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Every now and then, the college football schedule is a kingmaker. Or it turns conference title hopefuls into paupers.
In our series examining critical stretches across the country, we take a look at the Big Ten. Each team will have its string of make-or-break games for its season.
For Ohio State, it’s a pair of games in November. For Michigan, it’s the entire month. No one said this was fair.
*presented in Athlon’s Big Ten projected order of finish
Nov. 23 Indiana
Nov. 30 at Michigan
It’s a telling note about the Ohio State schedule that the Buckeyes won’t have a truly grueling stretch of three consecutive tough games and one of the toughest stretches for Ohio State involves Indiana. Michigan is the most important game on the schedule, followed by a potential Big Ten title game. Here’s why Indiana might be important: It could be a look-ahead game for a team resting on its laurels. And the Hoosiers may be one of the few teams before Michigan that can test a vulnerable Ohio State secondary: Indiana led the Big Ten in pass plays of 20 yards or longer with 47.
Related: Ohio State game-by-game picks
Sept. 14 at Arizona State
Sept. 21 Purdue
Sept. 28 Ohio State
Oct. 12 Northwestern
Gary Andersen will have UMass and Tennessee Tech to warm his team up for an important stretch early in the year. The Badgers visit a Pac-12 school for the second consecutive season, and this one is against Athlon’s pick to win the South Division. With two tough road trips, Andersen probably would prefer to have his QB situation settled by then. Wisconsin’s secondary also is a major concern, especially against a Sun Devils team that led the Pac-12 in yards per pass attempt. Ohio State and Northwestern return Heisman-contending quarterbacks.
Related: Wisconsin game-by-game picks
Nov. 9 at Minnesota
Nov. 16 Purdue
Nov. 23 Nebraska
Nov. 30 at Wisconsin
Penn State faces Michigan and Ohio State in back-to-back games earlier in the season, albeit with an off week in between. We picked this late stretch because of the upset potential against a quick Minnesota defense on the road and two games against Big Ten contenders in the final two weeks. By this point of the season freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg should be settled in, but attrition also could be taking effect.
Related: Penn State game-by-game picks
Sept. 21 Missouri
Oct. 5 Penn State
Oct. 12 at Michigan State
Optimism is high for the Hoosiers, but their bowl hopes depend on a defense that was a mess last season. During this stretch they’ll face two teams that ranked in the 90s in total offense (Mizzou and Michigan State) and a rebuilding group at home (Penn State).
Sept. 14 Notre Dame
Sept. 21 at Wisconsin
Sept. 28 Northern Illinois
Oct. 12 Nebraska
The Boilermakers will look to salvage anything in a span of three consecutive games against teams that made BCS games last season, plus Nebraska.
Aug. 31 Southern Illinois
Sept. 7 Cincinnati
Sept. 14 Washington (Chicago)
Sept. 29 Miami (Ohio)
Anything worse than 2-2 in this stretch could put Tim Beckman on the hot seat awfully early in his first season.
Nov. 2 at Michigan State
Nov. 9 Nebraska
Nov. 16 at Northwestern
Nov. 23 at Iowa
Nov. 30 Ohio State
November will be the make-or-break month for Michigan with three road games and two rivalry games, all before a potential Big Ten title game. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will have his work cut out for him planning for this gauntlet. Michigan State isn’t a great offensive team, but the Spartans will try to shorten the game with physical play, then it’s Nebraska and its multifaceted run game, followed by Northwestern’s dynamic spread attack, another grinding team in Iowa and finally a potential Heisman contender in Braxton Miller.
Related: Michigan game-by-game picks
Nov. 2 Northwestern
Nov. 9 at Michigan
Nov. 16 Michigan State
Nov. 23 at Penn State
In the first six games, Nebraska plays only one bowl team from last season (UCLA). The November stretch will determine if the Cornhuskers return to the Big Ten championship game. The Huskers visit Ann Arbor and Happy Valley while Northwestern has been a thorn in the side of Bo Pelini since he arrived in the Big Ten. Northwestern won the last meeting in Lincoln 28-25.
Related: Nebraska game-by-game picks
Oct. 5 Ohio State
Oct. 12 at Wisconsin
Oct. 19 Minnesota
Oct. 26 at Iowa
Nov. 2 at Nebraska
Nov. 16 Michigan
Northwestern will need to take care of business against Minnesota and Iowa otherwise this stretch could get out of hand. This stretch includes a BCS team, an undefeated team and two New Year’s Day bowl team. The Wildcats have been good for an upset or two in recent seasons, but they also coughed up fourth quarter leads last year against Nebraska and Michigan.
Related: Northwestern game-by-game picks
Oct. 5 at Iowa
Oct. 12 Indiana
Oct. 19 Purdue
Oct. 26 Illinois
Michigan State gets a good draw in the schedule by avoiding Ohio State, Wisconsin an Penn State. Better take advantage in October before facing Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern.
Related: Michigan State game-by-game picks
Nov. 2 at Indiana
Nov. 9 Penn State
Nov. 23 Wisconsin
Nov. 30 at Michigan State
Minnesota went 1-3 in the final four games of the regular season. This stretch is just as difficult with no guaranteed win (Minnesota beat Illinois during that four-game stretch last season).
Aug. 31 Northern Illinois
Sept. 7 Missouri State
Sept. 15 at Iowa State
Sept. 21 Western Michigan
It took Northern Illinois playing in the Orange Bowl to remind people Iowa defeated the Huskies last season. NIU will be favored this year. Kirk Ferentz needs a good showing early to avoid the hot seat watch.
The Pac-12 might have the coolest awards in college football. The Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year might be the best-named trophy in sports. The Morris Trophy is given to the best offensive and defensive lineman in the league — as voted on BY THE PLAYERS (OL and DL).
But the Freshman of the Year award is the new guy on the Pac-12 awards block. The Defensive Rookie of the Year has only been given out since 2009 as Vontaze Burfict, Junior Onyeali, Dion Bailey and Leonard Williams are the only winners. The Freshman of the Year Award (1999-2009) became the Offensive Player of the Year honor that year when the split happened. LaMichael James, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, De’Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota are the offensive winners since the separation.
The 2013 season will be no different as a host of big-time playmakers enter the fray with sky-high expectations. And many of these youngsters will play pivotal rolls on championship-caliber teams.
Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon
The record-settting tailback has all of the tools to earn the starting job at Oregon as just a true freshman. Try a state-record 643 yards and 10 scores in one game on his 18th birthday last fall. He has power, speed and plenty of wiggle to fit into the Ducks' high-powered rushing attack. Expect plenty of mop-up duty early on before potentially earning workhorse status as the year goes along.
Zach Kline, QB, Cal
With a few weeks to go before games kickoff, new coach Sonny Dykes hasn’t named a starting quarterback yet. Kline is battling with Jared Goff but is the more talented option and should earn the job at some point in the new future. He has big-time ability and plenty of talented playmakers around him to make an impact as a redshirt freshman.
Ishmael Adams, Priest Willis, Tahaan Goodman, DB, UCLA
The UCLA secondary is very, very talented but very, very young. Adams was an elite recruit in 2012 and should be the best of the group as a redshirt freshman. Willis and Goodman were both top-100 prospects nationally in this class as well. All three could be starting by the season’s end — which is both good and bad news for the Bruins' pass defense.
Su’a Cravens, S, USC
The No. 1 safety prospect in the nation is looking to crack the starting lineup right out of the gate. Worst case scenario, Cravens is the top nickel back and gets plenty of chances on passing downs. He has great size and speed and, from what we learned talking with him last year, is prepared for success on the next level.
Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona
B.J. Denker and Jesse Scroggins are in the Wildcats’ quarterback scrum as well but Solomon might be the most talented and best suited to run Rich Rodriguez’ system. He needs to gain experience and likely won’t start the season as the starter, but has electric upside. The talented dual-threat is arguably the top prospect in the history of Nevada high school football after leading famed Bishop Gorman to four straight state championships.
Eddie Vanderdoes, DL, UCLA
After a back and forth with Notre Dame, Vanderdoes has landed at UCLA and can play right away. And play he should as one of the most talented defensive linemen in this year's freshman class. Coming in as the No. 2-rated D-lineman in the nation, Vanderdoes should help replace the loss of Datone Jones.
Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR, Washington
The Huskies signed a deep and talented receiving class. John Ross and Darrell Daniels should both play plenty but Stringfellow is the most gifted at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds. He will likely begin in a reserve role but should work his way into the starting lineup in short order.
Robert Lewis, WR, Washington State
Mike Leach has been very open about his appreciation of Lewis’ ability. He is lightning quick and making progress every day in his quest to lock down a starting spot. He will get plenty of run in an offense known for producing big-time numbers.
Carlos Mendoza, LB, Arizona State
His 2012 season lasted just two games before a shoulder injury forced a redshirt season. He has been moved from weakside to Spur linebacker and has the athleticism to fly around and make plays at the hybrid LB/DB “spur” position.
Devon and Chance Allen, WR, Oregon
A talented true and redshirt freshman (no relation) both could fight for starting time early on.
Caleb Benenoch, OL, UCLA
Is getting reps as first-team right guard. Should see plenty of snaps somewhere along the line.
Kenny Bigelow, DT, USC
Massive interior star along the defensive line will provide much needed depth up front.
Matt Cochran, OL, Cal
Could start at guard or center and appears to be first guy off the bench if he doesn’t start.
Chans Cox, LB, Arizona State
Early enrollee was one of the most highly-touted signees this year. Will play plenty.
Justin Davis and Ty Isaac, RB, USC
Someone needs to spell Silas Redd and both first-year guys could see plenty of time.
Addison Gillam, LB, Colorado
A spring surprise, Gillam should compete for playing time outside with Brady Daigh.
Trey Griffey, WR, Arizona
Injuries and defections have opened up playing time for Ken Griffey Jr.’s son.
Leon McQuay III, S, USC
Is pressing to get into the lineup and could end up a co-starter with Demetrius Wright.
Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA
Will battle with a large group to replace Johnathan Franklin.
Torrodney Prevot, LB, Oregon
Should be the most talented backup on a team known for playing its reserves.
Barry Sanders, RB, Stanford
Behind an elite offensive line, fans are eager to see what Barry Sanders Jr. can do.
Justin Thomas, CB, Utah
He will battle with fellow frosh Reggie Porter to start at cornerback right away.
Max Browne, QB, USC
Tyler Bruggman, QB, Washington State
Pierre Cormier, RB, Arizona
Reggie Daniels, S, Oregon
Jimmie Gilbert, DE, Colorado
Cam Hunt, OL, Oregon
Kendall Hill, S, Oregon State
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Alex Jackson, CB, Washington State
Peter Kalambayi, LB, Stanford
Kenny Lawler, WR, Cal
Sefo Liufau, QB, Colorado
Cyler Miles, QB, Washington
Cyril Noland-Lewis, S, Oregon State
Francis Owusu, WR, Stanford
Aaron Porter, LB, UCLA
Elijah Qualls, DT, Washington
Jabari Ruffin, LB, USC
Caleb Saulo, LB, Oregon State
Psalm Wooching, FB, Washington
Sean Covington, P, UCLA
Matt Haack, P, Arizona State
Jamie Sutcliffe, K, Utah
Cameron Van Winkle, K, Washington
Matt Wogan, K, Oregon
Plenty of news around the nation after a busy weekend.
Contact us on twitter with a link or a tip we should include each day. (@AthlonSteven)
College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Monday, August 12th
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron suffered a foot injury in practice, but the senior shouldn't miss much time.
Saturday Down South ranks the SEC players by position. SDS also takes a look at how SEC players performed in NFL preseason games.
Arkansas receiver Mekale McKay has decided to transfer to Cincinnati.
Freshman Dontre Wilson is poised to play a significant role in Ohio State's offense this year.
The NCAA is questioning Mississippi State defensive end Chris Jones about Ole Miss recruiting.
The SEC has announced its new postseason destinations for the 2014 bowl cycle.
Baylor's next standouts at receiver were on display in a recent scrimmage.
One of Illinois' projected starters underwent knee surgery.
Is Tyrus Thompson the next elite tackle to come out of Oklahoma?
Here's a great story on Minnesota coach Jerry Kill and the battle to gain control of his seizures.
Virginia Tech cornerback Donaldven Manning has decided to transfer.
Pittsburgh is counting on a big season from running back Isaac Bennett.
A receiver at Georgia Tech is making some noise this fall.
Duke linebacker Kelby Brown is getting more comfortable in his recovery from a knee injury.
A couple of freshmen at Rutgers are making noise in fall practice.
Receiver Raheem Mostert has moved to running back at Purdue.
One of the top receivers in Conference USA - UAB's Jackie Williams - has been dismissed from the team.
New Mexico State receiver Austin Franklin is ineligible for 2013.
LSU is working on a solution to the concussion problems.
It’s no surprise that high school football has made multiple appearances on both the big and small screens. The sport produces enough drama, humor, heartbreak and glory to fill a thousand multiplexes. Here are some of the fictional high school gridiron stars who made a lasting impression on us.
Stef Djordjevic, CB, All the Right Moves
Matt Saracen, QB, Friday Night Lights
Ricky Baker, RB, Boyz n the Hood
Vince Howard, QB, Friday Night Lights
Rifleman, QB, All the Right Moves
Charles Jefferson, DL, Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Jonathan Moxon, QB, Varsity Blues
Billy Bob, OL, Varsity Blues
Wendell Brown, RB, Varsity Blues
Charlie Tweeder, WR, Varsity Blues
Smash Williams, RB, Friday Night Lights
Hastings Ruckle, WR, Friday Night Lights
Dallas Tinker, OL, Friday Night Lights
Tim Riggins, FB, Friday Night Lights
A.C. Slater, ATH, Saved by the Bell
Vinnie Salvucci, RB, All the Right Moves
Ray “Voodoo” Tatum, QB, Friday Night Lights
David Green, QB, School Ties
Randall “Pink” Floyd, QB, Dazed and Confused
Landry Clarke, K, Friday Night Lights
Second place really is the first loser. We hear that cliché overused in sports, and the last two weeks in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have taught us the consequences of settling for runner-up. Last week there Jeff Gordon, seemingly in control of his Chase destiny until a late-race Pocono caution set up a green-white-checker finish with Kasey Kahne. The No. 5 car got the jump entering Turn 1, cleared his teammate through the Tunnel Turn and — voila! — Gordon’s victory vanished.
On Sunday at Watkins Glen, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch battled mano-a-mano for the big trophy. For Keselowski, it was the third time in three years he’s finished the race in second place. Glued to Busch’s rear decklid for the final two laps, he had every opportunity to move the No. 18 Toyota and change that. Maybe he felt sorry about what happened last year, when contact between the two led to Busch being the odd man out. Maybe he was worried about his reputation as the defending Sprint Cup champion (unlikely). Or maybe he felt like bumping someone out of the way to earn his first win of the season wasn’t the “right way” of going about obtaining it.
“I could have definitely dumped Kyle and won the race,” admitted Keselowski. “That stuff goes back and forth, and I'm sure someone in the tabloid side of the media will make a big deal about that, but it won't be me because I know I did the right thing.”
Only Keselowski knows what was really in his mind. Whatever the case, both he and Gordon now enter the final four regular season races on edge. Just one bad break — a Bristol wreck, a blown engine at Michigan or poor handling at Atlanta — leaves them on the outside looking in at the Chase. For Gordon, who wrecked on his own Sunday, it would be his first missed appearance since 2005. For Keselowski, it would be the first time a reigning champ missed since Tony Stewart in 2006. Both are history-making moments neither one wants to repeat. Either could have settled it with their front bumper.
In the end, both took the ethical high ground. But neither escaped that haunting cliché about second place ... and the millions in potential money lost that comes with it.
In this week’s “Through the Gear” we go post-Watkins Glen …
FIRST GEAR: Kyle’s climb back into contention
For most of the summer, we’ve heard Hendrick, Hendrick and more Hendrick. Other than Matt Kenseth’s win at Kentucky — gift wrapped in the form of a Jimmie Johnson spin — Joe Gibbs Racing has been assuming the role of second fiddle in the Cup Series.
Not Sunday. Kyle Busch earned his first Cup win since Texas in April, holding position over the final 29 laps after a caution put him out front following his final stop under green. On road courses, drives rarely lose a lap while pitting under green, so when the other leaders hit the pits under yellow, Busch was the benefactor. More importantly, he reestablished confidence in the Toyota program and himself after a self-induced, Lap 1 wreck in the Nationwide Series race the day before.
“Last couple years here have been tough,” he said, and it’s true; Busch led 92 laps of 182 in 2011-12 but failed to win. “Today, it could have been tough again, but we were raced clean and we put on a good show, I felt like. We've had fast cars here. I wouldn't say we deserve it, but we felt like we deserved to win here and just haven't quite been able to put it all together when it matters.”
A solid road racer, Busch’s third career road-course victory was also his third of the season. While it seems like he’s on another planet compared to Jimmie Johnson in the standings, the win leaves him just three points behind the five-time champion if the Chase reset were to happen today — not a bad place to be.
SECOND GEAR: Marcos’ last stand?
For Marcos Ambrose, who led a race-high 51 laps, a third-straight Glen win looked like a good possibility — until the aforementioned caution. That trapped him back in the pack, in 12th for the restart, and the No. 9 car never could quite move back up. It seemed like aero made much more of a difference at Watkins Glen than Sonoma, trapping fast cars behind traffic, and Ambrose never cracked the top 5 again. Adding insult to injury, a parts failure shortly after the restart opened the door for a Max Papis tap, turning his Ford around in the closing stages and leading to an ugly DNF.
“I just couldn’t get going,” Ambrose explained. “I thought something was wrong. I was talking to the guys on the radio and we decided to stay out there just to see if it was gonna be drivable, but it wasn’t. I was in the way heading up the hill and got dumped by somebody. I’m not sure who it was and I just ended up in the fence.”
That all but wraps up any longshot chances for the Australian to make the Chase. Winless on ovals throughout his career, he sits 23rd in points, 110 markers behind 10th-place Martin Truex Jr. and without a top-5 finish. Even underdogs David Gilliland, David Ragan and Michael Waltrip can claim at least one of those. The third season with Richard Petty Motorsports has seen him regress, while teammate Aric Almirola has run decently. In the last year of his deal, could we be seeing the end of this overseas experiment with stock car racing?
THIRD GEAR: The wreck heard ‘round the Chase
How quickly fortunes can change in this sport. Hendrick Motorsports, which spent last week on top of the world with four HMS-powered Chevys in the top 5 — including Kasey Kahne in Victory Lane — watched helplessly Sunday as three of its primary cars were wrecked. While Jeff Gordon’s was his own fault, Kahne got some help, courtesy of Matt Kenseth as his car slammed into traffic through the esses. Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. was just an innocent victim in that mess.
Why is this wreck more important than Gordon’s? Two reasons. One: it throws the winless Earnhardt back onto the fringes of the Chase bubble, just 47 points ahead of 11th-place Kurt Busch heading to Michigan, where the No. 88 team blew an engine in June. One more bobble and it’s not a nice place to be for a team that just will not win the race it needs to secure a spot.
The second problem for other Chase contenders surrounds Kahne’s two wins that just entered “wild card” territory. Now 12th in points, Kahne has been plagued by bad luck but has pretty much clinched a bid for the postseason by virtue of victories. One of the fastest cars all year, Kahne dropping into this realm is a surprise — and could cost a guy like Ryan Newman, sitting 14th with one win, should fellow one-timer-winners Truex or Greg Biffle fall out of the top 10.
It also cuts off longshots like Joey Logano, Jeff Burton or Juan Pablo Montoya — ranging 16th-22nd in points — who hoped one win would help them sneak in. A two-win “wild card” entry makes their bid all but impossible.
FOURTH GEAR: Road ringers? More like road rage.
NASCAR’s set of road course subs, picked for their right-turn prowess, had a few too many turns off the course Sunday. Papis, in a one-race deal for Tony Stewart, was the only one to finish inside the top 20 (15th), and even he had “metal” on his hands in the form of tapping Ambrose. Ron Fellows, one of the country’s premier road racers, caused a wreck; other subs Victor Gonzalez Jr. and Tomy Drissi got into it. Owen Kelly, making his debut for Phoenix Racing, was barely heard from (24th) and Boris Said (22nd) had early problems that cost him track position from which he never recovered.
On the flip side, small teams like Germain Racing’s No. 13 with Casey Mears (12th) and JTG-Daugherty’s AJ Allmendinger (10th) put together solid outings. With the Gen-6 car, maybe it’s better to leave a full-time Cup driver in the car instead of reaching for someone who hops in twice a year.
Austin Dillon will pilot Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 14 at Michigan while driver and team co-owner Tony Stewart recovers from injuries sustained in a sprint car crash last week. No plans for Bristol or any race following have been announced. Dillon shares SHR’s ties to sponsor Bass Pro Shops and manufacturer, Chevrolet. … Juan Pablo Montoya, overshadowed a bit Sunday, had a solid fifth-place finish. Not the day he was hoping for considering past performance at the Glen, but it’s his third top 5 of 2013 – more than he’s had the last two seasons combined. … It’s clear the Gen-6 car, while providing more speed, is aero sensitive on virtually every type of track. While Watkins Glen offered plenty of action, track position simply played more of a role in previous years; I don’t remember any time in the past several seasons where more drivers jumped out of a road course car and said it was “difficult to pass.”
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
When you lose a player like Percy Harvin for basically the whole season, it hurts. It doesn't hurt Seattle nearly as much as it did Minnesota last year — the Seahawks, after all, nearly made the NFC title game without him — but that's a big talent sidelined.
Of course, we don't care about that here. We're only worried about our fantasy teams, and Harvin is a huge loss on that front. Like with the Seahawks, however, the impact might not be as big as you think.
Fantasy football players were drastically over-drafting Harvin early this summer, taking him mid-to-late Round 3 among the top 10 fantasy wide receivers. He's certainly good enough to finish in that range, but Seattle boasted the league's run-heaviest offense in 2012. No team attempted fewer than the Seahawks' 405 passes. No team ran it more than their 536 carries.
Conventional wisdom would say that Seattle expected to throw it more after trading for the league's best slot receiver. Head coach Pete Carroll said otherwise.
"We really expect to have a very balanced attack again," he told the Everett Herald in April. "The numbers will come out pretty equal with run and pass. We don't expect to change that ratio much."
Maybe they'd get closer to 50-50, but Seattle never planned to go pass-heavy. That obviously would have lowered the ceiling on Harvin, who inflated his numbers the past 2 years by being the only dependable receiving option in Minnesota. Our projections over at DraftSharks.com had him falling short of 80 catches before the injury.
Only two of the top 15 fantasy receivers in non-PPR scoring last year caught fewer than 83 balls. Vincent Jackson landed inside the top 10 with 72 receptions by adding 1,384 yards and 8 touchdowns. Julio Jones joined him by racking up 1,198 yards and 10 TDs to go with 79 catches. Harvin would have had a lot of trouble generating such big yardage or approaching 10 TDs. Thus, cracking the top 15 would have been tough. It would have been even tougher in PPR.
Beyond the run-heavy scheme, Seattle already had Golden Tate and Sidney Rice catching passes. Rice led the team with 50 catches last season, and Tate followed with 45. No other Seahawk caught more than 38 balls.
Those small numbers might suggest Harvin could come in and dominate the receiving categories, but the team still planned to spread it around.
"We're not counting on tilting the field toward one guy or the other," Carroll told the Seattle Times early in the offseason. "I'm not thinking that way. We're just going to go play football."
OK, so we've established that Harvin began the fantasy season overrated. But his absence still significantly impacts the rest of the offense. How much? Let's break down the noteworthy players.
WR Golden Tate
Back in the spring, Tate looked like a talented wideout bound to have trouble finding consistent targets as Seattle's likely No. 3 option. Suddenly, however, he looks like a potential fantasy football breakout player.
In addition to Harvin's surgery, Rice traveled to Switzerland late in July to get a special knee treatment. He has since returned to practice, but that kind of pursuit suggests at least nagging pain that could develop into something more at any time. Rice has missed three games or more in four of his six seasons, so it's easy to anticipate missed time.
Tate saw just 67 targets to Rice's team-leading 82 last year. (Tate missed one game.) But his terrific 67.2 percent catch rate easily topped Rice's 61.0 percent, and Tate also beat his teammate by 0.3 yards per catch. That helped him tie Rice for the team lead with seven TD receptions.
Russell Wilson will have trouble repeating his 26 touchdowns amid just 393 pass attempts. That 6.6 percent TD rate ranked second only to Aaron Rodgers in 2012. But Wilson proved adept as a deep-ball passer, and Tate led the team with 22 deep targets (20 yards or more downfield), according to Pro Football Focus. Nine of those balls proved catchable, and Tate snagged all nine for 343 yards and three touchdowns.
Now he's heading into a contract year, and Carroll has had nothing but praise for the fourth-year wideout. Tate has climbed way up fantasy football draft boards since Harvin's surgery, but he remains an intriguing value with a 10.03 average draft position at Fantasy Football Calculator. That makes him the 42nd wideout off the board, on average, which is still reserve territory. Tate's quite capable of delivering starter numbers.
WR Sidney Rice
If he's healthy, Rice should certainly battle Tate for the team target lead once again. The whole "if healthy" thing pushes him behind his teammate, though.
Last season marked just the second time in his six-year career that Rice made it through a full 16 games. His 15.0 yards per catch sat lower than his rates from any of the three previous seasons.
But that's not enough reason to dislike Rice. He's sure to continue benefitting from Wilson's stellar — and still developing — play at quarterback. Rice will simply be held back by the target ceiling in Seattle. Harvin's absence undoubtedly leaves more passes on the field, but can Rice get to 100 looks even in a fully healthy season in 2013? I doubt it. And that's why he sits near the bottom of WR4 territory in fantasy drafts, now about half a round behind Tate in ADP.
QB Russell Wilson
Harvin's absence probably hurts Wilson more than anyone else, but he'll be OK.
From Week 8 on last year, Wilson ranked third among fantasy quarterbacks. But he did so thanks to an 8.3 percent touchdown rate over that span. That's not nearly sustainable. Since 2000, only four quarterbacks have produced a rate of 7.5 percent or better over a full season: Peyton Manning in 2004, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger in 2007, and Aaron Rodgers in 2011. Even Wilson's 6.6 percent rate for the whole season will be tough to duplicate.
He'd have had an easier time generating top-level efficiency with Harvin inside to counterbalance the deep threats of Tate and Rice on the edges. That setup made top 5 upside seem possible — though not probable — for Wilson. Instead he sits near the bottom of QB1 territory with a lower ceiling.
Tight end Zach Miller could be in line for more work ... if he could get healthy. Miller sits on the physically unable to perform list and has already dealt with knee trouble and plantar fasciitis (foot) this year. It's tough to expect a big jump from him after two disappointing seasons in Seattle.
The team changed its mind on Early Doucet after just one practice. Rookie Chris Harper carries long-term upside but likely won't prove much of a factor in 2013. Doug Baldwin remains on hand but probably won't come close to his rookie-year production again because the team has better options now.
The running backs could find a few more targets, but Marshawn Lynch hasn't caught more than 28 passes in a season since 2008, his second year in Buffalo. He has only reached 200 receiving yards twice in six seasons. I'm not ready to boost my passing-game expectations for him — or call Christine Michael or Robert Turbin a sleeper for your flex position.
Harvin's surgery only makes it easier to expect Seattle to continue its run-heavy ways. An emerging Tate figures to find a few more targets lying around, thanks to the absence of his team's new top receiving talent. Rice should as well but still doesn't look like a safe bet to start for your fantasy squad. Wilson continues to look good, just not as good as he did before.
Most unfortunate, though, you can no longer count on some misguided league mate to over-draft the former Vikings star.
This article was written by Matt Schauf and provided to Athlon Sports courtesy of DraftSharks.com. Online since 1999, Draft Sharks won the 2010 and 2012 FSTA awards for the most accurate fantasy football projections in the industry.
There are just seven weeks left in the MLB regular season, which means the fantasy baseball playoffs are even closer. Athlon Sports has everything you need to catch up on what took place on the fantasy diamond during the past seven days. Our fantasy junkies bring you last week's top hitters, some starting pitchers who are on a roll, and also identify the waiver wire pick ups and spot starters you need to keep an eye on.
Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (Aug 5-11):
* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues
Weekly Waiver Wire:
Brandon Belt, 1B, SF (34% owned in Yahoo! Leagues)
This week will be heavy on corner infield help, in particular, first base. Belt has raised his season ratios to a useful .271/.815 and has had an excellent last month. He hit four homers with 12 runs scored and 11 RBIs to go with .328/.990 rates. He may finally be realizing his long-talked about potential.
Justin Morneau, 1B, MIN (64%)
This has been arguably the worst year of Morneau's career. I added him before the trade deadline assuming he would land somewhere better. That didn't happen, but the Twins slugger finally started slugging. He hit four bombs with 10 RBIs over the last week and obviously has the track record to help out on offense.
Brian Dozier, 2B/SS, MIN (28%)
In 372 at-bats this year, Dozier has helped across the board: 50 R, 11 HR, 47 RBI, 9 SB. His .245 batting average doesn't make him a must-add but he has proven he can sustain counting stat success. And the .738 OPS for a middle infielder is respectable. He is a great "MI" add late in the year.
Justin Maxwell, OF, KC (7%)
Maxwell is one of the smaller names to have made the most of a change in area code. He has a .450 BA with three big flies and six RBIs in nine games since moving from Houston to Kansas City. Lorezno Cain is on the DL for the foreseeable future and Maxwell should benefit from playing in the surging Royals lineup.
Ike Davis, 1B, NYM (31%)
Seriously? No, I am not kidding, Davis could help your fantasy team. Davis is hitting .328 with a 1.031 OPS over the last month and has been one of the NL's best hitters since the break. He blasted a ton of home runs in the second half last year and could be in store for another solid final two months. Especially, since he is playing for his job in New York.
Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:
* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues
Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Mon. - Sun.):
1. Sonny Gray, OAK (Thur.) vs. Houston (5% owned)
Who? The elite first-round talent from Vanderbilt has worked his way quickly through the A's system and has a shot at securing a permanent rotation spot the rest of the year should he pitch well. He has 10.0 MLB innings with a 1.80 ERA, 11 strikeouts and a 1.00 WHIP. He gets Houston on Thursday. Yes, please.
2. Tony Cingrani, CIN (Tues.) at Milwaukee (59%)
This kid knows how to strike people out — try 102 in 87.2 innings this year. And it looks like he has finally settled into the Reds rotation for good. He has allowed more than two earned runs just once (3 ER vs. STL) in his last seven starts. Look for good things from Cingrani against the lowly Brewers.
3. Jenrry Mejia, NYM (Sat.) at San Diego (9%)
Formerly one of the Mets' top prospects turned Tommy John patient is back on the bump for the Mets. He has three starts under his belt this year, all of which he went into the sixth inning and allowed 3 or fewer runs. In fact, he has allowed just four earned runs in 18.1 innings with 18 strikeouts and just three walks.
4. Jarrod Parker, OAK (Wed.) vs. Houston (62%)
Parker had a horrendous start to the year but bounced back during the summer in a big way. He walks too many folks (96 K, 50 BB, 138 IP) but has been solid for the A's. He has won his last six decisions and should see success against the Stros this week.
5. Zack Wheeler, NYM (Thurs.) at San Diego (39%)
He is still ironing out his command issues but Wheeler has big-time ability and has a respectable 5-2 record on a bad team. Five of his last seven starts have featured two earned runs or less and he has 45 Ks in 57.0 career innings. Look for a solid outing against the Fathers this weekend.
Is there trouble with No. 42? Mo Rivera has 35 saves with 41 strikeouts and a tidy 2.44 ERA in 44.1 innings this year. However, he has blown his last three chances with five earned runs allowed. He owns the longest leash in history but it may be worth adding Dave Robertson just in case... The Mets are in full-on committee mode with Bobby Parnell on the DL. LaTroy Hawkins, David Aardsma and Scott Rice could all get action down the stretch.... Josh Fields might be the closer frontrunner the rest of the way for the Astros but Joshua Zeid, Wesley Wright and Chia-Jen Lo are in the mix as well. You might want to stay away from this one... Ernesto Frieri hasn't converted a save chance since Aug. 2 and has been giving up way too many runs. Dane De La Rosa and Kevin Jepsen are the top choices as embattled Ryan Madson has been released. Something tells me the high-K Frieri will settle back down and regain the majority of the chances... Seattle's Tom Wilhelmsen and Arizona's David Hernandez aren't in the majors any longer.
Keep up to date all season long with Athlon Sports' Fantasy Baseball Closer Grid
Colorado State showed progress under first-year coach Jim McElwain last season, winning three out of their final five games. The Rams are still in rebuild mode this year, but under McElwain, they should push for five or six victories.
Colorado State’s jerseys haven’t changed much in recent years and this update released for 2013 isn’t a major change.
Check out the school's official site for more photos from the uniform release.
Jason Dufner was all smiles after winning this year's PGA Championship. And why wouldn't he be? He just took home a boatload of cash ($1.4 million) and he has a super hot wife. In fact, he celebrated his win on the 18th by hugging and smacking her butt.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan began the housecleaning 15 hours after the worst season in franchise history concluded with a thud at Tennessee. And fans still think he waited too long to act.
Starting Dec. 31, Khan changed the course of the team he bought from Wayne Weaver less than a year earlier. General manager Gene Smith and coach Mike Mularkey were fired less than two weeks apart, replaced by David Caldwell and Gus Bradley, respectively.
It will be up to Caldwell, the new general manager who was previously Thomas Dimitroff’s chief assistant in Atlanta, and Bradley, who was previously Pete Carroll’s defensive coordinator in Seattle, to spark a franchise that has struggled not only to win, but also to be interesting.
Out of the playoffs since 2007 and possessing only three winning seasons since 1999, the Jaguars are Team New this year — the longest shot on the preseason board to win the Super Bowl. New management. New head coach. New coordinators. New uniforms. New players. And a new vibe.
But it might not translate into a winning record right away.
Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 16th
If he so chooses, quarterback Blaine Gabbert has excuses around every corner for his 5–19 career record. No stability on the coaching staff. Offensive line under-performance. A bad running game. Playing before he was ready. But nobody says the NFL is fair, which means this is Gabbert’s last chance to become the Jaguars’ present and future triggerman.
With an unimpressive free agent and draft class, the Jaguars chose to build around Gabbert entering this year instead of tossing him to the sideline. Some of the moves could resuscitate an offense that scored more than 24 points just once last year.
Reasons for optimism: The return to health of running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who missed the last nine games of 2012 with a broken foot, and the expected next step in production for receivers Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon.
The Jaguars have switched to a zone-blocking scheme in the running game, partly to take advantage of Jones-Drew’s decisive cutback style. It’s the same system he ran in at UCLA. If he regains the form that made him the 2011 NFL rushing champion, it should result in a play-action game that will make defenses play honest instead of pressuring the edges and making Gabbert step up into traffic.
Shorts and Blackmon are a formidable duo at receiver — when they’re on the field together, which they won’t be for the first four games. Shorts is the downfield threat and Blackmon the third down possession weapon. But Blackmon is suspended for the first four weeks for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. In his place, newcomer Mohamed Massaquoi likely becomes a starter. A potential X-factor was acquired in the draft — former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who will get work at running back and slot receiver.
A key will be the Jaguars’ offensive line. Last year, the team rolled through five left guards and two right tackles and allowed 50 sacks. Drafted No. 2 overall, Luke Joeckel will move to right tackle, and the Jaguars will get Will Rackley (ankle) back at left guard. If the group can stay healthy, it will give offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch options to keep defenses off balance.
The primary goal for Bradley and new defensive coordinator Bob Babich is to create more pressure on the quarterback and be more stout against the run. The Jaguars’ 20 sacks last year were the NFL’s fewest, and they were 30th in stopping the rush.
Hallmarks of Bradley’s system in Seattle that he hopes to bring to Jacksonville are getting pressure without blitzing, relying on cornerbacks to play press-man coverage, using only one safety in center field and allowing the “Leo” player — a defensive end who lines up on the non-tight end side — to create havoc on the quarterback.
The Jaguars believe they have some of the talent required. Up front, they overhauled the interior, signing Roy Miller and Sen’Derrick Marks to team with Tyson Alualu. At end, Jason Babin and Andre Branch will play the Leo spot in a two-point stance to take advantage of their speed.
Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and outside backer Russell Allen return and need to be better in coverage. A way to mask that deficiency would be to use Posluszny as a pass-rusher; he showed a knack for creating pressure on delayed blitzes last year. Up for grabs in training camp will be the weak-side linebacker, a three-down player who must be able to play the run and cover. Geno Hayes will enter the summer as the favorite, but there are doubts about his speed.
The secondary has been revamped. Free safety Dwight Lowery is the only returning starter, and rookies Johnathan Cyprien (strong safety) and Dwayne Gratz (cornerback) are expected to be first-teamers. Cyprien, who will often play close to the line to take advantage of his tackling, could be the enforcer the Jaguars have lacked for years. Seahawks veteran Marcus Trufant signed in May and will play one corner. The common trait among the cornerbacks — Trufant, newcomer Alan Ball, Gratz and projected nickel back Mike Harris — is that they all bring a physical element to coverage.
The Jaguars were horrid in the return game last year, and Caldwell has taken steps to improve it. In free agency, he signed Justin Forsett to be a backup running back but also a kickoff returner. And in the draft, the Jaguars used a fourth-round pick on South Carolina’s tiny terror Ace Sanders, who is 5'7" but has the speed and instincts to make things happen on punt returns. He represents an immediate upgrade and potential field-position-flipping player. Robinson will get a shot on kickoff returns even though he didn’t perform that role at Michigan.
Placekicker Josh Scobee and punter Bryan Anger both return. Scobee enters his 10th season with the team and is the franchise’s all-time leader in points and field goals. Anger was the controversial third-round pick in 2012 of former general manager Gene Smith. But he can produce — he has a strong ability for a young punter to get off kicks that have equal parts hang time and placement to negate the league’s top return men.
Final Analysis: 4th in AFC South
Until they get consistent play from the quarterback position, the Jaguars will be running uphill in the competitive AFC South. If Gabbert can take a huge step forward in his development in his third year, it’s conceivable the Jaguars could improve to the six-win level, which would give them momentum entering the offseason. Things could be ugly early, which will test the always-upbeat Bradley. The Jaguars play four of their first six on the road, and one of their first-half “home” games is against San Francisco in London.
Order your 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here
2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:
|AFC East||AFC North||AFC South||AFC West|
|Buffalo (8/14)||Baltimore (8/26)||Houston (8/29)||Denver (9/3)|
|Miami (8/16)||Cincinnati (8/27)||Indianapolis (8/23)||Kansas City (8/21)|
|New England (8/30)||Cleveland (8/19)||Jacksonville||Oakland (8/13)|
|NY Jets (8/15)||Pittsburgh (8/28)||Tennessee (8/22)||San Diego (8/20)|
|NFC East||NFC North||NFC South||NFC West|
|Dallas (8/22)||Chicago (8/20)||Atlanta (8/27)||Arizona|
|NY Giants (8/30)||Detroit (8/13)||Carolina (8/14)||St. Louis (8/23)|
|Philadelphia (8/19)||Green Bay (8/29)||New Orleans (8/26)||San Francisco (9/3)|
|Washington (8/16)||Minnesota (8/21)||Tampa Bay (8/15)||Seattle (8/28)|
To say the Cardinals are starting over this season isn’t so much obvious as it is a vast understatement. They have a new general manager in Steve Keim and a new coach in Bruce Arians. Of the 88 players on the roster after the draft, 46 are new, including 21 veterans. That’s what happens when a team loses nine straight games after a 4–0 start, finishes 5–11, its third straight non-winning season, and goes through quarterbacks like most people go through socks. The instability at the position is what cost Ken Whisenhunt his job, and Arians and Keim quickly tried to remedy the mess by acquiring Carson Palmer. Make no mistake, though: Palmer is a transitional quarterback, and this is a transitional season. The Cardinals just want to establish a foothold in Arians’ first year and then hope they find their quarterback of the future in the 2014 draft.
Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 16th
Let’s start with this truth: The Cardinals can’t be much worse than they were in 2012, when they ranked dead last in total offense and rushing yards, and 28th in passing. There’s little question Palmer will be a significant upgrade over the quartet of quarterbacks — John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, Brian Hoyer — who took snaps last year. Palmer still has a strong arm and can zing the ball downfield, attributes that are essential to both Arians — who likes to go deep — and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who was probably singing a chorus of “Hallelujah” when the Cardinals traded for Palmer. Palmer’s downside: He too often throws it to guys in the wrong uniform. He’s had 50 interceptions the last three seasons. Given Arians’ fondness for taking chances, Palmer’s interception rate probably isn’t going to drop.
Also, Palmer isn’t the most mobile of quarterbacks, which makes the development of the offensive line vital. The tackle position was a nightmare last season, but the line should be stabilized somewhat by the return of left tackle Levi Brown, who missed all of 2012 with a torn pectoral muscle. Also, the interior of the line was upgraded with the first-round selection of guard Jonathan Cooper, who will start from Day 1. The team also signed veteran tackle Eric Winston in late July to a one-year deal, adding to its offensive line depth.
The improvement of the offensive line is critical in not only keeping Palmer healthy but also establishing some consistency in the running game. Newly acquired Rashard Mendenhall rushed for more than 1,000 yards as recently as 2010, but both he and 2011 second-round pick Ryan Williams haven’t been able to stay off the disabled list. Mendenhall had just 51 carries last season, and Williams has only 58 rushes in his NFL career. Mendenhall likely will get first crack at the starting job, but watch out for Williams. He has the lateral quickness and ability to make defenders miss. If he can stay healthy, he could have a breakout season.
The passing game should be more effective if for no other reason than Palmer will be able to get the ball to Fitzgerald, who should reclaim his stature as one of the NFL’s best receivers. Second-year pro Michael Floyd also could have a big year; he came on in the second half of 2012. The Cardinals are a bit thin at receiver, though, and can’t afford a key injury.
Arizona won’t be one of the league’s elite offenses this year, but it has the potential to move the ball downfield and score some points, something the Cardinals couldn’t do last year.
The short-term memory is the Cardinals’ defense collapsing down the stretch in 2012, allowing 123 points in its last four games. But the statistic is misleading; by that point, the defense was exhausted and beaten down physically and emotionally by the offense’s ineptitude. A more accurate read — and predictor of how the defense will play this year — came in the first four games, when the Cardinals gave up 61 points.
Arizona is particularly strong up front. Defensive end Calais Campbell (63 tackles, 6.5 sacks) could be headed to his first Pro Bowl, and under tackle Darnell Dockett should be more effective in the 3-4 hybrid scheme expected to be used by first-year defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
The Cardinals also have few worries at cornerback, where Patrick Peterson emerged as a shutdown corner in 2012 and the acquisition of veterans Antoine Cason and Jerraud Powers solidified the other the side of the field. In fact, Arizona has so much depth at the position, it should be able to effectively cover four-wide schemes.
The question marks are at linebacker and safety. The four-game suspension of inside linebacker Daryl Washington for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy is huge. Washington is a Pro Bowl talent and arguably the team’s best player. Arizona did sign Jasper Brinkley and draft LSU’s Kevin Minter in the second round, but they’re not Washington.
Also, Arizona needs to find a pass-rush threat at linebacker; Washington had more sacks (nine) than Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield combined (eight) last year. Given Washington’s absence, the lack of an elite pass-rusher could be fatal in the first month of the season. In hopes of potentially addressing this need and soften the blow when Washington serves his suspension, the Cardinals signed two-time All-Pro John Abraham to a two-year contract in late July. Abraham, 35, spent the last seven seasons in Atlanta playing defensive end, but he is expected to make the move to outside linebacker in Bowles' scheme.
At safety, the Cardinals lost starters Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes. While there’s no question Wilson’s game had slipped, he still was the defense’s leader. Fifth-year pro Rashad Johnson will replace Wilson, but he’s yet to prove he’s an every-down player.
The Cardinals’ plans at free safety are intriguing, to say the least. Rookie Tyrann Mathieu will move there from cornerback, and he has the physical skills to eventually be one of the league’s best. But can he stay clean? If so, Arizona will have found a steal in the third round; if not, the team’s last line of defense will be an issue all year.
Punter Dave Zastudil averaged 46.5 yards per kick last year and dropped 46 punts inside the 20. Placekicker Jay Feely made 25-of-28 field goals and combines his accuracy with a strong leg; he made a 61-yarder last year. Arizona could be special in the return game. Arians plans to use both Peterson — who returned four punts for touchdowns in 2011 — and Mathieu on punt returns. Mathieu also might be used on kickoffs. Both players are extremely dangerous with the ball in their hands, and by using a two-man return game on punts, teams won’t be able to angle the ball away from a single returner.
Final Analysis: 4th in NFC West
The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, the Cardinals’ division rivals, might be the two best teams in the league, and both improved in the offseason. But Arizona should be able to take a step forward from last year’s 5–11 record, if for no other reason than it has a capable quarterback in Palmer. Assuming he stays healthy, Palmer is probably worth at least a couple of wins by himself. The keys will be the offensive line, the secondary and the health of Mendenhall and Williams at running back. If everything goes well, the Cardinals could be around .500 in December, and that would be a victory in Arians’ first season as coach.
Order your 2013 Arizona Cardinals Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here
2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:
|AFC East||AFC North||AFC South||AFC West|
|Buffalo (8/14)||Baltimore (8/26)||Houston (8/29)||Denver (9/3)|
|Miami (8/16)||Cincinnati (8/27)||Indianapolis (8/23)||Kansas City (8/21)|
|New England (8/30)||Cleveland (8/19)||Jacksonville||Oakland (8/13)|
|NY Jets (8/15)||Pittsburgh (8/28)||Tennessee (8/22)||San Diego (8/20)|
|NFC East||NFC North||NFC South||NFC West|
|Dallas (8/22)||Chicago (8/20)||Atlanta (8/27)||Arizona|
|NY Giants (8/30)||Detroit (8/13)||Carolina (8/14)||St. Louis (8/23)|
|Philadelphia (8/19)||Green Bay (8/29)||New Orleans (8/26)||San Francisco (9/3)|
|Washington (8/16)||Minnesota (8/21)||Tampa Bay (8/15)||Seattle (8/28)|
First off, let's acknowledge that Michael Jordan is 50 and can still dunk. Amazing. However, it might be slightly more impressive if it weren't for the fact that he's doing against, what appear to be, a 10-year-old child.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Aug. 12.
• We're a little more than two weeks out from real, live college football. To tide you over, here are the cheerleaders of the Coaches Top 25.
• Jason Dufner indulged in a little celebratory grab-ass following his PGA Championship win. It's okay; the hiney in question belonged to his lovely wife Amanda.
• Michael Jordan can still dunk at age 50. Impressive, until you remember that he's still 6-6. Speaking of His Airness, here are 20 old athletes who could still kick your tail.
• Soccer fans apparently have even worse taste in tattoos than football fans. Speaking of poorly thought out tats, here are seven places men should never get ink. My apologies if you already have broken any of these rules.
• Jerry Lewis once made a movie about a clown who worked in a concentration camp. Not surprisingly, the movie was never released.
• View a piece of history: Miguel Cabrera became the first player to homer off the great Mariano Rivera in two consecutive at-bats.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Ole Miss is expecting big things from freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.
And the nation’s No. 1 recruit is certainly showcasing his talents in fall practice in this short video from Jackson Clarion-Ledger writer Hugh Kellenberger:
The Cardinals enter their last season in the American Athletic Conference as a heavy favorite to win the league title.
And Louisville will try to make a run at the national title with a slightly updated look for 2013:
Named after two transcendent freshmen — Minnesota’s Darrell Thompson and Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El — the Thompson-Randle El Big Ten Freshman of the Year award has been given to some seriously talented first-year athletes of late.
Both Wisconsin’s Chris Borland and James White took home back-to-back such awards in 2009-10 surrounded by Buckeye quarterbacks. Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor won the award in 2008 en route to a Big Ten championship and Braxton Miller took home the Thompson-Randle El Trophy two years ago — and is looking for his first (official) Big Ten title this year. Penn State’s Deion Barnes is the reigning Freshman of the Year.
The 2013 season will be no different as a host of big-time playmakers enter the fray with sky-high expectations. And many of these youngsters will play pivotal rolls on championship-caliber teams.
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
There is no doubt he is the most gifted quarterback on the Penn State campus, but Hackenberg needs to prove he can handle a big-time NCAA program before he takes the reins. The delicate balance between gaining experience and ruining confidence must always be considered with true freshman quarterbacks. Hackenberg looks like a huge star in the making and he is in good hands under Bill O’Brien, but fans must expect plenty of growing pains in 2013.
Dontre Wilson, AP, Ohio State
The Percy Harvin comparisons have run rampant during camp, but having filmed this kid last year, I can tell you the comparisons are warranted. Yes, he is 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds and will wear No. 1 in an Urban Meyer offense. But he also can score from anywhere on the field, is adept at catching the ball as well as running it and can be used in the return game. Yup, sounds like Harvin alright. Look for Meyer to get Wilson the ball early and often.
Derrick Green, RB, Michigan
Green’s role in the Brady Hoke pro-style offense is yet to be determined. He could easily play over 230 pounds and that would make him the go-to short-yardage and goal-line back to start. However, he wants to be much more than a complementary piece, and knowing the injury history of the Wolverines backfield, he should be ready to shoulder the load at any point. Picking up the blitz will be the key for Green’s playing time, however.
Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE, Northwestern
As one of the highest rated recruits to ever sign with Northwestern, Odenigbo is surrounded by a lot of hype. After a redshirt season brought on by a season-ending shoulder injury, fans in Evanston are ready to see what the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder can do fully healthy. He will bring elite athleticism to an outside pass rush that ranked 50th in the nation a year ago in sacks per game.
Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden, OL, Michigan
Kalis was the more high profile recruit and is extremely gifted in his own right, but Taylor Lewan says Braden is “the most physically gifted individual I’ve ever seen.” Kalis and Braden are slotted in as the starting guard tandem and this influx of talent along the line could push Michigan over the top as the Legends Division front-runner.
Dan Voltz, C, Wisconsin
A big-time signing in the 2012 class, Voltz nearly got into the starting lineup a year ago before Bret Bielema decided to redshirt him. The talented guard-turned-pivot is now working under his third offensive line coach in 12 months and is looking to replace a star in Travis Frederick. Gary Andersen will run the ball at Wisconsin and Voltz will be an integral piece for the Badgers O-line.
Riley Bullough, et al, RB, Michigan State
There are some more experienced options on the roster (e.g., Nick Hill) but it could be a freshman committee running the ball in East Lansing this year. Riley Bullough is currently the No. 1 with Gerald Holmes and Delton Williams making a strong push for time. Bullough is 230 pounds, Holmes is 215 and Williams checks in at 220. All three are in their first season on the field and all three bring a physical style that Mark Dantonio craves from his running game.
Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State
There might not be a team in the nation with better starting safeties than Ohio State. And that should explain just how gifted the freshman safety could be. Bell will be used in nickel back situations and will get tons of time in mop-up duty. He flies all over the field and will be the next great Buckeyes safety.
Jared Afalava, LB, Nebraska
The redshirt from Utah is fighting his way into the starting lineup this fall.
Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin
Highly-touted in-state prospect who should continue the recent run of excellent linebackers in Madison.
Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Florida native will press for time behind already stacked D-Line.
Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
Talented basketball star who is only scratching the surface of his big-time pass-rushing upside.
Demetrious Cox, S, Michigan State
Has the inside track on the nickel back position whenever MSU goes to five defensive backs.
Robert Gregory, RB, Purdue
Redshirt Chicago native should be a nice complementary piece to Akeem Hunt in RB-friendly system.
Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State
Bill O'Brien says this big nose guard has "a great future" in Happy Valley. Look for him to work his way onto the field.
Darius Latham and David Kenney, DL, Indiana
A deep DL class is headlined by these two Indianapolis prospects at tackle and end respectively. Both will play.
Eugene Lewis, WR, Penn State
Scout team star turned some heads last year in practice and will be looked to for support on the outside.
Jalin Marshall, WR, Ohio State
Explosive do-everything talent will be used in a lot of ways on offense as a freshman.
Dymonte Thomas, DB, Michigan
Extremely gifted athlete who could play a variety of positions. Could see time as a nickel back.
Nyeem Wartman, LB, Penn State
Mike Hull and Glenn Carson lead the way allowing for Wartman to grow on the job as a potential starter.
Vontrell Williams, DT, Illinois
He is expected to start for a defense that needs big-time help up the middle against the run.
Chris Wormley, DE, Michigan
Massive (6-5, 290) end prospect could press for starting time as a redshirt freshman.
Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
Adam Breneman, TE, Penn State
Jehu Chesson, WR, Michigan
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin
Berkley Edwards, RB, Minnesota
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Maurice Fleming, CB, Iowa
Ralphael Green, DT, Indiana
Jordan Heiderman, DT, Indiana
Jaleel Johnson, DT, Iowa
Courtney Love, LB, Nebraska
Greg McMullen, DE, Nebraska
Mike Mitchell, LB, Ohio State
Shane Morris, QB, Michigan
Avery Moss, DE, Nebraska
Damion Terry, QB, Michigan State
Michael Geiger, K, Michigan State
Sam Foltz, P, Nebraska
It’s a long season, but three or four games could change the whole thing.
The Big 12 looks to be crowded at the top: Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas, TCU, Kansas State and Baylor all have legitimate reasons to believe they can win the league title.
In the first look at critical stretches for each major conference, we examined the most important set of games for each team in the league.
For the teams at the top, it means the stretches when they’ll face the other contenders. For the teams at the bottom, it’s where they’re looking for signs of progress.
*presented in Athlon’s projected order of finish.
Nov. 16 at Texas
Nov. 23 Baylor
Dec. 7 Oklahoma
The Cowboys have a beneficial stretch against the bottom three Big 12 teams (at Iowa State, at Texas Tech, Kansas) before the stretch that likely determines the Big 12 title. The Cowboys lost all three of these matchups last season and now faces all three in the final games of the season. The Cowboys’ defense was gashed in all three games, including giving up 600 yards and six yards per play against the Bears and Sooners. Oklahoma State was in shootouts against OU and Baylor, but Clint Chelf completed only a combined 49-of-88 passes with three interceptions. On the other side, Texas returning quarterback David Ash had one of his best games of the season against Oklahoma State.
Related: Oklahoma State game-by-game picks
Sept. 28 at Notre Dame
Oct. 5 TCU
Oct. 12 Texas (Dallas)
A critical stretch for Blake Bell and the Oklahoma offense. The Sooners’ offensive line is expected to be a strength, but facing Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix will be a key barometer for the Sooners after OU rushed for only 15 yards on 24 carries against the Irish last season. TCU has had attrition on its defense, but the Horned Frogs still allowed allowed a Big 12-low 4.9 yards per play. Texas is the great mystery. With linebacker Jordan Hicks back, the Longhorns can’t be as bad as the group that gave up 677 yards and 63 points to OU last season, can they?
Related: Oklahoma game-by-game picks
Sept. 7 at BYU
Sept. 14 Ole Miss
Sept. 21 Kansas State
Oct. 3 at Iowa State
Oct. 12 Oklahoma (Dallas)
The conventional wisdom may be that the season — and perhaps Mack Brown’s tenure — hangs on Kansas State and Oklahoma. Those are critical games with Kansas State winning five in a row over the Longhorns and Oklahoma winning the last two meetings by a combined score of 118-38. But things will be much more difficult: Going to BYU against the No. 2 run defense from 2012 and then facing an Ole Miss no-huddle spread in back-to-back weeks aren’t guaranteed wins.
Oct. 5 at Oklahoma
Oct. 12 Kansas
Oct. 19 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 26 Texas
TCU can thank the schedule-makers for that breather against Kansas in between Oklahoma road trips. That would be a trap game situation, if KU is good enough to pull of a trap game win. Not only does TCU face Athlon’s top three Big 12 teams in a span of four weeks, two of those games are on the road. Casey Pachall could end up the top quarterback in the Big 12, but his only games in the league were against Kansas in 2012 (a 20-6 win) and against Baylor in 2011 (a 50-48 loss in the opener).
Sept. 21 at Texas
Oct. 5 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 12 Baylor
Facing Texas and Oklahoma State on the road isn’t a great situation for a new starting quarterback, but all the pressure will be on the home team as Texas tries to get over its Bill Snyder problem and Oklahoma State goes for a conference title.
Nov. 7 Oklahoma
Nov. 16 Texas Tech (Arlington)
Nov. 23 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 30 at TCU
Dec. 7 Texas
With an untested quarterback in Bryce Petty, Baylor has to be happy with its backloaded schedule. This defining stretch begins with a Thursday game against Oklahoma that’s sure to have Waco at a fever pitch. The Bears have improved depth, especially on defense. That will be tested.
Oct. 5 at Kansas
Oct. 12 Iowa State
Oct. 19 at West Virginia
No one is projecting vintage Texas Tech despite the return of Kliff Kingsbury. Take care of business against the lower tier of the Big 12 early, and the Red Raiders should feel pretty good.
Related: Texas Tech game-by-game picks
Sept. 21 Maryland (Baltimore)
Sept. 28 Oklahoma State
Oct. 5 at Baylor
Oct. 19 Texas Tech
West Virginia has won seven in a row over Maryland, so a matchup against an improved Terrapins team could be an early referendum on the season. The Mountaineers’ home dates against Dana Holgorsen's former employers Oklahoma State and Texas Tech will at least be interesting television.
Sept. 14 Iowa
Sept. 26 at Tulsa
Oct. 3 Texas
Oct. 12 at Texas Tech
A limited cast of playmakers on offense and four returning starters on defense will be major concerns for the Cyclones. Facing an in-state rival and holding the line against the Conference USA favorite Tulsa will be key barometer games on Iowa State’s bowl hopes.
Sept. 7 South Dakota
Sept. 15 at Rice
Sept. 21 Louisiana Tech
If the Jayhawks are going to show any improvement, they’ll need to end the 11-game losing streak. KU opens with an FCS team, a Rice team that beat the Jayhawks 25-24 in Lawrence and a Louisiana Tech team with one returning starter on offense. Two wins would be nice.
With a wide-open Big 12 title race ahead, don’t count out Texas Tech from making some noise in 2013.
As evidenced by his stints at Houston and Texas A&M, new coach Kliff Kingsbury is one of the nation’s top minds on offense. And the former Texas Tech quarterback has plenty to build around in 2013, as running back Kenny Williams returns after rushing for 824 yards last year, while receiver Eric Ward is a first-team All-Big 12 selection by Athlon Sports.
The Red Raiders will be on their fifth defensive coordinator in five years and are switching to a 3-4 scheme this season. The front seven took a hit after spring practice, as Delvon Simmons decided to transfer to USC. Although Simmons will be missed, Texas Tech’s line will be in good hands with seniors Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush.
Texas Tech’s early schedule sets up favorably for a 7-0 start, but the slate is considerably tougher late in the year.
What will Texas Tech's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Texas Tech's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
|Game||Steven Lassan||Chris Level||Mark Ross|
|8/30 at SMU|
|9/7 Stephen F. Austin|
|9/21 Texas State|
|10/5 at Kansas|
|10/12 Iowa State|
|10/19 at West Virginia|
|10/26 at Oklahoma|
|11/2 Oklahoma State|
|11/9 Kansas State|
|11/28 at Texas|
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Texas Tech should be one of college football’s most intriguing teams to watch in 2013. New coach Kliff Kingsbury is a great fit in Lubbock, and the Red Raiders are going to score plenty of points. And in a year when the Big 12 is wide open, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Texas Tech push for a top-five finish in the conference standings, provided the team can address a few personnel issues. The offensive line returns only two starters, the secondary has some holes to fill at cornerback, and there’s some uncertainty under center. Whether it’s Michael Brewer or Davis Webb at quarterback, Texas Tech’s offense should be one of the best in the conference, especially with receiver Eric Ward and underrated running back Kenny Williams leading the way. Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt was a good hire for Kingsbury, but he will have his work cut out for him in 2013. Expect the Red Raiders to pull an upset or two – Oklahoma State? – but 7-5 seems like the most likely regular season outcome.
Chris Level, (@ChrisLevel), RedRaiderSports.com
The Kliff Kingsbury era will provide some freshness to a program that fizzled over the past few seasons. The offense was potent last season, but the explosiveness should be back under the tutelage of Kingsbury. Health will play a big factor in how far this team can go, and they’ll need key players like Jace Amaro, Eric Ward, Le’Raven Clark, Jakeem Grant, and DeAndre Washington in good form to become unstoppable. The defense should come away with more turnovers under a more aggressive havoc wreaking scheme, which will pay dividends throughout the season. Aside from road trips to Norman and Austin, the schedule breaks nicely, and the Red Raiders will have some home field advantage working in their favor in fringe games against TCU, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Kingsbury and his staff will keep the competitive juices flowing on a weekly basis, and fans will see a fearless attitude from their football team. That could be the difference in an extra win or two this season. I may be on the optimistic side of the consensus predictions, but if a few things swing Tech’s way, nine or more wins could be a reality.
Kliff Kingsbury comes back to Lubbock to take over at his alma mater. It's a great story and I'm sure the former Red Raider star will have his share of success, but it also will take some time for Kingsbury to mold this into his program, especially considering the change in offensive and defensive systems compared to what Tommy Tuberville ran last season. Quarterback play will be key to Texas Tech's success, as there are weapons to work with. The defense has several players in new positions and a secondary that will be doing a lot of on-the-job training. That said, there are opportunities for wins, especially early in the season, and the optimist in me says that Texas Tech will collect at least one signature home win. If said victory also coincides with the clinching or securing of a bowl berth, than I think Red Raider nation will happily signal thumbs up, rather "Guns Up," on Kingsbury's first season back on the South Plains.
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Athlon keeps fantasy GMs up to date with a complete look at MLB's bullpen situations.
|Arizona||Brad Zeigler||J.J. Putz||Joe Thatcher, Heath Bell|
|Atlanta||Craig Kimbrel||Jordan Walden||Scott Downs, Luis Ayala, Anthony Varvaro, Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters (DL)|
|Baltimore||Jim Johnson||Francisco Rodriguez||Darren O'Day, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Troy Patton|
|Boston||Koji Uehara||Junichi Tazawa||Matt Thornton, Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller, Joel Hanrahan (DL)|
|Chicago (NL)||Kevin Gregg||James Russell||Blake Parker, Pedro Strop, Kyuji Fujikawa (DL)|
|Chicago (AL)||Addison Reed||Nate Jones||Matt Lindstrom, Jesse Crain (DL)|
|Cincinnati||Aroldis Chapman||Sam LeCure||J.J. Hoover, Jonathan Broxton, Sean Marshall (DL)|
|Cleveland||Chris Perez||Joe Smith||Cody Allen, Rich Hill|
|Colorado||Rex Brothers||Matt Belisle||Wilton Lopez, Rafael Betancourt (DL)|
|Detroit||Joaquin Benoit||Jose Veras||Drew Smyly, Al Albuquerque, Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel (DL)|
|Houston||Jose Cisnero*||Josh Fields*||Wesley Wright, Hector Ambriz|
|Kansas City||Greg Holland||Aaron Crow||Tim Collins, Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera|
|LA Angles||Ernesto Frieri||Dane De La Rosa||Kevin Jepsen, Michael Kohn Ryan Madson (DL)|
|LA Dodgers||Kenley Jansen||Brandon League||Ronald Belisario, Paco Rodriguez, Carlos Marmol|
|Miami||Steve Cishek||Chad Qualls||Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos|
|Milwaukee||Jim Henderson||John Axford||Mike Gonzalez, Brandon Kinzler|
|Minnesota||Glen Perkins||Jared Burton||Casey Fien, Josh Roenicke|
|New York (NL)||LaTroy Hawkins*||David Aardsma*||Scott Rice*, Josh Edgin, Bobby Parnell, Frank Francisco (DL)|
|New York (AL)||Mariano Rivera||David Robertson||Boone Logan, Preston Claiborne, Joba Chamberlain|
|Oakland||Grant Balfour||Ryan Cook||Sean Doolittle|
|Philadelphia||Jonathan Papelbon||Justin De Fratus||Justin De Fratus, Jacob Diekman, Mike Adams (DL)|
|Pittsburgh||Mark Melancon||Justin Wilson||Tony Watson, Bryan Morris, Jason Grilli (DL)|
|St. Louis||Edward Mujica||Trevor Rosenthal||Seth Maness, Jason Motte (DL)|
|San Diego||Huston Street||Luke Gregerson||Dale Thayer|
|San Francisco||Sergio Romo||Santiago Casilla||Javier Lopez, Jose Mijares|
|Seattle||Danny Farquhar||Oliver Perez||Charlie Furbush, Carter Capps, Yoervis Medina, Stephen Pryor (DL)|
|Tampa Bay||Fernando Rodney||Joel Peralta||Jake McGee, Alex Torres|
|Texas||Joe Nathan||Jason Frasor||Tanner Scheppers, Neal Cotts, Robbie Ross, Joakim Soria|
|Toronto||Casey Janssen||Steve Delabar||Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, Darren Oliver, Sergio Santos (DL)|
|Washington||Rafael Soriano||Tyler Clippard||Craig Stammen, Ian Krol|
*Houston and the New York Mets are employing a closer-by-committee approach right now.
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2013
Fantasy Baseball 2013: Which Injured Players are Worth Drafting?
The Athlon Sports High School Football Preseason Top 25, just in time for the Friday night lights across the country. As usual, Florida, Texas and California are well-represented, but there's plenty of talent from coast-to-coast and more teams playing national schedules than ever before.
1. Miami Central (Fla.) Rockets
Miami Central is Athlon Sports’ preseason No. 1 high school football team in the country primarily for two reasons — Dalvin Cook and Joseph Yearby.
The Rockets’ rising seniors comprise a backfield that many major college programs would be proud to have. And who knows? Maybe Cook (who originally committed to Clemson before changing his allegiance to Florida) and Yearby (originally a Florida State commit who has since flipped to Miami) will remain teammates at the next level.
“That’s something we always talk about,” Cook told the Orlando Sentinel. “We’re working together every day, side-by-side, so we talk about that every day.”
But first, the dynamic duo will look to maintain the success they enjoyed last season: Cook rushed for 1,451 yards and scored 22 total TDs while Yearby posted a nearly identical 1,448 rush yards and 21 total TDs en route to earning a Class 6A state championship for Willis McGahee’s alma mater.
Miami Central returns all five offensive linemen, including 6'5", 330-pound senior Trevor Darling. But all eyes will be on Cook, the No. 1 tailback, and Yearby, who doubles as the quarterback in the Rockets’ run-based option offense that averaged 39 points per game during a 12–2 season. Central’s only losses were to Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee (ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time) and Loganville (Ga.) Grayson.
This season, Miami Central plays a schedule that could produce a campaign worthy of a mythical national title. The Rockets face local South Florida powers in reigning Class 4A champions Miami Booker T. Washington and defending Class 3A winners Fort Lauderdale University School, and they take a road trip to battle New Jersey juggernaut Don Bosco Prep.
And if Cook and Yearby have it their way, the Rockets’ explosive playmakers will go out with a bang.
2. Allen (Texas) Eagles
Quarterback Kyler Murray topped 2,000 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards while accounting for 42 total TDs for last year’s Class 5A Division I state champions.
3. Karr (La.) Cougars
New coach Nathaniel Jones inherits the top team in New Orleans, led by Devante “Speedy” Noil, who accounted for 44 TDs for last year’s Class 4A state champs.
4. Booker T. Washington (Fla.) Tornadoes
Coach Tim “Ice” Harris’ son, Treon, quarterbacks a loaded team that will play a national schedule that includes road trips to Norcross (Ga.) and Bishop Gorman (Nev.).
5. Katy (Texas) Tigers
The lone unbeaten team in Class 5A a year ago, Katy has some holes to fill, but that’s nothing new for one of the state’s most tradition-rich programs.
6. John Curtis (La.) Patriots
Abby Touzet quarterbacked the Patriots to a Class 2A state title in 2011 as a freshman and served as the backup last fall. He’s back to run the show in ’13.
7. De La Salle (Calif.) Spartans
Justin Alumbaugh takes over for legendary coach Bob Ladouceur, who steps down after posting a 399–25–3 record.
8. Hamilton (Ariz.) Huskies
Sam Sasso will be the eighth senior starting quarterback in coach Steve Belles’ eight years of guiding the Huskies.
9. Junipero Serra (Calif.) Cavaliers
The reigning Division II champions return a core group led by two-way gamebreaker Adoree’ Jackson.
10. St. John Bosco (Calif.) Braves
Defense will be the calling card for the Braves, who return run-stuffers Damien Mama, Malik Dorton, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Chandler Leniu.
11. St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) Raiders
Michael Irvin's alma mater has been good since the Playmaker was in high school. A trip to John Curtis (La.) is one of the games of the year.
12. Norcross (Ga.) Blue Devils
Defensive end Lorenzo Carter is one of the top prospects in the country, tallying 18 sacks and 79 tackles as a junior.
13. Bishop Gorman (Nev.) Gaels
Randall Cunningham Jr. leads a loaded squad that plays a national schedule that includes Mountain Ridge (Ariz.), Bergen Catholic (N.J.) and Booker T. Washington (Fla.).
14. Sandy Creek (Ga.) Patriots
The defending Class AAAA champions are ready to roll once again with offensive triplets Cole Garvin at QB, Eric Swinney at RB and DeMarre Kitt at WR.
15. St. Edward (Ohio) Eagles
A traditional Ohio powerhouse, St. Edward opens the year with a showdown against Cleveland Glenville in a game that will set the tone for the season.
16. Hoover (Ala.) Buccaneers
Marlon Humphrey leads the Bucs, who will face their former coach and "Two-A-Days" MTV reality show star Rush Propst — now the coach at Colquitt County (Ga.) — in the season opener.
17. Trinity (Texas) Trojans
Trinity's Polynesian pipeline continues to boast studs like offensive lineman Lemaefe Galea'i and linebacker Inoke Ngalo, both of whom are rising seniors.
18. Ensworth (Tenn.) Tigers
Nashville's top team doesn't rebuild, it reloads — with power back D'Andre Ferby taking over at running back for Miami (Fla.) signee Corn Elder.
19. Good Counsel (Md.) Falcons
An Aug. 30 road trip down to Immokalee (Fla.) will be a challenge for the Falcons, but it is the Sept. 27 game at in-state rival DeMatha that is circled on the calendar.
20. Gateway (Pa.) Gators
The Gators had a rough transition from former coach Terry Smith to Donnie Militzer, who could feel some heat if Gateway doesn't win big this season.
21. DeMatha (Md.) Stags
Penn State commit running back Mark Allen will run behind 6'8", 320-pound behemoth lineman Brock Ruble in the Stags run-heavy offense.
22. Cass Tech (Mich.) Technicians
Junior quarterback Jayru Campbell has led the program to consecutive state championships and has offers from Alabama, Notre Dame and Michigan State.
23. St. Joseph (N.J.) Green Knights
With nearly every key player returning for the Green Knights, anything less than another state title will be a disappointment in Montvale.
24. Gainesville (Ga.) Red Elephants
Quarterback Deshaun Watson already owns state records for passing yards (9,360), combined rushing and passing TDs (155) and TD passes (108).
25. DeSoto (Texas) Eagles
What Desmon White lacks in size (5'5", 150), he makes up for in big-play ability for DeSoto — the alma mater of Broncos pass rusher Von Miller.
Order your copy of Athlon Sports High School Football Preview today!
One of the great things about high school football is that many coaches stay at their schools for decades, rather than job-hopping across the land, as their college counterparts do. When they experience success, they don’t look for a higher-paying gig. Rather, they remain in place and build regional dynasties that sometimes make national news.
These 10 men have led schools to state — and in some cases national — titles, stocked collegiate rosters with talent and established winning cultures that sometimes span generations. Each comes from different circumstances, but it’s no surprise that they share some similarities, too.
Bob Beatty, Trinity (Louisville, Ky.)
Coach, Not Friend
In late May, a Trinity (Ky.) High School player approached head coach Bob Beatty and said, “I can’t wait for practice to start.” Beatty was a little surprised by the remark.
“You’re ready for me to scream and yell and cuss and spit?” he asked. “Sure,” the player said. “You’re not my friend. You’re my coach.”
Beatty had to smile, because that’s the way he approaches his players. “I don’t have 17-year-old friends,” he says. But he has 17-year-old champions. During his 13 years at Trinity, he has compiled a 165–21 record and captured 10 state titles. His 2011 team finished 14–0, ranked first in the nation and outscored opponents 697–116. The Shamrocks train, practice and play 11 months of the year, and little if any of it is fun.
Except the winning, of course.
“If you’re going to be in this program, you’re going to punch the clock,” Beatty says.
Beatty spent 13 years (10 as a coordinator, three as head coach) at Blue Springs High School in Missouri. While there, he envied the success and atmosphere at Rockhurst High in Kansas City. In 1999, a friend of his asked what job he would like. Beatty answered, “Rockhurst.” That wasn’t available, but the friend knew of one that was and that was similar to the Rockhurst experience. That was Trinity.
Beatty turned it down.
“At the time, my daughter was going to be a senior at Blue Springs, and I wasn’t sure where my wife would work,” Beatty says.
A year later, the job came open again, and Beatty took it. Since then, the Shamrocks have been nearly invincible. It’s no secret why. At one point, Beatty visited then-University of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, and Petrino told his staff, “Let me introduce you to the only guy whose team works harder than ours.”
That is true. When workouts start in late May, Beatty tells his team: “You had better pray hard, because you belong to me now.” The Shamrocks aren’t on the field forever, but the time they spend is intense and productive. “We try to get more done in two hours than other teams do in two weeks,” Beatty says. There are no superfluous meetings. It’s all about efficiency and winning.
“If I have one more (point) than the opposition, then I’m going to have a better weekend than they will,” Beatty says.
And he has had a lot of good weekends.
Al Fracassa, Brother Rice (Birmingham, Mich.)
What A Run
When Al Fracassa was playing quarterback at Michigan State back in the 1950s, his position coach encouraged him to sit in the front row for every meeting, the better to learn as much as possible. Decades later, those lessons still resonate with Fracassa, who enters his 45th and final season as head coach of Brother Rice High School in Birmingham, Mich. “I learned about every position while in college,” Fracassa says.
At State, Fracassa was part of the 1952 national title team and the ’54 outfit that reached the Rose Bowl. At Brother Rice, he has won eight state titles and compiled 372 career wins. (He won 44 at Shrine High in nearby Royal Oak.) The Warriors have captured two straight state titles and are a perennial power in the suburban Detroit Catholic League. Fracassa, 80, continues to enjoy the job and the players.
“It’s like anything else — if you love something, you’re probably going to stay with it,” Fracassa says. “Ever since I was a little kid, I had dreams of playing high school and college football. I got a lot out of it.”
Fracassa also wanted to play in the NFL, but that didn’t happen. So, he went into coaching. He started at Brother Rice in 1969 and still fondly recalls the top teams during his run. The ’74 outfit had 10 players receive Division I scholarships. The last two haven’t been too bad, either, as the Warriors have taken the Class 2 titles.
Unlike some older coaches, who defer to their assistants, Fracassa remains closely involved in everything regarding the program. He’s the one who opens the gym at 6 a.m. for four weeks during the winter to run agility drills for his players. Those who participate in each of the 12 sessions receive a two-ounce chocolate bunny, which Fracassa wraps carefully in black-and-orange ribbons (the school’s colors). Thirty Warriors earned their rewards this season from a man who remains engaged in their worlds.
“If a kid loves sports, it’s easy to communicate with him,” says Fracassa, who until recently taught world history and physical education at Brother Rice. “I’ve been fortunate that the kids here love this as much as I do. It makes it easy to coach and teach when kids love it.”
No one loves it more than Al Fracassa. Fifty-seven years on the sideline proves that.
Mat Taylor, Skyline (Sammamish, Wash.)
The Smart Wife
When Steve Gervais announced that he would be stepping down as head football coach at Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., Mat Taylor didn’t want to take over. Let’s face it: No one wants to be the man who follows The Man. And after 31 years as head coach at Skyline and other schools throughout Washington, Gervais was The Man.
The players wanted Taylor to do it. The community wanted him. Gervais wanted him. But Taylor turned down the job. “I didn’t set out to be head coach,” he says. The entreaties continued, as did Taylor’s refusals. Until he received a request he couldn’t resist.
“My wife said, ‘You have to do this,’” Taylor says. “So, I applied for the job and got it.”
Since taking over in 2008, Taylor has led Skyline to four state titles and a runner-up finish. The school, which sits 15 miles east of Seattle, opened in 1997, and Taylor joined the staff two years later. “I would have gone to Skyline, if it had been open when I was in high school,” Taylor says. The school has played in the large-school (Skyline has an enrollment of about 2,000) state final every year since 2004, except for the ’06 season. Taylor’s contribution to the run has been a 63–7 record in five years and a pair of back-to-back title campaigns, 2008-09 and 2011-12.
“The biggest thing for the program is that it’s all about Skyline and us,” Taylor says. “Within that simple statement are discipline, unity and protecting the school’s tradition.”
The last two Skyline teams have been piloted by quarterback Max Browne, who graduated early to enroll at USC and take part in the Trojans’ 2013 spring practice. Because of Browne’s pocket prowess, Skyline was a passing team the past couple seasons. But Taylor is not wedded to one system and will adapt his schemes to Skyline personnel. “You cannot be so proud as to say, ‘This is how we do it,’” he says.
Taylor is a full-time special education teacher at Skyline, which requires substantial energy. But he always has enough steam left for the practice field, and that’s a good thing. When you win four state titles in five years, people tend to expect excellence.
“When the bar has been set so high, and the expectations of winning big are there, that gets the juices flowing,” he says. “This is what I do, and it’s the only thing I know.”
Steve Specht, St. Xavier (Cincinnati, Ohio)
The Three Responsibilities
By the time St. Xavier (Ohio) players reach their senior year, they could probably recite Steve Specht’s pregame speech if awakened from the soundest of slumbers. He may vary the approach a little, based on opponent or the importance of the game, but his overriding message is the same.
“During my pregame speech, I talk about the players’ three responsibilities,” Specht says. “No. 1, love one another. No. 2, be the best you can be. No. 3, lean on each other when times get tough.”
The refrain is the same, and so are the results. St. X has compiled an 80–24 record and a pair of state titles under Specht, who became head coach in 2003.
In 2012, Specht was named the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year and received $25,000, $15,000 of which went back into the football program.
Playing in the highly competitive Greater Catholic League, the Cincinnati school draws players from all over the area, thanks to its independent status. But each member of the program understands the mandate to keep improving and that winning big is the only answer on the field.
“I tell the kids the trouble with success is that people want more,” Specht says.
Specht is one of those people. He tells of standing on the podium after one of St. Xavier’s state championships and thinking, “What’s next?” The achievement was great. The joy it brought the school was substantial. But…
“I was excited for the kids and the staff and the community, but I felt there was more,” Specht says.
While that approach fuels Specht’s daily commitment to the game, he is not necessarily looking for anything all that dramatically different when it comes to his team's style of play. St. Xavier will play good defense, run the football and be sound in special teams. “It’s not the most attractive approach, but it works for us,” Specht says.
Specht is a 1986 St. Xavier graduate, so coaching and administrating (he was an English teacher for 13 years before moving up) at his alma mater mean a lot to him. He tries to impart that importance to his players every day.
“It means the world to me to be at this institution, which had a tremendous impact on my life as a young man,” Specht says. “The opportunity to come back and do what my coaches and teachers did for me is all I ever wanted to do.”
Joe Kinnan, Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.)
When Joe Kinnan tells his Manatee (Fla.) High School players that they had better do right, show up for practice and be on time, he isn’t bluffing. And anybody who wants to challenge someone who beat three different types of cancer is probably looking at a big loss.
Kinnan has won five state titles during his tenure at Manatee, which began in 1981 and has included a three-year detour after his first bout with cancer. His three rules for players haven’t changed during that time — Do right, be on time, don’t miss practice — but he has been certain to show flexibility on both sides of the ball.
“My coaching philosophy hasn’t changed, but nobody’s football philosophy can be stagnant,” Kinnan says. “At first, we were a trap option team with two wide receivers. Now, we’re pretty much in the gun, with a lot of option concepts. We started on defense in a 4-3 base. Then, we went to a 3-4. Now, we’re a 4-2-5.”
When Kinnan was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, he spent three years fighting that and running a series of charter schools for kids who had been incarcerated. But he missed the camaraderie with players and coaches and came back, only to be waylaid again in 2010, this time by renal cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Kinnan beat those and has continued to direct Manatee, using concepts he learned as a player at Florida State and an assistant at Arkansas, Southern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky.
He coordinates the offense but doesn’t coach a position, choosing instead to be a “big-picture guy.” To him, it’s vital for players to be at practice and be prepared, a lesson he learned from talking to coaches all over the country throughout his career.
“I don’t want to hear excuses,” he says.
After all Kinnan’s been through, he’s still standing. So, it would be kind of silly for a player to beg out of a workout because of a cold.
J.T. Curtis, John Curtis (River Ridge, La.)
If you’re looking to sit in on a staff meeting of the John Curtis (La.) team, you might want to try Sunday dinner. That’s where you might find J.T. Curtis, his brother, Leon, two sons, a son-in-law and three nephews enjoying a meal and perhaps discussing next week’s opponent.
“We have a cohesive staff, and that’s a huge key to success on any level,” Curtis says.
It makes perfect sense that at a school started by and named for his father, Curtis would stock his staff with family members. And though some who may want to gain a spot as a coach might balk at the staff makeup, no one could ever argue with Curtis’ success. During his 45 years at the school, Curtis has compiled a 520–54–6 record, with 25 state titles. The 520 victories are the second-most all-time for a high school coach.
His first team went 0–10, but there hasn’t been much trouble after that. Between 1979-82, the Patriots won 43 straight games. From 2004-08 they compiled a record-tying five consecutive state titles, and the 2012 squad was 14–0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today. Guess there’s something to that family stuff.
“The core of our staff understands what we’re trying to accomplish and has the same objectives and goals,” Curtis says.
Curtis’ father started the school in 1962, when his son was a high school sophomore. When the elder Curtis stepped down as principal, his son took over the position. You can just imagine the comments he gets when people hear his name and the school for which he works.
“They’ll say, ‘Coach, you must have done an unbelievable job there, because they named the school after you,’” Curtis says, laughing. “I’ve heard just about all of them.”
Not much has changed during Curtis’ time at the school. The Patriots still operate out of the split-back veer option, although the staff has made a few small adjustments. The defense is primarily a five-man front, but over the years, some four-man principles have crept into the equation. One thing that hasn’t changed is the discipline and work ethic demanded of the team.
Those basics are big reasons the 2012 edition was so successful. The talent was there, of course, but so were the tenets that have served Curtis and his staff for decades.
“The intangible ingredients are so important with any team,” he says. “We had good chemistry and a commitment level. The team was very skilled and had great team speed offensively and defensively. We did not give up many big plays defensively, and we had the capability offensively of making big plays. But the attitude and work ethic were important. We took care of the basics.”
Steve Lineweaver, Trinity (Texas)
If you’re looking for a reason why Trinity (Texas) High School is so successful, you’re going to have to look west of the school’s Dallas-area home. We’re not talking El Paso here. And even California isn’t far enough.
The secret comes from Tonga, the South Pacific archipelago, which is known for producing some seriously talented football players. Trinity assistant coach John Thompson estimates that “about 4,000” Polynesians can be found in the Hearst-Euless-Bedford school district, and a bunch of them play for the Tigers. Their presence helps Trinity play an “old-school type of football,” according to Thompson, and also brings notoriety to the team, thanks to the pre and post-game Haka dance the team does.
Head coach Steve Lineweaver came to Trinity in 2000 and has won three Class 5A (largest in Texas) state titles (2005, ’07, ‘09) while helping lift the Tigers to national prominence. For as much success as Lineweaver has experienced, he is almost aggressively anti-publicity, as his unwillingness to speak for this article demonstrates. But there is no denying his team’s accomplishments or its impact within the school and its surrounding areas.
“The Polynesian influence has led to a family atmosphere, and we try to take that into the community,” Thompson says. “(Steve) is big on interaction, and he tells the players not to be the kids who are problems in the classroom or the community.”
The Tigers are an I-formation offensive team and try to overpower opponents with their ground game. Thanks to its Tongan players, Trinity is often bigger than its rivals. The team’s 4-3 defense also aims to dominate at the point of attack.
“We try to run it down your throat,” Thompson says. “We take pride in trying to be the most physical team on the field. Our spring practices are bloodlettings.”
Trinity’s success has made it a favorite destination for Division I recruiters. One year, 10 seniors received Division I scholarships. But it’s not always that way. Thompson says an average of “five or six” players are offered each year but that the 2009 state title team didn’t have any players with Division I pedigrees. Though some measure programs by those metrics and by titles, Lineweaver and Trinity are happy to work one day and one game at a time.
That means the focus is entirely on national power Jenks (Okla.) High, the Tigers’ first 2013 opponent. Perennially strong Texas program DeSoto is next, and Bentonville, an annual bully in Arkansas, rounds out the formidable non-conference schedule. It’s the perfect way to start a season for a team with talent and tradition.
And some pretty impressive pregame and postgame performances.
Matt Logan, Centennial (Corona, Calif.)
If you are a Centennial (Calif.) High School football player, you had better be ready to move. Fast. Any team that tries to pile up more than 500 yards a game, like the Huskies do — and have done — can’t be standing around waiting for stuff to happen. It needs to be committed to speed.
“It all comes down to practice,” head coach Matt Logan says. “We do everything at a high tempo, even lifting. We try to get the players to understand the speed we play at.”
Last year, en route to a 14–2 record and the 2012 Southern Regional title, Centennial set a California state record with 8,573 yards in 16 games, breaking its own mark, set in 2010. During his 16 years at the school, Logan has a 173–39 record and won the ’08 state title. The Huskies have also won seven California Interscholastic Federation titles. And they have done it with a spread, no-huddle attack designed to put maximum pressure on opponents and pile up the yards. Think of a SoCal version of Chip Kelly’s Oregon teams, without the funky uniforms — although their all-black unis are pretty sharp.
Twenty-five years ago, there was one high school in Corona; now, there are four. Centennial was the first of the newcomers, and it has swelled to nearly 3,000 students. Logan estimates that about 250 players are part of the program and expects some pretty big things this season, since the Huskies return “quite a few players who have been offered Division I scholarships.”
The key to Centennial’s success, according to Logan, is the consistent level at which all players are expected to perform, in everything they do. Logan praises the commitment the school has made to football and athletics in general but adds that the Huskies reciprocate with plenty of effort and results.
“I think it’s just setting an expectation level,” he says. “It’s what’s expected of kids in the offseason and how we practice, spring, summer and fall.”
At maximum speed.
Bob Milloy, Good Counsel (Olney, Md.)
For 2013, Good Counsel (Md.) High School will have a quarterback who is not as well suited for the drop-back passing life as his predecessor was. Some coaches might ask the player to change. Bob Milloy looks at things the other way.
“Our new quarterback is a play-action guy and a runner, which is different than what we had the last two years,” Milloy says. “If a quarterback isn’t good at what you want to do, you have to adjust to him.”
One would expect a novice coach to have that kind of approach, but what about someone who has been a head coach for 42 years? No way. Those guys are supposed to be so set in their ways that they couldn’t possibly change. But you don’t win four straight conference titles and succeed at four different high schools by being stubborn.
Now, Milloy isn’t going to reinvent his offense every season. The basic tenets still apply. Good Counsel is going to run the Wing-T and make liberal use of its backs. That’s why his teams have boasted at least one 1,000-yard rusher every season since 1983.
“We play 13 games, so that’s not hard to do,” Milloy says, modestly. Right, coach. In the NFL, it’s still a big deal, and they play 16 times over there.
Good Counsel loves to run it off tackle, and everybody knows that. So, teams load up to stop that, and what does Milloy do? He adjusts.
“We have six core plays, and we try to run them out of motion and shifts and one-back sets and two-back sets,” he says. “We stick to our core as much as we can.”
Milloy will turn 70 in September, and many would consider that a good time to hang up the whistle. But that’s not what he wants. When he picked up the phone in May, he was in the middle of looking at what red-zone defense his team should be playing during the upcoming seven-on-seven league season.
“If I were to give up coaching, I don’t know what I’d do,” he says.
So, Milloy sticks around Good Counsel, a private, Catholic school with 1,250 students that doesn’t compete in the state playoffs. But the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference isn’t easy. In fact, Good Counsel met DeMatha for the league title five consecutive seasons and lost all five. But the Falcons survived that stretch to take the next four championships.
Why would Milloy ever want to leave that, especially when he isn’t ready to stop adapting?
Greg Toal, Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.)
The Iron Man
Greg Toal has always been a fighter, from his days as an amateur boxer, when he was never afraid to climb into the ring with guys bigger, stronger and more experienced than he was, to his time as coach at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J.
Toal had never intended to coach a game at Don Bosco, a team that had struggled mightily when he got the call to consider the job in 1999. He had committed to direct the team at Clifton High School, after leading Saddle Brook and Hackensack to state titles. Don Bosco? The Ironmen were playing on a field that appeared more like a sandlot than a gridiron and had lost 17 straight games to their main rival, St. Joseph of Metuchen.
Somehow, then-president Rev. John Talamo convinced Toal to accept the challenge. That’s really all he had to do — challenge Toal. From there, the coach’s natural competitiveness and unbreakable will took over. Don Bosco wouldn’t just beat St. Joseph — it would become a national power, finishing No. 1 in America in 2009 and winning eight New Jersey Non-Public Group 4 titles from 2002-11, including six straight from ’06-11.
“At that point, Don Bosco was at the bottom of the list,” Toal says. “There were a lot of challenges, because they hadn’t been very successful. But you only live once. You go for it. What’s the worst thing that happens? You lose.”
The Ironmen didn’t lose, because they replicated the intensity of their coach. No matter what he has done or coached throughout his nearly four decades on the sidelines, Toal has done it with a single-minded fervor. His pregame speeches are so filled with emotion and passion that former players often crowd the locker room to experience the moment, and on one occasion, a player hyperventilated after becoming so excited by Toal’s oratory.
“I remind them that they are representing their parents and their families and not to forget those things,” Toal says. “Passion is still part of the game.”
A private school that culls its student body from several different towns and socioeconomic classifications in North Jersey, Don Bosco is the perfect spot for Toal and his everyman approach to football and life. The Salesian fathers preach academic rigor and work to create an atmosphere that “empowers young men for life.” Toal does the same thing with his unflinching approach to physical football that has produced winners and compelled players to flock to his orbit, despite the hard-nosed climate of the program.
Toal understands that discipline is necessary for young men to grow as people and athletes. When he was at Hackensack High, he molded a roster of oft-troubled youths into a unit that won state titles from 1992-96. Many of the students at Don Bosco are not at risk — although some come from difficult backgrounds — but they require a similar firm hand. Toal may not need to employ the same straight rights he used in the ring, but his straightforward approach to football and life have served him and his players well.
“Toughness is a learned skill,” Toal says. “It’s not something you’re born with. It’s something that can be developed. It’s a mentality.
“Practice has to be harder than the games. When we’re in tough spots, like Alabama, when it’s 100 degrees, or Manatee, Florida, when it’s hot in the fourth quarter, you better be in good shape. Hopefully, you can break them before they break you.”
By Michael Bradley
In most cases, changes to the uniform or helmet are a big hit with the players. But that wasn’t the case with BYU this week.
Instead of leaving the last names on the jerseys, three words – tradition, spirit and honor – were set to become what the Cougars wore on the back this season.
The changes drew some complaints from players:
BYU's Eathyn Manumaleuna said fellow Polynesians on team are taking it hard. "We are proud of our last names, ask any one of us."— Jay Drew (@drewjay) August 8, 2013
So later on Thursday night, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall tweeted this:
Talked to my team tonite. They want to wear tradition spirit honor on jerseys for homecoming only. Last names for rest of the year. PERFECT!— Coach Mendenhall (@BYU_Football) August 9, 2013
In the scope of college football and the 2013 season, this is a very minor deal for BYU. However, it's pretty clear the players and the BYU fans would much rather see the player's names on the back of the jersey, rather than a couple of words.