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The Pac-12 is one of the nation's top conferences for offense, so it should be no surprise that six of the top 10 players in Athlon's top 50 for 2012 check in on that side of the ball. USC's Matt Barkley is the frontrunner to win the Heisman, while receivers Robert Woods, Keenan Allen, Marqise Lee and Marquess Wilson are all All-American candidates. While the defense doesn't have as many players in the top 10, Utah's Star Lotulelei and USC's T.J. McDonald rank among the top six players.
Compiling the top 50 players of any conference is never an easy task. However, Athlon established a criteria to help compile the rankings.
(Published August 14, 2012)
Athlon's Top 50 Pac-12 Players for 2012
1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
After throwing 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions over his final four games in 2011, the consensus was Barkley was gone to the NFL. Instead, he surprised a lot of folks with his decision to return for one more shot at a national title and has USC poised to play for the championship in January. Barkley enters 2012 with 9,054 yards and 80 touchdowns and is Athlon’s first-team All-American quarterback for 2012. The senior ranks third in school history with 9,013 career yards, and his 80 touchdown passes are fifth in Pac-12 history. The only missing pieces on Barkley’s resume? A Pac-12 title, national championship and Heisman. All three are certainly within reach in 2012.
2. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
When the guys who are trying to block you officially vote you as the best defensive lineman in the league, it’s pretty hard to argue. Lotulelei earned such an honor last year when he was given the Morris Trophy, the award given to the best D-Lineman in the Pac-12 as voted on by starting offensive linemen. His 6-foot-4, 320-pound frame has NFL written all over it, as Utah hopes its Star in the middle can lead what was the league’s top scoring defense last year. The senior from South Jordan, Utah is a first-team All-American and looks to build on his 9.0 tackles for a loss and 44 total tackles.
3. Robert Woods, WR, USC
One half of USC’s impressive receiver duo, Woods was one of eight players in the country to catch more than 100 passes -- and he was the only one to do so in 12 games thanks to USC’s bowl ban. Woods will get his chance to play in the postseason after accounting for 176 catches for 2,084 yards and 21 touchdowns (15 last season) in his first two years at USC.
4. Keenan Allen, WR, California
Few players in the nation have as much raw physical talent and skill as Allen possesses. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound stud from Greensboro, N.C., flashed first-round NFL talent as only a sophomore last year by catching 82 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns. He is the half-brother of quarterback Zach Maynard and clearly has an unspoken rapport with Cal signal caller. Look for this to be Allen’s final year in a Golden Bear uniform.
5. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Even at Oregon, where speed and explosiveness runs aplenty, Thomas found a way to stand out as a freshman. The 5-foot-9, 173-pound running back from Los Angeles averaged a 16-yard gain every time he touched the ball. That was half a yard more than any other Ducks’ regular and twice as much as either LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner. Thomas scored 18 total touchdowns as a rookie (nine rushing, seven receiving, two on kickoff returns).
6. T.J. McDonald, S, USC
The USC legacy — his father Tim was a two-time All-American at USC from 1983-1986 — is a powerful hitter at the back end of the No. 1 team in the nation. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior has 23 career starts, 163 career tackles and six career interceptions. The Fresno (Calif.) Edison product is an Athlon Sports All-American and Thorpe Award candidate heading into his final season.
7. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
Most Pac-12 fans are familiar with Wilson but expect to see him become a household name nationally after 2012. With Mike Leach’s pass-first attack coming to Pullman, the Cougars should be one of the top offenses in the nation. Wilson has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and caught 18 touchdown passes over the last two years. His best performance came against San Diego State in 2011, grabbing six passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. With Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Keenan Allen returning, it will be a battle to get first-team all-conference honors. However, there’s no question Wilson will have the stats to get in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 and All-American honors.
8. Nickell Robey, CB, USC
An All-State second-team baseball player and district long jump champion, Robey faced no mystery of where he’d fit at USC. The junior has started every game in the secondary since he arrived on campus. Robey will make a bid at All-America status after recording 63 tackles, nine pass breakups and two interceptions last season (including one returned for a touchdown in the triple-overtime loss to Stanford).
9. John Boyett, S, Oregon
Playing for an underrated defense, Boyett’s status as one of the nation’s best safeties does not get much attention. Entering his fourth-season as a starter, Boyett has 276 career tackles. He fell one tackle short in 2010 of leading the Ducks in tackles in each of his three seasons on campus. Boyett is a touchdown-saving safety who also has nine career interceptions.
10. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
With Robert Woods posting a record-setting season on the other side, it was easy to overlook Lee’s performance in 2011. As a true freshman, he finished with 73 receptions for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Lee came on strong over the second half of the season, catching at least seven passes in each of the final five games. Woods is still USC’s No. 1 receiver, but Lee will see plenty of passes in his direction. Expect the sophomore to surpass last season’s totals, while pushing for All-American honors.
11. Keith Price, QB, Washington
Replacing Jake Locker was no easy task, but it didn’t take long for Price to emerge as one of the conference’s top quarterbacks last year. The California native threw for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, while adding three scores on the ground. Knee injuries limited Price in the second half of last season, but he will be 100 percent for the season opener. The Huskies still have question marks on defense, but Price’s emergence should allow Washington to push Stanford for second in the Pac-12 North.
12. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
The outside linebacker from Marietta, Ga., became an instant playmaker on on the Stanford defense the last three seasons, recording 46 tackles for a loss during that span. He led the Pac-12 last season with 2.1 tackles behind the line last season while forcing five fumbles. With Shayne Skov back, he and Thomas could be one of the nation’s best linebacker tandems.
13. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
The senior from Piedmont, Calif., has had an up and down career at Stanford. He has NFL potential, a savvy on-the-field toughness that has helped the Cardinal develop into a West Coast power. He has also dealt with major injuries on more than one occasion and an off-the-field issue. The DUI will cost him one game with a suspension this fall, but should he stay healthy, the 6-foot-3, 242-pounder could be an All-American this fall.
14. Dion Jordan, DE/LB, Oregon
Athleticism and speed are two hallmarks of Oregon’s defense, so it was really no surprise when Jordan shifted from tight end to defensive end before the 2010 season. And after spending one year as a reserve, Jordan shined in his first full season as a starter in 2011, recording 42 tackles, 13 TFL and 7.5 sacks. He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors and was named to the watchlists for the Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski and Hendricks Award for 2012. Jordan is Oregon’s top rush end and should only get better with another offseason to refine his skills on defense.
15. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
The Astoria, Ore., cornerback is one of the most underrated players in the entire country. As a lockdown cover corner, few in the league can match the Oregon State Beaver who has returned an interception for a touchdown in two straight seasons. He also took a punt back for a score against UCLA last fall. His special teams prowess make Poyer one of the biggest impact players in all of the Pac-12.
16. Khaled Holmes, C, USC
With Matt Kalil moving onto the NFL, it’s up to Holmes to become the leader for USC’s offensive line. That shouldn’t be a problem for the California native, as he has started in each of the last two years and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Holmes made a seamless transition from guard to center in 2011 and should be one of the top linemen in college football this year.
17. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
Oregon isn’t panicking over the loss of running back LaMichael James, mainly because Barner has shown what he can do with the ball in his hands the last two seasons. Oregon’s run game didn’t miss a beat when Barner subbed for James. Barner has averaged 6.1 yards per carry and has scored 20 touchdowns in his career. Now it’s his turn to be the No. 1 running back.
18. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
As only a true freshman, the big-time prep star from Gig Harbor High School produced a season no Washington freshman tight end has ever posted. His 538 yards receiving were No. 2 all-time in UW history for a freshman of any position while ranking No. 3 all-time for any tight end of any age. He did all of that on 41 catches to go with six touchdowns. He has a chance to be the best player at his position nationally with continued development.
19. Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
Clay is one of the Pac-12’s most underrated players heading into 2012. Despite missing two games last season, he recorded 102 tackles, three sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles. Despite his standout year, Clay didn’t even earn honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. Expect that to change in 2012, as the San Jose native will be in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 honors as the leader of Oregon’s linebacking corps.
20. John White, RB, Utah
The junior college transfer set a school record with 1,520 rushing yards in his first season on campus. With starting quarterback Jordan Wynn hurt, Utah relied on White to be a workhorse in the Utes’ first season in the Pac-12. White delivered as one of only seven quarterbacks in the country to top 300 carries. He also rushed for 15 touchdowns.
21. David Yankey, OL, Stanford
The redshirt sophomore from Roswell, Ga., has big shoes to fill now that Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro have moved on. But the cupboard isn't bare with big Yankey leading the way. This unit was No. 17 nationally in rushing (trailing only Oregon inside the league) and seventh nationally in protecting the quarterback. Yankey should only be that much better in his second full season on the field.
22. Dion Bailey, LB, USC
As only a freshman, Bailey proved to be an invaluable member of the Trojan defense. He posted 81 tackles, a pair of sacks and a pair of interceptions en route to freshman All-American honors. Now, as a sophomore, Bailey has Butkus Award potential and the chance to lead the his team to a national championship.
23. Travis Long, DE/LB, Washington State
Long has quietly been one of the Pac-12’s most underrated defenders over the last three years. The Spokane native recorded 10 sacks and 25 tackles for a loss from 2010-11 and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Long has played his first three years on the line but is expected to move into a hybrid rush end/linebacker spot. With the Cougars switching to a 3-4, the senior will be counted upon to be the team’s top pass rusher, while continuing to help stuff the run off the edge.
24. Silas Redd, RB, USC
Redd’s decision to transfer to USC alleviated a major concern about the offense. Although Curtis McNeal had a solid 2011 season, the Trojans needed more depth at the position, and Redd is one of the top 15-20 backs in the nation. In two years with Penn State, he recorded 1,678 yards and nine touchdowns. Redd posted six 100-yard efforts last season, including 164 in the 34-24 win over Northwestern. Redd won’t see 250 carries, but having an every-down back is a key pickup for USC’s offense.
25. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
With Andrew Luck gone to the NFL, more of the focus of the offense will be on Taylor. There’s no reason to think Taylor’s not up to the challenge. He’s topped 220 carries in each of the last two seasons, rushing for a combined 2,467 yards and 25 touchdowns. The Stanford offense has been more or less a power-run game even with Luck at quarterback, so Taylor should be ready for what’s coming.
26. Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
The injury bug bit Tuel last season, as he played in only three games and completed 29 of 45 throws for 276 yards and one score. The California native suffered a broken collarbone in the season opener but returned later in the year, only to miss the final five games with a leg injury. Tuel has flown under the radar in his career, as most expected him to emerge as an all-conference candidate last season, especially after throwing for 2,780 yards and 18 scores in 2010. With Mike Leach arriving in Pullman, the Cougars should have one of the nation’s top passing threats. If Tuel can stay healthy, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns is easily within reach.
27. Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
Marshall was essentially a one-man show at running back last season, carrying 230 times. No other Sun Devil running back topped 13 attempts. Marshall delivered with 1,050 yards and 18 touchdowns, tied with LaMichael James for the post in the Pac-12.
28. David Bakhtiari, OL, Colorado
The junior left tackle is one of the few veteran, Pac-12-caliber players for Colorado, earning coaches’ second-team all-conference last season. Bakhtiari is entering his third season a starter.
29. Wes Horton, DE, USC
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound senior will be counted on by Lane Kiffin to lead the Trojan defensive line in 2012. This might be the key area of concern for a USC run at a national title and Horton will have to build on his four-sack third season.
30. Kevin Graf, OL, USC
Protecting Matt Barkley might be considered the single most important charge of any unit in the nation. The former top 100 recruit turned All-Pac-12 junior is the most accomplished of the bunch and will be asked to lead in Matt Kalil's absence. The Agoura Hills, Calif., native is the third Graf to call Heritage Hall home — his brother and father both played at USC.
31. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford
The big defensive lineman was named Stanford's most outstanding sophomore last fall after starting 12 games and registering 35 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Hailing from Mequon, Wisc., Gardner will be asked to rush the passer and keep offensive linemen off of the very talented Cardinal linebackers this fall.
32. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Crichton was one of the Pac-12’s top breakout players last season, recording 74 tackles, six sacks, 14.5 tackles for a loss and six forced fumbles – as a redshirt freshman. The Beavers need another big season from Crichton, especially since the defense was the worst in the Pac-12 against the run. The sophomore is only scratching the surface of his potential and should build upon his standout freshman campaign.
33. Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
In a league stacked with future NFL stars at wide receiver, it is easy for Wheaton to get overlooked. With a freshman quarterback throwing the ball, the dynamic athlete caught 73 passes for 986 yards to go with 190 yards rushing. It would not be going out on a limb to suggest Wheaton reaches paydirt more than the one touchdown he scored last fall.
34. Kiko Alonso, LB, Oregon
After a standout performance in the Rose Bowl (five tackles, one interception, 1.5 sacks), Alonso is primed for a breakout season as one of Oregon’s top defenders. The senior recorded 46 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions last year but should be a full-time starter for the first time in his career this season.
35. Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA
The nephew of NFL veteran tight end Christian Fauria, Joseph Fauria caught 39 passes for 481 yards with six touchdowns last season. He’ll be a top target for new Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley in the new “Y” position.
36. Levine Toiolo, TE, Stanford
Stanford’s three-tight end attack is down to two with juniors Zach Ertz and Toilolo. Though Toilolo was the third of the tree, he finished 348 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
37. John Fullington, OL, Washington State
The junior to be made a quick impact after converting from tight end in his first year. He played in all 12 games as a freshman before starting all 12 games last fall at left guard. He earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention and now is a veteran on what could be the nation's most improved offense.
38. Taylor Hart, DL, Oregon
Hart was impressive in his first year as a starter, recording 44 stops, three tackles for a loss and two sacks. The Ducks like to rotate a lot of players on the line, but the junior should be one of the stalwarts in 2012. Hart earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last year but should be in the mix for first or second-team accolades this season.
39. Hayes Pullard, LB, USC
Often overlooked because of Bailey's first-year success, this talented tackler had his own breakout freshman campaign last fall. The 6-foot-1, 235 pound linebacker from Inglewood posted 81 tackles of his own as well as 6.5 TFL and 4.0 sacks.
40. Carson York, OL, Oregon
York has been a stabilizing force on Oregon’s offensive line, starting 36 career games. However, his status for the season opener is in doubt, as he suffered a serious knee injury in the bowl win over Wisconsin. If healthy, York should be one of the best linemen in the conference.
41. Brian Blechen, S, Utah
Blechen improved upon his standout freshman season as a sophomore, recording 78 tackles with two sacks, nine tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and three interceptions.
42. Sean Parker, S, Washington
The Huskies’ defense struggled, but Parker was among the standouts after recording 91 tackles and four interceptions last season.
43. Drew Schaefer, C, Washington
Schaefer is a versatile three-year starter who blocked for Chris Polk’s two most productive seasons.
44. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
The younger brother of former Washington State star Marcus Trufant has been a solid contributor his entire career. While he may never reach the star status of his older sibling, Desmond should only build upon a season in which he posted 64 tackles and 14 pass breakups.
45. Isi Sofele, RB, California
Yet another productive running back under Jeff Tedford, Sofele rushed for 1,322 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, his first as the primary running back. His 252 carries was the third-most in the Pac-12.
46. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
Although the Bruins will have a new offense, don’t expect Franklin’s role to change much in 2012. The Los Angeles native rushed for 1,127 yards as a sophomore in 2010, while recording 976 yards and five scores last season. Expect Franklin to see more carries in 2012, especially with Brett Hundley taking over under center and Derrick Coleman expiring his eligibility at the end of last year.
47. Kasen Williams, WR, Washington
With Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar expiring their eligibility at the end of 2011, the Huskies are looking for a new go-to target. Williams should be Keith Price’s preferred receiver in 2012, especially after catching 36 passes for 427 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman last year.
48. Xavier Su’a Filo, OL, UCLA
After two years away from football on his LDS Mission, Su'a Filo returns to UCLA with the potential to change the direction of the Bruins offense. With talented skill players, the offensive line could be the difference between in gaining bowl eligibility — and finally keeping a Bruin QB healthy.
49. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
In a bit of a surprise, Mannion passed Ryan Katz as Oregon State's No. 1 quarterback early in the 2011 season. He had his share of ups and downs last year, throwing for 3,328 yards and 16 touchdowns. However, Mannion also tossed 18 picks. Expect Mannion to be better as a sophomore and should lead Oregon State back into bowl contention.
50. Shaq Thompson, S, Washington
This special freshman is a once in a decade type of prospect and it won't take long for wide receivers and running backs to take note of the massive safety. He should start right away and will be a force in run support as well as a head hunter in the passing game.
Team Breakdown of Athlon's Top 50 Players in the Pac-12 for 2012
Arizona - 0
Arizona State - 1
California - 2
Colorado - 1
Oregon - 8
Oregon State - 4
Stanford - 6
UCLA - 3
USC - 11
Utah - 3
Washington - 7
Washington State - 4
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Injuries are a big part of any college football season. 2011 was no different, as losing Knile Davis was a key setback to Arkansas' hopes of winning the SEC West last year, while Missouri's offensive line had to shuffle some players around after Elvis Fisher was lost for the year with a knee injury.
Although those players were missed in 2011, their return to the gridiron is an even bigger storyline for 2012.
Top 10 Players Returning After Missing All of 2011 With Injury
Note: This list includes only players who missed all of 2011.
1. Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas – With quarterback Tyler Wilson turning down the NFL Draft, the Razorbacks were already expected to be one of the SEC’s best offenses in 2012. However, this unit will be even more dangerous if Davis comes back at full strength from an ankle injury. The junior had a breakout season in 2010, rushing for 1,322 yards and 13 scores. He also added 19 receptions for 136 yards and one touchdown. With Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo returning, the Razorback coaching staff won’t be forced to throw Davis into a full workload early in the year. Although all signs point to a return to full strength, the junior could be brought along slow through the first two weeks of the year, as Arkansas prepares for its Sept. 15 showdown against Alabama.
2. Josh Dworaczyk, OG, LSU – The Tigers owned one of college football’s top offensive lines last season, and this group is expected to be one of the best once again in 2012. Tackles Alex Hurst and Chris Faulk are two All-American candidates at tackle, while there’s plenty of experience returning with senior center P.J. Lonergan and guard Josh Williford. Dworaczyk made 26 consecutive starts prior to last season and will be expected to start at left guard in 2012. The senior suffered a knee injury in fall practice last season, but he did not experience any setbacks in his recovery and all signs point to a big senior season.
3. Elvis Fisher, OT, Missouri – The SEC is home to some of college football’s best defensive lines, so getting Fisher back in the lineup will be a huge boost to Missouri’s offense. He missed all of 2011 with a knee injury and is expected to slide back into the lineup at left tackle. The injury snapped a 40-game start streak for Fisher, as he was expected to be one of the Big 12’s top linemen last year. The senior earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in 2009 and 2010, and if he returns at full strength, expect Fisher to have a spot on one of the SEC’s first, second or third all-conference teams at the end of the season.
4. Josh Jenkins, OG, West Virginia – The Mountaineers never seemed to jell on the offensive line last year, as the unit allowed 30 sacks and struggled to open up rushing lanes. This group should be better in 2012, especially with another offseason to work in coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense. Jenkins has yet to fulfill the hype surrounding him out of high school, but he has 24 career starts and will return to the lineup at left guard. Combine Jenkins’ coming back to full strength with three returning starters up front, and the Mountaineers should have an improved offensive line in 2012.
5. Brandon Magee, LB, Arizona State – A torn Achilles sidelined Magee for all of last season, and the Sun Devils are counting on him to be a team leader and one of the unit’s best players in 2012. Magee started 11 games in 2010 and recorded 73 stops. He also registered 34 tackles in 2009 and 11 as a freshman in 2008. An Achilles tear is one of the most difficult injuries for a football player to return from, but Magee is on track to return for the season opener. Even if the senior isn’t 100 percent early in the year, his leadership will be valuable for a defense that returns just four starters.
6. Herman Lathers, LB, Tennessee – After recording 75 tackles and three sacks in 2010, Lathers was on the verge of a breakout season in 2011. However, he suffered a fractured ankle in early June, which forced him to sit out all of last year. Lathers returned at full strength for spring practice and should be the leader of a linebacking corps that returns promising sophomores A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt. With 14 teams in the SEC, it won’t be easy cracking one of the three all-conference teams. However, if Lathers picks up where he left off in 2010, he will have a chance to rank among the conference’s top 10-15 linebackers in 2012.
7. Jake Fischer, LB, Arizona – 2011 was not a banner year for Arizona’s defense. The Wildcats allowed 35.4 points a game and ranked last in the Pac-12 in pass and total defense. This unit received a makeover during the offseason, as Jeff Casteel left West Virginia and brought his 3-3-5 scheme to Tucson. Depth is a major concern for Arizona at linebacker, but Fischer’s return should help bring some stability to this unit. He played in all 13 contests and recorded 58 stops and 7.5 tackles for a loss in 2010. Fischer suffered a torn ACL in the spring of 2011 and was forced to miss all 12 contests. With a new scheme and the recovery from a knee injury, the junior could start slow in 2012. However, Fischer will be Arizona’s top linebacker this year and needs to stay healthy with very little depth behind him.
8. Pete Massaro, DE, Penn State – With the departures of defensive linemen Jack Crawford, Eric Latimore and Devon Still, Massaro’s return to the lineup is a welcomed addition for coach Bill O’Brien. He started the final 11 games in 2010 and recorded 37 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Massaro missed all of 2011 with a torn ACL, which was the second time in his career he suffered that injury (2009). It may take the senior a couple of games to knock off the rust, but his return is crucial for a unit that needs players to step up in 2012.
9. Dee Hart, RB, Alabama – With Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy leading the way on the ground, Hart’s absence wasn’t a huge loss for Alabama last year. He was expected to be the Crimson Tide’s change-of-pace back and a potential weapon on special teams but suffered a torn ACL in summer workouts. With a full year to get healthy, Hart should be 100 percent for the season opener. He ranked among the top 100 recruits in the 2011 signing class by most services and flashed his potential with 76 total yards in the spring game. Eddie Lacy, Jalston Fowler and freshman T.J. Yeldon will all see carries, but Hart’s all-around ability should allow him to see a handful of snaps each game.
10. Rob Henry, QB, Purdue – The Boilermakers have had some bad luck with knee injuries in recent years, and 2011 was no exception. Henry had a solid debut season in 2010, throwing for 996 yards and eight touchdowns, while also adding 547 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. He was ready to assume full control of Purdue’s quarterback spot but suffered a torn ACL in fall practice and was forced to sit out all of 2011. Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve handled the quarterback duties in Henry’s absence and both return to West Lafayette in 2012. With TerBush turning in a steady 2011 campaign under center last season, the coaching staff is considering using Henry in a variety of roles, including some snaps at running back and receiver. Even if he doesn’t start at quarterback, Henry is poised to play a key role in the Boilermakers’ offense in 2012.
Other Key Players Returning After Sitting Out 2011
Mustafa Greene, RB, NC State
Willie Haulstead, WR, Florida State
Deantre Lewis, RB, Arizona State
Jonathan McKnight, CB, Arizona
Warren Norman, RB, Vanderbilt
Michael Philipp, OL, Oregon State
Brandon Wimberly, WR, Nevada
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
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As the college football season draws near, Athlon Sports is making sure fans know exactly when and where to tune in this fall. Here are the Big 12's top 30 must-see football games for the 2012 season:
1. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Oklahoma vs Texas (Dallas, TX)
The Red River Shootout (no, I refuse to call it the rivalry based strictly on principle) is easily the most important football game played in the state of Texas every single season. The last 12 Big South champions were either Texas or Oklahoma, and other than Oklahoma State last fall, one of these two teams had claimed the Big 12 crown seven straight years. With Texas reestablishing itself last fall and Oklahoma getting Landry Jones back on offense, these two once again look like the top Big 12 champion picks in 2012. Therefore, the Texas State Fair once again will host the most important game played in the Big 12 this fall when the Cotton Bowl is cut right down the middle with Crimson and Cream on one side and Burnt Orange on the other.
2. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Oklahoma at West Virginia
While this match-up hasn’t happened much over the years — four times total and only once since 1982 — the most recent showdown in the Fiesta Bowl back in 2008 was one of the signature performances of recent BCS lore. The 48-28 win for West Virginia featured the peak of the Pat White era and won the late Bill Stewart the head coaching job in Morgantown. Now, the Sooners will make their first-ever trip to Morgantown and more than just bowl bragging rights will be on the line. This is the top road test for Oklahoma this fall and a win over WVU on the road is a must if Bob Stoops wants to win yet another Big 12 championship.
3. Week 6 (Oct. 6) West Virginia at Texas
The Mountaineers have played the Longhorns just once in the two programs' history and fans should certainly see more excitement than the 7-6 Texas victory featured back in 1956 down in Austin. These two teams appear to be the top challengers to Oklahoma in the Big 12 conference crown race and this contest will feature arguably the top offense in the league and the easily the top defense in the league. Geno Smith and his wide receivers will put loads of pressure on a unit with dynamic defensive ends and great cornerbacks. From an Xs and Os standpoint, there are few match-ups that will be more intriguing in any league across the nation.
4. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
The Bedlam Series is one of the great rivalries in all of the country, and while Oklahoma has dominated all-time (81-18-7) and of late (winners of eight of the last nine), the Cowboys claim the current bragging rights. The 44-10 destruction at home at the hands of Brandon Weeden and Mike Gundy was the first win for the Pokes in the series since 2002 and it clinched the program’s first Big 12 championship and a trip to the BCS. With a true freshman quarterback, walking into Norman and getting a win over the Sooners seems like a tall order. But fans can bet the atmosphere will be must-see.
5. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Notre Dame at Oklahoma
These are two of the most powerful, most prestigious, trophy-laden programs in the history of the sport. Notre Dame has dominated the all-time series 8-1, which includes an undefeated 4-0 record in Norman. The last time these two squared off was 1999 when Notre Dame outlasted the Sooners 34-30. The strength of this Irish team will be its defensive front and the strength of the OU team will be its offensive firepower, so the battle of wills in the trenches will determine if Notre Dame can maintain that unblemished road record against Oklahoma.
6. Week 11 (Nov. 10) West Virginia at Oklahoma State
These two have played one time since 1929 — and three times total — when Oklahoma State won 35-33 in the 1987 Sun Bowl in El Paso. Texas. Both teams have Big 12 title aspirations and both offenses ranked in the top 15 nationally in scoring and total offense last season. Add to it a Dana Holgorsen storyline that includes his former boss in Mike Gundy and fans should have plenty to watch on Nov. 10. The WVU headman spent 2010 as the offensive coordinator in Stillwater and now returns with a Big 12 rival stocked with offensive firepower.
7. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Oklahoma State at Texas
The Horns won 22 of the first 24 meetings between these two longtime conference rivals. Yet, as Mike Gundy’s program has blossomed into a national power, Oklahoma State overcame the stigma of defeating the Longhorns with two straight wins — and both took place on the 40 Acres. And neither — 33-16 in 2010 and 38-26 in 2011 — was really that close as Texas’ salty defense wasn’t able to slow Brandon Weeden and company. The game shifts back to Stillwater this fall as the Big 12 season gets kicked off in style for both teams. Wes Lunt has never seen a defense like he will see in Week 5 this fall.
8. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Oklahoma State at Kansas State
Brandon Weeden threw for 502 yards and 4 TDs. Collin Klein rushed for 144 yards and 3 TDs. Oklahoma State outlasted Kansas State 52-45 in a thrilling game that featured 32 fourth-quarter points. While Weeden isn’t back, the stakes should still be high when these two conference contenders do battle. More than just bowl pecking order could be on the line.
9. Week 14 (Dec. 1) Oklahoma at TCU
TCU and Oklahoma haven’t recruited many of the same players over the years but certainly recruit the same high schools. With the growth of TCU’s brand in the north Texas and Dallas-Ft. Worth areas, the Horned Frogs have began to eat into the Sooners' hold on DFW. A win at home over the heavy league favorite would do wonders for TCU’s recruiting. It would also place the Frogs directly into the Big 12 title mix in year No. 1. They have only faced each other twice since 1998 and have alternated wins and losses for five straight meetings.
10. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Kansas State at West Virginia
Yes, these two teams have played before. No, not since World War II. These two split a two-year series back in 1930 and 1931, strangely enough, both coming in Morgantown. The difference in style on offense and under center will be an intriguing story line to watch as Geno Smith could throw it 60 times while Collin Klein might not reach 15 pass attempts.
11. Week 10 (Nov. 3) TCU at West Virginia
These two Big 12 newbies will battle for the first time since 1984 when West Virginia won the Bluebonnet Bowl 31-14 in Houston. Both teams boast excellent quarterbacks and both teams would like to make a big statement in their first trip through the league. It makes this head-to-head test all the more important.
12. Week 14 (Dec. 1) Kansas State at Texas
One of the stranger series anomalies in all of the nation has been KSU’s success over Texas in recent years. The Wildcats have won four straight over Texas and six of the last eight. Last year was the first defensive battle since 2003 between the two and 2012 should feature much of the same. If the Horns want to compete for the league crown, a win over KSU at home is a must.
13. Week 9 (Oct. 27) TCU at Oklahoma State
The Horned Frogs will get to renew a regional rivalry that hasn’t been played since 1993. These two compete directly on the recruiting trail all over the north Texas area as well as the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. Now, they compete in the conference standings and this game should feature heavy bowl pecking order implications. Both have eyes on challenging the OU-Texas rivalry for Big 12 supremacy, but winning on Oct. 27 will be key to each's 2012 season.
14. Week 13 (Nov. 24) TCU at Texas
These in-state rivals have only played one time since 1995 (2007) and TCU has only defeated the Horns one time since 1967 (1992). Many of the Horned Frogs players likely grew up in Texas dreaming of getting a scholarship from the Burnt Orange and this will be a chance at payback. This one will be a match-ups of strengths between the Frogs offense and the Texas defense.
15. Week 4 (Sept. 22) Kansas State at Oklahoma
Even a 10-win team couldn’t make this one-sided rivalry closer as the Sooners hammered the Wildcats 58-17 last fall. In fact, the only win KSU has over Oklahoma since 1997 was the memorable ’03 Big 12 title game victory. To go on the road and close the 41-point gap will be a tall order for Collin Klein and Company.
16. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Kansas State at TCU
These two shades of purple will be on the same field for the first time since 1986. And they will do it as conference foes now. Bowl pecking order will be on the line.
17. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Baylor at Texas
After a decade-long losing streak against the Horns, Baylor has won two straight against the vaunted Big Brother from down I-35. A third straight upset might be a tall order this fall.
18. Week 14 (Dec. 1) Oklahoma State at Baylor
The Cowboys put RG3 in his place last fall 59-24 and has owned the all-time series by winning 15 of the last 16 meetings.
19. Week 7 (Oct. 13) TCU at Baylor
The 50-48 shootout was not only one of the great games of 2011, but now it’s a conference game and the all-time series hangs in the balance: 50-50-7
20. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Iowa State at Iowa
One of the Midwest’s better rivalries was a 44-41 overtime thriller that saw the Cyclones take home the Cy-Hawk Trophy. Iowa had won three straight prior to last year.
21. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Kansas State at Baylor
One of the few blemishes on the Bears’ 2011 resume was the 36-35 loss last fall when KSU scored 10 fourth-quarter points to come from behind and win.
22. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Miami at Kansas State
Last season was the first-ever meeting between the two programs and Bill Snyder’s bunch was victorious 28-24. Now, The U comes to the Little Apple as a big underdog.
23. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Baylor at Oklahoma
The 2011 heart-stopping win over the Sooners was the first ever by Baylor over Oklahoma in 21 tries. Revenge will be on the mind of Bob Stoops.
24. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Baylor at West Virginia
New faces for Baylor meet the new kid on the block in WVU. This will mark the Mountaineers' debut in Big 12 play and the first-ever meeting of the two schools.
25. Week 6 Oklahoma at Texas Tech / Week 8 Iowa State at Oklahoma State
Revenge could be a dish best served cold and both Oklahoma State and Oklahoma have major debts to repay with Iowa State and Texas Tech respectively. To get their payback, the Sooners will have to defeat Tech on its home turf.
Best of the Rest:
26. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Oklahoma State at Arizona
27. Week 4 (Sept. 22) Virginia at TCU
28. Week 5 (Sept. 29) TCU at SMU
29. Week 3 (Sept. 15) Texas at Ole Miss
30. Wee 10 (Nov. 3) Texas at Texas Tech
Athlon Sports Big 12 Predictions and Team Previews:
1. Oklahoma Sooners: No. 5
2. Texas Longhorns: No. 11
3. West Virginia Mountaineers: No. 12
4. Oklahoma State Cowboys: No. 19
5. TCU Horned Frogs: No. 22
6. Kansas State Wildcats: No. 27
7. Baylor Bears: No. 40
8. Texas Tech Red Raiders: No. 58
9. Iowa State Cyclones: No. 60
10. Kansas Jayhawks: No. 81
College football season hasn’t begun, but here at Athlon we’re already hard at work in thinking about the 2012-13 basketball season. Believe us, the season will be here before you know it.
Every team has questions about the upcoming season, but some are bigger than others.
We’ll look at some of the biggest questions for 2012-13. Like the NCAA Tournament, we’re taking on 17 questions in each region of the country for our Great 68 questions. We’ve “seeded” our questions, too, for the biggest question in each region.
We start today with the South, which includes the Big 12, Conference USA, Ohio Valley, SEC and Sun Belt.
South Region No. 1 seed: The new bar is a national title. Can John Calipari do it again with a new cast of characters?
John Calipari answered last season if he could win a national title with a team full of freshmen on their way to the NBA. Now the question is if this is the new norm. The Wildcats missed out on Shabazz Muhammad, but the landed Nerlens Noel, who is now eligible. Noel joins star freshmen Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress along with sophomore holdover Kyle Wiltjer. After going from rookies Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight to Marquis Teague, Calipari will have a veteran at point guard. Ryan Harrow was a top-50 recruit who started his career at NC State in 2010-11 before transferring to Kentucky.
No. 2: Are Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore next in line for Stardom at Kansas?
Kansas is never short on elite talented players growing into their roles at the right time. Think Thomas Robinson, who went from part-time player to player of the year candidate. After averaging 13.3 points in the NCAA Tournament, the point guard Johnson is a top candidate to take the lead of the Jayhawks. Shooting guard Ben McLemore missed last season with academic concerns, but he should be worth the wait. Bill Self said McLemore may have been Kansas’ top pro prospect had he played, a major compliment considering Robinson was drafted fifth overall at the end of the season.
Related: Bill Self tops Big 12 coach rankings
No. 3: Will Patric Young make the most of his return to Florida?
Young has tantalized with his ability in two seasons at Florida, giving the Gators center reason to consider bolting for the NBA Draft. He returned to school with areas to improve. If Young can play to his potential, Florida could be a threat for a third consecutive trip to the Elite Eight or beyond. Young has struggled at times in the offensive end (his 10.2 points per game was fifth on the team), and he’ll need to prove he can be a go-to player on a team without Bradley Beal and Erving Walker.
No. 4: What can Isaiah Canaan do for an encore?
Canaan (19 points per game) returned to Murray State giving the Racers a chance for another gaudy record and wins in the NCAA Tournament. Canaan was undoubtedly the top player on a team that finished 31-2, but Murray State loses three starters. Power forward Ed Daniel (6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds) will give Murray State a quality inside-outside duo for a program that has won at least 30 games in two of the last three seasons.
No. 5: What does a full season of Jarnell Stokes mean for Tennessee?
Tennessee’s record with Jarnell Stokes (10-7) wasn’t all that different from its record without him (9-8), but his arrival was one of the keys to salvaging a season that started with losses to Austin Peay and Charleston. The 6-8, 250-pound forward will team with Jeronne Maymon for a bruising frontcourt. Coach Cuonzo’s Martin first trip to the NCAA Tournament is the expectation.
No. 6: Does Missouri have another surprise up its sleeve?
Marcus Denmon, Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe are among five seniors gone from a team that unexpectedly won 30 games last season. The Tigers may be low in the preseason projections again, but National Coach of the Year Frank Haith may have another surprise season in him. Sophomore point guard Phil Pressey (10.3 points per game, 6.4 assists) is a budding star, and with Laurence Bowers healthy, Mizzou should have the inside presence it lacked last season. If Alex Oriakhi plays like he did during Connecticut’s 2011 championship run, Missouri should be in the SEC title mix.
No. 7: Memphis has veterans. Will that allow Josh Pastner to advance in March?
Memphis has had the most talent in Conference USA in three seasons under Pastner, but that hasn’t translated to dominance (36-12 in C-USA the last three years). Guard Joe Jackson is a junior, and forward Adonis Thomas is a sophomore. They’ll work with a third McDonald’s All-American, freshman Shaq Goodwin, on perhaps Pastner’s most complete team since he was hired. The next step is to win an NCAA Tournament game.
No. 8: Can Bruce Weber win with Frank Martin’s veterans?
The long-term question is if Bruce Weber can sustain the momentum built at Kansas State under Frank Martin and Bob Huggins. For now, he’ll have an NCAA Tournament-caliber roster in his first season in Manhattan. High-scoring guard Rodney McGruder is back as are forwards Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez. Contending for the Big 12 title and a run in the NCAA Tournament isn’t out of the question for the former Illinois coach in his first season at K-State.
No. 9: Will a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans carry Oklahoma State to the NCAA Tournament?
After leading Oklahoma State to the NCAA Tournament in his first two seasons, Travis Ford has struggled in the last two, including the Cowboys’ first losing season since 1987-88. Ford is counting on a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans -- sophomore Le’Bryan Nash and freshman Marcus Smart -- to return the Pokes to prominence. Nash (39.4 percent shooting from the field) needed some seasoning last season, but Oklahoma State is counting on Smart to be a leader and distributor from Day 1.
No. 10: Is Texas’ fate tied to Myck Kabongo’s development?
The last player to lead Texas in assists per game in consecutive seasons was D.J. Augustin in 2006-07 and 2007-08. Kabongo will have a chance to do so this season, but he’ll need to round out his game after shooting 39.1 percent from the floor last season (thanks to a 13-for-54 slump in the final seven games). The speedy guard might not be the only key to Texas’ season, but with so many sophomores and freshmen expected to play key roles, he’ll need to play like a veteran.
No. 11: Can Devonta Pollard lead Alabama to the next step?
Anthony Grant has led Alabama to 17 wins in his first season to 25 wins and an NIT bid in his second to 21 bids and an NCAA bid in his third. What’s next in Tuscaloosa? J’Mychal Green and Tony Mitchell are gone in the frontcourt, but five-star freshman small forward Devonta Pollard (6-8, 200 pounds) could take their place. With experienced point guard Trevor Releford and a talented 2011 signing class moving into its sophomore season, Alabama could be gearing up for even more in Grant’s fourth season and beyond.
No. 12: Can Atlantic 10 transfers help West Virginia make a dent in the Big 12?
Aaric Murray (La Salle) and Juwan Staten (Dayton) were considered recruiting coups when they signed with their respective A-10 schools, but they delivered mixed results and no NCAA Tournament bids. Now they’re on Bob Huggins’ roster (along with Boston College transfer Matt Humphrey). Huggins has been one of the nation’s most consistent coaches in reaching the Tournament and remaining competitive in any conference in which he’s coached, but all these new faces in Morgantown presents a challenge.
No. 13: Is Tony Mitchell an All-American for North Texas?
North Texas lost its successful long-time coach Johnny Jones to LSU, but the Mean Green didn’t lose its star player. The 6-8, 235-pound Tony Mitchell, a former Missouri signee before he was an academic nonqualifier, may be North Texas’ top player since the 1970s and could make a run at some postseason hardware after averaging 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds last season.
No. 14: How will Baylor’s veteran backcourt mesh with the young frontcourt?
In between two Elite Eight trips, Baylor went 18-13 and missed the NCAA Tournaments, so it seems anything is possible with the Bears. Perry Jones, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller are gone, but Baylor brings in highly touted freshman center in Isaiah Austin and power forward Ricardo Gathers. Senior point guard Pierre Jackson and junior Brady Heslip are in the backcourt, making for an interesting dynamic in Waco.
No. 15: Can Marshall make the field for the first time since 1987?
The Thundering Herd won 21 games and reached the NIT last season. With stat-sheet stuffing guard DeAndre Kane (16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists) and double-double threat Dennis Tinnon (10.2 points, 10 boards) returning, Marshall could threaten Memphis in Conference USA.
No. 16: What’s left at Vanderbilt?
Jeffery Taylor, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli were the foundation of the last two Commodores teams and key players of the last three. All are gone plus Brad Tinsley, Lance Goulbourne and Steve Tchiengang, leaving Kedren Johnson (3.1 ppg) as the top returning scorer. After three consecutive Tournaments and six seasons without a losing record in the SEC, an inexperienced Vandy could be one of the bottom three teams in the conference.
No. 17: Will another batch of transfers continue to lift Iowa State?
Minnesota transfer Royce White carried Iowa State back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven seasons by leading the Cyclones in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. There might not be another Royce White in Ames, but third-year coach Fred Hoiberg is looking to transfers Will Clyburn (Utah) and Korie Lucious (Michigan State) to keep Iowa State relevant.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is inherently dangerous; major elevation, high-speed cars and no fencing. Check out this amazing crash from Sunday by Jeremy Foley and co-driver Yuri Kouznetsov in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. Thankfully, the drivers reportedly had only minor injuries. But maybe there’s a reason it’s called “Devil's Playground.”
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week for August 13, 2012.
1. Nationals — Will they or won’t they shut down Stephen Strasburg?
2. Reds — Continuing to cruise without Joey Votto.
3. Yankees — Rangers and Red Sox visit the Bronx this week.
4. Rangers — Josh Hamilton heating up again with 12 RBIs in last nine games.
5. Braves — Lost just one series since the break.
6. Pirates — Easiest team to run on.
7. Dodgers — Fewest home runs in the majors, four less than the Giants.
8. Giants — Tim Lincecum-Stephen Strasburg matchup on Wednesday.
9. Rays — Majors’ best save percentage.
10. White Sox — Chris Sale in Cy Young discussion.
11. A’s — Pinch-hitters batting .300, AL average is .209.
12. Cardinals — Bullpen not getting any better.
13. Orioles — Used 10 starting pitchers this season.
14. Angels — Quickly losing ground in wild card race.
15. Tigers — Lost four of seven vs. Yankees and Rangers; Twins, O’s on deck.
16. Diamondbacks — Crept back into the race, but can’t get over the hump.
17. Red Sox — Rocking offense, woeful pitching.
18. Mariners — Starting pitching has been terrific, but still worst OBP in majors.
19. Blue Jays — Lost 11 of 14 with tough stretch ahead.
20. Mets — Visit two first-place teams (Cin. and Wash.) this week.
21. Marlins — Most stolen bases in majors.
22. Phillies — Trying to hold it together while playing out the string.
23. Twins — Swept by Rays, but just 3.5 games back of Cleveland.
24. Indians — Nine-game West Coast trip could be trouble.
25. Brewers — Bullpen saddled with 28 losses.
26. Padres — Tossed three shutouts in last six games.
27. Royals — Three regulars batting .294 or better.
28. Rockies — Carlos Gonzalez on pace for another 100 runs and RBIs.
29. Cubs — Won just one of 12, but Houston comes to town now.
30. Astros — No team strikes out more often than the Astros.
AL Player of the Week
Josh Hamilton, Texas—With Hamilton back on track, the Rangers are winning at a better clip than they were over the previous six weeks. After suffering through a terrible slump in July, Hamilton is now working on a 10-game hitting streak. Last week, he batted .455 with three home runs and nine RBIs. He scored seven runs and showed much more patience at the plate, which produced a .538 OBP. With his bat warming up, Texas won four of six and now owns the best record in the American League.
AL Pitcher of the Week
Chris Sale, Chicago—The White Sox continue to defy the odds and maintain a slim lead over the Tigers in the AL Central. Sale tossed eight strong innings vs. Kansas City on nine days rest. The White Sox have been giving the young lefthander some extra rest when possible. For the week, he totaled 14.2 innings and did not walk a batter while striking out 18. He won both starts, defeating the Royals and A’s.
NL Player of the Week
Buster Posey, San Francisco—For the second week in a row, Posey had a tremendous stretch for the improving Giants. The All-Star backstop followed up on his previous Player of the Week honor with a .421 batting average and .571 OBP. Posey slammed three homers and knocked in seven runs.
NL Pitcher of the Week
Jake Westbrook, St. Louis—With just a little more than a month until his 35th birthday, Westbrook is quietly having the best year of his career — certainly his best since his All-Star season in 2004. The righthander has won his last five starts, and last week defeated the Giants and Phillies. In 13.2 innings, he allowed 11 hits and two walks. He struck out just seven, but recorded 18 groundball outs in the win over Philadelphia.
Either James Bond or Marty McFly was navigating through McCovey Cove outside at AT&T Park in San Francisco on Friday.
Defending Watkins Glen race-winner Marcos Ambrose entered the Sprint Cup Series’ Finger Lakes 355 as the odds-on favorite to win. And Ambrose, who also has three Nationwide Series victories at the Glen, didn’t disappoint.
The Australia native with an extensive background in Sports Car racing used every bit of his expertise, capping a wild last-lap battle with Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch to give Richard Petty Motorsports its first win since this same race last season.
What made Ambrose’s performance all the more impressive was that he emerged the victor with an oil slick covering the track. Navigating through the oil — as well as a couple off-road excursions — arguably made the conclusion at the Glen the most memorable of the season.
“It was absolute chaos at the end,” Ambrose said. “The three cars were very evenly matched. Kyle had a head start on us there. I was trying to chase him. I burnt my tires off, really burnt off the brakes. I thought, ‘I’m going to be stuck here in second.’
“All of a sudden I’m starting to slide out on oil — couldn’t work out where it was coming from, if it was from my car or on the track. I saw Kyle backing up to us. It was absolutely crazy at the end.”
Busch led the trio to the white flag with a comfortable cushion. However, as the leader, he was the first of the three to hit the oil dropped from Bobby Labonte’s wounded Toyota. Busch quickly let up as his car skidded through the 11-turn road course. Keselowski got to the bumper of the No. 18 Toyota and the two made contact in Turn 2, sending Busch sideways and, ultimately, to a seventh-place finish.
The drama was just getting started, though, as Ambrose and Keselowski duked it out for the top spot over the final nine turns as both fought slick spots all over the track — at one point, both machines careened off course, sliding through the grass but staying in the gas and keeping both cars straight.
As the two came out of the seventh turn, Ambrose tagged Keselowski’s bumper and pulled to the inside. He won the drag race from there, out-muscling Keselowski’s Dodge to the checkered flag.
Despite finishing second in heartbreaking fashion, Keselowski could appreciate the spirited duel.
“I just think this is what racing should be,” he said. “I think this is what the fans come to expect out of NASCAR racing and why it grew to the popularity that it did.”
Ambrose was still elated later, when he spoke of the oil slick that made for an adventurous final 2.45 miles.
“You couldn’t see where the oil was at,” Ambrose explained. “If it was a black streak, it would be OK, (but) it was almost like a fine spray. I was the first one to start sliding on it. For whatever reason, my line, I slid into Turn 1. I thought I was blowing up — I thought it was my oil.
“Not until I saw Brad and Kyle sliding as well, I thought, ‘OK, there’s something on the track and we’re going to have to deal with it.”
Busch went directly to the NASCAR hauler after the race, presumably to ask why a caution wasn’t thrown on the final lap when there was obviously a substance that hindered the racing.
“I have nothing good to say,” was all Busch would offer concerning his meeting with the sanctioning body.
Other drivers had issues with the lack of a caution, as well, most notably Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon.
“There was just oil everywhere from somebody,” Earnhardt said. “You couldn’t see it so you didn't know where to run. I saw the leaders were coming and I was just trying to get out of the way. They were in oil and I was in oil and then I watched everything that happened in front of me. It was a bad deal, I think.”
NASCAR didn’t share the drivers’ view.
“We didn’t have any reports of oil,” Cup series director John Darby said. “The only corner-worker reports were that the 47 (Labonte) was smoking. They were asked repeatedly if he was dropping everything. The report back to us was: ‘No, Tower. The track’s clear.’
“On the last restart, where the whole field of cars goes all the way around the race track and one car spins out and the rest of them are racing, it was obvious to me it wasn’t that bad.”
by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
The Green Bay Packers experienced the one thing NFL fans fear the most once preseason football gets started.
Season-ending injuries to key starters.
In this case, veteran linebacker Desmond Bishop isn't just a key starter, but possibly the best defensive player on the entire team. In the first preseason game of the year, Bishop tackled San Diego's Ronnie Brown and had his right leg bent unnatrually underneath him. The right knee was sprained but team doctor Pat McKenzie feared something much worse — a serious hamstring tear. A pull or a sprain can be fixed with ice, strecthing and 4-6 weeks of rehab. McKenzie discovered, after examining Bishop back at the team's facilities, that it was in fact a hamstring tear. The knee is hurting as well, but the hamstring is what will keep Bishop from returning to the field this year.
"Unfortunately, the hamsting injury was what we feared," said head coach Mike McCarthy after practice Saturday. "Surgery is imminent, and Desmond's season is in jeopardy. Once we have he surgery, we'll have a better idea on his status for this season."
The former 6th round selection is entering his sixth season out of Cal and has developed into the leader of the Packers defense from his inside linebacking position. He has 218 tackles — 115 last season even with missing three games — and 8.0 sacks over the last two seasons for the Packers. It also made him one of the top fantasy options at linebacker. He was ranked as the No. 6 overall IDP — individual defensive player — regardless of the position and the No. 2 overall linebacker in the entire league.
So Packers fans, McCarthy and fantasy owners alike are trying to find a replacement in short order. The official back-up at the "Mack" backer position is D.J. Smith. The second-year pro from Appalachian State got three starts in place of Bishop last fall and played well, posting 37 total tackles and one interception. With AJ Hawk and Clay Matthews still on board, the Packers linebacking corps has plenty of depth. But on a team that could be the best in the NFL and is eyeing a Super Bowl run, losing arguably the top defensive play-maker will cost the Packers somewhere along the line. That is the one thing fans can bet on.
-by Braden Gall
1. NBC’s tape-delaying, video-stream buffering coverage
NBC could not get it right at the 2012 London Olympics. Their tape-delayed coverage included lowlights such as Bob Costas nonchalantly spoiling Michael Phelps’ Olympic medal record-breaking race, a “Today Show” promo spoiling the Missy Franklin race set to air and an ill-timed “Animal Practice” sitcom promo featuring a monkey doing gymnastics immediately after Gabby Douglas became the first African-American to win gold in the women’s gymnastics individual all-around competition. Online coverage wasn’t much better, with the live-streaming video buffering during the middle of the men’s 100-meter dash — causing Twitter to declare Usain Bolt “faster than the internet.”
2. Lolo Jones finishing fourth in 100-meter hurdles
America’s sweetheart heading into London, Jones finished a painful fourth in the 100-meter hurdles — four years after tripping over the ninth of 10 hurdles with the lead in Beijing. Worse, a scathing N.Y. Times article declared Jones’ publicity “was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign. Essentially, Jones has decided she will be whatever anyone wants her to be — vixen, virgin, victim — to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses.” It was a disappointing Olympics for Lolo, to say the least.
3. Jordyn Wieber failing to qualify for individual all-around
Entering London, Wieber was the face of the USA’s “Fierce Five” women’s gymnastics team. But the reigning World Champion failed to qualify for the individual all-around competition — despite having the fourth-highest score among all gymnasts following preliminary qualifying. Due to a rule limiting each country to only two competitors in the individual all-around, Wieber was forced to sit out while teammates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman represented the USA. Adding injury to insult, Wieber suffered a stress fracture in her leg while in London.
4. McKayla Maroney winning silver in vault; McKayla is not impressed
Maroney had one of the greatest vaults of her life while helping the “Fierce Five” join 1996’s “Magnificent Seven” as the only USA women to claim Olympic team gold. The overwhelming favorite to win individual gold in the vault, however, suffered a fall that forced her to settle for silver. Her disappointed reaction to silver sparked a viral meme — “McKayla Is Not Impressed” — and made Maroney more of a household name than she would have been otherwise.
5. Ryan Lochte letdown following “next Michael Phelps” hype
The pre-Games heartthrob devolved into a grill-wearing disappointment in London. Lochte lost his highly anticipated head-to-head showdown with Michael Phelps in the 200-meter individual medley, finished third in the 200-meter backstroke and failed to medal in the 200-meter freestyle. He also let down his teammates, losing the lead as the anchor leg in the 4x100 freestyle relay. After entering with Phelps-sized expectations, Lochte was far from the gold standard in London.
6. Brazil losing to Mexico, failing to win first Olympic gold
Brazil allowed a Mexico goal just 29 seconds into the men’s soccer Gold Medal Match. After falling behind 2–0, Brazil’s Hulk scored his first goal of the tournament in stoppage time. Trailing 2–1 in desperation mode, Hulk beautifully set up teammate Oscar — whose header sailed high over the crossbar. Shortly after, the whistle blew, the match was over and Brazil was still 0-for in the nation’s quest to win Olympic gold in men’s soccer.
7. Australia barely cracking top 10 in Olympic medal count
Despite the pre-Games hype surrounding James Magnussen and Stephanie Rice, no Australian claimed individual swimming gold for the first time since 1972. In total, the Aussies won just seven gold medals, their fewest since 1992. Add 16 silver and 12 bronze to the count and Australia still only managed to finish 10th in the Olympic medal count — after finishing sixth, fourth and fourth in the three Games prior.
8. USA women’s indoor volleyball losing gold to Brazil
For the second consecutive Olympics, the USA lost to Brazil in the women’s indoor volleyball Gold Medal Match. Destinee Hooker led the top-ranked USA squad on an impressive run until losing 3–1 to Brazil with gold on the line. The USA has failed to win gold since indoor volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1964.
9. No baseball or softball in Summer Olympics
Baseball became an official sport in 1992, while softball followed in 1996. The USA won gold in baseball in 2000, and took bronze in 1996 and 2008. Meanwhile, the USA softball program was dominant, winning gold in 1996, 2000 and 2004 before losing to Japan and settling for silver in 2008. Both sports were considered American strengths but were discontinued prior to the 2012 London Olympics.
10. Closing ceremonies featuring Spice Girls, George Michael
Even the Queen and James Bond could not have saved London’s Closing Ceremonies — which included hip entertainment like the Spice Girls, George Michael, One Direction, Russell Brand and Tinie Tempah.
Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday.
Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (8/6-8/13):
* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues
Manny Being Manny
The Orioles are going to be really good next season. The latest in a long line of very talented draft picks to make the big league roster, shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado made quite the debut this weekend. The third overall pick in the 2010 draft flew through the minors and made his debut last Thursday with a 2-4, 3B, R line to start. He then hit two bombs in his second game and then another on Sunday. He has six hits in 16 at-bats with 7 RBI and 5 runs. Just as important, he struck out only twice. Manny has huge upside and could easily be the next big star in the game. At a premium position, he is worth adding — especially, in keeper leagues.
Coors Field Delight
Look to add Marlins and Brewers this week as both will visit Coors Field in Colorado. With Giancarlo Stanton back in the line-up and Jose Reyes setting the table, names like Carlos Lee and Justin Ruggiano are worth a look this week. It also could be good news for the surging Rickie Weeks and always underrated Jonathan Lucroy. Get the rest of your Fish and Brewcrew into the line-up.
Aging First Basemen
Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard have seen former first-round fantasy value plummet to the waiver wire. Yet, both had solid weeks last week and both could provide plenty of pop down the stretch. Certainly, both could find the DL as well, but both seem to be showing signs of life, and while healthy, will provide HR, RBI and OPS help to most rosters.
Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:
* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues
Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Mon. - Sun.):
1. Doug Fister, DET: at MIN (Tues.) 74% owned
Has posted six straight quality starts with 41 strikeouts and only six walks over that span to go with four wins. The Twins won't get to him this time around.
2. Scott Diamond, MIN: at SEA (Sat.) 50% owned
It is absurd that Diamond is owned in only half of the leagues out there. Do people not know he has 10 wins, a 2.97 ERA and 1.19 WHIP — for the TWINS!?!
3. Jarrod Parker, OAK: at KC (Tues.) 44% owned
Parker has loads of upside and has shown flashes of brilliance, but needs to be more consistent. He has ironed out the free-pass issues of late (25K: 6BB last 5 starts). Gets second start against Cleveland.
4. Chad Billingsly, LAD: at PIT (Tues.) 64% owned
Has had a great last month with four straight wins in four straight starts. He has cut down on the baserunners and the Ks will always be there. Gives you a second start at Atlanta this week too.
5. Clayton Richard, SD: SF (Sun.) 19% owned
Gets two starts this week (at ATL, Tues.) and is coming off a complete game shutout of the Cubs. Won't pile up Ks but should help ratios against these two offenses this week.
Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of last month:
|2.||Huston Street (DL)||SD||12.0||0||8||13||0||0.00||0.08|
* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues
Keep up to date all season long with Athlon Sports' Fantasy Baseball Closer Grid
- by Braden Gall
It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the SEC to talk anonymously about their opponents.
SEC Coaches Anonymously Scout Their Conference Foes
Opposing coaches size up the Crimson Tide:
“The dropoff from Trent Richardson to Eddie Lacy might not be as much as people think. Lacy is actually bigger, I think, and he had some runs against North Texas, when we were breaking them down, where he looked like a clone of Richardson. He is very, very capable of being an 1,100- or 1,200-yard rusher next year.
They are so big and strong on defense. They can cover so much ground. They might not be the fastest, but they are all really good. They are long. Their secondary is unbelievable. They do a great job of recognizing run vs. pass, and when it is run, the safeties were awesome. The corners were awesome. Their defensive line, they weren’t great at rushing the passer; they were more middle-rush type guys and read-and-react guys. But they got the job done. And they are so well-coached.
Defensively, the just don’t make many mistakes. It’s hard to drive the ball up the field on them, but it’s also so hard to hit them with a big play.
I thought (tight end) Brad Smelley was great for them last year. Very underrated. He will be missed.
The quarterback (AJ McCarron) was underrated. Their receivers were underrated. Those guys made plays for the quarterback when they needed to make plays.
Alabama had the best offensive line in the league. They just pummeled you. They were awesome. Getting Barrett Jones back is huge. That’s like signing the No. 1 recruit in the nation, getting him to return.”
Opposing coaches size up the Razorbacks:
“They have a great scheme and great personnel. Losing Coach (Bobby) Petrino is a tough blow. He is a unique playcaller, has a great feel for the game and a good command of the game. They still have the players, but his loss will be felt.
They have a great one in Tyler Wilson. They have tremendous amount of speed at the skill positions and gifted tight ends.
Here’s how good they were last year on offense: They lost Knile Davis, a first-team All-SEC running back from the year before, and they still had the No. 1 offense in the league.
Wilson gets beat up a lot. They have a lot of five-man protection packages where they are getting people out in routes quickly, and he recognizes that he has to get the ball off, and he knows that he is going to get hit. That being said, I don’t think they have an upper-level offensive line. That is one area on offense that can get better.
They can spread you out all over the field and still run the ball with some success.
They didn’t play well enough on defense, so I’m not really surprised they made a move and fired (Willy Robinson). The team was good, but the defense was just okay. They didn’t do a whole lot that confused you.
They are losing two really good players on defense in the end (Jake Bequette) and the linebacker (Jerry Franklin).”
Opposing coaches size up the Tigers:
“Obviously it’s all about the coordinators and what kind of changes they make. Ted Roof is a good coordinator, but Brian VanGorder knows this league. That was a coup for Auburn, and I assume (Gene) Chizik will let him run the show. But on offense it’ll be hard for them not to have a downgrade from (Gus) Malzahn.
The guy Gabe Wright, the defensive tackle, he’ll probably have a big season this year, being his sophomore year. He made some plays last year. Their defensive ends are big and strong.
The linebacker they’re losing, (Eltoro Freeman), will be tough to replace. He was a good player.
I don’t know about the quarterback situation. I guess they don’t either. That’s never a good thing.
Their secret weapon, if it’s really a secret, could be (tight end) Philip Lutzenkirchen. I think he’ll have a big year. He’s coming off shoulder surgery, but he has the ability to make big plays.
Defensively, they’ll just be big and strong. That’s one thing I noticed last year — outside of LSU, Auburn’s defensive ends, in terms of physical presence, were the best in the league.
They definitely have a chance to make some noise in the West. They’ll be kind of a sleeper team coming off that 8–5 year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them contend. They have some really good young talent.”
Opposing coaches size up the Gators:
“Consistency at quarterback was a big problem for them last year. John Brantley got hurt and lost some mobility.
I don’t think they had a great offensive line. That was an issue throughout the season.
Scheme was also a problem because they were trying to play a pro-style offensive with spread-style players. (Former offensive coordinator) Charlie Weis never seemed to have a handle on what he could do to get the offense going.
They were maybe the fastest team that we played against, but I did not think they were tough, and I think there were some issues between some players and coaches on the offensive side of the ball.
All of their receivers have tremendous potential, but none of them were very productive. In many ways, tight ends Trey Burton and Jordan Reed were their best receivers. Those guys and the two running backs, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, scared me catching the ball more than any of their receivers.
They were better on defense than what we thought they would be, from watching them on film.
They still have good players running around. They should be better than what they were, though. They still have guys who can run, and they still have a couple of decent defensive linemen and (Jelani) Jenkins, the linebacker, is a good player. For some reason, they didn’t click defensively as much as they should have.
Will Muschamp has a good reputation. He has been with some good teams, very successful teams.”
Opposing coaches size up the Bulldogs:
“If you look up quarterback in the dictionary, you would find a picture of Aaron Murray. He has nice composure, good leadership and a good handle of what they want to do. They might not be as sophisticated on offense as a team like Arkansas, but Murray knows what they want. He is a winner and has all the intangibles. From their perspective, the one thing I think they would say is that he has to cut down on his interceptions. He had some bad interceptions last year.
Orson Charles and Aron White will be big losses at tight end. Charles had the unique ability to flex out and be a wide receiver and create mismatches. He improved his blocking ability, too. He was also a dominant special teams player. He covered kicks. He did so much for them that a lot of people didn’t see. He is a high-character guy, too, from what I’ve heard.
I think Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King are an underrated wide receiver duo. Those guys are pretty good. Nobody talks about them as being among the best in the league, but they are very good.
Defensively, they might be 3-4 from a personnel standpoint, but they do a lot of four-down linemen fronts, so it’s a little deceiving. They have the one guy (Jarvis Jones) who is considered a linebacker, but they like him rushing the passer a lot.
Their secondary was outstanding last year. Made a lot of plays for them.”
Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats:
“I don’t think Maxwell Smith is going to be the answer long term for them at quarterback. He came in and gave them a spark late in the year, but he is not a guy who is going to be a top-flight quarterback in this league.
CoShik Williams is a lower-level SEC back. He had some moments last year, but I think his best games were against Jacksonville State (148 yards) and Ole Miss (111).
Their personnel just wasn’t very good last year. They had higher expectations for Morgan Newton, who started off the season as their quarterback. He did some good things as a freshman a couple of years ago, but just didn’t pan out, for whatever reason.
They relied so heavily on Randall Cobb two years ago. He did everything for them, and they lacked that type of playmaker last year.
From a skill perspective, they didn’t put a whole lot of fear into the defense. And from a physical standpoint, with their offensive line and tight ends, you didn’t really need to load up the box to stop the run.
(Linebacker) Danny Trevathan was a good player. I liked him. He ran well. Ran like a defensive back. He was the one guy that stuck out when you prepared for them. Now, he’s gone. Not good for them.
They do a lot of good things on defense. They don’t necessarily have the personnel that other teams do, but they try to do a lot of different things.”
Opposing coaches size up the Tigers:
“They have the best secondary in college football probably, even without Morris Claiborne. They did lose their secondary coach, Ron Cooper; he went to coach the Tampa Bay Bucs with Greg Schiano, and they brought the guy from Nebraska (Corey Raymond) in. I’m not sure losing Cooper is a big deal.
They are big and very, very good up front on defense. They have so many guys who can play.
Their performance in the national title game was disappointing. They should have played better. They were a better team than they showed that day.
One thing that is amazing about what they did last year — they scored nine non-offensive touchdowns. We used that as an example to our team throughout the spring. You can score points in so many other ways than just on offense.
I’ve heard good things about Zach Mettenberger. He’s a big kid who can make all of the throws. If he settles in, watch out. If that team gets really good play from the quarterback position, I’m not sure anyone can beat them.
John Chavis always does a good job. He’s well-respected. He has great players, but he is a very good coach.
They have so many good running backs it’s ridiculous. They can come at you with so many different looks. They will go five deep this year. They might not have the one All-American, but they have five who could start for 90 percent of the teams in the country.”
Opposing coaches size up the Tigers:
“The Tigers have had some nice teams in the past, but I’m not so sure ‘nice teams’ will cut it in the SEC. I think Missouri is going to experience some serious problems competing in their first year in the SEC. The offense will give them a chance to be fairly successful, but I don’t think they’ll be physical enough on defense.
My biggest question is if the Tigers can survive a conference schedule featuring South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M plus nonconference games against Arizona State and Syracuse.
Quarterback James Franklin will immediately be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, but the Tigers will need big production out of their running game. Henry Josey emerged and had a tremendous season last year until he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Franklin underwent shoulder surgery and missed the entire spring. It looks like he’ll be fine, but I don’t know any scenario where it’s a good thing for your starting quarterback to miss spring drills.
Wide receiver T.J. Moe is the only top returning receiver, but he’s a good one. He literally catches everything thrown in his direction.
I’m interested to see how they hold up on the defensive line against some of the better offensive fronts in the SEC. Everyone is going to be watching them to see how they do in their first season in that league.”
Opposing coaches size up the Bulldogs:
“I look at them as scrappy. They’ve kind of had a couple down years, and they’re trying to re-invent themselves.
I’d say they’re a spread version of Georgia Tech, and that’s what they try to do. They try to run the ball. (Dan Mullen) might not have all the speed guys on the edge, like he did when he was at Florida working for Urban Meyer, but they are trying to do a lot of the same stuff. Once they get the players that fit their system completely, they could be dangerous, like Florida used to be.
They’re gonna be a well-coached team, especially with Mullen running the show. They always play hard. They’re fast.
Losing (defensive tackle) Fletcher Cox will hurt in the middle. But I think they’ll have big strong kids.
I like the linebacker, Cameron Lawrence. He’s a good player.
With (quarterback) Chris Relf gone, they’ll have an opportunity to improve. I know they underachieved, but I think they’ll be able to do something this season.
They need Tyler Russell to play well at quarterback. He came in as a pretty hyped recruit, but he was never unable to completely beat out Relf, so that right there might tell you something. There is pressure on that kid this year.”
Opposing coaches size up the Rebels:
“They turned the ball over too much and they didn’t get much out of the quarterback position. They couldn’t identify the guy they wanted to go with. They had Zack Stoudt, the junior college transfer, and Randall Mackey, and also Barry Brunetti, the kid who transferred from West Virginia.
They struggled to find an identity all season on offense, and it was because they couldn’t throw the ball.
They had two preseason all-conference guys on the offensive line (Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie). They had some good-looking guys up front.
They were inexperienced at the skill positions, and their best running back, Brandon Bolden, was hurt at times.
I like (running back) Jeff Scott. He can be really good. He is one of the leading punt returners in the conference. I think he can be a formidable upper-level SEC running back. But they need to get better on the offensive line. That is a big priority. And Scott will have to stay healthy. He was in and out of the lineup. He is one of the few playmakers they do have.
I don’t know much about the new coaching staff. I know Hugh Freeze was at Ole Miss before, and I know he did a good job at Arkansas State.
Their personnel on defense isn’t very good. That is their biggest problem.
They are near the bottom of the league from a talent standpoint. They’ve got to recruit better players.”
Opposing coaches size up the Gamecocks:
“When you play South Carolina, you have to stop 21 (Marcus Lattimore). Their gameplan was to turn and hand the ball to him. So from a scheme perspective, they weren’t that hard to defend.
I have the utmost respect for them. They won with a different formula last season. They had an outstanding defense. They found unique ways to move the football. It wasn’t the pass-happy teams that we saw from Steve Spurrier at Florida in the ’90s. They utilized the strengths that Connor Shaw has, which are his feet and his mobility.
From an offensive standpoint, South Carolina was the most difficult team to prepare for. They were just so good up front. They can play guys that are defensive ends and put them in as tackles and that can really screw up your plan. You don’t know where they are going to be, so it’s hard to get a double-team on them.
(Defensive end) Jadeveon Clowney was very good. He is long, and he is athletic off the edge, and if he doesn’t get a rush he can knock a lot of balls down. He can beat you in so many ways.
I’m not so sure how much they will miss Alshon Jeffrey. The Alshon Jeffrey from 2010 was a great player. The Jeffrey from 2011, I’m not sure how much they will miss him. I thought he got a little bit out of shape. From what people tell me, (freshman) Shaq Roland will be a guy who can step in and produce.”
Opposing coaches size up the Volunteers:
“When they played hard they were good. But there were times when they just did not play hard. You can see that on film. When they play fast, they are good. But when they got down, they just shut it down.
A healthy Tyler Bray is really, really good. Just put on the Cincinnati game from early last year (Tennessee won 45–23). He was incredible in that game. He has a lot of ability. He needs to get himself straight mentally.
With (wide receivers) Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter coming back, and throw in the junior college guy they have coming in (Cordarrelle Patterson), and they are going to be scary, I think.
If you look at their offensive linemen, I think they are more athletic than tough. I think they lacked toughness up front. If you were at a combine, they are all the right height, the right size and have the right athletic ability, but I thought they lacked toughness.
You assume we will see a lot of Alabama stuff defensively with Sal Sunseri coming in as the new coordinator. It’s always nice knowing what you are going to go against. I’m sure he will have his own stuff and they will evolve, but at least we know what type of system he comes from.
They didn’t have any real strengths defensively. They were just okay across the board. I guess they were pretty good up front, but not what you would expect from them.”
Opposing coaches size up the Aggies:
“Like Missouri, they’re going to find the going gets tougher now that they’re in the SEC. First the schedule now has Florida, Arkansas, LSU and Alabama — all of those are projected top 25 teams. Then add in former Big 12 member Missouri and trips to Mississippi State and Auburn. The Aggies will have a tough time adjusting, more so than Missouri because the Aggies lost more key players.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Cyrus Gray and wide receiver Jeff Fuller formed a pretty damn good nucleus and all three are gone. Jameill Showers was Tannehill’s back-up last season, so he’ll get first shot at replacing Tannehill.
I’m glad Kevin Sumlin finally got a shot at a BCS school. He has proven he can coach, and he’ll win at Texas A&M. Hopefully they’ll be patient with him. He obviously benefitted from having Case Keenum at Houston, but he did a solid job building that program. Now he must build another with a lot tougher degree of difficulty — and a much, much tougher schedule. He’s not in Conference USA anymore. There are no off weeks in the SEC, at least not in conference play. It’s going to be an interesting season in College Station.”
Opposing coaches size up the Commodores:
“(James) Franklin came in as a recruiter, and he’s lived up to his reputation. But now that he’s getting his guys, he has to coach them up.
I love (running back) Zac Stacy. I think he is really good, one of the best in the league. I think he can be an NFL back if he continues to get better. He can catch and he can throw and he can run. He is tough guy.
Their offense improved so much during the season. Never seen anything like it. Their staff deserves a ton of credit. They seemed to re-invent themselves after the first few games.
Putting (quarterback) Jordan Rodgers in the lineup helped. He was better than anyone thought.
That receiver, Jordan Matthews, is really good. He could be an NFL wide receiver. I think he lacks flat-out speed, but if you can be an upper-level player in the this league, I would think you have a chance to be a pro football player. He creates mismatches with size and he can go up and get the ball in a crowd.
They have a few guys that can play at the next level. I think until they develop a bigger offensive and defensive line, it’ll be harder to compete with the bigger schools.”
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As the college football season draws near, Athlon Sports is making sure fans know exactly when and where to tune in this fall. Here are the Big East's Top 20 must-see football games for the 2012 season:
1. Week 14 (Nov. 29): Louisville at Rutgers
The Cards are the prohibitive favorite and the 16-14 win over Rutgers last fall signaled a big turning point in Louisville's season. After a 2-4 start, the Cards out-lasted the top defense in the league before winning four of their next five games to end 2011. This year, on the final week of regular-season play, the Big East crown could be hanging in the balance. On paper, this road game should be the Cardinals' toughest league test and a third straight win over the Knights, a team that could be a top Big East contender, would likely produce Charlie Strong’s first trip to a BCS Bowl.
2. Week 3 (Sept. 15): Rutgers at USF
The Scarlet Knights and the Bulls are both looking up at Louisville in the preseason standings. Rutgers’ first nine games will feature only two tough tests — road trips to Arkansas and South Florida. And after what happened in last year’s meeting, fans can bet on this one being another thriller. The Knights scored two touchdowns in the final eight minutes to send the game into overtime where a San San Te field-goal won the game for Rutgers. South Florida feels it can push the Cards for conference supremacy as well with B.J. Daniels returning for his fourth-year under center. The winner of this early game will likely become the top contender to Louisville’s league crown.
3. Week 8 (Oct. 20): USF at Louisville
The 34-24 road win over USF last fall clinched a share of the Big East title for Strong’s bunch in 2011 and a home win over the Bulls in late October should all but do the same in '12. Daniels did not play in that game last year due to a shoulder injury and will be champing at the bit to get a crack at counterpart Teddy Bridgewater — who he had to watch produce arguably his best game as a freshman from the sidelines. The Cards QB threw three touchdowns, no interceptions and amassed 241 yards through the air in the clutch road win over USF last fall. A healthy Daniels makes this game more interesting, but this game being played in the "502" makes an upset more unlikely.
4. Week 7 (Oct. 13): Louisville at Pitt
The Cardinals' second toughest road test of the Big East year will be a trip up to The Steel City. The depleted Panthers won this game last fall 21-14 in Papa John’s Stadium, so revenge will certainly be on the minds of Cards players. Bridgewater had his best game running the football (54 yards) but the rest of the team managed only 61 yards rushing while the Panthers rolled up 200 yards on the ground — without Ray Graham. New Panther coach Paul Chryst brings an exciting and innovative offensive game plan to the table, so the X’s and O’s chess match between him and Strong should be entertaining to watch.
5. Week 14 (Dec. 1): Pitt at USF
Two teams with Big East title aspirations will meet on the final day of the regular season. The Bulls got hammered by Pitt and Ray Graham last year 44-17 in primetime on a Thursday night. The star tailback rushed for 226 yards and two scores in the beat down that signaled the unraveling of the Bulls season. The Bulls finished with just one win in its final seven games following the humiliating loss. Skip Holtz and the USF faithful will be fired up to welcome the chance at retaliation. And since the world will know what has happened in the Louisville-Rutgers game two nights earlier, there could be serious BCS implications involved in this season finale.
6. Week 3 (Set. 15): North Carolina at Louisville
The Big East rarely has opportunities to prove itself as a league against top-level competition, but this is its best chance at a signature non-conference win in 2012. The league’s projected top team will play host to a very sound UNC team that could easily win eight or nine games. This was a 14-7 home win for the Tar Heels last fall but it was only Big East Freshman of the Year Teddy Bridgewater’s second career start.
7. Week 5 (Sept. 29): Florida State at USF
The last time these two met was back in September of 2009 — and South Florida won 17-7 in Tallahassee. Now, things are slightly different. Florida State has rebuilt its roster and the game will be played in Tampa. This is a huge in-state test for USF to not only prove its mettle on the field, but on the recruiting trail. Another win over the Noles would be easily the best win of the year by any Big East team.
8. Week 13 (Nov. 24): Rutgers at Pitt
The four-team round robin atop the Big East is complete with this Knights’ road trip across The Keystone State. The final three games of the year will be huge for Rutgers and fans can bet that Pitt hasn’t forgotten the 34-10 thumping Greg Schiano’s boys put on the Panthers last fall. Rutgers must finish the season strong as this tough road test is sandwiched around a trip to Cincinnati and a visit from Louisville to wrap-up the regular season.
9. Week 12 (Nov. 17): USF at Miami
Much like the FSU game, the Bulls can boost their in-state recruiting stock with a win over a traditional Sunshine State power. Not to mention add a huge feather in the non-conference Big East win cap. These two have split the last two seasons with the road team winning both. It could be a positive omen for an improved Bulls team facing the downtrodden Canes.
10. Week 12 (Nov. 17): Rutgers at Cincinnati
The Bearcats might be the Big East’s wild card this fall. They appear to be floating between the have’s and have not’s of the league — at least, in the preseason. They won 10 games in 2011, but got handled with ease by Rutgers last fall on the road. This year’s test could be a total crapshoot. Certainly, it will be one to watch.
11. Week 2 (Sept. 6): Pitt at Cincinnati
The season opener (yes, in Week 2) will be a huge conference test for Cincy right out of the gate. The Bearcats won 26-23 on the road in Pittsburgh last fall.
12. Week 13 (Nov. 23): USF at Cincinnati
Shootout in the New Sombrero ended in Bearcats favor last fall 37-34. Butch Jones has quite the home schedule, leaving the state only three times in the first 11 games.
13. Week 4 (Sept. 22): Rutgers at Arkansas
Not many people will give the Knights a chance at winning in Fayetteville, but a great defense is what you need to compete with Tyler Wilson. Crazier things have happened.
14. Week 10 (Nov. 3): Pitt at Notre Dame
A late-season road trip to South Bend will give Pitt a national TV chance at a signature non-conference win over a Top 25 team. This was a 15-12 ND win last fall.
15. Week 9 (Oct. 26): Cincinnati at Louisville
This will be only the second time all year that the Bearcats will leave the state of Ohio. Last year, Cincy won 25-16 in Nippert Stadium.
The Best of the Rest:
16. Week 1 (Sept. 2): Kentucky at Louisville
17. Week 5 (Sept. 29): Louisville at Southern Miss
18. Week 3 (Sept. 15): Virginia Tech at Pitt
19. Week 4 (Sept. 22): Louisville at FIU
20. Week 5 (Sept. 29): Cincinnati vs Virginia Tech (Landover, Md.)
Big 12's Must-See Games of 2012 (Coming Tues.)
-by Braden Gall
2012 Athlon Sports Big East Predictions and Previews:
1. Louisville Cardinals: No. 23
2. South Florida Bulls: No. 34
3. Pitt Panthers: No. 45
4. Rutgers Scarlet Knights: No. 46
5. Cincinnati Bearcats: No. 56
6. Syracue Orange: No. 67
7. UConn Huskies: No. 69
8. Temple Owls: No. 73
As the college football season draws near, Athlon Sports is making sure fans know exactly when and where to tune in this fall. Here are the ACC's top 40 must-see football games for the 2012 season:
1. Week 4 (Sept. 22): Clemson at Florida State
There are two games inside of the ACC that truly stand above the rest this fall, and since Clemson-Florida State figures to have more fireworks, it gets the nod as the most anticipated game of the year. The Tigers rolled-up 443 yards of offense in the 35-30 win over the Noles in Death Valley last year. Jimbo Fisher and company don't plan on allowing that type of offensive production this time around. Considering the rebuilt Clemson offensive line — and getting the game in Doak Campbell Stadium — FSU should be able to control the line of scrimmage this year. It will fall to Tajh Boyd, who dropped 344 yards and three scoring strikes on FSU last year, to make the key plays if Clemson wants to win. Of course, getting EJ Manuel back under center, who missed last year's game with an injury, helps the Seminoles' chances as well.
2. Week 1 (Sept. 3): Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
The best current ACC stat? The winner of this game has gone on to win the Coastal Division every year since the conference split into two divisions. So no pressure in Week 1 in primetime on Labor Day night, right? Logan Thomas did his best Cam Newton impersonation in last year's 37-26 Thursday night win in Atlanta, scoring five times in the victory. Bud Foster's defense did just enough to get the win and will have had all summer to prepare for the vaunted Paul Johnson triple option. This game will feature strength on strength as the Hokies should possess one of the nation's elite defenses while the Yellow Jackets return a deep and talented offensive line and backfield. The whole nation will be watching the game that should once again decide one half of the ACC championship equation.
3. Week 11 (Nov. 8): Florida State at Virginia Tech
Should the preseason predictions hold true, this will be a preview of this season's ACC championship game. Virginia Tech is the clear heavy favorite in the Coastal while Florida State gets its primary Atlantic Division test with Clemson at home. The last time these two met, the Hokies out-ran the Noles 44-33 in the 2010 ACC title game. In fact, after three decades of dominance from FSU in the series, Frank Beamer has won two of the last three meetings. These are easily the top two defenses in the league and points will be at a premium for a pair of mammoth quarterbacks — the 6-5, 240 pound Manuel and the 6-6, 260 pound Thomas. Expect heavy hitting and lots of ice packs.
4. Week 6 (Oct. 6): Florida State at NC State
The top sleeper team in the ACC is Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack. They are strong at the point of attack on both offense and defense and have excellent leadership from quarterback Mike Glennon. These two teams match-up extremely well and getting the game at home for NC State could spell upset for Florida State. Manuel will be pressed by one of the nation's top secondaries while the strong Florida State defensive line will force Glennon to be successful down the field. This was no contest last fall in Tallahassee 34-0, but the last time Fisher took his team to Raleigh, the Pack got the best of FSU 28-24.
5. Week 12 (Nov. 17): NC State at Clemson
If the Pack is in fact the top sleeper team in this league, it will have to upset Clemson once again this season. After a 9-1 start, the No. 7-ranked Tigers went north to Raleigh and got embarrassed 37-13. Glennon was able to find success through the air throwing for 253 yards and three touchdowns in the win while the defense made Tajh Boyd look bad. He managed only 238 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. However, expect Clemson OC Chad Morris to point to the lack of a rushing attack last fall — 28 carries for 34 yards —as one of the biggest concerns. Getting the game at home gives Clemson the edge but should NC State defeat FSU in Week 6, this game could become an division championship contest.
6. Week 8 (Oct. 20): Virginia Tech at Clemson
These two played twice last fall and Logan Thomas will readily admit that he didn't get the job done in the two losses. The Clemson defense struggled all season long but somehow managed to stop the burly passer and the explosive Hokie ground game. The 23-3 regular season win was merely a precursor to Clemson's 38-10 dominance in the ACC title game. Thomas and the Hokie defense should be much improved in 2012, so fans can bank on this one being much tighter this time around. This, too, could be a championship game preview.
7. Week 13 (Nov. 24): South Carolina at Clemson
It may not be the most high-profile rivalry and it may not have national implications like many other rivalries, but it is hard to find a yearly battle that possesses as much vitriol as the Tigers-Gamecocks. From 1997 to 2008, Clemson owned the series, winning 10 of the 13 meetings. But the last three years have seen South Carolina stake a major claim to in-state supremacy. None of the games have been close as Carolina has outscored its rival 97-37. Both teams are focused on a conference title in their respective leagues, so the game means little to the actual standings, but don't tell that to the people in the Palmetto State. Or to two teams that could potentially be ranked in the Top 10 by the time they meet.
8. Week 13 (Nov. 24): Florida at Florida State
This rivalry certainly hasn't had the luster it once did back in the late '90s, but there is still plenty on the line when these two powerhouses get together in the regular-season finale. After the Gators won six straight in the series, the Noles have reclaimed Sunshine State supremacy in a big way the last two seasons with two dominating performances. The Gators have scored 14 total points in the last two games and scoring will once again be difficult. Both teams will win with defense this year and this game could feature upwards of half-a-dozen potential first-round NFL defenders. This will be a physical contest — one that Will Muschamp needs to be more competitive.
9. Week 1 (Sept. 1): Clemson vs. Auburn (Atlanta, Ga.)
The first Saturday night of the season in the Georgia Dome has turned into a yearly must-watch contest and these two Tigers won't disappoint. Clemson won the meeting 38-24 last fall while Auburn won the 27-24 thriller en route to its National Championship in 2012. Brian VanGorder should have the Auburn defense much improved, but if Aubie expects to upset Clemson, it will have to get quality quarterback play on offense. This will be a great barometer game for both programs right out of the gate.
10. Week 11 (Nov. 10): Georgia Tech at North Carolina
The Tar Heels cannot win the conference title or play in a bowl game, but Larry Fedora's first team in Chapel Hill should be very good. The offenses will be featured in this contest as both lines will pave the way for powerful rushing attacks. Tevin Washington and Bryn Renner, however, will likely control the outcome as whoever can complete key third-down passes should claim victory. A long Washington scoring strike late in the game last fall gave Tech the 35-28 win. This game will likely determine the top challenger to Virginia Tech in the Coastal — even if the Heels can't play in the title game.
11. Week 9 (Oct. 27): NC State at North Carolina
This in-state battle has been owned by the Wolfpack of late. They have won five straight in the contest and these two should both be excellent teams again in 2012. For NC State, who has eyes on the ACC title game, there could be more than Tar Heel State bragging rights on the line.
12. Week 6 (Oct. 6): Virginia Tech at North Carolina
The Tar Heels could be the top contender to the Hokies this fall and will have a great chance to pull the upset at home in the first week in October, but obviously won't be able to win the league. A very talented UNC rushing attack will go head-to-head with one of the best defenses in the nation.
13. Week 6 (Oct. 6): Georgia Tech at Clemson
The Jackets rushed for 383 yards in the 31-17 home win over the Tigers, giving Clemson their first loss of the year in extremely disappointing fashion. It gave Tech the fifth win in six years over Clemson. New defensive coordinator Brent Venables will have his hands full with the loaded Georgia Tech rushing attack.
14. Week 13 (Nov. 24): Georgia Tech at Georgia
Few games have a better name than the Peach State rivalry. And that both teams are rarely this evenly matched only adds to the game simply known as Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. These two have split the last four meetings and both could be playing for a 10th win by the time they meet in late November.
15. Week 1 (Aug. 31): NC State vs. Tennessee (Atlanta, Ga.)
This will be an excellent barometer game for both programs. If NC State wants to compete in the ACC, a win over Tennessee will send a shot across the bow of Florida State and Clemson. The Vols, and more specifically Derek Dooley, need to get 2012 started well, possibly more than any other SEC team. Two great QBs, Amerson vs. Hunter and the Georgia Dome? What more can you ask for?
16. Week 7 (Oct. 13): Florida State at Miami
It's been a long time since this game means as little as it will in 2012. Obviously, FSU has to win games like this if it expects to win the ACC and stay in the national title hunt. But there is still something exiting about the Tomahawk and "The U" getting together.
17. Week 13 (Nov. 24): Virginia at Virginia Tech
The Commonwealth battle was a dismantling last year when Tech rolled-up a 38-0 win over its in-state rival. Mike London has clearly reestablished the Cavaliers brand within Virginia's borders, much to Beamer's chagrin, but needs to take the next step on the field.
18. Week 3 (Sept. 15): Virginia at Georgia Tech
If London and the Cavs want to see their name mentioned alongside the Hokies for conference honors, it needs to continue winning this particular game — like it did last fall. The 24-21 win was one of the primary indicators that the new coaching staff is getting the job done in Charlottesville.
19. Week 10 (Nov. 1): Virginia Tech at Miami
Key road tests against well-coached teams always poses problems for conference title contenders. This game was much too close for Virginia Tech's liking last fall (38-35) and the Hokies will need to stay focused against the upstart youth of the Hurricanes.
20. Week 12 (Nov. 15): North Carolina at Virginia
The two Techs in the Coastal have won the division every year since the ACC split, so it falls to one of these two to knock them off. No, the Heels can't play for the ACC title but claiming the top record is the next best thing. Everyone knows who won the Pac-12 South last year.
21. Week 5 (Sept. 29): NC State at Miami
See Virginia Tech at Miami game above. Miami will spoil at least one season in 2012 due to Al Golden's coaching.
22. Week 10 (Nov. 3): Virginia at NC State
Two well-coached teams will battle in Raleigh in Week 10. This would be a signature win for the Cavs.
23. Week 7 (Oct. 13): North Carolina at Miami
See Virginia Tech-Miami and NC State-Miami road trips above.
24. Week 6 (Oct. 6): Miami vs. Notre Dame (Chicago, Ill.)
Two huge name brands playing in the nation's second city warrants a mention.
25. Week 5 (Sept. 29): Florida State at USF
The last time these in-staters faced each other, the Bulls claimed a huge moral, recruiting and actual victory over Big Brother.
The Best of the Rest:
26. Week 3 (Sept. 15): North Carolina at Louisville
27. Week 9 (Oct. 25): Clemson at Wake Forest
28. Week 4 (Sept. 22): Miami at Georgia Tech
29. Week 3 (Sept. 15): Wake Forest at Florida State
30. Week 4 (Sept. 22): Virginia at TCU
31. Week 11 (Nov. 10): Miami at Virginia
32. Week 9 (Oct. 27): BYU at Georgia Tech
33. Week 12 (Nov. 17): USF at Miami
34. Week 2 (Sept. 8): Miami at Kansas State
35. Week 12 (Nov. 17): Wake Forest at Notre Dame
36. Week 2 (Sept. 8): Penn State at Virginia
37. Week 11 (Nov. 10): Wake Forest at NC State
38. Week 8 (Oct. 20): Wake Forest at Virginia
39. Week 3 (Sept. 15): Virginia Tech at Pitt
40. Week 3 (Sept. 15): UConn at Maryland
Athlon Sports ACC Predictions and Team Previews:
Call it the Snore by the Shore. Twenty-one years after the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island brought the world's greatest players to their knees at the 1991 Ryder Cup in the famed "War by the Shore," Rory McIlroy turned the tables on Pete Dye's seaside creation, subduing the Ocean Course and an elite field in winning his second major championship in two years. In posting 13-under and winning by eight strokes, McIlroy reprised his eight-shot win at the 2011 U.S. Open, becoming the first player in golf history to earn his first two major wins in such dominant fashion.
Glory's Last Shot was Rory's personal showcase, as he destroyed the recent trend of late collapses with a textbook display of major championship golf — fairways, greens and made putts, with a few successful scrambles thrown in.
There would be no Adam Scott-style meltdown, no Jim Furyk-esque collapse. No, the only guys doing the collapsing were the guys chasing Rory. Tiger Woods, after entering another weekend tied for the lead in a major, faded to a 74-72 finish and played the year's four majors without an under-par weekend round in any of them. After turning back the clock on Thursday and Friday, Vijay Singh realized he was 49 and eight years removed from his last major, ballooning to a 74-77 weekend.
In the process of reclaiming the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Ranking, McIlroy added these distinctions to his ever-expanding resume:
• At 23 years, three months, McIlroy is the youngest player to win the PGA Championship.
• He's the second-youngest to win two majors. Jack Nicklaus was one month younger, when he won his second; Tiger was four months older.
• His eight-shot margin broke Nicklaus' record of seven set in 1980.
When you're erasing Jack Nicklaus from the record books at age 23, the future is looking pretty bright.
• Ian Poulter mounted the only real charge of the day, posting birdies on his first five holes. The onslaught didn't last, though, as the Ocean Course bit back on the inward 9 and Poulter limped in with bogeys on four of his last six holes. Poulter, one of the more savvy users of social media, immediately took to Twitter after his round to say: "Sorry guys I gave it my all but the tank was empty at the end. What a dream start I just couldn't hang on. @McIlroyRory congrats impressive."
• Perhaps Team USA used up all the positive American energy over in London. Keegan Bradley came in as low American in an otherwise dismal showing by U.S. players. The defending champion, Bradley finished tied for third at 4-under following a final-round 68.
• Carl Pettersson proved once again that golf's rules, while cherished and reverently observed by players, can be stupid and severe. Carl committed the apparently unforgivable sin of moving a leaf during a backswing on the first hole of his final round, costing himself two strokes. Fortunately for the integrity of the Wanamaker Trophy, Pettersson didn't finish two shots behind.
• A drama-free PGA was also dull in terms of U.S. Ryder Cup points movement, but a poor showing by the U.S. contingent had to sound the alarm on the American side. Only eight of the top 20 finishers were of American vintage. After dotting the leaderboards at the season's first three majors, the Americans are likely the underdogs once again as the Ryder Cup approaches.
• Next, Rory turns his attention to the U.S. Open — the tennis kind. Girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki will attempt to reclaim her share of the glory in sports' power couple of the moment.
New helmets and jerseys seem to be popping up every day during college football's offseason. Northwestern, Mississippi State, Nebraska and Wisconsin are just some of the teams that have unveiled new threads for 2012.
And even if teams don't change their whole combination, there's always the one-game special. That's the case with Virginia Tech, as the Hokies unveiled a special whiteout helmet that will be worn on Sept. 8 against Austin Peay.
This is definitely an interesting look and a different one than we have seen Virginia Tech sport in recent years.
1. The match is Saturday at 10 a.m. EST at Wembley Stadium
There will be no need for NBC to tape delay the Gold Medal Match. Brazil and Mexico kick off on a Saturday at a reasonable hour stateside. “The Venue of Legends” hosts one of the more anticipated events of the London Olympics. Wembley Stadium is the second largest stadium in Europe, with a 90,000 seating capacity.
2. These are Under-23 National Teams with three age exemptions
The Olympic rosters of Brazil and Mexico are not the same as their World Cup lineups. The Olympics are a U-23 tournament. Brazil’s age exceptions are defender-captain Thiago Silva (age 27), left-footed left back Marcelo (24) and superhero striker Hulk (26). Mexico’s age exceptions are goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona (31), defensive midfielder Carlos Salcido (32) and forward Oribe Peralta (28).
3. Neither Brazil nor Mexico has won Olympic gold in soccer
Brazil has won five World Cup titles (2002, 1994, 1970, 1962, 1958) but Selecao has failed to place any better than silver at the Olympics — losing 2–1 to the Soviet Union in 1988 and 2–0 to France in 1984. Brazil also took home bronze in 2008 and 1996; and lost the bronze to the Soviet in 1976. This is Mexico’s first Olympic medal match ever.
4. Brazil’s Neymar is the most exciting footballer at the London Olympics
The 20-year-old samba sensation is a rock star in shin guards. He may not be better than Lionel Messi, as Pele has suggested. But he is certainly the most exciting footballer in the London Olympics. Blessed with remarkable speed, deft touch and incredible creativity, Neymar has already had more than his fair share of highlights — including a give-and-go header goal and behind-the-back assist. And he might just save his best for last.
5. Mexico defeated Brazil, 2–0, at Cowboys Stadium in June
Jerry Jones’ Palace in Dallas, Cowboys Stadium (in Arlington), witnessed a preview of the Gold Medal Match on June 4. Mexico won, 2–0, in front of a partisan crowd — with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos scoring. In fairness, neither will be suited up against Brazil on Saturday. But Mexico does enter the match with the confidence of having taken down Brazil recently.
6. Mexico’s Giovani dos Santos will miss the match with injury
Mexico’s leading scorer and arguably its best player, dos Santos will be forced to sit out the Gold Medal Match due to a serious right hamstring injury. Dos Santos is the son of former Brazilian footballer Zizinho. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder would have provided yet another interesting storyline as well as a valuable offensive spark for Mexico.
7. Brazil’s Leandro Damiao leads the race for the Golden Boot
The Golden Boot is awarded to the player with the most goals at the end of the tournament. The striker — who wears the No. 9 of Ronaldo, the leading goal scorer in World Cup history — has six goals in only four matches. He is being chased by teammate Neymar (3 goals) and the Mexican duo of Giovani dos Santos (3) and Oribe Peralta (2).
8. Brazil and Mexico are the Olympics’ highest scoring teams
Brazil and Mexico are the only teams who have scored double-digit goals in the Olympics. Brazil leads the way with 15 goals for, while Mexico has put 10 balls in the back of the net. Not surprisingly, they are also the leading shot-takers of the Games of the XXX Olympiad — Brazil with 82 shots on goal, Mexico with 78. Both teams are also 1-for-1 on penalty kicks.
9. Mexico’s Jose de Jesus Corona has allowed only three goals
Corona has been the top goalkeeper in the Olympics, allowing just three goals in five matches. Only Spain’s David de Gea allowed fewer — but his two goals against came in only three matches for La Roja, who failed to score a goal of their own. A strong Mexico defensive front features Israel Jimenez, Diego Reyes, Nestor Araujo and Darvin Chavez; but Corona is minding the net brilliantly right now.
10. Brazil’s goaltending is suspect; its defense is strong
Original keeper Rafael was scheduled to start for Brazil before a right elbow injury knocked him out of the Olympics. Neto stepped up as the new starter but was replaced by 19-year-old Gabriel in net. Both have looked shaky between the posts. Luckily, whoever starts will have capable defenders Thiago Silva, Juan Jesus, Rafael da Silva and Marcelo patrolling, and the offense controlling possession. Still, if Brazil loses to Mexico, it likely will be due to lackluster goaltending.
Gold Medal Match Prediction:
Brazil 3, Mexico 2
LSU dismissed Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu on Friday for a violation of team policy.
Mathieu was LSU’s best defensive playmaker.
Starting with the 2010 bowl win over Texas A&M, Mathieu went on a remarkable seven-game stretch into 2011 in which he forced six fumbles, recovered four fumbles (returning two for touchdowns) and intercepted two passes. This was against teams like Oregon, West Virginia, Florida and Mississippi State. On a team with offensive deficiencies, his ball hawking and game-changing ability was invaluable.
Mathieu was a special teams demon.
His 62-yard punt return for a touchdown with 5:48 left in the first half against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game put LSU on the scoreboard and overshadowed a first half of inept offense. His 92-yard highlight reel touchdown against Arkansas a week earlier also made up for a slow start for the LSU offense, tying the game at 14 late in the first half and opening the floodgates to a 41-17 win. His 15.6 yards per punt return ranked fourth nationally.
LSU has two games to prep its pass defense.
The Tigers won’t face Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson until the last week of the regular season and won’t see Georgia’s Aaron Murray unless it's a rematch in Atlanta. That said, LSU will see an elite quarterback in the second week of the season. Washington’s Keith Price passed for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns last season and was second only to Andrew Luck in the Pac-12 last season in pass efficiency.
Reasons LSU shouldn’t panic.
Mathieu wasn’t the most indispensable player on the defense.
According to Athlon’s own estimations, Mathieu was the 19th-ranked player in the SEC, the seventh-ranked player for LSU and the fifth-ranked player on the LSU defense. Mathiue’s playmaking aside, safety Eric Reid and corner Tharold Simon could make cases to be more sound defensive backs. Mathieu was a Heisman finalist largely on his performance in LSU’s biggest games. In a five-game stretch from Oct. 15-Nov. 19, Mathieu was more or less a non-factor. He contributed no turnovers during that span, which included his suspension against Auburn.
Teams gambled with Mathieu ... and won.
Alabama’s A.J. McCarron challenged Mathieu’s side of the field in the BCS championship game with great success. McCarron passed for 234 yards against the Tigers to lead Alabama to a national title in the rematch. If there was a blueprint to beat the LSU defense, McCarron and Alabama may have exposed it.
With Zach Mettenberger, the margin for error might be smaller.
The spotlight was on Mathieu’s game-changing ability last season because LSU needed it so desperately with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee at quarterback. Zach Mettenberger could stabilize the LSU offense, which already has a standout offensive line and and impressive group of running backs. In short, LSU may not have many games like it did against Georgia, in which Mathieu’s punt return for a touchdown bailed out a first-down free first half.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for August 10.
• The Lakers acquisition of big man Dwight Howard has some people thinking that Los Angeles is now the NBA’s team to beat.
• There was huge news in the SEC and college football earlier today with the announcement that LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, a Heisman finalist last season, has been dismissed from the team for violating school and team rules.
• To the surprise of no one, Kentucky’s John Calipari topped CBSSports.com's college basketball coaches’ survey as the sport’s biggest cheater. CBS also got some feedback on Cal’s influential “friend”, World Wide Wes.
• Mike Klis of the Denver Post looks at Peyton Manning’s return to the field in his Broncos debut.
• Today is a tough day for Orlando Magic fans, with another All-Star big man leaving them for Los Angeles.
• Tigers manager Jim Leyland believes that his top slugger, Miguel Cabrera, deserves the American League MVP over rookie Mike Trout of the Angels.
• New UCLA coach Jim Mora unfortunately pulled a “Lane Kiffin” with some recent comments, and then he tried to back off.
• Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt has no respect for Carl Lewis.
• The Chargers realized every team’s preseason fear last night, losing starting running back Ryan Mathews for four to six weeks to a broken clavicle.
• It looks like the Seattle Seahawks violated NFL rules by practicing Terrell Owens on the first day.
• Check out Amare Stoudemire training in Houston with Hakeem Olajuwon. Amare breaks out the old school short-shorts and even gets in a dig at Jeremy Lin at the end.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at email@example.com
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
• Titans running back Chris Johnson believes he could beat Usain Bolt in the 40-yard dash, and maybe even in the 100 meters if he trained for it. Tennessee fans just hope Johnson can get back to totaling 100 meters in football games.
• ESPN’s Joe Schad sits down with a remorseful Bobby Petrino.
• If you’re going to accidentally dial 911, it probably should not be during a drug deal like this Scranton man. Ryan?
• Can Tiger Woods still reach 19 majors?
• Controversial Titans receiver Kenny Britt seems intent on reviving the old Chappelle Show skit, “When Keepin’ It Real Goes Wrong.”
• The NBA and other factions have expressed a desire for an age limit with Olympic basketball, but SI.com’s Ian Thomsen says that will not happen by 2016.
• They did it. For the third straight Olympics, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings won the gold medal in beach volleyball.
• Some ex-Penn State players are not enamored with the decision to add names to the backs of the Nittany Lions uniforms.
• Oregon coaches say there is no urgency to name a starting quarterback.
• New Giants infielder Marco Scutaro had an amazing night in a historic rout of the Cardinals.
• There has been no official word on Grenade Fishing becoming an Olympic sport in 2016. We can only hope.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at firstname.lastname@example.org
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
• NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Cam Newton says he’d like to have a girlfriend, but not one who is just after fame and money. 99 problems...
• ESPN Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett writes that Illinois will play the Washington Huskies at Soldier Field in 2013, and that the Illini and Northwestern are competing heavily for supremacy in Chicago.
• Ah yes, older parents and technology.
• Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal calls out the critics of Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones.
• CBS’ Bruce Feldman ranks college football’s ten most valuable non-quarterbacks.
• Check out some wonderful photos from the Olympics.
• SI.com’s Chris Mannix examines the state of USA amateur boxing, after the American team failed to win a medal in the Olympics for the first time ever.
• Mandatory.com looks at some of the wildest stunts ever performed.
• Browns’ top pick Trent Richardson has a sore knee and may not play against the Lions in the preseason opener.
• West Virginia has signed head coach Dana Holgorsen to a contract extension through 2017.
• The New York Yankees are 3-7 on their last 10 games. And if things weren’t tough enough, look what happened last night to relief pitcher Cody Eppley via third baseman Eric Chavez.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at email@example.com
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
• Ex-Jets quarterback and current broadcaster Boomer Esiason believes that New York should cut Tim Tebow because his presence is not benefiting the team.
• SI.com’s Andy Staples chronicles how television has changed college football.
• Check out Ricky Gervais jumping in the car with Jerry Seinfeld on their way to grab coffee, and the two comedians commenting on various aspects of life.
• Joe Posnanski looks at the mystery that is Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt.
• He’s back. Controversial wide receiver Terrell Owens has signed with the Seattle Seahawks after not playing in the NFL last season. Is there anything left in the tank at age 38?
• The Wisconsin Badgers will wear an alternate uniform for the Nebraska game, as will the Cornhuskers. Both schools have adidas-designed uniforms, and this game will feature the block “W” versus the block “N.”
• USA basketball easily took care of Argentina, 126-97, but Carmelo Anthony was not celebrating after receiving a cheap shot.
• It appears that Dodge will pull out of NASCAR after the 2012 season.
• Angels ace Jered Weaver is an amazing 15-1 after only 20 starts.
• So how did you stack up in the Google Olympics today?
• Dodgers legendary broadcaster Vin Scully is hysterical as he does play-by-play of Rockies manager Jim Tracy getting kicked out of the game. The fun starts a little over a minute into the video; that is “blinkin’ fertilizer.”
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at firstname.lastname@example.org
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
• A huge story is brewing in the NFL, with ESPN reporting that the league has offered to lessen the suspension of Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma if he drops a civil lawsuit against commissioner Roger Goodell. The NFL denies the report, but this controversy is going to get very interesting.
• Check out this great interactive presentation by the New York Times on Usain Bolt’s speed versus other sprinters throughout Olympic history.
• If you missed it last Friday night in London, the combination of the Olympic rings and the moon made for a wonderful visual.
• Dave Miller of the National Football Post looks at some of college football’s best coordinators.
• How cool is it that the Upton brothers — B.J. of the Rays and Justin of the Diamondbacks — both hit career home run No. 100 on the same night?
• ESPN/ABC has released its lineup of college football announcing crews for the upcoming season.
• He may not medal in the 400-meter run, but double leg amputee Oscar Pistorius of South Africa has inspired everyone at the Olympics.
• The Cincinnati Reds have the best record in baseball and a 4.5-game lead in the NL Central, and their next 18 games are against opponents who currently have a losing record.
• Want a Patriots Super Bowl ring? Here you go.
• The extra wild card spot for the MLB postseason will add some suspense to September.
• Obviously bored in the fourth quarter of last night's Hall of Fame game, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock decides to sing Play that Funky Music for America. His “performance” starts about 30 seconds in to our Video of the Day.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at email@example.com
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
San Diego running back Ryan Mathews broke his collarbone on his first carry in Thursday night’s preseason game against Green Bay and is expected to be out between 4-6 weeks. With that diagnosis, the hope is that Mathews will be able to play at the latest by Week 3.
Mathews, who rushed for 1,091 yards with six touchdowns in 2011, appeared to be poised for an even bigger year in 2012 with the Chargers losing backup running back Mike Tolbert to the Carolina Panthers in free agency. Now, the coaching staff’s attention will turn to who will get the carries in Mathews’ absence, while fantasy owners figure out what to do regarding his draft status.
Fantasy-wise, all signs were pointing to a breakout year for the third-year pro, especially with Tolbert no longer around to vulture touchdowns. Tolbert scored 19 touchdowns combined the last two seasons, while Mathews had a total of 13 during that same span.
For all intents and purposes, it appeared that Mathews was going to become the league’s next workhorse back, a rarity these days, which had his fantasy value at an all-time high. Preseason fantasy rankings have Mathews as high as sixth among running backs and certainly among the top 10 overall.
This latest injury, however, also highlights one of the biggest criticisms when it comes to Mathews – durability. Mathews has missed time in each of his first two seasons, two games last year and four in 2001, because of different injuries. While this latest, a broken collarbone, doesn’t necessarily cement a “brittle” reputation for him, the fact that he’s looking at missing the first two weeks of the season, if not longer, certainly needs to be addressed when it comes to his draft value.
That said, I for one, am taking the optimistic approach with Mathews thinking that he will be out no more than the reported 4-6 weeks, meaning you will hopefully get more than enough games out of him (depending on the set up of your league’s playoffs) to maintain his current draft value.
For my money there are four clear-cut top-tier options when it comes to running backs this season – Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and Chris Johnson. These four are secured as the starters on their teams and are virtually guaranteed of touching the ball, provided they stay healthy, no less than 300 times this season.
After that there’s no shortage of appealing options certainly, but there’s no shortage of questions associated with each option. For example, Maurice Jones-Drew has yet to report to Jaguars’ training camp because he’s holding out for a new contract. Will this holdout carry over into the regular season? No one knows right now, but depending on when your league holds its draft, isn’t this enough reason to give you pause on calling his name out?
Matt Forte got his new contract, so he’ll be toting the rock for the Bears starting in Week 1. However, remember he missed the final four games of last season with an MCL sprain and the Bears signed Michael Bush in the offseason. Considering Bush rushed for 977 yards with the Raiders last season, you can’t help but wonder if Forte’s workload will be decreased this season as the Bears look to protect their latest long-term investment.
Speaking of injuries, what about Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles? Two dynamic, explosive running backs for sure, but they also are both coming back from severe keen injuries that ended their 2011 campaigns at different times. Charles got hurt in Week 1 of last season, while Peterson went down in Week 16. The difference in recovery time alone for the two would lead you to believe that Charles is the “safer” option, but the reports on Peterson’s recovery have been so positive. Which one do you take and when?
And we haven’t even gotten to Darren McFadden (injury risk), Marshawn Lynch (facing potential suspension due to legal troubles), DeMarco Murray (injury risk) or Trent Richardson, who just went under the knife to remove loose particles from a knee that has already been surgically repaired.
The point is this – once you get past the first four running backs, there are really no sure things. While Jones-Drew, Forte and, to a degree, Lynch, appear to be among the safest of the next best available options, I still think you can include Mathews in there as well.
For one, while Mathews did break a bone, he didn’t shred his knee like Charles or Peterson did. As long as the bone heals properly, which is why the initial prognosis is he will be out 4-6 weeks, it shouldn’t take him that long to get back into the flow of things with San Diego’s offense.
Also, even though all three have already had their share of injuries in their NFL careers, I would rather take my chances with Mathews than McFadden or Murray. McFadden has played no more than 13 games in any of his first four seasons, including just seven last year. Murray’s injury history goes back to his college days at Oklahoma and he is coming off a broken ankle he suffered last December. Mathews’ latest injury doesn’t affect his ankle or legs, while both McFadden and Murray have histories with such.
And far as Richardson goes, while I’m not expecting the knee surgery to keep him out an extended period of time it does cut into the rookie’s preparation time as he gets ready for his first NFL season. Combine that with the reports that this knee issue could “linger” as the season progresses, the questions I have related to Cleveland’s offensive line and the fact that rookie Brandon Weeden will be starting at quarterback, that’s enough reasons for me to think twice before drafting Richardson early, especially in a redraft league.
Provided Mathews is back in the lineup by Week 3, he still should be I line for a very productive season. The clear-cut No. 1 back, Mathews is also a viable weapon catching passes out of the backfield as he had 50 receptions for 455 yards last season. Even though he had a down year in 2011, Philip Rivers is still one of the top quarterbacks in the league, which increases Mathews’ value and potential to have a big season as the Chargers’ passing game should help open up rushing lanes but also present big-play opportunities for him.
Before he got hurt, I viewed Mathews as a solid top-10 fantasy running back option this season. My view hasn’t changed, even if it means Mathews won’t play until Week 3. I would put him clearly behind Foster, Rice, McCoy, Johnson, Forte and probably still Jones-Drew, but after that he’s definitely among the next-best available options and right now the only one I would consider taking ahead of him would possibly be Lynch.
Now as far as the San Diego backfield options go without Mathews, this screams running back-by-committee so I wouldn’t go looking for any sleepers here. The Chargers don’t lack for options as Jackie Battle, Curtis Brinkley and Ronnie Brown are all on the roster.
Last season, Brinkley was third on the Chargers in carries with 30, putting him considerably behind Mathews (222) and the now-departed Tolbert (121). Brinkley finished the season with 101 yards rushing (3.4 ypc) and a touchdown.
After losing Tolbert in free agency, the Chargers signed veterans Brown and Battle. Brown is a 1,000-yard rusher, but that came back in 2006 as injuries have taken their toll on the former Auburn Tiger who has taken with the second overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Last season with the Eagles, the now 30-year-old Brown rushed for only 136 yards on 42 carries (3.2 ypc) as the primary backup to McCoy.
For the second straight season, Battle could get an opportunity to establish himself because of an injury to the incumbent starter. Last season, Battle got four starts in Kansas City after Charles went down with season-ending ACL injury in Week 1. Although Battle’s opportunities decreased as the season went along, the sixth-year pro out of Houston finished 2011 with a career-high 597 yards on 149 carries (4.0 ypc) and two touchdowns.
It’s entirely possible that one of these could do enough in training camp and preseason action to lay claim to the starting position. Even if that happens, however, I don’t see enough reason to seriously invest in any of them, except in deeper leagues. Brown is nowhere near the dynamic player he once was and I just don’t think his body can sustain a heavy workload. Battle is one-dimensional, which really doesn’t fit how the Chargers were planning on using Mathews. The opportunity is there for Brinkley, but there’s no history of production to really cling to.
There’s also Le’Ron McClain, the All-Pro fullback the Chargers signed as a free agent in the offseason. Brought in to help clear the way for Mathews, McClain now may get a few more chances to carry the ball instead. That alone should tell you all you need to know about the Chargers’ backfield without Mathews – stay away.
In fact, the biggest beneficiary of Mathews’ absence could be Rivers and wide receivers Vincent Brown, Malcom Floyd and Robert Meachem and tight end Antonio Gates. Chances are without Mathews, the Chargers may be inclined to throw the ball even more than they usually do.
— By Mark Ross, published on August 10, 2012
Germany's Jana Berezko-Marggrander with the ball during the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around competition.
Here's the Fab Five for Aug. 10, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:
1. Women's 4x100m Finals
Allyson Felix and Carmelita Jeter will try to lead the U.S. to the medal stand and past those pesky, dominant sprinters from Jamaica. The U.S. women posted the second-fastest time in history in the semis, so they have to be considered a slight favorite in what will be a start-studded event.
2. Men's 4x400m Finals
I don't know about you, but the guy I'm rooting for won't even be running today. American Manteo Mitchell helped the U.S. team make it through the preliminaries despite suffering a broke fibula midway through his leg of the race. After letting out an audible scream, Mitchell gutted out a respectable 46.1 lap as the Americans tied for first in the heat. Mitchell will be watching the finals but will still get whatever medal his teammates earn. The team from the Bahamas looks like a medal threat as well.
3. Basketball Semifinals: Team USA vs. Argentina
Things are getting real for Team USA as they face a talented, determined Argentine team in the semifinals. There's lingering bitterness over Argentina's win against the Americans in the semifinals in Athens in 2004, and the Argentines ramped up the intensity with some dirty play in the two teams' previous encounter in these Games, won by the U.S. 126-97.
4. BMX Cycling
The men's and women's finals in this thrilling niche sport are both on Friday. Dutch rider Raymon van der Biezen has become the story of this event, battling a series of injuries to lead his team into gold medal contention.
5. Men's 10m Platform Diving
The remarkable elegance of the Chinese divers will again be on display as China's Qui Bo is one of the favorites for gold. Britain's Tom Daley and American David Boudia are also medal contenders, as is defending gold medalist Matthew Mitcham of Australia.
See more 2012 Olympics coverage.
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Note to the players at this year's PGA Championship at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course: If your ball veers toward the water, it's best just to let it go.
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 San Diego Chargers check in at No. 16.
In a move unpopular with many fans, team president Dean Spanos decided to keep coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith after the Chargers finished 8–8 and out of the playoffs for the second straight year. Now it’s time for Turner and Smith to fire up the Chargers — or get fired.
Smith was more active than usual in free agency. Forced to replace star wide receiver Vincent Jackson, he signed Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal in a flurry of deals that should bolster the offense. Smith then used the draft to improve a defense that was the worst in the NFL on third down. With the first three picks, he took outside linebacker Melvin Ingram of South Carolina, defensive end Kendall Reyes of Connecticut and safety Brandon Taylor of LSU.
The Chargers no longer have the luxury of playing in one of the weakest divisions in football. Oakland continues to improve. The Chiefs regain the services of standout tailback Jamaal Charles. And the Broncos, the defending division champs, now have Peyton Manning running the show.
No one will be as eager to bounce back as Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers, who has to hope that his mysterious struggles are behind him. Rivers committed a stunning number of turnovers, including the memorable fumbled snap at Kansas City. Rivers finished with 20 interceptions and five lost fumbles. Many fans wondered if he was hurt after taking a few hard shots to the chest early in the season. But his name never appeared on the injury report, and he insisted he was healthy.
The offensive line took a hit when four-time Pro Bowler Kris Dielman, a fixture at left guard, was forced to retire after a concussion. Dielman was as tough and nasty as they come, leaving the Chargers to replace an attitude as well as a player. Tyronne Green will give it a shot. The Chargers re-signed center Nick Hardwick and left tackle Jared Gaither. Gaither helped stabilize the left side of the line during the final five games of the 2011 season after being signed off waivers following a neck injury to Marcus McNeill, a 2006 second-round pick who was released in the offseason. Hardwick has been a starter since his rookie season of 2004. He made it known that he wanted to remain in San Diego and did not test the free agency market.
The team allowed Jackson to leave for Tampa Bay even though he caught 60 passes for a team-high 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns. San Diego felt it would be unable to address other needs if it they gave Jackson a deal in the range of the $55 million he signed with the Bucs. Meachem will start opposite injury-prone Malcom Floyd, while Royal — who often burned the Chargers during his time with Denver — will battle exciting second-year pro Vincent Brown for the No. 3 receiving spot.
Running back Ryan Mathews had a solid second NFL season, showing a nice burst en route to 1,091 yards and a spot in the Pro Bowl. Mathews will have a new escort this season, as Le’Ron McClain has replaced Mike Tolbert at fullback.
Tight end Antonio Gates returned to health after missing time early in the season with painful plantar fasciitis. He continues to draw double-teams and led the Chargers with 64 catches for 778 yards and seven scores.
If the Chargers can stay relatively healthy and avoid the turnover issues that plagued them last season, the offense has the ability to be among the best in the league.
A glaring lack of impact players on defense hurt the Chargers to the point that they led the NFL by allowing opponents to convert 49.2 percent on third downs. The scapegoat was defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who was fired shortly after the 2011 season. He was replaced by linebackers coach John Pagano, brother of new Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano. John Pagano was beaming during the draft as the front office selected Ingram, Reyes and Taylor with the first three picks, giving him a player on each level of the defense. All three rookies are expected to provide an immediate impact, particularly in third down packages.
Reyes will be an upgrade in the defensive line rotation. Ingram will be inserted into the rotation at outside linebacker, joining Shaun Phillips, Antwan Barnes, and the newly acquired Jarret Johnson. A starter for the Ravens for the past five years, Johnson is strong against the run. Barnes had 11 sacks last season, while Phillips, who missed four games at midseason, had only 3.5. Larry English hasn’t lived up to his billing as a first-round pick out of Northern Illinois in 2009, largely because of foot injuries. He has only seven sacks in three NFL seasons.
Taylor will compete with Atari Bigby for the starting job at strong safety. The Chargers hope Taylor can give them the kind of hard-hitting play they haven’t had at strong safety since Rodney Harrison left for New England 10 years ago.
Free safety Eric Weddle was one of the bright spots on a disappointing defense. The veteran from Utah was named first-team All-Pro after recording 66 tackles and tying for the NFL lead with seven interceptions. He’s also developed into a leader in the locker room.
Nate Kaeding, the most accurate kicker in NFL history coming into the 2011 season, broke his leg on the season’s opening kickoff — which was returned for a touchdown by Minnesota’s Percy Harvin — and missed the rest of the year. Nick Novak stepped in and converted 27-of-34 attempts, but Kaeding is expected to get his job back. Mike Scifres continues to boom punts; he ranked sixth in the NFL with a 47.5-yard average. Royal will step in and take over punt returning duties. Richard Goodman, a reserve wide receiver, is in the mix to be the primary kickoff return specialist.
Final Analysis: 2nd in the AFC West
Interestingly enough, the Chargers had their best start under Turner last season — they were 4–1 after five games — yet still missed the playoffs for the second straight year. They were undone by a six-game losing streak in the middle of the season. They did, however, close with a 4–1 run, which gives them some confidence heading into 2012.
Spanos has made it clear that Turner and Smith have to win in order to save their jobs. He didn’t specifically mention a deep playoff run, but it was implied.
The offense, a team strength for so many years, must become more efficient after a down year. That starts with Rivers at quarterback, but the new additions to the receiving corps will be under the microscope as well. The team addressed some glaring needs on defense in the draft. If the rookies make an immediate impact and Pagano, the new defensive coordinator, can solve the third down woes, the Chargers should be in the hunt for the AFC West title.
Related: 2012 San Diego Chargers Schedule Analysis
Outside The Huddle
The Chargers were among the hardest hit emotionally when former linebacker Junior Seau died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in May. “We all lost a friend today,” team president Dean Spanos said. “This is just such a tragic loss. One of the worst things I could ever imagine.” The Chargers held a celebration of life service on May 11 at Qualcomm Stadium, where Seau starred for his first 13 NFL seasons.
Look Who’s Coming to Town
The Chargers will see several high-profile former teammates and coaches thanks to their matchup with the NFC South this season. In home games, they’ll face running back Michael Turner of the Falcons, and running back Mike Tolbert and former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera of the Panthers. In road games, they’ll face quarterback Drew Brees of the Saints and Vincent Jackson of the Buccaneers.
Eddie Royal has a chance to make highlights with the Chargers rather than against them. While with Denver in 2009, Royal returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in a 34–23 Monday night victory at San Diego. In September 2008, after referee Ed Hochuli’s infamous blown call in Denver, Royal caught a fourth down touchdown pass from Jay Cutler and then ran the same route to catch the winning two-point conversion.
Party In The Parking Lot
There were plenty of emotional moments when left guard Kris Dielman announced his retirement in the offseason due to a concussion. The mood lightened somewhat when Dielman was asked if he’s going to still be around. “I’m excited to tailgate,” he said.
Whitehurst is back Charlie Whitehurst is back as Philip Rivers’ backup after a two-year sojourn to Seattle in which he threw his first NFL pass. Whitehurst was San Diego’s third-string quarterback behind Rivers and Billy Volek from 2006-09 and never attempted a pass in the regular season. After being traded to Seattle, he played in nine games in two seasons, throwing for 805 yards and three touchdowns, with four interceptions. He helped get the Seahawks into the playoffs in 2010. Hours after signing Whitehurst, the Chargers released Volek.
It might take San Diego State fans a while to warm up to rookie tight end Ladarius Green. In his final game at Louisiana-Lafayette, he caught five passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in a 32–30 victory over the Aztecs in the New Orleans Bowl.
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: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Mon., Aug. 13
Order your 2012 San Diego Chargers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here
Related: Top San Deigo Chargers Top Twitter Accounts To Follow
Related: 2012 San Diego Chargrs Schedule Analysis
Few teams inspire equal parts repulsion and adoration like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Yet, one thing any fan of any team must admit is that Notre Dame plays arguably the toughest schedule each and every season. This fall won’t be any different as the Irish will face 10 teams that got to bowl eligibility in 2011. Boston College and Navy are the only two teams on this schedule that were not bowl eligible last season. Additionally, Brian Kelly’s bunch will face six teams that won at least 10 games last year.
Week 1 (Sept. 1): Navy (9:00 AM ET, CBS) Dublin, Ire.
Overall Record: 72-12-1, Last Meeting: W, 56-14 (2011)
Week 2 (Sept. 8): Purdue (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 55-26-2, Last Meeting: W, 38-10 (2011)
Week 3 (Sept. 15): At Michigan State (8:00 PM ET, ABC)
Overall Record: 46-28-1, Last Meeting: W, 31-13 (2011)
Week 4 (Sept. 22): Michigan (7:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 15-23-1, Last Meeting: L, 35-31 (2011)
Week 5 (Sept. 29): Bye Week
Week 6 (Oct. 6): Miami, Fla. (7:30 PM ET, NBC) Chicago, Ill.
Overall Record: 16-7-1, Last Meeting: W, 33-17 (2010, Sun Bowl)
Week 7 (Oct. 13): Stanford (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 17-9, Last Meeting: L, 28-14 (2011)
Week 8 (Oct. 20): BYU (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 4-2, Last Meeting: W, 49-23 (2005)
Week 9 (Oct. 27): At Oklahoma (TBA)
Overall Record: 8-1, Last Meeting: W, 34-30 (1999)
Week 10 (Nov. 3): Pitt (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 46-20-1, Last Meeting: W, 15-12 (2011)
Week 11 (Nov. 10): At Boston College (TBA)
Overall Record: 12-9, Last Meeting: W, 16-14 (2011)
Week 12 (Nov. 17): Wake Forest (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 1-0, Last Meeting: W, 24-17 (2011)
Week 13 (Nov. 24): At USC (TBA, ABC/ESPN)
Overall Record: 43-35-5, Last Meeting: W, 31-17 (2011)
Week 14 (Nov. 31): Bye Week
Related: 2012 Notre Dame Team Preview
— After a four-decade win streak over the fine Naval Academy, the Middies claimed three of four from the Irish from 2007 to 2010. Kelly’s bunch got back on the winning side last fall in a one-sided 56-14 domination. This game has a decidedly different feel to it as it will take place across the pond in Dublin. While the fans love the 10 AM ET kickoff, the coaches will have to get their teams adjusted during a strange week of travel. Especially, considering that the Irish do not have a bye week following a long trip back to the States.
— From Week 2 to Week 4, the Irish will face three straight regional rivals from the Big Ten. These games will not only feature two 10-win teams from Michigan with BCS bowl aspirations, but recruiting battles hang in the balance as well. All four schools compete directly for recruits in the Midwest and winning on the field means more than just a single W or L in the standings. And, of course, revenge will be heavy on Irish minds after last year’s soul-crushing fourth quarter collapse against the biggest rival of the group Michigan. The first month will indicate what Notre Dame will be in 2012 and will likely feature the toughest two-week stretch of the year. Kelly is 0-2 against Michigan at Notre Dame.
— After facing four straight bowl teams, the bye week will come at a welcome time for Kelly’s bunch. Ideally, the quarterback situation will have been sorted out long before Week 5 (I have been calling for Everett Golson to be the starter all summer), but this layoff should give the Irish offensive staff time to regroup and reevaluate its quarterback play — should something still be left to be determined.
— A trip around Lake Michigan to Soldier Field should be fun for the Windy City faithful. It just doesn’t appear to be promising for the Miami fans. Should the Irish be 4-0, they will have a chance to make a big statement in Chicago against a former national power.
— Week’s 7-9 should be the toughest stretch of games for the Irish in 2012. Stanford appears to be a carbon copy of Notre Dame this fall — questions at quarterback but a talented running game to go with a nasty front seven on defense — and matches-up very well with the Irish. The Cardinal have won three straight in the series. BYU has a big offense that will test the ND secondary. Luckily, both games will come in South Bend, but they lead up to a trip to Norman to battle the Sooners. Landry Jones and Co. will be able to handle the Irish defense, so it will fall to the Irish offense to produce if Kelly expects to compete with Oklahoma. These two historic powers haven’t played since 1999.
— The good news for Irish fans is that the easiest section of the schedule will come directly after the trip to Oklahoma. Pitt, Boston College and Wake Forest might be the three easiest opponents on the ’12 slate and all three will be played consecutively. The bad news? The Irish beat these three by a total of 12 points last year. Again, this stretch being defined as the “easiest” three games is another indicator of just how tough the Irish slate is every year.
— The season finale will be the team’s toughest single test of the year. Notre Dame has beaten USC once time since 2001 and could be facing an undefeated 11-0 Heisman Trophy-led offensive juggernaut on the road in Los Angeles. Yes, the last time Kelly took a team to The Coliseum, the Irish came away victorious, but that was the worst Trojan team since Peter Carroll’s first year — also, in 2001.
Official Season Prediction: 8-4, Pinstripe Bowl
Related: Athlon Sports 2012 Bowl Projections
- by Braden Gall
Athlon Sports 2012 Notre Dame Content:
2012 Notre Dame Team Preview
Debate: Can Brian Kelly Lead the Irish to a BCS Bowl?
Who are the Top 10 Notre Dame Players in 2012?
Team Predictions: Who Starts at QB, What is the Most Important Game and More
The 10 Greatest Fighting Irish Player of All-Time
Notre Dame Cheerleader Gallery