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Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-washington-redskins
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What can the Washington Redskins do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Rich Campbell, Washington Times

What are reasonable fantasy expectations for rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III?
It would be difficult for any rookie to equal what Cam Newton did last season. RG3 could get there, but let’s start lower. Grossman and John Beck last season combined for 4,009 yards, 18 touchdowns and 24 interceptions with a 58.4 completion percentage. The yardage total is a testament to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s ability to devise a quality scheme and exploit matchups. Griffin completed 72.4 percent of his passes at Baylor last season with 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Despite being a rookie, he should protect the ball this season better than Grossman and Beck did. You also can expect some rushing production. That at least makes Griffin a viable fantasy option after the first and second tiers of proven NFL passers. And if you’re in a keeper league, RG3’s value skyrockets.

Will Mike Shanahan pick one running back and stick with him? Or is Roy Helu Jr. doomed to be part of a committee?
The Redskins are going to employ a committee approach until they acquire a running back they can’t afford to take off the field. Think Terrell Davis or Arian Foster level. Washington is still searching for that player, so for now they’ll go with Tim Hightower, Helu and Evan Royster. Hightower is positioned to be the starter despite coming off a torn ACL in his left knee. Redskins coaches believe him to be a strong fit for the outside zone scheme because of his speed and vision. Helu fits more as a backup for now.

Will Fred Davis be the top pass-catching fantasy option on this team? Or will it be one of the young, promising wide receivers?
Kyle Shanahan wants to spread the ball around and exploit matchups. That Davis led the team in receptions last season at the time of his suspension was as much a product of a lack of other receiving options as it was Davis’ talent. Now that Davis is surrounded by receivers such as Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, relying on Davis to consistently be the top pass-catcher is a mistake.

At 37 years old, can London Fletcher still be a productive fantasy starter?
Fletcher continued to defy his age last season and led the NFL with 166 tackles. His vision, intelligence and preparation help him make plays, but he still is physically stout, as well. At some point his body is going to break down, but he has played in 224 consecutive games, so feel good about riding this wave until it does.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Pierre Garcon, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Evan Royster, RB
Overvalued: Roy Helu, RB
Top Rookie: Robert Griffin III, QB
Bounce-Back: Leonard Hankerson, WR
Top IDP: London Fletcher, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Robert Griffin III QB 6-2 223 Baylor
3. Josh LeRibeus G/C 6-3 312 SMU
4. Kirk Cousins QB 6-3 214 Michigan State
4. Keenan Robinson ILB 6-3 242 Texas
5. Adam Gettis G 6-2 293 Iowa
6. Alfred Morris RB 5-9 219 FAU
6. Tom Compton T 6-5 314 South Dakota
7. Richard Crawford CB 5-11 191 SMU
7. Jordan Berstine S 5-11 205 Iowa

Fantasy Impact: After years of mediocre quarterback play, the Redskins traded up to acquire Robert Griffin III as the team’s new signal-caller. Alfred Morris was a solid late-round pickup and is a good fit for Washington’s zone-rushing attack. However, he is a long shot to have any fantasy value this season. Kirk Cousins has a shot to serve as Griffin’s backup.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (BAL, at CLE, at PHI)

It could be tough sledding for the Redskins and RGIII in the fantasy postseason. The Browns and Ravens were ranked first and third, respectively, against fantasy QBs last season and the Eagles ranked 15th. And the Browns and Ravens were first and sixth, respectively, against WRs. On the flip side for Roy Helu, the Browns and Eagles and both ranked poorly against fantasy RBs.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Washington Redskins</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-tennessee-titans
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What can the Tennessee Titans do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Nathan Rush, Athlon Sports

Is Chris Johnson still worthy of a first-round selection?
Yes. Chris Johnson remains the undisputed centerpiece of the Titans offense. Last year was a tale of two seasons for CJ, who was a miserable disappointment over the first eight games (572 total yards, one TD) and a solid fantasy starter over the final eight contests (878 total yards, three TDs). CJ’s second half included outbursts of 193 total yards in Week 12 and 157 total yards and two TDs in Week 13 — key weeks on the fantasy calendar’s stretch run.

Will there be any lingering effects of Kenny Britt’s terrible knee injury in Week 3 last year?
Britt had a second surgery in late May, as a result of continued swelling around the knee during rehab training. Although this was spun as a routine cleanup procedure to help the healing process, the operation did little to alleviate the growing concern that Britt will not be 100 percent in Week 1 this year. He has played in only 31-of-48 possible games as a pro. As usual, expect Britt to do significant damage with limited playing time in 2012.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Jared Cook, TE
Deep-Sleeper: Damian Williams, WR
Overvalued: Nate Washington, WR
Top Rookie: Kendall Wright, WR
Bounce-Back: Kenny Britt, WR
Top IDP: Colin McCarthy, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Kendall Wright WR 5-10 196 Baylor
2. Zach Brown LB 6-1 242 North Carolina
3. Mike Martin DT 6-1 306 Michigan
4. Coty Sensabaugh CB 5-11 189 Clemson
5. Taylor Thompson TE 6-6 287 SMU
6. Markelle Martin S 6-1 207 Oklahoma State
7. Scott Solomon DE 6-3 262 Rice

Fantasy Impact: With Kenny Britt rehabbing from a torn ACL, the Titans needed to add another receiver to the mix. Kendall Wright brings big-play ability and could start this season. He should be selected in redraft formats and is one of the top keeper picks at receiver. The rest of the Titans’ draft was focused on building the defense, as five selections went into that side of the ball. Taylor Thompson played defensive end at SMU but has the size and hands combination to make an impact at tight end in the NFL. However, he is a project and will struggle to play in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at IND, NYJ, at GB)

Whether it’s Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker at QB, the Titans’ playmakers — Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Jared Cook — all have a favorable fantasy postseason slate. They are on the road to take on Colts and Packers teams that were ranked in the bottom 16 against all three position groups, and they get a solid Jets team at home in a Monday Night Football game.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Tennessee Titans</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:02
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-tampa-bay-buccaneers
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Rick Stroud, St. Petersburg Times

Which Josh Freeman can fantasy owners expect to draft? The one who threw 25 TDs and six INTs in 2010 or the one who tossed only 16 TDs and 22 INTs last season?
Josh Freeman has rededicated himself this season, having lost 15-to-20 pounds from his powerful 6'6" frame. Freeman’s weight loss has been overshadowed by what he gained in weapons. For the first time in his career, he has a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Chargers free agent Vincent Jackson. The Bucs also signed Saints free agent guard Carl Nicks and moved Jeremy Zuttah to center. Receiver Mike Williams should function better with coverage rolling to Jackson’s side. Freeman has to break his reliance on Kellen Winslow, who was shipped to Seattle for a seventh rounder. In his place is heady vet Dallas Clark. Freeman also has a back to check the ball down to in first-round pick Doug Martin. Remember, as bad as Freeman was, he set career marks in yards and completion percentage.

What sort of timeshare can owners expect from the Doug Martin-LeGarrette Blount backfield duo?
There’s a good reason the Bucs drafted Martin. In addition to adding some depth at the position, Martin is viewed by new coach Greg Schiano as an every-down back, meaning he can run, catch and protect. Blount was one-dimensional at best. Blount will be used in four-minute situations, when the Bucs want to pound the ball. Martin will do almost everything else and should be the much more enticing fantasy option on draft day.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Mike Williams, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Arrelious Benn, WR
Overvalued: Vincent Jackson, WR
Top Rookie: Doug Martin, RB
Bounce-Back: Josh Freeman, QB
Top IDP: Mason Foster, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Mark Barron S 6-2 213 Alabama
1. Doug Martin RB 5-9 223 Boise State
2. Lavonte David LB 6-1 233 Nebraska
5. Najee Goode LB 6-0 244 West Virginia
6. Keith Tandy CB 5-10 199 West Virginia
7. Michael Smith RB 5-9 205 Utah State
7. Drake Dunsmore TE/FB 6-3 235 Northwestern

Fantasy Impact: New coach Greg Schiano wants to build the offense around a powerful rushing attack, so it was no surprise when he selected Doug Martin to pair with LeGarrette Blount in the backfield. Blount has started the last two years for the Buccaneers, but Martin is expected to lead the team in carries and yards this season. Michael Smith brings a different dimension to the backfield and will see carries as a change-of-pace threat. Lavonte David and Mark Barron are two impact defensive acquisitions and should be monitored in IDP leagues.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (PHI, at NO, STL)

Tampa Bay ranked 27th in the NFL in scoring offense and last in scoring defense  last season. No offensive players were top-12 fantasy players at their position. Playing the Eagles and Saints in the fantasy playoffs means playing catch-up, so there should be some production. St. Louis was equally bad — 32nd scoring offense, 26th scoring defense. The fantasy title game is a wild card.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:01
Path: /mlb/2012-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-august-27
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 27, 2012.

 1. Nationals — Is there some friction among management?

 2. Reds — Winning one of three vs. St. Louis was enough.

3. Rangers — Adrian Beltre joining Josh Hamilton in MVP race.

 4. Yankees — Powerful lineup has scored just 23 runs in last eight games.

 5. Braves — Bullpen much more rested than this time last season.

 6. Rays — Best record in the majors this month.

 7. Giants — Lead the National League in runs in August.

 8. White Sox — Back-to-back home sweep of the Yankees and Mariners.

 9. A’s — Allowed just 29 runs in last 10 games, winning eight.

10. Dodgers — Pull off biggest blockbuster trade in several years.

11. Pirates — Beginning to leak oil.

12. Cardinals — Begin the week at Pittsburgh, end it at Washington - not easy.

13. Orioles — Finished the week tied with Oakland for second wild card spot.

14. Tigers — White Sox come to Motown this weekend.

15. Diamondbacks — After hosting Reds for three, will play 25 straight vs. NL West.

16. Angels — Sweep at Fenway was nice, but have lost 15 of 24.

17. Mariners — Won eight in a row, then lost three one-run games at Chicago.

18. Red Sox — Traded injured player, malcontent and huge contracts to L.A.

19. Phillies — Won five of seven last week vs. first-place teams.

20. Padres — Beginning to separate themselves from the bottom teams.

21. Mets — Won back-to-back just three times since the break.

22. Marlins — Scored four runs or less in last 11 losses.

23. Brewers — 23 blown saves lead the majors.

24. Royals — Won eight of nine inside division with Det. and Minn. this week.

25. Blue Jays — Averaging fewer than three runs a game in August.

26. Indians — Lost 23 of their last 28 games — crashing and burning.

27. Twins — Scott Diamond: 10-5, 3.04 ERA; rest of starters: 22-54, 6.15.

28. Rockies — Wins leader Rex Brothers has yet to start a game.

29. Cubs — Opponents reaching base at a .357 clip off the bullpen.

30. Astros — Would they really consider trotting out Roger Clemens? Yes.            

AL Player of the Week

Adrian Beltre, Texas—The Rangers are in the business of scoring lots of runs and business has been good. Last week Beltre batted .433 and slugged 1.100. He drove in nine runs and scored seven with nine extra-base hits. He had a three-homer game on Wednesday against Baltimore, then hit for the cycle vs. Minnesota on Friday.

 

AL Pitcher of the Week

Max Scherzer, Detroit—Scherzer won both of his starts last week, going seven innings and allowing just one earned run in each game. The righthander has now made eight consecutive starts with at least eight strikeouts. The streak covers 52.1 innings and includes 70 whiffs.

 

NL Player of the Week

Allen Craig, St. Louis—St. Louis continues to battle for one of the wild card spots, and Craig keeps on raking. He hit .440 last week with two homers. His nine RBIs led the NL and his eight runs were second. He had three three-hit games and one three-walk contest.

 

NL Pitcher of the Week

Adam Wainwright, St. Louis—With the Cardinals precariously holding a spot in the postseason, and with the bullpen a bit sketchy, it’s important that St. Louis starters get deep into games. Wainwright shut out Houston and tossed 5.2 innings in a win against division leader Cincinnati. In 14.2 innings, Wainwright walked one and struck out 14.

Teaser:
<p> A look at the best and worst baseball teams in the league.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 18:09
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-aug-27
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 (8/20-8/26):

  Name Team Pos. R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Adrian Beltre TEX 3B 7 5 9 0 .433 1.533
2. Jason Heyward ATL OF 5 4 8 2 .393 1.254
3. Allen Craig STL 1/2/OF 8 2 9 0 .440 1.220
4. Giancarlo Stanton MIA OF 7 5 8 0 .286 1.167
5. Dustin Pedroia BOS 2B 6 2 6 3 .357 1.133
6. Ian Kinsler TEX 2B 7 2 9 0 .407 1.278
7. Aaron Hill ARI 2B 5 3 7 2 .308 1.049
8. Pedro Ciriaco* BOS 2/3/SS 8 1 4 1 .464 1.126
9. Jimmy Rollins PHI SS 5 1 7 3 .346 .956
10. Mitch Moreland* TEX 1B/OF 6 2 10 0 .360 .986
11. Andre Ethier LAD OF 7 2 6 0 .440 1.200
12. Angel Pagan* SF OF 10 0 2 2 .414 1.090
13. Michael Saunders* SEA OF 5 3 6 1 .333 1.345
14. Freddie Freeman ATL 1B 6 3 6 1 .296 1.116
15. Derek Jeter NYY SS 7 3 4 0 .357 1.129
16. Alex Rios CHW OF 6 1 3 3 .348 .984
17. Edwin Encarnacion TOR 1B/3B 5 3 6 0 .368 1.350
18. Matt Holliday STL OF 6 0 8 0 .444 1.111
19. Jacoby Ellsbury BOS OF 5 0 4 3 .379 .848
20. Josh Hamilton TEX OF 6 1 9 0 .333 .886
21. John Mayberry* PHI 1B/OF 5 2 7 0 .346 .910
22. Jonathan Lucroy* MIL C 3 2 7 0 .467 1.489
23. Will Venable* SD OF 7 0 3 1 .476 1.236
24. Jon Jay* STL OF 6 0 3 2 .407 .888
25. Jose Reyes MIA SS 4 2 6 1 .300 .964

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Backstop Help

It is a shame that his wife dropped a suitcase on his hand, because Jonathan Lucroy was assured of his best season of his short three-year career. He is now up to .333 with a .937 OPS on the season with eight dingers in 207 at-bats. But if you need help at catcher for the final title push, the Brewers backstop is a great place to start.

Outfield Speed

If you need some outfield speed, it looks like there are plenty of options on the waiver wire. Will Venable (18 SB, 6% owned), Coco Crisp (28 SB, 43%), Ben Revere (30 SB, 38%), Cameron Maybin (24 SB, 39%) and even Juan Pierre (32 SB, 19%) should be available in most formats and all can provide a bump in one or two categories. Crisp offers the most complete line while Revere will help your team batting average as well.

First Baggers

Mitch Moreland (23% owned), Garrett Jones (56%) and John Mayberry (5%) could all be useful for teams with first base or corner infield concerns. Jones is the No. 5-rated 1B over the last month while Moreland and Mayberry have had great last weeks. All three can offer some pop while not hurting your team in any other way. They are low-risk, high-reward pick-ups.

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Max Scherzer DET 21.0 3 27 0.86 0.90
2. Kyle Kendrick PHI 21.2 3 16 0.83 0.69
3. Felix Hernandez SEA 16.2 2 17 0.54 0.48
4. Hiroki Kuroda NYY 25.0 2 15 1.44 0.56
5. Clayton Kershaw LAD 24.0 2 26 2.63 0.71
6. Matt Harrison TEX 22.1 2 14 1.21 0.67
7. Adam Wainwright STL 20.2 3 19 1.74 0.87
8. David Price TB 15.0 1 16 0.00 0.53
9. Kris Medlen* ATL 16.0 2 13 0.00 0.81
10. Madison Bumgarner SF 23.1 2 21 1.93 0.90
11. Matt Cain SF 15.0 2 11 1.20 0.73
12. Yovani Gallardo MIL 14.0 2 18 1.93 0.86
13. Matt Harvey* NYM 13.2 1 17 1.32 0.73
14. Wade Miley ARI 14.0 2 10 0.64 0.93
15. J.A. Happ* TOR 13.1 1 15 1.35 0.75
16. Cliff Lee PHI 21.1 1 26 2.53 1.03
17. Stephen Strasburg WAS 12.0 2 17 2.25 1.08
18. Mark Buehrle* MIA 19.2 3 11 2.29 1.07
19. Chad Billingsley (DL)* LAD 18.1 2 10 1.47 1.04
20. Zach Britton* BAL 13.2 2 11 1.32 1.10

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

1. Kris Medlen, ATL: at SD (Tues.) 65% owned
I told you to start him last week and he delivered 7.0 shutout innings with a 7:1 K:BB ratio and the win. Now, he gets San Diego. 

2. Jonathon Niese, NYM: @ PHI (Thur.) 61% owned
This kid has been lights-out for the Mets of late. The last time he didn't finish the sixth inning was May 28 and has 11 quality starts in his last 15 starts, including three straight. He has allowed three ER in three starts this year against the Phillies.

3. Derek Holland, TEX: at CLE (Sun.) 53% owned
The lefty from Ohio has been frustrating to owners all season with his up and down play. But he has been solid in his last three outings: 1-0, 20.1 IP, 17 K, 3 BB, 8 ER. He also gets the Rays on Monday.

4. Tommy Milone, OAK: at CLE (Tues.) 40% owned
On the year, Milone has useful 3.87 and 1.19 ERA and WHIP season-long ratios. He last time out, he pitched 8.0 innings with one earned run. He has 36 Ks and only 4 BBs in his last six starts. He gets Boston on Sunday.

5. Hisashi Iwakuma, SEA: at Min (Tues.) 21% owned
He hasn't allowed four earned runs in a start since July 15 and has allowed one earned run over his last two outings. He has won three of his last four decisions and gets the Twins offense. He gets the Angels on Sunday.

Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of last month:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Aroldis Chapman CIN 13.1 1 11 19 0 0.68 0.75
2. JJ Putz ARI 11.2 0 8 16 0 0.00 0.51
3. Greg Holland KC 14.1 2 7 12 0 0.63 0.84
4. Fernando Rodney TB 14.0 0 11 12 0 0.64 0.86
5. Jim Johnson BAL 10.0 0 9 8 0 0.00 0.40
6. Jonathan Papelbon PHI 12.1 1 7 15 0 0.73 0.81
7. Grant Balfour OAK 12.2 0 7 13 2 1.42 0.39
8. Tyler Clippard WAS 13.0 0 10 13 0 2.08 1.08
9. Rafael Betancourt COL 11.1 0 9 6 0 0.79 0.88
10. Kenley Jansen LAD 8.1 1 5 13 0 2.16 0.48
11. Wilton Lopez HOU 12.2 2 2 12 0 1.42 0.71
12. Rafael Soriano NYY 11.2 0 7 9 0 1.54 0.86
13. Glen Perkins* MIN 11.2 1 3 11 0 1.54 0.60
14. Jose Valverde DET 12.0 0 7 10 0 2.25 0.83
15. Jason Motte STL 9.2 0 7 16 0 2.79 1.03
16. Craig Kimbrel ATL 8.0 0 2 18 0 0.00 0.50
17. Huston Street (DL) SD 6.1 0 4 6 0 0.00 0.00
18. Adam Occtavino* COL 23.1 3 0 18 1 2.70 1.03
19. Luke Gregerson* SD 14.0 0 1 14 9 0.00 0.71
20. Steve Cishek* MIA 11.0 0 8 11 0 2.45 1.18

* - 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 27</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 09:57
Path: /college-football/college-football%E2%80%99s-pivotal-players-seven-big-12
Body:

This week, teams around the nation moved from preseason camp mode and into game-week preparation.

We’re starting to see coaches name starting quarterbacks and settle on position battles.

Although questions are still out there before the season, some weigh more heavily than others. As the preseason winds down, we’re picking who we believe to be “pivotal players,” or in other words, key players who need to step up where their teams need them most.

Athlon Sports’ characteristics of a “pivotal player:”
• He plays for a conference or division contender.
• He plays at a position of weakness for his team.
• He’s an unestablished player with potential to solidify his team’s position of weakness.

We begin our look at pivotal players with the Big 12 with more conferences to follow.

BIG 12 PIVOTAL PLAYERS
David Ash, QB, Texas
Texas has a nationally elite defense, a deep stable of running backs and a solid offensive line. The Texas quarterback, then, is the prototype for our definition of a “pivotal player.” If Ash plays like he did in the bowl win over Cal (14 of 22,  142 yards, touchdown), Texas will have a chance to compete for the Big 12 title and perhaps more. Play like he did midseason (eight interceptions in six games), and Texas stays in the middle of the pack. A full season of Jaxon Shipley and a complete offseason of competing for the job could stabilize Ash’s hold on the position.
Related: Ten first-year quarterbacks who could challenge for a national title

Nick Florence, QB, Baylor
We were tempted to go with Oregon running back transfer Lache Seastrunk or a defensive player like nose guard Kaeron Johnson, but the pressure to keep Baylor relevant is on Florence’s shoulders. Coach Art Briles wants to throw the the ball around -- and if Baylor’s defense is anything like it was last season, he’ll need to air it out just to keep up. Florence started seven games as a freshman in 2009 and burned a redshirt late last season to throw two touchdown passes against Texas Tech. He’s not Robert Griffin III, but Baylor hopes it can continue to run a spread, no-huddle efficiently with the senior Florence.
Related: Florence, Seastrunk among key breakout players for Big 12

Joel Hasley, LB, TCU
Linebacker suddenly became a thin spot for the Horned Frogs over the offseason with Tank Carder gone to graduation, Tanner Brock dismissed amid a drug scandal and Deryck Gildon out with academic issues. The sophomore Hasley could grab a spot alongside returning starter Kenny Cain in TCU’s 4-2-5 scheme, but Hasley’s nine career tackles highlights a position short on experience.
Related: Big 12 coaches anonymously scout conference opponents

Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State
As with Florence, expectations for Lunt should be tempered -- perhaps moreso considering Lunt’s age. The defending Big 12 champions handed their offense over to an early-enrolling true freshman in the spring. Lunt is the rare rookie to start for Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. Gundy last started a sophomore in 2007 when Zac Robinson took over for Bobby Reid. Still, Lunt ran a similar offense in high school at Rochester (Ill.), according to The Oklahoman. Oklahoma State might need to wait until he’s a veteran to compete for a championship again, but if Lunt adjusts to the speed of the college game, the Cowboys should at least be a tough out.
Related: Pickens’ cash, Gundy’s coaching lead Oklahoma State’s rise to power

Shaq Rowell, DT, West Virginia
West Virginia continued to tinker with its top defensive concern during the preseason, eventually settling on Rowell, a junior college transfer in 2011, at nose tackle, according to The Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette. The move allows returning starter Will Clarke to move to end and Jorge Wright to move to defensive tackle on the three-man front. Rowell’s 6-4, 308-pound frame perhaps makes him be a better fit for the nose position than Wright (6-2, 291).
Related: Geno Smith tops Big 12 player rankings

Boston Stiverson and Cody Whitehair, OL, Kansas State
Kansas State could begin the season with two redshirt freshmen on the right side of the offensive line with Whitehair at tackle and Stiverson at guard. That’s a good deal of inexperience for a team that will try to grind opponents behind quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert.
Related: K-State linemen among top freshmen in Big 12

R.J. Washington, DE, Oklahoma
Washington was a highly coveted recruit in 2008, but he’s been a career backup so far. He broke out of sorts last season with five sacks and 16 tackles. Oklahoma may need more in the absence of Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis. Washington will start alongside fellow senior David King for a team that ranked eighth nationally in sacks last season.
Related: Landry Jones ranked among top 10 quarterbacks for 2012

Previous pivotal players
ACC

Big Ten

Big East

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> College Football’s Pivotal Players: Seven from the Big 12</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:39
Path: /college-football/college-football-coaches-anonymously-scout-2012-top-25-teams
Body:

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches around each conference to talk anonymously about their opponents. Below is a collection of quotes from Athlon's conference-by-conference scouting for teams in Athlon's Top 25 

College Football Coaches Talk Anonymously About Top 25 Teams

1. USC

Opposing coaches size up the Trojans: 

“I don’t know how many people I talked to that laughed, yes laughed, when Lane Kiffin got the USC job. Then they got a two-year bowl ban and it was only a matter of time before the program imploded on itself. Well, Kiffin proved everyone wrong. The Trojans made drastic improvement last season, posting 10 victories, probably should have been 11. They let the Stanford game get away. The only stinker was at Arizona State. And now here comes this year. Watch out. The Trojans are loaded. They are the clear-cut favorites in the Pac-12, and if anyone has a chance to dethrone the SEC as national champions, I’m going with the Trojans.

Call it East Coast bias, but (quarterback) Matt Barkley should have received more Heisman consideration last season. That won’t be a problem this year. He’s got Robert Woods and Marqise Lee back at receiver along with tailback Curtis McNeal. They are absolutely loaded at wide receiver. Those guys are really, really good.

Safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Nickell Robey give the Trojans one of the nation’s top secondaries. It all will come down to Nov. 3 when Oregon visits USC. At this point I wouldn’t bet against Kiffin.”

2. LSU

Opposing coaches size up the Tigers: 

“They have the best secondary in college football probably, even without Morris Claiborne. They did lose their secondary coach, Ron Cooper; he went to coach the Tampa Bay Bucs with Greg Schiano, and they brought the guy from Nebraska (Corey Raymond) in. I’m not sure losing Cooper is a big deal.

They are big and very, very good up front on defense. They have so many guys who can play.

Their performance in the national title game was disappointing. They should have played better. They were a better team than they showed that day.

One thing that is amazing about what they did last year — they scored nine non-offensive touchdowns. We used that as an example to our team throughout the spring. You can score points in so many other ways than just on offense.

I’ve heard good things about Zach Mettenberger. He’s a big kid who can make all of the throws. If he settles in, watch out. If that team gets really good play from the quarterback position, I’m not sure anyone can beat them.

John Chavis always does a good job. He’s well-respected. He has great players, but he is a very good coach.

They have so many good running backs it’s ridiculous. They can come at you with so many different looks. They will go five deep this year. They might not have the one All-American, but they have five who could start for 90 percent of the teams in the country.”

3. Alabama

Opposing coaches size up the Crimson Tide:

“The dropoff from Trent Richardson to Eddie Lacy might not be as much as people think. Lacy is actually bigger, I think, and he had some runs against North Texas, when we were breaking them down, where he looked like a clone of Richardson. He is very, very capable of being an 1,100- or 1,200-yard rusher next year.

They are so big and strong on defense. They can cover so much ground. They might not be the fastest, but they are all really good. They are long. Their secondary is unbelievable. They do a great job of recognizing run vs. pass, and when it is run, the safeties were awesome. The corners were awesome. Their defensive line, they weren’t great at rushing the passer; they were more middle-rush type guys and read-and-react guys. But they got the job done. And they are so well-coached.

Defensively, the just don’t make many mistakes. It’s hard to drive the ball up the field on them, but it’s also so hard to hit them with a big play.

I thought (tight end) Brad Smelley was great for them last year. Very underrated. He will be missed.

The quarterback (AJ McCarron) was underrated. Their receivers were underrated. Those guys made plays for the quarterback when they needed to make plays.

Alabama had the best offensive line in the league. They just pummeled you. They were awesome. Getting Barrett Jones back is huge. That’s like signing the No. 1 recruit in the nation, getting him to return.”

4. Oregon

Opposing coaches size up the Ducks:

“I was very surprised that Chip Kelly nearly bolted to the NFL. He has a great situation at Oregon, and for him to nearly leave that for the uncertainty of the Tampa Bay Bucs tells me one of two things: He was trying to get out of Dodge before the NCAA came calling, or he really has a strong desire to prove he could coach in the NFL. I’m honestly still not sure which one I believe. 

Now that Kelly finally decided to stay, he has to find a way to fill some serious holes. Quarterback Darron Thomas left early to the NFL, and running back LaMichael James also is gone. Those are two huge key cogs in Oregon’s offense. I think James can easily be replaced. They’ve got Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas to plug in at running back. How well they replace (Darron) Thomas I think will determine if they win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title. They like the guys they have there, but Thomas knew what he was doing in that offense.

Defensively, I think Nick Aliotti is vastly, vastly underrated. Oregon’s defense is better than most people give them credit for. He’s got a good nucleus back with six regulars returning. They will be good on that side of the ball.”

5. Oklahoma

Opposing coaches size up the Sooners: 

“Landry Jones decided to return for his senior year, and Mike Stoops is back in Norman. Good times indeed. Last year I thought Jones was the league’s best quarterback. (Oklahoma State’s) Brandon Weeden proved me wrong. I think Jones decision to come back will pay huge dividends for the Sooners. 

Last year was a major disappointment in Norman. I know that. Everyone knows that. The preseason No. 1 team ending up in the Insight Bowl is not good. Ryan Broyles won’t be back, but Jones will be just fine. The Sooners offense will continue clicking. They’ve got some really good young receivers that will be a big part of the offense.

The biggest question marks are on the defense, but that’s where Mike Stoops comes into play. The Sooners lost some studs on that side of the ball. Guys like Travis Lewis, Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis. I still think Oklahoma is the most skilled team and most physical team in our conference. And I have a strong feeling after the bad taste in their mouth from last year, they’re going to prove it this year.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this team this year. They should be very, very hungry after what happened late last year. Their performance against Oklahoma State was not good. In a rivalry game? That surprised me.”

6. 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.”

7. 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.”

8. Georgia

Opposing coaches size up the Bulldogs:

“If you look up quarterback in the dictionary, you would find a picture of Aaron Murray. He has nice composure, good leadership and a good handle of what they want to do. They might not be as sophisticated on offense as a team like Arkansas, but Murray knows what they want. He is a winner and has all the intangibles. From their perspective, the one thing I think they would say is that he has to cut down on his interceptions. He had some bad interceptions last year.

Orson Charles and Aron White will be big losses at tight end. Charles had the unique ability to flex out and be a wide receiver and create mismatches. He improved his blocking ability, too. He was also a dominant special teams player. He covered kicks. He did so much for them that a lot of people didn’t see. He is a high-character guy, too, from what I’ve heard.

I think Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King are an underrated wide receiver duo. Those guys are pretty good. Nobody talks about them as being among the best in the league, but they are very good.

Defensively, they might be 3-4 from a personnel standpoint, but they do a lot of four-down linemen fronts, so it’s a little deceiving. They have the one guy (Jarvis Jones) who is considered a linebacker, but they like him rushing the passer a lot.

Their secondary was outstanding last year. Made a lot of plays for them.”

9. Florida State

Opposing coaches size up the Seminoles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. South Carolina

Opposing coaches size up the Gamecocks: 

“When you play South Carolina, you have to stop 21 (Marcus Lattimore). Their gameplan was to turn and hand the ball to him. So from a scheme perspective, they weren’t that hard to defend.

I have the utmost respect for them. They won with a different formula last season. They had an outstanding defense. They found unique ways to move the football. It wasn’t the pass-happy teams that we saw from Steve Spurrier at Florida in the ’90s. They utilized the strengths that Connor Shaw has, which are his feet and his mobility.

From an offensive standpoint, South Carolina was the most difficult team to prepare for. They were just so good up front. They can play guys that are defensive ends and put them in as tackles and that can really screw up your plan. You don’t know where they are going to be, so it’s hard to get a double-team on them.

(Defensive end) Jadeveon Clowney was very good. He is long, and he is athletic off the edge, and if he doesn’t get a rush he can knock a lot of balls down. He can beat you in so many ways.

I’m not so sure how much they will miss Alshon Jeffrey. The Alshon Jeffrey from 2010 was a great player. The Jeffrey from 2011, I’m not sure how much they will miss him. I thought he got a little bit out of shape. From what people tell me, (freshman) Shaq Roland will be a guy who can step in and produce.”

11. Texas

Opposing coaches size up the Longhorns: 

“You see all that talent, all those resources, all that money and wonder why in the hell they aren’t winning big every year? The past two years Texas has been basically a .500 team. They haven’t been that physical, which surprises you, and they have some issues trying to find a quarterback.  

Last year (Mack) Brown figured he had to shake things up, bringing in Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz as his new coordinators. Texas was a little bit improved last year with those guys, but I don’t think the natives are going to settle for 7–5 regular seasons for any extended amount of time. While they had so much talent, a lot of it has been green.  

I think they could make a big jump this season if a quarterback can take control and command of the team. David Ash and Case McCoy will battle it out. They both have their bright spots and limitations. … Running back Malcolm Brown is going to be a good one. He’s scary. He had a super freshman season.  

For the most part the defense played well last year. They were fairly consistent, but were on the field a lot because of the inconsistency of the offense.”

12. West Virginia

Opposing coaches size up the Mountaineers: 

“Well, I guess that head coach-in-waiting arrangement worked out after all for (Dana) Holgorsen. He was thrown into the head coaching position a year early after West Virginia fired Bill Stewart. For a guy who had never been a head coach and didn’t have the year-long transition that he expected, I thought he did an exceptional job. Everyone knows he can run an offense, but taking control of an entire team is another matter.  

Bad news for Big 12 defensive coordinators is that the Mountaineers return plenty of talent from last season in quarterback Geno Smith and wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. They’ve also had a year to experience Holgorsen’s system so they’re only going to be that much more efficient. 

The biggest thing I’m interested to see is how the Mountaineers adjust to life in the Big 12 instead of the Big East. It will be a big difference facing teams like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas each week as opposed to the Big East teams. I think what will help Holgorsen is his time in the league as Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator. That will help with his familiarity with the league, but it’s still going to be a big adjustment making the upgrade in leagues and playing a much more difficult schedule. It will be a matter of will the Big 12 adjust to West Virginia or will West Virginia have to adjust to the Big 12.”

13. Arkansas

Opposing coaches size up the Razorbacks:

“They have a great scheme and great personnel. Losing Coach (Bobby) Petrino is a tough blow.  He is a unique playcaller, has a great feel for the game and a good command of the game. They still have the players, but his loss will be felt.

They have a great one in Tyler Wilson. They have tremendous amount of speed at the skill positions and gifted tight ends.

Here’s how good they were last year on offense: They lost Knile Davis, a first-team All-SEC running back from the year before, and they still had the No. 1 offense in the league.

Wilson gets beat up a lot. They have a lot of five-man protection packages where they are getting people out in routes quickly, and he recognizes that he has to get the ball off, and he knows that he is going to get hit. That being said, I don’t think they have an upper-level offensive line. That is one area on offense that can get better.

They can spread you out all over the field and still run the ball with some success.

They didn’t play well enough on defense, so I’m not really surprised they made a move and fired (Willy Robinson). The team was good, but the defense was just okay. They didn’t do a whole lot that confused you.

They are losing two really good players on defense in the end (Jake Bequette) and the linebacker (Jerry Franklin).”

14. 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.”

15. Clemson

Opposing coaches size up the Tigers: 

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

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

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

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

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

16. Virginia Tech

Opposing coaches size up the Hokies: 

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

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

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

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

17. 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.”

18. 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.”

19. Oklahoma State

Opposing coaches size up the Cowboys: 

“Hats off — make that Cowboy hats off — to the job done by Mike Gundy. What he accomplished last year was remarkable. Just look at Oklahoma State’s history. You simply do not win like he did last year, winning the league title and nearly getting a shot at the national title. Obviously the money Boone Pickens has poured into facilities has made Gundy’s job a little easier, but still you can’t minimize the job Gundy has done in building a program.  

Now the fun starts for Gundy: How can he follow up last year’s record-breaking season without the duo of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon? One thing is for sure, you don’t have to worry about how Todd Monken will be as the offensive coordinator after replacing Dana Holgorsen. So who replaces Weeden? I don’t think it matters: Clint Chelf, Wes Lunt or J.W. Walsh. They won’t measure up to Weeden, but the offense will still scare you. They still have running back Joseph Randle. He’s big time. Will have a very good year for them.  

The defense sometimes is hit or miss, but it didn’t miss much last season. Bill Young’s group takes a lot of chances, but they pay off big-time. They also have eight starters back.

I think most people expect a huge drop-off for Oklahoma State. I don’t think it will be that drastic.”

20. Notre Dame

Opposing coaches size up the Fighting Irish:

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

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

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

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

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

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

21. Stanford

Opposing coaches size up the Cardinal:

“I have to admit I was wrong about David Shaw. I thought with him replacing Jim Harbaugh, the Cardinal would lose their toughness and personality and would flounder last season. Even with Andrew Luck at quarterback, I just didn’t think they could be as good as they were with Harbaugh. Well, I’m officially an idiot. Shaw did a tremendous job leading Stanford to an 11-win season and it should have been 12. There’s no way they should have lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. This year, though, I’m afraid Stanford will take a little dip. Of course, it’s got nothing to do with Shaw, but having to replace Andrew Luck will not be easy. There isn’t a clear cut favorite to replace him, and that’s something they certainly must get settled sooner than later.

Besides Luck, they also lost some hosses up front. They had some great offensive linemen.

I expect running back Stepfan Taylor to have to carry the offense with an unproven quarterback and some new starters on the offensive line. The question is, how effective can he be without an Andrew Luck-type at quarterback?

Defensively, I think they’ll be just fine with linebacker Chase Thomas back. He’s one of the nation’s best. Ben Gardner is one of the league’s top defensive ends. They’ve got some players on that side of the ball.”

22. TCU

Opposing coaches size up the Horned Frogs: 

“I think everybody is interested to see how they do in the Big 12 this season. I think they will be fine, but you never know. It’s a lot different when you’ve got to play three or four tough games in a row. They’ve beaten some good teams over the years, but they have not played a schedule like the one they will be playing this season.  

It was shocking to see their defense early last season. That Baylor game (TCU gave up 564 total yards) was very interesting. We all just assumed they could plug guys in. Didn’t happen. They got better late in the year, but that was clearly not what we were used to seeing from a Gary Patterson defense. 

They’ve got really good talent at the skill positions. They are loaded at running back. I like (Matthew) Tucker a lot. Their wide receivers aren’t as well known, but they have some guys who can play. We will find out this year.  

I thought (Casey) Pachall was pretty good last year. Taking over for Andy Dalton was not going to be easy, but the kid did a nice job. He will be even better this season.

Losing Tanner Brock (in the drug scandal) is big. That kid was good. And he was going to have a big season for them. … They’ve got some good players coming in. (Devonte) Fields, the defensive end, can really play. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him get on the field early. The quarterback, Tyler Matthews, is a good get, as well.”

23. Louisville

Opposing coaches size up the Cardinals:

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

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

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

24. Boise State

Opposing coaches size up the Broncos:

"Losing Kellen Moore and Doug Martin, I think that hurts a ton. They’ve got their system going and they’ve kept their coaches around. The system with Peterson is still there, but Moore was one of the best quarterbacks in the country. When you lose a guy of that caliber, they’re just not going to be the same.

It doesn’t matter who you plug in; you lose experience, you lose leadership, you lose that swagger that those kind of guys bring to your team. It’s going to be a big test to see what they can do.

I have no idea who was behind Moore at Boise. I don’t know how they’ll keep it going at that level. But they do a great job of developing guys.

The first time you see Kellen Moore in person, he’s 5-11, 200, he looks like a Backstreet Boy. But the dude can ball. They do a great job developing their skills and talent.

That’s always a tough spot in the schedule when you’ve got those guys. I think their cupboard’s pretty full."

25. Washington

Opposing coaches size up the Huskies: 

“What a way for Nick Holt to go out. That Alamo Bowl loss (67–56 defeat vs. Baylor) gave me whiplash. It reminded me of six-man football. That was possibly the worst defensive game I’ve seen so it’s not surprising that (Steve) Sarkisian fired the defensive coordinator after laying a major egg. They also looked defenseless against Stanford (allowing 65 points) and Nebraska (allowing 51 points). Sarkisian got a good one to replace Holt, bringing in Justin Wilcox from Tennessee. That’s a nice hire. I think Wilcox will do well out West. He also brought in Peter Sirmon to coach linebackers; he’s been at Tennessee with Wilcox. He’s a good recruiter and he played in the NFL.

Running back Chris Polk is off to the NFL. He carried the Huskies at times last season. They’ll experience a drop-off at running back but have a number of capable replacements in Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey.

Keith Price is a good quarterback, and he will be even better this year if he can stay healthy. He was banged up a lot last year. If they keep him upright, he will have a monster season.”

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Teaser:
<p> College Football Coaches Anonymously Scout 2012 Top 25 Teams</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:29
Path: /fantasy/2012-fantasy-football-improving-and-declining-defensespecial-teams
Body:

Choosing the right defense/special teams unit for your fantasy football team is not a decison that should be taken lightly. Last season, three DSTs (San Francisco, Philadelphia and Houston) scored 180 or more fantasy points. That total put them among the top 55 overall and top 33 if your remove quarterbacks.

While every defense isn't as productive in fantasy scoring as the likes of the 49ers, Eagles and Texans, there are some units out there on the rise that could prove valuable. Likewise, there are some that you may be better off passing on this season. Here's Athlon Sports' take on four of each.

GOING UP

1. Buffalo Bills
After the Bills allowed 371.1 yards per game last season, it was clear changes needed to be made on Buffalo’s defense. Dave Wannstedt replaced George Edwards as defensive coordinator, and the team switched to a 4-3 alignment. The change in schemes likely helped lure standout end Mario Williams away from Houston. The two-time Pro Bowler will team with fellow offseason acquisition Mark Anderson to inject some much-needed punch to the pass rush. Rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore will help a secondary that allowed 30 passing touchdowns last season.

2. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks ranked ninth in the NFL in total defense last year and made solid moves to improve this unit even more in the offseason. The addition of first-round pick Bruce Irvin out of West Virginia should help a pass rush that tied for 19th in the league with 33 sacks last season. The linebacking corps has question marks, but rookie Bobby Wagner brings speed and a physical presence to the middle. The Seahawks ranked fourth in the NFL with 22 interceptions in 2011, and the secondary returns intact.

3. Dallas Cowboys
The secondary was the biggest weakness for Dallas last season, but the offseason acquisitions should turn it into a strength. Brandon Carr was signed away from Kansas City to anchor one cornerback spot, while the team traded up in the first round to pick LSU product Morris Claiborne, who will start at the other spot. Both players are an upgrade over last season’s starters. Dallas needs linebacker Anthony Spencer to have a big season.

4. Kansas City Chiefs
Despite the absence of safety Eric Berry, the Chiefs finished 11th in the NFL in total defense in 2011. With Berry back in the mix, Kansas City’s defense could climb into the top 10. Stanford Routt was signed to replace Brandon Carr at cornerback, and the team expects a breakout year from outside linebacker Justin Houston. Rookie nose tackle Dontari Poe has upside, but his production didn’t match his talent at Memphis. If Poe, Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson produce up front, this defense will be a good bargain on draft day.

GOING DOWN

1. New Orleans Saints
It’s been a tumultuous offseason in New Orleans, and the distractions could take a toll on this team in 2012. The Saints finished a disappointing 24th in total defense last year, and linebacker Jonathan Vilma is expected to miss all of this season due to a suspension. Signing Chris Chamberlain, David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton should bolster the linebacking corps, but the pass rush remains a question mark. Veteran Steve Spagnuolo was a solid hire as defensive coordinator, but it’s hard to envision this unit emerging as an every week starter in fantasy leagues.

2. Oakland Raiders
Considering the pieces in place, finishing 29th in the NFL in total defense was a major disappointment last season. New coach Dennis Allen should bring some aggressiveness to this unit, but the back seven is littered with question marks. Linebacker Rolando McClain could miss time in 2012 due to legal issues, while Aaron Curry has been a disappointment. The safety spots are set with Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch returning, but Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell will be tested frequently at cornerback.

3. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore should remain one of the top 12 fantasy defenses, but this unit is on the decline. Linebacker Terrell Suggs will likely miss all of 2012 due to a torn Achilles. Rookie Courtney Upshaw is a capable option, but replacing the NFL Defensive Player of the Year is no easy task. The depth took a hit with Jarret Johnson now in San Diego and Cory Redding and Tom Zbikowski departing to join former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis.

4. Miami Dolphins
Miami finished 15th in total defense last season, so there are reasons to be optimistic about this unit’s performance for 2012. However, the Dolphins are transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and had to cut safety Yeremiah Bell in a salary cap move. The Sean Smith-Vontae Davis cornerback tandem has had its moments but needs to play more consistently. Miami could be an option in select matchups, but with some players changing positions due to the new scheme, 2012 is a transition year.

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

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Teaser:
<p> 2012 Fantasy Football: Improving and Declining Defense/Special Teams</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:04
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-seattle-seahawks
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Dan Raley, Freelance Writer

Was Marshawn Lynch simply in beast mode for a new contract or can owners count on a repeat performance?
The big attraction to Lynch is he’s a self-starter. He plays with attitude. He was just as good in his previous season with the Seahawks without a contract incentive hanging over him. He stands to benefit from having a better quarterback (Flynn) and sturdier offensive line (if Russell Okung can stay healthy). If all goes well, Lynch’s fantasy numbers should be very, very good.

What are reasonable fantasy expectations for Matt Flynn in his first year as the starter?
Flynn, in his limited appearances with Green Bay, showed himself to be a big-numbers guy, every fantasy player’s dream. Another six-touchdown passing game is a stretch, but count on him for maybe two or more per game, plus 200-plus yards per outing — or double what Tarvaris Jackson provided as last year’s Seattle starter.

Is there a pass-catcher on this roster who will be an every week fantasy starter in 2012?
Probably not. The Seahawks insist that Sidney Rice, after having offseason surgery on both shoulders, will be healthy and Flynn’s No. 1 target. However, Rice’s five-season pro track record indicates he’s an extremely fragile player. Remember, undrafted rookie free agent Doug Baldwin was the top receiver in 2011 and Golden Tate remains on the roster as well. Seattle also signed free agents Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards prior to the start of training camp, but it's anyone guess if the two mercurial veterans will contirbute anything on the field, let alone make the team.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Matt Flynn, QB
Deep-Sleeper: Doug Badlwin, WR
Overvalued: Sidney Rice, WR
Top Rookie: Robert Turbin, RB
Bounce-Back: Zach Miller, TE
Top IDP: Chris Clemons, DL

2012 Draft Class

1. Bruce Irvin DE 6-3 245 West Virginia
2. Bobby Wagner LB 6-0 241 Utah State
3. Russell Wilson QB 5-11 206 Wisconsin
4. Robert Turbin RB 5-10 220 Utah State
4. Jaye Howard DT 6-3 301 Florida
5. Korey Toomer LB 6/2 234 Idaho
6. Jeremy Lane CB 6-0 190 Northwestern State
6. Winston Guy S 6-1 218 Kentucky
7. J.R. Sweezy DT 6-5 298 NC State
7. Greg Scruggs DE 6-3 284 Louisville

Fantasy Impact: The Seahawks added Matt Flynn to compete with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, but Russell Wilson will get a chance to win the job in preseason camp. Wilson lacks ideal size but can be a starter in the NFL. Robert Turbin is a physical back like Marshawn Lynch, so playing time could be sparse in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (ARI, vs. BUF, SF)

Marshawn Lynch was the only fantasy-relevant Seahawk last season, ranking fifth among RBs. He gets the 49ers and their top-ranked rush defense from a year ago in the fantasy title game. He was the only back to rush for 100 yards and score a TD against San Francisco last season. Matchups against Arizona and Buffalo, ranked in the bottom 12 against the run last year, should be a bit kinder.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Seattle Seahawks</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, Big East
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-impact-freshmen-2012
Body:

Actual college football games are taking place this week!

And while National Signing Day 2012 seems like ages ago, thousands of freshmen (and redshirt freshman) will take their first steps onto the hallowed grounds of stadiums all over the nation this weekend. Most won't even dress for the varsity squad this season and many won't ever play. But a select few uber-recruits will have the chance to make an immediate impact on the college football landscape. 

Last week, Athlon Sports highlighted the biggest name and biggest impact freshman in each BCS conference. If you want to dig deeper into the 'by-conference' rankings, they are linked below. And since hundreds of names will make big impacts across the nation, it is virtually impossible to rank the Top 25. Names like Landon Collins, Amari Cooper, Dan Voltz, DJ Foster, Carlos Watkins and Leonte Carrou just missed making this list, but are expected to make some impact in year one.

The Top 25 Impact Freshmen for 2012 (listed alpabetically):

* - indicates redshirt freshman

Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon
The 2011 cycle featured De'Anthony Thomas. This season it's the massive (6-7, 290) defensive end-offensive tackle two-sport star from Elk Grove, Calif. He will be a key reserve and pass-rush demon for Chip Kelly to begin. Don't be shocked if the nation's No. 3 prospect is a starter by year's end.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State*
The massive redshirt freshman receiver could be a game-changer for EJ Manuel and the Florida State passing game. At 6-foot-5 and 240-pounds, Benjamin may be the most talented FSU pass-catcher since the deep collection of NFL talent of the late 90s and early 00s. 

Joe Bolden, LB, Michigan
Few players have entered college with greater expectations than the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Cincinnati prospect. The true freshman enrolled early and made a big name for himself in spring ball with incredible instincts, physicality and explosiveness. He could force Kenny Demens to outside linebacker at best and will be the top reserve at worst. Bolden will be an All-Big Ten player very soon.

Evan Boehm, OL, Missouri
The coaching staff in Columbia has been full of praise for their star prospect at guard. He has been battling for the starting spot and Gary Pinkel has stated the Lee’s Summit, Mo., native has the size and maturity to play right away. He would be the only the third true freshman offensive lineman to ever play under the Mizzou coach.

Sheldon Day, DL, Notre Dame
An early enrollee, the massive defensive lineman from Indianapolis (Ind.) Warren Central has already proven he belongs on the field. And in a defensive front that is stacked with young talent, it is even more impressive the impact the 6-foot-2, 290-pound freshman has had up front. He should be a household name in short order for Irish fans.

Stefon Diggs, WR/RS, Maryland
The in-state speedster was the No. 5 overall prospect in the nation last fall and was a recruiting coup for the embattled Randy Edsall. The 6-foot, 185-pound dynamo will touch the ball in the passing game, ground game and return game. He should start right away and should be a close friend of unexpected new starting quarterback and fellow freshman Perry Hills.

Ereck Flowers, OL, Miami
If the big local product from the city of Miami continues to play like he has in camp, he could very well be the starting right tackle at The U. His work ethic and size – at 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds — will provide much needed help along the offensive front for Al Golden.

Perry Hills, QB, Maryland
When C.J. Brown tore his ACL, one of two freshmen were going to get the call to start for new coordinator Mike Locksley. Caleb Rowe appears to have lost the job to the Hills, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound signal caller from Pittsburgh. On a team that won two games a year ago and features huge amounts of roster turnover, Hills has been thrust into the most important starting position on the field. Should he adapt quickly, he could easily be in contention for ACC Freshman of the Year. If he struggles, Randy Edsall could be looking for work.

Jonathan Gray, RB, Texas
No high school running back has ever been as productive as Gray was at Aledo High School. He sits behind two elite sophomores in Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown, but Gray could see upwards of 100 touches this fall. He has the power, the speed, the receiving skills, the upside, the toughness and the agility. There is nothing he cannot do on a football field and it should make him an All-American in short order.

Deontay Greenberry, WR, Houston
The star wide receiver from California was a top 100 recruit who was set to sign with Notre Dame. His 11th hour NSD switch to Houston was highly-publicized and has created added pressure to succeed. From all accounts, however, Greenberry is set to earn a starting spot for Houston as a true freshman. He is easily the highest-rated recruit in Cougars history and will fit perfectly in the pass-happy system Tony Levine wants to run.

Dorial Green-Beckam, WR, Missouri
The most prolific high school receiver in American prep history will suit up for Mizzou this fall. The nation’s No. 1 overall prospect can expect to see a lot of passes throw his way. His 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame creates match-up issues all over the field and will be impossible to cover, both vertically and in the slot. DGB will be a big star in the SEC.

Darius Hamilton, DL, Rutgers
The prized gem of the most heralded Knights class in school history was 6-foot-4, 260-pound defensive lineman from nearby Don Bosco Prep. He began camp as an end, but after excelling in camp already, he has been shifted down to tackle. He knows the 3-technique from his prep glory days and should be an instant impact player for what should once again be the league's top defense.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA*
This move had to be made. Hundley is the most talented and has the highest upside of any quarterback on the roster (he also has yet to miss a start due to injury). In all seriousness, though, the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder from Chandler, Ariz., gives new Bruins head coach Jim Mora Jr., offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and the rest of the coaching staff a chance to succeed longterm in Westwood.

Jabari Hunt-Days, LB, Georgia Tech*
The younger brother of Tech quarterback, Snyjyn Days, could provide immediate help at inside backer. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Marietta, Ga., prospect redshirted last fall and knows Al Groh's system well enough to make a big impact this fall. Tech fans are hoping for some reinforcement for a defense that allowed 274 and 268 yards rushing in losses to Virginia and Virginia Tech respectively last fall.

Linebackers, LSU
Kwon Alexander, Ronnie Feist, Deion Jones, Lamar Louis and Lorenzo Phillips could all see playing time this fall. It is anybody’s guess as to who will get the most playing time, but look for Alexander and the two spring enrollees, Louis and Feist, to get the first crack at contributing.

Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State
There was a heated quarterback battle in Stillwater all spring and summer long. So it came as a bit of a surprise when the underdog from Rochester, Ill., was named the starter relatively early in the process by Mike Gundy. His 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame gives Gundy what he craves from a quarterback: a big, tall, accurate, pocket passer who makes quick decisions. There will be plenty of growing pains and learning experiences for Lunt, but this coaching staff clearly loves what they have in the true freshman.

Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State
Many around the Wazzu program are already claiming Freshman All-American status for the wideout from Los Angeles. He is a tiny slot sparkplug who is already wowing coaches in camp. In Mike Leach's high-flying offense, Marks can expect big numbers.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon*
He is still in a heated battle with Bryan Bennett that may last the entire season, but there is no doubt that the Dennis Dixon-clone will play a bunch in 2012. He has burst, explosiveness and speed like Dixon, but is also a much thicker athlete at nearly 200 pounds. He won the spring battle but is neck-and-neck with Bennett.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M*
Despite an immature physical dust-up that resulted in an arrest this summer, the talented dual-threat beat out Jameil Showers to earn the starting job for the Aggies. He posted huge numbers, both through the air and on the ground, as a high school senior two years ago, and in Kevin Sumlin’s system, fans can bet on big numbers from the redshirt freshman.

Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma
This prep-schooler has fans in Norman boiling over with anticipation. He has drawn huge reviews in camp and could possibly overtake Kenny Stills as the No. 1 option. His all-around skillset fits better on the outside and, for a unit that played inconsistently in support of Ryan Broyles last fall, will be a welcome sight for Landry Jones. Freshman All-American status wouldn't be over-reaching.

Ondre Pipkins, DT, Michigan
The massive defensive tackle from Kansas City is expected to help plug the hole left by Mike Martin up the middle. A recent neck injury in practice put a scare into Maize and Blue nation and sent Pipkins to the hospital. All signs point to Pipkins being ready for the opener against Alabama, but how well an injured freshman's neck will be able to hold up against Barrett Jones, Chane Warmack and DJ Fluker remains to be seen.

Running Backs, Georgia
Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have the chance to be a special freshman tandem this fall. These two are going to get tons of carries and Gurley has been the early star of camp for the Dawgs. Along with massive fullback Quayvon Hicks, Mark Richt has a more than enough talent to offset the loss of the aforementioned Crowell. Look for the burley Gurley and the speedy Marshall to compliment each other perfectly.

Isaac Seumalo, OL, Oregon State
It's all in the family for the locker prep blocker. His father, Joe, is the DL coach and his brother, Andrew, starts along the Beavers' offensive line. He was essentially pencilled into the starting line-up the second he committed to Oregon State, so don't expect to see him on the bench for a team that was pathetic in the running game a year ago.

John Theus, OL, Georgia
This big blocker from Jacksonville, Fla., could be the starter at left tackle from the second Georgia kicks off the 2012 season. He was the No. 2 offensive line prospect in the nation and the Dawgs are in big need of depth along the offensive front. Along with Zach DeBell, Theus will help stabilize the UGA front.

Shaq Thompson, S, Washington
This is a once in a lifetime type of player. And he will start from the first snap of the year — even if the new defensive coaching staff has to run five defensive backs out there. He can play in the box, can blitz off the edge, can play man-up in coverage and patrol the deep middle-third. Fans should be shocked if he isn't a Freshman All-American.

Other Names To Watch:

Ishmael Adams, CB, UCLA
The lockdown cover corner was arguably the top player at his position in the US Army All-American bowl and it hasn't taken long for him to fit in at UCLA. He is likely the most game-ready freshman in this class, so expect the Westlake Village, Calif., product to be in the line-up quickly.

Nelson Agholor, AP, USC
The speedster from across the country in Tampa, Fla., has big-play potential and a well-documented childhood. Expect the versatile back-receiver hybrid to be used all over the field, including special teams. He has proven to be a quick study this summer.

Travis Blanks, DB, Clemson
The Tigers' defensive woes are well documented. Prospects like Blanks should help new defensive coordinator Brent Venables attempt to improve a unit that was abused in the second half of the 2011 season. The hybrid talent, at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, should be used all over the field in various roles after enrolling early last January.

Austin Blythe, OL, Iowa
The Williamsburg, Iowa, product will be the baby of the All-Iowa starting offensive line in Iowa City. All five starters hail from the Hawkeye State and this redshirt freshman will lock down the right guard position. This is a unit under heavy scrutiny, however, as it finished last in the Big Ten in rushing last fall and 78th in the nation in sacks allowed.

Jaxon Hood, DL, Arizona State
The big fella from Chandler, Ariz., is currently atop the depth chart along the interior of the ASU defensive line. Hood checks in at 6-foot-1 and 290 pounds and has proven to the staff he is capable of playing at a high level right out of the gate.

Tracy Howard, CB, Miami
This talented defensive back might be the biggest impact freshman in the ACC this season. Miami fans can expect the speedy coverman from Miramar, Fla., to be on the field from the first snap of the ball. Miami will play a lot of young players, and the No. 2-rated defensive back prospect in the nation has already drawn excellent reviews in camp for his play and leadership. 

Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
The tiny tailback from Miami has speed to burn and will make some big plays this fall in a variety of ways. His 4.4 speed, to go along with the ability to catch the ball and make big plays on special teams will force Al Golden to get Johnson into his game plans. He may not have the size to unseat Mike James, or even be a 25-carry per game back, but Johnson will drop his fair share of jaws.

Mekale McKay, WR, Arkansas
The massive 6-foot-6 hoops star has made an immediate impact on the Hogs offense as he could very well start opposite Cobi Hamilton. With the very talented Tyler Wilson at quarterback, McKay has a chance to do his best DGB impersonation this fall. Few veteran cornerbacks will be able to match up with his raw leaping and overall athletic ability that earn him Mr. Basketball in the state of Kentucky last year.

Offensive Line, Kansas State
The right side of the Wildcats offensive front will feature a pair of freshman starters. Cody Whitehair is a 6-foot-5, 300-pounder from Abilene, Kan., and appears to be locked into the right tackle spot while the right guard spot will be manned by Andover, Kan., prospect Boston Stiverson, who checks in at 6-foot-4 and 306 pounds. Look for KSU's strength on offense to be the left side until these two can pick-up the speed of the game.

Jordan Rigsbee, OL, Cal
The redshirt freshman offensive lineman will have the chance to lean on his big brother and fellow starter along the offensive line, Tyler. The younger Rigsbee earned a starting spot out of spring and has kept that job through camp. He is bigger than his brother at 306 pounds (Tyler is only 290).

Shaq Roland, WR, South Carolina
Alshon Jeffery is gone and Steve Spurrier is hoping his new toy from Lexington, S.C., will help fill the void. The speedy pass-catcher was the No. 5 wideout prospect in the nation, the top prospect in the state, and has wowed the coaching staff since stepping on campus.

Rushel Shell, RB, Pitt
There is a very small chance Shell is redshirted, but his obvious talent and recruiting hype will make it hard for Chryst to keep the uber-prospect on the bench. He's the Keystone State's all-time leading rusher with 9,078 yards and scored a WPIAL record 110 career TDs. He also owns the national prep mark for consecutive 100-yard games with 39 — breaking the great Billy Sims' mark. Chryst will have fun using this dynamo.

Noah Spence, DL, Ohio State
Spence was the No. 1 defensive line prospect in the nation for a reason. He is an absolute monster. His size, strength, explosiveness and speed may force Urban Meyer to shoehorn him onto the field as a true freshman. This team is loaded with defensive line talent and there doesn't seem like a clear spot for Spence. But his raw physical skills might be too much for Meyer to ignore. Aldophus Washington might not be too far behind either.

Jordan Thompson, WR, West Virginia
This little guy has speed to burn and has proven he belongs on the field as a freshman. In a four-wide receiver set, Thompson has earned a starting spot on the inside. He is as small a football player as there is — he is listed at 5-foot-7 and 167 pounds — but is also as dynamic as any athlete in the league. The Katy, Texas, product could post big numbers as a freshman.

Nick VanHoose, CB, Northwestern
The scout team super star from last fall nearly got his redshirt pulled halfway through the season. Yet, Pat Fitzgerald resisted and the result will be a polished all-league-type of player stepping into a starting role in his first year on the field. He has speed and quickness to burn — as his role as Denard Robinson on the scout team will attest to — and should be able to lock down one half of the field.

TJ Yeldon, RB, Alabama
The twisting, turning, gyrating, impossible-to-tackle running back from Daphne, Ala., will have a shot to play early and often this fall. Eddie Lacy has a toe issue and Dee Hart is returning from a torn ACL, so the door is open for the big powerback.

- by Braden gall

@bradengall

Top Impact Freshman to Watch By Conference 2012:

ACC's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012
Big 12's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

Big East's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

Big Ten's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

Pac-12's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

SEC's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 25 Impact Freshmen of 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/tim-tebow-or-mark-sanchez-who-should-start-new-york-jets
Body:

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

Q: Who should be the starting quarterback of the New York Jets: Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow?

Alan Schechter, TheJetPress.com
Mark Sanchez should be the starter for the New York Jets. He is the better quarterback, and it is not close. Watch each of them play and you will know why. For every long pass that Tim Tebow completes, there are 4-5 that are not even close. In the preseason game against the Giants, Tebow rolled to his right and had a wide open Stephen Hill in the endzone. However, there was nobody within 10 yards of him, and yet Tebow couldn’t make the connection. He airmailed a few others over guys heads, but the one to Hill was bad. And after the game, he made excuses for it instead of owning up to a bad throw. Mark Sanchez would make that throw each and every time. Tim Tebow is not a consistent quarterback. He is a gimmick.

As far as Sanchez goes, nobody gives him enough credit for the success that he has had. He's led the Jets to two AFC Championship games, and his numbers are actually slightly better than Eli Manning’s when you compare their first three seasons as starting quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez needs his offensive line to play well, so the ground and pound can get moving, and then he can work off of the play action. He needs his weapons to be out on the field, and he will be just fine. Going into the Panthers game in Week 3 of the preseason, Sanchez is completing 75 percent of his passes. Enough said.

Mark Sanchez is the only one to start at quarterback for this team. If Tim Tebow starts for any other reason than opening with a Wildcat play, or a Sanchez injury, the season will go very badly for the New York Jets.

Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster)
In one sense, the Jets have an enviable QB situation: Sanchez and Tebow have a combined playoff record of 5-3 as starting quarterbacks. Still, I can’t overlook the conventional wisdom that if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any, and the fact that we’re even having this debate tells me that the Jets are set to struggle. But since you asked, here goes: I’d stick with Sanchez and save Tebow for short-yardage, goal-line or change-of-pace situations. That’s the scenario that made sense when the move was made to acquire Tebow, and it still holds today.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I believe Mark Sanchez should be the starter, even though his interception totals are alarming. The USC product has increased his touchdown and passing yard numbers each season, and the team has won around him when the running game and defense are solid. The obvious problem with Sanchez is his accuracy, but Tim Tebow was the only regular NFL quarterback with a completion percentage under 50 percent last year. Tebow’s strength is running the ball out of the “Wildcat”, and he should have success doing that with the Jets. I see Sanchez being the lead signal caller, with Tebow giving the Jets a quality power running option on short yardage and in the red zone.

Nathan Rush, Athlon Sports
Mark Sanchez has to be the starter for Week 1. But his leash won't be very long if the Jets sputter off the runway. Tim Tebow will be high-energy and even higher-profile — on the sidelines, at the goal line and in the Wildcat. The Sanchize better start Tebowing, because his job is in jeopardy. But he deserves to take the first snap from center at MetLife Stadium against the Bills.

Mark Ross, Athlon Sports
Despite an apparent lack of production, Sanchez is still the best option for the Jets at quarterback. He put up career numbers last season and has been accurate (completed nearly 70 percent of his passes) in the preseason as well. Even though he and Tebow have the same number of interceptions (two) and touchdown passes (zero), Tebow has completed less than 40 percent of his throws. Tebow’s great in the Wildcat and can definitely help this offense in the right role, but that’s not as starting quarterback. Sanchez has earned the right to be under center for the Jets in Week 1. Then again, if the offensive line doesn't do a better job in pass protection, then they may as well throw Tebow back there. His accuracy won't be an issue since he won't even have enough time to throw a pass.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is a comical discussion. Tim Tebow is a great leader, a positive member of any locker room, will bring attention to your brand and can't really complete NFL passes. Any other 25-year old starting quarterback with two AFC title game appearances, an increase of key statistics across the board and nary a losing record in three seasons would be viewed as the franchise. He is one of only three quarterbacks who have won a playoff game in at least two of the last three years. He has done something most can only imagine when he outplayed Tom Brady on the road in a playoff win over the Patriots. He finished second to only Cam Newton in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback last year. Sanchez has increased his yards, touchdowns, completion percentage and QB rating in each of this three seasons. Yet, he might be the most scrutinized signal caller in the league and takes entirely too much blame for a roster loaded with knuckleheads and egomaniacs. Tebow is a nice weapon, Sanchez is the only hope for a deep run in the playoffs.

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Tim Tebow or Mark Sanchez: Who Should Start for the New York Jets?</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-san-diego-chargers
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Bernie Wilson, Associated Press

Is Ryan Mathews ready to carry the load and become an elite fantasy running back?
He needs to be. He showed the bursts and long gains that fans and fantasy owners have expected ever since the Chargers moved up 16 spots to draft him with the 12th pick overall in 2010. It’s been a slow process, from injuries in his rookie year — as well as an inability to pick up the blitz that cost him playing time — to not being in shape during training camp last season. After rushing for 1,091 yards last year, Mathews should be ready for more in 2012.

Philip Rivers committed 25 turnovers last year. Can he eliminate his mistakes and return to fantasy’s elite QB club?
Even Rivers seemed mystified about the turnovers and will do everything he can to reduce them. The fumbled snap at Kansas City was the Chargers’ equivalent of the ball going through Bill Buckner’s legs, and many of those interceptions came from Rivers trying to do too much. That said, Rivers will need some help from his teammates so he doesn’t feel the need to carry the offensive load.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Robert Meachem, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Eddie Royal, WR
Overvalued: Malcom Floyd, WR
Top Rookie: Ladarius Green, TE
Bounce-Back: Nate Kaeding, K
Top IDP: Eric Weddle, DB

2012 Draft Class

1. Melvin Ingram OLB 6/2 276 South Carolina
2. Kendall Reyes DE 6/4 296 Connecticut
3. Brandon Taylor SS 5/11 209 LSU
4. Ladarius Green TE 6/6 238 UL Lafayette
5. Johnnie Troutman G 6/4 314 Penn State
7. David Molk C 6/2 288 Michigan
7. Edwin Baker RB 5/9 210 Michigan State

Fantasy Impact: With the offense returning largely intact, rebuilding the defense was the top priority through the draft. Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes will help to bolster the front seven, with Ingram filling a hybrid linebacker/end role. Antonio Gates is still San Diego’s starter at tight end, but Ladarius Green could help in two-tight end sets. Green is a sleeper to watch in keeper formats. Edwin Baker, a seventh-round pick, could push Curtis Brinkley for playing time as San Diego’s No. 2 tailback.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at PIT, CAR, at NYJ)

The Chargers make the dreaded cross-country trip twice in the fantasy postseason this year, and they do so against two of the traditionally strongest defenses in the league. However, in the last three years San Diego has played 11 times east of the Mississippi River and scored 20 or more points in 10 of those games. Hosting Carolina in Week 15 should translate into opportunities for the Chargers’ playmakers.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the San Diego Chargers</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 05:59
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-san-francisco-49ers
Body:

What can the San Francisco 49ers do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Eric Gilmore, Freelance Writer

Will Frank Gore ever be an elite fantasy back again or has he been permanently relegated to RB-2 status?
Gore probably doesn’t get into the end zone often enough to be considered an elite fantasy back, but he rushed for 1,211 yards last season, cracking the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth time in the past six years. Gore carried 282 times last year, the second-most in his career, but he likely won’t have as heavy a workload this season. The 49ers have more weapons in the backfield, and they also seem intent on passing the ball more this year. They drafted A.J. Jenkins in the first round and signed free agents Randy Moss and Mario Manningham.

Is Randy Moss going to provide any fantasy value at age 35?
Despite sitting out last season, the 35-year-old Moss appeared to be in great shape during his first few offseason workouts with his new team. The real test won’t come until he puts on the pads and gets into a game. The fact that he caught only 28 passes in 2010 and played for three teams — the Pats, Vikings and Titans — is a huge red flag. In other words, fantasy buyer, beware. Moss might be worth a late-round flyer, but nothing more.

Can the Niners repeat as fantasy’s top team defense and special teams?
The 49ers are positioned well for an instant replay on both fronts. They return their entire starting defense. The only change in that group will be linebacker Aldon Smith, coming off a 14-sack season, bumping Parys Haralson to a backup role. The 49ers were next to impossible to run against last season, and there’s no reason that should change.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Alex Smith, QB
Deep-Sleeper: Kendall Hunter, RB
Overvalued: Frank Gore, RB
Top Rookie: A.J. Jenkins, WR
Bounce-Back: Randy Moss, WR
Top IDP: Patrick Willis, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. A.J. Jenkins WR 6-0 192 Illinois
2. LaMichael James RB 5-8 194 Oregon
4. Joe Looney G 6-3 309 Wake Forest
5. Darius Fleming OLB 6-2 245 Notre Dame
6. Trenton Robinson S 5-10 195 Michigan State
6. Jason Slowey T 6-3 303 Western Oregon
7. Cam Johnson OLB 6-3 268 Virginia

Fantasy Impact: The 49ers needed to upgrade their offensive playmakers to make a run at the Super Bowl. Signing Randy Moss and Mario Manningham gives Alex Smith two veterans at receiver, while A.J. Jenkins is a promising rookie prospect. Jenkins could be buried on the depth chart this year but should be a late-round keeper prospect. LaMichael James won’t start but is a perfect change-of-pace option to Frank Gore and Brandon Jacobs. James’ fantasy value is limited in 2012, but he could be handcuffed to Gore in case of injury.

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

The 49ers have made plenty of offensive additions, and hopefully they won’t dilute an already inconsistent fantasy offense — TE Vernon Davis (ninth) was the only top-10 offensive fantasy player. The three opponents are hard to judge now, as Miami has a new coaching staff and New England and Seattle drafted on the defensive side (14 of their combined 17 picks).

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the San Francisco 49ers</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 05:59
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-pivotal-players-five-big-east
Body:

This week, teams around the nation will move from preseason camp mode and into game-week preparation.

We’re starting to see coaches name starting quarterbacks and settle on position battles.

Although questions are still out there before the season, some weigh more heavily than others. As the preseason winds down, we’re picking who we believe to be “pivotal players,” or in other words, key players who need to step up where their teams need them most.

Athlon Sports’ characteristics of a “pivotal player:”
• He plays for a conference or division contender.
• He plays at a position of weakness for his team.
• He’s an unestablished player with potential to solidify his team’s position of weakness.

We continue our look at pivotal players with the Big East with more conferences to follow.

BIG EAST PIVOTAL PLAYERS
Sterling Griffin, WR, USF

Griffin missed four games and still led the Bulls in receptions (43) and yards (530) and tied for the lead in touchdown catches (three). Quarterback B.J. Daniels was at his best with his top receiver in the lineup. The Bulls are desperate for another impact skill player on offense beyond the quarterback. Receiver has struggled with injuries, a lack of depth and inconsistency in recent years, and the Bulls haven’t had a 1,000-yard running back since 2004. The whole receiving corps could be a strength for USF in 2012, but Griffin could be the focal point here.
Related: Big East impact freshmen

Cory King, OL, Pittsburgh
Ray Graham’s knee will be under close watch, as will Tino Sunseri’s ability to get rid of the ball. First-year coach Paul Chryst is watching the offensive line just as closely. Guard Chris Jacobson, who missed all but three games last season, and center Kyle Turnley are reliable veterans on the line, but King is a little green. The junior was a backup guard before he was moved to left tackle following the suspension of Juantez Hollins for the season. Pitt quarterbacks were sacked 64 times last season, 17 more than any other team.
Related: Ray Graham checks in among nation’s top 10 running backs

Munchie Legaux, QB, Cincinnati
Legaux is the likely successor to Zach Collaros after filling in for three starts at the end of last season. With Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead gone, Cincinnati is starting from scratch in the backfield. The Bearcats look to go with a running back by committee, putting more pressure on Legaux to carry the offense. Although he hasn’t been formally named the starter, Legaux is assumed to get the call after completing 55 of 116 passes for 749 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions last season.
Related: Big East coaches anonymously scout league opponents

Gary Nova, QB, Rutgers
Quarterback has been a revolving door for Rutgers the last two seasons with four different starters -- Dom Natale (the 2010 opener only), Tom Savage, Chas Dodd and Gary Nova. After starting five games midseason in 2011, the sophomore Nova won the job in fall camp. With Nova named starter, Rutgers coach Kyle Flood hopes to maintain stability that’s been lacking at the position in recent years. With one of the top defenses in the Big East, an improving offensive line and running back Jawan Jamison, quarterback is the glaring void for Rutgers’ bid at a Big East title. Nova, though, must cut down on turnovers. He threw nine interceptions in the final six games he played.
Related: Breaking down Rutgers, other quarterback battles

DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater needs a go-to receiver, and it won’t be Michaelee Harris, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. Parker caught only 18 passes as a freshman last season, but he flashed big-play potential. He caught six touchdown passes and averaged 16.1 yards per reception -- both led all Cardinals receivers. He could be a breakout player in the Big East.
Related: Louisville’s Bridgewater checks in at No. 25 in Athlon’s top quarterback list

Other “Pivotal Players” so far:
ACC

Big Ten

Big 12

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Pivotal Players: Five for the Big East</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 05:28
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-football-top-impact-freshmen-2012
Body:

While National Signing Day 2012 seems like ages ago, thousands of freshmen (and redshirt freshmen) will take their first steps onto the hallowed grounds of stadiums all over the nation this weekend. Most won't even dress for the varsity squad this season and some may never play a snap at their current home. But a select few uber-recruits will have the chance to make an immediate impact on the college football landscape. And Notre Dame is bringing in a second consecutive class of elite prospects. 

Related: Top 25 Impact Freshmen To Watch In 2012

Who are the new names and faces to watch for Notre Dame?

Chris Brown, WR
Michael Floyd cannot be replaced by one player so the 6-foot-2, 175-pounder from South Carolina will join forces with a handful of other talented young pass-catchers in an effort to fill the void. Brown has speed to burn and will be given a chance to push the veterans for playing time. 

Sheldon Day, DL
An early enrollee, the massive defensive lineman from Indianapolis (Ind.) Warren Central has already proven he belongs on the field. And in a defensive front that is stacked with young talent, it's even more impressive the impact the 6-foot-2, 290-pound freshman has made up front. He should be a household name in short order for Irish fans.

Everett Golson, QB
The most important new face in the Irish starting lineup will be this heralded redshirt freshman. From Myrtle Beach, S.C., Golson will make his debut in an Irish uniform in the season opener against Navy. In Dublin, Ireland no less. Brian Kelly picked the 6-foot, 185-pounder for a reason: He has loads of upside, the ability to make plays with his legs, plenty of space for upward growth and the personality to lead by example. He will make his fair share of mistakes, but Golson is the future of Notre Dame football. Or, at least, until Gunner Kiel is ready.

Romeo Okwara, LB
Ben Councell is the starter at outside linebacker, but Okwara is listed as his backup heading into the Navy game. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder from Charlotte, N.C., has turned heads in camp and looks like he will see plenty of time against a schedule loaded with solid offensive lines and talented quarterbacks.

Davonte Neal, AP
The tiny speedster from Arizona is already the starting punt returner for Kelly's bunch. He should also be able to contribute on offense in a variety of ways, be it in the slot, the backfield or in open space with the football in his hands. Look for Neal and Brown to get plenty of touches this fall. Neal checks in at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds.

KeiVarae Russell, CB
Formerly a running back, Russell was shifted to the defensive backfield when Lo Woods ruptured his left Achilles tendon this fall. The 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback won't just contribute on defense, as he is currently the starting cornerback. He will have an interesting mix of offensive schemes to deal with in his first month of college: Navy, Purdue, Michigan State and Denard Robinson.

Ronnie Stanley, OL
As it stands today, the big blocker from Las Vegas is the primary backup to star left tackle Zack Martin. He is listed at 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds and is the only freshman listed in the top 11 offensive linemen. He couldn't be in a better position to learn the nuances of the left tackle spot and should deliver three years of production at the No. 2 most important position on the team.

- by Braden gall

@bradengall

Top Impact Freshman to Watch By Conference 2012:

Top 25 Impact Freshmen To Watch In 2012

ACC's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012
Big 12's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

Big East's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

Big Ten's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

Pac-12's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

SEC's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame Football: Top Impact Freshmen for 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 05:00
Path: /nascar/denny-hamlin-wins-bristol
Body:

Few topics in NASCAR have been as polarizing as track owner Bruton Smith’s decision to “narrow up” the historic half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway.

Once the scene of some of NASCAR’s most memorable on- and off-track antics, the rough ’n’ tumble short track in East Tennessee recently played nicer, thanks to progressive banking that allowed drivers to safely run two- and three-wide into Bristol’s massive turns. Smith’s call to shave off a groove’s worth of concrete near the wall was intended to force drivers low and into a more aggressive mode.

Turns out, Smith got it wrong. But in being wrong, he got it right.

Drivers were initially forced to the low and middle grooves, but as the night progressed, the ground-down high groove took on rubber — so much rubber, in fact, that the high groove was the only place to run with meaningful speed.

A rotating door of drivers spent time leading the field (22 lead changes among 13 drivers) thanks to varying pit strategies. But in the end, the proverbial cream rose to the top. Denny Hamlin, in the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, muscled his way past Carl Edwards with 39 laps remaining and pulled away, winning his third race of the season and first career Cup event at Bristol.

“Honestly, it’s just a different kind of racing,” Hamlin said of the track that favored one-lane, upper-groove racing. “There’s nothing (Smith is) going to do that’s going to make us run the bottom — that’s not the fastest way around the track. But it was the same thing; we were all running in the line, and just waiting on the next guy to screw up to get around.

“So that’s what you’ve got to do at the old Bristol and that’s exactly what we had to race today. The slide job was an option to pass, which, you know, that won us the race.

“I don’t think that we saw as much side-by-side racing but you didn’t see side-by-side racing with the old Bristol. You saw a bunch of cars waiting in line to get knocked out of the way or mess up, and that’s the same thing we had today.”

Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top 5.

Whether the grounding process was the main reason for a more intense race, the fact was the drivers were feeling friskier than normal.

Thirteen cautions punctuated the event (11 for wrecks), the most witnessed at the track since March 2007. Two incidents, in particular, brought back memories of Bristols-past.

The first involved Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart — a pair with a history — who took one another out on the frontstretch while racing for the lead on lap 334. After climbing out of his wrecked car, Stewart waited for Kenseth to exit pit road, where he fired his helmet at the No. 17 Ford in disgust, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Stewart’s unofficial teammate, Danica Patrick, had a surprisingly solid run going in her first Cup start in the bullring. While running 19th and on the lead lap, Patrick was turned into the backstretch fence by Regan Smith with just 64 laps remaining. In turn, she waited for Smith to pass under caution, waiving a disapproving finger in his direction.

Even the soundbites were classic Bristol, with Stewart vowing to “run over (Kenseth) every chance I get for the rest of the year,” and Patrick’s crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, threatening to strangle Smith.

In the end, fans seemed pleased with the mayhem, while drivers were split.

Five-time Bristol winner Kyle Busch had the most critical comments, deadpanning that the track was “terrible.” While another five-time winner, Jeff Gordon, sang its praises:

“I say grind the whole place. That was awesome. That reminded me of old-school Bristol. It was pretty exciting.”

So while tempers and soundbites were the order of the night, the true measuring stick of whether Smith’s plan was a success will be seen at the turnstiles next season.

Until then, Bristol will remain as polarizing as ever.


by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

 

Teaser:
<p> Denny Hamlin won a wild NASCAR event on Saturday, taking checkers in the Bristol Night Race.</p>
Post date: Sunday, August 26, 2012 - 14:55
Path: /golf/golfs-greatest-rivalries
Body:

In a press conference prior to the Barclays, Rory McIlroy spotted Tiger Woods and joked that he was going to "kick his ass." Tiger and the rest of the room had a laugh, but as they say, there's an undercurrent of truth in every good joke, and you have to wonder if the duo's budding bromance could give way to an actual rivalry. It's exactly what golf needs. The game is never more energized than when there's a vigorous rivalry, a hunter and a hunted, a dominant force challenged by a hungry up-and-comer.

Throughout the Woods era, Tiger's never had a suitable rival, despite repeated efforts to elevate Phil Mickelson into that role. McIlroy's two eight-shot wins in majors indicate that he's a worthy heir to Tiger's throne, and if Woods can harness his talents for one last run, we could see the kind of rivalry that harkens back to the days of Palmer-Nicklaus.

With that in mind, here are golf's greatest rivalries.

Ben Hogan - Sam Snead - Byron Nelson
Once upon a time, this was golf's holy triumvirate. All born in the same year — 1912 — this trio combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 major titles. In 2000, Golf Digest ranked them as the second-, third- and fifth-best golfers, respectively, of all time. Their desire to beat each other produced some of the greatest golf ever played.

Arnold Palmer - Jack Nicklaus
The greatest golf rivalry of all time ushered in golf's modern age and its explosion of purse money and television exposure. Arnie was a mentor to Jack until the latter started dominating their head-to-head battles, and the relationship devolved into one of grudging respect rather than actual friendship.

Jack Nicklaus - Lee Trevino
Four times, Nicklaus finished second in major championships to Trevino, who was pushed to the greatest performances of his career by his burning desire to beat the Golden Bear.

Jack Nicklaus - Tom Watson
Like Trevino, Watson thwarted Nicklaus in four different majors, including the famed "Duel in the Sun" at the 1977 British Open, the greatest head-to-head battle in golf history. Think about that for a second. If not for Trevino and Watson, Nicklaus would have 26 major titles.

Nick Faldo - Greg Norman
This rivalry bridged the gap between the Nicklaus and Woods eras in golf. Faldo frequently got the better of Norman, drubbing him in a head-to-head pairing at the 1990 British Open at St. Andrews and taking advantage of Norman's epic collapse at the 1996 Masters.

Tiger Woods - Phil Mickelson
This "rivalry" is more of a media contrivance given Tiger's vastly superior numbers, but the two have staged some stirring head-to-head duels, most notably at the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, where Phil was clearly the choice of a raucous New York crowd.

U.S. - Europe
The Ryder Cup has joined the majors among golf's pre-eminent events due to Europe's recent success in these biennial matches, which were once dominated by the U.S. but have seen a clear shift in power. Since 1985, Europe has won eight of the 13 Cups, and the competition has grown more heated and personal every time — primarily because of Europe's burning desire to crush the Yanks.

Teaser:
<p> Is the Tiger-Rory Rivalry Ready to Join the List?</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 12:34
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/amazing-end-zone-flip-235-pound-titans-running-back
Body:

It’s always impressive to see an athlete turn a flip, but a 235-pound running back in pads right after scoring a touchdown?! That’s awesome. Here’s Jamie Harper of the Tennessee Titans after reaching the end zone in last night’s win against the Arizona Cardinals.

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 11:53
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Links, College Basketball, NFL, NBA, MLB
Path: /college-football/athlon%E2%80%99s-essential-eleven-links-day-13
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for August 24.

• Last night in a win over the Red Sox, Angels phenom Mike Trout became the youngest player in MLB history to record a 20-homer, 40-steal season.

• Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News calls out the lying career of Lance Armstrong, who will be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping.

• Watching the Little League World Series this week, we wondered what had happened to the cast of The Sandlot. Here’s the answer. "You're killing me, Smalls!"

• ESPN Big 12 blogger David Ubben writes that Texas coach Mack Brown believes his team could have a top five finish this season.

• Titans coaches are not very happy with the NFL’s replacement referees after last night’s game against the Cardinals.

• Dave Miller of the National Football Post looks at USC’s one potential flaw for winning the BCS.

• Have the Sacramento Kings been exploring a move to Virginia?

• CBS’ Scott Miller examines the MVP chances for Pirates star Andrew McCutchen.

Really SportsCenter?

• Check out this list of how each school in the Top 25 got its nickname.

• It’s always impressive to see an athlete turn a flip, but a 235-pound running back in pads right after scoring a touchdown? Here’s Jamie Harper of the Tennessee Titans after reaching the end zone in last night’s win against the Arizona Cardinals.

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


August 23

• Nationals manager Davey Johnson finally talks about the club’s plan to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg in mid-September.

• Bleacher Report’s Michael Felder looks at Notre Dame’s decision to name Everett Golson as the starting quarterback.

• Yankees manager Joe Girardi does not like getting heckled after being swept by the White Sox.

• Watch out for this motorist.

• Pete Thamel has the latest on the NCAA’s continuing investigation into controversial Kentucky recruit Nerlins Noel.

• South Florida will not have the services of Notre Dame transfer Aaron Lynch this season, as his waiver for immediate eligibility was denied.

• Apparently this Georgia high school coach went “Brett Favre” with texts to a player’s mom. She got him back.

• It looks like Tennessee will dismiss top receiver Da’Rick Rogers.

• Could Derek Jeter’s quality season be explained by PEDs? One ESPN personality believes so.

• Former Bears defensive lineman Chris Zorich will have to pay back almost $350,000 that cannot be accounted for in the financial records of his charitable organization.

• EA Sports lets us know the genesis of the Ray Lewis and Paul Rudd’s Madden rivalry. Who knew they grew up together?

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


August 22

• Roger Clemens is playing independent baseball at age 50. As Ken Rosenthal points out, a Rocket comeback to the majors would restart his Hall of Fame clock — something that would separate Clemens from being on the same ballot as another suspected cheater, Barry Bonds.

• The Jacksonville Jaguars have announced that they will play a home game in London’s Wembley Stadium for four consecutive seasons starting in 2013. No word if they are changing names to the Shag-uars.

• Mandatory.com presents the Pete Carroll “Web of Corruption.”

• ESPN Stanford blogger Kevin Gemmell looks at David Shaw’s decision to go with Josh Nunes as the Cardinal starting quarterback.

• Xavier has dismissed its top returning scorer, Dezmine Wells.

• Heralded Reds shortstop prospect Billy Hamilton broke the minor league single-season record for stolen bases last night with his 147th steal.

• Texas A&M is letting the Lone Star State know that it is “SEC Country.”

• Kermit as the Most Interesting Man in the World?

• The Clippers do not seem concerned with All-Star point guard Chris Paul’s thumb surgery.

• Did Browns coach Pat Shurmur really remove Joe Haden from practice for being too rough?

• We don’t know how many games the Minnesota Golden Gophers will win this season, but at least their football meeting room looks cool. Nice work Goldy.

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


August 21

• Will Eagles quarterback Michael Vick be able to stay healthy this season?

• Five schools — Florida, Michigan Arkansas, North Carolina and Georgia — have cut a deal with Kellogg’s to brand their own Pop-Tarts for a limited time. Why have actual bacon when you could some “Razorback Red?”

• If you ever have car issues in the Palm Beach area, call this business with the epic name.

• CBS’ Danny Knobler has a fun look the Washington Nationals, who currently have MLB’s best record.

• To no one’s surprise, Ryan Tannehill was named the Dolphins starter at quarterback. Hopefully this leads to more Lauren on HBO's Hard Knocks tonight.

• Former North Carolina Tar Heel Julius Peppers has donated $250,000 to a scholarship fund that supports African-American students at the school. His action comes a week after Peppers’ transcript from UNC was released on the internet and raised questions of possible academic fraud.

• It looks like the Texas quarterback battle will continue into the season, as the Longhorns plan to play both Davis Ash and Case McCoy in the opener.

• Is there a future for WAC football? Commissioner Jeff Hurd does not think so.

• The Red Sox’ struggles continue, and yesterday the club fired pitching coach Bob McClure.

• NC State basketball fans are still waiting for McDonald's All-American guard Rodney Purvis to be fully cleared by the NCAA.

• Rangers pitchers Derek Holland and Ryan Dempster give us some MLB highlights as Cubs legendary broadcaster Harry Caray. Well done guys.

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


August 20

• The Titans have selected youth over experience at quarterback, choosing Jake Locker as the starter over veteran Matt Hasselbeck.

• Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is one of two new female members at Augusta National Golf Club.

• This guy has quite the resume.

• With Gary Nova being named the starting signal caller at Rutgers, Mark Ennis of Big East Coast Bias writes that this is the first time in recent memory with each team in the league entering a season set at quarterback.

• Will San Francisco’s Melky Cabrera get more than a 50-game suspension for trying to dupe Major League Baseball?

• Sergio Garcia recorded his first PGA Tour win since 2008 in the Wyndham Championship.

• Notre Dame will enter another season unranked in the AP Preseason Top 25.

• Mandatory.com has some scary before and after photos of aging rocker stars.

• Former All-Pro pass rusher Shawne Merriman could not make it work in Buffalo.

• CBS’ college basketball writers examine whether or not players should be paid (above the table).

• Sorry for the non-HD video, but here’s a portion of Kobe Bryant dropping 68 points in 15 minutes in a Chinese charity game over the weekend. Love this PA announcer.

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 

Teaser:
<p> The best sports links from the NFL, college football and basketball, MLB, the NBA, NASCAR and the world of entertainment.</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 11:44
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/lance-armstrong-gives-fight-surrenders-titles
Body:

Cyclist Lance Armstrong has announced that he's giving up his fight against doping allegations brought against him by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, and in response, the USADA is effectively stripping him of his seven Tour de France titles and his 2000 Olympic bronze medal and banning him from future competition.

The 40-year-old Armstrong, who became an emblem of courage after returning from testicular and brain cancer only to be hounded by accusations of doping — although no positive test has ever been made public — issued a statement in which he railed against what he called an "unconsitutional witch hunt" by the USADA and its chief executive, Travis Tygart. 

"There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, 'Enough is enough,'" Armstrong wrote. "For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999.

"Regardless of what Travis Tygart says, there is zero physical evidence to support his outlandish and heinous claims. The only physical evidence here is the hundreds of controls I have passed with flying colors. I made myself available around the clock and around the world. In-competition.... What is the point of all this testing if, in the end, USADA will not stand by it?"

The primary evidence against Armstrong is the claim by many of his contemporaries that he participated in illegal doping and steroid use. "Lance's story … is a cop-out; he is afraid of the overwhelming evidence against him to be presented in a public courtroom," said Betsy Andreu, the wife of a former Armstrong teammate, in an email to the Los Angeles Times. "… It is a very hopeful day for athletes who want to compete with integrity."

Armstrong is gambling that his claims of a smear campaign by the USADA will find sympathetic ears with a public that is suspicious of witch hunts without due process. Armstrong will continue to claim innocence, but given the fact that he essentially plea-bargained the death penalty, his protests may fall on increasingly deaf ears.

Teaser:
<p> USADA Bans Cyclist, Strips Him of Tour de France Wins</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 10:28
Path: /overtime/20-totally-unintentionally-dirty-sports-photos
Body:

Ahh, photography. It can catch a split-second moment in time and turn it into a hilarious photo that can be interpreted the completely wrong way. And sports provides more of these moments than most other subjects--usually because there's a lot of sweaty dudes rolling around with each other and celebrating as only sweaty dudes know how. Here are 21 unintentionally funny sports photos that are hilarious even if you don't like sports.

Teaser:
<p> These photos caught athletes doing things we only see in the movies (dirty movies.)</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 09:40
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC North, Pittsburgh Steelers, NFL
Path: /nfl/pittsburgh-steelers-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 Pittsburgh Steelers check in at No. 6.

The Steelers, long a model of stability, are in transition. They released a handful of key veterans, including iconic wide receiver Hines Ward, during the offseason and made the first major coaching change of Mike Tomlin’s tenure. The question of whether they are revamping or rebuilding will be answered this season as they have to contend with bitter rival Baltimore and rising Cincinnati, and that is just in the AFC North.

For all of the moves they made during an offseason that was busier than in most years, the Steelers’ nucleus remains largely intact. They return every starter on offense, though running back Rashard Mendenhall may not be ready at the outset of the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee in a Jan. 1 game at Cleveland. The defense has to replace two starters and again fend off criticism that it has become too old (read: slow). Seven of the projected 11 starters are over 30 years old, and the defense let down the Steelers in a 29–23 overtime playoff loss to Denver.

Offense

The question of when the franchise quarterback and new offensive coordinator would meet turned into an obsession, and it ultimately shined a light on how deeply ingrained the Steelers are in the fabric of Pittsburgh. It is true that Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley did not talk for several weeks after the latter was hired. How well the two mesh will go a long way toward unlocking the vast potential of an offense that underachieved last season. Roethlisberger and Haley are fiercely competitive and strong-willed, which could lead to some, uh, interesting in-game verbal volleys. Haley, who lasted less than three seasons as Kansas City’s head coach, has a keen offensive mind, and he has shown the ability to adapt to his personnel — not the other way around. Arizona was one of the NFL’s top passing teams when Haley served as the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator. Kansas City ranked among the NFL’s leaders in rushing during Haley’s tenure with the Chiefs.

No less an authority than team president Art Rooney II said the Steelers have to be more consistent running the ball. But the offense is built around Roethlisberger, who is coming off his second 4,000-yard passing season, and a group of young and fleet-footed wide receivers. Mike Wallace and emerging star Antonio Brown are coming off 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and the Steelers have to hope the former’s contract situation isn’t a distraction and that his dip in production over the second half of 2011 was an aberration. Look for Haley to get more of out underrated tight end Heath Miller in the passing game.

Mendenhall’s health is a concern, as is the relative inexperience the Steelers have behind him. Isaac Redman has shown flashes of being a No. 1 back, but the Steelers need to see more from the bruising former undrafted free agent before they are convinced of it.

The Steelers fortified an in-flux offensive line through the draft. Staying relatively healthy would go a long way toward the Steelers improving their running game, particularly in short-yardage situations, and keeping Roethlisberger upright. The Steelers used 25 different offensive line combinations last season, the most in the NFL.

Defense

The Steelers may have been first in the NFL in total defense and points allowed last season, but they need to be more opportunistic and do a better job of putting pressure on the quarterback. Getting outside linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison on the field together would go a long way toward doing both. The two were rarely healthy at the same time last season, forcing defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to move players around in his vaunted linebacking corps as if they were pieces on a chessboard. Larry Foote is a one-year replacement for James Farrior at left inside linebacker, and he will set the defense as Farrior did for a decade in Pittsburgh. The Steelers would love to see what the athletic and hard-hitting Lawrence Timmons can do at right inside linebacker if they can keep him there.

The defensive linemen will again be called upon to occupy blockers up front and allow the linebackers to roam freely in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. Brett Keisel is a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but the Steelers need to get more out of young defensive ends such as Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward. Nose tackle Casey Hampton is likely in his final season as the anchor of the line, and his health is an issue after the five-time Pro Bowler suffered his third major knee injury last January.

The back end of the secondary is set with perennial Pro Bowl strong safety Troy Polamalu and free safety Ryan Clark. The two have terrific chemistry, and Clark’s understanding of Polamalu’s game allows the latter to improvise and for LeBeau to line him up all over the field. Polamalu is one of  the top playmakers in the NFL, though injuries are always a concern because of his physical style of play.

The position battle to watch is at the cornerback spot opposite Ike Taylor. The Steelers are high on second-year men Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown.

Specialists

Antonio Brown gave the Steelers a triple-threat last season, excelling not only as a wide receiver but also as a kickoff and punt returner. The Steelers want to ease the burden on Brown, a starter now. Emmanuel Sanders is a top candidate to return kickoffs, though his struggles to stay healthy could have the Steelers looking at other options there. Rookie Chris Rainey has blazing speed, and the Steelers will give him every opportunity to replace Brown as the primary punt returner.

Shaun Suisham bailed out the kicking game in 2010 after he replaced the erratic Jeff Reed, but he needs to show more consistency after missing eight of 31 field goal attempts last season. The Steelers gave up on Daniel Sepulveda, a fourth-round draft pick in 2007 who suffered three major injuries in five seasons, leaving Jeremy Kapinos as the punter.

Final Analysis: 1st in the AFC North

Faces have changed, but expectations haven’t for one of the NFL’s flagship franchises. It is again Super Bowl or bust for the organization that displays six Lombardi Trophies at its practice facility, and it is time for the offense to supplant the defense as the Steelers’ driving force. Roethlisberger’s wideouts should be as good as any in the league, and the Steelers are no longer in the awkward position of trying to keep Ward involved in the passing game. The offensive line should be better, especially if rookie guard David DeCastro helps fortify the interior as expected. The defense is no longer a great one, but it is still good enough for the Steelers to win, especially if it improves on the 15 turnovers it forced in 2011.

The key to another Super Bowl run is winning the AFC North. Two of the three seasons the Steelers won the division under Tomlin they also advanced to the Super Bowl. The two times they finished outside of first place they either missed the playoffs or lost in the opening round.

Related: 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Homecoming for Haley
Todd Haley, who replaced Bruce Arians as the offensive coordinator, is no stranger to the Steelers’ organization. Haley’s father, Dick, is a former player personnel director who helped build the dynastic teams of the 1970s, and Todd once served as the Steelers’ ball boy at training camp. Bill Cowher offered Todd Haley the job of wide receivers coach in 2004. When Haley turned it down, Cowher hired Arians for the position.

Crossed Signals
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is close with Arians, and their relationship helped save the latter’s job after the 2009 season. But Arians couldn't survive after the Steelers were 12th in the NFL in total offense in 2011 but tied for 21st in scoring, even though he also appeared to have coach Mike Tomlin’s support. A day after the team’s Jan. 8 playoff loss in Denver, Tomlin said he expected both coordinators to return for the 2012 season, but Arians was out less than two weeks later.

Tomlin’s Take
The Steelers announced Arians’ retirement on Jan. 20. Indianapolis hired Arians as its offensive coordinator on Jan. 31. That strange turn of events fueled speculation that president Art Rooney II had ordered Tomlin to fire Arians. Not true, said Tomlin. “Don’t get me wrong,” the sixth-year coach said. “Art Rooney II owns the football team. He can do what he wants to do. But those directions did not happen.”

Follow The Leaders
An offseason purge stripped the Steelers of their long-time leaders on offense and defense. The release of wide receiver Hines Ward and inside linebacker James Farrior — they served as captains for 15 seasons between them — did not necessarily leave a leadership vacuum in the locker room. Defensive end Brett Keisel and free safety Ryan Clark can fill the void left by Farrior’s departure. Roethlisberger, a two-time captain, and Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey are two of the team leaders on offense.

Telling Statistic
The Steelers were, uncharacteristically, near the bottom of the league in turnover differential last season with 13 more giveaways than takeaways. In Tomlin’s first four seasons combined, the Steelers had 21 more takeaways than giveaways. Bottom line: The Steelers cannot afford to lose the turnover battle this season if they want to contend for the Super Bowl.

Gaining Through Losing
Stevenson “Sly” Sylvester dropped more than 15 pounds during the offseason, and he is hoping the lost weight will help him find a more prominent role this season. Sylvester, primarily a special teams player his first two seasons, is hoping to challenge Larry Foote for the starting job at left inside linebacker. Sylvester played at 255 pounds last season, and he said his optimal weight is at around 240 pounds.

Repaying A Bet
The Steelers made it clear that right tackle Willie Colon is still very much a part of their plans even though he has played one game the last two seasons because of arm and foot injuries. The Steelers restructured Colon’s five-year, $29 million contract, giving the seventh-year veteran more guaranteed money. “In my heart of hearts I feel like I’m in debt to my two coaches, Tomlin and (offensive line coach Sean) Kugler,” Colon said, “and I feel like I’m in debt to this team.”

Off To The Races
Wide receiver Mike Wallace is one of the fastest players in the NFL, but he may no longer hold that title in his own locker room. Rookie running back Chris Rainey claims he runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.1 range. “Mike Wallace is kind of fast, but I have confidence in myself so I’m the fastest,” Rainey said after the Steelers drafted him.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Cincinnati Bengals
No. 14: Philadelphia Eagles
No. 13: New Orleans Saints
No. 12: Dallas Cowboys
No. 11: Denver Broncos
No. 10: Detroit Lions
No. 9: Chicago Bears
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons
No. 7: Baltimore Ravens
No. 6: Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 5: Mon., August 27

Order your 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-football-irish-make-right-decision-start-everett-golson
Body:

With Week 1 just around the corner, college football’s fall quarterback battles are winding down. On Thursday, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly officially made the decision most expected he would make all offseason: Everett Golson will be the No. 1 quarterback for the season opener against Navy.

Finding a spark on offense is one of the top offseason priorities for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. The numbers weren’t that bad for the Irish last season, ranking 49th nationally in scoring and 35th in total yards per game. However, the offense struggled over the final three games of 2011, scoring less than 20 points in each of those contests. The Irish also ranked 118th in turnover margin - something that has to change if this team wants to have any shot at making a BCS bowl in 2012.

When looking at the four candidates to start on the roster, Kelly really had no choice but to go with Golson as the starter. Tommy Rees wasn’t awful last season, throwing for 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns. However, he threw 14 picks and is more of a caretaker than a playmaker. Sophomore Andrew Hendrix has good mobility but is still developing as a passer. True freshman Gunner Kiel ranked as the No. 2 quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class but needs another offseason to develop.  

Looking back at Kelly’s offenses at Cincinnati and Central Michigan, both teams thrived with a dual-threat quarterback. Dan LeFevour threw for 12,905 yards and 102 touchdowns during his Chippewa career, while rushing for 2,948 yards and 47 scores. The Bearcats had two pocket passers (Tony Pike and Ben Mauk) in Brian Kelly’s first two years, but Zach Collaros played a key role in leading Cincinnati to the 2009 Big East title.

No matter which quarterback Kelly chose to start, it probably wouldn’t change Notre Dame’s win total this season. The Irish have one of the most difficult schedules in college football, as they host Michigan, Stanford and BYU, while playing at Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC.

Considering Rees had his chance last season and isn’t much of a difference maker, going with Golson made the most sense for Notre Dame. Sure, the redshirt freshman will make mistakes, but there’s a lot to like in terms of upside.

Golson doesn’t have prototypical quarterback size, as he checks in at 6-foot and 185 pounds. The South Carolina native was a finalist to win the state’s Mr. Football award in 2010 and threw 151 touchdown passes during his high school career. Golson ranked among the top 25 quarterbacks in the 2011 recruiting class but spent last year redshirting and learning the offense.

Golson won’t have to win games solely on his own, especially with Notre Dame landing USC transfer Amir Carlisle to team with Cierre Wood at running back. While Golson may struggle early to find his rhythm as a passer, his dual-threat ability should provide a much-needed spark on offense.

Considering the inconsistency of the offense last season, turning to Golson and living with the ups and downs is the correct answer for Notre Dame. The only way the redshirt freshman quarterback is going to learn is with on-field experience, and he will get plenty of that with a challenging schedule.

As usual, Notre Dame’s 2013 slate isn’t much easier, as games against Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, USC and Stanford could all be top-25 battles. However, the Irish bring back a solid core, and Golson will be better with a full year under his belt. 

It was the obvious choice for Brian Kelly but choosing Golson to start in 2012 will pay off for Notre Dame over the next couple of years.


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

 

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Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame Football: Irish Make Right Decision To Start Everett Golson</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 06:50
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-pivotal-players-seven-big-ten
Body:

On Monday, teams around the nation will move from preseason camp mode and into game-week preparation.

We’re starting to see coaches name starting quarterbacks and settle on position battles.

Although questions are still out there before the season, some weigh more heavily than others. As the preseason winds down, we’re picking who we believe to be “pivotal players,” or in other words, key players who need to step up where their teams need them most.

Athlon Sports’ characteristics of a “pivotal player:”
• He plays for a conference or division contender.
• He plays at a position of weakness for his team.
• He’s an unestablished player with potential to solidify his team’s position of weakness.

We begin our look at pivotal players with the Big Ten with more conferences to follow.

BIG TEN PIVOTAL PLAYERS
Will Campbell, DT, Michigan
The rebuilding project on the Michigan defense isn’t as serious as it was last season when defensive coordinator Greg Mattison moved the Wolverines from 110th to 17th nationally in total D. Defensive tackle Mike Martin is the biggest absence on a line without three starters. Campbell was a five-star recruit in 2009, but he has yet to start a game. Coaches have praised Campbell’s renewed sense of urgency in the weight room during the offseason. He’ll be under pressure to prove it on the field or risk losing playing time to freshman Ondre Pipkins.
Related: Michigan’s Pipkins among key freshmen in the Big Ten

Greg Garmon, RB, Iowa
The Iowa running back curse struck again earlier this week when Berkeley Hill was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Since the start of 2012, Marcus Coker and Mika’il McCall transferred, Jordan Canzeri suffered a torn ACL, and De’Andre Johnson was dismissed. Now, Damon Bullock is the Hawkeyes’ top running back, but he has merely 20 career yards. Garmon, though, was a highly touted recruit out of Erie, Pa. Garmon (and Bullock) could give Iowa such much-needed  balance with returning quarterback James Vandenberg. Then again could Garmon, who had a drug-related arrest during the summer, be another of the curse?
Related: Iowa may have trouble competing with top of Big Ten, says opposing league coach

Andrew Maxwell, QB, Michigan State
The Spartans have the defense and offensive line to contend for a division and conference title again, leaving the most glaring question mark at quarterback. What the junior Maxwell, a two-year backup to Kirk Cousins, lacks in starting experience he has in ability. He’s a strong-armed quarterback who is more athletic than his predecessor. And he already received the leadership vote of confidence when he was named a team captain. Perhaps the next question is who will emerge at receiver.
Related: Michigan State a darkhorse title contender

Danny O’Brien, QB, Wisconsin
With Ohio State ineligible for the Big Ten title game, Wisconsin is an overwhelming favorite to repeat as Leaders Division champion. The Badgers ability to contend for a Big Ten title may depend on O’Brien, who was formally announced as the starting quarterback early this week. No one is expecting O’Brien to match Russell Wilson’s gaudy benchmarks for efficiency, but O’Brien probably will need to perform better than his 56.7 percent career completion rate (and certainly better than his 10 interceptions last season with Maryland). O’Brien already surprised the coaching staff -- which includes first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada -- with his ability to throw on the run.
Related: Montee Ball tops Big Ten player rankings

Ryan Russell, DE, Purdue
Purdue has one of the nation’s elite defensive tackles in Kawann Short, but production has been paltry at defensive end. Russell played his freshman season in 2011 with foot injury, but he flashed his potential in the bowl game against Western Michigan. He’ll have to do more -- especially against division favorite Wisconsin’s offensive line in particular -- if Purdue is going to surprise and compete for the Leaders Division.
Related: Purdue QB Henry among top players returning from injury

Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois
Scheelhaase might be one of the biggest benefactors of Tim Beckman’s arrival at Illinois. Though Beckman has a defensive background, he ran a high-flying offense at Toledo and brought in former West Virginia and Vanderbilt assistant Chris Beatty and former LSU and Florida assistant Billy Gonzales to run the Illinois offense. Illinois should have the defense to win in the Big Ten, so Illini need Scheelhaase to improve his consistency to contend in the division. Scheelhaase was dreadful last season during Illinois’ six-game losing streak, throwing nine interceptions to two touchdowns and averaging only 4.8 yards per attempt. The junior averaged 8.6 yards per attempt in Illinois’ seven wins.
Related: Don’t overlook Illinois’ defense

Baker Steinkuhler, DT, Nebraska
Taylor Martinez’s development at quarterback will get more attention, but the Cornhuskers may be more concerned with the run defense. Nebraska ranked eighth in the Big Ten in run defense, allowing 158.5 yards per game and 23 total touchdowns. And that was with star linebacker Lavonte David. Steinkuhler emerged late last season with five tackles for a loss and two sacks in the final six games. Play like that over a full season would be a boon to the Nebraska D.
Related: Big Ten questions: Will Nebraska’s defense improve in 2012?

Other “Pivotal Players” so far:
ACC
 

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Pivotal Players: Seven for the Big Ten</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 06:26
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-linebackers-2012
Body:

Notre Dame's Manti Te'o was expected to be a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft but made a surprising decision to return back to South Bend for one more year. Te'o is one of college football's top players and should lead a tough Notre Dame rush defense. Not far behind Te'o is Georgia's Jarvis Jones. The USC transfer was an impact player for the Bulldogs last season, recording 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss. After Jones, some of the top returning linebackers include Stanford's Shayne Skov and Penn State's Gerald Hodges.

When compiling the rankings, Athlon considered how each player will perform in 2012, some past performance, personnel losses around the quarterback, conference difficulty and pro potential. 

College Football's Top 25 Linebackers for 2012

1. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
In a bit of a surprise, Te’o turned down the NFL Draft for his senior year at Notre Dame. The Irish defensive staff certainly isn’t complaining, as Te’o’s play is deserving of the accolades and hype that is thrown his direction. He has posted back-to-back seasons of at least 100 tackles and has 28.5 career tackles for a loss. Te’o was a finalist for the Lott Trophy and Butkus Award last season and earned second-team All-American honors by the Associated Press. The senior is one of the top defensive players in the nation and should close out his career with another season of at least 100 tackles.

2. Jarvis Jones, Georgia
This pass-rushing outside linebacker was sensational in his first season with the Bulldogs. He led the SEC with 13.5 sacks on his way to consensus All-American honors. Jones totaled 70 tackles last season, with a conference-leading 19.5 of them behind the line of scrimmage. He also added two forced fumbles and two pass breakups for a Georgia defense that ranked No. 5 in the country a year ago. Look for Jones and the Bulldogs defense to wreak more havoc on opponents in 2012.
 
3. Shayne Skov, Stanford
The senior from Piedmont, Calif., has had an up and down career at Stanford. He has NFL potential, a savvy on-the-field toughness that has helped the Cardinal develop into a West Coast power. He has also dealt with major injuries on more than one occasion and an off-the-field issue. The DUI will cost him one game with a suspension this fall, but should he stay healthy, the 6-foot-3, 242-pounder could be an All-American this fall.
 
4. Gerald Hodges, Penn State
The exodus of quality players at Penn State has just begun, but so far the Nittany Lions’ star linebacker is staying put. An outside linebacker, Hodges led Penn State with 106 tackles last season as the defense ranked 20th nationally in yards allowed per game (323.9). When the dust settles with the roster at Penn State, Hodges, who also had 10 tackles for a loss last season, might be one of the few in contention for All-Big Ten honors or more.
 
5. Arthur Brown, Kansas State
A highly regarded recruit when he signed with Miami in 2008, he struggled to earn regular playing time before he transferred to Kansas State. Back in his home state, Brown anchored the Kansas State linebacker group. He finished with 101 tackles and 9.5 tackles for a loss, using his speed to help K-State finish 37th nationally in rush defense. 
 
6. Chase Thomas, Stanford
The outside linebacker from Marietta, Ga., became an instant playmaker on on the Stanford defense the last three seasons, recording 46 tackles for a loss during that span. He led the Pac-12 last season with 2.1 tackles behind the line last season while forcing five fumbles. With Shayne Skov back, he and Thomas could be one of the nation’s best linebacker tandems.
 
7. Chris Borland, Wisconsin
After missing most of the 2010 season with shoulder injuries, Borland returned to action last fall and developed into a big-time playmaker at middle linebacker. The Ohio native led the team in tackles for a loss (19) and forced fumbles (5) and ranked second in the Big Ten in total tackles (143). Borland was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten pick in ’11 and has been named a third-team 2012 preseason All-American by Athlon Sports.
 
8. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers 
Shifting Greene from safety to linebacker paid big dividends for Rutgers’ defense in 2011. He led the team with 141 tackles, recorded 14 tackles for a loss and forced two fumbles. Greene was named a first-team All-Big East selection and shared the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year honor with Cincinnati’s Derek Wolfe. Even with a new defensive coordinator, Greene is primed for another big season and is projected as an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2012.

9. Jake Knott, Iowa State
If not for a nagging injury last year that eventually required surgery and kept him out of spring practice, Knott was on the verge of back-to-back All-American caliber seasons. Over the last two years, the Waukee, Iowa native has 245 total tackles, 10.0 tackles for a loss, eight forced fumbles and six interceptions. And he helped led Iowa State to a bowl berth last fall. He is a watch list candidate for every major defensive national award and should have his best season to date alongside A.J. Klein.

10. A.J. Klein, Iowa State
The combination of Jake Knott and A.J. Klein might be the best one-two linebacking duo in college football. Klein earned Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors last season, recording 116 tackles, two sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss. He delivered a key performance in Iowa State’s biggest win over 2011, recording 14 tackles in the 37-31 overtime upset of Oklahoma State. He will shift from outside to man the middle linebacker spot in 2012.

11. Dion Bailey, USC
As only a freshman, Bailey proved to be an invaluable member of the Trojan defense. He posted 81 tackles, a pair of sacks and a pair of interceptions en route to freshman All-American honors. Now, as a sophomore, Bailey has Butkus Award potential and the chance to lead the his team to a national championship.
 
12. Mike Taylor, Wisconsin
The other half of one of the most devastating linebacking duos in the nation, Taylor is entering his fourth season as a starter. Last year, he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors after leading the Big Ten (and ranking third in the nation) with 150 tackles. With some issues on the defensive line and in the secondary, Taylor and fellow backer Chris Borland will need to be at their best in 2012. 
 
13. Michael Clay, Oregon
Clay is one of the Pac-12’s most underrated players heading into 2012. Despite missing two games last season, he recorded 102 tackles, three sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles. Despite his standout year, Clay didn’t even earn honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. Expect that to change in 2012, as the San Jose native will be in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 honors as the leader of Oregon’s linebacking corps.  
 
14. Jordan Hicks, Texas
Few linebackers have the sheer explosiveness of the West Chester, Ohio native. He saw his first significant starting action last fall and should be ready to step into a bigger role as a junior. He racked-up 64 tackles in only eight starts and will undoubtedly make more plays in 2012.
 
15. Max Bullough, Michigan State
With Denicos Allen, Bullough makes up half of an elite linebacker tandem, and with the rest of the Spartans ‘backers, he’s in the middle of the best unit in the Big Ten. Bullough is a standout play-caller on the field and excelled as a run-stuffer for a unit that allowed 100.5 rushing yards per game (first in the Big Ten, ninth nationally). 
 
16. Jonathan Brown, Illinois
In a league that features Gerald Hodges, Mike Taylor and Chris Borland, it’s easy for Brown to be overlooked for preseason accolades. However, the junior should be one of Illinois’ top players in 2012. Brown recorded 108 tackles and 19.5 tackles for a loss last season, along with earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. Look for the Memphis, Tenn. native to raise his profile even more in 2012.
 
17. Denicos Allen, Michigan State
After playing mostly on special teams in 2010, Allen was one of the Big Ten’s top breakout performers last year. He played in all 14 contests, recording 83 stops, 18.5 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks. Allen doesn’t have prototypical size, but his speed and athletic ability allows him to wreck havoc in opposing backfields.
 
18. Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
Reddick is a four-year starter at linebacker who finished second on team in tackles last season with 71 total stops, 39 of those solo. He was the Tar Heels' leading tackler in 2010 with 74 (48 solo stops) and was named to The Sporting News' All-ACC Freshman team in 2009.
 
19. Jon Bostic, Florida 
The Wellington, Fla., prospect is now the elder statesman leader of the Gators defense. He led the team in tackles a year ago with 94 total stops and finished tied with second 10.0 tackles for a loss. He has played in 38 total games and made 19 career starts. His 6-foot-1, 250-pound frame makes him the most physical tackler on the Florida defense — a unit that will have to lead the team should it expect to compete in the East.
 
20. Nico Johnson, Alabama 
The forgotten man of the 2011 Alabama linebacking corps, Johnson finished fourth on the team in tackles. This on a defense that allowed an astonishing 183.6 total yards per game and 8.2 points per game. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder from Andalusia, Ala., will be the veteran presence on the reworked Bama defense in 2012.
 
21. Sean Porter, Texas A&M
Porter was Texas A&M’s top defender last season, recording 79 stops, 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss. He earned first-team All-Big 12 honors and is expected to be the leader on the Aggies’ defense in 2012. Porter will have to adjust to a new scheme, as Texas A&M is shifting from a 3-4 to a 4-3 attack. New coordinator Mark Snyder still needs to find ways to let Porter attack off the edge, but the new scheme may prevent him from recording 17 tackles for a loss once again.
 
22. Tom Wort, Oklahoma
Entering his third season as a starter, Wort has become a complete linebacker over the years. He’s topped 60 tackles both seasons and added his first two career interceptions last season. He’s tough and physical, but he’s filling a leadership void left by Travis Lewis.
 
23. Jelani Jenkins, Florida
The Northeastern prospect was an elite recruit and has proven to have athleticism to match. The only thing left for Jenkins to develop is a physical, nasty streak. Should he develop this aspect of his game, he has All-American potential – especially, with 23 career starts in two seasons under his belt.
 
24. Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers
It’s easy to overlook Beauharnais considering he plays next to All-American candidate Khaseem Greene. However, the senior is one of the Big East’s premier defenders, as evidenced by his 16 tackles for a loss and five sacks last year. Beauharnais will have to adjust to a new coordinator but he should close out his Rutgers’ career with a standout senior season.
 
25. Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech
Taylor led the team in tackles in 2010 and was doing the same through the first eight games of last season before suffering a leg injury that cut his junior campaign short. Despite missing the last six games, Taylor still earned honorable mention All-ACC recognition after posting a total of 53 tackles, seven tackles for a loss and five sacks in less than eight full games.
 
Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 25 Linebackers for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 06:15

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