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All taxonomy terms: Big Board, Fantasy, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-fantasy-football-rankings-running-backs
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The 2012 NFL Fantasy Season is officially here. Mock drafts abound. Rookie round-ups are complete. Bye week cheat sheets are everywhere. The creative juices are flowing with hysterical team names. Positional rankings are popping up everywhere. And the ever-important Athlon Sports 2012 Big Board, the most accurate consensus top 150 list of fantasy footballers on the web, continues to take shape.

New to our Big Board is NFL.com's initial NFL fantasy rankings as we have expanded from seven lists to eight. We also added a "Previous" column to indicate the previous ranking. Athlon, with special help from FantasyRundown.com, will continue to broaden and deepen its trademark consensus Big Board and positional rankings all summer long.

CBS: CBSSports.com (Updated: 7/13/12)
PFF: ProFootballFocus.com (Updated: 6/26/12)
ESPN: ESPN (Updated 6/20/12)
FFT: FFToolbox.com (Updated 7/15/12)
Y!: Yahoo! Sports (Updated 6/23/12)
NFL: NFL.com (2012 Debut)
FOX: FoxSports.com (Updated 5/31/12)
AS: Athlon Sports (Updated 7/1/12)

Updated: 9:00 a.m. CT, July 18, 2012

Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Positional Rankings: Running Backs

Rank Previous Top 150 Player: Team CBS PFF ESPN FFT Y! NFL FOX AS
1. 1 1 Arian Foster HOU 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1
2. 2 2 Ray Rice BAL 2 2 2 2 2 3 3 2
3. 3 3 LeSean McCoy PHI 3 4 3 3 3 4 4 3
4. 4 6 Maurice Jones-Drew JAC 6 11 5 6 7 7 7 6
5. 6 7 Ryan Mathews SD 8 3 12 5 5 9 11 13
6. 5 9 Chris Johnson TEN 9 7 9 10 8 11 10 9
7. 7 14 Darren McFadden OAK 12 27 30 12 16 19 15 14
8. 9 17 Matt Forte CHI 22 33 18 15 15 16 19 12
9. 8 18 Marshawn Lynch SEA 11 37 17 17 18 27 14 15
10. 10 20 DeMarco Murray DAL 18 16 21 18 22 25 18 34
11. 11 24 Trent Richardson CLE 17 29 36 14 9 22 41 33
12. 14 25 Adrian Peterson MIN 27 19 28 21 21 30 36 22
13. 13 26 Jamaal Charles KC 49 23 24 16 25 29 28 17
14. 12 27 Steven Jackson STL 20 21 31 23 37 31 25 36
15. 15 34 Fred Jackson BUF 33 52 34 34 32 44 21 38
16. 16 37 Michael Turner ATL 21 96 37 33 35 43 27 21
17. 17 39 Ahmad Bradshaw NYG 25 41 44 31 45 45 40 46
18. 20 43 Darren Sproles NO 41 56 43 35 40 47 47 44
19. 18 46 Frank Gore SF 62 79 38 44 52 42 31 20
20. 19 47 Reggie Bush MIA 57 47 51 38 42 56 43 45
21. 21 57 Roy Helu WAS 67 87 42 39 61 61 57 48
22. 24 59 Shonn Greene NYJ 66 68 58 50 70 58 63 55
23. 26 60 Doug Martin TB 54 60 83 43 38 54 88 68
24. 23 61 Beanie Wells ARI 43 94 62 46 77 55 61 58
25. 22 63 BenJarvus Green-Ellis CIN 45 115 52 47 65 60 70 54
26. 25 64 Willis McGahee DEN 70 73 50 73 79 62 54 49
27. 27 72 Jonathan Stewart CAR 88 89 54 56 69 68 82 65
28. 28 75 Isaac Redman PIT 77 117 72 67 73 81 75 64
29. 33 78 Jahvid Best DET 101 75 70 91 85 64 77 69
30. 30 79 Donald Brown IND 97 63 95 96 82 92 80 75
31. 31 81 Mark Ingram NO 113 102 78 90 92 69 87 51
32. 29 82 DeAngelo Williams CAR 100 - 67 74 78 80 72 66
33. 32 83 James Starks GB 96 81 92 60 90 85 99 88
34. 34 85 C.J. Spiller BUF 89 83 81 79 89 88 115 78
35. 36 90 Peyton Hillis KC 86 99 88 98 88 94 107 90
36. 35 95 Michael Bush CHI 95 - 76 84 97 87 86 93
37. 37 99 Stevan Ridley NE 84 123 75 - 101 75 100 76
38. 39 100 Ben Tate HOU 107 - 65 119 94 95 102 77
39. 40 104 Toby Gerhart MIN 94 - 90 105 117 93 117 89
40. 38 105 LeGarrette Blount TB 103 109 121 117 119 120 76 100
41. 42 111 Pierre Thomas NO 105 107 119 132 107 108 105 130
42. 43 112 David Wilson NYG 127 125 97 134 105 98 139 91
43. 41 113 Mikel Leshoure DET 79 - - 115 96 106 110 116
44. 45 118 Felix Jones DAL 110 112 102 - 127 121 113 114
45. 44 131 Daniel Thomas MIA 131 - 111 - 133 143 101 129
46. 46 133 Ryan Williams ARI 115 - - 136 112 147 128 117
47. 47 134 Shane Vereen NE 125 - - 114 123 131 138 133
48. 49 136 Ronnie Hillman DEN 122 104 - 131 113 - - -
49. 51 137 Bernard Scott CIN 140 121 116 - - 137 - 115
50. 48 143 Mike Tolbert CAR 129 - 127 - 142 - 132 131
51. 53 Rashard Mendenhall PIT 132 - - - 148 127 147 135
52. 50 Tim Hightower WAS - - - - 125 128 - 136
53. 55 Mike Goodson OAK 120 - 143 - 141 - - 143
54. 54 Joseph Addai NE - - 100 - - - - -
55. 56 Jacquizz Rodgers ATL - - - - 106 - - 149
56. 62 Joe McKnight NYJ - 118 - - - - - -
57. 60 Cedric Benson FA - - - - - - 133 139
58. 58 Evan Royster WAS 138 - - - - - 143 -
59. 52 Brandon Jacobs SF - - - - - - 135 -
60. 57 Rashad Jennings JAC - - - - - - - 137
61. 61 Isaiah Pead STL - - - - 150 - - 140
62. 63 Kevin Smith DET - - 141 - 149 - - -
63. 67 Javon Ringer TEN - - - - - - - 144
64. UR Jonathan Dwyer PIT - - 145 - - - - -
65. 68 Kendall Hunter SF - - - - - - 148 -

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Fantasy Content:

Athlon Sports Big Board: Top 150
2012 NFL Fantasy Football Athlon's Top 250
2012 Fantasy Football Mock Draft I
2012 Bye Week Cheat Sheet
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: QBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: RBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: WRs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: TEs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DLs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: LBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: IDP Top 75

Related: Order your Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Preview Magazine Here

You can preorder your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.
Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: New Orleans Saints, NFC, NFC South, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-orleans-saints-2012-nfl-team-preview
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Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The New Orleans Saints check in at No. 13.

Don’t count out the Saints. They might be down after the NFL bounty scandal, but they’re far from out of the race to the NFC championship. Over the years, the Saints have shown a remarkable resiliency under head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. Whether it is a hurricane relocation or freak midseason injury to Payton, they have thrived in adverse situations.

The Saints will play the entire 2012 season without Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, and GM Mickey Loomis, assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt and defensive end Will Smith are each facing multi-game suspensions for their involvement in the bounty probe. What effect their losses have on Sundays remains to be seen. But it seems certain the Saints will have to rely on Brees and the league’s most prolific offense more than ever this season.

Offense

The league’s No. 1 offense was unfazed by the bounty sanctions, which is bad news for NFL defenses. The Saints attack opponents at all levels of their defense and are adept at exploiting weaknesses with an aggressive multi-faceted system that relies heavily on Brees’ superior decision-making and uncanny accuracy. His pocket awareness, anticipation and mobility make him one of the most difficult sacks in the league. At 33, he’s in his prime, has few weaknesses and has shown no signs of slowing down.

The addition of running back Darren Sproles and the emergence of tight end Jimmy Graham took the passing attack to another level last season. Graham follows in the footsteps of Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates as former college basketball power forwards turned star NFL tight ends. Graham creates mismatches with his 6'7" frame and 37-inch vertical leap.

The Saints’ receiving corps has a little bit of everything. Marques Colston is the go-to guy on third down and in the red zone. He has excellent size, hands and body control. Lance Moore uses savvy and superior quickness to beat defenders and find seams in zones on underneath and intermediate routes. Devery Henderson’s deep threat role has diminished in recent years, but he can still deliver a big performance if defenses ignore him. The primary candidates to replace Robert Meachem are Adrian Arrington, Joseph Morgan and Nick Toon.

The Saints’ stable of running backs is deep and talented even though they rarely get to showcase their skills in the pass-happy system. Sproles fit seamlessly into Reggie Bush’s satellite back role and made fans quickly forget about the one-time franchise savior. Injuries derailed Mark Ingram’s rookie season. When he played, he showed flashes of his Heisman Trophy skills. His rare blend of agility, power and balance make him a yards-after-contact machine. He appears primed for a breakout season. Hulking Chris Ivory provides the power between the tackles and will continue to play the closer role in the fourth quarter. Pierre Thomas is the jack-of-all-trades back. He’s one of the best screen receiver/runners in the business and another Brees favorite.

The offensive line continues to be a strength, led by powerful All-Pro guard Jahri Evans. Ben Grubbs replaces Carl Nicks at left guard. Former journeyman Brian de la Puente outplayed veteran Olin Kreutz and Matt Tennant to win the starting center job last season. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod and right tackle Zach Strief ably man the flanks. 

Defense

The 2009 season, in which the Saints ranked among the league leaders in takeaways, is starting to look like an outlier. Before and after, the Saints have ranked among the league’s worst in total yards allowed (24th) and takeaways (31st). The lack of production is puzzling considering the talent on hand.

Consequently, Steve Spagnuolo became the third defensive coordinator in Payton’s six-year tenure. Spagnuolo is expected to continue the high-pressure system predecessor Gregg Williams ran for the previous three seasons, albeit out of more conventional sets and alignments.

His first order of business will be to improve the club’s perennially tepid pass rush, and he’ll have to do it without his best pass-rusher, Smith, for the first four games. Smith remains a solid player and sound against the run, but he has lost his burst off the edge. At right end, the staff hopes Cameron Jordan can take a step forward after a solid-but-unspectacular rookie year. He lacks the explosiveness to be an elite pass-rusher. Junior Galette has the speed and burst Jordan lacks but must develop other skills and techniques to be an effective rusher at this level.

The linebacker corps was overhauled in the offseason. Three veterans with starting experience — Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain — were signed in free agency to bolster a unit that has struggled to make many sacks, interceptions or fumble recoveries in recent years. Lofton will replace Vilma in the middle. He’s bigger, younger and healthier than Vilma but isn’t as instinctive or as adept in coverage. Hawthorne, a big hitter who can play all three linebacker spots, will compete with Jon Casillas and Chamberlain on the weak side. Veteran Scott Shanle and Martez Wilson will compete on the strong side. Wilson has the size and athleticism the unit has lacked in recent years.

The secondary is talented and experienced but lacks quality depth. Cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson should excel in Spagnuolo’s press coverage. Robinson should be an upgrade over Tracy Porter, whose performance tailed off because of injuries the past two seasons. Former third-round pick Johnny Patrick, a tough, physical player the coaches like, has the inside track at the nickel spot. Roman Harper is a classic in-the-box strong safety. He’s one of the instinctive playmakers on the unit but can be exploited when opponents catch him in man-to-man coverage. Malcolm Jenkins has not met high expectations since converting to free safety from cornerback. 

Specialists

Once a weakness, the Saints’ special teams made significant improvements in several areas last season. Punter/kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead owns one of biggest legs in the game. The elusive Sproles handles punt and kickoff return duties with equal effectiveness. In addition to his game-breaking running skills, he’s a sound ball-handler and decision-maker. Coverage units were improved thanks to an influx of young defensive talent. The lone question mark is placekicker Garrett Hartley, who is coming off a season-ending hip injury.

Final Analysis: 2nd in the NFC South

Brees and the high-flying offense are good enough to carry the club to another division title. But the Saints need the defense to play more consistently and produce more big plays if the club hopes to become the first team to play in the Super Bowl on its home field. The Saints have a veteran team and are built to win now, but their leadership will be challenged early. The losses of Payton, Vitt, Vilma and Smith will be tough to overcome, but they are manageable for a team as talented and experienced as the Saints. Their status as playoff contenders remains unchanged. A fourth consecutive double-digit win season is achievable.

Related: 2012 New Orleans Saints Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Suspensions
The impact of the bounty scandal on the Saints’ personnel might be tough to sort through. Here’s a rundown of who was punished by the NFL: Head coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma are suspended for the season. General Manager Mickey Loomis is suspended for the first eight games. Assistant head coach/linebacker coach Joe Vitt will be suspended for the first six games of the season and will be the interim head coach upon his return on Oct. 28 at Denver. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will be the head coach in place of Vitt through the first six games. Payton’s suspension began before the NFL Draft in April, while the suspensions for Loomis and Vitt will begin following the preseason. Vilma was not the only player suspended, but he faces the harshest punishment. Current Saints defensive end Will Smith (four games) and former Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove (eight games, now with Green Bay) and linebacker Scott Fujita (three games, now with Cleveland) also face suspension to start the season. Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was hired by St. Louis before the bounty system was revealed, is suspended indefinitely.

Famous Friend
Payton has cultivated a number of celebrity friends during his tenure as Saints coach. Among them: Jimmy Buffett, who showed his support for the embattled head coach during the offseason, appearing at a Final Four concert in a “Free Sean Payton” T-shirt. At his Jazz Festival show in May, he tweaked the lyrics to his hit “Margaritaville”: “Some people say that Sean Payton’s to blame, but I know, it’s all Roger Goodell’s fault.”

Double Dip
It was a busy offseason for 85-year-old owner Tom Benson, who shocked everyone by purchasing the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets in April. Benson is the only person to own an NBA and NFL team in the same market. His first order of business is to re-brand the team. Among other things, Benson wants a more colloquial nickname.

Pastor Jed
Center Brian de la Puente and fullback Jed Collins are tight friends. How tight? Collins became a licensed minister and officiated the wedding ceremony for de la Puente and his wife Makenzie in 2011.

Off The Clock
The Saints didn’t have a first- or second-round draft choice for the first time in history. They traded their first-round pick in the 2011 draft to New England in a deal to acquire Mark Ingram. This year’s second-round pick was stripped by commissioner Roger Goodell in the bounty scandal.

Offensive Explosion
The Saints set 10 NFL records during their 2011 season, all on offense. Among them: Most yards (7,474), net passing yards (5,347), highest passing percentage (71.3), pass completions (472), first downs (416), passing first downs (280), fewest fumbles (six) and third down conversion rate (56.7 percent).

Good Fit
Guard Ben Grubbs was acquired to replace Carl Nicks as the starter at left guard. Grubbs has the bulk and lower-body strength to anchor the interior wall in pass protection yet is athletic enough to pull on traps and screens, two staples of Sean Payton’s offense.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

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

Order your 2012 New Orleans Saints Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 New Orleans Saints Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> New Orleans Saints 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-2012-win-projections-athlon-vs-vegas
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Even if you don't place any wagers on sports, the lines/projections from the good folks in Vegas are always something to check out before each season and before each week of games. Not only is it interesting content, but Vegas has a good pulse on the teams and is often one of the most accurate sources of predictions. 

To get ready for the upcoming college football season, Athlon took a look at how its predictions matched up against a couple of sports books and one excellent source of Vegas information (Beyond the Bets). 

Athlon and the sports books in Vegas largely agreed the win totals for teams, as there weren't many large variations in projections. However, below are a few props we like heading into 2012, as well as a few that should be avoided. 

BEST BETS

Boise State Despite having only seven returning starters, the Broncos are still the team to beat in the Mountain West. Quarterback Kellen Moore will be impossible to replace, but Boise State’s offense can lean on senior running back D.J. Harper and a veteran offensive line. Most books have the Broncos pegged at 9.5 wins, while Athlon has them slotted for 10. Outside of Michigan State, there’s not a sure loss on the schedule. Games against BYU, Nevada and Wyoming won’t be easy, but it’s hard to imagine Boise State losing all three of those games.

Boston CollegeThe Eagles closed out 2011 with some momentum, winning two out of their final three games, including a 24-17 upset win over Miami. Although Boston College has some momentum entering the offseason, the 5Dimes over/under total of 5.5 seems optimistic. The Eagles play Notre Dame, Army and Northwestern in the non-conference portion of the schedule, while catching Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech – arguably the two best teams from the Coastal – in ACC play. Outside of the Sept. 8 date against Maine, there’s really not a guaranteed win on Boston College’s schedule, so the under at 5.5 looks awfully enticing.

Hawaii Norm Chow is a popular hire for Hawaii, but his debut season could be a rough one. The Warriors open with USC and close out September with games against Nevada and BYU. A 1-3 start is likely, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier with road games against San Diego State, Colorado State and Fresno State in October/early November. The Warriors also have question marks at quarterback and are transitioning from the run and shoot to more of a pro-style attack. Although Hawaii has some talent returning on both sides of the ball, surpassing more than four wins seems unlikely.

Illinois Even though Athlon agrees with Vegas on the Fighting Illini’s win projection (6), this one has some potential. Illinois has one guaranteed win in non-conference play (Charleston Southern) and has three swing games against Western Michigan, Arizona State and Louisiana Tech. The Big Ten slate got a little easier too with the defections at Penn State. With games against Minnesota, Purdue and Indiana in conference play, it seems pretty reasonable the Fighting Illini should have a good shot to get to seven wins in 2012.

Iowa StateMost win projections have the Cyclones at four wins for 2012. However, that seems a little low considering Paul Rhoads’ teams have overachieved every year since he arrived in Ames. Iowa State has a difficult non-conference slate, which includes matchups against Tulsa and Iowa. Although a bowl game seems to be out of reach, getting to five victories and exceeding expectations once again is well within the reach of the Cyclones. This one is risky, but history suggests Iowa State will surprise once again.

Kansas State - Everything seemed to go the Wildcats' way last season, winning eight of their 10 games by seven points or less. Although Kansas State was outgained by an average of 106.8 yards per game in conference play, winning the turnover battle (+12) helped to close the gap on its Big 12 foes. It will be tough for Kansas State to repeat last season's 10 wins, but getting to eight or nine is a reasonable expectation. Most books have the Wildcats at 7 or 8 wins, which doesn't drift too far from Athlon's thinking (7-5). Even though Athlon likes Kansas State to finish with seven wins, if you can catch this prop at seven and take the over, there's a good chance the Wildcats pull off an upset or two and finish with eight or nine wins. 

LouisvilleMost books seem to have the Cardinals at 8 or 9 wins, while Athlon has this team projected at 10 victories. Considering Louisville is a young team and the Big East is unpredictable, this one certainly has some risk involved. However, the Cardinals return 12 starters, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is primed for a breakout year after throwing for 2,129 yards last season. The schedule is also very manageable, as Louisville could be favored in every game, except the season finale at Rutgers. Considering the schedule and returning talent, 10 or 11 wins is a reasonable expectation for Charlie Strong's team.

LSUThe Honey Badger is gone, but don’t expect that to slow down the Tigers in 2012. LSU is Athlon’s pick to win the SEC and finish the regular season with an unbeaten 12-0 mark. Going undefeated in the SEC is never easy, but the Tigers managed to run through the conference slate without a loss last year. Most win total projections have LSU at 10/10.5, so the over looks like a good pick.

Miami The win projections all seem to agree Miami will have right around six or seven wins in 2012, but a schedule that features non-conference games against Kansas State, Notre Dame and South Florida could make it difficult just to get bowl eligible. Also, there’s still a NCAA investigation hanging over the program, and a bowl ban could impact how this team performs in 2012. Athlon projects Miami to get to six wins, so any place that has the Hurricanes at 6.5 or 7 is a good spot to take the under.

Nebraska Most of the win projections seem to agree the Cornhuskers will have around  8 or 9 wins in 2012. Athlon disagrees slightly with Vegas, projecting Nebraska to have 10 wins. Although the Cornhuskers are far from a perfect team, running back Rex Burkhead and quarterback Taylor Martinez from a dangerous one-two combination on offense, while the defense brings back seven starters. Non-conference games against Arkansas State and UCLA won’t be easy, but the Cornhuskers should be 4-0 by the time Big Ten play arrives. This team also catches a break with two swing games (Wisconsin and Michigan) in Lincoln. Even if Nebraska just gets to nine victories, taking the over on 8.5 is one we like for 2012.

USC It’s difficult to go undefeated, but you have to like the Trojans’ chances of running the table in 2012. The non-conference schedule is very favorable, and USC hosts Oregon, California and Notre Dame. Road tests against Washington, Stanford and Utah will be tricky, but the Trojans should emerge with an 11-1 or 12-0 record. Most books have USC pegged at 10.5, while Athlon projects 12 victories in 2012. Even if the Trojans drop one game, taking the over on 10.5 victories looks like one of the best bets on the board.

West Virginia One of the most surprising over/under win totals from this preseason has to be West Virginia. The Mountaineers are picked by most books at 8.5, while Athlon projects 10 wins. Sure, there will be an adjustment period by going into a new conference, but West Virginia’s schedule isn’t overwhelming. The Mountaineers should go 3-0 in non-conference play and catch Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State at home. Road trips to Texas and Oklahoma State are the two potential losses. Even if West Virginia doesn’t get to 10 victories, it’s hard to see it losing more than three this year.

WORST BETS

Auburn There’s not much discrepancy in the win projections for Auburn, as most books have the Tigers at 7.5, while Athlon has Gene Chizik’s team at 7. The schedule isn’t easy, as Auburn opens up against Clemson, followed by dates against Mississippi State and LSU in September. There’s plenty of young talent at Auburn, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this team match last season’s eight wins. However, the schedule is difficult and there’s still a question mark about the quarterback play. Both sides of the ball will also have new coordinators. With a over/under projection of 7.5 wins, there’s a very narrow window to make this one a good bet.

ClemsonEvery year, it seems the Tigers have one of the ACC’s most-talented rosters, but struggle to reach expectations. Clemson won the ACC Championship last season but it won’t be easy to match that success in 2012. The Tigers must replace three solid starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, while this team closed out 2011 by losing three out of their final four games. Clemson has the talent to win the ACC, but the question marks on both lines are enough to give pause on the win total projection. Most books have the Tigers at 8.5 wins, while Athlon projects 9.

Michigan While the Wolverines make the worst pick category, it’s almost a don’t bother section. Michigan’s projected win total is in the 8-10 range, with Athlon having the highest pick on the board. The Wolverines took a step forward under Brady Hoke last season, and return Heisman candidate Denard Robinson at quarterback. Optimism in Ann Arbor is high after last season, but a difficult schedule and the loss of two key linemen could make repeating 11 wins unlikely. If you can get the Wolverines at 8 for the over/under projection, it’s worth a shot. However, at 9 or 9.5 victories, it’s hard to recommend that as one we like.

Missouri/Texas A&M - There's really not much of a difference in Vegas and Athlon's win total projections for 2012 for both Missouri and Texas A&M. However, moving from the Big 12 to the SEC will be a step up in competition, and both teams have question marks going into this season. Missouri quarterback James Franklin is coming off shoulder surgery, while the Aggies are searching for a new starter under center, while playing for a new coach (Kevin Sumlin). Missouri and Texas A&M aren't going to be overwhelmed in the SEC, but there's too many unknowns to consider this a safe pick this season.

Notre Dame Unless you are feeling really lucky, don’t bother taking a look at the Irish for any over/under win props this season. Most books have Notre Dame at 8.5 and Athlon has the projected win total at 8. With games against Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and USC, the Irish are facing one of the most difficult schedules in college football. Eight wins seems to be the most likely outcome, but it’s going to be close.

Penn StateBefore the NCAA sanctions were announced, most books had the Nittany Lions pegged at 6.5 or 7 victories for 2012. However, there’s no telling what to expect from this team, especially after the departure of running back Silas Redd, receiver Justin Brown and kicker Anthony Fera. While the Penn State players have plenty of pride, there’s just no way of knowing if the motivation can hold up through a full season, especially with no bowl appearance on the line. Bottom line: Stay away from Penn State in the over/under win totals for 2012.

Note: Win totals do not take into account any conference championship/bowl game.

Note: All Penn State win projections were compiled before NCAA sanctions.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

 
Air Force     6.5       5.5 6
Akron     2.5       2.5 2
Alabama 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10 11
Arizona     5.5       5.5 6
Arizona State   5.5 5   5   5 5
Arkansas 8.5 8.5 9 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 9
Arkansas State     6.5       8.5 9
Army     5.5       5.5 5
Auburn   7.5 7.5 7.5 7.5   7.5 7
Ball State     4.5       5.5 6
Baylor     6       6.5 7
Boise State 9.5 9.5 10 9.5 9.5 9.5 9.5 10
Boston College     4.5       5.5 3
Bowling Green     7       7.5 7
Buffalo     2.5       4.5 3
BYU 8.5 8.5 8.5   8 8.5 8 7
California   6.5 6.5   6.5   6.5 7
Central Michigan     4.5       4.5 3
Cincinnati   7.5 7.5   7.5   7.5 7
Clemson 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 9
Colorado     4       3.5 3
Colorado State     4.5       6.5 7
Connecticut     6.5       5.5 5
Duke   3.5 4       3.5 4
East Carolina     6       5.5 8
Eastern Michigan     5       5.5 5
FAU     2       3.5 2
FIU     7.5       7.5 8
Florida 8 7.5 8 7.5 8 8 8 8
Florida State 10 10.5 10 10 9.5 10 9.5 10
Fresno State     6       7.5 7
Georgia 9.5   9.5 9.5 9.5 9.5 9.5 10
Georgia Tech   7.5 7.5   8   8 8
Hawaii     3.5 5.5     4.5 4
Houston     9       9.5 8
Idaho     3.5       4.5 3
Illinois   6.5 6   6   6.5 6
Indiana     4       3.5 3
Iowa   7.5 8   7.5   7.5 7
Iowa State     4.5 4.5     4.5 4
Kansas     3.5       3.5 3
Kansas State 7 7.5 8   8 7 8 7
Kent State     5.5       5.5 6
Kentucky   4.5 4.5       5.5 4
Louisiana Tech     8       8.5 9
Louisiana-Lafayette     7       7.5 8
Louisiana-Monroe     5       4.5 5
Louisville 8 8.5 9   9 8 9 10
LSU 10 10.5 10.5 10.5 10 10 10 12
Marshall     5.5       6.5 6
Maryland     4       4.5 4
Memphis     2       2.5 3
Miami   6.5 6   7   7 6
Miami (Ohio)     6.5       5.5 5
Michigan 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 9 8.5 9 10
Michigan State 8.5 8.5 8 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 9
Minnesota     4.5       5.5 5
Mississippi State 7 7.5 7.5     7 7.5 6
Missouri 6.5 7.5 7   7 6.5 7 7
MTSU     4.5       4.5 3
Navy   7.5 6.5       6.5 7
NC State   7.5 8   7.5   7.5 8
Nebraska 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 10
Nevada 8.5 8.5 7.5 7.5   8.5 7.5 8
New Mexico     2.5       2.5 2
New Mexico State     3.5 4.5     5.5 5
North Carolina   7.5 7.5   7.5   7.5 8
North Texas     5       5.5 5
Northern Illinois     8.5       8.5 7
Northwestern     6       6.5 7
Notre Dame 8.5 8.5 8 8 8.5 8.5 8.5 8
Ohio     9.5       9.5 9
Ohio State 8.5 8.5 9 9 9 8.5 9 11
Oklahoma 10.5 9.5 10 10.5 10 10.5 10 11
Oklahoma State 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 7.5 8.5 7.5 8
Ole Miss   3.5 5       5.5 4
Oregon 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10 10.5 10 11
Oregon State     5.5       4.5 3
Penn State*   6.5* 6.5* 6.5* 7*   7* 7*
Pittsburgh   7.5 7   7   7 7
Purdue     6.5       6.5 6
Rice     3.5       3.5 3
Rutgers   7.5 8.5       7.5 8
San Diego State     6       5.5 5
San Jose State     5.5       5.5 5
SMU     6.5       6.5 6
South Alabama     2       2.5 2
South Carolina 8.5 8.5 9 9 8.5 8.5 8.5 9
South Florida     7.5   7.5   7.5 8
Southern Miss     7.5       8.5 6
Stanford 8 7.5 7.5   7 8 7 8
Syracuse     5.5       5.5 5
TCU 7.5 8.5 8.5   8.5 7.5 8.5 8
Temple     4       4.5 4
Tennessee 7.5 7.5 6.5   7 7.5 7 7
Texas 9 8.5 9 9 9 9 9 10
Texas A&M 7 7.5 6.5   7 7 7 7
Texas State     1       2.5 2
Texas Tech     7       6.5 6
Toledo     7       7.5 8
Troy     5.5       5.5 4
Tulane     1.5       2.5 2
Tulsa     8.5       7.5 8
UAB     3       3.5 4
UCF     8.5   8.5   8.5 8
UCLA 6 5.5 6 5.5 6 6 6 6
UMass     1       1.5 1
UNLV 3 2.5 3 3.5   3 4.5 3
USC 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10 12
Utah 8   8     8 7.5 7
Utah State     7       7.5 8
UTEP     4       4.5 4
UTSA     4       4.5 4
Vanderbilt   5.5 5.5       6.5 6
Virginia   6.5 6   7   7 7
Virginia Tech 9 9.5 9 9.5 9.5 9 9.5 10
Wake Forest     6       5.5 5
Washington   7.5 7.5 7 7.5   7.5 8
Washington State   5.5 5.5       5.5 6
West Virginia 8.5 8.5 8.5   8.5 8.5 8.5 10
Western Kentucky     6       6.5 5
Western Michigan     8.5       8.5 8
Wisconsin 9 8.5 9.5   9 9 9 9
Wyoming     6       5.5 8

All Penn State win projections were compiled before NCAA sanctions.

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Teaser:
<p> College Football 2012 Win Total Projections: Athlon vs. Vegas</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-top-25-heisman-contenders-2012
Body:

The Heisman Trophy may be the most coveted trophy in all of sports.

Ten of the last 11 winners of this priceless award have been quarterbacks. And since 1950, only one time has a non-offensive skill player — e.g., quarterback, running back or wide receiver — claimed the historic award (Charles Woodson, 1997). Yes, the quarterback is the most important position on the field. Yes, few players touch the ball more than a workhorse running back. But just because big uglies, heavy-hitters and pass rushers don't often get the famed trip to Radio City Music Hall in New York City, it doesn't mean they don't deserve it.

So expect to see more than just signal callers, pass-catchers and tailbacks on Athlon Sports' conference-by-conference Heisman Contenders.

2012's Top 25 Heisman Trophy Contenders:

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC (SR)
2011 Stats: 3,528 yds, 39 TD, 7 INT, 14 rush yds, 2 TD
No one in their right mind can make the case that Matt Barkley isn’t the First-Team All-American quarterback and top Heisman contender nationally. If someone else has someone else atop their Heisman ballot, they are simply being cute. He has the records, the stats, the Golden Boy image, the preseason No. 1 team in the nation and a plethora of talented skill players to work with. In fact, the only negative Heisman pundits can lob at Barkley is, in fact, that he is the clearcut Heisman favorite. When was the last time the obvious preseason stiff-armed favorite actually won the award? Bueller?

2. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (SR)
2011 Stats: 2,173 yds, 20 TD, 15 INT, 1,176 rush yds, 16 TD
There is no player in a better Heisman situation in the Big Ten than Robinson, but because Montee Ball was so unstoppable a year ago, they are essentially 1a and 1b in the Big Ten. Shoelace has the NCAA records, the electric, big-play, highlight-reel skills needed to enthrall voters, a better chance at a Big Ten title, has multiple national showcase games in and out of conference and plays the all-important quarterback position (11 of last 12 winners). If he can stay healthy, he has an excellent chance to be sitting next to Barkley in New York come December. Some improved efficiency and a win over Alabama, of course, wouldn't hurt.

3. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (JR)
2011 Stats: 818 yds, 10 TD, 19 rec., 182 yds, TD (7 games)
If healthy, there is no running back in the nation with more physical talent than the Gamecock junior. The per-game averages are astounding for No. 21 and there is no reason to think he won’t maintain his elite level of production behind one of the better O-Lines in the SEC. He has averaged over 100 yards rushing and has scored 30 total touchdowns in 20 career games. Lattimore can move the pile with power, can get to the edge with speed and will make defenders look silly trying to cover him in the passing game. He has averaged an absurd 130.5 yards from scrimmage for his career and has topped 170 yards rushing five times in 20 games. He has missed time in both seasons because of injury, mostly due to his incredibly physical running style, and he was held back in spring ball this year. However, Lattimore appears ready to lead the Gamecocks in 2012 and, needless to say, he is the complete package in the backfield.

4. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (SR)
2011 Stats: 1,923 yds, 33 TD, 24 rec., 306 yds, 6 TD
It is nearly impossible to argue with Ball’s production, but the 2012 Badgers are not going to be the same team that set school records for scoring two years in a row. Gone is uber-leader Russell Wilson, offensive genius Paul Chryst and three first-team All-Big Ten blockers. Ball will still post big numbers this fall, but a 1,600-yard, 16-TD season will pale in comparison to his 2011 output — and might not get him back to New York. At least, not without another Big Ten title ring on his finger.

5. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (SR)
2011 Stats: 4,385 yds, 31 TD, 7 INT, 2 rush TD
The list of accolades for the Mountaineers' starting quarterback is already long and distinguished, yet he might be ready to add the most important award in college sports. He led the Big East in passer efficiency and total offense a year ago — finishing eighth nationally at 334.8 yards per game. His 4,385 passing yards were a school record and he might possess the strongest throwing arm in the nation. With a deep and talented skill corps and play calling from offensive wizard Dana Holgorsen, Smith has a great shot at landing in Manhattan come December.

6. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State (JR)
2011 Stats: 82 rec., 1,388 yards, 12 TD
Who is the leading returning receiver in the Pac-12? No, it’s not a guy named Woods, Allen or Lee. It’s Wilson with his 1,388 yards. In fact, the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder has had one of the quietest two-year starts to any career in the nation (party due to his current zip code) as he has 137 catches, 2,394 yards and 18 scores in two years. He has had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with a revolving door at quarterback and Paul Wulff running the ship. Now, he has Mike Leach calling plays for him — a coach who has never had a quarterback pass for less than 3,400 yards. I got two words for you: Michael Crabtree.

7. De’Anthony Thomas, AP, Oregon (SO)
2011 Stats: 595 yds, 7 TD, 46 rec., 605 yds, 9 TD, 2 ret. TD
Few players can rip off huge chunks of yards like The Black Mamba, who averaged nearly 12 yards per offensive touch as a freshman. His highlight-reel explosiveness is exactly what Heisman pundits everywhere crave. He contributes to the offense in every imaginable way — 2,235 all-purpose yards, 18 total TDs — and can be completely unstoppable in the open field (see Rose Bowl footage). Thomas averaged 10.0 touches per game last year, and with LaMichael James no longer on the roster, fans can expect lethal doses from the most poisonous running back in the nation.

8. Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska (SR)
2011 Stats: 1,357 yds, 15 TD, 21 rec., 177 yds, 2 TD
Sexy Rexy Superman Burkhead is arguably the most complete football player in the nation. He has every skillset a coach can ask for in a workhorse feature back: Strength, size, toughness, durability, vision, instincts, quickness, hands and leadership. He may be the most underrated player in the country at any position. For Burkhead to make it to NYC in December, however, he will likely have to lead his team past Michigan and into the Big Ten title game. A tall order until the defense improves its overall play.

9. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech (JR)
In only his first full season as the starter, Thomas showed why he has such a high ceiling. He threw for over 3,000 yards with 19 touchdowns while rushing for 469 yards and 11 more touchdowns on the ground – which tied a school record for rushing TDs by a quarterback at a school with a long history of scamblers. His 6-foot-6, 262-pound frame has drawn Cam Newton comparisons, and while he isn’t nearly as explosive, Thomas has the capability of posting huge numbers and winning an ACC title this fall. He just needs to play better against Clemson.

10. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (JR)
Last fall the Tigers quarterback led the ACC in total offense at 289.0 yards per game. His 3,828 ranked first in the league as did his 33 touchdown passes. He added 218 yards rushing and five more scores on the ground. With a loaded collection of receivers and running backs returning this fall, Boyd should be able to post another huge year under the tutelage of Chad Morris. A big performance on the road against Florida State would go a long way to getting Boyd to New York.

11. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (JR)
2011 Stats: 3,149 yds, 35 TD, 14 INT, 103 rush yds, 2 TD
Only USC quarterback Matt Barkley returns to college football with more touchdown passes than Murray’s 35. He has posted back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons as an underclassman and has accounted for 65 total touchdowns over the last two years. He also led his team to its first SEC Championship game since 2005. The junior quarterback from Tampa, Fla., is a gamey, tough, poised leader who has competed for championships at every level of play. He will only get better in 2012. That said, a win on the road at South Carolina and possible SEC title would go a long way in getting Murray to The 646.

12. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas (SR)
2011 Stats: 3,638 yds, 24 TD, 6 INT, 4 rush TD
The Hogs quarterback was slightly more efficient (63.2% to 59.1%) than Murray, had a better TD:INT ratio (24:6 to 35:14) and topped the Bulldog in passing yards (3,638 to 3,149). Wilson has all the tools to continue to grow into an NFL quarterback but will likely struggle to improve on his ’11 numbers. There is plenty of talent around him, but replacing Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs won’t be easy. Most importantly, the top offensive mind in football, Bobby Petrino, is no longer calling plays and making in-game adjustments. Wilson should have another great year in Fayetteville, but significant improvement from last year’s already very solid numbers seems far fetched. For Wilson to get an invite to Radio City Music Hall would most assuredly require a win, or wins, over Alabama and LSU, which seems unlikely.

13. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (SO)
Few players have ever been ready to compete at a Heisman level right out of high school like Watkins. As a true freshman, Watkins led the ACC in all-purpose yards: 1,219 receiving, 231 rushing, 826 kick return and 12 punt return yards. He scored a total 13 touchdowns and would likely be in the top 10 if he wasn't suspended for two games — including a key non-conference test against Auburn in Week 1.

14. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (SR)
2011 Stats: 4,463 yds, 29 TD, 15 INT, 2 rush TD
There are plenty of question marks surrounding Jones the quarterback — like major statistical regression and a horrible road record. But the Sooner quarterback has as good a shot as any in the Big 12 to be Big Apple bound at year’s end. He is surrounded by the most talent of any team in the league and should be the leader of the Big 12 champions. Should Jones correct his road woes and produce another big statistical year, he very easily could land on Heisman ballots, and perhaps, in the national title game.

15. Keith Price, QB, Washington (JR)
2011 Stats: 3,063 yds, 33 TD, 11 INT, 10 rush yds, 3 TD
Steve Sarkisian has a great one in Price. In the first six games of Price’s first season as the starter, all he did was lead the nation in touchdown passes with 21 scoring strikes. He set single-season Washington passing records and should only improve in his third year in Coach Sark's system. He has plenty of talent around him and multiple marquee showdowns on the schedule (at LSU?). If he can stay healthy — and gets some improved offensive line play — he could easily find himself in New York come December.

16. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (SO)
2011 Stats: 1,159 yds, 13 TD, 4 INT, 715 rush yds, 7 TD
If Heisman voters are trying to find a darkhorse from the Big Ten, they need to look no further than Ohio State’s quarterback. Miller showed flashes of brilliance as only a true freshman on one of the worst Buckeye teams in two decades. And now he has spread guru Urban Meyer tailoring his high-powered attack to Miller’s perfectly suited dual-threat skillset. This team could have the best record in the league, but Ohio State’s offensive leader will have to overcome the program’s current sanctions on his way to the Big Apple.

17. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State (SR)
2011 Stats: 1,918 yds, 13 TD, 6 INT, 1,141 rush yds, 27 TD
Klein won’t be able to sneak up on any defenses this time around after rolling up a sick 1,141 yards rushing and an NCAA-record 27 rushing touchdowns (by a QB). He added big plays in key situations while leading the Wildcats to the Cotton Bowl. What he lacks in pure passing ability he makes up for with grit and toughness. However, he may need to use his arm more in 2012 as coordinators are now prepared for his talented dual-threat skills. It will be tough for CK-7 to replicate both the statistics and win total in 2012.

18. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State (JR)
2011 Stats: 1,216 yds, 24 TD, 43 rec., 266 yds, 2 TD
He may not be built like a true three-down workhorse, but he certainly plays like it. Randle brings speed, power and pass-catching skills to one of the most explosive attacks in the country. With a new (true freshman) quarterback and rebuilt offensive line, it will difficult to top his 1,482 total yards, 26 touchdowns or 43 receptions from last year. But if he can come close, Randle will find himself mentioned with the best backs in the country.

19. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia (SR)
2011 Stats: 101 rec., 1,186 yds, 8 TD, 182 rush yds, TD, 2 ret. TD
Austin is one of the most dynamic and explosive play-makers in all of the nation. He set a school record with 101 receptions last year and led the nation in all-purpose yards (198.0 per game). In addition to his receiving skills, the inside slot man rushed for 182 yards to go with 938 kick return yards and 268 punt return yards. He finished with 11 total touchdowns and could be poised for a C.J. Spiller-type of season in Morgantown.

20. Robert Woods, WR, USC (JR)
2011 Stats: 111 rec., 1,292 yds, 15 TD
The uber-talent from SoCal exploded into living rooms as a sophomore in 2011. He not only broke USC receiving records, but set a Pac-12 record with 111 receptions in only 12 games. He caught at least two scores in four straight games at one point and has clearly built a rapport with No. 1 on this list. The only thing keeping this dynamic play-maker from being higher is lingering bone inflammation in his ankle. Following arthroscopic surgery in December, Woods still has yet to begin summer workouts. Fans have to be concerned about Woods' upside this fall.

21. Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina (SO)
Another freshman in the ACC, Bernard burst onto the scene with four touchdowns in his frist two career games. He then rattled off five straight 100-yard efforts, to finish with 1,253 yards and 13 scores in his first year on a collegiate gridiron. With arguably the top offensive line returning in front of him and a stellar quarterback we’ll address in just a moment, the South Florida product is poised for a huge second year in Chapel Hill.

21. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee (JR)
2011 Stats: 1,913 yds, 17 TD, 6 INT, Rush TD (7 games)
The lanky junior has plenty of growing up to do — both mentally and physically — but all signs point to the 6-foot-6 gunslinger having his best season in 2012. He has one of the nastiest wide receiver duos in the nation at his disposal and a developing offensive line blocking for him. He was on pace for video game numbers after throwing for 332 yards per game and 14 touchdowns in the first four games of last year. A broken thumb forced him to miss five games and all but ended his breakout sophomore campaign. He has the best frame in the SEC at quarterback and possibly the best throwing arm in the league, so if he can stay healthy, he will post big numbers. If Tennessee wins enough, he could be in New York at season’s end.

23. Keenan Allen, WR, Cal (JR)
2011 Stats: 98 rec., 1,343 yds, 6 TD, 55 rush yds
This east coast product (Greenboro, N.C.) has already placed himself securely in the Cal record books in only two seasons on campuster after a massive sophomore campaign. Wilson will have the best stats and Woods, when healthy, might be the most explosive, but there may not be a more physically gifted athlete in the Pac-12 than Allen. If he can reach paydirt a few more times in 2012, which is possible with improved quarterback play, this graceful gazelle might need to book a flight back East later this year.

24. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon (SR)
2011 Stats: 939 yds, 11 TD, 17 rec., 184 yds, 3 TD
Barner has dealt with injury issues throughout his career in Eugene, but should he stay healthy, this senior to be has proven to be plenty capable of carrying the Ducks’ running back torch. In three career starts, Barner posted 433 yards rushing on 58 attempts and 102 yards receiving on three catches to go with eight total touchdowns. Ironically, the only thing keeping him from a potential Heisman trip to the Big Apple could be his backfield mate De’Anthony Thomas.
 
25. Ryan Aplin, QB, Arkansas State (SR)
2011 Stats: 3,588 yds, 19 TD, 16 INT, 588 rush yards, 10 TD
The dual-threat Red Wolves signal caller posted huge numbers as a junior and could be poised for a massive statistical campaign in 2012. He now has spread guru Gus Malzahn — who will design a system that will fit his skillset perfectly — calling plays for him on the defending Sun Belt championship squad. With talented wide receivers around him, Aplin has a great chance to be this year's Mid-Major darling.
 
The Best of the Rest:

Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas (JR)
2011 Stats: None, 2010 Stats: 1,322 yds, 13 TD, 19 rec., 136 yds, TD
As a sophomore in 2010, Davis rolled-up 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns in basically seven games. He averaged 146.8 yards per game and scored 12 touchdowns once given the starting reins in Week 7. A season-ending ankle injury cost him the entirety of 2011 but should allowed Davis to be rested heading into his junior season. He is expected to be at full strength to start 2012 behind what should be an excellent QB-OL combination. Yet, he too will miss superstar offensive guru Bobby Petrino on the sidelines — whose high-flying passing attack was predicated first on the power running game.

Ray Graham, RB, Pitt (SR)
This talented tailback was on a tear when four plays into the primetime showdown with UConn, his season ended with a torn ACL. He had posted 939 yards rushing and nine scores in the first seven games of the year prior to the injury. If fully healthy, Graham could easily be the Big East’s top Heisman candidate now that offensive genius Paul Chryst is calling plays in the ‘Burgh.

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State (JR)
There are some focus and consistency concerns with Bell, but should things fall into place for the tailback, the junior could be in for a massive year in East Lansing. The Spartans will boast a potent offensive line and will have to turn to the running game in order to break in a new quarterback and receiving corps. Which is exactly how Mark Dantonio wants to win games anyway. There are few running backs with as much upside as Bell in this league.

Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah (SR)
The Morris Trophy winner from a year ago as the Pac-12’s top defensive lineman, Lotelelei should be in Heisman conversations across the country. Nebraska sent a defensive tackle to New York in 2009, so why can’t the Utes do the same? Utah’s Star up front could be the top DT taken in the 2013 NFL Draft as this defense ranked No. 1 in the league in scoring defense, No. 1 in turnover margin and No. 3 in rushing defense. Using him in some gimmick plays — e.g., along the offensive line or in goalline packages — would go a long way towards boosting his national profile.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (SO)
2011 Stats: 36 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 8.0 sacks, 5 FF
The preseason first-team All-American was named SEC Freshman of the Year in 2011 after completely justifying his lofty recruiting status as the nation’s top prospect. He posted 36 total tackles, 8.0 sacks and 12.0 tackles . He made big plays as his five forced fumbles indicate. There may not be a bigger impact player on defense in the entire nation as the freakish pass rusher must be accounted for on every play — whether he is lined-up at end or tackle.

Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama (SR)
The senior from Germantown, Tenn., is the most versatile, experienced and dynamic offensive blocker in the nation. He has been an all-league performer at all three offensive line positions and claimed the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman a year ago. He has two national championship rings and will pave the way for a third Heisman contender in as many seasons. There is little left for Jones to prove.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (SO)
The true freshman built his confidence week upon week and now enters his second year as the top Heisman contender in the league. He trailed only Geno Smith in completion percentage last year (64.5%) and posted the Big East’s No. 2 passer efficiency (132.44) mark. Most importantly, he has added bulk and strength to his frame after playing his best ball down the stretch. He posted a career high 274 yards in the bowl loss and chucked five touchdowns in the final two games.

John White, RB, Utah (SR)
In only his first season on campus, White broke the single-season Utah rushing record with 1,519 yards. What is more impressive is how he did it. The Utes had little-to-no quality quarterback play last year due to injuries and it allowed defenses to stack the box against White. All he did was carry the ball 316 times and score 15 touchdowns in the face of eight- and nine-man fronts. With just a little support from the passing game in 2012, White could post Radio City Music Hall-type numbers.

Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee (JR)
The only thing that was going to stop Hunter from dominating SEC opponents last year was a season-ending torn ACL in his left knee. He had posted 16 catches for 302 yards and two scores in only two games before his year was ended on his first catch in The Swamp in Week 3. All signs are pointing to his knee being fully healthy for the start of the season, but rebuilding strength and explosiveness is much easier said than done. If healthy, J-Hunt has a chance to be an All-American who will be drafted in the first round next April.

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> College Football: Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:35
Path: /college-football/byu-football-coaches-anonymously-scout-cougars
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It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches around the nation to talk anonymously about BYU.

Opposing Coaches Anonymously Scout BYU

“Well, Jake Heaps is gone. Kid was the top-ranked high school quarterback at one point, and now he’s off to Kansas to play for Charlie Weis. I’ll be interested to see how that goes.

Riley Nelson is now the guy at quarterback. He probably feels less pressure now; he is no longer competing against the big recruit, the guy that every fan wanted to see in there. Nelson is a talented kid.

They put together a pretty nice schedule for an Independent team. They’ve got three Pac-12 schools (Washington State, Utah and Oregon State), an ACC school (Georgia Tech) and Notre Dame.

Michael Alisa did a good job for them (at running back).  He’s got decent size (6'1", 213). He’s a nice player.

(Cody) Hoffman, the receiver, is a big kid. Can be a tough matchup for the defense. He made some big plays for them last year. I know he played well in the bowl game.

This was not a great team last year. I know they won 10 games, but the schedule was pretty soft, and they won a bunch of close games. Give them credit — 10 wins is still 10 wins, but I’d be surprised if they did again, especially with a more difficult schedule.

Bronco (Mendenhall) always does a nice job with the defense. They are really good at what they do, and the guys buy into their system. They are solid.”

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Teaser:
<p> BYU Football: Coaches Anonymously Scout the Cougars</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:32
Path: /olympics/olympics-2012-which-colleges-led-way-london
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Michigan's Michael Phelps led the Olympics in medals (six), but where did his alma mater Michigan rank?

Football and basketball remain king, but at least once every four years, schools should brag about their Olympic medal count.

 

That’s at least the case in the Pac-12, where four schools sent athletes to the London Olympics who won at least 10 medals. 

 

USC alone earned 20 medals by our count, which was as many as the Netherlands and Ukraine and more than New Zealand, Brazil, Spain and Jamaica (Usain Bolt notwithstanding).

 

Although the Pac-12 remains competitive across a wide array of Olympic sports — from water polo and rowing to soccer and basketball — Florida and Michigan made a bid for No. 1 in the medal count thanks to their two star swimming alums.

 

In our medal count, we counted current and former athletes for each school as well as those who have already signed a letter of intent. Although team events count for only one medal in the Olympics’ official standings, we credited medals for each individual on a team or leg of a relay.

 

For example, Florida receives credit for individual medals for swimmer Ryan Lochte’s and sprinter Jeff Demps’ legs on relay teams and two medals for Abby Wambach's and Heather Mitts’ presence on the USA women’s soccer team.

 

Also, we aimed to include only athletes who competed for the school in question. Sorry, USC, you don’t get credit for Allyson Felix’s gold medals. She attended USC but did not participate in the track team.

 

With all that in mind, here’s our count for the schools that led Olympics in medals.

 

USC (20 medals)

Gold: 9 | Silver: 9 | Bronze: 2

Notes: USC’s medal haul included athletes from the United States, France, Tunisia, Spain and Russia in track, swimming, water polo, soccer, volleyball and beach volleyball. Swimmer Rebecca Soni earned gold medals in the 200m breaststroke and 4x100m medley relay and the silver in the 100 breast. Omitted from our count of USC medalists are two swimmers who competed elsewhere, Amanda Weir (Georgia) and Margaux Farrell (Indiana). Allyson Felix, who won three gold medals in track, attended USC but did not compete for the Trojans.

 

Cal (17 medals)

Gold: 11 | Silver: 1 | Bronze: 5

Notes: Swimmer Dana Vollmer, who began her college career at Florida but finished at Cal, took home gold in the 100m butterfly, the 4x100m medley relay and 200m free relay. Nathan Adrian matched Vollmer’s medal count with two golds (400m free, 4x100m medley relay). Cal medaled in swimming, soccer, water polo and rowing.

 

Stanford (15 medals)

Gold: 12 | Silver: 2 | Bronze: 1

Notes: Stanford earned more gold medals than any college and more than all but six countries in the Olympics. The Cardinal’s 12 gold medals alone were more than all but five other schools. Stanford earned its gold medal haul thanks to women’s sports — water polo, soccer, beach volleyball, rowing — plus a gold in men’s tennis doubles.

 

Florida (14 medals)

Gold: 6 | Silver: 5 | Bronze: 3

Notes: Ryan Lochte tied for the second-most individual medals in the Olympics with five: Gold in 400m individual medley and 800m free relay, silver in the 200m IM and 4x100m free relay and bronze in the 200m backstroke. Swimmer Elizabeth Beisel and long jumper/high jumper Will Claye also had multiple medals for Florida. Longtime Gators men’s swimming coach Gregg Troy also led the American men’s swim team in London. Florida alums also medaled in track and soccer. (Dana Vollmer’s three gold medals are included in the tally for Cal, where she finished her college career.)

 

Michigan (13 medals)

Gold: 9 | Silver: 2 | Bronze: 2

Notes: Clearly, former Wolverine Michael Phelps’ six medals (four gold, two silver for the most in the London Olympics) lead the way here. Four other Michigan alums medaled in swimming, but Ann Arbor also produced a gold medalist in water polo (Betsey Armstrong) and a silver medalist in rowing (Janine Hanson).

 

Texas (12 medals)

Gold: 5 | Silver: 5 | Bronze: 2

Notes: Swimming led the Longhorns’ medal haul with Ricky Berens winning gold as part of the 4x200m free relay team (with Michigan’s Phelps and Florida’s Lochte and Conor Dwyer) and 4x100m medley relay (with Phelps, Cal’s Adrian and Northwestern’s Matthew Grevers). Texas was good for Team USA in track relays, too with Bianca Knight (4x100m) and Sanya Richards-Ross (4x400m) running in gold-medal races. Richards-Ross added a gold in the 400m. 

 

Washington (10 medals)

Gold: 2 | Silver: 6 | Bronze: 2

Notes: Washington is an outlier in that none of its 10 medalists participated in track or swimming. Instead, the Huskies medaled in rowing (one gold, four silvers, three bronze), cycling (one silver) and volleyball (one silver). Women’s soccer goalie Hope Solo, who earned a gold medal, was Washington’s most prominent Olympian.

 

Two schools (eight medals each)

Georgia

Gold: 4 | Silver: 1 | Bronze: 3

Notes: Swimmer Allison Schmitt matched Lochte’s five medals, tied for the second-most individual medals in the Olympics after Phelps. Schmitt claimed one more gold than Lochte, though, with gold in the 200m free, 4x100m medley relay and 4x200m free relay. Former Bulldog Amanda Weir, who earned a bronze as part of the 4x100m free relay team, ended her college days at USC, but did not compete for the Trojans.

 

UCLA

Gold: 6 | Silver: 1 | Bronze:

Notes: UCLA’s six gold medals came in three team sports: Men’s basketball (Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook), women’s soccer and women’s water polo.

 

Two schools (seven medals each)

Princeton

Gold: 1 | Silver: 2 | Bronze: 4

Notes: The Ivy league makes an appearance as Princeton earned medals in rowing (one gold and two silver’s in women’s eight, one bronze in men’s four) and two bronzes in fencing.

 

Tennessee

Gold: 3 | Silver: 1 | Bronze: 3

Notes: Candace Parker and Tamika Catchings won two of Tennessee’s gold medals in women’s basketball. Justin Gatlin earned two medals with a silver in the 4x100m relay and a bronze in the 100m.

 

OTHER NOTES

♦ Eleven of 14 schools in the SEC claimed at least one medal. Mississippi State, Missouri and Vanderbilt were the only ones that did not. After Florida, Georgia and Tennessee listed above, the SEC programs with the most medals were: LSU (four), Arkansas and Auburn (three each), South Carolina and Texas A&M (two each), Alabama, Kentucky and Ole Miss (one each). 

 

♦ Eight of 12 schools in the Pac-12 claimed at least one medal. After USC, Cal, Stanford, Washington and UCLA listed above, Arizona followed with five medals, then Arizona State and Oregon with three each.

 

♦ Eight of 12 schools in the Big Ten claimed at least one medal. After Michigan’s 13, Penn State was a distant second with five, followed by Minnesota and Nebraska (four each), Northwestern and Purdue (three each) and Illinois and Indiana (two each).

 

♦ Connecticut claimed six gold medals — all in women’s basketball.

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> USC, Pac-12 programs lead our collegiate medal count</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:29
Path: /college-football/college-football-coaches-anonymously-scout-notre-dame
Body:

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

College Football Coaches Anonymously Scout Notre Dame

Opposing coaches size up the Fighting Irish:

“So the Fighting Irish hired Brian Kelly to turn in consecutive 8–5 seasons? I don’t think so. Kelly’s been an improvement since taking over for Charlie Weis, but I believe the Irish have been a little bit underwhelming.

Last year they probably deserved better than 8–5, but they beat themselves in so many games.

I still can’t figure out how Notre Dame lost to South Florida or Michigan. The close Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State summed up the season.

The quarterback position obviously draws the most attention. I’ll be interested to see what Kelly does there. Does he stay with Tommy Rees or give Gunner Kiel a shot? It probably doesn’t matter; the way Kelly pulls his quarterbacks, they’re all going to play or not play the same amount.

I think it’s imperative Kelly picks a starting quarterback and stays with him. It’s tough to play that position, especially at Notre Dame, if you’re constantly looking over your shoulder.

The schedule has its share of minefields such as Michigan, USC, Stanford, Michigan State and Oklahoma. So maybe another 8–5 record wouldn’t be so bad this season, even if the alums won’t like it.”

Related Notre Dame Content

Notre Dame 2012 Schedule Analysis
Notre Dame 2012 Fall Practice Preview

Ranking College Football's Top 20 Linebacker Units for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 20 Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 20 Offensive Lines for 2012

Teaser:
<p> College Football Coaches Anonymously Scout Notre Dame</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:16
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-dallas-cowboys
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Charean Williams, Fort Worth-Star Telegram

If you could only have one fantasy wide receiver on this team, who would it be?
Tony Romo trusts Miles Austin more than he trusts Dez Bryant, so at crunch time, the quarterback is going to look for Austin more than Bryant. If Austin can stay healthy, he is the choice.

Can DeMarco Murray hold up for a full season of work?
Murray entered the NFL with questions about his ability to stay healthy. He had a dislocated kneecap, a hamstring injury and a knee injury during his career at Oklahoma, which was a contributing factor in his being available for the Cowboys in the third round in 2011. Murray was on pace for a 1,000-yard season as a rookie until breaking his right ankle and requiring surgery. Murray does not have a history of staying healthy, so it is risky to rely on him without a backup plan.

What type of role can we expect to see from Felix Jones?
Unless DeMarco Murray is injured, Jones’ role with the Cowboys will be relegated to a kickoff returner and third-down back. But if Murray goes down, Jones’ role, and thus his fantasy value, will increase.

Is Jason Witten still an elite fantasy tight end?
Witten just turned 30. He did not have 1,000 yards receiving in 2011, the first time since 2008 that happened. Still, Witten led the team with 79 catches, and he had 942 yards and five TDs. He remains Tony Romo’s favorite target and still should be productive this season. He just might not reach 1,000 yards, and his history says he will score only four to five touchdowns.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Felix Jones, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Kyle Orton, QB
Overvalued: DeMarco Murray, RB
Top Rookie: Morris Claiborne, CB
Bounce-Back: Miles Austin, WR
Top IDP: Sean Lee, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Morris Claiborne CB 6-0 185 LSU
3. Tyrone Crawford DE 6-4 275 Boise State
4. Kyle Wilber OLB 6-4 249 Wake Forest
4. Matt Johnson S 6-1 212 E. Washington
5. Danny Coale WR 6-0 200 Virginia Tech
6. James Hanna TE 6-4 243 Oklahoma
7. Caleb McSurdy ILB 6-1 242 Montana

Fantasy Impact: Addressing a shaky defense was the Cowboys' offseason priority. Cornerback was addressed in free agency by signing former Chief Brandon Carr and selecting Morris Claiborne. Claiborne and Carr should give Dallas a much-improved secondary. Tyrone Crawford and Kyle Wilber are solid fits in the 3-4, but neither will produce IDP value this year. The additions in the secondary and the front seven should make the Cowboys a top-15 fantasy defense. Danny Coale is a steady possession receiver but is unlikely to emerge as a fantasy option in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at CIN, PIT, NO)

Starting up the fantasy playoffs against two AFC North defenses stinks. Cincinnati was 14th-best against QBs and WRs and 10th-best against RBs. Pittsburgh was second-best against fantasy QBs, WRs and TEs and fourth-best against RBs. The saving grace is that Pittsburgh is in Dallas for the semifinals, and the Cowboys then play host to a Saints team that was one of the worst against QBs (26th), WRs (24th) and RBs (29th).

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Dallas Cowboys</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-big-tens-must-see-games-2012
Body:

As the college football season draws near, Athlon Sports is making sure fans know exactly when and where to tune in this fall. Here are the Big 12's top 30 must-see football games for the 2012 season:

1. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Michigan at Ohio State
Easily the biggest rivalry in the Midwest is, in most years, the biggest rivalry game in the nation. With the Urban renewal taking place in Columbus and Brady Hoke reenergizing the Michigan faithful in lightning rod fashion last fall, this game should return to the 10 Year War level of intensity. So can the Wolverines walk into the Horseshoe and beat the Buckeyes this fall? It will be tougher than most Maize and Blue fans want to admit. Ohio State has nothing else to play for but ruining its rival’s season. Ohio State has a better overall roster of talent. And Ohio State is at home. Remember, the worst Ohio State team in a decade nearly defeated the best Michigan team in half a decade last fall on the road in Ann Arbor. The smart money is on Ohio State.

2. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Michigan State at Michigan
This game has been one of streaks of late. Michigan won six straight from 2002 to 2007 before Michigan State took over the state in 2008. If the Spartans want to win a fifth straight in the series, quarterback play will have to stabilize for Michigan State over the first half of the season. This game could easily decide not only the Legends Division title but also the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl participant. For a team like Michigan State, who hasn’t played in Pasadena since 1988, this game carries more than just in-state bragging rights. Shockingly, Michigan is searching for its first Big Ten title since 2004 and a win over Sparty likely gives it to them.

3. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Michigan State at Wisconsin
This season could be an inverted version of last season for Michigan State and Wisconsin. It is hard to see State going into Madison and getting the win — a place Sparty hasn’t won in since 2001. Yet, these could very easily meet again in the second annual B1G championship game. These two played two of the most memorable Big Ten football games in the history of the league last year and this fall could feature two more heart-stopping editions of what is developing into an elite rivalry game.

4. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Ohio State at Michigan State
The preseason buzz around C-Bus will either be proven wrong — or completely justified when both Michigan State and Ohio State open Big Ten play in Week 5. The Buckeyes don’t play a tough non-conference game, so fans will find out exactly how far Braxton Miller has developed and just how salty the OSU defense will be in this game. Should Ohio State win on the road against Sparty, an 11-1 type of season is extremely possible. Should Brutus return home with the loss, expectations for Ohio State will be tempered very quickly.

5. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Ohio State at Wisconsin
Bucky Badger was literally inches from being undefeated last fall. The MSU hail mary and Braxton Miller’s near-the-line-of-scrimmage touchdown heave were both inches from going Wisconsin’s way. The Big Red defeated OSU 31-18 with relative ease the last time Ohio State visited Camp Randall, but this game will be decidedly tougher. While Ohio State can’t technically play for the Big Ten title, winning this game and claiming the best record in the division still means a lot to Urban Meyer. Fans know who actually won the Pac-12 South last year.

6. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Michigan at Nebraska
The round robin in the Legends Division should be extremely entertaining this fall and Michigan has to face the Huskers on the road. However, if Nebraska wants to contend this fall, playing better defense against the Wolverines' rushing attack will be imperative. Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint combined for 221 yards and four touchdowns in the 45-17 blowout last fall. This game could be the pivotal road trip for Michigan — at least, until November 24.

7. Week 4 (Sept. 22) Michigan at Notre Dame
Michigan has won three straight in this historic rivalry and none more painful than the most recent edition. Last year's final drive with under 30 seconds to play capped one of the largest fourth-quarter comebacks in the series history. Denard Robinson was brilliant, at times, but really the Notre Dame secondary played poorly. Brian Kelly is looking for his first win in the series and has a nasty defensive front seven to play with this time around. Robinson will need more than one ice bath when this one is over.

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

9. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Nebraska at Michigan State
If Michigan is the preseason favorite to win the Legend's Division, then these two are the chief contenders. The Cornhuskers controlled the ball and dominated the 24-3 contest in Lincoln, Neb. Kirk Cousins had arguably his worst game as a senior as the Spartans allowed four sacks. At home, Sparty will be looking for revenge — and a possible return trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title showdown. However, if the Big Red defense can repeat last's year performance on a much less experienced quarterback, the upset is certainly possible. 

10. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Wisconsin at Nebraska
The 48-17 destruction of Nebraska marked the first time the corn-fed Big Red and dairy-fed Big Red did battle since 1974. This year Russell Wilson is gone and this game shifts to Lincoln for the Big Ten opener. Nebraska gets the revenge factor, the home-field advantage and will have played a couple of challenging non-conference tests. The only edge Wisconsin gets is that of style as their new Adidas uniform look only slight better than the "N" threads.

11. Week 3 (Sept. 15) Notre Dame at Michigan State
Mark Dantonio teams rarely get pushed around at the point of attack. They rarely play fundamentally ineffective football. And they rarely get beat 31-13. But that is what an 0-2 Notre Dame team did to the eventual division champs. Michigan State rushed for a season-low 29 yards in the defeat and the Irish defensive line has only gotten better. Winning on the road won't be as easy for Brian Kelly and there is no way Dantonio has let his team forget about the embarrassment of last fall.

12. Week 1 (Aug. 31) Boise State at Michigan State
These two programs have won a lot of football games over the last few years. And while this isn't a vintage Broncos squad, Boise State is much closer to reload status than it is rebuild. That said, the physicality of the Spartans in the trenches will be a huge hurdle to overcome for the less-talented, smaller program from Idaho. Should the BSU front lines hold up against MSU, the national opinion from BCS conference snobs that Chris Peterson's teams are consistently overrated will be silenced. 

13. Week 1 (Sept. 1) Ohio at Penn State
This might be the most watched football game of the year this fall. And it has nothing to do with MAC front-runner Ohio and its dynamic big-play quarterback Tyler Tettleton. Joe Paterno won't on the sidelines. Beaver Stadium will be 108,000 deep with We Are pride. Bill O'Brien leads a Penn State team that feels like a complete unknown. It will be an extremely surreal experience and most of the nation will be tuned in.

14. Week 6 (Oct. 6) Nebraska at Ohio State
Ohio State was playing well against Nebraska deep into the second half last fall when Braxton Miller was injured and lost for the afternoon. The Cornhuskers took advantage and pulled-off the 34-27 win. The ground game was excellent against the stingy OSU front, rushing for 232 yards and 51 carries. Against what should be the best defense in the league in the Horseshoe, Rex Burkhead will find much less open space this time around.

15. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Wisconsin at Penn State
The season finale will be an emotional experience for Penn State fans. And a win over Penn State would likely clinch a trip to the Big Ten title game for Wisconsin, much like last fall. The Badgers have not won in Happy Valley since 2003.

16. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Nebraska at Northwestern
The Huskers had beaten Ohio State and thumped Michigan State and had eyes on a Big Ten title when thes Wildcats walked in Lincoln and pulled-off one of the biggest — and most entertaining — upsets of the year. Nebraska couldn’t stop Kain Colter — who will be starting this fall under center for Northwestern.

17. Week 13 (Nov. 23) Nebraska at Iowa
The whole ear of corn is on the line in this season-ending developing rivalry. The Huskers rolled-up 222 yards rushing in the win over Iowa while James Vandenberg’s had one of his toughest game of the year (182-0-1). Bowl eligibility and future employment could be on the line at season’s end for Kirk Ferentz.

18. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Iowa at Michigan
Brady Hoke’s bunch won’t take this one lightly as the Hawkeyes pulled the upset 24-16 in Kinnick Stadium last year. It was one of two losses for Michigan and revenge will be on the mind of Denard Robinson.

19. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Ohio State at Penn State
Going on the road into Beaver Stadium is never easy, even with the heavy-handed NCAA penalties floating over PSU. A match-up between these two powers is normally a top ten B1G match-up. The OSU revenge tour continues with this one.

20. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Penn State at Nebraska
The yearly cross-over rivalry game will certainly take a hit due to sanctions, but there is something really special about the Big Red Husker uniforms knocking heads with the classic Nittany Blue. It was a tightly played affair last fall (17-14, Neb.).

21. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Iowa at Michigan State
The Spartans pushed the Hawkeyes around last fall to the tune of 288 yards passing and 155 yards rushing. Iowa mustered 87 yards on the ground. Expect tough sledding once again for Iowa, this time, on the road.

22. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Wisconsin at Purdue
If you are looking for an upset alert in the bizarre Leaders Division this fall, it could easily be Purdue over Wisconsin. The Boilers have a solid defensive line and weird things happen in West Lafayette this time of the year.

23. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Minnesota at Wisconsin
The NCAA’s oldest rivalry has been played more times than any other game in history. This game has taken place since 1890 and Minnesota owns the all-time series 59-54-8. Yet, the Badgers have won eight straight.

24. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Penn State at Illinois
The storylines between the two new head coaches in the Big Ten may fade away eventually, but right now, fans can bet Bill O’Brien has lost no love for poacher Tim Beckman and Illinois.

25. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Iowa at Northwestern
These two were hotly debated in our meetings this season and both should be eyeing bowl eligibility this fall. Iowa has won only two of the last seven meetings and a win could be a postseason trip for both teams. 

Best of the Rest:

26. Week 6 (Oct. 6) Illinois at Wisconsin
27. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Iowa State at Iowa
28.Week 2 (Sept. 8) Nebraska at UCLA
29. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Purdue at Notre Dame
30. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Illinois at Michigan
31. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Penn State at Iowa
32. Week 3 (Sept. 15) Cal at Ohio State
33. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Penn State at Purdue
34. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Purdue at Ohio State
35. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Purdue at Illinois

Athlon Sports Must-See TV for 2012:

Big 12's Must-See Games of 2012


Big Ten's Must-See Games of 2012


SEC's Must-See Games of 2012

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports Big Ten Predictions and Team Previews:

Legends:

1. Michigan Wolverines: No. 7
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers: No. 14
3. Michigan State Spartans: No. 18
4. Northwestern Wildcats: No. 49
5. Iowa Hawkeyes: No. 50
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers: No. 62

Leaders:

1. Ohio State Buckeyes: No. 6
2. Wisconsin Badgers: No. 17
3. Penn State Nittany Lions: No. 44
4. Illinios Fighting Illini: No. 52
5. Purdue Boilermakers: No. 53
6. Indiana Hoosiers: No. 89

Teaser:
<p> College Football: Big Ten's Must-See Games of 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-green-bay-packers
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Jason Wilde, ESPNMilwaukee.com

Jordy Nelson or Greg Jennings?
As long as quarterback Aaron Rodgers and both players are healthy, Nelson and Jennings will both deliver huge numbers. Nelson’s breakout year (15 touchdowns) figures to cause him to draw more attention than he did last season, when some defenses inexplicably chose to cover him one-on-one for entire games. That said, Nelson, Jennings and Jermichael Finley create the ultimate conundrum for opposing defenses, which must decide who merits the most attention.

Is Randall Cobb the top sleeper in this offense?
Folks who watched the Packers all season won’t call Cobb a sleeper. He’s a natural playmaker who’s a tough cover lining up in the slot. His quickness off the ball and elusiveness in the open field make him a vital target on slants and other quick passes that he can turn into big gains. The slot was once the domain of Donald Driver; even if Driver returns, expect Cobb to take away some of his snaps.

Will Jermichael Finley ever develop into a consistent, elite fantasy tight end?
Finley’s numbers would have been so much better if only he held onto the football. He was in the top five in the NFL in drops last season with 11, then added two more in the playoff loss to the Giants. He is such a matchup nightmare for defenses, but he has to improve his concentration and focus to truly put up elite numbers.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Cedric Benson, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Randall Cobb, WR
Overvalued: Jermichael Finley, TE
Top Rookie: Nick Perry, LB
Bounce-Back: Clay Matthews, LB
Top IDP: Morgan Burnett, S

Related: Desmond Bishop Out for the Year?

2012 Draft Class

1. Nick Perry OLB 6-3 265 USC
2. Jerel Worthy DT 6-2 308 Michigan State
2. Casey Hayward CB 5-11 192 Vanderbilt
4. Mike Daniels DT 6-0 291 Iowa
4. Jerron McMillian SS 5-11 203 Maine
5. Terrell Manning OLB 6-2 237 NC State
7. Andrew Datko T 6-6 315 Florida State
7. B.J. Coleman QB 6-3 233 Chattanooga

Fantasy Impact: With most of their core returning from last season, the Packers used only two picks on offense. Tackle Andrew Datko and quarterback B.J. Coleman are developmental selections. Addressing the front seven on defense was critical. End Nick Perry and tackles Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels should figure prominently into the line rotation this year. Worthy’s selection is especially crucial, as he can help anchor the defense at the nose tackle position.

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

It’s the Packers: Play ’em if you got ’em. They go against a Detroit team that drafted defense with a majority of its picks after ranking sixth- and 12th-worst against fantasy QBs and WRs, respectively. Chicago was middle of the pack against fantasy backs and receivers. Championship week is vs. a Tennessee team that was one of the top fantasy defenses vs. QBs and WRs in 2011.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Green Bay Packers</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-new-england-patriots
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Shalise Manza-Young, Boston Globe

Does Brandon Lloyd take away from or add fantasy value to Wes Welker?
He likely hurts it. Lloyd figures to take away some catches and touchdowns from Welker. But a drop in receptions for Welker is still a good season for many receivers, and he’ll still be a good value, particularly in PPR leagues.

Will there be any lingering affects of offseason ankle surgery and rehab for touchdown machine Rob Gronkowski?
It’s hard to know if Gronkowski will be affected come August or September, but in May, he wasn’t on the field taking part in Patriots’ organized team activities. He was spotted going through rehab drills with the team training staff, and it’s likely the team will be very cautious about his recovery.

Can Aaron Hernandez be an every-week fantasy starter despite being the No. 2 tight end on the roster?
Yes. Hernandez has lined up all over the field for New England — split wide, in the slot, near the line, in the backfield — and that looks to continue. And now that the team signed a third tight end, Daniel Fells, Hernandez can be used in even more creative ways. He’ll get plenty of touches.

Will Stevan Ridley get the bulk of the carries and break the mold of the Pats’ RB-by-committee approach?
Not likely. The Patriots have gone with a committee approach at running back since 2006, and while Ridley was the team’s most explosive back last year (all of the Pats’ 20-plus yard runs were by Ridley), fellow 2011 draftee Shane Vereen missed almost his entire rookie season to injury. If Vereen is healthy, it’s hard to believe that he won’t get his share of carries.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Brandon Lloyd, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Stevan Ridley, RB
Overvalued: Aaron Hernandez, TE
Top Rookie: Dont'a Hightower, LB
Bounce-Back: Brandon Lloyd, WR
Top IDP: Jerod Mayo, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Chandler Jones DE 6-5 265 Syracuse
1. Dont’a Hightower LB 6-4 260 Alabama
2. Tavon Wilson S 6-0 205 Illinois
3. Jake Bequette DE 6-5 274 Arkansas
6. Nate Ebner S 6-0 205 Ohio State
7. Alfonzo Dennard CB 5-10 205 Nebraska
7. Jeremy Ebert WR 5-11 200 Northwestern

Fantasy Impact: The Patriots owned one of the NFL’s worst defenses last year, so it was no surprise that the first six selections in the draft were devoted to fixing that side of the ball. Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower are expected to contribute immediately, and both players will add playmaking ability and speed to the defense. Jake Bequette will help with the pass rush, while Tavon Wilson provides depth at safety. Jeremy Ebert faces an uphill battle to make the team and is unlikely to have any fantasy value in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (HOU, SF, at JAC)

The Pats start the playoffs against a Texans team that was top five against fantasy QBs, RBs and TEs and top 10 against receivers. They then play host to a 49ers team that was top seven against QBs, RBs. However, the 49ers and the Jaguars both struggled against tight ends last season. That’s certainly good news if Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are on your team.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New England Patriots</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: New York Jets, Tim Tebow, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-cure-your-tim-tebow-obsession
Body:

So you’re infatuated with Tim Tebow, eh? Can’t get enough of his last-minute, game-winning drives, followed by his (gasp!) world-famous thinking-man’s pose? Sure, he’s a snappy dresser — we give you that — and his determination and work ethic are admirable qualities. But as a fantasy passer, Tebow doesn’t live up to his billing — not as a franchise quarterback, not even as a reliable No. 2.

We’re not hatin’ on the man; we just know a fantasy dud when we see one.

Here’s the thing: There’s hype and there’s substance. No matter how many headlines Rex Ryan’s newest toy generates, the numbers just aren’t there. Go ahead, look. Not convinced? Look again. He averaged 144 passing yards in 12 regular-season games for Denver last year. Give him a full 16-game schedule under center in New York — heck, give him 18 games — and they still won’t be there.

Tebow is unlike any pro football phenomenon fans have ever witnessed, and yet he is similar to so many failed fantasy prospects to come before him. Fantasy owners want to believe that what they see is somehow different from what the raw numbers suggest. They crave the success and turn a blind eye to the evidence. In the end, all that’s left is disappointment.

(Voices of dissent begin to grumble) “But Tebow gives my team rushing yards and touchdowns other quarterbacks do not provide.” Not enough, we’re afraid. To prove this, let’s convert his 660 rushing yards last season (second-most among quarterbacks) and six rushing scores to passing totals (1,650 and nine, in traditional leagues). The additional numbers would give Tebow 2011 season-ending totals of 3,379 passing yards and 21 touchdown passes. Is this what you expect from your starting fantasy quarterback?

At best, he’s a fantasy backup, and his current role as Mark Sanchez’s understudy only further complicates matters. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume Tebow nudges Sanchez from the lineup early in the season, as many predict will happen. Even then, Tebow is not a viable fantasy backup. Ask yourself: Does the Jets offense really provide Tebow with more fantasy firepower than what he had to work with in Denver? Will New York’s media tolerate a 46.5 completion percentage? New York was a team struggling to hold it together last year, and if anything, a quarterback controversy or poor passing numbers will only create locker room drama and tabloid fodder. As former Denver teammate Demaryius Thomas described the experience to a radio station this offseason: “If it wasn’t for the (Broncos) defense, most of the time there wouldn’t be no supposed ‘Tim Tebow Time.’”

Last year, Tebow was neither consistent nor prolific (only two regular-season games with 200 or more yards passing!) — the two qualities you should seek from a backup quarterback. And heaven forbid your starter should suffer a season-ending injury, thus thrusting Tebow into your lineup full time... well, let’s just say adieu to your fantasy postseason hopes.

Nope, Tebow is for dreamers. For New York, Tebow can be an effective situational player at best (no fantasy market for that) and a distraction at worst. For fantasy owners, he should be someone else’s problem.

— By Mike Beacom, originally published in the 2012 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: The Cure for Your Tim Tebow Obsession</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-players-coming-back-injury
Body:

These players suffered serious injuries during the 2011 season. Will they be ready to play in ’12? We take a look.

Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee
After leading the AFC in receiving through two weeks with 271 yards, Britt tore an ACL against the Broncos in Week 3. He should be healthy, but it also should be pointed out that he has had two additional procedures performed on his already surgically repaired right knee since May. Health issues aside, Britt's return to the field could be delayed further due to NFL suspension as he added to his growing list of off-the-field incidents with a DWI arrest in late July. Don't forget the Titans drafted Baylor wide reciever Kendall Wright in the first round of April's draft either.

Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City 
Any ACL injury is a big concern, but this one took place so early in the year that Charles appears good to go for the start of the season. Adding Peyton Hillis will help ease Charles back into action.

Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo 
The talented tailback fractured his fibula in Week 11 after topping 100 yards six times in the first 10 weeks of the season. Something to consider: Although Jackson has played only five NFL seasons, he’s already 31 years old.

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Detroit
The talented tailback suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon last August and has yet to appear in a preseason game, much less a regular-season game in his NFL career. He's been held out of training camp so far because of a hamstring issue, but he is hopeful of being able to return to practice soon. Even if he is able to show he is healthy, the earliest he will make his professional debut is Week 2. Leshoure is suspended for the first two games of the season after being charged on two separate occassions for drug possession during the offseason.

Peyton Manning, QB, Denver 
The great quarterback missed the entire 2011 season with neck issues. If he is even close to his old self, he will be a value on draft day.

Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland 
He’s never played more than 13 games in a season and was injured at Arkansas, too. He has elite ability but suffered a serious foot injury in Week 7 and missed the remainder of the season. Without Michael Bush, it’s his football, but can he handle it for a full season?

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh
He’ll start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, so you have to wonder when he’ll be at full strength.

DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas 
Murray dealt with multiple injuries (dislocated kneecap, pulled hamstring) while at Oklahoma and was lost for the final month of his rookie season with a broken ankle. Can he carry the load?

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota 
The most talented running back on the planet is such a physical specimen that the recovery from his severe knee injury suffered on Dec. 24 is well ahead of schedule. Will he maintain his elite-level explosiveness and cutting ability? Peterson took the next important step in his return to the field earlier this week when the Vikings removed from the PUP list. Even if he's able to make a near-miraculous Week 1 return, expect Toby Gerhart to see a fair amount of carries, especially early on.

Matt Schaub, QB, Houston
The Lisfranc injury to his right foot required surgery and kept him from making his playoff debut. He should be healthy this season, but it’s worth noting that he has missed at least five games in three of the last five years.

Ryan Williams, RB, Arizona
The explosive rookie tailback ruptured his patella tendon in the preseason last year and it's been a long road back. After being limited early in training camp and missing the Cardinals' first two preseason games, Williams is expected to play this weekend. If healthy, his explosiveness and big-play ability will make him tough to keep off the field in Arizona.

— Published on August 15, 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Players Coming Back from Injury</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /nascar/nascar-horsepower-rankings-10
Body:

1. Jimmie Johnson  Once an Achilles heel, Johnson rolled to his fourth consecutive road course top 10 with a third at Watkins Glen. In the process, he vaulted to the top of the championship point standings. Last week: 1

2. Brad Keselowski  Dating back to his Kentucky win in late June, Keselowski has racked up six straight finishes of ninth or better — including a runner-up finish at the Glen that will be talked about for quite some time. Last week: 4

3. Matt Kenseth  An eighth at the Glen was his best road result since another eighth, which came at Sonoma in June 2008. The timing couldn’t have been better, as Kenseth sits two points behind Johnson in the standings. Last week: 3

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Tried his best to not throw NASCAR under the bus for the no-call for oil on the track at the Glen. Try as he might, he didn’t do a very good job. Last week: 2

5. Greg Biffle  Slowly (and very quietly) making himself a major player in the championship race. His sixth at the Glen moved him to within one point of Johnson at the top of the standings. Last week: 8

6. Kasey Kahne  His wild card position is looking stronger each week, as Kahne sits 11th in the standings with a pair of wins. And the Hendrick engines and chassis aren’t hurting, either. Last week: 9

7. Jeff Gordon  The hot streak comes crashing down at the Glen for Gordon, who now sits 10 points behind Ryan Newman for the second wild card Chase spot. Last week: 7

8. Tony Stewart  Once the man to beat in Watkins Glen, when he won five events from 2002-09, Stewart has showings of 27th and 19th the last two visits. This is a hard team to figure. Last week: 6

9. Denny Hamlin  Hamlin has five finishes of 25th or worse in the last eight races, so he may not deserve this ranking. However, those two wins on his scorecard are hard to dismiss. Last week: 5

10. Clint Bowyer  Couldn’t follow up his road win in Sonoma with another at the Glen, but a fourth-place run was impressive, considering the battle royale that was going on at the front of the field. Last week: 11

Teaser:
<p> Once again, Jimmie Johnson leads the way in Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 18:50
Path: /nascar/nascar-news-notes-week-1
Body:

Buoyed by his victory at Watkins Glen on Sunday, Marcos Ambrose said the goal is quite simple for the next four races as he and his team vie for a wild card spot in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship.

“Our focus has to be being aggressive on our strategy, being aggressive with the car and me on the race track being aggressive to try to get that next win because without that we’re going to be racing for 15th or 16th in the championship and that’s not what we’re after,” Ambrose said in a teleconference with reporters Tuesday.

Ambrose ranks fifth in the wild card standings with only the top two getting into the Chase. Kasey Kahne currently holds one wild card spot with two wins while Ryan Newman holds the other spot by a slim margin. Newman has one win and leads Kyle Busch, who also has a single victory, by six points. Jeff Gordon, who has one win, is 10 points behind Newman. Ambrose is 44 points behind Newman, thus Ambrose needs a second victory to have a shot at a wild card berth.

“There’s no easier formula than if you’re not first, you’re last,” Ambrose said. “That’s the way we’re approaching this weekend and the next three. We have to go out there on full attack mode.”

The one benefit for Ambrose is that the series is heading to Michigan this weekend where he won the pole in June and finished ninth, so he has shown an ability to run well there but will have to be markedly better to score his first career oval win in the Cup series.


NEARING 100  Although the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has only 38 races (36 points races and two exhibition races), Tony Stewart will run in nearly 100 races this year. He’s boosting that total with a number of sprint car races at dirt tracks — where he spent much of his early days in racing.

“I feel like the more time I spend in a race car the better it’s making me as a driver,” says Stewart, who has won a pair of World of Outlaw sprint car races this year. “Everybody kind of has that feeling that you’ve got to get away from it at some point and recharge your batteries, but that does recharge my batteries.

“If we don’t get rained out here these next couple of weeks we are going to be right around 95 races at the end of the year that I’m going to run. It’s going to be a full schedule for sure but it’s a lot of fun. It’s one of the most fun years I’ve ever had in a race car.”

Stewart was the first driver in USAC history to sweep its top three series in the same year, winning titles in the midget, sprint car and Silver Crown divisions in 1995. He admits going back and forth between sprint cars and his Cup car is not much of an adjustment for him with his schedule.

“I’ve run I think 40 races already this year with it so it’s a lot easier for me to adapt because I’m doing it so much,’’ he explains. “It is hard. That is probably the hardest two cars to try to go back and forth between because their handling characteristics and the physics of them. It doesn’t take Kasey (Kahne) as long as he likes to explain to you. He goes out and kicks butt with it too. It would take guys awhile to go from that type of car to here, just like it would take time for anybody that runs a Cup car to go over there and run those cars.”


LOOKING AHEAD  After this weekend’s race at Michigan, the Cup Series heads to Bristol where the top lane has been altered to narrow the racing grooves and get cars closer together on the track.

So, what it will be like? It’s something Martin Truex Jr. admits he’s been thinking about.

“I'm interested to see what it's like,” Truex says. “The last few races there, I've ran second and third — pretty much ran the extreme high side, which has been ground away. I'm not really looking forward to finding out if it's going to be that much worse. Guys seem to run the middle of the race track and we were able to run the middle.

“I think it's going to be different because that extreme high side is not going to have the speed it's had in the past few years. I think we'll have to adjust our setup a little bit and work on some things.”
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long talks Marcos Ambrose's Chase chances, Tony Stewart's grueling racing schedule, the "new" groove at Bristol and Carl Edwards' Michigan run.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 18:10
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/former-nfl-lineman-makes-hysterical-hoops-video
Body:

Former Bears and 49ers defensive tackle Anthony Adams is now an NFL free agent, and he’s thinking about pursuing his first love — the NBA. Check out his hilarious hoops video. Those Bulls shorts are pretty damn tight. Ya feel me?

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 14:49
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/rory-mcilroy-vs-tiger-woods-tale-tape
Body:

For more than a decade, golf fans were secure in the knowledge that Tiger Woods ruled their sport. Sure, Phil Mickelson was a useful foil for Tiger, and every now and then a Vijay Singh or Padraig Harrington would assert himself before slinking back into the woodwork. But Woods was the Man. Even after the Thanksgiving thunderbolt that derailed the Woods train, we all expected Tiger to resume his rule at any time.

But now that we've reached four years and counting with Tiger stuck on 14 majors, I think we're free to reassess. Now that the Woods era seems to be truly on the wane, it's time to anoint a new king. Science tells us that nature hates a vacuum, and after two eight-shot wins in majors in the last 14 months, Rory McIlroy looks ready to fill the void at the top of golf.
And more than that, Rory looks likes he could be the kind of historic force in the game that Woods was. The proof comes when you compare the two at similar points in their careers.

Let's look at the Tiger vs. Rory tale of the tape through their age-23 seasons — Woods through 1999, Rory through the 2012 PGA. Rory's record is impressive, but Woods was already dominating the PGA Tour at a similar stage, and he reached his apex the following season, giving 2013 extra meaning for Rory in his effort to match Woods' career trajectory.
Edge to Tiger — for now.

TALE OF THE TAPE

                                                      TIGER (age 23)    RORY
Major championships won               2                           2
Combined margin of victory           13                         16
Major top 5s                                     4                           5
Major top 10s                                   7                           6
PGA Tour wins                               11                          4
Worldwide wins                              13                          6
Scoring avg. (PGA Tour)            69.10 (1997)        70.35 (2010)
                                                     69.21 (1998)        69.48 (2011)
                                                     68.43 (1999)        69.02 (2012)
Ryder Cup record                          3-6-1                   1-1-2

 

Teaser:
<p> Meet the New Boss. Same as the Old Boss?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 14:33
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/red-sox-legend-johnny-pesky-his-own-words
Body:

Johnny Pesky died Monday after seven decades as the pre-eminent ambassador for the Boston Red Sox. Pesky joined the Sox in 1942, batting .331 with 205 hits. He lost the next three years to his service in World War II, but came back with 200-hit seasons in ’46 and ’47. Pesky was the perfect name for a player who once drew 100 walks in a season while striking out just 19 times. Pesky’s lively personality and boundless enthusiasm made him beloved to generations of Red Sox fans. On the occasion of his passing, we present the foreword he wrote to Athlon's 2006 book "Game Day: Boston Red Sox."

Through the years, I've been labeled 'Mr. Red Sox.' Now I don't know if that is true or not, but I do know I've been honored to be a part of this team for over 60 years.

The Boston Red Sox are a special club, and their fans are second to none. The atmosphere in Boston is unmatched. People talk about places like St. Louis and New York and Chicago, but there is nothing like Boston. There is some sort of mystique there.

It all starts with Fenway Park. The new owners have done so much since they've taken over, it is like a brand new ballpark. They've added a lot of seats, but I think they need to add some more. Fenway Park is a perfect setting, but the fans are so gung-ho about the Red Sox, they could move it up to 40,000 no problem. I see a lot of the same families at the park year after year and they just love the Red Sox.

One of my proudest moments of being with the Red Sox was on Opening Day in 2005, when I was able to raise the World Series championship banner in center field. The old captain, Carl Yastrzemski, raised it with me, and the fans were terrific. I also remember Joe Torre having his team up on the top step when I received my ring. That meant a lot to me.

That day was a true celebration of that 2004 club and all it accomplished. That club had the best combination I've ever seen of good players and good guys pulling for each other. Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Johnny Damon, Tim Wakefield. They really cared for each other, and that started with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Just a wonderful group.

Being in the locker room in St. Louis was great. I never saw so many happy guys crying in my whole life, and I was one of them. It was a big thrill and truly overwhelming. Even the new guys to the Red Sox appreciated what it meant. They were all acting like children, and I couldn't blame them.

Playing with Ted Williams was the highlight of my career. He was the greatest hitter who ever lived, and the numbers back him up. Certainly there have been other hitters, but no one like Ted. He had the average, the power, and he lost years on his career to two wars.

The game is certainly changing, but the future is bright for the Red Sox. I feel privileged to be part of this organization for so long, and my hope is to continue to be a part of it for as long as I can.

— Johnny Pesky, December 2005

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 11:18
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-decline-running-back
Body:

RBBC is the acronym du jour in the world of fantasy football. It stands for “running back by committee,” and it means the days of the workhorse back, the bell cow back — whatever term you have for the back who totes the ball a clear majority of the game — are coming to an end.

The true feature backs who are also adept at catching passes are the players who can survive, or even thrive, in this new RBBC world. But those backs, as we will see, are few and far between.

Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Steven Jackson are versatile workhorses. Each had at least 260 carries and 40 catches in 2012.

There are three others who have the potential to be complete workhorse backs — Matt Forté, Ryan Mathews and Trent Richardson.

Forté had 203 carries and 52 catches in 12 games last season. But there are some red flags. Forté is not happy with his contract situation in Chicago, and the Bears added Michael Bush — a noted touchdown thief — in free agency. Also, don’t be surprised if Khalil Bell, who played well when Forté was hurt last season, steals some carries. Forté has carried the ball 260-plus times only once (316 as a rookie in 2008) in his career.

Mathews, who had 222 carries and 50 catches in his second season as a pro, is another potential workhorse — especially with Mike Tolbert now in Carolina. Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, will be asked to take on a huge role in Cleveland right away, both as a ball-carrier and pass-catcher.

Then there are the one-trick ponies — players who are still top fantasy producers but don’t bring the total package of a Foster, Rice or McCoy.

Marshawn Lynch and Michael Turner are bulk-carriers who caught under 30 passes last season yet still finished as top-seven fantasy backs. We are all waiting for the bulk-carriers who just run the ball to either break down or have their workload cut by more dynamic, change-of-pace running backs.

It has not happened to Turner yet, but many other No. 1 backs are having their production cut, and it is changing the landscape of fantasy football.

We’ve just discussed 11 players who are — or have the ability to be — workhorse running backs, which is essentially one-third of the league’s 32 starting running backs. That leaves 21 teams in a RBBC situation.

The combination of the RBBC and NFL rules that encourage more downfield passing has helped make quarterbacks, receivers and even tight ends more attractive fantasy options in recent years.

LOOK AT THE DATA
The number of receivers taken in the first three rounds has increased over the last three years, while the number of running backs taken in the same rounds has decreased.

That’s three years. What about the last decade?

Look at some historical data, according to Athlon Sports’ mock drafts (see chart, right), and you will see that 22 running backs were taken in the first three rounds (36 picks) in 2006 compared to 17 this season. There were 18 backs selected in the first two rounds (24 picks) in 2006, and that number has dropped to 13 this season.

No quarterback was taken in the first round in 2006. Nowadays, two quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton) are consensus first-round picks, and several others (Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford) can be expected to go by the end of the third round.

Rodgers was the only quarterback selected in the first round (eighth overall) in last season’s Athlon Sports mock draft. Next up was Brady at No. 20, and that kicked off a run in which four quarterbacks were selected in the next eight picks.

Rodgers was taken fifth overall in this year’s Athlon mock, followed by Newton at No. 9. Next up were Brees, Brady and Stafford, who were picked from 22-26.

Meanwhile, the number of receivers selected among the first two rounds in 2006 was three. This year, it was six; last year, it was up to eight wideouts taken in the first 24 picks.

There were no tight ends in the first two rounds in four of the six mock drafts from 2006-11. Now, we have two — Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham — in the top 24.

Even Athlon’s rankings over the last two seasons show the change. Last year, we had nine running backs in the top 12 and one quarterback. This season, we have only six running backs and four quarterbacks.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
There are a couple of ways to look at the data.

You should still try to get one of the top-five running backs as soon as you can. That will always be the case as long as there are still guaranteed workhorses out there.

But if you miss out, or elect to take the top quarterback or wide receivers — or Gronkowski or Graham — don’t just take the next-best back the next time around because you feel you need a player at that position. Instead, draft a top-flight player at the receiver position.

There were eight running backs last year who had at least six 100-yard rushing games. Six of them are ranked in Athlon’s top 15 — Foster, Jones-Drew, Rice, McCoy, Turner and Lynch. The other two — Willis McGahee and Fred Jackson — can be had outside the top 20.

The emergence of the RBBC has enabled owners to piece together the running back position and keep loading up elsewhere.

Good receivers are going to continue to get plenty of touches — just take a look at what happened in the league last season.

The NFL had its highest scoring average in 46 seasons (44.4 ppg), and 2011 marked the first season in NFL history in which three different teams scored at least 500 points (Green Bay, New Orleans and New England).

The league-wide passer rating (84.3) and TD:INT ratio (1.472:1) were both record-setting numbers. Games averaged an all-time high of 693.7 total yards, surpassing the record from a year earlier (672.0). The all-time passing yards per game mark was set in 2010 (443.1 ypg) and then broken in 2012 (459.4 ypg). There were 121 individual 300-yard passing games, the most in NFL history by 17. There were also 18 400-yard passing games, besting the old mark of 13.

STRATEGY
If you miss out on Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Newton or Stafford, go find a receiver (or two) who is responsible for some of these record-setting offensive numbers.

While you will find that the ADP data says there have been 33 to 36 receivers taken in the top 100 for the last decade — and 34 for the last five years, according to MyFantasyLeague.com — the number of those taken in the first four rounds (48 picks) has increased over the last four years. It was 15 in 2009, 15 in ’10, 16 in ‘11 and 19 this season (through late May).

For example, with the first pick in a 12-team league, you could grab Arian Foster, follow up with receivers Greg Jennings and A.J. Green in the second and third rounds, respectively, and still have a chance at another top-flight receiver or a tight end with your next two picks. Only then would you need to start thinking about a quarterback.

Here’s another scenario. Say you start with the sixth pick in the first round. You can grab Calvin Johnson, come back and still get a Gronkowski or Graham in the second round, followed by a top-tier receiver in the third and fourth and then grab one of the 300-yard passing quarterbacks in the fifth.

Once again: Don’t worry if you miss one of the elite quarterbacks in the early rounds. You can still get high-quality signal-callers in the middle rounds.

Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Matt Ryan each had at least six games with 300 yards passing in 2011. Tony Romo had five such games. Oh, and Peyton Manning is back in action this season. All of these quarterbacks can be had in the fifth-to-seventh rounds.

Then there’s Ben Roethlisberger, who had five 300-yard games and three others with at least 250 yards. His ADP is in the 90-to-100 range (around the eighth round).

We won’t deny that running backs still rule the fantasy game at the very front end of any draft, but the committee approach has reduced the number of elite backs who are available. You need to be prepared on draft day. If you miss out on a player like Foster or Rice (or you simply choose not to use a top pick on a running back), you need a sound game-plan for the top few rounds. And that game-plan should include taking several top-flight receivers and perhaps one of the top tight ends and a quarterback before you load up on running backs.

The fantasy game is changing — so change your strategy.

— By Corby Yarbrough, originally published in the 2012 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Decline of the Running Back</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-rules-picking-rookies
Body:

Fantasy owners are often tempted by the unlimited potential rookies offer. But history shows us that they rarely satisfy the demands of the roster spots they occupy.

You’re four rounds into your fantasy football draft, and already the temptation is killing you. Is it time to consider Justin Blackmon? He could be huge for Jacksonville, same as he was for Oklahoma State. He could be the game’s next elite wide receiver. He could fill my need at the No. 2 wide receiver spot.

He could … he could … but chances are, he won’t.

Rookies rarely live up to the hype. Most NFL quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends take time to mature. Success doesn’t happen in Year 1. But, because of a few well-documented exceptions, fantasy owners — even seasoned ones — ignore hard evidence and fall under the trance rookie prospects project.

Last season will only fuel the problem. Cam Newton had arguably the greatest debut of any player in league history, and fellow rookie quarterback Andy Dalton lit up the sky in Cincinnati. A.J. Green and Julio Jones each put up some of the best numbers ever posted by a rookie receiver. That success will have fantasy owners pondering whether Blackmon and others can duplicate that success in 2012.

History tells us probably not. By analyzing rookie data dating back to 1978 when the league went to a 16-game format (and in some cases dating back before that), the evidence suggests that rookies don’t meet the expectations fantasy owners have for starters (or even front-line backups).

Here is a look at some of the rookie pitfalls, broken down by key statistical categories, for each of the four primary fantasy positions:

Quarterbacks
NFL teams invest a lot in a rookie quarterback. More than the money, that player represents the team’s future, so the conventional wisdom is to bring him along slowly. Teams remind themselves of the beating Troy Aikman took in 1989, and of how some careers never got going because the player’s confidence was shattered early on. There’s another reason fantasy rookie passers fail to meet expectations: Chances are, if a team picks a quarterback in the early rounds of the draft, the rest of the team isn’t very good.

Rule 1: Quarterbacks don’t find the end zone enough
Newton is one of only four rookie quarterbacks from the Super Bowl era (1966-present) to throw for 20-plus touchdowns in a season. Peyton Manning’s 26-touchdown debut in 1998 ranks atop the leaderboard for this category and may be the only acceptable touchdown total among rookie fantasy passers. Most alarming is the fact that over the past decade — the most friendly passing era in the history of the game — only five rookie quarterbacks have logged 15 or more touchdown passes.

Rule 2: The 3,000-yard “norm” is rarely reached
Fantasy owners expect starting quarterbacks to throw for at least 3,000 yards, and recent numbers suggest that this is reasonable to expect of backups as well. At least 18 quarterbacks have reached that total in each of the past four seasons, so it’s a bit surprising that only a handful of rookie signal-callers over the past 35 years have passed for 3,000 or more yards. Four of the five have come in recent years (Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton).

Rule 3: Rookie QBs don’t start enough games to matter
Perhaps the reason rookie quarterbacks do not perform well for fantasy owners is because they do not get enough snaps. Since 1978, only eight quarterbacks have started every game in their debut seasons. And to take it a step further, a total of 25 have started 12 or more games (who could forget Jeff Komlo’s 1979 campaign?) — that’s less than one per season, on average.

2012 Potential Rule-Breaker
Four quarterbacks (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden) will have a chance to start all 16 games, but of the three, Griffin may have the best chance to produce for fantasy owners. Washington’s receiving corps gives Griffin the edge.

Running Backs
Through the years a number of rookie running backs have found success — perhaps more so than any other fantasy position. The transition from college to the NFL is easier on backs, and teams take advantage of their rookies’ fresh legs. But recent trends should give fantasy owners reason for pause.

Rule 1: The biggest names are not always the ones to shine
A total of 27 running backs have scored 10 or more rushing touchdowns in their rookie seasons — an encouraging stat. But many of these players were middle- or even late-round picks. Next to Eric Dickerson’s 18 touchdowns (1983) in the record book is sixth-round pick Mike Anderson’s 15 scores from 2000. Five backs were selected ahead of Maurice Jones-Drew, who scored 13 touchdowns in 2006. Tim Hightower (10 touchdowns) was a fifth-round pick in 2008, Ron Davenport (11) was a sixth-round pick in 1985, and Billy Jackson (10) was a seventh-round pick in 1981. Sometimes you just can’t tell where rookie running back production will come from.

Rule 2: Rookie workloads are declining with the times
Running backs have not been putting up huge numbers in recent years, and in 2011 only two backs logged 300 or more carries (in 2006, 10 backs reached the mark). Rookie backs have followed this trend. Whereas there have been 15 rookie backs to carry 300 or more times since 1978, only one has come in the past decade (Matt Forté, 2008). In fact, in this last decade, only 16 rookies have carried 200 times or more.

2012 Potential Rule-Breaker
The Browns invested in Trent Richardson to be the workhorse for their rebuilding offense. Unfortunately, that offense has no passing game to speak of, suggesting that opponents will be able to stack the box to stop Richardson. This may be another year in which rookie running back success comes from someone fantasy owners don’t suspect.

Wide Receivers
It takes time for a wide receiver to blossom. That’s why fantasy owners long ago invented the “three-year rule,” which is used to predict when a receiver will have a breakout season. Receivers must learn all of the routes (and variances for each route) and develop chemistry (timing, trust) with their quarterbacks. Rarely does success happen overnight.

Rule 1: Receivers catch fewer than 70 balls
To crack a starting lineup, a fantasy receiver should approach the 70-reception mark (24 wide receivers reached the mark in 2011). Few rookies get there, though — only six since 1978, most recently Eddie Royal (91 catches in 2008). Over the past decade, 21 rookie wide receivers have reached the 50-catch mark, including undrafted free agents Davone Bess and Doug Baldwin. If there is a silver lining, it’s that that figure is a 50 percent increase from the decade prior (14 rookie receivers caught 50-plus balls from 1992-2001).

Rule 2: Don’t expect 1,000 or more yards
Eleven rookie receivers have topped the 1,000-yard mark since 1978, but the important thing to note here is that only six of the 11 were first-round picks, suggesting that many went unnoticed by fantasy owners on draft day. Indianapolis’ Bill Brooks was a fourth-round pick in 1986, and, of course, Marques Colston lasted until the seventh round in 2006. In terms of consistency, only 10 receivers over that same period have averaged 70 or more yards per game in their first seasons (min. of 11 starts).

Rule 3: Double-digit touchdown totals are out of the question
Here is a trivia question your friends will never get the answer to: Name the five rookie receivers of the Super Bowl era to catch 10 or more touchdowns in a season. Most know Randy Moss set a record in 1998 with 17, and some will remember that only a few years ago Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams had 11. The others? San Diego’s John Jefferson caught 13 touchdowns in 1978, and Minnesota’s Sammy White (1976) and Seattle’s Daryl Turner (1984) each caught 10. Consider that in 2010 alone there were 10 wide receivers with 10 or more touchdown catches.

2012 Potential Rule-Breaker
The Jaguars were one of the weakest teams at the position last year, so hopes are high that Blackmon can fill the void for second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Of course, this only means opposing teams will be able to key on Blackmon.

Tight Ends
Obviously, the tight end position has only emerged as a fantasy force in recent years. Prior to the Tony Gonzalez era, there were few seasons of note (Mike Ditka’s rookie season of 1961 among them). Today, however, fantasy owners expect a great deal of production out of their tight ends, which is why they should evaluate rookies with caution.

Rule 1: First-year TEs don’t offer big catch totals
If 70 is the benchmark for wide receivers, 50 is the equivalent for tight ends (17 reached the total last season). Since 1978, only five rookie tight ends have caught that many passes, and only two have caught 60 or more balls (Philadelphia’s Keith Jackson has the high mark with 81 in 1988). Recent history suggests that rookies are making progress in this category, however. Half of the top 20 catch seasons among rookie tight ends have been recorded since 2001, and the 2010 NFL season was the most successful of any, as four rookie tight ends had 40 or more catches, including New England’s Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

Rule 2: Count on a low touchdown total
Gronkowski is the only rookie tight end of the Super Bowl era to catch 10 or more touchdowns, but fantasy owners shouldn’t expect that from a first-year player (10 touchdowns is a respectable total for an elite tight end). However, what is troubling is that only a dozen rookie tight ends have caught six or more scores in the same period, and surprisingly, only four from the past decade — Gronkowski, Hernandez and Pittsburgh’s Heath Miller (2005) and Washington’s Chris Cooley (2004).

Rule 3: Tight ends don’t crack the starting lineup
Same as quarterbacks, rookie tight ends do not see enough action. Only nine have started a full season since 1978, and over the past decade, only nine have started 12 or more games. Only one rookie tight end from the period has reached all of the above milestones (16 starts, 50 receptions and six or more touchdowns) – New Orleans’ Cam Cleeland, 1998.

2012 Potential Rule-Breaker
Coby Fleener knows his new quarterback (Luck) well from having played together at Stanford, but fantasy owners should be scared at the thought of a rookie throwing to a rookie.

— By Mike Beacom, originally published in the 2012 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine

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Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 08:30
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Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Philadelphia Eagles check in at No. 14.

After the nightmare “Dream Team” season of 2011, the Eagles are wide awake going into 2012. Owner Jeffrey Lurie admitted he considered making a change after Andy Reid’s 13th championship-free season as head coach. It is widely assumed Reid will have to make a deep playoff run, at least, to survive his 14th season. And while it is safe to say that the excuses for 2011 — the lockout, the enormous changes on the roster and among the assistant coaches — won’t apply this year, there is also a good chance that no excuses will be necessary.

Reid didn’t undo all those changes during this more typical offseason. Instead, he committed more fully to them. Juan Castillo remains as defensive coordinator after the team blew five fourth quarter leads. Michael Vick had another season plagued by injury, but Reid stood by his reclaimed quarterback and stood pat on his refurbished offensive line.

Reid has reached the playoffs in nine of his 13 seasons. His team has also done a little worse in each of the past three seasons. Which trend will hold? The answer will determine the Eagles’ course after 14 seasons under the league’s longest-tenured head coach.

Offense

The Eagles are betting on Vick to be better after his first full offseason as the team’s No. 1 quarterback. It is a bet that could make or break the 2012 season. Vick certainly has a championship-caliber supporting cast.

After several years in flux, the team’s offensive line has evolved into a strength going into this season. Todd Herremans has locked down the right tackle spot vacated by Jon Runyan. Journeyman guard Evan Mathis found a home after connecting with offensive line coach Howard Mudd, and 2011 draft picks Jason Kelce (center) and Danny Watkins (right guard) got through their growing pains and should be fixtures for years. The team suffered a blow when Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters tore his right Achilles tendon during an offseason workout and then tore it once again in a freak injury in May. The Eagles signed free agent Demetress Bell, a move that should minimize the loss.

The line’s emergence, and Mudd’s attacking style, helped LeSean McCoy establish himself as one of the top backs in the league. McCoy just got better as he developed a feel for his blockers, and he is poised to have a monster 2012 season.

One reason: The speed and production of wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin clear out the intermediate areas of the field. If McCoy can get through the line, there is room for him to get up to full speed and to use his exceptional shiftiness.

Jackson, who admitted pouting over his contract and was suspended by Reid for one game, did not have a great 2011 season. He has a new deal and will be expected to be the player he was in 2009 and ’10. His mere presence helps create opportunities for Maclin, slot receiver Jason Avant and tight end Brent Celek.

But it all starts, and sometimes ends, with Vick. His 14 interceptions and 10 fumbles (four lost) were among the team’s biggest problems in 2011. Vick also missed three games and parts of three others with injuries. For the Eagles to get the most from their array of offensive talent, Vick has to play smarter and stay healthy. “He understands how important he is to this football team, that he’s healthy,” Reid says. “And that means as healthy as you can be playing the sport. You limit some of the contact points you have.”

Defense

Once Reid decided to stick with Castillo, and with defensive line coach Jim Washburn’s signature “wide 9” philosophy, the focus became adding pieces that fit the puzzle. The first of those pieces filled a gaping hole in the middle. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans, acquired in a trade with the Texans, could be the team’s first impact linebacker since Jeremiah Trotter’s heyday. While Washburn’s approach generated enormous pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it also created huge gaps for running backs. Ryans, available because the Texans switched to a 3-4 defense last year, provides an imposing, three-down presence in the middle of the field.

The linebacker-light Eagles also drafted short but fast Mychal Kendricks from Cal to compete for the strong-side spot. That could leave the best of the incumbents, Jamar Chaney and Brian Rolle, competing for the weak-side job.

The other adjustment was made in the secondary. The Eagles dumped their best defensive back of the past few years, Asante Samuel, to commit to more aggressive press coverage. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, both of whom looked woefully miscast in their first seasons as Eagles, need to step up with Samuel gone.

At safety, the Eagles are relying on youth. Nate Allen is rebounding from a serious knee injury, while Jaiquawn Jarrett’s rookie year was spoiled by the lockout and the general chaos surrounding the defense. The team also signed veteran Oshiomogho Atogwe to a one-year deal to provide some depth at safety.

The centerpiece of the defense will continue to be the line. Ends Jason Babin (18 sacks) and Trent Cole (11), unleashed by Washburn’s system, combined for 29 sacks in 2011. Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon rotated in the middle. They will be joined by first-round pick Fletcher Cox, a disruptive inside presence from Mississippi State, and rush end Vinny Curry from Marshall. Cox could displace Jenkins as a starter, while Curry is likely to provide energy off the bench.

Specialists

  The kids were all right. After years of continuity in the kicking game, the Eagles went with rookies Alex Henery and Chas Henry in 2011. They acquitted themselves well and will be back in 2012. Henery, a fourth-round pick, made 24-of-27 field goals and all 46 of his extra-point attempts. His field goal percentage was the best ever for a rookie kicker and the best in Eagles history. The only question left unanswered was how he would handle a clutch kick with the game on the line. The situation didn’t arise in 2011. The undrafted Henry was solid. As long as he doesn’t try throwing the ball — as he did on one ill-advised trick play — he should be fine.

The return game is less settled. Jackson and, to a lesser degree, Maclin are weapons as punt returners but figure to be used sparingly in that dangerous role. Rookie Brandon Boykin and running back Dion Lewis could compete for that job as well as kickoff returns.

Final Analysis: 3rd in the NFC East

The only way for the Eagles to shake the unfortunate “Dream Team” label applied by departed backup quarterback Vince Young is to rebound with a more typical Reid-era season. If Vick remains healthy and effective, this team should certainly contend for a playoff berth.

It may take more than that — an appearance in the NFC title game or even the Super Bowl — for Reid to retain his job, but it would be a good start.

Related: 2012 Philadelphia Eagles Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Divine intervention
Defensive line coach Jim Washburn was very excited when the team traded up to select his guy, Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox. “I didn’t think we had a chance,” Washburn said. “Guess it was just meant to be.” Asked how Cox fits his philosophy, Washburn gushed, “When God made him, he made him to be in this system right here.” Tough to overrule the Big Scout.

Bargain bin
When cornerback Asante Samuel accused Eagles GM Howie Roseman and president Joe Banner of playing “fantasy football” by acquiring corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, it was assumed he’d soon be an ex-Eagle. The rest of the NFL assumed it as well, and the Eagles were only able to get a seventh-round draft pick from Atlanta for the Pro Bowler.

Free trade agreements
Going into the 2012 draft, Roseman confided, “We like action.” And once again, Roseman engineered a bunch of draft-weekend trades. The big one was moving up to get Cox in the first round. To recoup the fourth-round pick surrendered in that deal, Roseman moved down eight spots in the second round in a trade with Green Bay. They got corner/return specialist Brandon Boykin with their new fourth-round selection.

True fan
A lot of players say they are fans of the teams that draft them. Vinny Curry, the second-round defensive end from Neptune, N.J., is the real deal. He declined a request from NFL Network to send a crew to his home because he didn’t want to take down his Eagles memorabilia. His first trip to NovaCare Complex coincided with a ceremony honoring retiring former Eagle Brian Dawkins. “This has got to be the best day of my life,” a teary Curry said.

20/20 hindsight
Eagles fans already know one of the highlights of the 2012 season. It will be the game where the team honors Dawkins. There was much angst when Dawkins left to finish his career in Denver. The team and Dawk himself tried to repair that damage upon Dawkins’ retirement. He signed a one-day contract to retire as an Eagle, and the team announced the retirement of Dawkins’ No. 20.

@EvanMathis69
His Twitter profile proclaimed him “The People’s OG.” Maybe, but guard Evan Mathis certainly is one of the wittier and more entertaining tweeters among professional athletes. On draft day: “Welcome to Philly @fcoxx_94 (Fletcher Cox). Watch out for their LG in training camp. He’s awesome.” Or: “For every new follower I get in the next month I’ll donate nothing to everyone.” Worth a follow.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

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

Order your 2012 Philadelphia Eagles Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Philadelphia Eagles Schedule Analysis

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The Pac-12 is one of the nation's top conferences for offense, so it should be no surprise that six of the top 10 players in Athlon's top 50 for 2012 check in on that side of the ball. USC's Matt Barkley is the frontrunner to win the Heisman, while receivers Robert Woods, Keenan Allen, Marqise Lee and Marquess Wilson are all All-American candidates. While the defense doesn't have as many players in the top 10, Utah's Star Lotulelei and USC's T.J. McDonald rank among the top six players. 

Compiling the top 50 players of any conference is never an easy task. However, Athlon established a criteria to help compile the rankings. 

Here are five factors that contributed to the criteria for the rankings:
1. Projection on 2012 Performance 
2. Importance to team
3. Positional importance
4. NFL Draft stock
5. Career performance 

(Published August 14, 2012)

Athlon's Top 50 Pac-12 Players for 2012

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
After throwing 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions over his final four games in 2011, the consensus was Barkley was gone to the NFL. Instead, he surprised a lot of folks with his decision to return for one more shot at a national title and has USC poised to play for the championship in January. Barkley enters 2012 with 9,054 yards and 80 touchdowns and is Athlon’s first-team All-American quarterback for 2012. The senior ranks third in school history with 9,013 career yards, and his 80 touchdown passes are fifth in Pac-12 history. The only missing pieces on Barkley’s resume? A Pac-12 title, national championship and Heisman. All three are certainly within reach in 2012.

2. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
When the guys who are trying to block you officially vote you as the best defensive lineman in the league, it’s pretty hard to argue. Lotulelei earned such an honor last year when he was given the Morris Trophy, the award given to the best D-Lineman in the Pac-12 as voted on by starting offensive linemen. His 6-foot-4, 320-pound frame has NFL written all over it, as Utah hopes its Star in the middle can lead what was the league’s top scoring defense last year. The senior from South Jordan, Utah is a first-team All-American and looks to build on his 9.0 tackles for a loss and 44 total tackles.

3. Robert Woods, WR, USC
One half of USC’s impressive receiver duo, Woods was one of eight players in the country to catch more than 100 passes -- and he was the only one to do so in 12 games thanks to USC’s bowl ban. Woods will get his chance to play in the postseason after accounting for 176 catches for 2,084 yards and 21 touchdowns (15 last season) in his first two years at USC.

4. Keenan Allen, WR, California
Few players in the nation have as much raw physical talent and skill as Allen possesses. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound stud from Greensboro, N.C., flashed first-round NFL talent as only a sophomore last year by catching 82 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns. He is the half-brother of quarterback Zach Maynard and clearly has an unspoken rapport with Cal signal caller. Look for this to be Allen’s final year in a Golden Bear uniform.

5. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Even at Oregon, where speed and explosiveness runs aplenty, Thomas found a way to stand out as a freshman. The 5-foot-9, 173-pound running back from Los Angeles averaged a 16-yard gain every time he touched the ball. That was half a yard more than any other Ducks’ regular and twice as much as either LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner. Thomas scored 18 total touchdowns as a rookie (nine rushing, seven receiving, two on kickoff returns).

6. T.J. McDonald, S, USC
The USC legacy — his father Tim was a two-time All-American at USC from 1983-1986 — is a powerful hitter at the back end of the No. 1 team in the nation. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior has 23 career starts, 163 career tackles and six career interceptions. The Fresno (Calif.) Edison product is an Athlon Sports All-American and Thorpe Award candidate heading into his final season.

7. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
Most Pac-12 fans are familiar with Wilson but expect to see him become a household name nationally after 2012. With Mike Leach’s pass-first attack coming to Pullman, the Cougars should be one of the top offenses in the nation. Wilson has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and caught 18 touchdown passes over the last two years. His best performance came against San Diego State in 2011, grabbing six passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. With Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Keenan Allen returning, it will be a battle to get first-team all-conference honors. However, there’s no question Wilson will have the stats to get in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 and All-American honors.

8. Nickell Robey, CB, USC
An All-State second-team baseball player and district long jump champion, Robey faced no mystery of where he’d fit at USC. The junior has started every game in the secondary since he arrived on campus. Robey will make a bid at All-America status after recording 63 tackles, nine pass breakups and two interceptions last season (including one returned for a touchdown in the triple-overtime loss to Stanford).

9. John Boyett, S, Oregon
Playing for an underrated defense, Boyett’s status as one of the nation’s best safeties does not get much attention. Entering his fourth-season as a starter, Boyett has 276 career tackles. He fell one tackle short in 2010 of leading the Ducks in tackles in each of his three seasons on campus. Boyett is a touchdown-saving safety who also has nine career interceptions.

10. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
With Robert Woods posting a record-setting season on the other side, it was easy to overlook Lee’s performance in 2011. As a true freshman, he finished with 73 receptions for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Lee came on strong over the second half of the season, catching at least seven passes in each of the final five games. Woods is still USC’s No. 1 receiver, but Lee will see plenty of passes in his direction. Expect the sophomore to surpass last season’s totals, while pushing for All-American honors.

11. Keith Price, QB, Washington
Replacing Jake Locker was no easy task, but it didn’t take long for Price to emerge as one of the conference’s top quarterbacks last year. The California native threw for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, while adding three scores on the ground. Knee injuries limited Price in the second half of last season, but he will be 100 percent for the season opener. The Huskies still have question marks on defense, but Price’s emergence should allow Washington to push Stanford for second in the Pac-12 North.

12. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
The outside linebacker from Marietta, Ga., became an instant playmaker on on the Stanford defense the last three seasons, recording 46 tackles for a loss during that span. He led the Pac-12 last season with 2.1 tackles behind the line last season while forcing five fumbles. With Shayne Skov back, he and Thomas could be one of the nation’s best linebacker tandems.

13. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
The senior from Piedmont, Calif., has had an up and down career at Stanford. He has NFL potential, a savvy on-the-field toughness that has helped the Cardinal develop into a West Coast power. He has also dealt with major injuries on more than one occasion and an off-the-field issue. The DUI will cost him one game with a suspension this fall, but should he stay healthy, the 6-foot-3, 242-pounder could be an All-American this fall.

14. Dion Jordan, DE/LB, Oregon
Athleticism and speed are two hallmarks of Oregon’s defense, so it was really no surprise when Jordan shifted from tight end to defensive end before the 2010 season. And after spending one year as a reserve, Jordan shined in his first full season as a starter in 2011, recording 42 tackles, 13 TFL and 7.5 sacks. He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors and was named to the watchlists for the Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski and Hendricks Award for 2012. Jordan is Oregon’s top rush end and should only get better with another offseason to refine his skills on defense.

15. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
The Astoria, Ore., cornerback is one of the most underrated players in the entire country. As a lockdown cover corner, few in the league can match the Oregon State Beaver who has returned an interception for a touchdown in two straight seasons. He also took a punt back for a score against UCLA last fall. His special teams prowess make Poyer one of the biggest impact players in all of the Pac-12.

16. Khaled Holmes, C, USC
With Matt Kalil moving onto the NFL, it’s up to Holmes to become the leader for USC’s offensive line. That shouldn’t be a problem for the California native, as he has started in each of the last two years and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Holmes made a seamless transition from guard to center in 2011 and should be one of the top linemen in college football this year. 

17. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
Oregon isn’t panicking over the loss of running back LaMichael James, mainly because Barner has shown what he can do with the ball in his hands the last two seasons. Oregon’s run game didn’t miss a beat when Barner subbed for James. Barner has averaged 6.1 yards per carry and has scored 20 touchdowns in his career. Now it’s his turn to be the No. 1 running back.

18. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
As only a true freshman, the big-time prep star from Gig Harbor High School produced a season no Washington freshman tight end has ever posted. His 538 yards receiving were No. 2 all-time in UW history for a freshman of any position while ranking No. 3 all-time for any tight end of any age. He did all of that on 41 catches to go with six touchdowns. He has a chance to be the best player at his position nationally with continued development.

19. Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
Clay is one of the Pac-12’s most underrated players heading into 2012. Despite missing two games last season, he recorded 102 tackles, three sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles. Despite his standout year, Clay didn’t even earn honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. Expect that to change in 2012, as the San Jose native will be in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 honors as the leader of Oregon’s linebacking corps.  

20. John White, RB, Utah
The junior college transfer set a school record with 1,520 rushing yards in his first season on campus. With starting quarterback Jordan Wynn hurt, Utah relied on White to be a workhorse in the Utes’ first season in the Pac-12. White delivered as one of only seven quarterbacks in the country to top 300 carries. He also rushed for 15 touchdowns.

21. David Yankey, OL, Stanford
The redshirt sophomore from Roswell, Ga., has big shoes to fill now that Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro have moved on. But the cupboard isn't bare with big Yankey leading the way. This unit was No. 17 nationally in rushing (trailing only Oregon inside the league) and seventh nationally in protecting the quarterback. Yankey should only be that much better in his second full season on the field.

22. Dion Bailey, LB, USC
As only a freshman, Bailey proved to be an invaluable member of the Trojan defense. He posted 81 tackles, a pair of sacks and a pair of interceptions en route to freshman All-American honors. Now, as a sophomore, Bailey has Butkus Award potential and the chance to lead the his team to a national championship.

23. Travis Long, DE/LB, Washington State
Long has quietly been one of the Pac-12’s most underrated defenders over the last three years. The Spokane native recorded 10 sacks and 25 tackles for a loss from 2010-11 and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Long has played his first three years on the line but is expected to move into a hybrid rush end/linebacker spot. With the Cougars switching to a 3-4, the senior will be counted upon to be the team’s top pass rusher, while continuing to help stuff the run off the edge.

24. Silas Redd, RB, USC
Redd’s decision to transfer to USC alleviated a major concern about the offense. Although Curtis McNeal had a solid 2011 season, the Trojans needed more depth at the position, and Redd is one of the top 15-20 backs in the nation. In two years with Penn State, he recorded 1,678 yards and nine touchdowns. Redd posted six 100-yard efforts last season, including 164 in the 34-24 win over Northwestern. Redd won’t see 250 carries, but having an every-down back is a key pickup for USC’s offense.

25. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
With Andrew Luck gone to the NFL, more of the focus of the offense will be on Taylor. There’s no reason to think Taylor’s not up to the challenge. He’s topped 220 carries in each of the last two seasons, rushing for a combined 2,467 yards and 25 touchdowns. The Stanford offense has been more or less a power-run game even with Luck at quarterback, so Taylor should be ready for what’s coming.

26. Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
The injury bug bit Tuel last season, as he played in only three games and completed 29 of 45 throws for 276 yards and one score. The California native suffered a broken collarbone in the season opener but returned later in the year, only to miss the final five games with a leg injury. Tuel has flown under the radar in his career, as most expected him to emerge as an all-conference candidate last season, especially after throwing for 2,780 yards and 18 scores in 2010. With Mike Leach arriving in Pullman, the Cougars should have one of the nation’s top passing threats. If Tuel can stay healthy, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns is easily within reach.

27. Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
Marshall was essentially a one-man show at running back last season, carrying 230 times. No other Sun Devil running back topped 13 attempts. Marshall delivered with 1,050 yards and 18 touchdowns, tied with LaMichael James for the post in the Pac-12.

28. David Bakhtiari, OL, Colorado
The junior left tackle is one of the few veteran, Pac-12-caliber players for Colorado, earning coaches’ second-team all-conference last season. Bakhtiari is entering his third season a starter.

29. Wes Horton, DE, USC
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound senior will be counted on by Lane Kiffin to lead the Trojan defensive line in 2012. This might be the key area of concern for a USC run at a national title and Horton will have to build on his four-sack third season.

30. Kevin Graf, OL, USC
Protecting Matt Barkley might be considered the single most important charge of any unit in the nation. The former top 100 recruit turned All-Pac-12 junior is the most accomplished of the bunch and will be asked to lead in Matt Kalil's absence. The Agoura Hills, Calif., native is the third Graf to call Heritage Hall home — his brother and father both played at USC.

31. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford
The big defensive lineman was named Stanford's most outstanding sophomore last fall after starting 12 games and registering 35 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Hailing from Mequon, Wisc., Gardner will be asked to rush the passer and keep offensive linemen off of the very talented Cardinal linebackers this fall.

32. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Crichton was one of the Pac-12’s top breakout players last season, recording 74 tackles, six sacks, 14.5 tackles for a loss and six forced fumbles – as a redshirt freshman. The Beavers need another big season from Crichton, especially since the defense was the worst in the Pac-12 against the run. The sophomore is only scratching the surface of his potential and should build upon his standout freshman campaign.

33. Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
In a league stacked with future NFL stars at wide receiver, it is easy for Wheaton to get overlooked. With a freshman quarterback throwing the ball, the dynamic athlete caught 73 passes for 986 yards to go with 190 yards rushing. It would not be going out on a limb to suggest Wheaton reaches paydirt more than the one touchdown he scored last fall.

34. Kiko Alonso, LB, Oregon
After a standout performance in the Rose Bowl (five tackles, one interception, 1.5 sacks), Alonso is primed for a breakout season as one of Oregon’s top defenders. The senior recorded 46 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions last year but should be a full-time starter for the first time in his career this season. 

35. Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA
The nephew of NFL veteran tight end Christian Fauria, Joseph Fauria caught 39 passes for 481 yards with six touchdowns last season. He’ll be a top target for new Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley in the new “Y” position.

36. Levine Toiolo, TE, Stanford
Stanford’s three-tight end attack is down to two with juniors Zach Ertz and Toilolo. Though Toilolo was the third of the tree, he finished 348 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

37. John Fullington, OL, Washington State
The junior to be made a quick impact after converting from tight end in his first year. He played in all 12 games as a freshman before starting all 12 games last fall at left guard. He earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention and now is a veteran on what could be the nation's most improved offense.

38. Taylor Hart, DL, Oregon
Hart was impressive in his first year as a starter, recording 44 stops, three tackles for a loss and two sacks. The Ducks like to rotate a lot of players on the line, but the junior should be one of the stalwarts in 2012. Hart earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last year but should be in the mix for first or second-team accolades this season.

39. Hayes Pullard, LB, USC
Often overlooked because of Bailey's first-year success, this talented tackler had his own breakout freshman campaign last fall. The 6-foot-1, 235 pound linebacker from Inglewood posted 81 tackles of his own as well as 6.5 TFL and 4.0 sacks.

40. Carson York, OL, Oregon
York has been a stabilizing force on Oregon’s offensive line, starting 36 career games. However, his status for the season opener is in doubt, as he suffered a serious knee injury in the bowl win over Wisconsin. If healthy, York should be one of the best linemen in the conference.

41. Brian Blechen, S, Utah
Blechen improved upon his standout freshman season as a sophomore, recording 78 tackles with two sacks, nine tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and three interceptions.

42. Sean Parker, S, Washington
The Huskies’ defense struggled, but Parker was among the standouts after recording 91 tackles and four interceptions last season.

43. Drew Schaefer, C, Washington
Schaefer is a versatile three-year starter who blocked for Chris Polk’s two most productive seasons.

44. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
The younger brother of former Washington State star Marcus Trufant has been a solid contributor his entire career. While he may never reach the star status of his older sibling, Desmond should only build upon a season in which he posted 64 tackles and 14 pass breakups.

45. Isi Sofele, RB, California
Yet another productive running back under Jeff Tedford, Sofele rushed for 1,322 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, his first as the primary running back. His 252 carries was the third-most in the Pac-12.

46. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
Although the Bruins will have a new offense, don’t expect Franklin’s role to change much in 2012. The Los Angeles native rushed for 1,127 yards as a sophomore in 2010, while recording 976 yards and five scores last season. Expect Franklin to see more carries in 2012, especially with Brett Hundley taking over under center and Derrick Coleman expiring his eligibility at the end of last year.

47. Kasen Williams, WR, Washington
With Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar expiring their eligibility at the end of 2011, the Huskies are looking for a new go-to target. Williams should be Keith Price’s preferred receiver in 2012, especially after catching 36 passes for 427 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman last year. 

48. Xavier Su’a Filo, OL, UCLA
After two years away from football on his LDS Mission, Su'a Filo returns to UCLA with the potential to change the direction of the Bruins offense. With talented skill players, the offensive line could be the difference between in gaining bowl eligibility — and finally keeping a Bruin QB healthy.

49. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
In a bit of a surprise, Mannion passed Ryan Katz as Oregon State's No. 1 quarterback early in the 2011 season. He had his share of ups and downs last year, throwing for 3,328 yards and 16 touchdowns. However, Mannion also tossed 18 picks. Expect Mannion to be better as a sophomore and should lead Oregon State back into bowl contention.

50. Shaq Thompson, S, Washington
This special freshman is a once in a decade type of prospect and it won't take long for wide receivers and running backs to take note of the massive safety. He should start right away and will be a force in run support as well as a head hunter in the passing game.

Team Breakdown of Athlon's Top 50 Players in the Pac-12 for 2012

Arizona - 0
Arizona State - 1
California - 2
Colorado - 1
Oregon - 8
Oregon State - 4
Stanford - 6
UCLA - 3
USC - 11
Utah - 3
Washington - 7
Washington State - 4

by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven

 

Related Pac-12 Content

Pac-12 Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes
Ranking College Football's Top 20 Linebacking Corps for 2012

The Pac-12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

Predicting the Pac-12's Breakout Players for 2012

College Football's 20 Worst Coaching Tenures of the last 50 Years

Ranking the Pac-12's Linebacking Corps for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Athlon's 2012 All-Pac-12 Team

Top 25 Pac-12 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 Player Rankings: The Top 50 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-10-players-returning-injury
Body:

Injuries are a big part of any college football season. 2011 was no different, as losing Knile Davis was a key setback to Arkansas' hopes of winning the SEC West last year, while Missouri's offensive line had to shuffle some players around after Elvis Fisher was lost for the year with a knee injury. 

Although those players were missed in 2011, their return to the gridiron is an even bigger storyline for 2012. 

Top 10 Players Returning After Missing All of 2011 With Injury

Note: This list includes only players who missed all of 2011.

1. Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas With quarterback Tyler Wilson turning down the NFL Draft, the Razorbacks were already expected to be one of the SEC’s best offenses in 2012. However, this unit will be even more dangerous if Davis comes back at full strength from an ankle injury. The junior had a breakout season in 2010, rushing for 1,322 yards and 13 scores. He also added 19 receptions for 136 yards and one touchdown. With Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo returning, the Razorback coaching staff won’t be forced to throw Davis into a full workload early in the year. Although all signs point to a return to full strength, the junior could be brought along slow through the first two weeks of the year, as Arkansas prepares for its Sept. 15 showdown against Alabama.

2. Josh Dworaczyk, OG, LSU The Tigers owned one of college football’s top offensive lines last season, and this group is expected to be one of the best once again in 2012. Tackles Alex Hurst and Chris Faulk are two All-American candidates at tackle, while there’s plenty of experience returning with senior center P.J. Lonergan and guard Josh Williford. Dworaczyk made 26 consecutive starts prior to last season and will be expected to start at left guard in 2012. The senior suffered a knee injury in fall practice last season, but he did not experience any setbacks in his recovery and all signs point to a big senior season.

3. Elvis Fisher, OT, Missouri The SEC is home to some of college football’s best defensive lines, so getting Fisher back in the lineup will be a huge boost to Missouri’s offense. He missed all of 2011 with a knee injury and is expected to slide back into the lineup at left tackle. The injury snapped a 40-game start streak for Fisher, as he was expected to be one of the Big 12’s top linemen last year. The senior earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in 2009 and 2010, and if he returns at full strength, expect Fisher to have a spot on one of the SEC’s first, second or third all-conference teams at the end of the season.

4. Josh Jenkins, OG, West VirginiaThe Mountaineers never seemed to jell on the offensive line last year, as the unit allowed 30 sacks and struggled to open up rushing lanes. This group should be better in 2012, especially with another offseason to work in coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense. Jenkins has yet to fulfill the hype surrounding him out of high school, but he has 24 career starts and will return to the lineup at left guard. Combine Jenkins’ coming back to full strength with three returning starters up front, and the Mountaineers should have an improved offensive line in 2012.

5. Brandon Magee, LB, Arizona StateA torn Achilles sidelined Magee for all of last season, and the Sun Devils are counting on him to be a team leader and one of the unit’s best players in 2012. Magee started 11 games in 2010 and recorded 73 stops. He also registered 34 tackles in 2009 and 11 as a freshman in 2008. An Achilles tear is one of the most difficult injuries for a football player to return from, but Magee is on track to return for the season opener. Even if the senior isn’t 100 percent early in the year, his leadership will be valuable for a defense that returns just four starters.

6. Herman Lathers, LB, TennesseeAfter recording 75 tackles and three sacks in 2010, Lathers was on the verge of a breakout season in 2011. However, he suffered a fractured ankle in early June, which forced him to sit out all of last year. Lathers returned at full strength for spring practice and should be the leader of a linebacking corps that returns promising sophomores A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt. With 14 teams in the SEC, it won’t be easy cracking one of the three all-conference teams. However, if Lathers picks up where he left off in 2010, he will have a chance to rank among the conference’s top 10-15 linebackers in 2012.

7. Jake Fischer, LB, Arizona 2011 was not a banner year for Arizona’s defense. The Wildcats allowed 35.4 points a game and ranked last in the Pac-12 in pass and total defense. This unit received a makeover during the offseason, as Jeff Casteel left West Virginia and brought his 3-3-5 scheme to Tucson. Depth is a major concern for Arizona at linebacker, but Fischer’s return should help bring some stability to this unit. He played in all 13 contests and recorded 58 stops and 7.5 tackles for a loss in 2010. Fischer suffered a torn ACL in the spring of 2011 and was forced to miss all 12 contests. With a new scheme and the recovery from a knee injury, the junior could start slow in 2012. However, Fischer will be Arizona’s top linebacker this year and needs to stay healthy with very little depth behind him.

8. Pete Massaro, DE, Penn State With the departures of defensive linemen Jack Crawford, Eric Latimore and Devon Still, Massaro’s return to the lineup is a welcomed addition for coach Bill O’Brien. He started the final 11 games in 2010 and recorded 37 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Massaro missed all of 2011 with a torn ACL, which was the second time in his career he suffered that injury (2009). It may take the senior a couple of games to knock off the rust, but his return is crucial for a unit that needs players to step up in 2012.

9. Dee Hart, RB, AlabamaWith Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy leading the way on the ground, Hart’s absence wasn’t a huge loss for Alabama last year. He was expected to be the Crimson Tide’s change-of-pace back and a potential weapon on special teams but suffered a torn ACL in summer workouts. With a full year to get healthy, Hart should be 100 percent for the season opener. He ranked among the top 100 recruits in the 2011 signing class by most services and flashed his potential with 76 total yards in the spring game. Eddie Lacy, Jalston Fowler and freshman T.J. Yeldon will all see carries, but Hart’s all-around ability should allow him to see a handful of snaps each game.

10. Rob Henry, QB, Purdue The Boilermakers have had some bad luck with knee injuries in recent years, and 2011 was no exception. Henry had a solid debut season in 2010, throwing for 996 yards and eight touchdowns, while also adding 547 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. He was ready to assume full control of Purdue’s quarterback spot but suffered a torn ACL in fall practice and was forced to sit out all of 2011. Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve handled the quarterback duties in Henry’s absence and both return to West Lafayette in 2012. With TerBush turning in a steady 2011 campaign under center last season, the coaching staff is considering using Henry in a variety of roles, including some snaps at running back and receiver. Even if he doesn’t start at quarterback, Henry is poised to play a key role in the Boilermakers’ offense in 2012.

Other Key Players Returning After Sitting Out 2011

Mustafa Greene, RB, NC State
Willie Haulstead, WR, Florida State
Deantre Lewis, RB, Arizona State
Jonathan McKnight, CB, Arizona
Warren Norman, RB, Vanderbilt
Michael Philipp, OL, Oregon State
Brandon Wimberly, WR, Nevada

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)


Related College Football Content

Athlon's 2012 College Football Predictions
College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Athlon's 2012 All-American Team

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Ranking College Football's Best New Coaches for 2012

2012 College Football Rankings: 1-124

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 10 Players Returning From Injury</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 05:22
Path: /college-football/college-football-big-12s-must-see-games-2012
Body:

As the college football season draws near, Athlon Sports is making sure fans know exactly when and where to tune in this fall. Here are the Big 12's top 30 must-see football games for the 2012 season:

1. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Oklahoma vs Texas (Dallas, TX)
The Red River Shootout (no, I refuse to call it the rivalry based strictly on principle) is easily the most important football game played in the state of Texas every single season. The last 12 Big South champions were either Texas or Oklahoma, and other than Oklahoma State last fall, one of these two teams had claimed the Big 12 crown seven straight years. With Texas reestablishing itself last fall and Oklahoma getting Landry Jones back on offense, these two once again look like the top Big 12 champion picks in 2012. Therefore, the Texas State Fair once again will host the most important game played in the Big 12 this fall when the Cotton Bowl is cut right down the middle with Crimson and Cream on one side and Burnt Orange on the other.

2. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Oklahoma at West Virginia
While this match-up hasn’t happened much over the years — four times total and only once since 1982 — the most recent showdown in the Fiesta Bowl back in 2008 was one of the signature performances of recent BCS lore. The 48-28 win for West Virginia featured the peak of the Pat White era and won the late Bill Stewart the head coaching job in Morgantown. Now, the Sooners will make their first-ever trip to Morgantown and more than just bowl bragging rights will be on the line. This is the top road test for Oklahoma this fall and a win over WVU on the road is a must if Bob Stoops wants to win yet another Big 12 championship.

3. Week 6 (Oct. 6) West Virginia at Texas
The Mountaineers have played the Longhorns just once in the two programs' history and fans should certainly see more excitement than the 7-6 Texas victory featured back in 1956 down in Austin. These two teams appear to be the top challengers to Oklahoma in the Big 12 conference crown race and this contest will feature arguably the top offense in the league and the easily the top defense in the league. Geno Smith and his wide receivers will put loads of pressure on a unit with dynamic defensive ends and great cornerbacks. From an Xs and Os standpoint, there are few match-ups that will be more intriguing in any league across the nation.

4. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
The Bedlam Series is one of the great rivalries in all of the country, and while Oklahoma has dominated all-time (81-18-7) and of late (winners of eight of the last nine), the Cowboys claim the current bragging rights. The 44-10 destruction at home at the hands of Brandon Weeden and Mike Gundy was the first win for the Pokes in the series since 2002 and it clinched the program’s first Big 12 championship and a trip to the BCS. With a true freshman quarterback, walking into Norman and getting a win over the Sooners seems like a tall order. But fans can bet the atmosphere will be must-see.

5. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Notre Dame at Oklahoma
These are two of the most powerful, most prestigious, trophy-laden programs in the history of the sport. Notre Dame has dominated the all-time series 8-1, which includes an undefeated 4-0 record in Norman. The last time these two squared off was 1999 when Notre Dame outlasted the Sooners 34-30. The strength of this Irish team will be its defensive front and the strength of the OU team will be its offensive firepower, so the battle of wills in the trenches will determine if Notre Dame can maintain that unblemished road record against Oklahoma.

6. Week 11 (Nov. 10) West Virginia at Oklahoma State
These two have played one time since 1929 — and three times total — when Oklahoma State won 35-33 in the 1987 Sun Bowl in El Paso. Texas. Both teams have Big 12 title aspirations and both offenses ranked in the top 15 nationally in scoring and total offense last season. Add to it a Dana Holgorsen storyline that includes his former boss in Mike Gundy and fans should have plenty to watch on Nov. 10. The WVU headman spent 2010 as the offensive coordinator in Stillwater and now returns with a Big 12 rival stocked with offensive firepower.

7. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Oklahoma State at Texas
The Horns won 22 of the first 24 meetings between these two longtime conference rivals. Yet, as Mike Gundy’s program has blossomed into a national power, Oklahoma State overcame the stigma of defeating the Longhorns with two straight wins — and both took place on the 40 Acres. And neither — 33-16 in 2010 and 38-26 in 2011 — was really that close as Texas’ salty defense wasn’t able to slow Brandon Weeden and company. The game shifts back to Stillwater this fall as the Big 12 season gets kicked off in style for both teams. Wes Lunt has never seen a defense like he will see in Week 5 this fall.

8. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Oklahoma State at Kansas State
Brandon Weeden threw for 502 yards and 4 TDs. Collin Klein rushed for 144 yards and 3 TDs. Oklahoma State outlasted Kansas State 52-45 in a thrilling game that featured 32 fourth-quarter points. While Weeden isn’t back, the stakes should still be high when these two conference contenders do battle. More than just bowl pecking order could be on the line.

9. Week 14 (Dec. 1) Oklahoma at TCU
TCU and Oklahoma haven’t recruited many of the same players over the years but certainly recruit the same high schools. With the growth of TCU’s brand in the north Texas and Dallas-Ft. Worth areas, the Horned Frogs have began to eat into the Sooners' hold on DFW. A win at home over the heavy league favorite would do wonders for TCU’s recruiting. It would also place the Frogs directly into the Big 12 title mix in year No. 1. They have only faced each other twice since 1998 and have alternated wins and losses for five straight meetings. 

10. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Kansas State at West Virginia
Yes, these two teams have played before. No, not since World War II. These two split a two-year series back in 1930 and 1931, strangely enough, both coming in Morgantown. The difference in style on offense and under center will be an intriguing story line to watch as Geno Smith could throw it 60 times while Collin Klein might not reach 15 pass attempts.

11. Week 10 (Nov. 3) TCU at West Virginia
These two Big 12 newbies will battle for the first time since 1984 when West Virginia won the Bluebonnet Bowl 31-14 in Houston. Both teams boast excellent quarterbacks and both teams would like to make a big statement in their first trip through the league. It makes this head-to-head test all the more important. 

12. Week 14 (Dec. 1) Kansas State at Texas 
One of the stranger series anomalies in all of the nation has been KSU’s success over Texas in recent years. The Wildcats have won four straight over Texas and six of the last eight. Last year was the first defensive battle since 2003 between the two and 2012 should feature much of the same. If the Horns want to compete for the league crown, a win over KSU at home is a must.

13. Week 9 (Oct. 27) TCU at Oklahoma State
The Horned Frogs will get to renew a regional rivalry that hasn’t been played since 1993. These two compete directly on the recruiting trail all over the north Texas area as well as the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. Now, they compete in the conference standings and this game should feature heavy bowl pecking order implications. Both have eyes on challenging the OU-Texas rivalry for Big 12 supremacy, but winning on Oct. 27 will be key to each's 2012 season. 

14. Week 13 (Nov. 24) TCU at Texas
These in-state rivals have only played one time since 1995 (2007) and TCU has only defeated the Horns one time since 1967 (1992). Many of the Horned Frogs players likely grew up in Texas dreaming of getting a scholarship from the Burnt Orange and this will be a chance at payback. This one will be a match-ups of strengths between the Frogs offense and the Texas defense.

15. Week 4 (Sept. 22) Kansas State at Oklahoma
Even a 10-win team couldn’t make this one-sided rivalry closer as the Sooners hammered the Wildcats 58-17 last fall. In fact, the only win KSU has over Oklahoma since 1997 was the memorable ’03 Big 12 title game victory. To go on the road and close the 41-point gap will be a tall order for Collin Klein and Company.

16. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Kansas State at TCU
These two shades of purple will be on the same field for the first time since 1986. And they will do it as conference foes now. Bowl pecking order will be on the line.

17. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Baylor at Texas
After a decade-long losing streak against the Horns, Baylor has won two straight against the vaunted Big Brother from down I-35. A third straight upset might be a tall order this fall.

18. Week 14 (Dec. 1) Oklahoma State at Baylor 
The Cowboys put RG3 in his place last fall 59-24 and has owned the all-time series by winning 15 of the last 16 meetings.

19. Week 7 (Oct. 13) TCU at Baylor
The 50-48 shootout was not only one of the great games of 2011, but now it’s a conference game and the all-time series hangs in the balance: 50-50-7

20. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Iowa State at Iowa
One of the Midwest’s better rivalries was a 44-41 overtime thriller that saw the Cyclones take home the Cy-Hawk Trophy. Iowa had won three straight prior to last year.

21. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Kansas State at Baylor
One of the few blemishes on the Bears’ 2011 resume was the 36-35 loss last fall when KSU scored 10 fourth-quarter points to come from behind and win. 

22. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Miami at Kansas State
Last season was the first-ever meeting between the two programs and Bill Snyder’s bunch was victorious 28-24. Now, The U comes to the Little Apple as a big underdog.

23. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Baylor at Oklahoma
The 2011 heart-stopping win over the Sooners was the first ever by Baylor over Oklahoma in 21 tries. Revenge will be on the mind of Bob Stoops.

24. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Baylor at West Virginia
New faces for Baylor meet the new kid on the block in WVU. This will mark the Mountaineers' debut in Big 12 play and the first-ever meeting of the two schools.

25. Week 6 Oklahoma at Texas Tech / Week 8 Iowa State at Oklahoma State
Revenge could be a dish best served cold and both Oklahoma State and Oklahoma have major debts to repay with Iowa State and Texas Tech respectively. To get their payback, the Sooners will have to defeat Tech on its home turf.

Best of the Rest:

26. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Oklahoma State at Arizona
27. Week 4 (Sept. 22) Virginia at TCU
28. Week 5 (Sept. 29) TCU at SMU
29. Week 3 (Sept. 15) Texas at Ole Miss
30. Wee 10 (Nov. 3) Texas at Texas Tech

Athlon Sports Must-See TV for 2012:

ACC's Must-See Games of 2012

Big East's Must-See Games of 2012

Big 12's Must-See Games of 2012
Big Ten's Must-See Games of 2012 (coming Wed.)

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports Big 12 Predictions and Team Previews:

1. Oklahoma Sooners: No. 5
2. Texas Longhorns: No. 11
3. West Virginia Mountaineers: No. 12
4. Oklahoma State Cowboys: No. 19
5. TCU Horned Frogs: No. 22
6. Kansas State Wildcats: No. 27
7. Baylor Bears: No. 40
8. Texas Tech Red Raiders: No. 58
9. Iowa State Cyclones: No. 60
10. Kansas Jayhawks: No. 81

Teaser:
<p> College Football: Big 12's Must-See Games of 2012</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 05:00
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-great-68-questions-17-south-region
Body:

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

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

 

We’ll look at some of the biggest questions for 2012-13. Like the NCAA Tournament, we’re taking on 17 questions in each region of the country for our Great 68 questions. We’ve “seeded” our questions, too, for the biggest question in each region.

 

We start today with the South, which includes the Big 12, Conference USA, Ohio Valley, SEC and Sun Belt.

 

South Region No. 1 seed: The new bar is a national title. Can John Calipari do it again with a new cast of characters?

John Calipari answered last season if he could win a national title with a team full of freshmen on their way to the NBA. Now the question is if this is the new norm. The Wildcats missed out on Shabazz Muhammad, but the landed Nerlens Noel, who is now eligible. Noel joins star freshmen Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress along with sophomore holdover Kyle Wiltjer. After going from rookies Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight to Marquis Teague, Calipari will have a veteran at point guard. Ryan Harrow was a top-50 recruit who started his career at NC State in 2010-11 before transferring to Kentucky.

Related: If Kentucky had an Olympic baskebtall team

Related: Calipari checks in at No. 3 in national basketball coach rankings

 

No. 2: Are Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore next in line for Stardom at Kansas?

Kansas is never short on elite talented players growing into their roles at the right time. Think Thomas Robinson, who went from part-time player to player of the year candidate. After averaging 13.3 points in the NCAA Tournament, the point guard Johnson is a top candidate to take the lead of the Jayhawks. Shooting guard Ben McLemore missed last season with academic concerns, but he should be worth the wait. Bill Self said McLemore may have been Kansas’ top pro prospect had he played, a major compliment considering Robinson was drafted fifth overall at the end of the season.

Related: Bill Self tops Big 12 coach rankings

 

No. 3: Will Patric Young make the most of his return to Florida?

Young has tantalized with his ability in two seasons at Florida, giving the Gators center reason to consider bolting for the NBA Draft. He returned to school with areas to improve. If Young can play to his potential, Florida could be a threat for a third consecutive trip to the Elite Eight or beyond. Young has struggled at times in the offensive end (his 10.2 points per game was fifth on the team), and he’ll need to prove he can be a go-to player on a team without Bradley Beal and Erving Walker.

Related: Calipari, Donovan top SEC coach rankings

 

No. 4: What can Isaiah Canaan do for an encore?

Canaan (19 points per game) returned to Murray State giving the Racers a chance for another gaudy record and wins in the NCAA Tournament. Canaan was undoubtedly the top player on a team that finished 31-2, but Murray State loses three starters. Power forward Ed Daniel (6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds) will give Murray State a quality inside-outside duo for a program that has won at least 30 games in two of the last three seasons.

 

No. 5: What does a full season of Jarnell Stokes mean for Tennessee?

Tennessee’s record with Jarnell Stokes (10-7) wasn’t all that different from its record without him (9-8), but his arrival was one of the keys to salvaging a season that started with losses to Austin Peay and Charleston. The 6-8, 250-pound forward will team with Jeronne Maymon for a bruising frontcourt. Coach Cuonzo’s Martin first trip to the NCAA Tournament is the expectation.

 

No. 6: Does Missouri have another surprise up its sleeve?

Marcus Denmon, Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe are among five seniors gone from a team that unexpectedly won 30 games last season. The Tigers may be low in the preseason projections again, but National Coach of the Year Frank Haith may have another surprise season in him. Sophomore point guard Phil Pressey (10.3 points per game, 6.4 assists) is a budding star, and with Laurence Bowers healthy, Mizzou should have the inside presence it lacked last season. If Alex Oriakhi plays like he did during Connecticut’s 2011 championship run, Missouri should be in the SEC title mix.

Related: Basketball conference reaglinment winners and losers

 

No. 7: Memphis has veterans. Will that allow Josh Pastner to advance in March?

Memphis has had the most talent in Conference USA in three seasons under Pastner, but that hasn’t translated to dominance (36-12 in C-USA the last three years). Guard Joe Jackson is a junior, and forward Adonis Thomas is a sophomore. They’ll work with a third McDonald’s All-American, freshman Shaq Goodwin, on perhaps Pastner’s most complete team since he was hired. The next step is to win an NCAA Tournament game.

Related: Josh Pastner ranks among top mid-major coaches

 

No. 8: Can Bruce Weber win with Frank Martin’s veterans?

The long-term question is if Bruce Weber can sustain the momentum built at Kansas State under Frank Martin and Bob Huggins. For now, he’ll have an NCAA Tournament-caliber roster in his first season in Manhattan. High-scoring guard Rodney McGruder is back as are forwards Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez. Contending for the Big 12 title and a run in the NCAA Tournament isn’t out of the question for the former Illinois coach in his first season at K-State.

 

No. 9: Will a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans carry Oklahoma State to the NCAA Tournament?

After leading Oklahoma State to the NCAA Tournament in his first two seasons, Travis Ford has struggled in the last two, including the Cowboys’ first losing season since 1987-88. Ford is counting on a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans -- sophomore Le’Bryan Nash and freshman Marcus Smart -- to return the Pokes to prominence. Nash (39.4 percent shooting from the field) needed some seasoning last season, but Oklahoma State is counting on Smart to be a leader and distributor from Day 1.

 

No. 10: Is Texas’ fate tied to Myck Kabongo’s development?

The last player to lead Texas in assists per game in consecutive seasons was D.J. Augustin in 2006-07 and 2007-08. Kabongo will have a chance to do so this season, but he’ll need to round out his game after shooting 39.1 percent from the floor last season (thanks to a 13-for-54 slump in the final seven games). The speedy guard might not be the only key to Texas’ season, but with so many sophomores and freshmen expected to play key roles, he’ll need to play like a veteran.

 

No. 11: Can Devonta Pollard lead Alabama to the next step?

Anthony Grant has led Alabama to 17 wins in his first season to 25 wins and an NIT bid in his second to 21 bids and an NCAA bid in his third. What’s next in Tuscaloosa? J’Mychal Green and Tony Mitchell are gone in the frontcourt, but five-star freshman small forward Devonta Pollard (6-8, 200 pounds) could take their place. With experienced point guard Trevor Releford and a talented 2011 signing class moving into its sophomore season, Alabama could be gearing up for even more in Grant’s fourth season and beyond.

 

No. 12: Can Atlantic 10 transfers help West Virginia make a dent in the Big 12?

Aaric Murray (La Salle) and Juwan Staten (Dayton) were considered recruiting coups when they signed with their respective A-10 schools, but they delivered mixed results and no NCAA Tournament bids. Now they’re on Bob Huggins’ roster (along with Boston College transfer Matt Humphrey). Huggins has been one of the nation’s most consistent coaches in reaching the Tournament and remaining competitive in any conference in which he’s coached, but all these new faces in Morgantown presents a challenge.

 

No. 13: Is Tony Mitchell an All-American for North Texas?

North Texas lost its successful long-time coach Johnny Jones to LSU, but the Mean Green didn’t lose its star player. The 6-8, 235-pound Tony Mitchell, a former Missouri signee before he was an academic nonqualifier, may be North Texas’ top player since the 1970s and could make a run at some postseason hardware after averaging 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds last season.

 

No. 14: How will Baylor’s veteran backcourt mesh with the young frontcourt?

In between two Elite Eight trips, Baylor went 18-13 and missed the NCAA Tournaments, so it seems anything is possible with the Bears. Perry Jones, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller are gone, but Baylor brings in highly touted freshman center in Isaiah Austin and power forward Ricardo Gathers. Senior point guard Pierre Jackson and junior Brady Heslip are in the backcourt, making for an interesting dynamic in Waco.

 

No. 15: Can Marshall make the field for the first time since 1987?

The Thundering Herd won 21 games and reached the NIT last season. With stat-sheet stuffing guard DeAndre Kane (16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists) and double-double threat Dennis Tinnon (10.2 points, 10 boards) returning, Marshall could threaten Memphis in Conference USA.

 

No. 16: What’s left at Vanderbilt?

Jeffery Taylor, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli were the foundation of the last two Commodores teams and key players of the last three. All are gone plus Brad Tinsley, Lance Goulbourne and Steve Tchiengang, leaving Kedren Johnson (3.1 ppg) as the top returning scorer. After three consecutive Tournaments and six seasons without a losing record in the SEC, an inexperienced Vandy could be one of the bottom three teams in the conference.

 

No. 17: Will another batch of transfers continue to lift Iowa State?

Minnesota transfer Royce White carried Iowa State back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven seasons by leading the Cyclones in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. There might not be another Royce  White in Ames, but third-year coach Fred Hoiberg is looking to transfers Will Clyburn (Utah) and Korie Lucious (Michigan State) to keep Iowa State relevant.

Related: Hoiberg cracks top 10 of college coaches under 40

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

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Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 04:56

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