants cannot afford to absorb another disappointing season of impatient swings and double-play grounders. It took all of the team’s resources, and then some, to bring back most of their World Series roster, making it impossible to sign a big name free agent like Carl Crawford. So it’s up to Sandoval to slim down while beefing up the batting order.

2011 Difference Makers:
AL East
| AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West

<p> Athlon looks at some names that will be the biggest difference makers in 2011.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 11, 2011 - 10:13
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/recruiting-ranks-no-1-florida-state

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Athlon Sports continues its Class of 2011 national team recruiting rankings today with the No. 1 class in the nation.

Return to the Recruiting Rankings Index

1. Florida State Seminoles (29 signees – 7 AC100)
This was the closest national championship race in the modern era of recruiting rankings. Alabama and Texas, and to a lesser extent USC, each had a legitimate claim to the mythical 2011 recruiting title. Trying to decipher between the three is virtually impossible. Texas had the most "nationally rated" recruits while Alabama had the most Athlon Consensus 100 prospects. Florida State had the biggest class by a wide margin - with nearly identical nationally rated and AC100 signees as the others.

The tiebreaker was the line of scrimmage.

Quarterback is the most important position on the field, however, the front line - on both offense and defense - is where championships are won and lost. Florida State signed 15 potential LOS prospects, including seven nationally rated players. Texas signed eight and Bama inked 10 - both of which were not nearly as highly touted as FSU's big uglies.

A serious edge, along with the 2011 recruiting championship, goes to the Noles.

Ever since Jimbo Fisher officially took over the reins of the Seminole program, 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. Bobby Hart and Jordan Prestwood are the highest ranked prospects and lead what is one of the largest offensive line groups in the nation. Josue Matias and Jake Fahrenkrug also add high end talent the front line (and a new pronunciation guide in the FSU media book).

Arguably the top defensive tackle class in the nation is also headed to Tallahassee. Five defensive tackles, including the nation's No. 2 nose guard Tim Jernigan, provided plenty of help to the middle of the defense. Nationally rated prep stars Derrick Mitchell and Nile Lawrence-Stample creates an elite three-man group right at the heart of the FSU defense. Mitchell, at 6'5" and 285 pounds, and Terry Bell, at 6'5" and 270 pounds, add some serious beef to the line.

Defensive end Giorgio Newberry, who just missed AC100 honors, and junior college signee Cornellius "Tank" Carradine should help keep Florida State atop the pass rushing column in the ACC - where it led the league in sacks a year ago.

Fisher might also be able to claim the best safety class in the nation. Karlos Williams is the country's No. 2 player at the position, while nationally rated Tyler Hunter and Keelin Smith offers loads of athleticism to the back end of the defense. The undersized but supremely talented Nick Waisome has a chance to be the next great lockdown coverman for Florida State. Lamarcus Brutus could play a number of spots in the secondary.

The offensive skill class is dotted with elite level players at nearly every spot. James Wilder Jr., son of NFLer James Sr., is the nation's No. 2 athlete and will likely end up toting the rock for Fisher's offense. The bigger, more physical Wilder will be complimented by nationally ranked DeVonta Freeman. The much smaller Freeman, who also just missed making the AC100, brings speed and versatility to the backfield.

Tight end Nick O'Leary has a chance to be a special player. America's No. 1 tight end prospect is the grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus. O'Leary's raw athleticism will be a nightmare mismatch for defenses in all phases of the game.

AC100 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin will be a difficult cover as well. The massive prospect - 6'6" 210 - has long arms, huge hands and will be a monster in jump ball, redzone and over-the-middle situations. Rashad Greene is much smaller but brings excellent speed and explosiveness to the offense.

Fisher added quality and quantity to nearly every position on his team. In a loaded year in the Sunshine State, he 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.

Eight of the 29 signees have enrolled early and will be involved in spring practice, including Waisome, Prestwood and Freeman.

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.)

<p> Athlon counts down the top ten recruiting classes in 2011.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 10, 2011 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/recruiting-ranks-no-2-texas

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Athlon Sports continues its Class of 2011 national team recruiting rankings today with the No. 2 class in the nation.

Return to the Recruiting Rankings Index

2. Texas Longhorns (22 signees – 7 AC100)
As usual, the Longhorns got started early and held on for an elite haul. With a nation-leading 17 nationally rated recruits, Texas finished with an embarrassment of riches. The Lone State State is simply the best place to pull talent. Florida might have players that are slightly more talented overall, but there is no state more dedicated to high school football than Texas. The facilities, monetary support and coaching is the best in the country bar none.

Which is why it is so interesting that Mack Brown has had one good running back since Cedric Benson. But the long search for a four-down workhorse should be over as running back Malcolm Brown is the gem of this class. Brown is a slightly smaller version of Adrian Peterson. He runs a bit upright, with high knees and a physicality that will scare away plenty of would-be tacklers. Brown has extraordinary physical gifts that make him the No. 1 running back in the nation.

Brown heads an explosive offensive skill group. Jaxon Shipley, the younger brother of Jordan Shipley, is the smallest of the group but is a great competitor with an excellent pedigree. This skill group is big in stature as tight end M.F. McFarland (6'5", 240), athlete Mykkele Thompson (6'3", 190), jumbo receiver Miles Onyegbule (6'4", 210) and big back Joe Bergeron (6'1", 215) all bring big bodies to the offense.

Blocking for Brown and Co. will be another stellar offensive line haul. The Longhorns do a masterful job along the O-line every year and this group is no exception. This is a massive five-man group averages 6'5" and 276 pounds and claims three nationally rated recruits - including one the nation's best in AC100 blocker Sedrick Flowers. Garrett Greenlea (No. 107 nationally) just missed making the AC100.

The defense is not lacking for playmakers either. Quandre Diggs and Josh Turner have special talents and versatility that earned them high AC100 rankings. Diggs, the younger brother of former Texas standout defensive back Quentin Jammer, has the ability to be the next great lockdown corner - or next great return man. Turner, who is also listed as an athlete and could play on both sides of the ball as well, can be just as electrifying as Diggs. Both will likely play defensive back for Texas, but don't be surprised if they get some looks in special offensive situations and special teams.

Nose guard Desmond Jackson is a bit undersized but makes up for it with excellent agility and explosiveness. He leads a very small three-man defensive line class. However, all three - Jackson, Cedric Reed and Quincy Russell - were highly-touted nationally rated recruits. With the 6'3" 289 pound Russell teamed with Jackson, the Burnt Orange should be stout up the middle.

As usual, Mack Brown was able to handpick the local Texas stars to fill his class. Of the 22 signees, only Turner, from Okahoma City, played his prep ball outside of the Lone Star State.

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)

<p> Athlon counts down the top ten recruiting classes in 2011.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 10, 2011 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/2011-team-previews

Athlon Sports 24th annual pre-season MLB preview magazine is on newsstands – or order your favorite team’s cover here – so spring must be fast approaching.

Athlon has released its in-depth team previews from our national stable of writers.

National League

Fri., Feb.11th: Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves
Sat., Feb. 12th: Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds
Sun., Feb. 13th: Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins
Mon., Feb. 14th: Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers
Tues., Feb. 15th: Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets
Wed., Feb. 16th: Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies
Thurs., Feb. 17th: San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants
Fri., Feb. 18th: St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals

American League

Mon., Feb. 21st: Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox
Tues., Feb. 22nd: Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians
Wed., Feb. 23rd: Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals
Thurs., Feb. 24th: Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins
Fri., Feb. 25th: New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics
Sat., Feb. 26th: Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays
Sun., Feb. 27th: Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays

Athlon's statistical look of the 2011 season by division:

NL East: Statistician
| NL Central: Statistician | NL West : Statistician
AL East: Statistician | AL Central: Statistician | AL West: Statistician

Athlon singles out the key "Difference Makers" for each team in the majors:

AL East: Difference Makers
| AL Central: Difference Makers | AL West: Difference Makers
NL East: Difference Makers | NL Central: Difference Makers | NL West: Difference Makers

For you fantasy junkies out there, here is a position-by-position breakdown for 2011:

C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP | MR

Along with a consensus Big Board

<p> Athlon previews every clubhouse as spring training approaches.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 10, 2011 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /columns/short-hops/nl-central-difference-makers

Athlon continues its in-depth preview of the 2011 MLB season. This week, we single out some important names that should be key difference makers for every team. Today, we look at the NL Central.

2011 Difference Makers:
AL East
| AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West

Chicago Cubs: Carlos Peña, 1B
Which Peña will show up for the Cubs? Will it be the guy who hit .282 with 46 home runs and 121 RBIs in 2007? Or the guy who hit .196 with 28 homers and 84 RBIs last year? That’s the $10 million question. The Cubs are hoping that the free agent first baseman can rebound and add a little muscle in the heart of a lineup with Aramis Ramirez. The team inked Peña to a one-year, $10 million deal to replace Derrek Lee, and he will be counted on to put up big numbers.

Cincinnati Reds: Drew Stubbs, OF
In the post-Adam Dunn/Ken Griffey Jr. era, Cincinnati has focused on having a more balanced lineup. That’s where Stubbs comes in. Stubbs finished 2010 with a team-high 30 stolen bases, but his nonexistent bunting skills, inability to consistently get on base (.329 OBP) and penchant for striking out (team-leading 168 strikeouts) resulted in his ouster from the leadoff role. Regardless of where Stubbs bats in the order, the Reds need their fastest player to take more advantage of his speed, develop his small-ball skills and score 100-plus runs in his second full season in the majors.

Houston Astros: Brett Wallace, 1B
Wallace hit 18 homers in 385 at-bats at Triple-A Las Vegas last season before being traded to the Astros in July and getting his feet wet in the major leagues. Wallace wound up hitting two homers in 144 at-bats, but if he finally begins to blossom at the plate, he could give the Astros another tough out in the middle of the batting order. If Wallace struggles, the team is prepared to move Carlos Lee to first base, which would create a hole in left field. The Astros need Wallace to produce.

Milwaukee Brewers: Zack Greinke, SP
Greinke began making a major difference for the Brewers more than four months before Opening Day. In the aftermath of the trade that brought the former Cy Young Award winner from Kansas City, the Brewers sold more than 1,500 new season tickets, tripling the number of new accounts they had secured before the trade. Greinke’s arrival gave Brewer fans hope, but most important, his insertion at the top of the rotation takes some heat off Yovani Gallardo and gives Milwaukee a starting rotation worthy of the team’s prodigious offense.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Kevin Correia, SP
Considering the lack of options, Correia could be the de facto ace of the Pirates’ staff despite losing his spot in San Diego’s rotation last September. Correia had a rough 2010 as his brother died in a hiking accident in May and he went 10–10 with a 5.40 ERA in 28 games (26 starts). However, good strikeout and ground-ball rates have convinced the Pirates that he is primed for a bounce-back season, and they signed him to a two-year, $8 million contract as a free agent.

St. Louis Cardinals: Colby Rasmus, OF
The Cardinals have a lineup spiced with seasoned All-Stars, but it could be a kid who gives them the necessary additional sock. Rasmus had a turbulent 2010 that featured a spat with manager Tony La Russa and a trade request. Things calmed for Rasmus late in the year, after news of his request became public and Albert Pujols intervened. When comfortable, Rasmus is a burgeoning All-Star who could bring speed and power as the league’s most complete center fielder. His absence proves it. When the Cardinals wheezed for runs in August, Rasmus was injured or scuffling to a .216 average.

2011 Difference Makers:
AL East
| AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West

<p> Athlon looks at some names that will be the biggest difference makers in 2011.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 10, 2011 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /columns/short-hops/nl-east-difference-makers

Athlon continues its in-depth preview of the 2011 MLB season. This week, we single out some important names that should be key difference makers for every team. Today, we look at the NL East.

2011 Difference Makers:
AL East
| AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West

Atlanta Braves: Dan Uggla, 2B
The Braves have gone four seasons without a 30-home run hitter. Not since Andruw Jones hit 41 and Adam LaRoche hit 32 in 2006 have they had a noted big bopper. They’re counting on that to change this year with the acquisition of Uggla, who hit more than 30 home runs each of the past four seasons for the Marlins. In recent years, the Braves’ main power sources have been Chipper Jones, who turns 39 in April, and Brian McCann, who’s dealing with the wear-and-tear of catching every day. They’re counting on Uggla to drive in their high on-base percentage guys like Martin Prado and Jones.

Florida Marlins: Chris Coghlan, OF
Already in his brief professional career, Coghlan has shown the ability to adapt. He was drafted as a third baseman, moved to second in the minors and broke in as a left fielder in 2009, winning NL Rookie of the Year honors along the way. Now, after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee last August, Coghlan will be asked to learn a new position: center field. His ability to make himself into at least an average defender at that position will go a long way toward determining whether the outfield defense can become an overall asset to a pitching-driven organization.

New York Mets: Carlos Beltran, OF
Most Mets fans have seen enough of Beltran, who has never lived down his called strike three to end the 2006 NLCS. But if Beltran’s right knee is sound, he could be an asset for the Mets, probably in right field instead of his customary center. He turns 34 years old in April, still young enough to be productive, and as a free agent after the season, he will have added incentive to perform. A strong Beltran could help the Mets win now or bring back talent at the trading deadline. But it’s all predicated on his health, which is always a major question.

Philadelphia Phillies: Jimmy Rollins, SS
Despite finishing second in the NL with 772 runs, the Phils were held to two or fewer runs 51 times in 2010. The team hopes a healthy Rollins can bring consistency to the offense. Leg injuries cost Rollins 74 games in 2010, and he hit a career-low .243. Club officials have urged the 32-year-old leadoff man to come into camp in better physical condition, and Rollins has indicated he will. Even after 10 seasons, Rollins is a top defensive shortstop, but he has plenty to prove at the plate as he enters his free agent year. “We need him to have a Jimmy Rollins year,” Charlie Manuel says. “He’s not a .240 hitter.”

Washington Nationals: Jordan Zimmermann, SP
The Nationals regard righthander Zimmermann as their No. 2 starter of the future, and he showed glimpses of that potential in 2009, when he struck out a team-high 92 batters in 16 starts and flashed two impressive breaking balls to go with a mid-90s fastball. But Zimmermann tore his ulnar collateral ligament in August 2009, and needed Tommy John surgery that kept him out of the majors until September. He showed more flashes of his potential last September, but with a full season (and full health), the 24-year-old needs to prove he can excel on a consistent basis.

2011 Difference Makers:
AL East
| AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West

<p> Athlon looks at some names that will be the biggest difference makers in 2011.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 15:45
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/recruiting-ranks-no-3-alabama

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Athlon Sports continues its Class of 2011 national team recruiting rankings today with the No. 3 class in the nation.

Return to the Recruiting Rankings Index

3. Alabama Crimson Tide (22 signees – 8 Athlon Consensus 100)
First and foremost, this was the single closest recruiting national championship race since the advent of the online recruiting service. A serious case could be made for three (maybe even four) different schools having the top class in the nation. And not to pour salt in the fantasy recruiting wounds of Tide fans, but had the nation's No. 1 player picked Alabama over South Carolina, Nick Saban's haul would have been the top class in the nation. That being said, third (out of 120) is nothing to be upset about — this collection of talent is phenomenal.

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 someone. The staff still pulled five (two AC100’s) talented in-staters, but of his 14 nationally rated recruits only three come from Alabama. Saban went into Maryland for the nation's No. 1 offensive lineman (Cyrus Kouandjio). He went into Florida for the nation's No. 1 defensive back. 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 could turn out to be the best class in the nation. No team landed more AC100 talents than Bama.

The strength of this class is the defensive front seven. Four AC100 talents are slated to play D-line or linebacker. The defensive end class for Alabama is right there with Notre Dame and Ohio State as one of the nation's best pass rushing classes. AC100 ends Jeoffrey Pagan and Xzavier Dickson, along with nationally rated counterparts LeMichael Fanning and D.J. Pettway, restock the defensive line that has lost tons of talent to the NFL over the last few seasons. Pagan was a huge National Signing Day victory. Dickson brings excellent athleticism and should be a terror rushing the passer off the edge. Junior college transfer Quinton Dial might be the most game ready of all the D-lineman. Dial and Fanning could both end up playing inside at the tackle position. Either way, the D-line is in great shape for years to come.

Trey DePriest and Brent Calloway lead a small but very talented trio of linebackers. The AC100 tacklers bring speed, range and versatility to a position that has been very strong under Saban.

Although the strength of the defensive class was up front, that does not mean that the secondary was ignored. Obviously holding a special place in Saban's heart, the secondary class features a pair of sterling talents. The nation's top safety, Hasean Clinton-Dix will have a chance to contribute early, and covermen Jabriel Washington and Chris Jones restock the outside.

Despite landing the nation's top blocker in Kouandjio, this O-line haul was not vintage Saban. Aaron Douglas, another JUCO transfer, will add immediate help, but this will be more of an underrated bunch than most Tide offensive line classes.

The skill players, however, are elite. Demetrius "Dee" Hart is the No. 8 running back prospect in the nation and brings the entire package to the backfield. He can catch, hit the edge with excellent speed and plays with a physicality that does not normally exist with players of his size (5'8", 190). Quarterback Phillip Ely is not a highly touted passer (and he is undersized), but he comes from a winning program and has proven that he knows how to take care of the football. Sound familiar?

All four pass-catchers in this class are of the nationally ranked variety. The tall and athletic Marvin Shinn leads this group with the equally big and physical Danny Woodson and small, speedy Bradley Sylve filling in the other gaps. Malcom Faciane is one of the nation's top tight end prospects and has a chance to be an all-around option at the position. His size (6'5", 260) and strength will make him a tremendous addition to the running game as a blocker, but he has deceptive athleticism that will allow him to contribute in the passing game as well.

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. - pictured)
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, DL (Hamilton, Ga.)
No. 175 Danny Woodson, WR (Mobile, Ala.)
No. 189 D.J. Pettway, DE (Pensacola, Fla.)
No. 205 Jabriel Washington, DB (Jackson, Tenn.)

<p> Athlon counts down the top ten recruiting classes in 2011.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/recruiting-ranks-no-4-usc

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Athlon Sports continues its Class of 2011 national team recruiting rankings today with the No. 4 class in the nation.

Return to the Recruiting Rankings Index

4. 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.

The quality and quantity of this class is astounding as 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 Athlon Consensus 100 near-misses Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. Another AC100 wideout, Victor Blackwell (a teammate of Wittek's at famed Mater Dei H.S.), and massive receiver Junior Pomee (6'3", 240) should give whomever is throwing the football for USC plenty of talented targets. Considering the skill class Kiffin landed a year ago (Robert Woods, Dillon Baxter, Kyle Prater, etc), USC should be in no need of playmakers on offense.

Kings Academy's Amir Carlisle is technically the only running back in this class. His big-play ability - he averaged 10.9 yards per carry on 187 attempts for 2,037 yards as a senior - should be a welcome addition to the Trojan backfield.

Six offensive lineman add tremendous depth to the offense. Cyrus Hobbi and the massive Aundrey Walker (6'5", 360) spearhead this group which could be as talented as the Tyron Smith-Matt Kalil group from 2008.

Four highly-touted linebackers and six elite defensive lineman replenish the recently thinned-out defensive front. The front-seven, and subsequent porous rushing defense, might be the biggest reason for the recent downturn in Trojan wins over the last two seasons. This 10-man group, led by AC100 nose guard Antwaun Woods and three nationally rated linebackers, should help restock the cupboard up front on defense.

A trio of athletes will help bolster one backfield – whether that is in the secondary or offensive skill corps. Look for some of these names to get a long look in the defensive backfield as only one true freshman defensive back signed in this class.

After a long run of national success under Pete Carroll, Kiffin appears to have focused his attention inward. Yes, he still plucked star athletes from Kentucky, Florida and Ohio but 22 of his 30 signees hail from inside the Trojan's home state of California.

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. - pictured)
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.)

<p> Athlon counts down the top ten recruiting classes in 2011.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - 12:11
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /columns/short-hops/al-central-difference-makers

Athlon continues its in-depth preview of the 2011 MLB season. This week, we single out some important names that should be key difference makers for every team. Today, we look at the AL Central.

2011 Difference Makers:
AL East
| AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West

Chicago White Sox: Mark Buehrle, SP
This will be Buehrle’s 12th season with the White Sox, and possibly the last. It’s the final season on his four-year, $56-million contract. He’s talked about retiring when the deal ends, but nobody knows if he means it. His performance fell off in 2010, which was the third year in a row his ERA climbed. Along with a Jake Peavy comeback, Buehrle is set to play a huge role. He could lift the Sox beyond 90 wins by turning in a wall-to-wall solid season in his walk year, as Paul Konerko did a year ago.

Cleveland Indians: Carlos Santana, C
Manager Manny Acta says that Santana, a switch-hitting catcher, was born to hit in the middle of the lineup. If Santana is recovered from surgery on his left knee, he’s going to get a chance to do that from Opening Day this year in hopes of reviving a bad offense. Santana played only 46 games last year because the Indians didn’t want to start his arbitration clock under the guise of improving his defense. Between Class AAA and Cleveland, 46.5 percent (47-for-101) of Santana’s hits went for extra bases, and he walked more than he struck out, 82 to 68.

Detroit Tigers: Rick Porcello, SP
The man at the center of the Tigers’ fortunes in 2011 is likely to be righthander Porcello, who, at his best, could help give the Tigers one of the top front-end rotations in the AL — or who, at his worst, could create problems for a rotation that is potent, but not particularly deep. Porcello had a dazzling rookie season in 2009 (14–9, 3.96), but stumbled a bit in 2010 (10–12, 4.92), leaving the impression of a young pitcher whose secondary pitches lacked refinement. An extreme ground-ball pitcher, Porcello isn’t helped by the lack of range in the Tigers’ infield, but a trustworthy third pitch could help alleviate that concern.

Kansas City Royals: Alcides Escobar, SS
It was just a year ago that Escobar rated as the game’s best shortstop prospect because of his range and speed. His offensive potential stemmed, primarily, from his legs, but he seemed well cast as a projectable leadoff hitter. He now arrives in Kansas City looking to shake off a disappointing rookie season in Milwaukee that saw him compile a .288 on-base percentage while showing defensive inconsistency in 145 games. The Royals would love him to hit, sure, but they’ll view him as a success if he stabilizes their infield by reestablishing his Gold Glove potential.

Minnesota Twins: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B/SS
Nishioka brings a new element to the Twins, who’ve never had a Japanese-born player. Nishioka, 26, had a breakout year for the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2010, batting .346 with 206 hits in 144 games, including 32 doubles, eight triples, 11 homers and 22 steals. The switch-hitter entered last year as a career .280 hitter, so perhaps ’10 was an aberration. In a perfect world, Nishioka would take over the Twins shortstop duties and replace Orlando Hudson in the No. 2 spot. It’s also possible he’ll move to second base, with Alexi Casilla at shortstop, and get his first taste of major league pitching from the No. 9 spot.

2011 Difference Makers:
AL East
| AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West

<p> Athlon looks at some names that will be the biggest difference makers in 2011.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - 11:14
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/recruiting-ranks-no-5-auburn

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Athlon Sports continues its Class of 2011 national team recruiting rankings today with the No. 5 class in the nation.

Return to the Recruiting Rankings Index

5. Auburn Tigers (24 signees – 8 AC100)
Yes, winning a national championship will help recruiting. Of the eight Athlon Consensus 100 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 prospects - including four of the top 15 nationally. This list has the No. 2 blocker in the nation in Chrisitan Westerman as well as possibly the nation’s No. 1 center in  Reese Dismukes. Greg Robinson and Thomas O'Reilly wrap up what could be the most talented foursome of linemen Auburn has ever signed.

The loaded front line should have plenty of talent to block for as Gene Chizik signed a pair of running backs, receivers and tight ends apiece. Game-changing tailback Quan Bray heads this group as one of the most electrifying speedsters in the nation. His explosiveness and change of direction skills are unmatched. Wideouts Sammie Coates and Jaylon Denson bring excellent size (6'3") to the receiving corps. Athlete Brandon Fulse brings great size and toughness to the tight end spot — if he isn't moved to the defensive side of the ball.

Auburn also added a superstar quarterback who is a physical running presence — sound familiar? Kiehl Frazier, behind this special offensive line class, puts the Auburn power rushing attack in good shape for years. Frazier, listed at 6'3" and 215 pounds, will have a chance to compete for playing time right away. He is a leader, a winner, a hard-nosed competitor and will need only minimal work on his mechanics before he is college ready.

On the defensive side of the ball, defensive back and linebacker got plenty of attention after the loss of many seniors. One of the nation's elite safeties, Erique Florence, leads a deep and talented secondary class that features three nationally rated covermen. Kris Frost, who played wide receiver and linebacker, should be an explosive tackler on the next level.

Nine of the 13 defensive signees are slated to play in the back seven. Along the defensive line, tackle Gabe Wright leads the small four-man class.

Excelling inside the state in head-to-head battles with rival Bama will always be key for Auburn. Despite missing on some players (Brent Calloway, for example), 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.)

<p> Athlon counts down the top ten recruiting classes in 2011.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 7, 2011 - 10:16
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /columns/short-hops/al-east-difference-makers

Athlon continues its in-depth preview of the 2011 MLB season. This week, we single out some important names that should be key difference makers for every team. Today, we look at the AL East.

2011 Difference Makers:
AL East
| AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West

Baltimore Orioles: Mark Reynolds, 3B
The Orioles were desperate to add a power bat to the middle of their lineup. They struck out on the bigger names on the market, but they swung a trade during the winter meetings for Reynolds. On the plus side, the former Arizona third baseman has hit 44 and 32 homers the last two seasons. But he’s also struck out more than 200 times the last three seasons and batted .198 in 2010. The Orioles seem fine with the strikeouts as long as he brings a presence to their lineup. They regard him as a “change of scenery” guy.

Boston Red Sox: Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
The Red Sox signed two difference makers this offseason, but expect the biggest impact to come from Gonzalez, who has an inside-out swing tailor-made for Fenway Park, the discipline to await his pitch, and the power to assault both the famed left field wall and the bullpens in right. If Gonzalez hits 50 homers and drives in 140, it won't be a surprise. Freed from the confines of Petco, he could put together an MVP-caliber season. Add his Gold Glove defense, and it’s easy to see why Theo Epstein has been interested in him since watching him as a senior at Eastlake High outside San Diego a decade ago.

New York Yankees: A.J. Burnett, SP
Burnett helped the Yankees win the World Series in his first season, so calling him a bust is unfair. But as he enters the third season of his five-year, $82.5 million deal, Burnett remains a mystery, and sure seems overpaid. Burnett had one of the worst seasons for a starter in Yankees history, and he seems incapable of righting himself during games when things go badly. New pitching coach Larry Rothschild will be the latest to try to coax consistent greatness from Burnett’s dazzling repertoire. If he can, the Yankees will have the pitcher they hoped they were signing.

Tampa Bay Rays: B.J. Upton, OF
The Upton conundrum can go numerous different ways, and the direction it takes will critically impact Tampa Bay’s fortunes in 2011 and beyond. Scenario 1: The light goes on for the uber-talented 26-year-old, he builds on the .300-24-82 season he had as a 22-year-old and becomes (as he should be) an All-Star. Scenario 2: He continues to modulate his effort and resist making adjustments at the plate so that he remains an average player. Scenario 3: The Rays cut bait and finally trade him after years of tortuous teases and breathless anticipation.

Toronto Blue Jays: Brandon Morrow, SP
Could it be that the Blue Jays acquired an ace in December 2009 when they swapped middle reliever Brandon League to Seattle for Morrow? The Mariners never quite knew what to do with Morrow, starting him just 15 times in 131 appearances — good for fewer than 200 innings in three years. The Blue Jays put Morrow in their rotation full-time, and he made 26 starts, including a 17-strikeout masterpiece in August in which he lost a no-hitter with two out in the ninth. Morrow has more strikeouts than innings for his career, and if he can harness that dominant stuff, the Jays will have a rotation anchor to build around for years.

2011 Difference Makers:
AL East
| AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West

<p> Athlon looks at some names that will be the biggest difference makers in 2011.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 7, 2011 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /columns/short-hops/al-west-difference-makers

Athlon continues its in-depth preview of the 2011 MLB season. This week, we single out some important names that should be key difference makers for every team. Today, we look at the AL East.

2011 Difference Makers:
AL East
| AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West

Los Angeles Angels: Kendry Morales, 1B
The Angels never recovered from Morales’ shocking injury last season, suffered while celebrating his walk-off grand slam on May 29 against the Mariners. The injury took away the team’s most dangerous hitter and had a cascading effect on the rest of the lineup. Veterans Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui were asked to do even more offensively, with mixed results. Other players were pushed into expanded roles or more frequent run-producing situations and did not pick up the slack. Morales is expected to be back at full strength in 2011.

Oakland Athletics: Hideki Matsui, DH
Not one to partake in hyperbole, the man known as “Godzilla” says his new team has a “strong chance to go to the postseason.” Matsui, signed to a one-year, $4.25 million deal in December, should know about what it takes to make the playoffs, having played in six postseasons in his eight major league seasons, not counting his years playing in Japan. “There’s definitely a strong possibility for us to go beyond the regular season and into the postseason,” Matsui says. “Hopefully, I can help this team and propel them to the next level.”

Seattle Mariners: Justin Smoak, 1B
The entire complexion of the franchise could be improved if Smoak hits the way management believes he can. The Mariners would have a legitimate middle-of-the-lineup hitter on their hands. The offense would no longer be a laughingstock. And no longer would the front office be plagued by critics saying the team should have taken the Yankees’ package — instead of the Rangers’ — for Cliff Lee last summer. Smoak certainly has the ability, but his brief big league tenure has been marked by inconsistency. If Smoak produces, everything else fits into place. If he doesn’t, the Mariners might once again struggle to score runs.

Texas Rangers: Mark Lowe, P
The Rangers acquired Lowe in the Cliff Lee trade even though he was on the DL (back) and wouldn’t be able to contribute much in 2010. Though Lowe did return late and was added to the World Series roster, he didn’t show the command that Rangers scouts had liked for several years. But the Rangers believe they have a pitcher who can shut down teams late and even close. For now, Lowe is headed toward middle relief. His mid-90s fastball and sharp slider, though, could have him in the mix late, especially if Neftali Feliz or Alexi Ogando win a spot in the rotation.

2011 Difference Makers:
AL East
| AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West

<p> Athlon looks at some names that will be the biggest difference makers in 2011.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 7, 2011 - 07:23
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/recruiting-ranks-no-6-ohio-state

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Athlon Sports continues its Class of 2011 national team recruiting rankings today with the No. 6 class in the nation.

Return to the Recruiting Rankings Index

6. 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.

The nationally rated Evan Spencer (WR) is the only other offensive skill player to receive AC100 votes in this class. The athletic Nick Vannett leads a solid two-man tight end class.

Otherwise, the line of scrimmage and the defense got the all of the attention. The five offensive lineman do not have the star power of the past Buckeye O-line classes. Brian Bobek is the leader of the group, unless AC100 talent Michael Bennett ends up on offense. This is a solid group without Bennett but would add tremendous quality with him.

The more likely scenario is for Bennett and his 6'3", 280-pound frame to line up at nose guard. This gives the Buckeyes an AC100 talent at nearly every position on the defense. Steve Miller and Kenny Hayes, two of the top 15 end prospects in the nation, lead a three-man D-End class that rivals any class in the nation (with the exception of maybe Notre Dame). Nationally rated end Chase Farris, at 6'6"and 265 pounds, could very easily slide inside and play tackle. This isn't the deepest D-Line class, but the quality of these five prospects is outstanding.

At linebacker, Curtis Grant is the highest-rated player in this class, and his NSD announcement was a huge win for Jim Tressel and Company. Grant has the combination of size, toughness and athleticism to be the next great Buckeye tackler. Ryan Shazier (ranked No. 111 nationally) just missed the AC100 and joins Grant to create a very talented inside-outside tandem.

At defensive back, another Grant leads the way. Doran Grant, depending on what happens to Oregon's DeAnthony Thomas, could be the nation's No. 1 cornerback in this class. What he lacks in overall size (5'10", 175) he makes up for in quickness, agility, speed and burst. He also is stronger than his measurables, indicating that he should easily be able to pack on 10-12 pounds of strength.

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.)

<p> Athlon counts down the top ten recruiting classes in 2011.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 4, 2011 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /columns/around-nl/nl-west-statistician

Every year, Athlon Sports gives baseball fans some intriguing numbers to keep an eye on for all 30 major league clubs. Today, we look at the N.L. West division.

NL East: Statistician
| NL Central: Statistician | NL West : Statistician
AL East: Statistician | AL Central: Statistician | AL West: Statistician

Arizona Diamondbacks

1,529: Strikeouts by Arizona batters last season, a major league record and 130 more than the previous record (Milwaukee, 2001).

.310: Lefty Kelly Johnson’s batting average against left-handed pitchers in 2010.

4: Diamondbacks with at least 25 homers last year, although two — Mark Reynolds and Adam LaRoche — are gone.

10: Assists by center fielder Chris Young, a career-high.

12: New additions likely to stick on the Opening Day roster after the offseason shakeup.

.183: Opponents’ batting average off Daniel Hudson in his 11 starts for the D-backs last season.

$14.31: Average ticket price in Arizona, the lowest in major league baseball, according to Team Marketing Report.

48: Players used in 2010 by the Diamondbacks, including a team-record 28 pitchers.

Colorado Rockies

58: One-run games played by the Rockies, the most of any team in the majors last season. They went 28–30 in those games.

.226: Road batting average by the Rockies, the lowest in the NL last season. Their 291 runs on the road were the second-fewest, ahead of only the Pirates (254).

1,234: Strikeouts by the Rockies’ pitchers last season, the single-season high in the franchise’s 18-year history, breaking the old record of 1,154 set in 2009.

128: Pitches, a career-high, thrown by Ubaldo Jimenez in his no-hitter on April 17 at Atlanta. It was the first no-hitter in Rockies history and came in the franchise’s 2,703rd game.

138: Strikeouts last year for Jhoulys Chacin, a record for a Rockies rookie. The old mark of 134 strikeouts was set by Shawn Chacon in 2001. Chacin’s 3.28 ERA also was the lowest ERA by a Rockies starter in his rookie season.

6: Complete games for the Rockies this year, four by Ubaldo Jimenez. That is the most complete games by a Rockies pitcher since Pedro Astacio had four in 2001.

8: Outfield assists last season by Carlos Gonzalez, including five from left field, one from center field and two from right field.

77: Extra-base hits for Gonzalez last season, second in the National League to Albert Pujols (82). home runs.

Los Angeles Dodgers

120: Home runs hit by the Dodgers last season; only one team in the National League (Houston) hit fewer.

24: Pitchers used by the Dodgers in 2010 (10 started at least one game).

302: Appearances over the past four seasons for new Dodger reliever Matt Guerrier.

4: Managers in eight seasons since Frank and Jamie McCourt bought the Dodgers (Jim Tracy, Grady Little, Joe Torre and now Don Mattingly).

6: Managers in the preceding 50 seasons (Walter Alston, Tommy Lasorda, Bill Russell, Glenn Hoffman, Davey Johnson and Tracy).

3.90: Staff ERA since Rick Honeycutt became pitching coach in 2006 (lowest in the majors).

204: Consecutive games played by Matt Kemp (through the end of the 2010 season), the longest active streak in the majors.

170: Times Kemp struck out in 2010, a club record.

San Diego Padres

2: Number of home runs Adrian Gonzalez needed to tie Nate Colbert’s franchise record.

10: Consecutive losses in late August/early September.

14-23: Padres’ record down the stretch, costing them the NL West lead.

20: Shutouts by the Padres’ staff in 2010, tying 2007 franchise record.

40: Holds by Luke Gregerson, an MLB record.

111: Holds by the Padres’ bullpen, the most in big league history.

45-36: Padres’ record at home and on the road.

90: Victories for the 2010 Padres, just the fourth time the team has won that many games.

.988: The Padres’ 2010 fielding percentage, the best in the NL and second to the Yankees in MLB.

San Francisco Giants

1: Errors committed by Andres Torres since 2003.

80-24: The Giants’ record when they scored three runs or more, the best winning percentage (.769) in the majors.

1,331: Strikeouts by the Giants’ staff, which led the majors and broke the franchise record for the second consecutive season.

100: Runs scored for Aubrey Huff, the most by a Giant since Barry Bonds’ last MVP season in 2004.

37: Come-from-behind victories in 2010, not including five in the postseason.

4: Shutouts for the Giants in the postseason, matching the 1998 Yankees and the 1905 New York Giants for the most in major league history.

2: Shutouts for the Giants in the World Series, the most since the 1966 Baltimore Orioles blanked the Dodgers in three of four games.

56: Years the Giants had gone since their last World Series triumph in 1954 — the third-longest drought in baseball, behind only the Indians (1948) and Cubs (1908).

NL East: Statistician
| NL Central: Statistician | NL West : Statistician
AL East: Statistician | AL Central: Statistician | AL West: Statistician

<p> Athlon dives into the numbers of the NL West.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 4, 2011 - 10:18
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /columns/around-al/al-west-statistician

Every year, Athlon Sports gives baseball fans some intriguing numbers to keep an eye on for all 30 major league clubs. Today, we look at the A.L. West division.

NL East: Statistician
| NL Central: Statistician | NL West : Statistician
AL East: Statistician | AL Central: Statistician | AL West: Statistician

Los Angeles Angels

202: Fewer runs scored by the Angels in 2010 after a club record in ’09 (883).

.222: Batting average against Jered Weaver in 2010, the lowest against an Angels starter (min. 30 starts) since Mark Langston in 1991 (.215).

35-22: Angels’ record against AL West teams in 2010, the best intra-division record in the West.

5: Seasons with at least 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 40 doubles for Bobby Abreu. No other player in major league history has had more than three seasons with that stat profile.

9: Consecutive Gold Gloves for Torii Hunter before that streak was snapped last year.

.281: Hunter’s team-leading batting average in 2010, the first time the
Angels didn’t have a single regular finish with a .300 average.

67%: Stolen base success rate for the Angels in ’10, tied for 26th in baseball.

Oakland Athletics

.198: The batting average for right-handed hitters last season against Trevor Cahill, who made the All-Star team.

3.47: ERA compiled by A’s starting pitchers, the best in the majors and the lowest since Boston’s 3.32 mark in 1990.

26: Players (non-pitchers) used by the A’s in 2010, the second straight season the injury-ravaged team has needed at least 25 position players.

109: Home runs hit by the A’s, ranking second-to-last in the AL, just eight more than Seattle. It marked the fewest hit by the A’s in a non-strike season since the woeful ’79 team had 108.

156: Steals by the A’s last year, third-most in the majors and the most by the team since 1989. So much for the “Moneyball” philosophy.

.500: The A’s winning percentage last season, a nice improvement after winning 75, 75 and

76: games the previous three seasons. They needed a four-game sweep of Seattle to reach the break-even mark.

Seattle Mariners

101: Home runs hit by the Mariners in 2010, the fewest by an AL team in a non-strike-shortened season since 1992.

.298: Mariners’ OBP in 2010, the lowest by an AL team since 1981 (Twins, .293; and Blue Jays, .286).

8: The number of managers the Mariners have had (including interims) since last appearing in the playoffs in 2001.

2,244: Career hits for Ichiro Suzuki in 10 MLB seasons; at present pace, he could reach 3,000 in June 2014.

15: Number of times the Mariners scored two or fewer runs in games started by Felix Hernandez.

1.000: Franklin Gutierrez’s fielding percentage in 2010, just the fourth errorless season by a center fielder (min. 145 games) since 2000.

13: Players who saw time as DH for the Mariners in 2010, led by Russell Branyan (52) and Milton Bradley (28).

.298: Mariners’ winning percentage in 2010 (17–40) against AL West foes.

Texas Rangers

.304: Average by Rangers designated hitters, primarily Vladimir Guerrero. That mark led the league, as did their 127 RBIs and 92 runs scored.

1: Ranger hitters who finished the World Series with an average above .250. That was Mitch Moreland, who batted .462 in 13 at-bats.

2: Number of years in the new contract given to manager Ron Washington.

3.93: Team ERA in 2010, the lowest since 1990 and the lowest since Rangers Ballpark in Arlington opened in 1994.

6: First basemen used in 2010 by the Rangers: Justin Smoak (66 games), Moreland (37), Chris Davis (30), Jorge Cantu (21), Joaquin Arias (5), Ryan Garko (3).

25: Losses in 44 day games, good for a .432 winning percentage. The Rangers went 71–47 under the lights, a .602 clip that led the AL.

76: Years that had passed since an AL player had a season with at least a .359 average, 30 homers, 40 doubles and 100 RBIs. Lou Gehrig did it in 1934. Josh Hamilton did it in 2010.

NL East: Statistician
| NL Central: Statistician | NL West : Statistician
AL East: Statistician | AL Central: Statistician | AL West: Statistician

<p> Athlon dives into the numbers of the AL West.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 4, 2011 - 09:58
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/recruiting-ranks-no-7-georgia

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Athlon Sports continues its Class of 2011 national team recruiting rankings today with the No. 7 class in the nation.

Return to the Recruiting Rankings Index

7. Georgia Bulldogs (26 signees – 6 AC100)
Winning the in-state recruits was key for Mark Richt in 2011. Of the eight nationally rated recruits to sign with Georgia, seven of them are from the Peach State. The staff 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).

Crowell, the country's No. 2 running back prospect, was the prized National Signing Day victory. With more than a few highly touted yet "troubled" running backs already on the roster, Crowell and his game-changing explosiveness might have a chance to start right away. The more likely scenario is third downs and specialty situations. Either way, expect to see Crowell on the field in 2011. His big-play ability is simply too great to keep on the sideline.

Joining Crowell in the backfield is quarterback Christian LeMay. The No. 4 signal caller in the nation had an interesting high school career that involved some off-the-field issues and a suspension. But his talents are apparent. He has all of the tools needed to be a great player on the next level — arm strength, poise in the pocket, natural leadership qualities and above average athletic ability. If he can refine his craft — and keep his nose clean off of the field — LeMay has a chance to be starting very soon (well, whenever Aaron Murray decides to go pro).

The offensive line is a major area of strength for this class. While the star power may not be comparable to previous classes, six big blockers — three of whom stand 6'7" — and one fantastic tight end restock the Bulldog front line. Rome, the nation's No. 2 tight end prospect, puts Tight End U back on the map. There might not be a more complete tight end prospect in the nation. Rome has the ability to anchor the outside of an offensive line in the run game and will put pressure on the middle of the defense in the passing game. It also helps to have an NFL and NBA pedigree. His father, Stan, played for the Kansas City Chiefs and was taken in the 1987 NBA Draft.

While the skill positions and secondary are loaded with flashy names, the ho-hum offensive line class should provide the key building blocks for future Georgia offenses.

On defense, the collection of secondary players Todd Grantham now has to work with is outstanding. A four-man group — which could grow to as many as seven — brings star power and depth to the defensive backfield. Two AC100 covermen, Damian Swann and Malcolm Mitchell, will be joined by nationally rated safety Corey Moore. The versatility and athleticism of this group are excellent.

Defensive ends Drew and Sterling Bailey headline a smallish front-seven class. Grantham added only three linebackers, two tackles and two ends. Drew is the nation's No. 2 end prospect, and his pass rushing skills and raw energy should be a perfect fit for the 3-4 scheme.

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.)

<p> Athlon counts down the top ten recruiting classes in 2011.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 3, 2011 - 11:00