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All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/candidates-announced-johnny-unitas-golden-arm-award
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The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award is one of college football's premier honors and is awarded to the NCAA's top quarterback for on-field performance and character. 

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

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

Candidates for the 2012 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Candidates Announced for Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award</p>
Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 12:34
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL, NBA, MLB, Olympics
Path: /college-football/athlon%E2%80%99s-essential-eleven-links-day-10
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This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for August 3.

• Several MLB Facebook accounts were hacked yesterday, and Yankees fans received a strange message regarding Derek Jeter.

• Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder debate which powerhouse is the top dog in the SEC: Alabama or LSU?

• This Australian paper has a very interesting way of distinguishing between North and South Korea’s Olympic medal standing.

• Florida Gators recruiting coordinator and wide receiver coach Aubrey Hill has resigned. His name has been linked to the recruiting scandal at Miami that is currently being investigated.

• Here is another member of the Olympic all-name team.

• After trouncing Nigeria 156-73, USA Basketball had to play its first defense of the day — angrily denying questions on running up the score against the much-weaker opponent.

• CBS’ Danny Knobler previews this weekend’s most important MLB series.

• Justin Blackmon of the Jaguars is the only 2012 selection who has yet to sign with his new club.

• Check out this Illinois fan getting a rather interesting autograph from offensive lineman Graham Pocic.

• SB Nation has a fun look at the Olympic trampoline competition.

Will Ferrell gets extremely emotional on Conan over the breakup of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. Damn Trampires.

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


August 2

• Check out the inspiring story of Daniel Rodriguez, who won a Purple Heart while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and will now walk on at Clemson this fall.

• Will Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow be the ultimate touchdown vulture this season?

• Mandatory.com looks at some of the dumbest bets ever made.

• Three Oklahoma Sooners were reinstated by Bob Stoops, while promising OU center Ben Habern is ending his football career due to neck and back concerns.

• Are the Yankees still the favorite in the American League?

• ESPN Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna analyzes what the suspensions to quarterback Tommy Rees and linebacker Carlo Calabrese will mean for the Irish.

• Where did you have Dennis Rodman in the “person least likely to write a children’s book” pool?

• Kayla Harrison won the first-ever gold medal in judo for the United States.

• The Cleveland Browns have been sold for over $1 billion. Yes, those Browns.

• North Carolina might wear white helmets in a game this year.

Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully is a living legend. He has been in the Baseball Hall of Fame since 1982, and the 84-year-old is still going strong today. Hearing Scully describe Twitter on a recent broadcast was golden.

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


August 1

• Swimmer Michael Phelps broke the all-time Olympics record by winning his 19th career medal. An amazing 15 of those medals have been gold.

• ESPN’s Jayson Stark hands out “medals” for baseball’s winners and losers at the trade deadline.

• Check out this Olympic volleyball player’s interesting name.

• ESPN ACC blogger Heather Dinich has the latest on the dismissal of senior cornerback/punt returner Greg Reid at Florida State.

• The Pac-12 has been the beneficiary of Penn State’s top two transfers.

• If you’re looking for a new sport to follow during the Olympics, we suggest becoming a fan of the Australian synchronized swimming team.

• All-America running back Montee Ball is fine, but he experienced a scary moment on the Wisconsin campus.

• Has the Olympic ideal really come down to tanking badminton matches?

• With the announcement that Eastbound and Down is coming back to HBO, Kenny Powers’ fan are stocking up on Myrtle Beach Mermen gear.

• UCF will not be seeing the postseason for a while after being sanctioned by the NCAA for recruiting violations.

Missouri offensive lineman Elvis Fisher has some interesting and funny demands before he returns to the field. The SEC has a new sarcasm star.

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


July 31

• The MLB trade deadline commences at 4pm EST today, and MLBTraderumors.com will have the latest on all the deals. Many believe that Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster will end up with the Dodgers, who have already acquired outfielder Shane Victorino from the Phillies.

• NBC had a major gaffe last night, promoting the gold medal of swimmer Missy Franklin before the network showed her race.

AJC columnist Mark Bradley examines the Braves acquisition of red hot pitcher Paul Maholm and scrappy outfielder Reed Johnson from the Cubs.

• Here’s an interesting political candidate in Guam.

• The Yankees received good news on Mark Teixeira’s injured wrist, which has no structural damage. That fact may alleviate the need for New York to make a deal for a backup first baseman.

• This could be decision day for Penn State leading rusher Silas Redd, who is expected to transfer to USC.

• James Bond is back. Check out the trailer for Skyfall, which opens in November.

• Is Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale angry with management regarding the team’s offseason moves?

• A top running back decommits from Oklahoma because he wants to play in the SEC.

• The trade of offensive tackle Jeff Otah, the 19th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, from the Panthers to the Jets has been voided.

• We go back to Wrigley Field for a second straight day, where this Cubs fan has a slight tactical error with his marriage proposal. But unlike the “Loveable Losers” on the field, everything worked out fine in the end.

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


July 30

• NBC’s tape-delayed coverage of the Olympics over the weekend is drawing heavy criticism around America.

• ESPN Big 12 blogger David Ubben had an interesting first-team All-Big 12 vote, selecting Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein at running back.

• Did Packers tight end D.J. Williams really use cow-wrestling as an offseason training program?

• France upset the United States in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay, with Ryan Lochte being passed on the last leg of the race.

• FOX’s Jon Paul Morosi thinks the Phillies and Red Sox, usually contenders who are acquiring players at the trade deadline, should sell this season.

American Pie star Jason Biggs was attacked by a monkey in Gibraltar and had to return to the United States. No word yet if the monkey was influenced by bath salts.

• Andre Johnson has already suffered a slight groin injury in camp, which has the Texans — and fantasy owners — worried.

• Mike Dyer was a star in the BCS Championship Game less than two years ago, but now he’s a runner without a team after being dismissed from another school.

• SMU players fall victim to a different type of “pay for play” scheme.

• How will Jacque Vaughn’s hiring affect the Dwight Howard saga in Orlando?

• New Illinois football coach Tim Beckman gives us a unique version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at Wrigley Field.

--- 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 3, 2012 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-aug-3
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Another packed day — Phelps' farewell, the all-out sprint of the 50m, the start of track and field, and much more. Here's the Fab Five for Aug. 3, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:

1. Men's 100m Butterfly
One final curtain call for the great Michael Phelps in what will likely be the last individual event of his spectacular career. He's the two-time defending Olympic champion in this event and a virtual certainty to add a 21st medal to his personal collection. Later in the day, Phelps' career will officially come to a close (barring a 2016 change of heart) in the 4x100 medley.

2. Women's 200m Backstroke
American darling Missy Franklin will look to add to her medal total in her signature stroke, although countrywoman Elizabeth Beisel will have a say as well.

3. Men's 50m Freestyle
Swimming's version of the 100m dash, an all-out sprint to the finish that turns the pool into a churning cauldron of whitecaps. Americans Cullen Jones and Anthony Irvin are among the medal contenders.

4. Women's 100m Qualifying
For many, the Olympics start today with the advent of the track and field portion of the schedule. The women's 100m qualifying is an early highlight, as Americans Carmelita Jeter (the reigning world champion) and Allyson Felix (who was involved in the controversial dead heat at Olympic trials) take center stage.

5. Medals in Men's Shot Put and Women's 10,000m
Two track and field events will be awarding medals today: the men's shot put and women's 10,000m. American Reese Hoffa is the top U.S. qualifier in the shot, while Ethiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba will look to maintain her country's tradition of dominance in the 10,000.

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.
 

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

Teaser:
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Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 10:33
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/neymar-will-lead-brazil-first-olympic-gold
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Brazil’s 20-year-old samba sensation Neymar is a rock star in shin guards.

Clearly the premier footballer at the London Olympics, the electrifying striker entered the tournament surrounded by unchecked hype. Legendary Brazilian star Pele set the tone by declaring the Mohawk-ed wunderkind as the world’s best player — ahead of reigning two-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi.

“Some are saying that Messi is better than Pele. Well, he has to be better than Neymar first, which he isn’t yet,” said Pele, speaking at the centennial celebration of his former club and Neymar’s current club, Santos.

From there, Argentine icon Diego Maradona retorted: “My God, that is just stupid. … Maybe Neymar is the best player in the world, but only if you say that Messi is from a different planet.”

Despite what appeared to be premature praise for the then-teenaged talent, Neymar has since found a way to exceed expectations at the Games of the XXX Olympiad.

A yellow blur with the ball, Neymar’s pace, skill and imagination on the pitch have led to two goals, one assist and countless breathtaking runs en route to Group stage wins over Egypt, Belarus and New Zealand.

Heading into the knockout stage of the Olympics, Neymar is aiming to match Messi, who led Argentina to gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. A win in the under-23 tournament (which also allows for three over-age exemptions) would be Brazil’s first-ever gold medal.

Brazil has won five World Cups (2002, 1994, 1970, 1962, 1958) and will serve as the host country for both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But the nation has failed to take the top prize in the Olympics, with only a pair of silvers (1988, 1984) and bronzes (2008, 1996) to show.

This year, the “Selecao” is on a mission to drape Olympic gold over their signature canary yellow jerseys. With Neymar leading an attack that also includes Chelsea midfielder Oscar, Real Madrid defender Marcelo, winger Hulk and defender-captain Thiago Silva, Brazil is the overwhelming favorite to win it all in London.


Olympic Schedule:

Quarterfinals (Saturday, Aug. 4)
Japan vs. Egypt
Mexico vs. Senegal
Brazil vs. Honduras
Great Britain vs. South Korea

Semifinals (Tuesday, Aug. 7)

Bronze Medal Match (Friday, Aug. 10)

Gold Medal Match (Saturday, Aug. 11)

Teaser:
<p> The best player in the Olympics, 20-year-old samba sensation Neymar aims to lead Brazil to its first gold medal.</p>
Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 10:29
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympics-photo-day-us-mens-basketball
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Carmelo Anthony of Team USA drives to the basket past Nigeria's Derrick Obasohan during a record-setting afternoon at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, in London. Anthony had 37 points in a 156-73 win. The 83-point margin of victory was the largest in Olympic history.

Teaser:
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Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 10:09
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-football-top-5-storylines-watch-fall-practice
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Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

Notre Dame's 5 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

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

2. Will a receiver emerge as a clear No. 1 target?
There’s no doubt in South Bend that Michael Floyd will be missed. After catching 271 passes for 3,686 yards and 37 touchdowns over the last four years, Notre Dame will miss Floyd’s presence in the redzone and his big-play ability. The cupboard isn’t bare at receiver, as junior TJ Jones and seniors John Goodman, Robby Toma and Theo Riddick (who will play at running back and receiver this year) are capable targets. However, none are the go-to guy that Floyd was throughout his career. Freshmen DaVaris Daniels and Davonte Neal will factor prominently into the receiving corps and could be key contributors by the end of the season. Jones has been steady over his first two years in South Bend, but bigger things were expected of him when he committed to Notre Dame. Even if the catches are spread around the receiving corps, the Irish quarterbacks can lean on tight end Tyler Eifert. The senior is an Athlon first-team All-American for 2012. The Irish don’t necessarily need a true No. 1 receiver, but this unit needs Jones, Daniels and Neal to produce a few big plays and pickup where Floyd left off.

3. Can the Irish find answers in the secondary?
With three key players departing from the defensive backfield, Notre Dame will have a hard time replicating its 38th overall finish in pass defense from 2011. Cornerbacks Gary Gray and Robert Blanton weren’t standouts, but both were multi-year starters. Stepping into the spotlight will be juniors Bennett Jackson and Lo Wood and most of their experience has come on special teams. Jackson was solid in the spring, putting pressure on Wood to solidify the other spot in the fall. Depth is thin in the secondary, as inexperienced sophomores Cam McDaniel and Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown will likely compose the backup spots at cornerback. The situation is a little better at safety, but Notre Dame must replace standout Harrison Smith. The good news is Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta are capable players and should help pickup the leadership void left behind by Smith.

4. Can Aaron Lynch be replaced?
At one point this offseason, Notre Dame had a strong case to be ranked among the top five defensive lines in college football. However, Aaron Lynch’s surprising decision to leave South Bend in the spring was a huge loss for the defense. Lynch was just scratching the surface of his potential, recording 33 tackles and 5.5 sacks last year. Despite losing a player of Lynch’s caliber, the Irish should still be solid up front. Sophomore Stephon Tuitt will likely slide into Lynch’s spot after recording 30 tackles and two sacks last year. Senior Kapron Lewis-Moore will man the other end spot, while 326-pound nose guard Louis Nix III will anchor the middle. The coaching staff is also excited about the potential of freshman Sheldon Day and sophomore Chase Hounshell. Although losing Lynch was a setback, Notre Dame’s defensive line has the pieces in place to be stout once again.

5. Playmakers on defense
With Aaron Lynch’s departure, the Irish not only need a big season from end Stephon Tuitt but also linebacker Ishaq Williams. The sophomore recorded only six tackles in 11 contests last year. However, Williams has the physical ability and talent to be an impact player on defense, and Notre Dame needs him to become one of the team’s top pass rushers in 2012. Junior Prince Shembo is also expected to help pickup the slack from Lynch’s departure. With concerns about the secondary, it's important for Notre Dame to find players who can get after the quarterback. 

Related Notre Dame Content

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections
College Football's 2012 All-American Team

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Team Preview

2012 College Football All-Name Team

Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame Football: Top 5 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 05:40
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC West, Seattle Seahawks, NFL
Path: /nfl/seattle-seahawks-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 Seattle Seahawks check in at No. 21.

The Seahawks, in Pete Carroll’s third season of rebuilding, have one of the league’s most physical running backs in Marshawn Lynch. They’ve invested a number of high draft picks on offensive linemen. Their secondary is surprisingly good. They made inroads on the road last year, namely upsetting the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants in New York. Yet until Carroll unearths an able-bodied quarterback, the Seahawks are no better than the two 7–9 teams he’s fielded.

After getting nowhere — not even a courtesy interview — in the Peyton Manning quarterback sweepstakes, the Seahawks turned to Matt Flynn, hoping he’s the second coming of Matt Hasselbeck: A learned Packers backup capable of invigorating the Seattle franchise. Flynn had two starts on his Green Bay résumé, including a record-breaking 480-yard, six-touchdown passing effort against Detroit that showed he had game. Otherwise, Flynn was asked to be patient as Aaron Rodgers’ stand-in for four seasons, making him virtually untested.

Hasselbeck, pulled from the shadow of Brett Favre 11 years earlier, eventually led the Seahawks to Super Bowl XL. More patience will be required with Flynn at the helm. There are far too many defensive shortcomings to expect more than gradual improvement. 

Offense

Flynn should be an upgrade over returning starter Tarvaris Jackson, who struggled to move the team after replacing the iconic Hasselbeck. Jackson threw nearly as many interceptions (13) as touchdowns (14), and Seattle ranked among the bottom third of the NFL in most major offensive categories. The worst stat: 28th in total offense, at just 303.8 yards per game. Jackson, while highly mobile, showed a tendency to get jumpy in the pocket and struggled with his reads, whereas Flynn’s supposed strengths are his cool demeanor and field vision.

Seattle’s second offseason priority was re-signing Lynch, and that process went more smoothly than settling on a quarterback. Lynch wanted to return to a team that has helped him resurrect his career. He finished seventh in the league in rushing, churning out 1,204 yards. He further established himself as a player wholly capable of running inside and getting the tough yards. “He’s definitely one of the top two or three running backs in the National Football League,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh says. “He’s a violent runner.”

For two consecutive years, Seattle put an emphasis on upgrading the offensive line, but the Seahawks still don’t really know what they have. They used their top two 2011 draft picks on immediate starters up front, James Carpenter at right tackle and John Moffitt at right guard, only to have the newcomers tear up knees within four days of each other at midseason and head for surgery. Left tackle Russell Okung, the sixth overall pick of the 2010 draft, has been injury-prone since arriving in Seattle. He was lost last Dec. 1 with a torn pectoral muscle. Center Max Unger was the lone offensive line starter who played close to a full schedule. With so much lineup churn, the Seahawks were poor pass-protectors, which didn’t bode well for Jackson. A healthy Okung and Carpenter, guys with great feet and athleticism, will open a lot of holes for Lynch and give Flynn a chance to settle in.

The Seahawks’ receiving corps remains mediocre at best. There’s no established deep threat. There’s no draft help. Reserve Doug Baldwin, as an undrafted rookie, led the team with just 51 catches, ranking him 62nd in the league. Sidney Rice, signed as a free agent before the 2011 season, caught only 32 passes in nine games. He is coming off double shoulder surgery, putting his effectiveness in question. The team released Mike Williams, who caught only 18 passes in 12 games last season after catching 65 in 14 the year before, and signed free agent Braylon Edwards right before the start of training camp. This could be Edwards' last shot in the NFL as the No. 3 overall pick in 2005 has never played like a first-rounder, with the exception of one season (2007). He also finds himself on his third team in three seasons after wearing out his welcome with the Jets and catching a total of 15 passes in only nine games with the 49ers last season.

The tight end should become a bigger part of the offense in 2012. Zach Miller, who had a career-low 25 receptions last season, will be joined by veteran Kellen Winslow, acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay in late May.

Related: Top Seattle Seahawks Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

The Seahawks’ secondary is young and promising, not to mention huge at nearly every position, and it is the strength of this team. There are unusually big and strong cornerbacks in 6'3", 195-pound Richard Sherman and 6'4", 221-pound Brandon Browner, All-Pro selections in 6'3", 232-pound strong safety Kam Chancellor and Browner, and a reliable free safety in Earl Thomas. They were largely responsible for Seattle ranking fourth in the NFL in interceptions with 22. None of the starters has been in the league for more than two years, leaving plenty of room for advancement. The oversized corners are especially good at jamming receivers at the line and disrupting routes.

Up front, Seattle still needs help. Defensive end Chris Clemons, who had 11 sacks, was the only adequate pass-rusher, compelling the Seahawks to use their first-round draft pick on speed-rusher Bruce Irvin, who still is strictly a situational player. Seattle’s inside guys often were overmatched, leading to an urgent free agent pick-up in defensive tackle Jason Jones, another speed guy. “Jason has unusual quickness for a long, tall guy,” Carroll says.

Where the Seahawks really need help defensively is at linebacker. This is a patchwork outfit. Free agent signee Barrett Ruud is the team’s third middle linebacker in as many seasons, and a step back in talent from the departed David Hawthorne. On the outside, veteran Leroy Hill is an aging player whose coverage skills are eroding, while K.J. Wright was forced to step in as a rookie and learn under fire. Each seems to be holding down a position by default. Second-round draft pick Bobby Wagner, fast and physical and capable of playing all three positions, should become a starter fairly quickly, likely in the middle.

Specialists

The Seahawks mix the good and bad here. Returner Leon Washington, with seven career kickoff runbacks for touchdowns, and Aussie-style punter Jon Ryan, with a 46.6-yard average and more kicks downed inside the 20 (34) than anyone in the NFL, are among the league’s best. However, placekicker Steven Hauschka has limited range, and the Seattle return teams allowed three opposing scores, two on punts.

Final Analysis: 3rd in the NFC West

If Flynn can deliver consistently and the offensive line can stay healthy for a change, the Seahawks will be an improved team. A good goal for them is .500. Seattle should be able to put plenty of points on the board, especially through Lynch in a grind-it-out manner. Defensively, the Seahawks have reason to be encouraged by their secondary, but the lack of a big-play linebacker leaves them highly vulnerable. Plus, a testy schedule that includes Green Bay, New England, Detroit and Dallas as non-division opponents will keep this team from putting together win streaks of any substance.

Related: 2012 Seattle Seahawks Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Candy Man
After he scores a touchdown, Seahawks tailback Marshawn Lynch celebrates on the sideline by eating a handful of Skittles, those chewy and brightly colored candy balls. The company since has given him a free two-year supply and a dispenser for the locker room. On top of that, Seattle fans shower him with Skittles whenever he scores.

Dressed For Success
The Seahawks have the most radical uniform change of any NFL team, with Nike altering the color scheme some, adding a stripe here and there, and introducing a feather design, all changes readily endorsed by the players who will wear them and those who will try to tackle them. “Why do the Seahawks get the cool uniforms?” Buffalo Bills safety George Wilson asked.

Take A Number
In signing with Seattle, quarterback Matt Flynn asked if he could wear his college No. 15 (LSU), and Doug Baldwin, the Seahawks’ leading returning receiver, was willing to give it up and switch to 89, his college number (Stanford). “I couldn’t wear it in Green Bay because of a little guy named Bart Starr,” jokes Flynn, referring to the Packers’ Hall of Famer. Flynn wore No. 10 in Green Bay.

Return Trip
Leon Washington, second in NFL history with seven kickoff returns for touchdowns, needs just one more to tie the all-time leader, Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs. Washington had three runback scores for the Seahawks in 2010 but was held without one last season.

Secondary Role
Cornerback Marcus Trufant enters his 10th season in Seattle having started all but one of the 124 games he’s played in. However, the former All-Pro player and Super Bowl XL remnant is now a sub behind Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, and seems OK with that. “So I’ve got a role to play,” Trufant says. “I’m going to always compete, but I have a role to play and that’s what I plan to do.”

Reunion Plans
The Seahawks will host Green Bay on Sept. 24 in a Monday Night Football game, permitting Flynn an immediate opportunity to show up his old team. Three weeks later, Pete Carroll will coach against the New England Patriots for the first time since that team fired him in 1999.

Welcome
Matt Carroll, in hoping for the best from Flynn, has had pretty good luck with quarterbacks named Matt: At USC, he recruited and signed future successes such as Leinart, Cassel and Barkley — all guys with that first name.

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: Mon., Aug. 6

Order your 2012 Seattle Seahawks Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Seattle Seahawks Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Seattle Seahawks Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Seattle Seahawks 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 05:20
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC West, Seattle Seahawks, NFL
Path: /nfl/seattle-seahawks-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

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

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

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

@Seahawks (Followers: 92,797)

Top Seahawks To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, August 3, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Earl Thomas FS @Earl_Thomas 305,701
2. Michael Robinson FB @RealMikeRob 153,965
3. Braylon Edwards WR @OfficialBraylon 146,164
4. Sidney Rice WR @sidneyrice 92,413
5. Marshawn Lynch RB @MoneyLynch 44,819
6. Golden Tate WR @ShowtimeTate 33,847
7. Russell Wilson QB @DangeRussWilson 28,118
8. Bruce Irvin DE @BIrvin_WVU11 23,544
9. Kam Chancellor SS @Kam_Chancellor 18,452
10. Tarvaris Jackson QB @7tjackson 17,428
11. Leon Washington RB @Leon_Washington 15,778
12. Russell Okung OT @BDR76 14,979
13. Doug Baldwin WR @DougBaldwinJr 10,419
14. Richard Sherman CB @RSherman_25 8,793
15. James Carpenter OT @GotToGetIT75 7,658
16. Zach Miller TE @ZachMiller86 7,642
17. Kris Durham WR @KrisDurham16 7,578
18. David Hawthorne LB @D_Hawthorne57 7,374
19. K.J. Wright LB @KJ_WRIGHT34 7,270
20. Winston Guy SS @WinstonGuyJr21 6,793
21. Brandon Mebane DT @Mebane92 5,747
22. Jon Ryan P @JonRyan9 5,722
23. Ricardo Lockette WR @RicardoLockette 5,677
24. Bobby Wagner LB @Bwagz9_TS 5,165
25. Walter Thurmond CB @WaltThurm3 5,084

As impressive as Earl Thomas' 305,000+ Twitter followers may be, it's good for only first place among his teammates. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll (@PeteCarroll) blows away Thomas and the rest of his players as his following currently tops more than 618,000. Who says no one listens to what the head coach has to say or, in this case, Tweet?

And if following the head coach isn't enough for you, you can go straight to the top and follow Seahawks owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (@PaulGAllen) if you want.

The Seahawks Beat:

Danny O'Neil, Seahawks reporter for The Seattle Times: @dannyoneil (12,899)

Seahawks Update is "Your source for news about the Seattle Seahawks": @SeahawksUpdate (5,926)

Liz Mathews, Seahawks reporter on 710 ESPN in Seattle: @Liz_Mathews (4,759)

Eric Williams, covers Seahawks for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash.: @eric_d_williams (3,480)

Curtis Crabtree, Seahawks reporter for Sports Radio KJR: @Curtis_Crabtree (2,679)

John Boyle, sports writer/columnist who covers Seahawks for the Everett Herald: @johnboyle (2,503)

Seahawks Blog Roll:

The Seattle Times' Seahawks blog is where you can find the work of the aforementioned Danny O'Neil.

Seahawks Insider is The News Tribune's 'Hawks blog.

Field Gulls is SB Nation's Seahakws blog, featuring the work of managing editor and lead writer Danny Kelly (@FieldGulls).

Hawk Blogger is the self-proclaimed "#1 Seahawks Blog" and has a decent-sized Twitter following (@hawkblogger) to support said claim.

The cleverly named Dave Krieg's Strike Beard has been "Providing Seahawks Propaganda and History Since 2008."

Seahawks Addicts, 12th Man Rising, and Seahawks Gab are some others out there.

The ESPN NFC West blog is run by Mike Sando and you can follow him @espn_nfcwest.

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: Mon., Aug. 6

Order your 2012 Seattle Seahawks Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Seattle Seahawks Season Preview
Related: 2012 Seattle Seahawks Schedule Analysis

- By Braden Gall and Mark Ross, published on August 3, 2012

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Seattle Seahawks Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 05:09
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/preview-mens-100m-dash
Body:

Previewing the Men’s 100m Dash

The men’s 100m dash is arguably the highest profile event during the Olympics and the most watched 10 seconds in all of sports.  The winner earns the label “world’s fastest man” and instant stardom.  This race could very well be the most exciting 100m dash in history, with the five fastest men in history -Blake, Bolt, Gatlin, Gay and Powell- competing against each other in a well-matched field where anyone could win.

In Beijing, the only question entering the race was by what margin of victory Usain Bolt would win.  He remained untouchable in international competition until an Achilles tendon injury and lingering back pain set his training back in 2010, allowing Tyson Gay and other rivals the opportunity to catch up to Bolt.  Read as we break down the race for all five favorites to reach the podium complete with predictions.

5.  Justin Gatlin

2004 Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin still has an enormous cloud over his head following his 4-year ban from track-and-filed for testing positive for steroids.  In August 2010, Gatlin returned to competition a new man.  While posting times in the 10.1-10.2 range in his inaugural season back, Gatlin has improved dramatically since then to become a relevant force in the 100m dash despite his age. 

In 2012, Gatlin has sent a clear message to his competitors that he is 100% back and ready to win.  He won gold in the 60m at the World Indoor Championships and won the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 100m dash with a winning time of 9.80, better than the 9.85 that won him a gold medal in Athens.  He enters the London Olympics in the best shape of his life and with hopes of completing his redemption story with an Olympic medal. 

Best-case scenario:  Silver

Gatlin has been running very well this season but he’s going to need some help from his competitors if he hopes to win a gold or silver medal.  This event is still Usain Bolt’s to lose if he’s healthy (which is still a question mark).  However, if Gatlin comes out with a fast start like he did back in the Trials and at the Indoor World Championships, he will be very difficult to catch.

Worst-case scenario: 5th Place

Bolt, Blake, Gay and Powell have all posted faster 100m times than Gatlin’s annulled personal best of 9.77.  If everyone remains healthy, Gatlin will have to improve on his personal best time if he hopes to reach the podium.  Having recently turned thirty, such a performance may be out of the question.  

4.  Asafa Powell

Asafa Powell may be the greatest sprinter to never win the Olympic gold medal or the World Championship.  He held the 100m world record between June 2005 and May 2008 with a personal best of 9.72 seconds, making him the 3rd fastest man in recorded history.  His 80+ sub-10 second times in the 100m puts him at #1 all-time but this consistency has been sorely lacking in major competitions where Powell has famously choked, finishing in 5th in Athens and Beijing.  Asafa has only one major international individual title to his name, the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

In Jamaica’s Olympic Trials, Powell competed on an injured groin and was subsequently defeated by compatriots Blake and Bolt.  A lingering injury is the last thing that this aging sprinter needs as he’ll have to be at full-force to have any chance of finally matching his potential.

Best-case scenario: Bronze

Powell finally gets over his pre-race jitters and comes close to matching his personal best of 9.72 en route to a bronze medal.  Even with an ideal race, Powell will not be able to pull off the biggest upset and win a gold medal.  

Worst-case scenario: 8th Place

Powell’s groin injury is more serious than his agent let on and he barely makes it into the 100m final.  He continues his inability to translate his success onto the center stage and cement his status as one of most disappointing sprinters in Olympic history. 

3.  Tyson Gay

The second-fastest man in history (holds the American Record in 100m at 9.69s), Tyson Gay is Team USA’s best hope to win the 100m gold.  The antithesis of the boisterous, flashy Usain Bolt, Gay is introverted and allows his performance to speak for itself.  In Beijing, Gay failed to reach the finals of the 100m due to a nagging hamstring injury that purportedly setback his training.  

Gay has been plagued by injury throughout his professional career and will have to overcome last July’s hip surgery to contend for an Olympic medal.   He’s a proven competitor, and is only one of three sprinters to have defeated Usain Bolt since the Beijing Olympics.  Coming into London, Tyson is a bit of a wildcard due to the limited number of races he’s entered in 2012.  He’ll need to improve dramatically on his 9.86 at the Olympic Trials and return to his pre-injury form fast if Gay plans on winning the gold medal. 

Best-case scenario:  Gold Medal

Bolt’s injuries and reported low work ethic are worse than anticipated and his performance barely resembles the dominating display from Beijing.  Gay’s focus on training over racing pays off as he puts together a complete race and edges out favorite Yohan Blake for the gold medal.

Worst-case scenario:  5th Place

One year coming off of hip surgery, Tyson Gay is unable to regain his top form in time for the 100m final in London.  With a season-best time of 9.86 coming last month in Eugene, it may be asking too much for him to shave off somewhere between 0.1-.2 seconds to fulfill his Olympic promise.

2.  Yohan Blake

Until 22-year-old Yohan Blake bested his training partner Usain Bolt in Jamaica’s Olympic Trials last month, there was an asterisk attached to Blake’s gold medal at the 2011 World Championships where Bolt famously disqualified after a false start in the 100m final.  Nicknamed “The Beast”, Blake has worked tirelessly in preparation for the London Olympics where he hopes to emerge out of countryman Usain Bolt’s shadow.  Blake’s 9.75 100m at the Jamaican Olympic Trials solidified his place as the favorite in this event heading into London and ranks as the top time thus far in 2012. 

While Blake is the defending world champion, he was sitting at home watching back in 2008 when Bolt stole the show in Beijing by winning gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m.  His lack of experience and disdain for the limelight could spell trouble for this young sprinter. 

Best-case scenario: Gold Medal

In a field hampered by injuries (Bolt, Gay) and age (Gatlin, Powell), Blake’s youth works to his advantage as he is able to take control of the 100m final and win Olympic Gold.  With clear conditions on Sunday night, Blake could run as fast as the high 9.6s. 

Worst-case scenario: Bronze Medal

Blake’s youth gets the best of him and allows for him to concede both the gold and silver to more seasoned athletes.  In the six weeks between the Olympic Trials and the 100m final in London, Bolt makes tremendous strides in his training and regains his top form.  If Bolt and Gay are racing at full-strength, Blake will likely be edged out by the two more veteran sprinters who are the only two men to ever be legally timed under 9.70.

1.  Usain Bolt

Other than Carl Lewis, no 100m sprinter has ever successfully defended their gold medal in the subsequent Olympics.  Until about a year ago, the men’s 100m dash was expected to be a simple formality as the “superhuman” Bolt was expected to win in dominant fashion as he had in Beijing.  Much can change in a year however, as Bolt’s lingering back problems and technical errors have left him vulnerable for the first time since his breakthrough performance in the 2008 Olympics. 

Standing at 6ft 5in, Bolt is taller than the prototypical 100m sprinter.  He possesses rare leg speed for a man of his stature, allowing for him to achieve a similar starting speed to his shorter competitors.  After the initial acceleration phase, Bolt’s height gives him a mechanical advantage as his longer stride allows him to reach a higher peak velocity than his opponents. 

If Bolt is running at full force (with proper technique), no man on the planet will be able to touch him.  Bested by his training partner Yohan Blake at the Jamaican Olympic Trials, Bolt reportedly doubled his training efforts and has regained the top form that enabled him to demolish world records.  As the reigning Olympic champion, the race is still Bolt’s to lose.  Come Sunday, we’ll find out whether or not the superhuman version of Usain Bolt has returned.

Best-case scenario: New World Record

Usain Bolt has finally put his injury troubles behind him and puts together the greatest race in Olympic history as he demolishes the rest of the field and improves on his world record time of 9.58.  Bolt lives for the limelight so do not be astonished if he puts on another display of freak athletic prowess in London.

Worst-case scenario: Silver medal

Bolt’s injury woes and (rumored) lax training makes him just another strong competitor in a deep field in the 100m dash.  Bolt stumbles out of the blocks and is forced to chase the field from behind but cannot catch his training partner Blake. 

 

Predicted Finish

1. Yohan Blake (Jamaica)

2. Usain Bolt (Jamaica)

3. Justin Gatlin (United States)

4. Tyson Gay (United States)

5. Asafa Powell (Jamaica)

6. Christophe Lemaitre (France)

7. Kim Collins (Saint Kitts & Nevis)

8. Daniel Bailey (Antigua and Barbuda)

Teaser:
<p> 2012 Summer Olympics: Previewing the Men's 100m Dash</p>
Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 04:56
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-pocono-0
Body:

This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the Pocono Mountains for the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway. When the series last hit the 2.5-mile oval in June, it was Joe Gibbs Racing's Joey Logano that went to Victory Lane, leading 49 of the 160 laps and moving veteran Mark Martin out of the lead in the closing laps.

As the series heads back to Pocono, Logano is back in the rumor mill with his name being mentioned as a potential candidate for the No. 22 Penske Racing ride for 2013. While said rumor mill churns and silly season heats up, it is important to remain focused on the job at hand, and that is winning races — and for you, your weekly fantasy match up.

Last weekend at Indianapolis, it was five-time champion Jimmie Johnson that put on a dominant performance to earn his fourth Brickyard 400 trophy. The No. 48 car was the class of the field all day, with few cars even in the same zip code (to borrow a phrase).

This week, Johnson leads all drivers in average finish (8.8) and has two victories at Pocono. While he failed to lead a lap in June, the five-time series champion finished fourth. With the team looking as if it is rounding into championship form, it will be hard to pick against Johnson.

However, the two-time Pocono winner is not this week's fantasy favorite (although he is among the top five). That honor goes to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

After his fourth-place finish last weekend at Indianapolis, Earnhardt took over the points lead from Matt Kenseth. Leading the championship standings for the first time since 2004, Earnhardt is enjoying his best season in years, but is still hungry for wins before the Chase field is reset for the final 10 races of the season.

In June, Earnhardt Jr. led 36 of the 160 laps at Pocono before finishing a disappointing eighth. One of the strongest cars that afternoon, crew chief Steve Letarte called his driver to pit road late in the race, concerned about making it to the end on fuel. When Logano and others on the same strategy stretched it to the end, Earnhardt understood it was too early in the season to start taking gambles and losing a host of points.

With six races left before the Chase field is set, Earnhardt is now in a position to gamble for wins. Hungry for victories and continuing his consistent ways, look for Earnhardt — who has finishes of sixth, ninth and eighth in his last three Pocono starts — to score his second victory of the season.

Five Favorites: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkorses for your Fantasy NASCAR team as the series heads to Pocono Raceway for the Pennsylvania 400.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 12:43
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympics-photo-day-us-rowing-team
Body:

U.S. rowers Mary Whipple, Caryn Davies, Caroline Lind, Eleanor Logan, Meghan Musnicki, Taylor Ritzel, Esther Lofgren, Zsuzsanna Francia and Erin Cafaro celebrate after winning the gold medal for the women's rowing eight in Eton Dorney, near Windsor, England, at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Teaser:
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Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 10:52
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-aug-2
Body:

Gabby and Aly, Rafalca and our last glimpse of Lochte vs. Phelps highlight today's slate from London. Here's the Fab Five for Aug. 2, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:

1. Women's Gymnastics Individual Finals
It's the Aly and Gabby show, as U.S. team star Jordyn Wieber watches the All Around finals from the sidelines thanks to the arcane two-gymnasts-per-country rule. Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas will carry the U.S. banner, with Douglas a stronger threat to medal in one of the most eagerly awaited events of any Olympic Games.

2. Men's 200m Individual Medley
Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps go head to head for the second time in these games. Round 1 — the 400m individual medley — went to Lochte, the highlight of what for him has been a slightly disappointing performance. Anything Phelps does at this point is gravy for history's most decorated Olympian, but there's no doubt he'd love another gold at the expense of the guy who came into these games riding a larger hype wave. It would be an unprecedented third gold in a row for Phelps in this event.

3. Men's Volleyball: U.S. vs. Brazil
It's a rematch of the gold medal game from Beijing, as the Americans try to take down the gold medal favorites. The Brazilians will be looking for redemption after falling to the U.S. in a thrilling upset four years ago.

4. Judo - Women's 78kg Finals
American Kayla Harrison is going for her country's first-ever gold medal in judo, but she won't have the crowd in her corner as she faces Great Britain's Gemma Gibbons.

5. Dressage
Usually, politics and sports shouldn't mix, but it's a little unavoidable tonight, as Ann Romney's horse Rafalca makes her Olympic debut, ridden by Jan Ebeling. Say this for Romney — he's certainly created more equestrian jobs than his opponent.

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.
 

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

Teaser:
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Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 10:40
Path: /college-football/big-ten-player-rankings-top-50-players-2012
Body:

As usual, the Big Ten should produce plenty of elite defensive talent this season. Ohio State's John Simon and Michigan State's William Gholston should be two of the top defensive ends in college football, while Purdue's Kawann Short should be a household name by the end of the year. The offensive side of the ball isn't bad, but the conference lost several key offensive linemen and receivers. 

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

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

Athlon's Top 50 Big Ten Players for 2012

1. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Ball emerged as one of the elite tailbacks in his junior season at Wisconsin, leading the nation with 1,923 rushing yards and an astounding 33 rushing touchdowns. His 39 total TDs last year tied the NCAA record originally set by Barry Sanders in 1988. Ball has rushed for at least 100 yards in 16 of the last 20 games dating back to November 2011. Don’t be surprised if Ball is on the podium in New York in early December accepting the Heisman Trophy.  

2. Denard Robinson, QB Michigan
The man they call Shoelace has been one of the most dynamic playmakers in college football over the past two seasons. Robinson has struggled at times with consistency in the passing game, but he led the nation last year by averaging 15.3 yards per completion and ranked fourth in the Big Ten in passing efficiency. Robinson does his best work on the ground, however; he has rushed for 3,229 yards on a 5.9-yard average in his three years in Ann Arbor.

3. John Simon, DE, Ohio State
Simon is the key player on a veteran Ohio State defensive line, ranked by Athlon as the best in the Big Ten. This wrecking ball is as difficult as anyone in the country to block from the outside. He’s improved each year, topping out at 16 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and three pass deflections last season. Urban Meyer’s background is on offense, but he has a knack for utilizing great pass rushers like Carlos Dunlap, Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss at Florida.

4. William Gholston, DE, Michigan State
Entering his junior season, Gholston appears to be only scratching the surface of his potential. The Michigan State coaching staff wasted no time in getting the Detroit native involved as a freshman, as Gholston played in 10 games and recorded 13 stops. In his first year as a starter in 2011, he recorded 70 tackles, five sacks and 16 tackles for a loss last season. Gholston earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season and should be in the mix to earn All-American honors in 2012. Without Jerel Worthy plugging the middle, opposing offensive lines will devote more attention to Gholston’s side. Despite a few more double teams coming in his direction, the junior is poised to have his best overall season, which could be his last in East Lansing with NFL scouts already raving about his potential.   

5. Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
Burkhead thrived in his first full season as Nebraska’s No. 1 back, rushing for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns. He averaged 106 yards per game in Big Ten play and earned first-team all-conference honors last season. Although quarterback Taylor Martinez should get better as a passer in 2012, the Cornhuskers will lean heavily on Burkhead to win games. The senior is capable of recording 300 overall carries and will also be a factor in the passing game, as evidenced by his 21 receptions last year. Burkhead is a sleeper candidate to watch in the Heisman race and should be one of the Big Ten’s top offensive players this season.

6. Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin
Entering his third season in the starting lineup, Wagner will anchor what should be the best offensive line in the Big Ten from the all-important left tackle spot. A 6-6, 322-pound fifth-year senior from West Allis, Wis., Wagner arrived in Madison as a walk-on tight end but has made a successive transition to the offensive line. He started at right tackle in 2010 but made the move to the left side last fall to replace former All-American Gabe Carimi. 

7. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
With his combination of size and athleticism, Short is drawing attention from NFL scouts and is expected to be a first-round pick in 2013. The East Chicago native has started all three seasons at Purdue and is coming off his best year, recording 54 stops, 17 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks. Improving the run defense is one of the top priorities for coach Danny Hope this season, but Short’s return to West Lafayette should help the Boilermakers improve on last year’s statistics (9th in the Big Ten in rushing defense). Short was named Purdue’s team defensive MVP last season and is an Athlon second-team All-American for 2012. 

8. Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Hankins is developing into the next great defensive lineman to come out of the Ohio State program. In his first year as a starter last fall, the Michigan native recorded 67 total tackles, including 14 for a loss and three sacks. The large but nimble Hankins has slimmed down to 317 pounds for his junior season. “Hank is now a little less of an immovable object and more of an unstoppable force,” says Ohio State center Corey Linsley. 

9. Chris Borland, LB, 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.

10. Gerald Hodges, LB, 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.

11. Mike Taylor, LB, 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. 

12. Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin
After starting most of last season at left guard, Frederick slides over to center to replace Peter Konz, a second-round pick by the Falcons in the 2012 NFL Draft. Frederick is not entirely new to the position, however; he started two games at center in ’11 — vs. Penn State on Nov. 26 and the Big Ten Championship Game vs. Michigan State. A 6-4, 328-pound junior, Frederick earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last fall. 

13. Johnny Adams, CB, Michigan State
A third-year starter, Adams leads the top secondary in the Big Ten. NFL scouts will watch Adams closely in his final season on campus, a year after the Spartans ranked 18th nationally in pass efficiency defense. He doesn’t have the gaudy interception numbers (though he had three in each of the last two seasons), but he’s an elite cover corner and stands out in run support.

14. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Lewan, a 6-8, 302-pound junior, has started 22 games over the past two seasons at left tackle. A second-team All-Big Ten pick last season (by the coaches), Lewan will be asked to be the leader of the Wolverines’ offensive line following the graduation of Rimington Award-winning center David Molk.

15. Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
Since stepping onto campus in 2010, Allen has been an impact player for the Boilermakers’ defense. He earned freshman All-American accolades in 2010 by starting 12 games and returning two interceptions for a touchdown. Allen followed up his standout freshman year with a solid sophomore season, recording 81 tackles and three interceptions. Allen has been picked to the Thorpe Award watch list (the nation’s top defensive back) and is an Athlon first-team All-Big Ten selection for 2012. 

16. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Based upon his performance in 2011, ranking Miller among the top 20 players in the Big Ten is probably a stretch. However, that’s where projecting for 2012 comes into play. Urban Meyer’s spread attack should jumpstart Ohio State’s offense, while turning Miller into one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks. The sophomore should have no trouble surpassing last season’s 1,159 passing yards and will top over 500 yards on the ground once again in 2012. 

17. Max Bullough, LB, 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). 

18. Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois
At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, Buchanan has intriguing size and ability for the pro ranks, but he elected to stay at Illinois rather than follow linemate Whitney Mercilus to the NFL Draft. Back for his senior season, Buchanan will try to show he can be a team’s top pass rusher after working aside Mercilus last season. Buchanan’s 7.5 sacks were less than half of Mercilus’ total (16) but still ranked fourth in the Big Ten.

19. Jonathan Brown, LB, 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.

20. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Roby was a consensus three-star recruit out of Suwanee, Ga., but he must have learned something in his redshirt season in Columbus. The sophomore stepped right into the starting cornerback job last season. After finishing with 47 tackles and three interceptions in 2011, the new staff hopes to take advantage of Roby’s playmaking ability in his second season on the field.

21. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
Martinez, who arrived at Nebraska as an athlete, has been one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation over the past two seasons. His efficiency was down a bit in 2011, but his yards passing (2,089) and touchdown passes (13) were up. He continues to be a threat in the running game, with 1,839 yards and 21 touchdowns during his career.

22. James Vandenberg, QB, Iowa
The Big Ten may have the nation’s best collection of athletic quarterbacks, so it may be tempting to overlook the league’s best dropback passer. Vandenberg was the Big Ten’s third-leading passer at 3,022 yards last season and was second only to Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins in attempts and completions. Vandenberg will be even more of a key player for the Iowa offense this season, but he’ll have to improve his play on the road and overcome the loss of clutch receiver Marvin McNutt. The concerns about the offensive line and rushing attack will only add to the pressure on Vandenberg's shoulders in 2012.

23. C.J. Barnett, S, Ohio State
Barnett missed all but two games of 2010 but didn’t miss a beat when he returned to the Buckeyes last season. He led Ohio State with 75 tackles and provided his share of thundering hits in the secondary. He also had interceptions against Miami and Michigan State.

24. Jordan Hill, DT, Penn State
With Devon Still moving on to the NFL, it’s up to Hill to become Penn State’s leader in the trenches. He recorded 59 stops and 3.5 sacks last year, while earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Hill will likely see more double teams without Still, but the 6-foot-1 senior should be able to finish his career by pushing for All-American honors in 2012.

25. Micah Hyde, CB, Iowa
Hyde has been a mainstay in the Hawkeyes’ secondary over the past two seasons, with 25 starts at cornerback and two at safety. Last season, he tied for first in the Big Ten in passes defended (11) and added three interceptions. He is a 2012 preseason second-team All-Big Ten pick by Athlon Sports.

26. Spencer Long, OL, Nebraska
A walk on from Elkhorn, Neb., Long didn’t even see any game action until last season when he started every game at guard. Long was a key blocker for an offense that averaged 217.2 rushing yards per game, which ranked third in the Big Ten and 15th in the nation.

27. Denicos Allen, LB, 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.

28. Isaiah Lewis, S, Michigan State
Lewis quietly earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season, recording 74 tackles and four interceptions in his first year as a starter. The junior is regarded as one of the biggest hitters in the Big Ten and will have to assume more of a leadership role in 2012 with the departure of Trenton Robinson. 

29. Chris McDonald, OL, Michigan State
McDonald has been a nearly automatic presence in the Spartans’ starting lineup, making 17 consecutive starts and 26 overall at right guard. With a new starting quarterback, McDonald may have to pave the way for running back Le’Veon Bell to carry the offense.

30. Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
A former high school quarterback, Abbrederis gives the Badgers a big-play threat in the passing game. Last season, he caught 55 passes for a team-high 933 yards and eight touchdowns, and his 17.0 yards-per-catch average ranked second in the Big Ten behind Michigan’s Junior Hemingway.

31. Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB, Michigan
The emergence of Touissant in late October took some of the pressure off quarterback Denard Robinson in the Michigan offense. He rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Purdue on Oct. 29 and then went on to run for 508 yards in the month of November, more than anyone in the Big Ten not named Montee Ball.

32. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
With Kirk Cousins finishing his eligibility in East Lansing, the focus for Michigan State’s offense will shift back to the rushing attack. Bell is expected to be the Spartans’ workhorse in 2012 after rushing for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. At 6-foot-2 and 244 pounds, the junior brings an intriguing blend of power and speed and should surpass 1,000 yards for the first time in his career this year.

33. Jacob Pedersen, TE, Wisconsin
Pederson was a reliable red zone threat for former Badger quarterback Russell Wilson, with eight of his 30 receptions resulting in a touchdown. The 6-4, 240-pound Illinois native caught at least one pass in all but one game — with a high of six for 80 yards and two scores vs. Oregon State — and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.

34. Keenan Davis, WR, Iowa
The Hawkeyes’ record-breaking receiver Marvin McNutt drew most of the attention last season, but Davis had the breakout season. Davis finished with 50 catches last year, after catching 15 total passes his first two seasons on campus. His 713 receiving yards and 14.3 yards per catch were respectable stats for a No. 2 receiver. Now, Iowa will learn how he takes to being No. 1.

35. Christian Bryant, S, Ohio State
With all four starters returning, Ohio State should have one of the best defensive backfields in the nation. Bryant emerged as a key cog in the secondary last year, recording 69 stops and one forced fumble. The junior may not accumulate many interceptions, but he should be a force against the run, while delivering plenty of big hits. 

36. Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State
With the departure of three starters, Urban Meyer hopes Mewhort will emerge as the offensive line's leader in 2012. Mewhort started all 13 games last season and will slide from guard to left tackle in 2012. 

37. Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois
One of three returning starters and two starting tackles on the Illinois defensive line, Spence started at defensive tackle since Day One of his redshirt freshman season in Champaign. The 6-1, 300-pounder recorded 69 sacks last season, a high number for an interior lineman, and helped anchor a defense that ranked seventh nationally.

38. James Morris, LB, Iowa
An ankle injury hindered Morris at times last season, but he still managed to finish with 110 tackles. The junior is an Athlon Sports third-team All-Big Ten selection for 2012 and will have an active year around the line of scrimmage with Iowa replacing three starters on the defensive line. 

39. Brett Maher, K/P, Nebraska
Replacing Alex Henery was no easy task, but Maher asserted himself as one of the top kickers in the nation last season. He connected on 19 of 23 field goals and averaged 44.5 yards per punt. Maher was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award last year and is an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2012. 

40. Baker Steinkuhler, DT, Nebraska
The son of the Cornhuskers’ Outland and Lombardi winner Dean Steinkuhler, Baker began to make a name for himself over the second half of last season with five tackles for a loss and two sacks in the final six games of the season.

41. Cameron Meredith, DE, Nebraska
Along with Steinkuhler, Meredith will form the core of a Nebraska defensive line that must improve against the run. A starter the last two seasons, Meredith finished last season with 58 tackles and five sacks.

42. Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State
Stoneburner ran into some off-the-field trouble in the offseason but is expected to return to the roster in time for the opener against Miami (Ohio). The Dublin, Ohio native has 37 career catches for 445 yards and is expected to have a more prominent role in the offense in 2012. New coach Urban Meyer is installing a spread attack but Stoneburner’s athleticism and speed will be too attractive to keep on the bench. The senior could be Ohio State’s leading receiver in 2012. 

43. Will Compton, LB, Nebraska
The Cornhuskers’ middle linebacker improved as 2011 went along, as he averaged eight tackles per game in November (compared to 5.8 in the first eight games of the season). He’ll need to carry that into 2012 with Lavonte David gone.

44. Terry Hawthorne, CB, Illinois
Hawthorne was a highly decorated recruit in 2009, but he’d yet to live up to that billing until late last season. His 39-yard interception return for a touchdown turned the tide for the Illinois in the bowl game and prevented a losing season.

45. James Ferentz, C, Iowa
With three starters departing, Ferentz must be Iowa’s leader on the offensive line. He has started the last 26 games and was named to the Rimington Trophy watch for 2012. Ferentz will be coached by his brother (Brian) and his veteran presence will be crucial for Iowa’s offensive line. 

46. Daimion Stafford, S, Nebraska
Stafford was a huge contributor in his first year after transferring from Chaffey College. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors after recording 80 tackles in 13 games. Look for Stafford to be an even bigger contributor now that he has another offseason to get acclimated to life in the Big Ten.

47. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
With Johnny Adams and Dennard returning to man the cornerback spots in East Lansing, Michigan State should have one of the top defensive backfields in the nation. In his first year as a starter in 2011, Dennard recorded 42 tackles and three interceptions and returned one of his picks for a touchdown in the win over Georgia in the Outback Bowl. Dennard should be in the mix for All-Big Ten honors this year.  

48. MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota
Gray is far from a finished product, but there's also a lot of potential. He closed out 2011 by posting back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts against Northwestern and Illinois and finished the season with 2,461 overall yards. Gray needs to become a better passer, but he should have a solid all-around senior season.

49. Chris Norman, LB, Michigan State
The rangy Norman is entering his third season as a starter for a veteran linebacker unit. He finished last season with 76 tackles despite missing two games with a shoulder injury.

50. Jordan Kovacs, S, Michigan
The Ohio native has started 33 of his 37 career games, including 12 games in 2011 and 12 in ’10. He ranked second on the team in total tackles last season with 75 and was third on the team with eight tackles for a loss. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last fall. 


Team Breakdown of Athlon's Top 50 Big Ten Players for 2012

Illinois - 4
Indiana - 0
Iowa - 5
Michigan - 4
Michigan State - 9
Minnesota - 1
Nebraska - 8
Northwestern - 0 
Ohio State - 8
Penn State - 2
Purdue - 2
Wisconsin - 7

by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven) and Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)


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Teaser:
<p> Big Ten Player Rankings: The Top 50 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 05:43
Path: /college-football/pac-12s-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
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Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

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

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

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

3. How quickly will Arizona, Arizona State and Washington State reap the benefits from their new coaches?
We’ve heard it enough, and we’ve said it enough: The Pac-12 had an influx of good offensive coaches this offseason. But now that it’s time for fall camp, Rich Rodriguez, Mike Leach and Todd Graham have to get down to business. As much as Jeff Tuel/Marquess Wilson may fit Leach’s system or much as Matt Scott/Ka’Deem Carey may fit what Rodriguez wants to do, they still have to learn the offense. And those are just front-line skill position players. What about developing depth and the offensive line (an issue in particular for Wazzu)? At Arizona State, Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell take over a team with an entrenched running back (Cameron Marshall), a shaky quarterback situation -- not all that different from Pitt last season.

4. Will fresh faces on defense be enough to repair Washington this season?
The Huskies could at least be thankful for Clemson. Before the Orange Bowl, Washington’s 67 points and 777 yards allowed allowed to Baylor was the most embarrassing defensive performance of the postseason (and in terms of yards allowed, it was the third-worst of 2012). Coach Steve Sarkisian responded by cleaning house defensively, adding four new assistants including defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and recruiting whiz/line coach Tosh Lupoi. The new coaches will start from scratch for better or worse -- the Huskies’ defense will be young with only a couple of projected senior starters and a handful of freshmen on the depth chart. The defense may be a long-term fix, which could be trouble with LSU, Stanford, Oregon and USC all on the schedule in the first half.

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

6. Can Utah depend on quarterback Jordan Wynn?
The Utes basically lost their passing offense after Wynn was injured in the 31-14 loss to Washington. Although Jon Hays ended the year with 12 touchdowns, Utah wasn’t able to stretch the field. Wynn was off to a solid start last season, throwing for 727 yards and six touchdowns through the first four games. However, he has dealt with shoulder injuries in each of the last two seasons and has never started a full 12-game regular season slate. If healthy, Wynn clearly gives Utah the best chance to win. The Utes have an underrated group of receivers, led by senior DeVonte Christopher, so there’s no reason for Utah to struggle like it did last season through the air. New coordinator Brian Johnson will use more spread looks, but the Utes have to find a way to keep Wynn healthy and on the field to have any shot at winning the Pac-12 South crown.

7. Will California develop other receivers outside of Keenan Allen?
The Golden Bears didn’t have much depth at receiver last season, and this unit suffered some losses with Marvin Jones and Michael Calvin expiring their eligibility. Allen was clearly the No. 1 target for quarterback Zach Maynard, catching 98 passes for 1,343 yards and six scores. While Allen should have another big season, California has to find some other weapons to help take the pressure off of him. Freshmen Maurice Harris and Bryce Treggs are intriguing possibilities, while tight end Richard Rodgers is an emerging weapon. The Golden Bears could make some noise in the Pac-12 North race, but Allen can’t be the team’s only receiver in 2012.

8. How has Jim L. Mora adjusted to the college game?
It’s no secret NFL coaches struggle in the college game -- Bill Callahan, Mike Sherman, Dave Wannstedt, Chan Gailey, to name a few. Working with 18-22 year olds with class demands and practice time limitations isn’t anything like working with professionals. Mora seems to understand some of these limitations, and he surrounded himself with a handful quality veteran college assistants. The first indications of whether he’s adjusted to the college game may be felt in fall camp. He’s already hoping to build team chemistry and camaraderie by taking the Bruins off-campus to Cal State-San Bernardino for two weeks of practice while UCLA’s practice field is renovated. And he’s pledged to bring toughness to the Bruins. Mora will have a chance to find out what he’s jumped into when the Bruins face Nebraska in Week Two.

9. Is there hope in Boulder?
Defeating Arizona at home and Utah on the road in the final three games at least gave Colorado something on which to build for 2012, but the Buffaloes still look to be grasping for answers. The Buffs likely will play a significant amount of freshmen and sophomores, a tough proposition for a team that went 3-10 and visits USC and Oregon in October. Wide receiver Paul Richardson, Colorado’s top offensive player, is hopeful he’ll make a quick recovery from a torn ACL from spring practice to play this season. Colorado can hope for that, but a bowl game might have to wait until this core group of freshmen and sophomores are juniors and seniors.

10. Can Oregon State generate a rushing attack?
For the first time since 2004, Oregon State failed to have a 1,000-yard rusher last season. Malcolm Agnew burst onto the scene in the opener, rushing for 223 yards and three touchdowns in the 29-28 loss to Sacramento State. However, hamstring injuries limited Agnew for most of last season and he managed only 200 yards the rest of the way. Jovan Stevenson and Terron Ward each chipped in just over 200 yards, and the Beavers finished with only 1,043 rushing yards as a team last year. For Oregon State to make a run back to a bowl game, the offense has to find some balance. Quarterback Sean Mannion and receiver Markus Wheaton is a dangerous combination, but the Beavers need to escape the Pac-12 cellar in rushing offense. Agnew is the team’s best option, but he also needs to stay healthy. A committee approach would not be a surprise, especially if incoming freshman Chris Brown impresses in fall practice. 
 

 

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

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

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Teaser:
<p> Pac-12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 05:28
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC East, Washington Redskins, NFL
Path: /nfl/washington-redskins-2012-nfl-team-preview
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Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Washington Redskins check in at No. 22.

Mike Shanahan believes he identified the Redskins’ biggest problem, and he tried to solve it by trading three first-round draft picks and a second-rounder to select Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III out of Baylor. Shanahan finally has at his disposal an electrifying playmaker who dazzled at the collegiate level. Not only should Griffin inject life into an offense that ranked 20th in the NFL in yards per play (5.2) last season, but he also buys Shanahan some time following consecutive last-place finishes.

It might not come to that, though. The Redskins return everyone in the defensive front seven, which was their biggest strength in 2011. Washington also upgraded a punchless receiving corps in free agency. Considering that they lost six games by only one possession last season, don’t be surprised if the Redskins compete for a playoff spot.

Offense

Shanahan normally restrains himself when praising players, but he was giddy when discussing Griffin following rookie minicamp in May. He believes Griffin’s combination of speed and arm strength will allow him to challenge defenses on the perimeter in unprecedented ways. Shanahan will trim the playbook this season and tailor it to ease Griffin into the NFL, but expect plenty of the misdirection and play-action that have been characteristic of Shanahan’s offenses over the years. The biggest questions surrounding Griffin involve his ability to master footwork and read defenses. His work ethic is as strong as it gets, though, so he’ll exert whatever effort it takes to fix any shortcomings. Consider that incumbent starter Rex Grossman turned the ball over 25 times in 13 starts last season. It shouldn’t be difficult for Griffin to improve in that category.

Griffin can’t do it alone, of course. Shanahan and his son, Kyle, the offensive coordinator, want the running game to be the offense’s driving force. Tim Hightower is coming off a torn ACL in his left knee, but he’s the best-suited running back for the outside zone scheme. His speed, vision, blocking skills and ability to square his shoulders to the line of scrimmage and burst up field give him an edge over Roy Helu, who capably filled in after Hightower was hurt last Oct. 23. Expect both to contribute significantly.

Washington’s offensive line, however, is not a strength, even though last season’s entire first string returns. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger tore multiple right knee ligaments last Oct. 16. That could reduce the speed that makes him so valuable. Right tackle Jammal Brown, 31, resorted to yoga in the offseason to improve the range of motion in his left hip that was surgically repaired three years ago.

Griffin has some pass-catching weapons at his disposal. Coaches last season lamented a dearth of playmakers, so they signed free agent receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan. Garcon’s speed provides the Redskins a deep threat and a player who can gain yards after the catch. Morgan will do a bit of everything, including play the slot in three-receiver sets. Second-year receiver Leonard Hankerson is coming off surgery to repair the labrum in his right hip, but coaches love his speed and how he uses his 6'2", 209-pound frame. Tight end Fred Davis is back following a four-game drug suspension that cost him the team lead in receptions.

Related: Top Washington Redskins Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Shanahan wanted a formidable defense in place when he drafted his franchise quarterback, and the Redskins aren’t far off. A unit that often played from behind last season ranked 17th in yards allowed per play (5.5) but kept Washington competitive in many games.

The Redskins re-signed inside linebacker London Fletcher and left defensive end Adam Carriker to keep intact a front seven that was the team’s greatest strength. Bringing Fletcher back was essential. The defensive captain led the NFL with 166 tackles. More important, he sets the front seven after the huddle, and the Redskins had no replacement for him.

Up front, Barry Cofield promises to be a savvier nose tackle in his second season playing the position. He has seen how divisional opponents want to block him. Defensive end Jarvis Jenkins’ return should be a major boost. Before he lost his entire rookie season to a torn ACL in his right knee, he had some coaches calling him the team’s best lineman because of his speed and power.

The secondary challenges the offensive line for the area of greatest weakness. Safety is a major concern. Free safety Brandon Meriweather, a Pro Bowler as recently as 2010, is on his third team in three seasons. Oft-injured strong safety LaRon Landry, a first-round pick in 2007, signed with the New York Jets, leaving a hole that likely will be filled by committee. Josh Wilson was Washington’s best cover corner last season, better than three-time Pro Bowler DeAngelo Hall. That’s not necessarily a good thing, especially with a lack of quality cornerback depth. The Redskins need more plays on the ball from the back end.

Specialists

Kicker Graham Gano enters his third full season still needing to prove himself. Five of his 10 missed field goals last season were blocked — most in the NFL. Coaches desire improved mental toughness from him. Veteran Neil Rackers will compete with Gano in training camp. Rackers’ field goal percentage has decreased each of the last two seasons. Gano has the advantage partly because he excels at the directional kickoffs the Redskins employ. Sav Rocca last season was the best punter the Redskins have had in years. His 28 punts inside the 20 tied for the eighth-most in the NFL.

Return specialist Brandon Banks must prove his worth after failing to score last season. He suffered from the new kickoff rules and averaged only 9.1 yards per punt return.

Final Analysis: 4th in the NFC East

Too many turnovers and too few playmakers relegated the Redskins to a fourth consecutive last-place finish in the NFC East. Griffin should help both of those problems. Every rookie quarterback is going to throw picks, but Griffin only has to average fewer than 1.5 per game to improve on what Grossman and John Beck did last season. The Redskins finally have some skill-position players for whom opponents have to game-plan. If the offensive line holds up, this group could rise from the doldrums and be a pleasant surprise.

A solid defense needs to sustain the status quo in order for the offensive upgrades to make a difference. The defense was remarkably healthy in 2011, and there is formidable talent in the front seven. An improved offense must take some pressure off the defense in terms of field position and playing with a lead.

The Redskins swept the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants last season, so there are signs of quality. Shanahan is capable of coaching this group to the playoffs, but even if they fall short, expect a major step forward and a more exciting brand of football.

Related: 2012 Washington Redskins Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Run, Robert, Run
Robert Griffin III ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. More impressive, perhaps: He missed the national high school record in the 300-meter hurdles by one hundredth of a second during his junior year. He did not break it the next year because he enrolled early at Baylor.

Wise Guy
RG3’s off-the-field makeup impressed the Redskins as much as his on-field talent. He graduated high school in three-and-a-half years, finishing seventh in his class. He then graduated from Baylor in three years with a degree in political science. He’s closing in on a master’s degree in communications.

Alone At The Top
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett begins his third season in an awkward spot. He did not hire any of Washington’s defensive assistants. Line coach Jacob Burney and linebackers coach Bob Slowik are Mike Shanahan’s guys. New defensive backs coach Raheem Morris was with Tampa Bay under Redskins general manger Bruce Allen. Keep an eye on Haslett’s status this year.

Where’s Niles?
The Redskins converted second-year receiver Niles Paul to tight end during the offseason. With the numbers Washington has at wide receiver, the switch might help Paul, a fifth-round pick out of Nebraska, see the field. The move could affect the status of Chris Cooley, who finished last season on injured reserve (left knee).

Let It Rain
The Redskins in the offseason opened an indoor practice facility, a grassy turf field covered by an inflated bubble. In recent seasons, they held practices on stormy days inside a local airplane hangar or basketball gym. That’s not exactly how Mike Shanahan wants to prepare for game conditions.

Play Day
Dozens of players turned out in May for the Leukemia Golf Classic, hosted by linebacker Brian Orakpo. The fundraiser, which used to be hosted by quarterback Jason Campbell, has become something of a Redskins tradition. To encourage attendance, Shanahan gave players that day off but counted it against the number of workout days the NFL permits.

Going Old School
The Redskins will wear throwback uniforms for two home games this season as part of celebrating the franchise’s 80th anniversary. The uniforms, with burgundy jerseys and gold pants, are replicas of ones worn in 1937. The coolest touch? The helmets appear as though they’re made of brown leather.

Twitter King
Defensive end Adam Carriker has emerged as the most entertaining Redskin on Twitter. Among the gems from @BigPoppaPump94: “Boy, TSA workers sure don’t like it if you moan while they pat you down.”

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: Fri., Aug. 3

Order your 2012 Washington Redskins Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Washington Redskins Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Washington Redskins Bucs Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Washington Redskins 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 05:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC East, Washington Redskins, NFL
Path: /nfl/washington-redskins-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

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

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

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

@Redskins (Followers: 113,165)

Top Redskins To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, August 2, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Robert Griffin III QB @RGIII 277,348
2. Joshua Morgan WR @FeetzMorgan202 103,944
3. Pierre Garcon WR @PierreGarcon 89,476
4. DeAngelo Hall CB @Dhall23 88,869
5. Brian Orakpo LB @rak98 48,412
6. London Fletcher LB @LFletcher59 39,880
7. Ryan Kerrigan LB @RyanKerrigan91 37,840
8. Santana Moss WR @EIGHTTODANINE 28,774
9. Niles Paul WR @Niles_Paul84 23,088
10. Evan Royster RB @Evan_Royster 22,156
11. Kirk Cousins QB @KirkCousins8 21,340
12. Brandon Banks WR @speedybanks16 19,744
13. Terrence Austin WR @Terrence_Austin 19,306
14. Anthony Armstrong WR @MrArmstrong13 18,113
15. Leonard Hankerson WR @HankTime85 16,554
16. Tim Hightower RB @Tim_Hightower 16,178
17. Adam Carriker DE @AdamCarriker94 14,232
18. Jarvis Jenkins DE @Jarvis99jenkins 13,270
19. Reed Doughty S @doughty37 8,426
20. Stephen Bowen DE @stevebo72 7,958
21. Chris Neild NT @TruckNeild 5,801
22. Graham Gano K @GrahamGano 5,043
23. Chris Baker NT @cbaker92redskin 2,600
24. Richard Crawford Jr. CB @Rich_Crawford6 1,538

It's probably no surprise that even though he's yet to take a snap in the NFL, Robert Griffin III is the runaway leader in terms of Twitter followers on the Redskins' roster. What may be a little more surprising, however, is that the team's current No. 2 and 3 on the list are also newcomers — wide receivers Joshua Morgan and Pierre Garcon, both of whom who signed as free agents this offsesason.

In fact, a total of eight wideouts currently on the Skins' roster, along with running backs Evan Royster and Tim Hightower (Roy Helu where are you?) fall among the team's Top 16 Twitterers. No doubt Redskins fans are hoping the offense will be just as explosive this season as their playmakers' Twitter feeds appear to be.

If you wish to relive some of the Redskins' glory years of the past, you can follow Joe Gibbs (@CoachJoeGibbs), Joe Theismann (@Theismann7), Darrell Green (@darrellgreen28), John Riggins (@riggo44) and Brian Mitchell (@BmitchliveCSN). Alas, Albert Haynesworth doesn't appear to have an active Twitter account right now.

The Redskins Beat:

Mark Maske, NFL reporter for The Washington Post, contributor to The Insider blog: @MarkMaske (11,167)

Chris Russell, Redskins Insider for ESPN Radio 980, also can be heard on the Redskins Radio Network: @Russellmania980 (9,009)

Rich Campbell, beat writer for The Washington Times: @Rich_Campbell (7,638)

Mike Jones, beat writer for The Washington Post: @MikeJonesWaPo (6,460)

John Keim, beat writer for the Washington Examiner: @john_keim (6,369)

Barry Svrluga, helps cover Redskins for The Washington Post: @barrysvrluga (4,487)

Redskins Blog Roll:

The Insider (@Insider) is The Washington Post's Redskins blog, featuring the work of beat writers Mike Jones, Mark Maske and Barry Svrluga.

Redskins Watch is The Washington Times' online destination for all you need or want to know about the team.

Redskins Confidential is the Washington Examiner's 'Skins-dedicated online home.

Chris Russell's blog is just one part of ESPN Radio 980's Redskins Portal.

Hogs Haven is SB Nation's Redskins blog.

Real Redskins is "The Original Redskins Blog Since 2004" run by @Rich_Tandler.

The Burgundy Warpath, Riggo's Rag, Redskins Hog Heaven, and Redskins Gab out in cyberspace for your perusal.

The ESPN NFC East blog is run by Dan Graziano and you can follow him @espn_nfceast.

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: Fri., Aug. 3

Order your 2012 Washington Redskins Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Washington Redskins Season Preview
Related: 2012 Washington Redskins Schedule Analysis

- By Braden Gall and Mark Ross, published on August 2, 2012

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Washington Redskins Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 04:59
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-awards-top-return-specialists
Body:

Football is a game of field position. Other than huge turnovers and big offensive plays, special teams is the best way to tilt the field in your favor. A huge return can also get the crowd riled-up and back into the game.

Additionally, some of the most electric and dynamic players in the history of college sports were human joysticks on special teams. Devin Hester, Reggie Bush, Ted Ginn Jr., and, of course, Prime Time are just a few of the names who have made quite a living simply on special teams. Some of the most exciting and ridiculous plays each season will come from returnmen. Just ask the Tennessee Vols about trying to stop Joe Adams. And if you can perform on both the punt and kick return teams, you are that much more valuable.

So who are the college football's most exciting return men in 2012:

1. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon (SO)

There may not be a more explosive, more dynamic player in all of the nation. Aside from playing both running back and wide receiver, Thomas excelled as a return man. He scored twice on kick returns against Washington State and then again in a clutch performance against USC. He finished with 983 yards on 36 kicks. He only had three punt returns, but averaged 17.3 yards per clip.

2. Sammy Watkins, Clemson (SO)

Another sophomore who is simply unstoppable with the ball in his hands. He runs, catches and returns kicks with ease. He returned 33 kicks a year ago for 826 yards and one huge score in the improbable road comeback against Maryland. His talents may be too great to use him in the punting game, but make no mistake, few players can take it the distance like Watkins.

3. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (JR)

The diminutive Heisman finalist got to New York based mostly on his play as a punt returner. He is likely the top player at that position nationally and his two scores against Arkansas and Georgia shifted momentum in LSU's favor a year ago. His skills as a coverman are overrated but his ability to slide past oncoming traffic and change a game on one special teams play is undeniable.

4. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State (SO)

This freshman was hampered by injury a year ago and missed the final four games of the year. He might also have been underused to start the year or else his 35.2 yards per kick return would have ranked as the best in the nation. He also scored twice and will see more touches in 2012.

5. Tavon Austin, West Virginia (SR)

His 14.1-yard punt return average was good for sixth in the nation last fall and his 26.1 kick return average placed him in the top 20 nationally. He scored twice on special teams, taking a kick back for six points against both Marshall and South Florida. He led the nation in all-purpose yards in 2011.

6. Raheem Mostert, Purdue (SO)

As only a freshman, Mostert got 25 kick returns under his belt and he ended-up leading the nation with a 33.5 yards per return clip. He took one back to the house in Purdue first bowl win since 2007 and should return in 2012 with a year's worth of experience under his belt.

7. Quandre Diggs, Texas (SO)

Another sophomore, Diggs has NFL pedigree and NFL talent. He posted an absurd 20.1 yards per punt return on nine tries and didn't even get the job until halfway through the season. His explosive, big-play talent was evident the second he stepped onto the 40 Acres as he performs double-duty on both kick and punt returns. Special teams coaches better beware in 2012.

8. Jamal Miles, Arizona State (SR)

There were his two kick return touchdowns on 30 attempts that gave the Sun Devil a healthy 26.3 per return average. And then there was his punt return touchdown and 16.6 per return average. Had Miles qualified at punt returner (he had 14 attempts), he would have finished third nationally. 

9. Tracy Lampley, Southern Miss (SR)

Another guy who is used in every aspect of the game, Lampley performed well as both a punt and kick specialist last fall. He returned one punt for a score against East Carolina and finished with per touch averages of 11.5 yards on punts and 21.3 yards on kicks. He also got 91 carries and 47 receptions. He will be used once again in 2012 in all phases of the game. 

10. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin (JR)
Sure-handed receiver was leading the nation in PR until final weekend. Should be a bigger factor on Wisconsin's offense and special teams in 2012.

The Best of the Rest:

11. Darryl Surgent, UL Lafayette (JR)
Really came on as the year went along as dual-threat: 27 PR (11.9) and 37 KR (20.9)

12. Dustin Harris, Texas A&M (SR)
Led the nation in punt returns at 18.6 yards thanks to Kansas game (3-162-1).

13. Andre Booker, Marshall (SR)
Works double duty on both kicks (24.8) and punts (10.8).

14. Nick Hill, Michigan State (SO)
Stellar freshman season returning kicks (26.3) will add punt returns to resume this fall.

 

Others to Consider:

Branden Smith, Georgia (SR)
T.J. Thorpe, North Carolina (SO)
Ralph David Abernathy IV, Cincinnati (SO)
Nick Williams, UConn (SR)
Isaiah Burse, Fresno State (SO)
Rannell Hall, UCF (SO)
Derrick Strozier, Tulane (JR)
Christian Jones, Alabama (SO)
Adrian Bushell, Louisville (SR)
Dustin Harris, Texas A&M (SR)
Jordan Hall, Ohio State (SR)

-by Braden Gall

 @bradengall

2012 College Football Awards:

Top 25 Heisman Candidates

The Nation's Top Pure Lockdown Cover Corners

The Nation's Top Dual-Threat Quarterbacks

Ranking the Nation's Top Pass Rushers for 2012

Who are the Nation's Top Return Specialists?

Teaser:
<p> 2012 College Football Awards: Top Return Specialists</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 04:00
All taxonomy terms: Tennessee Volunteers, SEC, News
Path: /news/tennessee-fans-create-another-bad-college-football-rivalry-video
Body:

We are all for creativity and cheering for your college football team, but sometimes it can result in some embarrassing videos. 

Remember Texas A&M's Welcome to the SEC video? That was only one of many bad college football song/cheer videos that have been released this summer.

The trend continues with the band Elevated releasing the song and video "Overcome the Tide." We give them points for creativity, but the execution and song is certainly lacking.

Our reaction? The college football season can't get here fast enough.

Teaser:
<p> Tennessee Fans Create Another Bad College Football Rivalry Video</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 15:37
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-20
Body:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead at Indianapolis, giving his fans something to cheer about in a season where there have been plenty of highlights. Although the points will be reset at the start of the Chase, the question becomes can Earnhardt continue his successful season and win the championship?

That was among the questions Backseat Drivers Fan Council members were asked about last weekend’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Here’s what they had to say about those issues and more:


Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. win the championship?
Earnhardt took the points lead at Indianapolis, the first time he’s led the points since late in the 2004 season. Fan Council members were asked if they thought he would win the championship this year:

64.5 percent said No
35.5 percent said Yes

What Fan Council members said:
• Even though I've been an Earnhardt fan all my life and have been hoping that Junior would finally win a Cup championship, I don't think this is the year. First, Jimmie Johnson served notice (Sunday) that anyone winning the championship this year will have to beat him to do it. Next, even though Junior is perhaps the most consistent driver in the sport this year, consistency, without wins won't get the job done. I think he'll win again. Ultimately, though, I think 5-Time becomes 6-Time. Jimmie is just too good.

• One win in four years. Letarte's track record in the Chase is pretty poor, especially when he got used up by Knaus in 2007. Earnhardt's record in the Chase isn't much better. There's no value in leading the points before the Chase.

• It's hard to pinpoint just why I don't think he will win. I think it's a combination of a lack of complete faith in Steve Letarte's ability to close the deal along with the feeling the luck he's had will not last. On the other hand, I do see maturity in Junior that just might supersede everything else.

• This has been his most consistent year. Consistency wins championships.

• He has yet to convince me he has the killer instinct to go out and drive beyond the car to go out and win more races and win the Chase.

• As a Junior fan, I'm just worried the team is gonna choke.

• As Steve Letarte said in a pre-race interview, “Give FIVE reasons why they won’t AND I’ll give ya FIVE reasons why they can.”

• Dale Jr. does not have the mental/emotional fortitude to win the championship. He has a tendency to get focused on and bothered by things that distract him. I believe Steve Letarte will give him the cars, and his crew will give him the performances necessary to win a championship, but I believe Junior will get distracted by something the media says, the fans want (or are saying) and he will lose enough focus to lose the championship. I believe he will learn that lesson and be a stronger contender for the championship the next time he's in the position.

• He has momentum behind him, a great owner and crew chief and crew. Plus he has Junior Nation behind him. It's his to lose.

• Even though he doesn't have the most wins this season has been the most consistent — but that isn't going to help with the last 10 races. Guys like Johnson and Stewart are going to step up and start rattling off wins and top 5s in the last 10 races. If Dale Jr. wins a couple more races before the Chase I would change my answer.

• Sorry Junior Nation, he's not going to win it. It will take multiple wins in the Chase to win it and his team is more about consistency. I also don't think he has the killer instinct it takes to win it. Until someone else wins one, I'm not sure anybody but Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart can win the title. I think it comes down to those two guys.

• Most consistent driver all year. He will win another race this year and capture that elusive championship. He is surviving the summer months well, where he typically does poor, which indicates that come fall, he will excel. I’ve never seen Junior this confident, mature and consistent.

• While he is my driver, I don't see domination. I see speed and consistency from the 88 team — and they belong in the Chase — but the winner of the Chase will dominate throughout it.

• I have to answer “yes.” I am a Junior fan and I have to have that faith. I am scared to even think it though, for fear that I will jinx him and Junior Nation! Regardless, I am so proud of his (and the entire 88 team’s) performance this year. BRAVO!
 

Teaser:
<p> Dustin Long's Backseat Drivers Fan Council grades NASCAR's visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ESPN's broadcast of it and ponders whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. can win the Sprint Cup title in 2012.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 13:31
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/michael-phelps-greatest-olympic-athlete-history
Body:

Rick Reilly of ESPN has unleashed a Twitter debate today over a timely topic: Is Michael Phelps a slam-dunk choice as the greatest Olympian of all time? Swimming commenter Rowdy Gaines says it's not even a debate, while Reilly points to the accomplishments of discus thrower Al Oerter — gold medals in four straight Olympic Games — as opening the subject up to discussion.

We'll approach this more respectfully than they do over in the Wild West of Twitter-land. Below, we identify a few candidates, present them in no particular order and make our selection. But feel free to disagree and let us know how you feel.

Greatest Olympic Athlete of All Time: The Candidates

Michael Phelps, USA Swimming
One school of thought: He who has the most medals is the best. By that metric, it's no contest. Phelps has 19, more than any other individual athlete.
Here's where the debate comes in: He also has had far more opportunities to medal than athletes in other sports. Well, here's my couter-argument to that: So does every other swimmer, and Phelps has left them all splashing in his formidable wake. Mark Spitz, the man to whom Phelps is so often compared, finished with 11 medals; Phelps could finish with twice that many. The fact that he also set or helped set 15 World, Olympic and U.S. records is another serious resume enhancer.

Carl Lewis, USA Track
Lewis replicated the feats of his idol Jesse Owens and did him a little better, achieving gold over four separate Olympiads in an extended sequence of track and field excellence that will never be eclipsed. Lewis dominated the 1984 Los Angeles games, earning gold in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump to match Owens' 1936 performance in Berlin. Lewis added golds in 1988 in the 100m (after Ben Johnson's doping disqualification) and long jump; in 1992 in the 4x100m relay and long jump; and in 1996 in the long jump at the grand old age of 35. Lewis remains the only man to defend an Olympic 100 meter or long jump title successfully.

Michael Johnson, USA Track
Entering the 1996 Atlanta Games under a crushing burden of hype, Johnson dazzled the world in his gold cleats, winning an unprecedented 200m-400m double. For the only time in history, the title of World's Fastest Man went by proclamation to the 200m champion after Johnson's world record time of 19.32 seconds.

Jesse Owens, USA Track
Owens achieved what was thought to be impossible: gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump, a quartet of golds that wouldn't be equaled for 48 years. His performance under Hitler's watchful eye in a wordless but eloquent repudiation of the Nazi regime made him synonymous with Olympic excellence.

Al Oerter, USA Discus
Reilly's candidate competed in a niche event, but his longevity and sustained level of world-class performance — gold medals in the discus in 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968 — made him a legend. He carried the Olympic flame into the stadium at the 1996 Atlanta games in a fitting coda to his unparalleled career.

Wilma Rudolph, USA Track
Rudolph ran with an astounding level of grace and ease, dazzling the world at the 1960 Games in Rome with three gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. Overcoming poverty and childhood bouts with polio and other serious illnesses and starring at the dawn of the television age made her perhaps the most inspirational figure in Olympics history.

Usain Bolt, Jamaica Track
There's a certain glamour attached to the winner of the Olympic 100m gold medal — he carries the title of World's Fastest Man and is the de facto king of the games. Throw in the fastest time in human history, accomplished while pulling up at the finish line, and you've got a true legend. Bolt dazzled us all at the 2008 Beijing Games running a record 9.58 and starting his celebration about 10 meters from the finish line. If he defends his title in equally stunning fashion, he might just add the title of greatest Olympian.

Nadia Comaneci, Romania Gymnastics
She taught us all that perfection was possible. Comaneci earned seven scores of 10 during the 1976 Montreal Olympics — the scoreboard displayed them all as 1.0, since the need had never arisen for the extra digit — and won three gold medals, one of them the All Around gold. She added two more golds at the 1980 Moscow Games before fleeing from behind the Iron Curtain and settling in America, an ambassador for her sport.

Emil Zatopek, Czechoslovakia Track
He won the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon — at the same Olympics, 1952 in Helsinki. The seemingly impossible trifecta will never be duplicated.

Edwin Moses, USA Track
He competed in a single event — the 400m hurdles — but he did it so dominantly over such an extended period that he belongs on any list of greatest Olympians. Moses won gold in 1976 and 1984 and would certainly have won gold in 1980 had the U.S. not boycotted the Moscow Olympics. Moses won 122 consecutive races — 107 of them finals — and set four world records in his event between 1977 and 1987.

The Pick
Sometimes, social impact can combine with athletic achievement to create true transcendence. It happened with Jackie Robinson, and it certainly happened with history's greatest Olympian, Jesse Owens.

So who did we miss? And who's your choice for greatest Olympian of all time?

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.

- by Rob Doster
Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 13:20
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/michael-phelp-historys-most-decorated-olympian
Body:

Michael Phelps has accumulated so much precious metal, he could rent a wing at Ft. Knox. With his gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay, Phelps set an all-time record with his 19th Olympic medal (15 of them of the gold variety, and nine of those 15 individual medals).

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his 19 career Olympic medals is the dominant fashion in which he has won them. In 15 of his 19 medal-winning races, Phelps set or helped set either a world, Olympic or American record. Nine of the races were world-record swims. Phelps will have three more opportunities to add to his record haul, but as of this moment, here's the career tally for arguably the greatest Olympic athlete in history (OR denotes Olympic Record; WR denotes World Record; AR denotes American Record):

2004 Athens Games
Gold 100m butterfly (OR)
Gold 200m butterfly (OR)
Gold 200m individual medley (OR)
Gold 400m individual medley (WR)
Gold 4x200m freestyle (AR)
Gold 4x100m medley (WR)
Bronze 200m freestyle (AR)
Bronze 4x100m freestyle

2008 Beijing Games
Gold 100m butterfly (OR)
Gold 200m butterfly (WR)
Gold 200m freestyle (WR)
Gold 200m individual medley (WR)
Gold 400m individual medley (WR)
Gold 4x100m freestyle relay (WR)
Gold 4x200m freestyle relay (WR)
Gold 4x100m medley relay (WR)

2012 London Games
Gold 4x200m freestyle relay
Silver 4x100m freestyle relay
Silver 200m butterfly
 

Teaser:
<p> Michael Phelps won his Olympic record 19th medal as the anchor of the 4x200 freestyle relay.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 11:38
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-aug-1
Body:

The proceedings in the Aquatic Center have been a little hit or miss for Team USA, but there are plenty more opportunities for medals as swimming continues to dominate the early schedule.

Today's Fab Five, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:

1. Men's Swimming
Two events, two shots at gold for the U.S. men. Clark Burckle and Scott Weltz will contend with each other and a strong field in the 200m breaststroke final (2:30 pm Eastern in real time), while Nathan Adrian and Cullen Jones are among the contenders in the always-thrilling 100m freestyle (3:20 Eastern).

2. Women's Swimming
Golden girls Dana Vollmer, Allison Schmitt and Missy Franklin (right) will lead the U.S. 4x200m freestyle relay team in its quest for gold (4:04 Eastern), while Kathleen Hersey and Cammile Adams will contend in the 200m butterfly. 

3. Men's Gymnastics All-Around Finals
Redemption's the theme for the U.S. men after a bumbling showing in the team finals (11:30 Eastern in real time). Danell Leyva and John Orozco are the American combatants in what will be a rugged six-event rotation. Orozco in particular will have to rebound from a brutal showing in the team finals.

4. Men's Synchronized Springboard
Americans aren't normally known for conformity, but Troy Dumais and Kristian Ipsen will try to mirror one another all the way to the medal stand. Dumais (32) and Ipsen (19) are separated by 13 years but will try to be indistinguishable in this unique Olympic event (10 am Eastern real time).

5. Beach Volleyball
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh continue their quest for gold as they take on Austria (6 pm Eastern).

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.
 

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

Teaser:
<p> What to Watch on Aug. 1 from London 2012 Olympics.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 09:44
Path: /college-football/accs-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

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

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

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

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

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

4. How will Logan Thomas handle the spotlight?
Rarely has a Virginia Tech quarterback entered the season with as much fanfare as Logan Thomas. That’s with good reason. He’s a top-notch NFL prospect who set the Hokies’ record for total offense (3,482 yards) last season while accounting for 30 touchdowns. Beyond the numbers, Thomas will be the focus due to more than just his performance last season. Unlike past season, Virginia Tech doesn’t have an heir apparent at running back with redshirt freshman Michael Holmes leading a committee of ballcarriers. The Hokies’ always-underrated receiving corps also takes a hit without Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. Thomas will have senior receivers ready to step into bigger roles, but they’re not entirely proven. Even the line has major holes to fill with center Andrew Miller the only returning starter. In other words, Thomas has little choice but to take charge of the Hokies’ offense in production and leadership.

5. Who will catch passes from Mike Glennon?
T.J. Graham, Jay Smith and tight end George Bryan accounted for 119 receptions, more than 40 percent of Mike Glennon’s completions last season. That leaves running back James Washington as the top pass-catcher on the team, along with a handful of questions. If NC State is going to threaten for an ACC Atlantic title, the Wolfpack will need receivers to emerge. NC State may lack proven commodities, but it does have an interesting skill set at receiver with Tobias Palmer and Byran Underwood’s ability to stretch a defense and good size from Quintin Payton and Hakeem Flowers, who are both at least 6-foot-3.

6. How will Miami reload in the backfield?
With 10 returning starters and NCAA trouble hanging over the program, the Hurricanes are a longshot to win the ACC in 2012. Losses were heavy on both sides of the ball, but the offense has to replace quarterback Jacory Harris and running back Lamar Miller. Harris wasn’t an All-ACC passer, but he had a solid senior year, throwing for 2,486 yards and 20 touchdowns. Miller ranked second in the ACC in rushing yards per game last season, averaging 106.0 on 227 carries. Stephen Morris is expected to win the Miami starting quarterback spot, but he will be challenged by Memphis transfer Ryan Williams in the fall. Miami should feel more secure about its running back depth, as senior Mike James is back after recording nearly 300 yards last season. James won’t be the only option in the backfield, as Eduardo Clements and Duke Johnson will see carries. The Hurricanes finished seven in the conference in scoring last year and a similar result can be expected in 2012. 

7. How does Maryland pick up the pieces from last season?
The preseason party line is that Randy Edsall and his players understand each other better this time around. Perhaps that shouldn’t be too much of a stretch after a glut of players transferred since Edsall took over. Not to mention the Terrapins have yet to play a game after losing the final seven games last season, six by double figures. Even if communication among Edsall and the players has improved, the Terrapins still have two new coordinators in Mike Locksley and Brian Stewart. Locksley was a successful offensive coordinator at Illinois when the Illini went to the Rose Bowl in 2008, and Houston showed marked improvement on defense under Stewart last season. A healthy Kenny Tate should improve the defense, while C.J. Brown (five starts last season) begins 2012 entrenched as the starter. The instability in College Park has to come to a stop soon, doesn’t it?

8. How will Georgia Tech replace Stephen Hill at receiver?
The Yellow Jackets will always rank among the nation’s best in rushing offense, but the passing attack needs to be better if this team wants to win the ACC in 2012. Quarterback Tevin Washington had his moments last year (10 of 14, 184 yards, one TD against North Carolina) but completed only 49.3 percent of his throws and tossed eight picks. The senior isn’t asked to throw for 300 yards every game, but the offense needs Washington to be more accurate and careful with the ball. Improving Georgia Tech’s passing attack won’t get any easier with the losses in the receiving corps. Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton were the team’s top two receivers last year but have expired their eligibility. The Yellow Jackets do not return a receiver with a career catch and will have to lean on inexperienced sophomores Jeff Greene and Darren Waller. Alabama transfer Chris Jackson will also figure into the mix, but Georgia Tech needs one to emerge as the clear go-to threat. Without Hill and Melton, the Yellow Jackets could struggle to top last season’s 142.3 yards per game average.

9. Will Michael Rocco hold off Phillip Sims?
Virginia’s season turned around when the Cavaliers stopped rotating David Watford and Michael Rocco. With Rocco as the starter, the Cavs went on a four-game winning streak to clinch a bowl appearance. Rocco’s does not have a firm grip on the quarterback job, however. Alabama transfer Phillip Sims was granted a hardship waiver and will be eligible this season. A year after challenging AJ McCarron for the starting quarterback job with the eventual national champions, he’ll contend to start for the Cavs.

10. What Can Be Expected of North Carolina in 2012?
With a ban on postseason play, it’s fair to wonder how motivated North Carolina will be this season. New coach Larry Fedora was a solid hire, but his arrival also brings new schemes on both sides of the ball. The Tar Heels will employ a no-huddle spread attack on offense, which should score plenty of points. Quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard are two of the best offensive players in the ACC and will be playing behind one of college football’s top 10 offensive lines. The defense loses some key contributors, but landing Vic Koenning as a co-coordinator was a huge catch for Fedora. The Tar Heels have a favorable schedule and if motivation isn’t an issue, this team could push for nine victories in 2012.

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

 

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Athlon's 2012 All-ACC Team

Teaser:
<p> ACC's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-2012-all-name-team
Body:

With 124 teams in the FBS and around 100 players on a roster, there are certainly some interesting names that pop-up throughout the course of production for Athlon's 2012 college football magazine or online research.

We took a look through the rosters for the 124 teams and pulled out some of the funniest and more interesting names in college football for the 2012 season.

College Football's All-Name Team for 2012

OFFENSE

Rob Blanchflower, TE, UMass
Blair Bomber, WR, Washington State
Brandon Bourbon, RB, Kansas
Bookie Cobbins, WR, Kentucky
Brander Craighead, OL, UTEP
Orleans Darkwa, RB, Tulane
Synjyn Days, QB, Georgia Tech
Duke DeLancellotti, QB, Texas State
Stevie Joe Dorman, QB, Colorado
Spiffy Evans, WR, Boston College
George George, TE, Virginia Tech
Tyshon Goode, WR, Kent State
Brynjar Gudmundsson, OL, South Florida            
Lynx Hawthorne, ATH, Baylor
Hunter Hollowed, OL, Hawaii
Win Homer, OL, Boston College
Steele Jantz, QB, Iowa State
Mister Jones, RB, Colorado State
Thor Jozwiak, OL, South Florida
Jazz King, WR, Marshall
Munchie Legaux, QB, Cincinnati
Philander Moore, WR, Ole Miss
Uzoma Nwachukwu, WR, Texas A&M
Fritz Rock, WR, Illinois
Konockus Sashington, RB, North Texas
Cayman Shutter, QB, Hawaii
Jack Snowball, RB, Miami (Ohio)
Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State
Sirgregory Thornton, RB, Arkansas State
Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
Charlie Will Tuttle, OL, Texas State
Halapoulivaati Vaitai, OT, TCU
Wilson Van Hooser, WR, Tulane
Ivory Wade, C, Baylor
Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State

 


DEFENSE

Xavier Archangel, CB, UTSA
Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern
Zeek Bigger, LB, East Carolina
Chief Brown, DB, Ole Miss
Terrance Bullitt, LB, Texas Tech
Blaze Caponegro, LB, Temple
Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State
Jose Cheeseborough, DB, FIU
Mister Cobble, DT, Kentucky
Pudge Cotton, DB, Eastern Michigan
Fabby Desir, LB, North Carolina
Steele Divitto, LB, Boston College
Hugs Etienne, CB, Wisconsin

Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
Maxx Forde, DE, Idaho
BooBoo Gates, S, Bowling Green
King Holder, CB, San Diego State
Sir Thomas Jackson, LB, Arizona
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
Wonderful Terrific Monds II, LB, Buffalo
Godspower Offor, DE, Wake Forest
Happiness Osunde, DB, Texas Tech
Leviticus Payne, DB, Cincinnati
Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia
Cartier Rice, CB, Kentucky

Wave Ryder, DB, Navy
Prince Shembo, LB, Notre Dame
Aziz Shittu, DE, Stanford
Joe Stoner, LB, New Mexico
Eric Striker, S, Oklahoma
Momo Thomas, DB, Colorado State
Fudge Van Hooser, S, Tulane
Tronic Williams, CB, Western Michigan

 

SPECIALISTS

Chase Tenpenney, P, Nevada
Kirby Van Der Kamp, P, Iowa State

 

Did we miss out on any names? Add your suggestions into the comments and we'll add them to the list.

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's 2012 All-Name Team</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 05:49
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Oakland Raiders, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/oakland-raiders-2012-nfl-team-preview
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Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Oakland Raiders check in at No. 23.

The Raiders’ 2011 season will be remembered most for the Oct. 8 death of iconic team owner Al Davis, which rocked the franchise and set off a series of aftershocks that continue to reshape the organization.

Shortly after the season ended, new owner Mark Davis (Al’s son) hired long-time Packers personnel man Reggie McKenzie as general manager. The no-nonsense McKenzie quickly fired coach Hue Jackson and replaced him with Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, a 39-year-old, demanding coach who had helped turn around the Broncos’ defense and vowed to transform the Raiders into a smart and disciplined team. McKenzie then went to work getting the Raiders’ fiscal house in order and ridding the team of some contracts he called “out of whack.” Cornerbacks Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, tight end Kevin Boss and outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley were released.

From the day he was hired, McKenzie has worked to remake and modernize a Raiders franchise that had been ruled by Al Davis for over four decades. The question now is whether all those changes will help the Raiders make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Offense

When McKenzie fired Jackson, the Raiders lost their offensive architect and play-caller. New offensive coordinator Greg Knapp will fill those roles in his second stint running Oakland’s attack. Knapp spent the past two seasons as Houston’s quarterbacks coach, working under Gary Kubiak. Knapp will install a version of the West Coast offense and use the zone blocking scheme that helped the Texans’ running attack rank No. 2 in the NFL last season.

Quarterback Carson Palmer, a classic drop-back passer, faces the challenges of learning a new system and adapting to a scheme that requires him to roll out and throw on the run more than he ever has in his career. That’s nothing compared to what he went through last year. He basically went from his couch to the huddle after an Oct. 18 trade between the Raiders and Bengals that came two days after starting quarterback Jason Campbell suffered a broken collarbone. Palmer passed for 2,753 yards and 13 touchdowns in just 10 games, but he was intercepted 16 times and needs to cut down on those killer turnovers.

Running back Darren McFadden remains the key to Oakland’s offense, but the question is whether he can avoid the type of toe, foot and knee injuries that have hampered his career. ­McFadden rushed for 614 yards in just seven games last year before suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury to his right foot. Valuable backup Michael Bush signed with Chicago as a free agent. Mike Goodson, acquired from Carolina in a trade, and speedster Taiwan Jones will battle for playing time behind McFadden. Fullback Marcel Reece, a converted wide receiver, gives the Raiders a matchup nightmare out of the backfield.

The Raiders’ receiving corps boasts a wealth of speed and potential but little experience. Darrius Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft, is coming off a career year, but the Raiders’ most skilled receiver is Denarius Moore. He averaged 18.7 yards per catch last season as a rookie. Jacoby Ford, who missed six of the final seven games last year with a sprained foot, is another game-breaker with good hands.

Tight end is a big question mark after the Raiders cut Boss. Brandon Myers, a fourth-year pro, has never caught more than 16 passes in a season. As rookies last year, Richard Gordon and David Ausberry combined for three catches.

Last year, the Raiders’ offensive line allowed just 25 sacks and opened enough holes for Oakland to rank seventh in the NFL in rushing. Four of the five starters return — tackles Jared Veldheer and Khalif Barnes and guards Stefen Wisniewski and Cooper Carlisle. Center Samson Satele left as a free agent, but Wisniewski will move to center, and former Texans guard Mike Brisiel, a key free agent pickup, will join the starting five. Barnes could face a challenge from Joe Barksdale, a third-round pick in 2011.

Related: Top Oakland Raiders Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver are installing an aggressive 21st century defense, complete with multiple fronts, coverages, schemes and blitzes. Gone are the days when the Raiders relied on simple man-to-man coverage and a four-man pass rush.

The strength of Oakland’s defense remains its line, particularly tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly. The return of end Matt Shaughnessy from a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 3 should provide a huge boost to this unit. End Lamarr Houston, like Shaughnessy, is a high-energy lineman with a mean streak. Desmond Bryant and former New York Giant Dave Tollefson add quality depth inside and outside.

Strong safety Tyvon Branch, free safety Michael Huff and backups Mike Mitchell and Matt Giordano give Oakland an experienced quartet of safeties. Huff has also proven to be a quality nickel corner. McKenzie signed a pair of experienced corners in free agency, ex-Ram Ron Bartell and former 49er Shawntae Spencer. They’ve combined for 137 NFL starts. DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa, a pair of 2011 draft picks, and free agent pickup Pat Lee will battle for time in the nickel.

Third-year middle linebacker Rolando McClain, the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft, has yet to live up to that billing. What’s more, he faces potential jail time and a possible NFL suspension stemming from an altercation last November in Alabama. Outside linebacker Aaron Curry, acquired from Seattle in an October trade, was the fourth overall pick in 2009 but has struggled in the NFL and could get pushed by rookie Miles Burris, a fourth-round pick. Outside linebacker Philip Wheeler, a free agent addition, is coming off a career year at Indianapolis and is slated to replace Wimbley.

Specialists

Punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski are entering their 13th seasons, but neither one has showed any signs of slowing down. If anything, they’re getting better. Lechler is coming off his seventh Pro Bowl season, and Janikowski his first. Ford has returned a franchise-record four kickoffs for touchdowns. If he’s back to full speed, Ford will give Oakland one of the NFL’s most dangerous return men. Moore handled most of the punt return duties last season, but that job could be up for grabs if he starts at wide receiver.

Final Analysis: 3rd in the AFC West

The Raiders have gone 8–8 in back-to-back seasons, but they could be hard-pressed to match that record this year after so many changes. Not a single team in the AFC West finished above .500 last year, but the competition should be tougher this year with quarterback Peyton Manning in Denver and both Kansas City and San Diego poised for bounce-back seasons. McKenzie is building a solid foundation, but his job has only begun.

Related: 2012 Oakland Raiders Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Family Affair
When outside linebacker Aaron Curry was traded to the Raiders from Seattle in October, he relished the chance to play for the team that drafted his older brother, former NFL linebacker Eric Barton, in 1999. Barton played five seasons for Oakland. It wasn’t until 2010 that Curry and Barton, who had been put up for adoption as an infant, learned they were brothers and met each other.

Bigfoot
The shoe that Sebastian Janikowski used to kick an NFL record-tying 63-yard field goal in the 2011 season-opener at Denver is on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Janikowski tied Tom Dempsey and Jason Elam with his 63-yarder. “I’d prefer to break the record, but being with Tom Dempsey and Jason Elam, that’s a big honor for me,” Janikowski says.

Reunited
Former Raiders running back Napoleon Kaufman played six seasons with the Raiders before retiring after the 2000 campaign to pursue a career in the ministry. Kaufman rejoined the Raiders this year as the team’s chaplain. He has served as the pastor of the Well Christian Community in Livermore, a Bay Area city. Kaufman rushed for a Raiders single-game record 227 yards against Denver on Oct. 19, 1997.

Circle The Date
Rookie guard Tony Bergstrom, a third-round pick from Utah, wasted no time before looking up the Raiders’ 2012 schedule after being drafted to see if his new team would face Baltimore. Bergstrom’s brother-in-law, Paul Kruger, is a fourth-year defensive end for the Ravens. Sure enough, Oakland is set to face the Ravens on Nov. 11 in Baltimore. 

Wolf’s Impact
New GM Reggie McKenzie, a former Raiders linebacker, can thank ex-Raiders personnel chief Ron Wolf for launching his NFL front office career in 1994. McKenzie was coaching at the University of Tennessee when Wolf, then the Packers’ general manager, offered him a scouting job with Green Bay. After 18 seasons with the Packers, McKenzie returned to the Raiders this year as their general manager. Wolf played a big role again. Wolf gave McKenzie a strong recommendation to new Raiders owner Mark Davis. McKenzie was the only candidate Davis interviewed.

Infamous Records
The Raiders set NFL single-season records for total penalties (163) and penalty yards (1,358) last season. They broke the old marks of 158 and 1,304 set by the 1998 Kansas City Chiefs.

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: Thur., Aug. 2

Order your 2012 Oakland Raiders Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Oakland Raiders Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Oakland Raiders Bucs Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Oakland Raiders 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 05:00

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