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Predicting college football's national champion is never an easy task. In addition to combing through schedules, returning starters, players lost and statistics, there are several factors impossible to account for. Injuries and luck will have a major impact on the 2012 season - and neither can be projected.
Most of college football's national title winners will come from within the top 10 of most preseason polls, but there are always a few darkhorses sneaking into the top 10 at some point during the season.
What teams could be a darkhorse national title contender in 2012? Using Athlon's projected top 25 for 2012, the criteria was simple - the teams must be ranked anywhere outside of the top 10 to qualify. Although Georgia and South Carolina are popular sleeper picks, both teams are ranked inside of Athlon's projected top 10.
Do Preseason Rankings Matter for College Football National Champions?
(Athlon’s projected 2012 final rank in parenthesis)
1. Texas (11)
Why They Will: If the adage of a strong running game and defense win championships is correct, the Longhorns will be in great shape. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron combined for 1,205 yards and 10 touchdowns as freshmen last season. This duo should only get better in 2012 and will face competition for carries from incoming freshman Johnathan Gray. The defense returns six starters off a unit that ranked sixth nationally against the run and 11th in yards allowed. The defensive line and secondary should be among the best in college football.
Why They Won’t: Quarterback play. Regardless of how well Texas can run the ball and play defense, it needs to bolster the passing attack. The Longhorns averaged just 189.9 yards per game through the air last season and enter 2012 with uncertainty under center. David Ash appears to have an edge over Case McCoy but this position is still a question mark for coordinator Bryan Harsin. The schedule isn’t too overwhelming, but the Longhorns catch Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma in their first three Big 12 games - not exactly the best news for a team struggling to find a starting quarterback.
2. Virginia Tech (16)
Why They Will: How’s this for success: The Hokies have won at least 10 games every year since 2004 and recorded five BCS bowl appearances during that stretch. The offensive line was hit hard by departures, but quarterback Logan Thomas is poised to build off a solid sophomore season. The defense should be among the best in the nation, especially with a defensive line that has speed, depth and talent at each position. Virginia Tech’s schedule is very favorable, as it could be 7-0 heading into a road test at Clemson on Oct. 20. An away date at North Carolina on Oct. 6 will be tricky, but the Hokies catch a break by hosting Florida State on Nov. 8.
Why They Won’t: Despite the promise surrounding quarterback Logan Thomas, four new starters on the line are concerning. Center Andrew Miller is a good place to start rebuilding but there’s very little experience and depth at the other positions. Depth is also an issue in the secondary, but the starting group is one of the best in the ACC. Special teams are usually a strength in Blacksburg, but the Hokies struggled to find a consistent punter last year.
3. Wisconsin (17)
Why They Will: The defending Big Ten champs suffered some losses, but the cupboard is far from bare. Running back Montee Ball is back after rushing for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, while six starters return from a defense that ranked third in the Big Ten in yards allowed. The offensive line lost some of the unit’s top players, but center Travis Frederick and tackle Ricky Wagner are two of college football’s top linemen. The non-conference slate should allow Wisconsin to begin the year 4-0 and there’s really only one tough conference road game (Nebraska). With Ohio State and Penn State banned from the conference title game, the Badgers are a clear favorite to return to Indianapolis and a win over Michigan, Michigan State or Nebraska would be a solid boost in the polls on the final weekend of action.
Why They Won’t: Although 11 starters are back, the Badgers have some holes to fill. Although quarterback Danny O’Brien has starting experience from his time at Maryland, he’s no Russell Wilson. O’Brien is more of a pocket passer and won’t give Wisconsin the dual-threat potential that Wilson brought to the table last year. As if breaking in a new quarterback wasn’t enough, the Badgers will have a new offensive coordinator – one of six new assistants on the Wisconsin coaching staff. The Badgers will also have a new starter at kicker and punter, which could be a concern in close games this season.
4. Michigan State (18)
Why They Will: Replacing quarterback Kirk Cousins and three key receivers won’t be easy. However, the Spartans aren’t short on talent on offense, as running back Le’Veon Bell is back after rushing for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. The offensive line should be improved with four starters returning. The defense should be among the best in college football, as junior William Gholston, linebacker Max Bullough and cornerback Johnny Adams could earn All-American honors in 2012. The schedule is challenging but also brings plenty of opportunities to earn marquee wins.
Why They Won’t: The balance of power in the Big Ten is clearly with the Legends Division. If Michigan State can knock off Michigan and Nebraska, it would take a big step forward in the conference title race. However, beating both teams won’t be easy with a road date in Ann Arbor. The schedule doesn’t get any easier with dates against Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Needless to say, if Michigan State finishes the regular season unbeaten, it will have earned a spot in the national title game. New quarterback Andrew Maxwell is talented but has very little experience. Although Maxwell should be a solid passer, there could be a few bumps in the road as he gets acclimated to the starting role – especially with new faces taking over in the receiving corps.
5. Louisville (23)
Why They Will: If you are looking for a team on the rise, look no further than Louisville. Sure, the Cardinals record is just 14-12 in the last two years, but the program is on the right track under coach Charlie Strong. Louisville has also played a handful of young players over the last two seasons, including sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. As a freshman last year, Bridgewater threw for 2,129 yards and 14 touchdowns. He should only get better in 2012, especially with a talented group of young receivers returning. The defense should rank among the best in the conference, and the incoming recruiting class will bolster the depth and talent on each level, particularly at linebacker with Nick Dawson and Keith Brown. The Cardinals have some tricky games on the schedule but should be favored in each contest.
Why They Won’t: Even if the Cardinals can navigate through the season with one loss or an undefeated record, it’s a longshot they would climb high enough in the BCS standings to play for the national title. The Big East does not have a strong reputation right now, which will hurt Louisville in terms of national respect. In order for the Cardinals to make a run at the national title game, they need some help from their Big East foes. Getting Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and South Florida to make a run into the top 25 would help the conference’s reputation and give Louisville a boost in schedule strength. The biggest personnel issue for Louisville is youth. Eleven sophomores could earn starting spots in the two-deep, while there’s only six seniors expected to see significant snaps in 2012.
6. Boise State (24)
Why They Will: With just seven returning starters, the Broncos are flying under the radar in most preseason rankings. Boise State is predicted to finish 24th in Athlon’s 2012 rankings but have finished outside of the top 16 in the Associated Press poll just twice since 2002. Despite only one starter returning, the Broncos should have one of the Mountain West’s top defenses, while there’s plenty of firepower on offense if a quarterback emerges. The schedule is favorable, especially if Boise State can find a way to win on road trips against Michigan State and Nevada.
Why They Won’t: Although there’s a lot of promise with the returning roster, Boise State lost some key players. Quarterback Kellen Moore, running back Doug Martin, defensive tackle Billy Winn, end Shea McClellin and safety George Iloka were all key cogs in Boise State’s recent success and expired their eligibility after the 2011 season. Boise State reloads fast but there are a lot of losses to overcome. Joe Southwick and Nick Patti appear to be capable quarterbacks but winning on the road in East Lansing for the first start in your career is not easy. The Broncos are probably underrated in Athlon’s 2012 rankings but seem to be a year away from pushing for a BCS bowl appearance.
-By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
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The majority of the 2008 Beijing Olympics “Redeem Team” — the gold medal squad led by LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul — returns to defend its global roundball crown. This time, the team will also include Kevin Durant, the NBA scoring champion, Finals runner-up and MVP of the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey (leading a roster with no ’08 Olympians).
At first glance, Team USA appears poised to claim its 14th Olympic gold medal in men’s basketball. That, however, is not necessarily a given. There are several potential problems that could derail the overwhelming favorites.
Dwyane Wade (knee), Dwight Howard (back) and Derrick Rose (knee) will be sitting out with injuries. Wade was the leading scorer on the “Redeem Team,” Howard was the national team’s starting center and Rose was the NBA’s MVP in 2010-11. This leaves Team USA without three of the top 10 players in the world.
Andrew Bynum and Rajon Rondo would be potential replacements for Howard and Rose, at center and point guard, respectively. But both have made it clear that they do not want to play basketball during the NBA offseason. “I love my summers. I’ll leave it at that,” said Rondo, the NBA’s assists leader last season.
LeBron just won his first NBA title. Both Durant and Russell Westbrook are fresh off a disappointing defeat. Who knows where the focus of that talented (yet emotional) trio will be in the weeks leading up to London?
Without the imposing 6'11", 265-pound Howard patrolling the paint, Team USA will be forced to lean on reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler for heavy minutes or go small, with LeBron playing more like Karl Malone than Magic Johnson. A quicker lineup lacking size down low may run into a problem against Spain’s wall of 7-footers.
LeBron, Kobe, Carmelo and Durant are all scorers, but Team USA lacks the pure outside shooters that are emphasized under FIBA rules — which include a shorter 3-point line (22'1" compared to NBA’s 23'9" distance), wider lane and no basket interference (unlike NBA). The team’s top playmaker, Paul, may also be its best jump shooter.
In 1992, the “Dream Team” avenged the humiliating 1988 bronze-medal showing. In 2008, the “Redeem Team” got payback for the shocking bronze-medal finish of 2004, while also securing hardware for first-time gold medalists like Kobe and LeBron. Heading into London, the only motivation appears to be national and personal pride. Hopefully that will be enough.
The fan base isn’t happy. He’s working for a new athletic director. He won one SEC game in 2011. Simply Derek Dooley needs to win – and win right away.
For 37 days — a stretch that spanned from the final game of the 2011 regular season all the way to Jan. 3 of the new year — Tennessee coach Derek Dooley remained silent. He was off the grid, unable to address the mounting media requests that were piling up after one of the most disappointing losses in UT history.
When Dooley finally broke his silence, he had to address a laundry list of issues, the majority of which were negative in nature. He concluded the discourse with a message squarely directed at his fan base, a loyal group that has endured plenty of adversity since Phillip Fulmer’s firing in 2008.
“I can tell you this: I’ve never been more excited about an offseason in all of my coaching career,” Dooley said. “As disappointed as I am about how the season ended, I’m equally optimistic about our team and our program heading into next year.”
For Vol fans, time wasn’t enough to heal the wounds inflicted by their team’s 10–7, season-ending loss to Kentucky. It wasn’t just that the Vols had lost to the Wildcats for the first time since 1984, and it wasn’t just that it kept UT out of a bowl game for the second time in four years. It was how the Vols lost that left an unsettling feeling that still hovers above the program and above Dooley’s head going into the 2012 season.
UT’s new athletic director, Dave Hart, was just two months on the job when it happened, but he quickly understood the gravity of the situation.
“I had a negative reaction. People should have had a negative reaction,” Hart said in December. “There would have been something dramatically wrong if there wasn’t a negative reaction to that particular performance on that particular day. Now, you’re into the unacceptable category.”
Avoiding the “unacceptable” will keep Dooley in good graces with his new boss. How Hart defines “unacceptable” in Dooley’s third year at UT, though, will differ significantly from what it meant during the first two seasons.
Asked if there were a certain number of wins that Dooley, who is 11–14 after two seasons at UT, needs to hit this year in order to feel comfortable with his future at Tennessee, Hart bristles, saying that he will “never do that.” He does, however, acknowledge that the Vols aren’t young anymore, and that type of excuse won’t be acceptable if they are to have a similarly lackluster season in 2012.
“That assessment, it goes deep,” Hart says. “It’s not an inch deep and a mile wide. It’s an honest assessment of all the prongs that you’re developing to try to have a championship-level program.”
Championship-level programs don’t often have the kind of staff turnover Dooley and the Vols experienced throughout the offseason. They also don’t have a star player drawing all sorts of negative attention for his inability to conform to standard rules and procedures.
Tennessee, unfortunately, had a heavy supply of both before the first of April, and those are the challenges Dooley has to overcome before the Aug. 31 season opener in Atlanta against NC State.
Starting with wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett, who was said to have retired but was paid like he was fired, and ending with secondary coach Terry Joseph, who left for a similar position at Nebraska just three weeks before the start of spring football, the Vols lost seven of their nine on-field assistant coaches from 2011. The two holdovers — wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney — are working with different position groups than they were last year.
The second coach to part ways with Dooley, former special teams/tight ends coach Eric Russell, told the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review that he didn’t leave UT for Washington State because it was close to his hometown of St. Maries, Idaho. Rather, Russell was concerned about his long-term future.
“I think at Tennessee, it was going to come down to how many games you won the next year, and unfortunately nobody’s got a crystal ball,” Russell told the newspaper.
Dooley, aware of the “sinking ship” perception that came with the methodical exodus, says he thinks the turnover is a “healthy thing.”
“I think when you go through a tough year it’s hard on the coaches and hard on the players,” Dooley says. “Sometimes change is a welcome thing and everybody is going to have that and they’re going to walk into their meeting room with a new face, a new personality and it’s a good opportunity for the players to start over from scratch. They can put away anything that they wish they hadn’t done in the past.”
The past season was good for wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, but the past few months have been bad enough to warrant non-stop speculation about his future with the team. According to multiple media outlets, a confrontation with a strength coach during the offseason kept Rogers away from the program for nearly a month. He returned in time for spring practice but was briefly suspended for another infraction and held out of one practice before returning to the team yet again. Dooley denies that he was giving preferential treatment to Rogers.
“I don’t worry about (him being a distraction),” Dooley says. “And if he is, then we handle it just like any other player.”
Dooley’s disciplinary tactics won’t be what matters once the Vols start playing football. Winning can truly fix things in a hurry at Tennessee, which is coming off one of its worst-attended seasons since the expansion of Neyland Stadium.
The Vols return 17 starters, a group that includes promising quarterback Tyler Bray and all of five offensive linemen — but does not include standout wide receiver Justin Hunter, who returns after missing most of the 2011 season with a torn ACL. Under new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, the Vols are going to play out of a 3-4 base defense, something Dooley says he’s wanted to do for years.
The schedule is as favorable as it’s been in years. The Vols get rivals Florida and Alabama at home, and they swap last year’s games against LSU and Arkansas for Mississippi State and SEC newcomer Missouri.
While certainly at the top of the list, wins and losses aren’t the only variables that factor in when predicting Dooley’s future with the Vols.
Dooley left Louisiana Tech to become the Vols’ new coach in 2010 only because UT had just lost Lane Kiffin after one season. The program, for all intents and purposes, was in shambles. It clearly wasn’t a quick fix, and Dooley agreed to a contract that reflected it. His six-year deal stipulates that he would be owed $5 million if he were to be fired before Feb. 15, 2013. It drops down to $4 million for 2014 and 2015.
UT is still making monthly payments on Fulmer’s $6 million buyout. The athletic department, which boasts a budget that tops $100 million, made just $14,447 in net income during the 2010-11 fiscal year, according to BusinessofCollegeSports.com.
“We’ve got to get football healthy,” Hart says. “But that’s not all on Derek Dooley.”
This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 SEC Preview Annual.
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The official announcement came on a bright December day just before Christmas, and throughout Southern California, the stunning news flicked on smiles like so many twinkling holiday lights.
Matt Barkley was coming back.
USC’s blond poster boy was giving up the potential millions he could have earned as an NFL first-round draft choice to play his senior year for his beloved Trojans. Barkley’s return culminated the university’s remarkable climb back from those controversial NCAA sanctions to the glittering pinnacle of the college football hierarchy.
And just like that, Barkley became an all-time USC hero, the quarterback of a potential national championship contender, the frontrunner for the 2012 Heisman Trophy and a poster boy for all that is good and clean and pure about amateur athletics.
It was a decision that delighted people from the coastline of Santa Monica to the desert of Palm Springs. It also surprised almost everybody, beginning with those in the university football offices.
“I thought he was gone,” says coach Lane Kiffin. “I think 95 percent of the kids would have left under similar circumstances.”
But Barkley isn’t like 95 percent of the kids. In many ways, he is the collegiate equivalent of Tim Tebow, so squeaky clean that he’s already been on humanitarian missions to Nigeria, South Africa and Mexico and still has the same girlfriend he first met at age 5 in preschool.
Barkley is one of those kids who’s never even missed a snap, let alone a practice. He is deeply religious, a self-described “technology nerd” who is more likely to be found playing his guitar in church than at some wild party.
“I keep telling people I’m still waiting for him to do something wrong,” says Kiffin.
It could be a long wait. Especially now that Barkley has turned his back on the NFL, preferring to play another year in front of the adoring, sold-out crowds in the L.A. Coliseum.
“I know my decision affected a lot of people,” Barkley says. “But it wasn’t just about having so much fun in college. I’ve had a great time. But this was more about making the most out of what you started. Today, there is such an emphasis on instant gratification. I kind of wanted to send a message to guys around the country: Finish what you start.
“We went through so much, starting with the end of the (Pete) Carroll era, with the sanctions and no bowls and stuff. But in the second half of the season last year we could see ourselves rising out of it. We started playing for each other and having fun again.”
Maybe Les Barkley, Matt’s proud dad, puts it best: “After all they went through, Matt just thinks this team can do something extraordinary. He thinks they can create memories that will last a lifetime, something they can tell their kids and grandkids about some day.”
Now you know why this is the most eagerly awaited football season at USC since Carroll’s stirring national championship runs.
One of the reasons — maybe one of the biggest — for Barkley’s return is his first-hand knowledge of how good this team can be. He understands, better than anybody, that he will have the luxury of the finest pair of wide receivers in college football in All-American Robert Woods and soon-to-be All-American Marqise Lee. In 2011, Woods and Lee combined for a staggering 184 receptions, 2,435 yards and 26 touchdowns.
With potential All-America safety T.J. McDonald also back for his senior season, the Trojans will return the entire back seven on defense, most of their offensive line and a feisty 1,000-yard runner in ever-improving Curtis McNeal.
Most of all, though, there is Barkley, the 6'2", 230-pound Heisman candidate, the quarterback who is ready to join Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer among the USC royalty at the position, the poised, strong-armed senior who could shatter most of the Trojans’ career passing records before he is finished.
“It’s crazy to think about that,” Barkley says. “I grew up watching those guys play quarterback at USC. The fact that we’re friends now is even crazier. I still think Leinart is the best college quarterback to ever play the game, and Carson had just a tremendous senior year after a lot of coaching changes. Guys like that showed perseverance.”
Barkley has demonstrated more than a little of that himself. He was rushed in by Carroll to start as a true freshman, and although he played well early in his freshman season — most notably in a Week 2 win at Ohio State — his inexperience eventually caught up to him. Through his first two-and-a-half seasons, he had some great games, but he had some shaky ones, too.
Then, sometime in the middle of 2011, it was as if a cardinal and gold light clicked on. “It was right around the Notre Dame game,” Barkley says. “I think I started having more confidence in my teammates. I’d been a little apprehensive early, but everything started to fall into place and there was more chemistry, more mojo, as a team.”
In his final six games last year, he threw 23 touchdown passes with just three interceptions. He was 26-of-34 for 323 yards and four TDs in the huge upset victory at Oregon, then topped it off by competing 35-of-42 attempts (including 19 of his first 20) for 423 yards and six TDs in the 50–0 blitz of cross-town rival UCLA that elevated the Trojans into the top five nationally.
Because of the sanctions, there was no bowl invitation waiting. But there are no such constraints this season. That’s why Barkley is so excited and why he thinks both he and the team can get better.
“There are things I can improve on,” he says. “I want to become a more accurate passer, raise my completion percentage. I want to play with more precision. I definitely felt ready for the NFL, but because of my decision, I think I’ll be even more ready next time. I always think more experience can help.”
His Christian faith is as important to Barkley as it has been to the more high-profile Tebow. “We just express it differently,” Barkley says. “He’s more outward about it, I’m more private. But I’m glad he stuck to his guns. I’ve talked to him a couple times on the phone and I admire him as a leader.”
At USC these days, the one being admired is the Trojans’ clear-cut leader, the Pac-12’s rightful heir to Stanford’s Andrew Luck, the self-effacing senior who is more than happy to show that the collegiate experience is not just limited to mindless jocks getting ready for the NFL.
Somebody better cue up those highlight reels. On college football’s grandest stage, Matt Barkley’s eagerly anticipated final act could be something special.
This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Preview Annual.
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Who is the sleeper team to watch in 2012? Who is a national title darkhorse? Who can come out of nowhere and shock the college football world?
Every year, college football analysts and experts at Athlon Sports rank all 124 teams and project how we feel the final standings will look. This year, the USC Trojans are our pick to beat the LSU Tigers for the 2012 BCS National Championship.
We also compile our list of potential national championship sleepers each year. Teams who are built to potentially run the table and surprise the preseason pollsters.
But when trying to pick your national title winner — or pinpoint those capable of making a historic run — there are a few figures to consider. Preseason rankings may seem arbitrary to some of you, but every BCS National Champion has been ranked in the preseason AP Top 25. And it has been nearly three decades since an unranked team won the AP national title.
Be Ranked In the Preseason Top 20
Only one team ranked outside of the AP Top 20 has ever won a BCS National Championship. The Auburn Tigers of 2010, behind junior college transfer and relative unknown commodity Cam Newton, began the year ranked No. 22 in the nation. The Tigers are the lowest ranked preseason team in the BCS era to win the title and are the first team outside of the top since 1990 to even clinch a share of the title. Additionally, Oregon began 2010 outside of the top 10 at No. 11 — making the 2010 BCS National Championship game the only national title contest in the last 30+ years to features two teams that began outside of the top 10 in the preseason polls.
Really Though, Be Ranked In The Top 10
Four times in 14 years has the national champ come from outside the preseason Top 10. In addition to Auburn, Oklahoma in 2000 was ranked 19th, LSU in 2003 was ranked 15th and Ohio State was ranked 13th. Only three additional teams since 1984, Notre Dame in 1988 (13th) and Michigan in 1997 (14th) and Georgia Tech in 1990 (UR), have won the national title starting outside of the top 10. And Tech didn’t claim the AP title in 1990.
Unranked Champions Don't Happen
Since 1982, the year I was born, only twice has a team unranked in the preseason gone on to win the AP/BCS national championship. The 1984 BYU Cougars and the 1983 Miami Hurricanes are the only champs to start the year outside of the Top 25 and finish on top since 1982. Technically, Georgia Tech claimed a share of the national title in 1990 after beginning the season unranked. However, it didn’t claim the AP title that year, preseason No. 5 Colorado did.
The Top 5 Is the Place To Be
Four of the last five national champions were ranked in the top five in the AP preseason poll. Alabama in 2009 and Florida in 2008 were No. 5 — although, it should be noted that Athlon Sports had the Gators No. 1 in 2008 — while LSU in 2007 and Alabama in 2011 both began No. 2.
In fact, 16 times in the last 32 seasons has the national champion begun the year in the top five. This means, according to Athlon Sports’ rankings, that there is a 50% chance that Alabama, LSU, USC, Oregon and Oklahoma will win the title. It also means there is only a 50% chance that the champion comes from the other 119 teams. Both the 2003 and 1997 split champs were outside of the top five and both the 1991 champs were inside the preseason top five. The 1990 championship featured one unranked team (Georgia Tech) and one top five team (Colorado).
No. 1 Is Good, But Not That Good
So where is No. 1 in all of this you ask? The USC Trojans in 2004 were the last AP preseason No. 1 team to claim the national championship. In fact, since 1982, only three preseason No. 1 teams have gone on to win the title. Florida State in 1999 and 1993 were the only two other teams to match the ’04 Trojans of wire-to-wire dominance. In fact, the preseason No. 1 team in the AP poll hasn't even played in the national title game since 2006 when Ohio State lost to Florida. More teams have lost the national title game as preseason No. 1's than have won it in the BCS era. Yes, six trips (of 14) to the BCS title game is extremely accurate — and obviously most fanbases would take a guarenteed trip to the title game — but more times than not that team loses (2-4). Which, frankly, is all that matters.
No. 2 Is the Spot
Four of the last 12 national champions began the season ranked No. 2 in the preseason, more than any other preseason rankings by a wide margin. Eight times has the No. 2 team played in the BCS National Championship game, more than any other slot. Of the 28 total BCS title game teams, nearly 30% have started the season as the No. 2 team in the AP poll. And who is likely to be preseason No. 2 this fall? Either LSU or Alabama is a pretty good guess. And yes, that would give the SEC a seventh straight championship as well as a second
Where Not To Be?
The preseason number you don’t want your team to be? Third or fourth. No team in the BCS era has won a title beginning the year ranked No. 3 or No. 4. Florida in 1996 was the last preseason No. 4 team to claim the title and Miami in 1991 was the last team ranked No. 3 in the preseason to win the big prize. So for Athlon, this knocks out Alabama (No. 3) and Oregon (No. 4). Elsewhere inside the top 10, sixth hasn't won a title since 1997 and ninth hasn't clinched the championship since 1992. For good measure, eleventh hasn't won a title in the last 32 seasons.
What do all these numbers mean for college football in 2012? Maybe not much. But the stats do indicate that preseason polls are extremely accurate measuring sticks when attempting to pinpoint the quest for the Crystal Ball. So buy your Athlon Sports College Football preview magazine here!
Here is a quick list of how each of the national champs have ranked in the preseason:
|Year||Team||AP Rank||BCS Runner-Up||AP Rank|
|2011||Alabama||No. 2||LSU||No. 4|
|2010||Auburn||No. 22||Oregon||No. 11|
|2009||Alabama||No. 5||Texas||No. 2|
|2008||Florida||No. 5||Oklahoma||No. 4|
|2007||LSU||No. 2||Ohio State||No. 10|
|2006||Florida||No. 7||Ohio State||No. 1|
|2005||Texas||No. 2||USC||No. 1|
|2004||USC||No. 1||Oklahoma||No. 2|
|2003*||LSU||No. 15||Oklahoma||No. 1|
|2003*||USC (AP)||No. 8||--||--|
|2002||Ohio State||No. 13||Miami||No. 1|
|2001||Miami||No. 2||Nebraska||No. 4|
|2000||Oklahoma||No. 19||Florida State||No. 2|
|1999||Florida State||No. 1||Virginia Tech||No. 11|
|1998||Tennessee||No. 10||Florida State||No. 2|
|1997*||Michigan (AP)||No. 14||--||--|
|1993||Florida State||No. 1||--||--|
|1991*||Miami (AP)||No. 3||--||--|
|1990*||Colorado (AP)||No. 5||--||--|
|1988||Notre Dame||No. 13||--||--|
|1986||Penn State||No. 6||--||--|
|1982||Penn State||No. 8||--||--|
- by Braden Gall
Moe Norman was a painfully shy, eccentric Canadian prone to wearing garish, mismatched outfits. He was also quite possibly the greatest striker of the golf ball in history. No less of an authority than Tiger Woods has said that only two golfers in history “owned their swing”: Ben Hogan and Moe Norman. “I want to own mine,” Woods added with a hint of envy.
Norman’s swing featured an abbreviated backswing and shorter-than-normal follow-through that produced uncanny accuracy. And it was purely self-taught; Norman never took a lesson in his 75 years.
His shyness — some have speculated that Norman might have suffered from a form of autism — precluded a career on the PGA Tour. But Norman did share his unique approach to golf with thousands of fortunate players through a long series of clinics. One of his partners in these clinics also happens to be Craig Shankland, a member of Athlon Sports’ Elite Eight staff of golf instructors. Here, Craig shares his memories of Moe, golf’s greatest ball-striker and most unique personality, a true legend of the game.
Printed here are my thoughts and remembrances of Moe Norman, many of them from the clinics that we did together over 18 years.
I present these with a deep sense of respect for his incredible skill at ball-striking and consistency. There will never be another like him. Watching Moe hit balls was riveting. You could not believe how good he was time after time.
People have asked me why Moe and I got along so well. I reply by noting that many have called me a champion of idiosyncrasies. I have always loved people who would come along with unusual styles and could beat your brains in. I have taught people not to change their style, but to nurture it and show how it could be an asset. I hate people who rebuild something like that and ruin individuality.
Moe had an unusual, brilliant style that I deeply admired. In turn, he also admired and respected what I did. We had a mutual respect.
Moe had some difficulty trusting and relating to people. If someone came up to Moe for an autograph, he would turn away. If I told Moe that the person was a very good player, he would sign the autograph. He only talked to people who could play — if I told him so. He knew then that they respected him and were not there to ridicule him.
When I would ask him if people should copy his swing, he would laugh. “How can anyone copy my swing? They would come and take you away,” he would say. “You can’t be me. Everyone is copying everyone else. Be yourself; don’t try to be me. You can’t be me.”
The first time I met him was during one of my free clinics. He was in the audience. After I finished what I thought was a perfect display of shotmaking and shot-shaping, he approached me. “Do you know who I am?” he asked. “Yes, Moe Norman,” I said. He replied, “How would you like me to come next week and show you how a ball should really be hit?” I told him to come on. We did clinics together for the next 18 years.
He was very comfortable hitting balls. He was uncomfortable around people he didn’t know. Hitting balls was his life; no one could do it better. After hitting balls, he would withdraw, getting lost in his own world where no one else could disturb him.
Moe never gave any credence to putting. “There’s no skill in that,” he would say. “Hitting pins in regulation — that takes skill.”
Moe once told me that during a practice round for the Canadian Open, he was playing with Canadian golf great George Knudson. Moe offered to play for $5 per pin hit in regulation. George agreed with a laugh, thinking that no one hits pins in regulation. After three holes, Moe had hit three pins, and George walked back to the clubhouse.
On the first hole of a practice round, a 230-yard par 3, the media assembled around Moe and teased him about his putting. Moe pulled a club from his bag, struck the ball perfectly, and turned to the reporters, saying, “I’m not putting today.” The ball rolled into the hole for a hole-in-one. It was one of 17 holes-in-one that Moe hit.
Moe broke all the rules of conventional golf mechanics. He held the club in the palms of his huge hands. I always said he had no wrists, only arms with hands. He used an abnormally wide stance; most players, even pros, would whiff while trying to address the ball in his footprints. He started the club at least a foot behind the ball. He reached for the ball, extending his arms as far as they would go, arms and shaft on a single axis. He faced the ball at impact, his feet flat on the ground. His arms did all the work. His body seemed to react to his powerful arm swing.
We went to Bay Hill to do a clinic for a medical company. Moe didn’t know the way from Daytona, so he said he would follow me in his car. We started onto I-95 heading for I-4 and Orlando. When I looked in my rear-view mirror, I didn’t see Moe. I slowed down to 50 mph. Finally, I spotted him in his car, going 45 max. Truck drivers were honking and yelling. But Moe had the volume turned up so high in his Cadillac that he was oblivious to the noise. When we finally got to Bay Hill, the noise from his radio was deafening. Science and math tapes were blaring from his tape player, with the volume turned up as high as it would go. He was in a world all his own.
When we got there, we went looking for the practice area where the clinic would be held. Arnold Palmer came toward us in his cart and said, “Hi. How are you, Moe?” Immediately, Moe shot back, with an obvious reference to Palmer’s lack of accuracy off the tee: “I haven’t had a thorn bush stuck up my ass for the last seven years. How about you, Arnie?” Palmer cracked up. He knew that Moe was never in the bushes.
Over 41,352 people attended our clinics. How do I know? Moe counted every person who ever attended a clinic. He knew the exact number of balls we hit and how many tees we used each time.
Moe showed up exactly at the time of the show, never earlier. He was never late. He would have continued to hit balls forever for the crowd if he could have. If there were golf balls in a pile or on the ground, anywhere, he would hit them. You would often find him hunting for range balls on the edge of the range, on lake banks, in deep rough, off on his own. If there were snakes and alligators in there, he didn’t care.
He came down to Florida each year in a new Cadillac. He would proudly show it to me. Inside the trunk were new clothes and golf balls all over the place. New Titleists out of their packs. “Imagine that,” he said. “They gave me all these balls. Why did they give me all these? All I need is one.”
Sometimes the weather got really hot during the clinics. Moe would be there in his turtleneck, a Gucci sweater and heavy twill slacks. “Aren’t you hot?” I would ask him. “I don’t sweat,” he would reply. “Look at my hands.” They would be dry as a bone.
Moe told a story about a day he played with Sam Snead: “There was a par 5 with a stream across the fairway. I pulled out my driver. Sam said, ‘You can’t carry the stream today; it’s into the wind.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to carry the stream. I’m going to run the ball across the bridge. I did it, and Snead couldn’t believe it. When we got to the bridge, he said, ‘I can’t believe you did that.’ I rolled a ball across the bridge and said, ‘See? It fits.’”
Moe hit 32 balls off the same tee one day without touching the tee. He simply would place another ball atop the same tee, until finally, on the 33rd ball, he moved the tee slightly with his shot. “How long have you had that tee?” I asked him. “Seven years,” he said. “I’ve only used one ball and one tee in seven years. It’s a cheap game!”
On a hole that required a driver and a wedge, Moe would sometimes hit wedge and driver, in that order. When asked why, he said, “To have fun. And I still made birdie.”
Here’s a sample of some of Moe’s many sayings over the years.
To older audiences: “Stop worrying about when you are going to die, but how good you are going to live. Get off your ass and go practice!”
On the Vardon (overlap) grip: “It stinks. You’ve got 10 fingers. Why would you take any of them off the club? How dumb is that?”
On his grip: “Where do you hold a baseball bat, a tennis racquet, a hockey stick? In the palms of your hands. That’s where the meat is, not in the fingers. You’re playing a tune. Fingers are fast, palms are quiet.”
On how tightly he held the club: “I draw blood with my left hand.”
On gripping the club like a bird or a tube of toothpaste: “That’s crap. It’s all bunk.”
“The most important inches in golf are the five and a half inches between your ears.”
“In my backswing, I place a coin 41 inches behind the ball and two tees 22 inches in front of the ball. I swing back over the coin to get extension and between the two tees to keep the clubhead square 22 inches after impact. I see that in my mind, and I do it.”
“I don’t take divots. I comb the grass. Give me your Rolex watch; I’ll hit it right off the top. I wouldn’t break it. I’d hit the ball off the top of your head and wouldn’t harm a hair. I’d give you the best butch cut you ever had.”
“I’m a superintendent’s dream. ‘Look, Moe was here. No sign of any divots, just where his shoes were.’”
“Distance is only a word. I am accuracy-oriented. What good is it if you hit the ball 300 yards into the trees?”
On the last time he missed a fairway: “1974. The ball hit a sprinkler head and bounced out of bounds.”
“The ball does exactly what I tell it to do, every time.”
“You play hoping golf; I play knowing golf. You hope it’s going down the fairway. I know it’s going down the fairway.”
“I swing the whole golf stick. Swing the clubhead? That’s crap. You have to learn to swing the handle first. If you can’t control the handle, how can you swing the clubhead?”
“There’s no such thing as a bad lie.”
“There’s no wrist roll in my swing. You could cook an egg on the clubface after impact, sunny side up.”
“Hogan and I hated 36-hole events. In the afternoon round, we were always in our morning divots!”
“I use smooth force, not brute force.”
“My right hand is an ornament on the club.”
“I lead so well. The handle always gets to the ball first. The handle is past my left leg before the ball is hit.”
“I hit my right shoulder on my downswing, I lag so much. One day, I lagged so much, I hit my right ankle!”
On starting the club so far behind the ball: “It does four things for me. You can’t take the club outside, you can’t lift the club up, you are already in your turn, and it eliminates a foot of the swing!”
“I hit the ball down my chosen line of aim, every time.”
“Hogan said, ‘The straight shot is an accident.’ I told him, ‘Come with me and you will see a lot of accidents.’”
“I’ve hit 5,000,000 balls and never had a sore muscle in my life. I can stand here all day and hit balls.”
“I’m the greatest ball-striker because I have the fewest moving parts.”
“Golf is not a turning action. It’s a shifting action.”
“It’s a swing, not a hit. You should have a pulling action.”
“Golf is not supposed to be work. It’s supposed to be fun. So have fun.”
“I never get mad. Getting mad makes you swing worse.”
“Golf is easy. People make it hard.”
“I feel like a windmill, never jerky.”
“You will never see a cleat on my left shoe (his foot would remain flat on the ground). My big toe never moves.”
“I don’t force it, I finesse it. I don’t bash it, I bump it.”
“I can’t hit the ball off line if I want to; my swing won’t let me. I can’t hit a bad shot if I tried; my swing won’t let me.”
“I want my left knee past the ball before impact.”
“I am the straightest that ever lived. If there was ever a tournament at midnight, I’d win. I know where to find my ball every time. I wish the fairways were four inches wide. The ball will fit!”
On how he wanted to be remembered: “I’ll be walking down the fairway, off into the sunset with a big smile on my face. Isn’t it great to have been able to do something no one else in the world can do!”
Under coach Dan Mullen, Mississippi State is a program on the rise and has made a few uniform and helmet changes in the last few years. The Bulldogs will have another tweak in 2012, adding a white stripe on the helmet and a brighter maroon color on the home jerseys.
Here's a look at Mississippi State's new jerseys for 2012:
New Mississippi State Home Jersey
New Mississippi State Home Jerseys with Alternate Gray Pants:
New Mississippi State Away Jersey:
Here's a sideview of Mississippi State's alternate uniforms (with shoulder stripe):
Numbers do not lie. With 2296 cumulative medals in the Summer Olympics, the United States is irrefutably the most dominant participating country in the history of the Olympic Games. Despite this, there are events in which the U.S. has seen little success. Here are five events where you'll be certain not to see an American atop the podium.
From 1904 to 1968, the US won 38 medals in Men’s Olympic Weightlifting, 15 of which were gold. Despite our initial dominance in the sport, since 1972, we’ve only managed to win 3 medals (none of which were gold). The reasons for our fall from dominance are varied, most critical of which is a lack of financial incentive for our nation’s most talented athletes. From the 1970s and until the fall of the Iron Curtain, the medal podium was dominated by the USSR. However, China has recently emerged to be the major player in Olympic Weightlifting, having taken 8 of 15 possible gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. With only one man, Kendrick Farris, having qualified for the United States, don’t look for our losing streak to end any time soon on the men’s side.
One of the three different martial arts featured in the Olympic Games, Judo is a combat sport whose ultimate goal is for competitors to take down an opponent and hold them in submission using a myriad of techniques. Historically, Japan has dominated the sport that they invented around the turn of the 20th century with 65 overall medals, 35 of which are gold. The United States has a respectable overall medal count at 10, however they’ve never taken home a gold medal in the sport. With only 5 entrants at the London Olympics, the United States is unlikely to break their winless streak. Kayla Harrison, the 2010 World Judo Champion at 78 kilograms, represents Team USA’s most promising contender for their first gold medal in this event.
3. 3000m Steeplechase
Kenyan athletes have historically dominated the Men’s 3000m Steeplechase, an obstacle race that has runners clear 28 ordinary barriers and seven water jumps over a 3000m track. You have to go back to the 1980 Olympics to find a year where Kenya did not produce a Steeplechase champion. The United States has not won a gold medal in this event since 1952 and has not reached the podium at all since 1984. Top US qualifier Daniel Huling’s time at last month’s Olympic Trials was 8:29:00, well off the sub-8 minute pace that the top Kenyan competitors have posted in 2012. In London, expect Kenya to continue its’ domination of this distance event.
2. Table Tennis
Table Tennis made its Olympic debut at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and has been dominated by China ever since. China’s overall medal count stands at 41, 20 of which are gold. South Korea, the next closest nation has won 17 medals, only 3 of which are gold. The United States has never medaled in Table Tennis and barring a major upset in London, will continue to languish in mediocrity. To demonstrate our ineptitude in this event, Team USA’s top ranked player, Timothy Wang, is only #408 in the world.
1. Men’s Football (Soccer)
The United States’ failure to produce a competitive men’s football squad has been well documented over the years especially as the US Women’s National Team has enjoyed tremendous success ever since the sports’ inception as an Olympic event. The men’s squad has won 1 silver and 1 bronze medal however; both medals came from the 1904 Olympics where only 3 teams participated in the tournament. The 108 year medal-less streak will undoubtedly continue in London, as the United States failed to qualify for the 2nd time out of the last 3 tournaments after losses at the hands of El Salvador and Canada. On the bright side, the women’s squad enters the London Olympics as heavy favorites to take home a 4th gold medal for the United States.
By Eric Chalifour
Northwestern football hasn't made many dramatic changes to its uniforms in recent years, but there are some noticeable tweaks in the new version released by Under Armour for 2012.
The Wildcats will stick with the same purple and white color scheme, but the uniforms now have a stripe in the center of the jersey and there's some sharp-looking gloves featuring the Northwestern logo.
Here's a look at Northwestern's new uniforms for 2012:
Northwestern's new away jersey:
Here's a look at the new home jersey:
Here's a closer look at the Northwestern uniforms with gloves featuring the school logo:
And the white jersey-purple pants combination:
Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.
The Miami Dolphins check in at No. 27.
After another uninspiring season, owner Steve Ross initially sought to snare the biggest fish in order to create a splash in the fragmented South Florida sports market, while placating a fan base angry about his retention of unpopular general manager Jeff Ireland. He recruited free agent coach Jeff Fisher, who turned him down as Jim Harbaugh had the offseason before. He made a pitch to future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, but Manning never seemed to take the Dolphins’ situation seriously. And so, instead, Ross had to settle for a ripple, with the hiring of former Green Bay offensive guru Joe Philbin to pace the sidelines, the drafting of Ryan Tannehill to someday take the snaps, and the re-signing of Paul Soliai and Cameron Wake to anchor the defense.
“What we talked about was building a foundation, building a program, building a football team that could deliver sustained success over a period of time,” Philbin says of interviewing with Ross. “I’ve coached in the National Football League for nine years and college for 19. I don’t know if you ever go into a game where you don’t feel like you have a chance to win.”
The Dolphins have a chance to win a couple more games this season, but due to the limitations of the offensive talent base, grander accomplishments will have to wait.
While he wasn’t the primary play-caller, Philbin did design the offensive gameplans for a Packers team that led the NFL in points scored en route to a 15–1 regular-season record. Now he takes over a team that finished 20th in the NFL in scoring.
Clearly there is work to do, especially after the Dolphins dumped their leading receiver, talented but troubled Brandon Marshall, for two third-round choices. Marshall’s statistics were misleading — his 1,214-yard total could have been higher if not for plenty of critical drops. Still, his departure leaves Brian Hartline, who has good hands and decent speed, and solid slot man Davone Bess as the most experienced returnees. Neither will have defenses sweating.
The Dolphins added another wide receiver in June when they signed Chad Johnson (who is no longer Chad Ochocinco after legally changing his last name, again) to a one-year deal. Johnson gets the chance to not only play for his hometown team, as he was born and raised in Miami and played at Miami Beach High School, he also will get a chance, perhaps his last one, to resurrect his NFL career. Johnson, 34, appears to be on the tail end of a productive career, as he caught only 28 passes for 329 yards and one touchdown in 12 forgettable games with New England last season.
Philbin has made it clear that he would prefer to spread the ball around rather than be reliant upon one receiver. That means opportunities for raw second-year speedster Clyde Gates, holdover tight end Anthony Fasano, promising H-back Charles Clay, rookie tight end Michael Egnew and even Reggie Bush split wide.
Bush will work plenty out of the backfield as well, after proving skeptics wrong with a strong season as a feature back. Rather than wearing down, Bush played better as the season progressed, finishing with a 5.0-yard average. Ideally, he’ll get more help this time from Daniel Thomas, the 2011 second-round pick who had trouble staying healthy as a rookie. Lamar Miller, a natural runner from Miami, also could get a look.
They will work behind an offensive line that needs a full return to health for cornerstone left tackle Jake Long and continued development from second-year center Mike Pouncey. The other three spots are somewhat in flux. Veteran Richie Incognito will get the first look at left guard, and second-round pick Jonathan Martin has a chance to step into the right tackle spot voided by long-time (but declining) fixture Vernon Carey.
So who will they protect? Matt Moore returns as the stopgap starter, after relieving the ineffective and injured Chad Henne and then outperforming expectations in 2011. The Dolphins were 6–6 under the mobile journeyman. His inaccuracy makes him a less than an ideal fit for Philbin’s style of offense, so the Dolphins will also open the competition to David Garrard, a Pro Bowler in 2009 who sat out last season with a back injury.
Eventually, Miami will turn to the rookie Tannehill, who has the skill set to become a franchise quarterback. Tannehill has an advantage in that he will be learning under his college coach, Mike Sherman, the Dolphins’ new offensive coordinator. Several factors make it possible that he plays early — his familiarity with the system, his ability to make short and intermediate throws on the move and Dolphins fans’ desperation for a savior.
Related: Top Miami Dolphins Twitter Accounts to Follow
Miami’s defense deserved better in 2011, consistently keeping the score close only for the offense to squander chances. Much of the unit is back, though it will often be aligned differently, as new coordinator Kevin Coyle brings more of his 4-3 schemes from Cincinnati.
That change will affect several key players — Wake will move from linebacker to defensive end and Soliai from nose tackle to defensive tackle. In any case, it’s critical for the Dolphins to find and develop more playmakers.
Vontae Davis and Sean Smith will each enter their fourth seasons at cornerback, and while they combined for six interceptions, Miami is searching for more consistency, especially from Smith. Richard Marshall takes over in the slot for Will Allen, but the Dolphins may have some issues at safety without Yeremiah Bell, who had slowed some but was considered a team leader. Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones still have much to prove at safety.
Up front, Miami should be solid, at least in terms of its starters. Wake’s sack total slipped, but he remains one of the NFL’s most dynamic pass-rushers. Soliai is a run-stuffer. Randy Starks is a solid all-around player. And Jared Odrick, in his first full season, had moments where he lived up to his first-round selection.
The linebackers are led by Karlos Dansby, who is adept in coverage and made a lot of tackles but not as many game-turning plays as his contract suggests. Kevin Burnett played well after a slow start, and former Patriot Gary Guyton joins the group. This is a big year for Koa Misi, another Ireland draft choice who hasn’t made much impact.
For several years, this has been both a compliment of an individual and a criticism of an organization: Punter Brandon Fields, at times, has been the Dolphins’ most dangerous player. He turned in another excellent year, repeatedly flipping field position. Kicker Dan Carpenter was spottier at times, but he did connect on 13-of-16 from beyond 40 yards. Miami has several options to take back kicks, with Bess and occasionally Bush in line to return punts.
Final Analysis: 4th in the AFC East
Hopes were high when Bill Parcells arrived in 2008, bringing Ireland and Tony Sparano with him, and winning the AFC East with an 11–5 record. Miami is 20–28 since, and only Ireland remains, though he’s been hearing “Fireland” chants for quite a while. The fan base may have lost patience with him, but it is likely to give Philbin some leeway, as he tries to implement an exciting offense to go with an already-decent defense. He promises that he and his staff will teach “with enthusiasm, with clarity, with simplicity and accuracy.” The most accurate prediction for this team? That would be something around six or seven wins.
Related: 2012 Miami Dolphins Schedule Analysis
Outside The Huddle
Reggie Takes Manhattan
Reggie Bush finally emerged into the feature back spotlight in 2011, rushing for 1,086 yards. During the offseason, he happily shared the spotlight, not with another runner, but with Kelly Ripa. Bush twice appeared as a guest host on LIVE! With Kelly, interviewing the likes of Tom Selleck.
Mourning A Friend
By the time Junior Seau signed with the Dolphins in 2003, Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas were already established stars. Still, both admired and followed their new teammate. So it was no surprise that, in the wake of his suicide, both released statements saying they were “devastated.”
On its own, drafting a quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) in the first round for the first time since 1983 (Dan Marino) would have created a buzz. Then Tannehill appeared with his wife Lauren at the press conference. Lauren, a beautiful blonde, is a former Texas A&M cheerleader and a model.
Steve Ross, like the man from whom he bought the Dolphins (H. Wayne Huizenga), has made no secret of his political preferences. During the offseason, Ross and his wife Kara hosted a $2,500 per person fundraiser for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at Ross’ Palm Beach, Fla., home.
Um, No Pressure
Ross once said at a high school event that Chad Henne “has been the greatest quarterback the University of Michigan has had, and I’m sure that I’m hoping, as is everyone else, that he goes down as the greatest quarterback in Miami Dolphins history — and you know what that will mean.” At Tannehill’s press conference, Ross said, “Let’s hope that someday we can retire this number.”
Down To One
Bill Parcells came to the Dolphins as a supposed savior. The failure of his tenure is best embodied by his first draft. After the recent offseason, which was run by Jeff Ireland (who collaborated with Parcells on that draft), eight of the nine players picked are no longer with the team. The only exception is Jake Long, taken first overall.
The Dolphins have been secretive and combative in recent years where the media is concerned. This offseason, though, chief executive officer Mike Dee, new coach Joe Philbin and Ireland made introductory stops at several local outlets. That’s what happens after your season ticket sales plunge, and two other local teams (Heat and Marlins) start stealing attention and sponsors
Don Shula coached 392 regular-season games over a 26-year period. Since he was forced out at the end of the 1995 season, six different full-time coaches have coached the last 256 games over a 16-year period. And now Miami turns to Philbin, the seventh coach.
2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:
No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Fri., July 27
Order your 2012 Miami Dolphins Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here
Related: Top Miami Dolphins Top Twitter Accounts To Follow
Related: 2012 Miami Dolphins Schedule Analysis
Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.
For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.
Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Miami Dolphins official twitter account:
@MiamiDolphins (Followers: 143,800)
Top Dolphins To Follow:
Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 26, 2012
You can also follow Mike Dee, Miami Dolphins CEO: @MikeDeeFins (3,485)
The Dolphins Beat:
Omar Kelly, Columnist, blogger for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: @OmarKelly (20,099)
Armando Salguero, Miami Herald columnist: @ArmandoSalguero (16,878)
Ethan Skolnick, Palm Beach Post: @EthanJSkolnick (16,679)
Izzy Gould, Beat writer for Sun Sentinel: @IzzyGould (12,284)
Ben Volin, Beat writer for The Palm Beach Post: @BenVolinPBP (9,519)
Mike Berardino, Beat writer for Sun Sentinel: @MikeBerardino (7,674)
Ken LaVicka, Beat reporter for ESPN 760: @KLV760 (3,137)
Brian Biggane, Palm Beach Post sports writer who covers the Miami Dolphins: @bbiggane (1,572)
Dolphins Blog Roll:
The Daily Dolphin, The Palm Beach Post's Dolphins blog
Sun Sentinel's Miami Dolphins blog
The SB Nation site covering Miami, The Phinsider, is run by Kevin Nogle and he can be followed @ThePhinsider
The ESPN AFC East blog is run by James Walker and you can follow him @ESPN_AFCEast
No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Fri., July 27
Related: 2012 Miami Dolphins Schedule Analysis
- by Braden Gall and Mark Ross
The Big 12 welcomes West Virginia and TCU as new members in 2012, and both teams will add to the already deep and talented league. The Mountaineers bring one of the nation's best offenses, while the Horned Frogs have been strong on defense in the Mountain West.
Even though the Big 12 loses some big names like Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon and Baylor's Robert Griffin, there's no shortage of talent in the league. The offenses should rule the day again, but Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State should have a handful of defensive players in the top 50 at the end of the season.
Compiling the top 50 players of any conference is never an easy task. However, Athlon established a criteria to help compile the rankings.
(Published July 26, 2012)
Athlon's Top 50 Big 12 Players for 2012
1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
After throwing for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns in his first year working in Dana Holgorsen’s spread attack, Smith is primed for an even bigger 2012 season. He finished 2011 by throwing for 407 yards and six touchdowns in the 70-33 rout over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Smith tied or set 21 career, season or game school records last year and earned first-team All-Big East honors. With one of the nation’s top receiving corps returning, the senior quarterback should be in for an even bigger statistical season. The Big 12 is known for its offense, and West Virginia should fit in well in 2012, especially with Smith more comfortable in the second year of Holgorsen’s offense.
2. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Few players ever enter the college ranks ready to play like Jeffcoat was. Obviously, his long-standing NFL legacy helps, as his fundamental understanding of the game is superior to most players his age. His 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame helps too. Jeffcoat started all 13 games as a sophomore, earning second-team All-Big 12 honors after recording 54 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. With another stellar season on the 40 Acres, JJ-44 will likely take his talents to the next level.
3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
Klein emerged from obscurity last season to account for 40 total touchdowns, leading the Wildcats to 10-3 season and the Orange Bowl. Kansas State’s emotional leader, Klein rushed for 27 touchdowns, tying the Division I record held by Navy’s Ricky Dobbs, and became the first Big 12 quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards since Missouri’s Brad Smith in 2005. The Wildcats also learned they could rely more on his arm as the season went along.
4. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State
With Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon playing on Sundays now, Randle will have to carry the offense. He rushed for 1,216 yards and 24 scores, while catching 43 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns last year. Randle earned second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2011 and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-Big 12 selection for 2012. With freshman Wes Lunt taking over under center, defenses will be gearing up to stop Randle, but the junior back’s all-around ability makes him one of the top 10 players in the conference for 2012.
5. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
At 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds, Austin isn’t your prototypical wide receiver. Don’t be fooled though, the Baltimore native is one of college football’s top playmakers and will give Big 12 defenses plenty of headaches in 2012. He led the team with 101 receptions, ranked second with 1,186 yards, while catching eight touchdowns and taking two returns for a score on special teams. Austin closed out 2011 on a high note, catching 12 passes for 123 yards and four touchdowns in the Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. The senior is one of college football’s top all-purpose threats and should top 100 receptions once again in 2012.
6. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Jeffcoat’s partner in crime hails from an Austin suburb called Pflugerville. “Big Oak” has played in 39 games in his Longhorn career and is coming off his best season. The 6-foot-4, 265 pound end set career highs in tackles (56), tackles for a loss (14.0) and sacks (7.0) to go with 14 quarterback hurries. He earned AFCA All-American honors and was a unanimous first-team All-Big 12 selection. Okafor and Jeffcoat might form the best defensive end duo in the nation this fall.
7. Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma
Few players exhibit as much raw athletic ability as the 5-foot-11, 200-pound safety. After playing a hybrid safety position which required much more time in the box, Jefferson has moved to his natural position of free safety. He will be allowed to flow all over the field and make plays now that Mike Stoops and Tim Kish are calling the plays. Jefferson has loads of talent supporting him, so the Sooners should be vastly improved in the secondary this fall.
8. Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State
If not for a nagging injury last year that eventually required surgery and kept him out of spring practice, Knott was on the verge of back-to-back All-American caliber seasons. Over the last two years, the Waukee, Iowa native has 245 total tackles, 10.0 tackles for a loss, eight forced fumbles and six interceptions. And he helped led Iowa State to a bowl berth last fall. He is a watch list candidate for every major defensive national award and should have his best season to date alongside A.J. Klein.
9. A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State
The combination of Jake Knott and A.J. Klein might be the best one-two linebacking duo in college football. Klein earned Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors last season, recording 116 tackles, two sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss. He delivered a key performance in Iowa State’s biggest win over 2011, recording 14 tackles in the 37-31 overtime upset of Oklahoma State. He will shift from outside to man the middle linebacker spot in 2012
10. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
A highly regarded recruit when he signed with Miami in 2008, he struggled to earn regular playing time before he transferred to Kansas State. Back in his home state, Brown anchored the Kansas State linebacker group. He finished with 101 tackles and 9.5 tackles for a loss, using his speed to help K-State finish 37th nationally in rush defense.
11. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Jones wasn’t the same near the end of the season when injuries to Ryan Broyles and Dominique Whaley took their toll on the Sooners offense. On Nov. 5, Jones had 28 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, but threw one touchdown pass and six picks over the final four games. After passing for 12,379 career yards and 93 touchdowns, Jones could set a number of Big 12 records, but can he lead Oklahoma to a national title.
12. Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU
Even before last season, Maponga was tabbed as the next defensive star for the Horned Frogs. He delivered in his second season as a starter and looks to continue his improvement as a junior. Maponga had nine sacks and five forced fumbles last season. In one season, he jumped from three tackles for a loss to 13.5. The Big 12 awaits.
13. Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia
Bailey was a high school teammate of quarterback Geno Smith, and the chemistry showed. Bailey caught 72 passes, including 12 touchdowns. His 1,279 receiving yards set a school record and his eight 100-yard receiving game tied one. He’s the other half of the Big 12’s best receiving tandem along with Tavon Austin.
14. Gabe Ikard, OG, Oklahoma
With Ikard leading the way, Oklahoma expects to have one of the Big 12’s top offensive lines. He started 12 games as a freshman in 2010 and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors for his performance in 2011. Ikard’s value to the team was on full display after he moved from guard to center to replace the injured Ben Habern last year. The junior is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2012.
15. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
A stable force at the back end of Mack Brown’s defense since 2009, Vaccarro has played in 38 games in three seasons. The Brownwood, Texas safety nearly claimed the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award (honorable mention POY). He did a little bit of everything for Manny Diaz last fall as he set career highs in tackles (82) but also proved to be able to get into the opponent’s backfield with 8.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks. With loads of starting experience, and plenty of talent around him, the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder is easily one of the best safeties in the nation.
16. Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
Circle Richardson’s name if you are looking for someone who could emerge as one of the nation’s best linemen in 2012. He started all 13 games at left tackle last season and earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Richardson will move back inside to guard this year, and has massive frame (6-foot-5, 335 pounds) should give quarterback Nick Florence plenty of protection, while opening up rushing lanes for Jarred Salubi and Lache Seastrunk.
17. Brodrick Brown, CB, Oklahoma State
It’s never easy being a cornerback in the Big 12, especially when you have to face offenses at Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and now West Virginia. Brown has been one of the league’s top corners over the last two years, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2011. The senior isn’t the biggest corner (5-foot-8), but he broke up 15 passes and is a physical presence on the outside.
18. Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas
Just a freshman, Diggs stepped into one of the best defensive backfields in the country last season and fit right in. The younger brother of former Longhorn and San Diego Charger Quentin Jammer, Diggs had four interceptions last season. With Diggs a year older, the Texas secondary could be even better than the one that finished 10th nationally in pass efficiency defense.
19. Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State
The senior from Manteca, Calif., didn’t take long to prove to be another JUCO gem for Bill Snyder. The first-year player led the Big 12 in interceptions a year ago with seven and is the leading returnee in what is a depleted secondary. Expect quarterbacks to avoid Malone’s side of the field this time around.
20. Casey Pachall, QB, TCU
In filling in for the greatest QB in the history of TCU football, all Pachall did as a sophomore was set single-season school records for yards, completions and completion rate. The burly — 6-5, 226 — passer has above average athletic ability and led the Frogs to a conference championship that featured a brilliant 473-yard, 5-TD road performance against then unbeaten Boise State. Now, he steps into a league known for its quarterback play. Yet, Pachall should have no problem fitting right in. His 2,921 yards, 66.5% and 25:7 TD:INT ratio plays no matter what league he is in.
21. Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas
Few linebackers have the sheer explosiveness of the West Chester, Ohio native. He saw his first significant starting action last fall and should be ready to step into a bigger role as a junior. He racked-up 64 tackles in only eight starts and will undoubtedly make more plays in 2012.
22. Trey Millard, FB, Oklahoma
Several coaches on the Sooners’ staff consider Millard to be the best all-around player on the roster and Athlon doesn’t disagree. Intangibles, leadership and poise are difficult to measure, but his 6-foot-2, 249-pound frame isn’t — be it running, receiving, blocking or tackling.
23. Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma
Bob Stoops said Landry Jones’ late-season swoon wasn’t all on the shoulders of the quarterback. Certainly, that means Stills needs to improve his consistency. He was more productive last season as a No. 2 receiver to Ryan Broyles, but failed to catch a touchdown or produce a 100-yard game after the calendar turned to November. He has great potential, so now it’s time to put it all together.
24. Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor
Robert Griffin and Kendall Wright are gone, but the Baylor passing attack shouldn’t suffer too big of a drop in 2012. Williams will take over as the team’s No. 1 receiver after catching 59 passes for 957 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, the senior has the size and speed combination that will be very attractive for NFL teams next April.
25. Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech
It was easy to overlook Doege with Brandon Weeden, Landry Jones, Collin Klein and Robert Griffin all lining up under center in the Big 12. Doege finished 2011 with 4,004 yards and 28 touchdowns, including 441 yards and four scores in the upset win over Oklahoma. The senior should have a chance to push those numbers even higher in 2012, as the Red Raiders bring back receivers Eric Ward, Darrin Moore and Alex Torres, while running back Eric Stephens should be near full strength for the opener in his return from a torn ACL.
26. Josh Boyce, WR, TCU
Boyce is TCU’s top big-play threat at receiver, with nearly twice as many yards last season than the Horned Frogs’ No. 2 wideout. Boyce finished last season with 61 catches for 998 yards for an average of 14.9 yards per catch. Three of his nine touchdowns came in the upset of Boise State, including two touchdowns that torched the Broncos secondary for 74 and 69 yards.
27. Demontre Hurst, CB, Oklahoma
Improving the pass defense is one of the top priorities for new coordinator Mike Stoops. The Sooners allowed 241.5 yards per game through the air last season, including 485 in the loss to Baylor. Hurst was a second-team All-Big 12 selection last season and has started 27 games over the last two years. The senior should be Oklahoma’s top corner, but this unit will have an uphill battle to earn first-team all-conference honors with Quandre Diggs, Brodrick Brown, Nigel Malone and Carrington Byndom all returning.
28. Ben Habern, C, Oklahoma
Note: Habern retired after this article was published.
Oklahoma’s offensive line was one of the best in the Big 12 last year and will only get better with Habern’s return. The Texas native missed five games due to an arm injury in 2011, but was one of the top centers in the conference in 2010. Assuming Habern can shake off the injury bug, he will finish 2012 ranked as the Big 12’s No. 1 center and one of the leaders for one of the nation’s top offensive lines.
29. Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State
An outside linebacker with a nose for ball, Lewis was the best of the three returning starters in that group. In two seasons, Lewis has five career interceptions, returning two for touchdowns, to go with 17.5 career tackles for a loss.
30. Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas
The Lufkin, Texas native has appeared in 25 games during his two-year career. He started every game last fall and recorded 57 tackles, 8.0 tackles for a loss and two interceptions.
31. LaAdrian Waddle, OL, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders anchor up front is this senior from Columbus, Texas. Waddle has started 25 consecutive games and enters his final season in Lubbock as a reigning second-team All-Big 12 selection. Fans can bet on a first-team-type of season from the 6-foot-6, 320-pounder.
32. Lane Taylor, OL, Oklahoma State
The leader of the Pokes offensive line, Taylor returns for his final season with 36 career starts under his belt. As the only returning starter up front for one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, the Arlington, Texas native will be counted on for more leadership this fall.
33. Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas
The talent is there, the offensive line is there and the one full year of experience is there. The only real question surrounding Brown's potential breakout sophomore campaign is his workload. Mack Brown has such a loaded backfield to work with that Brown may not get the full compliment of touches.
34. Tom Wort, LB, Oklahoma
Entering his third season as a starter, Wort has become a complete linebacker over the years. He’s topped 60 tackles both seasons and added his first two career interceptions last season. He’s tough and physical, but he’s filling a leadership void left by Travis Lewis.
35. Corey Nelson, LB, Oklahoma
As a sophomore, Nelson started 11 games and recorded 60 tackles, but the Sooners used him both at linebacker and as a stand-up defensive end. Now that he’s a junior in a linebacker corps missing Travis Lewis, Nelson’s role could be more defined.
36. Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor
Dixon was a huge catch for Baylor on the recruiting trail and the former top 100 recruit is poised for his best season in Waco. He made 89 stops and recorded one interception last year, while earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Dixon will man Baylor’s hybrid linebacker/defensive back position and should make a push for first or second-team all-conference honors.
37. David King, DE, Oklahoma
An intriguing prospect for his first three seasons on campus, King started only eight games. Last season hinted at his potential as he finished with 31 tackles and four for a loss as a backup. Both starting ends are gone in Norman, so it’s his turn to emerge.
38. Toben Opurum, DE, Kansas
Opurum was the rare bright spot for the KU defense, with 10.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks last season. Not bad for a guy who started his career at running back and led the Jayhawks in rushing in 2009. Now in his third season on defense, he could be a breakout player.
39. Joe Madsen, C, West Virginia
The offensive line wasn’t a strength for the Mountaineers last season, and this unit must improve for West Virginia to win the Big 12. Madsen has been a consistent performer in his career, starting all 38 games and earning second-team all-conference honors last year. The senior should make a push to be the No. 1 center in the Big 12 this season.
40. Quinn Sharp, K/P, Oklahoma State
Sharp had a huge miss against Iowa State last year, but there’s no denying he’s one of the top special teams players in college football. Sharp connected on 22 of 25 field goals and averaged 46.3 yards per punt last season. He earned Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year honors in 2011 and is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American punter for 2012.
41. Meshak Williams, DE, Kansas State
Williams was an instant impact junior college transfer for the Wildcats last year. He led the team with seven sacks and ten tackles for a loss in 13 contests. Expect Williams to see a bigger role in Kansas State’s defense in 2012.
42. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert’s ability to cover wide receivers on the edge isn't the only thing he does extremely well. He is one of the league's fastest players and can be a dangerous return specialist as well — as indicated by his OSU record four kick return touchdowns.
43. Jaxon Shipley, WR, Texas
The younger brother of Jordan is a carbon copy of skillsets. He is short in stature but has great quickness, hands and acceleration. Both are good return men and both are dependable.
44. Tracy Moore, WR, Oklahoma State
Justin Blackmon is gone, and so is Josh Cooper and their 193 catches between them. Moore is the Cowboys’ top returning receiver with 45 receptions for 692 yards and four touchdowns. The early returns on his move from inside receiver to outside have been positive.
45. Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
The junior started at strong safety last season after playing his freshman season at cornerback. Colvin, who had 84 stops last season, might be best suited for corner, but that might depend on the rest of the personnel in the secondary.
46. Darrin Moore, WR, Texas Tech
A suspension for a DWI arrest has clouded Moore’s status with the team for 2012. Before a leg injury against Nevada last year, Moore was one of college football’s leading receivers with 21 receptions through the first two games. If he avoids a length suspension, the senior should finish 2012 ranked higher on this list.
47. Mason Walters, OL, Texas
The top blocker on a unit that has underachieved, Walters has started all 25 games of his two-year career at right guard. He is hoping to build upon his honorable mention All-Big 12 selection from last year.
48. Tanner Hawkinson, OT, Kansas
Hawkinson hasn’t gained much national recognition, but he’s quietly emerged as a solid lineman in the Big 12. He enters 2012 with 36 consecutive starts and is an Athlon Sports second-team All-Big 12 selection for 2012.
49. Steve Edmond, LB, Texas
If there’s a hole in the Texas defense, it’s at linebacker where Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson are gone. The sophomore Edmond is a hard-hitter who will need to emerge as a full-time difference-maker this season.
50. Tyler Lockett, WR/RS, Kansas State
Lockett missed significant time with an injury but still earned Freshman All-American honors based on huge special teams play. Expect an expanded role in 2012.
Team Breakdown of the Top 50 Players
Baylor - 3
Iowa State - 2
Kansas - 2
Kansas State - 5
Oklahoma - 11
Oklahoma State - 7
TCU - 3
Texas - 10
Texas Tech - 3
West Virginia - 4
Related Big 12 Content
Big 12 Defensive Line Rankings for 2012
College Football Bowl Projections for 2012
Big 12 Offensive Line Rankings for 2012
Big 12 Wide Receiver Rankings for 2012
Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Predictions
Athlon's 2012 All-Big 12 Team
Big 12 Heisman Contenders for 2012
College Football Realignment Winners and Losers
The History of Big 12 Realignment
Introducing West Virginia to the Big 12
TCU Comes Home to the Big 12
The official 2012 London Olympic headshots have to be seen to be believed. And even then, they don’t seem real. Here’s a few of the world’s worst photos of the world’s finest athletes.
The 14-time Olympic gold medalist was forced to put down the bong, exit the hacky sack circle and take a picture.
Roddick’s wife, swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker, has never taken a bad picture. Looks like Roddick has, though.
Apparently, the reigning 100-meter and 200-meter Olympic champ submitted his high school yearbook photo.
The beautiful game’s 20-year-old prodigy usually rocks a Mohawk, but decided mop-top bangs were a better look.
The face of her sport, May-Treanor almost certainly has a better driver’s license photo in her purse.
Judging by this retouched image, if the girl with the butterfly tattoos were a mail-order bride, she’d arrive via email.
Insert your own joke here.
The blonde bombshell posed nude for ESPN’s Body Issue, then showed up naked for her Olympic photo shoot.
Everyone wants to know how to get in Hantuchova’s jeans and how to stop the spreading of the Filipovic’s genes.
Pre-drag’s other brother, Post-drag, did not qualify for the Olympics as a race walker due to his high heals.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s fencing star is giving Conan O’Brien’s famous coif a run for its money.
Did Shota take this shot under water? Or did he bring his own blue-green colored gel to cover the Olympic lens?
You just don’t see power suits with shoulder pads like you used to. No doubt about it, Juravleva remembers the 1980s.
When the Zombie Apocalypse finally hits, Rodriguez’s speed will make her one of the most dangerous running dead.
Borat should follow Margarita around for cultural learnings of London for make benefit glorious nation of Kazakhstan.
Who knew late-90s-era Slim Shady qualified for the Olympics? Is “rowing” slang for something else? Probably.
And early-90s-era Vanilla Ice is also competing? There is about to be a white boy rap battle — British style.
Part of “Rapuzel” Rejepova’s cardio training for the London Olympics was jumping rope with her pigtails.
Yik Chun Tang
The smoking hot ladies in Olympic Village better brace themselves for this 4x100-meter relay runner-slash-playboy.
FYI, Dutt has a custom-made bowl for his hair-styling and a tailor-made powder blue jumpsuit for just styling.
The bizarro farmer’s tan consists of a painfully red face surrounded by a pasty white forehead and body.
Appropriately nicknamed “Harry Potter” (seriously) this lady ping-pong pro must cast spells on her opponents.
If Andre the Giant and an ogre from the desert had a kid, he’d probably be an Olympic wrestler — if not WWE wrassler.
Even Ndamukong Suh doesn’t want to mess with Opeloge when she’s mad, tired, hungry or just posing for a headshot.
Young Jade is shocked that real cameras even exist; she thought only iPhones were capable of taking pictures.
Joe Dirt’s long lost sister has it all, especially a sweet mullet and irresistible throwback bangs.
The last time I played Clue, it was the count or baron or whatever, in the kitchen with an Olympic rifle.
Someone should have warned poor Linda just how provocative and dirty Terry Richardson photoshoots can be.
Yong Sim Choe
DPR of Korea
The face of North Korea’s women’s soccer team is obviously disappointed by the news that Kim Jong-un is married.
Convincing people he’s Michael Phelps with a mustache will be Kabush’s hobby once he gets off the bike in London.
More purple eye shadow, Marta! How many times do you need to be told? More purple eye shadow, Marta!
Joan Tomas Roca
Roca shot down the last man who made a Juan Valdez joke. He won’t tolerate even a reference to coffee or donkeys.
Creepy contacts or vampire? Tough call. Stanley does compete indoors, away from the sunlight, however.
If Pau Gasol thinks he has the neck-beard market locked down, he’s in for a surprise this summer in London.
Peppermint Patty’s new hairstyle helps, but the constant bike riding in Birkenstocks is still an issue.
Decided to use the photo already hanging in the post office as his official Olympic mug shot. It’s a branding thing.
Gollum is played by Ron Howard’s brother in this revisioning of the Lord of the Rings.
Anthony Davis’ unibrow is tame compared to Kat-daddy’s thicker, more aggressive black brow(s).
The Korean Justin Bieber will feel like he ran a marathon after wading through the mobs of fans in London.
Andy Warhol’s style isn’t just about Campbell’s soup and Marilyn Monroe prints; there’s also swimming involved.
Sure, Yauheni the Hut has an unstoppable mullet. But the wispy mustache on the corners of his mouth is the best.
Annie Leibovitz and Vanity Fair will be pissed when they find out Monty used his cover photo as an Olympic headshot.
The turtle neck is just not enough. Better wear a wide-neck over-sweater, just to be safe.
X-Y axis? Proportional? What are you talking about? Herrera's head is naturally shaped like a soccer ball.
Never look directly at the Northern Lights — your face will be seen through the prism of a carnival-mirror.
by Nathan Rush
The 2012 Summer Olympics are just around the corner. Millions of viewers around the world will be glued to their TV sets watching popular events such as basketball, gymnastics and swimming. But there are some sports, historically and today, that have us wondering one thing—WHY?!
Here is a look at some of the weirdest actual events in the history of the modern Olympics.
Live Pigeon Shooting
The 1900 Paris Olympics has the distinction of being the only Olympics where athletes killed animals for sport. Belgium’s Leon Lunden took home the gold with 21 downed birds, with a total of 300 birds being killed during the competition.
Remember playing Tug-of-War in elementary school during gym class? In the early days of the modern Olympics, this event was a mainstay of the games, with the Tug-of-War being held at every Olympiad as a track-and-field event between the years 1900 and 1920. The sports’ greatest scandal came in 1908 when the City of London Police Club purportedly wore illegal footwear that was so heavy the men had trouble moving their feet.
The champions were as follows: 1900, a combination Swedish/Danish team; 1904: the Milwaukee Athletic Club, representing Team USA; 1906: Germany/Switzerland; 1908: The London Police Club, representing Great Britain; 1912: Sweden; and 1920: Great Britain.
Racewalking (20km and 50km)
It seems ridiculous that racewalking continues to be an Olympic sport while more popular sports like baseball and cricket continue to be snubbed by the Olympic Committee. For the uninformed, Racewalking differs from running in that competitors must maintain contact with the ground at all times with at least one foot. While the event is very technically difficult (competitors are continually judged for proper form and docked if caught using illegal technique), there is nothing exciting about watching a bunch of people walking at a brisk pace. Finally, it doesn’t help that the athletes look like constipated penguins when competing. See for yourself.
Olympic Committee members, if you’re reading this, please vote to eliminate Rhythmic Gymnastics for 2016. While there’s no denying the technical difficulty and beauty of the competitors’ performances, this activity has no place in today’s Olympic Games. The sport is simply painful to watch and is guaranteed to put viewers at home into a deep coma. Proponents argue that the sport combines elements of modern dance, ballet and artistic gymnastics but that does not prevent the uninitiated viewers from seeing a bunch of girls dancing around with a ribbon and hula-hoop.
One of the more unusual events in the history of the modern Olympic movement, Rope Climbing was part of the gymnastics programs in 1896, 1904, 1906, 1924 and 1932. Starting in a seated position, competitors raced to the top of a roughly 8-meter rope and were judged on both their time and style. In the 1986 Olympics,
The sport is enjoying a resurgence in France and the Czech Republic, giving hope for those who wish to see this event return to the Olympic Games.
It is hard to believe that dueling pistols was an actual Olympic event, but it was part of the 1906 Athens Olympics. Despite the name of the event, competitors were forced to fire at mannequins with bulls eyes affixed to their chests. Evidently, the lack of bloodshed made this shooting event unpopular, as it was not renewed in future Olympics.
Solo Synchronized Swimming
Solo Synchronized Swimming was an official Olympic sport between 1984 and 1992. What’s most shocking about this is that it took the IOC three Olympics to realize that the sport is an oxymoron since a person swimming alone cannot be synchronized with someone else. In reality, competitors were judged for their synchronization with the music. Quite frankly, we’re OK if this event never returns from the abyss of retired Olympic sports.
—By Eric Chalifour
See more 2012 Olympics coverage.
In the last two weeks, Athlon Sports has ranked every coach in the seven powerful basketball conferences -- the ACC, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC.
Certainly, those leagues do not corner the market on great college basketball coaches. In particular, non-Pac-12 Western programs have enjoyed some of the best eras in their programs’ histories in the last few years. Therefore, it’s no surprise coaches like Mark Few, Randy Bennett, Dave Rose and Steve Fisher are prominently featured here.
Here are the best of the best from the conferences we have not featured yet -- the West Coast, the Mountain West, the Ohio Valley, the Missouri Valley and more.
Note: Coaches are ranked on a mix of past accomplishments with consideration for career trajectory over the next five seasons or so. Rankings take Xs and Os acumen and recruiting prowess into account along with success in the regular season and postseason.
1. Mark Few, Gonzaga
Overall record: 342-90 (14-13 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Gonzaga: 342-90 (162-22 West Coast Conference)
The gap between Gonzaga and the rest of the WCC has narrowed in recent seasons, but Few still has Gonzaga as one of the nation’s consistent programs. Last season was the first time under Few the Bulldogs failed to win at least a share of the regular-season WCC title or a tournament title. Gonzaga still went 26-7 and reached the NCAA Tournament.
2. Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s
Overall record: 235-118 (2-4 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Saint Mary’s: 235-118 (102-54 WCC)
Bennett has turned Saint Mary’s into the primary rival for Gonzaga in the WCC, going 58-14 in the conference. The Gaels are 4-5 against Gonzaga the last three seasons, including victories over the Bulldogs in the WCC tournament finals in 2012 and 2010. He’s done this partly by capitalizing on a recruiting pipeline to Australia.
3. Rick Byrd, Belmont
Overall record: 247-158 (0-5 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Belmont: 247-158 (153-55 Atlantic Sun)
The above record doesn’t include his 298 wins when Belmont was in the NAIA nor his wins at Maryville. (Tenn.) College and Lincoln Memorial College, bringing him up to 637 in his career. Next up for Byrd: Conquering the Ohio Valley Conference and winning an NCAA Tournament game.
4. Dave Rose, BYU
Overall record: 185-54 (4-6 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at BYU: 185-54 (12-4 WCC, 78-18 Mountain West)
BYU’s third-place finish in the Cougars’ first season in the West Coast Conference was the lowest a Rose-led BYU team ever finished in the league standings. Still, BYU is riding a streak of six seasons with an NCAA Tournament bid and at least 25 wins each season.
5. Steve Fisher, San Diego State
Overall record: 443-241 (22-11 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at San Diego State: 258-150 (106-91 Mountain West)
After the Fab Five scandal cost Fisher his job at Michigan, Fisher has had impressive second act at San Diego State. The Aztecs had won 20 games in a season once before he was hired in 1990-2000. Since then, Fisher has eight 20 -win seasons, including an 85-20 record and three NCAA Tournament appearances the last three seasons.
6. Stew Morrill, Utah State
Overall record: 563-257 (1-9 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Utah State: 345-119 (83-27 WAC)
Last season was a rarity for Morrill, who failed to take Utah State to the NCAA Tournament and finished fourth in the WAC. Morrill kept alive a streak of 13 consecutive seasons with at least 20 wins, but his 16 losses was the most since going 14-17 in his first season at Colorado State in 1991-92.
7. Blaine Taylor, Old Dominion
Overall record: 378-190 (1-6 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Old Dominion: 237-124 (136-63 Colonial)
A former assistant for Mike Montgomery and Stew Morrill, Taylor has set down roots at Old Dominion, one of the most consistent mid-major programs even before he arrived. Taylor hasn’t disappointed. Old Dominion has finished in the top four of the CAA every season since 2003-04, a run that includes four NCAA Tournament trips.
8. Bob McKillop, Davidson
Overall record: 426-271 (3-6 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Davidson: 426-271 (232-94 Southern)
McKillop’s career is more than just the Stephen Curry years, though finishing 29-7 and only two points from the Final Four remains the highlight of his career. McKillop went 4-24 in his first season at Davidson in 1989-90 but has since gone to the Tournament six times since 1998.
9. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Overall record: 303-144 (1-8 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Wichita State: 109-61 (52-36 Missouri Valley)
Wichita State’s MVC record improved every season under Marshall, from 4-14 in 2007-08 to 16-2 and a conference title in 2011-12. Now the Shockers will hope for the consistency Marshall displayed at Winthrop, where he reached the NCAA Tournament seven times in nine seasons.
10. Greg McDermott, Creighton
Overall record: 201-153 (1-4 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Creighton: 52-22 (24-12 MVC)
McDermott never had a winning season at Iowa State, but any Missouri Valley program would be happy to have him. McDermott is 58-32 in the conference in his last five seasons in the MVC at Creighton and Northern Iowa. Four of those five MVC seasons ended in the NCAA Tournament.
11. Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa
Overall record: 129-71 (2-2 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Northern Iowa: 129-71 (66-42 MVC)
Jacobson has never had a losing season in the conference and has won at least 20 games each season, but his signature season came in 2009-10 when the Panthers won 30 games and upset No. 1 seed Kansas to go to the Sweet 16.
12. Steve Alford, New Mexico
Overall record: 356-200 (5-6 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at New Mexico: 126-46 (55-23 Mountain West)
Five seasons after his departure from Iowa, Alford has settled into a groove at New Mexico, going 80-20 the last three seasons in Albuquerque. Alford has protected New Mexico’s impressive homecourt advantage at The Pitt, going 77-10 at home.
13. Josh Pastner, Memphis
Overall record: 75-29 (0-2 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Memphis: 75-29 (36-12 Conference USA)
The youthful Pastner is coming off his best season as head coach at Memphis, going 26-9, winning the C-USA regular-season title and sweeping the league tournament. Now in his fourth season, he’ll have a veteran team built from talented recruiting classes. Time to start winning in the NCAA Tournament.
14. Larry Eustachy, Colorado State
Overall record: 402-258 (3-4 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Colorado State: first season
Nearly a decade after his embarrassing exit from Iowa State, Eustachy reminded everyone last season what a quality coach he is. Southern Miss became the third team he has taken to the Tournament, ending a 21-season drought for the Golden Eagles.
15. Tommy Amaker, Harvard
Overall record: 268-195 (2-2 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Harvard: 92-56 (43-27 Ivy League)
Amaker is another coach on this list who struggled to win in a major conference. Like others, he’s flourished at a lower level. Amaker led Harvard to its first outright Ivy League title and NCAA Tournament appearance since 1946. The same program that struggled to even win 15 games in a season for decades has won 70 in the last three years.
16. Dave Rice, UNLV
Overall record: 26-9 (0-1 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at UNLV: 26-9 (9-5 Mountain West)
Rice’s first season at UNLV wasn’t all that different from seasons under Lon Kruger -- roughly 25 wins, a top-three finish in the Mountain West and a one-and-done appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Rice, though, is determined to bring back the up-and-down pace from when he played for Jerry Tarkanian’s best teams in Vegas. An early season upset of North Carolina showed potential.
17. Dan Monson, Long Beach State
Overall record: 255-200 (3-3 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Long Beach State: 85-77 (50-30 Big West)
Monson set the table for Few at Gonzaga, winning back-to-back WCC titles with the Bulldogs. He struggled at Minnesota, which was recovering from NCAA sanctions during his tenure. He’s back West at Long Beach State, where the 49ers have gone 29-3 in the Big West the last two seasons.
18. Ron Hunter, Georgia State
Overall record: 243-191 (0-1 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Georgia State: 22-12 (11-7 Colonial)
Georgia State improved by 10 wins in Hunter’s first season, the Panthers’ first time over .500 in the CAA since 2005-06. Before Georgia State, Hunter ushered IUPUI into Division I basketball, becoming a consistent contender in the Summit League over the course of 13 seasons.
19. Scott Sutton, Oral Roberts
Overall record: 250-162 (0-3 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Oral Roberts: 250-162 (153-59 Summit League)
Both Eddie Sutton and Steve Sutton are out of coaching, leaving Scott rolling along at Oral Roberts. He’s four seasons removed from his last NCAA appearance, but Oral Roberts is 67-15 in conference play since then.
20. Greg Kampe, Oakland
Overall record: 238-202 (1-3 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Oakland: 238-202 (137-75 Summit League)
The above record does not include Kampe’s 252 victories in Division II. The fifth-longest tenured coach in Division I (28 seasons), Kampe has built Oakland into a consistent mid-major program and consistent contender in the Summit League.
Eleven future Hall of Famers — Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Chris Mullin and Clyde Drexler — and one college kid, Duke’s Christian Laettner, changed the game of basketball forever with a once-in-a-lifetime, whirlwind tour during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. “It was like Elvis and the Beatles put together,” said Dream Team head coach Chuck Daly. “Traveling with the Dream Team was like traveling with 12 rock stars. That’s all I can compare it to.”
Arguably the greatest group ever assembled in the history of team sports, the Dream Team posted a perfect 8–0 record, winning by an average margin of 43.8 points en route to recapturing the gold medal — which Team USA was unable to win in 1988 — with a 117–85 victory over Croatia.
But the Dream Team did much more than just run full-court layup lines on offense, suffocate comically overmatched opponents on defense (.365 field goal percentage) and sign autographs for anyone with a pen. Jordan’s breakaway dunks, Magic’s passes and Bird’s 3-point marksmanship inspired a new generation, forever changing who and where basketball was to be played.
On the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Olympics, it is safe to say that the Dream Team made basketball a truly global game.
Penalties and sanctions are an unfortunate and rather large part of college football. The NCAA has been especially busy over the last few years, as Penn State, Ohio State, North Carolina, USC and Miami have all run into some sort of trouble with in regards to violations.
In light of the recent sanctions handed down at Penn State, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look back at some of the most unethical programs/moments in college football history.
Mike DuBose took over at Alabama after a successful run by Gene Stallings, but the program recorded only two bowl appearances under his watch. The highlight of DuBose’s tenure was a 10-3 record in 1999 but that year also brought plenty of controversy. Alabama booster Logan Young paid Means’ high school coach to have the top recruit join the Crimson Tide, which brought on an extensive hit from the NCAA. Alabama was banned for two years from postseason play and were forced to reduce 21 scholarships. This incident wasn’t the only one in recent years for the Crimson Tide, as the program was forced to vacate 21 wins from 2005-07 as a result of a textbook scandal.
Gary Barnett may have taken the Purple to Pasadena during a groundbreaking tenure at formerly hapless Northwestern, but his reputation took a hit during a controversial stint at Colorado. A culture of corruption apparently existed on Barnett's watch, including the use of sex and booze to entice recruits to Boulder. Equally damaging was Barnett's dismissive attitude toward rape allegations levied by placekicker Katie Hnida. A 70–3 loss to Texas in the 2005 Big 12 Championship game, along with more allegations of improprieties, led to Barnett's resignation. The program was put on probation and fined for the specific violation of undercharging athletes for meals over a six-year period.
Before Steve Spurrier arrived in Gainesville, the Gators football program was a bit of an underachieving, probation-earning mess. The low point came under coach Charley Pell. After an 0–10–1 season in 1979, his first year at the helm, Pell earned eight wins during an impressive second campaign and seemed to have the Gators on the brink of title contention in the SEC after a 9–2–1 season in 1984. But those improvements had come at a cost. The NCAA found Pell's program to have committed 59 infractions, resulting in a TV and bowl ban for the 1985 and 1986 seasons and a three-year scholarship reduction, penalties that crippled the program until Spurrier's arrival in 1990.
The Seminoles encountered two scandals under former coach Bobby Bowden. A sports agent bought more than $6,000 worth of shoes for Florida State players in 1993, putting the program on probation for a year. The Seminoles ran into NCAA trouble once again in 2007, as 61 players from 10 sports were implicated in an academic scandal. Florida State’s football program was forced to vacate 12 wins and six scholarships.
Hart Lee Dykes (OSU, Texas A&M, Illinois, Oklahoma)
Never has an underachieving wide receiver wreaked so much havoc on the recruiting trail. The Bay City, Texas, native was the subject of a furious recruiting battle that raised the suspicions of the NCAA, and for good reason. Granted immunity by the NCAA for cooperating in their investigation, Dykes revealed a bidding war that involved Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Illinois and Oklahoma State — all of which ended up on probation. The Cowboys finally "earned" Dykes' services, and he contributed to a potent OSU offense, although the presence of Thurman Thomas, Barry Sanders and Mike Gundy no doubt played a role in the Cowboys’ success as well.
The Hurricanes have been in and out of the NCAA doghouse over the last 20 years. Former academic advisor Tony Russell helped to falsify Pell Grants in the 1990s, which helped add some extra cash in the pockets of athletes. Miami lost 31 scholarships over three years and faced a one-year bowl ban. The Hurricanes are under NCAA scrutiny once again, as former booster Nevin Shapiro allegedly provided extra benefits to players. One of Shapiro’s associates (Sean Allen) was recently accused of continuing to work as an illegal recruiter for Miami. Miami instituted a bowl ban in 2011 to help soften the blow from the Shapiro investigation, but the program is still facing stiff penalties from the NCAA.
Butch Davis guided Miami in the aftermath of NCAA sanctions but ran afoul of the NCAA in Chapel Hill. While it’s unfair to pin everything on Davis, especially with line coach John Blake steering players to an agent, but he certainly has to take some of the blame. The allegations weren’t limited to Blake, as some Tar Heel players received improper benefits and there’s an ongoing investigation into an academic scandal.
Barry Switzer was a self-proclaimed players' coach, and late in his tenure in Norman, the inmates were clearly in charge of the asylum. The Sooners athletic dorm was the scene of drug use and gunplay, and former star quarterback Charles Thompson was arrested for attempting to sell cocaine to undercover FBI agents, resulting in Sports Illustrated's famous cover featuring Thompson in handcuffs and prison orange, under the heading "Oklahoma: A Sordid Story - How Barry Switzer's Sooners Terrorized Their Campus." Switzer resigned in 1989, as the program he left behind was going on NCAA probation.
NCAA sanctions derailed a potential run at a national title for Ohio State in 2011. The Buckeyes were picked by many to win the Big Ten last season but Jim Tressel resigned in late May, star quarterback Terrelle Pryor did quit the team in June, and the team had to deal with suspensions and a black cloud hanging over the program all year. The Buckeyes’ troubles began when Tressel failed to report violations of players selling memorabilia for money and tattoos in April 2010. These violations came to light in December 2010, but Pryor and four other teammates were still allowed to participate in the Sugar Bowl. The NCAA tagged Ohio State with a one-year bowl ban in 2012 and docked the Buckeyes nine scholarships over three years.
What was once one of college football’s premier programs was hammered with NCAA violations following a child sexual assault scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Head coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and school vice president Gary Schultz all failed to report Sandusky after learning of allegations in 1998 and 2001, which eventually led the downfall of the program. Paterno was fired in November 2011, while Schultz and Curley are facing perjury charges. The Nittany Lions were slapped with a four-year postseason ban beginning in 2012, must pay a $60 million fine, vacation of wins from 1998-2011 and a reduction in scholarships to 15 a year.
Still the gold standard for cheating in college football, the SMU Mustang football program of the early and mid-1980s was the poster child for the renegade Southwest Conference and general college football lawlessness. An NCAA investigation revealed the existence of a "slush fund" for athletes, and it came to light that in 1985 and 1986 alone, 13 players had been paid a total of $61,000. But that was probably only the tip of an iceberg of corruption; Eric Dickerson had notoriously spent his senior season in high school tooling around Sealy, Texas, in a shiny new Trans-Am before unexpectedly committing to the Mustangs. On Feb. 25, 1987, the NCAA hammer fell in the form of an unprecedented "death penalty" — the suspension of the football program for the 1987 season and the loss of all four home games in 1988.
Speaking of the Southwest Conference, a close runner-up for mid-1980s corruption in the storm-tossed league would seem to be Texas A&M. Amid positive developments under Jackie Sherrill, such as Cotton Bowls and the institution of the 12th Man tradition, the Aggies ran a loose ship and were ultimately deemed to be guilty of such shenanigans as improper employment, extra benefits, unethical conduct and lack of institutional control. Sherrill was not personally implicated in the infractions, but he did resign in 1988, the same year his program went on probation.
Don James was a legend in Seattle, leading the Huskies to six Pac-10 titles, four Rose Bowl wins and a share of the 1991 national championship. Sadly, his career ended in ignominy, as improper booster involvement — including loans, summer jobs and funds for on-campus visits — led to the dreaded NCAA label of "lack of institutional control" and earned the school NCAA and Pac-10 sanctions. James resigned in protest of a lack of support for the coaching staff by then-university president William Gerberding.
He never made it in the pros, but Cade McNown had a stellar college career — and he was also at the center of a major scandal. McNown and other players were charged with illegal possession of handicapped parking passes, leading to countless parking violations and misdemeanor charges for the players involved. McNown pleaded no contest to the charge. In all, 19 Bruins players were implicated in the scam.
Pete Carroll turned USC back into a national title contender but the program also ran afoul of the NCAA under his watch. Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush was allegedly provided gifts, which resulted the NCAA hitting USC with the dreaded lack of institutional control. The Trojans were hit with a two-year postseason ban and a reduction in 30 scholarships over three years. The Trojans are still dealing with the effects of the penalties but should be one of the top contenders for college football’s national title in 2012.
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Athlon's 2012 College Football Rankings
2012 Bowl Projections
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Did the NCAA Get it Right With Penn State Sanctions?
20 Worst College Football Tenures of the Last 50 Years
Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.
Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.
Ranking the Big Ten's Linebackers for 2012
1. Michigan State – Few teams in the nation have as complete and talented a linebacking corps as Mark Dantonio has in East Lansing. A dependable, consistent tackling machine up the middle? His name is Max Bulllough. A speedy, explosive outside backer who can pressure the quarterback with the best defensive ends in the nation? Check, his name is Denicos Allen. A rangy, powerful strongside senior who fills gaps and delivers big hits? Got that too in Chris Norman. Toss in a deep group of thumpers who are champing at the bit to get playing time and Pat Narduzzi has the pleasure of the Big Ten’s top linebackers.
2. Wisconsin – The Badgers don’t have the depth of Michigan State or Penn State, but few teams in the nation have a duo like Chris Borland and Mike Taylor. Borland is a relentless playmaker who finds the football on a regular basis, while Taylor dominates the weakside with a Big Ten-leading 150 tackles. Both were healthy and both enter year two in their new positison (Borland slide inside last fall) and should be that much better. Ethan Armstrong and Conor O’Neill will battle for the third starting spot. Not many teams have one All-American candidate at linebacker and Wisconsin has two.
3. Penn State – Penn State fans certainly expect talented linebacker play in Beaver Stadium. With yet another stacked set of linebackers, the Linebacker-U moniker given to PSU many years ago won’t go anywhere in 2012. Gerald Hodges is one of the nation’s best outside players and could be a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate. The consistent Glenn Carson returns to the middle while Michael Mauti is welcomed back into the starting lineup after tearing his ACL last September. With future stars like Khairi Fortt and Mike Hull on the depth chart, this unit will easily be the most dependable group of Nittany Lions this fall.
4. Ohio State – When Storm Klein was dismissed from the roster this summer, Urban Meyer was faced with a linebacking corps with no returning starters. Have no fear, however, as this is still Ohio State. There is plenty of talent left on the roster in the form of Ryan Shazier, Etienne Sabino and Curtis Grant. This trio could be more explosive and athletic if it can deliver on its elite recruiting status. Conner Crowell and Stewart Smith will figure in the mix as well. With a powerful defensive line in front of them, whoever lines-up at linebacker for the Buckeyes will have little excuse in 2012.
5. Michigan – There is a lot to like about the Wolverines linebacking corps. All three starters return, including an extremely talented true freshman named Joe Bolden. Although the Wolverines bring back some solid talent, there are also concerns about toughness and consistency. Desmond Morgan, Kenny Demens and Jake Ryan could all be shuffled around if Bolden can pick up the college game quick enough. Ryan seems the safest at strongside, but Demens could easily shift outside to accommodate Bolden. There is a lot of talent and experience here, but nothing is set in stone for this Maize and Blue tackling unit.
6. Illinois – Champaign is no joke when it comes to linebackers. A long and storied tradition of tacklers should continue in 2012 with star junior Jonathan Brown. His 108 stops paced the Illini a year ago and he should develop into the leader of the Orange Crush defense. A trio of southern linebackers — Houston Bates, Ralph Cooper, Henry Dickinson — will fill the other traditional spot next to Brown. Technically, Ashante Williams is listed as a linebacker but is really more of a hybrid at the STAR position. He is 5-11, 205 pounds and got plenty of experience last year after Trulon Henry went out. This is a unique alignment that was ranked the No. 2 defense in the Big Ten last fall. Brown is being counted on as the next big star on the Illini defense.
7. Iowa – Two starters return to Kinnick Stadium in the form of juniors James Morris and Christian Kirksey. Each tied with the team lead in stops at 110 a year ago and should continue the recent Iowa tradition of stout linebacker play. If they both can stay healthy all year long, this unit has a chance to be improved. Former defensive back Anthony Hitchens will try to hold off a collection of hard-charging underclassmen for the third and final spot. The group has to show improvement in a crucial year in Iowa under new coordinator Phil Parker.
8. Nebraska – Lavonte David was a special talent who cannot be replaced. Yet, that is exactly what Will Compton has been charged with doing in 2012. He is now the leader of this set of tacklers from his middle backer position. Alonzo Whaley will get the first chance at filling David’s weakside spot while Sean Fisher brings senior experience to the strongside. Two possibly contributors will be fellow redshirt freshmen David Santos and Max Pirman. Santos was poised to play a year ago before an injury forced Bo Pelini’s hand. Both could play significant minutes now that David is gone.
9. Purdue – The return of middle linebacker Dwayne Beckford is a must for Danny Hope’s bowl aspirations in 2012. After some legal issues at the end of last fall and into the spring, Beckford appears ready to anchor the middle of the Boilermakers defense. Will Lucas will be more productive in the simplified system. Joe Gilliam, Armstead Williams and Andy Garcia are three youngsters who will battle for starting time in the base 4-3 scheme.
10. Minnesota – Senior outside backer Mike Rallis was a pleasant surprise in the spring when moved inside. He showed a knack for recognition and leadership and his shift inside stabilizing the middle of the Gopher defense. Keanon Cooper and converted safety James Manuel are now free to roam the edge with the speed and quickness that Jerry Kill desires. The duo should make the Gophers defense significantly faster in 2012. Jephte Matilus provides intriguing depth as well. This unit should be improved.
11. Northwestern – It’s only fitting that a Pat Fitzgerald-coached team will have experience and leadership at the linebacker position. With three starters back, the former linebacker himself has to be excited about his former unit. David Nwabuisi, Damien Proby and Collin Ellis return the linebacking corps completely intact for 2012. Now, they need to show improved toughens and mental acumen. Something that shouldn’t be an issue for a coach of Fitzgerald’s pedigree. The staff is also excited about the athleticism and depth behind its starters as well.
12. Indiana – This unit will feature plenty of new faces in 2012, as two junior college recruits could be starting from day one. Both David Cooper and Jacarri Alexander enrolled in January and proved to be talented enough in spring to start. Redshirt sophomore Chase Hoobler also showed in spring that he could take on more of a role in his second year. This defense finished last in the Big Ten in scoring, rushing and total defense, so newcomers were needed to inject energy.
-by Braden Gall
Ranking the Big Ten's Defensive Lines for 2012
Michigan State is an Emerging Big Ten Power
Ranking the Big Ten's Offensive Lines for 2012
Ranking the Big Ten's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012
College Football Bowl Projections for 2012
Big Ten's Top 25 Heisman Contenders
Athlon's 2012 All-Big Ten Team
Athlon's 2012 Big Ten Predictions
College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012
Urban Meyer's Arrival Has Ohio State Back on Track
For these former 11 Olympians, being famous for their athletic efforts at the games just wasn't enough.
Everyone remembers the former running back as one of the great sports icons of the 1980s; Walker finished in the top three of the Heisman Trophy voting after all three of his seasons at Georgia, and he won the award in ’82. He was also an accomplished sprinter for the Bulldogs track team. Walker played professionally in the USFL and NFL from ’83 to ’97, but many probably have forgotten about his brief foray into Olympic bobsledding: He was on the U.S. two-man team in ’92, and finished seventh.
The princess competed in the 1976 Olympics on Britain’s equestrian team, where she did not medal, though she did medal in the European Eventing Championships. Obviously, Her Royal Highness is far more famous for representing her country than for her athletic feats.
The Princeton basketball star became the youngest member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic basketball team, which won gold. Bradley later went on to a successful NBA career, but became just as (and maybe more) famous as a U.S. Senator from New Jersey from 1979 to 1997 and a Presidential candidate.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias
The Texan won two golds and one silver in the 1932 Games between the javelin, high jump, and 80-meter hurdles. She also dove, roller-skated, bowled, and played baseball and basketball outside the Olympics, but was most famous as a dominant golfer (she won 82 amateur tournaments) and a founding member of the LPGA, where she won 41 events and even played in three PGA men’s events as well. She may be the greatest female athlete of all time.
Larry “Buster” Crabbe
The Hawaiian swimmer won bronze in the 1500-meter freestyle in 1928, and the gold in the 400-meter freestyle four years later. He later starred in over 100 movies, including roles as Tarzan and Flash Gordon.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell
Campbell immigrated to America at age 6, then competed for his country in judo in the 1964 Olympics, where he was injured and did not medal. A military veteran-turned-politician in the 1980s, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987 to 1993, then as a Senator from ’93 to 2005. Campbell switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican side in 1995.
Those of us who grew up in the 1970s know Bruce Jenner as one of the most famous Olympic athletes of his time. Jenner finished third in the decathlon at the 1972 Munich Olympics and won the same event in 1976 in Montreal. He won the Sullivan Award and the AP’s Male Athlete of the Year in ’76 as well. Sadly, later generations know him as the stepfather to Kourtney, Kim and Khloe and father to Kendall and Kylie on the E! reality series, Keeping up with the Kardashians.
The Californian won the decathlon in 1948 and in ’52, and also took Stanford to the Rose Bowl the latter year. He served his state in the U.S. House of Representatives from ’67 to ’75 as well.
Thorpe was the male counterpart of Babe Didrikson, excelling in just about every sport he ever tried. As far as Olympic sports, that included the decathlon and pentathlon, in which he won gold in both at Stockholm in 1912. Those medals were taken away from Thorpe when it later became known he’d taken money for playing baseball, but he was re-awarded them in 1983. He later played Major League Baseball and also in the NFL, where he was elected to the Hall of Fame. After Thorpe’s death, the Pennsylvania town of Mauch Chunk renamed itself “Jim Thorpe” even though Thorpe had never been there.
When Weissmuller was nine, he contracted polio, and doctors recommended swimming as therapy. What a suggestion that turned out to be: He won three swimming gold medals in the 1924 Games and then two more in Amsterdam four years later. The handsome Weismuller became a model one year later before Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cast him as Tarzan in the 1932 hit, Tarzan the Ape Man. He would appear in six more Tarzan movies, and later, 13 Jungle Jimfilms while working for Columbia.
Ryun won silver at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City in the 1500 meters, four years after becoming the first U.S. high school runner to break four minutes in the mile. From 1996 to 2007, Ryun served his native Kansas at one of its U.S. Representatives.
After dictating the heaviest sanctions ever on an athletic program, NCAA President Mark Emmert said, “Our goal is not to be just punitive, but to make sure the university establishes an athletic culture and daily mindset in which football will never again be placed ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people.”
Now I ask you, Mr. Emmert, can you look parents, administrators, professors and students nationwide in the eye and assure them that every one of the NCAA’s institutions “will never again (place football) ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people”?
I would submit there are athletic programs and coaches all over the land that would stutter through questioning under oath defending their programs against accusations of putting sports “ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people.”
Do I believe all athletic programs are guilty of this? No way. Not even close. But to say that sports will “never again” be placed ahead of the ideals and original purposes of university is a bit comical, really.
Has basketball at the University of Kentucky ever been placed “ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people”? What about college football at Alabama? Florida State? USC? Texas? Oklahoma? Michigan? What about lacrosse at Johns Hopkins? Duke?
At Penn State, there has been a sordid individual allowed to commit insidious crimes against young people. This is no doubt a very serious, sinister situation. However…
What business is it of the NCAA?
Shouldn’t the National Collegiate Association of Athletics stick to athletics? The NCAA should be about fair play, enforcing the rules governing the sports, promoting its institutions and ensuring a level playing field exists for all schools. This is a very serious legal matter. It’s not an athletic matter.
There is no doubt that the athletic program, and football program in particular, at Penn State has outgrown its original, primary purpose at the institution. And many coaches and administrators inside and outside the athletic department were much more interested in protecting themselves, their small kingdoms and their legacies than protecting young boys. There is no denying that and there is absolutely no excuse. There should be punishment. And for the record, I agree that Penn State was prudent in taking down the statue of Joe Paterno. But again, this isn’t a place for the NCAA.
I believe that individuals should be punished severely for their actions — and non-actions — in this case. I would take great care in not rushing to judgment and afford all involved due process. This process needs to be thorough. There are clear laws in this country that were specifically written to deal with such atrocities. Let’s allow the legal system to serve its purpose.
Punishing an institution really doesn’t make sense. After all, who really feels the pain when a university is punished? Administrators? Faculty? Students? Alumni? All of the above. And who in that group really deserves it? Maybe some, but those individuals should be dealt with by the courts.
Perhaps that’s an argument against most NCAA penalties, but this situation seems to cast a different light on the concept of punishing an institution long after those that were at fault are gone. And we’ll save that debate for another day.
Individuals, who exercised questionable, if not criminal, judgment, should be relieved of their jobs. But punishing the entire university?
The Penn State penalties as given by the NCAA:
• $60 million fine
I actually like the idea of fines in typical rules violations scenarios. I think it strikes at — or at least near — the heart of why schools are tempted to cheat. However, in this situation, I am concerned about those that actually feel the brunt of the fine. The Penn State athletic department, with the accompanying bowl ban, could struggle to clear $20 million over the next few years. The school will pay this fine over four years, so it all adds up to a lack of revenue to support athletic teams other than the football program. How will the volleyball team travel to games? Will the baseball team have to give up spring break trips to the south because the athletic department can’t afford it? How will the women’s soccer team get its funding?
• 4-year postseason ban
This is a terrific penalty if the players, coaches and students over the next four years commit some serious violations. How does this punish those involved? If the objective is to break down a university for its lack of institutional control over the past 15 years, the fines are sufficient.
• Loss of 40 scholarships
Much like the postseason ban, this cripples a football program. And by crippling the Penn State football program, what else is affected at the university? Other sports in the athletic department.
• Forfeiting 112 games
How can this penalty be anything but punitive? And what purpose does this really serve other than to attack Joe Paterno’s legacy? Perhaps that is reason enough, but is that really the NCAA’s place to do that? Former players and opponents will never view any of those games differently. On Oct. 25, 2008, Penn State went into the Horseshoe in Columbus and defeated the Buckeyes, 13-6. Will this action by the NCAA make Terrelle Pryor and Beanie Wells fell any better about that game? Are LSU fans celebrating their 2010 Capital One Bowl victory today? The fact is that none of the Penn State wins that were vacated were ill-gotten wins. There were no performance enhancing drugs. There were no ineligible players. There were no recruiting violations that enticed players to Happy Valley. There are not illegitimate wins here. Now if the NCAA wants to spend resources digging up old records and details in search of some of the aforementioned violations, that’s one thing.
So, what do we do with this tragic situation? There is no doubt that Jerry Sandusky has created a monumental mess for Penn State. He created it. Others exacerbated the problem by their inaction. Each individual connected with the Penn State football program should be under scrutiny, and either prosecuted or cleared. This begs for a thorough investigation of anyone who could have had knowledge of Sandusky’s actions. And any individuals who had knowledge should be dealt with harshly by the legal system. But there is no basis for grandstanding and headline-grabbing sanctions by the NCAA.
This is a legal matter, not an athletics matter.
Charlie Miller (AthlonCharlie)
Today marks the second part of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council’s annual NASCAR media survey. Previously, Fan Council members rated NASCAR networks, shows and broadcasters. Today, Fan Council members rate reporters (print/internet), websites, radio shows and radio personalities.
Here is what the Fan Council had to say about those groups.
Rate these print/internet reporters with 10 being the highest score and 1 the lowest. (Last year’s score in parenthesis).
NOTE: My name was among those on the list to be rated by Fan Council members. Although Fan Council members were told their vote would remain anonymous, let’s just say that the home-field advantage of hosting the Fan Council helped me tremendously. I’ve taken myself out of the rankings because it was an unfair advantage.
9.07 — Marty Smith, ESPN.com (8.68 last year)
8.77 — Nate Ryan, USA Today (8.37)
8.75 — Bob Pockrass, Sporting News (8.66)
8.70 — Ryan McGee, ESPN The Magazine/ESPN.com (8.00)
8.23 — Jeff Gluck, SB Nation (7.81)
8.15 — Tom Jensen, Speed.com (7.49)
8.13 — Lee Spencer, FoxSports.com (7.48)
7.88 — Jenna Fryer, Associated Press (7.61)
7.85 — David Newton, ESPN.com (7.51)
7.78 — Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service (7.01)
Others: Monte Dutton (Gaston Gazette), Joe Menzer (NASCAR.com), Ed Hinton, (ESPN.com), David Caraviello (NASCAR.com), Terry Blount (ESPN.com), Mike Hembree (Speed.com), Steve Waid (Motorsports Unplugged), Mike Mulhern (MikeMulhern.net), Jay Busbee (Yahoo.com), Tom Bowles (Frontstretch.com), Matt McLaughlin (Frontstretch.com), Lars Anderson (Sports Illustrated), Mark Aumann (NASCAR.com), Bruce Martin (SI.com), Jim Utter (Charlotte Observer), Don Coble (Morris News Service).
What Fan Council members said:
• No one beats Marty Smith. I look forward to his articles, no matter the subject.
• My only problems are that Jeff Gluck sometimes is a bit too informal with his posts (ex: the piece on Mark Martin using his hacker's name on his car) and Jim Utter sometimes comes off so hostile on Twitter that I avoid reading his columns if I can find the same material written elsewhere. Jenna Fryer is probably my favorite, as her stories are always so thorough and informative.
• Bob Pockrass always knows the facts before anyone else and they are accurate. Dustin Long and Jeff Gluck seem to always get good driver interviews.
• In my opinion, the guys writing for NASCAR.com are not impartial. I have stopped reading most of the articles there for that reason. I have the same opinion of some of the writers for ESPN. I prefer the "independents" such as those who write for the Frontstretch. I've always liked Lee Spencer's articles, too.
• Dustin, I'm going to be honest. I gave you a low grade because of the US Army issue. I feel like you crossed the line between journalist and advocate during the time when that US Representative was attacking sponsorship.
• Jim Utter, while a talented writer, is rude to fans on Twitter ESPECIALLY if they respectfully question his opinion on something.
• My favorites by far are Lee Spencer and Marty Smith. They have the confidence of many drivers and owners alike and always call a fair and balanced story. I believe Dustin Long is underrated as a journalist but always takes an approach that is authentic and individual. I enjoy Bob Pockrass's stories and I support his approach. He is ALWAYS working ... the busiest guy in NASCAR, And Nate Ryan seems very honest and thorough with his reporting.
• Ed Hinton is a very talented writer but is so negative and self-centered that the pieces he writes are slanted in that direction. Tom Bowles has the same quality of being self-centered, and his stories are reflecting that.
• I've been reading Monte Dutton and Mike Mulhern seemingly forever. However, Monte's main interest seems to have gone to music, which I enjoy, but would like more of his NASCAR coverage. I also like Matt McLaughlin's approach to coverage commentary from his Southeastern Pennsylvania biker perspective.
• Too many NASCAR writers do not see the whole picture and follow the crowd. I greatly respect those who take the extra steps to view an entire situation, do extra research and look at an entire driver's history and facets before expressing an opinion. Too many just get on the bandwagon or flavor of the day.
• I rated some lower due to lack of professionalism in dealing with their peers. I had to remove several journalists from my Twitter feed because they simply acted like children to each other. That is embarrassing for the sport.
• Mike Hembree, Ed Hinton and Tom Jensen write clear, concise and tight stories that make you want to read more. All true pros. Jeff Gluck, Jenna Bob Pockrass and Monte Dutton have too many biases and are trying to stir some controversy up that is not there.
Rate these NASCAR-themed websites with 10 being the highest score possible and 1 the lowest. (Last year’s score in parenthesis.)
8.47 — Jayski.com (8.32)
8.08 — MotorRacingNetwork.com (NR)
8.04 — SBNation.com (7.75)
7.89 — SportingNews.com (6.35)
7.84 — SI.com (7.00)
7.75 — Speed.com (7.48)
7.61 — Frontstretch.com (6.83)
7.59 — Daly Planet (6.97)
7.41 — SpeedwayMedia.com (6.33)
7.36 — NASCAR Insiders (6.97)
Others: ThatsRacin.com, ESPN.com, NASCAR.com, AthlonSports.com, Insider Racing News, RubbingsRacing.com, FoxSports.com, Skirts and Scuffs, RacingWithRich.com, Motorsports Unplugged, MikeMulhern.net, Catchfence.com, Yahoo.com, Racin Today, Bleacher Report
What Fan Council members said:
• Jayski is at the top of my list. NASCAR.com is at the bottom. You would think the series website would be better organized and have the news on the main page. Not the easiest to navigate either. I go to SBnation.com and ESPN.com the most to find out what is going on in the sport.
• I wish NASCAR Insiders would start posting more often or give it up and tell us who they were … not sure what’s going on there. I have found that I use links off Twitter more than going directly to the website. Only exceptions are NASCAR.com and Jayski, and that's because I do it at work and can't look at Twitter there.
• ESPN.com, FOXSports.com, Jayski.com and Speed.com are BY FAR the best. They cover all sorts of information and it is easy to find. Ironically, I find NASCAR.com far inferior. The Daly Planet had potential, but now it has basically turned into a website for people to complain endlessly about EVERY LITTLE THING.
• SPEED is the NASCAR network, so they have an inside perspective of the sport. With Tom Jensen and Mike Hembree as a 1-2 combo, they make a formidable duo. ESPN has a solid group of writers and so does Yahoo. SI has Dustin Long, which helps them because the other writers are not as good or are better with other series. I subscribe to Frontstretch.com and they have a pretty solid group of writers. Most are really good. The Daly Planet is somewhere to go when you need to understand the inner workings of TV presenting races, making it a valuable resource.
• NASCAR.com isn't as up-to-date as speedtv.com so speedtv.com has become my primary source for NASCAR-related news.
• I don't know what it means for the proprietors of these websites (especially ones not as big as ESPN.com), but with the emergence of Twitter as THE go-to for immediate NASCAR news, I really spend very little time going to actual NASCAR news websites. However, I will call out SBNation.com as a standout ... Jeff Gluck is always putting out lots of content and his approach and tone are very enjoyable.
• I have a love/hate relationship with SBNation.com. Sometimes the site absolutely can knock it out of the park on their articles and posts. There are times, however, where it gets very “tabloid-y.”
• The Daly Planet used to be good, now his agenda has taken over and it’s not worth reading. Half of his "columns" don’t even have anything to do with NASCAR TV. It’s all about Twitter and Danica. He also has no tolerance for other people's opinions. He claims to be a TV insider, yet never actually breaks any news. I don't think he is a race fan because he never goes to the track. Just sits in his bunker in South Florida and writes blog posts about Danica and Twitter. He had something really good and ruined it.
• To pick out just one — thank goodness for The Daly Planet! I might have given up on watching NASCAR if I did not have that blog where I can commiserate with others as to how generally awful most NASCAR programming is these days.
• I am sure I've read articles from most of these entities, but don't remember some of them. The “7” for AthlonSports.com is because I simply don't like the advertising on the page. Not all sports fans are 14-year olds looking for pictures of half-naked young ladies.
Rate these national radio programs with 10 being the highest score possible and 1 the lowest. (Last year’s score in parenthesis).
8.55 — Sirius Speedway, SiriusXM (7.78)
8.53 — The Morning Drive, SiriusXM (7.36)
8.17 — Late Shift, SiriusXM (6.87)
7.97 — Dialed In, SiriusXM (6.76)
7.96 — NASCAR Live, MRN (7.39)
7.95 — The Frontstretch, SiriusXM (6.93)
7.87 — Press Pass, SiriusXM (6.86)
7.81 — Fast Talk, PRN (6.83)
7.76 — The Pit Reporters, PRN (6.74)
7.71 — NASCAR Performance Live, MRN (6.94)
Others: The Backstretch (SiriusXM), Tradin’ Paint (SiriusXM), Speed Sport on FOX, SpeedFreaks, Manifold Destiny (SiriusXM)
What Fan Council members said:
• I'm on the West coast so I rarely get to listen to The Morning Drive but enjoy it when I do. The biggest problem with Tradin’ Paint is the revolving door of hosts. The show doesn't have an identity. I enjoy Sirius Speedway because Dave and Angie are very knowledgeable and I like the breadth of the regular guests. The Speedway Legend Series is awesome. I don't care for Mojo so I don't care for Manifold Destiny. I used to like Dialed In much better when it was earlier, and I still enjoy it when she is at the track and can get guests, but when it’s a lot of callers, she doesn't do as good of a job as other hosts.
• I love listening to The Morning Drive with Bag Man and Pistol Pete. I know they get the "lunatic fringe" calling in and it's tough to put up with some crazy opinions from time to time, but they do a fantastic job with it.
• If Tradin’ Paint didn't push politics so often, I would rate it higher. I love love love Claire B. Lange and the way she interacts with NASCAR personalities and with fans. She obviously loves her job and loves her fans.
• I download the Fast Talk podcast weekly. We all miss BP!
• Still can’t beat PRN and Fast Talk. Doug Rice is just fun to listen too. I don't much care for The Frontstretch. Pat Patterson doesn't get the job done too well.
• The Morning Drive is solid with Bagley and Pistone, while Tradin’ Paint has its moments. Moody and Skinner make a good combo for Speedway, while the Late Shift is always good because Buddy Baker is just a great wealth of stories and laughs.
• Dave Moody should be given a medal for his work. Some of the people that call into that show are amazing and not in a good way...
Rate these national radio hosts and co-hosts with 10 being the highest score possible and 1 the lowest. (Last year’s score in parenthesis).
8.79 — Eli Gold, NASCAR Live, MRN (7.87)
8.75 — Dave Moody, Sirius Speedway, SiriusXM (7.70)
8.51 — Mike Bagley, The Morning Drive, SiriusXM (7.23)
8.47 — Doug Rice, Fast Talk, PRN (7.13)
8.47 — Steve Post, NASCAR Performance Live, MRN (7.20)
8.36 — Pete Pistone, The Morning Drive, SiriusXM (7.08)
8.23 — Buddy Baker, Late Shift, SiriusXM (7.57)
8.18 — Pat Patterson, The Frontstretch, SiriusXM (6.89)
8.06 — Angie Skinner, Sirius Speedway, SiriusXM (7.26)
8.06 — Jim Noble, Late Shift, SiriusXM (6.83)
Others: Brett McMillan (The Pit Reporters, PRN), Claire B. Lang (Dialed In, SiriusXM), Crash Gladys (SpeedFreaks), Kenny Sargent (SpeedFreaks), Chocolate Myers (Tradin’ Paint, SiriusXM), Rob D’Amico (Speed Sport on Fox), Rick Benjamin, (Tradin’ Paint, SiriusXM), Mojo Nixon (Manifold Destiny, SiriusXM)
What Fan Council members said:
• Eli Gold, Claire B. Lange, Dave Moody, Jim Noble and Doug Rice are the absolute best of the best. Anytime I can listen to them I try to. They have so much passion for the sport and never take a break for anything. Angie Skinner is a little too vulgar, but she definitely makes it interesting.
• I don’t listen to a lot of radio, but Dave Moody, Jim Noble and Crash Gladys are really good.
• Always listen to Pete Pistone and Mike Bagley. They are great!
• I like most of the SiriusXM Radio hosts. Claire B. Lang is a unique person that I just don't enjoy listening to on the channel. She rambles on a lot. She could really use a co-host to try and tame her down a bit.
• I enjoy most of these announcers. Angie Skinner has brought some valuable knowledge to Sirius Speedway. Besides having access to “The Gunslinger,” she has also brought some of the behind the scenes "sponsorship chase" information that is fascinating. Rick Benjamin is my least favorite announcer. The moment you disagree or say something controversial, he cuts off the conversation, says you are wrong and hangs up. Tradin' Paint is the one show I will not worry about missing if I know he is on that day.
• TMD and Speedway folks are THE BEST at putting on an entertaining show even when the callers continue to beat topics into the ground sometimes for days!! Buddy Baker is great on any show but needs to be paired up with a better host! He would be excellent with Pat Patterson!!
• I very much enjoy the Sirius NASCAR programs and their hosts. Individually, I think Dave Moody is the best at his job. He calls an ace an ace, and he doesn't take the NASCAR line. I really enjoy Chocolate and Buddy because of their extensive background with racing and providing the history of what they experienced. I've always enjoyed Steve Post's approach in covering NASCAR and am very sorry that he was removed from Tradin' Paint, as Steve and Chocolate made a great team. I enjoy Angie very much so this show is complete. Jim Noble is too cautious in his approach. Eli Gold's show is always a class act. I absolutely can't stand Mojo and Claire B. He does nothing but stir the pot and is crappy about the way he refers to drivers or even callers.
• I love listening to Buddy Baker tell old stories and Claire B Lang has to be the hardest working person in radio. She's a real go-getter!
The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was founded and is administered by Dustin Long. Fans can join by sending Dustin an email at email@example.com.
Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
Penske Racing driver AJ Allmendinger has been indefinitely suspended by NASCAR for violation of the sport’s substance abuse policy.
Initially suspended on July 7 after being informed he had failed a random drug test taken the previous week, Allmendinger had his backup, or “B” sample,” tested. It confirmed the original positive. NASCAR officials have not announced what substance Allmendinger tested positive for.
In a statement released Tuesday, Allmendinger’s business manager, Tara Ragan, had this to say:
“This was not the news we wanted to hear and we will work to get to the source of what may have caused this. To that end, we have secured the services of an independent lab to conduct thorough testing on every product within AJ's home and motor coach to find what might collaborate with his test, which created results that were within nanograms of accepted standards.
“We are working closely with NASCAR and Penske Racing to identify the next action steps in this process. We continue to be extremely grateful by the breadth and scope of support for AJ from his fans and partners. We would like to again thank NASCAR, Penske Racing and all our sponsor partners for the open communication, and for helping us at every step in this process. We expect to have further updates in the upcoming days.”
NASCAR does not reveal the substance a driver, crewman or series official tests positive for. Ragan stated last week that Allmendinger had tested positive for a “stimulant.”
Allmendinger can now choose to enter NASCAR’s “Road to Recovery,” a program tailored to individuals in the sport who have failed drug tests.
Sam Hornish Jr. has filled the empty seat in Penske’s No. 22 Dodge in Allmendinger’s absence and will do so again this weekend for the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He has finishes of 33rd (Daytona) and 22nd (New Hampshire) in the Cup Series while also running a full Nationwide Series slate, where he currently sits fourth in the championship standings.
by Matt Taliaferro
Editor, Athlon Sports
The most wide-open battles for starting quarterback spots are in Arizona, Jacksonville and Miami. Cleveland, Seattle and Tennessee are some other situations that bear watching for different reasons. For the Browns and Titans a decision has to be made on whether to go with the “young” quarterback over the veteran on the roster, whereas the Seahawks appear ready to hold a three-man competition for their starting job.
And then there are the Jets. While Rex Ryan’s team may not be starring on “Hard Knocks” this season, the Jets’ training camp will still attract its fair share of attention, as the media is sure to provide plenty of coverage on the daily Mark Sanchez vs. Tim Tebow “battle.”
New Eras Begin in Indianapolis and Washington
There appears to be no quarterback controversy in both Indianapolis and Washington as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are expected to be the starter for their respective teams come Week 1. Expectations are high for the first two picks of this year’s draft as Luck will attempt to the take the place of a future Hall of Famer, while Griffin will be tasked with leading a once-proud franchise back to the Super Bowl.
No one, however, is expecting either of these scenarios to occur in 2012, especially considering Luck is joining a team that was able to take him at No. 1 overall because it went 2-14 in 2011. The starting quarterback isn’t the only thing that’s new in Indy in 2012 either, as owner Jim Irsay brought in a new general manager (Ryan Grigson) and head coach (Chuck Pagano), in addition to overhauling the Colts’ roster during the offseason and through the draft. Now fellow rookies Grigson, Pagano and Luck hope to transform the Colts into a new version of the team that dominated the AFC South from 2002-10.
The situation in Washington is a little different as head coach Mike Shanahan and owner Daniel Snyder want to win now. That’s easier said than done considering the Redskins are in the NFC East, the same division as the defending Super Bowl Giants, not to mention the Cowboys and Eagles. So while no one is expecting the ‘Skins to win the division this season, an improvement on last season’s 5-11 showing must happen. Otherwise, Shanahan may not be around long enough to see if Griffin was worth trading up for in the first place.
Peyton’s New Place
Luck is the starter in Indianapolis because, after 14 seasons, Peyton Manning is no longer there. After cutting ties with the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 1998, the coveted free agent decided to sign a five-year contract with Denver, much to the delight of both Broncos’ fans and John Elway, the Hall of Fame quarterback and team’s executive vice president of football operations.
Elway and the rest of the Broncos’ front office is pinning their hopes of another Super Bowl title on Manning, who last played in an NFL game in January 2011. Manning appears to be healthy after missing all of last season because of multiple neck surgeries, but no one knows for sure until they get a close look at him in action, both in training camp and in preseason games.
Denver head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy are comfortable handing the offense over to Manning, and the team has made multiple moves during the offseason to provide No. 18 with more weapons. However, it will be for naught if the Broncos don’t make the postseason, or worse, if Manning succumbs to injury once again. After all, Manning’s current backup is former Chicago Bear Caleb Hanie, who could end up losing that job this season to second-round pick Brock Osweiler.
Without question, no team had a worse offseason than New Orleans. Thankfully, with training camp opening on Tuesday, the team can finally turn its focus to this season. Or at least that’s what they would like to do.
The truth is that the questions about the bounty scandal and the NFL’s punishments stemming from it, won’t go away anytime soon, especially since Saints head coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma are both suspended for the entire season because of it.
General manager Mickey Loomis and interim head coach Joe Vitt, both of whom will be serving multi-game suspensions themselves once the regular season starts, will get the bulk of the questions, but the players will not be immune to the constant queries. One can’t help but wonder how much of a distraction this will be for the Saints during training camp.
At least the Saints do have some good news to talk about as franchise quarterback Drew Brees and the team finally came to agreement on a new five-year contract worth $100 million, including a record $60 million guaranteed. Then again, Brees has already filed an affidavit in support of teammate Vilma’s appeal of his season-long suspension by the NFL.
One way or another, Bountygate isn’t going away anytime soon. This just adds another obstacle for the Saints to overcome as they prepare to defend their NFC South crown against an Atlanta team that won 10 games in 2011 and a Carolina team that should be even better in Cam Newton’s second year.
Dynasty in Philadelphia?
Apparently Michael Vick didn’t learn anything from the mistake made by his former teammate Vince Young, who declared the Eagles a “Dream Team” prior to last season, only to watch them finish a disappointing 8-8 and miss the playoffs. In fact, you could argue Vick went a step further than Young’s bold prediction when he said in a recent interview that he thinks the Eagles could develop into a dynasty.
Before Vick and the rest of the Eagles can even start to mention their team in the same breath as the Steelers from the 1970s or the 49ers from the ‘80s or even the Patriots from the 2000s, they may want to win one Super Bowl, something the franchise has yet to do in its history.
For what it’s worth, the Eagles look to be a legitimate playoff contender in 2012, as the team took a different route to improving its roster this offseason. Unlike the free-agent spending spree that took place in 2011, this time around the Eagles used trades and the draft to further bolster their defense, while signing key offensive playmakers LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson to contract extensions.
So once again the Eagles look the part, at least on paper, to be a contender not only in 2012, but also beyond. But if last season showed the team and everyone else anything, it’s that the games aren’t played on paper. If the Vick and his teammates have any hopes of laying the groundwork for a possible dynasty, it needs to start this season; otherwise head coach Andy Reid may be looking for a new job.
— By Mark Ross, published on July 24, 2012
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Position battles are always one of the main focuses during training camp and no position garners more attention and scrutiny than quarterback. While the majority of NFL teams are set when it comes to their starter under center, there are several teams that are searching for an answer as training camps get underway.
As it stands right now, the starting jobs in Arizona, Jacksonville and Miami appear to be completely wide open. Cleveland, Seattle and Tennessee are unsettled to different degrees and when it comes to the Jets, let’s just say it’s a made-for-TV storyline that everyone will be watching.
Duel in the Desert
A year ago, Arizona thought that it had found their long-term answer when the team acquired Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia. Not only did the Cardinals send cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round pick to the Eagles for Kolb last July 29, they then signed him to a five-year contract worth more than $62 million.
So far, the returns have been nothing short of disastrous, as Kolb went 3-6 as the Cardinals’ starter last season, completing less than 58 percent of his passes for 1,955 yards and accounting for fewer touchdowns (nine, all passing) than turnovers (11 total). Kolb also had to deal with a foot injury and a concussion that cost him the final month of the season. To make matters worse, backup John Skelton had better numbers (1,913 yards passing, 14 TD, 11 INT) in fewer starts and led the Cardinals to a winning record (5-2) in those games.
The Cadinals’ training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz., got going on Tuesday, so now is the time for Kolb to show head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the rest of the coaching staff, the front office and his teammates that he’s the guy to lead them back to the playoffs, otherwise Skelton may get an extended look and a legitimate shot at the starting job. Sixth-round pick Ryan Lindley out of San Diego State also bears watching.
Prediction: The Cardinals have too much invested in Kolb to not give him another chance. However, I think he will under a short leash and they will turn to Shelton should he struggle once again.
Does Gabbert Get Another Chance in Jacksonville?
In Jacksonville, Blaine Gabbert did little, if anything at all, in his rookie season to show that he has what it takes to be a capable starting quarterback in the NFL. It also doesn’t help that the Jaguars have a new head coach, Mike Mularkey. On the other hand, the regime change presents Gabbert a chance to start over with a new coaching staff, one led by Mularkey, who helped develop Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan during his time as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator.
Whether Gabbert will get the chance to prove his worth come Week 1 remains to be seen, as he will more than likely have to hold off Chad Henne in training camp to remain the Jaguars’ starter. Nathan Enderle and Jordan Palmer are also expected to participate in training camp with the Jaguars.
Prediction: As bad as Gabbert was in 2011, it’s entirely too early to completely give up on him. Jacksonville isn’t expected to compete for a playoff spot, so I think Mularkey will give Gabbert another season to show if he’s the long-term answer or not.
Who Starts in Miami?
Just like Jacksonville, Miami also has a new head coach as former Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin takes over the Dolphins. The first-year head coach will experience plenty of new things running his first training camp in Davie, Fla., one of those being he won’t see Aaron Rodgers out on the field in a red jersey.
Instead Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman will have to decide if their starting quarterback for Week 1 will be Matt Moore, David Garrard or first-round pick Ryan Tannehill out of Texas A&M. Moore went 6-6 as the ‘Fins’ primary starter last season, putting up respectable numbers (2,497 yards passing, 16 TD, 9 INT) in the process. Garrard spent nine seasons (2002-09) in Jacksonville, five of those as the starter, before sitting out last season with a back injury. He appears to be fully healthy and some reports label him as the early front-runner for the starting job.
Tannehill appears to be the long shot at this point because the team wants to give the No. 8 overall pick as much time as they can to develop. After all, Tannehill is the first quarterback taken by the Dolphins in the first round of the draft since 1983. That year, Miami selected a certain University of Pittsburgh quarterback at No. 27 overall. That quarterback was named Dan Marino and he worked out pretty well. The Dolphins are hoping history will repeat itself with Tannehill, even if it may take some time to see the finished product on the field.
Prediction: Garrard may reportedly have the early lead, but I think Moore will overtake him in the end and be the Dolphins’ Week 1 starter. Moore, who turns 28 in August, showed last season what he’s capable of and he presents more upside than Garrard, who’s 34. I also don’t think Tannehill gets on the field for a single snap this season. He’s the future and they are going to take their time with him.
Browns Could Turn to “Old” Rookie
Cleveland also used a first-round draft pick on a quarterback, taking Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden at No. 22 overall. Unlike Tannehill, Weeden appears to have a very good shot at starting for the Browns in Week 1, provided he performs better than incumbent starter Colt McCoy in training camp.
Weeden is not your typical NFL rookie, just as he wasn’t a typical college quarterback for the Cowboys. At 28, Weeden became the oldest ever taken in the first round of the NFL Draft when the Browns took him. In fact, Weeden is four years older than McCoy, five years older than Cam Newton, last season’s AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, and nearly two months older than Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP.
Whether Weeden follows more the path of McCoy or Newton (minus the rushing numbers) in his first season remains to be seen, but it does look like the Browns are willing to put him out on the field early, perhaps starting in Week 1, to find out.
Prediction: You don’t draft a 28-year-old rookie quarterback and not find out if he can play in the NFL, right? I think Weeden gets the call in Week 1 and it will be up to him if he keeps the job or not.
Three-Way Battle in Seattle
Prior to the draft in April, it looked like Seattle settled its quarterback situation when it signed free agent Matt Flynn in March. The Seahawks signed Flynn, who served as Rodgers’ backup in Green Bay, to a three-year deal worth $26 million with $10 million guaranteed.
One thing Flynn’s new contract doesn’t seem to guarantee, however, is the Seahawks’ starting job as early indications are that head coach Pete Carroll will give Flynn, incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson and third-round pick Russell Wilson out of Wisconsin equal snaps with the first-team offense.
Jackson went 7-7 as the Seahawks’ starter in 2011 and has 34 career starts under his belt, compared to a grand total of two for Flynn. Then again Flynn threw for 518 yards and six touchdowns in his lone start last season, and you don’t sign someone to a contract like this to be the backup, do you?
And what about Wilson? Could the highly polished and accomplished college quarterback who slid down everyone’s draft board in April because of his size (5-11) prove everyone wrong by wresting the starting job from the two veterans? Whoever ends up under center come Week 1, it should make for an interesting couple of weeks at Seahawks’ camp in Renton, Wash.
Prediction: Jackson has had his chances as a starting quarterback for two different teams. And while his record (17-17) as a starter for both the Vikings and the Seahawks is respectable, I think there’s a reason the team committed three years and all that money to Flynn. Besides, Seattle’s already gone down this road with another Green Bay backup quarterback once before and that worked out pretty well for the team.
The Future is now in Tennessee?
Tennessee Titans training camp in Nashville also bears watching because it’s possible that Jake Locker, the team’s first-round pick (No. 8 overall) in 2010, could unseat veteran Matt Hasselbeck for the starting job. Hasselbeck put together his best season since 2007 as he nearly led the Titans to the playoffs in his first season not in a Seattle uniform.
However, Locker showed signs of what he’s capable of in the five games he played in last season. In fact, the rookie fared so well that Titans’ head coach Mike Munchak has already declared that there will be an open quarterback competition for the starting job in training camp, which starts up on Friday for the veterans.
Early indications are that Locker will have to clearly out-perform Hasselbeck in order to wrest the Week 1 starting job away from the 13-year veteran. Whether that happens or not, it does look like the 36-year-old Hasselbeck will be turning the reins over sooner rather than later to the 24-year-old Locker.
Prediction: Locker is the future in Tennessee, but I don’t see that starting in Week 1. I think Hasselbeck holds off the rookie to start the season, but wouldn’t be surprised to see Locker take over by the end of October or early November.
The “Battle” Everyone Will Be Watching
Age is certainly not the issue as far as the Jets’ starting quarterback situation goes. Mark Sanchez is a little more than a year older than Tim Tebow, but head coach Rex Ryan has already made it clear that Sanchez is the starter and Tebow is the backup.
Of course that means little to the media throng that will descend upon Jets’ training camp when the two report on Thursday. After all that’s what happens when you play in the media capital of the world and the team shows it faith in its incumbent starter by trading for a guy who attracts more attention than anyone and fared better as a starter last season.
For all the criticism regarding his abilities as a passer, Tebow had a better record (7-4) as a starter than Sanchez (8-8) last season, and that doesn’t include his win over Pittsburgh in the first round of the AFC Playoffs. Sanchez actually had his best season in terms of statistics in 2011, but all that production (3,474 yards passing, 26 TD) didn’t carry the Jets to the playoffs.
And in New York, which also is home to the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, winning and playing in the postseason is what truly matters. So while Sanchez may be the clear-cut starter, Tebow will see his share of snaps under center too.
The pressure is on Ryan and the Jets to get back to the playoffs this season. Sanchez may be the starter, but if Tebow and the team produce better results when he’s under center, Ryan may have no choice but to make the switch.
So while Sanchez’ status as the Jets’ starting quarterback is clear in July and August, come September his job security will come down to what he does with the football when it’s in his hands.
Prediction: Despite his best efforts, the quarterback situation is persistent distraction throughout the season for Ryan and the rest of the team. Sanchez’ poor play at the start of the season leads to a near 50-50 split on snaps come October. Sanchez requests a trade at season’s end, if not sooner, and the Jets end up drafting a quarterback in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, meaning we get to revisit this again next season.
— By Mark Ross, published on July 24, 2012
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Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.
The Cleveland Browns check in at No. 28.
Losing takes a toll — on everyone. Players, fans, the front office, everyone. In Cleveland, an angry and frustrated fan base wanted offseason action. It didn’t get it in free agency, where the Browns bypassed the quick — and expensive — fix. It might have gotten it on draft night, when the Browns cast their lot with a new running back and a new quarterback, both of whom are expected to start immediately.
One trade and two picks left the Browns with a new offense and a new approach. Running back Trent Richardson is expected to provide the steady, tough, dependable play the team lacked last season. At 28, quarterback Brandon Weeden became the oldest player ever selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Immediately the team talked about Weeden starting, and an offense that was miserable in 2011 was betting its chances for revival on two draft picks. The schedule and division are brutal, but the Browns believe a top runner and new passer will bring them closer to competitive than they’ve been in a long time.
The Browns were woeful in 2011, scoring only 13.6 points per game and finishing 29th in total yards per game (288.8). The league’s top two offenses — Green Bay and New Orleans — outscored them by three touchdowns per game. That’s bad.
Something had to be done, and the team identified four areas that needed fixing: running back, receiver, right tackle and quarterback. The quarterback situation was an endless offseason debate, with a good portion of the fan base believing a better supporting cast would help last year’s starter, Colt McCoy.
The organization did not agree. Despite professing fondness and appreciation for McCoy, the Browns first tried to trade up not with Washington but with Indianapolis for the pick that would be Andrew Luck. The Colts quickly rebuffed that effort. Then the Browns tried to acquire the draft pick that would be Robert Griffin III, but could not finish the trade. Then it took a 28-year-old rookie with the 22nd pick in the first round of the draft.
It’s a measure of the Browns’ struggles that the team looked on Weeden’s age not as a weakness — like most of the league — but as a strength. While most teams saw a guy who would be 29 in October and perhaps 31 by the time he “got it,” the Browns saw an experienced and mature player more capable of stepping in right away than a 21- or 22-year-old coming out of college. That’s how badly they wanted someone who could play right away.
The Browns believe that Weeden’s experience in minor league baseball taught him a lot about being a pro. They believe that will translate into on-field success sooner than the normal rookie learning curve would indicate.
Weeden’s every measurable is better than McCoy’s. He threw for 71 touchdowns the last two season while completing just under 70 percent of his throws at Oklahoma State. But he will face a difficult task, with six in-division games against the defenses of the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals. He’ll also travel to face the Giants and Broncos.
One advantage Weeden will have that McCoy did not: Weeden will hand off to a talented and gifted running back in Richardson, who is also a rookie. The Browns liked the former Alabama star enough to give up three late-round picks to move up from fourth overall to third to ensure his selection. It was a smart move — especially after they didn’t get their guy from the Colts or Redskins.
Weeden’s biggest challenge: Learning a new offense while adjusting from a shotgun-spread to working under center. He will have a rookie right tackle in second-round draft pick Mitchell Schwartz of Cal and the same group of receivers that led the league in drops a year ago.
Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi and the rest will have to do better. The Browns believe experience and a better quarterback will help the receivers. They also believe a better running game will help the quarterback. Coach Pat Shurmur calls it synergy, something the Browns lacked almost completely last season.
The Browns are asking a lot of three rookies by expecting them to step right in and change the offense. But things were going nowhere fast with the folks from last season. Results may not be immediate, but this was an offense that needed a drastic overhaul, and it got one.
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Because the Browns were so focused on the offense in the offseason, their moves to improve the defense were more, shall we say, subtle. Basically the Browns added two players to a defense that gave up 147.4 rushing yards per game but still ranked 10th overall.
In free agency, the Browns added two journeymen defensive ends — Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker. Rucker is penciled in to start opposite Jabaal Sheard. Parker will fit in a rotation. Same with third-round pick John Hughes, a surprise choice out of Cincinnati. In the three linemen, the Browns wanted to add depth to a unit that has three legitimate starters — Sheard and tackles Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin. Whether that makes for great improvement is up for debate.
The Browns’ linebackers are solid, but not spectacular. Cornerback is a concern. Joe Haden’s play dropped off noticeably as 2011 progressed, and it’s very possible Dimitri Patterson could push aging veteran Sheldon Brown to safety.
The Browns’ defense felt pretty good about itself in 2011, primarily because of its overall ranking and because it only allowed 19.2 points per game. But the run defense numbers seem to undermine the overall rankings. It’s tough to be an effective defense without stopping the run. How this group improves at that facet of the game will determine how it fares in 2012.
The Browns’ tradition of having outstanding specialists continues. The team has placed the franchise tag on placekicker Phil Dawson two years in a row for good reason. He is one of the finest, most dependable kickers in the league. While others work in domes or warm weather, Dawson succeeds in the cold, wind and elements on Lake Erie. The punting competition will be settled in preseason camp. Josh Cribbs is an outstanding returner, but he’s also 28. Rookie Travis Benjamin could challenge Cribbs in the return game.
Final Analysis: 4th in the AFC North
The Browns will go as far as a 28-year-old rookie quarterback can take them, but it won’t be far. The mountain Cleveland has to climb within the division is enormous — Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati were all playoff teams last season. The Browns have the third-toughest schedule in the league and an opening six games that would make a veteran worry. The Browns could be improved in 2012, but they still might not win seven games.
Related: 2012 Cleveland Browns Schedule Analysis
Outside The Huddle
Brown and Out
Rarely has one team done so little for so many. Since the expansion Browns started play in 1999, they have won a total of 68 games. That’s an average of only 5.2 wins per season. Is it any wonder the fan base is beyond frustrated?
Next Man Up
If Brandon Weeden is the opening-game starter for the Browns, he will be the fifth different starter on opening day in the past five years. The list reads this way: Weeden, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. Weeden also will be the 16th player to start at quarterback for the Browns since 1999. That list includes Ty Detmer, Tim Couch, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Anderson, Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and McCoy.
Weeden is not just old; he’s the oldest player ever drafted in the first round. His age when selected: 28 years and 195 days. Nobody counted the hours.
Trent Richardson joins a team with a history of backs that includes Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly and Marion Motley. But no Browns back has ever been taken as high as Richardson was in the draft, when he went third overall. Jim Brown weighed in on the possible selection of Richardson before the draft with some words of serious caution. Said Brown of Richardson: “I think he’s ordinary.” OK, then.
Team president Mike Holmgren admitted that he talked to the Colts twice to see if they might trade out of the first spot so the Browns could draft Andrew Luck. The Colts declined. Holmgren said talks were brief. “I believe I was in the swimming pool at the owners meetings and I had a drink in my hand,” he said. No word on whether the drink had an umbrella. For the record, Holmgren was joking.
It’s unclear what it means, but the Browns may have more former head coaches on their staff than any other team. Pat Shurmur’s staff includes offensive coordinator Brad Childress (Minnesota), defensive coordinator Dick Jauron (Chicago, Buffalo) and senior defensive assistant Ray Rhodes (Philadelphia, Green Bay).
Statistics sometimes tell the story. The past four years, the Browns offense has ranked 29, 29, 29 and 31 in a 32-team league. In scoring, the Browns the past four years have ranked 30, 31, 32 and 30.
2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:
No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Thur., July 26
Order your 2012 Cleveland Browns Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here
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Related: 2012 Cleveland Browns Schedule Analysis