Articles By All

Path: /college-football/miami-heat-coach-erik-spoelstra-visits-tennessee-practice
Body:

Tennessee coach Butch Jones had a special visitor in practice on Wednesday. Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra made the trip from South Beach to Knoxville to visit with Jones and take in practice with the Volunteers.

The two coaches have developed a friendship, and Jones attended Miami’s game seven victory against San Antonio in the NBA Finals.

Any guesses as to what they talked about at practice in this photo? Maybe Jones was checking to see if LeBron James had any eligibility? Or was Jones asking about season tickets for the Heat?

 

Teaser:
Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra Visits Tennessee Practice
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC East, Washington Redskins, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/washington-redskins-game-game-predictions-2013
Body:

Thanks in large part to the efforts of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris, the Washington Redskins doubled their win total from the previous season (5-11 in 2011 to 10-6 in '12) as they won the NFC East. Of course, last season didn't end on a good note, as the 'Skins not only coughed up a 14-0 lead at home to Seattle, but RGIII also tore the ACL in his right knee in the 21-14 loss to the Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card game.

This marked the second time in his playing career that RGIII had to undergo reconstructive surgery on his right knee, which is why the team is understandably going to great lengths during training camp to ensure that the reigning AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is completely healthy before putting him back out on the field.

Even though the Redskins are returning 21 of 22 starters from last season, how far the 2013 team goes will more than likely hinge on RGIII's recovery and his ability to stay healthy throughout the season. With RGIII, Morris and full seasons from wide receiver Pierre Garcon and tight end Fred Davis, Washington's offense has a chance to be one of the NFL's best. The defense also should be better in 2013 with Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo and a few other key pieces back from injury.

So can RGIII play in enough games to get the Redskins back to the postseason and possibly defend their NFC East crown? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:

Washington Redskins' 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions

WKOPPKevin
Ewoldt
Braden
Gall
Steven
Lassan
Mark
Ross
1Philadelphia (Mon.)
2at Green Bay
3Detroit
4at Oakland
5BYEBYEBYEBYEBYE
6at Dallas
7Chicago
8at Denver
9San Diego
10at Minnesota (Thurs.)
11at Philadelphia
12San Francisco (Mon.)
13New York Giants
14Kansas City
15at Atlanta
16Dallas
17at New York Giants
Final Projection11-59-710-69-7
NFC East5-13-34-23-3

Kevin Ewoldt (@HogsHaven), Hogs Haven
With RGIII coming back from major knee surgery and the Redskins facing all first-place opponents in the NFC East, common logic one would think it'd be hard for the Redskins to repeat their 10-win season. However, here are some key points: Of the Redskins' 22 starters from last season, 21 are returning. The lone player that left per the Redskins' decision was free safety Madieu Williams, who could not get the job done. The Redskins drafted a lot of defenders so it's hard to imagine the defense regresses any, especially with the return of Brian Orakpo, who essentially missed all of last season. On the offensive side, Pierre Garcon is 100 percent healthy again and the Redskins were 9-1 with him in the lineup last year. Playmaker Fred Davis also returns. Finally, Kirk Cousins has looked phenomenal this year so far, so barring any setbacks with RGIII, the offense should be able to still get the job done. 11-5.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is a quality football team that is an elite football team with Robert Griffin III under center and a mediocre one with Kirk Cousins playing. I am a big fan of Cousins, but don't think he can lead this team to the playoffs should RG3 miss some time. The biggest concern with Griffin is his ability to stay healthy and he won't do that unless he tweaks the way he plays the game — which is easier said than done. A winning record in this division puts them into contention for the NFC East title and a potential wild card spot, but in a loaded NFC, odds are the Redskins take a small step back — especially, if their star quarterback misses any time at all.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The recovery of the right knee of quarterback Robert Griffin III likely holds the cards to how the NFC East will play out. If Griffin returns at full strength by the season opener and picks up where he left off, Washington could be the team to beat in the NFC East. If Griffin suffers any setback, backup Kirk Cousins is plenty capable, but the Redskins will miss Griffin’s playmaking ability. Washington’s roster has gotten deeper over the last few years and all but one starter from last season’s 10-6 team returns. Also, receiver Pierre Garcon and linebacker Brian Orakpo are back to full strength, which should provide a boost for this team. Even if Washington doesn’t win the division, coach Mike Shanahan will have his team in the mix for a wild card. Of course, this season all hinges on Griffin and avoiding any setbacks with his knee injury.

Mark Ross
Even if I knew Robert Griffin III would play all 16 games during the regular season, I still would pick Washington to win fewer games this season than the 10 they did last year. Obviously, RGIII and the health of his surgically repaired knee is the key to the Redskins' success this season, but I have other concerns as it relates to how this team is built.

Washington's defense finished near the bottom in both yards allowed and passing defense last season. Because of salary cap issues, the team did nothing during free agency to shore up this side of the ball and it has already lost one of its draft picks (safety Phillip Thomas) to a season-ending injury. Yes, linebacker Brian Orakpo will be back and, presumably, so will defensive lineman Adam Carriker, but I'm not sure how much of a difference they will make on the unit's overall performance.

While this is pretty much the same team (21 of 22 starters return) that won 10 games last season, the 2013 version has a second-year quarterback coming off of a significant injury and a schedule that includes Super Bowl contenders Atlanta, Denver, Green Bay and San Francisco, in addition to a rugged NFC East slate. RGIII was Washington's x-factor last season, but he's too much of a question mark entering this one to not expect the Redskins to take a small step back, at minimum.

Related Washington Redskins Content
Washington Redskins 2013 Schedule Analysis
Ranking the NFL's Starting Quarterbacks for 2013
Ranking the NFL's Coaching Jobs for 2013

The NFL's 25 Greatest Quarterbacks of All-Time

Teaser:
Washington Redskins: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-august-15-2013
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Aug. 15.

 

• Here's a countdown that will kick-start your Thursday: The 50 hottest women athletes on social media, including javelin thrower Leryn Franco (pictured).

 

A giant moth targeted A.J. Pierzynski with a kamikaze mission last night.

 

Yasiel Puig went all Roberto Clemente on the Mets last night.

 

• Today in Jason Dufner awesomeness: Auburn fan Dufner took acorns from Oak Hill Country Club to plant at Toomer's Corner.

 

The best Twitter comebacks by athletes.

 

A living mannequin scared the bejeezus out of some unsuspecting Michigan State players and coaches. Who knew Sparty was such a scaredy-cat?

 

Marcus Smart and Julius Randle had an epic dunk-off.

 

• Locks of love: College superfan haircuts.

 

Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy spent his vacation camping in the Peruvian jungle, eating rats. This guy needs a new travel agent.

 

• Inspirational story of the day: A one-armed basketball player has been offered a spot on Florida's team as a preferred walk-on. I smell movie.

 

• Yesterday, we brought you the indoor practice facilities of the SEC. Today, the locker rooms. I'd like to live in one of these things.

 

• A bunch of professional baseball players combined for a play that would embarass a little league team. The only thing missing is sped-up footage and Benny Hill music.

 

 

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 10:45
Path: /college-football/arizona-state-coach-todd-graham-goes-cliff-jumping
Body:

Arizona State coach Todd Graham isn’t afraid of challenges. After all, the Sun Devils’ second-year coach has installed that phrase as the team’s mantra for 2013.

To further prove his point, Graham joined Vanderbilt’s James Franklin in the ranks of coaches going cliff jumping this offseason. Graham jumped into Tonto Creek at Arizona State’s fall practice destination (Camp Tontozona) on Wednesday afternoon. Check out Graham's jump in the video below:
 

Teaser:
Arizona State Coach Todd Graham Goes Cliff Jumping
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 10:17
Path: /nfl/tampa-bay-buccaneers-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Paradise lost would be the way to describe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their first year under coach Greg Schiano. The resort atmosphere disappeared, replaced by more rules and regimentation than a boot camp.

“We had one big thing we had to do. We had to establish a culture in the building,’’ Schiano says. “Sometimes, you have to go overboard one way or another to get that culture established. But I think at this point our football team understands who I am and how our football program is going to be run. I think that happened as the season went on.”

A 6–4 start collapsed into a 1–5 finish, mostly because of a wildly inconsistent defense that was first against the run and worst against the pass.

GM Mark Dominik spent the offseason retooling the secondary by signing 49ers free agent safety Dashon Goldson, swinging a blockbuster trade for Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and drafting Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks in the second round. Revis Island may have relocated to Tampa Bay, but it’s still going to be a very inhospitable place.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 13th

Related: 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Schedule Analysis

Offense
Josh Freeman set single-season club records for passing yardage (4,065) and touchdown passes (27) last year. But 10 of his 17 interceptions came in three games, leaving the Bucs still to wonder whether to make a long-term commitment to their enigmatic quarterback, who enters the final year of his contract.

Freeman will benefit from one of the best guard tandems in the NFL. Davin Joseph returns from a season-ending knee injury he suffered in 2012, and Carl Nicks has recovered from a foot injury that limited him to seven games.

But you can bet the offense will run through Doug Martin, who ranked second among rookies with 1,454 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 49 passes for 472 yards and a score. Receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are terrific big-play targets for Freeman, but the Bucs could use a better tight end than Luke Stocker and don’t have a slot receiver.

Tampa Bay traded running back LeGarrette Blount to New England and will go with free agent Brian Leonard, who played for Schiano at Rutgers, and Miami rookie Mike James to round out the backfield. The team also added former Cleveland and Kansas City running back Peyton Hillis to the mix before the start of training camp, although the one-time 1,000-yard rusher may have a hard time making the roster.

Freeman should thrive in the second year of the system under offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. The Bucs will do more to move the pocket and change his launch sites, because he can be very accurate on the move. He also has a new quarterbacks coach in John McNulty, who had the same position with the Arizona Cardinals and coached with Schiano at Rutgers.

But Schiano still is hedging his bets a little with Freeman long-term. Perhaps that’s why NC State quarterback Mike Glennon is here.

“The reality is this is a performance-based game … to say you’re married (to a player), well, nobody is married to anyone in this game,’’ Schiano says of Freeman. “They’re not married to me. You’ve got to win or I’m not going to be the coach.”

Defense
It’s extremely unusual for a defense to play in polar-opposite ways against the run and the pass. Statistically, Tampa Bay had the best run defense in the league in 2012. Perhaps that’s because opponents preferred to travel by air. The Bucs fell just 38 yards shy of setting the NFL record for the most passing yards allowed.

With so much scorched earth in the secondary, the Bucs knew they needed an overhaul. Cornerback Aqib Talib, who was suspended for four games last year for illegal use of the stimulant Adderall, was traded at midseason to the New England Patriots. Eric Wright, who lost four games for the same reason, was forced to take a one-year, restructured contract, and then was subsequently traded to the 49ers in July for a conditional 2014 draft pick. Wright, however, failed his physical, which nullified the trade and led to his eventual outright release by the Buccaneers.

Dominik began the makeover by signing Goldson to a five-year, $41.25-million deal. A few weeks later, he persuaded the Jets to part with Revis for the 13th overall pick and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2014. Revis still is recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in Week 3 last year but is expected to be full go by training camp. If he is 90 percent as good as the old Revis, it could be scary for the NFC South. The Bucs finally will have a player to match up with the Falcons’ Julio Jones or the Saints’ Marques Colston.

The Bucs will benefit from the return of right defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who was lost for the season because of a knee injury after only a few games. Da’Quan Bowers, who battled back from a torn Achilles to play 10 games a year ago, should be a powerful bookend. Rookies William Gholston and Steven Means fortify the pass rush.

But the rush is anchored by man in the middle Gerald McCoy, the No. 3 overall choice in 2010. McCoy finally put together a full season, finishing with five sacks, and was named to his first Pro Bowl team.

Tampa Bay lost starting nose tackle Roy Miller to Jacksonville and its leading sackmaster Michael Bennett to Seattle. But the Bucs seem confident in veterans such as Derek Landri and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim as well as Illinois nose tackle Akeem Spence, a fourth-round pick.

The linebackers are solid with Mason Foster and Lavonte David, who led the team in tackles as a rookie. The Bucs have to replace Quincy Black at strong-side linebacker. He was released after suffering nerve damage following a hit on San Diego running back Ryan Mathews.

Playing in a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton means having to stop big plays in the passing game. The Bucs also face Tom Brady this year. But the first game of the season will be at MetLife Stadium against the Jets. What better place for Revis to make a statement that he is back?

Specialists
The Bucs' kicking game sustained a big blow in July when Connor Barth tore his Achilles playing in a charity basketball game. Barth, who hit on on 28-of-33 field goal attempts last season, will be replaced by veteran Lawrence Tynes. Tynes connected on 33-of-39 field goal attempts for the Giants last season, but he doesn't have near as strong a leg as Barth (six made FGs from 50+ yards in 2012). Punter Michael Koenen, who also handles all the kickoff duties, needs to pick it up after only netting 37.4 yards in 2012.

Long-snapper Andrew Economos re-signed, keeping the Bucs’ battery intact. What the team could use is some return yardage. Cowboys free agent Kevin Ogletree has a chance to bring back punts and kickoffs this year.

Final Analysis: 3rd in NFC South
If Revis is Revis again once his knee heals, and he plays the entire season, the Bucs have the main ingredient for an antidote to the Falcons’ and Saints’ passing games. Freeman, as usual, will be the key. Avoid two of the three meltdown games, and the Bucs could sneak into the postseason after a five-year hiatus.

Order your 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaeneers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
Miami (8/16)Cincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
Washington (8/16)Minnesota (8/21)Tampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/new-york-jets-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Six starters fled the Jets in free agency, including their top running back and two safeties. Their best player, one of the great shutdown cornerbacks in football, was traded to Tampa Bay just prior to the draft. Their big free agent signing was a 35-year-old quarterback who retired in May. Owner Woody Johnson fired his general manager right after the 6–10 season but retained Rex Ryan for his final contract year, turning him into a lame-duck coach.

This has all the makings of a rebuilding season at best and a mess of a year at worst.

Despite heading into a win-or-else season with an uncertain quarterback situation, offensive backfield in flux, and an exodus that left the defense in shambles, Ryan doesn’t look at 2013 as a rebuilding season.

“I think (other teams) should be worried about us a lot more than they are,” Ryan says. “We’ll see what kind of team our opponents get to play, and I’m excited about it.”

He might as well be. A winning record seems like a daunting challenge, especially in light of a five-game stretch starting in Week 5 against Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New England, Cincinnati and New Orleans. Even without the Tim Tebow albatross, Ryan has plenty of pressure on him in 2013, not the least of which is his job security under a new GM. The quarterback position is no closer to being solved, and the rest of the offense is just as underwhelming. Meanwhile, the Jets were dealt a psychological blow with the trade of lockdown corner Darrelle Revis to the Buccaneers. This has all the makings for another long year in New York.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 13th

Related: 2013 New York Jets Schedule Analysis

Offense
Ryan’s enthusiasm could turn to despair quickly if keeping Mark Sanchez around backfires. Sanchez, to whom former GM Mike Tannenbaum handed a three-year extension with $20.5 million of guaranteed money prior to last season, took the first snap of minicamp, though second-round draft pick Geno Smith is poised to give him some competition in the summer. The Jets signed veteran David Garrard in March and had planned on giving him a legitimate chance to win the job, but he announced in mid May that he was retiring due to ongoing issues with his knees. So that leaves Sanchez as the likely Week 1 starter, but he may struggle in new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s system. Timing and touch are essential in the West Coast offense, areas in which Sanchez has shown little comfort level the past two years.

Regardless of who starts at quarterback, he won’t have many targets out there. Jeremy Kerley is good, and when healthy, Santonio Holmes is better. But Holmes is returning from season-ending foot surgery and will take a limited workload through training camp. The team did bring back former Jet wide receiver Braylon Edwards and also signed tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. to add to its pass-catching options.

The running back picture became much more interesting when the Jets traded their fourth-round pick to New Orleans for bruising veteran Chris Ivory. He can punish a defense and has a 5.1 yards-per-carry career average. But injuries and his failure to exhibit significant receiving ability out of the backfield could make him miscast in Mornhinweg’s system. The Jets might end up starting free agent pickup Mike Goodson, whose pass-catching ability complements a 4.5-yard career average. Holdover Bilal Powell is also a candidate. He caught 17 passes and rushed for 437 yards and four touchdowns as a backup last year. Whatever they do, the Jets have to improve their 3.8 yards-per-carry average, which ranked 23rd in the league. In the end, Goodson — with his ability to run and catch — may be the best option, but his May 17 arrest on weapons and gun charges have complicated things, to say the least.

The offensive line is also in transition, with underachieving Vladimir Ducasse likely to move into the right guard spot to replace Brandon Moore, who departed in free agency. Willie Colon, a seven-year veteran who started 11 games at left guard for the Steelers last year after missing all but one game the two previous seasons, signed with the Jets in the offseason. He should help improve the blind side.

Defense
After a dramatic trade-him-or-don’t-trade-him decision in the front office, the Jets eventually sent Revis to Tampa Bay for the No. 13 pick in the 2013 draft and a conditional selection in 2014. The Jets then used the ninth overall pick to draft a corner in Alabama’s Dee Milliner. The Jets only partially replaced the other key personnel losses, starting with free agent acquisition of former San Diego linebacker Antwan Barnes, who had 18.5 sacks over the last three seasons. He dropped from 11 sacks in 2011 to just three in an injury-shortened 2012. But he is familiar with Ryan, having played for him in Baltimore in 2007. That’s a plus, since Ryan will return to calling his own defensive plays. And Ryan will need Barnes to boost a pass rush that tied for 25th last year with only 30 sacks. Barnes is also fast enough to cover the tough tight ends found in the AFC East, such as the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and former Jet Dustin Keller in Miami.

Muhammad Wilkerson showed signs of becoming a defensive line stalwart in his second year, compiling five sacks, 70 tackles and three forced fumbles at end. This year, Wilkerson will have to fight through a slew of double-teams unless the Jets somehow find some inexpensive players to replace Sione Po’uha and Mike DeVito. Best case would be for last year’s No. 1 draft pick, Quinton Coples, to take over DeVito’s spot.

Right cornerback Antonio Cromartie stepped up and had a great year once Revis went down with a torn ACL, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it again. But the middle of the secondary is rife with inexperience in Josh Bush and Antonio Allen. At least free agent acquisition Dawan Landry — brother of departed safety LaRon Landry — will provide coverage skills and durability after recording 100 tackles in 16 starts for Jacksonville last year.

Specialists
Kicker Nick Folk was re-signed for his fourth season in green after going 21-of-27 on field goals. His 93 points tied him for 26th in the league. Robert Malone, the league’s 19th-ranked punter, returns after a franchise-record 45.8-yard average on 61 punts (38.5 net).

Joe McKnight likely will handle kickoff returns again after bringing back 39 for a 27.5-yard average (third-best in the league) that included a 100-yard TD against the Texans. The punt return game, handled mostly by Kerley last year, will need more yardage and fewer fair catches.

Final Analysis: 3rd in AFC East
It’s always bad medicine for an owner to change his general manager and keep his head coach. Ryan is entering the final season of his contract with a number of troublesome contracts, unfulfilled Super Bowl expectations and an unresolved quarterback quandary. The head coach may be optimistic, but the team’s roster indicates otherwise.

Order your 2013 New York Jets Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
Miami (8/16)Cincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
Washington (8/16)Minnesota (8/21)Tampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
New York Jets 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-wide-receiving-corps-2013
Body:

USC is limited on scholarships due to NCAA sanctions, but coach Lane Kiffin didn’t take any shortcuts on his receiving corps. The Trojans have the nation’s No. 1 receiver in junior Marqise Lee, while sophomore Nelson Agholor is due for a breakout year. But Alabama isn't too far behind USC, especially with the emergence of Amari Cooper last season.

Ranking the receiving corps in college football is no easy task. Having a clear No. 1 certainly helps to rank high on this list, but overall depth could be more important.

How did we come up with these rankings? A couple of factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2013 all factored into the rankings for the backfield. While some teams may have experienced a down year last season, having a different quarterback or a change of scheme can make a huge difference.

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context. 

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature. 
 
Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.
 
It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 13th annual Athlon Awards. 

Ranking the Top 25 Wide Receiver/Tight End Units for 2013

1. USC
Whether it’s Max Wittek or Cody Kessler, USC’s new starting quarterback has plenty of weapons. Junior Marqise Lee ranked second nationally in receptions per game (9.1) and receiving yards per game (132.4) last season, winning the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s top receiver. Sophomore Nelson Agholor averaged 17.9 yards per catch in 2012 and is due for a breakout year. Victor Blackwell and Darreus Rogers were touted recruits and are ready to step into prominent roles. Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer could form the nation’s top tight end duo.


2. Alabama 
The Crimson Tide receivers may not have huge stats, but it’s hard to find a group that’s deeper than the one in Tuscaloosa. Amari Cooper is the top target for AJ McCarron after catching 59 passes as a true freshman. Kevin Norwood (29 catches in 2012), Christion Jones and Kenny Bell are back as key contributors. But the name to watch this fall is redshirt freshman Chris Black, who missed 2012 due to a shoulder injury. Freshman O.J. Howard could be Alabama’s answer at tight end.

3. Georgia 
With Malcolm Mitchell moving back to receiver on a full-time basis, along with the return of Michael Bennett from a knee injury, quarterback Aaron Murray will have one of the nation’s top receiving corps at his disposal. Chris Conley averaged 17.1 yards per catch last year, and his big-play ability will help ease the loss of Tavarres King. Tight end Arthur Lynch is a rising star after grabbing 24 receptions for 431 yards and three touchdowns in 2012. Jay Rome caught 11 passes as a true freshman and should secure the No. 2 tight end spot.

4. Oklahoma State 
The emergence of Josh Stewart, along with a healthy Tracy Moore (45 receptions in 2011) should propel Oklahoma State’s receiving corps into a spot among the top five nationally. Stewart averaged only 12 yards per catch but had 101 receptions last year. Charlie Moore is back after averaging 15.5 yards per reception in 2012, and hybrid receiver/tight end Blake Jackson could be featured more after catching 30 passes last year. Touted true freshmen Marcell Ateman and Ra’Shaad Samples add to Oklahoma State’s depth in the receiving corps.

5. Florida State 
The Seminoles have three receivers with at least 25 receptions or more returning in 2013, and tight end Nick O’Leary is back after a solid sophomore campaign (21 receptions). Rashad Greene was the go-to target for Florida State last year, catching 57 passes for 741 yards. Kelvin Benjamin caught 30 passes as a redshirt freshman, and at 6'5", has the potential to be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Freshmen Levonte Whitfield, Isaiah Jones and Bobo Wilson won’t start but are too talented to redshirt this year.

6. Clemson
The Tigers will miss DeAndre Hopkins, but there’s not much reason to panic at Clemson. Sammy Watkins had a disappointing year after a standout freshman season, but all signs point to a bounce-back campaign in 2013. Watkins should be the ACC’s top wide receiver and a candidate to earn All-American honors. Replacing Hopkins’ production will likely fall on the shoulders of Charone Peake and Adam Humphries. Peake has shown flashes of promise, while Humphries has 56 receptions in his first two years on campus. Freshmen Germone Hopper and Mike Williams, along with junior Martavis Bryant will be expected to contribute as well. Tight end is a concern, as Sam Cooper suffered a torn ACL in the spring game.


7. Louisville
Helping quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s Heisman campaign is the American Athletic Conference’s best receiving corps. DeVante Parker averaged 18.6 yards per catch last season and has 16 touchdown catches over the last two years. Senior Damian Copeland led the Cardinals with 50 receptions in 2012, while Eli Rogers returns after grabbing 46 catches. This group will be even deeper in 2013, as Louisville is gaining the services of a couple of transfers – tight end Gerald Christian and receiver Robert Clark. Freshman James Quick is expected to play some snaps at receiver and will help on returns.

8. Oklahoma
The Sooners won’t throw as much as they have in recent years due to the departure of quarterback Landry Jones, but there’s plenty of capable targets for new passer Blake Bell. Kenny Stills and Justin Brown are gone after leading Oklahoma in receptions last year. However, Jalen Saunders caught 26 passes over the final three games and is set to emerge as the No. 1 option. Sophomores Trey Metoyer and Sterling Shepard are due for breakout years, while Derrick Woods, Durron Neal and Jaz Reynolds round out the depth chart.


9. Fresno State
The Bulldogs averaged 325.6 passing yards per game last year and could be even tougher to stop in 2013. Davante Adams had a monster freshman season in 2012, recording 102 receptions for 1,312 yards and 14 scores. He is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American for 2013. Adams is joined by senior Isaiah Burse (57 catches), converted quarterback Greg Watson (nine receptions) and dependable tight end Marcel Jensen (20 catches). Josh Harper missed most of last season due to an injury and but is due for a huge season with quarterback Derek Carr leading the way.

10. Washington
Can the Huskies’ offense get back on track this year? Even though Washington has offensive line question marks, quarterback Keith Price returns, and the Huskies have a deep group of receivers. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the nation’s top tight end, but he may miss some time early in the season due to a fractured pinkie. Kasen Williams is the team’s top receiver after catching 77 passes for 878 yards and six scores last year. Sophomore Jaydon Mickens, junior DiAndre Campbell and incoming freshmen Damore’ea Stringfellow and John Ross will round out the receiving corps.


11. Texas
With eight returning starters, the Longhorns are expected to show progress on offense this year. Of course, that all depends on how quarterback David Ash develops this offseason. Senior Mike Davis and junior Jaxon Shipley headline the receiving corps, with both players expected to be in the mix for all-conference honors. Sophomores Kendall Sanders and Daje Johnson are suited for the No. 3 and No. 4 roles, with M.J. McFarland expected to start at tight end.

12. BYU
After finishing 64th nationally in scoring offense last season, coach Bronco Mendenhall decided to overhaul his offensive staff, with Robert Anae returning to Provo to call the plays. Sophomore Taysom Hill is a promising quarterback, and he will be throwing to a deep group of receivers in 2013. Senior Cody Hoffman is in the mix for All-American honors after catching 100 passes for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Junior Ross Apo and seniors Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev will round out the key contributors at receiver. Tight end Kaneakua Friel was a steady option last year, catching 30 passes for 308 yards and five touchdowns.


13. Miami
Thanks to the emergence of quarterback Stephen Morris and a solid offensive line, the Hurricanes averaged 35.4 points a game in ACC play last season. Miami should be strong on offense once again in 2013, as eight starters are back and the receiving corps is stocked with weapons for Morris. Junior Phillip Dorsett should be the No. 1 target after catching 58 passes last year. Senior Allen Hurns and junior Rashawn Scott combined for 63 receptions in 2012, while sophomore Herb Waters averaged 22.7 yards per catch last year. True freshman Stacy Coley will also factor into the rotation. Tight end should be set with Clive Walford and Beau Sandland battling for time.

14. Vanderbilt
The Commodores aren’t particularly flush with depth at receiver, but it’s hard to find a better one-two combination in the SEC. Jordan Matthews turned down a chance to enter the NFL for one more year at Vanderbilt. The senior enters 2013 with 150 career receptions, 2,282 yards and 17 touchdowns. Matthews led all SEC receivers with 94 catches in 2012. Chris Boyd is back after catching 50 passes for 774 yards and five scores last year. And Jonathan Krause is slated to fill the No. 3 role after recording nine receptions in 2012. Freshmen Jordan Cunningham and Carlos Burse will provide depth. The Commodores have question marks at tight end.


15. Oregon
The Ducks have an underrated group of receivers, and with running back Kenjon Barner out of eligibility, new coach Mark Helfrich is expected to lean more on the pass in 2013. Josh Huff caught 32 passes for 493 yards and seven scores last season and is expected to remain the go-to target for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Tight end Colt Lyerla is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, while junior Keanon Lowe, senior Daryle Hawkins and sophomore B.J. Kelley provide depth. Sophomore Bralon Addison is due for a breakout year.

16. LSU
With quarterback Zach Mettenberger under center, and Cam Cameron calling the plays, LSU coach Les Miles expects improvement from his offense. There's no shortage of skill players, as the Tigers return four receivers with at least 18 catches last year. Jarvis Landry led the team with 56 receptions in 2012, but Odell Beckham was the unit’s top playmaker, averaging 16.6 yards per catch. Seniors Kadron Boone and James Wright combined for 44 catches in 2012 and will anchor the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the receiving corps. However, redshirt freshman Travin Dural and junior college recruit Quantavius Leslie will push for snaps. LSU could feature the tight end more under Cameron, and junior college recruit Logan Stokes could step into the starting role over sophomore Dillon Gordon.


17. Ole Miss
Feed Moncrief became the mantra for the Ole Miss offense last season, which showed marked improvement from the 2011 squad. Sophomore Donte Moncrief emerged as one of the SEC’s top receivers last year, nabbing 66 receptions for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns. Junior Vince Sanders and senior Ja-Mes Logan combined for 82 receptions last season and will flank Moncrief as the No. 2 and No. 3 options. Sanders will be slowed early in the year due to a collarbone injury suffered in fall practice. The receiving corps got deeper over the offseason, as freshman Laquon Treadwell could earn some playing time this fall too. Treadwell ranked as the No. 1 receiver in the nation by Rivals.com in the 2013 signing class.

18. Texas Tech
Darrin Moore is gone, but the Red Raiders return Eric Ward (82 receptions in 2012) and tight end Jace Amaro (25 catches in seven games). Ward could be even more dangerous under the watchful eye of coach Kliff Kingsbury, while Amaro is clearly the league’s best tight end. Sophomore Jakeem Grant is only 5-foot-6, but the sophomore has outstanding speed. Junior Bradley Marquez is back after missing most of last season with an injury.


19. Indiana
After leading the Big Ten in passing offense in 2012, the pieces are in place for the Hoosiers to be even better in 2013. Quarterback Tre Roberson is back from injury, and the receiving corps returns two potential All-Big Ten selections in Shane Wynn and Cody Latimer. Latimer averaged 15.8 yards per reception last year, and Wynn led the team with 68 catches. Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson are also back after each caught more than 20 passes in 2012. Tight end Ted Bolser is an Athlon Sports third-team All-Big Ten selection for 2013.

20. Nebraska
The Cornhuskers return their top three wide receivers from last year, including second-team All-Big Ten selection Kenny Bell. He caught 50 passes for 863 yards and eight scores, while averaging 17.3 yards per reception. Quincy Enunwa is a physical 6-foot-2 option for quarterback Taylor Martinez, and junior Jamal Turner is always a threat to score with the ball in his hands. There’s not much in the way of proven depth at receiver behind Bell, Enunwa and Turner, so there’s a lot of pressure on freshmen Jordan Westerkamp and Alonzo Moore to step up this fall. The Cornhuskers are starting over at tight end with the departure of Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton.


21. Texas A&M
Mike Evans headlines Texas A&M’s receiving corps after grabbing 82 receptions for 1,105 yards and five scores in 2012. Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu are gone, but juniors LeKendrick Williams and Malcome Kennedy, along with senior Derel Walker are experienced and capable targets. Talented freshmen Ricky Seals-Jones, Sebastian Larue and LaQuvionte Gonzalez will factor into the rotation early in the year and could push for a starting job by September.

22. Baylor
Terrance Williams is gone, but Baylor still has plenty of weapons for new quarterback Bryce Petty. Speedster Tevin Reese is the team’s top returning receiver (53 receptions) and averaged 18.1 yards per catch last season. Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood are proven options, and youngsters Jay Lee, Robbie Rhodes and Corey Coleman will be a factor. Tight end Jordan Najvar is a steady option over the middle for Petty.


23. TCU
With Casey Pachall back at quarterback, TCU should be able to stretch the field more in 2013. Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson are gone at receiver, but Brandon Carter is a potential All-Big 12 player after averaging 16.4 yards per reception on 36 catches last season. LaDarius Brown and Cam White combined for 48 receptions and return for an even bigger role in the offense 2013. Transfers Ja’Juan Story (Florida) and Josh Doctson (Wyoming) are names to watch this year.

 

24. Ohio State
The Buckeyes need a few more playmakers to emerge, but the receiving corps has made considerable progress over the last two years. Senior Corey Brown led the team with 60 catches for 669 yards and three scores last year. Junior Devin Smith was the unit’s top playmaker, averaging 20.6 yards per catch and turning six of his 30 receptions into scores. Junior Evan Spencer and sophomore Michael Thomas began fall practice with an edge for the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the receiving corps, but freshmen Dontre Wilson - a potentially dangerous all-purpose threat - and Jalin Marshall will push for time. Jordan Hall played in only seven contests last year due to injury, but he is expected to play in a similar role to that of Percy Harvin under Urban Meyer at Florida and could see time at running back with Carlos Hyde suspended for the first three games.


25. Penn State
The Nittany Lions were thin on proven receivers going into last year, but this unit emerged as a strength under the watchful eye of head coach Bill O’Brien and receivers coach Stan Hixon. Allen Robinson was the only Big Ten receiver to record over 1,000 receiving yards, and he led the conference with 77 receptions through 12 games. Senior Brandon Moseby-Felder, junior Alex Kenney and redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis are expected to flank Robinson as key targets at receiver for Penn State’s quarterback. The Nittany Lions have a deep group of tight ends at their disposal, including returning first-team All-Big Ten selection Kyle Carter, along with true freshman Adam Breneman — the No. 44 recruit in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100. Carter is the headliner, but sophomore Jesse James (15 receptions) and senior Matt Lehman (24 catches) shouldn’t be overlooked.

Related College Football Content

College Football Bowl Projections for 2013
Top 10 Darkhorses to Win the National Title
College Football's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2013
College Football's All-Name Team for 2013
SEC Breakout Players for 2013
College Football's Top 10 Underrated Quarterbacks

 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/accs-impact-freshmen-watch-2013
Body:

The ACC gets knocked for its poor BCS bowl record (3-13) and for not being able to compete with the SEC on a regular basis. While this is true, John Swofford has this league heading in the right direction with team stability and plenty of room for growth.

One thing the ACC has done extremely well of late, however, is produce elite impact freshmen. Russell Wilson, Ryan Williams, Sammy Watkins and Duke Johnson are four of the last five ACC Offensive Rookies of the Year. Luke Kuechly, Xavier Rhodes, Merrill Noel and Ronald Darby are the last four ACC Defensive Rookies of the Year. Toss in other first-year stars like Stefon Diggs and Giovani Bernard from the last two seasons and the league has loads of elite young talent to lean on.

The 2013 season will be no different as a host of big-time playmakers enter the fray with sky-high expectations. And many of these youngsters will play pivotal rolls on championship-caliber teams.

Potential Stars:

Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The last name should say it all. As the fourth Fuller brother to play at Virginia Tech, Kendall has five-star expectations to match his five-star talent. He is earning his way into the starting lineup in place of the injured Antone Exum. He has elite speed, quickness and football IQ and it could mean a huge first season in Blacksburg for what could be the best of the four Fuller brothers.

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Few first-year players will enter play with as much hype and expectations as the Seminoles' starting quarterback. He has been given the reins to Jimbo Fisher’s offense with eyes on a second straight ACC title. He has a huge arm, big-time intangibles, great size and has already played on a big postseason stage for the Florida State baseball team. The 'Noles will go as far as Winston can take them.

Taquan Mizzell, RB, Virginia
The speedy tailback should provide a much-needed spark to the Cavaliers' ground attack. Kevin Parks is an undersized, underrated running back but “Smoke” Mizzell should complement him perfectly. The freshman can score from anywhere on the field and makes defenders look silly in the open field. Look for 100-120 touches for the star first-year back.

Stacy Coley, WR, Miami
The second-fastest player on the team already, Coley has a chance to make a big impact in his first year. With a stable quarterback situation, the handsy wideout appears to be the most talented pass-catcher on the roster already. There will be growing pains, but the up-tempo offense could mean big numbers for the speedy freshman.

Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
He has dealt with a nagging groin issue this camp, but Alexander’s overall talent and a need in the secondary should force the freshman cornerback into action early. Any missed time will hurt the ever-important first month of practice for a first-year player but Mac’s raw upside and cover skills should get him on the field plenty this fall.

Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson
Through graduation and injury, Leggett appears poised to snag the starting tight end role in one of the nation’s elite offenses. Dwayne Allen was a Mackey Award winner for this team two years ago, and while no one should compare Leggett to Allen just yet, the system has clearly proven to be TE-friendly. Look for big things from the 6-foot-6, 240-pound frosh. Leggett was injured in practice on Wednesday and is expected to miss a couple of weeks.

Jonathan McLaughlin, OL, Virginia Tech
He wasn’t a five-star prospect like some other names on this list, but McLaughlin should have a similar impact. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder should be the starter at left tackle protecting Logan Thomas in what is a critical year for all parties involved with Hokies football.

Alex Figueroa, LB, Miami
A Fork Union Military Academy product, Figueroa burst onto the scene in spring ball, earning himself a starting spot at outside linebacker. He has excellent athletic ability, toughness and rarely misreads a play. This defense was atrocious last year and Figueroa should be a big part of why it should be better in 2013.

Tyler Boyd, WR, Pitt
The big-play, in-state wide receiver prospect is being counted on by Pitt faithful to fill a major void opposite No. 1 wideout Devin Street. Boyd is competing for starting time but will undoubtedly see the field early and often for Paul Chryst’s high-powered scheme.

Caleb Peterson, OL, North Carolina
It is no easy job to replace an All-American and top-10 NFL Draft pick but that is what Peterson is going to try to do for the Tar Heels. A highly-touted prospect from Alabama, he is slotted into the starting lineup at guard. He will need to prove his understanding of Larry Fedora's complex system to stick.

Related: The Top 15 ACC Heisman Trophy Candidates

Early Contributors:

Johnell Barnes, WR, Duke
David Cutcliffe has praised his young wide receiver in fall camp.

Adam Bisnowaty, OL, Pitt
Not as highly-touted as Dorian Johnson but is no slouch in his own right.

Artie Burns, CB, Miami
Speedy coverman needs to step in and contribute immediately for a secondary that needs big improvements.

Joel Caleb, RB/WR, Virginia Tech
Do-everyting playmaker could bolster both the passing and running game in Blacksburg.

Chris Casher, DE, Florida State
Elite prospect is finally looking to crack the lineup on a team with ACC title hopes.

Bra’Lon Cherry, WR, NC State
Early enrollee has a leg up on fellow young pass-catchers in Dave Doeren's fast-paced offense.

Tyshon Dye, RB, Clemson
The Tigers need to find ball carriers for Chad Morris’ offense and Dye should get some looks.

Trey Edmunds, RB, Virginia Tech
Will battle with J.C. Coleman for starting carries in an offense that must improve in 2013.

Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech
Is competing with Fuller for starting time in Exum’s absence. Will play plenty either way.

Khris Francis, RB, North Carolina
Early enrollee made a quick name for himself this spring/summer in the race to replace Gio Bernard.

Mark Hall, LB, Virginia
Redshirt 250-pound linebacker could bring toughness to the middle of the Wahoos’ defense.

Dorian Johnson, OL, Pitt
Elite, five-star prospect comes to campus with sky-high expectations.

T.J. Logan, RB, North Carolina
Bernard is gone and finding a suitable replacement is atop Fedora’s to-do list.

Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE, Miami
Big-time prospect from the Northeast brings a great motor and toughness to terrible defense.

Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
Elite athlete could play all over the secondary for a team stacked with defensive talent.

Gabe Roberts, C, Pitt
Yet another first-year Panthers lineman who could see important snaps.

Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State
A hesitant marriage between player and school could result in a huge freshman season for playmaking backer.

Related: Complete 2013 ACC Football Predictions

Key Reserves:
Ben Boulware, LB, Clemson
Everett Edwards, CB, Duke
Brisly Estime, HB, Syracuse
Holland Fisher, LB, Virginia Tech
Dominique Gibson, Joshua Wilhite, Dezmond Wortham, RB, Wake Forest
Jay Guillermo, OL, Clemson
Tim Harris, CB, Virginia
Jonathan Howard, WR, North Carolina
Abner Logan, LB, Maryland
Josh Manley, DE, Syracuse
C.J. Moore, CB, Virginia
Yannick Ngakoue, LB, Maryland
Josh Stanford, WR, Virginia Tech
Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
Demarcus Walker, DE, Florida State
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Myles Willis and Tyler Brouse, RB, Boston College

Related: Athlon Sports' 2013 ACC All-Conference Teams

Special Teams:
Harrison Butker, K, Georgia Tech
Roberto Aguayo, K, Florida State
Chris Blewitt, K, Pitt

Related College Football Content

Bowl Projections for 2013
12 Steps to Fix ACC Football
ACC Breakout Players for 2013
Virginia Tech Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Florida State Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Clemson Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013

ACC Predictions for 2013
ACC All-Conference Team for 2013

Teaser:
ACC's Impact Freshmen To Watch in 2013
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/texas-football-game-game-predictions-2013
Body:

Texas is one of college football’s most intriguing teams to watch in 2013. The Longhorns have not won double-digit games since 2009, and there’s no question the program has slipped over the last few years.

However, with a wide-open Big 12 title picture, Texas could rebound with a conference title in 2013. The Longhorns have the Big 12’s most-talented roster and return 17 starters.

Quarterback David Ash still has a lot to prove, but coordinator Major Applewhite has one of the nation’s deepest backfields at his disposal, along with two standout receivers in Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis.

The biggest question mark for Texas is a defense that allowed 404.2 yards per game last season and ranked eighth in the Big 12 against the run. The return of end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Jordan Hicks should help the Longhorns show some improvement on that side of the ball. However, safety Kenny Vaccaro and end Alex Okafor will be missed.

What will Texas' record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates: 

Texas' 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions

GameSteven
Lassan
Braden
Gall
David
Fox
Mark
Ross
Dave
Bartoo
8/31 New Mexico State
9/7 at BYU
9/14 Ole Miss
9/21 Kansas State
10/3 at Iowa State
10/12 Oklahoma (Dallas)
10/26 at TCU
11/2 Kansas
11/9 at West Virginia
11/16 Oklahoma State
11/28 Texas Tech
12/7 at Baylor
Final Projection9-310-29-39-39-3

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Since finishing with a 5-7 record in 2010, the Longhorns have rebounded to some extent with a 17-9 mark over the last two years. Of course, this is Texas and the expectation is to contend for a Big 12 title every season. Even though progress has been made, coach Mack Brown is on the hot seat, and 2013 could be a make-or-break season. The good news for Brown? The Longhorns have enough talent on both sides of the ball to win the Big 12 title. The offense has a deep stable of running backs and a solid line to lean on, and quarterback David Ash showed some progress last season. The defense was a major disappointment in 2012, but the return of linebacker Jordan Hicks and end Jackson Jeffcoat should help. The schedule sets up favorably for a run at the league title for Texas. There’s the annual matchup with Oklahoma in Dallas and road trips to TCU and Baylor, but Oklahoma State and Kansas State must travel to Austin. Although the Longhorns have the most talented roster in the Big 12, I think they fall short of winning the conference title. It’s a wide-open year in the Big 12, so nothing would come as a surprise. But the quarterback uncertainty and blowout losses to Oklahoma in back-to-back years shows this team still has a ways to go. 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is the most talented team in the league and it may not be close. The question still remains in Austin about the level of development this roster is getting from its coaching staff. The schedule isn't easy but important games with non-conference foe Ole Miss, Achilles' Heel Kansas State, Big 12 front-runner Oklahoma State will come on the 40 Acres. Watch out for upset alerts in Provo and Ames, however, as this team is prone to upsets. Should the historically bad defense improve (which it should) and David Ash continues his development (which he should), then Texas should win the league and play in the Fiesta Bowl at season's end — although, it won't be the national title conversation like some believe.

Mark Ross
Everything is bigger in Texas, including expectations for the Lone Star State's marquee college football team. Mack Brown's Longhorns have been mediocre over the last three seasons, going 22-16 overall and just 11-15 in Big 12 games. This year's team is one of the most experienced in the conference, so it's time to either put up or take a long, hard look at the state of the program.

The offense must get more production from its quarterback, who will have weapons at his disposal in both the backfield and on the outside. The defense has only way to go, up, following last year's record-setting breakdown (most yards allowed in school history), and it should be a different unit with several key players coming back from injury. The schedule isn't easy with non-conference tilts at BYU and against Ole Miss setting the stage for Big 12 action, but there's no reason for this Texas team to finish no worse than third in the conference. While a third-place showing may not exactly be a typical Texas-sized goal for the season, Longhorns fans know that it has been anything but business as usual on the gridiron in recent years.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Texas is tough team to project. The talent is there for a 10-win season or a Big 12 title, but this group has underachieved. Having Jordan Hicks back on defense and one of the few experienced quarterbacks will work in Texas’ favor. The Longhorns should benefit from teams in the Big 12 being down a bit — Kansas State, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Iowa State won’t be as good as we’ve seen in recent years. While Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will challenge for the league title, neither appear to be as good as they were two years ago. That’s a window Texas must climb through. I’ve picked the Longhorns to have mixed success with losses against Oklahoma and Baylor in the league. The BYU game is a bit of a leap on my part, but I like the Cougars’ defense and home-field advantage against Texas.
 

Related College Football Content

Big 12 Predictions for 2013
Bowl Projections for 2013
Big 12's Impact Freshmen for 2013
Key Schedule Stretches in the Big 12 for 2013
College Football's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2013
Big 12 Coaches Anonymously Talk About Conference Foes for 2013
Oklahoma Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Oklahoma State Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Kliff Kingsbury Returns Home to Texas Tech
Big 12's Top Heisman Contenders for 2013

Teaser:
Texas Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/critical-games-2013-key-stretches-sec
Body:

A handful of SEC teams know all too well how much the schedule plays a role in the success or failure of a season. Even before the SEC expanded to 14 teams, the draw between East and West divisions played an outsized role in determining the league title.

In a league where the talent base runs deeper and the pressure on coaches is higher, who a team plays and when can change the course of the season.

At the top of the league, Alabama benefits from an advantageous schedule in 2013, perhaps making up for 2010 when the Tide played a handful of opponents off bye weeks. In the East, Georgia finally gets the tougher schedule draw compared to South Carolina. And for the lower tier, the SEC schedule can be too brutal to generate momentum.

In our series looking at the critical stretches for major-conference teams, we examine the games in the SEC that will determine division titles, bowl games or simply a successful season. We’ve already examined the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten.

*presented in Athlon’s SEC projected order of finish

SEC EAST

Georgia

Aug. 31 at Clemson
Sept. 7 South Carolina

Conventional wisdom says we’ll know a lot about Georgia’s season after the first two weeks, but the last time Georgia started 0-2, the Bulldogs won 10 in a row to win the East in 2011. Meanwhile, South Carolina won the last two matchups and Georgia won the East anyway thanks to some fortunate scheduling. Still, if Georgia wins both games, the Bulldogs will be BCS title contenders. Lose both, and Georgia’s out of the discussion.

Related: Georgia game-by-game picks

South Carolina
Aug. 29 North Carolina
Sept. 7 at Georgia
Sept. 14 Vanderbilt

For whatever reason, South Carolina hasn’t been as sharp early in the season in recent years as its been late. Steve Spurrier has the upper hand against Georgia (three in a row) and Vanderbilt (four in a row), but they haven’t always been easy. The Gamecocks finally got a gift from the schedule-makers by avoiding Alabama and LSU, but they won’t be able to ease into the season. Perhaps a good reason for some gamesmanship on the part of Spurrier earlier this week?

Related: South Carolina game-by-game picks

Florida
Oct. 12 at LSU
Oct. 19 at Missouri
Nov. 2 Georgia (Jacksonville)
Nov. 9 Vanderbilt
Nov. 16 at South Carolina

Florida’s toughest stretch of opponents includes only one game in Gainesville, and it’s worth noting Vanderbilt lost by only five points its last trip to the Swamp. Road trips to South Carolina and LSU, teams that allowed the third- and fourth-fewest yards per carry in the SEC, will be barriers to an SEC East title. But it’s worth keeping an eye on Missouri. Florida’s trip to Columbia, Mo., will be a rare 1,000-mile road trip for the Gators (only Arkansas is a further destination from Gainesville).

Related: Florida game-by-game picks

Vanderbilt
Oct. 19 Georgia
Oct. 26 at Texas A&M
Nov. 9 at Florida

OK, Vanderbilt, you have our attention. Win one of these games, and you’ll be impossible to ignore. The Commodores’ defense will have their hands full against Georgia’s run-pass balance, A&M’s spread and Florida’s power run game.

Tennessee
Nov. 2 Missouri
Nov. 9 Auburn
Nov. 23 Vanderbilt
Nov. 30 at Kentucky

The Volunteers face Oregon, Florida and Alabama on the road before November, plus South Carolina and Georgia in Neyland. The final month of the season, however, is when Butch Jones should have a chance to show real progress, especially against a run of four teams that aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts.

Related: Tennessee game-by-game picks

Missouri
Sept. 7 Toledo
Sept. 21 at Indiana
Sept. 28 Arkansas State
Oct. 5 at Vanderbilt

The Tigers aren’t about to compete for the SEC, but the early segment of the season against a MAC contender, a Big Ten upstart, the defending Sun Belt champions and Vanderbilt will be a key gauge of what a healthy Tigers team can do. Missouri is still settling a quarterback competition, so all eyes will be on James Franklin or Maty Mauk to hold onto the job.

Related: Missouri game-by-game picks

Kentucky
Aug. 31 Western Kentucky (Nashville)
Sept. 7 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 14 Louisville

Beat Bobby Petrino and Western Kentucky, take care of Miami U and put a scare into Louisville, and everyone should be happy in Lexington.

Related: Kentucky game-by-game picks

SEC WEST

Alabama

Aug. 31 Virginia Tech (Atlanta)
Sept. 14 at Texas A&M

What could we say about a critical stretch to determine Alabama’s schedule? Perhaps we should just say the SEC Championship Game and the BCS Championship Game instead of anything during the regular season. Alabama has an off week before its top two opponents (Texas A&M and LSU) and gets them nearly two months apart. The Crimson Tide draw Kentucky and Tennessee from the East. And the best individual player Alabama will see all season, Johnny Manziel, may be ineligible in Week 3. For Alabama, these schedule breaks just aren’t fair for the rest of the SEC.

Texas A&M
Nov. 9 Mississippi State
Nov. 23 at LSU
Nov. 30 at Missouri

The Alabama matchup on Sept. 14 is the game of the year, but Johnny Manziel’s eligibility remains a question. Instead, let’s skip to the end of the season when the Aggies would have to face two more standout defensive lines (Mississippi State, LSU) in back-to-back weeks to end the season. No one is expecting much out of Mizzou, but strange things have happened to title contenders on the road in the final week of the regular season.

Related: Texas A&M game-by-game picks

LSU
Sept. 28 at Georgia
Oct. 5 Mississippi State
Oct. 12 Florida
Oct. 19 at Ole Miss

LSU’s games against Alabama and Texas A&M in November may be more important, but they won’t mean much if LSU struggles to get out of this four-game stretch. The LSU offense has its questions, but the new-look defense will get a workout in a contrast of styles against Georgia’s balanced attack, Mississippi State’s veteran backfield, Florida’s grinding run game and Ole Miss’ spread. So if you’re keeping track: That’s four returning starters at quarterback and three road games before the Tigers even get to AJ McCarron and (maybe) Johnny Manziel.

Related: LSU game-by-game picks

Ole Miss
Aug. 29 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 7 Southeast Missouri State
Sept. 14 at Texas
Sept. 28 at Alabama
Oct. 5 at Auburn

No doubt, the start of Ole Miss’ schedule is brutal (the Rebels also catch Texas A&M and LSU in back-to-back weeks in mid-October). But out of this five-game stretch to start the season, Ole Miss wouldn’t shock anyone if it defeated Vanderbilt, Texas or Auburn. With a healthy Bo Wallace and shaky depth early in the year, maybe Ole Miss is lucky to catch these games earlier on the season.

Related: Ole Miss game-by-game picks

Mississippi State
Nov. 2 at South Carolina
Nov. 9 at Texas A&M
Nov. 16 Alabama

Mississippi State proved it wasn’t quite ready to compete with the SEC’s best last season, losing to Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU by a combined score of 103-37 in a three-week span. Here’s another crack at the national elite in November.

Auburn
Aug. 31 Washington State
Sept. 7 Arkansas State
Sept. 14 Mississippi State

Close calls at home with West Coast teams (Utah State) and Sun Belt teams (ULM) forced Gene Chizik out of town. Gus Malzahn opens with Washington State's Mike Leach and then his former employer in the first two weeks of the season. But the biggest statement may have to wait for Mississippi State: Auburn hasn’t scored in an SEC game since Oct. 27 in the third quarter against Texas A&M.

Related: Auburn game-by-game picks

Arkansas
Nov. 2 Auburn
Nov. 9 at Ole Miss
Nov. 23 Mississippi State

Arkansas draws three Athlon top-15 teams (Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama) during one stretch this season. That’s a potential four-game losing streak or more heading into November (the Hogs go to Rutgers on Sept. 21). If Arkansas is going to salvage something in Bret Bielema’s first season, the Hogs will have to do it against the second-tier of the SEC West in November.

Related: Arkansas game-by-game picks

Teaser:
Which three- and four-game stretches will determine the SEC title?
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-link-roundup-august-14
Body:

One day closer to the start of the season.

Contact us on twitter with a link or a tip we should include each day. (@AthlonSteven)

College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Wednesday, August 14th

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is ready to open up the offense in 2013.

Saturday Down South takes a look at seven captivating BCS Championship possibilities. And how far do SEC fans have to travel to games in 2013? 

Mr. SEC takes a look at the recruiting base for the 14 teams in the SEC.

Alabama is dealing with an injury to receiver Amari Cooper and a suspension to linebacker Trey DePriest.

Brandon Mitchell appears to be pulling away in the race to win NC State's quarterback battle.

Bruce Feldman talks to David Ridpath - an expert on NCAA compliance issues - about Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel.

Pittsburgh has named Tom Savage as its starting quarterback for the season opener against Florida State.

Some good insight into Northwestern from the guys at the Big Ten Network.

Arizona has landed Texas transfer Cayleb Jones.

A South Florida receiver has decided to leave the team.

Western Kentucky and Vanderbilt have agreed to a three-game series.

Oregon running back Thomas Tyner was injured in practice on Tuesday. 

Penn State's tight ends are game changers for coach Bill O'Brien.

Examining Iowa's defensive line for 2013. Can the Hawkeyes improve in the trenches this year?

Miami defensive lineman Jalen Grimble has decided to leave the team.

Speaking of defensive lines, Penn State is searching for more depth in the trenches this fall.

Rutgers' running back stable appears to be building depth this fall.

Bucky's 5th Quarter found this awesome picture of Bret Bielema.

Teaser:
College Football's Link Roundup: August 14
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 15:59
Path: /college-football/washingtons-austin-seferian-jenkins-breaks-pinkie-out-indefinitely
Body:

The Washington-Boise State non-conference game in Week 1 is one of the most-anticipated games of the 2013 college football season. Unfortunately, the Huskies could be shorthanded for that contest.

Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins suffered a fracture in his right pinkie in practice on Monday. The junior will have to have surgery and his status for Week 1 is uncertain.

Not having Seferian-Jenkins in the lineup would be a huge setback for Washington’s offense. The Huskies still have quarterback Keith Price, running back Bishop Sankey and receiver Kasen Williams, but Seferian-Jenkins is the nation’s top tight end and would be a difficult matchup for Boise State’s defense. In the Las Vegas Bowl against the Broncos last year, Seferian-Jenkins caught six passes for 61 yards and one touchdown.

The season opener for Washington is a huge contest, especially since it will feature the rebuilt Husky Stadium and should give some insight into just how far this program has progressed under coach Steve Sarkisian. Needless to say, beating Boise State and getting off to a good start would relieve some of the pressure on this coaching staff.

 

Teaser:
Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins Breaks Pinkie; Out Indefinitely
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 14:58
Path: /college-football/usfs-willie-taggart-wants-everyone-get-bus
Body:

South Florida made one of the offseason’s top coaching moves, hiring Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart to replace Skip Holtz.

The Bulls’ first-year coach already had an interesting offseason, showing up to practice in a mechanic shirt to promote a blue-collar approach. But things got even better this week.

Check out this video of Taggart driving South Florida’s bus – with a few cameos by Jon Gruden, Dick Vitale and Joe Maddon.

Teaser:
USF's Willie Taggart Wants Everyone to Get on the Bus
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 11:31
Path: /nfl/buffalo-bills-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Doug Marrone, the former Syracuse head coach, is off to a banner start with the Buffalo Bills. Channeling some of that college spirit, Marrone ordered up two 20-feet-tall banners picturing the Vince Lombardi Trophy to hang behind the goal posts of the team’s field house.

For a team stuck in a perpetual rebuilding phase (13 seasons missing the playoffs) and working on its sixth coach since 2000, that’s probably as close as the Bills are going to come to the Super Bowl for awhile. But players appreciate Marrone’s attempt at an attitude adjustment.

“If you are not shooting for the Super Bowl, what are you shooting for?” center Eric Wood says. “That is a good message to have around.”

No doubt. Several regulars have been jettisoned from Chan Gailey’s roster that eked out six wins in the rugged AFC East, and a full-blown overhaul is underway. The offense must identify a starting quarterback, and the defense is starting from square one. The Bills simply remain years away from being relevant.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 14th

Related: 2013 Buffalo Bills Schedule Analysis

Offense
After turning the page on Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills made Florida State’s EJ Manuel the only quarterback taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. Taking Manuel at No. 16 — many critics said it was too high — anoints him as the team’s starting quarterback of the future. The only question is: When will that future be?

Marrone intended to hold an open competition in training camp between Manuel and veteran Kevin Kolb, who signed as a free agent after his release by Arizona. At 6'4", 237 with 4.55 speed, Manuel has eye-popping physical gifts that new coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, known for his creativity out of a West Coast philosophy, can’t wait to incorporate. Unfortunately, the rookie injured his knee in the second preseason game and had to undergo a surgical procedure on it. While the team considers this just a minor setback, Manuel will miss the remainder of the preseason, which all but guarantees that Kolb will at least begin the season as the starting quarterback.

Whether it's Kolb or Manuel under center, they will have at their disposal a supporting cast that features several game-breaking players. But there are also major holes to fill at left guard and tight end.

Fourth-year running back C.J. Spiller is coming off a breakout season in which he gained 1,244 yards on just 207 carries (6.0 average). Veteran Fred Jackson, 32, can punish defenses with his hard, downhill style, but injuries have taken a toll.

Wide receiver Stevie Johnson topped 1,000 yards receiving for a team-record third consecutive season. After ranking 25th in passing, Buffalo made upgrading speed and depth at receiver a major goal. Second-round pick Robert Woods (USC) and third-round pick Marquise Goodwin (Texas), an Olympic long jumper, join second-year deep threat T. J. Graham as players with a golden opportunity to make an impact.

Buffalo boasts a strong offensive line led by Wood at center, guard Kraig Urbik and tackles Cordy Glenn and Erik Pears. But the team must find a replacement for left guard Andy Levitre, who signed a lucrative deal with Tennessee as a free agent. The tight end position is in a state of flux with Scott Chandler coming off ACL surgery.

Defense
After fielding three of the franchise’s five worst defenses in terms of yards and points allowed (what else really matters?) under Gailey, the Bills had no choice but to turn the page on a long list of veteran players. Departing via retirement or outright release were Nick Barnett, Shawne Merriman, Terrence McGee, George Wilson and Chris Kelsay.

Newcomers include linebacker Manny Lawson (free agent, Cincinnati), defensive tackle Alan Branch (free agent, Seattle) and three rookie draft picks — linebacker Kiko Alonso and safeties Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks.

The Bills allowed 362.9 total yards per game (22nd in the league) and were especially bad against the run (145.8 ypg, 31st). Taking control is coordinator Mike Pettine, the architect of several strong defenses for the rival New York Jets. While Pettine uses a base 3-4, his schemes are varied — he’ll use up to seven defensive backs, and he’s not afraid to blitz frequently.

Buffalo’s front seven shouldn’t be the pushover it was a year ago. Defensive end Mario Williams, last year’s prized free agent who signed the richest NFL deal ever for a defensive player, finished with 10.5 very quiet sacks. He figures to be turned loose by Pettine, who will look to Pro Bowl tackle Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Branch to stop the run. Dareus had a down year dealing with the death of his brother but should be more mentally focused.

The Bills need more production from their linebackers, who accounted for just five of the team’s 36 sacks. Outside backers Lawson, Nigel Bradham, Arthur Moats and Jerry Hughes, a former first-round pick acquired in a trade with the Colts, will be counted on to create havoc. Alonso could start in the middle as a rookie.

The secondary is led by Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd and cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, who is coming off a strong rookie season, and Leodis McKelvin. Byrd, who tied for the AFC lead with five interceptions, was designated the club’s franchise player, and the team is hoping to get a long-term deal done. The strong safety spot is wide open with converted corner Aaron Williams, Da’Norris Searcy and Duke Williams in the mix.

Specialists
Placekicker Rian Lindell had his sights set this season on becoming the Bills’ all-time career scoring leader, as he needed just 32 points to pass Stevie Christie (1,011). Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that will happen, as the Bills cut the 13-year veteran during training camp. Lindell's release means the kicking job belongs to sixth-round pick Dustin Hopkins, who became the NCAA’s career points leader during his career at Florida State. Last year, Shawn Powell replaced all-time Bills punter Brian Moorman and established a team record for punting average by a rookie at 44.0 per attempt. McKelvin and Brad Smith are the top return specialists. McKelvin, who was retained for a four-year, $20-million deal, led the NFL in punt return average at 18.7 yards with two returns for scores.

Final Analysis: 4th in AFC East
After 13 seasons without playing in the postseason, it’s hard for even the most fervent fan to be optimistic that another coaching change will mean anything. Marrone does represent a fresh face and the promise of young ideas. The addition of Manuel as a potential franchise quarterback does make the team more interesting to follow. Pettine, a well-respected coordinator, will make the defense better. But in a rugged AFC East dominated by New England and with a schedule much more difficult than in 2012, it will take more than one offseason to undo all the mistakes of the last decade in Buffalo.

Order your 2013 Buffalo Bills Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
Miami (8/16)Cincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland
NY Jets (8/15)Pittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
Washington (8/16)Minnesota (8/21)Tampa Bay (8/15)Seattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Buffalo Bills 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-august-14-2013
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Aug. 14.

 

• Leading off today: The 2014 Hot Shots calendar will feature girls in bikinis with guns. We endorse the concept.

 

Jason Dufner re-invents Dufnering while photobombing a woman. This guy's awesomeness is never-ending. Here he is snuggling with his trophy. Of course, if you've seen his wife, you know that he snuggles with a trophy every night.

 

Herbstreit pulls no punches in assessing the Manziel autograph situation. You won't like Herbie when he's angry.

 

If James Franklin pulls this off, he's created a Vandy fan for life.

 

Multi-pass pool dunk Vines are the new Harlem Shake. They're also extremely re-watchable.

 

The SEC's top 10 quarterbacks of the BCS era.

 

Gio Gonzalez and Jayson Werth had an airing of grievances in the dugout. Manager Davy Johnson called it "camaraderie."

 

Donovan McNabb says the Redskins have "brainwashed" RG3.

 

• Get this man some Fixodent: Here's Phillies manager Charlie Manuel casually popping out his dentures.

 

• Oh, Kevin Durant. Must you indulge the Biebs and his bottomless well of douchiness?

 

• In today's video, Tom Brady creeps us all out with his wandering sideline eyes.

 

 

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 10:45
Path: /nascar/nascar-numbers-game-6-amazing-stats-michigan-international-speedway
Body:

Let’s be clear: Joey Logano making the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase in 2013 should be considered a coup, not an expectation.

At 23 years old, Logano has underachieved in the eyes of many, but not under the watchful eye of Penske Racing, his new home at which he is blossoming this year. He’d be more firmly in Chase contention if not for the 25-point penalty incurred earlier this season, but 16th with a bullet probably also suffices for developing ahead of schedule.

The clean bill of prospect development and a crash course from an intelligent personnel base is, seemingly, what Logano needed to scrub away any thoughts of his underachievement at Joe Gibbs Racing. With four races left in the race to the Chase, Logano and his No. 22 team have emerged as fascinating outsiders to watch in an attempt to become an unexpected playoff participant.


7.6 Dating back to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and omitting two 40th-place finishes at Daytona and New Hampshire, Logano has averaged a 7.6-place finish in nine of the last 11 races.  

With those bad finishes included, Logano’s average drops to 13.5, but the bigger point is this: the No. 22 team is a dependable top-10 finisher barring the bizarre and that’s exactly where a team on the bubble for this year’s Chase needs to be. His finish deviation in that nine-race sample size is a staggeringly consistent 2.24 (the closer to zero, the better), meaning his fourth- to 11th-place finish range is about as bankable as any you will find in the series right now.

There is also some specific optimism heading into this weekend’s race.


5.5 Logano and the No. 22 team led the June race at Michigan in average running position, with a 5.5-place spot.

He finished ninth in the race, a disappointment of about 3.5 positions. Logano and team are in need of a worm-turning victory and Michigan might be the track to find it. Considering the team’s second-place finish by a hair at similar-sized Auto Club Speedway earlier this year, there is much reason to believe that the Todd Gordon-led bunch has a nifty two-mile track setup up their sleeves. Whether they can capitalize on the track that suits them best will be worth watching.

Of course, if the last two years at MIS have taught us anything, it is that the youngster will have to fend off a specific cast of characters that seem to thrive on the Brooklyn, Mich. track.


77.4% Greg Biffle scored the win at Michigan earlier this season, thanks in part to a high pass efficiency of 77.4 percent.  Greg Biffle

Far and away the best results-getting driver, statistically, on the current track surface, Biffle has dominated without dominating. He led 48 laps in June, but ranked third behind Logano and Matt Kenseth (5.6) in average running position (6.9). His win at MIS last season came after a certain week-to-week favorite encountered mechanical trouble (more on this below).

If he isn’t the outright speediest racer on Sunday, he’ll be forced to once again pull from his bag of tricks. If he’s near the front, expect that he’ll be able to leap frog a few competitors.


5 In June’s race at MIS, there were five drivers — Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne — who led at least seven percent of the race and failed to finish inside the top half of the field.

Some heavy hitters dropped like flies on what seemed poised to be a good afternoon of points-padding racing. Maladies aside, the poor finishes affect the track-specific production ratings now, but doesn’t mean the aforementioned drivers aren’t speedy in the Irish Hills.


14.5, 9.9 and 9.2 The average running positions for Jimmie Johnson in three races on the current Michigan track surface were 14.5, 9.9 and 9.2.

Haters of the five-time champ shouldn’t rest easy because his base result record on the new iteration of MIS isn’t easy on the eye. His 20th-place average finish over this time frame is misleading, to say the least. He finished 27th and 28th in the last two races, the former due to an engine failure while contending for the win in the race’s final laps.


4.333 Marcos Ambrose’s three-race Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) at Michigan is a 4.333, the third-best rating among 44 Cup Series drivers.

In last week’s “Numbers Game,” I wrote about the no-win situation Ambrose would inevitably face at Watkins Glen. Could Michigan provide a shot at redemption? Last year, he sat on the pole and finished ninth in the spring race and scored a top 5 in the summer event. This year, in the Gen-6 car, he started and finished 23rd in a Ford that lacked the necessary speed (it ranked 27th in average green-flag speed) to work wonders at the two-mile track. Could last year’s notes finally have been translated to this year’s No. 9 car?


For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to my glossary of terms on MotorsportsAnalytics.com.

David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projections, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidSmithMA.

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
David Smith crunches the numbers to reveal some revealing NASCAR stats for the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 10:19
Path: /nfl/carolina-panthers-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Ron Rivera’s third season as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach may be his last if the team can’t make the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. Team owner Jerry Richardson made Rivera wait six agonizing days after the 2012 season before deciding that the former NFL linebacker for the Chicago Bears deserved another shot at leading the team in 2013. Rivera had been put on notice that he was on the hot seat following the Panthers’ disappointing 1–5 start that cost longtime general manger Marty Hurney his job. The new decision-maker is Dave Gettleman, who had been with the N.Y. Giants organization since 1998.

The Panthers dug themselves too deep of a hole to make the playoffs last year but did finish 5–1 over the final six games to end up with a 7–9 record. They managed top-12 rankings in both total offense and total defense and will build this year’s team around quarterback Cam Newton on offense and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly on defense. With Rivera’s fate likely hanging in the balance, this could be the year the team makes a leap. For the popular coach’s sake, it better be.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 14th

Related: 2013 Carolina Panthers Schedule Analysis

Offense
It starts with Newton, who will have a new offensive coordinator this year since Rob Chudzinski was the surprise choice for the Cleveland Browns’ head job. Mike Shula was promoted from quarterbacks coach to replace “Chud,” who was running the zone-read in 2011 with Newton well before it became such a hot NFL trend.

Newton became a slightly more conventional quarterback in 2012, as his rushing TDs went down and his time in the pocket went slightly up. He remains very effective as a dual-threat quarterback — he led the team in rushing with 741 yards — but the Panthers would like to cut down on the number of hits he takes. He is already protecting the ball better, having thrown a team-record 176 straight passes in 2012 without an interception.

Ageless wide receiver Steve Smith had his seventh 1,000-yard season in 2012 and, at 34, will remain the Panthers’ biggest receiving threat in 2013. He has found new life with Newton, but the question is how much longer he can stay effective. The Panthers badly need Brandon LaFell — their clear No. 2 receiver now — to emerge more frequently in 2013. Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn, two veteran free agents, will likely compete for the No. 3 job. Tight end Greg Olsen is Newton’s favorite target other than Smith and possesses some of the best hands on the team.

Newton can hand the ball off to three solid backs in DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. The Panthers have so much money invested in that trio that there has been speculation one of them must go given the club’s constant salary-cap problems, but the team has managed to keep them so far. Williams is the game-breaker, Stewart the between-the-tackles bull and Tolbert the short-yardage specialist who hopes to take that burden off of Newton. As of the beginning of training camp, Williams was the only one of the three not dealing with an injury with Stewart still recovering from offseason surgery on both ankles and Tolbert dealing with a hamstring issue. This also presented an opportunity for sixth-round pick Kenjon Barner to get some meaningful reps in practice and show the coaching staff what he brings to the table.

The offensive line is the biggest question on this unit. Left tackle Jordan Gross still has good feet but doesn’t have many years left. Center Ryan Kalil is one of the league’s best, but the other three spots all have question marks. Every team’s defensive game plan involves going after Newton, and whether this group is up to the task of protecting him will have much to do with how the season goes. If Newton were to go down, veteran backup Derek Anderson would direct the team. He’s a good thrower, but the team would then be forced to use a much more conventional offense.

Defense
Kuechly’s outstanding rookie year was the biggest revelation in 2012, a year in which the Panthers improved to 10th in total defense — 18 spots better than they had been a year before. Kuechly took over for injured middle linebacker Jon Beason early in the season and played so well he ended up as the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. He is a tackling machine and led the NFL in tackles, becoming the first rookie to do so since San Francisco’s Patrick Willis in 2007.

After that year, Kuechly isn’t going anywhere even though Beason is trying to return after major injuries short-circuited each of his last two seasons. Like Kuechly, Beason is a very fast, side-to-side linebacker who can play in all situations when healthy. Strong-side linebacker Thomas Davis made a tremendous comeback in 2012 after three ACL surgeries on the same knee and will man that position once again. Free agent signee Chase Blackburn will provide depth and a steady locker-room presence.

The Panthers’ defensive front should be one of the team’s strengths. In 2012, defensive ends Charles Johnson (12.5 sacks) and Greg Hardy (11) gave Carolina its first pair of double-digit sackers since 2002. Hardy has faced some maturity issues but seems to have picked up some of Johnson’s quiet resolve. At defensive tackle, veteran Dwan Edwards will be joined by a pair of top-50 draft picks — Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Both will help by keeping blockers off Kuechly, who does his best work when he’s free to roam.

The secondary is where the most questions lie. Gettleman restructured a lot of it with some under-the-radar free agent signings in 2013. Cornerback Drayton Florence and strong safety Mike Mitchell are low-profile veterans who will both have a chance to start. Cornerback Josh Norman started for 12 games as a rookie in 2012 and then got benched, but Gettleman likes his potential. Charles Godfrey is the leader in the back at free safety. Captain Munnerlyn is an undersized but tough nickel cornerback. Whether this group can survive repeated attacks by the franchise quarterbacks of the NFC South is key.

Specialists
This is a middle-of-the-pack group at best. Placekicker Graham Gano came on in 2012 after the Panthers cut ties with Olindo Mare, who was one of Hurney’s real miscalculations. Brad Nortman had an uneven rookie year as the team’s punter and needs to improve. Ginn, who returns kickoffs and punts, should add a splash of excitement for the first time since Smith handled those jobs early in his career and perhaps spell the end of the Armanti Edwards experiment.

Final Analysis: 4th in NFC South
In their first two years under Rivera, the Panthers have gotten off to horrible starts that doomed the season. They can’t afford to do that again. Newton and Kuechly are fine cornerstones on which to build, and there are fewer holes on this team than you would likely expect from a squad that hasn’t had a winning season since 2008.

Order your 2013 Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
Miami (8/16)Cincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland
NY Jets (8/15)Pittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
Washington (8/16)Minnesota (8/21)Tampa Bay (8/15)Seattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Carolina Panthers 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /40-weirdest-team-nicknames-sports
Body:

We're all for tradition, and honoring your region with your team nickname, but some of these are just plain weird. Here they are in no particular order of weirdness.

 

1. Jordan (Utah) Beetdiggers

This nickname inspires fear. If you're a beet. 

 

2. Conway (Ark.) Wampus Cats

A Wampus cat is a fearsome creature from folklore. Doesn't stop it from sounding stupid.

 

3. Camas (Wash.) Papermakers

4. Kimberly (Wis.) Papermakers

Maybe they can get Dunder-Mifflin to sponsor their uniforms.

 

5. Badger (Wis.) Badgers

The Badger Badgers? Too bad Duany Duany, Longar Longar and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje didn't play there.

 

6. Newburgh Free Academy (NY) Goldbacks

Anything with "backs" attached to the end seems like a slur.

 

7. Butte (Idaho) Pirates

No comment.

 

8. Grafton/St. Thomas (ND) Spoilers

Isn't the nickname "Spoilers" a concession that you suck and can only hope to spoil a good team's season?

 

9. Mt. Pleasant (RI) Kilties

They've managed to take the word "kilt" and make it even more effeminate.

 

10. Bellows Free Academy (Vt.) Bobwhites

A bobwhite is a quail that is commonly killed and consumed. Doesn't even have much meat on it.

 

11. Cairo (Ga.) Syrupmakers

Sweet and sticky are not adjectives I want applied to my football team.

 

12. Red Bank Catholic (NJ) Caseys

The school took its nickname from a former Monsignor. It makes me think of Casey Anthony. Or Kasey Kasem.

 

13. Glenville (Ohio) Tarblooders

A tarblooder was apparently a railroad worker who laid ties and cemented them with tar. When you have to explain it, it loses some impact.

 

14. Austin Westlake (Texas) Chaparrals

They're called the "Chaps" for short. Wonder if they're assless.

 

15. Dunbar (Md.) Poets

It's a nod to the school's namesake, but Poets? Aren't they the guys the football players should be pummeling?

 

16. Mt. Clemens (Mich.) Battling Bathers

Not sure you want to combine football and bath time in your nickname.

 

17. St. Mary's Prep (Mich.) Eaglets

18. Rockhurst (Mo.) Hawklets

Baby birds, even eagles and hawks, don't exactly inspire fear. Hell, they can't even fly.

 

19. North Little Rock Charging Wildcats

Adding "Charging" seems like overkill. And is a Wildcat really known for charging?

 

20. Salesianum School (Del.) Sallies

This simply can't be real, can it? Was Nancies already taken?

 

21. Punahou (Hawaii) Buffanblu

It's not some native Hawaiian bird of prey or anything. Believe it or not, this nickname comes from the school's colors: buff and blue.

 

22. Shelley (Idaho) Russets

Yes, Idaho is known for potatoes. Doesn't mean you have to incorporate it into your nickname. Would be like calling a Chicago team "the Gang-Related Murders."

 

23. Watersmeet (Mich.) Nimrods

In the Bible, Nimrod was a mighty hunter. Nobody knows their Bible anymore. Today, a nimrod is merely a moron.

 

24. Orofino (Idaho) Maniacs

Many think that the team was named for the local mental hospital. Unfortunately, that's not true. It was merely the frenetic style of play the hoops team used to be known for.

 

25. Teutopolis (Ill.) Wooden Shoes

They're particularly loud on the basketball court. But slow.

 

26. Chattanooga (Tenn.) Central Purple Pounders

Sounds like a prison team.

 

27. Mars Area (Pa.) Fighting Planets

Sort of a "War of the Worlds" theme.

 

28. Beaver (Okla.) Dusters

A Beaver Duster sounds like something you'd order online. On a secure site.

 

29. Yuma (Ariz.) Criminals

I hope this isn't truth in advertising.

 

30. Freeburg (Ill.) Midgets

Surprised that the little people lobby hasn’t gotten hold of this one.

 

 

 

 

31. Webster University Gorloks

The students at Webster came up with this one. Sounds like a Lord of the Rings character.

 

32. UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs

Big, slimy and disgusting. Kind of like a pregnant Kardashian sister.

 

33. Columbia College Fighting Koalas

Putting "fighting" in front of an adorable, cuddly creature like a koala doesn't make it any scarier.

 

34. Presbyterian Blue Hose

I guess it's better than the Presbyterian Depressed Prostitutes.

 

35. Scottsdale Community College Fighting Artichokes

Ridiculous. Everyone knows artichokes are peaceful vegetables.

 

36. Rhode Island School of Design Nads

Yes, it's a joke, right down to the anatomically correct mascot and the "Go, Nads!" cheer.

 

37. Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs

I'd avoid the hot dogs at the ballpark.

 

38. Savannah Sand Gnats

Annoying sand-based insects are an overlooked genre for mascots.

 

39. Montgomery Biscuits

Hot, buttery and delicious. Paula Deen's favorite team.

 

40. Hillhouse (Conn.) Academics

I guess it's one way to flip the saying, "They're known for academics."

 
Teaser:
40 Weirdest Team Nicknames in Sports
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-running-back-units-2013
Body:

The committee approach at running back has become more prevalent in college football over the last five years, so it’s no surprise most teams have two or three players that could start each week for their offense.

The SEC is loaded at running back in 2013, with Georgia and Alabama taking the top two spots in Athlon’s top 25 backfields. But the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs aren't the only ones from the SEC in the rankings, as Texas A&M checks in at No. 5 and LSU is No. 14.

How did we come up with these rankings? A couple of factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2013 all factored into the rankings for the backfield. While some teams like Miami and Arizona are ranked largely due to one player, teams like Texas A&M, USC and Stanford may not have a superstar this year but have no shortage of depth.

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context. 

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature. 
 
Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.
 
It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 13th annual Athlon Awards. 

Ranking the Top 25 Running Back Units for 2013

1. Georgia
The Bulldogs lack depth in the backfield, but the Todd Gurley-Keith Marshall duo is the best in college
football. Gurley and Marshall combined for 2,144 of Georgia’s 2,556 rushing yards last year and scored 19 touchdowns. Gurley ranked second in the SEC by averaging 98.2 rushing yards per game in conference play. Both players could rush for 1,000 yards in 2013, as Georgia’s coaching staff plans to get Marshall
more involved in the offense this year.
 

2. Alabama 
Eddie Lacy is gone, but the Crimson Tide still have a deep stable of options. Leading the way is sophomore T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 scores as a true freshman. Yeldon is an Athlon Sports second-team preseason All-American. At 6-foot-1, 201 pounds, sophomore Kenyan Drake is a change-of-pace option, but he will face competition for carries from touted freshman Derrick Henry, junior Jalston Fowler and sophomore Dee Hart.
 

3. Texas 
The Longhorns return three running backs who have rushed for at least 500 yards in a season during their careers. Sophomore Johnathan Gray is the headliner after rushing for 701 yards as a true freshman in 2012. Joe Bergeron scored 16 touchdowns last season, and Malcolm Brown (742 yards in 2011) returns to full strength after missing most of 2012 due to injuries.


4. Oregon 
Despite losing Kenjon Barner, the Ducks are in good shape at running back. De’Anthony Thomas is one of college football’s most explosive players and is expected to handle more carries in 2013. Byron Marshall is also due for an increased workload after averaging 5.1 yards per carry in 2012. True freshman Thomas Tyner is one of the top running backs in the 2013 signing class and will be difficult for new Oregon coach Mark Helfrich to keep on the sidelines.
 

5. Texas A&M 
The Aggies likely won’t have a 1,000-yard rusher in 2013, but this unit has assembled plenty of depth thanks to the arrival of transfers Tra Carson (Oregon) and Brandon Williams (Oklahoma). Senior Ben Malena rushed for 808 yards and eight scores last season and has surprising power for a 5'8" running back. Talented sophomore Trey Williams is due for a bigger role in the offense after rushing for 376 yards and five touchdowns in 2012.


6. Wisconsin
Despite losing Montee Ball, the Badgers are in great shape at running back. Senior James White has 2,571 yards and 32 touchdowns in his career, while sophomore Melvin Gordon is a future star in the Big Ten. True freshman Corey Clement could be Wisconsin’s No. 3 option this season.
 

7. Baylor
Lache Seastrunk finished 2012 on a tear, averaging 138.5 yards per game over his final six contests. Seastrunk is expected to be one of the Big 12’s top rushers in 2013. Senior Glasco Martin is a punishing runner and scored 15 touchdowns on 179 attempts last year.
 

8. Ohio State
Yes, Carlos Hyde is suspended for at least three games, but Ohio State still has a wealth of options in the backfield. Junior Rod Smith, senior Jordan Hall, sophomore Bri’onte Dunn and redshirt freshman Warren Ball will shoulder the workload while Hyde is suspended and each could start for a handful of teams in college football. True freshmen Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott will also figure into the mix.
 

9. Nebraska
Ameer Abdullah filled in admirably when Rex Burkhead suffered a knee injury early last season, finishing 2012 with 1,137 yards and eight scores. Abdullah is set to build on those totals in 2013, but sophomore Imani Cross (324 yards last year) will push for playing time.
 

10. Arizona
Ka’Deem Carey thrived in coach Rich Rodriguez’s system, leading the nation with an average of 148.4 yards per game in 2012. The junior may not top last year’s 1,929 yards, but he is in for another big year. Daniel Jenkins considered a transfer to Washington State but returned to Tucson this summer. Jenkins and Pierre Cormier will compete for the No. 2 role.
 

11. Florida State
After rushing for 640 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, James Wilder Jr. is set to emerge as one of the ACC’s top backs in 2013. Junior Devonta Freeman has 1,239 yards over the last two years and will serve as Florida State’s No. 2 option. Redshirt freshman Mario Pender is a player to watch.


12. Arizona State
Even though Cameron Marshall has finished his eligibility, Arizona State’s rushing attack is in good shape with the return of Marion Grice and DJ Foster. Grice averaged 6.6 yards per carry last season and scored 19 overall touchdowns. Foster recorded 1,026 total yards in 2012.
 

13. Oklahoma
Damien Williams was solid in his first year in Norman, rushing for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns on 176 attempts. He will headline a talented backfield, which includes the nation’s top fullback in Trey Millard and experienced options in Roy Finch (5.2 yards per carry) and Brennan Clay. The future of Oklahoma’s rushing attack is in good hands with freshmen Keith Ford and Alex Ross.
 

14. LSU
If Jeremy Hill isn’t suspended for a significant chunk of the season, LSU could rank higher on this list. But even with Hill’s long-term status for 2013 uncertain, the Tigers have plenty of depth. Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard are proven options, and fullback J.C. Copeland is an underrated player.
 

15. USC
With a new quarterback taking over, expect the Trojans to lean more on the ground attack in 2013. Silas Redd rushed for 905 yards and nine touchdowns in his first season in Los Angeles. But the backfield just isn’t Redd, as true freshman Justin Davis and Ty Isaac ranked among the top-15 running backs in the 2013 signing class, and D.J. Morgan, Tre Madden and Javorius Allen are all capable options for coach Lane Kiffin.
 

16. Kent State
Dri Archer and Trayion Durham form the nation’s top non-BCS running back duo. Archer was one of college football’s best all-purpose players in 2012, recording 1,429 rushing yards and 39 catches for 561 yards last season. Durham rushed for 1,316 yards and 14 scores.
 

17. Miami
Duke Johnson turned plenty of heads as a true freshman last year, rushing for 947 yards and 10 scores, while catching 27 passes for 221 yards and one touchdown. Johnson also made a huge impact on special teams by averaging 33 yards per kick return. Although Johnson is ACC’s premier running back, depth is an issue. The Hurricanes need Eduardo Clements, Dallas Crawford or Gus Edwards to emerge as a reliable No. 2 option to take some of the pressure off of Johnson.
 

18. Kansas
The rushing attack was the lone bright spot in Lawrence last year. James Sims is one of the nation’s most underrated players, rushing for 1,013 yards and nine scores in 2012. He will be joined by Tony Pierson (760 yards last year), Taylor Cox (464) and talented sophomore Darrian Miller in the backfield this season.
 

19. Northwestern
Senior Venric Mark is one of the nation’s top all-purpose running backs. He recorded 1,366 rushing yards and 12 scores last season, while catching 20 passes and taking three returns for scores. Mark is only 5-foot-8, so it’s important for Northwestern to utilize its backups to spell the Texas native throughout the year. Senior Mike Trumpy is expected to serve as the top backup, and he has 1,061 yards in his career.
 

20. Washington
Bishop Sankey emerged as Washington’s go-to back in 2012, recording 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns on 289 attempts. While Sankey is one of the Pac-12’s top rushers, the Huskies are looking to address the depth this fall. Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper are talented but have struggled to stay healthy.
 

21. Stanford
Stepfan Taylor is gone, but Stanford’s rushing attack isn't in dire straits. Anthony Wilkerson rushed for 224 yards and one score in a backup role last season and has 914 yards and seven touchdowns in his career. Tyler Gaffney is back after spending a year playing minor league baseball, while redshirt freshman Barry Sanders will make his anticipated debut in 2013.
 

22. Western Kentucky
Even though new coach Bobby Petrino likes to spread the ball around through the air, his previous stops at Louisville and Arkansas showed he won’t forget about the rushing attack. Antonio Andrews recorded 3,161 all-purpose yards last year, which ranked second in NCAA history behind Barry Sanders. Leon Allen showed promise in his freshman campaign last year and will serve as backup. Fullback Kadeem Jones is an underrated player.
 

23. West Virginia
With Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey now in the NFL, the Mountaineers will rely more on their rushing attack this year. Andrew Buie is the team’s leading returning rusher (851 yards), but he will be pushed for time from Dustin Garrison and junior college transfer Dreamius Smith. Houston transfer Charles Sims will help in an all-purpose role and is a threat to score each time he touches the ball.
 

24. Oklahoma State
Joseph Randle will be missed, but thanks to some good recruiting by coach Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State should have a 1,000-yard rusher for the seventh consecutive season. Jeremy Smith has shined in a part-time role the last few years, recording 1,439 yards and 25 scores in 39 appearances. Smith will start, but expect to see plenty of Desmond Roland (301 yards in 2012).
 

25. Mississippi State
LaDarius Perkins quietly rushed for 1,024 yards and eight scores last season. The senior headlines Mississippi State’s ground attack, with talented sophomores Derrick Milton and Josh Robinson vying for the No. 2 role. Junior Nick Griffin (223 yards in 2012) suffered a torn ACL in December and his status for 2013 is uncertain.

Related College Football Content

College Football Bowl Projections for 2013
Top 10 Darkhorses to Win the National Title
College Football's All-Name Team for 2013
SEC Breakout Players for 2013
College Football's Top 10 Underrated Quarterbacks

Teaser:
College Football's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2013
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/northwestern-football-game-game-predictions-2013
Body:

Northwestern has never recorded back-to-back seasons of double-digit win totals in its program history. But coming off a 10-3 record, which included the Wildcats’ first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl, coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team is poised for even bigger and better things in 2013.

15 starters return for Fitzgerald, including quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark. The defense brings back seven starters, and there’s All-Big Ten talent at each level of the unit. Northwestern won three out of its final games last year, including a 34-20 victory over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl and a 23-20 win in East Lansing against Michigan State.

The Wildcats were just a play or two away from beating Michigan and Nebraska last year. If this team can address its pass defense and find a way to make a few more plays in close games, Northwestern could represent the Legends Division in Indianapolis this December.

What will Northwestern's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates: 

Northwestern's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions

GameSteven
Lassan
Brent
Yarina
Braden
Gall
Mark
Ross
Kevin
McGuire
8/31 at California
9/7 Syracuse
9/14 Western Michigan
9/21 Maine
10/5 Ohio State
10/12 at Wisconsin
10/19 Minnesota
10/26 at Iowa
11/2 at Nebraska
11/16 Michigan
11/23 Michigan State
11/30 at Illinois
Final Projection9-310-29-310-28-4

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Northwestern faces a challenging schedule this year but should be in the thick of the Legends Division race. Last season, the Wildcats finished 10-3 and were just a couple of plays away from a 12-1 mark. If Northwestern can improve its pass defense and continue to average just over 30 points a game, coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team will post a double-digit win total once again. Despite three new starters on the line, the offense will remain dangerous with the return of quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark. The defense has to get better against the pass, but three starters are back – including likely All-Big Ten cornerback Nick VanHoose – giving hope to coordinator Mike Hankwitz for a quick turnaround. Northwestern has a brutal crossover with the Leaders Division, catching Wisconsin and Ohio State in early October. But the Wildcats have a favorable road in Legends Division play, hosting Michigan and Michigan State. Beating the Wolverines or Cornhuskers for the division title won’t be easy, but Northwestern will be a tough out this year and should be a top-25 team on the national level.

Brent Yarina, Big Ten Network, (@BTNBrentYarina)
10-2?! With this grueling schedule?! Yeah, I must be chugging the Purple Kool-Aid. Fact is, I love this Northwestern team. Not only are the Wildcats fresh off a momentum-building 10-3 season, highlighted by the program’s first bowl win since 1949, they return 15 starters (8 offense; 7 defense) from a team that could have won all its games. Even better, Northwestern welcomes back its biggest names, from Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Brandon Vitabile on offense, to Chi Chi Ariguzo, Ibraheim Campbell and Tyler Scott on defense, to Jeff Budzien and the aforementioned Mark on special teams. This team is fast, it’s athletic, it’s balanced (only Ohio State figures to boast a better offense-defense combo), and it’s confident. The only real question is the offensive line, which replaces three starters. That’s a big deal, no doubt, however the anchor (Vitabile) is back and Colter and Mark’s improved health should help offset the inexperience up front.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The schedule is downright nasty for Northwestern and that is what keeps this team from taking a huge next step into the Big Ten championship game. Getting Ohio State and it's reworked defensive line early and at home give the Wildcats a huge chance at a program-defining win. But the back half of the schedule isn't friendly. Road games with Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa over a four-game span following the Ohio State game will be a trying and defining portion of the 2013 schedule. Home games with key division rivals Michigan and Michigan State are also very tough tests. Pat Fitzgerald has assembled the most talented team in Northwestern history, but can it withstand one of the Big Ten's toughest schedules?

Mark Ross
Pat Fitzgerald has been building a consistent winner at Northwestern during his tenure and this fall could be the time it all comes together. The Wildcats return a total of 15 starters, including one of the Big Ten's most explosive players in all-purpose dynamo Venric Mark. Fitzgerald also has two reliable options to call on at quarterback and is pretty deep in pass-catchers. Not to be left out, the defense took a step forward last season and returns experience on each level.

Schedule-wise, Northwestern opens up Big Ten play against Legends division favorite and national title contender Ohio State, but these Wildcats are talented and experienced enough to compete with any team in the league, both at home and on the road. Trips to Madison, Wis., and Lincoln, Neb., won't be easy, but the Wildcats get to host Michigan and Michigan State on their home turf. The pieces are in place for Northwestern to be just as good as it was last season, if not better. That is especially the case if the offensive line jells, the key players stay healthy and the entire team doesn't settle for what it accomplished in 2012.

Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), No2MinuteWarning.com and NittanyLionsDen.com
Last year was a fantastic ride for the gritty and determined Northwestern program. Ten wins was the result of a growing program continuing to build a winning foundation under head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who continues to produce more with less overall talent than many of his counterparts. But that's not to suggest Northwestern is lacking talent, because that is certainly not the case. Venric Mark rushed for over 1,000 yards and emerged as one of the Big Ten's top offensive players who could also do damage on special teams. The Wildcats also have one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten in Kain Colter, but the offensive line could be a concern. With some holes to plug on the line, keeping Colter protected and giving Mark room to work with could be more of an issue this season.

As was the case last season, Northwestern has a defense that will not quit but the talent is not particularly deep in the secondary. Opposing offenses should be able to expose that often enough to keep Northwestern's defense scrambling at times. The linebackers should be fine to hold their own in the middle of the field, so the pressure will be on Northwestern's defensive line to keep the pressure on consistently. This has been one of the problems in recent years as the line seems to break down physically later in games and in the season. This year's schedule is not exactly favorable either, with road games at Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska. Getting Ohio State at home after a bye week could be cause for an upset alert in early October, but I have the Buckeyes taking care of business. I look for Northwestern to be on the outside looking in on the Big Ten Championship Game, but they should absolutely playa  role in the Big Ten Legends Division picture in November, with key home games against both Michigan schools in consecutive weeks. I call Northwestern a wild card more than a legitimate contender.


Related College Football Content

Big Ten's 2013 All-Conference Team
Big Ten Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2013
Michigan 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
Ohio State 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
Nebraska 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
Penn State 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
Wisconsin 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
The Big Ten's Best Traditions
College Football's 2013 All-America Team

Teaser:
Northwestern Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/secs-impact-freshmen-watch-2013
Body:

Darren McFadden, Percy Harvin, Knowshon Moreno, A.J. Green, Warren Norman, Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel are the last eight SEC Freshman of the Year winners.

That is four first-round NFL Draft picks and a Heisman Trophy winner with Harvin also being a part of two BCS national championship teams during his time at Florida. This is the bar that has been set in the nation’s toughest conference for first-year players. And with no end in sight to the SEC’s recruiting dominance — it signed 44 of the top 100 Athlon Consensus 100 prospects — this round of new faces should be just as exciting to watch. A host of big-time playmakers enter the fray with sky-high expectations. And many of these youngsters will play pivotal rolls on championship-caliber teams.

Potential Stars:

Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Ole Miss
He was the No. 1 prospect in the nation and is drawing (unfairly) comparisons to Jadeveon Clowney. While Nkemdiche is a totally different type of defensive end than Clowney, he should have a similar impact in his first year. His work ethic and physical tools will allow him to make plays each week but he will also spend a good deal of time this year learning how to play one of the toughest positions on the field.

Tray Matthews, S, Georgia
The Bulldogs' defense is working through a major rebuild and getting Matthews onto campus in January was a huge blessing. The Athlon Consensus 100 safety is already slotted into the starting lineup for a unit that desperately needs leadership and stability after heavy turnover in the offseason. Matthews is a great athlete with excellent intangibles, so he should adjust quickly to the college speed.

Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida
The Gators might have finally found an impact playmaker on the outside of the offense in Robinson. He is big, physical, explosive and has NFL written all over him. With injuries mounting, Robinson has a chance to play a huge role for an offense that desperately needs a go-to target in the passing game.

Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel, DE, Auburn
Physically, Lawson is ready to start opposite of Dee Ford at end for Auburn. He will battle with fellow top-100 prospect Daniel — and senior Nosa Eguae — to lock down that spot along the Tigers front for Ellis Johnson. Short (6-2), quick and powerful (260 pounds), Lawson is developed well beyond his years and has a chance to be a special player on the Plains. Even if it is in spot duty behind Eguae.

Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
There is a host of elite running backs entering the SEC this fall but Collins might have the best combination of upside, talent and opportunity. Bret Bielema’s system is run-heavy and there is little depth in the backfield blocking Collins' path to carries. Look for the 5-foot-11, 210-pound speed-power combo to play early and often for the Hogs.

LaQuan Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
The No. 1-rated wide receiver in the nation is landing in an offense that should throw the ball as much as anyone in the league. Treadwell is a monster physically and is as game-ready as any freshman at any position in the nation. He has some talent ahead of him on the depth chart but what he learns from Vince Sanders and Donte Moncrief will only help him develop into a playmaker quicker.

Marquez North, WR, Tennessee
The Volunteers are in desperate need of playmakers at wide receiver to replace the lawfirm of Hunter, Patterson and Rogers. North has gotten rave reviews in camp thus far and has elite vertical ability and size. The top prospect in the Vols class, North is 6-foot-4, 215 and should become the top target for whomever is playing quarterback.

Montravius Adams, DL, Auburn
The massive 6-foot-4, 320-pound tackle likely won’t start but fans will known all about him in short order. He will wear an odd number (No. 1) for a guy weighing in at more than three spins. However, it is his play that will get him noticed on the field as he develops into one of the league’s top true nose tackles.

Jerald Hawkins and Ethan Pocic, OL, LSU
The big redshirt freshman Hawkins had a great offseason and has continued his excellent play in fall camp. After Josh Williford was hurt again, Les Miles has had to move pieces around on his front line. Hawkins could slide into a starting spot at right tackle while the 6-foot-7 Pocic, an early enrollee and top 100 recruit, could start at center.

Related: The Top SEC Heisman Trophy Candidates

But where are all the Crimson Tiders?
Relax, 'Bama Nation. Alabama is so loaded, the Tide gets their own section. Nick Saban set a record this year by signing 15 Athlon Consensus 100 recruits as he has redefined recruiting in recent years. This is why I have to give the Tide their own section:

Derrick Henry, RB
Sure, he is listed as a running back and will get carries but he is so much more than that. He is talented enough to play H-Back, tight end, wide receiver, outside linebacker or even defensive end. But who wants to tackle 6-foot-3, 243 pounds of runner?

Jonathan Allen, DE/OLB
At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, Allen could be the perfect player for the Jack Back role in Saban’s 3-4 scheme. He can rush the passer, play the run and can drop into coverage.

O.J. Howard, TE
The actual H-back position will likely be filled by Howard. The nation’s top tight end recruit needs to improve his in-line blocking but has all the tools to be a big-time player as a hybrid tight end/H-back.

A'Shawn Robinson, DT
He isn’t likely to be a starter but his overly developed young frame and general passion for the game has drawn high praise from all parties. Look for Robinson to make a quick impact.

Reuben Foster, LB
“Grown man” is the phrase that comes to most when watching Foster line up in the middle of the 'Bama defense. He is a physical monster and is trying to pry his way into the lineup as just a true freshman.

Robert Foster, WR
He has drawn Julio Jones comparisons in very short order at The Capstone. He and fellow freshman Raheem Falkins have turned heads in camp — despite a crowded depth chart at wide receiver.

Others to Watch: Ryan Anderson, LB; Dee Liner, DL; Alvin Kamara, RB; Tyren Jones, RB; Altee Tenpenny, RB

Related: Getting to Know the New SEC Coaches

Early Contributors:

Kendell Beckwith, LB, LSU
Has a long way to go but any true freshman who could start at LSU must be talented.

Jeryl Brazil and Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
The “Jalens” have the starting jobs locked up, but these two speedsters could be special.

Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss
One of the nation’s top safety prospects will begin his career as an important nickel back.

Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
If not for No. 1 CB tandem in the nation, he’d likely be locked into a starting job.

Jaleel Hytchye, CB, Kentucky
Could start at corner for the young Wildcats secondary.

Andrew Jelks, OL, Vanderbilt
Will be the top reserve along a developing and improving 'Dores offensive line.

Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn
He is the best long-term option but will need to prove he is ready. Kiehl Frazier's move to safety helps.

Marcus Maye, S, Florida
Will be, at worst, the No. 3 safety for the Gators behind Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins.

Latevius Rayford and Jordan Cunningham, WR, Vanderbilt
A pair of true freshman wideouts have proven themselves quickly in fall camp.

Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Could easily be the starter as Matt Jones sits out recovering from serious viral infection.

Cody Waldrup, C, South Carolina
Struggled with snaps in spring but has tons of ability and the coaches are confident.

Ja’Quay Williams and Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M
Jumbo athletes (6-3, 215 and 6-5, 225 respectively) both could make a big impact right away.

Related: Complete 2013 SEC Football Predictions

Key Reserves:
Tashawn Bower, DE, LSU
Harold Brantley, DT, Missouri

Richie Brown, LB, Mississippi State
Jordan Diggs, LB, South Carolina
Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee
Greg Gilmore, DT, LSU
Jason Hatcher, DE, Kentucky
Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
Frank Herron, DE, LSU
Grant Hill, OL, Alabama
T.J. Holloman, DB, South Carolina
Chris Jones, DE, Mississippi State
Denver Kirkland, OL, Arkansas
Alex Koran and Jordan Diamond, OL, AUB
Christian LaCouture, DT, LSU
Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri
Justin Manning, DL, Texas A&M
Daniel McMillan, LB, Florida
Zach Myers, C, Kentucky
Ryne Rankins, LB, Georgia
Brock and Clayton Stadnick, OL, South Carolina
Tony Stevens, WR, Auburn
Ryan Timmons, WR, Kentucky
Laremy Tunsil, OL, Ole Miss (pictured)
Shaq Wiggins, CB, Georgia
Tim Williams, LB, Alabama

Related: SEC Coaches Anonymously Scout the SEC

Teaser:
SEC's Impact Freshmen To Watch in 2013
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/big-12s-impact-freshmen-watch-2013
Body:

Of late, the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year hasn’t been nearly as impressive as the Defensive Freshman of the Year. Devonte Fields kept a line of elite defensive talents to win Frosh of the Year going in the Big 12. Quandre Diggs, Tony Jefferson, Shaun Lewis, Aldon Smith and Travis Lewis have all won the honor of late.

Meanwhile, J.W. Walsh, last year’s Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, might not even start this fall for Oklahoma State.

And if Big 12 recruiting continues to struggle the way it did during the 2013 cycle, both awards will lack star power. The entire conference signed just four top-100 players this year — or 11 fewer Athlon Consensus 100 prospects than Alabama’s 15.

That said, there are still some bright new faces to watch in this league. And many of these youngsters will play pivotal rolls on championship-caliber teams.

Potential Stars:

Robbie Rhodes, WR, Baylor
Rhodes might be the most gifted athlete in a long line of elite Baylor wide receivers. Tevin Reese has one starting spot locked down but the big, physical Rhodes should sneak his way into the starting lineup almost immediately. He brings a bigger frame than Terrance Williams and as much athletic ability as Kendall Wright — a scary combination.

Hatari Byrd, S, Oklahoma
The rumors about Byrd starting for the struggling Sooners defense have long run rampant in Norman. But as the season inches closer, those rumors are turning into facts as Byrd has seen time with the first-team defense at corner, safety and nickel back. He has great instincts and a big frame (6-1, 200) and will make a big impact in 2013.

Tyrone Swoopes, QB, Texas (pictured)
No, Swoopes won’t relegate David Ash to the bench. But the talk out of camp about the raw physical ability of the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder has been hard to ignore. He could be used in Wildcat situations, short-yardage, trick plays and even as a slot, H-back-type pass-catcher. Look out for this kid.

Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
The No. 2 recruit in the Bears class was this local product from Waco High School. At 6-foot and over 300 pounds, he is physically ready to compete with the Big 12’s O-line. Billings will need to adjust to the pace of play before he can start but that shouldn’t take long for this weight room warrior.

Shelton Gibson and Devonte Mathis, WR, West Virginia
Both youngsters appear to be slotted into, well, the slot. Tavon Austin made this position a marquee location in the West Virginia offense and these two have the potential to replace that production. Both are bigger and more physical than Austin but will have to fight their way into the starting lineup.

Ford Childress, QB, West Virginia
No, Childress likely won’t win the starting QB gig but the coaches haven’t been shy about how much they love the upside of the massive redshirt freshman. Clint Trickett and Paul Millard have much more experience but the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Childress is the long-term plan under center in Morgantown.

Alex Ross and Keith Ford, RB, Oklahoma
The redshirted Ross and true frosh Ford won’t start for the Sooners but will see plenty of reps this fall. Ross (209 pounds) will be one of the top replacements for Damien Williams and Brennan Clay. Both have gotten rave reviews from the coaches and Bob Stoops tends to play a lot of backs.

Related: Top Big 12 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Early Contributors:

Adrian Colbert, S, Texas
A bunch of names will be in the mix to replace Kenny Vaccaro.

Dondre Daley and P.J. Harris, WR, Iowa State
Both redshirt freshmen should see chances to earn starting time.

Reginald Davis and D.J. Polite-Bray, WR, Texas Tech
Both could be asked to step up early and produce behind Eric Ward.

Will Davis, LB, Kansas State
Totally reworked front seven could see a boost from the talked-about Davis.

Kyle Hicks, RB, TCU
Talented star running back is down the depth chart but loaded with talent.

Demonte Hoods, DT, Kansas State
This 300-pounder from Texas has a chance to be a key early contributor on rebuilt line.

L.J. Moore and Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma
Byrd gets the headlines but both Moore and Sanchez will see early time on the outside.

Jerel Morrow, CB, Oklahoma State
Leads a deep and talented freshman corner class for the Pokes.

Curtis Riser, OL, Texas
Talented recruit redshirted last fall and will be a top backup along the line.

Ra’Shaad Samples, WR, Oklahoma State
Small (5-10, 170), speedy slot talent who could provide a quick boost.

Ahmad Thomas, S, Oklahoma
Will get plenty of looks like the rest of the young Sooner defensive backs.

D.J. Ward, DE, Oklahoma
Along with Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Matt Dimon, Ward will factor into the rotation.

Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech
Michael Brewer has been banged up and Webb could be called upon earlier than expected.

Tanner Wood, DE, Kansas State
True frosh was one of the top players in the state and has size (6-5, 240) to play early.

Related: Complete 2013 Big 12 Football Predictions

Key Reserves:
Courtney Arnick, LB, Kansas
Greg Allen and Tevin Shaw, S, Kansas
Deante Burton, WR, Kansas State
Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor
Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma
Noble Nwachukwu, DE, West Virginia
Dee Paul, DB, Texas Tech
Ryan Reid and Orion Stewart, S, Baylor
Seth Russell, QB, Baylor
Jhajuan Seales, WR, Oklahoma State
Zac Veatch, OL, Oklahoma State
Keenon Ward, S, Texas Tech
Darius White, LB, Iowa State
Derrick Woods, WR, Oklahoma

Related: Big 12 Coaches Speak Anonymously About the Big 12

Teaser:
Big 12's Impact Freshmen To Watch in 2013
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 07:14
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/should-i-sign-autograph-flowchart-college-football-players
Body:
It's not easy being a college football athlete. Just ask Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel who's garnered a lot of unwanted attention from the NCAA for allegedly signing autographs for money. That's exactly why the fine folks at Fox Sports decided to step in and help out athletes with this handy-dandy flowchart. We think it should be mandatory reading for every high-profile college football player.
 
Source: Fox Sports
Teaser:
It's not easy being a college football athlete. Just ask Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel who's garnered a lot of unwanted attention from the NCAA for allegedly signing autographs for money. That's exactly why the fine folks at Fox Sports decided to step in and help out athletes with this handy-dandy flowchart. We think it should be mandatory reading for every high-profile college football player.
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 16:31
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-michigan-international-speedway
Body:

To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List. The main picks are designed to make optimal use of Yahoo!’s 9-start maximum rule over the course of the season. The “also consider” section ranks unmentioned drivers strictly by expected result without consideration of start limitations.


Next up: Pure Michigan 400 (Michigan International Speedway)
Race: 400 miles/200 laps (Track: 2-mile D-shaped oval)
June 2013 Winner: Greg Biffle


A-List (Pick two, start one)

Jimmie Johnson  Jimmie Johnson
If we're using the June Michigan race as any predictor — and we definitely should, based on the increased speeds of the Gen-6 car — then Jimmie Johnson is a pick more solid than Brian France’s unswayable stance on adding more road courses to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series calendar. Johnson didn’t win back in June for two reasons: The right front tire blew as he was chasing Greg Biffle for the lead, and crew chief Chad Knaus made a poor call on the second-to-last pit stop that hurt Johnson’s track position. Other than those faults, Johnson would have likely drove to his first Michigan win on a day when three of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars looked primed to win.

That Johnson has yet to win at MIS shouldn’t be a concern this weekend. He owns Michigan’s fourth-best average running position among all drivers, the series lead in most fastest laps in-race and nine career top-10 finishes. Oh, and that four-race “losing skid” he’s on? Yeah, that’s a real drought.


Kasey Kahne
Yes, we’re going with two Hendrick Motorsports drivers as the picks for the A-List. And yes, it’s a really good idea. In June, the organization was looking at a race shaping up to be a battle among three of its teams in Johnson, Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kahne was leading the race and pulling away after the halfway point when he lost a right front tire and careened off the Turn 1 wall, catching his car on fire in progress. He finished 38th.

Kahne, of course, has won since then and figures to be just as strong on Sunday. If anything, Hendrick Motorsports has improved from the Michigan weekend that could-have-been. In the last two oval races, the worst finish for an HMS car was Johnson's 13th-place run at Pocono.

Also consider: Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick


B-List (Pick four, start two)
Greg Biffle  Greg Biffle

The Hendrick Motorsports struggles in June may have gifted a win to Greg Biffle, but his solid run at the southeastern Michigan track wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Biffle has four wins, 10 top 5s and 13 top-10 finishes in his Cup career at MIS. He’s also the fastest active driver during green flag racing in the Irish Hills with an average lap speed of 177.096 mph. The accolades also include a series-best average running position (8.2) and the most laps raced in the top 15 (2,862). If immediate results are more important to your picks, consider that Biffle was plenty strong at the MIS sister track, Auto Club Speedway, when he finished sixth in the spring.


Kurt Busch
A running gag this season for observers of Kurt Busch’s first full-time effort in the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 has been predicting when or why a strong run would fall apart. Busch was plenty strong in June at Michigan when he started second and leap-frogged pole sitter Carl Edwards on the first lap and led the first 21 circuits. Less than nine laps later, though, Busch had stuffed his Chevy in the wall exiting Turn 2. He finished 35th.

It was an accident that looked and felt like Busch was pushing the car too hard after a pit stop sequence didn’t go to plan. That accident has appeared to be a bit of a turning point for Busch, as he’s nabbed five top-10 finishes in the last seven races. A two-time Michigan winner, Busch hasn’t scored a top 5 at the track since 2010. However, with a dose of patience, that could change Sunday.


Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The race that most eats at Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2013 remains his result from Michigan in June. The pre-race talk centered around the event being the one-year anniversary of Earnhardt's last win in the Cup Series. By Lap 120, he appeared to have as good of a shot as anyone. Junior was stretching his lead in the race’s middle parts and felt no pressure when something happened in the engine. Five laps after losing the lead on Lap 126, the No. 88 was in the garage and done for the day.

Earnhardt is typically one of the more collected and reserved drivers in the field, especially in his tenure under crew chief Steve Letarte. Sunday, with the pressure of qualifying for the Chase pretty much gone, we may see a no-holds-barred approach from Driver 88.


Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards left Michigan in June gritting his teeth in frustration. Teammate and eventual race winner Greg Biffle had opted not to fall back and help Edwards clean trash from his car’s front grille during the event, leading to an untimely pit stop. Edwards still managed to finish eighth, but felt a little bit of help could have meant more. That Edwards was able to rally to a top-10 finish shows he’ll likely again be a solid competitor on Sunday.

Edwards owns a pair of victories at the track and 10 career top-10 finishes. Aside from troubles that caught him in the August 2011 race, Edwards has finished on the lead lap in every other Michigan start.

Also consider: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano


C-List (Pick two, start one)
Austin Dillon

One of Bass Pro Shops’ “minor league” NASCAR drivers — let’s be honest, that’s a big reason why he’s racing for Stewart-Haas Racing this weekend in Tony Stewart's No. 14 — gets his best opportunity to date in a Sprint Cup car at a track where he has more Cup Series starts than any other. In two races, Dillon’s average Michigan finish is 17.5. Dillon was nothing short of impressive for a rookie in his most recent race at MIS in June. Driving a Joe Falk-owned, Richard Childress Racing-built No. 33, Dillon started seventh and finished 11th. The day before, he led 61 laps in the Nationwide race before he slapped the wall late in the event.

 

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse looked plenty ready for his step up to NASCAR’s big leagues after scoring consecutive Nationwide Series titles in 2011 and 2012. Amazingly, through 22 races in his full-time Roush Fenway Racing Sprint Cup ride, Stenhouse doesn’t have a single top 10. But that’s a bit of a misleading stat: Stenhouse's six top-15 finishes show he’s been steadily competitive. Driver No. 17 was 16th at Michigan in June.

Also consider: Danica Patrick, Trevor Bayne


Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
 

Teaser:
Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle top the list of fantasy picks for NASCAR's trip to Michigan International Speedway for the Pure Michigan 400.
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 15:17
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-link-roundup-august-13
Body:

One day closer to the start of the season.

Contact us on twitter with a link or a tip we should include each day. (@AthlonSteven)

College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Tuesday, August 13th

Another day, more news about Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and autograph signings. What can Manziel learn from former LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu?

Who will win the Big Ten's individual player awards in 2013?

Saturday Down South takes a look at how the top 25 players in the SEC ranked as recruits.

Former Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk has some words of advice for Syracuse's Drew Allen.

Joel Stave and Curt Phillips are beginning to separate in Wisconsin's quarterback battle.

Western Michigan receiver Jaime Wilson suffered a broken ankle in practice this week.

Steven Godfrey of SB Nation profiles UL Monroe and coach Todd Berry.

Cincinnati tight end Jake Golic has decided to leave the team due to a back injury.

West Virginia's starting quarterback job is still up for grabs.

The key to TCU's Big 12 title hopes will be its offensive line.

Southern Miss has narrowed its quarterback competition.

Another bowl game? Yes, that's correct. Montgomery, Ala. could be getting a game in the new bowl cycle.

LSU will shuffle its offensive line due to an injury to guard Josh Williford.

BYU has lost a starting cornerback for the season due to a knee injury.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez isn't happy with his offense right now.

Where does Colorado's quarterback battle stand?

Teaser:
College Football's Link Roundup: August 13
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 14:29

Pages