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Utah Preseason Top 10

1. Jordan Beetdiggers (Sandy)
The loss of several offensive linemen is a concern, but this team returns the best quarterback in the state in junior Austin Kafentzis and productive running back Clay Moss. The schedule is brutal with two stout out-of-state tests and a date with 4A contender East.

2. Alta Hawks (Sandy)
Quarterback Chipper Lucero will look often in the direction of receiver Mack Richards behind one of the state’s best linemen in Baron Bruce. Linebacker Jaden Johnson will pace the defense.

3. Bingham Miners (South Jordan)
Versatile tight end Dalton Schultz is one of the most highly sought-after players in the state. The offense once again should have a punishing ground game behind an experienced line.

4. Lone Peak Knights (Highland)
New coach Mike Mower will look to dual-threat quarterback Baron Gajkowski and a top-shelf defensive line to lead the way.

5. East Leopards (Salt Lake City)
The Leopards are led by Wisconsin commit Ula Tolutau at tailback and Arizona State commit Korey Rush at defensive end.

6. Northridge Knights (Layton)
The loss of running back David Adams hurts, but explosive junior running back/defensive back/return man Dayan Lake is back.

7. Brighton Bengals (Salt Lake City)
Junior running back Osa Masina already has multiple BCS offers. He will run behind a stout offensive line.

8. Timpview Thunderbirds (Provo)
The returning 4A champs will be formidable again with a defense that boasts experienced linebackers Emmett Tela and Pio Stowers.

9. Syracuse Titans
Defensive lineman Kaden Craig and linebacker Wyatt German power what should be a strong defense.

10. Logan Grizzlies
Ultra-productive quarterback Luke Falk is gone, but his favorite target, Taylor Compton, is back.

Three Can't Miss Matchups

8.31 – Alta vs. Lone Peak (at Rice Eccles-Stadium)
Coach Mike Mower’s debut at Lone Peak will come against one of the state’s best.

9.7 – Bingham at Valor Christian (Colo.)
The Miners will try to duplicate last year’s exciting 21-20 victory over this Colorado powerhouse.

9.14 – Bergen Catholic (N.J.) vs. Jordan (at Rio Tinto Stadium)
The Beetdiggers get an early chance to knock off one of New Jersey’s powerhouse programs.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Austin Kafentzis, QB, Jordan (Sandy)
Junior, 6-1, 195

As a sophomore, Kafentzis threw for 3,018 yards and 32 touchdowns and rushed for another 1,884 yards and 26 scores, so expect more fireworks this fall. He had offers from both BYU and Utah but committed to Wisconsin during a visit to Madison in June.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Bryan Mone, DT, Highland (Salt Lake City)
Senior, 6-4, 310

A University of Michigan commit, this disruptive force in the middle finished last season with 70 tackles, including 10 for a loss, and three sacks. Mone has the body type and athleticism to be an elite defensive tackle for the Wolverines in the Big Ten.

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Utah's best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 19:08
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Oregon Preseason Top 10

1. Sheldon Irish (Eugene)
The Irish lost some key personnel from the 2012 Class 6A state championship team, but Sheldon has proven it can reload and remain among the state’s elite. Seniors Mitch Herbert, Tanner Davies, Liam Talty and Yadie Dunmore will form the core of Lane Johnson’s squad.

2. Central Catholic Rams (Portland)
Central Catholic made it to the 6A quarterfinals in 2012 with a very young team. The Rams bring most of their talent back, led by two-way lineman and U.S. Army All-American Connor Humphreys.

3. Jesuit Crusaders (Portland)
Jesuit lost its entire offensive line — and all five signed with Division I schools — but most of the Crusaders’ skill players are back. Linebacker Joey Alfieri leads the defense.

4. Southridge Skyhawks (Beaverton)
Southridge made a surprising run to the 6A quarterfinals last season. Now a year older, the Skyhawks are poised for a deeper run.

5. Tigard Tigers
The Tigers rely on aggressive defense and a ball-control offense. A.J. Hotchkins is a two-way threat at fullback and linebacker.

6. Roosevelt Roughriders (Seattle)
What used to be one of the state’s worst programs is now loaded. Five players had Division I offers going into the summer.

7. Lake Oswego Lakers
The 2012 6A runners-up lost a ton of talent, but one of the state’s best coaching staffs always finds a way to make the playoffs.

8. West Albany Bulldogs (Albany)
Senior running back Jake LaCoste hopes to break the state rushing record held by current Oregon freshman Thomas Tyner.

9. Lakeridge Pacers (Lake Oswego)
The Pacers struggled in 2012 while playing a very difficult schedule. The ’13 club brings back almost every key player.

10. Sherwood Bowmen
The 5A powerhouse program lost a ton of talent, but the Bowmen bring back some key pieces on both lines.

Three Can't Miss Matchups

9.6 – Central Catholic at Sheldon
This could be a preview of a playoff rematch. Sheldon won last year in the regular season, 33-26.

9.6 – West Albany at Sherwood
Two 5A powers clash in a game that will feature two of the state’s top rushing teams.

9.20 – Central Catholic at Jesuit
College coaches always flock to the Holy War to scout some of the best players in the state.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Jake LaCoste, RB, West Albany
Senior, 5-11, 185

Thomas Tyner stole the headlines in recent years, but LaCoste is closing in on 6,000 yards rushing and 60 touchdowns in what has been a brilliant career at West Albany. Last year, he averaged 11.1 yards per carry en route to a 3,000-yard season.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Joey Alfieri, LB, Jesuit (Portland)
Senior, 6-3, 220

Alfieri enters his third year starting at Jesuit and has developed into the state’s No. 2 prospect. He recorded over 120 tackles as a junior and is also the starting fullback. Alfieri has offers from Oregon State, Stanford, California and Washington, among others.

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 18:47
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Nevada Preseason Top 10

1. Bishop Gorman Gaels (Las Vegas)
The Gaels haven’t lost to a Nevada school since Nov. 21, 2008. The team lost four-year starting quarterback Jarrett Solomon as well as its top two receivers to graduation. But Randall Cunningham Jr., a 7'3" high jumper, takes over at quarterback and will lead with his athleticism.

2. Liberty Patriots (Henderson)
The Patriots have won 11 games in each of the last three seasons but will have to continue that streak without Kai Nacua  and Niko Kapeli, the school’s career leaders in passing and rushing, respectively.

3. Arbor View Aggies (Las Vegas)
The Aggies went 10-1 last year and return five backs who rushed for more than 350 yards, led by senior Anthony Smith (735 yards).

4. Green Valley Gators (Henderson)
Quarterback Christian Lopez is coming off an outstanding sophomore season (2,081 passing yards, 531 rushing yards) and looks to lead the Gators to bigger things.

5. Palo Verde Panthers (Las Vegas)
The Panthers return a trio of two-way standouts in Jake Ortale, Josh Hamilton and Mike Hughes but must reload at running back.

6. Reed Raiders (Sparks)
The Raiders suffered huge graduation losses but have become the top large-school program in Northern Nevada.

7. Centennial Bulldogs (Las Vegas)
Linebacker Toby Lopez (126 tackles) returns to anchor a defense that held opponents to 14 or fewer points five times.

8. Spanish Springs Cougars (Sparks)
Nevada-commit quarterback Hunter Fralick (2,899 passing yards, 22 TDs) returns along with leading rusher Jeff Jurgensmeier.

9. Canyon Springs Pioneers (North Las Vegas)
The Pioneers return plenty of talent on defense but must replace big-time back Donnel Pumphrey, who is now at San Diego State.

10. Truckee Wolverines (Truckee, Calif.)
One of five California schools that compete in the NIAA, Truckee won its fourth straight Nevada state title in 2012.

Three Can't Miss Matchups

9.26 – Las Vegas at Rancho
The state’s oldest rivals fight for “Sir Herkimer’s Bone,” a cow bone that goes to the winner.

10.4 – Liberty at Coronado
A rematch of last season’s Sunrise Region title game should be a key Southeast League contest.

10.4 – McQueen at Reed
A key High Desert League contest that could be a preview of the Northern Region title game.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Hunter Fralick, QB, Spanish Springs (Sparks)
Senior, 6-2, 190

Fralick displayed great accuracy as a junior, completing 62.1 percent of his passes for 2,899 yards and 22 touchdowns. He was picked off only three times and added six rushing TDs. Fralick committed to Nevada at the end of May.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Rayshawn Henderson, DT, Canyon Springs (North Las Vegas)
Senior, 6-1, 275

Henderson can dominate at the line of scrimmage, and he recorded 76 tackles, including 11 for a loss, along with seven sacks as a junior. He even picked off a pass, and he is nimble enough to log time at fullback for the Pioneers.

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Nevada's best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 18:12
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Minnesota Preseason Top 10

1. Eden Prairie Eagles
Feared for their physical style yet loathed for their success, the Eagles are favored to become the first program to win three consecutive big-school state titles. Expect large helpings of bruising running backs Dan Fisher and Anthony Anderson.

2. Wayzata Trojans (Plymouth)
Less-heralded players gained experience when starting seniors suffered injuries in 2012. Expect a sound defensive unit and capable offensive line.

3. Totino-Grace Eagles (Fridley)
Though much smaller in enrollment than most Class 6A schools, Totino-Grace succeeds thanks to a few stars and lots of smart, disciplined football players.

4. Maple Grove Crimson
The Crimson welcome back 12 starters, most of them offensive linemen with good size and defensive players who can run.

5. Minnetonka Skippers
Quarterback Nick Rooney, running back Ian Cote and seven defensive veterans plan to keep the Skippers in the hunt.

6. Cretin-Derham Hall Raiders (St. Paul)
A one-and-done playoff run should have the Raiders hungry. Graduation took a toll, but few programs reload like Cretin-Derham Hall.

7. Edina Hornets
The surprise team of 2012 could turn heads again, as 11 starters return for the Hornets.

8. St. Thomas Academy Cadets (Mendota Heights)
Favorites to win the Class 5A title, the Cadets boast a stable of running backs with complementary styles few defenses can solve.

9. Rosemount Irish
A young Irish team improved all season, culminating in a Class 6A state tournament appearance. Rosemount will wear a target this fall.

10. Owatonna Huskies
Continuity on the offensive line and nine defenders who saw action in the Class 5A title game loss give the Huskies a solid foundation.

Three Can't Miss Matchups

9.7 – Joliet Catholic (Ill.) at St. Thomas Academy
The Cadets, favorites in Class 5A, hope to shine at home against the storied Hilltoppers.

9.12 – Eden Prairie at Totino-Grace
Totino-Grace rebounded from a rout in 2011 to top Eden Prairie last fall.

10.11 – Wayzata at Eden Prairie
The state’s two largest schools collide, likely for the Lake Conference title.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Jeff Jones, RB, Washburn (Minneapolis)
Senior, 6-0, 200

Jones used great burst and breakaway speed to compile 1,002 yards (9.0 yards per attempt) and nine touchdowns in eight games. He added 105 yards and three TDs receiving. Millers coach Giovan Jenkins called the Minnesota commit “the total package.”

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Andrew Stelter, DE, Owatonna
Senior, 6-4, 250

Stelter set his school’s single-season record with 12 sacks. He uses quickness off the ball and strength (he squats more than 500 pounds) to get off blocks and into opposing backfields. The 3-star prospect spurred Owatonna to the Class 5A title game last season.

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Minnesota's best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 18:05
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Kentucky Preseason Top 10

1. St. Xavier Tigers (Louisville)
After losing to Trinity by a point in last year’s 6A playoffs, the Tigers may be ready to knock their crosstown rivals from their perch atop the state. A big, experienced line and a deep stable of backs have this team poised to win its first state title since 2009.

2. Trinity Shamrocks (Louisville)
Despite some heavy graduation losses, the Shamrocks return one of the state’s best athletes in Louisville commit Reggie Bonnafon, who takes over at quarterback after a strong season at receiver.

3. Highlands Bluebirds (Fort Thomas)
Perennially one of the top offensive teams in the region, the Bluebirds will again put up points in bunches with receivers Luke Brockett and Brandon Hergott and tight end Nick True.

4. Bowling Green Purples
The two-time defending 5A champs have won 30 straight games, including two in a row over St. Xavier.

5. Scott County Cardinals (Georgetown)
The Cardinals nearly shocked Trinity in last year’s playoffs and return one of the top receivers in the state in Scott Daniel.

6. Covington Catholic Colonels (Park Hills)
Expect another strong defense, as linebacker Sam Burchell anchors the front seven.

7. Central Yellowjackets (Louisville)
Linebackers Donald Styles and Phillip Francis pace the defense for Central, winner of five 3A state titles in the last six seasons.

8. Conner Cougars (Hebron)
Quarterback Drew Barker should keep this offense humming at a high level, while the defense figures to be improved.

9. Pleasure Ridge Park Panthers (Louisville)
The Panthers look to duplicate last year’s offensive showing behind an experienced line and emerging back Delvon Dunn.

10. John Hardin Bulldogs (Elizabethtown)
Only two offensive starters return for new coach Chad Lewis, although one is leading rusher Khalil Frazier.

Three Can't Miss Matchups

9.6 – Bowling Green at St. Xavier
An early chance for a statement game by two teams with legitimate state title hopes.

9.28 – Highlands at Covington Catholic
Covington Catholic was one of only two teams to hold Highlands under 40 points last year.

10.4 – St. Xavier vs. Trinity (at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium)
Trinity owns a six-game winning streak in this rivalry between the state’s marquee programs.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Drew Barker, QB, Conner (Hebron)
Senior, 6-4, 210

For his career, Barker has thrown for 3,104 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushed for 2,971 yards and 41 touchdowns. The 4-star prospect committed to Kentucky over South Carolina this summer in a huge recruiting victory for the Wildcats’ new staff.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Matt Elam, DT, John Hardin (Elizabethtown)
Senior, 6-6, 350

A powerful and athletic presence anywhere you line him up, Elam can make an impact rushing the passer, stuffing the run or blocking kicks and punts. He’s a 4-star recruit who has offers from a host of SEC powers as well as Louisville.

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 17:48
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August Crossword Solution

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 17:41
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Colorado Preseason Top 10

1. Valor Christian Eagles (Highlands Ranch)
Despite a coaching change, there is just too much talent on the four-time defending state champions (won in three classifications) to pick against them. The offensive line features five 300-pounders paving the way for the state’s best player (Christian McCaffrey).

2. ThunderRidge Grizzlies (Highlands Ranch)
Routinely in the mix these days, the Grizzlies were ranked No. 1 in the state deep into the playoffs last season and have enough returning to make another run.

3. Cherokee Trail Cougars (Aurora)
The Cougars are a rugged team that didn’t allow an opponent to score more than 21 points in a game last season, and they held mighty Valor Christian to nine in the state championship game.

4. Ralston Valley Mustangs (Arvada)
Quarterback Jacob Knipp returns for his senior season after completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 2,646 yards with 28 touchdowns as a junior.

5. Pomona Panthers (Arvada)
Running backs Chris Benefiel, Konner Burns and Chris Marquez lead the Panthers’ potent rushing attack.

6. Cherry Creek Bruins (Greenwood Village)
Coach Dave Logan, now in his second season at Cherry Creek, always seems to have his team in the mix for a conference title.

7. Monarch Coyotes (Louisville)
The defending 4A state champion reloads with the addition of quarterback Jay MacIntyre, the son of Colorado’s football coach.

8. Denver South Rebels
The 2012 runner-up in Class 4A has the bulk of its key contributors back and just might be the favorite.

9. Arapahoe Warriors (Centennial)
This team lost only twice last season, both times against powerhouse programs. The Warriors have key components coming back.

10. Pueblo West Cyclones
Last season, four players rushed for at least 398 yards as the Cyclones went 12-1.

Three Can't Miss Games

8.24 – Central (Fresno, Calif.) at Valor Christian 

A quality opponent should give Valor Christian a tough test as it begins its bid to repeat in the state’s top classification.

9.7 – ThunderRidge at Ralston Valley 

An early top-five matchup in non-league play will give one of these powers a leg up.

10.4 – Cherokee Trail at Cherry Creek 

Both of these teams will have something to say about who wins the Centennial League.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Valor Christian (Highlands Ranch)
Senior, 6-0, 195

The youngest son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey plays both running back and slot receiver for his team and could do either when he heads to Stanford next year. He’s a threat from any spot on the field and also returns kicks.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Evan White, S, Cherokee Trail (Aurora)
Senior, 6-3, 190

White is a bruising athlete who might be a linebacker in college but has the speed to stick in the secondary. He intercepted seven passes as a junior in his first season playing primarily as a defensive back. He also helped his track team win a state championship in the 4x200 relay.

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 17:33
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Pennsylvania Preseason Top 10

1. Gateway Gators (Monroeville)
Loaded with Division I athletes, Gateway is the favorite to finally capture district and Class 4A state titles. Star wideout/defensive back Montae Nicholson headlines a half dozen D-I prospects, and new coach Donnie Militzer might have one of the elite secondaries in the state.

2. St. Joseph’s Prep Hawks (Philadelphia)
Prep lost in the district final, but some youthful Hawks, including junior running back Olamide Zaccheaus, should challenge again.

3. Central Catholic Vikings (Pittsburgh)
Linebacker Niko Thorpe and defensive back Tre Tarpley lead a defense that pitched five shutouts last year.  

4. West Allegheny Indians (Imperial)
Now juniors, quarterback Andrew Koester, running back Chayse Dillon and linebacker Armand Dellovade could challenge for a state title.

5. Archbishop Wood Vikings (Warminster)
The 2012 Class 3A state runners-up will go with a youth movement behind sophomore quarterback Tom Garlick and junior linebackers Andrew Guckin and Jake Cooper, all D-I prospects.

6. Bishop McDevitt Crusaders (Harrisburg)
Running backs Rashad Lawson (1,002 yards, 12 TDs) and Andre Robinson (1,034 yards, 18 TDs) both return.

7. North Allegheny Tigers (Wexford)
The defending Class 4A state champs reload with senior two-way star Elijah Zeise (four TDs, three INTs) and junior linebacker Layne Skundrich (96 tackles, six sacks).

8. Coatesville Red Raiders
The Class 4A state runners-up return athlete Daquan Worley (1,779 yards, 20 TDs) and linebacker Tyler Burke (208 tackles, 11 sacks).

9. La Salle College Explorers (Wyndmoor)
Jimmy Herron leads the offense, and linebacker Zaire Franklin headlines the defense on a team that’s won four straight district titles.

10. Cardinal O’Hara Lions (Springfield)
Transfer running back J.T. Blyden joins quarterback Dashawn Darden (1,607 yards, 20 TDs) and receiver Thaddius Smith (eight TDs).

Five Can't Miss Matchups

8.31 – Harrisburg at Bishop McDevitt
McDevitt opens its new field, and both teams get a chance to make an early statement.

9.7 – St. Joseph’s Prep at Don Bosco Prep (N.J.)
SJP hops the state line for a game against a perennial top-100 team in the country.

10.4 – Cathedral Prep at McDowell
A heated public/private rivalry game in Erie, the game’s been played every season since 1958.

10.4 – Gateway at North Allegheny
Top challenger Gateway gets a shot at dethroning the defending Class 4A state champs.

11.28 – Phillipsburg (N.J.) vs. Easton
Financial woes nearly ended Easton’s program, giving the nation’s oldest interstate Thanksgiving game a new perspective.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Robert Martin, RB, Harrisburg
Senior, 6-0, 191

Martin missed his sophomore year at Steel-High, but his transfer to Harrisburg injected life into the moribund program and shot him onto the recruiting radar. Martin ran for 1,812 yards and 18 touchdowns in 14 games as a junior and is poised for a dominant encore performance in 2013.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Dravon Henry, DB, Aliquippa
Senior, 5-11, 190

Henry has 15 interceptions in two seasons, and early comparisons are being made to fellow Aliquippa grad Darrelle Revis. Henry’s also an accomplished running back for the perennial contender. He chipped in 1,919 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns to go with his presence in the secondary.

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 17:25
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Oklahoma Preseason Top 10

1. Jenks Trojans
One of the state’s premier powerhouse programs is loaded again. The Trojans are strong on defense with a secondary that includes Steven Parker and Dylan Harding. But coach Allan Trimble’s offense will be looking for playmakers to step into primary roles.

2. Tulsa Union Redskins
The Redskins have combined with Jenks to win every Class 6A state championship since 1996, and this year doesn’t look to be any different, with Union trying to take the title back.

3. Broken Arrow Tigers
Broken Arrow has the most Division I talent in the state, but the Tigers have to make it count on the field. Quarterback Coleman Key and running back Devon Thomas lead the high-powered offense.

4. Owasso Rams
Owasso must replace talented leader Jaylen Lowe at quarterback, but the Rams have several other tools to work with.

5. Edmond Santa Fe Wolves
The Wolves return several pieces of a strong offense, starting with quarterback and Oklahoma commit Justice Hansen.

6. Edmond North Huskies
The Huskies return a powerful run game, led by 210-pound Arizona State commit Michael Farmer, who averaged 8.8 yards per carry.

7. Norman North Timberwolves
The Timberwolves reached the Class 6A finals last fall, but they’ll have some holes to fill, particularly on defense.

8. Carl Albert Titans (Midwest City)
The Titans won the 5A title behind quarterback Stevie Thompson, who rushed for 1,926 yards and 36 touchdowns as a junior.

9. Lawton Wolverines
With overpowering linemen on both sides of the ball, the Wolverines should bounce back after missing the postseason in 2012.

10. McAlester Buffaloes
The Buffaloes rebounded from an 0-3 start to reach the 5A semifinals and return much of the starting lineup.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

9.13 – Jenks vs. Union
The state’s most noted rivalry is set for the second week of the season at the University of Tulsa.

10.4 – Carl Albert at Bishop McGuinness
Carl Albert avenged last year’s midseason loss in a Class 5A semifinal showdown.

10.11 – Clinton vs. Anadarko
This is a budding rivalry. Clinton won the meeting in the 2012 Class 4A state championship game.

10.11 – Broken Arrow at Jenks
The winner is likely in the district driver’s seat, and no other game in the state will put as many Division I prospects on the field.

11.8 – Tuttle at Blanchard
Defending Class 3A champion Blanchard’s only loss last year was at rival Tuttle, so plenty will be riding on this Week 10 matchup.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Justice Hansen, QB, Edmond Santa Fe
Senior, 6-3, 200

Hansen completed 58.2 percent of his passes (185-of-318) with 36 touchdowns and only nine interceptions last year while showing his ability to run the ball effectively as well. In his senior season, Hansen and the Wolves will try to snap Jenks’ and Union’s 6A championship dominance.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Deondre Clark, DE, Douglass (Oklahoma City)
Senior, 6-3, 240

Clark had 22 sacks last year to set the Douglass single-season record, regularly overpowering the Class 4A offensive linemen he faced each week. His speed and power made him a national recruit. This year, he’ll try to help the Trojans end a two-year run of first-round playoff exits.

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Oklahoma's best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 17:17
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Monthly, News
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-monthly-goes-digital
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Athlon Sports monthly, the world's largest sports magazine (9.3 million monthly circulation), is now offering a digital edition of its popular product. Featured under the "magazine" tag on AthlonSports.com, the digital version of the print monthly allows sports fans access to stories and features that were once only available to readers of Athlon's 500 newspaper partners. 
 
The first digital edition is Athlon's August 2013 issue, featuring Johnny Manziel, along with Athlon's College Football Preview, 5 Bold NFL Predictions, high school football, the NBA offseason, and a look at the newest sports channel, FOX Sports 1. 
 
Click on the cover below to check it out.
Athlon Sports Monthly Goes Digital
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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 17:15
All taxonomy terms: High School
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Mississippi Preseason Top 10

1. Brandon Bulldogs
Brandon returns the bulk of its Class 6A runner-up team, including junior quarterback Gardner Minshew (3,001 yards, 27 TDs). Senior defensive end Michael Brooks Jr. and junior tackle Fletcher Adams each bring more than 130 tackles back on a loaded defense.

2. South Panola Tigers (Batesville)
The Tigers won their seventh title in the last 10 seasons, beating Brandon in December. Now a senior, quarterback Rip Kirk threw for 2,358 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2012.

3. Olive Branch Conquistadors
The Conquistadors went 11-2 but will have to replace Memphis football and basketball recruit Sam Craft, who combined to run and throw for nearly 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns.

4. Meridian Wildcats
The Wildcats return a talented backfield, and the defense features one of the nation’s top safeties in C.J. Hampton.

5. West Point Green Wave
Running back Aeris Williams is one of the state’s top recruits and will line up behind a new full-time quarterback, junior Josh Ewing.

6. Picayune Maroon Tide
The Tide’s only loss came in the playoffs to South champion Pascagoula. Preston Dedeaux (1,451 rushing yards, 20 TDs) returns.

7. Madison Central Jaguars
The Jaguars again had their championship plans foiled by South Panola, but they did beat 5A champ Starkville.

8. Petal Panthers
The Panthers welcome back top linebacker Forrest Harvey, but their top receiver, running back and quarterback all graduated.

9. Oak Grove Warriors
The Warriors return quarterback Kirk McCarty, who threw for 2,356 yards and 31 touchdowns, as well as receiver Cameron Myers.

10. Bassfield Yellowjackets
The Class 2A champions must replace their top runners, but Trodrick Daniels had 811 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

8.22 – Brandon at Madison Central
Brandon, the 2012 South 6A champ, battles a Madison Central team that is eager to make an early season statement.

8.29 – West Point at South Panola
These teams opened last season, and it came down to a last-second field goal for South Panola.

10.4 – Olive Branch at South Panola
Only one can get to the Class 6A championship. This will be one intense division game.

10.11 – Picayune at Pascagoula
Pascagoula ended Picayune’s perfect season in the playoffs last season.

10.18 – Ridgeland at Callaway
Callaway is loaded with individual talent. A division win here can stamp the Chargers as a team to be reckoned with.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Aeris Williams, RB, West Point
Senior, 6-1, 205

Williams will again be the featured ball-carrier for the Class 5A favorite — and rush-heavy — Green Wave after running for 1,893 yards as a junior. His offer sheet is starting to fill in nicely, with Florida State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Wisconsin already on board.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
C.J. Hampton, S, Meridian
Senior, 6-1, 190

The state’s top-ranked safety, Hampton had 48 tackles and three interceptions last season. An Ole Miss commit, Hampton added an offer from Alabama in May and also has offers from Auburn, Mississippi State, Stanford and Tennessee. He has accepted an invitation to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

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Teaser:
Mississippi's best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 17:10
All taxonomy terms: High School
Path: /high-school/2013-michigan-high-school-football-top-10-and-preview
Body:

Michigan Preseason Top 10

1. Cass Tech Technicians (Detroit)
The Technicians could again be the deepest and most talented team in the state this fall, with several future FBS players on the roster, including linebacker/defensive back Deon Drake (committed to Michigan State) and corner Damon Webb (Ohio State).

2. Grand Rapids Christian Eagles
The defending Division 3 champs bring back Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Drake Harris and Northwestern-bound tackle Tommy Doles.

3. Brother Rice Warriors (Bloomfield Hills)
Last year’s Division 2 state champions will be led by senior running backs Brian Walker and Shon Powell, who combined for 35 touchdowns and nearly 2,400 yards on the ground in 2012.

4. Clarkston Wolves
The Wolves return several standouts, including running back Ian Eriksen, tight end Cole Chewins and defensive lineman David Beedle.

5. Muskegon Big Reds
With Western Michigan commit Kenny Finley leading the way up front, the Big Reds could win their fourth state crown in nine years.

6. Ithaca Yellowjackets
The Yellowjackets will go for their fourth consecutive state title this year under the leadership of signal-caller Travis Smith.

7. South Christian Sailors (Grand Rapids)
The Division 4 champs in 2012, the Sailors will be led by Jon Wassink, who threw for 2,564 yards and 23 TDs as a sophomore.

8. Country Day Yellowjackets (Detroit)
Rutgers-bound senior quarterback Tyler Wiegers has one of the state’s top targets in Michigan commit Maurice Way.

9. St. Mary’s Prep Eaglets (Orchard Lake)
The Eaglets lost a heartbreaker in the Division 3 championship but bring back stud athletes Tyson Smith and Jalen Watts-Jackson.

10. Southfield Bluejays
Transfer Malik McDowell forms the most intimidating defensive tandem in the state with Michigan commit Lawrence Marshall.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

8.29 – Grand Rapids Christian at South Christian
This cross-town rivalry features two defending state championship squads.

8.30 – Cass Tech at Southfield
The Technicians could get their biggest regular-season test in this Week 1 contest at Wayne State.

10.4 – Brother Rice at St. Mary’s Prep
Brother Rice didn’t lose another game after falling to St. Mary’s 24-14 last September.

10.18 – Zeeland East at Muskegon
Muskegon hopes to avenge a 40-39 loss, while Zeeland East’s Spencer Viening tries to replicate his 137-yard, three-TD showing.

10.19 – Warren De La Salle at Detroit Catholic Central
This matchup usually delivers some drama. Central escaped with a 31-30 win last fall.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Drake Harris, WR, Grand Rapids Christian
Senior, 6-3, 170

Harris tallied more than 2,000 receiving yards as a junior, including a record 243 in the Division 3 state title game win. A Michigan commitment, he averaged 22 yards per catch and scored 25 TDs. He might struggle to replicate those numbers with the added attention he’ll get this season.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Malik McDowell, DE, Southfield
Senior, 6-6, 280

McDowell, who earned Division 7-8 Player of the Year honors from the AP after dominating small school competition (70 tackles, 15 sacks) for Loyola (Detroit) last season, will try to do it against top competition this year. He forms a formidable tandem with Lawrence Marshall, who is trying to get McDowell to commit to Michigan, too.

Order your Athlon Sports High School Football Annual today!

Teaser:
Michigan's best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 16:57
All taxonomy terms: High School
Path: /high-school/2013-marylanddc-high-school-football-top-10-and-preview
Body:

Maryland/D.C. Preseason Top 10

1. Our Lady of Good Counsel Falcons (Olney)
Coming off a fourth straight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship, the Falcons will look to replace two-way standout Kendall Fuller. Good Counsel averaged 33.2 points in its six regular-season WCAC contests in 2012.

2. DeMatha Stags (Hyattsville)
The Stags went 9-3 and are set to return a host of talented seniors, led by quarterback John Lovett and his band of receivers. Getting past rival Good Counsel is the annual challenge.

3. Gilman Greyhounds (Baltimore)
The Greyhounds lost to Good Counsel 20-19 in overtime last season, then won nine in a row and the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association “A” Conference crown.

4. Henry A. Wise Pumas (Upper Marlboro)
The reigning Class 4A state champs played a thriller in the title game, and will have quarterback Isaiah Black returning.

5. River Hill Hawks (Clarksville)
The Hawks overcame a 14-6 halftime deficit in the 3A state title game to beat Huntingtown 18-14 and win their 24th game in a row.

6. Dunbar Poets (Baltimore)
The Poets are state championship veterans, with three straight 1A crowns. But they’re moving up a classification to 2A this fall.

7. Middletown Knights
The 2A state champion Knights boast an all-state offensive lineman in senior Justin Falcinelli (6-4, 300).

8. St. Paul’s Crusaders (Brooklandville)
The Crusaders capped a perfect 11-0 season by beating John Carroll in the MIAA “B” Conference title game.

9. Calvert Hall Cardinals (Towson)
The Cardinals’ season ended with a 35-7 loss to rival Gilman in the MIAA “A” Conference title game.

10. Friendship Collegiate Academy Knights (Wash., D.C.)
The Knights are loaded with college recruits, and topping the list are sought-after cornerbacks D’Andre Payne and Jalen Tabor.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

8.23 – Good Counsel vs. Gilman
Private powers collide before most teams get started this year at Towson University.

9.1 – Manatee (Fla.) vs. Gilman
A tasty interstate matchup in Baltimore featuring Florida’s Class 7A power against the Greyhounds on ESPN.

9.6 – Middletown at Westminster
Last year’s 2A state champs come to Ruby Field to face the 4A state semifinalist for the first time.

10.11 – Don Bosco (N.J.) Prep at Friendship Collegiate Academy
One of New Jersey’s (and the nation’s) premier teams takes on the Knights in the nation’s capital.

11.28 – Calvert Hall vs. Loyola
The Turkey Bowl is in its 94th year and likely will be played this year on the campus of Towson University.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Demetrius Johnson, ATH, Annapolis Area Christian
Senior, 6-2, 205

The Annapolis Area Christian program is relatively new and didn’t win a game last season, but Johnson is set to emerge as one of the state’s premier prep stars. He played wide receiver and defensive back last fall and has earned a roster spot in the 2014 US Army All-American Bowl in Texas.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Melvin Keihn, LB, Gilman (Baltimore)
Senior, 6-3, 225

The speedy Keihn racked up 13 sacks to lead a stingy Greyhounds defense, and he reportedly has offers from close to 20 FBS schools. Keihn helped Gilman to a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association “A” Conference title and a 9-2 record.

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Teaser:
Maryland and D.C.-Area's best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 16:46
All taxonomy terms: High School
Path: /high-school/2013-arkansas-high-school-football-top-10-and-preview
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Arkansas Preseason Top 10

1. Har-Ber Wildcats (Springdale)
Nine starters return, including heralded senior defensive lineman Josh Frazier. Offensive tackle Isaac Johnson and defensive end Jake Hall also have major college offers. Senior quarterback Kyle Pianalto completed 123-of-214 passes for 1,903 yards and 26 touchdowns last fall.

2. Bentonville Tigers
A solid cast of returnees for the Tigers includes senior tight end Jack Kraus, who has committed to Arkansas, and junior offensive tackle Ean Pfeifer, who had 26 knockdown blocks last fall.

3. North Little Rock Charging Wildcats
Coach Brad Bolding says this could be the fastest team he’s had. The program received a boost in the offseason with two transfers — senior linebacker Tim Quickel and junior utility back K.J. Hill.

4. Southside Rebels (Fort Smith)
The Rebels are led by athletic senior quarterback Isaac Jackson and his younger brother, Ian, a junior linebacker.

5. Cabot Panthers
The Panthers improved to 6-5 last season after finishing 3-7 in 2011. Five three-year starters return to the offensive line.

6. Fayetteville Bulldogs
The two-time defending Class 7A state champions could start as many as 16 underclassmen, including several promising linemen.

7. Greenwood Bulldogs
Greenwood is seeking to become the first Arkansas school to capture four-consecutive state championships since 1989.

8. Conway Wampus Cats
The Wampus Cats return 11 starters, seven on defense. Junior kicker Matt “Thunderfoot” Cummins is one of the state’s best.

9. West Memphis Blue Devils
West Memphis had won or shared eight consecutive conference championships before tying for third last fall.

10. Jonesboro Golden Hurricane
The program continues to flourish under alum Randy Coleman. Defensive lineman Chuks Ota headlines nine returning starters.

Three Can't Miss Matchups

9.6 – Webb City (Mo.) at Har-Ber
Webb City, which won last year’s meeting 30-15, is riding a 45-game winning streak.

9.27 – Har-Ber at Bentonville
Caps a brutal four-game stretch for Bentonville, which has beaten Har-Ber five consecutive times.

10.25 – Greenwood at Fort Smith Southside
This may be the toughest regular-season test for Greenwood, which has a 38-game winning streak.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Jabe Burgess, QB, Greenwood
Senior, 6-2, 200

Burgess, a Tulsa commit, made a seamless transition from backup to starter, completing 219-of-296 passes for 3,128 yards and 36 touchdowns last fall for the Class 6A champion. He is the cousin of former Greenwood and Arkansas star Tyler Wilson.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Bijhon Jackson, DT, El Dorado
Senior, 6-2, 320

Jackson was a starter as a sophomore on El Dorado’s Class 6A state championship team in 2011. The Arkansas commit had six sacks last fall and also won the state weightlifting title in April, bench-pressing 385 pounds and power-cleaning a record 335 pounds.

Order your Athlon Sports High School Football Annual today!

Teaser:
Arkansas' best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 16:26
Path: /nascar/payback-order-night-nascars-visit-bristol
Body:

1. Bristol’s middle name may well be “payback”  Ryan Newman
You’ll probably make it through at least the first 10 seconds of the ABC race broadcast Saturday night without seeing a replay of an irritated driver throwing something or two cars bellowing sparks in the Bristol night as they crash. Just don’t expect to avoid it for much longer.

NASCAR’s television partners love to turn up the wick on Bristol’s penchant for causing helmet-throwing displeasure among the 43 competitors, and they do it for good reason: It happens a lot.

Guessing, however, where those emotions will run ragged can be a fool’s errand. Sometimes, they rise from one driver cutting off another. Others, they are the eruption of previous slight.

Hendrick Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne leads the pack of Sprint Cup drivers with public displeasure. His stems from multiple incidents with Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, most recently with Matt Kenseth at Watkins Glen.

Then there’s the Denny Hamlin/Joey Logano feud that enflamed at Bristol in March before resulting in Hamlin’s back injury in a racing-incident crash in California. There’s been no further action on that front, but 500 laps at Bristol has a way of igniting old flames. The same could be said for Danica Patrick and Travis Kvapil, a relationship rocky based on Patrick wrecking Kvapil twice this summer.

And who knows? Maybe this is the time when another rift comes to light. Those are always fun.



2. Spring Bristol race results hide Matt Kenseth’s fast carThat Matt Kenseth led 85 laps in the last Cup Series appearance in Thunder Valley after starting 12th isn’t too surprising. He’s won Bristol twice and finished in the top 5 on 10 occasions.

But Kenseth didn’t lead until Lap 238 of the March 500-lapper, and led those 85 laps in a manner that pretty succinctly showed that he was the driver with the car to beat. Kenseth lost the lead when a couple of other drivers, including Jeff Gordon, tried a dose of altering pit strategy. Ultimately, that strategy bit Kenseth when he was working Gordon to take the lead back on Lap 390.

Gordon blew a tire and collected Kenseth as he shot up the track and into the outside wall. Both drivers suffered enough damage that finishing wasn’t possible. It was bad luck all around, and may have been the only thing that kept Kenseth from Victory Lane.

Of course, that race was in the midst of Kenseth’s impressive start to the 2013 season in his new Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20. By June 30, he had four wins.

Since then? He hasn’t won.


3. Third time a charm on ground-down Bristol surface?
Bristol Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith had finally seen enough results from Bristol’s 2007 resurfacing to know something must change. After all, his ceramic-tiled suite with a stained-glass ceiling fixture didn’t build itself on a take-it-or-leave-it, pedestrian style of racing.

But that’s what Bristol had become when the new concrete and progressive banking was added before the night race in ’07. It was chock-full of side-by-side racing, but the wider track produced little incentive for drivers to rub fenders.

So Smith demanded changes — the April 2012 announcement of which, naturally, fielded signs that read “Fans spoke, we listened” — and the track’s corners went through a grinding process aimed at reducing the width of the preferred racing groove. Ultimately, it worked — even if opposite of what was expected.

The high line around Bristol is now the fastest way in race mode, producing snaking lines of race cars and drivers trying desperately to pass. The wide-open inside line is massively attractive, but it rarely is faster. Now, the nudge-and-run is back.

Saturday night’s race is the third in the new “configuration” and could offer a different show than we’ve previously seen from the Cup Series. Teams are more prepared for what works at the half-mile track, and the temperatures will be up a bit from the spring. What that specifically means is unclear, but you can bet Bruton knows what he’s looking for.



4. How will bubble Chase drivers tread at Bristol?  Jeff GordonJeff Gordon finished third a year ago at Bristol in his nail-biting run to Chase for the Sprint Cup qualification, and would likely be pretty pleased to pull that result off again.

Of course, that’s the same story for seven or eight drivers who know that there’s not much time to recover from a mistake with just two races left after Saturday night’s event. Simultaneously, the crowd of drivers seeking at least one of the two wild card entries has grown more crowded with Joey Logano’s win last week at Michigan.

How will they handle the tight and typically not-so-friendly confines of Bristol’s high banks?

It certainly needs to be a delicate balance. The risk of a tight battle for the win may not line up with the consequence of a crash. But that said, winning could nearly guarantee entry to the title fight with just two regular season races to go.

Gordon, of course, could desperately use a win to join the fight of one-win drivers like Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., Logano and Ryan Newman. But you better believe those drivers will see Gordon (and each other) as more than just in-race foes Saturday night. Every on-track point will be critical.


5. Kyle Busch aims for Bristol sweep, round two
As long as Kasey Kahne doesn’t decide to deliver a case of payback — and if things go as expected in the Nationwide Series race (that’s a big “if” indeed) — then Kyle Busch may be looking at another shot to take three national series wins in one weekend at the same track.

He became the first to do it in NASCAR competition in 2010 when he won all three races at the August Bristol weekend, and set himself up to capture it again by winning Wednesday night’s Camping World Truck Series race in a pretty dramatic finish. Busch beat Timothy Peters by one-twentieth of a second after a final lap side-by-side duel.

He’s got a pretty decent chance to pull off the triple considering where he finished in the two-race spring Bristol weekend. In March, Busch won the Nationwide race over Kyle Larson and then finished second to Kahne in the Sunday Cup Series race.


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

Teaser:
Geoffrey Miller's five things to watch as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hits Bristol Motor Speedway for the Irwin Tools Night Race.
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 13:38
Path: /mlb/12-amazing-ichiro-facts-prove-he%E2%80%99s-one-best-ever
Body:

No matter where you stand on the issue of counting Ichiro’s 4,000 hits, it’s difficult not to be impressed by the man’s talent and accomplishments. With an approach that makes hitting coaches across the country cringe, the hitting machine is blessed with incredible hand-eye coordination and athletic ability.

He swings at pitches that seem unhittable — even pitches that bounce — and yet he owns more hits during his time in America than anyone, and it’s not even close.

Ichiro is not only a hitter, but a complete player. He’s won 10 Gold gloves, has 10 years of 30 or more stolen bases and few runners dare test his throwing arm from right field. He will be a member of the Hall of Fame one day, most certainly on the first ballot.

IchiroHere are a few Ichiro numbers to chew on:

Ichiro By the Numbers

4,000    Total number of hits combined in his 22-year career in Japan and the U.S.

375       More hits for Ichiro than any other major league player during his tenure in the big leagues. Albert Pujols is second with 2,347.

10        200-hit seasons in the majors for Ichiro, tied with Pete Rose for most all-time.

1          Rank all-time in hits for any player for any 13-year period with 2,722. That is 64 more than Pete Rose had from 1968-80, which ranks second.

262      Most hits in any season in the majors, accomplished by Ichiro in 2004.

1,252    Runs scored in Ichiro’s career, which ranks fourth among all players from 2001-13.

4,922    Combined hits and walks for Ichiro in Japan and the United States. That would rank ninth all-time behind Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb, Carl Yastrzemski, Rickey Henderson, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. Pretty good company.

.320      Ichiro’s career batting average, which ranks third during his career among players with 7,000 plate appearances behind Miguel Cabrera and Pujols.

470      Stolen bases for Ichiro, which is second behind only Juan Pierre during Ichiro’s career.

7          Offensive categories in which Ichiro ranks first in Seattle Mariners history, including: batting average, at-bats, hits, stolen bases, triples, singles and intentional walks. He ranks second in runs, third in total bases and doubles.

1,278    Hits over nine seasons in Japan.

2,722    Hits in the Major Leagues in the U.S., which ranks No. 59 all-time.

Teaser:
No matter where you stand on the issue of counting Ichiro’s 4,000 hits, it’s difficult not to be impressed by the man’s talent and accomplishments. He will be a member of the Hall of Fame one day, most certainly on the first ballot.
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 13:00
Path: /college-football/mtsu-unveils-new-white-helmet
Body:

MTSU has worn a silver helmet since 1979, but the Blue Raiders introduced a black matte helmet last season and will break out a white alternate for 2013. These helmets could be worn in a few games this year and one variation will feature an American flag inside the team logo on Nov. 9. 

Photo tweeted by (@UniWatch)

 

Teaser:
MTSU Unveils New White Helmet
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 11:15
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-august-23-2013
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Aug. 23.

 

Mandatory has a nice rundown of shamless gratuitous eye candy in film, including Brooklyn Decker (pictured) in "Just Go With It," which we're happy to do. 

 

Some guy named Willie Young of the Lions taunted Tom Brady last night. Two problems here: One, it's preseason, and two, he's Tom Brady and you're Willie Young.

 

So did Roger Goodell pressure ESPN to drop out of the "Frontline" documentary on NFL head injuries? This could get interesting.

 

• Speaking of head injuries, here's Ronnie Lott talking about how he changed Super Bowl XXIII with his demolition of Ickey Woods.

 

Roy Hibbert stuffed himself into an airplane lavatory and took selfies.

 

• Remember how Ian Poulter and Howard Stern went at it on Twitter over fans yelling "Baba Booey", among other things? Well, a fan yelled "Baba Booey" at Poulter yesterday and was removed from the Liberty National premises. I'm hoping it escalates from here.

 

So is Johnny Football now the sport's bad guy?

 

Twitter melted down last night over the Affleck as Batman news. I'm not bothered by it. I hated Christian Bale's insane growling.

 

The Hoover High School cheerleaders are already in midseason form.

 

Hawk Harrelson gave a White Sox homer the confused old dude treatment last night.

 

Two South Carolina Gamecocks born four months apart have the same name and the same dad. That won't be confusing for Steve Spurrier at all.

 

• We don't give America's Hat enough love around here. How about video of a 125-yard CFL touchdown on a missed field goal return?

 

 

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 10:17
Path: /nfl/indianapolis-colts-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

No more sneaking up on the NFL. The Indianapolis Colts blew their underdog cover in 2012 with a most unexpected climb to 11–5 and a playoff spot only one year after a 2–14 train wreck.

First-year general manager Ryan Grigson initiated himself by winning NFL Executive of the Year. First-year head coach Chuck Pagano endeared himself to a team and community with his inspiring fight against leukemia and emotional return to the sideline. Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck turned out to be every bit as talented and smart as advertised.

Just like that, the Colts are Super Bowl contenders in the eyes of many, and so soon after parting ways with Peyton Manning in March 2012. Who woulda thunk it?

Pagano suggests he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. The Colts are still “Building The Monster,” as player T-shirts remind. As much as everyone is excited about what could come next, the bottom line is about winning Super Bowls and hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 7th

Related: 2013 Indianapolis Colts Schedule Analysis

Offense
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians parlayed a stint as interim head coach into a permanent title with Arizona, so the Colts hired Luck’s former Stanford play-caller, Pep Hamilton. This should translate to a more balanced passing attack — Arians hated dink-and-dunk — with Luck utilizing more short-range throws in addition to going deep. He took 41 sacks last year and had to hold the ball too long behind a below-average offensive line.

The Colts had money to spend in free agency and used a chunk on Gosder Cherilus to play right tackle. They also added guard Donald Thomas. Grigson is a former O-lineman who ensured what he called a “cauldron of competition” for training camp with draft picks used on offensive guard Hugh Thornton and center Khaled Holmes. How quickly the rookies transition will impact who stays and goes on a reshuffled front.

While wide receiver Reggie Wayne delivered his sixth Pro Bowl season and flourished in the slot formation when the Colts went with three wide receivers, the team needed another speed guy to replace free agent departure Donnie Avery. They signed former first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey for one year. Like Avery, Heyward-Bey is fast, but drops are a concern.

Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener showed promise as rookies, especially Allen, who the Colts should utilize more — often times he helped block and even ran the ball as an H-back. Allen’s a mismatch in the pass game, and Luck needs to find him more.

The run game is still a question mark. That Vick Ballard proved to be a reliable rookie was a big bonus for a fifth-round pick. Donald Brown got hurt again, and the former first-round pick is in a contract year. The Colts talk about wanting to run the ball, which is why the team signed former Giant Ahmad Bradshaw in June. Bradshaw has had a tough time staying on the field, but he's also shown he's capable of being a 1,000-yard rusher when he gets enough carries. Seventh-round rookie Kerwynn Williams is valued as a kick returner but could be an ideal third down back.

Defense
Pagano used the word “hybrid” to describe the team changing from its usual 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 last year. That’s another way of saying the Colts didn’t have the parts to play an aggressive 3-4 like he did as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator.

More parts are now in place. While some were surprised at the money shelled out for certain players, needs were addressed with the addition of several free agents, most notably Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry, outside linebacker Erik Walden and cornerback Greg Toler.

Landry is a run-stop thumper, the likes of which the Colts haven’t had since 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders. Walden “sets the edge” as a decent run-stuffer and adequate pass-rusher, although many will unfairly compare him to the guy he’s replacing, all-time sack leader Dwight Freeney. The Colts decided not to re-sign Freeney, who didn’t fit the 3-4 and had just five sacks last season. Walden had more than 100 tackles in the last two seasons with Green Bay, so the priority is to have a guy on the edge who is responsible on all downs, not just rushing the pocket. If Walden can’t come up with enough sacks, first-round pick ­Bjoern Werner should get his chance.

Toler helps a secondary that lost cornerback Jerraud Powers, an oft-injured but capable starter. They essentially switched addresses — Powers going to Arizona and Toler coming from the Cardinals. While more changes were expected, the Colts opted to hang onto to cornerbacks Darius Butler and Cassius Vaughn, who made plays at times but also got torched.

Eyebrows rose when Grigson gave starter money to San Francisco backup defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois. But he’s another ideal fit in a 3-4. He’s worked before with defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and can play either end or tackle.

Specialists
Kicker Adam Vinatieri enters a contract year and turns 41 in late December. It’s possible his replacement is on the roster in punter Pat McAfee, who also handles kickoffs and aspires to one day add field goals to his areas of expertise.

The Colts thought enough of McAfee to use the franchise tag on him, which meant $2.9 million for this season. The sides have talked about a long-term contract.

T.Y. Hilton could be one of the league’s best punt returners. He started slow as a rookie but eventually displayed the speed and elusiveness to make cover teams miss. He accounted for both Colts TDs in a 20–13 home win over Buffalo in Week 12 with a 75-yard punt return and eight-yard catch. Williams should handle kickoffs and might spell Hilton on punts at times.

Final Analysis: 2nd in AFC South
As owner Jim Irsay said outside the locker room after January’s playoff loss in Baltimore, 11 wins is a tough act to follow.

If Luck’s O-line gives him time, watch him take another step forward. That’s saying something considering the passer set an NFL rookie record with 4,374 yards. But he should enjoy a better TD-INT ratio than 23-to-18. The Colts will still have to pass to set up the run in stretches, but Luck is mobile and has plenty of weapons. Even if every part doesn’t fit, the Colts should be better on offense.

The real question about this team is defense. The Colts couldn’t stop the run at times, the pass rush was spotty and the cover guys were exploited too often.

Granted, the team was able to overcome those shortcomings. But Pagano and Grigson realize that next step is a big one and requires a complete team. Winning masks inefficiencies for only so long. The initial hurdle is the two-time defending AFC South champion Houston Texans. They’ve taken ownership of the division once dominated by the Colts. Houston has learned that climbing the playoff ladder demands more than just talent. The Texans have never won in Indianapolis, so that bodes well if the Colts need a Dec. 15 win in the playoff push.

Order your 2013 Indianapolis Colts 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)
MiamiCincinnati (8/27)IndianapolisKansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)TennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Indianapolis Colts 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/st-louis-rams-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Jeff Fisher made his bones in coaching with a bruising, physical defense coupled with a conservative run-oriented offense led by big back Eddie George. That was in Tennessee (and Houston). As Fisher enters his second season in St. Louis, the bruising, physical defense is still there. But this offense could be unlike anything ever seen on a Fisher team. After undergoing a dramatic offseason makeover of skill-position players, the Rams have gotten faster and potentially more explosive on offense. After finishing 25th in scoring and 23rd in total offense in 2012, the Rams may do a 180 in terms of approach this season. It may take time to see how it all shakes out, but it looks like the emphasis is on getting players in space, creating mismatches, spreading the field and picking up the tempo.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 7th

Related: 2013 St. Louis Rams Schedule Analysis

Offense
For the first time as an NFL player, quarterback Sam Bradford has the same offensive coordinator in Brian Schottenheimer — and the same terminology and playbook — in consecutive seasons. The apparent emphasis on more of an up-tempo passing style better suits Bradford. He did some of his best work a year ago in the hurry-up, when he was given more responsibilities at the line of scrimmage.

He’s got a speedy receiver corps with the addition of tight end Jared Cook in free agency and wideouts Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in the draft. Four-time Pro Bowler Jake Long is the new left tackle on what already was an improved offensive line. If the Rams can find production in a backfield minus Steven Jackson, this could be Bradford’s eagerly awaited breakout season. There will be growing pains, however, because so many of the running backs and wide receivers are inexperienced. But the potential exists for a dynamic offense, one that can create a lot of matchup problems. Cook, who has 4.49 speed, will line up in the slot, out wide, in the backfield, and — oh yeah — on the line. Pairing Cook with the much-improved Lance Kendricks, the Rams can mimic the Patriots with two accomplished pass-catching tight ends.

At wide receiver, the Rams have a pair of burners in Chris Givens and Austin. Brian Quick presents a big target. Not unlike Cook, Austin will line up just about anywhere. Austin Pettis can make the tough short and intermediate catches and has developed into a decent red zone presence. But it won’t work as well without some semblance of a ground game. Second-year players Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead are smaller scatback types. The Rams traded up into the fifth round for Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy, a tough inside runner who they hope can excel in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Terrance Ganaway, who played in only three games as a rookie, will have a chance to show he can provide a big-back element.

For at least the start of the season Richardson will play the role of lead back, as he beat out the rest of the competition during training camp. Pead hurt his chances when he received a one-game suspension from the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Even though Richardson is atop the depth chart, he won't be expected to carry the load like Jackson did for so many years in St. Louis. Pead, Stacy and Ganaway all should get their share of chances during the season.

The addition of Long gives St. Louis a veteran line — at least four-fifths of a veteran line — with former Green Bay Pro Bowler Scott Wells at center, hard-nosed Harvey Dahl at right guard and Rodger Saffold grudgingly moving to right tackle to accommodate Long. If the Rams find a left guard and the unit stays healthy, this could be one of the league’s better lines.

Defense
The Rams flirted with being a top-10 defense for much of the 2012 season. If rookies Alec Ogletree (linebacker) and T.J. McDonald (safety) fill the only holes in the starting lineup, this unit should achieve top-10 status this time around.

It all starts with the pass rush. Robert Quinn and the underrated Chris Long are developing into one of the NFL’s top tandems of pass-rushing ends. They combined for 22 sacks — a big reason the Rams tied for the league lead in sacks, an amazing achievement considering they led less than one-third of the time during games over the course of the season. They still managed to get all that pressure even though they didn’t have opponents in predictable passing situations all that often.

William Hayes was a super-sub off the bench with seven sacks, backing up Long and moving inside to tackle in passing situations. As a result, the Rams didn’t blitz all that often; they didn’t have to because of the consistent pressure of the front four. That figures to be the case this year, particularly if second-year tackle Michael Brockers can continue to provide an inside push, a part of his game began developing late in his rookie season.

At linebacker, James Laurinaitis continues to be a rock in the middle, and he will be seeking his fifth consecutive season as the team’s leading tackler. He also will help mentor Ogletree, who is slated to start alongside Laurinaitis. Read-option quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco and Russell Wilson of Seattle took the league by storm a year ago, and the Rams are counting on Ogletree’s closing speed to help keep them in check.

The Rams' other starting outside linebacker was expected to be Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who was a surprise last year after leaving New Orleans in free agency. He is an active, aggressive hitter capable of making the splash play via interception, sack, forced fumble, or simply a jarring tackle. Unfortunately, he also will miss the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Fisher has already said that Dunbar may not be handed his starting job right away once he rejoins the roster in Week 5. Veteran Will Witherspoon, who played for the Rams from 2006-09 and for Fisher in his last season coaching the Titans in '10, is expected to fill Dunbar's spot in the starting lineup.

The only veteran in the secondary, corner Cortland Finnegan, sets the tone with his take-no-prisoners style of play. Janoris Jenkins showed he could be a game-changer as a rookie with four defensive touchdowns, but he needs plenty of technique work. After falling out of favor following a training camp injury a year ago, Darian Stewart will hold down the starting job at strong safety.

Specialists
A year ago, the Rams gambled by jettisoning kicker Josh Brown and deciding not to re-sign punter Donnie Jones. Both respected veterans were replaced by rookies. One year later, it looks like the gamble will pay off. Although he tailed off later in the season, Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein was sensational for much of the 2012 season, making his first 15 field goals in the NFL and kicking seven of 50 yards or more, including an NFL rookie record 60-yarder. Johnny Hekker needs more consistency but has that rare blend of leg strength and directional skills. The issue for years in St. Louis has been the return game. Austin should help solve that, especially on kickoff returns. And don’t be surprised if Jenkins gets another shot on punt returns where he was dynamic in college.

Final Analysis: 3rd in NFC West
There’s no doubt this is a team on the rise. Fisher is a proven commodity, players love playing for him, and he has an owner and organization that gives full support — financially and otherwise. Unlike many front offices of the past, general manager Les Snead & Company actually have a plan in terms of the draft and free agency. A foundation of young talent has been established, although the team probably needs another good draft and offseason to be considered a genuine playoff contender. So 2014 may be the true breakout year, not ’13.

For now, they are dealing with a radically strengthened NFC West, with Super Bowl contenders San Francisco and Seattle the teams to beat. So victories will be tough to come by and hard-earned. The best the Rams might hope for is .500.

Order your 2013 St. Louis Rams 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)
MiamiCincinnati (8/27)IndianapolisKansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)TennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
St. Louis Rams 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oklahoma Sooners, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/trevor-knight-named-oklahomas-starting-quarterback
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Surprise, surprise. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has picked his starting quarterback. And it isn’t the passer most expected to win the job after spring practice. Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight was selected as the Sooners’ No. 1 quarterback, edging junior Blake Bell this fall.

Bell was widely considered the frontrunner to replace Landry Jones, especially since he played in a specialty role in the offense over the last two years. Bell recorded 24 rushing scores from 2011-12 but threw only 20 passes during that span.

Although Bell showed he is a good runner, there were doubts about his passing ability.

Bell is expected to continue playing in a specialty role, which will give Oklahoma a dangerous threat around the goal-line once again.

What does Knight bring to the table? Since he hasn’t taken a snap, the redshirt freshman is largely a mystery. However, Knight was rated as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com and helped Oklahoma’s defense plan for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel by imitating the Heisman winner on the scout team.

Knight has good mobility, but even though the media hasn’t had much of a chance to watch him in practice, the redshirt freshman is regarded for having a good arm and is capable of making all of the throws to thrive in this offense.

Oklahoma should be a factor in the Big 12 title picture. And if Knight ends up being a special player as some think he may turn out to be this year, the Sooners could finish the year as a top-10 team. However, as with every first-year starting quarterback, there will be bumps in the road.

Teaser:
Trevor Knight Named Oklahoma's Starting Quarterback
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-50-must-see-games-2013
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Kansas State and Baylor was the most important game in the Big 12 last year. It was Texas A&M that upset Alabama last fall, not LSU. Stanford surprised the nation by knocking off Oregon in Eugene. And Florida State battled Clemson for the right to play (and win) the ACC championship. It goes to show that anything can happen on any weekend and it's why college football is the greatest sport on the planet.

Many of those games will once again be marquee, must-see showdowns in 2013. Division, conference and national championships hang in the balance each and every weekend of the college football season. But tracking 125 teams in 10 different conferences can be overwhelming, so Athlon Sports has ranked the top 50 games you don't want to miss this fall.

So plan accordingly.

College Football's Top 50 Games of 2013:

  Dates RoadHomeThoughts
1.Sept 14Alabama at Texas A&M: The game everyone has been talking about for over a year will happen within the first three weeks. This game has everything a fan could possibly want: the BCS defending champ, the defending Heisman winner, Nick Saban, College Station and SEC West championship implications. It will be the highest-rated college game of the year.
2.Nov 7Oregon at Stanford: The level of importance surrounding this game can not be overestimated. A division, league and potential national championship could be on the line in what should be the best non-SEC game of the year.
3.Nov 30Ohio State at Michigan: The best rivalry game in college football could have national title implications — maybe, for both teams. Brady Hoke got Big Blue off the schneid with a win in 2011 but is still facing a 1-8 stretch against that school from Ohio.
4.Sept 7South Carolina at Georgia: South Carolina has won three straight in the series, including a big win in Athens in 2011, and the winner has a clear path to Atlanta. However, the Dawgs have lost this game and still won the East in each of the last two years.
5.Nov 9LSU at Alabama: These two will meet for the fourth time in a 24-month period. LSU won the last time it visited T-Town (9-6 in OT) but has been undone by AJ McCarron in two games since. This will be as physical a game as there is in the nation again.
6.Oct 12Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas): Three of the last four winners of the Red River Shootout have gone on to win a share of the Big 12. The Horns have lost three straight and the last two by a combined score of 118-38.
7.Nov 23Texas A&M at LSU: These regional rivals have met 51 times and fans tend to forget that LSU stymied the Heisman winner last year. After losing five straight to the Aggies in the '90s, LSU has beaten TAMU in each of the last two calendar years.
8.Nov 2Georgia vs. Florida (Jacksonville, Fla.): After Florida owned this series from 1990-2003, Georgia has bounced back with four wins in eight years. The Dawgs have won the last two meetings but needed some late heroics to win 17-9 last fall.
9.Oct 19Florida State at Clemson: This game could easily decide not only the ACC Atlantic Division but also the ACC title and possibly even a spot in the final BCS title game. The home team has won this game six years in a row.
10.Dec 7Oklahoma at Oklahoma State: The winner of the Bedlam Series has won a share of the conference crown in three straight seasons. The Sooners have lost just once to the Pokes since 2002 (9-1). This will be the third time in four seasons that they will play in Stillwater.
11.Aug 31Georgia at Clemson: An old-school, deep-south rivalry is renewed when these two get together on the first Saturday of the year. Georgia has won five straight over the Tigers dating back to 1991.
12.Nov 16

Florida at South Carolina: The Gators crushed Carolina 44-11 last year in Gainesville and have historically dominated the series. However, the Gamecocks won the battle in 2010 and '11. This is a huge revenge game for Carolina, one with major SEC implications.

13.Sept 28LSU at Georgia: These two haven't met in the regular season since 2009 but have played three times in the SEC title game since '03. LSU has won the last two meetings by a combined score of 62-23 — both in the Peach State.
14.Nov 9Nebraska at Michigan: The winner of this game will likely win the Legends Division this fall and it has turned into a great new rivalry. The home team has won both times in Big Ten play after Michigan crushed the Huskers at home in 2011.
15.Nov 30Notre Dame at Stanford: The Irish won last year's meeting with a historic goal-line stand that ended a three-year winning streak for the Cardinal. This will be as physical a game as there is in the nation and could carry massive BCS implications by season's end.
16.Oct 12Florida at LSU: One of the most physical games each season will feature two highly ranked teams again. LSU is 3-2 in its last five at home against the Gators and lost last year in Gainesville. This is a potential SEC elimination game.
17.Sept 7Notre Dame at Michigan: Michigan has won three straight over the Irish at home and has had no issue scoring — 37.0 ppg in those games. That said, Notre Dame won 13-6 last year in the lowest scoring meeting of the two since 1909 (14 pts).
18.Nov 16Oklahoma State at Texas: The Horns own the all-time series record at 23-4 but Okie State has won the last two in Austin. Texas won 41-36 last year in Stillwater.
19.Nov 30Clemson at South Carolina: The Garnett and Black have dominated this series of late, winning four straight with relative ease. The Tigers haven't won in Columbia since 2007 and will likely be an underdog heading into this critical regular-season finale for both.
20.Sept 28Oklahoma at Notre Dame: The Sooners have won once in 10 tries against the Irish with that win coming in South Bend back in 1956 (40-0, at that). This game should carry some large BCS bowl implications. Notre Dame won 30-13 last year in Norman.
21.Nov 2Miami at Florida State: Finally, one of the nation's best rivalries will carry heavy ACC title implications. Florida State has won three straight in relatively easy fashion and six out of the last eight overall.
22.Nov 30Florida State at Florida: After getting crushed in 2010 and '11 by the Noles, Florida bounced back last year with an impressive 37-26 win in Doak Campbell. This one could also feature two 10-win teams as it did last year. The juice appears to be back in this famous rivalry.
23.Sept 28USC at Arizona State: This game should likely decide the South Division champion as the Sun Devils will look to reverse recent history. Arizona State won 43-22 in Tempe two years ago but has lost every other meeting since 1999 (1-12).
24.Nov 30UCLA at USC: One of the West Coast's top rivalries has some added intrigue as it too could decide the South Division on the season's final weekend. UCLA broke a five-game losing streak to USC last year at home and will look for a repeat performance on the road this fall.
25.Nov 30Alabama at Auburn: The SEC's best rivalry, The Iron Bowl, has provided the last four national champions. Bama has won four out of five in the series and will enter this meeting a heavy favorite.
26.Dec 5Louisville at Cincinnati: The Cardinals held on for a tight 34-31 win last year but the Bearcats had won four straight in the series prior. The regular-season finale could be the lone speed bump for Louisville and Tommy Tuberville would love to spoil the party.
27.Sept 28Wisconsin at Ohio State: Barry Alvarez was one of the few coaches with Jim Tressel's number but, of late, Ohio State has turned the tables. Wisconsin hasn't won in Columbus since 2004 and is 1-5 in its last six overall against the Buckeyes.
28.Oct 19LSU at Ole Miss: LSU has won nine of the last 11 meetings, including a 52-3 win in Oxford back in 2011. That said, Ole Miss has won two of the last five overall and could be in prime position for an upset.
29.Oct 12Michigan at Penn State: Penn State has vacated each of the last three meetings but that doesn't change the fact Michigan, on its own accord, hasn't beaten the Lions since 2007. These two haven't met since a 2010 contest in Happy Valley.
30.Nov 23Arizona State at UCLA: The Devils haven't won in Pasadena since '07 and have lost three of the last four in this series overall. The Bruins won a memorable showdown 45-43 last year in Tempe. There is just as much riding on this one in 2013. 
31.Oct 26Texas at TCU: Texas lost just once from 1967 to 2007 but TCU is 1-0 against the Horns in Big 12 competition after winning 20-13 last year in Austin.
32.Nov 16Stanford at USC: Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll are no longer around but this budding rivalry is no less important. The Cardinal have won five out of the last six in what has turned out to be a high-scoring affair. The winning team has averaged 41.4 points over the last eight games in this series.
33.Oct 19USC at Notre Dame: One of the game's most historic and prestigious rivalries is renewed in mid-October. USC played well without Matt Barkley last fall, losing 22-13 at home. A loss in South Bend could indicate a changing of the guard in this battle as it would be the Trojans third in four years to the Irish.
34.Aug 31LSU vs. TCU (Arlington, Texas): The Bayou Bengals are 5-2-1 all-time against TCU, including five straight wins dating back to 1943. However, these two haven't met since LSU won 10-7 back in 1968.
35.Oct 12Texas A&M at Ole Miss: These two have played just five times — twice in College Station, once in Jackson, Oxford and Beaumont, Texas. The Aggies will have to visit Oxford for the second year in a row, however, after a quality effort from the Rebels in 2012.
36.Nov 2Michigan at Michigan State: One of the more underrated rivalries has been a game of streaks. Michigan won six straight from 2002-07 before MSU won four straight over their in-state rival. The Wolverines hope to start another streak after winning 12-10 last year in Ann Arbor.
37.Sept 20Boise State at Fresno State: As good as both teams are, only one will even have a chance to finish the regular season undefeated thanks to this head-to-head matchup in September. A rematch in the inaugural MWC championship game also is a real possibility.
38.Nov 30Georgia at Georgia Tech: Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate might be the best named rivalry in the nation. However, Tech hasn't been able to hang with the SEC of late, losing four straight and 11 of the last 12 overall.
39.Nov 16Michigan at Northwestern: Michigan has won 10 of the last 12 meetings and hasn't lost in Evanston since 2000. However, the Wildcats fought hard last year in a 38-31 road loss and this game could mean a division title for both.
40.Nov 23Nebraska at Penn State: A gift from realignment has been this budding new rivalry. Nebraska has won both Big Ten meetings, but both games have been close contests. If Husker fans are looking for an upset alert, it may come in this game.
41.Sept 7Florida at Miami: Al Golden has ACC title hopes but, make no mistake, beating an in-state SEC team is as important as any game the 'Canes will play this year. Especially, at home in Week 2.
42.Nov 28Ole Miss at Mississippi State: Dan Mullen rattled off three straight wins in impressive fashion before Hugh Freeze got to Oxford last year. The Rebels won 41-24 last year at home and will have to go on the road on Thanksgiving this time around.
43.Aug 31Boise State at Washington: Washington will unveil its gorgeous new home digs when it welcomes a ranked Boise State to town in Week 1. These two have met only twice before, which includes a rematch of last year's Las Vegas Bowl, in which the Broncos won 28-26.
44.Nov 9Virginia Tech at Miami: Tech has to travel south to play Miami two years in a row after a 30-12 defeat last year. However, the Hokies had won five out of six against the Hurricanes prior to that. This could provide a career-defining moment for Logan Thomas.
45.Oct 5Ohio State at Northwestern: The Buckeyes are 28-1 in their last 29 meetings against the Wildcats with the one loss coming in Evanston 33-27 in 2004. Should the Bucks get upset somewhere along the line, this could be as good a chance as any.
46.Oct 17Miami at North Carolina: Interestingly, no team has ever NOT won at least two in a row in this 16-game series. That means North Carolina should win again following the 18-14 road win in South Florida a year ago.
47.Oct 19Georgia at Vanderbilt: The 'Dores don't have a huge home slate this fall but the Bulldogs will be a marquee upset chance. UGA has won six straight but Vandy has consistently played tough in this series at home.
48.Oct 5Georgia at Tennessee: Georgia has cost itself special seasons in Neyland before and this game was a tightly played game in Athens last year. Georgia has won three in a row and four out of five overall in this series.
49.Oct 19South Carolina at Tennessee: Tennessee owns the all-time record at 22-7-2 but has fallen on tough times of late, losing four of the last five. However, this was a close game last year and could be one of the tougher road tests for the Gamecocks this fall.
50.Oct 5TCU at Oklahoma: TCU has upset the Sooners in Norman before, winning there twice in its last three trips (1996, 2005). The Sooners outlasted the Frogs 24-17 in Fort Worth last year.

Related Football Content: 

The Top 25 Big Ten Games to Watch in 2013
The Top 30 SEC Games to Watch in 2013
The Top 25 ACC Games to Watch in 2013
The Top 25 Big 12 Games to Watch in 2013
The Top 25 Pac-12 Games to Watch in 2013
 

Teaser:
College Football's Top 50 Must-See Games of 2013
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 08:01
Path: /college-football/american-athletic-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes-2013
Body:

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2013, Athlon asked coaches in the American Athletic Conference to talk anonymously about their opponents.

Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.

American Athletic Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes for 2013
 

Cincinnati

“I thought they might have dipped last year but they found a way to win.”…

“They weren’t as talented in the front as a few years ago. It used to be the best front seven in the league.”…

“They played better on the back end, where they were shaky before – a scrappy, physical team.”…

“The quarterback (Munchie Legaux) is not a great thrower, but he had a little something to him. You’d say he can’t throw it, but he’d scrap his way into a win.”…

“It’s going to be a drastic change in the way program is run under Tuberville. They won’t be quite as good as a year ago.”…


Connecticut

“They lost Don Brown, one of the best d-coordinators in the conference.”…

“They had five defensive guys at the combine, which is crazy.”…

“They had a better defense than some power programs.”…

“They can’t be as talented on defense. There will be a significant dropoff.”…

“They had probably the best-coached defense we played.”…

“Offensively, they’ll change what they do.”…

“The offensive line wasn’t overly physical but got in the way. Decent tight ends.”…

“Running back was an overachieving guy.”…

“They struggled at quarterback quite a bit.”…

“I think there will be a big dropoff there.”…
 

Houston

“They have skill all over the place, speed all over the place.”…

“Their issues aren’t talent. I wonder if the issues are internal. There was a coach who was on staff there for about three weeks and left.”…

“Maybe it’s chemistry, leadership – they are just so up and down.”…

“That program under Kevin Sumlin recruited deep, and they are still getting talent in there.”…

“They look like the same type of team – speed, athletes, physical – but just really inconsistent.”…


Louisville

“Teddy Bridgewater is arguably the best quarterback in the country. He’s in the conversation.”…

“They’ve done a nice job with offensive line and skill, though not dominant up front.”…

“I’m interested to see what they have for depth at running back.”…

“They weren’t great defensively at times because they weren’t sound in gaps and didn’t stop the run well. Charlie (Strong) would tell you that, but they showed growth at the end of the season.”…

“You’ll probably see more consistency and more stout defense.”…

“They weren’t dominant on the back end and were weak at corner. You could pick on them. Safeties are good players.”…

“Charlie’s recruited well. He’ll have some athletes.”...


Memphis

“Erratic team, all over the place.”…

“They’ve been very junior college and transfer heavy in recent years, and they’ve never really been consistent as a result.”…

“They play like wild animals – make a big play, then give up three big plays.”…

“Justin (Fuente) is trying to change that and he’s doing a good job with teaching more sound football.”…

“The front on defense was toward the bottom seven of the league. Very weak front. They did have a few kids who were bigger in person than what I thought going in though.”…


Rutgers

“They were a hot early team.”…

“They kept the same scheme -- a lot of blitzing and stunting.”…

“They had some talent, too. They had a few guys on that defense drafted.”…

“A linebacker that led the league in tackling last two years (Khaseem Greene), he’ll be a big loss.”…

“Offensive consistency wavered late, but they had a good-looking group of kids -- big receivers, really physical looking group.”…

“They’ll be dangerous.”…

“Kyle’s done a good job keeping recruiting together in New Jersey.”…

“The quarterback (Gary Nova) improved, but I don’t know what happened. He started throwing a bunch of picks. Maybe the running game shut down.”…


SMU

“June Jones is very good, very smart and can find the mismatch in a defense.”…

“They establish the running game early.”…

“They are very simple defensively, so you can do things schematically to get around them.”…

“The negative thing with being fundamentally sound is sometimes you can limit yourself.”… 

“They were very big up front defensively.”…

“Offensive line play is very solid but not overly physical.”…

“Defensive end Margus Hunt was a freak of nature, but you could contain him. They’ll miss him, but not that much.”…

 

South Florida

“Defensively, they could be good.”…

“A linebacker, a true freshman, Tashon Whitehurst, he’ll be really good.”…

“Reshard Cliett has an NFL shot.”…

“Aaron Lynch is a freak. They tell me he’s better than Jason Pierre-Paul when he was there. If he does what he’s supposed to do, he’ll be dominant.”…

“The key will be corner play. They’ve had some young guys struggle and had some injuries.”…

“Tight end Sean Price -- not a good player, but a great player.”…

“There’s nobody at receiver who scares you.”…

“Quarterback is the question. Bobby Eveld, Steven Bench and Matt Floyd will battle it out.”…


Temple

“They maximized their talent.”…

“I think they had some good players, they just didn’t have a quarterback who could throw consistently.”…

“They had decent running backs.”…

“The line was physical.”…

“Tight ends were good blockers and they had some receivers with size.”…

“Defensively, it was kind of a scrappy bunch, not one dominant guy.”…

“Across the board, they are not as talented as South Florida. They are probably the lesser of some of the top American Athletic schools.”…
 

UCF

“They have a solid quarterback (Blake Bortles) and playmakers on offense with an experienced line.”…

“Left tackle Torrian Wilson is really talented.”…

“Bortles managed the game last year. The next step for him is to control the offense.”…

“They are younger on defense but should be better up front.”…

“They will need to replace a few spots in the secondary and need to improve there.”…

“George O’Leary’s done a nice job. They should be able to blend in with the depth in the American Athletic Conference.”…

Related College Football Content

College Football Bowl Projections for 2013
Top 10 Darkhorses to Win the National Title
Louisville Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013

American Athletic Breakout Players for 2013
Pivotal Players for the American Conference for 2013
College Football's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2013
College Football's Top 25 Receiving Corps for 2013
College Football's All-Name Team for 2013
College Football's Top 10 Underrated Quarterbacks

Teaser:
American Athletic Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2013
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/12-overlooked-trends-college-football-2013
Body:

The 2013 season is upon us, but there’s still plenty to dissect from recent seasons that may give us a hint of what’s to come after the first kickoff Thursday.

Returning starters, points per game, yards per play and recruiting rankings give us a slice of what’s going on in the college football landscape, but there are a few others numbers that deserve attention.

We’ve been through nearly the entire offseason, and a handful of numbers and trends have slipped through the cracks. Further indications of Alabama’s dominance, a potential weakness for Heisman contender Braxton Miller and signs of vulnerability for Louisville.

Every team has been dissected, every conference previewed, every bowl game projected, but there are still a few notes left in the Athlon notebook before the season gets started.

Alabama’s dominance everywhere
Over the last 10 seasons, only 21 teams have outscored home and road opponents each by an average of 20 points per game in a season. Only two programs have done it in back-to-back seasons in the last decade: Alabama in 2011-12 and Boise State in 2009-10. A third consecutive season of the feat would be unprecedented during that span.

Braxton Miller’s weakness
If Ohio State is going to make a run at the national title and Braxton Miller is going to contend for the Heisman, the quarterback will need to improve his sack numbers. Ohio State was sacked on 9.5 percent of drop backs, the ninth-highest rate in the country. Moreover, Miller was sacked 21 times in the last seven games despite never attempting more than 20 passes in a game. The offensive line improved as the season went along, and Miller is a mobile quarterback. Is this the case of a sophomore trying to do too much? Ohio State at least improved from a year earlier when the Buckeyes were sacked on 15.8 percent of drop backs.

Aaron Murray’s record chase
SEC coaches named Georgia’s Aaron Murray their first-team all-conference quarterback this week. Maybe the pick was due to uncertainty surrounding Johnny Manziel. Or maybe it was to acknowledge Murray’s chase for the record books. With Manziel’s record-breaking season and AJ McCarron’s chase for a third national title, Murray’s career achievements have been overlooked. If Murray keeps up his season averages as a senior, he’ll break SEC’s career records passing records held by four different quarterbacks: passing yards (Georgia’s David Greene), touchdowns (Florida’s Danny Wuerffel), attempts (Kentucky’s Jared Lorenzen) and completions (Florida’s Chris Leak).

Wide receiver is a forgotten position at Stanford
Most avid college football fans know of Stanford’s reliance on tight ends Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo and Coby Fleener in recent seasons, but the move away from receivers as only become more pronounced over the last four years. In 2009 (Andrew Luck’s first season as quarterback), Stanford completed 32.2 passes to non-quarterbacks, that number jumped to 44 percent in 2010, 57.2 percent in 2011 and then an astronomical 63.8 percent in 2012. With Ertz and Toilolo gone, that number could fall back to earth, otherwise new starting tight end Luke Kaumatule and running back Stepfan Taylor (97 career receptions) will be quite busy.

Boise State hits the road
In Athlon’s piece on the toughest road schedules, Boise State is mentioned for its toughest road schedule. The Broncos will face five teams that went to bowl games last season (Washington, Fresno State, Utah State, BYU and San Diego State). If all five go to bowl games this season, as projected, it will be the first time in school history Boise State has faced five bowl teams on the road.

Auburn need Gus Malzahn in the worst way
The Tigers’ offense crumbled when Malzahn left for Arkansas State, but it’s more than just ranking 11th in the league in yards per play (5.3). In this era of up tempo offense, Auburn’s offense averaged the fewest plays per game in the country last season at 60.5, nearly four fewer than the next worst team (Central Michigan). Running a low amount of plays isn’t bad — Alabama doesn’t run its offense at a breakneck pace — but Auburn averaged 67.3 plays per game during Mazlahn’s stint as offensive coordinator.

Lucky Louisville
Overrating Louisville’s rout of Florida in the Sugar Bowl may not be the only reason to be wary of the Cardinals’ high ranking in 2012. The Cardinals recovered 76.6 percent of their fumbles last season. A high fumble recovery rate is generally considered a product of luck. The Cardinals recovered 25 of all 36 fumbles (their own and their opponents’ fumbles) last season. On the other side of the spectrum, South Carolina recovered only 30.6 percent of its fumbles and did just fine last season.

Fewer yellow flags for Arizona State
Todd Graham’s biggest impact in his first season at Arizona State was a dramatic reduction in penalties. The Sun Devils lost 44.5 fewer yards per games to penalties in 2012 compared to 2011, going from last in the nation in penalties per game to a tie for 12th fewest. Arizona State averaged at least eight penalties per game in each of Dennis Erickson’s final three seasons. In Graham’s first, Arizona State averaged 4.3 flags per game. And as Erickson’s teams racked up penalties, the Sun Devils were dismal in close games.

Overrating Baylor’s defense
Baylor may get a bump in the preseason projections after its late-season surge with wins over Kansas State, Oklahoma State and UCLA, but don’t overrate the defense. Baylor 13 sacks and 46 tackles for a loss during the season, ranking ninth and 10th in the Big 12, respectively. With six sacks and 12 tackles for a loss against UCLA alone in the Holiday Bowl, Baylor moved to seventh in the Big 12 in sacks and eighth in tackles for a loss.

Miami settling for field goals
With Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson in the backfield and a standout offensive line, Miami has perhaps the ACC’s best offense outside of Clemson. But the Hurricanes settled way for way too many field goals in the red zone last season. In Miami’s 52 trips to the red zone, the Hurricanes settled for three points 34.6 percent of the time. That’s a high field goal rate for a good offense. Consider some of the other teams that got more than a third of their red zone scoring off field goals: Connecticut, USF, Virginia Tech, Boston College and LSU.

Spurrier has dropped the Fun ‘n’ Gun. You should, too.
For whatever reason, Steve Spurrier remains associated with a pass-happy offense. Every now and then, a pundit will mention that Spurrier would prefer to air it out. That’s just not the case anymore, and it’s pretty well-established the South Carolina coach isn’t interested in recreating what he ran at Florida. South Carolina ran the ball 60.5 percent of the time the last two seasons and 53.2 percent of the time during his tenure with the Gamecocks.

Washington’s futile return games
Washington has not had a touchdown in the return game since 2007 when Louis Rankin returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Washington State. The Huskies’ haven’t had a punt return for a touchdown since 2003.

Teaser:
With the offseason almost over, these numbers didn't get much attention
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 07:16
Path: /college-football/college-football-realignments-best-new-rivalries
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Realignment has developed a negative connotation recently. The dollar amounts associated with college football have increased dramatically over the last two decades and that has sped up the realignment process to unprecedented rates. But realignment has, and always will, be a massive part of college football.

I just want to know why everyone thinks this is such a bad thing?

This season, the Houston Astros moved from the National League to the American League — and they don't even play the same sport — NASCAR has a "post-season" playoff now and the NFL continues to morph all the time. Every major American sport has gone through structural changes over time. These changes come in all different shapes and sizes and have been taking place for over a century. Have we all forgotten when Nebraska, Oklahoma and Grinnell College played conference games in the Big 8? Or when University of Chicago battled Michigan and Wisconsin in the Big Ten?

College football's recent game of dominoes was certainly something that got accelerated due to a heightened sense of profit, but that doesn't have to be a considered a step backwards for the fans.

The winner of the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech game had won the Coastal Division championship every year of the modern ACC until last year (even though the Yellow Jackets still actually played in the ACC title game). Those two became divisional rivals in 2004 when the Hokies arrived from the Big East after having met one time in history (1990) before coming to the ACC. The bout has continuously pitted football's version of perfection, the triple option, with the most tenured defensive coaching staff in the nation. It's one of the more anticipated ACC games each season and the 2013 version could very easily decide one half of the conference title game once again.

And to stick up for Georgia Tech, how many SEC teams have a national championship and five SEC titles like the Ramblin' Wreck? Here's a hint: Seven. The ACC got a number of new rivalries in the big wave of early 2000s realignment when powerhouses like Miami and Virginia Tech joined. And the one that matters the most — Miami and Florida State — might finally be rounding into form and should be intensified by adding conference implications.

Nebraska and Penn State have played a total of 15 times in their championship-rich histories. But these two have played just four times since 1983, including the last two seasons as Big Ten conference foes. The Huskers are third all-time with 821 wins in 114 seasons of play. Penn State is fifth all-time with 813 wins in 120 years. Even the perfect red, white and blue color contrast jumps off the field when they meet in two of the most storied venues in college football.

How is this not a blessing of realignment?

While we are talking about the corn-fed Big Red, why not mentioned the dairy-fed Big Red, the Hawkeyes, Golden Gophers and winged helmets of Michigan. Penn State might be the best new rivalry with the Huskers, but Minnesota and Nebraska go back nearly 100 years and both Iowa and Wisconsin provide excellent regional rivalries as well. And the Michigan-Nebraska game will likely decide the Legends Division championship this fall and could be a future Big Ten championship game matchup. Sign me up.

Related: The Big Ten's Top 25 Games to Watch in 2013

TCU has a long-standing feud with now-fellow Big 12 underling Baylor and it has only been strengthened behind two emerging coaching heavyweights. Additionally, the Horned Frogs are beginning to build up some animosity with conference foes by playing a physical brand of football (it's called defense). Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia could learn a thing or two about getting stops from Gary Patterson's bunch. And despite it resulting in more purple than should ever be on one field, TCU-Kansas State should be a great game as long as Bill Snyder is on the Wildcats' sideline. Speaking of Morgantown, West Virginia'a addition might feel a bit odd from a geographic standpoint, but the team's track record of offensive prowess fits in perfectly with the Big 12. Over time, fans on both sides will be looking forward to bouts against NCAA blue bloods Oklahoma and Texas.

Related: The Big 12's Top 25 Games to Watch in 2013

Out west, Colorado will, at some point, become relevant again after proving it can win at a championship level in the '90s. But the more interesting rivalry developing out west is the entire BYU schedule. The recent move to independence drew some criticism as experts questioned whether or not the Cougars would be able to build a strong enough schedule to break into the national title picture. As it turns out, BYU will play a November non-conference game at Wisconsin this year — something that hasn't happened since 2009 in Madison. It also is hosting Texas, Georgia Tech, Utah and Boise State while visiting Notre Dame and Virginia in addition to the Badgers. The Cougars have won a lot of games under Bronco Mendenhall and are always playing high-profile matchups. And just watch, as Boise State, Fresno State and Utah continue to elevate their status in the college football hierarchy, their rivalries will continue to grow in intensity.

Related: The Pac-12's Top 25 Games to Watch in 2013

Lastly, there is the SEC West, that division responsible for the last four BCS national champions. The idea of Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M beating the absolute snot out of each other for the next three decades should make even the most stoic fans giddy with joy. One could argue that three of those teams combine for three of the top four games in the SEC this fall. In fact, the most anticipated Game of the Century of the Year wouldn't take place this year if the Aggies hadn't left the Big 12. These are the most talent-rich, well-coached and physical battles in the nation each season and adding Texas A&M has actually improved on a product that was already sitting atop the throne of college football. Even the rise of former expansion team South Carolina — even if it was 20 years later — has made the future of the SEC East that much stronger as well.

Related: The SEC's Top 30 Games to Watch in 2013

Still to come in the very near future are intriguing new ACC rivalries with growing power Louisville and pseudo-member Notre Dame. Love them or hate them, playing Notre Dame is good for business and good for your strength of schedule. The Irish simply move the needle and that is great news for many, if not every, ACC program. Louisville, particularly in basketball, will provide some seriously historic coaching bouts over the next few seasons. There is little doubt that with great leaders in the right places, the ACC is finally beginning to close the gap with the rest of college football's big boys. And one of the most important reasons has been realignment.

To top it all off, the old rivalries that seem to be dying at the hands of evil realignment — Kansas-Missouri, Texas-Texas A&M, Pitt-West Virginia, BYU-Utah — could all be played if pride and money don't come in the way. Not only would those type of games sell tickets and attract viewers, they would help those teams build a more attractive strength of schedule when it comes to the new College Football Playoff. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds could put the Lone Star State Rivalry back together again if he really wanted to.

And who doesn't want to see Snookie in a yearly recruiting war with McNulty and Stringer Bell when Rutgers and Maryland land in the same division in the newly aligned Big Ten next year?

Teaser:
College Football: Realignment's Best New Rivalries
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 07:10

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