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All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC East, Washington Redskins, NFL
Path: /nfl/washington-redskins-2012-nfl-team-preview
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Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Washington Redskins check in at No. 22.

Mike Shanahan believes he identified the Redskins’ biggest problem, and he tried to solve it by trading three first-round draft picks and a second-rounder to select Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III out of Baylor. Shanahan finally has at his disposal an electrifying playmaker who dazzled at the collegiate level. Not only should Griffin inject life into an offense that ranked 20th in the NFL in yards per play (5.2) last season, but he also buys Shanahan some time following consecutive last-place finishes.

It might not come to that, though. The Redskins return everyone in the defensive front seven, which was their biggest strength in 2011. Washington also upgraded a punchless receiving corps in free agency. Considering that they lost six games by only one possession last season, don’t be surprised if the Redskins compete for a playoff spot.

Offense

Shanahan normally restrains himself when praising players, but he was giddy when discussing Griffin following rookie minicamp in May. He believes Griffin’s combination of speed and arm strength will allow him to challenge defenses on the perimeter in unprecedented ways. Shanahan will trim the playbook this season and tailor it to ease Griffin into the NFL, but expect plenty of the misdirection and play-action that have been characteristic of Shanahan’s offenses over the years. The biggest questions surrounding Griffin involve his ability to master footwork and read defenses. His work ethic is as strong as it gets, though, so he’ll exert whatever effort it takes to fix any shortcomings. Consider that incumbent starter Rex Grossman turned the ball over 25 times in 13 starts last season. It shouldn’t be difficult for Griffin to improve in that category.

Griffin can’t do it alone, of course. Shanahan and his son, Kyle, the offensive coordinator, want the running game to be the offense’s driving force. Tim Hightower is coming off a torn ACL in his left knee, but he’s the best-suited running back for the outside zone scheme. His speed, vision, blocking skills and ability to square his shoulders to the line of scrimmage and burst up field give him an edge over Roy Helu, who capably filled in after Hightower was hurt last Oct. 23. Expect both to contribute significantly.

Washington’s offensive line, however, is not a strength, even though last season’s entire first string returns. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger tore multiple right knee ligaments last Oct. 16. That could reduce the speed that makes him so valuable. Right tackle Jammal Brown, 31, resorted to yoga in the offseason to improve the range of motion in his left hip that was surgically repaired three years ago.

Griffin has some pass-catching weapons at his disposal. Coaches last season lamented a dearth of playmakers, so they signed free agent receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan. Garcon’s speed provides the Redskins a deep threat and a player who can gain yards after the catch. Morgan will do a bit of everything, including play the slot in three-receiver sets. Second-year receiver Leonard Hankerson is coming off surgery to repair the labrum in his right hip, but coaches love his speed and how he uses his 6'2", 209-pound frame. Tight end Fred Davis is back following a four-game drug suspension that cost him the team lead in receptions.

Related: Top Washington Redskins Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Shanahan wanted a formidable defense in place when he drafted his franchise quarterback, and the Redskins aren’t far off. A unit that often played from behind last season ranked 17th in yards allowed per play (5.5) but kept Washington competitive in many games.

The Redskins re-signed inside linebacker London Fletcher and left defensive end Adam Carriker to keep intact a front seven that was the team’s greatest strength. Bringing Fletcher back was essential. The defensive captain led the NFL with 166 tackles. More important, he sets the front seven after the huddle, and the Redskins had no replacement for him.

Up front, Barry Cofield promises to be a savvier nose tackle in his second season playing the position. He has seen how divisional opponents want to block him. Defensive end Jarvis Jenkins’ return should be a major boost. Before he lost his entire rookie season to a torn ACL in his right knee, he had some coaches calling him the team’s best lineman because of his speed and power.

The secondary challenges the offensive line for the area of greatest weakness. Safety is a major concern. Free safety Brandon Meriweather, a Pro Bowler as recently as 2010, is on his third team in three seasons. Oft-injured strong safety LaRon Landry, a first-round pick in 2007, signed with the New York Jets, leaving a hole that likely will be filled by committee. Josh Wilson was Washington’s best cover corner last season, better than three-time Pro Bowler DeAngelo Hall. That’s not necessarily a good thing, especially with a lack of quality cornerback depth. The Redskins need more plays on the ball from the back end.

Specialists

Kicker Graham Gano enters his third full season still needing to prove himself. Five of his 10 missed field goals last season were blocked — most in the NFL. Coaches desire improved mental toughness from him. Veteran Neil Rackers will compete with Gano in training camp. Rackers’ field goal percentage has decreased each of the last two seasons. Gano has the advantage partly because he excels at the directional kickoffs the Redskins employ. Sav Rocca last season was the best punter the Redskins have had in years. His 28 punts inside the 20 tied for the eighth-most in the NFL.

Return specialist Brandon Banks must prove his worth after failing to score last season. He suffered from the new kickoff rules and averaged only 9.1 yards per punt return.

Final Analysis: 4th in the NFC East

Too many turnovers and too few playmakers relegated the Redskins to a fourth consecutive last-place finish in the NFC East. Griffin should help both of those problems. Every rookie quarterback is going to throw picks, but Griffin only has to average fewer than 1.5 per game to improve on what Grossman and John Beck did last season. The Redskins finally have some skill-position players for whom opponents have to game-plan. If the offensive line holds up, this group could rise from the doldrums and be a pleasant surprise.

A solid defense needs to sustain the status quo in order for the offensive upgrades to make a difference. The defense was remarkably healthy in 2011, and there is formidable talent in the front seven. An improved offense must take some pressure off the defense in terms of field position and playing with a lead.

The Redskins swept the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants last season, so there are signs of quality. Shanahan is capable of coaching this group to the playoffs, but even if they fall short, expect a major step forward and a more exciting brand of football.

Related: 2012 Washington Redskins Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Run, Robert, Run
Robert Griffin III ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. More impressive, perhaps: He missed the national high school record in the 300-meter hurdles by one hundredth of a second during his junior year. He did not break it the next year because he enrolled early at Baylor.

Wise Guy
RG3’s off-the-field makeup impressed the Redskins as much as his on-field talent. He graduated high school in three-and-a-half years, finishing seventh in his class. He then graduated from Baylor in three years with a degree in political science. He’s closing in on a master’s degree in communications.

Alone At The Top
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett begins his third season in an awkward spot. He did not hire any of Washington’s defensive assistants. Line coach Jacob Burney and linebackers coach Bob Slowik are Mike Shanahan’s guys. New defensive backs coach Raheem Morris was with Tampa Bay under Redskins general manger Bruce Allen. Keep an eye on Haslett’s status this year.

Where’s Niles?
The Redskins converted second-year receiver Niles Paul to tight end during the offseason. With the numbers Washington has at wide receiver, the switch might help Paul, a fifth-round pick out of Nebraska, see the field. The move could affect the status of Chris Cooley, who finished last season on injured reserve (left knee).

Let It Rain
The Redskins in the offseason opened an indoor practice facility, a grassy turf field covered by an inflated bubble. In recent seasons, they held practices on stormy days inside a local airplane hangar or basketball gym. That’s not exactly how Mike Shanahan wants to prepare for game conditions.

Play Day
Dozens of players turned out in May for the Leukemia Golf Classic, hosted by linebacker Brian Orakpo. The fundraiser, which used to be hosted by quarterback Jason Campbell, has become something of a Redskins tradition. To encourage attendance, Shanahan gave players that day off but counted it against the number of workout days the NFL permits.

Going Old School
The Redskins will wear throwback uniforms for two home games this season as part of celebrating the franchise’s 80th anniversary. The uniforms, with burgundy jerseys and gold pants, are replicas of ones worn in 1937. The coolest touch? The helmets appear as though they’re made of brown leather.

Twitter King
Defensive end Adam Carriker has emerged as the most entertaining Redskin on Twitter. Among the gems from @BigPoppaPump94: “Boy, TSA workers sure don’t like it if you moan while they pat you down.”

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Fri., Aug. 3

Order your 2012 Washington Redskins Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Washington Redskins Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Washington Redskins Bucs Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Washington Redskins 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 05:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC East, Washington Redskins, NFL
Path: /nfl/washington-redskins-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Washington Redskins official Twitter account:

@Redskins (Followers: 113,165)

Top Redskins To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, August 2, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Robert Griffin III QB @RGIII 277,348
2. Joshua Morgan WR @FeetzMorgan202 103,944
3. Pierre Garcon WR @PierreGarcon 89,476
4. DeAngelo Hall CB @Dhall23 88,869
5. Brian Orakpo LB @rak98 48,412
6. London Fletcher LB @LFletcher59 39,880
7. Ryan Kerrigan LB @RyanKerrigan91 37,840
8. Santana Moss WR @EIGHTTODANINE 28,774
9. Niles Paul WR @Niles_Paul84 23,088
10. Evan Royster RB @Evan_Royster 22,156
11. Kirk Cousins QB @KirkCousins8 21,340
12. Brandon Banks WR @speedybanks16 19,744
13. Terrence Austin WR @Terrence_Austin 19,306
14. Anthony Armstrong WR @MrArmstrong13 18,113
15. Leonard Hankerson WR @HankTime85 16,554
16. Tim Hightower RB @Tim_Hightower 16,178
17. Adam Carriker DE @AdamCarriker94 14,232
18. Jarvis Jenkins DE @Jarvis99jenkins 13,270
19. Reed Doughty S @doughty37 8,426
20. Stephen Bowen DE @stevebo72 7,958
21. Chris Neild NT @TruckNeild 5,801
22. Graham Gano K @GrahamGano 5,043
23. Chris Baker NT @cbaker92redskin 2,600
24. Richard Crawford Jr. CB @Rich_Crawford6 1,538

It's probably no surprise that even though he's yet to take a snap in the NFL, Robert Griffin III is the runaway leader in terms of Twitter followers on the Redskins' roster. What may be a little more surprising, however, is that the team's current No. 2 and 3 on the list are also newcomers — wide receivers Joshua Morgan and Pierre Garcon, both of whom who signed as free agents this offsesason.

In fact, a total of eight wideouts currently on the Skins' roster, along with running backs Evan Royster and Tim Hightower (Roy Helu where are you?) fall among the team's Top 16 Twitterers. No doubt Redskins fans are hoping the offense will be just as explosive this season as their playmakers' Twitter feeds appear to be.

If you wish to relive some of the Redskins' glory years of the past, you can follow Joe Gibbs (@CoachJoeGibbs), Joe Theismann (@Theismann7), Darrell Green (@darrellgreen28), John Riggins (@riggo44) and Brian Mitchell (@BmitchliveCSN). Alas, Albert Haynesworth doesn't appear to have an active Twitter account right now.

The Redskins Beat:

Mark Maske, NFL reporter for The Washington Post, contributor to The Insider blog: @MarkMaske (11,167)

Chris Russell, Redskins Insider for ESPN Radio 980, also can be heard on the Redskins Radio Network: @Russellmania980 (9,009)

Rich Campbell, beat writer for The Washington Times: @Rich_Campbell (7,638)

Mike Jones, beat writer for The Washington Post: @MikeJonesWaPo (6,460)

John Keim, beat writer for the Washington Examiner: @john_keim (6,369)

Barry Svrluga, helps cover Redskins for The Washington Post: @barrysvrluga (4,487)

Redskins Blog Roll:

The Insider (@Insider) is The Washington Post's Redskins blog, featuring the work of beat writers Mike Jones, Mark Maske and Barry Svrluga.

Redskins Watch is The Washington Times' online destination for all you need or want to know about the team.

Redskins Confidential is the Washington Examiner's 'Skins-dedicated online home.

Chris Russell's blog is just one part of ESPN Radio 980's Redskins Portal.

Hogs Haven is SB Nation's Redskins blog.

Real Redskins is "The Original Redskins Blog Since 2004" run by @Rich_Tandler.

The Burgundy Warpath, Riggo's Rag, Redskins Hog Heaven, and Redskins Gab out in cyberspace for your perusal.

The ESPN NFC East blog is run by Dan Graziano and you can follow him @espn_nfceast.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Fri., Aug. 3

Order your 2012 Washington Redskins Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Washington Redskins Season Preview
Related: 2012 Washington Redskins Schedule Analysis

- By Braden Gall and Mark Ross, published on August 2, 2012

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Washington Redskins Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 04:59
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-awards-top-return-specialists
Body:

Football is a game of field position. Other than huge turnovers and big offensive plays, special teams is the best way to tilt the field in your favor. A huge return can also get the crowd riled-up and back into the game.

Additionally, some of the most electric and dynamic players in the history of college sports were human joysticks on special teams. Devin Hester, Reggie Bush, Ted Ginn Jr., and, of course, Prime Time are just a few of the names who have made quite a living simply on special teams. Some of the most exciting and ridiculous plays each season will come from returnmen. Just ask the Tennessee Vols about trying to stop Joe Adams. And if you can perform on both the punt and kick return teams, you are that much more valuable.

So who are the college football's most exciting return men in 2012:

1. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon (SO)

There may not be a more explosive, more dynamic player in all of the nation. Aside from playing both running back and wide receiver, Thomas excelled as a return man. He scored twice on kick returns against Washington State and then again in a clutch performance against USC. He finished with 983 yards on 36 kicks. He only had three punt returns, but averaged 17.3 yards per clip.

2. Sammy Watkins, Clemson (SO)

Another sophomore who is simply unstoppable with the ball in his hands. He runs, catches and returns kicks with ease. He returned 33 kicks a year ago for 826 yards and one huge score in the improbable road comeback against Maryland. His talents may be too great to use him in the punting game, but make no mistake, few players can take it the distance like Watkins.

3. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (JR)

The diminutive Heisman finalist got to New York based mostly on his play as a punt returner. He is likely the top player at that position nationally and his two scores against Arkansas and Georgia shifted momentum in LSU's favor a year ago. His skills as a coverman are overrated but his ability to slide past oncoming traffic and change a game on one special teams play is undeniable.

4. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State (SO)

This freshman was hampered by injury a year ago and missed the final four games of the year. He might also have been underused to start the year or else his 35.2 yards per kick return would have ranked as the best in the nation. He also scored twice and will see more touches in 2012.

5. Tavon Austin, West Virginia (SR)

His 14.1-yard punt return average was good for sixth in the nation last fall and his 26.1 kick return average placed him in the top 20 nationally. He scored twice on special teams, taking a kick back for six points against both Marshall and South Florida. He led the nation in all-purpose yards in 2011.

6. Raheem Mostert, Purdue (SO)

As only a freshman, Mostert got 25 kick returns under his belt and he ended-up leading the nation with a 33.5 yards per return clip. He took one back to the house in Purdue first bowl win since 2007 and should return in 2012 with a year's worth of experience under his belt.

7. Quandre Diggs, Texas (SO)

Another sophomore, Diggs has NFL pedigree and NFL talent. He posted an absurd 20.1 yards per punt return on nine tries and didn't even get the job until halfway through the season. His explosive, big-play talent was evident the second he stepped onto the 40 Acres as he performs double-duty on both kick and punt returns. Special teams coaches better beware in 2012.

8. Jamal Miles, Arizona State (SR)

There were his two kick return touchdowns on 30 attempts that gave the Sun Devil a healthy 26.3 per return average. And then there was his punt return touchdown and 16.6 per return average. Had Miles qualified at punt returner (he had 14 attempts), he would have finished third nationally. 

9. Tracy Lampley, Southern Miss (SR)

Another guy who is used in every aspect of the game, Lampley performed well as both a punt and kick specialist last fall. He returned one punt for a score against East Carolina and finished with per touch averages of 11.5 yards on punts and 21.3 yards on kicks. He also got 91 carries and 47 receptions. He will be used once again in 2012 in all phases of the game. 

10. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin (JR)
Sure-handed receiver was leading the nation in PR until final weekend. Should be a bigger factor on Wisconsin's offense and special teams in 2012.

The Best of the Rest:

11. Darryl Surgent, UL Lafayette (JR)
Really came on as the year went along as dual-threat: 27 PR (11.9) and 37 KR (20.9)

12. Dustin Harris, Texas A&M (SR)
Led the nation in punt returns at 18.6 yards thanks to Kansas game (3-162-1).

13. Andre Booker, Marshall (SR)
Works double duty on both kicks (24.8) and punts (10.8).

14. Nick Hill, Michigan State (SO)
Stellar freshman season returning kicks (26.3) will add punt returns to resume this fall.

 

Others to Consider:

Branden Smith, Georgia (SR)
T.J. Thorpe, North Carolina (SO)
Ralph David Abernathy IV, Cincinnati (SO)
Nick Williams, UConn (SR)
Isaiah Burse, Fresno State (SO)
Rannell Hall, UCF (SO)
Derrick Strozier, Tulane (JR)
Christian Jones, Alabama (SO)
Adrian Bushell, Louisville (SR)
Dustin Harris, Texas A&M (SR)
Jordan Hall, Ohio State (SR)

-by Braden Gall

 @bradengall

2012 College Football Awards:

Top 25 Heisman Candidates

The Nation's Top Pure Lockdown Cover Corners

The Nation's Top Dual-Threat Quarterbacks

Ranking the Nation's Top Pass Rushers for 2012

Who are the Nation's Top Return Specialists?

Teaser:
<p> 2012 College Football Awards: Top Return Specialists</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 04:00
All taxonomy terms: Tennessee Volunteers, SEC, News
Path: /news/tennessee-fans-create-another-bad-college-football-rivalry-video
Body:

We are all for creativity and cheering for your college football team, but sometimes it can result in some embarrassing videos. 

Remember Texas A&M's Welcome to the SEC video? That was only one of many bad college football song/cheer videos that have been released this summer.

The trend continues with the band Elevated releasing the song and video "Overcome the Tide." We give them points for creativity, but the execution and song is certainly lacking.

Our reaction? The college football season can't get here fast enough.

Teaser:
<p> Tennessee Fans Create Another Bad College Football Rivalry Video</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 15:37
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-20
Body:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead at Indianapolis, giving his fans something to cheer about in a season where there have been plenty of highlights. Although the points will be reset at the start of the Chase, the question becomes can Earnhardt continue his successful season and win the championship?

That was among the questions Backseat Drivers Fan Council members were asked about last weekend’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Here’s what they had to say about those issues and more:


Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. win the championship?
Earnhardt took the points lead at Indianapolis, the first time he’s led the points since late in the 2004 season. Fan Council members were asked if they thought he would win the championship this year:

64.5 percent said No
35.5 percent said Yes

What Fan Council members said:
• Even though I've been an Earnhardt fan all my life and have been hoping that Junior would finally win a Cup championship, I don't think this is the year. First, Jimmie Johnson served notice (Sunday) that anyone winning the championship this year will have to beat him to do it. Next, even though Junior is perhaps the most consistent driver in the sport this year, consistency, without wins won't get the job done. I think he'll win again. Ultimately, though, I think 5-Time becomes 6-Time. Jimmie is just too good.

• One win in four years. Letarte's track record in the Chase is pretty poor, especially when he got used up by Knaus in 2007. Earnhardt's record in the Chase isn't much better. There's no value in leading the points before the Chase.

• It's hard to pinpoint just why I don't think he will win. I think it's a combination of a lack of complete faith in Steve Letarte's ability to close the deal along with the feeling the luck he's had will not last. On the other hand, I do see maturity in Junior that just might supersede everything else.

• This has been his most consistent year. Consistency wins championships.

• He has yet to convince me he has the killer instinct to go out and drive beyond the car to go out and win more races and win the Chase.

• As a Junior fan, I'm just worried the team is gonna choke.

• As Steve Letarte said in a pre-race interview, “Give FIVE reasons why they won’t AND I’ll give ya FIVE reasons why they can.”

• Dale Jr. does not have the mental/emotional fortitude to win the championship. He has a tendency to get focused on and bothered by things that distract him. I believe Steve Letarte will give him the cars, and his crew will give him the performances necessary to win a championship, but I believe Junior will get distracted by something the media says, the fans want (or are saying) and he will lose enough focus to lose the championship. I believe he will learn that lesson and be a stronger contender for the championship the next time he's in the position.

• He has momentum behind him, a great owner and crew chief and crew. Plus he has Junior Nation behind him. It's his to lose.

• Even though he doesn't have the most wins this season has been the most consistent — but that isn't going to help with the last 10 races. Guys like Johnson and Stewart are going to step up and start rattling off wins and top 5s in the last 10 races. If Dale Jr. wins a couple more races before the Chase I would change my answer.

• Sorry Junior Nation, he's not going to win it. It will take multiple wins in the Chase to win it and his team is more about consistency. I also don't think he has the killer instinct it takes to win it. Until someone else wins one, I'm not sure anybody but Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart can win the title. I think it comes down to those two guys.

• Most consistent driver all year. He will win another race this year and capture that elusive championship. He is surviving the summer months well, where he typically does poor, which indicates that come fall, he will excel. I’ve never seen Junior this confident, mature and consistent.

• While he is my driver, I don't see domination. I see speed and consistency from the 88 team — and they belong in the Chase — but the winner of the Chase will dominate throughout it.

• I have to answer “yes.” I am a Junior fan and I have to have that faith. I am scared to even think it though, for fear that I will jinx him and Junior Nation! Regardless, I am so proud of his (and the entire 88 team’s) performance this year. BRAVO!
 

Teaser:
<p> Dustin Long's Backseat Drivers Fan Council grades NASCAR's visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ESPN's broadcast of it and ponders whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. can win the Sprint Cup title in 2012.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 13:31
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/michael-phelps-greatest-olympic-athlete-history
Body:

Rick Reilly of ESPN has unleashed a Twitter debate today over a timely topic: Is Michael Phelps a slam-dunk choice as the greatest Olympian of all time? Swimming commenter Rowdy Gaines says it's not even a debate, while Reilly points to the accomplishments of discus thrower Al Oerter — gold medals in four straight Olympic Games — as opening the subject up to discussion.

We'll approach this more respectfully than they do over in the Wild West of Twitter-land. Below, we identify a few candidates, present them in no particular order and make our selection. But feel free to disagree and let us know how you feel.

Greatest Olympic Athlete of All Time: The Candidates

Michael Phelps, USA Swimming
One school of thought: He who has the most medals is the best. By that metric, it's no contest. Phelps has 19, more than any other individual athlete.
Here's where the debate comes in: He also has had far more opportunities to medal than athletes in other sports. Well, here's my couter-argument to that: So does every other swimmer, and Phelps has left them all splashing in his formidable wake. Mark Spitz, the man to whom Phelps is so often compared, finished with 11 medals; Phelps could finish with twice that many. The fact that he also set or helped set 15 World, Olympic and U.S. records is another serious resume enhancer.

Carl Lewis, USA Track
Lewis replicated the feats of his idol Jesse Owens and did him a little better, achieving gold over four separate Olympiads in an extended sequence of track and field excellence that will never be eclipsed. Lewis dominated the 1984 Los Angeles games, earning gold in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump to match Owens' 1936 performance in Berlin. Lewis added golds in 1988 in the 100m (after Ben Johnson's doping disqualification) and long jump; in 1992 in the 4x100m relay and long jump; and in 1996 in the long jump at the grand old age of 35. Lewis remains the only man to defend an Olympic 100 meter or long jump title successfully.

Michael Johnson, USA Track
Entering the 1996 Atlanta Games under a crushing burden of hype, Johnson dazzled the world in his gold cleats, winning an unprecedented 200m-400m double. For the only time in history, the title of World's Fastest Man went by proclamation to the 200m champion after Johnson's world record time of 19.32 seconds.

Jesse Owens, USA Track
Owens achieved what was thought to be impossible: gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump, a quartet of golds that wouldn't be equaled for 48 years. His performance under Hitler's watchful eye in a wordless but eloquent repudiation of the Nazi regime made him synonymous with Olympic excellence.

Al Oerter, USA Discus
Reilly's candidate competed in a niche event, but his longevity and sustained level of world-class performance — gold medals in the discus in 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968 — made him a legend. He carried the Olympic flame into the stadium at the 1996 Atlanta games in a fitting coda to his unparalleled career.

Wilma Rudolph, USA Track
Rudolph ran with an astounding level of grace and ease, dazzling the world at the 1960 Games in Rome with three gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. Overcoming poverty and childhood bouts with polio and other serious illnesses and starring at the dawn of the television age made her perhaps the most inspirational figure in Olympics history.

Usain Bolt, Jamaica Track
There's a certain glamour attached to the winner of the Olympic 100m gold medal — he carries the title of World's Fastest Man and is the de facto king of the games. Throw in the fastest time in human history, accomplished while pulling up at the finish line, and you've got a true legend. Bolt dazzled us all at the 2008 Beijing Games running a record 9.58 and starting his celebration about 10 meters from the finish line. If he defends his title in equally stunning fashion, he might just add the title of greatest Olympian.

Nadia Comaneci, Romania Gymnastics
She taught us all that perfection was possible. Comaneci earned seven scores of 10 during the 1976 Montreal Olympics — the scoreboard displayed them all as 1.0, since the need had never arisen for the extra digit — and won three gold medals, one of them the All Around gold. She added two more golds at the 1980 Moscow Games before fleeing from behind the Iron Curtain and settling in America, an ambassador for her sport.

Emil Zatopek, Czechoslovakia Track
He won the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon — at the same Olympics, 1952 in Helsinki. The seemingly impossible trifecta will never be duplicated.

Edwin Moses, USA Track
He competed in a single event — the 400m hurdles — but he did it so dominantly over such an extended period that he belongs on any list of greatest Olympians. Moses won gold in 1976 and 1984 and would certainly have won gold in 1980 had the U.S. not boycotted the Moscow Olympics. Moses won 122 consecutive races — 107 of them finals — and set four world records in his event between 1977 and 1987.

The Pick
Sometimes, social impact can combine with athletic achievement to create true transcendence. It happened with Jackie Robinson, and it certainly happened with history's greatest Olympian, Jesse Owens.

So who did we miss? And who's your choice for greatest Olympian of all time?

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.

- by Rob Doster
Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 13:20
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/michael-phelp-historys-most-decorated-olympian
Body:

Michael Phelps has accumulated so much precious metal, he could rent a wing at Ft. Knox. With his gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay, Phelps set an all-time record with his 19th Olympic medal (15 of them of the gold variety, and nine of those 15 individual medals).

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his 19 career Olympic medals is the dominant fashion in which he has won them. In 15 of his 19 medal-winning races, Phelps set or helped set either a world, Olympic or American record. Nine of the races were world-record swims. Phelps will have three more opportunities to add to his record haul, but as of this moment, here's the career tally for arguably the greatest Olympic athlete in history (OR denotes Olympic Record; WR denotes World Record; AR denotes American Record):

2004 Athens Games
Gold 100m butterfly (OR)
Gold 200m butterfly (OR)
Gold 200m individual medley (OR)
Gold 400m individual medley (WR)
Gold 4x200m freestyle (AR)
Gold 4x100m medley (WR)
Bronze 200m freestyle (AR)
Bronze 4x100m freestyle

2008 Beijing Games
Gold 100m butterfly (OR)
Gold 200m butterfly (WR)
Gold 200m freestyle (WR)
Gold 200m individual medley (WR)
Gold 400m individual medley (WR)
Gold 4x100m freestyle relay (WR)
Gold 4x200m freestyle relay (WR)
Gold 4x100m medley relay (WR)

2012 London Games
Gold 4x200m freestyle relay
Silver 4x100m freestyle relay
Silver 200m butterfly
 

Teaser:
<p> Michael Phelps won his Olympic record 19th medal as the anchor of the 4x200 freestyle relay.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 11:38
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-aug-1
Body:

The proceedings in the Aquatic Center have been a little hit or miss for Team USA, but there are plenty more opportunities for medals as swimming continues to dominate the early schedule.

Today's Fab Five, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:

1. Men's Swimming
Two events, two shots at gold for the U.S. men. Clark Burckle and Scott Weltz will contend with each other and a strong field in the 200m breaststroke final (2:30 pm Eastern in real time), while Nathan Adrian and Cullen Jones are among the contenders in the always-thrilling 100m freestyle (3:20 Eastern).

2. Women's Swimming
Golden girls Dana Vollmer, Allison Schmitt and Missy Franklin (right) will lead the U.S. 4x200m freestyle relay team in its quest for gold (4:04 Eastern), while Kathleen Hersey and Cammile Adams will contend in the 200m butterfly. 

3. Men's Gymnastics All-Around Finals
Redemption's the theme for the U.S. men after a bumbling showing in the team finals (11:30 Eastern in real time). Danell Leyva and John Orozco are the American combatants in what will be a rugged six-event rotation. Orozco in particular will have to rebound from a brutal showing in the team finals.

4. Men's Synchronized Springboard
Americans aren't normally known for conformity, but Troy Dumais and Kristian Ipsen will try to mirror one another all the way to the medal stand. Dumais (32) and Ipsen (19) are separated by 13 years but will try to be indistinguishable in this unique Olympic event (10 am Eastern real time).

5. Beach Volleyball
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh continue their quest for gold as they take on Austria (6 pm Eastern).

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.
 

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

Teaser:
<p> What to Watch on Aug. 1 from London 2012 Olympics.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 09:44
Path: /college-football/accs-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The ACC's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Can Brent Venables fix Clemson’s problems on defense?
If Clemson’s Orange Bowl performance were an isolated incident, maybe it would be easier to accept (or maybe not, ask a Clemson fan or Kevin Steele). The 70 points allowed to West Virginia was the worst of the season by far, but Clemson’s defensive shortcomings were apparent all season. The Tigers ranked 70th or lower in six major defensive categories. Now, here comes Oklahoma’s Brent Venables to fix the Tigers’ D. Though Oklahoma fans may have grumbled, the Sooners finished in the top four in the Big 12 in total defense in each of Venables’ eight seasons as defensive coordinator. Clemson has eight returning starters on defense, but seven are at linebacker and defensive back. Inexperience and a lack of depth are major concerns on the defensive line. Venables might need to get creative while his defensive front grows up.

2. Is EJ Manuel the right quarterback to lead Florida State back to prominence?
Florida State fans have held high hopes for Manuel since he arrived on campus in 2008. After spending 2009 and 2010 as a backup to Christian Ponder, Manuel received the keys to the Seminoles’ offense last year, throwing for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns. He completed 65.3 percent of his throws and tossed only eight interceptions on 311 attempts. Although Manuel’s numbers weren’t eye-popping, it’s unfair to pin Florida State’s offensive concerns on him. The Seminoles struggled to establish the run, and the offensive line never found the right combination. Manuel was also bothered by a shoulder injury throughout the year and did not play in the 35-30 loss to Clemson. With a deep receiving corps returning and experience coming back on the line, Florida State’s offense should be improved in 2012. Manuel has all of the physical tools to succeed and should be more comfortable in his second year as the starter. While the Seminoles underachieved last season, Manuel is the right quarterback to lead Florida State back to a national title – provided his offensive line and rushing attack step up in 2012. 

3. Which contender will find the right mix on the offensive line?
Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech are expected to be the ACC’s best teams in 2012. However, neither of the three should feel particularly good about its offensive line. Virginia Tech must replace four starters, including standouts Blake DeChristopher and Jaymes Brooks. Center Andrew Miller is a solid place to start rebuilding but there’s very little experience around him. Florida State returns a handful of experienced players, but the starting five could all be sophomores. Clemson loses three starters but returns center Dalton Freeman. The Tigers have one of the college football’s top trios coming back (Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington and Sammy Watkins), but the offense could sputter without better performance from the line. It’s possible that none of the three teams will find an answer during the year. However, whichever team can sort out its offensive line question marks the earliest could have the inside track at winning the ACC title. 

4. How will Logan Thomas handle the spotlight?
Rarely has a Virginia Tech quarterback entered the season with as much fanfare as Logan Thomas. That’s with good reason. He’s a top-notch NFL prospect who set the Hokies’ record for total offense (3,482 yards) last season while accounting for 30 touchdowns. Beyond the numbers, Thomas will be the focus due to more than just his performance last season. Unlike past season, Virginia Tech doesn’t have an heir apparent at running back with redshirt freshman Michael Holmes leading a committee of ballcarriers. The Hokies’ always-underrated receiving corps also takes a hit without Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. Thomas will have senior receivers ready to step into bigger roles, but they’re not entirely proven. Even the line has major holes to fill with center Andrew Miller the only returning starter. In other words, Thomas has little choice but to take charge of the Hokies’ offense in production and leadership.

5. Who will catch passes from Mike Glennon?
T.J. Graham, Jay Smith and tight end George Bryan accounted for 119 receptions, more than 40 percent of Mike Glennon’s completions last season. That leaves running back James Washington as the top pass-catcher on the team, along with a handful of questions. If NC State is going to threaten for an ACC Atlantic title, the Wolfpack will need receivers to emerge. NC State may lack proven commodities, but it does have an interesting skill set at receiver with Tobias Palmer and Byran Underwood’s ability to stretch a defense and good size from Quintin Payton and Hakeem Flowers, who are both at least 6-foot-3.

6. How will Miami reload in the backfield?
With 10 returning starters and NCAA trouble hanging over the program, the Hurricanes are a longshot to win the ACC in 2012. Losses were heavy on both sides of the ball, but the offense has to replace quarterback Jacory Harris and running back Lamar Miller. Harris wasn’t an All-ACC passer, but he had a solid senior year, throwing for 2,486 yards and 20 touchdowns. Miller ranked second in the ACC in rushing yards per game last season, averaging 106.0 on 227 carries. Stephen Morris is expected to win the Miami starting quarterback spot, but he will be challenged by Memphis transfer Ryan Williams in the fall. Miami should feel more secure about its running back depth, as senior Mike James is back after recording nearly 300 yards last season. James won’t be the only option in the backfield, as Eduardo Clements and Duke Johnson will see carries. The Hurricanes finished seven in the conference in scoring last year and a similar result can be expected in 2012. 

7. How does Maryland pick up the pieces from last season?
The preseason party line is that Randy Edsall and his players understand each other better this time around. Perhaps that shouldn’t be too much of a stretch after a glut of players transferred since Edsall took over. Not to mention the Terrapins have yet to play a game after losing the final seven games last season, six by double figures. Even if communication among Edsall and the players has improved, the Terrapins still have two new coordinators in Mike Locksley and Brian Stewart. Locksley was a successful offensive coordinator at Illinois when the Illini went to the Rose Bowl in 2008, and Houston showed marked improvement on defense under Stewart last season. A healthy Kenny Tate should improve the defense, while C.J. Brown (five starts last season) begins 2012 entrenched as the starter. The instability in College Park has to come to a stop soon, doesn’t it?

8. How will Georgia Tech replace Stephen Hill at receiver?
The Yellow Jackets will always rank among the nation’s best in rushing offense, but the passing attack needs to be better if this team wants to win the ACC in 2012. Quarterback Tevin Washington had his moments last year (10 of 14, 184 yards, one TD against North Carolina) but completed only 49.3 percent of his throws and tossed eight picks. The senior isn’t asked to throw for 300 yards every game, but the offense needs Washington to be more accurate and careful with the ball. Improving Georgia Tech’s passing attack won’t get any easier with the losses in the receiving corps. Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton were the team’s top two receivers last year but have expired their eligibility. The Yellow Jackets do not return a receiver with a career catch and will have to lean on inexperienced sophomores Jeff Greene and Darren Waller. Alabama transfer Chris Jackson will also figure into the mix, but Georgia Tech needs one to emerge as the clear go-to threat. Without Hill and Melton, the Yellow Jackets could struggle to top last season’s 142.3 yards per game average.

9. Will Michael Rocco hold off Phillip Sims?
Virginia’s season turned around when the Cavaliers stopped rotating David Watford and Michael Rocco. With Rocco as the starter, the Cavs went on a four-game winning streak to clinch a bowl appearance. Rocco’s does not have a firm grip on the quarterback job, however. Alabama transfer Phillip Sims was granted a hardship waiver and will be eligible this season. A year after challenging AJ McCarron for the starting quarterback job with the eventual national champions, he’ll contend to start for the Cavs.

10. What Can Be Expected of North Carolina in 2012?
With a ban on postseason play, it’s fair to wonder how motivated North Carolina will be this season. New coach Larry Fedora was a solid hire, but his arrival also brings new schemes on both sides of the ball. The Tar Heels will employ a no-huddle spread attack on offense, which should score plenty of points. Quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard are two of the best offensive players in the ACC and will be playing behind one of college football’s top 10 offensive lines. The defense loses some key contributors, but landing Vic Koenning as a co-coordinator was a huge catch for Fedora. The Tar Heels have a favorable schedule and if motivation isn’t an issue, this team could push for nine victories in 2012.

by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

 

Related ACC Content

College Football's National Title Darkhorses for 2012
Ranking the ACC's Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the ACC Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the ACC Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

College Football's 2012 Bowl Projections

Will Randy Edsall Turn Around Maryland?

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

ACC's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 ACC Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-ACC Team

Teaser:
<p> ACC's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-2012-all-name-team
Body:

With 124 teams in the FBS and around 100 players on a roster, there are certainly some interesting names that pop-up throughout the course of production for Athlon's 2012 college football magazine or online research.

We took a look through the rosters for the 124 teams and pulled out some of the funniest and more interesting names in college football for the 2012 season.

College Football's All-Name Team for 2012

OFFENSE

Rob Blanchflower, TE, UMass
Blair Bomber, WR, Washington State
Brandon Bourbon, RB, Kansas
Bookie Cobbins, WR, Kentucky
Brander Craighead, OL, UTEP
Orleans Darkwa, RB, Tulane
Synjyn Days, QB, Georgia Tech
Duke DeLancellotti, QB, Texas State
Stevie Joe Dorman, QB, Colorado
Spiffy Evans, WR, Boston College
George George, TE, Virginia Tech
Tyshon Goode, WR, Kent State
Brynjar Gudmundsson, OL, South Florida            
Lynx Hawthorne, ATH, Baylor
Hunter Hollowed, OL, Hawaii
Win Homer, OL, Boston College
Steele Jantz, QB, Iowa State
Mister Jones, RB, Colorado State
Thor Jozwiak, OL, South Florida
Jazz King, WR, Marshall
Munchie Legaux, QB, Cincinnati
Philander Moore, WR, Ole Miss
Uzoma Nwachukwu, WR, Texas A&M
Fritz Rock, WR, Illinois
Konockus Sashington, RB, North Texas
Cayman Shutter, QB, Hawaii
Jack Snowball, RB, Miami (Ohio)
Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State
Sirgregory Thornton, RB, Arkansas State
Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
Charlie Will Tuttle, OL, Texas State
Halapoulivaati Vaitai, OT, TCU
Wilson Van Hooser, WR, Tulane
Ivory Wade, C, Baylor
Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State

 


DEFENSE

Xavier Archangel, CB, UTSA
Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern
Zeek Bigger, LB, East Carolina
Chief Brown, DB, Ole Miss
Terrance Bullitt, LB, Texas Tech
Blaze Caponegro, LB, Temple
Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State
Jose Cheeseborough, DB, FIU
Mister Cobble, DT, Kentucky
Pudge Cotton, DB, Eastern Michigan
Fabby Desir, LB, North Carolina
Steele Divitto, LB, Boston College
Hugs Etienne, CB, Wisconsin

Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
Maxx Forde, DE, Idaho
BooBoo Gates, S, Bowling Green
King Holder, CB, San Diego State
Sir Thomas Jackson, LB, Arizona
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
Wonderful Terrific Monds II, LB, Buffalo
Godspower Offor, DE, Wake Forest
Happiness Osunde, DB, Texas Tech
Leviticus Payne, DB, Cincinnati
Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia
Cartier Rice, CB, Kentucky

Wave Ryder, DB, Navy
Prince Shembo, LB, Notre Dame
Aziz Shittu, DE, Stanford
Joe Stoner, LB, New Mexico
Eric Striker, S, Oklahoma
Momo Thomas, DB, Colorado State
Fudge Van Hooser, S, Tulane
Tronic Williams, CB, Western Michigan

 

SPECIALISTS

Chase Tenpenney, P, Nevada
Kirby Van Der Kamp, P, Iowa State

 

Did we miss out on any names? Add your suggestions into the comments and we'll add them to the list.

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's 2012 All-Name Team</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 05:49
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Oakland Raiders, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/oakland-raiders-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Oakland Raiders check in at No. 23.

The Raiders’ 2011 season will be remembered most for the Oct. 8 death of iconic team owner Al Davis, which rocked the franchise and set off a series of aftershocks that continue to reshape the organization.

Shortly after the season ended, new owner Mark Davis (Al’s son) hired long-time Packers personnel man Reggie McKenzie as general manager. The no-nonsense McKenzie quickly fired coach Hue Jackson and replaced him with Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, a 39-year-old, demanding coach who had helped turn around the Broncos’ defense and vowed to transform the Raiders into a smart and disciplined team. McKenzie then went to work getting the Raiders’ fiscal house in order and ridding the team of some contracts he called “out of whack.” Cornerbacks Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, tight end Kevin Boss and outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley were released.

From the day he was hired, McKenzie has worked to remake and modernize a Raiders franchise that had been ruled by Al Davis for over four decades. The question now is whether all those changes will help the Raiders make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Offense

When McKenzie fired Jackson, the Raiders lost their offensive architect and play-caller. New offensive coordinator Greg Knapp will fill those roles in his second stint running Oakland’s attack. Knapp spent the past two seasons as Houston’s quarterbacks coach, working under Gary Kubiak. Knapp will install a version of the West Coast offense and use the zone blocking scheme that helped the Texans’ running attack rank No. 2 in the NFL last season.

Quarterback Carson Palmer, a classic drop-back passer, faces the challenges of learning a new system and adapting to a scheme that requires him to roll out and throw on the run more than he ever has in his career. That’s nothing compared to what he went through last year. He basically went from his couch to the huddle after an Oct. 18 trade between the Raiders and Bengals that came two days after starting quarterback Jason Campbell suffered a broken collarbone. Palmer passed for 2,753 yards and 13 touchdowns in just 10 games, but he was intercepted 16 times and needs to cut down on those killer turnovers.

Running back Darren McFadden remains the key to Oakland’s offense, but the question is whether he can avoid the type of toe, foot and knee injuries that have hampered his career. ­McFadden rushed for 614 yards in just seven games last year before suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury to his right foot. Valuable backup Michael Bush signed with Chicago as a free agent. Mike Goodson, acquired from Carolina in a trade, and speedster Taiwan Jones will battle for playing time behind McFadden. Fullback Marcel Reece, a converted wide receiver, gives the Raiders a matchup nightmare out of the backfield.

The Raiders’ receiving corps boasts a wealth of speed and potential but little experience. Darrius Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft, is coming off a career year, but the Raiders’ most skilled receiver is Denarius Moore. He averaged 18.7 yards per catch last season as a rookie. Jacoby Ford, who missed six of the final seven games last year with a sprained foot, is another game-breaker with good hands.

Tight end is a big question mark after the Raiders cut Boss. Brandon Myers, a fourth-year pro, has never caught more than 16 passes in a season. As rookies last year, Richard Gordon and David Ausberry combined for three catches.

Last year, the Raiders’ offensive line allowed just 25 sacks and opened enough holes for Oakland to rank seventh in the NFL in rushing. Four of the five starters return — tackles Jared Veldheer and Khalif Barnes and guards Stefen Wisniewski and Cooper Carlisle. Center Samson Satele left as a free agent, but Wisniewski will move to center, and former Texans guard Mike Brisiel, a key free agent pickup, will join the starting five. Barnes could face a challenge from Joe Barksdale, a third-round pick in 2011.

Related: Top Oakland Raiders Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver are installing an aggressive 21st century defense, complete with multiple fronts, coverages, schemes and blitzes. Gone are the days when the Raiders relied on simple man-to-man coverage and a four-man pass rush.

The strength of Oakland’s defense remains its line, particularly tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly. The return of end Matt Shaughnessy from a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 3 should provide a huge boost to this unit. End Lamarr Houston, like Shaughnessy, is a high-energy lineman with a mean streak. Desmond Bryant and former New York Giant Dave Tollefson add quality depth inside and outside.

Strong safety Tyvon Branch, free safety Michael Huff and backups Mike Mitchell and Matt Giordano give Oakland an experienced quartet of safeties. Huff has also proven to be a quality nickel corner. McKenzie signed a pair of experienced corners in free agency, ex-Ram Ron Bartell and former 49er Shawntae Spencer. They’ve combined for 137 NFL starts. DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa, a pair of 2011 draft picks, and free agent pickup Pat Lee will battle for time in the nickel.

Third-year middle linebacker Rolando McClain, the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft, has yet to live up to that billing. What’s more, he faces potential jail time and a possible NFL suspension stemming from an altercation last November in Alabama. Outside linebacker Aaron Curry, acquired from Seattle in an October trade, was the fourth overall pick in 2009 but has struggled in the NFL and could get pushed by rookie Miles Burris, a fourth-round pick. Outside linebacker Philip Wheeler, a free agent addition, is coming off a career year at Indianapolis and is slated to replace Wimbley.

Specialists

Punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski are entering their 13th seasons, but neither one has showed any signs of slowing down. If anything, they’re getting better. Lechler is coming off his seventh Pro Bowl season, and Janikowski his first. Ford has returned a franchise-record four kickoffs for touchdowns. If he’s back to full speed, Ford will give Oakland one of the NFL’s most dangerous return men. Moore handled most of the punt return duties last season, but that job could be up for grabs if he starts at wide receiver.

Final Analysis: 3rd in the AFC West

The Raiders have gone 8–8 in back-to-back seasons, but they could be hard-pressed to match that record this year after so many changes. Not a single team in the AFC West finished above .500 last year, but the competition should be tougher this year with quarterback Peyton Manning in Denver and both Kansas City and San Diego poised for bounce-back seasons. McKenzie is building a solid foundation, but his job has only begun.

Related: 2012 Oakland Raiders Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Family Affair
When outside linebacker Aaron Curry was traded to the Raiders from Seattle in October, he relished the chance to play for the team that drafted his older brother, former NFL linebacker Eric Barton, in 1999. Barton played five seasons for Oakland. It wasn’t until 2010 that Curry and Barton, who had been put up for adoption as an infant, learned they were brothers and met each other.

Bigfoot
The shoe that Sebastian Janikowski used to kick an NFL record-tying 63-yard field goal in the 2011 season-opener at Denver is on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Janikowski tied Tom Dempsey and Jason Elam with his 63-yarder. “I’d prefer to break the record, but being with Tom Dempsey and Jason Elam, that’s a big honor for me,” Janikowski says.

Reunited
Former Raiders running back Napoleon Kaufman played six seasons with the Raiders before retiring after the 2000 campaign to pursue a career in the ministry. Kaufman rejoined the Raiders this year as the team’s chaplain. He has served as the pastor of the Well Christian Community in Livermore, a Bay Area city. Kaufman rushed for a Raiders single-game record 227 yards against Denver on Oct. 19, 1997.

Circle The Date
Rookie guard Tony Bergstrom, a third-round pick from Utah, wasted no time before looking up the Raiders’ 2012 schedule after being drafted to see if his new team would face Baltimore. Bergstrom’s brother-in-law, Paul Kruger, is a fourth-year defensive end for the Ravens. Sure enough, Oakland is set to face the Ravens on Nov. 11 in Baltimore. 

Wolf’s Impact
New GM Reggie McKenzie, a former Raiders linebacker, can thank ex-Raiders personnel chief Ron Wolf for launching his NFL front office career in 1994. McKenzie was coaching at the University of Tennessee when Wolf, then the Packers’ general manager, offered him a scouting job with Green Bay. After 18 seasons with the Packers, McKenzie returned to the Raiders this year as their general manager. Wolf played a big role again. Wolf gave McKenzie a strong recommendation to new Raiders owner Mark Davis. McKenzie was the only candidate Davis interviewed.

Infamous Records
The Raiders set NFL single-season records for total penalties (163) and penalty yards (1,358) last season. They broke the old marks of 158 and 1,304 set by the 1998 Kansas City Chiefs.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Thur., Aug. 2

Order your 2012 Oakland Raiders Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Oakland Raiders Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Oakland Raiders Bucs Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Oakland Raiders 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 05:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Oakland Raiders, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/oakland-raiders-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Oakland Raiders official Twitter account:

@RAIDERS (Followers: 173,448)

Top Raiders To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, August 1, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Terrelle Pryor QB @TerrellePryor 92,950
2. Darren McFadden RB @dmcfadden20 90,474
3. Jacoby Ford WR @JacobyFord12 52,692
4. Matt Leinart QB @MattLeinartQB 43,430
5. Michael Huff FS @Huffy247 34,932
6. Aaron Curry LB @AaronCurry51 33,349
7. Tyvon Branch SS @tyvonbranch 25,669
8. Darrius Heyward-Bey WR @theDHB85 21,026
9. Marcel Reece RB @CelReece45 18,512
10. Taiwan Jones RB @TaiwanJonesNFL 18,144
11. Chimdi Chekwa CB @ChimChek 16,589
12. Mike Mitchell SS @MikeMitchell34 14,722
13. Lamarr Houston DE @solo_dolo_9s 14,216
14. Mike Goodson RB @GoodNplenty33 9,008
15. Bryan McCann DB @bmac929 7,806
16. Nathan Stupar LB @thenastynate54 7,412
17. Joseph Barksdale OT @BazookaJoe72 6,875
18. Jack Crawford DE @Sack_Religious 6,278
19. Juron Criner WR @JbamaCriner82 5,163
20. Miles Burris LB @MilesBurris 4,164

Richard Seymour would have made the list as he has nearly nearly 5,500 followers. However, he has yet to Tweet from @BigSey92. Does anyone else find this strange?

If you want to follow some former Raider greats in the Twitterverse, you can choose from Marcus Allen (@MarcusAllenHOF), Tim Brown (@81TimBrown), Bo Jackson (@BoJackson) or Rich Gannon (@RichGannon12), to name a few.

The Raiders Beat:

Tim Kawakami, Mercury News sports columnist: @timkawakami (24,142)

Paul Gutierrez, Raiders Insider for Comcast SportsNet California, @PGutierrezCSN (10,453)

Steve Corkman, Raiders blogger for Contra Costa Times/Bay Area News Group: @CorkOnTheNFL (10,001)

Vic Tafur, covers Raiders for San Francisco Chronicle: @VicTafur (8,658)

Jason Jones, helps cover Raiders for Sacramento Bee: @mr_jasonjones (5,717)

Eric Gilmore, CBSSports.com Raiders RapidReports correspondent: @CBSSportsNFLOAK (1,395)

Raiders Blog Roll:

Silver And Black Pride is SB Nation's Raiders blog, featuring work by lead writer @LeviDamien.

Comcast SportsNet California has its own Raiders page and Raiders' news feed on Twitter, @CSNRaiders.

Silver & Black is the San Francisco Chronicle's Raiders blog, featuring posts by the aforementioned Vic Tafur.

RaiderFans.net is "The Largest Oakland Raider Fan Community on the Net," and it also has a good-sized following on Twitter (@raiderfans).

RaidersBlog.com is run by Chris Hansen (@RaidersBlog, 5,213), whose work can also be read on Bleacher Report as he is the site's lead AFC West blogger.

Inside the Oakland Raiders, Just Blog Baby, Raiders Gab are some others to check out.

The ESPN AFC West blog is run by Bill Williamson and you can follow him @espn_afcwest.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Thurs., Aug. 2

Order your 2012 Oakland Raiders Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Oakland Raiders Season Preview
Related: 2012 Oakland Raiders Schedule Analysis

- By Braden Gall and Mark Ross, published on August 1, 2012

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Oakland Raiders Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 04:59
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, News, Big East
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-awards-sack-masters
Body:

History, and most every rational brain in sports, indicates that the quarterback position is easily the most important and valuable on any football roster. In order to protect the most valued member of the team, the NFL has proven that the left tackle is the second most important position on the field.

Therefore, any player who can neutralize and defeat said bookend tackle immediately becomes the third most important player, correct? Just ask the New England Patriots and Tom Brady about whether or not a truly elite defensive line can stop a historic passing attack? In 2007 or 2011?

The ability to pressure the quarterback and disrupt the offense by only using the defensive line can be the difference between victory and defeat. A dynamic pass rusher must be accounted for on every play, because if he is not, the entire offensive rhythm can be shattered.

So after watching third-down specialist Bruce Irvin get drafted in the first round this spring, Athlon thought it would rank the top sack masters in college football for 2012:

1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (SO)
There is no player in the nation with more raw upside than Clowney. He posted 8.0 sacks and five forced fumbles as only a true freshman who, frankly, didn't even know where to lineup at times. An advanced understanding of the game is the only thing left for this freak of nature to accomplish in his journey towards the NFL. Should he continue to develop his pass-rush repertoire and fine tune his skills, Clowney will find himself as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. And it might not even be close. He could easily turn into the most dominate defensive player in the game by the end of the year. Or maybe by Week 1 against Vanderbilt.

2. Jarvis Jones, Georgia (JR)
The 3-4 scheme is designed with players like Jones in mind. Todd Grantham has done a masterful job with the Georgia front seven and the biggest beneficiary has been Jones. A Butkus finalist, the in-state product led the SEC in sacks with 13.5 sacks and also posted 19.5 tackles for a loss. The only thing keeping this speedy edge rusher off the top slot is his lack of overall size. He isn't a traditional pass rusher and his scheme helps him more than most on this list.

3. Sam Montgomery, LSU (JR)
As only a sophomore, Monty landed on the All-American team after leading LSU in sacks. He may not be as quick as the much smaller Jarvis Jones and he may not have the eventual upside of a Jadeveon Clowney, but Montgomery might be the most complete defensive end in the nation. He is being projected as a top ten pick by NFL scouts for next year's draft and has proven to be one of the nation's most disruptive players. His 9.0 sacks were fourth-best in LSU history last fall and his 13.5 tackles for a loss further indicate his talent. And he was only a sophomore.  

4. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (JR)
There isn't a more prepared and fundamentally sound player in the game today. His NFL pedigree and up-brining shines through on every play and helped him lead his team in sacks (8.0) and tackles for a loss (16.5). Of course, his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame doesn't hurt much either. The Longhorns were — and will be again this fall — easily the most dominate defense in the Big 12 thanks in large part to Jeffcoat's ability to get into the backfield.

5. Denicos Allen, Michigan State (JR)
The Big Ten's version of Jones doesn't have the benefit of playing in a 3-4 scheme where he is allowed to blitz on a regular basis. That said, his quickness and explosiveness allowed him to get to the quarterback 11.0 times last fall, good for second in the Big Ten. His 18.5 tackles for a loss also led the team and placed him fourth in the conference. He is undersized at 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds, but he gets every ounce of energy out of his frame. 

6. Barkevious Mingo, LSU (JR)
Mingo is a near carbon copy of his end counterpart Montgomery. He might be a bit quicker and a bit more explosive than Montgomery, so if he can refine his craft to the fullest, he could end up much higher on this list. As only a sophomore, he finished with 8.0 sacks, 11 hurries and 15.0 tackles for a loss on a defense that led LSU to an unbeaten regular season record.

7. Corey Lemonier, Auburn (JR)
As only a sophomore with little help around him, Lemonier finished with 9.5 sacks, 15 quarterback hurries and 13.5 tackles for a loss. Much like the rest of the SEC names on this list, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound rush end has first-round NFL potential and won't be around much longer should his success continue. His role in Brian VanGorder's system might be slightly different and it is unsure as to how it will effect his statistical production. But make no mistake, he is the best Tiger defender on the roster.

8. Alex Okafor, Texas (SR)
Certainly, both Texas ends benefit from each other, but Okafor is not slouch on his own. Like Jeffcoat, he is a projected first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and his stats nearly mirror his counterparts. The local product finished just behind Jeffcoat in sacks (7.0) and tackles for a loss (12.0) last fall. Again, this is the best unit in the Big 12 and Okafor is a huge reason why.

9. Trevardo Williams, UConn (SR)
Williams is undersized for the true defensive end position, but he certainly makes it work. His 6-foot-2, 235-pound frame isn't ideal but he still managed to lead the Big East in sacks. In fact, his 1.04 sacks per game was good for second nationally and his 12.5 total QB takedowns finished fifth nationally. He also posted 15.0 tackles for a loss and helped the Huskies finish No. 1 against the run in the Big East.

10. Aaron Donald, Pitt (JR)
As only a sophomore, Donald registered 11.0 sacks to finish second in the Big East. His 16.0 tackles for a loss were tied for fourth in the league. He isn't as tall as most traditional ends (6-0), but uses excellent leverage and a powerful, 275-pound frame to get the edge.

The Best of the Rest:

11. Sean Porter, Texas A&M (SR)
Posted 9.5 sacks a year ago but change in scheme could limit his totals this fall.

12. Josh Shirley, Washington (SO)
Looking for the next Bruce Irvin? This former linebacker could easily be the guy.

15. John Simon, Ohio State (SR)
Works harder, is stronger and tougher than maybe anyone in the nation. A terror in 2012.

14. Michael Buchanan, Illinois (SR)
Learned from nation's top sack artist last year (Whitney Merclius), had 7.5 of his own too.

15. Brandon Jenkins, Florida State (SR)
Stepped back last fall due to double-teams, so All-American needs to prove it once again.

16. Dion Jordan, Oregon (SR)
Freakish size and ability for the hybrid role. Needs to add consistency to his game.

17. Devin Taylor, South Carolina (SR)
Huge prospect (6-7, 265) could explode with Clowney on opposite side.

18. Bjoern Werner, Florida State (SR)
More consistent and dependable than Jenkins but also not as physically gifted.

19. Stansly Maponga, TCU (JR)
Registered 9.0 sacks and 13.5 TFL, but can he handle step up in competition?

20. James Gayle, Virginia Tech (JR)
Landed 7.0 sacks last fall as only a sophomore and could be on the nation's best defense.

Others to consider:

21. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
22. Travis Johnson, San Jose State
23. Margus Hunt, SMU
24. Wes Horton, USC
25. Art Laurel, Hawaii

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

2012 College Football Awards:

Top 25 Heisman Candidates

The Nation's Top Pure Lockdown Cover Corners

The Nation's Top Dual-Threat Quarterbacks

Ranking the Nation's Top Pass Rushers for 2012

Teaser:
<p> 2012 College Football Awards: Sack Masters</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 04:00
Path: /nascar/keselowski-could-different-tires-improve-racing-nascar
Body:

Brad Keselowski isn’t afraid to question why something is or isn’t done in NASCAR. He’s inquisitive, reflective and thoughtful. Some ideas lead to fruitful discussions and some don’t.

Either way, Keselowski looks ahead, never satisfied with what is happening. It doesn’t mean he has the right answers for every issue or that every idea is wrong. What he does is make others ponder issues he raises.

Keselowski looks at the racing in NASCAR and knows it can be better. Certainly many fans say the same thing. But how? Aerodynamics dictate so much about the sport. So what then?

How about the tires? Keselowski wonders if it would be better for NASCAR to consider a soft and hard compound similar to what is done in Formula 1 and the Izod IndyCar Series, which uses two different tire compounds at road and street course events

Here’s how Keselowski explains his notion:

“I think our sport has evolved to where aerodynamics are generating the majority of the grip in the racecars, which naturally creates an issue when we’re in a pack to where the guy that’s in the front has a supreme advantage over the guys that are in the back — and that goes against I think what we all consider quality racing.

“As a sport we have a decision to make, we can either step backwards and remove aerodynamics from racing — and I think we all know that it’s impossible to really move backwards because we’ll keep pushing and we’ll find it back as we did with this new car.”

Keslowski notes that when the current Cup car was introduced in 2007 it produced about 1,700 pounds of downforce. Teams have refined the car to where it produces about 2,200 pounds now, an increase of more than 20 percent he notes.

“The teams persevered and we will with the money and resources that we dedicate,’’ Keselowski said. “So as you look forward to the issue of how to make the racing better, you can try to take a step backwards and remove aerodynamics or we can try to take a step forward and include new ideas that improve the quality of the racing.

“One of the easiest is to look over at what F1 has with their soft and hard (tire) options that create the possibility for coming in (pitting) at the end of the race and changing compounds and overcoming the aerodynamic deficiencies of the cars that run toward the back of the pack, and I think that will improve quality of the racing for us all.”

Interesting concept. Can it work in NASCAR since nearly all of its races are on ovals as opposed to Formula 1 and IndyCar?

Not everyone is convinced.

Mark Martin calls Keselowski’s idea “brilliant” but he also notes it’s flawed. Martin says this reminds him too much about what happened with the tires when Goodyear and Hoosier were competing in Cup.

“You can’t fuss with the tires,” Martin says. “You’ve got the fastest tire that you can put on now. If you make them any faster, they’re dangerous.

“Brad Keselowski didn’t live the tire war. He isn’t permanently injured from that. Many of us drivers carry permanent injuries for life from that. I know the cars are better now. I know the walls are better now. We don’t need that.

“They bring the best tire they can bring and have but if you made one that was worse ... put him out on them and let’s see if he still wants them. Let’s see how he likes them.”

Jeff Burton admits that “it’s always healthy that we’re looking to improve our sport,” but he’s not convinced this is the right idea.

“I’m not a proponent nor an opponent of talking about different ways to come up with better racing,” Burton says. “I think there’s been a general consensus that Goodyear has done a really, really good job on the tire, maybe too good. Maybe the tire needs to fall off a little more so that we lose speed as the run goes on.

“Things that we can do in the sport that don’t jeopardize the integrity of the sport to make the competition better, then we always need to be looking at that. Whether the tires will do that or not, I just don’t know.”

Stu Grant, Goodyear’s general manager of global race tires, said there hasn’t been any work on such a plan.

Grant notes that tire usage in NASCAR is greater than in IndyCar and Formula 1 because there are so many more teams and that would create among many issues.

“From a logistical standpoint, there is a lot of cost associated with that for everybody in the sport, for us as well the competitors as you pass on ... all that inventory on a second set of tires,” he says.

Grant says there’s no way Goodyear could provide a softer tire than what it has.

“If I did it, they would fail,” he notes. “They would blister. They would wear out. They would lose air and we would crash. Nobody wants that.

“The only option would be to make a harder tire. In the end it’s NASCAR’s call. We’re the tire supplier. We have not had any discussion with NASCAR about that. We have not looked at that.

“We would have to make a worse tire that they would have to run. Is that something the sport wants? I’m not so sure.”


by Dustin Long
Follow Dustin on Twitter:
@DustinLong

 

Teaser:
<p> Could NASCAR take a page from Formula 1 and IndyCar's playbook and institute hard- and soft-compound tires? Brad Keselowski thinks it could work while others, including Mark Martin and Jeff Burton, aren't so sure.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 19:09
Path: /nascar/nascar-horsepower-rankings-8
Body:

1. Jimmie Johnson (—)  Johnson has had two crashes in 2012, resulting in 42nd- and 36th-place finishes and one engine failure, leading to a 35th-place run. Otherwise, he’s been 12th or better every week.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (—)  Junior has been nearly as good as his Hendrick teammate through 20 races, with 17th- and 23rd-place runs the only blemishes outside of the top 15.

3. Matt Kenseth (—)  Even before a crash ended his day in Indy, Kenseth wasn’t having a banner performance. How will this team handle its driver’s lame duck status down the stretch?

4. Denny Hamlin (+1)  Hamlin is certainly back to his contender status, with two wins on the season and three finishes of sixth or better in the last four races (including a near-miss in Loudon).

5. Tony Stewart (-1)  Stewart somehow snuck into the top 10 by day’s end at Indy despite being a non-factor throughout the race. In fact, it was his worst showing (10th) at IMS since forming his own team — or a team being handed to him. Whatever.

6. Brad Keselowski (—)  Along with Hamlin, Keselowski seemed the only driver with anything for Johnson on Sunday. A slow pit stop doomed his chances and the three-time winner in 2012 settled for ninth.

7. Kasey Kahne (—)  Front-end damage to Kahne’s Chevy forced the team to play catch-up all day in Indy. A popular pre-race pick, Kasey persevered to a 12th-place showing.

8. Greg Biffle (—)  After a quiet three-race stretch where Biffle was all but invisible, he burst back onto the scene at the Brickyard with a confidence-building third-place finish. Keep an eye on him at Pocono.

9. Jeff Gordon (+1)  Time is running out for Gordon, who finds himself a distant 15th in the point standings with zero wins. Try as they might, the 24 team has been a fifth- to sixth-place car the last six weeks. Still, if he can cash in just once...

10. Clint Bowyer (-1)  Rebounded from what appeared to be some ugly sheet metal damage prior to the halfway mark at Indy to post a respectable 15th. It could’ve been worse.

Teaser:
<p> Jimmie Johnson tightens his grip of the top spot in Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings after his win at the Brickyard.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 17:59
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/5-cant-miss-olympic-finals-predictions-working-title
Body:

Some of the top Olympic finals will be held over the next week, starting with Thursday's 200m backstroke and concluding on August 9th when the men's decathlon. All eyes will be on Usain Bolt on August 5th as he goes for gold in the 100m dash. Can the American duo of Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin knock him off?

Athlon previews and predicts five of the Olympics top upcoming events.

August 2nd: Team USA Men’s Swimming returns with a vengeance in the 200m Backstroke

The men of Team USA swimming have been the subject of tremendous criticism from fans who expected the team - led by the duo of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte - to continue the absolute dominance exhibited in Beijing.  Fresh off a disappointing showing in the 200m freestyle, Lochte will be hungry for another gold medal in the 200m backstroke which he won back in 2008 and more recently, the 2011 World Championships.  At the Olympic Trials, Lochte won with a 1:54.54 time, followed by Tyler Clary in 1:54.88 who should also contend for a medal in this event.  Standing in their way is Ryosuke Irie (JPN) who has been the model of consistency, posting 4 of the best 6 times in the world this year.

Team USA has already seen a one-two finish in the backstroke in London Olympic Games coming from Grevers and Thoman in the 100m.  We expect USA's streak of backstroke dominance to continue with another 1-2 finish from Lochte and Clary. 

August 3rd: US Men’s Shot Put Win First Gold Medal Since 1996

The United States has a storied history in men’s shot put, with competitors reaching the podium in all but 2 Olympic Games (1976, 1980).  In London, Team USA has qualified three men who all possess a legitimate shot at the gold medal.  Christian Cantwell, who came in third at the Olympic Trials, won the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Games. Newcomer Ryan Whiting, age 25, has recently emerged as a medal contender after a first place finish in the 2012 indoor championship and a 2nd place finish at the Olympic Trials.  Rounding out the team is Reese Hoffa who came in first at the Olympic Trials.  His 22.00m throw at the Trials is the longest recorded throw this season. 

With the bitter aftertaste of the 2011 Worlds still in their mouths, the U.S. contingent should come out with a vengeance and reassert their dominance in this event by winning a gold medal.  While a sweep is not out of the question, a strong group of international competitors including Canadian Dylan Armstrong - the 2011 World Championship gold medalist - will likely prevent this dream from materializing. 
 

August 5th: Usain Bolt defeated in the 100m dash

While Bolt may be the overwhelming favorite in the 100m dash after his Olympic record 9.69 in Beijing (further improved to 9.58 in the 2009 World Championships in Berlin), the field is stacked this year and could spell an upset if Bolt doesn’t show up with his A-game.  Countrymen Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell in addition to the American duo of Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin all come into the London Olympics with realistic hopes of reaching the podium. 

Tyson Gay, whose personal best of 9.69 ranks second in history, will have to overcome his hip surgery from last July that took him out of competition for the majority of the 2011 season.  Despite this setback, Gay is a proven competitor and is only one of two sprinters to have beaten Bolt in the 100m since his record-breaking performance at the Beijing Olympics.  Gay appears to be regaining his old form, running a 10.00 into a 1.5 m/s headwind at the Adidas Grand Prix on June 9th, which converts to a windless 9.90s. Gay should be in peak form as he steps onto the blocks in London and could once again challenge Usain Bolt for gold. 

One of the most intriguing storylines for the upcoming Olympic Games has to be the emergence of Usain Bolt’s training partner Yohan Blake.  Blake is the reigning world champion in the 100m (albeit in a race where Bolt was disqualified for a false start) and wants to prove that last year’s performance was no fluke.  He has already posted a 9.84s 100m this season, which is only .08 seconds off of Usain’s fastest 2012 time.  Nicknamed “The Beast”, Blake has trained tirelessly for these upcoming Olympics in hopes of finally emerging out of Bolt's shadow.

 

August 5th: Federer Finally Brings Home the Elusive Individual Gold Medal

Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player of all-time, has accomplished every possibly feat in the sport other than an individual gold medal at the Olympic Games.  Fresh off of his victory over Murray at Wimbledon, Federer is back to playing at his highest level after a two-year drought without a Grand Slam victory.  Playing on the grass courts at Wimbledon and with the notable absence of 2008 gold medalist Rafael Nadal, the tournament is Federer’s to lose. 

Federer knows that this Olympics marks the last chance for him to take home the individual gold medal that has eluded him for so many years and will rise to the occasion in what would be the capstone of his storied career.  

 

August 9th: Led by Ashton Eaton, Team USA Sweeps Gold and Silver in the Men’s Decathlon

The decathlon, perhaps the most grueling Olympic event, should receive greater attention this time around in London with a talented American duo that should continue the United States’ historical dominance in the event.  The recent emergence of Ashton Eaton, a five-time NCAA champion at the University of Oregon who set a world record enroute to the top qualifying spot at the 2012 Olympic Trials, should provide additional drama to the event.  Eaton is joined by two-time world champion Trey Hardee, who should push Eaton at the London Games and also contend for the Gold Medal.  One of the biggest stories coming out of the Olympic Trials was 2008 Gold Medalist Bryan Clay’s failure to qualify for the Olympic Team, putting a dagger in any hopes of a repeat of 1952 when an American trio swept the podium. 

For 24-year-old Ashton Eaton, anything less than a gold medal around his neck and perhaps even an improvement on his world record score will be a disappointment.  Be sure to watch coverage of the Decathlon to see the birth of the next great American track star, Ashton Eaton. 

Related Olympics Content

Top 10 Favorites for Women's Gymnastics Individual All-Around
Best Olympic Headshots for 2012

Ranking Every USA Men's Olympic Basketball Team

Teaser:
<p> 2012 Olympics: 5 Can't Miss Finals and Predictions</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 16:37
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/golden-girl-missy-franklin-sweetheart-these-olympics
Body:

Call her The Natural. In her first Olympic Games, Missy Franklin, a giggly 17-year-old high schooler from Colorado, has already shown an uncanny ability to flip the switch when the lights come on and transition into steely veteran with a killer instinct. Only minutes after completing a semifinal heat in the 200m freestyle, Franklin hopped back in the pool and swam to gold in the 100m backstroke, perhaps her signature event.

"Indescribable," she said. "I still can't believe that happened. I don't even know what to think. I saw my parents' reaction on the screen and I just started bawling. I can't even think right now."

She had better get used to the feeling. Franklin has five more events and the potential to emerge from these Games as America's breakout star.

Franklin's male counterpart, Matt Grevers, was also up to the challenge in the 100m backstroke, setting an Olympic record to earn the gold medal.

The American exploits in the pool overshadowed a disappointing performance from the American male gymnasts, who slipped to fifth after entering the All Around finals as medal favorites. Princes William and Harry were on hand to watch the Great Britain men earn Bronze, after a successful Japanese inquiry vaulted the Japanese men from fourth to second and knocked the Ukrainians off the medal stand.

Samuel L. Jackson Tweet of the Night
One of the delightful discoveries of these Olympic Games has been the Twitter feed of actor Samuel L. Jackson, who offers real-time insights during the NBC prime-time broadcasts. They're exactly what you would expect from the guy who played Jules in Pulp Fiction: profanity-laced observations that are steeped in pro-America jingoism. Well worth a follow @SamuelLJackson if want to watch right along with him (and if you're not easily offended by liberal use of expletives).

Last night, Jackson signed off with this shout-out to Michael Phelps (slightly censored for family reading): "Just so ya know,looking forward to MIKE P going knee deep in ALL THAT A-- in the 200 FLY!!!! Go USA!

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.
 

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

Teaser:
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Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 11:06
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympics-photo-day-us-beach-volleyball-players-misty-may-treanor-and-kerri-walsh
Body:

Misty May-Treanor, right, of the U.S. looks on as  teammate Kerri Walsh digs out a ball during the beach volleyball match against Czech Republic at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 31, 2012, in London. The beach volleyball matches, held in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, have been among the most popular events of these Olympics.

Teaser:
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Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 10:39
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-july-31
Body:

Today's Fab Five, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:

1. Men's 200m Butterfly
Another night, another shot at history for Phelps, who will be going for his third straight gold medal in this event. No Ryan Lochte in this one, so all eyes will be on Phelps as he chases career gold medal No. 15 and attempts to tie Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina's record of 18 career Olympic medals.

2. Men's 800m Freestyle Relay
Provided Phelps is able to medal in the 200m butterfly, this race takes on added significance, as it represents Phelps' chance to become the most decorated Olympian of all time. A medal in the 200 and 800 relay would give the Olympic legend a staggering 19 career medals.

3. Women's Gymnastics Team Finals
The men fell flat, so it's up to the American women to salvage U.S. pride and find their way to the medal stand. Jordyn Wieber will have to shake off the crushing disappointment of failing to make the individual all around finals and the American women to their first all-around gold since the Magnificent 7 in 1996. That's a heavy weight for a 5-2, 117-pounder to carry, but she's up to the task.

4. Men's and Women's Tennis
Novak Djokovic will face American Andy Roddick, and Maria Sharapova takes on Laura Robson of Great Britain to highlight the tennis slate.

5. Men's Basketball
The 2012 edition of the Dream Team should barely break a sweat against Tunisia, giving coach Mike Krzyzewski a chance to experiment with different lineup combinations.

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.
 

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

Teaser:
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Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 10:26
Path: /college-football/big-12s-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The Big 12's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Can Texas Improve Its Passing Attack?
The Longhorns have the rushing attack and defense to win the Big 12. However, in a league known for offense, Texas still has to find a way to generate more from its quarterbacks. The Longhorns finished eighth in the conference in passing offense last year, and quarterbacks combined to throw 15 picks on 357 attempts. David Ash took control of the No. 1 spot late last season but injured a hamstring in summer workouts and could be limited for fall camp. Case McCoy and true freshman Conner Brewer will get every opportunity to win the job, but Ash is expected to finish atop the depth chart. Texas doesn’t need Ash to be Colt McCoy, but the passing attack has to be better than it was in 2011. With one of the nation’s deepest backfields and the Big 12’s best defense, Texas should be one of college football’s top 15 teams. However, winning the conference title and making a BCS bowl will come down to how quickly Ash, McCoy or Brewer can jumpstart the passing game.

2. Will unproven commodities at wide receiver and defensive line derail title hopes at Oklahoma?
A prolific veteran quarterback, the best offensive line in the Big 12 and the return of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator was enough to push Oklahoma in to the top five of the Athlon national rankings, but the Sooners have plenty of questions to answer if they’re going to compete for a national title. At receiver, the passing game struggled when Ryan Broyles was hurt. Now he’s gone permanently. That puts more pressure on Kenny Stills to be the No. 1 option. Meanwhile the suspension to Jaz Reynolds puts pressure on newcomers Trey Metoyer and Lacoltan Bester to perform right away. On the defensive line, seniors R.J. Washington, David King and Jamarkus McFarland have been around for a while, but they have yet to emerge as consistent factors on the defensive front. That needs to change if Oklahoma is going to be a factor in the national race.

3. Can Oklahoma State Repeat as Big 12 Champs With a Freshman QB?
There’s always pressure when you have to replace a quarterback like Brandon Weeden, but Lunt is under extra scrutiny in 2012, as the Cowboys hope to repeat as Big 12 champs. The freshman was one of three candidates vying for time in the spring and edged out J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf for the No. 1 spot. Walsh is expected to see time as a change of pace quarterback, but barring a setback in the fall, Lunt will be Oklahoma State’s starter in the opener against Savannah State. The Cowboys haven’t had much trouble producing good quarterback play under Mike Gundy, but it’s a lot to ask a true freshman quarterback to win a Big 12 title. Expect Oklahoma State to lean on running back Joseph Randle and a defense that led the nation in takeaways last season early in the year. However, for the Cowboys to win the Big 12, Lunt needs to be ready to deliver in the Big 12 opener on Sept. 29 against Texas. The freshman doesn’t have to be Brandon Weeden – but he needs to play beyond his years for Oklahoma State to repeat as Big 12 champs.

4. Will TCU have secondary to keep pace with the Big 12?
The Horned Frogs ranked an uncharacteristically low 32nd nationally in total defense last season, a stat that was not helped by allowing Baylor to pass for 414 yards and six touchdowns and SMU to pass for 349 yards and four touchdowns in TCU’s losses. The Horned Frogs must replace every full-time starter in the secondary, and the returning cast had only five starts last season, spread among three players. The pass defense may determine the course of TCU’s first season in the Big 12 as the Horned Frogs face SMU (again), Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma.

5. Will West Virginia find any sense of balance on offense?
With Geno Smith at quarterback, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey at receiver and Dana Holgorsen calling the shots, West Virginia is going to throw the ball a ton, but will West Virginia have the ability to run when necessary? A 360-yard rushing performance against Bowling Green last year skewed the Mountaineers’ statistics a bit. The Mountaineers averaged 3.5 yards per carry in Big East games, ranking sixth in the league. Moreover, Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s top rusher who accounted for 291 yards in that Bowling Green game, suffered a torn ACL during the spring. The Mountaineers’ inability to find balance bit them at times in the Big East last season. Could the same happen in the Big 12?

6. Can Baylor’s new backfield pickup where Robert Griffin/Terrance Ganaway left off?
There’s no question Baylor will miss Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin and running back Terrance Ganaway. The Bears ranked second in the nation in total offense and averaged 45.3 points a game in 2011. While the offense will probably struggle to reach those totals in 2012, don’t expect this unit to fall too much in terms of production. New quarterback Nick Florence started seven games when Griffin was sidelined with a torn ACL in 2009, throwing for 1,786 yards and six touchdowns. The Bears will miss Griffin’s ability to make plays outside of the pocket, but Florence has the experience and talent to keep this team among the best in the conference in passing offense. Terrance Ganaway was one of the Big 12’s biggest surprises last year, rushing for 1,547 yards and 21 touchdowns. Stepping into the backfield will be Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk and Jarred Salubi. Seastrunk was one of the top recruits in the 2010 recruiting class and should add some big-play ability to the backfield. Although Baylor won’t match last year’s offensive totals, this unit should still perform at a high level.

7. Where’s the defense in Lubbock?
An average to below-average defense at Texas Tech wasn’t strange under Mike Leach. But it is a change of pace for Tommy Tuberville, former a defensive coordinator who fielded quality defenses at Auburn. Tuberville brought in Art Kaufman, his DC at Ole Miss, for his third coordinator in three years. He also brought in six junior college transfers on defense to improve a unit that ranked last in the nation against the run.

8. Will Kansas State Develop Other Weapons Outside Collin Klein?
Collin Klein was Mr. Everything for the Wildcats in 2011. He led the team with 1,141 rushing yards and 27 scores, while throwing for 1,918 yards and 13 touchdowns. Although Klein carried the offense last season, it’s probably too much to ask for him to repeat that task in 2012. The senior dealt with various injuries last year – likely a direct result from the 317 carries he accumulated. Kansas State doesn’t have to stray too far from Klein, but the offense needs more playmakers to emerge. Running back John Hubert is coming off a solid 2011 campaign – rushing for 970 yards and three scores – but the Wildcats would like to have more big-play ability on the ground. Another area that could lessen the wear and tear on Klein is his development as a passer. If the senior can lean more on his arm, it should help keep him fresh for the final weeks of the season.

9. Is there any hope at Kansas?
There’s hope, but change will be neither easy nor quick. After fielding one of the worst statistical teams on either side of the ball the last two seasons, Kansas is trying to plug holes with transfers. Quarterback Dayne Crist from Notre Dame is the most notable, but the defense adds defensive lineman Josh Williams (Nebraska) and linebacker Anthony McDonald (also Notre Dame) plus a handful of junior college linemen. Returning defensive end Toben Opurum is about the only sure thing on for defensive coordinator Dave Campo, who is continuing to figure out his personnel in fall practice.

10. Steele Jantz or Jared Barnett: Who Will Start at Iowa State?
The good news for Iowa State? The Cyclones have two experienced candidates ready to lead the team in the fall. The bad news? There wasn’t much separation in the spring, and the battle will resume in fall practice. Steele Jantz led the Cyclones to a 3-0 start but suffered an injury in the win over Connecticut and struggled in the next three games. Jared Barnett played well in Iowa State’s biggest win last season (Oklahoma State), throwing for 376 yards and three scores. Both players are good runners, but need to be better about managing turnovers (17 interceptions last year). Don’t be surprised if both quarterbacks see time, but Barnett should finish the year with the best stats and most starts. 
 

by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012
Big 12 Defensive Line Rankings for 2012

College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big 12 Offensive Line Rankings for 2012

Big 12 Wide Receiver Rankings for 2012
Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big 12 Team

Big 12 Heisman Contenders for 2012
College Football Realignment Winners and Losers
The History of Big 12 Realignment
Introducing West Virginia to the Big 12
TCU Comes Home to the Big 12

Teaser:
<p> Big 12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 05:18
Path: /college-football/big-tens-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The Big Ten's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Who’s leaving, who’s staying at Penn State?
Quarterback Rob Bolden is already gone, possibly to LSU. Meanwhile, coach Bill O’Brien says about 50 players have pledged to stay with the Nittany Lions despite ample opportunities to transfer immediately and without penalty. The biggest domino, though, could fall soon, as standout running back Silas Redd may transfer to USC. Even if Penn State starts the season without a mass exodus, players can leave any time before the start of the 2013 season without having to sit out a year. If Redd leaves, Penn State loses one of its only offensive threats. O’Brien also has to be concerned if one or two key players leave, others will follow.

2. Can Ohio State Execute Urban Meyer’s Spread Offense?
After finishing last in the Big Ten in passing offense last season, plenty of doubts remain about quarterback Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes’ passing attack. Those concerns are amplified even more due to an offensive line that returns only two starters and a receiving corps that lacks a proven No. 1 option. Freshman Mike Thomas opened some eyes in the spring game, catching 12 passes for 131 yards. With Thomas’ emergence and the return of tight end Jake Stoneburner, the Buckeyes should have two solid targets for Miller. However, the receiving corps needs a big year from junior Philly Brown and sophomore Devin Smith. The potential is there for Ohio State’s offense to seamlessly pickup Meyer’s spread attack and emerge as one of the best in the conference. However, fall practice will be a good indicator of just how far the offensive line has come, which could hold the key to Ohio State’s season.

3. How much will Michigan State miss Jerel Worthy?
The defensive tackle anchored a defense that ranked ninth in run defense (100.1 yards per game) and seventh in yards allowed per carry (2.8). For certain, losing Worthy is a setback, but Sparty has the talent to replace him on the defensive line. End William Gholston is on his way to becoming a superstar after recording 16 tackles for a loss last season. On the other side of the line, Marcus Rush’s production tailed off near the end of his freshman season, but the end still finished with 12 tackles for a loss. The bigger questions are at tackle. Senior Anthony Rashad White’s performance in the bowl win over Georgia (seven tackles, three for a loss) hinted at his potential. At the other spot, senior Tyler Hoover and one-time Vanderbilt center James Kittredge will compete for playing time in two a days.

4. Can Michigan find the right answers in the trenches?
Even with quarterback Denard Robinson returning, Michigan could find it difficult to repeat last season’s 11 wins. The Wolverines have a tough schedule and must replace two stalwarts from the trenches in center David Molk and defensive tackle Mike Martin. The Wolverines will likely turn to senior Ricky Barnum at center, while freshman Ondre Pipkins could play a key role on the defensive line. Considering Barnum’s experience and Taylor Lewan’s return at left tackle, the Wolverines should feel confident that the line can still perform at a high level. The defensive line is a bigger question mark, especially with run-first teams like Alabama, Michigan State and Nebraska on the schedule. It’s unreasonable to expect both units to match their production from 2011, but too much of a drop could cost Michigan a chance to win the Legends Division. 

5. How will Danny O’Brien take the reins at Wisconsin?
Though O’Brien and Russell Wilson arrived under similar circumstances as graduate student transfers from the ACC, the Badgers shouldn’t necessarily expect similar results. Wilson had the best single-season for a Big Ten quarterback. Ill-suited as he may have been with the Terrapins under Randy Edsall, O’Brien did lose his starting job for a 2-10 Maryland team last season. Wilson was as accurate and efficient as any quarterback in the country, but he also took an active leadership role when he arrived on campus. O’Brien may have less on his shoulders thanks to Montee Ball, but how well he takes to his new team and new role may determine the course of the Badgers’ season.

6. Will Iowa find answers at running back, offensive line and on the defensive line?
Three areas where the Hawkeyes are usually strong – offensive line, defensive line and running back – are a question mark entering fall practice. The offensive line returns just two starters and must replace standout Riley Reiff. The defensive front loses three starters and finished seventh in the Big Ten against the run last year. Marcus Coker was expected to be one of the top running backs in the conference, but he left the team in January. Iowa’s back luck with running backs didn’t stop with Coker, as Mika’il McCall left the team, Jordan Canzeri suffered a knee injury in spring practice, and De’Andre Johnson was dismissed from the team in early August. Sophomore Damon Bullock and freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill will compete to be the No. 1 back in fall practice. With issues on both sides of the ball, quarterback James Vandenberg will have more pressure on his shoulders. There’s no question the senior is one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, but he needs some help if Iowa wants to improve off of last year’s 7-6 record.

7. Is Purdue healthy ... finally?
The Boilermakers enter fall camp with three quarterbacks with starting experience, who are finally healthy at the same time. Caleb TerBush started every game last season as the Boilermakers ended a four-year bowl drought. TerBush likely remains the starter in 2012, but the injury bug has a nose for the Purdue backfield. Fellow quarterback Rob Henry (seven starts in 2010) and Robert Marve (four starts in 2010) are both healthy. Both perhaps have higher ceilings than TerBush, but Henry has the speed to contribute at other positions. At running back, Ralph Bolden’s season is in doubt as he recovers from a knee injury sustained in the regular season finale against Indiana. If Purdue can stay healthy, it will be a welcome change of pace for coach Danny Hope.

8. Will Nebraska’s Defense Improve in 2012?
The Cornhuskers weren’t awful on defense last year, but they certainly weren’t as effective as they were in 2011. Nebraska ranked 42nd nationally in points allowed and 64th nationally against the run. Some fresh faces have joined the defensive staff, as Rick Kaczenski was hire to coach the line and Terry Joseph will man the secondary. Carl Pelini left to become the head coach at FAU, which allowed John Papuchis to be promoted to coordinator. The changes should bring some energy to the defense, but this unit must replace linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, while fixing the run defense. The interior of the line was an issue after Jared Crick’s season-ending injury last year and could be a work in progress once again. Nebraska’s defense should be more prepared for life in the Big Ten in 2012, but this unit still has a ways to go before returning to its 2009 or 2010 level.  

9. Will Minnesota's MarQueis Gray pickup where he left off last season?
With a non-conference schedule that features matchups against UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Syracuse, the Golden Gophers should have a shot at reaching a bowl in 2012. Quarterback MarQueis Gray closed 2011 by playing some of his best football in his career, rushing for 160 yards against Northwestern and adding 167 yards and two scores on the ground in the 27-7 victory over Illinois. The senior is a work in progress as a passer, but his dual-threat ability will give defenses plenty of fits in 2012. With another offseason to work under coach Jerry Kill and coordinator Matt Limegrover, Gray should only get better and will have a chance to total 3,000 overall yards in 2012. 

10. Can Northwestern field a competitive defense?
The Wildcats’ offense, which has finished in the top half of the Big Ten in four of the last five seasons and as high as second last year, appears to be in good hands with quarterback Kain Colter. The question is if the defense can keep up. The Wildcats also had the fewest sacks (17) in the league and allowed opponents to convert half of their third-down opportunities. Northwestern (6.1) and Indiana (6.4) were the only teams in the Big Ten to allow more than six yards per play. The Wildcats’ defense will be anchored by three returning starters at linebacker in David Nwabuisi, Damien Proby and Collin Ellis, plus safety Ibraheim Campbell. An inexperienced defensive line and secondary will determine of Northwestern’s defense is good enough to get the Wildcats back to a bowl game.


by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)


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Ranking the Big Ten's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big Ten's Top 25 Heisman Contenders

Athlon's 2012 All-Big Ten Team

Athlon's 2012 Big Ten Predictions

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Urban Meyer's Arrival Has Ohio State Back on Track

Teaser:
<p> Big Ten's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 05:14
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Kansas City Chiefs, NFL
Path: /nfl/kansas-city-chiefs-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Kansas City Chiefs check in at No. 24.

The chaos calmed finally, and when it did, the Chiefs were eager to return to football — with one of the NFL’s more talent-rich rosters. The 2011 season was stained by injuries to key players, disagreements between former coach Todd Haley and general manager Scott Pioli, and ultimately the replacement of Haley with defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel late in the season. The Chiefs hope 2012 will be a calmer time, a period that finally sees permanent results from four years of rebuilding.

Quarterback Matt Cassel is seen in Kansas City as one of the few unproven pieces, and the grousing was highlighted when the Broncos signed former Colts star Peyton Manning — and likely shot to the top of preseason AFC West predictions. 

In the meantime, the Chiefs spent their offseason building around Cassel. They fortified a weak offensive line, brought in veteran running back Peyton Hillis, and gave Cassel one more vote of confidence that, if all goes right, he can be the quarterback to lead the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl in more than four decades. Even with better days seemingly on the horizon, this could be Cassel’s last chance. 

Offense

After missing on Manning, the team signed veteran Brady Quinn, an assertion that Cassel was still the Chiefs’ man. Cassel is an average NFL quarterback under most circumstances, but the Chiefs seemed to realize that his best chance at being something more — like he was in 2010, when he led the team to a division title and earned a Pro Bowl nod — was by surrounding him with solid pieces. The free agent acquisitions of right tackle Eric Winston, tight end Kevin Boss and running back Hillis give Cassel more talent to work with.

Still, there remains uncertainty even beyond quarterback. Running back Jamaal Charles, one of the NFL’s most electric rushers, and tight end Tony Moeaki suffered torn knee ligaments early last season, and it’s unclear if they’ll return with the same explosion and quickness. Charles is still seen as one of the league’s most talented rushers, but there will be no relief in Kansas City until he breaks his first long run, like those reminiscent of the 2009 and ’10 seasons. Charles estimated in April that he was “80 percent” healthy, admitting that the assessment was partly a motivational ploy. Hillis will be used in power running situations, making occasional appearances at fullback. Dexter McCluster and rookie Cyrus Gray also could get carries.

Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe also could be a mystery entering his sixth season. The Chiefs made him their franchise player, but he refused to sign his tender, skipped offseason practices and didn't report at the start of training camp. The Chiefs are in a pickle: Do they hand Bowe, an occasionally immature but supremely talented wideout, a huge contract and hope he handles it well, or simply hope that he signs his franchise tender, risking the absence of a player who had more than 1,100 receiving yards in each of the last two years?

The Chiefs spent two of their eight draft picks on receivers Devon Wylie and Junior Hemingway, possibly as a backup plan if things don’t work out with Bowe. Steve Breaston is a solid second receiver, and second-year wideout Jon Baldwin will need to show growth from a rookie season plagued with injuries and poor decision-making.

Cassel will work behind a line with two new faces: Winston and second-year center Rodney Hudson, who’s expected to take over for Casey Wiegmann.

If Cassel plays close to his 2010 form, the Chiefs should be able to return fire against a division that’s suddenly full of star power. It won’t hurt if Charles and Moeaki are healthy.

Related: Top Kansas City Chiefs Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Crennel was giddy after the first round of the draft, when his team gambled and took nose tackle Dontari Poe with the No. 11 overall pick. Poe has a high ceiling but a low floor, and some fans booed the pick at a team-hosted draft party, simply because Poe was seen as a college underachiever who excelled at the NFL combine. Crennel is confident that Poe, a 346-pounder with uncanny quickness, will be a perfect fit in the center of his three-man front.

If Crennel’s vision comes true, the Chiefs will have a solid line that opens playmaking opportunities for a terrific group of linebackers. Outside backer Tamba Hali has emerged as one of the league’s best pass-rushers, and inside backer Derrick Johnson, strong against the run and the pass, made his first Pro Bowl last season. The team has high hopes for second-year pro Justin Houston. The former third-round pick was a liability against the run last year, and he’ll have to improve in that area in order to realize his potential.

The strong play from the linebacking corps helped mask the troubles at safety last season. Eric Berry, one of the game’s top young defensive backs, tore his ACL in Week 1. Berry is terrific against the run but will need to improve in coverage to become an elite safety. Brandon Flowers, a terrific cover corner, is back for his fifth year as a starter. He will joined by Stanford Routt, signed to a three-year contract in the offseason after spending seven years with the Raiders. Third-year free safety Kendrick Lewis rounds out what should be a strong secondary.

That leaves the defensive line, and Poe won’t be the only question. His neighbors, ends Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, were both high draft picks who have yet to live up expectations. Jackson, the No. 3 overall pick in 2009, has shown a slow reaction time and an inability to absorb blockers. Dorsey has improved each year, if slightly, but at 6'1" and 297 pounds, he’s still an uncomfortable fit as a 3-4 end. 

Crennel will continue coordinating the defense.

Specialists

Kicker Ryan Succop will return in his role a season after making 24-of-30 field goals, including three from 50-plus yards. He’s strong, cool and reliable enough to someday join Jan Stenerud and Nick Lowery as the most accomplished kickers in team history. Dustin Colquitt will remain the Chiefs’ punter.

The Chiefs have plenty of options for kick returners, but none has scored a touchdown since McCluster reached the end zone in the 2010 regular-season opener. Javier Arenas is the team’s primary punt returner, and Breaston, Wylie and rookie safety DeQuan Menzie also could get chances in the return game. McCluster remains a big threat, but the team is hesitant to use him on special teams when he is needed to contribute on offense. 

Final Analysis: 4th in the AFC West

The Chiefs have a favorable schedule and improved depth at key positions. The barometer for the 2012 season should be a winning record; anything better will be a bonus and anything less will be a disappointment. But with Kansas City’s top playmakers on both sides of the ball coming off season-ending injuries, the dark cloud of doubt hangs over this year’s club.

Related: 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Berry Suspects Bounty
Safety Eric Berry, one of the team’s more talented and intense players, tweeted in March that he suspected the Buffalo Bills might have a bounty on him on the day Berry suffered a season-ending ACL tear on a low block from the Bills’ Stevie Johnson. After the Saints bounty scandal broke, Berry took to Twitter: “Sometimes I sit n wonder if they had a bounty out on me ... oh well ... who cares. Either way u can’t hold me down.” Berry later backed off his assertion, saying it was “pretty much a joke,” before encouraging others to watch video of the play and develop their own opinions.

More Focus
Dexter McCluster, the Chiefs’ multipurpose player, spent his offseason making music and opening a sports bar in his native Florida. But his most important offseason goal was to improve his focus and cut down on fumbles, a continual problem in 2011. He said he re-evaluated how he finished the “last three inches” of each play, protecting the ball on his way to the turf.

The Switch
Rookie offensive lineman Jeff Allen is expected to move to guard after playing tackle throughout his high school and college career. It’s the opposite move made by Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert, who played guard before arriving in Kansas City. Allen said he would lean on his former teammate at Illinois, Jon Asamoah, for advice through the transition. Asamoah is the Chiefs’ starting right guard.

Coordinator Carousel
Brian Daboll became the Chiefs’ sixth offensive coordinator in as many years when he joined the team during the offseason. Daboll replaces Bill Muir, whose unit ranked 27th in the NFL in total offense with 310.8 yards per game. The constant changes have been most difficult on Cassel, who hasn’t had the same coordinator in two consecutive seasons since becoming a starter in 2008, at the time for the Patriots. The good thing for Cassel, though, is that Daboll was a Patriots assistant in the quarterback’s first two seasons.

Not A Spy
Running back Peyton Hillis, who signed a free agent deal with the Chiefs, has said a report that he considered retirement to pursue a job with the CIA was false — and meant to devalue his market price. Hillis, who rushed for 1,177 yards in 2010, is eager to bounce back after a tumultuous final season with the Browns. He rushed for only 587 yards in 10 games last season. 

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Wed., Aug. 1

Order your 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Kansas City Chiefs Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Kansas City Chiefs 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 05:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Kansas City Chiefs, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/kansas-city-chiefs-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Kansas City Chiefs official Twitter account:

@kcchiefs (Followers: 97,094)

Top Chiefs To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 31, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Jamaal Charles RB @jcharles25 967,598
2. Jon Baldwin WR @Jon__Baldwin 288,492
3. Eric Berry S @Stuntman1429 67,593
4. Peyton Hillis RB @thepeytonhillis 49,739
5. Dexter McCluster RB @dextermccluster 45,380
6. Steve Breaston WR @SBreaston15 41,952
7. Brady Quinn QB @BQ9 37,075
8. Kevin Boss TE @KevinBossman 35,397
9. Brandon Flowers CB @BFlowers24 34,474
10. Eric Winston OT @ericwinston 28,924
11. Javier Arenas CB @JavierArenas21 28,183
12. Tamba Hali LB @TambaHali91 24,159
13. Derrick Johnson LB @superdj56 22,790
14. Dwayne Bowe WR @DwayneBowe82 12,807
15. Stanford Routt CB @SRoutt26 10,808
16. Kendrick Lewis S @klewis23 10,680
17. Andy Studebaker LB @studie32 10,227
18. Dontari Poe DT @PoeMans_dream 9,868
19. Tony Moeaki TE @TonyMoeaki81 8,565
20. Branden Albert OG @B_albert76 6,040

If you want the latest Chiefs' news and information, you need to follow @ChiefsPR (8,153 followers) and Chiefs Insider @JoshLooney (16,040).

Mitch Holthus, the Voice of the Chiefs, can be found in the Twitterverse at @mitchholthus (12,298).

To help you get in the spirit for the upcoming season, you can follow the Chiefs' cheerleaders at @ChiefsCheer (4,471).

The Chiefs Beat:

Kent Babb, Columnist for the Kansas City Star: @kentbabb (12,239)

Adam Teicher, Writer for Kansas City Star: @adamteicher (6,402)

Randy Covitz, Writer for Kansas City Star: @randycovitz (1,484)

Chiefs Blog Roll:

Red Zone is the Kansas City Star's Chiefs blog.

Arrowhead Pride is SB Nation's Chiefs blog, which also can be found on Twitter at @ArrowheadPride.

Warpaint Illustrated offers independent coverage of the Chiefs in print, online and via the Out of Bounds podcast. It's Twitter handle, @ChiefsInsider should not be confused with that of @JoshLooney, who is the official Chiefs Insider.

Arrowhead Addict, Chiefs Command, Chiefs Gab, and the appropriately named KC Chiefs Blog are some others to check out.

The ESPN AFC West blog is run by Bill Williamson and you can follow him @espn_afcwest.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Wed., Aug. 1

Order your 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Season Preview
Related: 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Schedule Analysis

- By Braden Gall and Mark Ross, published on July 31, 2012

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Kansas City Chiefs Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 04:59
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-awards-dual-threat-quarterbacks
Body:

Dual-Threat feels like a relatively modern term used to define college quarterbacks. Certainly, the proliferation of zone read options and Mike Leach spreads has created greater dychotomy within the offensive playbook than ever before. 

This trend of electric athletes who really aren't quarterbacks in the truest NFL sense of the word excelling in college is nothing new. Charlie Ward and Tommie Frazier made the quarterback position incredibly dynamic 20 years ago. And the triple option, wing-T offense has been churning across the college landscape for nearly a century.

However, when Michael Vick burst onto the scene with a rocket right arm packaged with an initial burst that would make Usain Bolt jealous, the game changed forever. The ability to be an efficient, consistent, down the field passer as well as an explosive running back has stretched the defense both vertically and horizontally. Since Vick, names like Vince Young and Tim Tebow have led teams to championships based on the ability to throw and run with equal effectiveness.

So who are the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation for 2012:

1. Denard Robinson, Michigan (SR)
Certainly, Shoelace has some holes in his throwing game — and has missed some key snaps in key games. Yet, there is no better pass-run combination in the game today than Mr. Robinson. And as he proved at Big Ten Media Days, he is a true leader and role model for us all. The numbers very plainly speak for themselves: 4,931 yards passing, 3,229 yards rushing and 75 total touchdowns. He is the only player in history to be a part of the 2,500/1,500-yard club and returned Michigan to a BCS bowl last year. If he can stay healthy in 2012, he should be in New York come December.

2. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech (JR)
From an NFL perspective, there is no better dual-threat talent in the nation than Thomas. At 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, few defensive ends are as big as Thomas, much less guys under center. He may be the most powerful QB sneak-er in history (did you see the Georgia Tech game last year?). In his first season as a starter, he set a Virginia Tech single-season total yards record with his 3,482 yards of offense. This at a school with an incredible track record with dual-threats — Michael Vick, Marcus Vick, Bryan Randall, Tyrod Taylor. With question marks at offensive line and running back, Thomas will be called upon to carry even more of the offensive load in 2012.

3.  Braxton Miller, Ohio State (SO)
Urban Meyer isn't mixing words about his sophomore signal caller. He referred to Miller as the best athlete he has ever coached at quarterback, and this, obviously, includes names like Tim Tebow and Alex Smith. The game slowed down for Miller in the second half of 2011 and he nearly pulled-off a huge upset of Michigan in the Big House. As a true freshman, he threw only four interceptions (1,159 yards, 13 TD) and led the Buckeyes in rushing (715 yards, 7 TD). He has an electric first step and down the field potential that will remind people of Robert Griffin III.

4. Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State (SR)
Gus Malzahn couldn't not have asked for a better quarterback to be ready and waiting when he arrived in Jonesboro. And Aplin couldn't have asked for a better scheme for his dual skillset. En route to a Sun Belt championship, Aplin threw for 3,588 yards and 19 scores while leading his team in rushing (588 yards, 10 TD). Now, the power speed spread will only futher enhance Aplin's ability to punish defenses both on the ground and through the air.

5. Collin Klein, Kansas State (SR)
Klein clearly lacks the true pocket passing ability to be any higher on this list. That said, he might be the best running back on this list. His gritty, toughness and hard-nosed style is a pleasure to watch each Saturday. And it led to an NCAA record-tying 27 rushing touchdowns (by a quarterback) and Cotton Bowl berth last season. He completed only 57.3% of his passes for 1,918 yards, 13 TD and six INTs. Should he improve his ability to stretch the field with his arm, he could end up as the nation's top dual-threat QB. 

6. James Franklin, Missouri (JR)
In his first season under center, Franklin didn't disappoint. From a yardage standpoint, few players posted bigger numbers than his 2,865 yards passing and 981 yards rushing. He scored 15 times on the ground and 21 times through the air. The key, as Mizzou transitions into the SEC, will be his health. His throwing shoulder was badly injured in the spring, and while he is healthy now, will be facing some of the top defensive fronts in the nation this fall.

7. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (JR)
Martinez needed to show mental toughness and maturity last season and it appears that he has finally mastered the huddle. The final step in his development will be the ability to complete passes accurately and consistently down the field in key situations. Otherwise, the raw talent is obvious. His first 10 yards go by as quickly as any runner in the nation as his 874 yards and 9 TD indicate. He managed 2,089 yards through the air, and with what could be the best receiving corps in the Big Ten, Martinez needs to show improvement in efficiency — i.e., a 13:8 TD:INT ratio and 56.3% passing clip. The upside is painfully obvious for Huskers fans.

8. Tyler Tettleton, Ohio (JR)
Fantasy players know all about the Bobcats quarterback, but the rest of the nation is only just now catching on. As only a sophomore, Tettleton threw 3,306 yards and 28 scores against only 10 interceptions while adding 10 more scores on the ground and 666 yards rushing. On a team that could be the MAC frontrunner in 2012, Tettleton is the star.

9. Kain Colter, Northwestern (JR)
Few players have ever had the statistical season that Colter produced last fall. No one number stands out, but his diversity and versatitlity were extremely rare. He led the Wildcats in rushing with 654 yards and nine touchdowns, finished with 43 receptions for 466 yards and three more scores as a receiver and completed over 67% of his passes for 673 yards, six touchdowns and only one interception. In an offense known for overachieving signal callers, Colter has a chance to be the most talented and productive of the bunch.

10. Brett Smith, Wyoming (SO)
Dave Christensen has been known for his work with quarterbacks both at Missouri and Wyoming. And Smith could be his best pupil yet. As only a freshman, Smith lit-up boxscores to the tune of 2,622 yards passing and 710 yards rushing. He added 30 total touchdowns (20 pass, 10 rush) as he led the Cowboys to an eight-win season and bowl bid. He works hard and should only be that much better in his second season.

The Best of the Rest:

11. Cody Fajardo, Nevada (SO)
The WAC Freshman of the Year posted 694 yards rushing and 1,707 passing and 17 total TDs.

12. Bryan Bennett/Marcus Mariota, Oregon (SO/FR)
Mariota has drawn Dennis Dixon comparisons and Bennett averaged over 10 yards per carry with six passing TDs and no INTs in spot duty last year. Both have electric dual-threat skills in a system perfectly suited for both.

13. B.J. Daniels, USF (SR)
Four years of starting should produce best season yet. 2011 featured 2,604/601 yardage splits.

14. Matt Scott, Arizona (SR)
Rich Rodriguez' zone-read scheme is a perfect fit for 6-3, 200-pounder.

15. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (JR)
Posted 1,448/525 yardage split to go with 22 TDs — and that was with Stephen Garcia hanging around.

16. Blaine Gautier, UL Lafayette (SR)
Awesome 2,958-23-6 passing line to go with 486 yards and three more scores on the ground.

17. Alex Gillett, Eastern Michigan (SR)
Led the improved Eagles in rushing (736) while adding 1,504 yards and 14 TDs through the air.

18. Riley Nelson, BYU (SR)
Threw 19 TDs and got 88 rushing attempts in first year as the starter. Forced Jake Heaps to Kansas. 

19. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois (JR)
Takes over for Chandler Harnish in elite dual-threat scheme. Rushed for 246-3 in back-up duty last fall.

20. MarQueis Gray, Minnesota (SR)
Elite athlete (966 yards rushing last year) who is finally starting to develop as a passer.

Others to consider:

21. Nathan Scheehaase, Illinois (JR)
22. C.J. Brown, Maryland (JR)
23. Tevin Washington, Georgia Tech (SR)
24. Tre Roberson, Indiana (SO)
25. Kolton Browning, UL Monroe (JR)

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

2012 College Football Awards:

Top 25 Heisman Candidates

The Nation's Top Pure Lockdown Cover Corners
The Nation's Top Dual-Threat Quarterbacks

Teaser:
<p> 2012 College Football Awards: Dual-Threat Quarterbacks</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 04:00
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-top-10-favorites-women%E2%80%99s-gymnastics-individual-all-around
Body:

Jordyn Wieber did not qualify for the women’s gymnastics individual all-around competition at the 2012 London Olympics. Despite finishing with the fourth-highest score during qualifying, the reigning World Champion and favorite to win Olympic gold failed to make the cut due to a rule that limits the number of bids to two per country — known stateside as the “Wieber Rule” until further notice.

Without Wieber, the individual all-around competition — which consists of all four apparatus (vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise) — is any girl’s game. The following is a rundown of the top 10 contenders heading into the meet on Thursday, August 2.

1. Gabby Douglas, USA

Age: 16 (Dec. 31, 1995)
Hometown: Virginia Beach, Va.
Height: 4’11”
Weight: 90 pounds
Best event: Uneven Bars
Worst event: Floor Exercise

The “Flying Squirrel” is an uneven bars ace and a live wire with the upside to win it all. Douglas claimed uneven bar gold at the 2012 Visa Championships in St. Louis, where she earned silver in the all-around — behind gold medal winner Jordyn Wieber.

Having already graced the covers of TIME Magazine and Sports Illustrated, respectively, Gabby is no stranger to the Olympic spotlight. And her commitment is unquestioned after moving from Virginia Beach to West Des Moines, Iowa, in 2004 to train with Liang Chow — who also coached 2008 Beijing Olympics all-around silver medalist Shawn Johnson.

If Gabby can stay poised under pressure, she has the raw talent to join Nastia Liukin (2008), Carly Patterson (2004) and Mary Lou Retton (1984) as the only American women to win Olympic gold in the individual all-around.

2. Viktoria Komova, Russia

Age: 17 (Jan. 30, 1995)
Hometown: Voronezh, Russia
Height: 5’1”
Weight: 76 pounds
Best event: Uneven Bars
Worst event: Floor Exercise

“Vika” was the top qualifier at the Olympic preliminaries. Winner of the individual all-around silver medal at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo — behind USA gold medalist Jordyn Wieber — Komova is another uneven bars whiz, taking gold at both the 2012 European Championships and 2011 Worlds.

3. Aliya Mustafina, Russia

Age: 17 (Sept. 30, 1994)
Hometown: Moscow, Russia
Height: 5’4”
Weight: 112 pounds
Best event: Uneven Bars
Worst event: Balance Beam

NBC labeled her the latest Russian diva, and "Musty" does have the attitude, style and talent to win gold. Mustafina won the individual all-around gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in Rotterdam, while also taking silver in the vault, uneven bars and floor exercise. However, a knee injury at the 2011 European Championships raised serious questions heading into the 2012 London Olympics. But Musty appears fit, which means she will be fierce competition.

4. Aly Raisman, USA

Age: 18 (May 25, 1994)
Hometown: Needham, Mass.
Height: 5’2”
Weight: 115 pounds
Best event: Floor Exercise
Worst event: Uneven Bars

Aly — a.k.a. “Alexandra” — has gotten a raw deal. After Raisman clinched one of the USA’s two spots in the individual all-around, not only did NBC’s cameras focus more on Wieber crying but the producers also gave her Polo-wearing parents (Ricky and Lynn) nearly as much air time as their daughter.

Make no mistake, Aly could go from underdog to the medal stand. She won individual all-around bronze medal, along with gold medals on floor and balance beam, at the 2012 Visa Championships in St. Louis, and also earned bronze medal on floor at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo.

The oldest member of Team USA, the captain has already proven clutch on the floor exercise — where she nailed her routine to clinch her spot in the individual all-around competition.

5. Larisa Iordache, Romania

Age: 16 (June 19, 1996)
Hometown: Bucharest, Romania
Height: 4’11”
Weight: 82 pounds
Best event: Floor Exercise
Worst event: Uneven Bars

Romania faked out the gymnastics world by announcing that Iordache had had plantar fasciitis — a painful inflammation of the connective tissue on the sole of the foot — just days before preliminary qualifying. But their young star looked just fine in London, and is a threat to make a name for herself in the Games of the XXX Olympiad.

6. Linlin Deng, China

Age: 20 (April 21, 1992)
Hometown: Fuyang, Anhui, China
Height: 4’6”
Weight: 79 pounds
Best event: Balance Beam
Worst event: Uneven Bars

A member of China’s gold medal winning team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Deng was also a gymnast whose age has been debated. In order to compete in the Olympics, gymnasts must turn 16 years old during the year of the games. Deng was either an illegal 14 years old or 16 years old in Beijing; making her either 18 or 20 this time around. No matter how old she is, Deng is still a tiny 4’6”, 79 pounds and brilliant on the balance beam.

7. Qiushuang Huang, China

Age: 20 (May 28, 1992)
Hometown: Xiangfan, Hubei, China
Height: 5’1”
Weight: 95 pounds
Best event: Uneven Bars
Worst event: Floor Exercise

Huang was not a member of the Chinese national team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but she was part of the bronze medal winning squad at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo. In a down year for China, Huang joins Deng as the top threats.

8. Vanessa Ferrari, Italy

Age: 21 (Nov. 10, 1990)
Hometown: Genivolta, Cremona, Italy
Height: 4’9”
Weight: 97 pounds
Best event: Floor Exercise
Worst event: Uneven Bars

The name of the games, the compact Italian Ferrari is a ball of energy with the ability to dominate on the floor and on the beam. The 21-year-old veteran will put on a show but may not have the individual all-around game to medal.

9. Asuka Teramoto, Japan

Age: 16 (Nov. 19, 1995)
Hometown: Komaki, Japan
Height: 4’6”
Weight: 66 pounds
Best event: Vault
Worst event: Floor Exercise

One of the surprises in qualifying, Teramoto was more steady than spectacular. In fact, the miniature Japanese gymnast was the highest qualifier (eighth) who posted no score higher than a 14.600.

10. Rebecca Tunney, Great Britain

Age: 15 (Oct. 26, 1996)
Hometown: Manchester, United Kingdom
Height: 4’10”
Weight: 77 pounds
Best event: Uneven Bars
Worst event: Balance Beam

The local legend will have the crowd behind her. Tunney is the brightest star on Great Britain’s roster and she’s too young to know just what an opportunity she has at the 2012 London Olympics. If she medals, Tunney could be next in line to jump out of a plane with James Bond and the Queen. Of course, she’d stick her landing.


Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Schedule

Tuesday, July 31 – Team Competition
Thursday, Aug. 2 – Individual All-Around
Sunday, Aug. 5 – Vault
Monday, Aug. 6 – Uneven Bars
Tuesday, Aug. 7 – Floor Exercise
Tuesday, Aug. 7 – Balance Beam


The qualifying results from the preliminary competition held Sunday, July 29.

Team Qualifying Scores

1. USA (181.863)

2. Russia (180.429)

3. China (176.637)

4. Romania (176.264)

5. Great Britain (170.656)

6. Japan (170.196)

7. Italy (168.397)

8. Canada (167.696)


All-Around Qualifying Rank. Gymnast, Nation (Score)

1. Viktoria Komova, Russia (60.632)

2. Aly Raisman, USA (60.391)

3. Gabby Douglas, USA (60.265)

4. Jordyn Wieber, USA (60.232) *

5. Aliya Mustafina, Russia (59.966)

6. Linlin Deng, China (57.998)

7. Vanessa Ferrari, Italy (57.932)

8. Asuka Teramoto, Japan (57.865)

9. Larisa Andreea Iordache, Romania (57.800)

10. Qiushuang Huang, China (57.707)

11. Sandra Raluca Izbasa, Romania (57.532)

12. Anastasia Grishina, Russia (57.332) *

13. Jessica Lopez, Venezuela (56.665)

14. Elisabeth Seitz, Germany (56.466)

15. Rebecca Tunney, Great Britain (56.391)

16. Ana Sofia Gomez Porras, Guatemala (56.132)

17. Hannah Whelan, Great Britain (55.699)

18. Dominique Pegg, Canada (55.657)

19. Celine van Gerner, Netherlands (55.632)

20. Carlotta Ferlito, Italy (55.500)

21. Jennifer Pinches, Great Britain (55.266) *

22. Jinnan Yao, China (54.798) *

23. Giulia Steingruber, Switzerland (54.715)

24. Emily Little, Australia (54.498)

25. Aurelie Malaussena, France (54.399)

26. Marta Pihan-Kulesza, Poland (54.365)

27. Rie Tanaka, Japan (54.333)

28. Ashleigh Brennan, Australia (54.232)

* Did Not Qualify Due to “Wieber Rule”


Vault – Qualifying Rank. Gymnast, Nation (Score)

1. McKayla Maroney, USA (15.800)

2. Sandra Izbasa, Romania (15.316)

3. Maria Paseka, Russia (15.049)

4. Oksana Chusovitina, Germany (14.808)

5. Yamilet Pena Abreu, Dominican Republic (14.699)

6. Janine Berger, Germany (14.483)

7. Brittany Rogers, Canada (14.483)

8. Elsabeth Black, Canada (14.366)


Uneven Bars – Qualifying Rank. Gymnast, Nation (Score)

1. Elizabeth Tweddle, England (16.133)

2. Kexin He, China (15.966)

3. Viktoria Komova, Russia (15.833)

4. Jinnan Yao, China (15.766)

5. Aliya Mustafina, Russia (15.700)

6. Gabby Douglas, USA (15.333)

7. Qiushuang Huang, China (15.266) *

8. Elisabeth Seitz, Germany (15.166)

9. Koko Tsurumi, Japan (15.033)

* Did Not Qualify Due to “Wieber Rule”


Balance Beam – Qualifying Rank. Gymnast, Nation (Score)

1. Lu Sui, China (15.400)

2. Viktoria Komova, Russia (15.266)

3. Gabby Douglas, USA (15.266)

4. Linlin Deng, China (15.166)

5. Aly Raisman, USA (15.100)

6. Kyla Ross, USA (15.075) *

7. Kseniia Afanaseva, Russia (15.066)

8. Catalina Ponor, Romania (15.033)

9. Anastasia Grishina, Russia (14.900) *

10. Diana Laura Bulimar, Romania (14.866)

* Did Not Qualify Due to “Wieber Rule”


Floor – Qualifying Rank. Gymnast, Nation (Score)

1. Aly Raisman, USA (15.325)

2. Sandra Izbasa, Romania (15.066)

3. Vanessa Ferrari, Italy (14.900)

4. Kseniia Afanaseva, Russia (14.833)

5. Lauren Mitchell, Australia (14.833)

6. Jordyn Wieber, USA (14.666)

7. Catalina Ponor, Romania (14.600)

8. Aliya Mustafina, Russia (14.433)
 

Teaser:
<p> Jordyn Wieber did not qualify for the women’s gymnastics individual all-around competition at the 2012 London Olympics. But the USA still has Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, while Russia will contend with Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina.</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 20:34

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