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Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Web site can give you.
2012 NFL Week 15 Fantasy Football Rankings — Kickers
|1||Lawrence Tynes||NYG||at ATL|
|2||Matt Bryant||ATL||vs. NYG|
|3||Stephen Gostkowski||NE||vs. SF|
|4||Sebastian Janikowski||OAK||vs. KC|
|5||Jason Hanson||DET||at ARI|
|6||Justin Tucker||BAL||vs. DEN|
|7||Phil Dawson||CLE||vs. WAS|
|8||Connor Barth||TB||at NO|
|9||Matt Prater||DEN||at BAL|
|10||Shayne Graham||HOU||vs. IND|
|11||Blair Walsh||MIN||at STL|
|12||Shaun Suisham||PIT||at DAL|
|13||Dan Bailey||DAL||vs. PIT|
|14||Kai Forbath||WAS||at CLE|
|15||David Akers||SF||at NE|
|16||Mason Crosby||GB||at CHI|
Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points
Additional Week 15 Positional Rankings
Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Web site can give you.
2012 NFL Week 15 Fantasy Football Rankings — Defense/Special Teams
|1||Seattle Seahawks||at BUF|
|2||Cincinnati Bengals||at PHI (Thurs.)|
|3||Denver Broncos||at BAL|
|4||New York Jets||at TEN (Mon.)|
|5||Chicago Bears||vs. GB|
|6||St. Louis Rams||vs. MIN|
|7||Houston Texans||vs. IND|
|8||San Francisco 49ers||at NE|
|9||New England Patriots||vs. SF|
|10||Pittsburgh Steelers||at DAL|
|11||Detroit Lions||at ARI|
|12||Green Bay Packers||at CHI|
|13||San Diego Chargers||vs. CAR|
|14||Miami Dolphins||vs. JAC|
|15||Arizona Cardinals||vs. DET|
|16||Cleveland Browns||vs. WAS|
Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points
Additional Week 15 Positional Rankings
As we celebrate 12/12/12 today, the number 12 has been associated with many aspects of our everyday lives — and in sports. We enjoyed “The Dirty Dozen.” We buy eggs by the dozen. We’re familiar with “Cheaper By the Dozen,” and we have a song about “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
But today we recognize the 12 Best Athletes to have worn the No. 12.
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
The New England quarterback entered the league as a sixth-round draft pick in 2000 and saw action in just one game his rookie season. He took over the starting job after Drew Bledsoe was injured in Week 2 of 2001 and led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title. He will leave the game as arguably the best ever at his position.
2. Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers
The No. 1 overall draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1970 didn’t wow with stats, but his teams won — and won big. He led the Steelers to four Super Bowl wins in the 1970s, earning league MVP honors in 1978 and was the Super Bowl MVP twice.
3. John Stockton, Utah Jazz
It’s rare to hear the name Stockton without “and Malone” following, as Stockton and Karl Malone formed one of the greatest tandems in NBA history. The crafty point led the Utah Jazz to 19 consecutive playoff appearances. Stockton started 1,300 games for the Jazz and led the NBA in assists for nine straight seasons, a span that included a time when Magic Johnson was at the top of his game with the Showtime Lakers.
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
The 2011 NFL MVP as well as the Super Bowl MVP after that season is quickly moving up the list of the greatest signal-callers in NFL history.
5. Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys drafted the 1963 Heisman Trophy winner in the 10th round in 1964, but due to his commitments to the Navy, Staubach didn’t appear in a Dallas uniform until 1969 at the age of 27. He led the Cowboys to four Super Bowls, winning two, one as MVP.
6. Dickie Moore, Montreal Canadiens
The Hall of Famer led the NHL in goals once and assists once. But he was an impact player with the Habs on six championship teams, including five consecutive Stanley Cups from 1956-60.
7. Yvan Cournoyer, Montreal Canadiens
Cournoyer took over from Moore and continued the legacy of No. 12 in Montreal. The Hall of Famer was part of eight championships with the Canadiens.
8. Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills
Kelly started 160 games for the Buffalo Bills over an 11-year career in which he led the Bills to the playoffs eight times, including four consecutive Super Bowls.
9. Joe Namath, New York Jets
Broadway Joe learned the game from Bear Bryant at Alabama, and sports fans learned of the AFL from Joe Willie Namath. His brash Super Bowl prediction prior to Super Bowl III remains one of the signature moments in NFL history.
10. Bobby Allison, NASCAR
The racing legend drove car No. 12 to Victory Lane 25 times.
11. Roberto Alomar, Toronto Blue Jays/Cleveland Indians (primarily)
The Hall of Fame second baseman was a 12-time All-Star, won 10 Gold Gloves and finished in the top six in MVP voting five times.
12. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
The man who made the No. 23 famous wore No. 12 for one game in 1990. On Valentine’s night at Orlando, Jersey donned No. 12 after his jersey had been stolen prior to the game. He put up 49 on the Magic in 47 minutes, but the Bulls lost 135-129.
A Dozen More
Dick Barnett, NBA
Wade Boggs, MLB (Yankees and Rays)
John Brodie, NFL
Lauren Cheney, USA Soccer
Bob Griese, NFL
Thierry Henry, France Soccer
Dwight Howard, NBA
Andrew Luck, NFL
Ryan Newman, NASCAR
A.J. Pierzynski, MLB
Alfonso Soriano, MLB
Ken Stabler, NFL
For most college basketball teams, players are preparing for finals. For those of us watching the sport, we’re preparing for midterms, so to speak.
As the non-conference seasons start to wrap up and league play to begin around the new year, Athlon is looking back and looking ahead at each conference.
We’ll start with the ACC where Duke has pulled off the impossible and managed to surprise people.
EARLY SEASON CONFERENCE CATCHUP: ACC
Other conferences: Big 12 | Big East
|Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton|
Surprise team: Duke.
Virginia Tech and Maryland may be the true sleepers in the ACC, but few picked Duke to be the class of the ACC (ahem, Athlon was one of the exceptions). Everything that needed to happen for Duke to take charge in the ACC did happen: Mason Plumlee has improved across the board, Rasheed Suliamon has given the Blue Devils scoring and defense on the perimeter, Ryan Kelly has been healthy, and Quinn Cook has exceeded all expectations as point guard.
Disappointing team: Florida State.
The Seminoles figured to take a step back after major personnel losses following last year’s ACC tournament title, but no one expected this slide. The ‘Noles lost to South Alabama to open the season and have lost three of their last four including Minnesota, Mercer and by 25 to Florida. Michael Snaer has been streaky and the defense has been lackluster. The normally stingy Seminoles are allowing opponents to score 68.4 points per game and shoot 41.1 percent from the floor.
Where did he come from? Erick Green, Virginia Tech.
New coach James Johnson has turned up the tempo at Virginia Tech. No player has benefitted more than Erick Green, who is among the nation’s leading scorers at 24.6 points per game. That’s nearly 10 points per game more than he averaged a year ago. With a thin roster, the Hokies need everything they can get from Green.
Where did he go? Ian Miller, Florida State.
A foot injury has hobbled Miller so far this season, so he should probably get a pass in his struggles to transition from sixth man to starter. Miller’s output has dropped from 10.3 points to 6.7 despite playing similar minutes per game. His assist output, however, has doubled.
Key stat: North Carolina’s free throw shooting.
The Tar Heels are last in the ACC in free throw shooting (61.7 percent) and last in the nation in percentage of points scored off free throws (11.6 percent). A year ago, North Carolina scored more than 20 percent of its points off free throws.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH IN CONFERENCE PLAY
|Duke guard Seth Curry|
How will Seth Curry’s leg injury play out? The Duke senior is battling persistent leg pain, but it hasn’t hindered his play so far. He’s second to Mason Plumlee on the team at 16.1 points per game, but he’s taken the most 3-point shots for a squad that leads the ACC in that category.
Will NC State put it together? The Wolfpack have lost two games this season to to teams with one loss between them in Oklahoma State and Michigan, though the loss to the Cowboys was by 20 in Puerto Rico. NC State entered the season with momentum as a heralded freshman class joined the veteran core that reached the Sweet 16 last season, yet the Wolfpack hasn’t jelled as a potential ACC contender would. The top three scorers from last season -- C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Scott Wood -- rank third through fifth in scoring this year.
Are either of the Virginia schools for real? Not much was expected from the Cavaliers and Hokies to start the season, as Virginia lost Mike Scott and Virginia Tech began a rebuilding process with a new coach. Yet both teams have picked up impressive wins in late November and into December with wildly different styles. Virginia has held five teams to fewer than 50 points, including Tennessee. The Cavs also defeated Wisconsin 60-54 in Madison, one of the toughest road trips in basketball. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech is running up and down the court at 82.2 points per game.
ACC POWER RANKINGS
Player of the year watch
Mason Plumlee, Duke
Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Alex Len, Maryland
Freshman of the year watch
Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
T.J. Warren, NC State
Seth Allen, Maryland
Coach of the year watch
Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
James Johnson, Virginia Tech
Mark Turgeon, Maryland
1. Duke (9-0). The early win over Kentucky is probably less impressive than in once seemed, but the Blue Devils defeated three opponents in the Battle 4 Atlantis (Minnesota, VCU and Louisville) who have gone a combined 24-5 this season. Duke followed that up with a win over Ohio State (6-1).
2. NC State (6-2). The Wolfpack’s 69-65 win over surprising Connecticut in Madison Square Garden was an encouraging sign as was a close call with Michigan. Richard Howell is already one of the best rebounders in the league. Now he leads the team in scoring.
3. North Carolina (7-2). Like NC State, North Carolina is searching for answers before the ACC season starts. Point guard and post play haven’t been as steady as they’ve been in recent years in Chapel Hill, and the Tar Heels are getting torched from the 3-point line.
4. Maryland (8-1). Seven-foot-1 sophomore Alex Len (13.9 points, 8.7 rebounds) has been a revelation, and Dez Wells has had the impact expected. The Terrapins are nearly halfway to last year’s win total (17).
5. Virginia Tech (8-1). Since Thanksgiving, the Hokies have defeated Iowa and Oklahoma State by double figures and lost at West Virginia by 1, signs the hot start may not be a fluke.
6. Virginia (8-2). Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins are among the most improved players in the ACC on both sides of the court. Will the defensive prowess continue into the conference season?
7. Miami (5-1): The Hurricanes lost to Florida Gulf Coast without Durand Scott. They’ve gone 3-0 with Scott, including a win over Michigan State.
8. Georgia Tech (6-2). Freshmen Marcus Georges-Hunt and Robert Carter have helped make the Yellow Jackets more competitive in Brian Gregory’s second season. Balance double-digit losses to Cal and Illinois with wins over Saint Mary’s and Georgia.
9. Clemson (5-3). Milton Jennings was suspended for a Nov. 28 loss to Purdue following an arrest. He’ll be the Tigers’ top players, so his status with coach Brad Brownell will determine if Clemson is competitive in the ACC.
10. Florida State (5-4). The Seminoles need to get their act together quickly. That will be tough with five road games in the first seven games of January.
11. Boston College (4-5). The Eagles are still rebuilding as the top six scorers are sophomores and freshmen. That’s not a bad thing at some places. It is at Boston College.
12. Wake Forest (4-5). The Demon Deacons picked up where they left off last season, and that’s not a good thing. Losses to Iona (94-68), Nebraska (79-63), Richmond and Seton Hall (in which Wake squandered a big second-half league) signal this is going to be another long year in Winston-Salem.
Johnny Manziel’s Heisman coronation capped a wild year of college football in 2012 filled with twists, turns and unexpected results.
Perhaps we should have known 2012 would be different from previous years when Alabama helped start things off with a familiar opponent (LSU) and a different result (a 21-0 rout on the arm of a quarterback ) in the BCS Championship Game.
As 2012 comes to a close, Athlon will count down the top individual performances in each major sport from the year, culminating with a full list of the top 50 performances of the year.
We start today with the top 10 individual performances in college football for 2012:
|Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel|
1. Nov. 10: Johnny Manziel’s Heisman moment
Alabama wasn’t invincible after all. In a game that propelled Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel to the Heisman Trophy, Manziel stunned No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa for the Tide’s first defeat since LSU during the 2011 regular season. Manziel broke off miracle runs and bobbled a snap only to turn it into a touchdown pass early in building a three-score lead in the first quarter. Alabama crawled back into the game, but Manziel finished 24 of 31 for 253 yards with two touchdowns in the 29-24 win. He also rushed for 92 yards on 18 carries.
2. Oct. 10: Jarvis Jones’ party in Jacksonville
The Georgia linebacker took over a handful of games this season, but few were as impressive -- and important to the Bulldogs’ season -- as his effort against Florida. Jones finished with 13 tackles, three sacks and 4.5 tackles for a loss in the 17-9 win over the Gators, which ended up clinching the SEC East for the Bulldogs. One of his two forced fumbles poked the ball away from Gators tight end Jordan Reed in the red zone, ending Florida’s final scoring chance.
3. Sept. 22: Manti Te’o’s grief and joy
The same week Te’o’s grandmother and girlfriend died, the Notre Dame linebacker had his best game of the season against Michigan. Te’o finished with eight tackles and intercepted Michigan’s Denard Robinson twice.
Update: Deadspin reports Te'o's girlfriend was a hoax
4. Jan. 9: McCarron manages Mathieu
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron was derided as a “game manager” all too often in 2011-12, but he proved the skeptics wrong by turning in the most critical individual performance in a 21-0 handling of LSU in the BCS Championship Game. McCarron’s 23-of-34 showing for 234 yards came seemingly from nowhere as the Alabama quarterback picked on Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu and the Tigers secondary.
5. Nov. 18: Tavon Austin’s switcheroo
West Virginia struggled to run the ball all year, so against Oklahoma, Dana Holgorsen changed his approach: He asked his best athlete to start running the ball. Tavon Austin responded to his first day at tailback with 344 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. With 146 yards on kickoff returns and 82 receiving yards, Austin finished with 572 all-purpose yards, only six yards short of the FBS record in the 50-49 loss.
|Oregon running back Kenjon Barner|
6. Nov. 3: Kenjon Barner rips USC
Barner didn’t set a Pac-12 record (that would have been Ka’Deem Carey’s 366 yards against Colorado), but his 321 yards against USC was record-breaking nonetheless. Barner rushed for a school record and a record for a USC opponent with his 300-yard game against the Trojans which included five touchdowns in the 62-51 win. Being from Riverside, Calif., only added to Barner’s excitement (and USC’s misery).
7. Sept. 29: West Virginia’s Big 12 welcome
Bash the Baylor defense if you must, but what Geno Smith did at the end of September would have been impressive in a summer 7-on-7. Smith threw more touchdown passes (eight) than he did incomplete passes (six) that day against the Bears in West Virginia’s first game as a Big 12 team. Smith completed 45 of 51 passes for a school-record 656 yards that day.
8. Jan. 4: Geno Smith’s record-setting Orange Bowl
Sorting through Geno Smith’s best games can be challenge, but his performance of the Orange Bowl set the tone for the start of the 2012 season. Smith was 32 of 43 for 407 yards with six touchdown passes, a record for any bowl game, in the 70-33 rout of Clemson.
9. Nov. 24: Clowney’s party in the Clemson backfield
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has been a nightmare for every quarterback he’s faced, but none more than Tajh Boyd in the final regular season game of 2012. Clowney recorded a career-high 4.5 sacks to give him a South Carolina season record (13) in the 27-17 win over the rival Tigers.
10. Oct. 13: Quinton Patton hits blackjack
The Louisiana Tech receiver with the creative awards campaign had little trouble getting open against Texas A&M. Patton caught 21 passes for 233 yards with four touchdowns in the 59-57 loss to the Aggies. Patton was the first 20-catch receiver since Oct. 10, 2009.
Sept. 29: Miami (Ohio) quarterback Zac Dysert passed for 516 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for 108 yards in a 56-49 win over Akron.
Oct. 27: USC receiver Marqise Lee caught 16 passes for 345 yards with two touchdowns in a 39-36 loss to Arizona. Lee finished the game with 469 all-purpose yards.
Nov. 10: Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey rushed for a Pac-12 record 366 yards with five touchdowns on 25 carries in a 56-31 win over Colorado.
Nov. 17: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd accounted for eight touchdowns (five passing three rushing) in a 62-48 win over NC State.
Nov. 17: Temple running back Montel Harris rushed for 351 yards with seven touchdowns on 36 carries in a 63-32 win over Army.
The SEC is college football’s toughest conference and only got better with the addition of new coaches Gus Malzahn, Bret Bielema, Butch Jones and Mark Stoops. All four schools (Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky) made solid hires, which should help each program get back to winning records and bowl games over the next few years.
Ranking the new hires is no easy task, but with the SEC’s head coaching carousel likely finished for 2013, it’s time to take a look at how the new coaches stack up in the conference for next year.
Ranking the SEC's New Hires for 2013
1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Previous Job: Head coach at Arkansas State
Pros: Malzahn certainly knows his way around Auburn, as he spent three seasons as the offensive coordinator under Gene Chizik from 2009-11. The Tigers ranked in the top 20 of scoring offense two out of Malzahn’s three seasons, and he was a key reason why Auburn claimed the 2010 national championship. Although he spent only one season at Arkansas State, the experience as a head coach on the collegiate level will greatly benefit Malzahn for his stint at Auburn.
Cons: Although the experience at Arkansas State is beneficial, Malzahn is still raw as a head coach. The Texas native has yet to build a program for the long haul on the collegiate level and isn’t inheriting a great situation. Auburn needs a lot of work on both sides of the ball, and Malzahn needs Kiehl Frazier to live up to his recruiting hype at quarterback.
Final Analysis: Malzahn certainly knows offense and now he gets a chance to build his own program at Auburn. He is piecing together a solid staff, which includes former South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. Although Malzahn needs to find a capable quarterback, this offense should be much better in 2013. Auburn’s hire of Malzahn seems to get lost in the shuffle but this appears to be the best fit of the four new SEC coaches.
2. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Previous Job: Head coach at Wisconsin
Pros: Bielema had a difficult assignment for his first head coaching gig, following Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin. However, Bielema led the Badgers to a 68-24 mark in seven seasons, which included three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. Wisconsin also had three consecutive seasons of at least 10 victories under his watch. Bielema’s style of play isn’t flashy, but the run-first mentality fits very well in the SEC.
Cons: The biggest downside to Bielema is the lack of experience in the SEC. The Illinois native has spent all of his career in the Midwest, which included four years at Iowa as a defensive lineman. If Bielema was not a fan of Urban Meyer’s recruiting at Ohio State, he’s going to have a tough time surviving in the SEC. Recruiting to the nation’s No. 1 conference is a tougher grind, and Bielema needs to establish more connections in Texas and Florida.
Final Analysis: Bielema is a curious fit at Arkansas. However, he has a solid resume and is bringing a style of play that meshes well with other teams in the SEC. Considering Bielema did a good job of identifying and developing talent at Wisconsin, that same formula should work at Arkansas. The Razorbacks aren’t going to bring in top-10 talents every season, but Bielema can find a few hidden gems and develop those players into starters. It’s tough to say if Bielema can deliver multiple BCS bowls to Arkansas, but the Razorbacks should be in contention for a bowl every year under his watch.
3. Butch Jones, Tennessee
Previous Job: Head coach at Cincinnati
Pros: Even though Jones inherited two favorable situations at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, he has a solid 50-27 record and led the Bearcats to a share of the Big East title in back-to-back seasons. After struggling to find stability with its recent coaching changes, Tennessee shouldn’t have to worry about Jones bolting for another program. The Michigan native clearly wants to be in Knoxville and should help the Volunteers rebuild into a consistent winner. Jones should be able to use his recruiting connections from his time at Cincinnati to help lure some talent from Ohio to Tennessee.
Cons: Is Jones only a product of following Brian Kelly? That’s the big question surrounding his upcoming tenure at Tennessee. Even if Jones benefitted from following Kelly and Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati, going 23-14 with a share of two conference titles isn’t easy to do. Jones certainly put his own stamp on Central Michigan and Cincinnati during his three seasons with each program. However, he needs to prove he can build a program for the long haul. Considering Jones has no SEC experience, it may take him a year to adjust to the style of play, as well as learn the nuances of the other teams in the conference. After missing out on Mike Gundy, Charlie Strong and Jon Gruden, it’s clear Jones wasn’t Tennessee’s No. 1 choice. Will the fan base rally around Jones or will this be an unpopular hire?
Final Analysis: Is Jones going to win multiple national championships at Tennessee? Probably not. However, he should keep the Volunteers in contention for the SEC East title, along with getting the program back into bowl games on a consistent basis. The Volunteers have good facilities to showcase, which should help Jones recruit at a higher level. Although the expectations are high at Tennessee, winning eight or nine games for multiple seasons would be a successful stint for Jones in Knoxville.
4. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Previous Job: Defensive coordinator at Florida State
Pros: Before coming to Kentucky, Stoops was regarded as one of the nation’s best assistant coaches. Under his watch, Florida State’s defense emerged once again as one of the nation’s best. Stoops also has a solid resume from stops as an assistant at South Florida, Wyoming, Houston, Miami and Arizona. The Ohio native is assembling an impressive coaching staff, which includes former Florida State defensive assistant D.J. Eliot and former Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown. Stoops doesn’t have any previous head coaching experience, but brought some much-needed energy into the program. Considering Stoops is from Ohio and built some connections in Florida from his time in Tallahassee, he should be able to boost Kentucky’s recruiting over the next few seasons.
Cons: Hiring someone without head coaching experience is always a risky proposition for any athletic director. However, first-time coaches have worked out well recently in the SEC, as Vanderbilt hit a home run with James Franklin and Will Muschamp is off to a good start at Florida. Until Stoops proves he can win at Kentucky, his lack of head coaching experience is going to be a concern.
Final Analysis: Even though he ranks fourth on this list, Kentucky made the right decision to hire Stoops. With his recruiting connections and background as an assistant coach, Stoops is the right fit to turn Kentucky into an annual bowl team. Picking up Neal Brown as the offensive coordinator was a huge acquisition for the Wildcats, especially since they need to run an offense that’s a little different from the rest of the SEC. All four SEC teams made good hires, so there’s really no shame in Stoops checking in at No. 4 on this list.
Related College Football Content
Technically, Johnny Manziel is a sophomore. So are Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
Manziel, like Mariota and Golson, has been a student-athlete for two football seasons. He graduated high school in 2011. And he undoubtedly won the Heisman Trophy in part because he had one year of preparation in College Station. Would Manziel have won the trophy in 2011 as a true freshman with Ryan Tannehill still on the roster? With Mike Sherman as his head coach? Without the SEC spotlight?
The answer is no chance. A new coach, a new system, a new league, a vacancy at quarterback and one full season to adjust to college life helped Manziel get to New York.
The decision to redshirt turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to Johnny Heisman. Most elite athletes' biggest hurdle when moving from the high school to collegiate ranks isn’t the opposition on Saturdays. It’s adjusting to the college lifestyle and all of the stresses and trappings that go along with it. Learning how to go to class, study, adjust to practice routines and increased training regiments all while trying to play football against the nation’s best is an extremely difficult process. As we have just seen, being allowed to adjust off of the field while not having to produce on it can be the difference between a Heisman Trophy and riding the bench.
Like Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Oregon are just two of many programs that used successful redshirt freshman quarterbacks to have great seasons in 2012. Except, the Irish don’t recognize Golson as a freshman. Neither does Stanford with its starting quarterback Kevin Hogan. That is because they are sophomores in the eyes of the school.
But just like Manziel, that extra year has made all the difference for Notre Dame. Or Oregon. Or Stanford. In fact, Manziel headlines what might be considered the best redshirt freshman quarterback class in history.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
This story is already well-documented. With eye-popping joystick moves, elite speed and gutsy throws, Manziel led the Aggies to a 10-2 record and its first Heisman Trophy since John David Crow won the award in 1957. Few players had as big an impact on the game in one year as Johnny Heisman.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
The Ducks came up just short of playing for the national championship with an overtime loss at home to Stanford costing them a trip to Miami Gardens and a Pac-12 championship. However, the laidback Hawaiian passer made fans forget about Darron Thomas in short order. He led what many believe is the nation’s top offense to an 11-1 record while leading the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and leading the nation in road passer rating. He scored 34 total touchdowns against only six interceptions and is poised for huge things in Eugene.
Brett Hundley, UCLA
The dynamic Bruins quarterback debuted in Pasadena in Week 2 with a 300-yard passing game and four touchdowns in a win over favored Nebraska. The Chandler, Ariz., native set single-season UCLA passing records and total offense numbers while leading UCLA to an improbable Pac-12 South Division title under new coach Jim Mora. Hundley was a god-send (3,776 total yards, 35 total TD) for a program that has been craving quality quarterback play for more than a decade.
Everett Golson, Notre Dame
It took him some time and he dealt with adversity, but Golson has blossomed into a national championship quarterback. Yes, his defense carried the team early, but this dual-threat ability could be the key to an Irish upset over Alabama. After missing the BYU game with a head injury, Golson flourished under center in the toughest of positions. He scored 10 of his 16 touchdowns in the final month of the season, beginning with a clutch performance against Oklahoma. He posted the best passing game of his career against Wake Forest (career high 346 yards, 3 TD) and will have to make some key second-half plays against the Crimson Tide if Notre Dame wants to win the BCS title.
Trevone Boykin, TCU
Gary Patterson had to turn over the reins to his Horned Frogs offense much earlier than anticipated when Casey Pachall left the team early in the season. Boykin took over against Iowa State in Week 6 and never looked back. He threw three interceptions in his first start, but he bounced back with five total touchdowns and more than 300 yards of offense in a road win over Baylor the next week. He averaged 222 yards passing and accounted for 17 touchdowns in eight Big 12 starts, including wins over Texas and West Virginia. The Mesquite, Texas, product wasn’t supposed to start until 2014, so Frogs fans should be excited about Boykins' potential growth.
Kevin Hogan, Stanford
It obviously took David Shaw too long to make the switch from Josh Nunes to Kevin Hogan. Nunes threw for 208.3 yards per game, 10 touchdowns and seven picks in the first eight games. Then, after five attempts against Colorado, Shaw pulled Nunes permanently for Hogan. The redshirt accounted for 1,157 total yards (193 rushing) and 10 touchdowns in five starts and led his team to consecutive wins over Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA twice to win the Pac-12 championship.
Joel Stave, Wisconsin
The Badgers' offense was totally one-dimensional under supposed savior Danny O’Brien. The lanky walk-on was inserted into the starting lineup and Wisconsin discovered the passing game once again. He was leading the Big Ten in passing efficiency with a 4-1 record as a starter until breaking his collarbone against Michigan State. In fact, Stave left both the Nebraska and Michigan State games with leads only to watch his team lose with him on the sideline. He has the frame (6-5, 225) and arm to be a four-year starter in Madison.
Each one of these names appears ready for a long and successful career on the college gridiron. All but Boykin played on a team that either won 10 games or its conference championship, or in Golson’s case, is playing for the ultimate prize. Boykin and Manziel had to endure conference changes while Hundley and Manziel dealt with coaching changes.
The Heisman Foundation finally jettisoned its bizarre age bias by giving the trophy to the first redshirt freshman in history. It also appears head coaches at major power programs have decided that these youngsters are ready to handle the pressures of big-time college football.
With potentially three more seasons left in the tank, it appears the fans will be the biggest winners in Eugene, College Station and Los Angeles.
Fantasy golf season is almost here, meaning that it's time to dust off the dumb, dirty and/or tasteless puns and come up with a team name. Here’s our list for 2013, in no particular order of awesomeness.
Weapons of Grass Destruction
This reference worked a little better in 2002.
Sure to induce a few giggles at the draft table.
This one’s almost too obvious.
Now we’re talking. That’s pretty creative.
The Fore Horsemen
The “fore” genre provides a deep well of name choices. Some of them are pretty crude. Use your imagination.
The ball genre is fertile ground for your golf fantasy team name. And for cheap laughs.
No. 1 Balls in Golf
Maybe your team could get a Titleist sponsorship.
Dude, Where’s My Par?
Nice. Golf clap for that one.
Sultans of Swing
Nothing says golf like a late 1970s Dire Straits reference.
Fairway to Heaven
Going even further into the music archives. Can’t go wrong with classic Zep.
Caddyshack references always work.
Ditto for Happy Gilmore references.
Working on my Putz
Sure, it’s stolen from that talking baby commercial. But it’s still solid.
Grip It and Sip It
Could be a good slogan for John Daly's new cocktail, which actually exists.
The Swinging Johnsons
What? We’re just talking about Dustin and Zach.
A Shingo Ate My Baby
Sure, Shingo Katayama's an obscure player, but his name's worth its weight in fantasy golf gold.
Brandt Awareness or The Grateful Sned
Brandt Snedeker's name brings fantasy possibilities.
May the Schwartzel Be With You
A Spaceballs reference combined with a Masters champ equals fantasy gem.
Fists of Furyk
Back to the Kuchar
The Bogey Men
The DrawShank Redemptions
Who's Your Caddy
Droppin' A Deuce
The Ball Washers
The Long Balls
The Happy Hookers
RELATED: 50 Funny Fantasy Football Team Names
NFL Week 15 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Bengals (7-6) at Eagles (4-9)
Philadelphia ended its eight-game losing streak — the team’s longest run of futility in 42 years — on a last-second TD at Tampa Bay. Now the Eagles look to end a four-game losing streak at home. If they do, the game will be a close one; Philly’s four wins this season have come by a combined six points.
Bengals by 3
Packers (9-4) at Bears (8-5)
Green Bay took down arch-rival Chicago, 23–10, on Thursday night in Week 2. The Bears went on a six-game winning streak after that embarrassing loss in the NFL’s oldest rivalry. Chi-town has lost four of its last five contests.
Packers by 5
Colts (9-4) at Texans (11-2)
The AFC South’s old guard, Indianapolis, won seven of the division’s first nine titles. But there appears to be a new sheriff in town. Houston will clinch its second straight division crown with a win over Indy this week.
Texans by 6
Broncos (10-3) at Ravens (9-4)
Peyton Manning’s old coach, Jim Caldwell, makes his debut as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator, replacing the recently fired Cam Cameron as the team’s play-caller.
Broncos by 3
Jaguars (2-11) at Dolphins (5-8)
Jacksonville is a predictable, balanced attack — but not in any way an NFL team should be. The Jags have lost nine of their last 10 games and rank 31st in both offense and defense.
Dolphins by 7
Redskins (7-6) at Browns (5-8)
Cleveland missed out on a chance to trade up — the Browns held the No. 4 and 22 overall picks in the 2012 NFL Draft — for Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. If that wasn’t bad enough, fans at the Dawg Pound might miss out on one of their few chances to watch RG3 if the rookie phenom rests his injured knee.
Redskins by 1
Vikings (7-6) at Rams (6-6-1)
Adrian Peterson’s quest to become the seventh running back to rush for 2,000 yards — or, as he tells it, his mission to top Eric Dickerson’s all-time single-season mark of 2,105 yards — goes up against St. Louis and Jeff Fisher, who coached the Titans’ Chris Johnson during his CJ2K season (2,006 rush yards) back in 2009.
Rams by 1
Buccaneers (6-7) at Saints (5-8)
Drew Brees has thrown four TDs and nine INTs during the Aints’ current three-game losing streak. But Brees threw four TDs and one INT during a 35–28 win at Tampa Bay in Week 7.
Saints by 5
Giants (8-5) at Falcons (11-2)
Atlanta has a 3–2 record since starting the year 8–0, with losses to division rivals New Orleans and Carolina. That said, New York’s Blue Blue Wrecking Crew is probably not the most welcome Georgia Dome guest this week. The Giants demolished the Falcons the last time the teams met, in a 24–2 blowout in the Wild Card Round of last year’s NFC Playoffs.
Falcons by 2
Seahawks (8-5) at Bills (5-8)
The fifth regular-season game of the Bills’ Toronto Series will kick off indoors at the Rogers Centre in Ontario, Canada. “At home” across the border, the Bills have a 1–3 record.
Seahawks by 5
Panthers (4-9) at Chargers (5-8)
Ron Rivera and Norv Turner coach for their jobs. Both teams are fresh off of wins, but they’ve also combined for a 3–7 record since Week 10.
Chargers by 4
Lions (4-9) at Cardinals (4-9)
One of the NFL’s three longest losing streaks will end this week, as Detroit (six-game slide) hits Arizona (nine-straight defeats).
Lions by 5
Chiefs (2-11) at Raiders (3-10)
The once-proud rivalry between the franchises long run by the late, great Lamar Hunt and Al Davis has fallen on hard times. Oakland won, 26–16, at Kansas City in Week 8.
Raiders by 3
Steelers (7-6) at Cowboys (7-6)
Pittsburgh and Dallas have squared off on Super Sunday three times — in Super Bowls X, XIII and XXX. The pressure will be on both teams this week, as the clock is running out on the 2012 season. The Steelers have lost three of their last four, while the Cowboys have earned wins in four of their last five.
Steelers by 1
49ers (9-3-1) at Patriots (10-3)
San Fran’s sledgehammer defense is led by sack artist Aldon Smith, who has 19.5 sacks this season — with more than one sack in seven games and zero sacks in three contests. New England’s high-powered offense will be tougher to take down, however. Tom Brady’s crew has averaged 40.6 points per game over their current seven-game winning streak.
Patriots by 2
Jets (6-7) at Titans (4-9)
Since the Monday night party’s in Nashville, maybe Hank Williams Jr. will get rowdy again.
Titans by 1
Last week: 10–6 // Season: 139–69
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams. The New England Patriots have moved into the top spot after knocking out previous the No. 1 Houston Texans, while no team is playing worse than the recently humiliated Arizona Cardinals.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 14 of the season:
1. Patriots (10-3) March to seventh straight victory in MNF statement.
2. Texans (11-2) Six-game winning streak ends in decisive fashion.
3. Falcons (11-2) Lose to Panthers for second time in last 10 games.
4. Broncos (10-3) Stampede to eighth straight victory against Raiders.
5. 49ers (9-3-1) Aldon Smith sets team single-season sacks record with 19.5.
6. Packers (9-4) Earn 22nd consecutive home win over rival Lions.
7. Seahawks (8-5) Rush for 284, hold Cards to 43 yards on ground.
8. Redskins (7-6) Griffin suffers mild LCL sprain in fourth straight win.
9. Giants (8-5) Eli throws four TDs for first time since Sept. 2011.
10. Ravens (9-4) Defense can’t stop RG3 backup rookie Kirk Cousins.
11. Colts (9-4) Andrew Luck leads sixth fourth-quarter comeback.
12. Vikings (7-6) Adrian Peterson on pace for 1,969 rushing yards.
13. Bears (8-5) Jay Cutler suffers neck injury in upset loss to Vikes.
14. Steelers (7-6) Ben Roethlisberger returns, throws three TDs in loss.
15. Cowboys (7-6) Dedicate victory to fallen teammate Jerry Brown.
16. Bengals (7-6) Burn timeouts early, unable to stop clock late in loss.
17. Rams (6-6-1) Win three straight games for first time since 2006.
18. Saints (5-8) Paul Tagliabue vacates player bounty suspensions.
19. Buccaneers (6-7) Post second three-game losing streak of season.
20. Jets (6-7) Tim Tebow spends J-Ville homecoming on bench.
21. Panthers (4-9) Back up Hardy’s promise of “payback” vs. Falcons.
22. Chargers (5-8) First win at Pittsburgh in 15 regular-season visits.
23. Browns (5-8) Have more wins than 2011 after three-game streak.
24. Titans (4-9) Confused, call QB sneak on first down in loss at Indy.
25. Bills (5-8) C.J. Spiller to carry load after Fred Jackson injury.
26. Dolphins (5-8) Jonathan Martin struggles to replace Jake Long at LT.
27. Lions (4-9) Fifth straight loss in prime time at snowy Lambeau.
28. Eagles (4-9) End eight-game slide with Nick Foles’ first victory.
29. Raiders (3-10) Is it Terrelle Pryor time after sixth straight defeat?
30. Jaguars (2-11) Mike Mularkey hospitalized for undisclosed illness.
31. Chiefs (2-11) Dwayne Bowe done for season due to broken ribs.
32. Cardinals (4-9) Ken Whisenhunt’s ninth straight loss a 58–0 margin.
Tom Brady may not have had much sleep on Sunday night — since he and wife Gisele Bundchen welcomed baby daughter Vivian Lake to the family on Dec. 5 — but the New England Patriots quarterback sure looked well-rested during a 42–14 win over the Houston Texans in prime time on Monday night.
Brady completed 21-of-35 passes for 296 yards, four TDs and zero INTs during the 28-point win, marking the future Hall of Famer’s 14th four-TD game and his 36th game with at least three TDs as well as zero INTs — trailing only Peyton Manning (37) on the all-time list.
The near-perfect performance came at just the right time, against a team many felt was the best in the league heading into the high-profile contest.
“It was a big game because they were 11–1, leading the AFC and we had to see where we’re at, see where we match up against the better teams in the league,” said Brady. “We lost to Baltimore, who’s winning their division; we beat Denver, who’s leading their division; and we beat the Texans, who are leading their division. It’s always good to win these games.”
Winning big games at Foxborough in December — and January and February, for that matter — is nothing new for New England during the Brady and Bill Belichick era.
The Patriots have won 20 straight home games in December, with their last loss coming against the Jets on Dec. 22, 2002. Overall, the Pats have won 13 straight in December, last losing to the Panthers on Dec. 19, 2009.
New England carries an NFL-best 43–5 record in December since 2001 — Brady’s first season as the starter and Belichick’s second season at the helm. During that stretch, the Patriots have gone undefeated in December seven times (2001, ’03, ’05, ’07, ’08, ’10 and ’11). This season, two of its final three regular-season games are at home, giving New England a great chance to earn a first-round bye in the AFC Playoffs.
Brady and Belichick have made the playoffs together nine times. In six of those postseasons, the Patriots have been either a No. 1 or 2 seed. They advanced to the Super Bowl in five of those seasons.
Fresh off a big win, with a short week to prepare for an aggressive San Franchisco 49ers defense, the Patriots will need to be firing on all cylinders this week — which will be played in prime time, on Sunday night.
New England has scored 472 points through 13 weeks, putting it on pace for 581 points — eight points shy of the record Brady and Co. set in 2007. But, in classic Brady-Belichick fashion, the previous weeks don’t matter. The upcoming December showdown with the 49ers is all that matters.
“We have played in a lot of big games in December,” said Brady. “It needs to come together now. This is the perfect time for it.”
With the 2012 season officially in the books, it’s time to take an early look at college football’s top 25 teams for 2013. Alabama will be losing a few key players from its national championship team, but there’s plenty of talent returning to Tuscaloosa for the Crimson Tide to claim their third consecutive national title. While Alabama is a heavy favorite to repeat, determining the No. 2 team is a much tougher task. Ohio State and Oregon will be top-five teams, but Stanford, Clemson, Louisville and Notre Dame will be the top challengers to end the SEC’s run of seven consecutive national championships. Needless to say, expect some changes in this early ranking before Athlon’s official top 25 release in May.
College Football's Early Top 25 for 2013 (updated Jan. 16)
Despite a few personnel losses, the stage is set for the Crimson Tide to win their third consecutive national championship. Quarterback AJ McCarron is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and is surrounded by plenty of All-SEC talent, led by running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper. The offensive line has to at least replace center Barrett Jones and guard Chance Warmack and could lose right tackle D.J. Fluker to the NFL. As usual, the defense will be strong once again in Tuscaloosa. Nose guard Jesse Williams departs, and cornerback Dee Milliner is expected to leave for the NFL Draft. However, the Crimson Tide returns one of the nation’s top linebacking corps and experience on the line and secondary should make up for the personnel departures.
2. Ohio State
While Alabama is a clear No. 1 going into next season, the second spot in the early top 25 for 2013 is up for grabs. For now, the edge goes to the Buckeyes. Despite a postseason ban, Ohio State had no problem finding motivation in 2012, completing a 12-0 season in Urban Meyer’s first year in Columbus. And here’s a scary thought for the Big Ten: With another offseason to work with Meyer and his coaching staff, the Buckeyes could be even better in 2013. Quarterback Braxton Miller is poised to make a run at the Heisman Trophy, while he should have more help carrying the offense next season, as running backs Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall return, along with four starters on the offensive line. The defense will be the biggest concern, especially since linemen John Simon and Johnathan Hankins depart. Ohio State’s schedule isn’t daunting and it should have no trouble starting the year 4-0 with Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M on the non-conference slate.
Chip Kelly's decision to leave for the NFL will impact the Pac-12 title picture. But for now, the Ducks remain ahead of Stanford in the Pac-12 North. Kelly was one of college football's top coaches, and his influence on one of the nation's best offenses will be missed. Even though Kelly is gone, the Ducks have the pieces in place to compete for a national title. Quarterback Marcus Mariota had an outstanding debut season in 2012 and should be even more comfortable with the offense after another spring practice's worth of work as the starter. Oregon needs to find a new go-to running back to replace Kenjon Barner, while De’Anthony Thomas returns to his role as one of the nation’s top all-around threats. The defense has holes to fill, especially with a front seven that loses Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso. The Ducks' 2013 schedule isn’t too demanding, but they do have road trips to Stanford and Washington next season.
4. Texas A&M
With LSU losing a handful of key players to the NFL, the Aggies appear to be the biggest challenger to Alabama in the SEC West. Although Kliff Kingsbury won’t be calling the plays next year, quarterback Johnny Manziel should have a good chance to equal his numbers from 2012, while Texas A&M should remain one of the top offenses in college football. The offensive line lost Luke Joeckel to the NFL, but Jake Matthews decided to return to College Station and will slide from right to left tackle in 2013. The defense has question marks of its own, as end Damontre Moore declared for the draft, and linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart have expired their eligibility. Texas A&M is bringing in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, so plenty of help is on the way for Kevin Sumlin’s team in 2013.
With Aaron Murray’s decision to return to Athens for his senior year, the Bulldogs narrowly edge Florida and South Carolina for the top spot in the SEC East. And for Georgia, it’s a good thing Murray is back, as the defense is losing nearly everyone. Linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree declared for the draft, while nose tackle John Jenkins, cornerback Sanders Commings and safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams have expired their eligibility. Murray will be one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC, and running back Todd Gurley should contend for All-America honors as a sophomore next year. Helping Murray’s cause is a receiving corps that returns Malcolm Mitchell, and an offensive line that brings back all five starters from 2012.
The balance of power in the Pac-12 is clearly in the North Division next season. Oregon and Stanford should rank among the top 5-10 teams next season, while Oregon State and Washington could be in the top 25 on some preseason lists. The Cardinal has won at least 11 games in each of its last four years and claimed 12 victories in 2012 despite the departure of quarterback Andrew Luck and two first-team all-conference linemen. Coach David Shaw will have some holes to fill, but Stanford will be in the mix to play for the national title. Running back Stepfan Taylor, center Sam Schwartzstein and linebacker Chase Thomas will be missed. However, the Cardinal can lean more on sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan, along with a defense that should be one of the best in the Pac-12. Although Taylor is a huge loss for the rushing attack, redshirt freshman Barry Sanders Jr. could be one of college football’s breakout stars next year.
7. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish were soundly defeated by Alabama in the national championship game, but Brian Kelly clearly has this program on the right track. Linebacker Manti Te’o, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Theo Riddick are huge losses, but Notre Dame has a solid core of returning talent on defense, while the offense should be better after quarterback Everett Golson has another offseason to work with Kelly. The schedule is very manageable, but the Fighting Irish will have a hard time finishing the regular season unbeaten and making a return trip to the BCS title game.
8. South Carolina
Georgia is the early favorite to win the SEC East, but South Carolina isn’t far behind. The Gamecocks have two proven quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson and will be throwing behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Talented, but largely unproven running backs Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis will be charged with jumpstarting the rushing attack in 2013. The defense loses a handful of players, but end Jadeveon Clowney is a good cornerstone to start reloading around.
With quarterback Tajh Boyd's decision to return for another season, Clemson is a heavy favorite to win the ACC in 2013. The Tigers’ offense will be one of the best in the nation, but running back is a concern with the departure of Andre Ellington. If the Tigers want to make a run at the national championship, the defense has to get better in coordinator Brent Venables’ second year. However, Clemson loses end Malliciah Goodman and must replace three starters in the secondary.
The Cardinals scored one of the postseason’s most impressive victories, dominating Florida in a 33-23 Sugar Bowl win. Expect Louisville to build off of its 11-win season in 2013, as both sides of the ball return almost intact. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should be in the Heisman discussion, and he has no shortage of weapons to throw to with the return of Eli Rogers, DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland. Although Bridgewater can carry this team to another Big East title, the Cardinals need to jumpstart their rushing attack and find replacements for center Mario Benavides and tackle Alex Kupper on the line. The defense loses only two seniors from the Sugar Bowl depth chart but needs to get better against the run and generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The Gators were on the doorstep of playing for the national title in 2012, but the season ended with a blowout loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Despite the disappointing bowl result, Florida had a strong regular season resume, defeating Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State. Matching 11 wins in 2013 could be difficult unless the offense makes significant strides in the offseason. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is back, but the Gators have no proven running back or any weapons on the outside. The defense finished fifth nationally in yards allowed but lost tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Jelani Jenkins and safety Matt Elam to the NFL Draft.
The Tigers were hit hard by early departures to the NFL Draft, losing safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, defensive linemen Barkevious Mingo, Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery, punter Brad Wing, linebacker Kevin Minter and running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford. However, LSU is never short on talent and should be back in the mix for the SEC West title. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger showed some improvement late in the year but finished with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Even with Ware and Ford leaving for the NFL, the Tigers will have no trouble moving the ball on the ground, as Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue form a capable trio. The defense is losing a handful of key contributors, but coordinator John Chavis should be able to find the right pieces to keep this unit among the best in the SEC.
13. Boise State
Before they even played a game, the Broncos’ stint in the Big East is over, and Boise State is headed back to the Mountain West. The Broncos will be a heavy favorite to win the conference title next season but will be pushed by Fresno State and Utah State. As expected last preseason, the Broncos took a step back on offense in 2012. However, quarterback Joe Southwick got better as the year progressed, and Jay Ajayi should be a capable replacement for D.J. Harper at running back. The offensive line is a concern with only two starters returning, while the receiving corps is stocked with Matt Miller, Kirby Moore and Geraldo Boldewijn back in the mix. Despite having only one returning starter on defense, Boise State allowed just 15.8 points a game in 2012. This unit needs to replace cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins, but expect the Broncos to rank among the Mountain West’s best defenses once again in 2013.
14. Oklahoma State
Despite losing quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon to the NFL, the Cowboys averaged 45.7 points a game and won at least eight games for the fifth consecutive year in 2012. Oklahoma State’s offensive numbers are even more impressive when you consider three quarterbacks received starts this year, and the receiving corps lost Tracy Moore early in the season due to an injury. The Cowboys need to settle on a starting quarterback next year, but the offense returns one of the Big 12’s top lines and even though running back Joseph Randle is leaving for the NFL, the backfield is in good shape with Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland. The defense must replace linebacker Alex Elkins, cornerback Brodrick Brown and end Nigel Nicholas but most of the core will return intact.
As expected, the Horned Frogs had some growing pains adjusting to life in the Big 12, but Gary Patterson’s team is poised to challenge for the conference title in 2013. Casey Pachall left the team early in the season due to off-the-field issues but returned in mid-January and will compete with Trevone Boykin for the No. 1 job. Pachall would help boost the team’s passing attack, while the ground game should get some help from the return of Waymon James from a knee injury, along with the arrival of Nebraska transfer Aaron Green. The Horned Frogs led the Big 12 in total defense this season and return 10 starters for 2013. End Devonte Fields and cornerback Jason Verrett should challenge for All-America honors next season.
The Sooners have claimed at least a share of the Big 12 title in five out of the last seven years and there’s not much separating Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU in the early Big 12 predictions. The Sooners have plenty of question marks to answer in the spring, namely under center as it looks to replace Landry Jones. Blake Bell has shown flashes of promise in a limited role, but he will face competition from Drew Allen, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson in the preseason. While the passing game could be a work in progress early in the year, running back Damien Williams should be in the mix for all-conference honors, and the offensive line is one of the best in the Big 12 with four returning starters. The defense allowed 192.2 rushing yards per game in 2012, and the line will need to be revamped in 2013. Oklahoma has some landmines on the schedule next season, as they make trips to Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and host TCU in its Big 12 opener.
17. Florida State
After winning 12 games for the first time since 1999, the Seminoles are due to take a step back in 2013. Both sides of the ball have concerns to address but none bigger than the question mark under center. Clint Trickett and Jameis Winston enter spring practice as the favorites, with Trickett owning two starts under his belt, while Winston ranked as the top quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class. The defense will be the under the direction of a new coordinator (former Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt) and needs to find a replacement for defensive stalwarts Bjoern Werner (end) and Xavier Rhodes (cornerback). Florida State’s ACC schedule is still undetermined, but the Seminoles have to travel to Clemson and host an improving Miami team.
The defending Pac-12 South champs should be in good shape to make their third consecutive appearance in the conference title game. Quarterback Brett Hundley is back after a standout freshman season, and the offseason should allow the Bruins to find a few answers for an offensive line that allowed 3.7 sacks a game in 2012. The biggest question mark for UCLA will be finding a replacement for running back Johnathan Franklin. The defense should have one of the Pac-12’s top linebacking corps, as Anthony Barr turned down the NFL for one more season with the Bruins. The conference slate is challenging, as UCLA hits the road to play Arizona, Oregon, Stanford and USC but hosts its biggest challenger in the South (Arizona State).
Are the Longhorns ready to challenge for the Big 12 title? The talent is certainly in place, but there are also enough concerns for this team to not match 2012’s nine-win mark. The backfield of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron is one of the best in the nation, but the offense will only go as far as quarterback David Ash takes it. The defense was one of the most disappointing units in the nation in 2012 but loses only two starters. The return of Jackson Jeffcoat should ease Alex Okafor’s departure at end.
Getting back to the Rose Bowl for the fourth consecutive season is no easy task for Wisconsin. New coach Gary Andersen was one of college football’s top hires for 2013 but there figures to be some transition period as the team adjusts to the new staff. Montee Ball must be replaced at running back, but the cupboard is far from bare with Melvin Gordon and James White returning. Getting a full year from Joel Stave at quarterback will be a huge boost to the Wisconsin passing attack. The defense has a few positions to plug in the secondary, but the front seven should be salty.
21. Oregon State
Mike Riley’s team was one of college football’s biggest surprises this year, going from 3-9 in 2011 to 9-4 in 2012. The Beavers lost three out of their last five games but two of those defeats came by four points, while the other was to in-state rival Oregon. If Oregon State wants to improve its win total in 2013, settling the quarterback position will be a priority. Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz each received a significant share of snaps this year but neither managed to play well enough to secure the job going into spring practice. The offense also needs to find a replacement for receiver Markus Wheaton. The defense ranked second in the conference in points allowed and most of the core is back for 2013. However, the Beavers must replace both starting defensive tackles and All-Pac-12 cornerback Jordan Poyer.
There’s a razor-thin margin separating the Cornhuskers and Michigan or Northwestern for the No. 1 spot in the Legends Division. With quarterback Taylor Martinez, running back Ameer Abdullah and receiver Kenny Bell returning, scoring points shouldn’t be a problem. However, the defense is virtually starting over from scratch. Nebraska loses major contributors at each level of the defense and must replace All-Big Ten safety Daimion Stafford and end Eric Martin. The Cornhuskers host Northwestern and Michigan State in Big Ten play but travel to Michigan on Nov. 9 and play UCLA in the non-conference slate.
Even with significant personnel losses, don’t count out the Wolverines from the Big Ten title picture. Denard Robinson will be missed, but the offense shouldn’t suffer much with Devin Gardner stepping in at quarterback. Finding a running back that can shoulder 20-25 carries a game, along with rebuilding the offensive line will be the top priorities for coach Brady Hoke and coordinator Al Borges this spring. The defense needs to replace Will Campbell and Craig Roh on the line, but this unit will get a boost from the return of cornerback Blake Countess from a torn ACL suffered in the season opener against Alabama.
24. Arizona State
A two-point loss to UCLA in late October was all that separated Arizona State from a berth in the Pac-12 Championship this season. And with most of the core returning for 2013, Todd Graham’s team should make a run at UCLA for the No. 1 spot in the South Division. The Sun Devils will need to find new weapons at receiver for quarterback Taylor Kelly, but sophomore running back DJ Foster is ready for a breakout campaign. The defense received good news when tackle (and likely All-American) Will Sutton returned to Tempe for his senior year. Arizona State catches a huge break in scheduling, as it misses Oregon in crossover play and hosts USC, Washington, Oregon State and Arizona – all crucial swing games for Pac-12 positioning.
After ending a 63-year bowl victory drought and winning 10 games for the first time since 1995, the Wildcats enter 2013 with momentum on their side. Quarterback Kain Colter is one of the Big Ten’s top all-around playmakers, and the rushing attack is in good hands with the speedy and elusive Venric Mark. One area of concern on offense for coach Pat Fitzgerald is an offensive line that loses three starters, including left tackle Patrick Ward. The defense must replace four starters and has to improve the pass defense after allowing 250.5 yards per game in 2012.
Next in line:
Related College Football Content
College football’s 2012-2013 bowl season kicks off in Albuquerque on Dec. 15 and ends on Jan. 7 with the BCS National Championship in Miami. With 35 games, there’s a lot of college football to watch over the next few weeks. And needless to say, it can get a little overwhelming to take in every game with the holidays and plenty of unannounced visits from the in-laws. To help maximize your bowl watching experience in December and January, Athlon has ranked all of the bowl games in order from the must-see to the must-miss. If you can only catch 10 bowl games this year, these are the ones you cannot afford to miss.
College Football's Top 10 Must-See Matchups of the 2012 Bowl Season
1. BCS National Title – Alabama (12-1) vs. Notre Dame (12-0)
Date and Time: Jan. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
With the history and tradition between Alabama and Notre Dame, this season's national title matchup is the most-anticipated championship game of the BCS era. With a Crimson Tide victory, the SEC will claim its seventh consecutive national championship, while Alabama is looking for its third BCS title in four seasons. This is the Fighting Irish’s first BCS bowl appearance under coach Brian Kelly and their first overall since 2007. Both teams rank among the best in defense, but the Crimson Tide have a slight edge on offense, largely due to the continued improvement of quarterback AJ McCarron. These two teams have met six times, with Notre Dame owning a 5-1 edge in the series. Interestingly enough, Alabama and the Fighting Irish are tied with eight Associated Press national titles apiece.
Why you should watch: It's the national championship!
2. Fiesta Bowl – Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1)
Date and Time: Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET
If you like offense, the Fiesta Bowl should be the game to watch. The Ducks rank second nationally in scoring offense with an average of 50.8 points per game, while Kansas State is 10th nationally at 40.7 points per game. Oregon is loaded with playmakers, starting with redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Kenjon Barner. Although Kansas State’s offense is averaging over 400 yards per game, its success is largely due to the play of one man — quarterback Collin Klein. The senior carried the offense with 3,380 total yards and 37 touchdowns. These two teams were scheduled to meet in the regular season, but the series was canceled in 2010. One key question surrounding this one: Will Chip Kelly still be Oregon’s coach when this game kicks off?
Why you should watch: Expect lots of points, and it's also the final game for Collin Klein at Kansas State and Kenjon Barner at Oregon. Last year's Fiesta Bowl was one of the best matchups of the bowl season and expect much of the same in 2013.
3. Chick-fil-A Bowl – LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2)
Date and Time: Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is usually one of the best matchups outside of the BCS and 2012 certainly lives up to that hype. LSU was one defensive stop against Alabama from playing for the SEC Championship and won at least 10 games for the sixth time in eight seasons. Clemson is 1-1 against SEC opponents this year, beating Auburn in the season opener and losing to South Carolina on Nov. 24. The Tigers own one of college football’s top offenses, averaging 42.3 points a game. The chess match between Clemson’s offense against LSU’s defense should be one of the top O's vs. X's battles this bowl season.
Why you should watch: Who wouldn't want to watch a Tigers vs. Tigers bowl matchup? There's also the ACC vs. SEC storyline. And the chess match between Clemson's offense against LSU's defense. Needless to say, pickup a Chick-fil-A sandwich and waffle fries and grab a seat on the recliner.
4. Rose Bowl – Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
After watching Oregon and Wisconsin trade scores in last season’s Rose Bowl, points could be a premium in the 2013 edition. Stanford and Wisconsin will be a war in the trenches, as the Cardinal hope to hold the Badgers’ powerful rushing attack in check. Stanford’s offense improved in the second half of the season, largely due to the emergence of quarterback Kevin Hogan. Considering both teams are strong on defense and on the ground, a key play by Hogan or Wisconsin’s Curt Phillips could be just enough to win. The Badgers have lost back-to-back Rose Bowl games.
Why you should watch: How about the return of Barry Alvarez to the Wisconsin sideline for one more game? Also, both teams mirror each other in a lot of ways, so expect a physical game with plenty of good battles in the trenches.
5. Cotton Bowl – Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
Date and Time: Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. ET
Even though the Cotton Bowl was pressured not to setup a Texas-Texas A&M matchup, it ended up with a solid game between two former Big 12 rivals. Oklahoma also just missed out on a BCS bowl, even though its only losses came against Kansas State (Fiesta Bowl) and Notre Dame (BCS title). The Sooners’ defense allowed at least 30 points in three out of their final four games, which has to be a concern against Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman claimed the 2012 Heisman Trophy and ranks second nationally with 383.3 yards of total offense per game. Oklahoma has won eight out of the last nine matchups against Texas A&M, including a 41-25 game last season.
Why you should watch: The Cotton Bowl features teams from two of the top conferences in the nation, and it's also the first game for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel after winning the Heisman Trophy. And this matchup is on a Friday night, so if you are looking for a way to wind down after a long week at work, the Cotton Bowl is the perfect medicine.
6. Capital One Bowl – Nebraska (10-3) vs. Georgia (11-2)
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Considering how the conference championship games turned out for both teams, there certainly has to be a feeling of disappointment by having to play in Orlando. However, if Nebraska and Georgia are motivated, this should be one of the best bowl matchups outside of the BCS. After the Cornhuskers were shredded for 539 rushing yards against Wisconsin, the Bulldogs have to be licking their chops. Freshmen backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 1,983 yards and 24 touchdowns this year. This matchup also features an exciting quarterback duel between Georgia’s Aaron Murray (34 TDs) and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez (31 TDs).
Why you should watch: Both of these teams fell just short of winning their conference title and have combined for a 21-5 overall mark. There's also two talented quarterbacks - Aaron Murray and Taylor Martinez - along with three standout running backs - Rex Burkhead, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley.
7. Sugar Bowl – Louisville (10-2) vs. Florida (11-1)
Date and Time: Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Florida has one of the nation’s best resumes but also has some puzzling results, including close victories over Louisiana-Lafayette and Missouri. The Gators knocked off Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State, but a loss to Georgia prevented Will Muschamp’s team from having a chance to play for the national title. Louisville won the Big East title with a 20-17 win over Rutgers, which featured a gutsy performance from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, playing with a broken wrist and sprained ankle. With over a month to heal, Bridgewater should be close to 100 percent, which should give the Cardinals a chance to hang around in this matchup. There’s also an underlying coaching theme, as Louisville’s Charlie Strong worked at Florida from 2002-09.
Why you should watch: With a full month to heal, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should be close to 100 percent from his wrist and ankle injuries suffered against Connecticut. Bridgewater is a Florida native and he will give the Gators' secondary a challenge on Jan. 2. Considering the improvement from Florida from 2011 to 2012, this team could use the Sugar Bowl as a springboard to a national title run in 2013.
8. Holiday Bowl – Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4)
Date and Time: Dec. 27 at 9:45 p.m. ET
The Holiday Bowl seems to bring out the best in offense, so expect plenty of fireworks when Baylor and UCLA meet on Dec. 27. The Bears were one of the hottest teams in the Big 12 to finish 2012, winning four out of their final five games, with the only loss coming to Oklahoma. Baylor leads the nation in total offense, while quarterback Nick Florence kept the passing attack going without Robert Griffin, throwing for 4,121 yards and 31 scores. UCLA won the Pac-12 South in coach Jim Mora’s first season and fell just short of a trip to the Rose Bowl. The Bruins have a dynamic offense and the combination of quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin should test a shaky Baylor defense.
Why you should watch: Offense, offense and more offense. This could be the highest scoring game of the bowl season.
9. Outback Bowl – South Carolina (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4)
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Even though both teams had its sights set on a bigger bowl game this year, the Outback Bowl should be another entertaining Big Ten-SEC matchup. The time off from the season finale is good news for both teams, as South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw missed the game against Clemson with a foot injury and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is also banged up. Michigan could use the month off to find a fix for its rushing attack, which sputtered when Fitzgerald Toussaint was lost for the year with a leg injury. Expect Florida native Denard Robinson to play a quarterback/running back hybrid role for Michigan in his final game in a Wolverine uniform.
Why you should watch: A classic SEC vs. Big Ten bowl game. The Big Ten had a miserable regular season but an upset or two against the SEC in bowl games would make things a little better. Watching Denard Robinson against South Carolina's front four will be one of the more intriguing matchups of the postseason.
10. Orange Bowl – Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1)
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET
For the first time in the BCS era, a MAC team will make an appearance in a BCS bowl. The Huskies aren’t the strongest non-BCS squad to play in a big-time bowl, as they lost to Iowa in Week 1 and scored a one-point victory over a 2-9 Army team in Week 3. Also, coach Dave Doeren left for NC State after the MAC Championship victory over Kent State. However, Northern Illinois features one of the nation’s most exciting players in quarterback Jordan Lynch and an offense that averages 40.8 points per game. The Huskies’ high-powered attack will be tested by a Florida State defense that ranks second nationally in yards allowed and is giving up just 15.1 points per game. The Seminoles will be without coordinator Mark Stoops in this game, who left to take the head coaching job at Kentucky. If Florida State is motivated, the Seminoles should overwhelm Northern Illinois with its speed and depth.
Why you should watch: Can Northern Illinois pull off the upset? After hearing a month of talk about how they don't belong, expect the Huskies to have plenty of motivation on Jan. 1.
Related College Football Content
Projecting the Hall of Fame is virtually impossible, especially for the youngest athletes in football. Yet, rookies are expected to contribute quicker than ever on the NFL gridiron and a few have made a big splash in short order.
The top story of the 2012 NFL season is the play of the rookie quarterbacks. These young players are already establishing themselves as irreplaceable pieces to the NFL puzzle. But Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III aren’t the only once-in-a-lifetime players to make their debut in the NFL recently.
Limiting the scope to the last three rookie classes, here are the most likely future Pro Football Hall of Famers:
Class of 2010:
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, NY Giants
In his first two seasons, he played in all 32 games and helped the Giants win a Super Bowl last fall. He posted 4.5 sacks as a rookie with 22 total tackles. He blossomed as a second-year player into one of the league’s top defensive ends with 93 tackles and 16.5 sacks. He recorded his first career interception in 2012 and has the Giants poised to win the NFC East with another great season. He may be the most physically gifted defensive end in the NFL.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England
The only thing that will keep The Gronk from Canton will be his injury history. He has missed a lot of time early in his career, but when he is on the field, he might be the best red zone target in the league. He has caught 37 touchdowns in 42 career games and has Tom Brady throwing him passes for at least a few more seasons. At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds with more than a little crazy in his game, Gronkowski’s only speed bump to NFL immortality is staying healthy — which is tough considering his complete disregard for personal safety.
Mike Iupati, OL, San Francisco
The Niners have seen a remarkable turnaround under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Much of that can be attributed to what might be the best offensive line in the league. Iupati, drafted in the first round, has started every single game of his NFL career and has watched the 49ers' rushing attack flourish. After averaging 103.6 yards per game in 2010, SanFran rushed for 127.8 yards per game in 2011 and is currently No. 2 in the NFL at 161.5 yards per game this fall. The 6-foot-5, 330-pound mauler should be a mainstay in the Bay Area for years to come.
NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco
The 2010 draft was a great one for the Niners as not only was the offensive line rebuilt with Iupati and Anthony Davis, but so was the defense with this third-round steal. Bowman was an All-American at Penn State and proved in his first season as an NFL starter that he was going to be around for a while. He posted 150 tackles in 16 starts in 2011 and, after getting a long-term contract extension, is having another great season this fall. Along with Patrick Willis, Bowman is half of the best LB duo in the NFL.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans
Sometimes it can be all about timing and Graham couldn’t have landed in a better spot. The 6-foot-7, 260-pound basketball player from Miami fell into a perfect position to succeed for the Saints. He finished third in the NFL with 99 catches, seventh with 1,310 yards and was one of only five players with double-digit touchdowns (11) last season. His encore performance this fall hasn't been as quite as eye-popping, but the athletic Graham is on pace for nearly 80 catches, 900 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
Others names from this class to consider:
Ndamakong Suh, DT, Detroit
Elite-level player with all the tools to be an all-time great, but needs to mature.
Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati
A fourth-round steal on draft day is already an All-Pro performer.
Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh
Elite high school prospect, elite college prospect and now an All-Pro in the NFL.
Class of 2011:
AJ Green, WR, Cincinnati
Few players have ever started their career like Green. The superstar talent from Georgia was one of the most coveted pass-catchers in the nation as both a recruit and draft pick. All he has done is catch 144 passes for 2,208 yards and 17 touchdowns — including a league-leading 10 scores thus far in 2012 — and helped the Bengals reach the postseason last fall. He is an elite red zone target, can stretch the field and has tremendous open field ability as well. He is the complete package at wide receiver.
Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, San Francisco
The youngster out of Missouri was looked at as a project on the NFL level but his elite talents were obvious. Well, the project turned into a star quicker than expected as Smith posted 14.0 sacks as a rookie without technically starting a game. He has only gotten better in Year 2. Smith is downright unblockable and has already set the 49ers' single-season sack record (19.5). With three games left, he is eyeing Michael Strahan’s NFL single-season record (22.5).
JJ Watt, DE, Houston
From pizza boy tight end to Big Ten Rose Bowl star to NFL rookie of the year candidate. The former Wisconsin Badgers end has started every game of his short career and made history by returning an interception for a touchdown in his first postseason game (and Houston’s first postseason win). He trails only Smith in sacks (16.5) this season and is constantly wrecking havoc on the D-Line.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta
The weapons Matt Ryan has in Atlanta are unreal. Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez certainly make life easier for Jones in the passing game, but make no mistake; the former Alabama star is the real deal. He was the No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the nation coming out of high school and has only gotten better with age. He is an athletic freak at 6-4 and 220 pounds. He has already passed his rookie reception and yardage totals and is poised for a long career in the NFL.
Von Miller, OLB/DE, Denver
The dynamic pass-rusher from Texas A&M earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in his first season after posting 65 tackles, 11.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2011. He is poised to shatter all of those numbers this season with 57 tackles, 16.0 sacks and six forced fumbles with three games left to play in 2012. Denver cruised to the AFC West title this year and it wasn’t just because of Peyton Manning. Miller is the future of the Broncos franchise and could be an all-time great.
Other names from this class to consider:
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina
If he always played like he did against Atlanta, he will be special. Needs to learn how to win.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Washington
Playmaker who posted a huge rookie year and has proven it was no fluke this season.
Class of 2012:
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis
The Colts were 2-14 in 2011 and it landed them Mr. Luck. All the rookie QB has done is lead his team to a 9-4 record and has been smashing rookie passing records along the way. He is poised to post the best passing season for a rookie in the history of the sport and he is already one of the league’s most clutch performers. He was an elite Top 100 prospect in high school and has proven to be worthy of the top overall pick.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington
The biggest issue with RG3 won’t be his accuracy, ability to protect the football, win games or produce big numbers. It will be his ability to stay healthy long enough to earn Hall of Fame status. He, like Luck, is a great leader who sets an example for all of those around him. Yet, his style of play has already proven to be a concern as he takes entirely too many hits. He has already missed time due to a concussion as well as a twisted knee. He has the Skins above .500 and has already broken Newton's rookie QB rushing record.
Matt Kalil, OL, Minnesota
The top tackle taken in the draft has played from Game 1 for the much-improved Vikings. According to Football Outsiders, Kalil has played 721 snaps and has allowed two sacks thus far in his first season. He is also paving the way for Adrian Peterson’s record-setting run at 2,000 yards. He was a coveted prospect in high school, had a great college career and appears to be a lockdown bookend tackle for Minnesota. Having an All-Pro older brother (Ryan) has helped as well.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay
He wasn’t the first running back taken in the draft, but he has been the most productive. The do-everything tailback was used all over the field as arguably the most successful Boise State runner in program history. His talents have translated instantly. He has tied the NFL record for TDs in a half (4), has a 250-yard rushing performance and is poised for 2,000 yards from scrimmage in his first season, as his ability to catch passes makes him one of the most dynamic players in this class.
Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina
The Boston College linebacker led the nation in tackles each season in college and was the top player taken at his position in the draft. All he is doing right now is leading the NFL in total tackles with 130 stops in his first 13 career games. The tackling machine is rarely out of position, doesn’t miss tackles and is the center building block on defense for the future of Panthers football.
Other names from this class to consider:
Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland
Elite player with rare skills, but will balky knees and playing for the Browns hurt his long-term stock?
LaVonte David, LB, Tampa Bay
Incredibly productive player on all levels is making quick impact for Bucs.
Morris Claiborne, CB, Dallas
Elite lock-down coverman has lived up to his status as the best corner in the draft.
Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle
Burly, physical player who has produced at an high level right out of the gate.
Mark Barron, S, Tampa Bay
Has already shown he is a big hitter who has stabilized the back end of the Bucs' secondary.
The players and coaches may hog the spotlight, but success in sports usually starts from the top. Those owners who sign the checks and make the right hires have the ability to not only change the fate of their respective teams, but to significantly improve their sport and, in some cases, impact the course of history. These are 10 of the best examples of the greatest owners in sports history.
1. The Rooney family, Pittsburgh Steelers (1933-present)
The model of consistency, the Rooney family has embodied the perfect combination of success, tradition and work ethic since Art Rooney founded the Pittsburgh Steelers — then known as the Pittsburgh Pirates — in 1933. Chomping on a cigar, “The Chief” oversaw four Super Bowl championships (IX, X, XIII, XIV) before handing over the reins to his son, Dan Rooney, in 1975. The Steelers have won two more Super Bowls (XL, XLIII) since then, giving Pittsburgh an NFL-best six Vince Lombardi Trophies. Dan’s son, Art Rooney II, took over the top spot in the family business in 2003.
Though their regional roots are undeniable, the Steelers have become a national brand, thanks to the vision of the Rooney family. From the signature Steelmark logo of the American Iron and Steel Institute on the players’ helmets to the yellow “Terrible Towel” waved by fans nationwide to the “Steel Curtain” defense, Pittsburgh’s identity is strong as steel. And the brand loyalty extends to the coaching ranks, as the Steelers have only had three coaches — Chuck Noll (1969-1991), Bill Cowher (1992-2006) and Mike Tomlin (2007-present) — in the Super Bowl era.
Off the field, Dan Rooney was named the 30th United States Ambassador to Ireland and is credited with the advent of the “Rooney Rule,” which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for all head coach and general manager vacancies.
2. Jerry Buss, Los Angeles Lakers (1979-present)
The card-playing chemist bought the L.A. Lakers in 1979 and it has been “Showtime” ever since. Buss has signed the checks for 10 NBA champions over three distinct eras. First, Pat Riley, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won five rings (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988). Then, Phil Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant three-peated (2000-2002). Most recently, Jackson, Kobe and Pau Gasol repeated as champs (2009-2010). Buss’ Lakers are not only the NBA’s premier brand, courtside seats at the Forum and Staples Center have also become a status symbol among the who’s who in Hollywood — with Jack Nicholson leading the way in shades.
3. Robert Kraft, New England Patriots (1994-present)
Kraft saved the Patriots from being moved to St. Louis by James Orthwein, purchasing the down-on-its-luck franchise for a then-NFL-record $175 million in 1994. It’s been smooth sailing ever since. In the 19 seasons Kraft has been at the helm, New England has posted just two losing seasons, while making 14 playoff appearances, five trips to the Super Bowl and winning three Super Bowl titles. And there have been only three coaches to lead Kraft’s Patriots — Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick. And while Kraft is cool enough to hang out with rock star Jon Bon Jovi on the sideline, he is savvy enough to hire the best minds in the business to run his team.
4. Walter A. Brown, Boston Celtics (1945-1964)
The founder of the Celtics in 1945 and one of the founders of the Basketball Association of America in 1946, Brown was instrumental in shaping the NBA as it is known today. Brown, who was also the president of the famed Boston Garden, hired Red Auerbach as the architect of his empire, signed off on the selection of Chuck Cooper as the first black player drafted into the NBA and won seven championships in eight seasons (1957, 1959-1964) prior to his death in 1964. Fittingly, the NBA championship trophy was named the Walter A. Brown Trophy until 1984.
5. Conn Smythe, Toronto Maple Leafs (1927-1961)
Speaking of trophies, the Conn Smythe Trophy is given to the MVP of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The award is named after one of the greatest men in hockey history. A veteran of both World Wars I and II, Smythe purchased the St. Patricks on Valentine’s Day 1927 and changed the identity of the franchise — renaming the club as the Maple Leafs, opening the new Maple Leaf Gardens arena in 1931 and winning eight Stanley Cup titles (1932, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951 and 1962) during his unbelievable run.
6. Walter O’Malley, Brooklyn/L.A. Dodgers (1944-1979)
Prior to owning the Dodgers, O’Malley served as the team’s general counsel. O’Malley became a minority owner in the team in 1944 before taking majority control in 1950. O’Malley, along with team president Branch Rickey, made a significant racial and cultural impact by signing Jackie Robinson, who became the first-ever black MLB player in 1947. O’Malley was also responsible for bringing MLB to the West Coast, after moving the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. During O’Malley’s reign, the Dodgers won 13 NL pennants and four World Series.
7. George Steinbrenner, New York Yankees (1973-2010)
“The Boss” bought the Bronx Bombers from CBS in 1973 and restored the proud tradition of the pinstripes — winning the seven World Series titles (1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009) during his notorious reign. The volatile Steinbrenner wamted to win by any means necessary. And he had plenty of means to sign the most expensive (if not always the best) players money could buy, thanks in large part to his bold yet brilliant launching of the YES Network. A larger-than-life persona, Steinbrenner dressed as Napoleon on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1993 and was classically caricatured on NBC’s hit sitcom “Seinfeld” during his heyday.
8. Ted Turner, Atlanta Braves (1976-2007)
Captain Courageous won the America’s Cup in 1977 after starting on his voyage to make the Atlanta Braves “America’s Team” by broadcasting their games on his super-station, Turner Broadcasting System, upon purchasing the club in 1976. With a motto that he would “rather sink than lose,” Turner was a media mogul and maverick with a team that won 14 consecutive division titles from 1991 to 2005 and the 1995 World Series title — all while being broadcast from coast-to-coast.
9. George Halas, Chicago Bears (1920-1983)
“Mr. Everything” was the 1919 Rose Bowl MVP and also recorded two hits for MLB’s New York Yankees before becoming the iconic namesake of the George Halas Trophy, which is given annually to the winner of the NFC Championship Game. “Papa Bear” founded the Chicago Bears, then known as the Decatur Staleys, in 1920 and remained the main man until his death in 1983. Halas was everything to the Bears, serving as owner and coach en route to six NFL championships (1921, 1933, 1940, 1941, 1946 and 1963).
10. Green Bay Packers, Inc. (1923-present)
Fans have taken the Lambeau Leap of faith, putting their money where their cheese goes since the beginning. According to the team’s official website: “Green Bay Packers, Inc., has been a publicly owned, nonprofit corporation since Aug. 18, 1923, when original articles of incorporation were filed with Wisconsin’s secretary of state.” The nine-time NFL champions and four-time Super Bowl champs (I, II, XXXI, XLV) — or, better yet, Vince Lombardi Trophy winners — have been supported financially through five stock sales, in 1923, 1935, 1950, 1997 and 2011.
10 Worst Owners in Sports History
With 347 Division I teams, following college basketball can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college hoops week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriuging, most important and most interesting stats from around the sport:
37: Total assists from Michael Carter-Williams last week
Syracuse defeated Eastern Michigan (84-48), Long Beach State (84-53) and Monmouth (108-56) with ease last week to move to 8-0. The freshman point guard Carter-Williams scored 41 points, grabbed 13 boards and added 11 steals in the three wins. Admirable, sure. But he also chipped in 37 assists in the wins — all three of which were double-doubles. He leads the nation in assists (10.4) by nearly two per game over New Orelans' Rarlensee Nelson (8.6).
35: Brandon Paul’s points in a win over Gonzaga
The senior guard has been leading the way for the surprising 10-0 Illini. But against their best competition to date, No. 10 Gonzaga, Paul lit up the boxscore in a 85-74 win. He knocked down 10 of 16 field goals, including five threes, and 10-of-11 free throws to finish with 35 points in 34 minutes. He added four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and three steals while turning the ball over twice.
2,979: Registered attendance for Texas-UCLA in Reliant Stadium
Two of the most powerful programs in college sports faced each other in Houston's Reliant Stadium, but you wouldn't have known it from the turnstiles. In the first weekend without the distraction of a full slate of college football, even the hometown Texas fans failed to show up. The two teams have a combined seven losses this season, including to teams like Chaminade and Cal Poly. UCLA's been in turmoil for several seasons under Ben Howland, and Rick Barnes' results have been uninspiring. Making an NFL stadium look like a high school gym only underscored the problems facing both programs. UCLA won 65-63, if anyone cares.
19: Wyoming’s comeback against Illinois State to stay unbeaten
Fourteen teams remain undefeated, including Larry Shyatt’s Cowboys. One of the most unlikely unbeaens put together a 19-point comeback on the road Saturday against Illinois State to improve to 10-0. As an assistant, Shyatt was the defensive mastermind of Florida's back-to-back national championship teams. The former Clemson coach has done a similar job at Wyoming as the Cowboys have allowed more than 60 points twice this season (69 to Colorado and 67 to Illinois State). The hot start may signal Wyoming adding its name as a contender in a deep and talented Mountain West.
26.2: Average number of 20 points-per-game scorers in each season over the last decade
Through the weekend, 28 players averaged at least 20 points per game. This is about on par for the trend over the last 10 years. Roughly 26 players per year have averaged 20 points per game over the last decade. However, a few outliers are worth keeping an eye on. In 2002-03, 45 players who topped the 20-point mark, and in 2007-08 there were 39. No other year has featured more than 28, but last season provided the lowest total in more than a decade as only 17 players scored at least 20 points per game. Should conference play slow scoring, that total could drop closer to last year’s total. The question then becomes will the lower scoring trend continue?
Western Carolina (4-6) and Appalacian State (1-7) got together this weekend to play some basketball. But junior center Brian Okam stole the show for all the wrong reasons. We've seen underhanders, left-handers and plenty of airballs on the free throw line, but never have we ever seen an attempt this bad. As the commentator says, "Good Lord."
NFL football is the greatest reality TV program of all time. The Giants and Colts made sure of that back in 1958. Each NFL fall weekend is a completely new and original experience for every player, fan and coach alike. New stories, new personalities, new winners and new losers. And new statistics.
Here are the most important, most intriguing and most bizarre statistics from Week 14 of NFL play:
15.8: Points per game after the third quarter in Dallas' last five games
The Cowboys rallied once again to thrust themselves directly into the heart of the NFC East race by outscoring Cincinnati 10-0 in the fourth quarter. It was the fourth win in five weeks for the 'Boys and a big reason has been the way Dallas has finished games. The Cowboys have outscored their opponent in the final frame (and overtime) in each of the last five games and by a total of 79-34. That is a per game average of 15.8 points — or nearly three scoring drives per fourth quarter — while the opposition is averaging less than seven points in the final frame.
70: Days since the Eagles won a game
On the final play of the game after a stellar drive from yet another rookie quarterback; Andy Reid got his team back in the win column for the first time since September (Week 4, Sept. 30). Nick Foles connected with Jeremy Maclin from one yard out to cap a 13-play, 64-yard drive that covered the final 2:44 of time remaining. It is the first career win for the rookie signal caller from Arizona. More importantly, Tampa Bay falls to 6-7 in heart-breaking fashion while fellow 6-6 Wild Card contenders Dallas, Washington and Minnesota all won to jump the Bucs in the standings. Foles finished 32-of-51 passing for 381 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the win.
133.4: Yards per game Adrian Peterson needs to average to reach 2,000
All-Day Adrian continues to amaze in his return from ACL surgery. He rushed 31 times for 154 yards and two early touchdowns to power the Vikings to an upset win over the Chicago Bears. The win keeps Minnesota right in the thick of the Wild Card hunt and Peterson is inching closer to making history. He needs 133.4 yards per game in his final three to become just the seventh player to ever rush for 2,000 yards in a single season. He is on pace to set personal bests in rushing yards and receptions and is on pace for his second-best season in touches (373), carries (326) and rushing touchdowns (13). All of this less than a year removed from a torn ACL.
Dec. 20, 1986: Last time the Giants scored 50 points
The Giants dominated the Saints Sunday evening to the tune of 52 points. It was the first time the franchise reached the 50-point plateau since a 55-24 win over Green Bay on Dec. 20, 1986. The team set a record for kickoff return yards (287) and first year tailback David Wilson set a Giants franchise record for all-purpose yards (327). He scored three touchdowns in the win. New York ran 61 offensive plays, 47 of which came in New Orleans territory, and sits one game ahead of the Eagles and Redskins in the NFC East.
72: Cam Newton's career-long run...
which was a key touchdown gallop down the left sideline in the big upset win over the Falcons. In what was likely his best performance as a pro, Newton completed 23-of-35 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns through the air to go with 116 yards rushing on nine carries and another score on the ground. He didn't turn the ball over once and handed Matt Ryan and Atlanta just their second loss of the season. It was his first career 100-yard rushing effort.
34: Most points allowed at home by Pittsburgh in over two years
The Steelers suffered their second straight home loss after allowing 34 points to a depleted and lame duck Chargers team. It is the first time a team scored 30 points at Heinz Field since Week 10 of 2010 when the Patriots scored 39 in a win. In the last eight home games, the Steelers allowed a total of 72 points — or 9.0 points per game — with an 8-1 record. The loss was the fourth overall in five games and it drops Pittsburgh into a tie with the Bengals in both the AFC North and AFC Wild Card standings. Ben Roethlisberger returned to complete 22-of-42 passes for 285 yards, three touchdowns and two turnovers. Two of his three scores came after the game was already well in hand for San Diego.
4.0: Points per play for Kirk Cousins
Cousins, a rookie from Michigan State, played in the second game of his career for Washington this Sunday. He threw two passes and tied the game with an 11-yard touchdown with less than 30 seconds left in the game. He then did his best Robert Griffin III, who had to leave the game after getting his knee twisted up on the final drive, impersonation by scoring the two-point conversion on a QB draw to send the game to overtime. One big punt return and a couple of Alfred Morris runs set up the game-winning field goal from Kai Forbath. Cousins is now 7-of-11 for 137 yards and three touchdowns in two games of spot duty for an injured RG3. The Redskins are now over .500, in the thick of the NFC East race and will be anxiously awaiting the results of Griffin's MRI Sunday evening.
38-0: Seattle's lead at halftime over Arizona
The Cardinals played the worst half of football in the history of their franchise against Seattle in Week 14. The Seahawks forced six turnovers, scored 38 points and rolled up 238 yards of offense to put the game out of reach before halftime. The 38 points marks the most points allowed by Arizona in one half and the Cardinals have lost nine straight games after starting the year 4-0. The Seahawks eventually ran the final score to 58-0, a franchise record for points scored, and forced eight total turnovers while allowing just nine first downs on defense. Cornerback Richard Sherman intercepted two passes — one he returned for a touchdown — and recovered a fumble. His four-game suspension for Adderall use is currently going through the league's appeals process.
6: Fourth quarter comebacks for Andrew Luck
The No. 1 overall pick led his team on a 13-point second-half comeback over the Titans in Week 14 to move the Colts to 9-4 on the season. In 13 starts as a rookie, Luck has now led six fourth-quarter comebacks in his short career. Indianapolis leads the AFC Wild Card chase by two games now and Luck, after 196 yards in the win, has 3,792 yards on the season. He passed Peyton Manning's Colts rookie record (3,739) and trails only Cam Newton's 4,051-yard record on the all-time rookie passing charts. Don't forget, the Colts won two games last year.
10,228: Drunk Driving fatalities in this country in 2010
I am saddened to have to add this statistic, but after the Jerry Brown-Josh Brent tragedy, I feel some perspective is necessary. Drunk driving fatalities in this country have decreased every year but three since 1991, but, according to the CDC, over 10,000 people died in 2010 due to drunk-driving accidents. Or 28 people per day. The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $51 billion according to CDC. But our loved ones suffer the worst cost. Jerry Brown is just one of 10,000 and it appears Brent (hopefully) understands the level of guilt he will suffer through the rest of his life. Because they played NFL football, the spotlight has been cast on the horrific accident that ended Brown's life. Don't let it go unnoticed.
With the 2012 college football regular season in the books, it’s time to take a look at the year in review. Several freshmen made an impact in the national and conference title races, including Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman wasn’t the only quarterback making a splash in their first season, as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley each averaged over 250 yards of total offense. Outside of the quarterbacks, TCU defensive end Devonte Fields and Georgia running back Todd Gurley were other impact freshmen.
College Football's Top 25 Freshmen from 2012
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Manziel’s freshmen campaign will likely enter the record books as one of the best of the BCS era. The Texas native set a SEC record with 4,600 yards of total offense, while scoring 43 overall scores. Manziel claimed the 2012 Heisman Trophy and led Texas A&M to a 10-2 record in its first season of SEC play. With another offseason to work under coach Kevin Sumlin and coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, Johnny Football will be even more dangerous for opposing defenses to stop in 2013.
2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Despite having to replace quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, the Ducks’ offense never missed a beat. The emergence of Mariota kept Oregon ranked among the nation’s best offenses, averaging 550.1 yards and 50.8 points per game. Mariota threw for 2,511 yards and 30 touchdowns, while recording 690 yards and four scores on the ground. The Hawaii native completed 69.9 percent of his throws and led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency. Even if coach Chip Kelly departs to the NFL, Mariota will be one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman in 2013.
3. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Although Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota should earn any freshman first or second-team All-America honors, Hundley’s 2012 season should not be overlooked. He was a key reason for UCLA’s improvement in the win column, as the redshirt freshman proved to be a perfect fit for coordinator Noel Mazzone’s spread offense. Hundley threw for 3,411 yards and 26 scores and recorded 365 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Hundley nearly led UCLA to a Pac-12 title, but helped the Bruins score key victories against Nebraska, USC and a 66-10 blowout win over Arizona.
4. Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
Fields was an absolute monster for the Horned Frogs this year, recording 49 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. The true freshman also forced two fumbles and broke up three passes. Fields was named the Big 12’s Freshman of the Year and was arguably one of the conference’s best defenders. With another year to work with coach Gary Patterson and in the weight room, Fields should be a lock for All-America honors in 2013.
5. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Gurley and fellow freshman Keith Marshall combined to form one of the nation’s best one-two punches at running back. Gurley was the team’s workhorse, leading the way with 1,260 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also caught 15 passes for 113 yards. Gurley had six 100-yard performances in SEC play and rushed for 122 yards and two scores against Alabama in the conference title game. Georgia’s offensive line returns intact next season, which should allow Gurley to push his totals even higher in 2013.
6. Isaac Seumalo, C, Oregon State
Lost in the huge seasons from quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota was a solid group of impact freshmen in trenches. Seumalo anchored a much-improved Oregon State offensive line this season, starting all 12 games at center and earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. The Beavers’ line allowed only 1.9 sacks a game, while paving the way for the rushing attack to score 23 touchdowns this season.
7. John Theus, RT, Georgia
With the departure of Ben Jones and Cordy Glenn, Georgia’s offensive line was a question mark coming into this season. However, the line seemed to jell as the year progressed, largely due to Theus’ steady play on the right side. He started all 13 games and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team.
8. Leonard Williams, DT, USC
USC’s defensive line was arguably the team’s biggest question mark heading into 2012. However, thanks to the emergence of Williams and junior college recruit Morgan Breslin, those concerns were quickly erased. Williams recorded 50 stops, 13 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks and earned Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honors.
9. Shaq Thompson, S, Washington
Thanks to the arrival of coordinator Justin Wilcox and Thompson’s performance, the Huskies had one of the nation's most-improved defenses. The true freshman recorded 66 stops, two sacks and three interceptions this season. Thompson earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.
10. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
No Trent Richardson? No problem for Alabama. Despite losing a first-round pick at running back, the Crimson Tide averaged 224.6 rushing yards per game, which ranked second in the SEC. Eddie Lacy shouldered the bulk of the workload, but Yeldon finished with 1,000 yards and 11 scores on 154 attempts. The true freshman also caught 10 balls for 131 yards and one touchdown. Yeldon’s best performance came in the SEC Championship, gashing Georgia for 153 yards on 25 attempts.
11. Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame
Golson didn’t post flashy numbers like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota but had a solid all-around season. The redshirt freshman finished with 2,135 passing yards and 11 touchdowns and added 305 rushing yards and five scores. Golson’s play picked up as the season progressed and is one win away from leading Notre Dame to a national championship.
12. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
With Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks expiring their eligibility at the end of 2011, Alabama’s receiving corps needed a big year from its incoming freshmen. In addition to becoming the go-to target for quarterback AJ McCarron, Cooper emerged as one of the SEC’s top receivers. The true freshman caught 53 passes for 895 yards and nine scores. Cooper failed to record a catch against LSU but produced three 100-yard efforts over the final four games.
13. Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State
Despite a ban on postseason play, the Nittany Lions didn’t have a problem with motivation. Penn State finished 8-4 and knocked off Big Ten champ Wisconsin 24-21 in the regular season finale. Defense is usually a strength in Happy Valley and 2012 was no different under first-year coach Bill O'Brien. Barnes recorded 26 tackles, six sacks, 10 tackles for a loss and three forced fumbles. With Jordan Hill and Sean Stanley departing, Penn State needs Barnes to have an even better season in 2013.
14. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Johnson was expected to make an immediate impact with the Hurricanes and the Miami native didn’t disappoint. He opened the year with 135 yards and two touchdowns on seven attempts against Boston College and finished the year with three 100-yard efforts in his final four games. Johnson recorded 2,060 all-purpose yards in 2012 and was picked as the ACC’s rookie of the year.
15. Tyler Johnstone, LT, Oregon
Johnstone was a key cog in Oregon’s offensive line, starting all 13 games and helping the Ducks lead the Pac-12 in rushing, total and scoring offense.
16. Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
With a handful of quarterback injuries, Maryland never had a chance to establish any consistency in the passing game. When you consider four quarterbacks saw snaps in regular season action, Diggs’ numbers become even more impressive. The true freshman led the team in receptions (54), receiving yards (848) and touchdown catches (6). He was also a weapon on special teams, averaging 28.5 yards per kickoff return and taking two back for scores. Assuming Maryland finds some stability under center next year, Diggs will easily surpass his all-purpose yardage total from 2012 (1,896).
17. KeiVarae Russell, CB, Notre Dame
Not many true freshmen are thrown into a starting role at cornerback, but that’s exactly what was asked of Russell this season. The Washington native started all 12 games for the Fighting Irish, recording 50 tackles and two picks. Russell had plenty of help with one of the nation’s best defensive lines and linebacking corps putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. However, Russell held up just fine under the pressure and should be a standout player for Notre Dame next season.
18. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech
Dixon set a FBS freshman record with 27 rushing scores, while adding 1,194 yards on 200 carries. He also earned WAC Freshman of the Year honors and was a first-team all-conference selection.
19. Denzel Nkemdiche, LB, Ole Miss
Nkemdiche’s emergence played a huge role in the improvement of Ole Miss’ defense. The Rebels ranked last in the SEC in total defense last season and improved to seventh in the conference in 2012. Nkemdiche was active around the line of scrimmage all year, recording 78 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions.
20. Jalen Mills, DB, LSU
Without Morris Claiborne or Tyrann Mathieu patrolling in the secondary, the Tigers needed a big season from Mills and fellow freshman Jalen Collins. Mills started all 13 games at cornerback, recording 52 stops and two interceptions. He should be in the mix for All-SEC honors next year.
21. Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
With Jalen Saunders transferring from Fresno State in spring practice, the Bulldogs needed a new No. 1 receiver to emerge for quarterback Derek Carr. Adams became the go-to guy, nabbing 89 receptions for 1,168 yards and 13 touchdowns.
22. Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia
West Virginia ranked as one of the worst defenses in the nation this year, but Joseph’s play shouldn’t be overlooked. Joseph led the team with 95 tackles and recorded two interceptions and three forced fumbles.
23. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Evans emerged as the No. 1 target for quarterback Johnny Manziel, catching 75 passes for 1,022 yards and five scores.
24. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Boykin was forced into action after starter Casey Pachall was suspended for the year. The redshirt freshman finished with 1,853 passing yards and 15 scores, while adding 380 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Although Boykin’s numbers weren’t huge, his steady play was crucial to TCU’s 7-5 finish in its first season of Big 12 play.
25. Jake Brendel, C, UCLA
After struggling to find consistency on the offensive line over the last few seasons, UCLA found something to build on for 2013. Brendel anchored the Bruins’ line this year, starting all 13 games at center. UCLA allowed 3.5 sacks a game, but the offensive line helped to clear the way for the rushing attack to average 202.9 yards per contest.
Jack Allen, C, Michigan State
Austin Blythe, OG, Iowa
Evan Boehm, OG, Missouri
Keith Brown, LB, Louisville
Kyle Carter, TE, Penn State
Le’Raven Clark, OL, Texas Tech
Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana
D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State
Landon Foster, P, Kentucky
Dante Fowler, DL, Florida
Jaxon Hood, DT, Arizona State
Jabari Hunt-Days, LB, Georgia Tech
D.J. Hunter, LB, Marshall
Keith Marshall, RB Georgia
Ross Martin, K, Duke
Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
Ethan Perry, P, TCU
Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin
Trevon Stewart, FS, Houston
Nick VanHoose, CB, Northwestern
Cody Whitehair, OG, Kansas State
Jaime Wilson, WR, Western Michigan
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The Houston Texans and New England Patriots will wrap up Week 14 in the NFL when two of the AFC’s top teams meet up tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. The Texans (11-1) currently lead the Patriots (9-3) and the rest of the conference in the quest for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Besides trying to gain ground on the Texans for that coveted top seed, the Patriots would like nothing more than to send a signal to the visiting team that they are the ones who currently wear the AFC crown. This is especially the case considering it’s entirely possible these two teams will meet up with another a little later on, say on Jan. 20 in the AFC Championship Game?
When the Houston Texans have the ball:
Houston’s offense is fifth in the league with 389.6 yards per game and they are second only to New England in points per game with 29.3. The Texans rely more on the run than any other team, as they lead in rushing attempts (413) and are sixth in yards (142.5) per game. Arian Foster leads all players in carries (283), is fifth in yards with 1,102, and leads the NFL with 15 total touchdowns (13 rush, 2 pass). The Texans’ offense is not one-dimensional by any stretch, however, as quarterback Matt Schaub is responsible for leading the league’s 10th-ranked passing attack. The Texans are averaging more than 247 yards passing per game, as Schaub has thrown for 3,062 yards with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Schaub’s favorite target is wide receiver Andre Johnson, who is seventh in the league in receptions (74), fifth in receiving yards (1,114) and is averaging 15.1 yards per reception. Schaub also likes to find tight end Owen Daniels, who has 50 catches on the season and leads the team with six touchdown receptions. The Texans’ offensive line not only gets the job done opening up holes for Foster and the running game, but also in protecting Schaub. The line has allowed only 15 sacks, tying the Giants for fewest in the league. The Texans also have done a good job protecting the ball, especially for a team that runs it so much, with only two fumbles lost and a total of 12 turnovers on the season.
New England’s defense may not look that great on paper, but it has gotten the job done consistently this season. The Patriots are ranked near the bottom (26th) in terms of yards allowed (380.8) per game, but are tied for 14th in scoring defense at 21.7 points per game. Some of this can be attributed to the unit’s ability to generate turnovers. The Patriots have forced 33 turnovers, including a league-high 19 fumbles. They have generated the second-most takeaways in the league and have turned five of these into defensive scores. The Patriots have done a good job of slowing down an opponent’s running game, as they are eighth in the league in rushing defense (100.8 ypg). Some of this success, however, can be attributed to the fact that teams tend to end up throwing the ball more than running it against the Patriots. To that end, the Patriots are No. 28 in passing defense, giving up nearly 280 yards through the air per game. To be fair, the defense is somewhat a victim of the offense’s success, as Brady and Co. will often jump out to big leagues, forcing opponents to abandon the run and exclusively pass the ball in hopes of trying to catch up. The Patriots do have 26 sacks on the season, which not only helps slow down a passing attack, but in the Patriots’ case also presents opportunities to force the quarterback to fumble the ball while being taken down.
When the New England Patriots have the ball:
New England’s offense is No. 1 in the NFL in both total offense (426.3 ypg) and scoring offense (35.8 ppg). The Patriots are eighth in passing offense (285.8 ypg), which is not surprising with Tom Brady as your quarterback. Brady is the league’s fifth-rated passer as he’s thrown for 3,537 yards (fifth in NFL) with 25 touchdown passes (fourth) and just four interceptions, which is tied for the fewest among qualified quarterbacks. Brady lost tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is tied for the league lead with 10 touchdown catches, to a broken forearm a few weeks ago, but he still has wide receiver Wes Welker. Welker is leading the NFL with 92 catches and is seventh in yards with 1,046. He has just four touchdown catches, but that’s more representative of Brady’s ability to spread the ball around. Seven different Patriots have caught a touchdown pass with six of those having two or more. Although the Patriots are known more for being a passing offense, they actually are second only to the Texans in rushing attempts (401), ninth in yards (133.6 ypg) and lead the way with 19 rushing touchdowns. Stevan Ridley has been responsible for most of the damage on the ground, as he’s seventh in the league with 1,010 rushing yards and tied for second with nine rushing touchdowns. The offensive line has done a good job of protecting Brady, as it has allowed 19 sacks, tied for second-fewest in the AFC. The Patriots also have committed just nine turnovers, the fewest in the NFL, including only five fumbles.
Houston’s defense is fifth overall in terms of yards allowed (322.6) and is fourth in scoring defense at 18.4 points per game. The Texans have allowed more than 25 points in a game only three times this season. Houston has been extremely stout against the run this season, ranking second in rushing defense. The Texans have allowed more than 100 yards rushing in only three games and only one running back (Chris Johnson) has reached the century mark against them. The defense also has allowed a total of two rushing touchdowns, and both of these came in the Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit. The Texans are No. 19 in passing defense, giving up an average of 235 passing yards per game. They have, however, been a little more susceptible in this area recently. Aaron Rodgers gashed the Texans for 338 yards and six touchdowns back in Week 6, Houston’s only loss thus far, but the defense has surrendered more than 300 yards passing in each of the past three games. One of those games was the Turkey Day matchup with Detroit and Matthew Stafford that went into overtime, but the other two quarterbacks who hung more than 300 on the Texans were Jacksonville’s Chad Henne and Tennessee’s Jake Locker. The Texans will need to perform better in pass defense or run the risk of Brady shredding them. A potential equalizer for this could be the Texans’ pass rush, which has produced 36 sacks, the third-most in the NFL. Defensive Player of the Year candidate J.J. Watt is the one to watch here, as he is second in the league with 16.5 sacks and also has batted down or deflected 15 passes. The Texans, like the Patriots, also do a good job forcing turnovers. They have 26 takeaways on the season, second only to the Patriots in the AFC, including 12 forced fumbles.
This is without question THE game of Week 14, and has all the makings of being an instant classic. Both Houston and New England have already clinched playoff spots (the Patriots have already won the AFC East crown), and enter tonight’s game with matching six-game winning streaks. Even though it’s highly likely these two could end up playing again in the playoffs, I don’t think it’s going to take away the intensity and competitiveness for this game one bit. And that’s especially the case for the Texans, who are already calling this the most important game in the franchise’s history, and are probably still smarting from their terrible showing at home in Week 6 against Green Bay. The Texans lost to the Packers 42-24 in front of a national primetime audience and aren’t looking for a repeat performance tonight. On the other hand you have the Patriots, the defending AFC champions who would like nothing more than to make a statement to the new kid on the block about who is still top dog in the conference. It is just one game, but the winner walks away with a ton of confidence as the regular season winds down. The Patriots and the Texans have the No. 1 and 2 turnover differentials in the AFC, respectively, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if a key miscue ends up deciding this one. In the end, I think the Texans’ offense will be able to make enough plays through the air and the defense will be able to turn just enough Patriot drives away from the end zone to earn the victory.
Texans 27, Patriots 24
Texas Tech is the latest college football program looking for a new coach, as Tommy Tuberville made a surprising decision to bolt to Cincinnati to replace Butch Jones. Tuberville was 20-17 in three seasons with the Red Raiders but never seemed to be a good fit in Lubbock. Texas Tech has experienced only one losing season since 1993, and Tuberville isn’t leaving the cupboard bare for the new coach.
8 Coaches to Replace Tommy Tuberville at Texas Tech
Art Briles, head coach, Baylor – Briles just signed an extension with Baylor but that likely won’t stop Texas Tech from pursuing him in the next few days. He graduated from Texas Tech with a bachelor’s degree in 1979 and went to Rule High School, which is less than 200 miles outside of Lubbock. Briles was a successful high school head coach and jumped into the collegiate ranks in 2000 as a running backs coach with Texas Tech. After three years with the Red Raiders, Briles was selected as Houston’s head coach and recorded a 34-28 record in five seasons with the Cougars. He replaced Guy Morriss at Baylor in 2008 and is 32-30 in five years in Waco, including a 10-3 mark in 2011.
Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State – DeRuyter had a successful debut season at Fresno State, leading the Bulldogs to a 9-3 record and a share of the Mountain West title. DeRuyter has a solid resume as an assistant, working as a defensive coordinator at Air Force and Texas A&M. Although he’s only been a head coach for one year, it’s very easy to be impressed with DeRuyter. Fresno State struggled to get over the hump with Pat Hill on the sidelines, but DeRuyter brought quick improvement after the Bulldogs went 4-9 last season. The 49-year-old coach played at Air Force from 1982-84 and coached with the Falcons from 1991-94 and 2007-09.
Bryan Harsin, offensive coordinator, Texas – Harsin has been on a quick rise through the coaching ranks, starting his career at Eastern Oregon as an assistant in 2000. Harsin was hired at Boise State in 2001 and eventually worked his way into the offensive coordinator role in 2006. After five seasons with the Broncos, Harsin came to Austin and has brought improvement to the Longhorns’ attack, which ranked 37th nationally in total offense this year. Harsin has no head coaching experience but is ready for a shot to run his own program.
Kliff Kingsbury, offensive coordinator, Texas A&M – Kingsbury is the perfect fit for Texas Tech. However, is he ready to lead this program? The San Antonio native played under Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 1998-2002 and ranks second in school history with 12,429 passing yards. After a short career in the NFL, Kingsbury landed on Houston’s coaching staff as an assistant under Kevin Sumlin. The Cougars were one of the nation’s best offenses under Kingsbury’s watch, and he joined Sumlin at Texas A&M in 2012. The Aggies finished third nationally in total and scoring defense this year, while finishing 10-2 in their first season of SEC play. Kingsbury is a rising star, but the lack of head coaching experience has to be a concern for Hocutt.
Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State – If Texas Tech wants to go with a young, offensive-minded coach, Monken is another guy to keep on the radar. The Illinois native has no head coaching experience but made stops as an assistant at Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech, LSU and Oklahoma State. Monken also spent two years in the NFL with the Jaguars and is believed to be on the radar for openings at Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson – Morris is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football. The Texas native has no collegiate head coaching experience but helped to engineer top-25 offenses at Tulsa and Clemson. The Tigers finished 2012 ranked in the top 10 in total and scoring offense, while averaging 319.6 passing yards per game. Morris has a wealth of experience in the high school ranks, working as a head coach from 1994-2009 at five different stops. Although Morris has no collegiate head coaching experience, his time in the Texas high school ranks and offensive background would be a perfect fit for the Red Raiders.
Jay Norvell, co-offensive coordinator, Oklahoma – Norvell has been an assistant coach since 1986, making stops at Iowa, Wisconsin, Iowa State, Nebraska, UCLA and in the NFL with the Colts and Raiders. Norvell has worked with Bob Stoops at Oklahoma since 2008 and is a co-offensive coordinator with Josh Heupel. Although the Wisconsin native has no head coaching experience, he’s a proven assistant with Big 12 experience and a background on offense.
Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Clemson – Venables is a name many in the Big 12 are familiar with, as he played at Kansas State from 1991-92 and coached at Oklahoma from 1999-2011. The Kansas native left Norman to work as Clemson’s defensive coordinator in 2012 and the Tigers showed improvement under his direction, finishing fourth in the ACC in scoring defense. Venables and Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt played together at Kansas State from 1991-92 and also crossed paths at Oklahoma. Venables has no head coaching experience but is due for his chance to run a BCS program.
Longshots to watch
Josh Heupel, co-offensive coordinator, Oklahoma
Dana Holgorsen, head coach, West Virginia
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette
Seth Littrell, offensive coordinator, Indiana
Bobby Petrino, former Arkansas head coach
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Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy on Friday, adding another milestone to one of the most storied awards in sports.
From the first African-American to win the award, to the first sophomore, to the first West Coast winner, the milestones achieved during the Heisman’s roll call of 78 winners have reshaped the award.
Here’s a look at the key milestones in the history of the Heisman and a hint of awards that could follow with Manziel earning the first Trophy for a freshman.
1935: The first Heisman.
Chicago’s Jay Berwanger is acknowledged as the first Heisman winner in 1935, but the award he won was the DAC Trophy, presented by Manhattan’s Downtown Athletic Club. The statue, modeled after New York University football player Ed Smith, was the same as it’s always been.
1936: The first Heisman, really.
The Downtown Athletic Club renamed its award to honor recently deceased coach John W. Heisman. Yale’s Larry Kelley in 1936 was the first to win the Heisman Trophy under its new name.
1938: Smallest Heisman winner.
At 5-foot-7, TCU quarterback Davey O’Brien became the smallest Heisman winner. (And before someone chimes in about Doug Flutie, the Boston College quarterback was 5-10.)
1943: Notre Dame’s first winner.
Angelo Bertelli became Notre Dame’s first of seven Heisman winners, giving the Irish the most individuals with a trophy. Ohio State has won the award seven times, but two went to Archie Griffin. USC also has seven winners, but Reggie Bush had his award vacated. Notre Dame’s Heisman winners are: John Lujack (1947), Leon Hart (1949), John Lattner (1953), Paul Hornung (1956), John Huarte (1964) and Tim Brown (1987).
|Army's Doc Blanchard (left) wtih coach Red Blaik and teammate Glenn Davis.|
1945: The first non-senior winner.
Army’s “Mr. Inside” (Felix “Doc” Blanchard) and “Mr. Outside” (Glenn Davis) were both juniors when they finished atop the balloting, but Blanchard became the first junior to win the award. Davis won the Heisman a year later as a senior.
1956: Only winner from a losing team.
Notre Dame went 2-8 in 1956, but that didn’t stop Paul Hornung from winning the trophy in a heated race. Hornung didn’t earn the most first-place votes -- that belonged to third-place finisher Tom McDonald from Oklahoma. Future Tennessee coach Johnny Majors was the runner-up, but none of those three were the most legendary football player of the group. That honor belongs to fifth-place finisher Jim Brown of Syracuse.
1961: First African-American winner.
Syracuse running back Ernie Davis broke the Heisman’s color barrier in 1961. The Elmira Express was set to join Jim Brown in the Cleveland Browns backfield, but Davis died suddenly of leukemia in 1963.
1962: First West Coast winner.
Prior to Oregon State quarterback Terry Baker winning the Heisman in 1962, the Western-most Heisman winners came from TCU, SMU, Texas A&M and Oklahoma. After Baker, four of the next eight winners would come from states West of the Rocky Mountains.
1963: Last winner from a service academy.
Navy’s Roger Staubach was the fifth and final Heisman winner from a service academy. Three former players from Army and two from Navy won the award.
1968: The first second Heisman.
Starting in 1968, the Heisman elected to award two trophies: One to the individual winner and another to the winner’s school. In the event of a trophy being vacated, both awards would be taken away.
1968: Biggest Heisman landslide.
USC’s O.J. Simpson won the 1968 Heisman by what remains the biggest margin. Runner-up Leroy Keyes of Purdue finished 1,750 points behind Simpson’s 2,853.
1975: Only repeat winner.
Though others would attempt to defend their Heisman victories, Ohio State’s Archie Griffin is the only player to successfully to do so. Griffin won both the 1974 and 1975 awards by more than 1,000 points.
1989: Only winner on an NCAA-sanctioned team.
Houston’s Andre Ware is the last Heisman winner who did not play in a bowl game as his 9-2 Cougars were on NCAA probation. Making the voting more perplexing, Ware’s team was under a television ban.
|Florida's Danny Wuerffel on a 1995 Athlon annual cover.|
1996: Only Heisman winner to coach a Heisman winner.
Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel won the ’96 Heisman coached by the man who won the Heisman 30 years earlier from the same school, Steve Spurrier. The Ol’ Ball Coach also coached a Heisman runner-up in 2001 in Rex Grossman.
1997: First defensive player.
Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson became the only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman in ’97. Prior to Woodson, other defensive winners came from the one-platoon era when players participated on offense and defense. Woodson was not a purely defensive player, as he contributed a handful of plays on offense and returned kicks. Making Woodson’s victory contentious with fans (especially in the Southeast) was his runner-up, Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning.
2000. Oldest Heisman winner.
Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke, a former minor league baseball player, became the oldest Heisman winner at age 28.
2007: The first sophomore winner.
Florida’s Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman in 2007. He would be a finalist as a junior and senior, but was beat out both years -- by sophomores.
2009: The closest Heisman race.
Mark Ingram won Alabama’s first Heisman by the closest margin in Heisman history, beating Stanford’s Toby Gerhart by merely 28 points. Ingram, then a sophomore, was also the youngest Heisman winner at 19 years old.
2010: Only vacated Heisman.
USC running back Reggie Bush won the 2005 Heisman, but the Heisman Trust ordered both he and the Trojans were ordered to return their trophies as a result of NCAA sanctions on the school stemming from Bush’s relationship with a marketing agent.
2012: The first freshman winner.
Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman, by topping a purely defensive player (Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o) for the award. As a 20-year-old redshirt freshman, Manziel is not the youngest player to win the Heisman -- Alabama’s Mark Ingram retains that title. And the Heisman has yet to have a player finish one season in high school and the next hoisting the trophy.
The Detroit Lions will try and play spoiler when they take on the Green Bay Packers tonight at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC. The Lions (4-8) are looking to end a four-game losing streak and do something they haven’t done in more than 20 years – win at Lambeau Field. The Packers (8-4) are aiming to stay atop the NFC North standings by beating the Lions for the second time in less than a month.
When the Detroit Lions have the ball:
Detroit’s offense is tops in the NFL in passing and second in total offense. The Lions are generating more than 416 yards of offense per game, thanks to a passing attack that is piling up more than 312 per contest through the air. Not surprisingly, quarterback Matthew Stafford leads the league with 3,742 passing yards, but he also has thrown the most passes (534) and is only No. 23 in terms of passer rating. Stafford, who threw 41 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions last season, has just 16 touchdown passes compared to 11 picks so far this season. That’s a big reason why, even with all of the yards, the Lions are only 11th in scoring at 24.5 points per game. Stafford’s favorite target is All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who after a slow start has a chance to break the single-season record for receiving yards. With 1,428 (119 ypg), Johnson needs just 421 yards in his last four to break Jerry Rice’s record of 1,848 yards that he set back in 1995. Considering the number of targets Johnson receives (average of 12 per game) and the fact that the Lions’ wide receiving corps has been decimated by injuries, Megatron’s got a decent shot of taking away at least one record from the Hall of Famer before the season’s over. While a big chunk of the Lions’ offense comes via the pass, the running game has done a good job of getting the ball across the goal line. Even though Detroit is just 21st in rushing offense (105 ypg), the Lions are tied for the third-most rushing touchdowns with 14. They are led in that department by second-year running back Mikel Leshoure, who has rushed for a team-high 591 yards and seven touchdowns in his debut season. Leshoure, who the Lions drafted in the second round in 2011, missed all of his rookie season after rupturing his Achilles in training camp. Besides Stafford’s 11 interceptions, the Lions also have fumbled the ball away nine times and have allowed 25 quarterback sacks.
Green Bay’s defense is 15th overall in total defense (349 ypg) and 13th in scoring defense at 21.6 points per game. The Packers are ranked in the middle of the pack in both rushing (115.2 ypg, 15th) and passing (233.8 ypg, 17th) defense, but one of the areas they really shine are in putting pressure on the quarterback. The Packers are fourth in the league with 34 sacks, and this pressure has helped the unit produce 14 interceptions. That’s the bulk of the turnovers forced, however, as the Packers have just four fumble recoveries on the season.
When the Green Bay Packers have the ball:
Green Bay’s offense has not been nearly as productive as it was last year, when the Packers ranked first in scoring and third in total offense. This season, the Packers are 16th in the league in total offense, at 350.6 yards per game, and 12th in scoring at 24.7 points per game. Reigning NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers has put together another strong season, as he’s the league’s top-rated passer (105.0), is tied for second with 29 touchdown passes and fourth in completion percentage (67.4). The problem for Rodgers and the offense has been two-fold: a lack of pass protection and consistent production from the running game. Rodgers has been sacked a league-worst 39 times, which makes the fact he’s only thrown eight interceptions so far even more impressive, while the ground game is generating less than four yards per carry and has produced a grand total of three rushing touchdowns. Injuries also have played a role, as Green Bay lost starting running back Cedric Benson earlier this season to a Lisfranc injury, and now are without James Starks as well. The lead back duties now shift to Alex Green, who is averaging 3.3 yards per carry. The wide receiving corps also has had to deal with its share of injuries, the first being a groin injury that caused Greg Jennings to miss seven games. Now, it’s Jordy Nelson, who has been hampered by a hamstring injury and may be unable to go tonight. Fortunately for Rodgers, second-year pro Randall Cobb and veteran James Jones have been able to pick up the slack. Cobb has emerged this year as a dynamic playmaker capable of making things happen as a receiver, kick returner or when he’s lined up in the backfield, while Jones leads the team and is third in the league with nine touchdown receptions. The Packers have committed just 12 turnovers, including four lost fumbles, which is tied for second-fewest in the NFC.
Detroit’s defense is ranked No. 19 in total defense (353.4 ypg) and 25th in points allowed at 26.3 per game. The Lions are just behind the Packers’ in terms of pass defense (234 ypg, 18th) and are 19th in rushing defense (119.4 ypg). They also are in the middle of the pack when it comes to sacks (27, tied for 16th), and have forced a total of 15 turnovers, including 10 interceptions. The Lions’ defense has been particularly vulnerable during this current four-game losing streak, as the unit has surrendered an average of 31.8 points per game during this stretch.
Believe it or not, but the last time Detroit beat Green Bay in Lambeau Field was way back on Dec. 15, 1991. The Lions have dropped their last 21 games played on the frozen tundra, including a playoff game in 1994. Overall, the Packers have won 13 of the last 14 meetings between the two long-time division rivals and quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a career 18:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio in eight games against the Lions. Green Bay won the first meeting, 24-20, just three weeks ago in Detroit. The Packers scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes left in the game, a common theme for the Lions’ defense during the team’s four-game losing streak. In each of the Lions’ last three losses, they have held a lead in the fourth quarter with less than two minutes remaining. Besides the Packers’ game, there has been Houston first tying Detroit with 1:55 on the clock and the Texans then going on to win on Thanksgiving Day with a field goal late in the overtime period. And last week, it was rookie quarterback Andrew Luck rallying his Indianapolis Colts from 12 points down in the fourth quarter, culminating the miraculous comeback with a game-winning touchdown pass with no time remaining. So not only do the Lions have the bitter taste of last week’s defeat, not to mention their previous two losses, still in their mouths, they are now faced with playing the division leader on their own home turf. And did I mention that tonight’s game also happens to be on a field on which the Lions haven’t won a game in more than two decades?
Packers 31, Lions 24
For most fantasy leagues Week 14 either means it’s playoff time or it’s the last week of the regular reason. Regardless, it’s extremely important to make sure you field your best available lineup, which especially applies to those key players who are listed on their respective team’s injury report. To that end, here’s what we know about the status of those who line up in the backfield.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. San Diego Chargers
It’s the news Steeler fans and Roethlisberger owners have been waiting to hear for about a month – Big Ben is back. After missing the past three games recovering from the rib and shoulder injuries he suffered in Week 10 against Kansas City, Roethlisberger be back in there under center this afternoon against San Diego. While the Steelers went 1-2 during his absence, don’t underestimate Roethlisberger’s value. In the eight full games he played prior to the injury, the Steelers averaged 23.9 points per game. In the three he missed, their point production dropped to 15.7. It’s not a bad matchup for him to come back for either, as the Chargers are 21st in the league in passing defense and in the middle of the pack when it comes to fantasy points scored by opposing quarterbacks.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Stewart went down with an ankle injury in the Panthers’ Week 12 win in Philadelphia. Once it was classified as the dreaded high ankle sprain, no one was surprised he missed last week’s game in Kansas City. He didn’t practice all week, so there’s no reason to believe he will suit up today against the Falcons. That leaves lead back duties to DeAngelo Williams, who could be an intriguing fantasy option against the NFL’s 20th-ranked rushing defense. He didn’t do that much against the Chiefs last week (12 att., 67 yds.), so I would temper my expectations and only take a chance on Williams as a flex or if you don’t have any better (healthier) options at running back.
Beanie Wells, RB, Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
Poor Beanie, he can’t seem to stay healthy. After going on injured reserve earlier this season due to a severe turf toe issue, Wells returned two weeks ago and scored twice against St. Louis. However, he’s gained a total of 70 yards on 32 carries (2.2 ypc) in two games since returning and was a limited participant at practice due to a knee issue. He is listed as Questionable for the game in Seattle, but chances are pretty good he will play. That said, I wouldn’t rely on or trust Wells unless you were desperate. Besides his injury-prone nature, he’s been largely unproductive this season, averaging just 2.4 yards per carry, and he’s going up against the Seahawks on their home turf. For the season Seattle is 12th in rushing defense and the Seahawks seem to take their play to another level in front of the home crowd at CenturyLink Field. Wells is not 100 percent well when it comes to his health, so I think you would do well by leaving Wells on your bench.
Other notable running back injury updates:
Michael Bush, Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings – listed as Questionable (ribs), did not practice until Friday and was limited. Between his uncertain status and the mere presence of Matt Forte, who has gotten the vast majority of the carries when’s he beeon the field, I would avoid using Bush if at all possible.
DeMarcoy Murray, Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals – listed as Probable (foot), limited in practice this week but this was reported to be a team decision for precautionary reasons only. He may not get a full workload, but there’s no reason to not start him.
Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers – listed as Questionable because of an elbow injury. He was limited in practice, but is expected to play against the Panthers. May want to keep an eye on him to make sure there are no late developments leading up to game time, but the bigger concern is probably how the carries will be distributed between Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers.
Regardless of whether you have already started your fantasy league playoffs or not, no one needs to be told how important it is to put your best starting lineup out there at this point in the season. Week 14 of the NFL season is upon us and here are some key wide receiver injuries to keep an eye on as you get ready for today’s action.
Danny Amendola, WR, St. Louis Rams at Buffalo Bills
Amendola hurt his foot three weeks ago against the Jets, but it didn’t prevent him from playing the following week. However, he caught just one pass against the Cardinals as his foot was clearly bothering him and he ended up missing last week’s game versus the 49ers. He is officially listed as Questionable for today’s game in Buffalo and is probably a game-time decision. He did practice in a limited fashion this week, but he is an awfully risky play all things considered, especially since it’s a 1 p.m. ET kickoff. To me, it’s too much risk and not enough reward to take a chance with him.
Steve Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills vs. St. Louis Rams
Johnson wasn’t able to finish last week’s game against Jacksonville after straining his hamstring and he is listed as Questionable for the game against St. Louis. He didn’t practice on Wednesday, but was able to return on a limited basis both Thursday and Friday. Despite the Questionable tag, he is expected to play, but don’t expect him to be at 100 percent. That coupled with the Rams’ pass defense, which is ranked 11th, makes him a risky play, but you should probably still go ahead and start him unless you have better or more appealing options.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants vs. New Orleans Saints
Just when you thought Nicks was over the hump regarding injuries comes word that the soreness in his left knee flared up, again. The good news is that Nicks was able to practice some on Friday and the word from Giants camp is that he should be able to go today against the Saints. Nicks being a game-time call is nothing new this season, and the later kickoff time helps in terms of holding off on making a decision, provided you have a backup plan ready to go. That said, it’s obvious the knee has been an issue for Nicks all season long and has affected his production. If you have stuck with him to this point then you should be all too familiar with the risk, as well as the potential payoff, that comes with having Nicks on your roster.
Other notable wide receiver injury updates:
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Dallas Cowboys – Green did not practice on Friday due to illness. He is listed as Probable so there’s no reason to not expect him to be out there and for you to not start one of fantasy’s top wide receivers.
Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings – Harvin was placed on injured reserve earlier this week because of a severe ankle injury he sustained in Week 9. He tore ligaments in the ankle, and while he most likely won’t need surgery, he won’t play again this season. The only Vikings’ pass-catcher worth owning at this point is tight end Kyle Rudolph, who has put together three productive games in a row.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay vs. Detroit Lions – Nelson will miss tonight’s game against Detroit with a hamstring injury. While Randall Cobb remains the Packers wide receiver to own, don’t forget about Greg Jennings, who is back from a groin injury, and James Jones, who is second in the league in touchdown catches with nine. There’s also tight end Jermichael Finley, who has been more productive in recent weeks.
Sidney Rice, WR, Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals – Rice took a big hit on the game-winning touchdown in Chicago last week, but was back at practice on Wednesday. He was a practice participant throughout the week and is listed as Probable for the game against the Cardinals. He’s been at his best lately, five touchdowns over his last five games, but he’s also had no more than six receptions and 99 yards receiving in any game, so consider yourself warned.
Andre Roberts, WR, Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks – Roberts is Questionable with an ankle injury. He didn’t get any practice in until Friday and was limited even then. He may be a game-time decision, but given Arizona’s persistent quarterback issues this season, there is little reason to start any Cardinals wide receiver, and that includes Larry Fitzgerald.
Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New York Jets – Shorts has been one of fantasy’s breakout players this season, but he won’t be adding to his numbers on Sunday. He has already been declared Out against the Jets after suffering a concussion late in the fourth quarter last week in Buffalo. Shorts passed a concussion test earlier this week, but wasn’t able to practice at all as he was still experiencing symptoms. Rookie Justin Blackmon figures to get more looks in Shorts’ absence, but that doesn’t make him a must-start option either. Blackmon had just one catch for nine yards against the Bills last week and the Jets rank among the stingiest when it comes to fantasy points allowed to wide receivers. This is probably not the best week to rely on any Jaguar offensive player.