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All taxonomy terms: College Football, Links, College Basketball, NFL, NBA, MLB
Path: /college-football/athlon%E2%80%99s-essential-eleven-links-day-12
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This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for August 17.

• Former Major League pitcher Tommy John disagrees with the plan to shut down Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg in September.

The Onion has a funny look at Tim Tebow’s “favorite target” at Jets camp.

• NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah previews this weekend’s NFL preseason action.

• Mandatory.com lists some entertaining movies for those of you missing the Olympics.

• Inside the ACC looks at the effects of the North Carolina academic scandal.

• Notre Dame is breaking out a pretty unusual helmet for the Miami game at Soldier Field this season.

• The American League MVP and Cy Young votes will be highly debated.

• Nike is planning a 16-team college basketball tournament in 2017 to celebrate founder Phil Knight’s birthday.

• Check out Chiefs fan Steve Graham, who has the Kansas City logo on his glass eye.

• Ryan Tannehill will start for the Dolphins tonight against the Panthers.

• We are SO ready for college football to begin. Check out these top highlights from last season.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


August 16

• Mariners ace Felix Hernandez tossed a perfect game against the Rays, and that established an MLB first with three “perfectos” in one season.

• Bleacher Report’s Ian Casselberry analyzes the the very costly 50-game suspension of the Giants’ Melky Cabrera.

• Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel has won the starting quarterback gig at Texas A&M.

• Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley is footing the athletic bill for many kids in his hometown of Saginaw, Michigan, where the school district was going to charge athletes to participate.

• Always nice to enjoy your morning cereal….from the Stanley Cup.

• It was just a “friendly”, but the USA soccer team racked up an historic win in Mexico.

• The NFL Referee's Association is still bickering with the league, who seems content to start the season with replacement refs.

• It looks like Maryland will go with a true freshman at quarterback after C.J. Brown’s season-ending injury.

• FOX Sports releases its preseason Heisman watch.

• Former Georgia coach Jim Donnan has been charged with helping to orchestrate an $80 million Ponzi scheme.

• Russell Westbrook messes with Team USA and Oklahoma City teammate James Harden’s epic beard in this new ad.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


August 15

• Because of a nationwide helium shortage, the long-time Nebraska tradition of releasing balloons after the first touchdown has been put on hold.

• Speaking of touchdown routines, Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey has found an interesting way to encourage his team not to celebrate.

• For fans of The Big Lebowski, this moment had to be epic. The Dude abides.

• Chadd Scott of ChuckOliver.net looks at the future of the ACC.

• How serious is the spleen injury to Cowboys tight end Jason Witten?

• It looks like the new Champions Bowl will either be played in New Orleans or in Arlington, Texas.

• The new NBA2K13 game will feature the 1992 “Dream Team.”

• The Red Sox clubhouse is a mess…again.

• If you’re a Vikings defender at training camp, do not touch 28.

• The North Carolina academic scandal continues to raise more questions.

• Check out who’s taking batting practice in Toronto: Charlie Sheen. He doesn’t have much of a swing, but at least Rick Vaughn has finally learned that we wear caps and sleeves in the league.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


August 14

• Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher had arthroscopic knee surgery this morning but still expects to be ready for the season opener against Indianapolis.

• The Red Sox nation is mourning the passing of Boston legend Johnny Pesky, who was a player, manager and broadcaster for the club during a career that lasted more than 60 years.

• Mark Blaudschun has the scoop on new Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco.

• I was told to check out this amazing photo with water and a hair flip. It definitely is…quite the picture.

• San Diego State head coach Rocky Long may not have his team punt this season. Awesome.

• There seems to be some secrecy in Gainesville regarding a shoulder injury to quarterback Jeff Driskel.

• Former Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe may have looked a little strange in a Yankees uniform, but the veteran pitcher notched his first save since 2001 in his New York debut.

• Mandatory.com looks at some strange fast food items from around the globe.

• FOX’s Ken Rosenthal details the promotion of heralded Orioles prospect Manny Machado to the majors at age 20.

• John Carvalho calls out the AJC’s reporting on an investigation regarding Auburn commit Reuben Foster.

Former Bears and 49ers defensive tackle Anthony Adams is now an NFL free agent, and he’s thinking about pursuing his first love — the NBA. Check out his hilarious hoops video.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


August 13

• FOX Sports’ Greg Couch looks at some of the biggest winners from the London Olympics, including the fans.

• After Rory McIlroy’s dominant PGA win, the Tiger Woods comparisons are bound to begin.

• Many people are inspired by the Olympics and want to be more athletic. This diver is going to need a little more training.

• USC’s Lane Kiffin is giving up his vote in the Coaches’ poll after lying to the media about selecting his Trojans No. 1.

• Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee examines the Auburn quarterback battle.

• First it was Chris Johnson of the Titans. Now Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson thinks he could beat Olympic Champion Usain Bolt in the 40-yard dash.

• Here are some amazing photos from the end of the Olympic Games in London.

• Andrew Luck had quite the debut with the Colts.

• FOX MLB insider John Paul Morosi says goodbye Olympics, hello MLB. He’s bullish on the Rays and thinks the Red Sox “are toast.”

• Should Doug Collins be the next Team USA basketball coach?

• Either James Bond or Marty McFly was navigating through McCovey Cove outside at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 

Teaser:
<p> The best sports links from the NFL, college football and basketball, MLB, the NBA, NASCAR and the world of entertainment.</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 11:42
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Denver Broncos, NFL
Path: /nfl/denver-broncos-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 Denver Broncos check in at No. 11.

Now what? Sure, the Broncos will be the NFL’s most intriguing team in 2012, but will they be among the league’s best teams? For all his parallel-universe talents, Peyton Manning is 36 years old, coming off four surgical procedures on his neck, and hasn’t played in a game in more than a year-and-a-half. Not only that, but he’ll also have to adjust to a new city, a new coaching staff and new teammates. And you thought his successor in Indy, Andrew Luck, was in for a challenge.

Know this before the answers start arriving: The Broncos with Manning under center won’t simply be trying to win the AFC West again. And they’re not just trying to make a deep postseason run. Their goal is simple: Win a Super Bowl.

But before entertaining any such notions, there’s the little matter of re-inventing themselves. The Broncos of Tim Tebow ran an offense more suited for Saturday afternoons, not Sundays.
So what will happen? If Manning, as advertised, makes his teammates better, and if the Denver defense stays healthy and takes another step forward, the Broncos may not merely create a buzz. They may just live up to the hype. 

Offense

Before ever stepping on the field, Manning provided some critical intangibles for his teammates. The team’s receiving corps had grown discouraged by the end of last season, with Tebow making no progress with his accuracy. Manning’s presence has created a new energy, a new confidence among the receivers, none of whom has more than 124 career catches — a good season for Marvin Harrison back in the day. If Demaryius Thomas ever is going to be the player his physical stature suggests, Manning will get it out of him.

Another major change in the Broncos’ M.O.: Manning, unlike Tebow, will attack the entire field. Slot receiver Eric Decker did a virtual disappearing act as 2011 wore on, what with Tebow refusing to risk an interception by throwing the ball over the middle. The Broncos signed tight ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme to remedy that issue. Yes, the same Jacob Tamme who caught 67 balls from Manning in 2010 in the absence of Dallas Clark. The Broncos also reunited with Manning with another former Colts' teammate of his, Brandon Stokely. The veteran had his best season in 2004, when he caught 68 passes from Manning for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Broncos running backs were no factor in the passing game last season, but that, too, figures to change with Manning around. Willis McGahee had a Pro Bowl season, but he’ll be pushed by third-rounder Ronnie Hillman, who could be a force catching the ball in open space. And who knows? With Manning changing the dynamic of the offense, maybe there’s hope yet for 2009 first-round pick Knowshon Moreno.

The offensive line will benefit from Manning’s savvy presence in the pocket, but the coaching staff obviously wants a higher level of performance from that group. To wit: The Broncos were on the verge of drafting Stanford guard David DeCastro with the 25th pick, only to have the Steelers grab him one pick earlier. Incumbent left guard Zane Beadles will be pushed, as will center J.D. Walton. On the right side, guard Chris Kuper is looking to rebound from a horrific ankle injury, and second-year tackle Orlando Franklin will have to make great strides in his pass-blocking. Some of Franklin’s shortcomings were disguised by Tebow’s ability to escape the pocket. Manning, meanwhile, has made a career out of staying there. 

Defense

Manning isn’t the only big-name player who sat out last season but looms large in the Broncos’ plans. Ty Warren, a free agent signee who was injured in training camp last August, could make a major impact at tackle. If Warren, at 31, can team with second-rounder Derek Wolfe to create a formidable inside tandem, it would open up pass-rushing opportunities from the corner, where Elvis Dumervil and 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller could combine for 25-plus sacks.

The Broncos played from behind much of last season, with Tebow pulling a handful of games out of the fire in the waning moments. Things figure to be different this season, just as they were during the Manning era in Indy, when the Colts usually jumped to big leads, then watched as Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis attacked the quarterback. The front office’s decision to use a second-rounder on a quarterback project (Brock Osweiler) cost the defense some badly needed speed, what with Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David, among others, still on the board when Osweiler was selected.

The coaches had hoped to upgrade at middle linebacker, only to re-sign free agent Joe Mays when a better alternative wasn’t available. Another reason for concern at linebacker: D.J. Williams, who’s had a solid if not brilliant career since being selected in the first round in 2004, is facing a six-game suspension for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs. The team also added veteran Keith Brooking after training camp started.

The Broncos’ secondary will be in for a major reshaping, with future Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins having retired and the coaches having grown weary of right corner Andre Goodman getting burned as quarterbacks avoided Champ Bailey. Goodman was cut, leaving free agent signee Tracy Porter, he of the pick-six vs. Manning in Super Bowl XLIV, to face that pressure. The safeties loom as major question marks. Mike Adams was signed away from the Browns to be a stopgap, but he may have to be the answer at free safety given 2011 second-rounder Rahim Moore’s struggles. Former Jet Jim Leonhard, who has ended each of the last two seasons on injured reserve, was signed after Quinton Carter went down with a knee injury early in training camp.

Head coach John Fox was able to hire Jack Del Rio as his defensive coordinator after Dennis Allen left to join the Raiders. Del Rio had his pick of jobs but chose the Broncos because of his longstanding relationship with Fox. Del Rio was Fox’s first coordinator with the Panthers in 2002 before becoming head coach of the Jaguars. 

Specialists

The altitude provides extra opportunities for long-range bombing, and kicker Matt Prater knows the drill. He has hit 12-of-16 field goals of 50-plus yards, including a 59-yarder with three seconds left that sent last year’s Chicago game into overtime, whereupon he won it with a 51-yarder. Punter Britton Colquitt’s numbers speak for themselves: 47.4 yards per kick, with one-third landing inside the 20. Decker, the primary punt returner, struggled with injuries in college and early in his NFL career, but he appears to be good to go in 2012. He had a 90-yard return for a touchdown against the Raiders in 2011. Former practice squader Matt Willis has the requisite burst to make the kickoff return team dangerous.

Final Analysis: 1st in the AFC West

While all eyes will be on Manning, the Broncos are quietly excited about the prospect of Dumervil and Miller being in attack mode off the corner. Both battled through injuries in 2011 but were still productive. If they stay healthy, the Broncos could recreate the formula that made the Colts so successful during the Manning era. It’s all on Manning to turn the Broncos’ no-name receivers into stars.

Related: 2012 Denver Broncos Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Home, Sweet Home
Peyton Manning knew the question was coming: Where are you living now that you’ve packed up your bags, your legacy and your four MVP trophies and relocated to Colorado? Said Manning in the weeks following his signing with the Broncos: “I live here.” As in the Broncos’ suburban Denver headquarters. Manning spent roughly 12 hours a day at the facility for weeks on end working out, reviewing tape and consulting with coaches.

Thanks, Shanny
Mike Shanahan is long gone from the Broncos, but he still has a soft spot in his heart for his old team. To wit: Manning, before he found a home, spent a considerable amount of time living in Shanahan’s 38,000 square-foot mansion in Cherry Hills, where John Elway has lived for more than 20 years. Shanahan entertained Manning at his home during Manning’s recruiting trip to Denver. As the two talked about Manning possibly becoming a Redskin, Shanahan received a text from Elway asking him to put in a good word for the Broncos.

Third Is The Word
Elway, back in the day: “This league is all about third down.” The Broncos’ inability to make plays in the passing game on third down may have been the biggest factor of all in Elway’s decision to jettison Tim Tebow. Denver in 2011 ranked 30th in the league, converting only 30.8 percent. Manning, meanwhile, may be the greatest third down passer ever. The Colts with him under center led the league in third down conversions every year from 2005-09.

Prime-time, Here They Come
The first thing Champ Bailey noticed after glancing at the Broncos’ schedule? The night games. The Men of Manning have five prime-time games on their schedule. The Broncos open at home with a Sunday nighter vs. Pittsburgh followed by a Monday night roadie against the Falcons. Add the Texans to the mix in Week 3, and Manning and his new teammates will be challenged from the season’s earliest moments.

Manning Crush
Yep, that was Manning spotted in the stands at Coors Field last spring. Manning is a huge Rockies fan and has spent countless nights at Todd Helton’s ranch on the outskirts of metro Denver. Helton preceded Manning at quarterback at the University of Tennessee. Manning has taken batting practice with the Rox and spent time rehabbing his neck at Coors Field during the NFL lockout of 2011.

Dogg Days
Rookie running back Ronnie Hillman played youth football in Long Beach, Calif. His coach during those days? Rapper Snoop Dogg.

Hold Off On Those Parade Plans
Not to, you know, rain on the Broncos’ parade, but this notion that they’re the stuff of a Super Bowl contender now that Peyton Manning is among them? Manning, for all his greatness, is 9–10 in the playoffs.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Cincinnati Bengals
No. 14: Philadelphia Eagles
No. 13: New Orleans Saints
No. 12: Dallas Cowboys
No. 11: Denver Broncos
No. 11: Mon., August 19, 2012

Order your 2012 Denver Broncos Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Denver Broncos Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Denver Broncos 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-pac-12s-must-see-games-2012
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As the college football season draws near, Athlon Sports is making sure fans know exactly when and where to tune in this fall. Here are the Pac-12's top 30 must-see football games for the 2012 season:

1. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Oregon at USC
The West Coast Game of the Century is easily the top football game west of the Mississippi this fall. In fact, when all the dust settles on the college football regular season, it could easily be the No. 1 football game played this fall. Two special offenses, a Heisman Trophy candidate, national title implications and the revenge factor from a terrific 38-35 showing last fall makes this must-see TV on Nov. 3. Fans better hope that the greedy television executives don't play the game at the exact same time as LSU-Alabama — which should decide the other half of the BCS national championship game on the exact same day. The Trojans are the pick since the game happens at home and they won last year, however, the Ducks' defense will be improved and good enough to win down in L.A. The scoreboard operator better do some stretching before the opening kick-off.

2. Week 3 (Sept. 15) USC at Stanford
While the top game out West is easy to pinpoint, the rest of schedule is loaded with very similar contests. With USC and Oregon as the clearcut picks to win the league, the next biggest game would have to be the top opportunity for an upset. At this stage, the Trojans' trip to Stanford feels like the toughest test for either team. The Cardinal have played very well against the Trojans over the last half decade, they play a physical brand of football that matches up well with USC, the game is at home on The Farm and it comes in only Week 3 of the season. Obviously, Stanford's quarterback play will have to be solid to win, but the ball-control ground game will give them a chance at a huge upset.

3. Week 6 (Oct. 4) USC at Utah
Thursday night. Primetime TV. Sold out road game against a very well coached team. This also is a recipe for an upset for the Trojans who will face the best team in the South in Week 6. This was a tricky 23-14 win for the Trojans last year in Week 2 where Jordan Wynn actually went toe-to-toe with Matt Barkley and held his own. The John White-led ground game had yet to get rolling and should be good enough at home to keep Barkley and Company off the field. Within the division, this is easily the biggest game of the year. Should Utah pull off the upset, it could be the biggest game of the year nationally.

4. Week 5 (Sept. 27) Stanford at Washington
Both programs have aspirations to challenge Oregon in the North this fall and both should creep up on 10 wins. Stanford has crushed the Huskies the last three meetings and has won six out of seven in the series. Without Andrew Luck, however, Washington and Keith Price have closed the gap significantly. The key will be the growth of the Husky defense after allowing 65 points last year and 105 total points in the last two meetings. Getting the game at home in Seattle may give the Dawgs the bump needed to end the Cardinal's winning streak.

5. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Notre Dame at USC
These two historic rivals will do battle for the 83rd time when they meet on the final week of the regular season. While USC won last year and has claimed eight out of the past nine in the series, Notre Dame actually won the last the time they met in The Coliseum, 20-16 in 2010. Matt Barkley led a balanced offensive attack last fall to the 31-17 win in South Bend. USC rushed for 219 yards and posted 224 through the air. If the Irish expects to win out West again, it will have to muster more than 41 rushing yards.

6. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Stanford at Oregon
Stanford-Oregon has decided not only the "North," but also the Pac-12 championship for back-to-back seasons and it could be the case once again in 2012. The Ducks have won two straight and eight out of nine in the series and the game returns to Autzen Stadium this fall. If the Cardinal expect to challenge Oregon in the North, its stacked linebacking corps will have to play better against the high-powered Ducks — a team that has scored 105 points in the last two meetings.

7. Week 7 (Oct. 13) USC at Washington
The Huskies feel like a team that will spoil at least one season. While Washington may not be ready to enter the championship fray, Steve Sarkisian has them poised to take the next step. A home win over USC would be the marquee win on his resume to date. It will be a tall task, however, as the Dawgs have to face Stanford, Oregon and then USC on consecutive weeks. This was a 40-17 romp by the Trojans last fall in Los Angeles.

8. Week 6 (Oct. 6) Washington at Oregon
The Huskies own the all-time series lead pretty handily, but Oregon has dominated the last decade by winning eight straight in the rivarly. The top two Northwest programs could be the best two teams in the division and a trip to L.A. for a Pac-12 title could be hanging in the balance. That said, the game hasn't been competitive since Washington won back in 2003, so if Coach Sark's bunch wants to continue its rise up the league's hierarchy, it must play better defense against the Ducks.

9. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Stanford at Notre Dame
Notre Dame is an honorary member of the Pac-12 when it comes to scheduling as it faces Stanford and USC each year. The Cardinal won 28-14 last year and will face a much tougher test on the road this fall. The team doctors better get the ice baths ready, however, as the Irish front seven and the Stanford offensive line are set to smash heads for 60 minutes. Moved up six weeks on the schedule from last year, this mid-season test will be a huge game for both teams trying to prove themselves this fall.

10. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Oregon at Washington State (Seattle, Wash.)
The Ducks have won five straight and seven out of eight in the lop-sided North Division battle. The Cougars have shown signs of life of late, however, by scoring 51 points in the last two contests. With Mike Leach stepping into a relatively veteran and stable offense with pieces in place to implement his passing attack, the Cougars' upset chance might come against Oregon. The over/under on total offensive snaps between Chip Kelly and Leach is 180.5.

11. Week 3 (Sept. 15) BYU at Utah
Arguably the best-named rivarly game in all of the nation, fans of the Holy War will need to embrace 2012 because after this meeting, the series will be put on hold for a few years. The Cougars should be solid on offense but will have to play more physical football to defeat the arch-rival Utes.

12. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Stanford at Cal
The Big Game could have some added value this fall as Jeff Tedford needs a big season to stabilize his employment and Stanford tries to replace the next John Elway. The Bears played very well on the road last fall, losing 31-28 in Palo Alto. The Big Game shift across the bay this year.

13. Week 13 (Nov. 23) Washington at Washington State
The Apple Cup is back! Keith Price vs. Jeff Tuel. Steve Sarkisian vs. Mike Leach. Marquess Wilson vs. Kasen Williams and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. There will be no shortage of big plays, big points and, ideally, rich dramatics. The Huskies have won three straight Evergreen Showdowns.

14. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Utah at UCLA
If either the Utes or Bruins want to (somehow) topple USC off the top slot in the South, winning this game will be imperative. The Utes dominated this game last fall 31-6, but as the game shifts back to Westwood, new coach Jim Mora Jr.'s instilled toughness into his Bruins should make this a tighter affair. Especially, considering the stakes.

15. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Utah at Washington
This game could feature the top two challengers to USC and Oregon in their respective divisions. The Xs and Os battle between Kyle Whittingham and Steve Sarkisian should be fun to watch. The Huskies won 31-14 last fall.

16. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Arizona at UCLA
South Division pecking order game featuring new faces on the sidelines for the Wildcats and Bruins.

17. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Oregon at Cal
Ducks faced toughest test of 2010 regular season when they visited Cal two years ago.

18. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Washington State at Stanford
One of the league's top defenses against what should be one of league's top offenses.

19. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Cal at Washington State
Marquess Wilson vs. Keenan Allen? Yes, please.

20. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Stanford at UCLA
Battle could feature No. 2 in both divisions as well two tough-minded coaches.

21. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Oregon at Oregon State
The Civil War is a wildly underrated rivarly that has been one-sided of late.

22. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Washington State at Utah
Ground and pound with Star defense against high-flying Cougars passing game.

23. Week 10 (Nov. 2) Washington at Cal
Intriguing pecking order game in the North features two excellent passing attacks.

24. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Nebraska at UCLA
Tough, physical test for Bruins at home. A true barometer for both teams.

25. Week 1 (Aug. 30) Washington State at BYU
Big points in Mike Leach debut on Thursday night in primetime.

26. Week 12 (Nov. 17) USC at UCLA
Major SoCal rivarly should be much closer than the 50-0 blowout of last fall.

27. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Washington at LSU
Keith Price will test Honey-less Tigers secondary early in the year. Husky defense isn't ready, however.

28. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Arizona State at Arizona
Nasty in-state rivarly should be competitive after 31-27 affair last year.

29. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Arizona at Utah
The winner could be the top challenger to USC. Utes won 34-21 last fall.

30. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Washington at Arizona
Two fast-tempo offenses in a game with bowl implications should be fun for fans.

Athlon Sports Must-See TV for 2012:

Big 12's Must-See Games of 2012
Big Ten's Must-See Games of 2012
SEC's Must-See Games of 2012

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports Pac-12 Predictions and Team Previews:

North:

1. Oregon Ducks: No. 4
2. Stanford Cardinal: No. 21
3. Washington Huskies: No. 25
4. Cal Golden Bears: No. 38
5. Washington State Cougars: No. 51
6. Oregon State Beavers: No. 61

South:

1. USC Trojans: No. 1
2. Utah Utes: No. 33
3. UCLA Bruins: No. 42
4. Arizona Wildcats: No. 43
5. Arizona State Sun Devils: No. 55
6. Colorado Buffaloes: No. 84

Teaser:
<p> College Football: Pac-12's Must-See Games of 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Denver Broncos, NFL
Path: /nfl/denver-broncos-can-peyton-manning-win-afc-west
Body:

Athlon Sports will preview the upcoming 2012 NFL season with in-depth roundtable debates with our editors and other experts from around the world of football. 

Q: Should Peyton Manning play all 16 games in 2012, will the Denver Broncos win the AFC West?

Jim Armstrong (ESPN Radio-Denver):
Yes, with an asterisk. As in, if they survive the early stages of their schedule. The league wants Manning on the national stage against prime-time opponents, and the Broncos' first two games will be Sunday night vs. Pittsburgh, followed by a Monday nighter at Atlanta. They then return to Denver on a short week to play the Texans. Add in roadies vs. New England and San Diego in Weeks 5 and 6, and a .500 record going into their Week 7 bye wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. That said, there's no reason -- none -- to think that Manning won't be a reasonable facsimile of his old self. The coaches, however, are adamant about not putting him under the kind of pressure he felt in 2010 with a Colts team whose core talent had started to slip. He led the league with 450 completions and 679 attempts that season. Given his physical history in the past year, having him stand in the pocket that often isn't good business. Finally, there's the issue of the AFC West. If the Broncos are indeed .500 going into their bye week, they ought to be in good shape in arguably the league's worst division.

Rob Doster (Athlon Sports):
One man stands between Peyton Manning and an AFC West title in his maiden voyage in orange and blue: Philip Rivers. A bounce-back season from Rivers in the form of even slightly better ball security should give the Chargers the crown in a weak division. Manning simply doesn’t have the weapons around him that Rivers does. In particular, I’m reluctant to put much faith in an aging Willis McGahee as a featured back. Remember — Denver’s top-ranked running game of a year ago was built around a guy who’s wearing green this year. I prefer my featured backs to be of a younger vintage, and if Ryan Mathews delivers like I think he will, the San Diego offense will be unstoppable. Manning’s return is a great story, but the payoff won’t match the hype, even if he plays all 16 games.

Kim Constantinesco (PredominantlyOrange.com and @PredomOrange):
Without a doubt, the Broncos will win the AFC West if Peyton Manning starts all 16 games. Many people question his arm strength after sitting out an entire year and enduring more neck surgeries. The funny thing is in '09-'10 when Manning attempted to throw from beyond 21 yards, he had just a 30.5% completion percentage. That was the same year that he had 4,500 passing yards. What that means is if Manning never regains his arm strength, he can still be effective. Manning is not only the best quarterback in the division, but he's the player that has the most control. Rather than playing from behind, the Broncos will most likely be playing from ahead which enables them to use a more aggressive defense. Manning's presence changes all aspects of the team game. That's why he will make such a dramatic impact on the division.

Nathan Rush (Athlon Sports):
Peyton Manning is 36 years old, recovering from (at least) four neck surgeries and hasn't played a game since Jan. 8, 2011. Still, everyone is treating him as if he's some sort of quarterbacking robot; tighten a few screws, wind him up and watch him play 16 games in his first season with the Denver Broncos. I hope so, but it's not a realistic expectation and I'm not banking on it. Even if he does stay healthy, he has to work his way back into top form while adjusting to a new supporting cast. Give me the San Diego Chargers, a squad that has clinched four of the last six AFC West titles. The Bolts are led by a 30-year-old Philip Rivers — who hasn't missed a game since taking over for Drew Brees in 2006 — and a coach, in Norv Turner, who is in do-or-die mode. 

Mark Ross (Athlon Sports):
If Peyton can prove he's healthy then I think Denver is the team to beat in the AFC West. However, that's a rather large IF. And the reality is we won't really know until we see No. 18 back under center. This is pretty much the same Broncos' team that won the division last year, with one key exception. Tim Tebow is now with the Jets and Manning is with the Broncos. No one can argue that Manning is a significant upgrade over Tebow when it comes to the quarterback position, but there's still the matter of Manning making the transition to his new team and vice versa. Denver's young defense should continue to get better, but in the end it's all going to come down to Manning. After all, the Broncos' backup quarterbacks are Caleb Hanie and rookie Brock Osweiler, meaning there is no Plan B. 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall):
This division feels, much like last year, wide open in 2012. The Raiders should be improved but are breaking in a new coaching staff. The Chiefs can only be better — and healthier this time around. And the Chargers are still loaded with talent after another solid draft class. But Denver swapped Tim Tebow for arguably the top quarterback of this generation. John Fox has always been a run-first coach and one of the league's top offensive lines will help ease the now-brittle Peyton Manning back into action. The first half of the schedule is brutal but the power running game and developing defense should keep the Broncos in the AFC West race. So I will say yes, if Manning plays the entire year, Denver will win the West. That, and I have no faith in Norv Turner and A.J. Smith winning any sort of championship.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman):
I think the answer is yes, but barely. Peyton Manning, rusty or not, will be an effective quarterback if he plays the entire season. Improving a run defense that ranked 22nd in the NFL last year, an aging Willis McGahee and a brutal first half of the schedule are much bigger concerns for the Broncos' success in 2012. There is a good chance that Manning and the offense get off to a slow start, and the defense must adjust to new coordinator Jack Del Rio. But if the Broncos can survive (4-4, 3-5?) their first eight games in which there are six playoff teams from last year, then Denver should be the favorite in a division that can be had with eight or nine wins. San Diego has a solid roster and Kansas City gets some stars back from injury, but the Broncos should take the AFC West with a healthy No. 18.

Teaser:
<p> Denver Broncos: Can Peyton Manning Win the AFC West?</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/acc-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes
Body:

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the ACC to talk anonymously about their opponents.

ACC Coaches Anonymously Scout Their Conference Foes

Boston College

Opposing coaches size up the Eagles: 

“Losing Montel Harris, that’s big. He is a really good player. I know he had some injury issues, but he was such a big part of what they did. Without him Boston College was a completely different team last year. They really were. You no longer had to worry about the running game and could just sit back and wait for quarterback Chase Rettig to make a mistake.

Fair or not, (Frank) Spaziani’s job security isn’t very good. Their fans don’t want to hear about injuries or excuses; all they know is they finished last in the ACC with, what was it, three or four wins (BC was 4–8).

Rettig is much less effective without the threat of a running game, so it’s imperative one of their other backs, (Rolandan) Finch or (Andre) Williams, can step in and produce. Both of those guys have talent.

Spaziani’s teams have always been strong on defense, but this year will be interesting. For the first time in three years they won’t have either a Mark Herzlich or Luke Kuechly anchoring the defense. Kuechly was awesome. Such a great player on the college level, and he will be a good pro.”

Clemson

Opposing coaches size up the Tigers: 

“Everyone is going to start with the Orange Bowl blowout. How in the world do you give up 70 points — in a football game? I think (Dabo) Swinney actually can use that game as a positive this year. Obviously it will be a major source of motivation, and he’ll certainly have to spin it the right way or the Tigers could regress this season.

Don’t feel too bad for Swinney: He’s gonna be just fine, especially with what he has back on offense. By no means is quarterback Tajh Boyd an unknown, but I really think he’s still vastly underrated. A terrific dual-threat that continues to get better and better and better.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was a beast last year. It’s scary to think how much better he can get. With Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson’s got two of the nation’s top receiving threats. And don’t forget about running back Andre Ellington. The Tigers have some serious talent on the offensive side of the ball.

The defense had some issues last year, surrendering a ton of points late in the regular season. New coordinator Brent Venables needs to have an immediate impact.

The sad thing for Clemson is last year’s 8–0 start seems like it was five years ago. Has a conference championship ever felt so dissatisfying?"

Duke

Opposing coaches size up the Blue Devils:

“The Blue Devils seem so close to putting together a winning record, but for whatever reason just can’t get over the hump. Last year was a prime example: They lost close games to Richmond, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech on their way to another losing season.

(David) Cutcliffe is a helluva coach, but Duke has now put together back-to-back three-win seasons. Still I think better days are ahead. I might be in the minority, but I think they could surprise some people this year. They have a decent nucleus back starting with wide receiver Conner Vernon, who has set a bunch of records and is primed for a big senior year.

Like most schools, the key will be the play at quarterback. At 6'5", Sean Renfree has the size to get the job done, but he absolutely must cut down on his interceptions. This is his final year and he wants to go out a winner.

The defense is never going to scare you at Duke. They were serviceable for the most part, but it looked like they got worn down in the second half of the season, ending the year on a seven-game losing streak.”

Florida State

Opposing coaches size up the Seminoles:

“Expectations again will be sky-high for (Jimbo) Fisher. Can the Seminoles finally live up to them this year? I’d hate to have those expectations to have to compete for a national title or bust every season, but I guess it’s better than the alternative.

If quarterback EJ Manuel can stay healthy this year, I think this is the year the Seminoles break through and make a national title run. Manuel is a very good quarterback in a league with a lot of nice quarterbacks.

The reason I like the Seminoles a lot this year is because of all the talent they return — nearly their entire offensive and defensive starting units are back.

What’s scary is that the defense can be even better than last season when they were dominating at times. After their midseason hiccup in consecutive losses to Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest, they didn’t allow more than 19 points in their final eight games.

Defensive end Brandon Jenkins could have left early for the NFL, but instead returned for his senior season. That’s huge for them.

If FSU is ever going to live up to the lofty expectations, this is the year. They’ve got the talent. But we’ve heard that before.”

Georgia Tech

Opposing coaches size up the Yellow Jackets: 

“Stop me if you’ve already heard this before: Georgia Tech can run, but they can’t hide an inconsistent passing game. The system (Paul) Johnson runs annually makes the Yellow Jackets one of the nation’s best rushing offenses. It’s no secret if you’ve got more than a week to prepare that you can slow it down.

Tevin Washington is a solid quarterback for the system, and his experience running that system will be paramount for Georgia Tech if it’s going to improve on last season.

A year ago the Yellow Jackets raced out to a 6–0 start before they started leaking oil and limped home to a 2–5 finish.

While the offense is so predictable, the defense has had its ups and downs. They allowed at least 30 points in their final four games last season, but I wouldn’t blame Al Groh’s defense for the second-half slide. It had more to do with the offense’s ineffectiveness.

The defense suffered some big losses in their front seven, but I think they’ll have one of the ACC’s top secondaries, with two good cornerbacks like Rod Sweeting and Louis Young.

They can make a huge statement in the season opener if they can go into Blacksburg and pull off the upset.”

Maryland

Opposing coaches size up the Terrapins:

“I respect Randy Edsall a lot — I can’t emphasize that enough — but right now if you look in the dictionary under the word grease fire you see a picture of the Maryland program. The amount of player turnover they’ve had there is astounding. Believe me, I totally understand when a new coach comes on board, there’s going to be some personnel changes, but what has happened at Maryland has resembled a mass exodus. When you lose a quarterback as talented as Danny O’Brien that certainly can’t help morale.

They got that big win over Miami the first week of the season, and then it just went downhill. And when they did play well, they blew big leads against Clemson and NC State. Just a tough season.

Edsall did wonders at UConn — consistently exceeding expectations — but his first season, all the defections and a 2–10 record, was a disaster. I can’t remember a coach who had a more difficult first year. And a lot of it was his fault.

I’m not even sure who is still left on Maryland’s roster, but for Edsall’s sake he cannot repeat last year’s results on or off the field. Not if he wants to stay at his dream job.”

Miami (Fl)

Opposing coaches size up the Hurricanes: 

“What a first year in Miami for Al Golden: NCAA issues, suspensions and a bowl ban. Have the locusts descended yet? With all of the distractions and surprises that were popping up everywhere, Golden still did an admirable job. The guy won at Temple, so there’s no question he will eventually win at Miami.

They won’t have to worry anymore about Jacory Harris and his propensity for throwing interceptions. Stephen Morris obviously ­doesn’t have the starting experience at quarterback that Harris had, but I think he’ll end up being a more consistent player for them. Unfortunately for Morris, he won’t have as much talent around him this year as Harris did last season. Miami only returns a handful of starters each on offense and defense. The best of their returnees look to be wide receiver Allen Hurns, defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo and linebacker Denzel Perryman.

They lost a ton of talent, but the cupboard’s never really bare at Miami, is it?

The nonconference schedule could be tricky; they play at Kansas State, which beat them last year, and they play Notre Dame in Chicago. Luckily for Golden, the Hurricanes’ toughest stretch (consecutive games vs. Notre Dame, North Carolina, Florida State and Virginia Tech) is in the middle of the season, so they’ll have a chance to build an identity around Morris.”

NC State

Opposing coaches size up the Wolfpack: 

“It wasn’t easy, but NC State eventually survived last year without Russell Wilson. I’ve got to hand it to Tom O’Brien; his style of discipline doesn’t work with everyone, but the Wolfpack rallied from a disastrous early start, including a nationally televised blowout loss at Cincinnati, to win six of their last eight games. More impressive was that they didn’t give up on the season early on — which they could have done with Wilson at Wisconsin. Then they beat Clemson and Maryland to earn a bowl berth, where they beat a decent Louisville team.

They shouldn’t experience such a slow start this year with quarterback Mike Glennon back. He was steady last season and put up some decent numbers with 31 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. I like his size (6'6") and leadership qualities. O’Brien knows he can win with that kid.

On defense, I absolutely love cornerback David Amerson. All you need to know about him is that he had 13 interceptions. That is unreal. Talk about no respect. Teams continue to try and test him and he keeps proving people wrong. I can guarantee you this: We won’t throw much his way this fall. If others decide to keep testing him, good luck.”

North Carolina

Opposing coaches size up the Tar Heels: 

“I doubt Larry Fedora thought he wouldn’t be playing in a bowl in his first season at North Carolina, but that’s exactly what happened with the NCAA giving them a one-year bowl ban. Fedora knew he was going to be faced with some NCAA sanctions from the mess left behind by Butch Davis and John Blake. At least he now knows how severe the punishment is and can move on.

I think Fedora will be a hit in Chapel Hill. He’s a great offensive mind, and he has some good pieces to work with starting with quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Gio Bernard. Renner has tremendous accuracy and a good head on his shoulders. Bernard just had a super year as a freshman and he’s only going to get better.

Most of their offensive linemen also are back (four of five returning starters), so I think the Tar Heels, in Fedora’s first year, could have the ACC’s top offense.

You know Carolina also will be strong defensively. They always have a ton of talent on that side of the ball — linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive linemen Sylvester Williams and Kareem Martin impress me the most.

Carolina will be very, very good this season. It’s a shame they won’t have anywhere to go after the season.”

Virginia

Opposing coaches size up the Cavaliers: 

“I have to admit, there were some who questioned whether Mike London was ready to make the jump from Division I-AA to Virginia a couple of years ago. I know he is a tremendous recruiter and had a great deal of success at Richmond, but his first season at Virginia was nothing to brag about. Make no mistake: Last season London proved his coaching chops. Sure they finished with a couple of blowout losses to Virginia Tech and to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but I was impressed by the 8–3 start, especially beating a Florida State team in Tallahassee late in the year that had so much more talent than the Cavaliers. Now the question is: Can London continue the momentum into this fall? I think so. The offense should be improved with a number of key guys returning like quarterback Michael Rocco, tailback Perry Jones and wide receiver Tim Smith.

London has a number of holes to fill on defense and not much time with a nonconference schedule featuring games against Penn State and TCU. The Cavaliers also will be tested at the end of the season with one of the ACC’s toughest finishing stretches, closing with consecutive games against Miami, North Carolina and at Virginia Tech.

They might not reach eight wins like last year, but it’s obvious now that London was more than ready and has Virginia on the upswing.”

Virginia Tech

Opposing coaches size up the Hokies: 

“Logan Thomas has slowly developed into one of the top quarterbacks in the country. I really believe that. He grew so much mentally last season and his game is at such a different level. With him back for his second season as a starter, the Hokies have to be considered one of the favorites to win the ACC.

Last year was supposed to be the year for Virginia Tech and Frank Beamer, but they couldn’t beat Clemson in the regular season or in the ACC title game. They have historically had a stud at tailback, but now with David Wilson gone early for the NFL, the Hokies might actually be a little down at the position.

Thomas is among a few returning starters on offense, so the defense might have to carry them, and with nearly everyone back, that is entirely possible.

While they had no solution for stopping Clemson, they did a good job handling their other opponents. They will be tough up front, returning the entire defensive line of James Gayle, J.R. Collins, Derrick Hopkins and Antoine Hopkins. I think they’ll have the ACC’s best defense. The biggest questions are if they can find a way to beat Clemson and will Thomas receive enough support from an unproven offense?”

Wake Forest

Opposing coaches size up the Demon Deacons:

“The Demon Deacons were one of the nation’s pleasant surprises midway though last season, and then the wheels fell off. Wake started 5–2 and really should have been 6–1, but imploded against Syracuse. They also had an impressive victory against Florida State, but looking back it seems pretty obvious the Seminoles were suffering a double hangover from back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Clemson. Still they got off to a great start only to struggle mightily down the stretch, losing five of their last six games.

I don’t think Wake was as good as it seemed early in the year or as bad as it looked to end the season, but I think they’ll be hard-pressed to get back to a bowl game. Tanner Price is a solid quarterback, but they don’t return much else on offense.

Losing (wide receiver) Chris Givens will hurt them. He was the one guy, when we looked at film, that we thought could really hurt us.

Their two backs were just okay.

Nose guard Nikita Whitlock is one of the league’s best and will anchor a defense that returns a lot of key players. I just don’t think the offense will be able to put up enough points.

Unlike last year, I don’t see Wake getting off to a fast start with its first two league games against North Carolina and a revenge-seeking Florida State team.”

 

Related ACC Content

Ranking the ACC's Top 50 Players for 2012
Projecting College Football's Win Totals for 2012

Ranking the ACC's Must-See Games for 2012

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

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 Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 06:05
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-chicago-bears
Body:

What can the Chicago Bears do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Bob LeGere, Daily (Ill.) Herald

Who will be more affected by their season-ending injury last fall, Jay Cutler or Matt Forte?
It’s unlikely that either player will have a problem. Forte came back from his sprained knee and played in the Pro Bowl in February, so his physical status isn’t in question. There are also no indications that Cutler has any lingering problems from his thumb injury. But because he could be susceptible to re-injuring the thumb every time he takes a snap from under center, there’s a slim chance he could be adversely affected.

Brandon Marshall caught 206 passes in two years as a starter with Jay Cutler in Denver. He caught 167 passes in two years in Miami. Which Marshall will owners be drafting in 2012?
Forté has caught over 50 passes in each of his four seasons and was on pace for 70 last season before he was hurt. The Bears want to involve the tight ends more this year, and they still want to utilize Devin Hester. And Earl Bennett will also be involved. So Marshall is more likely to have 80-some catches than 100 or so.

Is there a tight end on this roster worth drafting?
Probably not, even though new offensive coordinator Mike Tice will throw to the tight ends more than his predecessor Mike Martz did in 2011. Kellen Davis led the team with five TD catches last season, and he averaged a respectable 11.4 yards per catch, but he had a total of just 18 receptions.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Michael Bush, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Earl Bennett, WR
Overvalued: Matt Forte, RB
Top Rookie: Alshon Jeffery, WR
Bounce-Back: Jay Cutler, QB
Top IDP: Charles Tillman, CB

2012 Draft Class

1. Shea McClellin DE 6-3 260 Boise State
2. Alshon Jeffery WR 6-3 216 South Carolina
3. Brandon Hardin SS 6-3 222 Oregon State
4. Evan Rodriguez TE 6-2 239 Temple
6. Isaiah Frey CB 5-11 190 Nevada
7. Greg McCoy CB 5-10 178 TCU

Fantasy Impact: The wild card of the Bears’ draft is second-round selection Alshon Jeffery. The South Carolina product had a standout sophomore campaign in 2010 but caught only 49 passes in 2011. Jeffery isn’t likely to have much fantasy value in 2012, especially with Chicago’s acquisition of Brandon Marshall. Julius Peppers is entrenched at one end spot, but the Bears needed another player to help get after the quarterback. Shea McClellin should bolster the pass rush off the edge and is a player to monitor in IDP leagues. The Bears lack an elite tight end, which could allow Evan Rodriguez to see playing time right away.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at MIN, GB, at ARI)

Chicago, please keep Jay Cutler upright. Two games in domes and one at home make for an appetizing postseason schedule. Add in Minnesota’s and Green Bay’s ranks against fantasy QBs (32nd and 28th, respectively), and it gets even more appealing. Green Bay went defense with its first six picks of the draft, and Minnesota added two rookies to its secondary in the first three rounds of the draft.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Chicago Bears</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 06:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-carolina-panthers
Body:

What can the Carolina Panthers do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Scott Fowler, Charlotte Observer

What sort of impact does Mike Tolbert have on the Jonathan Stewart-DeAngelo Williams timeshare?
Not nearly as major as Cam Newton’s eye for the end zone does, but it will have some impact. In terms of TDs, Williams (seven) and Stewart (five) combined didn’t have as many as Newton last season if you count only the QB’s rushing TDs (14), much less his passing TDs (21). Ron Rivera says he wants to use Tolbert on occasional carries for short yardage and also to flare out of the backfield for passes (which would affect Stewart far more than Williams, as the Panthers throw a lot more to Stewart). Tolbert’s main job, however, will be blocking. Bottom line: Williams and Stewart will still get the bulk of the carries between the 20s, but the Panthers were so successful with Newton running the ball last season near the goal line, so that probably won’t change much. So Williams and Stewart, with the addition of Tolbert, will be slightly less valuable as fantasy players, but not much. Tolbert’s impact will be felt slightly more by Stewart since he will sometimes be the Panthers’ third-down back.

Is there any chance Cam Newton can duplicate the numbers from his record-setting rookie season?
Absolutely. Probably not in rushing touchdowns — the Panthers don’t really want him running the ball quite as much due to injury concerns. Newton set an all-time record for quarterbacks last season with 14 TDs. But his passing TDs (a modest 21) should go up. So his overall total of 35 TDs is certainly reachable, if he can stay healthy (always a question for a running quarterback).

Who is the No. 2 pass-catching option on this offense?
Greg Olsen. To casual fans, he’s a tight end with limited fantasy appeal (540 yards, five TDs in 2011 while splitting time and numbers with Jeremy Shockey). But Olsen’s hands are fantastic, Shockey is gone and Newton loves him on third down in particular. He could be a value pick for fantasy tight ends.

As for wide receivers, Brandon LaFell is a big-play threat (17 yards per catch last season) but not great over the middle. David Gettis will also be a factor early. For the receivers, it’s still Steve Smith at No.1 and "receiver-by-committee" at No.2.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: David Gettis, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Joe Adams, WR
Overvalued: Cam Newton, QB
Top Rookie: Luke Kuechly, LB
Bounce-Back: James Anderson, LB
Top IDP: Charles Johnson, DE

2012 Draft Class

1. Luke Kuechly LB 6-3 243 Boston College
2. Amini Silatolu G 6-4 314 Midwestern St. (TX)
4. Frank Alexander DE 6-4 271 Oklahoma
4. Joe Adams WR 5-11 181 Arkansas
5. Josh Norman CB 6-0 190 Coastal Carolina
6. Brad Nortman P 6-2 209 Wisconsin
7. D.J. Campbell S 6-0 200 California

Fantasy Impact: The Panthers focused this year’s draft on upgrading the defense. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is expected to start right away and was one of college football’s leading tacklers throughout his career at Boston College. He should be targeted in IDP leagues as a late-round sleeper. Frank Alexander should help bolster the pass rush but is probably a long-shot to produce value in IDP formats. Joe Adams will immediately help on special teams and should work his way into snaps on offense as a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (ATL, at SD, OAK)

The Panthers’ defense struggled mightily with injuries, and it showed with an emphatic end to the 2012 season — 45 points and 617 yards allowed to New Orleans. Carolina went defense in the first round, fittingly with a linebacker, but that likely won’t help against its three fantasy postseason opponents. As a result, the Panthers offense should put up good numbers trying to keep pace.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Carolina Panthers</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 06:01
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-ten-non-conference-games-september
Body:

The much-anticipated college football season is almost here, and we cannot wait for toe to meet leather on the gridiron. From Cowboys Stadium to the Rose Bowl to the Georgia Dome, here are the top intersectional games to put on your calendar for August and September.

1. Alabama vs. Michigan (Sept. 1 at Arlington, Texas)
This gridiron battle has it all: two tradition-laden programs, the SEC versus the Big Ten, a defense-dominated defending national champion trying to stop college football’s most electric QB weapon and the hype that goes with Saturday night at Jerry’s World on college football’s opening weekend. Could a Wolverines win be the Big Ten’s most satisfying victory in a decade? B1G fans live to see their teams beat SEC squads, who have won six consecutive national titles. Alabama holds the current championship belt but lost four key defenders — Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw — in the first 35 picks of the NFL Draft. The revamped Tide defense has plenty of talent, but stopping Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson will provide quite the challenge. The speedy senior signal caller has accounted for 68 touchdowns over the last two seasons and can be a matchup nightmare. Michigan could be without star running back Fitzgerald Toussaint after some off-the-field trouble this summer. College football fans will be fired up for the Wolverines and the Crimson Tide: this is must-see TV.

2. Boise State at Michigan State (Aug. 31)
The Broncos have been the BCS killer in season-openers, beating Georgia, Virginia Tech and Oregon over the last three years. While Chris Petersen has an amazing record of 73-6 as a head coach, Boise State suffered major personnel attrition this offseason. The Broncos lost NFL first-round selections Shea McClellin and Doug Martin, the winningest quarterback in NCAA history (Kellen Moore), All-America offensive lineman Nate Potter, as well as key defenders in George Iloka, Billy Winn and Tyrone Crawford. The offense has potential with proven players like running back D.J. Harper, receivers Matt Miller and Mitch Burroughs and three starters back on the line. Joe Southwick takes over at quarterback, and he will be challenged big time in the opener. MSU has eight starters back from the Big Ten’s top defense of 2011, and the Spartans could be even better this year. Powerful back Le’Veon Bell and four offensive line starters return on the MSU attack, so the focus for Mark Dantonio and staff will be the development of new quarterback Andrew Maxwell and an inexperienced receivers group. This game would be a huge W for either program.

3. Washington at LSU (Sept. 8)
The Tigers were the most dominant team in the country last season from September to December, producing big-time wins over Oregon, West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia. Then there was the dud in the BCS Championship Game. LSU will be right back in the national mix this year with its usual physical run game and top-level defense. The big question early for the Tigers will be how much new quarterback Zach Mettenberger can improve the passing game. Les Miles’ bunch should be able to score points on a Washington defense that struggled mightily a year ago, but the Huskies can light up scoreboards as well with Keith Price at quarterback. He led the UW offense to over 33 points per game last season, and top pass-catchers Austin Seferian-Jenkins at tight end and Kasen Williams at receiver could become stars in 2012. They will need to play well versus LSU, as running the ball on the Tigers defense can be very difficult. Steve Sarkisian’s crew will face a wild atmosphere with a night game in Baton Rouge, but this game will give his squad a good litmus test before Pac-12 play.

4. Michigan at Notre Dame (Sept. 22)
The 2011 version of this rivalry was a tale of two games. The Irish led 24-7 after three quarters in Ann Arbor, but then the ND defense fell apart as the Wolverines scored 28 fourth-quarter points to win, 35-31, in dramatic fashion. Brian Kelly’s club had a solid campaign overall last year but did suffer from way too many turnovers and some defensive lapses. The big question for the Irish offense will be at quarterback, as Everett Golson, incumbent Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix compete for the starting gig. Whoever wins the job will face a Michigan defense that improved greatly under coordinator Greg Mattison last year. The Wolverines front seven has some question marks, but the secondary should be a solid group. The UM offense will look for Denard Robinson’s playmaking ability to take over once again, although All-America Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o will lead a quality defense with a tough front seven. It is unusual to see this game as each team’s fourth contest of the season, but expect another classic like we have witnessed over the last three years.

5. Auburn vs. Clemson (Sept. 1 at Atlanta, Ga.)
Dabo Swinney’s bunch beat a very inexperienced Auburn team, 38-24, in Death Valley last September. Star freshman receiver Sammy Watkins led the victorious Tigers that day with 10 catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns. However the sophomore All-America candidate will be suspended (offseason arrest) for Clemson’s first two games of 2012, which is huge news for an Auburn club looking for revenge in the Georgia Dome. Quarterback Tajh Boyd, receiver DeAndre Hopkins and running back Andre Ellington will still give Clemson a formidable attack, but there is no doubt Watkins will be sorely missed in this contest. That group will face a tougher AU defense coordinated by Brian VanGorder in 2012, with all four line starters (including All-America candidate Corey Lemonier) and a quality secondary back. Scot Loeffler takes over an Auburn offense looking for a consistent signal caller (Kiehl Frazier or Clint Moseley), but he does have solid senior skill players in running back Onterio McCalebb, receiver Emory Blake and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen. Clemson also has a new defensive boss in Brent Venables, who will look for major improvement on a unit that gave up over 29 points per game last season.

6. Notre Dame at Michigan State (Sept. 15)
This September rivalry provided an unusual game in South Bend last season. The Spartans had more yards, first downs and won the turnover battle, but the Irish dominated the scoreboard for a 31-13 victory. MSU could not run the ball (23 carries for 29 yards) in last year’s loss, and that will need to change this season with junior Andrew Maxwell replacing Kirk Cousins at quarterback. Notre Dame could have a new QB starter as well, with Tommy Rees suspended for the first game in Ireland against Navy. His absence will allow Everett Golson or Andrew Hendrix a chance to take over at signal caller, and whoever has the job in this game will face a challenge versus the Big Ten’s best defense.

7. Tennessee vs. NC State (Aug. 31 at Atlanta, Ga.)
This Friday night opener is absolutely huge game for both programs. Tennessee’s Derek Dooley has gone 11-14 in two seasons at the helm in Knoxville, and the Vols need to give their coach and the fan base a signature victory. The UT defense will have to adjust to new coordinator Sal Sunseri, but the offense could be electric with quarterback Tyler Bray and big-time receivers Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter leading the way. For the Wolfpack, the 2012 season brings high expectations because of seven starters returning on both sides of the ball and a senior signal caller in Mike Glennon (over 3,000 yards passing and 31 touchdowns in 2011). The NC State defense finished eighth nationally in sacks a year ago and led the country in interceptions with 27. The Wolfpack secondary versus the Vols receivers will be a great positional matchup.

8. Washington State at BYU (Sept. 1)
The college football world is eagerly awaiting the return of Mike Leach to the sidelines. The former Texas Tech coach will now lead WSU after compiling an 84-43 record and 10 consecutive bowl appearances during his decade in Lubbock. The swashbuckling bench boss will inherit a senior quarterback in Jeff Tuel and an All-America candidate at receiver in Marquess Wilson. The WSU offense should continue to be productive under Leach, but the defense must improve for new coordinator Mike Breske. BYU should have a quality passing game as well, with senior signal caller Riley Nelson throwing to solid receivers in Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo. Bronco Mendenhall will have another top defense led by a veteran linebackers unit, but Washington State’s passing attack can provide tough matchups. Leach’s return and a fun atmosphere makes this battle of Cougars a must watch.

9. Nebraska at UCLA (Sept. 8)
This Big Ten-Pac 12 battle has some compelling storylines. The Cornhuskers have had some interesting trips to the West Coast over the years, and current NU stars Taylor Martinez and Daimion Stafford hail from the southern California. The Bruins open at Rice, but hosting the Huskers will be the Rose Bowl debut for new head coach Jim Mora. The former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks boss will try to turn around a program that is solid with talent and tradition, but has struggled to score points in recent seasons. The UCLA defense returns eight starters, and they will be challenged heavily by Nebraska’s vaunted running attack. Stud runner Rex Burkhead and Martinez at quarterback will look to exploit a Bruins run defense that finished 96th nationally last season, although UCLA should be much better up front this year. The NU defense is also looking for improvement after a subpar 2011, so wild things could happen in this storied venue.

10. Florida State at South Florida (Sept. 29)
These Sunshine State schools have only met once on the gridiron, with the Bulls upsetting the Seminoles in Tallahassee, 17-7, in 2009. This one will be in Tampa, and USF definitely has FSU’s attention after non-conference wins over Notre Dame, Miami and Clemson over the last two seasons. The Bulls return a veteran defense that finished 15th nationally against the run a year ago but failed to finish games strongly in Big East play. A solid linebacking crew led by DeDe Lattimore should be able to stifle the FSU run game, so the Noles may have to rely on the passing of senior quarterback EJ Manuel. Conversely, the Florida State defense is among the best in the country and will make life for USF quarterback B.J. Daniels very difficult. Expect a hard-hitting, low-scoring affair when these two talented rosters go at it.

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

 

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top Ten Non-Conference Games of September</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-buffalo-bills
Body:

What can the Buffalo Bills do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Leo Roth, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

At 31, can Fred Jackson return from a broken leg and finish what he started in the first half of 2011?
There’s no reason to believe he can’t. The versatile back suffered a hairline fracture in his fibula against Miami on Nov. 20 and likely would’ve been back for the playoffs had there been playoffs for the awful Bills. Jackson was averaging 137.6 all-purpose yards per game at the time of his injury. The only thing that can prevent him from repeating that kind of production is reduced playing time, a very real possibility with the emergence of C.J. Spiller.

How many touches per game can fans expect from C.J. Spiller?
This isn’t easily answered. Spiller, the ninth overall pick in 2010, saw his carries per game increase from 2.1 per game to 14.3 over the final six games as the starting running back after Jackson’s injury. He responded in kind with 446 yards rushing (5.2 average) while adding 24 catches for 187 yards. Jackson and Spiller combined to average just over 20 touches per game in Chan Gailey’s offense. That’s barely enough work for one back, let alone two.

Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 15 TDs and nine INTs when the Bills went 5–3 in the first half of 2011. He threw nine TDs and 11 INTs while the Bills went 1–7 in the final eight games. Which Fitzpatrick can fans expect in 2012?
Probably the first-half Fitzpatrick now that he’s had a full offseason to heal from the rib injury that undoubtedly affected his play over the final eight games. If it’s the second-half Fitzpatrick that shows up in September, the fans will start calling for new backup QB Vince Young.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: C.J. Spiller, RB
Deep-Sleeper: David Nelson, WR
Overvalued: Fred Jackson, RB
Top Rookie: Stephon Gilmore, CB
Bounce-Back: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB
Top IDP: Mario Williams, DE

2012 Draft Class

1. Stephon Gilmore CB 6-0 190 South Carolina
2. Cordy Glenn T 6-5 343 Georgia
3. T.J. Graham WR 6-0 180 NC State
4. Nigel Bradham LB 6-2 240 Florida State
4. Ron Brooks CB 5-10 188 LSU
5. Zebrie Sanders T 6-6 318 Florida State
5. Tank Carder LB 6-3 237 TCU
6. Mark Asper G 6-7 325 Oregon
7. John Potter K 6-2 209 Western Michigan

Fantasy Impact: Upgrading the defense was the offseason’s top priority. After acquiring Mario Williams to bolster the front seven, Buffalo addressed the secondary by selecting Stephon Gilmore in the first round. Receiver T.J. Graham could be a factor on special teams, and his speed will help stretch defenses and help to take the pressure off of Stevie Johnson.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (STL, SEA, at MIA)

It’s hard to say what the Bills will face here as they take on two teams headed by new coaching staffs and a Seattle team that drafted defense with eight of its 10 picks. Plus, who will be consistent for Buffalo? Ryan Fitzpatrick had no receivers inside the top 15 in fantasy production last season. Running back Fred Jackson was on a tear but got injured. Good luck.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Buffalo Bills</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 05:59
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-best-offensive-lines-help-running-game
Body:

Here’s a revelation for you: Good blocking helps the running game. You already knew that, but how much did you consider it in your drafts last year? Probably not as much as you should have.

ProFootballFocus.com has four years’ worth of ratings for both individual players and whole teams (see chart, below). Among the top 16 teams — or the top half of the NFL — in run-blocking in each of those years, at least 10 have also finished among the top 16 in fantasy scoring for running backs.

The 2011 season produced 10 such teams. In 2009 and ‘10, 11 of the top 16 in PFF run-blocking also ranked top 16 in running back points. In 2008, 13 of the top 16 did.

Conversely, each of the past four seasons has also seen at least 10 of the 16 worst run-blocking teams rank in the bottom 16 in running back scoring.

Top running backs can still overcome poor blocking, as Chris Johnson did in 2010 — but not in 2011 — and mediocre running backs won’t turn stud just because of a few holes (Shonn Greene). It’s undeniable, however, that some talented big guys up front make life easier in the backfield.

With that in mind, which lines will help their runners most?

New England
New England is the only team to rank among the top 10 in run-blocking for each of the four seasons PFF has graded. The Patriots finished second from 2008-10 and then third in 2011. Last year was the only time within that stretch that the team failed to rank among the league’s top eight in fantasy scoring for running backs. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen will begin with an advantage whenever they step onto the field. And don’t expect the retirement of left tackle Matt Light to hurt. Replacement Nate Solder was rated the team’s best run-blocker as a 2011 rookie right tackle.

New Orleans
The Saints ranked fifth in run-blocking in both 2011 and 2009, and fourth in 2008. They dipped to 16th in 2010, hurt by a down year for star guard Jahri Evans. Other guard Carl Nicks bolted for Tampa and a big free agent contract, but Baltimore free agent Ben Grubbs replaces him. Grubbs ranked eighth and 15th, respectively, among NFL guards in run-blocking the past two seasons, according to PFF.

N.Y. Jets
Right tackle Wayne Hunter took a lot of the blame for the Jets’ decline last year, but every lineman other than center Nick Mangold performed worse than the year before. And yet, the team still managed to rank 12th in run-blocking. Hunter remains the weakest link, but he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere unless Vladimir Ducasse beats him out in camp. Either way, this should remain a solid group. Now the Jets just need a running back to play up to the line’s level.

Philadelphia
The Eagles will miss left tackle Jason Peters. The question is: How much? PFF ranked Demetress Bell 21st among 76 qualifying tackles in run-blocking last year. That came over just seven games, and injury has been the biggest impediment to Bell’s career. He’ll play next to the No. 1 run-blocking guard in the league last year, Evan Mathis. The rest of the group is solid and led by veteran coach Howard Mudd. Most would probably be surprised to find out that the Eagles ranked 14th and ninth in run-blocking the two years preceding Mudd’s arrival. Upside remains with center Jason Kelce and guard Danny Watkins as well.

Jacksonville
The Jags finished each of the past two years among the top 10 and each of the past four among the top 16. Guard Will Rackley needs to improve, and there needs to be much less Guy Whimper. The team didn’t draft a challenger there, so it must feel good about Eben Britton.

Arizona
The Cards boasted the sixth-best run-blocking unit in the league last year, according to PFF, but still felt the need to upgrade. The Cardinals signed guard Adam Snyder to replace Rex Hadnot and drafted Ole Miss tackle Bobby Massie. Massie, a potential steal, could push disappointing left tackle Levi Brown.

— By Matt Schauf, originally published in the 2012 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Best Offensive Lines to Help the Running Game</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 05:59
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-michigan-0
Body:

After a wild late-race battle for the win at Watkins Glen, the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads to the Irish Hills of Michigan for this weekend's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Returning to MIS for the second time this season, the Chase is fast approaching and the action is heating up. In June, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended his 143-race winless streak and made the NASCAR Nation happier than a kid chowing down on some Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia.

This time, however, the series returns in the heat of the race to the Chase. With playoff implications all around and teams on varying strategies and objectives, things could get interesting.

Four drivers — Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth — have the opportunity to clinch their respective spot in the Chase in Sunday's race. At the same time, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and others are battling for the two wild card spots.

While the mindset of the teams and drivers may be different from earlier in the summer, one thing that will remain the same is the high speeds created by the new racing surface.

When the series first hit the freshly-paved 2-mile, D-shaped oval, the drivers were laying down some of the fastest speeds of the year recorded in practice and qualifying. After seeing some blistering on the tires, Goodyear officials made a late change in the compound and brought in a tougher left side tire for Sunday's race. Prior to returning this weekend, Goodyear worked with NASCAR, the track and the competitors to test various combinations to bring back a better tire. A total of 27 teams partook in the test on July 30.

One of the drivers most pleased with the test was Roush Fenway Racing's Greg Biffle. The driver of the No. 16 Ford has two wins, eight top 5s and 11 top 10s in nineteen starts in Detroit’s backyard, and is this week's fantasy favorite.

Over the last four Michigan races, Biffle has led a total of 258 of 803 laps en route to a pair of fourth-place finishes (including the June race), a 15th and a 20th (which came after sitting on the pole).

Sitting second in the series standings, just one point behind the five-time champion Johnson, Biffle has only one win this season, meaning he would fall behind Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin when the Chase field is reset after the Richmond race. Another win would go a long way in Biffle's quest to earn his first Sprint Cup Series title.

If Biffle wants to earn his second win of the season and first Cup title, he will likely have to beat Johnson for both. Always a contender at Michigan, Johnson has four top 5s and nine top 10s, but has yet to seal the deal and score a win.

Given the performance of the No. 48 organization over the four weeks, it is safe to say they will be a contender yet again this weekend.

The last time the series was in Michigan, it was Earnhardt Jr. that scored the win and ended the longest winless drought of his career. After a disappointing end to a solid day in Watkins Glen, Earnhardt lost the points lead, but is headed to a track he is very capable of sweeping.

Also keep an eye on Keselowski this weekend. Although he has an average finish of 21.0 at Michigan, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe always have an eye on pit strategy and could shake things up late in the race and have proven capable of winning on most any type of track at any given time.

Five Favorites: Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth

While Richard Petty Motorsports was celebrating a win last week at Watkins Glen, the team cars of Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose could have another strong showing this weekend.

Although they may not take The King to victory lane two weeks in a row, the teammates have had strong showings in the June race, with Ambrose leading 15 laps and finishing ninth, and Almirola coming home 17th in his first Sprint Cup start on the big oval.

Given their solid performance in June, along with the momentum built from last week's win, you may want to consider including Almirola and Ambrose in your lineup this week.

The ageless wonder, Mark Martin, returns to action this weekend behind the wheel of Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota. The timing could not be better, as Michigan is Martin's best track.

Although he fell out of the June race with an engine issue, Martin has a career-high five victories at Michigan. Given the success of the No. 55 team — especially with Martin behind the wheel — look for the Rodney Childers-led bunch to have a strong run on Sunday.

Martin’s teammates, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer, have average finishes just outside the top 10 best at Michigan. Sitting sixth and seventh, respectively, in the series standings, both drivers could further solidify their spot in the Chase with good runs — and tack on bonus points with wins.

Five Undervalued Picks: Aric Almirola, Marcos Ambrose, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr.

With only four races left before the Chase field is set, time is running out for Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon. Both sitting outside the top 10 in points, Edwards is without a win, while Gordon is currently fourth in the wild card battle behind Kahne, Newman and Kyle Busch.

Edwards enters the weekend with the best average finish among active drivers (8.4) and two wins at MIS. However, in his last five starts at Michigan, Edwards has three finishes outside the top 10 (including a 36th in the race last August).

If the 2011 championship runner-up wants the opportunity to make the Chase field, time is running out and the season that has yet to get on track needs to do so this weekend. At this point, solid finishes are not enough.

Much like Edwards, Gordon finds himself outside the Chase field at the moment. Needing wins, before the final cutoff race at Richmond, it is time for the No. 24 team to step up to the plate and get the job done. A victory two weeks ago at Pocono gave the four-time champion Chase hopes, but a late-race spin in the oil at Watkins Glen did his wild card hopes no favors.

The Alan Gustafson-led team has run strong throughout the season, but have struggled to put complete races together at times, albeit the issues were not always of their making. If they can use notes from the in-house No. 88 team, stay out of trouble, play the right strategy throughout the race and be there in the end, look for the No. 24 team to have a shot at the win.

Five Darkhorse Picks: Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Burton, Landon Cassill


Best Average Finish at Michigan (Wins/Starts):
1. Carl Edwards — 8.4 (2/16)
2. Matt Kenseth — 9.3 (2/26)
3. Tony Stewart — 11.2 (1/27)
4. Jeff Gordon — 11.3 (2/39)
5. Greg Biffle — 12.4 (2/19)
6. Mark Martin — 13.6 (5/53)
7. Denny Hamlin — 13.8 (2/13)
8. Jimmie Johnson — 14.7 (0/21)
9. Kevin Harvick — 14.8 (1/23)
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 15.2 (2/26)


by Jay Pennell
Follow Jay on Twitter: @JayWPennell
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 17:09
Path: /news/notre-dame-footballs-new-uniforms-are-disaster
Body:

Uniform changes at Notre Dame have been pretty rare. However, under Brian Kelly, the Irish tweaked the color of their helmet and wore alternate uniforms last season in the Saturday night game against Michigan.

While neither of those changes were a particularly a drastic switch, Notre Dame has shown some willingness to tweak its uniform, especially as alternate jerseys have become a new craze in college football.

However, any traditionalists will want to cover their eyes after looking at the new Notre Dame jerseys. Luckily for Fighting Irish fans, these will be worn in the Oct. 6 matchup in Chicago against Miami. 

Needless to say, these are quite different and aren't popular with the Notre Dame fanbase. Although the uniform colors aren't bad, the helmet is a disaster. The Irish's shining gold helmet is one of the best in college football and the new split look is a bad look for Notre Dame.

Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame Football's New Uniforms Are a Disaster</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 16:37
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-cincinnati-bengals
Body:

What can the Cincinnati Bengals do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Keith Goheen, Freelance Writer

Can BenJarvus Green-Ellis flourish in a full-time workhorse role or will Bernard Scott finally deliver on his big-play potential?
The Bengals won’t ask Green-Ellis to be the prototypical workhorse back, not in the manner that Cedric Benson was used for the past few seasons. Green-Ellis is a better receiver out of the backfield, and the thrust of this offense is going to be through the air. The Bengals are banking on Green-Ellis to continue his production in the red zone and goal-to-go situations. Scott’s role could expand some, but he won’t get enough carries to be overly enticing to fantasy owners.

Who should owners target at wide receiver after A.J. Green has been taken?
The Bengals have several unproven candidates who could be worth a late-round investment. Rookie Mohamed Sanu caught 115 passes as a senior at Rutgers, but the Bengals also like fifth-round pick Marvin Jones. A sleeper choice? Former University of Cincinnati receiver Armon Binns, who spent most of last season on the practice squad.

Can Jermaine Gresham provide more than just touchdowns in this offense?
He started to show some of that last season and, with the lack of a proven No. 2 receiver opposite A.J. Green, Gresham will get more opportunities this season. He took a step forward in his overall game in 2011, but he’s got potential for much greater things.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Dan Herron, RB
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Mohamed Sanu, WR
Bounce-Back: None
Top IDP: Ray Maualuga, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Dre Kirkpatrick CB 6-1 186 Alabama
1. Kevin Zeitler OG 6-4 314 Wisconsin
2. Devon Still DT 6-5 303 Penn State
3. Mohamed Sanu WR 6-2 211 Rutgers
3. Brandon Thompson DT 6-2 314 Clemson
4. Orson Charles TE 6-2 251 Georgia
5. Shaun Prater CB 5-10 190 Iowa
5. Marvin Jones WR 6-1 199 California
5. George Iloka S 6-4 225 Boise State
6. Dan Herron RB 5-10 213 Ohio State

Fantasy Impact: A.J. Green is set as the Bengals’ No. 1 receiver, but Mohamed Sanu could be the team’s No. 2 or No. 3 option this year. Orson Charles is still developing and will likely be Cincinnati’s No. 2 tight end behind Jermaine Gresham. Marvin Jones is a steady wide receiver and could earn snaps this season.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (DAL, at PHI, at PIT)

This is probably one of the least desirable fantasy postseason schedules. Two of the three games are on the road. Fantasy championship week is at Pittsburgh — second-best against fantasy QBs, WRs and TEs in 2011. It’s not much better the previous week, as Philadelphia was in the top half against the three aforementioned positions as well.

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Teaser:
<p> A fantasy football perspective on the team</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 12:45
All taxonomy terms: Dallas Cowboys, Jason Witten, NFL, Monthly, News
Path: /nfl/cowboys-jason-witten-injures-spleen-week-1-status-doubt
Body:

Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten suffered a lacerated spleen in Monday's preseason game against Oakland, putting his Week 1 availability very much in doubt.

The two-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler has a "very serious" small laceration that caused internal bleeding. The team said his spleen is not ruptured, but if his condition does not improve he may still require surgery which would sideline him indefinitely. For now, Witten will certainly miss the remainder of the preseason and there's a strong chance he will miss the Sept. 5 season-opener against the defending Super Bowl champion and NFC East rival New York Giants.

Witten suffered the injury on a hit from Raiders' linebacker Rolando McClain in the first quarter of Monday's game. Witten missed the next several plays, but eventually returned to the field and caught one more pass before the starters were removed from the game. A more thorough examination after the game disclosed the injury.

While the team waits to see if Witten's condition improves or gets worse over the next week or so, the Cowboys' offense will need to figure out what it's going to do without one of its top offensive playmakers. Since 2004, Witten has averaged 83 catches and 945 yards receiving a season. He’s also caught 40 touchdowns during that same eight-season span.

Witten, who has missed just one game in his entire career so far, is 55 receptions away from passing Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin to become the Cowboys' all-time leading receiver. Witten's 696 career catches are the third-most by a tight end in NFL history.

No one will miss Witten more than quarterback Tony Romo. Since 2006, when Romo became the Cowboys' starting quarterback, more than a quarter of his total completions (439 of 1,672) and 14 percent of his touchdown passes (21 of 149) have gone to Witten.

With Witten on the sidelines, Romo and the Cowboys' offense will turn to John Phillips as the starting tight end. Phillips, a four-year pro out of Virginia, played in all 16 games for the Cowboys in the 2009 and '11 seasons. He has caught a total of 22 passes for 163 yards and one touchdown in his brief career. Phillips didn't play in Monday's game as he has been limited by a sprained ankle.

The only other tight ends the Cowboys have on the roster currently are 2012 sixth-round pick James Hanna from Oklahoma, undrafted rookie Andrew Szczerba (Penn State) and Harry Flaherty, who was added as a result of Witten's injury. Hanna and Szczerba both caught passes on Monday night, but clearly they nor Phillips are near as established or feared as Witten. The team also may decide to bring in another veteran tight end at some point, depending on how Hanna and Szczerba respond to taking on larger roles in the offense.

And speaking of the Cowboys' offense, expect to see some changes in how head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan employ the passing attack. The onus is now on receivers Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, etc., as well as running backs DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones to step up their production in Witten's absence. Romo also will need to show trust in his receivers and backs since he will be without his favorite target for the immediate future, if not longer.

FANTASY SPIN: Among tight ends, Witten finished the 2011 season tied for fifth in receptions (79) and third in receiving yards (942). Between his consistent production and obvious chemistry with Romo, Witten entered the season as a clear-cut top-10 fantasy tight end option, and was top-five according to some rankings. However, with the uncertainty surrounding his injury and how long it will keep him out, Witten should probably move down the list as players like Fred Davis, Jermichael Finley, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Pettigrew, and perhaps even Tony Gonzalez are currently safer options. For now, draft Witten with caution as there's a chance he could be out an extended period of time, especially if it's determined he will need surgery.

As far as the rest of the Cowboys' offense goes, ignore the tight end position until further notice, or at the very least, until one of other options shows some proof of production. The emphasis is now on the wide receivers and running backs, specifically to see if any of them can take advantage of Witten’s absence.

Romo attempted 522 passes last season, which was 11th among quarterbacks, with Witten being targeted for 117 of those. That was the most on the team and the fourth-most among tight ends. Assuming Dallas doesn’t change its offensive game plan drastically, it’s safe to assume that Witten’s targets will have to go elsewhere.

Bryant was the second-most targeted Cowboy in 2011 with 103, but he’s also yet to make it through a complete season without missing at least one game. Austin had more receiving yards (2,361) and touchdown catches (18) than Witten did in the 2009 and ’10 seasons combined, but hamstring injuries limited him to just 10 games last season. If he’s healthy, he should be considered the lead contender to become Romo’s favorite target.

It’s not a stretch to expect both Bryant and Austin’s numbers to go up at least slightly as long as Witten is sidelined. However, the greatest opportunity exists for whoever wins the No. 3 receiver job, whether that is Ogletree, Harris or someone else.

Remember, last year it was Laurent Robinson, not Bryant or Austin or even Witten, who led the Cowboys in touchdown catches with 11. Robinson took full advantage of Austin’s injuries to break out for 54 receptions, 858 yards receiving and a tie for the fourth-most touchdown catches in the league. Robinson parlayed his breakthrough season into a five-year, $32.5 million contract that he signed with Jacksonville as a free agent this offseason.

Even if Austin and Bryant stay healthy, which is no guarantee, Witten’s absence probably means the Cowboys will run even more three- and four-wide receiver sets than they normally would. With Robinson off to the Jaguars, the opportunity is clearly there for one of the other Cowboy receivers to step up and establish themselves.

Robinson was one of fantasy’s biggest sleepers and surprises last season. For now, it appears the pieces are all there for a repeat performance by another unknown Cowboy receiver in 2012. The question is which one and will you be paying close enough attention to pounce when the time is right.

— By Mark Ross, published on August 16, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Cowboys' Jason Witten Injures Spleen, Week 1 Status in Doubt</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 12:15
Path: /college-football/big-12-footballs-breakout-players-2012
Body:

Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task. 

Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2012 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season.

Predicting the Big 12's Breakout Players for 2012

Brandon Carter, WR, TCU – The Horned Frogs should have no problem fitting in their first season with the Big 12. With quarterback Casey Pachall and a solid group of receivers returning, TCU’s offense will be one of the best in the conference. Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson are the team’s top two receivers, but Carter is a name to watch. He caught 23 passes for 352 yards and three scores as a true freshman last year, while averaging 13.7 yards on 10 punt returns. Carter may not lead the team in receptions, but he’s on the cusp of a breakout season in 2012.

Steve Edmond, LB, Texas – Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho were one of the best linebacker duos in college football last season, so there’s no question they will be missed. However, Texas is never short on talent, and Edmond looks like a future star in the Big 12. He played in 12 games and recorded 16 stops last season, while also forcing one fumble. Edmond ranked as one of the top 100 prospects in the 2011 signing class by most recruiting services and is slated to start at middle linebacker in 2012. At 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, the sophomore has the size and strength to help immediately against the run.

Tom Farniok, C, Iowa State – Offensive linemen simply don’t get enough credit nationally. With that in mind, it’s tough to say Farniok could be a household name by the end of the year, but he could emerge as one of the top centers in the Big 12. The Sioux Falls native redshirted in 2010 but started all 13 games at center last season. Farniok was named Iowa State’s most outstanding newcomer and will only get better in his second season as a starter.

Nick Florence, QB, Baylor – Florence isn’t a complete unknown to most around college football, but 2012 will be his first opportunity to start a full season. And there’s plenty of pressure on his shoulders, especially as he tries to replace Heisman winner Robert Griffin. Florence started seven games with Griffin sidelined for the year with a torn ACL in 2009, throwing for 1,786 yards and six scores. The senior is better equipped to succeed in 2012, especially with a solid offensive line returning, along with one of the Big 12’s top receiving corps. Don’t expect Florence to win the Heisman, but he should lead Baylor to its third consecutive bowl appearance.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State – Fans around the Big 12 are certainly familiar with Gilbert, but it’s time for the rest of the nation to take notice. As a freshman in 2010, Gilbert played in 12 games and recorded 18 tackles. However, his biggest impact came on special teams, averaging 26.8 yards per kickoff return and taking two back for a score. Gilbert played a bigger role on defense in 2011, recording 59 stops and 10 pass breakups. He continued to be a dangerous option on special teams, averaging 27 yards per kickoff return and taking two for touchdowns. Gilbert should be even better as a cornerback with another offseason to develop and at 6-foot-0, 194 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to matchup against the top receivers in the conference.

Tyler Lockett, WR/RS, Kansas State – The last name Lockett is certainly familiar to Kansas State fans. Kevin Lockett caught 217 passes during his Wildcat career, while Aaron Lockett ranks fourth on the school’s all-time receiving list with 2,400 yards. Tyler Lockett was just emerging as a potential weapon for Kansas State’s offense last year but suffered a season-ending injury in early November. In nine games, Lockett rushed for 110 yards, caught 18 passes for 246 yards and averaged a whopping 35.2 yards per kick return. The sophomore should be a bigger part of Kansas State’s offense in 2012, while also keeping his spot as one of the most dangerous return men in the nation.

Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State – Lunt has some of the biggest shoes to fill in the Big 12. Brandon Weeden led Oklahoma State to a Big 12 championship last season and threw for 9,260 yards and 75 touchdowns during his career in Stillwater. Lunt enrolled in time to participate in spring practice and impressed the coaching staff enough to earn the No. 1 spot over J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf. Asking Lunt to repeat Weeden’s success as a true freshman is nearly impossible, but Oklahoma State has a track record of developing good quarterbacks, and the offense can lean on running back Joseph Randle. Don’t expect Lunt to contend for All-American honors, but the Cowboys shouldn’t suffer much of a drop in production with the freshman at the controls.

Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma – Finding weapons for quarterback Landry Jones is the biggest fall priority for the Sooners’ offense. Kenny Stills is one of the Big 12’s top receivers, but after that is where the question marks begin. Metoyer did not qualify last season and attended Hargrave Academy in preparation for 2012. He was one of the top receivers in the 2011 recruiting class and did not disappoint in spring practice, catching six passes for 72 yards in the Red-White game. Although Ryan Broyles will be missed, Metoyer’s emergence should ease concerns about the Oklahoma receiving corps.

Tracy Moore, WR, Oklahoma State – Replacing Justin Blackmon is no easy task, but the Cowboys have plenty of capable receivers ready to step up. Which one will become the clear No. 1 target is still up in the air, but Moore will probably finish with the team lead in catches and yards. Through three seasons in Stillwater, Moore has grabbed 73 receptions for 1,067 yards and eight touchdowns. He is coming off his best year (45 catches) and will move from one of the inside receiver spots to the outside. Blake Jackson, Charlie Moore and Josh Stewart are also breakout candidates, but Tracy Moore should push for All-Big 12 honors in 2012.

Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas – With James Sims sidelined for the first three games due to a suspension, the Jayhawks will lean on Pierson to carry the rushing attack. In a relief role last season, he recorded 71 carries for 396 yards and three touchdowns. Pierson’s best performance came in the 31-30 loss to Baylor, posting eight carries for 70 yards and one score. At 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, the sophomore doesn’t have ideal size to be an every down back. However, Pierson should team with James Sims to form an effective one-two punch at running back.

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor – Terrance Ganaway was one of the Big 12’s breakout players last season, leading the Baylor rushing attack with 1,547 yards and 21 scores. With Ganaway out of eligibility, the Bears will turn to Seastrunk, Jarred Salubi and Glasco Martin to handle the bulk of the carries. Although Salubi and Martin have been steady in limited work, Seastrunk is the player most Baylor fans are excited to see this season. He ranked as one of the nation’s top running back recruits coming out of high school and redshirted at Oregon in 2010. Seastrunk transferred from the Ducks after his freshman season and made a splash in Baylor’s spring game, rushing for 138 yards and one touchdown. The sophomore has big-play potential and may not match Ganaway’s totals but should help to keep Baylor’s offense among the best in the Big 12.

Will Smith, LB, Texas Tech – Junior college recruits are hit-or-miss, but it looks like Texas Tech found a potential difference maker for its defense when Smith stepped onto campus. The California native had a strong showing in the spring, recording six tackles in the final spring scrimmage, along with earning the starting middle linebacker job. Smith wasn’t highly regarded coming out of the JUCO ranks, but all signs point to the 6-foot-3 linebacker making an instant impact in 2012.

Jordan Thompson, WR, West Virginia – With Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey entrenched as the top two receivers, Thompson will likely finish third on the team in catches. However, in West Virginia’s offense, there are plenty of receptions to go around, especially after quarterback Geno Smith threw 526 passes last season. Thompson isn’t a huge target (5-foot-7), but neither is Austin (5-foot-9). The freshman from Katy, Texas should team with Austin to form a dangerous pair of inside receivers, while emerging as one of West Virginia’s top players for 2013.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

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

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Teaser:
<p> Big 12 Football's Breakout Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 06:38
Path: /fantasy/how-2011-fantasy-football-busts-will-do-2012
Body:

There are first-round flops and high-priced mistakes made in every fantasy draft, every season. Here’s a look at those players who failed to live up to their expectations in 2011, and a preview of what to expect from those “busts” in 2012.

Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers
2011 stats: 16 games, 4,624 yards, 27 TDs, 20 INTs, rush TD, five lost fumbles
What went wrong in 2011: Rivers scored 12 total TDs and lost 17 turnovers over the first eight games of the season, sinking many fantasy teams in the process.
What to expect in 2012: A return to 2009-11 form, when Rivers averaged 4,324 yards, 31 TDs and 11 INTs. As an added bonus, Rivers has played all 96 games since taking over for Drew Brees in 2006.

Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
2011 stats: 13 games, 3,303 pass yards, 18 TDs, 14 INTs; 589 rush yards, TD
What went wrong in 2011: Fantasy owners struck gold with Vick as a waiver wire pickup in 2010. The electric lefty was a Vick-tim of his own success and subsequent expectations in 2011. Athlon Sports warned to “Beware of Vick” in last year’s magazine. A nightmare season for Vick was a distinct possibility for the “Dream Team” quarterback.
What to expect in 2012: Vick has not played as many as 15 games since the 2006 season — his only 16-game campaign. But he is still capable of carrying a team any given week. (Remember the six-total-TD effort against the Redskins on Monday Night Football?)

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Buccaneers
2011 stats: 781 rush yards, five TDs, 15 receptions for 148 yards
What went wrong in 2011: Blount TKO’d all scoring systems with 977 rush yards and five TDs over the last 11 weeks of 2010. A sophomore slump, however, failed to produce those same numbers in 14 games.
What to expect in 2012: Tampa Bay drafted Boise State running back Doug Martin in the first round. Blount could vulture a few TDs like Mike Alstott did during Warrick Dunn’s heyday, but don’t expect a ton of a carries out of the former Oregon Duck.

Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
2011 stats: 10 games, 474 rush yards, five TDs, 11 receptions for 46 yards
What went wrong in 2011: Despite playing in a high-octane offense, Ingram struggled to put stats on the ledger. Worse, he was easily bruised and battled a turf toe (among other ailments) for much of the season.
What to expect in 2012: Still searching for his first career 100-yard game, Ingram will almost certainly have a better sophomore campaign — if only because there’s nowhere to go but up.

Chris Johnson, RB, Titans
2011 stats: Four years, $53.5 million … Oh, and 16 games, 1,047 rush yards, four TDs, 57 receptions for 418 yards
What went wrong in 2011: First, Johnson held out for a new contract. After the NFL lockout ended, he arrived in a Titans camp that included a new coach, coordinator and quarterback. Once the season started, CJ couldn’t find his once-feared first step.
What to expect in 2012: With a chip on his shoulder and cash in his pocket, expect CJ to run like Usain Bolt this year. As one of the few feature backs, Johnson’s upside is much greater than his first-round risk.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers
2011 stats: 15 games, 928 rush yards, nine TDs, 18 receptions for 154 yards
What went wrong in 2011: The year got off on the wrong foot with a few regrettable Tweets. In Weeks 1-14, Mendenhall topped the 100-yard mark once, while rushing for 70 or fewer yards in 10 games.
What to expect in 2012: Mendenhall tore the ACL in his right knee in Week 17. He’s damaged goods and coming off a bad year. Let one of the Steelers fans in the draft reach for Mendenhall.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
2011 stats: 15 games, 58 receptions for 961 yards, four TDs, 41 rush yards
What went wrong in 2011: D-Jax pouted for a new contract and played down to his attitude level with numbers comparable to his rookie year — not the two years prior, when he had a combined 2,453 yards from scrimmage and 20 total TDs.
What to expect in 2012: Not happy with an unhappy Jackson, the Eagles paid their top wideout. An undeniably talented headcase, Jackson is the definition of a boom-or-bust pick — especially now that he’s been paid.

Chad Ochocinco, WR, Patriots
2011 stats: 15 games, 15 receptions for 276 yards and one TD
What went wrong in 2011: Ochocinco had uno or dos catches in 10 games and nada in the other five contests.
What to expect in 2012: Well, he changed his last name back to Johnson (again), signed with his hometown team, the Dolphins, and then promptly messed up what could he his last shot in the NFL with yet another off-fiend incident. So to sum it all up, should you draft the receiver-formerly-known-as-Ochocinco? Child please.

Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts
2011 stats: 16 games, 75 receptions for 960 yards and four TDs
What went wrong in 2011: The Colts replaced Peyton Manning with Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins. As a result, Wayne failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since 2003 and scored his fewest TDs since 2002.
What to expect in 2012: With Andrew Luck playing from behind with few weapons at his disposal, a routine Reggie season should be available at a discounted rate.

Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jaguars
2011 stats: 15 games, 39 receptions for 460 yards
What went wrong in 2011: Lewis dropped off the fantasy map one season after posting 58 catches for 700 yards and 10 TDs.
What to expect in 2012: Unless Blaine Gabbert is the most improved player in the league as a second-year signal-caller, Lewis will continue to struggle.

— Published on August 16, 2012

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Teaser:
<p> How 2011 Fantasy Football Busts Will Do in 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:46
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-fall-practice-quarterback-battles
Body:

The kickoff to the 2012 college football season is just around the corner, but quarterback battles remain in full swing across the nation. Most national title contenders have settled on a quarterback, but Oregon - ranked by most experts in the top 10 - has yet to settle on a starter. Texas could push Oklahoma for the Big 12 title but needs to pick between David Ash or Case McCoy. And there's plenty of other intriguing battles outside of the top 10-15 teams in the nation, including Rutgers, Kentucky, Iowa State and Notre Dame.

College Football's Top 15 Quarterback Battles for Fall Practice

1. Oregon – The battle to replace Darron Thomas is college football’s most intriguing quarterback battle. The Ducks have the pieces in place to compete for a national title but need a quarterback to settle into the starting role. Sophomore Bryan Bennett began spring practice with an edge, especially due to his experience last year. Bennett threw for 369 yards and six touchdowns in limited work, while also adding 200 yards on the ground. Marcus Mariota redshirted last season but had a strong showing in the spring game, throwing for 202 yards and adding 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Although it’s never a good thing to replace a solid starting quarterback, the Ducks have to feel good about their options. Bennett and Mariota are both capable of leading Oregon to a Pac-12 title, it’s just a matter of settling on one. Don’t be surprised if both players receive starts, but Mariota’s edge in athletic ability eventually gets the nod as Oregon’s No. 1 quarterback.
Predicted Winner: Mariota

2. Texas – The gap between the Longhorns and Oklahoma for the No. 1 spot in the Big 12 has narrowed this offseason. The Sooners lost two offensive linemen, but all signs point to a return to full strength for running back Dominique Whaley. Texas averaged just 189.9 passing yards a game last season, and its quarterbacks threw 15 interceptions on 357 attempts. David Ash edged Case McCoy for the No. 1 spot late last year and finished spring practice with the starting nod. True freshmen Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet are in the mix, but the battle is expected to be between Ash and McCoy for the top spot. Considering Texas improved by three wins from 2010 to 2011, if Ash can give the Longhorns just a little more through the air, it’s not out of the question this team can win the Big 12.
Predicted Winner: Ash

3. Stanford Just like Boise State and Kellen Moore, the Cardinal will find it impossible to replace Andrew Luck. In three seasons with Stanford, he threw for 9,430 yards and 82 touchdowns, while leading the program to two BCS bowl appearances. Vying to replace Luck are three candidates: sophomore Brett Nottingham, junior Josh Nunes and redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan. Nottingham completed 5 of 8 throws for 78 yards and one score last season, while Nunes dealt with a foot injury and did not record a snap. Hogan is a longshot to win the No. 1 spot, leaving Nottingham and Nunes as the two candidates battling to start. Both quarterbacks are inexperienced, but the Cardinal returns a solid offensive line and group of running backs for the offensive to lean on. Heading into the final days of fall practice, it’s a tight battle for the right to start in the season opener against San Jose State.
Predicted Winner: Nottingham

4. Notre Dame If the Irish want to have any shot at winning 10 games and reaching a BCS bowl, they have to find an answer at quarterback. Tommy Rees started most of last season, finishing with 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns. However, he also tossed 14 picks and struggled in Notre Dame’s final two games. Rees is suspended for the season opener, leaving redshirt freshman Everett Golson, sophomore Andrew Hendrix and true freshman Gunner Kiel as the three candidates vying for the start against Navy. Hendrix played in five games last year, throwing for 249 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for 162 yards and one score on 25 attempts. Golson is an intriguing dual-threat option but has no game experience. Kiel rated as the No. 2 quarterback in the 2012 signing class by Athlon Sports but may need another year to develop.
Predicted Winner: Golson

5. Florida – Considering the offenses Florida fielded under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, it’s hard to understand how the Gators ranked 105thnationally in total offense and 71st in scoring last year. A multitude of problems appeared for Florida last season, starting with a lack of playmakers at running back and receiver, offensive line issues and trouble meshing with Charlie Weis’ system. New coordinator Brent Pease comes from Boise State and should be a much better fit in Gainesville. Sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are locked into a tight battle for playing time. Brissett threw for 206 yards and two touchdowns in limited work last year, while Driskel threw for 148 yards and two picks. Brissett is a better passer, while Driskel offers more on the ground. Driskel suffered a shoulder injury in fall camp, which could impact how this race plays out. Considering how close this battle is, it wouldn’t be a shock to see both players split snaps early in the year. Will Muschamp would like to settle on one quarterback, but this battle may extend into the season.
Predicted Winner: Brissett

6. Wisconsin The Badgers are hoping another transfer can be the answer at quarterback in 2012. Russell Wilson’s only season in Madison was a huge success, leading Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl, while throwing for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns. Danny O’Brien spent the last two years with Maryland, throwing for 4,086 yards, 29 scores and 18 picks. He had a standout freshman season but struggled to adapt to a new offense in 2011. O’Brien doesn’t have Wilson’s mobility or ability to create plays on the run, but is better than his performance showed last year. Competing with O’Brien for the No. 1 spot is senior Curt Phillips and redshirt freshman Joel Stave. Injuries have hindered Phillips throughout his career, while Stave has no game experience. O’Brien may not be as effective as Wilson, but he should have a solid season and one that leads Wisconsin to the Leaders Division title.
Predicted Winner: O’Brien

7. Boise State Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: It will be impossible to make Bronco fans forget Kellen Moore. There’s simply no way to replace 14,667 career passing yards and 142 touchdowns in one offseason. However, Boise State usually reloads without much trouble, which should keep the offense performing at a high level in 2012. Joe Southwick has the edge to start the season opener against Michigan State, and he has 400 yards and two touchdowns in two seasons as a reserve. True freshman Nick Patti is similar to Moore in size (5-foot-10, 187 pounds) and had a good showing in the spring. Redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea and sophomore Grant Hedrick are also in the mix but are behind Southwick and Patti for playing time.
Predicted Winner: Southwick

8. Texas A&M – With a new coaching staff, conference and starting quarterback, the Aggies will be dealing with a lot of changes for the 2012 season. Kevin Sumlin was one of college football’s top head coaching hires, but he has a tough task ahead of him this year, especially with the move to the SEC and a young quarterback taking over. Jameill Showers finished spring practice atop the depth chart but has very little experience after throwing just five passes in relief duty last year. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel is a better dual-threat option and is off to a strong start in fall practice. Sophomore Matt Joeckel has no game experience but threw for 3,145 yards and 40 touchdowns as a senior in high school. True freshman Matt Davis has the most upside of this group but likely needs a year to develop. Although Showers entered fall No. 1 on the depth chart, Manziel made enough of a push to win the job and was named Texas A&M's starting quarterback for the season opener against Louisiana Tech.
Named Winner: Manziel

9. Auburn A year after winning the national championship and owning one of college football’s top offenses, the Tigers slipped to 100thnationally in total offense and 70th with 25.7 points per game. Replacing Cam Newton was no easy task, especially with three inexperienced candidates vying for time. Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley combined for 16 touchdowns but also threw nine picks and failed to complete more than 60 percent of their throws. Kiehl Frazier played in all 13 games as a true freshman last season but completed only 5 of 12 passes for 34 yards. He made more of an impact on the ground, rushing for 327 yards and three scores. Gus Malzahn departed for Arkansas State, and Gene Chizik hired Scot Loeffler to coordinate the offense. Loeffler is bringing more of a pro-style attack to Auburn, but do the Tigers have a quarterback to execute the passing attack? With Trotter leaving after the 2011 season, it’s a two-man battle between Frazier and Moseley. Although Moseley has the edge in experience, Frazier should take the first snap for Auburn in 2012.
Predicted Winner: Frazier

10. Rutgers – After winning four out of their last five games in 2011, the Scarlet Knights are one of the favorites to win the Big East title. However, there’s a new coach (Kyle Flood) and a quarterback battle. Chas Dodd has 15 career starts, while throwing for 3,211 yards and 21 touchdowns during that span. Gary Nova started five games as a true freshman last year and finished with 1,553 passing yards and 11 touchdowns. Dodd has the edge in experience, but Nova has more upside and his arm strength should help Rutgers stretch the field more. Although Nova may have a few growing pains, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the field.
Predicted Winner: Nova

11. Arizona StateNew coach Todd Graham struggled to get his high-octane offense on track at Pittsburgh and could have similar issues if the Sun Devils can’t find a quarterback. Three candidates are locked into a battle for playing time: Redshirt freshman Michael Eubank and sophomores Mike Bercovici and Taylor Kelly. Kelly and Bercovici each played in two games last year, combining for seven pass attempts and 46 yards. Eubank has the most potential (and is the best fit for the offense) but doesn’t have any experience. Kelly was thought to be the odd man out exiting spring practice but is making a push for playing time this fall. Even if Kelly manages to edge the other two candidates for the starting nod, expect Eubank to start the most games for Arizona State in 2012.
Projected Winner: Eubank

12. Virginia – The right to be Cavaliers’ No. 1 quarterback wasn’t expected to be much of a battle at the end of the 2011 season. Michael Rocco held off David Watford early last year and finished by throwing for 312 yards in the bowl game against Auburn and 238 yards and one score in the upset victory over Florida State. However, Virginia landed Alabama transfer Phillip Sims, and the former Crimson Tide quarterback was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. Although Rocco has the edge in experience, Sims has more long-term upside and could be difficult to keep off the field.
Predicted Winner: Rocco

13. Iowa State – Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett had their moments last season, but neither quarterback could gain enough of an edge to claim the outright starting spot. Jantz led Iowa State to a 3-0 start but lost the job to Barnett halfway through the year. Barnett finished 2011 with 1,201 passing yards and six scores, while leading the Cyclones to an upset victory over Oklahoma State. Although the position is unsettled, Paul Rhoads should feel confident that he has two options who can help to lead Iowa State back to a bowl game. It’s possible both quarterbacks play in 2012, but Barnett’s upside could be the deciding factor.
Predicted Winner: Barnett

14. CincinnatiThe Bearcats got an early look at 2012 when Zach Collaros missed three games late last season due to a leg injury. Cincinnati’s offense wasn’t the same without Collaros but did manage to score at least 30 points in two out of the three games in his absence. Munchie Legaux made three starts last season and finished with 749 passing yards and five scores, while adding 185 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. However, he threw four picks and completed just 47.4 percent of his throws. Pushing Legaux for time in the spring was senior Brendon Kay, but he has very little experience. Freshmen Bennie Coney, Patrick Coyne and Trenton Norvell have upside but will be longshots to ascend to No. 1 on the depth chart. Even though Legaux needs some work as a passer, he should get better with more experience and his rushing ability will be a valuable asset for Cincinnati.
Predicted Winner: Legaux

15. Kentucky With an 11-14 record through his first two years in Lexington, Joker Philips is on the hot seat. The Wildcats probably need to win five or six games to save his job, and their success in 2012 will largely hinge on whether or not they can find a quarterback. Maxwell Smith stepped into a tough situation last year, starting three games late in the season as a true freshman, finishing with 819 yards and four touchdowns. He also tossed four picks, including two in a 19-10 loss to Georgia. Morgan Newton entered last year as the starter but struggled mightily, throwing for 793 yards and seven picks, while completing just 47.7 percent of his throws. The wildcard to watch is true freshman Patrick Towles, ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Kentucky by most recruiting services.
Predicted Winner: Smith


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 15 Fall Practice Quarterback Battles</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:40
Path: /college-football/big-east-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes
Body:

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the Big East to talk anonymously about their opponents.

Big East Coaches Anonymously Scout Their Conference Foes

Cincinnati

Opposing coaches size up the Bearcats:

"Butch Jones had a nice bounce back season. After his 4-8 year replacing Brian Kelly, the Bearcats shocked a lot of people getting to 10 wins. And that was even though they lost quarterback Zach Collaros to injury.

They had the Big East’s offensive and defensive players of the year in running back Isaiah Pead and defensive end Derek Wolfe. But Collaros, Pead, Wolfe and also linebacker J.K. Schaffer, a leader the past three years on defense, are all gone.

This year, they’ll base the offense around quarterback Munchie Legaux, who did an admirable job filling in for Collaros. He’ll have to take over the reins for the Bearcats this season.

Cincinnati may have lost more key contributors than any other league team, but don’t sell Jones’ bunch short. They used the doubts about them last year as motivation to pull off 10 victories.

I think they took too many hits graduation wise to reach double-digit wins, but certainly a bowl trip is not out of the question.

Virginia Tech should be the only potential problem in a very weak non-conference schedule that also includes Delaware State, Miami (Ohio), Fordham and Toledo."

Connecticut

Opposing coaches size up the Huskies:

"Not surprisingly Paul Pasqualoni’s debut season at Connecticut didn’t live up to Randy Edsall’s final season with the Huskies. Edsall bolted for Maryland after leading UConn to the Big East title and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. Pasqualoni took over for Edsall and had a fairly uneventful season.

The Huskies weren’t real impressive but weren’t horrible either. They were just – I’m not sure how to say this – but average.

They never played an exciting brand of football under Edsall and that has not changed with a new head coach.

Last year, their offense was very, very pedestrian  This year looks to be probably more of the same with six starters back on offense and eight starters back on defense.

Even though Johnny McEntee started every game last season, they used Scott McCummings in their wildcat formation. Neither way was particularly threatening from a defensive standpoint.

They do have a good young runner in Lyle McCombs. He’s going to be a good one. Unfortunately he’s about all they have an offense.

Unless they can get more out of the quarterback position, teams will focus on stopping McCombs.

Last year they only managed five wins and I’d say that sounds about right for this season especially with a non-conference schedule with back-to-back games against ACC teams N.C. State and Maryland."

Louisville

Opposing coaches size up the Cardinals:

"Two years, two bowl games for Charlie Strong. Good for him. I’m glad he’s having success because I think a lot of athletic directors missed the boat on him when he was defensive coordinator at Florida. Only Tom Jurich had the guts and was smart enough to take a chance on him and it’s paying off.

Not surprisingly Strong is winning at Louisville with defense. Last year the Cardinals only allowed more than 25 points twice and nobody scored more than 35 all season. Now they return virtually their entire lineup on the defensive side.

They’re also loaded on offense. Eight starters are back, but none are as significant as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He was thrown into the fire as a freshman last year and I thought he performed tremendously. Defenses sort of figured him out later in the season, but that’s to be expected for a first-year guy. I really think he is a terrific player and his performance can be the difference between Louisville winning the Big East and being a top 25 team or just languishing finishing with another seven-win season."

Pittsburgh

Opposing coaches size up the Panthers:

"For all the missteps, bad hires and musical chairs that have occurred with Pitt’s head coaching position, I think they’re very fortunate to end up with Paul Chryst. I thought they were in good shape with Todd Graham, after what happened with Mike Haywood. But then Graham bolted after one very mediocre season leaving the Panthers searching for yet another head coach.

Chryst had a great deal of success at Wisconsin and I think that can bring that same success with him to Pittsburgh.

I think Chryst’s style of offense will benefit Tino Sunseri. He’s been a whipping boy of Pitt fans, but I think he’ll do more by being asked to do less in Chryst’s system.

The biggest beneficiary will be Ray Graham. He was having a monster year last season before going down with a knee injury. Graham should get plenty of opportunities in Chryst’s offense.

That should also open up things considerably downfield for receivers Mike Shanahan and Devin Street.

The defense doesn’t return much but that shouldn’t be that big of a concern. If Pitt’s new offensive attack can grind it out, eat the clock and win the time of possession battle, the defense should be more than adequate.

The secondary should be strong. They’ve got some talent back there with safeties Jarred Holley and Andrew Taglianetti and cornerback K’Waun Williams."

Rutgers

Opposing coaches size up the Scarlet Knights:

"Greg Schiano had the best recruiting class in school history locked up. He had his best overall team since he got to Piscataway. All the pieces were in place for Rutgers to finally win a Big East championship under Schiano. But, of course, Schiano left just days before signing day to take the head coaching position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So Schiano’s Big East title-less streak won’t end.

I think Rutgers’ non-title streak could end this fall even with new coach Kyle Flood. With West Virginia gone to the Big 12, the Scarlet Knights have the best shot to win the league championship.

Next to Schiano the biggest departure that will have the greatest impact is wide receiver Mohamed Sanu’s decision to leave early for the NFL. He was a game-changer and there’s no question he will be missed.

Other than Sanu, Rutgers has a good core back starting with running back Jawan Jamison.

Quarterbacks Chas Dodd and Gary Nova will battle for starting spot. Dodd had his moments last year, but was inconsistent.

Rutgers has always been tough defensively under Schiano and this year will be no exception.

Linebacker Khaseem Greene is a beast. Offenses have to account for him on every play. Safety Duron Harmon also is one of the league’s best at his position.

The best thing Schiano left Flood was a ridiculously easy non-conference schedule, which should guarantee four wins against Tulane, Howard, Kent State and Army."

South Florida

Opposing coaches size up the Bulls:

"Skip Holtz is one of the good guys in coaching, but he had to be one of the unluckiest coaches in the country last year. He had a solid first year leading South Florida to a bowl game but last season was a total and complete disaster. A 4-0 start had the Bulls thinking they might be headed to their first BCS bowl in program history. What followed was a disaster, losing seven of their last eight games. It wasn’t necessarily the losses, but how they lost. Other than a blowout at Pittsburgh, they could have easily won the other six games, four losses were by three points each and two others by 10 points or less.

This year is the final one for quarterback B.J. Daniels. He’s had more than his shares of ups and downs. He’s been plagued by inconsistency throughout his career, but I think he’s primed for a big year.

I know every year USF is picked as a sleeper team to win the Big East.

Running back Darnell Scott and wide receiver A.J. Love are the biggest losses, but with 17 returning starters this could be the year since Holtz has to have better luck this fall.

While they could compete for the Big East title, they might only go 2-3 in non-conference play visiting Nevada and Miami and hosting Florida State along with gimmies against Ball State and Chattanooga."

Syracuse

Opposing coaches size up the Orange:

"I thought Doug Marrone had finally turned Syracuse’s program around. After an 8-5 debut season, the Orange started last season 5-2 including a home thrashing of West Virginia. They only needed one victory to make a second consecutive bowl game and instead went in the tank. Syracuse ended the season losing their last five games. And they weren’t competitive in most of those contests. Only one was by fewer than 13 points.

So what’s ahead in Marrone’s third season? The first half success or the second half slump? I’d like to hope Marrone could have more success, but with their non-conference schedule I think there will be more losses than wins. They have games against USC, Missouri, Northwestern and Minnesota.

If the Orange is going to have a chance, they’ll need a big year from quarterback Ryan Nassib. There was a lot of hype when he came to Syracuse. Not sure if it was fair or not, but he hasn’t lived up to it. At least not that. That could change this year.

If the defense doesn’t make drastic improvements, that’s not going to matter. They held only three teams to fewer than four touchdowns. They just don’t impress me defensively.

Shamarko Thomas and Marquis Spruill can be big-time defenders, but after that they don’t have much. This is likely their last season in the Big East. I know they’d like to go into the ACC next year on an upswing of a bowl trip. I just don’t see that happening."

Temple

Note: The Owls did not play a Big East team last season, so Athlon was unable to get a scouting report from an opposing coach. However, a coach from the MAC offered this on Temple:

"The Big East better watch out, this team is bigger and faster than most may think. 

From of a physical standpoint they are certainly ready for the Big East."
 


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Ranking the Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big East Linebacking Corps for 2012

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Athlon's 2012 Big East Predictions

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Teaser:
<p> Big East Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:33
Path: /college-football/college-football-secs-must-see-games-2012
Body:

As the college football season draws near, Athlon Sports is making sure fans know exactly when and where to tune in this fall. Here are the SEC's top 40 must-see football games for the 2012 season:

1. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Alabama at LSU
The plotline for these two programs over the last 18 months or so has been well documented. Game of the Century Part 1 was an offensively challenged 9-6 road win for LSU on the legs of Brad Wing and Drew Alleman. While the Tigers deserved all the credit for the brutally contested clutch win, it still appeared to most who watched the game that Alabama was the superior team. As it turns out, it wasn’t really even close. LSU showed up for the BCS national championship game woefully under prepared and clearly lacking focus and motivation. The game now shifts to Baton Rouge, and the Death Valley faithful have had November 3 circled on the calendar ever since that fateful night in January when their team gained 92 total yards and five first downs.

2. Week 6 (Oct. 6) Georgia at South Carolina
If the SEC West semifinal is LSU-Bama, then the Eastern’s semi will take place in Columbia on the first Saturday in October. Normally one of the first two games of the year, the Bulldogs and Gamecocks have to wait until the second month to square off. The Cocks won last year in a shootout in Athens on the back of turnovers and special teams — they scored essentially four touchdowns on defense and a fake punt. But Marcus Lattimore’s fourth quarter performance was what sealed the win for Carolina, and No. 21 is back healthy this fall. Georgia already has a strong track record of success in Williams-Brice Stadium and should have its full compliment of defensive stars by the time these two meet as well. The Dawgs have won four of the last five in Columbia.

3. Week 3 (Sept. 15) Alabama at Arkansas
Arkansas fans are optimistic that, even without Bobby Petrino, their Razorbacks can compete for an SEC title. Well, winning the West is the first step and Week 3 gives John L. Smith a chance to prove his worth against the defending national champions. That said, AJ McCarron outplayed Tyler Wilson, Nick Saban out-coached Petrnio and the Bama defense out-stifled the Hogs last time they met. Arkansas will have to reverse nearly all of the above to pull off the upset this season. Running the ball more effectively will narrow the gap, as Bama outgained the Hogs 197 to 17 on the ground in the 38-14 decision last fall. Can the return of Knile Davis, and getting the contest at home, tip the scales in favor of Coach Smith? Fans won’t have to wait long to find out.

4. Week 13 (Nov. 23) LSU at Arkansas
Arkansas has had some recent success in this series with three wins in the last five meetings. However, last fall’s 41-17 whitewashing of the Hogs pushed LSU into the SEC title game. Les Miles’ bunch rushed for 286 yards and three touchdowns at a per carry clip of 6.2 yards. Tyler Wilson and company mustered 248 total yards of offense. Shifting the series back home gives the Hogs a better shot at an upset this time around. So will having Knile Davis back fully healthy — a guy who rushed for 152 yards and a score on 30 carries in the 31-23 win over LSU two years ago.

5. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.)
The Dawgs have won only four times in this series since 1989, but last year’s 24-20 win helped Georgia make it back to Atlanta and the SEC title game. On the arm of Aaron Murray and the river boat gambling of Mark Richt, Georgia won its first Outdoor Cocktail Party since 2007. If the Dawgs out-rush the Gators 185 to -19 again this year, fans can bank on another UGA victory.

6. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Auburn at Alabama
The Iron Bowl is filled with as much hatred as any other rivalry in the history of college football. And the stakes have never been as high as they have been over the past few seasons. The winner of this game has gone on to win the BCS National Championship in each of the last three seasons. The intensity and passion of an already rabid rivalry has reached an all-time high. With Bama acting as defending champs and Auburn enthused about new coordinators, War Eagle fans are expecting something much tighter than last season's 42-14 outcome.

7. Week 8 (Oct. 20) South Carolina at Florida
Both South Carolina and Georgia get plenty of key contests at home this fall, but Carolina’s trip down to The Swamp is the second biggest SEC East game of the year. From 1940 to 2004, the Gamecocks were winless against the Gators. Since then, Steve Spurrier has defeated his alma mater three out of seven times, including the last two. Having said that, last year’s meeting was a hotly contested, defensive struggle in which both quarterbacks struggled to complete passes. Expect the defenses and ground games to play huge roles. If South Carolina wants to take the next step in its search for its first SEC title, winning on the road within the division is a must.

8. Week 6 (Oct. 6) LSU at Florida
The Tigers and Gators lay claim four of the last nine national championships and both claim two of the best SEC resumes in history. While Florida won’t feature a vintage Gators squad, particularly on offense, this game still has plenty of weight in 2012. Florida’s defense should be nasty, but will have to play better at the point of attack after allowing 238 yards rushing to LSU last fall. The Gators mustered only 213 total yards in their second straight loss in the long-time crossover series.

9. Week 3 (Sept. 15) Florida at Tennessee
Yes, the Florida-Tennessee rivalry has seen better days. No, neither is picked to win the East. But this game has no shortage of storylines — or future NFL talent. One team possesses an electric high-flying offense while the other boasts one of the most explosive defenses in the league. And both have a head coach feeling the pressure from alumni and fans to win now. Florida has won seven straight in the series, but will be coming to Knoxville following a brutal trip to Texas A&M in Week 2. Meanwhile, the Vols will face ACC sleeper NC State in Week 1, so if both teams struggle out of the gate, this game could decide more than just bowl eligibility. If both enter 2-0, one team will leave as the clear contender to Georgia and South Carolina for SEC East supremacy.

10. Week 1 (Sept. 1) Alabama vs. Michigan (Arlington, Texas)
This might be the marquee non-conference match-up of the season. It is the first regular season match-up between the two historic programs and the Wolverines own a two (1988, 200) to one (1997) lead in the series. The thought that it may be one-sided, however, keeps it from sitting much higher on the list. The defending national champions have one of the deepest college teams ever assembled and Brady Hoke will be hard-pressed to stop the Bama rushing attack in the second half. Michigan can keep it close for three quarters, but in Jerry's Palace with that offensive line, Nick Saban should come away victorious.

11. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Arkansas at South Carolina
This series has been heavily one-sided over the last few years. Arkansas has won three straight in a big way (118-64) and has won five of the last six overall. This is Carolina's best chance to end the current streak as it welcomes the Hogs to Columbia. The Gamecocks' pass rush and front seven is going to pressure Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis and gives Steve Spurrier his best chance at a win over Arkansas since 2008.  

12. Week 1 (Sept. 1) Auburn vs. Clemson (Atlanta, Ga.)
The first Saturday night of the season in the Georgia Dome has turned into a yearly must-watch contest and these two Tigers won't disappoint. Clemson won the meeting 38-24 last fall while Auburn won the 27-24 thriller en route to its National Championship in 2012. Brian VanGorder should have the Auburn defense much improved, but if Aubie expects to upset Clemson, it will have to get quality quarterback play on offense. This will be a great barometer game for both programs right out of the gate.

13. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Georgia at Missouri
Columbia won’t be the same as College Station, but fans have to expect a raucous atmosphere in the newly touched-up Faurot Field. That said, Mizzou has a more explosive offense than Texas A&M and will be facing the East favorites, who will be short-handed due to suspensions. Georgia needs to be on upset alert in Week 2.

14. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Arkansas at Texas A&M
This game should need no introduction. The second-half collapse last fall by the Aggies was one in a season filled with late-game gagging. Tyler Wilson threw for 510 yards and scored 25 points in the second half after trailing 35-17 at halftime in Cowboys Stadium. There will be no neutral field, however, this year as the game goes home-and-home for the next two years.

15. Week 13 (Nov. 24) South Carolina at Clemson
It may not be the most high-profile rivalry and it may not have national implications like many other rivalries, but it is hard to find a yearly battle that possesses as much vitriol as the Tigers-Gamecocks. The last three years have seen South Carolina stake a major claim to in-state supremacy and none have been close as Carolina has outscored its rival 97-37. Both teams are focused on a conference title in their respective leagues, so the game means little to the actual standings, but don't tell that to the people in the Palmetto State. Or to two teams that could potentially be ranked in the Top 10 by the time they meet.

16. Week 1 (Aug. 31) Tennessee vs. NC State (Atlanta, Ga.)
This will be an excellent barometer game for both programs. If NC State wants to compete in the ACC, a win over Tennessee will send a shot across the bow of Florida State and Clemson. The Vols, and more specifically Derek Dooley, need to get 2012 started well, possibly more than any other SEC team. Two great QBs, Amerson vs. Hunter and the Georgia Dome? What more can you ask for?

17. Week 7 (Oct. 13) South Carolina at LSU
LSU has a commanding 16-2-1 series lead and 1994 was the last time the Gamecocks defeated the Tigers. While Carolina has a shot at the SEC title game — and a potential rematch with the Bayou Bengals — a win over LSU on the road in October feels like a stretch.

18. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Alabama at Tennessee
The Third Saturday in October hasn’t had the same luster as it had in days of yore, but if the Vols are improved like many believe, the drama of the 2009 meeting could easily be recreated in Knoxville this fall.

19. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Florida at Texas A&M
The first SEC home game for the Aggies and the 12th Man is going to be downright nuts. The gameday atmosphere in College Station needs no help, but adding SEC implications and the Florida Gators makes Kyle Field on Sept. 8 must-see TV.

20. Week 1 (Aug. 30) South Carolina at Vanderbilt
The season opener for both — not just for the SEC, but for the college football world — will feature Marcus Lattimore, Steve Spurrier and James Franklin (as well as what is easily the best SEC city). One of these two will be 1-0 in conference before every other SEC team even plays its first game of the year. The other will have a conference loss before the first Saturday of the year. No pressure, Commodores!

21. Week 6 (Oct. 6) Arkansas at Auburn
The Hogs dominated their home games a year ago and Auburn was one of the many victims. Tyler Wilson threw for 262 yards while the ground game rolled-up 176 yards and three scores in the 38-14 win. That said, Auburn posted 292 yards on the ground, further highlighting the Razorbacks' defensive issues.

22. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Florida at Florida State
This rivalry certainly hasn't had the luster it once did back in the late '90s, but there is still plenty on the line when these two powerhouses get together in the regular-season finale. After the Gators won six straight in the series, the Noles have reclaimed Sunshine State supremacy in a big way the last two seasons with two dominating performances. The Gators have scored 14 total points in the last two games and scoring will once again be difficult.

23. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Tennessee at Georgia
These historic SEC programs haven’t seen too many close finishes of late with six of the last seven featuring double-digit point differentials. Georgia has won three out of four in the series, but the Vols are 2-2 in their last four trips to Athens. This is a game the Dawgs have to win.

24. Week 4 (Sept. 22) LSU at Auburn
The Bayou Bengals have won four of the last five meetings, including the memorable 24-17 battle on the Plains two years ago. It was the last time LSU visited Auburn and this time a national title could be on the line for the other Tigers.

25. Week 8 (Oct. 20) LSU at Texas A&M
These two old rivals used to play all the time until the series ended in the mid-90s. It was renewed in 2010 when they met in a 41-24 Cotton Bowl win for LSU. Now, the rivalry is back on track in a very different way — with SEC conference standings on the line. 

26. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Tennessee at South Carolina
Always fun when Big Orange nation battles with Steve Spurrier. Brutal road test for UT.

27. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Georgia Tech at Georgia
Easily the best named rivarly in college football: Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.

28. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Tennessee at Vanderbilt
In-state rivarly is heating up to a rolling boil where bowl rights and recruiting trail storylines abound.

29. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Missouri at Tennessee
Few stadiums Mizzou has ever played in will match the experience of Neyland, and that's before you consider the potential bowl implications. 

30. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Georgia at Auburn
The oldest running rivalry in the South produced a lopsided 45-7 UGA destruction of the Tigers last season.

31. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Alabama at Missouri
The entire city of Columbia will understand what being in the SEC means when the Crimson Tide visits town.

32. Week 4 (Sept. 22) Missouri at South Carolina
Second SEC game, the first on the road, for Mizzou will be even tougher than the debut.

33. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Missouri at Florida
Road trip to brutal SEC venue begins nasty final month for the Tigers.

34. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Auburn at Vanderbilt
Major opporutnity for the Dores to get a signature home win over perennial SEC power.

35. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Missouri at Texas A&M
First ever SEC meeting between two teams that have battled for years in the Big 12.

36. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Mississippi State at Ole Miss
Egg Bowl means very little nationally — but has huge import for Magnolia Staters.

37. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Tennessee at Mississippi State
Key swing game for both teams could mean trip to the postseason for Bulldogs, Vols.

38. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Texas A&M at Auburn
Third meeting all time (1911, 1986) between two teams battling for bowl privileges.

39. Week 6 (Oct. 6) Vanderbilt at Missouri
The Battle for James Franklin bragging rights between head coach and quarterback.

40. Week 4 (Sept. 22) Vanderbilt at Georgia
UGA was lucky to escape West End last fall with a 33-28 win, now gets Dores at home.

Best of the Rest:

41. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Vanderbilt at Florida
42. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Texas A&M at Alabama
43. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Washington at LSU
44. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Arkansas at Mississippi State
45. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Auburn at Mississippi State
46. Week 4 (Sept. 22) Rutgers at Arkansas
47. Week 1 (Sept. 2) Kentucky at Louisville
48. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Mississippi State at LSU
49. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Kentucky at Tennessee
50. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Mississippi State at Alabama

Athlon Sports Must-See TV for 2012:

Big 12's Must-See Games of 2012
Big Ten's Must-See Games of 2012
SEC's Must-See Games of 2012
Pac-12 Must-See Games of 2012 (Fri.)

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports SEC Predictions and Team Previews:

West:

1. LSU Tigers: No. 2
2. Alabama Crimson Tide: No. 3
3. Arkansas Razorbacks: No. 13
4. Auburn Tigers: No. 30
5. Texas A&M Aggies: No. 32
6. Mississippi State Bulldogs: No. 47
7. Ole Miss Rebels: No. 71

East:

1. Georgia Bulldogs: No. 8
2. South Carolina Gamecocks: No. 10
3. Florida Gators: No. 26
4. Missouri Tigers: No. 31
5. Tennessee Vols: No. 37
6. Vanderbilt Commodores: No. 41
7. Kentucky Wildcats: No. 75

Teaser:
<p> College Football: SEC's Must-See Games of 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:20
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-great-68-questions-17-east-region
Body:

College football season hasn’t begun, but here at Athlon we’re already hard at work in thinking about the 2012-13 basketball season. Believe us, the season will be here before you know it.

Every team has questions about the upcoming season, but some are bigger than others.

 

We’ll look at some of the biggest questions for 2012-13. Like the NCAA Tournament, we’re taking on 17 questions in each of our four regions of the country (South, East, Midwest and West) for our Great 68 questions. We’ve “seeded” our questions, too, ranking the biggest questions in each region.

 

On Tuesday, we examined 17 questions in our South Region, which included the Big 12 and SEC.

 

Today, we ranked the top 17 questions in our East Region, which includes the ACC, Big East, Colonial Athletic Association and the Ivy League.

 

East Region No. 1 seed: Will NC State live up to the hype?

NC State will be at or near the top of most ACC preseason rankings with a young, talented team that reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006 last season, played in the Sweet 16 for the first team since 2005 and finished with the most wins (24) since 1988. NC State is hungry to be back in the spotlight. Will Mike Gottfried’s second team be the one to deliver? C.J. Leslie (second-team All-ACC) and Lorenzo Brown (third-team All-ACC) will lead a group of three McDonald’s All-Americans (guards Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis and forward T.J. Warren). Leslie and Brown played well at the end of last season, leading the Wolfpack to Tourney wins over No. 6 seed San Diego State and No. 3 seed Georgetown, but the Pack still went 1-6 against ACC teams that reached the field.

 

No. 2: What’s next for Jim Calhoun?

The Connecticut coach suffered a hip fracture after a bicycle accident this summer, but it’s not likely to keep him from coaching. However, Calhoun is 70 years old and a cancer survivor who missed games last season while recovering from an operation related to spinal stenosis. The Huskies, who went 20-14 overall and 8-10 in the Big East, are also facing a postseason ban. Speculation about his future has been one of the storylines of the offseason, but Calhoun also is quite stubborn. And he’s nearing 900 career wins.

 

No. 3: Was Louisville’s Final Four run a sign of things to come or an aberration?

At the end of the regular season, Louisville looked nothing like a Final Four team. The Cardinals went 2-4 in the last six (the wins were over DePaul in overtime and Pittsburgh by 3) to stand at 22-9 overall and 10-8 in the Big East before the conference tournament. Louisville went on an eight-game win streak in the postseason to win the Big East Tournament and reach the Final Four. Did the Cards simply get hot at the right time or should those results be the norm for 2012-13? Possibly the latter. After two seasons of injury concerns, Louisville’s due for some better luck on that front. Peyton Siva is a Big East Player of the Year candidate, and Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng should form a formidble frontcourt. Sophomore Wayne Blackshear is looking to stay healthy, and George Mason transfer Luke Hancock will be eligible. Those are good reasons to believe the Cards will look more like the team in the 2012 postseason over the course of a full year.

 

No. 4: Is North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo ready for a Thomas Robinson-like breakout?

North Carolina under Roy Williams isn’t going to be low on talent and won’t stay down for long. That said, North Carolina must expect a drop off with Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller gone. No one will pick the Tar Heels to be title contenders, but how North Carolina absorbs those losses could depend on McAdoo. He considered a jump to the NBA Draft despite averaging just 15.6 minutes per game last season (averaging 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds). Like Robinson before last season, McAdoo could have started for most teams but was blocked by established veterans. With Zeller, Barnes and Henson gone, McAdoo will have his chance to flourish.

 

No. 5: How will Duke’s backcourt shake out?

Seth Curry is one of the only certainties in the Duke backcourt with Andre Dawkins redshirting in 2012-13. Rasheed Sulaimon is another highly decorated freshman following the one-and-done Austin Rivers, but he’s mostly a scorer. That leaves a void at point guard. Junior Tyler Thornton and sophomore Quinn Cook played last season, but neither were impact players.

Related: Krzyzewski leads ACC coach rankings

 

No. 6: Are Michael Carter-Williams and DaJuan Coleman ready to take charge for Syracuse?

Last season, Carter-Williams averaged only 10.3 points, and Coleman was in high school. Together, they could determine the course of Syracuse’s season. Four key members of last season’s 34-win team are gone, but Jim Boeheim has good reason to be confident in veterans Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair and Rakeem Christmas. The point guard spot will go to Carter-Williams, who is a good passer with outstanding vision. Coleman could stabilize the frontcourt if he can hold on to the starting job at center, allowing Christmas to play forward.

Related: Boeheim tops rankings of Big East coaches

 

No. 7: Will Steven Adams be a rare freshman star for Jamie Dixon?

Freshmen seldom play major roles for Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon. The coach, though, rarely has signed a freshman like Steven Adams, a seven-foot center who was a consensus top-10 recruit. After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 and finishing 5-13 in the Big East, Pitt needs a jolt. The Panthers have veterans returning (though not leading scorer Ashton Gibbs), but some have yet to reach their potential, such as Dante Taylor. Adams, fellow freshman and James Robinson and Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler could be shots in the arm.

Related: Basketball conference realignment winners and losers

 

No. 8: Has Notre Dame moved from overachiever to Big East frontrunner?

Notre Dame has started the season ranked in the AP poll only once in the past six seasons, yet the Irish finished second in the Big East two years ago and third last season. The six-season run has included six 20-win seasons and five NCAA Tourney bids. Notre Dame has a veteran frontcourt with Jack Cooley, Scott Martin and Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman plus an athlete backcourt of Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant. Notre Dame will have preseason expectations for the first time in several years. Speaking of which, the Irish have started the season ranked in the preseason four times under Brey and missed the NCAA Tournament in three of those seasons.

 

No. 9 Can Reggie Johnson lead Miami to a signature season?

Miami last season had a winning record in the ACC for the first time since the Hurricanes joined the conference -- all of that despite an injury to Reggie Johnson and ineligibility from Durand Scott. All the while, Kenny Kadji became one of the ACC’s biggest surprises and Shane Larkin impressed as a freshman. If Miami has all its cogs in place for the duration of a season -- especially one with so man questions at the top of the conference -- the Hurricanes could be in line for a special season. Consistency from Johnson could be the key. 

 

No. 10: Where does Villanova go from here?

Marquette, Pittsburgh and Villanova were the only Big East teams to make the NCAA Tournament each year since the league reorganized in 2005-06. Now Marquette stands alone with that superlative. Pitt reloaded with Adams and other newcomers, but Villanova may be in a precarious position after going 13-19 last season. Normally a haven for point guards, Villanova has questions in its backcourt with Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek gone (though neither lived up to his billing). The rebuilding job could be a multi-year project.

 

No. 11: When will Maryland be ready to win again?

Mark Turgeon’s first season wasn’t all that different from Gary Williams’ last -- 17 wins and an absence from the NCAA Tournament. The season was a slog, but Turgeon is optimistic for the future. Sophomore guard Nick Faust has a bright future, and the incoming freshman class, anchored by three standout frontcourt prospects, was nationally ranked. Maryland should be back in NCAA contention soon, possibly as early as this season and certainly by 2013-14.

 

No. 12: Who will be the Big East’s 2012-13 version of USF?

The Bulls have been among the bottom five teams in the Big East since they joined the conference, but they defied the odds by going 12-6 in the Big East and reaching the Sweet 16 with a team that lacked a double-digit scorer. Will another Big East team enjoy that kind of leap forward? DePaul has an All-Big East contender in Cleveland Melvin, but the Blue Demons are in an awfully deep hole. Rutgers is still young. Seton Hall lacks a point guard. Providence could be a candidate, but the Friars could be a year away if five-star guards Ricky Ledo and Kris Dunn are unavailable for all or parts of 2012-13. How about USF again? Anthony Collins played ahead of his years as a freshman point guards, and Augustus Gilchrist was the only one of the top five starters to exhaust his eligibility.

 

No. 13: Are Florida State’s part-timers ready for starring roles?

Leading scorer Michael Snaer is the Seminoles’ only returning starter, but sixth man Ian Miller and forwards Okaro White and Terrance Shannon are all juniors looking to move into more prominent roles. White can be a major scoring threat while the physical Shannon played only seven games due to injury. Miller may take on the point guard job vacated by Luke Loucks. The Seminoles brought plenty of junior college transfers and freshmen to fill out depth, but the play of Snaer’s veteran supporting cast likely will determine if FSU makes an unprecedented fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.

 

No. 14: With VCU out, can Drexel finally represent the Colonial in March or will Delaware shock the league?

Drexel routinely finds a way into the NCAA bubble debate but comes up empty. Last season was perhaps the Dragons’ strongest case as they went 29-7 and won the Colonial regular season title. VCU defeated Drexel in the CAA Tournament final, though, banishing Drexel to the NIT for the fifth time in 11 seasons under Bruiser Flint. Now, VCU is gone to the Atlantic 10. This season, Drexel may have to contend with George Mason and Old Dominion, but the Dragons lost only one senior of last season’s team. Instead of VCU, upstart Delaware may challenge Drexel for the CAA title. The Blue Hens return just about everyone -- including junior Devon Saddler (18.1 ppg) and senior Jamelle Hagins (12.4 ppg, 11.1 rpg) -- to a team that went 12-6 in conference.

 

No. 15: Will Harvard continue to be a national player?

Harvard may be a runaway favorite to repeat as Ivy League champion, but will the Crimson be a thorn in the side of major-conference programs (Harvard defeated Florida State last season, but lost to UConn in December and Vanderbilt in the round of 64)? Keith Wright is gone, but coach Tommy Amaker has recruited at a high enough level to keep Harvard interesting. Wesley Saunders was Amaker’s most highly decorated signee, but he played only 13.9 minutes as a freshman last year.

Related: Amaker ranks among top coaches outside the Big Six

 

No. 16: What does the new-look bench mean for St. John’s?

Maybe that should read new-look/old-look bench. Steve Lavin is back after missing most of the season after recovering from prostate cancer surgery. Meanwhile, assistant Mike Dunlap, Lavin’s interim coach and a respected Xs and Os man, was hired as the Charlotte Bobcats’ head coach. Aside from the coaching situation, St. John’s struggled to a 13-19 season more likely because of youth. Lavin inherited a senior-laden team when the Red Storm surprised to win 21 games and reach the NCAA Tournament in 2010-11. With two standout recruiting classes, Lavin has more pieces in pace, though they’re all freshmen and sophomores. Expect growing pains, but not quite as much as last season.

 

No. 17: Who should I get to know in the Big East?

All six members of the Big East’s first-team all-conference squad are gone. That makes room for new blood to make a run at stardom in the league. Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick may have been overlooked last season and could make a bid for conference player of the year. And Marquette isn’t without replacements for Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett and “switchable” Jamil Wilson will be worth watching in Milwaukee. At Georgetown, Otto Porter should take his place in the run of versatile Hoyas forwards, which has included Dajuan Summers and Jeff Green.

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> College Basketball's Great 68 Questions: 17 for the East Region</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:09
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breakout-sophomore-players
Body:

Not every rookie enjoys immediate success. Here’s our list of players we expect to shine in their second seasons in the NFL.

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle
This hard worker is limited physically, but he’s extremely dependable and has little competition for targets in Seattle.

Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego
It took some time for the local product to get used to the NFL, but he showed flashes of ability against Green Bay (four catches, 79 yards), Oakland (five, 97, TD) and Denver (three, 50). With Vincent Jackson moving on to Tampa Bay, Brown can expect even more targets.

Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay 
An aging Donald Driver should create chances for the explosive and versatile Cobb in the slot. The 2012 Packers’ offense could easily provide value for three wide receivers.

Leonard Hankerson, WR, Washington
The former Miami Hurricane posted his first 100-yard game in only his second career start before his season ended due to a hip injury. He is on schedule to be back for summer camp and could start in 2012.

Roy Helu, RB, Washington
Robert Griffin III’s best friend this fall will be an effective ground game. Helu, a former Nebraska Cornhusker, started only five games as a rookie and scored only three times. Still, he posted a 4.2 yards-per-carry average and caught 49 passes. What keeps Helu from feature back status? Mike Shanahan’s infamously unpredictable running back rotation.

Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans
Ingram dealt with nagging injuries as a rookie, but the former Heisman Trophy winner scored in four of the last six games he played and posted his two best rushing totals (91 and 80 yards) over his final four games of the season. Fully healthy, Ingram should prove why the Saints moved back into the first round to draft him in 2011.

Taiwan Jones, RB, Oakland
The Eastern Washington product will compete with scat-back Mike Goodson for time behind Darren McFadden — who has rarely been healthy in his brief career. Jones has been incredibly productive at every stop and has the talent to give Run DMC a break for 10-12 touches per game.

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Detroit
After rupturing his Achilles tendon last August, Leshoure never got the chance to show his explosive playmaking skill that made him a 1,700-yard, 17-TD back at Illinois. He has the size and physical presence Detroit has craved for years, and if he can stay healthy he could explode in 2012. Keep in mind that Leshoure is suspended for the first two games of the season due to his off-field transgressions.

Greg Little, WR, Cleveland
Only A.J. Green caught more passes among NFL rookie wideouts last season than Little’s 61. No one should be more excited about the addition of Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson than Mr. Little.

Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee
Matt Hasselbeck will need to stay healthy — and play very well — to keep this talented gunslinger off the field. Locker displayed a big arm, above-average athletic ability and should be surrounded with more talent.

Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota
With a new left tackle, a pair of new receivers to go with Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph and a (hopefully) healthy Adrian Peterson, Ponder should be trending upward into 2012.

Stevan Ridley, RB, New England
The former LSU Tiger can be a workhorse back. His best three games came in the final three games of the season, when he got double-digit carries and averaged 70 yards rushing. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis gone to Cincinnati, the job as No. 1 back could be Ridley’s.

Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota
Expect many two-tight end sets from the Vikings. Rudolph has had injury issues in the past, but he has way too much speed, size and athleticism to be kept off the field.

Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore
He made a name for himself in 2011, but Smith is still undervalued in mock drafts. With another year of seasoning, Smith will only build on his solid first season.

Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami
New coach Joe Philbin isn’t exactly a run-first coach, but there is no reason for Thomas not to improve dramatically in Year 2. A full season of healthy football will yield a nice ROI for a player of his raw talent — especially considering Reggie Bush’s penchant for injury.

Titus Young, WR, Detroit
The battle for the slot between this second-year player and rookie Ryan Broyles will be interesting. But in the Lions’ offense, there should be room for both to excel. Young caught at least four passes in each of the final four games last year.

— Originally published in the 2012 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breakout Sophomore Players</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:04
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-baltimore-ravens
Body:

What can the Baltimore Ravens do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Aaron Wilson, Carroll (Md.) County Times

Has Joe Flacco topped out or is there another level of production in store for Flacco owners?
Flacco has the necessary weapons, arm strength and accuracy to regularly produce 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns per season. Where we could see an upgraded Flacco is through improved fundamentals taught by new quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell. The primary obstacle to bigger numbers, however, is the Ravens’ reliance on Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice in a run-first offense and Flacco’s tendency to use Rice so much as a safety valve.

Can Torrey Smith build on his stellar rookie season and become a No. 1 wide receiver?
Smith is capable of expanding his game and becoming a more complete downfield target, something he proved when his hands gradually improved toward the end of last season. He’s a legitimate big-play threat who’s also being utilized now on intermediate routes in addition to fly patterns and bubble screens. Where Smith needs to continue to hone his game is by catching the football cleanly on a consistent basis. His speed is rare, but the continued presence of veteran Anquan Boldin on the roster means he’ll still be sharing the workload.

Is Ed Dickson going to be the primary tight end or will Dennis Pitta steal enough targets to keep Dickson off fantasy rosters?
The Ravens’ plan is to utilize both tight ends, with Dickson slated to receive more targets than Pitta. While Dickson’s strengths are his superior size and explosiveness, Pitta has arguably the best hands on the team.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Torrey Smith, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Ed Dickson, TE
Overvalued: Anquan Boldin, WR
Top Rookie: Courtney Upshaw, LB
Bounce-Back: None
Top IDP: Ray Lewis, LB

2012 Draft Class

2. Courtney Upshaw OLB 6-2 272 Alabama
2. Kelechi Osemele G 6-5 333 Iowa State
3. Bernard Pierce RB 6-0 218 Temple
4. Gino Gradkowski C 6-3 300 Delaware
4. Christian Thompson S 6-0 211 S. Carolina St.
5. Asa Jackson CB 5-10 191 Cal Poly
6. Tommy Streeter WR 6-5 220 Miami (Fla.)
7. DeAngelo Tyson DE 6-2 315 Georgia

Fantasy Impact: The Ravens traded out of the first round but landed an instant impact player in Courtney Upshaw. With Terrell Suggs suffering a torn Achilles, Baltimore needs Upshaw to help with the pass rush in 2012. He could be a sleeper to target in IDP leagues. With Ben Grubbs signing with New Orleans, Kelechi Osemele has a chance to start at guard. Bernard Pierce will back up Ray Rice and should be a handcuff pick in all formats.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at WAS, DEN, NYG)

Ray Rice, last season’s top fantasy points collector at the running back position, will face two defenses in the semifinals and finals of most fantasy postseasons that were 11th- and 12th-worst against fantasy running backs. And Rice should be used in bulk these three weeks, as the Ravens try to slow down pass offenses led by Robert Griffin III, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Baltimore Ravens</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:02
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-atlanta-falcons
Body:

What can the Atlanta Falcons do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Knox Bardeen, CBSSports.com

We know he will still get the goal-line and short-yardage carries, but will Michael Turner reach 300 touches for the fourth time in five years?
No, we’ve seen the end of the days when Turner gets 300 or more carries per year. The Falcons are going to limit his touches to keep him fresh throughout the season, and they’ll be able to do that with the emergence of Jacquizz Rodgers.

How many touches will Rodgers get?
Coach Mike Smith said on a number of occasions last season that he felt Rodgers could be an every-down back. I’m not ready to completely agree with that just yet. I do think Rodgers earned the right to carry the ball more in 2012, and quite frankly, the Falcons need him to do so to spell Michael Turner. Rodgers carried the ball 57 times in 2011, and as long as both he and Turner stay healthy, I think Rodgers will approach 100 carries in 2012.

Is it possible that Julio Jones actually becomes a better fantasy option than Roddy White?
Yes, it’s a real possibility. I don’t think Jones will get as many targets or receptions as White, but Jones could accumulate more yards and get into the end zone more frequently. There isn’t a receiver on this team that is trusted more to move the chains than White, who almost had more first downs via the pass than the next two highest players on the team combined. White has a knack for knowing how to get the ball across the first-down marker and is depended on frequently in those situations. Jones can stretch the field, and in new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s new scheme, the Falcons will be a more vertical team.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Jacquizz Rodgers, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Harry Douglas, WR
Overvalued: Michael Turner, RB
Top Rookie: Charles Mitchell, S
Bounce-Back: John Abraham, DE
Top IDP: Sean Witherspoon, LB

2012 Draft Class

2. Peter Konz C/G 6-5 315 Wisconsin
3. Lamar Holmes T 6-6 333 Southern Miss
5. Bradie Ewing FB 6-0 239 Wisconsin
5. Jonathan Massaquoi DE 6-2 264 Troy
6. Charles Mitchell SS 5-11 202 Mississippi State
7. Travian Robertson DT 6-4 302 South Carolina

Fantasy Impact: The Falcons were without a first-round pick due to the trade to acquire Julio Jones in last year’s draft. With few needs at the skill positions, Atlanta focused on upgrading the depth on the offensive line and acquired two future starters in center Peter Konz and tackle Lamar Holmes. Fullback Bradie Ewing replaces Ovie Mughelli as the team’s lead blocker and is likely to start in 2012. Jonathan Massaquoi likely won’t start but could see playing time as a pass-rush specialist. This draft filled some needs but isn’t likely to produce any fantasy value.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at CAR, NYG, at DET)

Matt Ryan and his receivers get last season’s eighth-, sixth- and 12th-worst defenses against fantasy quarterbacks and the 21st-, fifth- and sixth-worst defenses against receivers. Plus, the Falcons will be facing three potent offenses themselves. All three quarterbacks were top eight in fantasy points, and all three teams had a receiver in the top seven in fantasy points last season.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Atlanta Falcons</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:01
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-arizona-cardinals
Body:

What can the Arizona Cardinals do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Scott Bordow, Arizona Republic

Can Beanie Wells stay healthy and build on his breakout 2011 campaign?
Even if Wells does stay healthy it’s unlikely he’ll equal or better his 2011 numbers, when he ran for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns. That’s because the Cardinals plan to split his carries with second-year back Ryan Williams, who missed all of last season with an patella tendon injury. The Cardinals were raving about Williams in training camp before he got hurt. Wells will probably get the ball at the goal line because he’s the bigger back, but his injury history and Williams’ availability should make fantasy players beware.

Which “first-year” player will have a bigger fantasy impact in the desert, Williams or Michael Floyd?
Floyd is the pick because he’ll be the No. 2 receiver barring a holdout or injury, and Williams will split time with Wells at tailback. Floyd also will benefit from all the attention Larry Fitzgerald gets on the other side. Teams that decide to double Fitzgerald will try to cover Floyd one-on-one with their second-best defensive back. Also, at 6'3" and 225 pounds, Floyd will be an enticing target in the end zone.

Does Todd Heap have any fantasy gas left in the tank or is Rob Housler the better pick?
Heap produced when he played last season, but the problem is he doesn’t play enough. The Cardinals love Housler’s ability to get deep down the middle of the field, and his 2011 statistics (12 catches, 133 yards, no TDs) would have been much better had Kolb not underthrown him so many times. Neither tight end will put up big numbers, but Housler has more potential.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Rob Housler, TE
Deep-Sleeper: Ryan Williams, RB
Overvalued: Beanie Wells, RB
Top Rookie: Michael Floyd, WR
Bounce-Back: Kevin Kolb, QB
Top IDP: Daryl Washington, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Michael Floyd WR 6-3 225 Notre Dame  
3. Jamell Fleming CB 5-11 206 Oklahoma  
4. Bobby Massie T 6-6 316 Ole Miss  
5. Senio Kelemete G 6-4 301 Washington  
6. Justin Bethel S 6-0 190 Presbyterian  
6. Ryan Lindley QB 6-4 230 San Diego State  
7. Nate Potter T 6-6 300 Boise State

Fantasy Impact: The Cardinals have been looking for a reliable No. 2 receiver to pair with Larry Fitzgerald since Anquan Boldin was traded to Baltimore. Michael Floyd struggled with injuries at Notre Dame but should be a valuable addition to the passing attack and will help take some of the pressure off of Fitzgerald. Jamell Fleming should contend for snaps as Arizona’s No. 3 corner, while Bobby Massie and Senio Kelemete help improve the depth on the offensive line. Ryan Lindley has upside but needs a year or two of development before pushing for playing time.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at SEA, DET, CHI)

Two home games against teams traveling nearly across the country are never a bad thing come playoff time. And Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd will face two defenses at home that were sixth- and 11th-worst against fantasy receivers last season. Seattle and Chicago were in the top half of the league against the run, so the Cards’ receivers may be leaned upon more.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Arizona Cardinals</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/50-best-baseball-nicknames-all-time-1
Body:

Nicknames and baseball players just seem to go together like bat and ball. For as long as young boys and men have been batting baseballs around, they have given each other descriptive nicknames for facial features, deformed body parts, the way they played the game, hair color and, the most popular, shortening their surnames. In fact, some players with nicknames were given nicknames for their nicknames. 

Here are the 50 best—and often very politically incorrect—nicknames in baseball history.

50. Don Mossi
Ears
 (
also The Sphinx)
Perhaps you had to see Mossi to really appreciate the name. In Ball Four, Jim Bouton said Mossi “looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open.”

49. Ernie Lombardi
Schnozz

Not to allow Mossi and his ears steal all the thunder, the catcher who was also known as the world’s slowest human had a beak of monumental proportions. But the catcher hit his way into the Hall of Fame.

48. Nick Cullop
Tomato Face

Cullop spent 23 years in the minors, hit 420 home runs and had 2,670 hits, both minor league records when he retired.

47. Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown
Three Finger

Known more commonly as Three Finger Brown than by Mordecai, Brown capitalized on losing most of his index finger in a childhood farming accident. Apparently that helped him throw a devastating curveball described by Ty Cobb as the toughest in baseball.

46. Don Zimmer
The Gerbil

Despite the success for the Red Sox in the late 1970s, Zim is blamed for the team’s collapse in 1978, ultimately losing a playoff game at Fenway Park (commonly known as the Bucky Dent game). Because of this, lefthander Bill Lee, with whom Zimmer often sparred, gave him the name Gerbil.

45. Bill Lee
Spaceman

And speaking of Lee, it wasn’t as though he was a mental giant himself. The lefthander’s outrageous, often irreverent personality and his fearless rhetoric earned him the name Spaceman, allegedly, from John Kennedy (the Red Sox utility infielder, not the former President). Just being left-handed in Boston was probably enough.

44. Jim Grant
Mudcat

Grant, who became one of the most successful African-American pitchers in the 1960s, was the roommate of his boyhood idol Larry Doby when he first came to Cleveland. It was the veteran Doby who dubbed him “Mudcat”, saying that he was “ugly as a Mississippi mudcat.”

43. Jim Hunter
Catfish

Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finely often seemed more interested in flashy P.R. than winning baseball games. Evidently, this nickname was a product of the PR-conscious Finley more than any angling the Hall of Fame pitcher might have done in his home state of North Carolina.

42. Randy Johnson
Big Unit

Okay, get your mind out of the gutter. Former Expos teammate — yes, Johnson was originally a member of the Expos — Tim Raines once collided with him during batting practice, looked up at the 6’10” hurler and proclaimed, “You’re a big unit.”

41. Mark Fidrych
The Bird

The affable righthander enjoyed talking to the baseball while on the mound and manicuring the mound on his hands and knees between innings. But it was because of his resemblance to Big Bird of Sesame Street fame that Fidrych was given his name.

40. Marc Rzepczynski
Scrabble

Some surnames scream for nicknames, like Yastrzemski with Yaz, and Mazeroski with Maz. But there are few names that could earn more points in the famous word game than this lefthander’s.

39. Doug Gwosdz
Eye-chart

Ancestors of the former catcher of the San Diego Padres must have misspelled this name somewhere down the line. But as astute teammates surmised, his jersey resembled those charts hanging on walls in optometrists’ offices.

38. Johnny Dickshot
Ugly

First of all, that is his real name. And secondly, he referred to himself as the “ugliest man in baseball.” So, we have no qualms about Dickshot making the list.

37. Luke Appling
Old Aches and Pains

Dubbed by teammates, it’s unclear whether the name was given in jest. But it is clear that Appling didn’t mind complaining about the physical demands of the job all the way to the Hall of Fame.

36. Roger Bresnahan
The Duke of Tralee

Nothing really unusual about this name; after all many players were named in honor of their hometowns. Earl Averill was the Duke of Snohomish after his hometown in Washington. But, Bresnahan was from Toledo. For some reason he enjoyed telling folks he was born in Tralee, Ireland.

35. Bob Feller
Rapid Robert

Taking the American League by storm as a teenager led to this nickname as well as The Heater from Van Meter (Iowa).

34. Edward Charles Ford
The Chairman of the Board

Well known as Whitey because of hair color, the lefty dominated the American League for 16 seasons as a member of the Yankees. As a tribute to his calm, cool demeanor in tough situations, he became known as the Chairman of the Board.

33. Leon Allen Goslin
Goose

Several sources agree on how Goslin acquired his name. Evidently, he waved his arms as he chased fly balls, had a long neck, and was not the most graceful player.

32. Willie Mays
Say Hey Kid

There is no definitive agreement on how Mays acquired this classic name.

31. Mickey Mantle
The Commerce Comet

Mantle, a star athlete from Commerce, Oklahoma, was offered a football scholarship by the University of Oklahoma, but wisely chose baseball.

30. Joe Medwick
Ducky-Wucky
(also Muscles)
According to Baseball-Reference.com, fans called Medwick Ducky-Wucky more than merely Ducky, presumably because of his gait, or perhaps the way he swam. Teammates, seemingly out of self-preservation, never called him Ducky-Wucky, but chose instead the name, Muscles.

29. Brooks Robinson
Vacuum Cleaner

If you ever saw Brooksie do his work around the hot corner, you would quickly understand the moniker. Teammate Lee May once quipped, “Very nice (play)...where do they plug Mr. Hoover in?”

28. Aloysius Harry Simmons
Bucketfoot Al

With an exaggerated stride toward third base. Bucketfoot Al bashed major league pitching at a .334 clip on his way to the Hall of Fame.

27. Lynn Nolan Ryan
Ryan Express

No one readily admits giving him the name, but any hitter who stood in the box against Ryan is keenly aware of what the name means.

26. Darrell Evans
Howdy Doody

One look at the famous puppet and a glance at the power-hitting lefty, and you’ll know why.

25. Dennis Boyd
Oil Can

Born in Mississippi (where beer may be referred to as oil), the colorful righthander carried the nickname on to the major leagues.

24. Johnny Lee Odom
Blue Moon

Reportedly, a classmate in grade school thought Odom’s face looked like the moon. Really?

23. Frank Thomas
Big Hurt

Given to Thomas by White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson. Thomas put the big hurt on American League pitching for 19 years.

22. Garry Maddox
Minister of Defense

If you watched Maddox patrol center field for the Phillies in the 1970s, you immediately get the name.

21. Mike Hargrove
Human Rain Delay

And you think Nomar Garciaparra invented the step-out-of-the-box-and-adjust-your-batting-gloves routine. Nope. Seasons changed between pitches when he was at bat.

20. Daniel Joseph Staub
Le Grand Orange

Known as Rusty by the Texans while with the Colt .45s, he became Le Grand Orange in Montreal as a member of the original Expos.

19. Jimmy Wynn
Toy Cannon

His small stature and powerful bat led to this moniker.

18. Steve Balboni
Bye-Bye

Presumably, Balboni was given the name because of his propensity to hit home runs. It may also be noted that a double meaning could be bye-bye, as in “He gone” back to the dugout because of his propensity to strike out.

17. Joakim Soria
The Mexicutioner

When the Royals’ closer took the mound, it was usually lights out for the opponent’s offense. He has since requested another, less violent name.

16. Frank Howard
The Capital Punisher

While playing in the nation’s capital, Howard punished AL pitching for 237 home runs in seven seasons, twice leading the league with 44, and finishing second in 1969 with 48.

15. Carl Pavano
American Idle

After signing a four-year, $38 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2005 season, Pavano made just nine starts in four seasons, going 3-3 with a 5.00 ERA.

14. Lawrence Peter Berra
Yogi

Evidently when Berra sat with arms and legs crossed a friend suggested he looked like a Hindu yogi. Now the term Yogi is associated with malaprops more than Hindu.

13. Mariano Rivera
The Sandman

Good night batters.

12. Rickey Henderson
Man of Steal

One look at his stats and you understand this one: 1,406 career steals and a record 130 in 1982.

11. Shane Victorino
The Flyin’ Hawaiian

Victorino plays the game with endless energy and spunk, but his heritage rules the day.

10. Vince Coleman
Vincent Van Go

A true artist of the stolen base.

9. Ken Reitz
Zamboni

Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon marveled at how the St. Louis third baseman could pick up everything.

8. Pablo Sandoval
Kung Fu Panda

The loveable Giant Panda.

7. Fred McGriff
Crime Dog

One of ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman’s nicknames that actually stuck. Thanks McGruff, the cartoon Crime Dog.

6. Kenny Rogers
The Gambler

“Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser. The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

5. Jose Bautista
Joey Bats

Bautista was terrific as Joey Bats in “The Hitman” on YouTube. He’s been even better as himself for the Blue Jays.

4. Harry Davis
Stinky

Poor Davis lost his job as Detroit first baseman to some kid name Hank Greenberg in 1933.

3. Ron Cey
The Penguin

Playing for Tommy Lasorda in the minor leagues must have had its pros and cons. Having your manager dub you Penguin because of your awkward running style would probably fall on the con side.

2. William Ellsworth Hoy
Dummy Hoy

As if anyone needed reminding, here’s a clear indicator of just how far political correctness has come in 100 years. William Ellsworth Hoy lost his hearing and ability to speak as a result of childhood meningitis. At only 5’4”, he was difficult to strike out and was the first player to hit a grand slam in the American League. He died in 1961, just five months shy of his 100th birthday.

1. George Herman Ruth
Babe 
(also the Bambino, Sultan of Swat, The King of Sting, The Colossus of Clout)

Babe was the only major leaguer large enough for five larger than life nicknames.

 

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.

Teaser:
<p> From Ears to Babe, here are our 50 favorite</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 16:20

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