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All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, Buffalo Bills, NFL
Path: /nfl/buffalo-bills-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 Buffalo Bills check in at No. 18.

The Buffalo Bills enter the 2012 season with the dubious distinction of having missed the playoffs 12 consecutive seasons. In the era of unrestricted free agency and advancements in scouting college players, NFL teams almost have to try to miss the postseason for that many years. But Buffalo has had only one winning season since 1999. Is this the year the drought finally ends?

While last season’s second-half swoon — a 1–8 finish after starting 5–2 — was painful, it did reveal areas the Bills needed to improve most, starting with a pass rush. The Bills addressed that aggressively, making headlines with the signings of defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. With a better defense helping out a vastly improved offense under quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo may be able to re-ignite some of that magic it had early in 2011. But if you’re a Bills fan, you’ve learned not to get your hopes up.

Offense

Even with their struggles in the second half of last season, the Bills made noticeable strides in operating coach Chan Gailey’s creative offensive schemes. Gailey favors spreading out defenses and running the ball, keeping opponents guessing with non-traditional sets.

The key to making it work, of course, is a smart, savvy quarterback. The Bills have that in Fitzpatrick, who came to Buffalo as a backup to the long-forgotten Trent Edwards in 2009 and found a permanent, well-paying home. Fitzpatrick, who operates like a faucet — hot and cold — still has a lot to live up to in justifying the six-year, $59 million contract he received during last season’s hot start, particularly after throwing 16 of his league-leading 23 interceptions during the club’s 1–8 skid.

Working in his favor was the club’s decision to retain two of his favorite targets, free agent wide receiver Stevie Johnson and tight end Scott Chandler. Johnson, who was given a $36.25-million deal, is the only Buffalo receiver ever to notch consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, but the team is still without an undisputed No. 2 wideout, and deep speed is a concern. There is no shortage of candidates who will try to complement Johnson in some form. Those to watch include David Nelson, Donald Jones, Derek Hagan, Marcus Easley, Brad Smith, third-round pick T.J. Graham and speedy free agent David Clowney.

The team’s most consistent strength, though, is the run game. Veteran Fred Jackson and emerging C.J. Spiller form a strong tandem. Spiller averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry after Jackson missed the final six games with a fractured fibula. Buffalo led the league in yards-per-rush on first down at 5.46, setting up advantageous second and third down situations.

It’s up to the pass-happy Gailey to commit to Jackson and Spiller even more behind a developing line that needs to replace left tackle Demetress Bell, who signed with the Eagles. Chris Hairston or second-round pick Cordy Glenn are the likely candidates.

Related: Top Buffalo Bills Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

The Bills allowed a club-record 5,938 yards last season along with 434 points, the second-most ever. Needless to say, Gailey was left with little choice but to fire defensive coordinator George Edwards and hand the reins to assistant head coach Dave Wannstedt, the well-respected and well-traveled former boss of the Bears and Dolphins. But even a coach as good as Wannstedt needs players, and he was given two early Christmas presents in the form of Williams and Anderson, who bring 88.5 career sacks to the shores of Lake Erie.

Williams, the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, was the most prized free agent pass-rusher on the market, and Buffalo scored a coup by selling him on the joys of a small city and an end-friendly 4-3 scheme. Anderson, who had 10 sacks for rival New England, arrived a week later. Considering the Bills had a paltry 29 sacks last year — with 10 coming in one game — this was their biggest area of need, and they filled it with gusto.

With Williams and Anderson on the outside and stalwart defensive tackles Kyle Williams, a 2010 Pro Bowler, and Marcell Dareus, last year’s first-round pick, in the middle, Buffalo will field one of the NFL’s best defensive fronts without question (provided Williams recovers fully from foot surgery). The hope is that those four players make a decent linebacker and secondary corps better; last season opposing quarterbacks completed a shocking 63.3 percent of their throws and threw 30 touchdown passes.

The three starting linebackers are expected to be Kelvin Sheppard in the middle flanked by Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison, with rookie Nigel Bradham in the mix. Shawne Merriman, a former All-Pro with San Diego, will make yet another attempt to shake years of injury problems in a hybrid end-linebacker pass-rushing role.

Top draft pick Stephon Gilmore, meanwhile, has a shot at earning a starting cornerback job along with veteran Terrence McGee, though former first-round pick Leodis McKelvin and second-year man Aaron Williams will have a say in the matter. Safety is well staffed with Pro Bowler Jairus Byrd, George Wilson, Da’Norris Searcy and the re-signed Bryan Scott.

Specialists

With free agent kicker Rian Lindell back in the fold and recovered from a broken shoulder, the Bills’ special teams will be formidable again. Lindell and punter Brian Moorman are battle-tested in the challenging weather conditions of Western New York. As for their return game, the Bills overflow with options. Spiller and McKelvin will handle punts and ease the loss of team record-holder Roscoe Parrish to the Chargers. Justin Rogers, meanwhile, emerged as the club’s top kickoff return specialist as a rookie, averaging 28.7 yards.

Final Analysis: 2nd in the AFC East

After three offseasons of work, GM Buddy Nix says it’s time for the Bills to become “relevant" again. And he means for an entire season, not two months.

Buffalo deserves kudos for addressing their defensive shortcomings. Landing Williams with a $100 million contract re-energized the fan base, and taking a cornerback No. 1 in the draft was widely applauded as a sound move. Offensively, money was spent freely to retain the services of core players Johnson, Chandler, Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart. But wide receiver depth and left tackle remain areas of concern, unless rookie picks Graham and Glenn make instant impacts.

Buffalo wasn’t that far from being a .500 team a year ago, and if it can avoid the injury bug that took down 17 players, including seven starters, and if Fitzpatrick can justify his contract and stay in one piece, the Bills might flirt with a wild card spot into December.

The Bills haven’t made that leap from “hoping” to win to “expecting” to win under Gailey. There can be no overtaking Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in the AFC East until that happens.

Related: 2012 Buffalo Bills Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Ralph’s Cheap?
Ralph Wilson often gets criticized for being frugal, but at various times in his 50-plus years as owner he has spent big. He made O.J. Simpson the game’s highest-paid running back, Jim Kelly its highest-paid quarterback, and now Mario Williams its highest-paid defensive player. Williams’ six-year, $100 million deal eclipses the six-year, $91.5 million deal Julius Peppers inked in Chicago.

Kelly On Target
Pro Football Hall of Famer Kelly played a major role in recruiting Williams to Buffalo, hosting the Houston free agent with small-town roots at his house and eagerly pointing out the deer in his backyard. Williams is a big hunter. “He did some heavy recruiting. He showed me some of his hunting pictures,’’ Williams says.

Target Brady
Patriots owner Robert Kraft was stating the obvious when analyzing Buffalo’s signing of Williams and Mark Anderson, who had 10 sacks for his team last season. He said the Bills made those moves to “come after our boy, No. 12.” That would be three-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, who has lost to the Bills only twice in his career. “Well, he’s right. He’s exactly right,” coach Chan Gailey says.

Run it, Guys
It’s no secret Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick like to live by the pass, but too often in 2011 they died by it. Over the final nine games (1–8), Fitzpatrick threw 24 times on 3rd-and-short (four yards or less) and completed only five of those passes.

Nice Catch
Pete Metzelaars, the greatest tight end in club history, has returned to coach that position on Gailey’s staff. Metzelaars, 51, played on all four Super Bowl teams in Buffalo, catching 302 passes good for 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns. “It’s a little bizarre,” says Metzelaars, a Colts assistant for eight seasons. “It’s been 18 years or so since I’ve really been back here so to come back it’s neat. It’s neat connecting with good friends.”

QB Parade
Buffalo will face all four quarterbacks selected in the first round of the NFL Draft — Robert Griffin III (No. 2 overall to Washington) in the preseason and Andrew Luck (No. 1 to Indianapolis), Ryan Tannehill (No. 8 to Miami) and Brandon Weeden (No. 22 to Cleveland) in the regular season.

Appreciative Star
Fun-loving Stevie Johnson has drawn penalties and critics for his end zone celebrating, but nobody can say the guy doesn’t appreciate being a well-paid NFL player. During a news conference to announce his five-year, $36.25 million contract, Johnson thanked no fewer than 30 people and saved his mom for last: “I want to say ‘Mom, look at your son now, look at your son.’ I can take care of you guys now. Thank you. Once again to all my fans who showed support throughout my career, thank you.’’

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: Thur., Aug. 9

Order your 2012 Buffalo Bills Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Buffalo Bills Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Buffalo Bills Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Buffalo Bills 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, Buffalo Bills, NFL
Path: /nfl/buffalo-bills-top-twitter-accounts-follow
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Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

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

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

@BuffaloBills (Followers: 103,711)

Top Bills To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, August 8, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Shawne Merriman LB @shawnemerriman 416,836
2. Nick Barnett LB @NicKBarnett 406,332
3. Kirk Morrison LB @kirkmorrison 358,826
4. Vince Young QB @VinceYoung 143,226
5. Stevie Johnson WR @StevieJohnson13 104,533
6. Tashard Choice RB @tchoice23 90,513
7. C.J. Spiller RB @CJSPILLER 61,990
8. Fred Jackson RB @Fred22Jackson 46,938
9. Marcell Dareus DT @marcelldareus 32,204
10. David Nelson WR @DavidNelson86 29,153
11. Mario Williams DE @bbwolf94 28,412
12. Stephon Gilmore CB @BumpNrunGilm0re 26,463
13. Aaron Williams CB @ajwilliams23 24,515
14. T.J. Graham WR @SpeedBi11s 21,747
15. Brad Smith WR @RealBradSmith 21,541
16. Jairus Byrd FS @jairusbyrd 21,535
17. George Wilson SS @GWilson37 20,222
18. Kelvin Sheppard LB @KelvinSheppard 16,906
19. Eric Wood OL @EWood70 12,820
20. Brian Moorman P @brianmoorman 12,065
21. Mark Anderson DE @Manderson_95 11,508
22. Arthur Moats LB @dabody52 10,727
23. Scott Chandler TE @scottchandler84 10,539
24. Donald Jones WR @Dajones19 10,490
25. Andy Levitre OL @LevitreAndy 9,888

While it apears that quarterback and cover boy Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't on Twitter, you can follow the Bills' equipment managers. That's right, diehard Bills fan can follow either equipment manager Jeff Mazurek (@jeffmazurek) and assistant equipment manager Moose Haws (@moose_eq) or both. And if jerseys, pads, helmests, shoes and such aren't your thing, you can follow Bills CEO Russ Brandon (@RussBrandon) to get your news and information straight from the top.

And if you are a diehard Bills fan chances are you are already following the Buffalo Jills (@BuffaloJills10) and are probably card-carrying members of the official Buffalo Bills Booster Club (@BillsBoosters), who have been supporting their beloved team since 1961.

For the fifth straight season, the Bills will head north to Toronto to play a home game, this time hosting Seattle in Week 14 on Dec. 9. Even though the game is still four months away, it has its own Twitter feed (@billsintoronto) with more than 2,500 followers and counting.

Those fans who wish to relive the glory days of the Bills teams that made it to four straight Super Bowls from 1990-93 are also in luck as they have the opporunity to follow Jim Kelly (@JimKellyInc), Thurman Thomas (@thurmanthomas), Andre Reed (@Andre_Reed83), Cornelius Bennett (@realcbennett97), Steve Tasker (@SteveTasker89) and/or Darryl Talley (@DarrylTalley) if they so choose.

The Bills Beat:

Tim Graham, Bills' beat writer for The Buffalo News: @ByTimGraham (12,152)

Joe Buscaglia, WGR550's Bills reporter, Bills Radio Network sideline reporter: @JoeB_WGR (11,708)

Chris Brown, lead reporter for team's official Web site, www.buffalobills.com/Bills Radio Network analyst: @ChrisBrownBills (8,429)

Sal Maiorana, covers the Bills for the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.): @salmaiorana (5,348)

John Murphy, Bills radio reporter/host of "The John Murphy Show": @JohnMurphyShow (4,964)

Mark Gaughan, covers the Bills for The Buffalo News: @gggaughan (3,091)

Jeff Russo, Sports Director for WKBW-TV Buffalo/host of "The Thurman Thomas Show": @JeffRussoWKBW (2,779)

Jay Skurski, sportswriter for The Buffalo News: @JaySkurski (1,684)

Bills Blog Roll:

Press Coverage is The Buffalo News' Bills blog.

Three Point Stance is the Democrat and Chronicle's Bills blog.

Buffalo Rumbings is SB Nation's Bills blog.

BuffaLowDown is where you can get the low down on the Bills.

Bills Daily has been "Serving Buffalo Bills Fans Since 1998."

Bills Gab is simply "The Definitve Buffalo Bills Blog."

The ESPN AFC East blog is run by James Walker and you can follow him @espn_afceast.

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: Thursday, Aug. 9

Order your 2012 Buffalo Bills Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Buffalo Bills Season Preview
Related: 2012 Buffalo Bills Schedule Analysis

- By Braden Gall and Mark Ross, published on August 8, 2012

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Buffalo Bills Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 05:59
Path: /nascar/nascar-news-notes-week-0
Body:

Unable to find the right partners, sponsors and teams to put together an effort for next season, Dodge announced Tuesday that it will withdraw from NASCAR after this year.

Dodge was left without a Sprint Cup team for 2013 after Penske Racing announced earlier this year it would move to Ford next season.

Ralph Gilles, President and CEO of Street and Racing Technology Brand and Motorsports, likened Dodge’s challenges to a puzzle not fitting together.

“Everything from the driver selection, the teams, the shops, the engine, you name it, it’s a very, very complex situation,” Gilles said.

“We don’t want to just show up when we go racing, we want to win. It’s a difficult deal. To replace Roger (Penske) is not easy. It took him several years to get to the level he’s at. These things take a lot of time to develop. 

“I think if you talked to Roger, he’d be the first one to tell you that this wasn’t in his crystal ball, signing up with Ford at the beginning of last year. Ford has been very aggressive, trying to get critical mass in the sport with new launches coming up. That’s their strategy and we’re not in a position to do the same thing. There’s really no one to do it with. The game of musical chairs in NASAR is a real deal. It’s shrinking capacity.”

Gilles said that time ran out on his organization to find the right situation. With the sport’s top teams locked into contracts with Ford, Chevrolet or Toyota, it meant Dodge would have go with a mid-level or low-level team or bring in a new owner. 

“Literally, my staff is exhausted from flying all over ... meeting with teams and putting together deals and trying to find the right drivers and everything,” Gilles said. “At the same time, trying to find new people, incremental people to come to the sport because, again, it’s really tight nowadays, the sponsors are just not as flush as they used to be. We had our hopes up, just like everybody else.

“We didn’t want this day to come but it has. We’re not excited about this but it’s the reality of where we’re at right now.”

When Dodge returned to NASCAR in 2001, car owner Ray Evernham’s teams were supported by the Dodge Dealers as sponsors. Gilles said that notion was examined.

“In the past we had dealers literally providing a portion of every car sales to the sponsorship of the team,” Gilles said. “That was a pretty exotic setup. We did think about that and some dealers offered that up. But the issue wasn’t that. It’s really how do you compress time and set up a team from scratch, basically, at the highest level of racing in less than seven months.”

Since it’s return to ’01 return to Cup, Dodge has won 55 races and has been represented in the Chase seven of the eight years. Brad Keselowski is on pace to put Dodge back in the Chase this year with Penske Racing.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long reports on Dodge leaving NASCAR, AJ Allmendinger's Adderall claim and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s take on Watkins Glen.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 16:56
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympics-photo-day-us-womens-soccer
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It was a thrilling day for the U.S. women on the pitch at Old Trafford. Here, the Americans celebrate Abby Wambach's goal that tied the match with Canada 3-3. Alex Morgan's header in extra time would give the U.S. the win.

Teaser:
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Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 10:32
Path: /nascar/nascar-horsepower-rankings-9
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1. Jimmie Johnson   Although a flat tire foiled Johnson’s hopes for a second straight victory, it’s pretty obvious who the best team on the circuit is these days. Last week: 1

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.   See: Johnson, Jimmie, then substitute “second best” for “best” and “transmission” for “flat tire.” The Pocono troubles won’t derail this bunch much, if at all. Last week: 2

3. Matt Kenseth   Said Kenseth of the final, fateful restart: “He (Johnson) just drove in incredibly far and spun out. Maybe he had a flat, but I am not so sure about that.” Not a happy camper. Last week: 3

4. Brad Keselowski  Played the off-cync pit strategy game for a second straight week. And for a second straight, came up short. But hey, when you have three wins, you’re free to give it a go. Last week: 6

5. Denny Hamlin   Was on his way to a third consecutive top-10 finish until Kenseth took a hard left directly in front of him. Was later released from the infield car center on Sunday after experiencing abdominal pain. Last week: 4

6. Tony Stewart  Drove from 28th to fifth at Pocono, which is no easy feat. Has advanced to sixth in the standings on the strength of four consecutive top 12s. Last week: 5

7. Jeff Gordon   When the circuit last visited Pocono in June, Gordon sat 22nd in points with zero wins and three top 10s. After its return trip, he sits 13th in points with a win and nine top 10s. Last week: 9

8. Greg Biffle   Lined up fourth for the final restart at Pocono which, in hindsight, wasn’t a good place to be. Although he was shuffled back to 15th, he now finds himself only six points out of the championship lead. Last week: 8
 

Teaser:
<p> Jeff Gordon is making a move, but Jimmie Johnson still sits atop Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-teams-wed-see-hard-knocks
Body:

College football is the world’s greatest reality show. The competition is more fierce than anything on Survivor. The glory is greater than anything on American Idol. And if you don’t think some players are prima donnas and some coaches are as downright nasty as Real Housewives, well, then you’ve never followed recruiting.

HBO’s Hard Knocks premiers tonight, following the Miami Dolphins during training camp. It’s a fascinating look into the players, coaches and pressures in pro football.

 

There isn’t a college football equivalent, and that’s a shame. We’d love to see a behind the scenes look at two-a-days on college campuses around the country. 

 

Here are the teams we’d like to see in 2012, not only for the on-the-field stakes but also some of the off-field personalities and storylines.

 

LSU

The main event: Still recovering from the 21-0 championship-game loss in their own backyard, the Tigers should have an edge about them all through camp. Camera crews give us a look at Zach Mettenberger working to strengthen LSU’s weak spot at quarterback, the competition for carries at running back and film sessions with defensive coordinator John Chavis. 

The sideshow: On-script or off-script, we’ll take as much Les Miles footage we can get. And we haven’t mentioned Tyrann Mathieu yet.

 

USC

The main event: The Athlon preseason No. 1 team deals with high expectations for the first time in the Lane Kiffin era. Matt Barkley is the nation’s best quarterback, he has the nation’s best receiver duo, and now he’s welcoming Penn State refugee Silas Redd to his backfield. All’s not perfect in Los Angeles, either. Depth is limited from NCAA sanctions and the Trojans’ have real questions on the defensive line.

The sideshow: Lane Kiffin’s changed his tone since he left Knoxville. That might be better for USC, but it’s not great for TV. Barkley’s still entertaining. With SI.com, he posed tough questions such as “Do penguins have knees?” He also reveals Kiffin listens to Katy Perry, Rihanna and Britney Spears. If that’s not enough, there’s always the Ed Orgeron spinoff.

 

West Virginia

The main event: Dana Holgorsen has proven himself to be one of college football’s best offensive minds, and now he has the star power at quarterback and receiver to compete in the Big 12. The defense, now under the direction of Joe DeForest, needs some work if it’s going to compete in the Mountaineers’ new conference.

The sideshow: While there probably won’t be many fishing trips with Bob Huggins or skydiving adventures during the preseason, “Holgo” should provide enough plain-speaking, Red Bull-guzzling personality all through camp.

 

Alabama

The main event: An inside look at the defending national champions seeking to replace the last batch of NFL first-round talent with the next. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart teach their defense to a new set of starters who must prepare for Michigan and Denard Robinson in the opener. Quarterback A.J. McCarron continues his ascendance to becoming the face of the Alabama offense with Trent Richardson gone.

The sideshow: Even if Saban allows cameras to follow his program around (though he did with ESPN in the preseason a couple of years ago), we can’t expect anything too interesting to happen under his watch. Instead, the camera crew films some of the the chaos that is SEC Media Days.

 

Tennessee

The main event: The Volunteers’ last game was their first loss to Kentucky since 1984 to wrap up a 5-7 season, so there should be a sense of urgency in Knoxville. Quarterback Tyler Bray is a pro prospect, but he’s yet to put it together on the field. The same could be said for receiver Da’Rick Rogers. The Volunteers also are breaking in seven new assistants, including a defensive coordinator.

The sideshow: Perhaps no coach is under the microscope more than the one leading the hot seat list in the SEC. That’s where Derek Dooley finds himself in his third season. Even without that angle, Dooley’s entertaining enough as it is.

 

Arkansas

The main event: Arkansas is enjoying its best run since the 1970s. Unfortunately, the Razorbacks’ 21 wins in the last two seasons have coincided with Alabama and LSU on top of their games, too. Tyler Wilson is one of the SEC’s top passers, but he’s breaking in some new receivers. Knile Davis is back from the ankle injury that sidelined him for all of 2011. Meanwhile, they’re working with a new playcaller (Paul Petrino) and new head coach (John L. Smith).

The sideshow: Perhaps the prequel to the Arkansas edition of Hard Knocks would be more interesting, or at least more lurid. At least John L. Smith still has it.

 

Washington State

The main event: Excitement surrounds the far-flung Washington State program for the first time in about a decade thanks to the arrival of Mike Leach. Film and practice sessions should prove interesting as Leach installs the Air Raid in Pullman with personnel that seemingly fits his scheme. The country also hasn’t been properly introduced to receiver Marquess Wilson. That needs to change.

The sideshow: Mike Leach being Mike Leach.

 

Ohio State

The main event: Urban Meyer is back in the game after a year away, and he has a sophomore quarterback who is as athletically gifted as any Meyer has coached. An interesting storyline would be motivating a team that finished 6-7 last season and has no hope for a conference championship or a bowl game. 

The sideshow: Ohio State probably doesn’t bring the character of LSU, Arkansas, Tennessee or Washington State, but there’s plenty to see. Will Meyer have to handle an arrested player? What about a look into the lengths he’ll go for a recruit? Will he exchange barbs with Michigan and Brady Hoke?

 

Maryland

The main event: Just two seasons ago, no one would have pegged then-Connecticut coach Randy Edsall as creating compelling television. A 2-10 mess of a season changed that. Two new coordinators, including fired New Mexico coach Mike Locksley, adds to the intrigue. Maryland could succeed in the face of adversity ... or pick up where it left off last season.

The sideshow: Wouldn’t it be fun to see the immediate reactions of the straight-laced Edsall and his players when they’re presented their uniform combinations for the first time?

 

Akron

The main event: We’re going off the grid for this one. One of the MAC’s worst programs tries to make a splash with the hire of former Auburn coach Terry Bowden. He’ll be a salesman to the fill the program’s new stadium as much as he’ll be a coach.

The sideshow: Chuck Amato’s red shoes don’t match the Zips’ garb, but we’re glad to have him back anyway.

 

A few others we’d watch:

 

Oregon: Chip Kelly doesn’t seem like a guy who’d have time for a camera crew, but we’d like to watch him try to pick the next productive Ducks’ QB.

 

South Carolina: Would be more fun with Stephen Garcia around, but we’ll take our chances that Steve Spurrier will make the season interesting.

 

Clemson: Dabo Swinney won’t let South Carolina take all the attention.

 

Nebraska: Pressure’s on both Bo Pelini and quarterback Taylor Martinez.

 

Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy hands his team over to a freshman quarterback.

 

Ole Miss: We love Hugh Freeze’s Twitter feed already.

 

Texas A&M: New coach, new conference, same crazy fans.

 

Missouri: The Tigers also join the SEC with a fragile quarterback and the nation’s top freshman.

 

Penn State: Watching Bill O’Brien try to salvage this season, never mind the program, could be fascinating.

 

Notre Dame: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you’d watch.

 

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> College football teams we'd like to see on Hard Knocks</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 05:25
Path: /college-football/big-ten-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes
Body:

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

Illinois

Opposing coaches size up the Fighting Illini: “I hated to see the Zooker (Ron Zook) get let go last season, but you could see it coming. After getting to the Rose Bowl a few years ago and then regressing after that, it was only a matter of time if he didn’t do better than 6–6. … I think Tim Beckman steps into a great situation in his first season at Illinois because they have a lot of talent returning. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is the key. He should be the biggest beneficiary under Beckman’s offense that had no problems lighting up the scoreboards at Toledo. Scheelhaase should have a breakout season if Illinois can find an adequate replacement for wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. He was really productive last year. … The defense was underrated last season, and they could be as good or better. Of course, I may be in the minority thinking that way since defensive end Whitney Mercilus is gone, but they have seven or eight returning starters, including nearly the entire defensive backfield. … I ultimately think Beckman will be successful at Illinois, but how successful his first season is depends on how they fare on the Big Ten road against Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern. They’ve got to steal a game or two on the road.”

Indiana

Opposing coaches size up the Hoosiers: “Wow. Poor Kevin Wilson. It didn’t take long for him to find out the difference between coaching as an assistant with Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and being a head coach at Indiana. One win and 11 losses, and losses to teams like Ball State and North Texas. At least we know it can’t get any worse in Year 2. They also catch a break in the Big Ten portion of their schedule as none of the road trips are too daunting: Northwestern, Illinois, Penn State and Purdue. … Quarterback Tre Roberson, running back Stephen Houston and wide receiver Kofi Hughes, their top three offensive players, all return for new coordinator Seth Littrell. A bunch of defensive linemen are back — Larry Black, Adam Replogle, Bobby Richardson and Ryan Phillis. … I know Wilson also is counting on a number of junior college transfers to contribute immediately. This will be key for them because last season Wilson was forced to play mostly freshman, and it showed. This go-around, the Hoosiers should be vastly improved. I don’t think they’ll be so much improved that they’ll be bowl bound, but they’ll certainly win more games and be a lot more competitive in 2012 compared to last season. They have to be.”

Iowa

Opposing coaches size up the Hawkeyes: “Kirk Ferentz has had a great run in Iowa and makes it look much easier than most people realize, but the Hawkeyes have had a little bit of a dip, at least by their standards, the past two seasons. They had eight wins two years ago on a team that was loaded and then last year they only won seven games. … A number of off-the-field issues have grabbed headlines along with a run of bad luck on the injury front. Ferentz’s job security is fine, but I think a number of people are beginning to wonder if Iowa can return to prominence and be among the Big Ten’s elite teams. … For the first time since he came to Iowa, Ferentz will have a new offensive and defensive coordinator in Greg Davis and Phil Parker. … James Vandenberg is back at quarterback. He’ll be one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but his top target from last year, wide receiver Marvin McNutt, is gone as is leading rusher Marcus Coker. Those two guys are huge losses. They also must replace five or six starters from the defense. … The schedule sets up nicely for them in that a 5–0 start is not out of the question. Ferentz should have no trouble getting back to a bowl game, but challenging the upper echelon of the Big Ten seems more in the Hawkeyes’ past than their immediate future.””

Michigan

Opposing coaches size up the Wolverines: “I wonder what Brady Hoke can do for an encore. It was not a bad Michigan debut for Hoke by winning 11 games, beating Ohio State and winning the Sugar Bowl. Although I’m sure Michigan fans would not list them in that order of importance. Now how can Hoke follow that up or improve on it? It won’t take long to find out as we’ll certainly get a good idea if Michigan can be a legitimate national title contender when they open the season against Alabama in Dallas. … Quarterback Denard Robinson is back, along with running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and wide receiver Roy Roundtree. Junior Hemingway, who was Robinson’s favorite and sometimes only target, is gone, as well as defensive stopper Mike Martin. There’s no way to overemphasize his importance to the Wolverines’ defense last season. Martin is one of three defensive line starters that are gone, but basically the rest of the defense returns. They made huge strides under first-year coordinator Greg Mattison, but it’s imperative that they are able to consistently stop the run, especially against Alabama in the first game of the season and in Big Ten play. … I think Michigan can be even better than last season, but now that they’re expected to be better, can they handle the added expectations? That is the key for them.”

Michigan State

Opposing coaches size up the Spartans: “Kirk Cousins might not have been the most talented quarterback and he certainly wasn’t the most elusive in the pocket, but Cousins was the quintessential team leader and pulse of the Spartans. You don’t simply throw a new starter in there and replace someone with his character and integrity and all the intangibles he meant to the team. But that’s what Mark Dantonio’s got to try to do. Andrew Maxwell has the unenviable task of trying to replace Cousins as the Spartans’ quarterback. … If replacing Cousins isn’t daunting enough, the Spartans also must replace their top two receivers, B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, and running back Edwin Baker. … While the offense takes some time to develop a new identity, the defense will be expected to do most of the heavy lifting. And the Spartans will be loaded on defense. Eight starters are back, including defensive backs Isaiah Lewis and Johnny Adams, linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, and defensive lineman William Gholston, all of which are All-Big Ten-caliber players. … I’ll be interested to see if the Spartans can return to the Big Ten Championship Game and also what kind of start they get off to with three tough home games early against Boise State, Notre Dame and Ohio State.”

Minnesota

Opposing coaches size up the Golden Gophers: “I say this with all due respect to Jerry Kill, but I hope this fall is a lot more boring for him. He is an amazing person, and I’m so grateful, as well as everyone else in our profession, that he is good to go this season after suffering those seizures. He obviously does not want any attention on him, but is more concerned about making the Golden Gophers better this year than last year and I think they will be. … Last season was so bizarre for Minnesota. They started the year almost upsetting USC in Los Angeles and then lose at home to New Mexico State and North Dakota State. Then in Big Ten play they upset Iowa and Illinois and nearly knock off Michigan State. … With quarterback MarQueis Gray back, Kill has a good one to continue to build the offense around. He’s a dual threat and should bring more consistency this year. … The defense was exposed at times last season and has a lot of work to do, but a number of regulars return so that’s promising. … For Minnesota to improve on last year’s three-win total, they need to stockpile some victories early, because their November schedule is brutal with games against Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska and Michigan State. … Kill is very good coach who will give that program a chance to get better in the next few years.”

Nebraska

Opposing coaches size up the Cornhuskers: “Most places, if they had a choice, would take nine wins a year. Nebraska is not one of those places. Bo Pelini’s nine-win season was viewed somewhat as a disappointment — okay, it was viewed as a major disappointment. … The Cornhuskers thought the Big Ten would have to adjust to them, but it was the other way around. Nebraska’s only signature victory was against a Michigan State team playing the week after an emotional Hail Mary upset against Wisconsin. The losses were brutal. They were blown out by Wisconsin and Michigan and upset at home by Northwestern. The Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina summed up the year. … Will the Huskers bounce back or will they regress? They have nearly everyone back, at least most of the key contributors, such as quarterback Taylor Martinez, I-back Rex Burkhead and wide receiver Kenny Bell. I like Burkhead. He is really good. Tough kid. … The defense also returns nearly intact, but last year they were simply porous at times. I can’t remember the last time a Nebraska defense allowed that many points. Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini moved on to take the head coaching position at FAU, so we’ll get to see if John Papuchis, who was their defensive line coach, can fare any better as Nebraska’s new coordinator.”

Northwestern

Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats: “The Wildcats have proven they can put up plenty of points, but they just can’t get the hang of slowing down offenses. Dan Persa was a battler for Northwestern at quarterback, and Kain Colter takes over full-time for him. Pat Fitzgerald has a good offensive system in place, so I expect Colter will do just fine with the offense. They do, however, need more productivity from their running backs. They haven’t had a difference-maker at that position in a few years. … It’s the defense where the Wildcats need to make drastic improvements. They had a stretch last year where they allowed at least 30 points in five consecutive games. They still somehow managed a bowl game even with a leaky defense and a head-shaking loss at Army. … They lost a ton of seniors but do return starting linebackers Damien Proby, Collin Ellis and David Nwabuisi among five returning starters. … Northwestern’s first-half schedule is very manageable, and they conceivably could start 5–0, but the back end is loaded with games against Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State. Another bowl trip isn’t out of the question, but another six- or seven-win season is likely unless the defense makes huge strides.”

Ohio State

Opposing coaches size up the Buckeyes: “Last season, they had to deal with the suspensions of Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Boom Herron and others to start the year. This time they have to deal with the realization that they are banned from playing in the postseason. Even with no hopes for a bowl game, Urban Meyer will quickly learn firsthand the expectations of coaching at Ohio State. … Meyer’s got most of the key contributors back from last season’s disappointing six-win team. Quarterback Braxton Miller is obviously the key to running Meyer’s spread attack. And Meyer’s got a good one. I have no doubt Miller will thrive in that system. … As promising as the offense looks with Miller at the controls, the defense could be even better. All but two starters return, led by defensive lineman John Simon and safety C.J. Barnett. … They are recruiting at a very high level. The first season might not be great, but they are set up to win at a high level in the next few years. … The schedule sets up very favorably for Meyer. Ohio State shouldn’t even be tested in its first four games before consecutive games against Michigan State and Nebraska. After that, the Buckeyes’ biggest challenge is their final two games against Wisconsin and Michigan. Ohio State should easily post eight wins under Meyer in his first season, and reaching double digits isn’t that much of a stretch.”

Penn State

Opposing coaches size up the Nittany Lions: “There is not a more difficult head coaching situation in the country than the one Bill O’Brien stepped into. Not only does he have the unenviable task of replacing the legend that was Joe Paterno, but what I think is worse is the unknown. Granted, no one still at the school had anything to do with that horrible tragedy, but you can bet rival recruiters will somehow bring that up when recruiting against Penn State. While dealing with any bombshell off-the-field distractions that could happen at any time, rebuilding the on-the-field product won’t be easy either. … Linebacker Gerald Hodges is one of their top returning players from what’s really a small group of returning starters (eight overall). … O’Brien obviously had a great deal of success with the Patriots as offensive coordinator, but how will that translate as a college head coach? I think he’ll be successful, but I know a lot of my colleagues who feel he won’t. It’s a lot easier to work with a Tom Brady than it is a Matt McGloin. Besides blocking out any off-the-field distractions, probably O’Brien’s biggest challenge is finally establishing a clear-cut starter. … The defense should be pretty good, as always, but I have serious issues with that team on offense.”

Purdue

Opposing coaches size up the Boilermakers: “Finally, Danny Hope posted a winning record in his third season with the Boilermakers. That’s pretty significant for him because you’d think he’s been nothing but jinxed since getting to Purdue. He has had four starting quarterbacks lost to injuries, but maybe his luck is finally evening out. Robert Marve, the kid who transferred from Miami, was able to get a sixth year from the NCAA after suffering a knee injury last year, and I think Purdue can win with him. Of course, they can also win with Caleb TerBush, who started last year, or Rob Henry, who also is back. One thing is certain: Purdue will not be short of quarterback options this year. Whoever ends up at quarterback will have plenty of weapons. Purdue returns a bunch of starters on offense and defense, so they should be able to build on last year’s seven-win season. … The talent level there is decent. Clearly not as good as the big boys in the league, but they do have some players to work with. … Other than a consecutive three-game stretch in the middle of the season against Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State, the Boilermakers won’t be huge underdogs in any other games, so Purdue could be headed for another winning season.”

Wisconsin

Opposing coaches size up the Badgers: “What has happened to Wisconsin is fascinating. The Badgers have lost six assistants since last year. They’re now scattered all over the country. It will be interesting to see how the staff comes together this year, with some new faces. … They also lost quarterback Russell Wilson, who was basically a one-year free agent, but Bret Bielema’s managed to bring in another quarterback in Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien. I don’t think O’Brien will put up the numbers that Wilson did, but he doesn’t have to — his main duty will be turning around and handing the ball to Montee Ball. … Ball’s decision to return for his senior season is a huge boost for the Badgers. I think most people, including myself, thought he would be gone to the NFL. I think the fact that Ball returns keeps the Badgers in the running for a third consecutive Rose Bowl trip. … Returning linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland lead what I thought was an underrated defense. For the most part, other than the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State and the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon, the defense shut down a lot of offenses. … If not for surrendering a couple of last-minute Hail Mary passes against Michigan State and Ohio State, the Badgers could have had an unbeaten regular season. The Badgers get both teams at home this year.”

 

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Teaser:
<p> Big Ten Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 05:17
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-running-back-units-2012
Body:

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context. 

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature. 
 
Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.
 
It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards. 
 
Athlon's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2012

1. LSUWhile there may not be an All-American in the backfield, the depth chart is overflowing with talent. Michael Ford and Spencer Ware each rushed for over 700 yards last season and enter 2012 as the frontrunners for playing time. However, Alfred Blue (539 yards), Kenny Hilliard (336) and Terrence Magee (133) each showed flashes of promise last year. True freshman Jeremy Hill also is expected to push for playing time. Even though the Tigers may not have a running back on the All-SEC team at the end of the season, having six players who could start for a lot of teams in the nation is certainly worth the No. 1 spot.

2. Wisconsin Beating last season’s totals (1,923 rush yards and 33 touchdowns) is an unrealistic expectation for Montee Ball, but he remains one of the top running backs in college football. The senior needs 19 rushing scores to set an NCAA career record and is college football’s top active rusher (3,310 yards) entering the 2012 season. Ball should be considered one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman Trophy this season. James White, who rushed for 713 yards last fall, is a valuable change-of-pace option for the Badgers and is expected to serve as the No. 2 back once again this year after rushing for 1,052 yards in 2010. Redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon should serve as the No. 3 back and is expected to be a future star in Madison.

3. Oregon LaMichael James is gone, but the Oregon rushing attack won’t slow down. Kenjon Barner returns after rushing for 939 yards and 11 scores in a reserve role last year. He may not match James’ rushing totals from last season, but Barner should be one of the Pac-12’s top rushers. De’Anthony Thomas is one of college football’s most dangerous all-around threats and should receive more opportunities in 2012. He rushed for 595 yards and seven scores, averaging 10.8 yards per rush attempt, while also catching 46 passes for 599 yards and nine scores last year as a freshman. True freshmen Bralon Addison and Byron Marshall will likely serve as the No. 3 and No. 4 backs.

4. South Carolina Marcus Lattimore’s 2011 season was abruptly ended by a knee injury in the 14–12 victory over Mississippi State. Although he was unable to participate in spring workouts, all signs point to a full recovery by fall practice. Lattimore is the most talented running back in college football and has 2,015 yards and 27 touchdowns through 20 career games. Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles will battle for the role as top backup. True freshman Mike Davis will get an opportunity to play right away, but he could redshirt in preparation for a bigger role in the offense in 2013.

5. Alabama There’s no doubt that Trent Richardson will be missed; the Heisman Trophy finalist rushed for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. But there’s no shortage of options for the Crimson Tide. Eddie Lacy averaged an impressive 7.1 yards per carry on 95 attempts last season and is expected to assume the No. 1 role. Redshirt freshman Dee Hart is a perfect change-of-pace threat, while true freshman T.J. Yeldon was one of the top performers in the spring. Jalston Fowler will also figure into the mix after rushing for 385 yards and four scores last year. Similar to LSU, Alabama may not have one running back that rushers for 1,000 yards, but the depth and talent here should ease any concerns about the rushing attack without Richardson.

6. Nebraska Strong rushing attacks are no stranger to Lincoln. The Cornhuskers averaged 217.2 yards per game on the ground last season, largely due to the play of running back Rex Burkhead. He led the team with 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns, while catching 21 passes for 177 yards and two scores. Burkhead is a workhorse (284 carries) and carried Nebraska to victories against Iowa (38 carries, 160 yards) and Michigan State (35 carries, 130 yards). The senior could push for 275-300 carries once again, especially with no proven go-to back behind him. Sophomore Ameer Abdullah is a good change-of-pace option, while fullback Mike Marrow could help in short-yardage situations.  

7. USC Exiting spring practice, the Trojans owned the nation’s top quarterback and receiving corps. With the addition of Penn State transfer Silas Redd, USC now owns one of the top 10 running back units in the nation. In his first season as a starter last year, Redd rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns with the Nittany Lions. Expect Redd to be the No. 1 back, but Curtis McNeal will figure prominently into the rushing attack. McNeal rushed for 1,005 yards and six scores last season and considering his size (5-foot-7, 190 pounds), is best suited as a change-of-pace option. Sophomore D.J. Morgan or redshirt freshman Buck Allen will work as the No. 3 back.

8. Stanford With Andrew Luck departing to the NFL, Stanford will lean more on its rushing attack to win in 2012. The good news? The depth chart is full of options for coach David Shaw. Stepfan Taylor is back after rushing for 1,330 yards and 10 scores last season. He was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last season and is just the third back in school history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Junior Anthony Wilkerson will serve as the top reserve after rushing for 282 yards and three scores last season. True freshman Barry Sanders has great bloodlines and is Stanford’s back of the future. However, he will likely serve as the No. 3 option this season. Redshirt freshman Kelsey Young could see time at receiver and running back in 2012.

9. Oklahoma StateAfter a standout sophomore season, the Cowboys are expecting even bigger things from Joseph Randle in 2012. He earned second-team All-Big 12 honors after rushing for 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. Randle was also a key factor in the passing attack, catching 43 passes for 266 yards and two scores. The junior will have more pressure on his shoulders to perform with the departure of quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. Jeremy Smith was solid in a backup role last year, rushing for 646 yards and nine scores. He should push 100 carries once again in 2012.

10. TexasA strong case could be made the Longhorns have the No. 1 backfield in the Big 12. Despite battling a toe injury, Malcolm Brown had a standout freshman season, rushing for 742 yards and five touchdowns. Fellow freshman Joe Bergeron registered 463 yards and five scores last year. He had a strong spring and could push Brown for the No. 1 spot. Both players will have competition for snaps in the fall, as true freshman Johnathan Gray – the No. 7 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 – will be in the mix for time.

11. Arkansas – The return of Knile Davis should give the Razorbacks’ rushing attack a boost in 2012. Also joining Davis as key contributors will be Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo.

12. Pittsburgh – Ray Graham was on his way to rushing for over 1,000 yards last season but a torn ACL ended his 2011 year early. Graham and Isaac Bennett form a solid tandem, and this group will get a boost with the addition of highly-touted true freshman Rushel Shell.

13. North Carolina – Depth is an issue in the backfield, but starter Giovani Bernard (1,253 yards in 2011) is the ACC’s best running back.

14. TCU – Despite the loss of Ed Wesley, the Horned Frogs still have plenty of options in the backfield. Waymon James and Matthew Tucker form a solid one-two punch, while UCLA transfer Aundre Dean will likely be the No. 3 back.

15. Michigan State – With Edwin Baker leaving East Lansing, look for Le’Veon Bell to have a huge junior season. Senior Larry Caper (728 career yards) and sophomore Nick Hill will serve as the No. 2 and No. 3 options.

16. Clemson – Losing Mike Bellamy was a blow to the Tigers’ depth, but starter Andre Ellington is an Athlon Sports first-team All-ACC selection for 2012.

17. Utah – John White had a monster year in his first season after transferring from a junior college, rushing for 1,519 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Utes will likely turn to junior college recruit Kelvin York as White’s backup in 2012.

18. Vanderbilt – Zac Stacy is back after rushing for 1,193 yards and 14 scores last year, but the Commodores will get a boost in depth with the return of Warren Norman (missed 2011 due to injury). True freshman Brian Kimbrow will also figure into the mix.

19. Texas A&M – If Christine Michael returns 100 percent from a torn ACL, the Aggies should rank higher on this list by the end of the year. Junior Ben Malena and freshman Trey Williams will spell Michael when called upon in 2012.

20. Arizona State – Senior Cameron Marshall is the headliner for the Sun Devils, but there’s plenty of depth for coordinator Mike Norvell, including junior college recruit Marion Grice, freshman D.J. Foster and sophomore Deantre Lewis.

21. Oklahoma - The Sooners need Dominique Whaley to return at full strength, but there's proven depth with Roy Finch and Brennan Clay returning to Norman. Junior college recruit Damien Williams and true freshman Alex Ross will compete for snaps this fall. 

22. Michigan - The uncertainty surrounding Fitzgerald Toussaint's status has pushed the Wolverines' down this list for now. An off-the-field incident has clouded Toussaint's status for the opener and has allowed Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes and Vincent Smith to push for more playing time.

23. Virginia - One of the key reasons for last season's turnaround at Virginia was due to the one-two punch of Perry Jones and Kevin Parks. Jones led the team in yards (915), but Parks held the edge in rushing touchdowns (9).

24. Notre Dame - Cierre Wood is back after rushing for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Expect the junior to challenge for that mark once again in 2012, but he will face competition for carries from USC transfer Amir Carlisle. 

25. Georgia - Despite losing Isaiah Crowell, the Bulldogs are still in good shape at running back. Ken Malcome enters fall practice as the No. 1 back, but true freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall will be in the mix. Georgia may not have one dominant rusher in 2012, but a committee approach should work out well with three talented rushers.  

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2012</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 05:07
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, New York Jets, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-york-jets-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 York Jets check in at No. 19.

Rex Ryan will never admit it, but the Jets may well be in a rebuilding mode despite the presence of veterans such as running back Shonn Greene and linebackers Calvin Pace and Bart Scott.

That comes as a result of last year’s 8–8 debacle that ostensibly cost offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer his job for trying to turn Mark Sanchez into Peyton Manning. Former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano now takes the offensive reins and will attempt to bring back the ground-and-pound attack that took the Jets to two straight AFC title games (2009 and ’10).

The biggest area of improvement needs to come off the field, however. Reconstructing locker room unity, which didn’t just disintegrate but exploded all over MetLife Stadium, will be a major undertaking and involve all of Ryan’s motivational skills — especially with wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who remains unrepentant for becoming the team’s biggest divisive force.

Ryan believes he has enough veteran talent to take the Jets back into the postseason. But after taking Brandon Jacobs’ advice to “Shut up, fat boy,” Ryan’s laying low on the rhetoric. But we all know how he feels. It’s up to the Jets to have his back — something they failed to do last season.

Offense

Sanchez has come perilously close to coach-killer status, as he showed an inability to control the game in 2011. Some of that was due to a shaky line that allowed 40 sacks, a dozen more than in 2010. Sanchez did throw 26 touchdowns, but he lost eight fumbles and tossed 18 interceptions as he was asked to throw way too much for his level of experience. This year, he should get back to being more of a game-manager with Sparano’s plans for a return to the physical running game. That should help his confidence. The addition of 236-pound quarterback Tim Tebow will make the Wildcat a more prominent part of the playbook.

Holmes will still be the No. 1 option in the passing game, but the Jets have high hopes for second-round pick Stephen Hill. If Hill can establish himself as a viable weapon, Holmes should thrive against single coverage — something that didn’t happen enough in 2011. After catching 52 passes for a 14.3-yard average in 12 games in his first season with the Jets, Holmes had only 51 receptions for a 12.8 average a year ago. Sanchez reached out to Holmes in the offseason to repair their working relationship. Both parties are saying all the right things, but the real test will come when the regular season begins.

Tight end Dustin Keller caught a team-high 65 passes last season working the short and medium routes over the middle of the field.

The passing game won’t be effective without a productive running attack in Sparano’s system. That means Greene, who had 1,054 yards last season despite topping the 100-yard mark only two times, must return to his 2010 form when he teamed with LaDainian Tomlinson to form one of the league’s best 1-2 backfield punches. With Tomlinson retired, third-year pro Joe McKnight will take over as the No. 2 back. A former fourth-round pick out of USC, ­McKnight has averaged 3.9 yards on his 82 rushing attempts.

The offensive line still needs proven upgrades on the right side, but 335-pound sixth-round pick Robert T. Griffin of Baylor could replace right guard Brandon Moore if he progresses quickly enough. The battle between shaky right tackle Wayne Hunter and 2010 second-round bust Vladimir Ducasse may be a matter of taking the lesser evil. The Jets acquired tackle Jeff Otah from Carolina via trade in late July, but the 2008 first-round pick was returned to the Panthers after failing his physical.

Related: Top New York Jets Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

The Jets had the fifth-best defense in terms of yardage last year, but their 363 points allowed (22.7 per game) ranked 20th in the NFL. Their run defense was just okay, ranking 13th in the league at 111.1 yards per game. All in all, the stats could have been worse. But specific situations consistently let down the Jets, and that’s what Ryan has to fix.

He started with the draft, taking Quinton Coples with the 16th pick. Ryan says that Coples will play as a 3-4 defensive end, even though the former North Carolina star has the speed and hands to play outside linebacker. Coples will battle Mike DeVito for the starting spot opposite Muhammad Wilkerson. The Jets can go with a 4-3 look, as well, with Wilkerson, Coples and DeVito lining up alongside nose tackle Sione Pouha.

Aaron Maybin proved to be the only linebacker with the ability to rush the quarterback in 2011. He had six sacks in 13 games, being used primarily on third downs. Maybin, who is working on his run-stopping, has positioned himself for a bigger role. Pace and Scott, two constants on defense last year, should be even more productive thanks to the upgraded line.

Safety remains a big issue, however. When Jim Leonhard went down last year, the pass defense in the middle of the field went with him. The free agent additions of LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell should provide an upgrade. Landry, who has played in only 17 games over the last two seasons, must prove that he can remain healthy. Strong safety Eric Smith is the team’s only other experienced safety.

The corners are fine, however, with shutdown cover man Darrelle Revis and the physical Antonio Cromartie returning. Revis and Cromartie had four picks each.

Specialists

Jeremy Kerley finished last year as the team’s leading punt returner with a 10.1-yard average and will likely handle those duties again. In fact, most of the special teams players from last year return, including kicker Nick Folk, who hit 19-of-25 field goals. 

McKnight, who suffered some fumbling issues both in the backfield and as a punt returner, proved to be a weapon returning kickoffs with a very healthy 31.6-yard average on his 34 attempts. He had a 107-yard return for a touchdown against the Ravens. If McKnight can duplicate that type of production, he will put the Jets’ offense in advantageous positions — and take pressure off of Sanchez.

T.J. Conley, who had a 38.8-yard net punting average, has the ability to pin opponents deep in their own territory. Over 65 percent of his 92 punts were not returned, and he had only six touchbacks while putting 32 inside the 20.

Final Analysis: 3rd in the AFC East

The idea of going back to the ground game and limiting Sanchez’s passing is a good one. But a tough opening schedule that includes 2011 playoff teams Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Houston, and New England in four of the first seven weeks will be difficult to navigate. The Jets have talent, but too many things will need to go well — including improving team chemistry — for the team to return to the postseason after a one-year hiatus. Another .500 record could be in the cards.

Related: 2012 New York Jets Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Beefy QB
The Wildcat hasn’t packed a punch since Brad Smith left the team after the 2010 season. But now, Tim Tebow’s in town, and he could be the ideal Wildcat quarterback. Tebow rushed for 660 yards on 122 attempts last season with the Broncos, and he gained 2,947 yards on the ground during his collegiate career at Florida. If offensive coordinator Tony Sparano is smart — and he is — he’ll tell Tebow to hang onto the football at all costs, since the 236-pounder’s throwing accuracy and mechanics in the short passing game are lacking.

More Tebow
Tebow, the Jets’ No. 2 quarterback, made the list of the NFL’s top 100 players as voted by players around the league; starter Mark Sanchez didn’t. Sanchez didn’t seem to be miffed by the slight, but it should provide motivation for him to prove his worth. It will also be interesting to see how long of a leash Rex Ryan gives his starter if the Jets get off to a slow start. Big storyline here.

WR Option?
There were some who questioned whether wide receiver Stephen Hill, the Jets’ second-round pick, would be able to make the transition to an NFL offense after playing in Georgia Tech’s option attack for three seasons. Well, take a look at Demaryius Thomas of the Broncos. The former Yellow Jacket had 35 catches for 745 yards and four touchdowns in the final seven games last year (including two playoff games).

Breaking Even
Here’s a stat that aptly fits in with the Jets’ 8–8 season. They gained 4,989 yards on offense and gave up 4,993 yards on defense.
Sack challenged The Jets might think about ramping up their cornerback and safety blitzes, as defensive backs recorded only four of the team’s 35 sacks last year. Safety Eric Smith was the high man with 2.5 sacks.

Unrepentant
Santonio Holmes doesn’t seem to have any regrets about the hubbub he caused in the Jets’ locker room at the end of last season. “Why should I?” was his response. Oh, boy. And the fans aren’t particularly happy with him or quarterback Sanchez. The duo was loudly booed when flashed on the Madison Square Garden video board while attending a Knicks game together.

Terminator Terminated?
Tebow’s arrival as a running option at the quarterback position could mean a reduced role for fullback John Conner. The Jets could elect to get by with either Bilal Powell or Joe McKnight in situations that call for a fullback. However, Ryan seemed to indicate that Conner would stick with the team. “Clearly, there’s a role for a traditional fullback (in Sparano’s offense),” Ryan says.

NO TACKLE
Talk about faith. The Jets failed to draft a right tackle, which means they’re staking their hopes again on Wayne Hunter, who at times looked more like a swinging gate than a pass-protector. But Ryan believes in the veteran from Hawaii. “I think Wayne will play better this year,” Ryan says. “I believe Wayne will have a big year for us.” 

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: Wed., Aug. 8

Order your 2012 New York Jets Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top New York Jets Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 New York Jets Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> New York Jets 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 05:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, New York Jets, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/new-york-jets-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

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

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

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

@NYJets (Followers: 425,845)

Top Jets To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, August 7, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Tim Tebow QB @TimTebow 1,781,345
2. Mark Sanchez QB @Mark_Sanchez 739,857
3. Darrelle Revis CB @Revis24 297,575
4. Santonio Holmes WR @santonio10 159,864
5. Nick Mangold C @nickmangold 116,793
6. Dustin Keller TE @DUSTINKELLER81 78,018
7. Greg McElroy QB @GVMcElroy 72,600
8. LaRon Landry S @MrLandry30 44,173
9. Bart Scott LB @Madbacker57 43,460
10. D'Brickashaw Ferguson OT @Dbrickashaw 37,393
11. Kyle Wilson CB @KWilson20 29,870
12. Aaron Maybin LB @AaronMaybin51 29,178
13. Calvin Pace LB @jetsPACE97 28,438
14. John Conner FB @JCONNER38 25,060
15. Mike DeVito DE @MikeDeVito70 23,357
16. Sione Pouha DT @Pouha91 18,304
17. Muhhamad Wilkerson DL @mowilkerson 15,812
18. Marcus Dixon DT @MarcusDixon94 15,513
19. Joe McKnight RB @OfficialJoeJet 12,499
20. Eric Smith S @Esmitty33 10,533
21. Ricky Sapp LB @Sapp55 10,178
22. Jeremy Kerley WR @Jkerley_11 8,634
23. Nick Folk K @nickfolk2 8,543
24. Kenrick Ellis DT @KenrickEllis 8,509
25. Stephen Hill WR @_StephenHill_ 7,578

It's a good thing that the Jets' starting quarterback decision isn't decided by Twitter followers, otherwise Mark Sanchez wouldn't have a chance. Even though Sanchez has more than 700,000 followers, his backup, Tim Tebow, has more than twice as many at nearly 1.8 million.

Even third-stringer Greg McElroy gets into the act as his more than 72,000 followers places him seventh on this list. For what it's worth, McElory has considerably more followers than Hall of Fame quarterback and Mr. Jet himself, Joe Namath (@RealJoeNamath).

Quarterbacks aside, what's a little surprising is the absence of two prominent Jets on this list. Neither head coach Rex Ryan nor cornerback and self-proclaimed No. 2 wide receiver Antonio Cromartie made the cut. Cromartie deactivated his Twitter account in May (but hasn't let that decision prevent him from speaking his mind), while Ryan has yet to embrace the world of Twitter. Then again, it's not like his lack of Twittering has any affect whatsoever on his media exposure, right?

Last, but certainly not least, a special mention to Jets legend and one of the newest members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Curtis Martin (@CurtisMartin28).

The Jets Beat:

Manish Mehta, Jets beat writer for the New York Daily News: @MMehtaNYDN (31,021)

Rich Cimini, covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com: @RichCimini (29,385)

Jenny Vrentas, Jets beat writer for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.: @JennyVrentas (13,915)

Jane McManus, covers Jets for ESPNNewYork.com and ESPNW: @janesports (12,143)

Ben Shpigel, Jets beat writer for The New York Times: @benshpigel (7,699)

Ian Begley, covers Jets as a writer for ESPNewYork.com: @IanBegley (6,008)

Brian Costello, Jets beat writer for the New York Post: @BrianCoz (5,457)

Kristian Dyer, covers the Jets for Metro - New York: @KristianRDyer (3,238)

Kimberley A. Martin, Jets beat writer for Newsday: @KMart_LI (2,731)

Dennis Waszak Jr., AP sports writer who's covered the Jets since 2006: @DWAZ73 (2,346)

Jets Blog Roll:

Jets Blog is the New York Post's home for all things J-E-T-S related.

The Jets Stream is the New York Daily News' Jets blog.

Gang Green Nation is SB Nation's Jets blog.

The Jets Blog is part of the SNY (SportsNet New York) Blog Network and was founded by @Brian_Bassett with additional coverage provided by Jake Steinberg (@Steiny31), among others.

New York Jets Confidential and Dan Leberfled (@jetswhispers) have been covering the team for 16 years.

Jets Insider is "The Most Heavily Trafficked NY Jets Fansite on the Planet," in case you were interested.

Turn On The Jets is home to "Ground and Pound Writing."

You can make your own conclusions after checking it out, but if anything JetsTwit has an intriguing sales pitch, if you will - "THE New York Jets Blog covering the players from the social media perspective." It was founded by Erik Manassy (@e_man) and also appears to be tailor-made for Twitter (@JetsTwit).

JetNation, The Jet Press, and Jets Gab are just a few of the other ones out there.

The ESPN AFC East blog is run by James Walker and you can follow him @espn_afceast.

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: Wednesday, Aug. 8

Order your 2012 New York Jets Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 New York Jets Season Preview
Related: 2012 New York Jets Schedule Analysis

- By Braden Gall and Mark Ross, published on August 7, 2012

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> New York Jets Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 04:59
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas A&M Aggies, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/texas-am-aggies-2012-qb-battle-jameill-showers-vs-johnny-manziel
Body:

Moving to the SEC was already expected to be a challenge for Texas A&M, but the Aggies will also have a new head coach and quarterback for 2012. Considering all of the new faces, it may take a season or two for all of the pieces to fall into place for new coach Kevin Sumlin. During Sumlin’s tenure at Houston, the Cougars boasted some of the nation’s top scoring offenses. Quarterback Case Keenum finished his career with 19,217 yards and 155 touchdowns – numbers that a Texas A&M quarterback will be unlikely to achieve over the next four seasons in the SEC. 

Although Sumlin and coordinator Kliff Kingsbury torched opposing defenses with the pass in Conference USA, the SEC will present a different challenge. 11 of the 12 defenses in the SEC ranked 27th or better nationally against the pass in 2011. While the spread, pass-first offenses can work in the SEC, there’s no question Sumlin will have to have more balance in order to contend in the West Division.

The Candidates:

#3 Jameill Showers (SO)
2011 stats: 40 yards, 0 TD, 33 rush yards, 1 TD

#2 Johnny Manziel (FR)
2011 stats: Redshirted

#16 Matt Joeckel (SO)
2011 stats: None

#6 Matt Davis (FR)
2011 stats: High School

The Breakdown:

Although the Aggies will have to break in a new quarterback, the line is one of the best in the nation and running back Christine Michael is a threat to rush for 1,000 yards.

Until a starter gets settled, look for Michael and the offensive line to shoulder much of the offensive focus early in the year.

Sophomore Jameill Showers served as the backup to Ryan Tannehill last season and completed 4 of 5 passes in limited work. He held onto the lead in spring practice, completing 20 of 31 throws for 203 yards and two touchdowns in Texas A&M’s spring game. Showers ranked as the No. 27 pro-style quarterback coming out of high school by Rivals. 

Johnny Manziel pushed Showers for time in the spring but an off-the-field issue has raised question marks about his status for the season opener. Manziel ranked higher among recruiting sites coming out of high school and brings more of a dual-threat presence to the offense. 

True freshman Matt Davis ranked as the No. 11 overall quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class by Athlon Sports and enrolled in time to compete for spring practice. Davis has an uphill battle to win the job as a true freshman, but he should be Texas A&M’s quarterback of the future.

Sophomore Matt Joeckel did not play last year and would seem like a longshot to win the starting job.

Related content: Texas A&M's 2012 Team Preview

Final Verdict:

Barring a push by Davis, the quarterback battle seems to be a two-man battle between Showers and Manziel. However, Manziel’s off-the-field incident certainly didn’t help his chances of winning the job.

Transitioning to a new offense and a tough defensive conference will likely make life difficult on Texas A&M’s quarterbacks this year. However, Showers should have plenty of time to throw behind a solid offensive line, while receiver Ryan Swope is one of the best in the SEC.

Expect Sumlin and Kingsbury to bring Showers along slowly, but there’s not much time to ease into the job with the SEC opener against Florida on Sept. 8.

Unless Showers or Manziel really struggles to move the offense, expect Davis to redshirt and make a run at the starting job next season.

Predicted Winner: Showers

 


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Related SEC Content

The SEC's Top 10 Fall Practice Storylines
College Football's All-Name Team for 2012

2012 Is a Make or Break Year for Tennessee's Derek Dooley

SEC 2012 Linebacker Rankings

SEC 2012 Defensive Line Rankings

SEC 2012 Offensive Line Rankings

SEC 2012 Wide Receiver Rankings

Athlon's 2012 SEC Predictions

2012 College Football Bowl Projections

Which SEC Teams Are on the Rise or Decline Going into 2012?

SEC's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers

Athlon's 2012 All-SEC Team

Teaser:
<p> Texas A&amp;M Aggies 2012 QB Battle: Jameill Showers vs. Johnny Manziel</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 04:51
Path: /nascar/triumph-and-tragedy-nascar
Body:

The Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway was dominated, once again, by Jimmie Johnson, yet the conclusion of the race hatched more storylines than one could count:

“Johnson blows lead, hands win to Jeff Gordon.”

“Gordon breaks 31-race winless skid in unlikely fashion.”

“Gordon, Gustafson celebrate wins and birthdays at Pocono.”

“Gordon in Chase wild card contention once again.”

“Earnhardt drops transmission, retains points lead.”

Yet, moments after the event ended on lap 98 of the scheduled 160-lap distance due to an intense thunderstorm that blanketed the area, one storyline put all others into perspective.

Brian F. Zimmerman, 41, of Moosic, Penn., a father of two, was killed when he was struck by lightning in the facility’s parking lot. The fatality was reported by Pocono track president Brandon Igdalsky on Sunday, nearly three hours after the race.

Nine others were also injured in the strike. Four victims were taken to Lehigh Valley Health Network. As of Monday morning, one has been discharged and three remain in stable condition. The other five were treated and released at various hospitals in the area on Sunday.

According to The Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., Zimmerman’s vehicle was struck while he was standing next to the open back hatch. Paramedics were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead on arrival at Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg, Penn.

Brian Neudorff, a certified broadcast meteorologist with KMVT-TV in Twin Falls, Idaho, and popular NASCAR Twitter contributor who updates fans of raceday weather conditions, constructed a rough timeline of the severe weather event.

According to Neurdorff, the National Weather Service issued a warning for the track at 4:12 p.m. EST. Despite lightning in the area, NASCAR did not red flag the race — halting all on-track action — until 4:43 pm. EST when rain began to fall.

The severe threat was relayed to fans at the track via public address system when the race was red flagged — warning them to take shelter and evacuate the grandstands — although many with radio, scanner and/or social media access were made aware of the potential for dangerous conditions well before then.

As race controller, it is NASCAR’s call to stop an event for any reason. It is the track’s responsibility to warn fans and coordinate evacuation efforts if inclement weather is threatening.

“We are deeply saddened that a fan has died and others were injured by lightning strikes following today’s race at Pocono,” NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said. “Our thoughts are with them as well as those affected by this unfortunate accident.”

Pocono Raceway released a statement on Monday, stating, in part that, “We work in conjunction with NASCAR regarding safety of fans, teams and other attendees throughout the course of our race weekends. Additionally, we are in constant communication with local and national agencies regarding weather conditions and emergency services.

“At approximately 5:01 p.m. EST, the first lightning strike occurred on property inside our Grandstand Parking area, located near Gate 5A. A Pocono Raceway Grandstand Fire unit was stationed in the vicinity and witnessed the actual strike. The response was immediate as the unit reported the incident to our control tower and advised spectators were injured. CPR was started immediately to Mr. Zimmerman by a friend on the scene.

“We are in the process up establishing a Memorial Fund is for victims of this incident.”


by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter:
@MattTaliaferro

 

Teaser:
<p> Jeff Gordon scored the win in Sunday's NASCAR Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway, but the triumph was overshadowed by tragedy, when a fan was killed after being struck by lightning in the facility's parking lot.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 14:56
Path: /mlb/2012-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-august-6
Body:

Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week for August 6, 2012.

 

 1. Reds — Aroldis Chapman toughest pitcher in majors.

 2. Nationals — Closer Drew Storen finally gets his first save this season.

 3. Yankees — Two four-game losing streaks since All-Star break.

 4. Rangers — Scored 41 runs in last five games, but gave game away Sunday.

 5. Pirates — Needed more than one of three vs. Reds; now have 11 at home.

 6. Braves — Allowed just 23 runs over last 13 games.

 7. Dodgers — Six streaks of three or more wins or losses since break.

 8. Angels — Lead the majors in scoring after All-Star break.

 9. Giants — Sweet sweep at Colorado.

10. Cardinals — Sweep Brewers during 1982 Reunion Weekend.

11. A’s — Magic seems to happen every night in Oakland.

12. White Sox — Won nine of 12 since being swept at Detroit.

13. Tigers — Miraculous win on Sunday to complete sweep of Tribe.

14. Orioles — Chris Tillman has been nice lift since joining rotation in July.

15. Rays — Batted just .225 in July.

16. Diamondbacks — Next 10 games vs. contenders.

17. Blue Jays — Have no pitchers in top 70 in ERA.

18. Mariners — Efficient work by King Felix in the Bronx on Saturday.

19. Red Sox — Lost three of four vs. the Twins.

20. Mets — R.A. Dickey one of four 14-game winners in majors.

21. Twins — Are Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau back in top form?

22. Marlins — Won just five of last 19 games.

23. Phillies — Acquired Hunter Pence at 2011 deadline, dealt in 2012.

24. Indians — Lost heartbreaker to Detroit to cap horrendous stretch.

25. Brewers — Lost 14 of 19 since break when not playing Houston.

26. Padres — Chase Headley earning team MVP honors.

27. Royals — Last two wins have come in extras.

28. Cubs — Eight of next 14 games are against the Reds.

29. Rockies — Absolutely no pitching in Denver this season.

30. Astros — Can’t join the American League soon enough.

 

AL Player of the Week

Albert Pujols, Los Angeles—It was bound to happen. As soon as Pujols signed the $250 million pact over the winter, it was a given that he would eventually be Player of the Week. The Angels’ first baseman batted .424 and slugged 1.121 for the week. He led the majors with six home runs and 13 RBIs. He also scored six times. His 11 extra-base hits helped boost his average for the season from .277 to .289.

 

AL Pitcher of the Week

David Price, Tampa Bay—The Rays just can’t seem to get their offense going, much to the dismay of their pitchers. Price was winless in two starts last week, but threw 15 innings and allowed only seven hits and five walks. He struck out 16 and capped the week with eight shutout innings against Baltimore in a game the Rays would lose 1-0 in 10 innings. He has allowed just four earned runs in his last 29 innings.

 

NL Player of the Week

Buster Posey, San Francisco—The All-Star catcher is proving to be a valuable cog in the Giants offense. Posey batted .500 last week, and his six walks gave him an on-base percentage of .600. He homered in three straight games and drove home nine runs.

 

NL Pitcher of the Week

A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh—Escaping New York proved to be just the ticket for Burnett, who is now 14-3 for the Pirates. Facing a sweep at the hands of the NL Central leaders at Cincinnati, the Pirates moved Burnett’s start up a day and he didn’t disappoint. He went 8.2 strong innings and gave up just two earned runs in the win. Earlier in the week, he tossed a one-hit shutout at Chicago.

Teaser:
<p> A look at the best and worst baseball teams in the league.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 13:15
All taxonomy terms: Overtime, News, Olympics
Path: /overtime/20-awesome-samuel-l-jackson-tweets-about-olympics
Body:

Recently we put together a post on the 25 Twitter Accounts Every Summer Olympics Fan Should Follow. Unfortunately, we missed perhaps the greatest Olympic tweeter yet—Samuel L. Jackson. The actor goes full-on in his curse-filled reaction to the US winning gold, shady judges, and "drunk girl dismounts" in the gymnastics competition. Here are our 20 favorite tweets from our favorite foul-mouthed, Olympics-loving actor. 

1. 

 

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Teaser:
<p> You'll never see the games the same way again</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 10:58
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-aug-6
Body:

Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday.

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (7/30-8/5):

  Name Pos. Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Albert Pujols 1B LAA 9 6 13 1 .424 1.565
2. Mike Trout OF LAA 11 3 9 2 .300 1.038
3. Adam LaRoche* 1B WAS 6 4 10 0 .478 1.563
4. A.J. Pierzynski C CHW 6 5 11 0 .333 1.567
5. Drew Stubbs OF CIN 10 2 2 3 .348 1.032
6. Matt Holliday OF STL 6 3 10 0 .400 1.284
7. Buster Posey C/1B SF 4 3 9 0 .500 1.558
8. Carl Crawford OF BOS 7 2 8 1 .345 1.057
9. Chase Headley* 3B SD 4 3 9 1 .333 1.175
10. Paul Goldschmidt 1B ARI 5 3 7 0 .435 1.288
11. Jarrod Dyson* OF KC 3 0 2 5 .526 1.263
12. Melky Carbrera OF SF 10 1 5 1 .345 1.096
13. Kendrys Morales* 1B/OF LAA 5 3 8 0 .391 1.288
14. Chris Johnson* 3B ARI 3 3 10 0 .382 1.292
15. Jose Reyes SS MIA 7 0 1 3 .429 1.073
16. Prince Fielder 1B DET 6 2 7 0 .421 1.362
17. Ian Kinsler 2B TEX 8 2 4 0 .393 1.112
18. Angel Pagan* OF SF 7 1 4 2 .350 1.085
19. Yadier Molina C STL 4 0 3 3 .500 1.091
20. Omar Infante* 2B DET 5 1 6 1 .471 1.362
21. Alex Rios OF CHW 7 2 4 0 .407 1.074
22. Scott Hairston* OF NYM 7 2 3 1 .333 1.035
23. Ryan Ludwick* OF CIN 2 2 11 0 .364 1.144
24. Carlos Beltran OF STL 6 2 4 1 .333 1.037
25. Ben Revere* OF MIN 5 0 2 3 .407 .874

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Opportunity Knocks

If you need a late season push in stolen bases, it appears that there are plenty of names to be had on the waiver wire. Ben Revere was a highly-touted prospect who gets on base with regularity and will make plenty of things happen when he gets on (61 career SB in 781 ABs). Jarrod Dyson, Angel Pagan, Rajai Davis and Juan Pierre (especially, if he gets moved to a contender) are all owned by less than 70% of leagues.

I am not buying into the Chase Headley surge but I do like what Yonder Alonso has been able to do of late. He has two homers and eight doubles over his last 41 at-bats and has dual 1B-OF eligibility.

The entire Diamondbacks line-up appears to be blossoming finally. Justin Upton is showing signs of life and Paul Goldschmidt has been smacking the ball around. Aaron Hill shouldn't be on your waiver wire either. Chris Johnson, however, might be the sneaky pick-up at one of the worst positions in the game. He has three dingers and 10 RBIs over the last week and could be on the team that wins the NL West.

Some other call-ups to watch are Texas do-everything infield slugger Mike Olt, Cleveland outfielder Ezequiel Carrera (7-12 over the weekend) and the Phillies' Dominic Brown (5-18 since being called-up). The Cubs' Brett Jackson made his major league debut on Sunday and the outfielder could be an intriguing power-speed option, and teammate and hot corner prospect Josh Vitters should also take his first hacks in the big leagues at some point this week. Monitor closely and don't be afraid to add quickly.

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. A.J. Burnett PIT 25.0 3 20 1.44 0.56
2. Josh Johnson MIA 19.2 2 22 0.92 0.71
3. Chad Billingsley LAD 20.1 3 13 0.89 0.89
4. Scott Feldman* TEX 22.2 3 14 1.19 0.93
5. Felix Hernandez SEA 23.1 2 16 1.54 0.77
6. David Price TB 22.0 1 26 1.64 0.86
7. Wei-Yin Chen* BAL 19.1 2 21 1.40 1.03
8. Adam Wainwright STL 22.1 2 19 2.01 0.90
9. Doug Fister* DET 24.0 2 19 1.88 0.96
10. Mike Minor* ATL 18.2 1 14 1.45 0.75
11. Matt Latos CIN 20.1 3 16 1.77 1.18
12. Jason Vargas* SEA 15.0 2 9 1.80 0.67
13. Tim Hudson ATL 20.0 3 10 2.25 0.95
14. Hiroki Kuroda NYY 21.1 1 17 1.69 0.94
15. Jake Peavy CHW 14.0 2 14 1.29 1.07
16. Paul Maholm* ATL 21.2 1 20 2.08 0.97
17. Ian Kennedy ARI 20.1 3 17 3.10 1.08
18. Scott Diamond* MIN 16.1 1 9 1.65 0.67
19. Matt Moore TB 11.2 2 12 0.00 1.29
20. Bartolo Colon* OAK 13.2 2 8 0.00 1.17

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Mon. - Sun.):

1. Jonathon Niese, NYM: Miami (Tues.) 54% owned
One of the worst offenses in the majors will face one of the NL's pleasant surprises. He has gone at least 7.0 IP in six of last seven starts (five quality starts) and has six walks over that span. 

2. Ben Sheets, ATL: New York Mets (Sun.) 62% owned
The former Brewer who hasn't pitched in two years has been a god-send for the Braves. He's throwing in the lower 90s, gone at least 6.0 IP in all four starts and has allowed a total of 4 ER.

3. Ross Detwiler, WAS: at Houston (Tues.) 30% owned
Tossed a gem the last time out against the Phillies (W, 7.0, 0 ER, 3 K) and when he is on, he can be elite. And the Astros can't beat Stony Brook.

4. Paul Maholm, ATL: at New York Mets (Fri.) 46% owned
Has been lights-out since moving south to the A.T.L. Is the No. 16-rated SP over the last two weeks and has a 2.08 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 20 Ks over his last 21.2 IP.

5. Erik Bedard, PIT: San Diego (Sun.) 27% owned
Before his blow-up on Tuesday, he had two elite starts in a row (15 K, 2 ER). He has basically a 9.0 K/9 rate and has a 1.63 career ERA against the Fathers of Southern Cal.

Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of last month:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Aroldis Chapman CIN 16.1 0 16 34 0 0.00 0.55
2. Craig Kimbrel ATL 11.0 0 8 21 0 0.82 0.45
3. Fernando Rodney TB 13.0 0 8 12 0 0.00 0.92
4. Huston Street* SD 10.0 0 5 13 0 0.00 0.40
5. Kenley Jansen LAD 12.1 1 6 16 0 1.46 1.05
6. Jonathan Papelbon BOS 13.2 1 6 18 0 1.98 1.10
7. Jason Motte STL 9.2 1 5 14 0 0.93 0.83
8. Tom Wilhelmsen* SEA 10.1 0 8 12 0 2.61 0.87
9. Joel Hanrahan PIT 9.2 0 10 15 0 3.72 1.34
10. Joel Peralta* TB 12.1 1 0 18 7 1.46 0.57
11. J.J. Putz ARI 8.0 0 5 10 0 0.00 0.63
12. David Phelps* NYY 9.0 1 0 13 0 0.00 0.33
13. Vinnie Pestano* CLE 14.0 0 0 18 8 0.00 0.71
14. Greg Holland* KC 15.0 3 1 17 1 2.40 1.20
15. Kevin Jepsen* LAA 11.0 2 1 9 4 0.82 0.82
16. Brad Lincoln* TOR 15.1 0 1 13 3 0.59 0.72
17. Rafael Soriano NYY 10.1 0 6 13 0 2.61 0.97
18. Steve Cishek* FLA 8.2 0 5 9 1 0.00 0.92
19. Casey Janssen* TOR 10.0 0 3 12 0 0.90 0.70
20. Sean Marshall* CIN 11.1 2 0 12 7 0.79 1.06

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Keep up to date all season long with Athlon Sports' Fantasy Baseball Closer Grid

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: Aug 6</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 10:51
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-aug-6
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Here's the Fab Five for Aug. 6, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:

1. Women's Gymnastics - Uneven Bars Final
All-around gold medalist Gabby Douglas guns for her second gold of these games in the uneven bars. She'll be looking to erase some of the disappointment of McKayla Maroney's shocking loss in the vault finals on Sunday.

2. Men's Gymnastics - Vault, Rings
Sam Mikulak is America's hope in the vault, and while there are no Americans taking part in the rings, it's always amazing to watch the raw strength on display in one of men's gymnastics' signature events.

3. Track and Field - Women's 200m Qualifying
The U.S. Big Three in the women's sprints — Carmelita Jeter, who won silver in the 100m; Sanya Richards-Ross, gold medalist in the 400m; and Allyson Felix, a two-time silver medalist in the 200 — will take the blocks for 200m qualifying.

4. Greco-Roman Wrestling
This event more than any other hearkens back to the Games' roots in antiquity. Ellis "The Flying Squirrel" Coleman, a 20-year-old from Chicago, has risen from poverty and hardship to become a medal hope for the Americans in this event. Sometimes those personal interest stories that NBC cranks up for the Games can be a little contrived, but Coleman's rise from a drug- and gang-ridden past is tailor-made for the up-close-and-personal treatment.

5. Women's Soccer: U.S. vs. Canada
The U.S. women have had to scrap and claw thus far, struggling to beat North Korea and New Zealand. But Canada figures to offer less resistance; the U.S. is riding a 27-match winning streak against its neighbors to the north.

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.
 

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

Teaser:
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Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 10:14
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympics-photo-day-usain-bolt
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Jamaica's Usain Bolt reacts to his win in the men's 100-meter final with his signature pose in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. Bolt set an Olympic record with a time of 9.63 to earn his second straight gold in the Games' marquee event.

Teaser:
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Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 09:54
All taxonomy terms: Carolina Panthers, NFC, NFC South, NFL
Path: /nfl/carolina-panthers-top-twitter-accounts-follow
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Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

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

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

@Panthers (Followers: 99,115)

Top Panthers To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, August 6, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Jonathan Stewart RB @Jonathanstewart1 64,348
2. Greg Olsen TE @gregolsen82 63,747
3. Cam Newton QB @CameronNewton 54,377
4. Jon Beason LB @jonbeason 52,588
5. Jimmy Clausen QB @JimmyClausen 39,970
6. Louis Murphy WR @murph918 27,375
7. Darius Butler CB @DariusButler27 26,241
8. Ryan Kalil OL @RyanKalil 19,651
9. Joe Adams WR @JoeAdams_3 18,040
10. Brandon LaFell WR @Blafell1 13,942
11. Lee Ziemba OT @Ziemba73 13,297
12. Thomas Davis LB @TD58SDTM 11,911
13. Armanti Edwards WR @ArmantiEdwards 11,799
14. Captain Munnerlyn CB @captain_41 10,388
15. Reggie Smith S @superreg30 10,039
16. Eric Norwood DE @ENorwood40 9,962
17. Frank Alexander DE @frankalex90 8,881
18. Tauren Poole RB @WhoisTPoole 8,844
19. Ryan Van Bergen DE @VanBergen53 8,358
20. Jason Williams LB @Jwill_54 7,267
21. James Anderson LB @50janderson 5,566
22. Charles Johnson DE @randywattson 5,355
23. Sherrod Martin S @SherrodMartin23 4,525
24. Wll Blackwell OL @WillyB60 4,238
25. Kealoha Pilares WR @kealohapilares 4,017

Several of the Panthers' offensive playmakers — wide receiver Steve Smith and running backs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert — didn't make this list because they either have yet to join the Twittersphere or their account has been inactive for quite a while.

That's not the case for first-round pick Luke Kuechly, however. The linebacker who Carolina took with the ninth overall pick is on Twitter (@Luke_Kuechly), or at least it appears he is. The only problem is he has yet to Tweet, even though he has more than 2,500 followers.

Perhaps Kuechly, not to mention Smith, Williams and Tolbert and the rest of the Panthers should ask for Twitter advice from Sir Purr. That's right, the Panthers' official mascot not only has a Twitter account (@PanthersSirPurr), but he has nearly 5,000 followers. That's defintiely something he can be purr-oud about.

The Panthers Beat:

Joe Person, Panthers beat writer for The Charlotte Observer: @josephperson (8,255)

Darrin Gantt, covers Panthers for Profootballtalk.com: @darringantt (7,558)

Steve Reed, covers the Panthers for the Associated Press: @SteveReed_AP (7,160)

Tom Sorensen, columnist for The Charlotte Observer: @tomsorensen (3,767)

Scott Fowler, columnist for The Charlotte Observer: @scott_fowler (3,728)

Ron Green Jr., helps cover the Panthers for The Charlotte Observer: @RonGreenJr (1,605)

Panthers Blog Roll:

Inside the Panthers is The Charlotte Observer's blog covering the team.

Cat Scratch Reader is SB Nation's Panthers blog.

Carolina Huddle, Cat Crave and Panthers Gab are some others out there.

The ESPN NFC South blog is run by Pat Yasinskas and you can follow him @espn_nfcsouth.

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: Tuesday, Aug. 7

Order your 2012 Carolina Panthers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Carolina Panthers Season Preview
Related: 2012 Carolina Panthers Schedule Analysis

- By Braden Gall and Mark Ross, published on August 6, 2012

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Carolina Panthers Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 06:15
All taxonomy terms: Carolina Panthers, NFC, NFC South, NFL
Path: /nfl/carolina-panthers-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

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

The Carolina Panthers check in at No. 20.

The Carolina Panthers became an entertaining team in 2011. This year they hope to become a good one. The Panthers played and lost a lot of games of the 30–27 variety in 2011 en route to a 6–10 season. Their offense was dramatically improved thanks to quarterback Cam Newton, who won all sorts of rookie of the-year awards while accounting for an astonishing 35 touchdowns (21 passing, 14 rushing). It was perhaps the best rookie year ever at any position, rivaling those of players like Lawrence Taylor and Gale Sayers.

But the Panthers’ defense will need a serious upgrade this year if Newton is to lead the team into the playoffs in what will be both his and head coach Ron Rivera’s second season in Charlotte. In 2011, Carolina allowed franchise highs in points, yards and passing yards as one quarterback after another eviscerated its defense. The return of linebacker Jon Beason and the arrival of first-round draft pick Luke Kuechly offer some hope, but this is a team that still has major defensive questions.

Offense

The Panthers’ offense is led by the three players who represented the team in the Pro Bowl after last season — Newton, wide receiver Steve Smith and center Ryan Kalil.

Smith, 33, signed a new contract in the offseason after rejuvenating himself in 2011 with Newton as his quarterback (1,394 receiving yards). Still the team’s most explosive player, Smith remains the club’s primary deep threat. Has he lost a step in the past decade? Certainly. But his route-running, elusiveness and toughness remain exceptional, and he has flourished in offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s imaginative offense. The Panthers need a strong No. 2 receiver to emerge. Brandon LaFell has shown signs of doing so but isn’t great at going over the middle. David Gettis returns from injury and will be a factor.

Kalil anchors an offensive line that received a youth injection in the draft with Amini Silatolu, a second-round pick from Division II Midwestern State who may plug in immediately at left guard. Left tackle Jordan Gross is the team’s most respected veteran and still one of the NFC’s best. Right tackle is iffy as Jeff Otah has been injury-plagued and could be replaced by Byron Bell again.

Otah was traded to the Jets for a conditional seventh-round pick in late July. However, the trade was rescinded after Otah failed his Jets' physical. The 2008 first-round pick was returned to the Panthers, who terminated his contract after he failed their physical as well. Otah's fate as of the start of Panthers' training camp was uncertain.

Tight end Greg Olsen is Newton’s favorite target near the goal line and has some of the best hands on the team.

Running back is a major strength. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart — aka “Double Trouble” — share the load as primary ball-carriers. Since Newton also frequently runs, none will have eye-popping numbers, but all three went over 700 yards rushing last season (the first time that has happened in NFL history).

New fullback Mike Tolbert gives the offense one more significant weapon — he’s good out of the backfield as a receiver and also will get a few carries on quick hitters.

But Newton is undoubtedly the key. In his second season, he needs to cut down on interceptions (17 in 2011) and become a better team leader (he had a tendency to pout after bad plays or close defeats). His ability is remarkable, however — his 14 rushing TDs were a record for an NFL quarterback. Veteran backup Derek Anderson has a good arm, but the Panthers would have to run a much more conventional offense if he is forced into action.

Related: Top Carolina Panthers Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

The Panthers are counting on the return of several injured players to shore up this unit, but that’s a dangerous presumption. Linebacker Thomas Davis is trying to return from three ACL tears in the same knee — no NFL player has ever done so. Beason and defensive tackle Ron Edwards are coming back from more traditional injuries. They both missed almost the entire 2011 season, which hurt the Panthers badly up the middle. Edwards, 33, will be counted on to anchor the inside positions as a space-eater.

Kuechly’s sideline-to-sideline ability should pair well with Beason’s — one will likely play middle and one weak side. James Anderson led the Panthers in tackles last season and should provide a good third option if Davis can’t return.

But the front and the back of the Panthers’ defense remain suspect. Their best pass-rusher is Charles Johnson, who had nine sacks last season off the edge, but no one else had more than four. Out of Greg Hardy, Antwan Applewhite and fourth-round draft choice Frank Alexander, someone must emerge as a significant threat to opposing quarterbacks.

The Panthers would like to replace Sherrod Martin as their free safety starter. He’s one of the worst tacklers on the team. They signed and drafted a number of low-profile players to provide competition. Starting cornerback Chris Gamble and strong safety Charles Godfrey are probably safe — cornerback Captain Munnerlyn less so. All of them will look better, though, if the opposing quarterback doesn’t have time to look for his fifth option, something that happened all too often last season.

Specialists

The Panthers weren’t very good on special teams and invested some draft resources to get better. Fourth-round pick Joe Adams will immediately become the punt returner. He averaged a whopping 16.9 yards per return at Arkansas last season. His arrival likely spells the end of Armanti Edwards’ time with the Panthers. Edwards, a converted college quarterback, couldn’t figure out a way to break punt returns and can’t seem to get on the field as a receiver either. Kealoha Pilares will likely handle the kickoff returns after setting a team record with a 101-yarder last season.

New punter Brad Nortman will replace Jason Baker. If the punt coverage is better — and it should be, as the Panthers put a big emphasis on that in the offseason — he should do fine.

The biggest questions will revolve around veteran kicker Olindo Mare, who enters his second season as a Panther. He replaced the popular John Kasay last season and missed two critical fourth quarter field goals. Panther fans still don’t quite trust him, and the team signed Justin Medlock to compete for the job.

Final Analysis: 3rd in the NFC South

Assuming Newton stays healthy — and that’s not an entirely safe assumption given how much he runs — the Panthers’ offense may be better than it has ever been. There are playmakers everywhere at the skill positions. It’s likely Carolina will rank in the top five NFL offenses in numerous categories this season.

But will the defense hold up? The Panthers invested some resources there in the offseason but could have done more. They are hoping that the return of several key injured players helps the problem considerably. The Panthers have the talent to contend for their first playoff spot since 2008, but they are going to need to stop people to do it.

Related: 2012 Carolina Panthers Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Cam-paign 
Cam Newton really, really wanted to be on the cover of the “Madden 13” video-game franchise. Although the player on the cover is subject to the “Madden Curse” — typically falling off in production or getting hurt the next season — Newton loves to play “Madden” and campaigned for the spot. Newton filmed a seven-minute homemade video and posted it online, trying to get more votes in the fan voting that determined the outcome. Newton made it to the finals but lost out in April to Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson in a decision announced live at Times Square with both players in attendance. Some Panther fans, concerned about the curse, said they actually voted against Newton.

Kalil Country
Center Ryan Kalil was at the NFL Draft in April, cheering on his younger and bigger brother Matt Kalil — picked No. 4 overall by the Minnesota Vikings. Both Kalils showed up sporting beards that looked like Tom Hanks in “Cast Away.” Ryan says the primary difference between the two is that he’s better-looking.

Explosive
The NFL keeps a statistic for plays that gain 20 or more yards, calling them “explosive plays.” The Panthers led the NFL in that category with 90 such plays in 2011, or slightly more than five per game. That helped the Panthers score 48 touchdowns, second-most in franchise history (after a franchise-low 17 during their 2–14 season of 2010).
The Pres and the Panthers The Panthers’ home stadium will be used for the Democratic National Convention Sept. 4-6, most notably for an address by President Obama. Because of that, the Panthers will open the season on the road (against Tampa Bay on Sept. 9) and will likely face a number of security and logistical issues in the two weeks before their opener.

A Different Person
Panthers coach Ron Rivera made an interesting comment in the offseason about Newton. “He seems like a different person,” the coach said. “He seems more mature, in terms of ready to take some leadership roles.” Rivera wants Newton to become more of a team leader. Newton has the charisma to do so, but often took a back seat to veterans like Steve Smith and Jordan Gross last year.

14 Straight and Counting
While Newton throws a lot of deep balls, the Panthers’ offense is still built around the run. Carolina will enter the 2012 season with a franchise-record streak of 14 straight games of 100 yards or more rushing. The Panthers were third in the NFL last season in rushing yards per game (150.5) and first in yards per attempt (5.4). And you can bet they will run a ton in that opener at Tampa Bay; the Panthers rushed for 270 yards on Christmas Eve the last time the two teams played.

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: Tues., Aug. 7

Order your 2012 Carolina Panthers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Carolina Panthers Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Carolina Panthers Bucs Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Carolina Panthers 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

The start of the 2012 college football season is just a few weeks away. However, as fall practice kicks off around the nation, plenty of unanswered questions remain, including some that will have an impact on the national title race. Athlon preps you for everything you need to know about fall practice with the 20 biggest storylines to watch over the next couple of weeks.

College Football's Top 20 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Is Zach Mettenberger the missing piece at LSU?
National championship caliber defense? Check. Punishing running game and offensive line? Check. Quarterback? Wait and see. The biggest issue for the Tigers in recent years has been quarterback play. Although LSU made the national title game last year, having a difference maker under center could make the Tigers the most complete team in college football. Mettenberger played sparingly last season, completing 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards in mop-up duty against Northwestern State. The Tigers won’t ask Mettenberger to win many games on his own, but his emergence will allow the offense to open up more in 2012 and finally give the team a chance to stretch the field. The junior will have his share of ups and downs in his first season, but it looks like LSU finally has a quarterback that it can lean on to win games through the air.

2. Bryan Bennett or Marcus Mariota: Who will start at quarterback for Oregon?
Regardless of whether Bennett or Mariota takes the first snap, Chip Kelly shouldn’t have too much concern about his quarterbacks. Sure, anytime that you replace a starter there is bound to be a few ups and downs. However, both players are more than capable of keeping Oregon’s offense as one of the best in the nation. Bennett played in eight games last season, including one start against Colorado. He finished the year with 369 passing yards and six touchdowns, along with recording 200 yards on the ground. Bennett entered spring practice with an edge, but Mariota closed the gap. The redshirt freshman dazzled in the spring game, throwing for 202 yards and one score, while adding 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Both players should be more dynamic on the ground than their predecessor (Darron Thomas). It could be a mystery as to which Oregon quarterback will be in the opener against Arkansas State, and both players could play significant snaps in 2012. Regardless of whether Mariota or Bennett starts the year, it’s unlikely the Ducks will have many concerns under center.

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

4. How big of a concern is USC’s defensive line?
The Trojans’ best defense in 2012 may be the offense. With Matt Barkley back under center and Robert Woods and Marqise Lee catching passes, USC will have no trouble averaging around 40 points a game in 2012 – which is important since the Trojans will have to win with offense. The defense made improvement in the second year under coordinator Monte Kiffin last season but suffered some key departures on the line. End Nick Perry and tackles Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris depart, while end Devon Kennard suffered an injury in summer workouts and could miss 2012. With the personnel losses and Kennard’s injury, the Trojans are very thin up front. Wes Horton and George Uko are two solid building blocks, but the defense needs big contributions from freshmen Greg Townsend and Leonard Williams. USC’s issues in the trenches may not be a concern in Pac-12 play, but a national title appearance against a team from the SEC could expose the concerns up front.  

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

6. How could early season suspensions hamper Georgia?
Mark Richt hasn’t revealed any suspensions other than two games for starting cornerback Sanders Commings, but a handful of other starters on the Bulldogs’ defense could miss a crucial game at Missouri in the second week of the season. Safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alex Ogletree are possibilities to miss the Tigers’ SEC debut. Rambo’s suspension could stretch into four games, which would include a home date with upstart Vanderbilt. The Commodores came within five points of upsetting the Bulldogs last season. Richt’s silence on the matter may be gamesmanship for the Missouri game, but even if Georgia’s only missing a couple of key players on defense, coordinator Todd Grantham may need to prepare his secondary to take some lumps.

7. How quickly can Alabama’s defense find replacements?
Losing Trent Richardson is a huge blow for the offense, but the Crimson Tide has capable replacements waiting in the wings with Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart. The biggest obstacle to a repeat national title will be the loss of several key players on defense, including All-SEC selections Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw, Josh Chapman, Dont’a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick. Alabama has recruited well, so the cupboard is far from bare for coordinator Kirby Smart and coach Nick Saban. The secondary will have three new starters, but juniors Dee Milliner and John Fulton have experience at cornerback. Sophomore Vinnie Sunseri will likely start at strong safety. Additionally, junior college recruits Travell Dixon and Deion Belue had a solid spring and will push for time in the fall. The biggest questions on defense could be in the front seven. Jesse Williams will move from end to nose guard, while the starting linebacking corps could be composed of three sophomores. Repeating last season’s No. 1 rank in total, scoring, rush and pass defense is probably too much to ask of a rebuilt defense. However, don’t expect the Crimson Tide to suffer much of a drop in production, especially as some of the younger players get comfortable with more playing time.

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

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

10. Is Marcus Lattimore fully healthy?
Reports from South Carolina indicate the Gamecocks star running back is ready to go for the season, but we won’t know for certain until we see Lattimore take the field for the first time since his Oct. 15 knee injury against Mississippi State. Steve Spurrier says the Gamecocks are protecting Lattimore in practice, so his first true game action may be the opener at Vanderbilt. Lattimore’s injury last season enabled Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles to gain experience. South Carolina could be in better shape in the backfield than it was at the start of last season, but Lattimore’s knee may be the difference between winning the SEC East or not.

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

12. Who takes the lead at quarterback for Notre Dame?
If the Irish want to have any shot at topping last season’s win total (eight), they have to get better quarterback play. Tommy Rees led the team with 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns last year but ran into off-the-field trouble and is suspended for the season opener. With Rees sidelined for the first game, the focus of the quarterback battle will shift to redshirt freshman Everett Golson, sophomore Andrew Hendrix and true freshman Gunner Kiel. Golson is an intriguing talent, as his dual-threat ability would give Notre Dame a different dimension on offense. Hendrix played in five contests last year, throwing for 249 yards and one touchdown while also adding 162 yards and one score on the ground. Golson and Hendrix figure to have an edge over Kiel for the No. 1 spot, but the true freshman will have every opportunity to earn playing time. Even if a starter doesn’t emerge, it’s important for the coaching staff to get Golson, Kiel and Hendrix as many snaps as possible, as neither of the trio have a career start.

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

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

15. How quick can Boise State reload?
With only seven starters and a new quarterback under center, the Broncos will struggle to match last season's win total (12) and compete for a BCS bowl. Replacing quarterback Kellen Moore is no easy task, but junior Joe Southwick and freshman Nick Patti should keep the offense performing at a high level. Senior running back D.J. Harper is capable of rushing for over 1,000 yards but must stay healthy. Despite the return of only one starter, the Broncos should have one of the top defenses in the Mountain West. The opener at Michigan State will be a good barometer test, but the season finale against Nevada could decide if Boise State can finish inside of the top 10 in the BCS standings. Don't count out the Broncos from making another run at a BCS bowl. However, the personel losses suggest this team is probably one year away from playing in a BCS game.

16. What will we see from John L. Smith at Arkansas?
The motorcycle fiasco that eventually cost Bobby Petrino his job seems like ancient history. John L. Smith appears to have rallied the players, and then he enjoyed a charm offensive with reporters at SEC Media Days. All of that is great for the summer, but he’ll be back under the microscope on game days. Arkansas still has some questions on offense, including the line, the health of Knile Davis and depth in the receiving corps. The Hogs have early cakewalks against Jacksonville State and Louisiana-Monroe to iron out those issues before facing Alabama in Week Three.

17. If Stanford is going to rely on Stepfan Taylor to run the ball, who’s going to pave the way?
Wait, Stanford lost more than Andrew Luck in the offseason? Yes. David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, both taken in the first 42 picks on the NFL draft, are gone. The other three starters (left guard David Yankey, center Sam Schwartzstein and right tackle Cameron Fleming) are back to form a solid foundation for the line. There’s healthy competition among returning players for the two vacant slots. Stanford’s impressive freshman line class -- which included three linemen in the Athlon Consensus 100 -- will be worth watching as well. True freshmen rarely start on the offensive line anywhere, but we should note Martin and DeCastro both started as redshirt freshmen at Stanford.

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

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

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

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SEC's Top 10 Storylines for Fall Practice

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /college-football/big-east-footballs-breakout-players-2012
Body:

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

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

Predicting the Big East's Breakout Players for 2012

Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Coleman is one of the most physically imposing receivers in the nation. As a redshirt freshman last year, he caught 17 passes for 552 yards and six touchdowns. Coleman was playing at a high level at the end of the season, catching six passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns against Connecticut and an 86-yard touchdown reception in the bowl win over Iowa State. The Scarlet Knights need more stability from their quarterbacks, but with Mohamed Sanu moving onto the NFL, Coleman could become Rutgers’ go-to target.

Chris Coyer, QB, TempleWith running back Bernard Pierce leaving for the NFL, the Owls will probably ask more of Coyer in the air in 2012. He played in eight games last season (four starts) and finished with 562 yards and three scores on the ground. Coyer threw only 50 passes all of last year but threw six touchdowns and tossed zero interceptions. With Coyer’s rushing ability, the return of Matt Brown and the addition of Montel Harris, the Owls should have one of the Big East’s top rushing attacks. However, if Temple wants to make a push for a bowl game in its first year back in the Big East, Coyer needs to take his performance in four starts and expand that over a full season. 

Hubie Graham, TE, PittsburghNew coach Paul Chryst is bringing a pro-style offense back to Pittsburgh, and Graham should be one of the biggest benefactors of the change in offensive styles. He caught 28 passes for 325 yards and three scores last year but should increase those totals in 2012. Chryst’s offenses at Wisconsin heavily involved the tight ends – Jacob Pedersen caught 30 passes and eight touchdowns last year – so expect Graham to be one of the team’s leading receivers once again in 2012. 

Sterling Griffin, WR, South FloridaGriffin got off to a fast start last season, catching 40 passes through South Florida’s first seven games. During that stretch, he also nabbed two touchdown catches and posted 109 yards in the loss to Pittsburgh. Griffin’s progress was slowed after a broken foot suffered in the loss to Cincinnati, forcing him to miss the next four games. As long as the junior can stay healthy, he should be the No. 1 target for quarterback B.J. Daniels and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-Big East selection for 2012. 

DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville In some ways, Parker broke out last season. As a true freshman, he caught 18 passes for 291 yards and six touchdowns. His best performance came in the 24-17 loss to FIU, grabbing four receptions for 52 yards and one touchdown. With another offseason to work with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Parker should push for the team lead in receptions. As evidenced by his touchdown total from 2011 (6), Parker is one of the Big East’s top threats in the redzone and should be Bridgewater’s go-to guy around the goal-line once again.

Marcus Sales, WR, SyracuseSales was suspended for all of 2011 due to an off-the-field incident, but his return is huge for an offense that will rely on the pass to win in 2012. In 2010, Sales finished the year by catching at least five passes in each of the final four games, including 172 yards in the bowl win over Kansas State. Alec Lemon is entrenched as Syracuse’s go-to target, but Sales should help quarterback Ryan Nassib stretch the field and could push for All-Big East honors by the end of the year. 

Rushel Shell, RB, Pittsburgh With Ray Graham recovering from a torn ACL, the Pittsburgh coaching staff won’t rush him back into a full workload. Sophomore Isaac Bennett had a solid spring and is expected to see his share of carries in 2012, but it will be difficult to keep Shell on the sidelines. He ranked as the No. 33 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and will be expected to contribute early and often this season. Shell won’t beat out Graham for the No. 1 spot, but he should turn plenty of heads in his limited workload in 2012.

Marcus Smith, DE, LouisvilleThe Cardinals finished 10th nationally against the run last season, and this unit could be even better in 2012. Charlie Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford have accumulated depth and athletic ability, molding Louisville’s line into one of the best in the Big East. Smith has bounced around the field in his career, starting at quarterback and moving to linebacker in 2010. He moved to defensive end in 2011 and made five starts last season, recording 12 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Smith should be Louisville’s top pass rusher and will have an increased role in the defense in 2012. 

Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati Stewart certainly isn’t an unknown to fans in the Big East, but look for the senior to get some recognition on the national level in 2012. Derek Wolfe was one of the top defensive players in the Big East last season, and the Bearcats will lean on Stewart for the same type of production. He started all 13 games and recorded 44 stops, while also posting 11 tackles for a loss and six sacks. Losing Wolfe adds more pressure on the ends to produce, but Stewart is capable of pushing for the conference lead in sacks. 

Chandler Whitmer, QB, Connecticut All of the pieces are in place for the Huskies to push for the Big East title – except quarterback. Is Whitmer the answer under center? That’s the big question facing Connecticut in 2012. He started his career at Illinois but transferred after his redshirt freshman year to play one season at Butler Community College. Whitmer had a strong showing in the spring, completing 18 of 27 passes for 187 yards. The sophomore doesn’t have to throw for 3,000 yards, but has to give Connecticut’s more offense a threat through the air. Whitmer may have a few ups and downs due to his inexperience, but he should give the Huskies a much-needed boost in the passing game. 


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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Teaser:
<p> Big East Football's Breakout Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 05:47
Path: /college-football/overrated-overlooked-numbers-and-trends-college-football
Body:

With college football season less than a month away, some (but hopefully not all) preseason predictions and projections will be moot. Trust us, we’ve been digesting our thoughts on the upcoming season since the end of spring practice and even the end of bowl season.

As is the case each season, some of the summer’s biggest talking points will fall flat once the season begins. And after a few games into 2012, we’ll be sure to ask ourselves “how did we overlook that?”

 

We’d like to step ahead of the curve in the final weeks before kickoff and point out a few things you may be overrating during the offseason as well as a few you may be overlooking, too.

 

How much of West Virginia’s preseason love is based on a gaudy bowl score -- and is that fair assessment? Which numbers just didn’t add up for Kansas State’s 10-3 season?

 

Conversely, how much are we overlooking statistically sound teams who simply ran into a case of bad luck or untimely injuries?

 

We’re sure you have your picks for the overrated or overlooked storylines from the summer, but here are our picks:

 

DON’T OVERRATE

West Virginia as a Big 12 contender.

We’re on the West Virginia bandwagon as much as anyone. Athlon ranked the Mountaineers 12th nationally and third in the Big 12. Quarterback Geno Smith checked in as a second-team All-American. The Mountaineers’ eye-popping win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl handed West Virginia momentum into 2012, but don’t forget to look at the whole picture. West Virginia was 9-3 at the end of the regular season, winning its final three games by a field goal or less. The Mountaineers may not have even reached the Orange Bowl had Cincinnati starting quarterback Zach Collaros stayed healthy. The Bearcats were 3-0 in the Big East and West Virginia was 2-2 when the two met at Nippert Stadium. Collaros suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter of West Virginia’s 24-21 win and didn’t return until the bowl game.

Related: West Virginia preview

 

Kansas State’s offense.

The Wildcats return 11 starters, including quarterback Collin Klein, to a team that finished 10-3 last season and 7-2 in the Big 12. That’s all good news, but there’s reason to hesitate. Statistically, Kansas State looked more like a team on the bowl bubble than on its way to the Cotton Bowl. Kansas State was outgained by every Big 12 opponent except Kansas. In those eight games, Kansas State’s opponents topped the Wildcats by an average of 142.6 yards per game. K-State also was ninth in the Big 12 in yards per play (4.9) and sixth in yards allowed per play (5.7).

Related: Kansas State preview

 

Rich Rodriguez’s debut at Arizona.

The influx of new coaches and offensive gurus has been one of the biggest stories in the Pac-12 since January, but let’s not get carried away with any of these coaches being miracle workers in Year One. Start with Rich Rodriguez -- he’s 9-32-1 all-time in his debut season at a school, including Salem College (2-8), Glenville State (1-7-1), West Virginia (3-8) and Michigan (3-9). And with the Mountaineers and Wolverines, Rodriguez took over programs with winning records a year earlier. Rich Rod may have success at Arizona, but history says it’s going to have to wait a year or two.

Related: Arizona preview

 

Michigan State’s run game.

The departure of starting quarterback Kirk Cousins combined with the return of Le’Veon Bell (948 yards, 13 touchdowns) and a veteran offensive line seems to indicate Michigan State will return to a run-first approach. That may be a good idea, but there are signs it might not be a seamless transition. Michigan State was 11th in the Big Ten in rushing (137.9 yards per game) last season and tied for ninth in yards per carry (3.95). The Spartans haven’t finished better than sixth in the Big Ten in rushing in four seasons.

Related: Michigan State preview

 

NC State’s turnover prowess.

With Florida State and Clemson struggling to get out of their own way, NC State may be poised to take advantage in the ACC Atlantic. Quarterback Mike Glennon is a game-tested senior, so the Wolfpack probably will be stronger out of the gate than it was last season. Still, we have reasons to be skeptical about NC State. First, the losses -- 30-point losses to Cincinnati and Florida State, not to mention 14-10 to lowly Boston College. Turnover margin can be a finicky statistic, too, and NC State was plus-14 in that category. The Wolfpack probably shouldn’t count on David Amerson to repeat his 13-interception performance, either. Meanwhile, NC State finished 11th in the ACC in yards gained per play (4.64) in conference games.

Related: NC State preview

 

Knile Davis as the second coming of Darren McFadden.

Don’t get us wrong: We’re excited to see an Arkansas offense featuring both quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis. But don’t forget: All our opinions of Davis are based on a seven-game stretch in the second half of 2010 before he missed all of last season with an ankle injury. It was a seven-game run that propelled him to lead all SEC running backs in rushing that season, but it was still just seven games.

Related: Arkansas preview

 

Florida’s defense.

The Gators ranked eighth in the nation in total defense last season, but they were rarely mentioned in the same breath as Georgia and South Carolina, and that’s just the SEC East, never mind the West with Alabama and LSU. The reason? An alarmingly low number of takeaways. The Gators forced only 14 turnovers last season, tied with Notre Dame for the eighth fewest nationally. That’s bad news for an offense that needs all the help in can get.

Related: Florida preview

 

DON’T OVERLOOK

Ohio State’s close losses.

A major reason Athlon ranked Ohio State sixth this season is the combo of Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller and a standout defense. Besides those factors, Ohio State was awfully close to better record than 6-7 last season. The Buckeyes last six losses all came by a touchdown or less, including four on the road or at a neutral site. All that was with an interim coach and two quarterbacks, one being a freshman and the other Joe Bauserman. Meyer was 8-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less in his first two seasons at Florida (and then 3-6 thereafter). 

Related: Ohio State preview

 

Illinois’ defense.

Illinois is the mirror image of some of the “lucky” teams mentioned above. The Illini were in the top three in the Big Ten last season in yards allowed per play, per carry and per pass attempt, leading to a top-10 finish nationally in total defense. The offense couldn’t bail out the defense, though, turning over the ball a Big Ten-worst 28 times. During Illinois’ six-game losing streak, the Illini averaged only 11 points. While Illinois loses defensive end Whitney Mercilus, the Illini have pro talent in tackle Akeem Spence and end Michael Buchanan.

Related: Illinois preview

 

Oklahoma State’s turnover trend.

The Cowboys’ defense was never as bad as its 456.8 yards allowed statistic indicated. Oklahoma State was middle of the pack nationally in yards allowed per play, a more telling statistic with so many hurry-up offenses. The Pokes also led the nation in takeaways with 44, five more than the next best team. Normally, we’d caution against getting too wrapped up in high turnover numbers, but it’s too much of a trend in Stillwater to ignore. The Cowboys have led the Big 12 in takeaways in each of the last two seasons and were tied for third in defensive coordinator Bill Young’s first season in 2009.

Related: Oklahoma State preview

 

Texas A&M’s SEC-readiness.

Don’t laugh. The Aggies may be a little more ready to compete in the SEC than onlookers would realize. No, this doesn’t mean A&M is ready to compete with Alabama, LSU or Arkansas, but the Aggies’ defense and offensive line might give them a leg up in the SEC. Texas A&M ranked 59th nationally in total defense, but the Aggies could blame part of that in a leaky pass defense and second-half turnover problems. The Aggies faced four quarterbacks (Brandon Weeden, Landry Jones, Seth Doege and Robert Griffin III) last season who ranked ahead of the SEC’s top passer (Tyler Wilson). After WilsonIn addition, the Aggies were solid against the run. Their 2.6 yards allowed per carry was better than LSU and behind only Alabama in the SEC last season -- though only Ole Miss in the SEC allowed more rushing TDs. Throw in A&M’s pro prospects at offensive tackle, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, and the Aggies may be able to keep the SEC’s top pass rushers at bay.

Related: Texas A&M preview

 

USF’s season of bad luck.

USF’s good luck ran out after Notre Dame’s turnover-filled opener, which propelled the Bulls to a 23-20 win in South Bend. After breezing through the non-conference schedule, USF did everything wrong late in the season. The Bulls’ lost seven of their last eight games, losing a fourth-quarter lead in five of those games. Blame it on poor third-down defense or turnover margin. Or blame it on a strange schedule, which included four non-Saturday games in the final eight games and only two games total in October. Before things went haywire last season, quarterback B.J. Daniels was on his way to a career year. Through the first seven games (all before top receiver Sterling Griffin was hurt), Daniels was on his way to career highs in completion percentage and pass efficiency. He also ranked ninth nationally in total offense (he finished ranked 17th). With a more predictable schedule featuring one Thursday game and one Friday game more than two months apart, USF should have some much-needed stability.

Related: USF preview

 

Jordan Wynn’s return.

Don’t forget: If not for an inexplicable 17-14 loss at home to Colorado on Nov. 25, Utah would have played in the Pac-12 title game. Most of the results last season was with a quarterback, Jon Hays, who slipped behind freshmen on the depth chart in spring. Jordan Wynn, who is 13-6 as a starter over parts of three seasons, returns after missing the final nine games following surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Utah faces USC at home and misses Oregon and Stanford altogether, so the Utes could be in position for a winning Pac-12 record in only their second season in the league.

Related: Utah preview

 

Boise State’s schedule.

For the first time in four seasons, Boise State is lacking preseason buzz. Even teams like Louisiana Tech and Arkansas State are receiving more fanfare among non-Big Six teams. When the season is over, don’t be surprised if Boise State has one of the nation’s best records, despite heavy personnel losses. Boise State faces one major conference team, Michigan State, all season. Like Boise State, the Spartans are replacing one of their best quarterbacks in school history in the 2012 opener. After that, Boise State’s toughest games are BYU at home and Nevada in Reno in the finale. The Broncos still have an experienced offensive line, playmakers at running back and receiver, and a handful of upperclassmen players on defense despite just one returning full-time starter. Boise State is an upset over Michigan State away from being in the BCS-buster conversation again.

Related: Boise State preview

 

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> Overrated, overlooked numbers and trends for college football</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 04:34
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/oregon-ducks-2012-qb-battle-bryan-bennett-vs-marcus-mariota
Body:

Darron Thomas’ decision to enter the NFL Draft caught some by surprise, but Oregon isn’t expecting to have much of a drop in production from its quarterbacks. Thomas threw for 5,910 yards and 66 touchdowns in his career and led the Ducks to two BCS bowls. Chip Kelly is one of the top offensive minds in college football and even with a new signal-caller, Oregon should rank among the best in the nation in scoring and total offense in 2012.

The Candidates:

#2 Bryan Bennett

2011 stats: 369 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INT, 54.3; 200 rush yards

#8 Marcus Mariota

2011 stats: Redshirted

The Breakdown:

Bennett gained an early edge in the quarterback competition last season, playing well in relief of Darron Thomas against Arizona State and starting in the 45-2 blowout victory over Colorado. In the win against the Buffaloes, Bennett completed 11 of 20 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 69 yards on the ground.

Although Bennett had the edge in experience entering spring practice, the coaching staff had an open competition, allowing redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota to fight his way into the mix. He ranked as the No. 12 dual-threat quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com in the 2011 recruiting class.

Mariota was the better quarterback in the spring game, completing 18 of 26 passes for 202 yards and one score, while adding 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. However, Bennett wasn’t too far behind in the throwing department, completing 19 of 32 attempts for 209 yards. The only downside to his passing numbers was two interceptions.

While it’s easy to put stock in a spring game performance, it’s important to remember the offense was divided into two teams, and Mariota had the advantage of playing with a better offensive line.

Final Verdict

There’s no question Chip Kelly has a tough decision to make. However, the news isn’t all bad, as Oregon has two options capable of leading this team to another Pac-12 Championship. And it’s not of the question that both players will be needed to play this year and a two-quarterback system could be used.

Bennett owns the edge in experience, but Mariota brings more big-play ability on the ground. Bennett is certainly a capable runner, but Mariota would seem to provide more of a big-play threat. Both players are inexperienced as passers, which could be the one area that receives the most attention in the fall.   

Whenever there’s a new starter under center, a few bumps in the road can be expected. However, expect a fairly seamless transition from Thomas to Bennett/Mariota.

Although Mariota won the spring game, this battle is a virtual dead heat going into the season opener against Arkansas State.

Predicted Winner: Mariota
 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

 


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Teaser:
<p> Oregon Ducks 2012 QB Battle: Bryan Bennett vs. Marcus Mariota</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 04:27
Path: /college-football/secs-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

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

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

1. Is Zach Mettenberger the missing piece at LSU?
National championship caliber defense? Check. Punishing running game and offensive line? Check. Quarterback? Wait and see. The biggest issue for the Tigers in recent years has been quarterback play. Although LSU made the national title game last year, having a difference maker under center could make the Tigers the most complete team in college football. Mettenberger played sparingly last season, completing 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards in mop-up duty against Northwestern State. The Tigers won’t ask Mettenberger to win many games on his own, but his emergence will allow the offense to open up more in 2012 and finally give the team a chance to stretch the field. The junior will have his share of ups and downs in his first season, but it looks like LSU finally has a quarterback that it can lean on to win games through the air.

2. How could early season suspensions hamper Georgia?
Mark Richt hasn’t revealed any suspensions other than two games for starting cornerback Sanders Commings, but a handful of other starters on the Bulldogs’ defense could miss a crucial game at Missouri in the second week of the season. Safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alex Ogletree are possibilities to miss the Tigers’ SEC debut. Rambo’s suspension could stretch into four games, which would include a home date with upstart Vanderbilt. The Commodores came within five points of upsetting the Bulldogs last season. Richt’s silence on the matter may be gamesmanship for the Missouri game, but even if Georgia’s only missing a couple of key players on defense, coordinator Todd Grantham may need to prepare his secondary to take some lumps.

3. How quickly can Alabama’s defense find replacements?
Losing Trent Richardson is a huge blow for the offense, but the Crimson Tide has capable replacements waiting in the wings with Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart. The biggest obstacle to a repeat national title will be the loss of several key players on defense, including All-SEC selections Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw, Josh Chapman, Dont’a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick. Alabama has recruited well, so the cupboard is far from bare for coordinator Kirby Smart and coach Nick Saban. The secondary will have three new starters, but juniors Dee Milliner and John Fulton have experience at cornerback. Sophomore Vinnie Sunseri will likely start at strong safety. Additionally, junior college recruits Travell Dixon and Deion Belue had a solid spring and will push for time in the fall. The biggest questions on defense could be in the front seven. Jesse Williams will move from end to nose guard, while the starting linebacking corps could be composed of three sophomores. Repeating last season’s No. 1 rank in total, scoring, rush and pass defense is probably too much to ask of a rebuilt defense. However, don’t expect the Crimson Tide to suffer much of a drop in production, especially as some of the younger players get comfortable with more playing time.

4. How is Florida’s offense shaking out?
Florida fans won’t have Charlie Weis to kick around anymore, but what does the addition of Brent Pease as offensive coordinator mean for the Gators’ murky quarterback situation? Sophomores Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett remain neck and neck for the starting job, but the Gators may need answers quickly. Customarily, the Gators’ first major test of the season isn’t until Week Three against Tennessee, but a Sept. 8 trip to Texas A&M probably speeds up the timetable. Driskel and Brissett have 73 pass attempts between them, but coach Will Muschamp is at least comforted they have 73 more attempts than they did a year ago. Both struggled to pass downfield, so the quarterback who’s able to stretch the field beyond 10 yards might get the early edge.

5. Is Marcus Lattimore fully healthy?
Reports from South Carolina indicate the Gamecocks star running back is ready to go for the season, but we won’t know for certain until we see Lattimore take the field for the first time since his Oct. 15 knee injury against Mississippi State. Steve Spurrier says the Gamecocks are protecting Lattimore in practice, so his first true game action may be the opener at Vanderbilt. Lattimore’s injury last season enabled Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles to gain experience. South Carolina could be in better shape in the backfield than it was at the start of last season, but Lattimore’s knee may be the difference between winning the SEC East or not.

6. Is Missouri quarterback James Franklin healthy?
Moving from the Big 12 to the SEC will be a challenge for Missouri, but the task is even more difficult with Franklin returning from a shoulder injury. In his first season as a starter, Franklin threw for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 981 yards and 15 scores. Franklin missed most of spring practice due to an injury to his throwing shoulder but is on track to return by the season opener. Although the junior is expected to be ready to go by kickoff, the Tigers will have to be cautious. Franklin probably won’t handle 217 carries again, which makes the play of running backs Kendial Lawrence and Marcus Murphy even more important. Franklin will have a nice tune-up against SE Louisiana to test his arm, and it will be important to build some confidence with Georgia coming to Columbia in Week 2. Quarterbacks returning from a shoulder injury are always a concern, especially if there are any issues with lost arm strength or timing with receivers. However, all signs point to a full recovery from Franklin.

7. What happens when Tyler Bray hands the ball to a running back?
Tennessee’s rushing numbers have dropped in each of the last three seasons, bottoming out at 90.1 yards per game (116th nationally), 2.8 yards per carry (last in the SEC) and 11 rushing touchdowns. Bray and his receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers will need to be the foundation of the offense, but the Volunteers’ run game needs to provide something. Rajion Neal may have the most potential in the Vols’ backfield after averaging nearly 5 yards per carry last season, but he’s a converted wide receiver who had trouble with fumbles. A committee approach might be the solution.

8. Quarterback Battles at Auburn and Texas A&M
LSU, Alabama and Arkansas seem set as the top three teams in the SEC West. However, the rest of the division is up for grabs, as Auburn, Texas A&M and Mississippi State could all make a case to be picked fourth. The Tigers are hoping sophomore Kiehl Frazier can emerge as the team’s No. 1 quarterback, and he left spring practice with a lead over junior Clint Moseley. New coordinator Scot Loeffler has implemented a pro-style attack, but Frazier – recruited to run Gus Malzahn’s spread – didn’t have much trouble picking up the offense in the spring. Not only is Texas A&M joining the SEC and breaking in a new coaching staff, but the Aggies must replace Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Texas A&M hopes to implement a spread attack but there will be growing pains with little experience returning under center. Sophomore Jameill Showers left spring practice with an edge over Johnny Manziel and would be a surprise if that spot changed hands in the fall. Whichever team (Auburn or Texas A&M) settles its quarterback situation first could have a chance to put some pressure on Arkansas for third place in the SEC West.

9. What will we see from John L. Smith?
The motorcycle fiasco that eventually cost Bobby Petrino his job seems like ancient history. John L. Smith appears to have rallied the players, and then he enjoyed a charm offensive with reporters at SEC Media Days. All of that is great for the summer, but he’ll be back under the microscope on game days. Arkansas still has some questions on offense, including the line, the health of Knile Davis and depth in the receiving corps. The Hogs have early cakewalks against Jacksonville State and Louisiana-Monroe to iron out those issues before facing Alabama in Week Three.

10. Is Mississippi State ready to take the next step?
Outside of Kentucky and Vanderbilt, the toughest job in the SEC is at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs play in a brutal division and had only three winning seasons from 2000-2010. Dan Mullen has done a good job of getting the program pointed in the right direction, leading the Bulldogs to a 21-17 record in his first three years. However, it’s time for the program to take the next step. Mullen has yet to beat a team in the SEC West outside of Ole Miss. Despite the departure of quarterback Chris Relf and running back Vick Ballard, Mississippi State should be able to challenge for fourth place in the SEC West this season. LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are largely considered the top teams in the division, but Auburn and Texas A&M aren’t too far ahead of the Bulldogs. Even if Mississippi State doesn’t finish fourth in the SEC West, beating Tennessee on Oct. 13 or Arkansas on Nov. 17 would be another boost to the program. The Bulldogs have the schedule to make their third consecutive bowl appearance, but climbing higher in the SEC standings is one of the top goals for Mullen this season.
 

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

 

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<p> SEC's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 18:55
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/candidates-announced-johnny-unitas-golden-arm-award
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The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award is one of college football's premier honors and is awarded to the NCAA's top quarterback for on-field performance and character. 

Below are the preseason candidates for the Johnny Unitas Award and some of their accomplishments heading into 2012. 

Check out the official site for more information on the candidates and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

Candidates for the 2012 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award

Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State
Aplin is one of the nation’s most underrated quarterbacks, recording 4,176 yards and 29 overall scores last year. New coach Gus Malzahn is bringing an up-tempo offense to Jonesboro, which should allow Aplin to have Arkansas State in the hunt for the Sun Belt title once again.

Matt Barkley, USC
The senior is widely considered to be college football’s best player and opens 2012 as a frontrunner for most national awards. Barkley has thrown for 80 career touchdowns and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2012.

Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Boyd emerged as one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks in his first season as a starter. He finished with 3,828 yards and tossed 33 touchdowns while leading Clemson to its first ACC Championship since 2011.

Alex Carder, Western Michigan
Carder has been one of the MAC’s top quarterbacks over the last two years and had five games of at least 400 passing yards last season. He also set a Western Michigan single-season record with 3,873 passing yards in 2011.

Derek Carr, Fresno State
The last name Carr and Fresno State are no stranger to success. David Carr won the 2001 Johnny Unitas Award and Derek should be the Mountain West’s top quarterback in 2012. He threw for 3,544 yards and 26 scores in 2011.

B.J. Daniels, South Florida
Daniels posted a career-best 3,205 total yards last season and should be one of the Big East’s top offensive players in 2012. The senior is one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks and expects to have South Florida in the mix for the conference title.

Seth Doege, Texas Tech
Quarterbacks at Texas Tech are no stranger to producing eye-popping numbers. Doege threw for 4,004 yards and 28 touchdowns, while leading Texas Tech to a huge upset over Oklahoma on Oct. 22 in his first full season as the starter in 2011.

Nick Florence, Baylor
Replacing Robert Griffin is no easy task, but Florence is experienced and primed for a standout senior year. He has 1,992 yards and eight touchdowns in 18 career games and started seven contests when Griffin was out due to a torn ACL.

Mike Glennon, NC State
Glennon shined in his first season as NC State’s starter, throwing for 2,932 yards and 31 scores. He closed out the year on a tear, leading the Wolfpack to three consecutive wins, including a bowl victory over Louisville. Glennon should be one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks in 2012.

Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Already the holder of 13 school passing marks, Jones has thrown for 12,379 yards and 93 touchdowns in his first three seasons. A starter since his redshirt freshman season, Jones has led the Sooners to a 22-5 record the past two seasons and is 3-0 in bowl games for his career.

Collin Klein, Kansas State
All Klein did in his first season as the Wildcats' starter was throw for more than 1,900 yards and rush for more than 1,100 while leading the team to 10 wins. He accounted for a total of 40 touchdowns, including 27 on the ground, which established a new FBS record for quarterbacks.

EJ Manuel, Florida State
A shoulder injury hindered Manuel at times in 2011 and with a full offseason to recover, should have an All-ACC caliber senior year. Manuel threw for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns last season and added 151 yards and four scores on the ground.

AJ McCarron, Alabama
McCarron led the Crimson Tide to the national championship last season, throwing for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns. Even though it was his first year as the starter, McCarron tossed only five picks. McCarron will have a bigger role in the offense in this season and should easily surpass last season’s totals.

Aaron Murray, Georgia
In his second season as a stater, Murray led Georgia to the SEC Championship Game by passing for 3,149 yards and a school-record 35 touchdown passes. He was second-team All-SEC last season and should make another bid for the SEC East title.

Ryan Nassib, Syracuse
Quarterback had long been a trouble spot for Syracuse, but Nassib has bucked that trend. In 2011, Nassib set school records for completions (259) and passing yards (2,685).

Casey Pachall, TCU
After taking over for four-year starter and second-round draft pick, Pachall improved as the 2011 season went along, completing nearly two-thirds of his passes for 2,921 yards with 25 touchdowns.

Keith Price, Washington
Despite dealing with knee injuries for most of last year, Price delivered in a big way for Washington’s offense. He threw for 33 touchdowns and 3,063 yards, while adding three rushing scores on the ground in the bowl game over Baylor. A healthy year from Price should deliver big results for Washington.

Sean Renfree, Duke
Renfree is yet another name in a list of prolific passers to play for David Cutcliffe. Renfree has passed for 6,022 yards and 28 touchdowns in his two season as a starter.

Bryn Renner, North Carolina
Renner led the ACC and finished 10th nationally in pass efficiency. Now he plays for no-huddle spread expert Larry Fedora. Renner passed for 3,086 yards and 26 touchdowns in his first season as a starter.

Denard Robinson, Michigan
With speed, athleticism and elusiveness, Robinson is one of college football’s most exciting players. He has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons on the ground and threw for a career-best 20 passing scores last season. Robinson’s play is a huge reason why Michigan enters 2012 as the favorite to win the Big Ten title.

Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt
The younger brother of reigning NFL MVP and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Jordan made a name for himself after taking over as the Commodores' starter halfway through last season. After averaging 20.4 points and 244.4 yards of offense through the first five games, Vanderbilt's output increased to 31.6 points and 413.0 yards in its final seven regular-season games with Rodgers running the show.

Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois
Scheelhaase accounted for nearly 60 percent of Illinois' total offense in 2011 as he threw for more than 2,000 yards also and led the team in rushing. He capped off his sophomore season by earning Offensive Player of the Game honors as he led the Fighting Illini to a 20-14 win over UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Geno Smith, West Virginia
A year after throwing for 4,385 yards and 31 scores, Smith is poised for an even bigger 2012 season. The senior has another offseason of experience in coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense under his belt, while the move to the offensive-minded Big 12 Conference shouldn’t hurt Smith’s numbers.

Brad Sorensen, Southern Utah
Sorensen has had an interesting journey to get to Southern Utah, starting his career at BYU and playing one season at San Bernardino Valley College. Sorensen has been one of the top players on the FCS level over the last two seasons, throwing for over 3,000 yards in both years and placing as a Payton Award finalist in 2011.

Tyler Tettleton, Ohio
Last season Tettleton took the Bobcats to new heights both statistically and in terms of team success. Besides quarterbacking an offense that shattered the school single-season records for points, passing yards and total yards, Tettleton led the Bobcats to 10 wins, including the program's first-ever bowl victory.

Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
One of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, all Thomas did in his first season as a starter was break the school single-season record for total yards with 3,482. The Hokies' second-leading rusher in 2011, Thomas accounted for a total of 30 touchdowns, including 11 on the ground.

Jeff Tuel, Washington State
Injuries never allowed Tuel’s 2011 season to get off the ground. He played in only three games and finished with 276 passing yards. With Mike Leach coordinating Washington State’s offense, look for Tuel to have a monster senior season.

James Vandenberg, Iowa
The best drop-back passer in the Big Ten, Vandenberg passed for 3,022 yards last season with 25 touchdowns in his first season as a starter.

Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
Arkansas has set a handful of passing records in the last three seasons. In his first season as starting quarterback, Wilson was no exception. He became the first Razorback quarterback to be named first-team All-SEC last season after passing for 4,378 yards and 31 touchdowns. 
 

Check out the official site for more information on the candidates and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

Teaser:
<p> Candidates Announced for Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award</p>
Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 12:34

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