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

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

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

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

We begin our look at pivotal players with the ACC with other conferences to follow.

ACC PIVOTAL PLAYERS
Nick Becton, OT,
Virginia Tech

Running back seems to be the most obvious void for Virginia Tech, but the Hokies have had little trouble filling that spot over the years. The bigger concern may be offensive line, where the Hokies lost Blake DeChristopher among others. Becton had been projected as a starter at times in his career, but he’s been limited to part-time duty due to injury. Virginia Tech needs him to stay healthy to protect Logan Thomas’ blind side. Right tackle Vinston Painter was a major in-state recruit in 2008, but he has yet to start a game for the Hokies.
Related: Logan Thomas is a rising star in the ACC

Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson
Clemson’s defensive shortcomings are well-documented, but what are the Tigers going to do about it? First, they hired Brent Venables. Now, they need a handful of defensive players to emerge. The defensive line lacks depth, but we’re going to focus on the secondary in a league full of quality veteran quarterbacks. Without their top cover corner (Coty Sensabaugh), the Tigers need Breeland to take the next step. As a redshirt freshman last season, he had a critical interception to spark Clemson’s rally to defeat Maryland and added another pick in the ACC Championship Game.
Related: Clemson S Blanks among top freshmen to watch in ACC

Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
At West Virginia, offensive line coach Rick Trickett earned a reputation of developing unlikely all-conference and All-American offensive linemen. Erving may be in that mold. He was an unheralded defensive line recruit and then an unheralded defensive line backup. He moved to left tackle last season, his first time playing on the offensive line. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has raved about the 6-foot-6, 309 sophomore since the spring. The Seminoles now need him to keep E.J. Manuel healthy. That was tough to do as Florida State quarterbacks were sacked 41 times last season.
Related: Clemson at Florida State tops list of ACC’s must-see games

Jeff Greene, WR, Georgia Tech
Don’t get too wrapped up in Georgia Tech’s option offense to believe receivers are irrelevant for the Yellow Jackets. Demaryius Thomas and Stephen Hill have taken advantage of defenses creeping up to stop the run by averaging more than 20 yards per catch -- Thomas led the NCAA with 29.3 yards per catch. The Yellow Jackets don’t return a wide receiver who caught a pass last season. The 6-4, 200-pound sophomore Greene may have the most potential of the Yellow Jackets’ receiving corps. Georgia Tech may only need one good receiver, if Greene can deliver, that at least gives defenses more threats to ponder.
Related: “Georgia Tech can run, but they can’t hide an inconsistent passing game,” says opposing coach in Athlon’s ACC anonymous scouting reports

Sterling Lucas, LB, NC State
NC State lost every starting linebacker, most notably Audie Cole. If there was any consolation, the fifth-year senior Lucas spent last season redshirting during his recovery from a knee injury. He’ll bring leadership to a position that needs stability. The only returning linebacker with experience, Lucas was named defensive captain before the start of preseason practice. He had 86 career tackles from 2008-10.
Related: Wolfpack’s Amerson checks in at No. 2 in top 50 ACC players

Tim Smith, WR, Virginia
Productive wide receivers haven’t been a strong suit for Virginia in recent years. Kris Burd’s 913 receiving yards last season were the most for the Cavaliers in a decade -- and even that came with only three touchdowns and 13.8 yards per catch. The junior Tim Smith could be a deep threat after averaging 17.1 yards per catch last season. That is, if the Cavs settle on a quarterback.
Related: ACC storylines: Will Cavs’ QB Michael Rocco hold off pressure from Phillip Sims?

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Pivotal Players: Six from the ACC</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 05:05
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-10-biggest-injury-concerns-wide-receiver
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Injuries are certainly a part of football, and fantasy football, for that matter, but when it comes to the latter that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't be prepared.

Here are the top injury concerns when it comes to wide receiver. These premier pass-catchers also have a history of catching plenty of time on the bench because of injuries.

1. Kenny Britt, Tennessee
After leading the AFC in receiving through two weeks with 271 yards, Britt tore his ACL against the Broncos in Week 3. He needed a second procedure to “clean up” the knee at the end of May. There's also the matter of pending discipline, most likely a suspension of some sort, from the NFL for his most recent off-field transgressions.

2. Andre Johnson, Houston
Missed six games after a Week 4 hamstring injury and then missed three more games after tweaking his other hamstring in Week 13. He also had his knee scoped in May and gave the team and potential fantasy owners a scare early in training camp when he injured his groin.

3. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
Coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but he might be not be ready for the start of the ’12 campaign after breaking a bone in his foot in May.

4. Miles Austin, Dallas
Austin missed two games with a left hamstring issue early and four games later on with a right hamstring problem. And wouldn't you know it, he hurt his hamstring, again, in traning camp. According to the team, the next time you will see Austin on the field is in Week 1 against the New York Giants, hopefully.

5. Sidney Rice, Seattle
Since his breakout 2009 season, he has missed 17 games over the last two years with shoulder and concussion issues.

6. Percy Harvin, Minnesota
Has dealt with durability issues dating back to his days at Florida, but surprisingly has missed only three games in his NFL career. Can he handle increased workload on the ground?

7. Marques Colston, New Orleans
Constantly seems to be dealing with nagging issues. Has missed eight games over the last four years, playing all 16 games only twice.

8. Dez Bryant, Dallas
Bryant has yet to play a full season in his two-year career. He was slowed by a bruised quad last season and left practice earlier this week with a knee injury. An MRI revealed patellar tendinitis in his right knee. He will miss the remaining preseason games, but is expected to be ready to go in Week 1.

9. Malcom Floyd, San Diego
Floyd has played 16 games only once in his seven-year career (2009). He has averaged 9.7 games played in the other six years.

10. Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia
He missed three games with shoulder and hamstring issues in the middle of last season after suffering significant weight loss from a mysterious preseason illness.

Five More to Watch

Vincent Brown, San Diego
Broke his left ankle in Aug. 18 preseason game, underwent surgery and is expected to be out at least eight weeks. He has not been ruled out for the season, however, and could make a return at some point in the second half.

Austin Collie, Indianapolis
Collie appears to have suffered yet another concussion after taking a hard hit in the Colts' preseason game against Pittsburgh on Aug. 19. It would represent the third concussion for the four-year pro since November 2010. Collie was limited to just nine games in 2010 because of concussions, but he did play in all 16 last season.

Jacoby Ford, Oakland
After playing in all 16 games as a rookie in 2010, Ford missed eight games with a serious foot injury in ’11, and suffered a left foot sprain in the Raiders' second preseason game. It doesn't help that he's only 5-9, 185 pounds.

Denarius Moore, Oakland
Moore was one of the surprise rookies of the 2011 season but did miss three games with a foot and ankle issues.

Demaryius Thomas, Denver
The big fella missed six games as a rookie due to injury and then ruptured his Achilles in February 2011. He recovered quickly enough to play 11 games last season.

— Published on August 23, 2012

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<p> Fantasy Football: 10 Biggest Injury Concerns at Wide Receiver</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 05:04
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-oakland-raiders
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What can the Oakland Raiders do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Eric Gilmore, Freelance Writer

Will Darren McFadden ever be able to carry the load for a full season?
The next time McFadden carries the load for a full season will be the first time. In his four NFL seasons, he has never carried more than 223 times. He has missed 19 games in his NFL career with assorted toe, foot and knee injuries. Although ­McFadden has recovered from last year’s Lisfranc injury, it’s hard to believe he’ll be able to stay healthy for an entire season. It’s up to him to prove us wrong.

Carson Palmer was more productive in 10 games last year than any season in Cincinnati. Will he keep up that pace for a full season?
Palmer basically came off the couch to play the final 10 games and start the final nine last season. With the benefit of a full offseason program and training camp, Palmer should be able to put up big numbers again. He will have to learn a new offense that new coordinator Greg Knapp brought with him from Houston — a form of the West Coast scheme with zone blocking. But compared to last year, he’ll have tons of time to master this playbook and become more familiar with his receivers.

Denarius Moore or Darrius Heyward-Bey?
Heyward-Bey had by far the better numbers last year, but Moore has better hands, runs better routes and produces more big plays. Quarterback Carson Palmer has raved about Moore, but he wants him to start catching more short- to mid-range passes to go with his work on deep throws. This is a tough call, especially with a new coaching staff and new offense in place, but Moore gets the nod.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Denarius Moore, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Mike Goodson, RB
Overvalued: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR
Top Rookie: Juron Criner, WR
Bounce-Back: Jacoby Ford, WR
Top IDP: Tyvon Branch, S

2012 Draft Class

3. Tony Bergstrom G 6/5 313 Utah
4. Miles Burris OLB 6/2 246 San Diego State
5. Jack Crawford DE 6/5 274 Penn State
5. Juron Criner WR 6/3 224 Arizona
6. Christo Bilukidi DT 6/5 290 Georgia State
7. Nathan Stupar LB 6/2 241 Penn State

Fantasy Impact: There’s a new front office and coaching staff taking over in Oakland, but their ability to add impact players on draft day was limited by having just one pick in the first three rounds. Tony Bergstrom could play guard or tackle and should upgrade the depth if he does not start in 2012. Juron Criner had a solid career at Arizona and surprisingly slipped to the fifth round. Although Criner could make an impact, playing time at receiver won’t be easy to come by with Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford returning.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (DEN, KC, at CAR)

There are plenty of weapons on the Oakland roster. And if they can all stay healthy, a fantasy title game in Carolina is very appealing. Facing two division opponents — Denver and Kansas City, both in Oakland — also isn’t a bad way to start the fantasy postseason. All three opponents allowed at least 21 points per game last season.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Oakland Raiders</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 05:01
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/college-fantasy-football-sleepers-2012
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It is very common for players to emerge at various times during the season and become viable options for fantasy owners.  The following players listed are unlikely to land on draft-day rosters, but owners would be wise to add them to their watch lists because of their fantasy potential. 

Tre Roberson, QB-Indiana
The dual-threat sophomore quarterback has taken control of the offense, and the Hoosiers’ early-season schedule should yield fantasy success.

Trey Miller, QB-Navy
Oft-injured Kriss Proctor made fantasy owners forget about Ricky Dobbs’ production under center for the Midshipmen in 2010, but the quarterback position is tailor-made for fantasy success running the triple-option.

Robert Williams, RB-Miami (OH)
The sophomore walk-on running back has been making a name for himself in fall camp and the Redhawks need to compliment their passing game.

Akeem Daniels, RB-Northern Illinois
Last year, Daniels averaged 5.4 yards per carry and 16.8 yards per catch and scored five touchdowns.  His versatility may be the deciding factor in landing the starting running back spot.

Tim Cornett, RB-UNLV
Cornett will try to become the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Rebels in eight years and the fact that five starters return on the offensive line will certainly help.

James Gillum, RB-Minnesota
Even though the junior college transfer hasn’t locked down the starting job, Gillum has the greater upside of the backs on the roster and the offensive line returns four starters.

Josh Ferguson, RB-Illinois
The shifty running back has excellent hands and seems to be a better fit in Tim Beckman’s spread attack than bruising Donovonn Young.

Stefon Diggs, WR-Maryland
Diggs is the best thing going in the Terps’ fall camp, but the lack of talent around him will keep his numbers in check.  However, his big-play potential is too great to ignore and he will keep fantasy owners excited on a week-to-week basis.

Keon Hatcher and Mekale McKay, WRs-Arkansas
One of these freshmen, if not both, will compliment Cobi Hamilton in the Hogs’ offense. 

Tre’ Parmalee, WR-Kansas
Charlie Weis may have found something in this freshman receiver, who hauled in two touchdown passes and returned a kick in one of the Jayhawks’ fall scrimmages.  

Cody Latimer, WR-Indiana
Roberson made our list at the quarterback position and we believe Latimer’s athleticism makes him a dangerous compliment, especially if defenses focus on running back Stephen Houston.

 

Others to watch:

Chris Coyer, QB-Temple

Munchie Legaux, QB-Cincinnati

Venric Mark, RB-Northwestern

Nick Hale, RB-Nevada

Terrence Franks, RB-Texas St.

DeLeon Eskridge, RB-San Jose St.

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon St.

Shaq Roland, WR-South Carolina

Darius Millines, WR-Illinois

Ty MacArthur, WR-Air Force

Jordan Leslie, WR-UTEP

 

by Joe DiSalvo - thecffsite.com

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Teaser:
<p> College Fantasy Football Sleepers for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 04:47
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-biggest-preseason-questions-17-west-region
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With Midnight Madness less than two months away, our look at some of the biggest questions in college basketball for 2012-13 continues into its second week.

Like the NCAA Tournament, we’re taking on 17 questions in each of our four regions of the country (South, East, Midwest and West) for our Great 68 Questions. We’ve “seeded” our questions, too, ranking the biggest questions in each region.
 
Last week we looked at the South Region (SEC, Big 12, Conference USA, Ohio Valley and Sun Belt) and the East Region (ACC, Big East, the CAA and the Ivy League). On Tuesday, we looked at the Midwest Region (Big Ten, Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley).
 
Today, we examine the top 17 questions in the West Region. Our final region includes the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast Conference and the WAC.

West Region No. 1 seed: Will the nation’s top recruiting class right the ship at UCLA?
A subpar signing class or two can be the difference between national prominence and the NIT. After three seasons of barely clinging the college basketball map, UCLA hopes the reverse is true. After going 56-43 in the last thee seasons, the Bruins signed two of the nation’s top five recruits in guard Shabazz Muhammad and forward Kyle Anderson, plus center Tony Parker. UCLA’s makeover is far less certain than the one that took place in Kentucky when the Wildcats signed John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Muhammad remains in eligibility limbo. The non-freshman core isn’t a sure bet, either: Josh Smith continues to battle weight issues. Larry Drew II is a one-year transfer at point guard, but will he be the same player who lost his job to Kendall Marshall and bolted North Carolina soon after. The Bruins should have the talent to win the Pac-12 and more, but this group also could have the potential to fall flat as other recent Bruins teams.

No. 2: Or will Arizona’s newcomers return the Wildcats to glory?
Like UCLA, Arizona has been in its own funk, though the Wildcats reached the Elite Eight two seasons ago with Derrick Williams leading the way. Like the Bruins, Arizona has brought in a highly ranked signing class to help turn the tide. Coach Sean Miller signed two McDonald’s All-Americans (Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley) plus top-10 prospect Kaleb Tarczewski. The Wildcats also solidified their point guard position with the addition of Xavier transfer Mark Lyons, whom Miller recruited to the Musketeers. With veteran forward Solomon Hill (12.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) holding the mix together, Arizona also has designs of returning to past prominence.
Related: Miller, Howland rank among top coaches in nation

No. 3: Should we be all in with Dave Rice at UNLV?
On paper, Rice’s first season at UNLV wasn’t all that different than the last two under Lon Kruger. The Rebels went 26-9 overall and 9-5 in the Mountain West and finished with a one-and-done appearance in the NCAA Tournament. But hopes are higher for Rice’s second season. UNLV returns All-America contender Mike Moser (14 ppg, 10.5 rpg) and second-team all-conference guard Anthony Marshall. That alone would be enough for UNLV to contend in the Mountain West, but the Rebels add freshmen Anthony Bennett, who was pried away from Kentucky, and Katin Reinhardt, plus transfers Khem Birch (Pittsburgh) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (USC). The newcomers must fit in with the established veterans, but the ceiling is much higher in Vegas.

No. 4: Or will another star freshman at San Diego State keep the Rebels at bay?
After tying for the MWC regular season title, the Aztecs’ top four scorers from a season ago return as juniors and seniors, including Jamaal Franklin (17.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg). Like UNLV, San Diego State will set its sights higher in 2012-13. The Aztecs add versatile wing Winston Shepard, who surpassed NBA first-round draft pick Kawhi Leonard as the highest ranked recruit in school history. Transfers Dwayne Polee II (St. John’s), James Johnson (Virginia) and JJ O’Brien (Utah) also add to San Diego State’s depth. The Aztecs could go out on top in their final season in the MWC before leaving for a traditional one-bid league, the Big West.

No. 5: Does Gonzaga finally have the right mix to advance in the NCAA Tournament?
Even as the West Coast Conference has become more competitive in recent seasons, Gonzaga hasn’t slipped out of the NCAA Tournament picture, earning a bid in 14 consecutive seasons. Advancing, though, has been an issue. After reaching the Sweet 16 in Mark Few’s first two seasons, the Bulldogs have failed to reach the second weekend of the Tourney in nine of the last 11 seasons. In 2012-13, Few has a team that can make shots all over the floor, even from veteran forwards Elias Harris and Sam Dower. The Zags’ freshman backcourt of Kevin Pangos, the team’s leading scorer, and Gary Bell Jr., are a year older, too. With depth, talent and experience, Few has as balanced a team as he’s had in recent years at Gonzaga.
Related: Few tops list of “best of the rest” coaches

No. 6: How much will Cal miss Jorge Gutierrez?
If the Pac-12 has had one positive storyline in these recent lean years, it’s been the improvement at Cal. The Bears have reached the Tournament three times in the last four seasons under Mike Montgomery. Now, they’ll try to keep pace with UCLA and Arizona programs on the rebound. The biggest departure in Berkeley is Jorge Gutierrez, who was the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Cal will look to Allen Crabbe (15.2 ppg) to be the team’s top scorer again, but point guard Justin Cobbs (12.6 ppg) may be the most likely candidate to step into the leadership void left by Gutierrez, while Missouri transfer Ricky Kreklow may bring toughness.
Related: Montgomery leads rankings of Pac-12 coaches

No. 7: Is the heat on Johnny Dawkins at Stanford?
The Cardinal reached the NCAA Tournament in 13 of 14 seasons under Montgomery and his successor, Trent Johnson. That came to halt in four years under Dawkins. Stanford appears to be on the rebound after Dawkins best season in Palo Alto as the Cardinal went 26-11 and won the NIT. The Cardinal was inconsistent last season, starting 5-1 in the Pac-12 and going 5-7 thereafter, but Stanford returns a veteran nucleus of Anthony Brown, Aaron Bright and Dwight Powell in addition to sophomore Chasson Randle, who averaged 17.5 points over the final 10 games of the season. In other words, the pieces are in place for Stanford to end its NCAA drought. If not, Dawkins will feel the pressure.

No. 8: Can Colorado continue to play over its head?
Perhaps Colorado’s season was more of a reflection of the Pac-12 compared to the Big 12, but the Buffaloes will take it. Despite losing Alex Burks and Cory Higgins, Colorado improved from 8-8 in the Big 12 to 11-7 in the Pac-12 a year later. Then, Colorado shocked the league by winning the conference tournament. Coach Tad Boyle loses two seniors, but returns the nation’s third-leading rebounder Andre Roberson, plus two freshmen (Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker) who averaged at least nine points per game last season. Boyle is a proven program-builder, so Colorado should be optimistic for a third consecutive postseason trip.

No. 9: Can Larry Eustachy keep the momentum going at Colorado State?
Tim Miles took Colorado State from 7-25 in his first season to 20-12 and an NCAA Tournament appearance in his fifth before leaving for Nebraska. The Rams have little reason to be heart-broken with his departure, though. First, they hired Larry Eustachy, who similarly took from Southern Miss from the Conference USA cellar to the NCAA Tournament. Second, Eustachy isn’t the only new face. Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson will give the Rams much-needed size to a team that returns four starters. If Colorado State can solve its road woes (3-9 last season), the Rams should be a thorn in the side for UNLV and San Diego State.
Related: Eustachy, Miles among top hires for 2012-13

No. 10: Which big man steps up for Washington?
Washington was an enigma last season, with the talent to produce two NBA draft picks (Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten) and win a Pac-12 regular season title. But the same team stalled in the NIT. In 2012-13, coach Lorenzo Romar likes his backcourt, as usual. C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs, who is back after missing last season with a broken foot, should be two of the Pac-12’s best shooters. Abdul Gaddy hasn’t lived up to his lofty status as a recruit, but he’s a senior pass-first point guard who should be able to set up Wilcox and Suggs. The frontcourt, led by defensive stalwart Aziz N’Diaye, is unproven on the offensive end. Washington may be able to compete with a perimeter-oriented team, but if the Huskies are going to contend in the Pac-12, they likely will need balance.

No. 11: Does Matthew Dellavedova have the supporting cast to keep Gonzaga on its toes?
Saint Mary’s has become Gonzaga’s top challenger in the WCC, winning the league’s regular season and tournament titles in 2011-12. Australian point guard Matthew Dellavedova will return to defend his conference player of the year award. The Gaels have four starters back, but they’ll miss Rob Jones, who averaged 15 points and 10.8 rebounds last season. Jones will be replaced by Southern Utah transfer Matt Hodgson, who continues Saint Mary’s Australian pipeline.

No. 12: Will BYU rediscover its 3-point shooting touch?
Without Jimmer Fredette, BYU had its worst 3-point shooting season in seven season under Dave Rose, converting only 34.3 percent its shots beyond the arc. BYU added junior college transfer Raul Delgado, who shot 43.3 percent a year ago, and point guard Matt Carlino is also working to improve his shot. Establishing a perimeter threat to go with Brandon Davies’ production at center could help BYU contend for its first WCC title.

No. 13: Is Brock Motum the best big man you’ve never heard of?
Sure, Motum plays for Washington State, but former Cougars guard Klay Thompson managed to earn some notoriety outside of Pullman. Motum led the Pac-12 at 18 points per game and may be an NBA Draft pick when he leaves school. The 6-10 Australian has an inside-out game that should give Pac-12 opponents trouble for a second consecutive season.

No. 14: Can Oregon State be better without Jared Cunningham?
Jared Cunningham was a rare NBA Draft pick for Oregon State, but his departure doesn’t mean doom for the Beavers. The other four starters are back to a team that won 21 games and led the Pac-12 in scoring. Coach Craig Robinson, who has taken Oregon State to three College Basketball Invitationals, likes his team’s depth in the absence of Cunningham. Will that be enough to lift the Beavers into a better postseason tournament?

No. 15: Has Kevin O’Neill’s bad luck run out?
O’Neill knew taking over at NCAA sanction-limited USC would be difficult, but he’s also run into more setbacks than just a lack of scholarships and no postseason. Two of USC’s top two players -- guard Jio Fontan and forward Aaron Fuller -- suffered season-ending injuries last season, causing USC to fall to 6-25. The Trojans may not finish in the top half of the Pac-12, but improved depth thanks to transfers could at least keep USC more competitive.

No. 16: Is there any hope for Herb Sendek at Arizona State?
A new athletic director and a 10-26 record in the Pac-12 the last two seasons doesn’t spell good news for Sendek. Neither does the transfer of leading scorer Trent Lockett to Marquette. Arizona State’s best hope is dynamic freshman point guard Jahii Carson, but he sat out last season as an academic nonqualifier.

No. 17: OK, who is in the WAC again?
WAC football is done, but this remains a basketball league -- albeit not a strong one. Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii are out. Denver, Seattle, Texas State, UT-Arlington and UTSA are in. Expect Utah State to return to its familiar spot near the top of the standings while Denver tries to make the most of a more geographically logical conference since leaving the Sun Belt. We'll ask this question again next season when Utah State and San Jose State leave for the Mountain West, Louisiana Tech and UTSA for Conference USA, and UT-Arlington and Texas State for the Sun Belt.

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> College Basketball's Biggest Preseason Questions: 17 for the West Region</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 04:18
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-new-york-giants
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Ralph Vacchiano, New York Daily News

What will the timeshare look like between David Wilson and Ahmad Bradshaw?
Giants GM Jerry Reese said that Bradshaw is still the “lead dog,” but how much he leads depends on his health. He’s got chronic ankle and foot issues and had yet another offseason procedure on his foot, so they have to limit his load. The best guess is Bradshaw will get about two-thirds of the carries and Wilson will get one-third.

Martellus Bennett is dripping with athletic ability, but can he turn into a fantasy weapon for Eli Manning?
Bennett does have tantalizing skills that he’s never quite been able to put together. He should blossom with the pass-happy Giants; just don’t expect him to suddenly be a top-flight tight end. That position is just not a major weapon in Kevin Gilbride’s offense. Judging by past use of tight ends, it would seem a 50-to-55-catch season might be the ceiling. The Giants like their tight ends to block, and they prefer to target their top three wide receivers.

Victor Cruz: One-hit wonder, or can he repeat his breakout season?
All Cruz did was have the greatest single season for a receiver in Giants history (82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine TDs), so it’s hard to imagine he’ll match that his second time around. He had an abnormal number of breaks last year — fumbles that he recovered or were overturned by replays, short catches where he broke a tackle (or the tackler missed) that he turned into a huge gain. If that was luck, then expect a big regression. But if it was skill that caused him to break all those big plays, he might repeat his magical season.

Can Hakeem Nicks parlay his stellar postseason run into consistent fantasy greatness this season?
I’m not sure why anyone would think he’s been inconsistent. He had 76 catches for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns last season — and that was a down year from the one before (79-1,052-11 in 13 games). He’s one of the most underrated receivers in the game, is on the verge of a Pro Bowl, and has shown both possession and big-play skills. If he stays healthy — which sometimes has been a mild issue — he could easily jump to the next level, which is Calvin Johnson/Larry Fitgerald territory.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Martellus Bennett, TE
Deep-Sleeper: Rueben Randle, WR
Overvalued: Ahmad Bradshaw, RB
Top Rookie: David Wilson, RB
Bounce-Back: Jerrel Jernigan, WR
Top IDP: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE

2012 Draft Class

1. David Wilson RB 5-10 206 Virginia Tech
2. Rueben Randle WR 6-4 210 LSU
3. Jayron Hosley CB 5-10 178 Virginia Tech
4. Adrien Robinson TE 6-4 264 Cincinnati
4. Brandon Mosley OL 6-5 314 Auburn
6. Matt McCants OL 6-5 308 UAB
7. Markus Kuhn DT 6-5 299 NC State

Fantasy Impact: With Brandon Jacobs departing for San Francisco, the Giants needed to address the depth behind running back Ahmad Bradshaw. David Wilson likely won’t start, but he will see a handful of carries per game. He should be a handcuff to Bradshaw and one of the top rookie picks in keeper formats. Rueben Randle was a solid pickup in Round 2. He will be the No. 3 receiver in 2012. Tight end Adrien Robinson is a sleeper to watch, especially with Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum sidelined with injuries.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (NO, at ATL, at BAL)

The Saints were in the bottom 13 against QBs, RBs and WRs last season. This figures to be a favorable matchup for the Giants in the first week of the fantasy playoffs. Games at Atlanta and at Baltimore certainly should be a bit more troublesome. The Giants closed strong last season, so you can expect them to put some points on the board down the stretch.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New York Giants</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 04:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-new-york-jets
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What can the New York Jets do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Ernie Palladino, Freelance Writer

Will Shonn Greene ever develop into a feature back?
Greene could certainly be a feature back — if he can stay healthy. Rib and ankle injuries led to a subpar performance last year, with just two 100-yard efforts. But if he can stay healthy, Greene has the body and strength to overpower linebackers and run through defensive backs, a la Brandon Jacobs.

What sort of role and how many touches per game will Tim Tebow get in the Jets’ offense?
Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano says he expects backup Tebow to get between 15 and 20 touches per game, but he refuses to say in what capacity. It’s no secret, however, that Sparano wants to return to a ground-based offense, and the Wildcat would be a major part of that. Tebow could be a master in that formation, given his natural bulk, speed, and running ability.

Mark Sanchez set career highs in completions, yards and TDs last year, but the Jets still acquired Tebow. Can Sanchez develop into a 4,000-yard passer?
Don’t expect Sanchez to hit the 4,000-yard mark in passing. His statistics would not have been nearly as high last year had former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer not decided to throw the ball so much early in the season. With Sparano now calling the plays, the emphasis will now revert to Sanchez managing games, and the increase of run plays will naturally cut down his passing yards. His confidence is also a problem. Unless he turns the mental game around, Sanchez will never become a great passer.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Mark Sanchez, QB
Deep-Sleeper: Joe McKnight, RB
Overvalued: Tim Tebow, QB
Top Rookie: Stephen Hill, WR
Bounce-Back: Jeremy Kerley, WR
Top IDP: LaRon Landry, S

2012 Draft Class

1. Quinton Coples DE 6-6 286 North Carolina
2. Stephen Hill WR 6-4 215 Georgia Tech
3. Demario Davis OLB 6-2 235 Arkansas State
6. Josh Bush S 5-11 208 Wake Forest
6. Terrance Ganaway RB 6-0 239 Baylor
6. Robert T. Griffin G 6-6 335 Baylor
7. Antonio Allen S 6-1 210 South Carolina
7. Jordan White WR 6-0 208 Western Michigan

Fantasy Impact: Outside of Santonio Holmes, the Jets do not have any proven threats at receiver. Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill may not start, but he will see plenty of snaps this season. Hill was a big-play threat in college but played in an option offense, so his route-running and mastery of passing schemes will need work. Terrance Ganaway is a powerful runner and could help the Jets in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at JAC, at TEN, SD)

Will it be Tim Tebow or Mark Sanchez under center when the Jets travel to Jacksonville and Nashville? Sanchez was a top-10 fantasy QB last season — the only Jets player in the top 10 in any position. There are some winnable matchups for the Jets in the postseason, but the consistency of all other positions certainly depends on who’s at QB.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New York Jets</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 04:02
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-23
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Since starting the Backseat Drivers Fan Council last season, there have been some questions that members were nearly split on but perhaps not as close as one of the questions in this week’s survey. And another question, which had three possible answers, was nearly as close in the final results.

Members said they had some tough choices on some issues. Check out how they answered them:

Iowa or Montreal?
Fan Council members were asked if they could choose adding a Cup race at either Iowa or Montreal, which track would they select:

50.3 percent chose Montreal
49.7 percent chose Iowa

What Fan Council members said:
• This was tough since I love road course racing but the calendar lacks short tracks and I haven’t watched a boring Iowa race yet.

• After seeing the last Cup race at Watkins Glen and the Nationwide race at Montreal, Montreal needs to be on the schedule and possibly even a Chase race … mix up the Chase with some different tracks other than the cookie cutters that some guys are always good at. Give the boys a challenge!!

• Iowa, hands down. The NNS races that have been there have been outstanding. Can you imagine how much better it will be with all the Cup drivers?

• Montreal, for numerous reasons: 1. Brings Sprint Cup into Canadian market. 2. The racing is phenomenal there! 3. The Chase needs a road course!

• I attended the very first Nationwide race at Iowa. It's a fantastic track with great racing. It's a great place for those of us in the true Midwest whose only other track is Kansas. Would love to see Iowa get a Cup race some day.

• Let's make NASCAR Sprint Cup a bit more international ... even if it's only baby steps. I also think you will have a larger crowd in Montreal than in Iowa.

• NASCAR is a USA origination — let’s not put it in another country. Enough stuff has been sent to other countries, keep the money and jobs in the USA!

• This was a really tough decision as I think either race would be great. My love of Canada won me over. I also think Canada is starved for NASCAR (if my Twitter followers are any indication!) and adding a Cup race there would bring in tons of fans.

• While the racing at Montreal and the road courses is excellent, it has gotten to the point where the races are almost as random as a restrictor-plate race. NASCAR is in desperate need of more short tracks, so Iowa is a much better choice.

• Tough one because I live a half hour from the Iowa Speedway, but I honestly think NASCAR needs a road course in the Chase before Iowa needs a Sprint Cup race.

• Iowa has been a great venue for the Trucks and Nationwide. As I learned last week, (Iowa) has the most race tracks of any state! And the fans have packed the place. Time to reward the loyal fans in the seats, not behind the TVs.

• The sport needs more road courses!! I'd love it if NASCAR could move away from the oval image it has had for YEARS. Montreal would be PERFECT. The race fans are very excited every time the Nationwide Series comes, there's a great crowd, and it's a great market that is unserved. Plus Montreal produces great racing. It works out on both sides for sure.

Teaser:
<p> Dustin Long's Backseat Drivers Fan Council weighs in on racing at the "new" Bristol, whether the Cup Series should consider awarding a date to Montreal or Iowa and grades last weekend's race at Michigan.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 19:50
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/ask-athlon-cleveland-browns
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Q: I have a Cleveland Browns cap. The front of the hat says Browns and has a picture of a little man. Sort of looks like a leprechaun. What is the significance of the little man? Was that once their logo? I’ve never seen a little man on any of their team helmets/hats going back to 1957.

— Thomas Pichl, Matawan, N.J.

A: That little elfin creature is a brownie, a legendary creature from British folklore, and yes, he’s part of Browns folklore as well. Fans who referred to their team as the Brownies led the club to adopt the little fella as an emblem dating back to the dawn of Paul Brown’s franchise in 1946. Former owner Art Modell phased out the brownie emblem during the mid-1960s, but he’s made a bit of a comeback of late, appearing on some of the team’s sideline accessories.

Rob Doster, Senior Editor

Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at editor@athlonsports.com
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.
 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 16:59
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/ask-athlon-baseball-hall-fame
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Q: Has William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy (1862-1961), the great deaf Major League baseball player, ever been nominated for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame?

— Sandra Hoy, New Berlin, Pa.

A: Sandra, I sense from your name that there’s a family connection between you and the 19th-century speedster. Hoy was a productive pre-1900 player for seven different teams over a 14-year career, amassing 2,048 hits, 1,424 runs and 596 stolen bases, a number that still ranks 18th all time, one spot ahead of Maury Wills. A skilled defender, Hoy retired among baseball’s leaders in putouts and double plays. His Hall of Fame candidacy has gained some momentum in recent years, and there’s always the chance that the Veterans Committee could enshrine him some day.

As his nickname clearly indicates, Hoy played in an era that was far less concerned with sensitivity and political correctness, although his moniker referred to his deafness rather than his lack of intelligence. In fact, Hoy is credited as being one of the more intelligent players of his day. Some even credit Hoy for the adoption of hand signals by umpires to denote safe and out calls, although this is far from certain.

Charlie Miller, Editorial Director

Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at editor@athlonsports.com
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.
 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 16:57
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/ask-athlon-nfl
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Q: What’s the farthest an NFL quarterback has ever thrown a football in practice?

— Al Gabel, Rockford, Ill.

A: Al, it’s tough to provide a definitive answer to your question. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that strong-armed gunners like Steve Bartkowski, Randall Cunningham and JaMarcus Russell could heave it close to 100 yards in the air, but no video evidence exists that we’ve been able to uncover. (Russell was touted for being able to throw it 75 yards from his knees, as though that were a useful skill.)

As for a game? We can at least cite a contender for longest pass. In 1966, Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith (left) and receiver Bob Hayes hooked up on a 95-yard touchdown, and reports have Dandy Don launching the ball 83 yards in the air, before Bullet Bob took it the rest of the way for the score. We’ll give the nod to Dandy Don, unless readers can provide definitive evidence to the contrary.

Rob Doster, Senior Editor

Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at editor@athlonsports.com
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.
 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 16:55
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, News
Path: /news/oregon-football-redesigns-uniformsagain
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New uniforms and alternate colors are one of the biggest crazes in college football. Oregon, largely thanks to Nike co-founder Phil Knight, always has some of college football's most innovative and flashy uniforms each year. The Ducks have dramatically changed their look since the 1990s and 2012's uniforms are another in the latest line of impressive designs.

Although some don't like Oregon's uniforms, these are pretty sharp. The yellow isn't the greatest uniform color, but it's not a bad look. The Ducks will also wear green, black and white jerseys during the year. And as usual, Nike and Oregon try to make the lightest possible uniform.

Coach Chip Kelly's motto is "Win the Day." Needless to say, the Ducks "Win the Day" with these impressive uniforms. 

Teaser:
<p> Oregon Football Redesigns Uniforms...Again</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 15:33
Path: /monthly/nba-offseason-summer-blockbuster-moves
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Highlights from the action-packed NBA offseason that included the Nets moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn, Dwight Howard being traded to the Lakers, Jeremy Lin re-signing with the Rockets and Ray Allen joining the enemy Heat.

 

Brooklyn Nets: Ball So Hard
Luxury tax? What luxury tax? Brooklyn re-signed Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace for a combined nine years and nearly $139 million, then traded for Joe Johnson, who is owed $89 million over the next four years. Owners Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z don’t care about the luxury tax. The new-look Nets are moving into the $1 billion Barclays Center in Brooklyn and need to bring a team with them. These are the “Core Four” the Nets are advertising:

“Hello Brooklyn, I’m #8, Deron Williams, three-time NBA All-Star and father of four.”

“Hello Brooklyn, I’m #7, Joe Johnson, six-time NBA All-Star and lifelong Razorback.”

“Hello Brooklyn, I’m #11, Brook Lopez, 20-point scorer and Batman’s biggest fan.”

“Hello Brooklyn, I’m #45, Gerald Wallace, All-NBA Defender and offseason fisherman.”

 

 

L.A. Lakers: Superman Returns
This isn’t the first time the Lakers have brought in a larger-than-life center whose nickname was “Superman” and whose greatest team accomplishment was losing in the NBA Finals as a member of the Orlando Magic. First, there was Shaquille O’Neal — who won three straight NBA titles after joining the Lakers. This time around, Dwight Howard is heading to Hollywood to team with Kobe Bryant. After months of well-known secrets and thinly veiled lies, Howard was finally traded in a four-team blockbuster that sent Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson to the 76ers, Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets, and Moe Harkless, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic and three protected first-round picks to the Magic.

 

L.A. Lakers: Rated PG
The old got older when the Lakers acquired 38-year-old two-time MVP Steve Nash to play alongside 33-year-old two-time Finals MVP Kobe Bryant. As usual, trade speculation continued to swirl around 7-foot All-Stars Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. In the end, Bynum was shipped across the country to Philadelphia, while Gasol remained in L.A. — capping a strange year that started with him being traded, then un-traded in the Commissioner-vetoed Chris Paul deal.

 

Houston Rockets: Lin-sanity Redux
Jeremy Lin-sanity will continue in Houston, which is a huge relief for general manager Daryl Morey — who took the blame for cutting the phenom and will take the credit (or blame) for signing him to a three-year, $25.1 million deal.

“We should have kept @JLin7” – Daryl Morey tweet on Feb. 9

“Welcome to Houston @JLin7! We plan to hang on this time. You will love #RedNation” – Daryl Morey tweet on July 17

 

Miami Heat: Jesus to Judas
Ray Allen, the actor who played Spike Lee’s Jesus Shuttlesworth — Denzel Washington’s son, loosely based on Stephon Marbury — in the movie "He Got Game," left the Celtics for the defending champion Miami Heat. The move caused many Boston fans to label Allen a traitor, and added fuel to the fire in one of the NBA’s hottest rivalries.

 

Boston Celtics: Jet Fuel
Without Ray Allen standing in the corner or coming off screens late in games, the C’s needed another clutch 3-point shooter for their last hoorah with old timers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Enter the “Jet,” Jason Terry, who was the Sixth Man of the Year in 2009, an NBA champion with the Mavericks in 2011 and an NCAA champion with Arizona in 1997.
 

Teaser:
<p> Highlights from the action-packed NBA offseason that included the Nets moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn, Dwight Howard being traded to the Lakers, Jeremy Lin re-signing with the Rockets and Ray Allen joining the enemy Heat.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 15:19
All taxonomy terms: Monthly
Path: /monthly/top-10-high-school-football-teams-2012
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A quick overview of the high school football teams around the country with the brightest futures under the lights on Friday nights:

1. Trinity (Louisville, Ky.)
The Shamrocks split last year’s mythical national title with Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.) in most major polls. After going 14–0 to clinch the 6A state title, the Rocks return a loaded senior class — including appropriately named wideout James Quick (right), USC commit defensive end Jason Hatcher and running back Dalyn Dawkins (nephew of former Eagles All-Pro Brian).

 

2. Grayson (Loganville, Ga.)
The No. 1 player in the nation, 6’5”, 260-pound defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, leads a wave of Clemson commits — including running back Wayne Gallman and defensive back David Kamara — for a Rams squad that went 15–0 and won the 5A state title last season.

 

3. Carroll (Southlake, Texas)
Dual-threat quarterback Kenny Hill, a Texas A&M commit, and the Dragons are riding a wave of momentum into this season after shocking Dallas Skyline in an epic playoff comeback en route to a 16–0 season and 5A-I state title.

 

4. Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.)
Size in the trenches and dynamic quarterback play from Mississippi State commit Cord Sandberg will make the Hurricanes tough to take down.

 

5. Santa Margarita Catholic (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.)
With Elite 11 quarterback and Nebraska commit Johnny Stanton (a.k.a. “Johnny Tebow”) running the show, the Eagles could be the best in the West this season.

 

6. Skyline (Dallas, Texas)
The Raiders — powered by the explosive duo of quarterback DeVante Kincade and receiver Ra’Shaad Samples — should be motivated for redemption after a controversial playoff loss to Southlake Carroll abruptly ended a 14–1 season in 2011.

 

7. Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nevada)
The Las Vegas powerhouse will go all-in to open the season on ESPN in a nationally televised contest against fellow football factory Our Lady of Good Counsel (Olney, Md.). A win will vault the Gaels into the national title picture.

 

8. Booker T. Washington (Miami, Fla.)
The Tornadoes play a brutal schedule — with Miami Northwestern, Miami Central and a Texas road trip to Cedar Hill as three of their first four games.

 

9. De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
Coach Bob Ladouceur enters his 34th season with a 384–25-3 career record, 16 California state championships and five USA Today national titles.

 

10. Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.)
Junior quarterback Shuler Bentley, son of former Byrnes coach and current play-caller Bobby Bentley, leads a young Rebel squad ready to make noise nationally.
 

Teaser:
<p> The Top 10 high school football teams for 2012 include Trinity (Louisville, Ky.), Grayson (Loganville, Ga.), Carroll (Southlake, Texas), Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.), Skyline (Dallas, Texas), Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.), De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) and Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.).</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 11:04
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, Miami Dolphins, NFL
Path: /nfl/does-hbos-hard-knocks-help-hurt-miami-dolphins
Body:

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

Q: Does being on HBO's "Hard Knocks" help the Miami Dolphins in anyway this fall?

Brian Miller, PhinPhanatic.com (@Txmedic5)
HBO's "Hard Knocks" has not done Miami Dolphins' players any favors. From Chad Johnson being cut to showcasing the lack of production in Miami's wide receivers and tight ends, the HK episodes thus far have only further added tension to a team trying to rebuild its identity. On the outside, where the fans are the ones peering in, the decision to be on "Hard Knocks" has given Miami fans something to be excited about. 

The competition at quarterback alone has provided fans an opportunity to believe the future of the team is in good hands with Ryan Tannehill, while the exposure of new coach Joe Philbin is giving fans an opportunity to judge for themselves what normally is tasked by the opinion of a local media journalist. There is no right or wrong decision on joining "Hard Knocks," but it's clear that the show isn't giving anything away concretely to opposing teams. Aside from the embarrassing moments being played out for the players, I think the fans having something to hold onto may be the long term solution to turning around the image of the Miami Dolphins franchise. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I do not think it does. The Dolphins need a ton of work under rookie coach Joe Philbin as they try to avoid a sixth losing campaign out of their last seven. The HBO thing is cool, but it is also a distraction for a 6-10 club who traded its top receiver (by far), cut its top tackler (Yeremiah Bell) and will start a rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. NFL teams barely need publicity; people have heard of you in this league. It’s pretty simple: if the Dolphins win, fans in South Florida will show up in droves. I see "Hard Knocks" hurting that process more than it will help.

Mark Ross, AthlonSports.com
Although I have never seen a single second of "Hard Knocks," I am not sure I see any way in which the Dolphins can benefit on the field from being featured on the series. If anything, I would think the team, with a new head coach, new coaching staff and a rookie quarterback running the offense, would not want to deal with the distractions and related issues that come with being on the series. It may be great television, help increase the Dolphins' PR exposure, give the team some extra attention and perhaps help sell some tickets and/or team merchandise, but come Week 1, no one's going to care about what they saw on HBO, only what they see the team do on the field. After all, isn't there a reason all 32 NFL teams passed on being featured on it last season?

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Certainly, the casual fan who doesn't follow every injury report or read coaching bios will benefit from the inside look at an NFL franchise. These fans may develop some sort of connection with interesting storylines (Joe Philbin's tragedy) and intriguing personalities (Lauren Tannehill). And the diehard NFL fan, like myself, loves the behind the curtain peek at how an NFL training camp is conducted. But there may not be such a thing as extra publicity for a league that already exists entirely in a fishbowl. Ticket sales only increase if you win games. The negatives of this type of exposure, like an assault and battery arrest or a first-year head coach adapting to the league, don't seem to outweigh the slight bump in interest fans may or may not develop with your roster. The Dolphins need a spark and so I understand why they said yes to HBO, but the headaches it appears to be creating won't be worth it. There is a reason most teams have turned down the opporunity.

Nathan Rush, AthlonSports.com
There is a reason nearly every team in the NFL turned down HBO's offer to be the featured team on "Hard Knocks" this season. As entertaining as the show is for fans, it's almost always a disaster for the team actually involved. With a rookie coach and rookie quarterback, Miami needed to avoid all distractions, not invite cameras into the facilities. The only member of the Dolphins who benefited was Ryan Tannehill, who earned instant respect thanks to his lovely wife Lauren — the real star of the show.

Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster)
Yes. The Dolphins lack buzz and identity, and their "Hard Knocks" experience is helping to provide both. The greater benefit may arrive later when high-profile free agents start considering their options and remember what they saw from Miami — specifically, Lauren Tannehill — but this is a more focused and together team than it’s been in the recent past. Will it translate into wins on the field? That is unlikely, but the Dolphins were in desperate need of attention and HBO has given them more than their fair share.

Teaser:
<p> Does Being on HBO's Hard Knocks Help the Miami Dolphins in 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/sec-footballs-breakout-players-2012
Body:

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

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

Predicting the SEC's Breakout Players for 2012

Denico Autry, DE, Mississippi State Despite Fletcher Cox leaving early for the NFL Draft, Mississippi State should still have a productive defensive line. Josh Boyd is a standout on the interior, while sophomore Kaleb Eulls had a solid freshman campaign last year. Autry earned first-team NJCAA All-American honors last season and was rated as one of the top junior college recruits in the nation. The Bulldogs would like to upgrade their pass rush, and a key part of that equation is Autry and his performance in 2012.

Trey DePriest/Adrian Hubbard/Xzavier Dickson, LB, Alabama Rather than single out one of these three sophomores, we are highlighting the entire trio as breakout candidates. DePriest, Hubbard and Dickson will be part of Alabama’s rebuilding effort on defense, as the Crimson Tide must replace Donta Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and Jerrell Harris at linebacker. DePriest had the best statistical season last year, recording 25 tackles in 13 games. If Alabama’s defense wants to finish No. 1 in the nation once again, it needs a big year from this sophomore linebacking trio.

Alvin Dupree, LB, KentuckyWith Danny Trevathan moving onto the NFL, the Wildcats are searching for a new leader in the linebacking corps. As a true freshman last year, Dupree played in all 12 games and recorded 21 stops. At 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds, the sophomore has the size and strength to hold up against the run, while remaining a threat to get after the passer. Dupree is slated to play in Kentucky’s hybrid end/linebacker role, which should allow him to thrive in only his second season of college ball.

Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri It’s hard to be a breakout candidate if you rank as the No. 1 player in the 2012 signing class. However, it will be a major surprise if Green-Beckham isn’t a household name by the end of this year. The freshman has been as good as advertised in fall camp, leading the Tigers with six catches for 68 yards during the team’s second fall scrimmage. As long as quarterback James Franklin’s shoulder isn’t an issue, Green-Beckham should finish as college football’s most decorated freshman receiver for 2012.

Todd Gurley/Keith Marshall, RB, GeorgiaKen Malcome is expected to enter the season as the starter, but Mark Richt will find it difficult to keep Gurley and Marshall off the field. Both backs were ranked among the top 15 running backs in the 2012 signing class by Athlon Sports and will be counted upon to see a handful of carries each game. All signs point to a committee approach, but Gurley and Marshall should make plenty of noise in 2012.

Anthony Johnson, DT, LSUDespite losing Michael Brockers to the NFL Draft, LSU isn’t too concerned about its defensive line. Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are back to wreck havoc against opposing quarterbacks off the edge, while the interior is solid with Bennie Logan, Johnson and Ego Ferguson in the rotation. Johnson ranked as the No. 7 overall prospect in the 2011 Athlon Consensus 100 and played in all 14 games last year, recording 12 tackles and one sack. The sophomore is primed for a monster year and could challenge for All-SEC honors.

Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt The SEC is loaded with talent on the offensive line this season, but Johnson shouldn’t be overlooked when discussing some of the top tackles in the conference. The Nashville native has started every game on the line for the Commodores over the last two years and was named the team’s Offensive Lineman of the Year for 2011. Johnson played at left tackle, center and guard last season but is expected to stay at left tackle for 2012. The Commodores have a few holes to plug on the offensive line, but there’s no question Johnson should be a reliable presence on the left side.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M Manziel finished spring practice just behind Jameill Showers for the starting quarterback spot. However, the redshirt freshman staked his claim for the job in the fall and was picked as Texas A&M’s starting quarterback for the season opener against Louisiana Tech. New coach Kevin Sumlin and coordinator Kliff Kingsbury produced some of the nation’s top offenses while at Houston, but will likely seek more balance as the Aggies’ transition to the SEC. Manziel is a slightly different quarterback than the ones Sumlin tutored at Houston, as the freshman brings more of a dual-threat approach to the lineup. There’s no question Manziel has the talent – he was ranked among the top quarterbacks in the 2011 signing class - however, having no game experience and learning a new offense will be a challenge.

Mekale McKay, WR, Arkansas With Jarius Wright and Joe Adams catching passes in the NFL, the Razorbacks are searching for a new group of receivers for quarterback Tyler Wilson. Cobi Hamilton is slated to be the No. 1 option, and the Razorbacks have tight end Chris Gragg, but there’s no clear No. 2 target at receiver. McKay was ranked among the top 50 receivers in the 2012 recruiting class and has been one of the standouts of fall practice. At 6-foot-6, the freshman has potential to be a valuable weapon inside of the redzone and instant impact player for Arkansas.

Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU After finishing 10th in the SEC in passing yards per game last season and watching Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee struggle at times, LSU fans are excited for Mettenberger’s potential under center. He only threw 11 passes last year, but is expected to be the missing piece for LSU’s offense. Mettenberger began his career at Georgia but was dismissed from school and spent one season at Butler Community College. There will be growing pains with the junior quarterback, especially since 2012 will be his first year as a starter on the FBS level. There’s little doubt Mettenberger should be an upgrade at over Lee and Jefferson, but it may take a couple of games for him to get comfortable as the team's No. 1 quarterback.

LaDarius Perkins, RB, Mississippi State Vick Ballard wasn’t the flashiest running back, but he amassed 2,157 yards and 29 rushing scores during his tenure in Starkville. Replacing Ballard is no easy task, but the Bulldogs have two capable options. Perkins is expected to ascend to No. 1 on the depth chart after rushing for 988 yards and five scores over the last two years. At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Perkins doesn’t have Ballard’s size or power, but he should be a big-play threat for Mississippi State. Sophomore Nick Griffin will also figure into the battle for carries. 

Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida Purifoy was thrown right into the mix as a true freshman last season, playing in all 13 games and recording 27 tackles. He also forced one fumble during his limited action. At 6-foot-1 and 189 pounds, Purifoy has the size and athleticism to go up against the top receivers in the SEC and should be ready for a breakout year after spending much of 2011 in a reserve role.

Antonio Richardson, OT, TennesseeIf Tennessee wants to have any shot at finishing among the top three in the SEC East , the offensive line and rushing attack has to perform much better than it did in 2011. The Volunteers finished 12th in the SEC in rushing offense last season and recorded just 332.7 yards per game. The coaching staff shuffled the line in the spring, sliding Dallas Thomas from tackle to guard and promoting Richardson to the starting group. Richardson was ranked by most as a top-100 recruit coming out of high school and played in 12 contests last year. If Richardson can stabilize the offensive line, Tennessee should have no trouble improving on last season’s paltry rushing totals.

Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri Richardson’s path to Missouri took a slight detour, as he spent two years at the College of the Sequoias, before making his first appearance at Missouri last season. Richardson made a huge impact in his first year in Columbia, recording 37 stops, three sacks, eight tackles for a loss and one forced fumble. A shoulder injury sidelined him in the spring but all signs point to a return to full strength in the fall. With another offseason under his belt, look for Richardson to pickup his performance even more in 2012.

Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn With only one returning starter on the offensive line last season, the Tigers were a work in progress most of 2011. The line allowed 2.5 sacks per game but led the way for Auburn to average 182.3 yards per game on the ground. This unit should be one of the most improved in the SEC this season, especially with the emergence of Robinson and sophomore center Reese Dismukes. Robinson was one of the top linemen in the 2011 signing class but redshirted his freshman year. With a full offseason to build strength, look for the Louisiana native to excel in his first season as Auburn’s starting left tackle.

Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina Alshon Jeffery is gone, meaning South Carolina needs a new No. 1 receiver to emerge. Sanders doesn’t have Jeffery’s size, but the Florida native developed a nice rapport with quarterback Connor Shaw over the second half of last year, finishing with 29 receptions for 383 yards and three touchdowns. The junior is also a valuable contributor on special teams, averaging 9.3 yards on 16 punt returns last year. Even though Sanders doesn’t have Jeffery’s skill set, look for the junior to push for 50 receptions in 2012.

Jeff Scott, RB, Ole MissThe Rebels were one of the worst offenses in the SEC last season, averaging only 16.1 points per contest and ranking 114th nationally in total offense. New coach Hugh Freeze should help improve the offense, especially after leading Arkansas State to the No. 1 rank in the Sun Belt for total offense, scoring and passing in 2011. Scott is one of the few proven playmakers for Ole Miss and should be a bigger part of the offense after recording only 116 attempts last year. At 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds, Scott probably won’t handle 275 carries, but he should finish with over 1,000 all-around yards in 2012.
 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Ranking the SEC's Top 75 Players for 2012

Teaser:
<p> SEC Football's Breakout Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 06:14
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-backstory-games-2012
Body:

Anyone who follows college football knows the Alabama vs. Michigan opener will be one of the most important games of the college football season, encompassing Alabama’s bid to repeat as national champion, Denard Robinson’s Heisman Trophy campaign and more.

While we’re interested in those storylines for the the opener, we like to see the whole picture. For example, did you know these two storied programs have played only three times -- and never during the regular season and never outside the state of Florida?

 

Just about every game has a backstory -- a former student facing his coaching mentor, a rematch of a historically significant game, or the end of a rivalry series, a recruiting grudge match. That’s part of the reason we love college football.

 

The 2012 season will be no exception for what we’re calling “Backstory Games.” Mind you, these games don’t necessarily have to be competitive. These are simply games with the most intriguing subplots.

 

Sept. 1: Arkansas State at Oregon

The Offensive Genius Bowl

Arkansas State’s Gus Malzahn and Oregon’s Chip Kelly are two of the brightest offensive minds in college football thanks to their up-tempo spread approach. It’s hard to believe that as recently as 2005 almost no one knew who they were. That year, Malzahn was the coach at Springdale (Ark.) High, and Kelly was the offensive coordinator at Division I-AA New Hampshire. Moreover, the last time these two coaches were on the same field was the BCS National Championship Game following the 2010 season. Then-Auburn offensive coordinator Malzahn had the upper hand that day, but Oregon will be heavily favored for the 2012 opener.

Related: Oregon tops list of 15 key quarterback battles

 

Sept. 1: Washington State at BYU

The Leach-LaVell Bowl

Washington State's Mike Leach famously is one of the few successful college football coaches who never played a down of college football. That’s not to say Leach didn’t learn much football during his days as a student at BYU. Leach’s pass-oriented spread offenses has some of its roots in LaVell Edwards’ spread at BYU. Leach and his former boss Hal Mumme made plenty of visits to Provo when they were formulating their playbooks at Iowa Wesleyan and Valdosta State.

Related: Coaches anonymously scout BYU

 

Sept. 1: Marshall at West Virginia

Marshall’s Last Chance Bowl

The Friends of Coal Bowl (the game’s real name) enters its final season for the foreseeable future. West Virginia’s non-conference schedule is full until 2017, and those schedules don’t include traditional rival Pittsburgh. Not that West Virginia was all that excited about even playing about a series it has dominated. Marshall is 0-6 since the series re-started in 2006, with only one of those games decided by fewer than 17 points.

 

Sept. 15: UCF at Ohio State

Oct. 13: North Carolina at Miami

Oct. 27: Ohio State at Penn State

The Scandal Trilogy

Five schools all in varying degrees scandals that has cost the jobs of the late Penn State coach Joe Paterno, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, North Carolina coach Butch Davis, North Carolina assistant John Blake and UCF athletic director Keith Tribble. Only UCF is eligible for a bowl in 2012, and even that’s precarious if the Knights lose their appeal with the NCAA. The tally of sanctions so far: Eight years of postseason bans, 59 docked scholarships and 16 years of probation. And that doesn’t include any potential NCAA sanctions for Miami or for North Carolina’s academic scandal.

Related: Urban Meyer’s arrival has Ohio State back on track

 

Sept. 15: Connecticut at Maryland

The Randy Edsall Bowl

Don’t expect many in Connecticut to feel much sympathy for Randy Edsall’s dismal debut at Maryland. The Terrapins’ job is a step up from Connecticut, but Edsall didn’t win many fans in Storrs by announcing his abrupt departure via conference call with UConn players after the Fiesta Bowl. The Huskies -- many of whom recruited by Edsall -- could make his stay at Maryland that much more uncomfortable if they defeat Edsall the Terps on their home field.

Related: Edsall works to rebound from disastrous first season

 

Sept. 22: Rutgers at Arkansas

The Not Who You Expected to See Bowl

As recently as December, this looked to be a rematch between Rutgers’ Greg Schiano and Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino. On a Thursday night in November 2006, Schiano and the Scarlet Knights defeated Petrino’s Louisville team on a game-winning field goal with 13 seconds remaining. The win was one of the most memorable moments in Rutgers and Big East football history and the only loss of the season for Louisville. Instead of Schiano v. Petrino, we’ll see Kyle Flood v. John L. Smith.

 

Sept. 22: Akron at Tennessee

Terry Bowden’s Return

The former Auburn coach will coach in an SEC stadium for the first time since a 24-3 loss at Florida on Oct. 17, 1998. Despite starting his career with a 20-1-1 record in his first two seasons in 1993-94, Bowden eventually was forced to resign midseason. In Bowden's last game against Tennessee, the Peyton Manning-led Volunteers' overcame six turnovers and a 10-point halftime deficite to defeat Bowden's Auburn team 30-29 in the SEC Championship Game.

 

Oct. 6: Miami v. Notre Dame (in Chicago)

The Return of Catholics v. Convicts

The stakes aren’t nearly as high as they were from 1987-90 when these two teams played under that moniker and accounted for three national championships. Still, this the first regular-season meeting between the two since 1990 (Notre Dame beat Miami in the 2010 Sun Bowl). In 1989, Notre Dame’s 27-10 loss to Miami in the regular season likely cost the 12-1 Irish the national title. A year earlier, undefeated Notre Dame handed Miami its only loss of the season, a 31-30 defeat in South Bend, as the ’88 Irish won the national championship.

Related: Al Golden facing Miami challenges head on

 

Oct. 6: New Mexico State at Idaho

Remember the WAC Bowl

The league began in 1962 with Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming and had 24 football teams come and go through the years. Even two new members (Texas State and UTSA) were picked up by other conferences ahead of the Aggies and Vandals, both former Sun Belt members themselves. New Mexico State and Idaho were the last WAC teams standing before the league announced Monday it would drop football.

 

Oct. 13: Alabama at Missouri

The Kent State Bowl

In a strange twist of fate, SEC expansion will bring Kent State alums Nick Saban, now at Alabama, and Gary Pinkel, now at Missouri, onto the same field for the 40th anniversary of the Golden Flashes’ only conference championship. Saban was a safety on that Kent State team, and Pinkel was a tight end. Both played for eventual Washington coach Don James on a team that helped Kent State heal from the fatal shootings of four student protestors at the hands of National Guardsmen in 1969.

Related: Kent State’s 1972 terrific trio remembered

 

Oct. 27: Notre Dame at Oklahoma

Oklahoma's Revenge

Notre Dame and Oklahoma have played only once since 1968, so this will be a rare matchup between two historical powers. It’s also a reminder of the 1957 meeting when Notre Dame defeated Oklahoma 7-0 in Norman. The Irish upset the Sooners (an 18-point favorite) that season to end Oklahoma’s record 47-game win streak. Starting with that meeting, Notre Dame has won seven in a row over the Sooners.

 

Nov. 2: Washington at Cal

The Tosh Lupoi Bowl

In one of the biggest coups of recruiting season, Washington plucked Cal’s defensive line coach and ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi from Berkeley, destabilizing the Bears’ signing class. While most of Lupoi’s recruits didn’t follow him to Seattle, Shaq Thompson did. The safety could start from Day One for the Huskies.

Related: A Husky resurgence coming to Seattle

 

Nov. 11: Texas A&M at Alabama

The Our Coach is Your Coach Bowl

Texas A&M gave Alabama Bear Bryant. Alabama gave Texas A&M Dennis Franchione. Like Bryant, Gene Stallings, an original Junction Boy under The Bear, spent time in College Station before winning a national championship. The two programs have shared coaches. Now they share a division.

 

Nov. 17: Oklahoma at West Virginia

The Bill Stewart Bowl

West Virginia capped a wild 2007 season with a shocking 48-28 win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. After the Mountaineers played themselves out of BCS championship game with a loss to 5-7 Pittsburgh, Rich Rodriguez bolted for Michigan, leaving interim coach Bill Stewart in charge. Riding the momentum of the win, West Virginia promoted Stewart to the position permanently. Expect the mood to be somber. Stewart died in May of a heart attack less than a year after he was relieved of his coaching duties.

Related: Introducing West Virginia to the Big 12

 

Nov. 23: Arizona at Arizona State

Backyard Brawl West

This is more than just the West Virginia-Pittsburgh rivalry moved West, even though Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez and Arizona State coach Todd Graham are ex-Backyard Brawl coaches (and not at the same time). Rodriguez hired four assistants who coached under Graham last season and three others who were on the other sideline at West Virginia. Graham himself was a West Virginia assistant under Rodriguez. All the familiarity should add an edge to the rivalry.

Related: Rodriguez, Graham, new coaches at to Pac-12 intrigue

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> College football's top "backstory games" for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 06:01
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-10-biggest-injury-concerns-running-back
Body:

Injuries are certainly a part of football, and fantasy football, for that matter, but when it comes to the latter that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't be prepared.

Here are the top injury concerns when it comes to running back. These ground-gainers are the eptiome of risk-reward when it comes to weighing potential opportunity versus their respective injury histories.

1. Jahvid Best, Detroit
Diminutive runner isn’t built for NFL workload and has paid the price with concussion problems. He has still yet to be cleared for practice and more than likely will start the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, meaning he will miss at minimum the Lions' first six games. Be VERY wary.

2. Darren McFadden, Oakland
Uber-talent has been brittle his entire pro and college career. Has never played more than 13 games in a season. Electric upside, but almost certain to miss a few games.

3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
A completely destroyed knee is scary — even for someone as powerful as Peterson. Due to his violent running style, it is hard to see him ever playing completely injury-free.

4. Trent Richardson, Cleveland
This yearNo. 3 overall pick has yet to see any NFL action as he underwent arthroscopic surgery on Aug. 9 to remove a loose piece of cartilage from his left knee. While it's unrelated to the torn meniscus he suffered in the same knee in January's BCS National Championship game, it's still troubling when someone undergoes mutiple surgeries on the same body part in such a short time span. The team is hopeful Richardson will still make his debut in the Browns' season-opener, but that's the absolute best-case scenario right now.

5. Beanie Wells, Arizona
After his best season, Wells had to have knee surgery in January. Balky knees have been an issue dating back to Ohio State.

6. Mark Ingram, New Orleans
The early May arthroscopic knee surgery was his second in the past three offseasons. He also dealt with foot surgery at the end of last season.

7. Ryan Mathews, San Diego
The third-year pro has yet to play a full season in the NFL and it won't happen this season either. Mathews broke his collar bone on his first carry in the Chargers' first preseason game. It has been projected to be a four- to six-week recovery period, the former allowing him enough time to be ready for Week 1. The six-week range is probably the safer bet, which (hopefully) puts him back in the Bolts' backfield by Week 3.

8. DeMarco Murray, Dallas
Has dealt with serious injuries in each of his last three football seasons — hamstring and dislocated kneecap at Oklahoma and the broken ankle last fall. 

9. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
Constantly deals with nagging injuries, such as the banged up hand he suffered in a preseason game, but is explosive when in the lineup. A time-share with David Wilson might be the bigger concern.

10. Fred Jackson, Buffalo
Has played only five years and hasn't touched the ball 1,000 times yet. But he is 31 and recovering from a fractured fibula.

Two More to Watch

Reggie Bush, Miami
Last season was only the second time he has topped 10 starts in his six-year career. You have to doubt his ability to stay healthy.

Frank Gore, San Francisco
Played all 16 games last year but missed a total of 10 games in the previous four. Gore is only 29 but is approaching 2,000 career touches.

— Published on August 22, 2012

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football: 10 Biggest Injury Concerns at Running Back</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/big-tens-top-impact-freshmen-2012
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With college football's fall practice in full swing around the nation, it's really the first time names made famous on recruiting websites are showing up in actual practice reports. When it comes to picking which freshmen will make an impact in their first season on campus, it's really all about who can pick up the playbook the fastest and who fits a need. The Big Ten's most powerful program may have lost seven games last year, but Ohio State fans know exactly what a uber-freshman can do for a program. Braxton Miller claimed Freshman of the Year honors and is poised to run Urban Meyer's system to perfection this time around. This season will feature another class of stellar prospects who will mold the landscape in the Big Ten (listed alphabetically): 

The Big Ten's Top Impact Freshmen for 2012

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

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

Darian Cooper, DL, Iowa
The 6-foot-2, 280-pound redshirt from famed DeMatha High School in Maryland is expected to start at defensive tackle this fall. This unit has been a huge area of strength under long-time coordinator Norm Parker, but with new play-caller Phil Parker in control, Iowa must answer questions along the defensive front. Cooper's work ethic and toughness will be a welcome addition.

Amara Darboh, WR, Michigan
The big wide receiver from West Des Moines, Iowa, will have a chance to play his way into the No. 3 wide receiver slot. He has been turning heads and making key catches in practice thus far and has put himself in the running for playing time. Denard Robinson and Roy Roundtree have been very complimentary of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound target.

Taylor Decker, OL, Ohio State
The elite prospect from Vandalio, Ohio, is in a heated battle to start at right tackle for the Buckeyes. He enrolled early and excelled in spring, entering fall camp as the No. 3 offensive tackle. Should the 6-foot-7, 310-pound true freshman continue to develop quickly, he could easily find himself starting against Miami (Ohio) in Week 1.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
The Kenosha, Wisc., freshman showed early on last fall that he has plenty of potential. He carried 20 times for 98 yards and a score before injuring his groin early in the year. He redshirted as a result and will enter this season as the No. 3 back. In a Wisconsin offense that wears out its backs, Gordon could be a huge reserve this fall — and is likely the second-most talented No. 3 RB in the nation (how is LSU's Kenny Hilliard not No. 1?).

Eugene Lewis, WR, Penn State
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Wilkes-Barre, Pa., native was going to fight for playing time even with Justin Brown on the roster. Now that Brown is in Norman, Lewis will be given plenty of chances to fill the void. His immediate impact should come on special teams, but reports from camp thus far indicate he may be further along than initially expected. And it couldn't come at a better time.

Akeel Lynch, RB, Penn State
Much like Lewis, Lynch may be thrust into the offensive huddle quicker than anticipated. Silas Redd bolted for USC, leaving Curtis Dukes and Bill Belton, both of whom lack elite-level upside, to vie for carries. Lynch might have more upside than either of the veterans, and if he can grasp the offense and pass protections quickly, could end up starting in Happy Valley.

Ifeadi Odenigbo, LB/DE, Northwestern
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound hybrid dynamo might be the most heralded prospect in the history of Northwestern football. He was a top-50 recruit nationally from Centreville, Ohio, and it shouldn't take long for him to bolster a weak Wildcat front seven. He will play some linebacker, but Pat Fitzgerald has stated that defensive end is his more natural position. Either way, his raw talent is a rarity in Evanston. 

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

Donovan Smith, OL, Penn State
The big fella from Owings Mill, Md., got all kinds of praise as a redshirt last fall. Now, it is time for him to step into the spotlight on the real football field. His 6-foot-5, 310-pound frame could make him a starting tackle right out of the gate against Ohio. If he continues his solid play, he will be more than simply a contributor.

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

Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State
The leading receiver for the Buckeyes last year caught only 14 passes. So the need for a play-maker at the position is painfully obvious. Enter Michael Thomas. He may not be the most talented wideout in OSU history but he might be the best option on the roster as only a redshirt freshman. He built a great rapport with Braxton Miller in the spring and will be asked to play a big role in 2012.

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

Dan Voltz, OL, Wisconsin
Voltz was the highest-rated recruit in the class for UW and the coaching staff learned very quickly that his lofty status was justified. He is pushing for playing time already and could force Travis Frederick or Ryan Groy to a different position in order to get the best five blockers on the field. For a true freshman offensive lineman to be able to crack the starting line-up at Wisconsin is no small feat and would be one of the top storylines in the Big Ten heading into the season.

Freshman Position Battles To Watch:

Andre Sims Jr., Aaron Burbirdge and Juwan Caesar, WR, Michigan State
Not counting inexperience at QB, this is the biggest area of concern for stacked MSU roster. 

Lawrence Thomas, Joel Heath, Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
Spartan fans should be very excited about its future pass rush with these three dynamos.

AJ Jordan and Jordan Fredrick, WR, Wisconsin
No Nick Toon means there should be plenty of chances opposite Jared Abbrederis.

David Santos, Max Pirman, Michael Rose, LB, Nebraska
Might only be reserves in 2012, but these three are the future at the historically strong Cornhusker LB position.

Bri’Onte Dunn and Warren Ball, RB, Ohio State
Dunn has impressed in camp and appears to be clear of summer incident. Ball is fighting for time as well.

Jordan Lucas and Da’Quan Davis, DB, Penn State
Completely reworked secondary will open up chances for youngsters to contribute.

Other Names To Watch:

Deion Barnes, DL, Penn State
Adam Depietro, OL, Northwestern
Kyle Dodson, OL, Ohio State
Greg Garmon, RB, Iowa
Deonte Gibson, DE, Northwestern
Zeph Grimes, et al, LB, Illinois
Keith Heitzman, DL, Michigan
Darius Hillary, DB, Wisconsin
Jesse James, TE, Penn State
Kyle Kalis, OL, Michigan
Ted Karras, OL, Illinois
Dean Lowry, DL, Northwestern
KJ Maye, AP, Minnesota
Jephte Matilus, LB, Minnesota
Andre McDonald, WR, Minnesota
Drew Smith, LB, Northwestern
Ryan Watson, DE, Purdue
AJ Williams, TE, Michigan
Anthony Zettel, DL, Penn State

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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Urban Meyer's Arrival Has Ohio State Back on Track

Teaser:
<p> The Big Ten's Top Impact Freshmen of 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Atlanta Falcons, NFC, NFC South, NFL
Path: /nfl/atlanta-falcons-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 Atlanta Falcons check in at No. 8.

For the third time in four seasons, the Atlanta Falcons’ season ended in the first round of the playoffs. The New York Giants banished Atlanta from the postseason, 24–2, and went on to win the Super Bowl. There shouldn’t be any solace taken in the fact that in each of the three one-and-done playoff appearances, Atlanta lost to the eventual NFC representative in the Super Bowl.

The Falcons are in win-now mode, and that’s not just a playoff win. Atlanta needs — and is talented enough — to make a Super Bowl run.
Gone are both the offensive and defensive coordinators from the three failed Falcons playoff runs. General manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith brought in new coaching blood to spark a change. And team owner Arthur Blank is fully behind the change. Blank is tired of watching the late rounds of the playoffs from home. He’s calling for success, and he wants it immediately. 

Offense

The biggest addition to the Falcons’ offense will never step foot on the field of play. New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter plans three things that could greatly enhance play when Atlanta has the ball: 1) create a better vertical attack; 2) use the screen pass more frequently; 3) reduce Michael Turner’s workload.

Even though quarterback Matt Ryan says the playbook has only changed about 15 to 20 percent, the newly added schemes could bolster Ryan’s numbers dramatically.

Koetter has always been a deep-threat mastermind, and Atlanta has the tools in Roddy White and especially Julio Jones to stretch the field. Ryan has been working on strengthening his passing arm, and the quarterback will have a complete offseason to work with his receiving corps to perfect these new deep routes.

The Falcons rarely threw screen passes under Mike Mularkey. Koetter plans to work with the running backs and the offensive line to incorporate the screen game into the offense. This will not only help keep opposing teams from retreating too quickly into the secondary, but it will also get players like running backs Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers more involved in the offense. Snelling is the best receiver in the Falcons’ backfield, and Rodgers is a quick, change-of-pace back who can give Atlanta multiple looks. He had 151 receptions in three seasons at Oregon State.

At 30 years old, Turner is on the back end of his playing days. He finished third in the NFL in rushing with 1,340 yards but was far more dangerous in the beginning of the season than at the end. Four of his six 100-yard games came in the first seven weeks of the season, though he did have a season-high 172 yards in a Week 17 win over Tampa Bay. The Falcons will reduce Turner’s workload in 2012 in an effort to keep him healthy and explosive. Gone are the days when Turner would accumulate 300 or more carries in a season.

Turner’s lightened workload will mean more opportunities for Rodgers, the team’s fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft. The Falcons coaching staff believes Rodgers can be an every-down back in the future. That future is not in 2012, but if Rodgers can double his workload from his rookie season — he had 57 carries in 16 games — it will take pressure off of Turner and keep the veteran fresh in the second half of the season.

Other than a few changes on the offensive line — Joe Hawley could beat out Todd ­McClure at center and there is an open competition at right guard — the Falcons will look very similar on offense from a personnel standpoint. The team expects Jones, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 draft, to shine in his second season. He missed three complete games and all but one series of another because of injury in his rookie campaign. If healthy for 16 games, Jones has the ability to lead the NFC in receiving. Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez returns for his 16th and final season before heading off to his eventual destination, the Hall of Fame in Canton. 

Defense

As much of a game-changer as Koetter is expected to be on offense, new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is supposed to be even more of a catalyst for the Falcons’ defense.

Nolan comes to Atlanta equally experienced with the 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes. The Falcons have been playing the 4-3, and Nolan says it isn’t wise to change schemes immediately, but expect him to plug in a good number of hybrid looks.

The biggest difference in the front seven will be the absence of linebacker Curtis Lofton, who led the team in tackles in each of the last three years. The former second-round pick signed a five-year deal with NFC South rival New Orleans. Nolan plans to play a lot of nickel packages, which would have turned Lofton, who is weak in pass coverage, into a two-down linebacker. The Falcons didn’t feel the need to pay Lofton’s salary demands for first- and second-down work.

Instead, Atlanta traded for veteran help in the secondary. The Falcons acquired former All-Pro Asante Samuel, who will team with Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson to give the team three elite cornerbacks. Expect Samuel and Grimes to remain on the outside while Robinson moves inside to cover the slot receiver.

The NFL has turned into a pass-happy league, and the NFC South has four very talented quarterbacks. The Falcons will spend a lot of time in Nolan’s “Big Nickel” package, and the secondary — which has been an area of weakness in the past — could be a bright spot in 2012. 

Specialists

Atlanta returns kicker Matt Bryant and punter Matt Bosher. Bryant led the league in accuracy, hitting 93.1 percent of his field goal attempts. Bosher, the team’s sixth-round pick in 2011, got off to a rough start as a rookie but was punting the ball very well late in the season.

Return specialist Eric Weems left via free agency, so the Falcons will look at corner Dominique Franks along with rookies Cody Pearcy and James Rodgers (Jacquizz’s brother) to step up on special teams. 

Final Analysis: 1st in the NFC South

Getting over the playoff hump is of the utmost importance to the Falcons, but it’s only the first step. Atlanta cannot just settle for winning a playoff game. It’s “win now” time for this team, and if the Falcons don’t advance to the NFC Championship Game, the year will be a failure.

Much of the roster looks the same, with upgrades in the secondary and on the offensive line. The biggest area of change — and what could quite possibly be the factor that pushes the Falcons over the hump — is with both coordinators.

Koetter and Nolan will breathe new life into this Falcons team on both sides of the ball. It will be up to Smith, the head coach, and the players to do the rest.  

Related: 2012 Atlanta Falcons Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Just How Good?
If you just give wide receiver Julio Jones the four games he missed as a rookie, his numbers would project to this: 72 receptions, 1,279 yards and 11 touchdowns. He might actually do better in 2012 and move into the top five of the league in yardage and touchdown catches.
Dome sweet dome Only two teams in the NFL have better home records than the Falcons since 2008. Atlanta’s 26 wins at the Georgia Dome trail only Baltimore (27) and New England (28).

Smith’s A Winner
Mike Smith is Atlanta’s 14th head coach in franchise history. He’s the first head coach to lead the Falcons to four consecutive winning seasons, and his 43–21 regular-season record is the best four-year mark in franchise history. With 43 wins, Smith sits in third place on the all-time Falcons coaching list behind Leeman Bennett (46) and Dan Reeves (49). A seven-win season would propel Smith into first place on the list.

Quick Out of the Gate
No team in the NFL has scored more points than Atlanta on its first possession of the game over the past four seasons. The Falcons have accumulated 173 points on their first drives of games since 2008. New Orleans is second (171) with New England third (163).

Close Game, No Problem
Over the last four seasons, Atlanta leads the league in games decided by eight points or less, with a 22–10 record since 2008. In games decided by a field goal or less, the Falcons are 9–6.

Tough in the Red Zone
Atlanta was extremely tough on opponents when backed up into the red zone in 2011. The Falcons’ defense held opponents to a 78.7 scoring percentage when inside the 20-yard line, giving up 22 touchdowns and 15 field goals on 47 trips inside the red zone.

Moving the Ball
In 2011, the Falcons set a franchise record for most total net yards gained in a season with 6,026 yards. Atlanta broke the record that was set by the 2008 squad, which posted 5,779 total yards.

Streaking
Matt Bryant has been in the league 10 seasons and is showing no signs of slowing down. With three field goals in Week 7 last year, Bryant set a franchise record with 27 consecutive made field goals. His 27-for-29 performance in 2011 was good for third-best all time in the Falcons record books.
In good hands Tight end Tony Gonzalez moved into 11th place on the all-time list with his 875 receiving yards last year. Gonzalez now has 13,338 receiving yards in his career and needs 667 more to pass James Lofton and move into seventh place.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

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

Order your 2012 Atlanta Falcons Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Atlanta Falcons Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Atlanta Falcons 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-new-orleans-saints
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What can the New Orleans Saints do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Jeff Duncan, New Orleans Times Picayune

What sort of time share can we expect in the Saints backfield between Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas?
The Saints will employ a similar strategy as last season, with all three getting their share of touches weekly. I expect Ingram to win the starting spot with Sproles playing primarily in the nickel packages and two-minute offense. Thomas will share the workload with Ingram, subbing in for a series or two each half. Chris Ivory is also in the mix. He is healthy now and is the club’s best power runner.

Do you expect Jimmy Graham’s numbers to come down across the board?
No. I expect similar numbers. Defenses undoubtedly will concentrate their game-plans on Graham more this season. But it’s very difficult for teams to focus on one Saints perimeter player because they have so many other weapons at their disposal. Moreover, Graham is so talented and such a mismatch for most defenders that Drew Brees often throws to him successfully even when he’s double-covered.

Will Devery Henderson finish as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver?
No. Henderson is on the downside of his career. He might inherit Robert Meachem’s starting spot, but I expect Lance Moore to become the clear No. 2 in terms of production. Henderson’s role has diminished in recent years while Moore’s actually has expanded. In fact, I think there’s a greater chance that one of the team’s stable of young receivers — Adrian Arrington, Joe Morgan or Nick Toon — will overtake Henderson for the third receiver spot than Henderson does of being the No. 2 receiver.

What sort of impact will the offseason drama have on Drew Brees and the prolific Saints offense?
Little if any. As long as Brees is around, the Saints offense will continue to rack up yards and points. The biggest concern is the loss of head coach Sean Payton, a brilliant game-planner and offensive strategist. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. and running game coordinator Aaron Kromer are well-versed in the Saints system and proved they could function just fine as play-callers a year ago when Payton went down with a leg injury. But Payton’s loss will be felt during weekly game-plan sessions, where he was a master at identifying opponents’ weaknesses and exploiting them. Still, the Saints have so much talent and Brees is essentially a coach on the field that I can’t see them dropping off much at all. The club’s top four rushers and top five receivers return from a unit that set the NFL record for yards gained in a season.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Lance Moore, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Nick Toon, WR
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Nick Toon, WR
Bounce-Back: Mark Ingram, RB
Top IDP: Curtis Lofton, LB

2012 Draft Class

3. Akiem Hicks DT 6-5 318 Regina College
4. Nick Toon WR 6-2 215 Wisconsin
5. Corey White S 5-11 206 Samford
6. Andrew Tiller G 6-4 324 Syracuse
7. Marcel Jones T 6-6 320 Nebraska

Fantasy Impact: Thanks to a trade of their first-round pick and losing a second-round selection due to the bounty scandal, the Saints were largely quiet in the draft. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks has a lot of upside, but he played collegiately in Canada and will have a steep learning curve to contribute in 2012. Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore are set as the top three receivers for quarterback Drew Brees, but Nick Toon could work his way into the mix as the No. 4 receiver. Although he might not make much of an impact in 2012, he could be one to watch in 2013 or 2014.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at NYG, TB, at DAL)

The Saints should get off to a great start against a Giants team that was in the bottom six against QBs, WRs and TEs and did little to improve its starting defense. The Buccaneers were bottom three against QBs and RBs and middle of the road against WRs and TEs but did go defense with four of the first five draft picks. The game in Dallas for the title game could be a shootout.

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<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New Orleans Saints</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 05:57
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-minnesota-vikings
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What can the Minnesota Vikings do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Jeremy Fowler, St. Paul Pioneer Press

Will Adrian Peterson return to full strength for the start of the season and therefore justify using a first-round draft pick to land him?
Peterson’s fantasy risk could keep owners nervous up until the days before the Vikings’ Week 1 opener. Asking Peterson to carry the ball 20 times a game less than nine months removed from a torn ACL would be ambitious. But don’t forget — Peterson is an otherworldly athlete, he’s drawn a line in the sand that he doesn’t plan to miss time and his rehab has gone smoothly by all accounts. If he doesn’t play Week 1, he likely won’t be out long.

How many touches can we expect from Toby Gerhart in 2012?
Even if Peterson returns to full health by Week 1, expect Gerhart to get eight-to-12 touches per game as the Vikings look to protect Peterson’s long-term promise. Gerhart seems to thrive off carries in bulk. If Peterson doesn’t make it back by the season’s start, Gerhart could have solid fantasy value.

Can Kyle Rudolph stay healthy and become a weekly fantasy starter at tight end?
Rudolph caught three touchdown passes in his last six games as a rookie and can become one of the most potent red-zone targets in the NFC North. Float it to the 6'6" Rudolph on a lob, and he’ll use his size and incredible hands to snatch the ball. Question is, can he consistently beat man coverage? And though the Vikings will run plenty of two-tight-end sets, Rudolph will be battling John Carlson for touches. Still, there’s little reason Rudolph shouldn’t break out.

Will Christian Ponder and the passing game be effective enough to create useful fantasy receivers other than Percy Harvin?
The Vikings have made enough improvements to the offensive line and at receiver to rescue a 28th-ranked passing offense to a more respectable level. They won’t challenge New Orleans’ touchdowns-in-seven-seconds-or-less offense, but Ponder will have more ammunition to work with after the Vikings added a potential elite left tackle (Matt Kalil), a viable deep threat (Jerome Simpson) and a talented receiving tight end to pair with Rudolph (Carlson). Let’s be real, though — the offense’s hopes hinge on Ponder’s progression. If he improves his decision-making, he’ll realize his sizable potential.

Which rookie wideout would you target in Minnesota?
The Vikings resisted the temptation to draft a receiver in the late-first or early-second round because they felt confident in Arkansas tandem Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. Despite a skill set suited for the slot (Percy Harvin’s home), Wright looks poised to have the bigger rookie impact than Childs, who is still trying to find his way after a torn patella tendon slowed him in his final two college years. The Vikings move Harvin around enough to make room for Wright, who will be explosive in space. Childs can be a deep threat eventually, but the Vikings have Simpson and Michael Jenkins to bridge the gap in 2012.
Note: Childs tore the patellar tendon in both knees early in training camp and is out for the season.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Toby Gerhart, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Kyle Rudolph, TE
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Blair Walsh, K
Bounce-Back: Christian Ponder, QB
Top IDP: Jared Allen, DE

2012 Draft Class

1. Matt Kalil T 6-7 295 USC
1. Harrison Smith S 6-2 214 Notre Dame
3. Josh Robinson CB 5-10 199 UCF
4. Jarius Wright WR 5-9 180 Arkansas
4. Rhett Ellison TE 6-5 250 USC
4. Greg Childs WR 6-3 217 Arkansas
5. Robert Blanton S 6-1 200 Notre Dame
6. Blair Walsh K 5-10 192 Georgia
7. Audie Cole LB 6-4 239 NC State
7. Trevor Guyton DE 6-3 280 California

Fantasy Impact: Tackle Matt Kalil will help protect the blindside of quarterback Christian Ponder and open up rushing lanes for Adrian Peterson. Outside of Percy Harvin, the Vikings lack playmakers at receiver. Jarius Wright and Greg Childs will help stretch the field, but neither is likely to sustain fantasy value in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (CHI, at STL, at HOU)

A start against the Bears should be good news for the WRs and TEs as Chicago was 11th-worst and seventh-worst, respectively, against the positions. The Vikes face a Rams team, now coached by Jeff Fisher, that was already top 10 against QBs and TEs. They play a Texans team in fantasy championship week that was top five against fantasy QBs, RBs and TEs last season and top 10 against receivers.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Minnesota Vikings</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 05:56
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-miami-dolphins
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What can the Miami Dolphins do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Ethan Skolnick, Palm Beach Post

Can Reggie Bush build on his first career 1,000-yard season or will Daniel Thomas (or Lamar Miller) steal a big chunk of his touches?
No offensive staff has believed in Bush as an every-down back until the one the Dolphins had last season. Now that staff is gone, and Joe Philbin hasn’t traditionally loaded up one guy with carries. Expect Bush to contribute more as a receiver, but less as a runner.

Is any Dolphins’ pass-catcher worth a fantasy roster spot?
No. Davone Bess is the Dolphins’ most reliable threat, but most of his damage is done horizontally, out of the slot, rather than vertically. Brian Hartline has slightly above-average speed and can tiptoe the sidelines, but more than 600 yards would be a stretch. And Clyde Gates is raw as a deep threat, with a long way to go.

Rank the four potential fantasy contributors at tight end for the Fish.
You know what you’re getting from Anthony Fasano, even though his improvement as a blocker won’t show up on the fantasy scoreboard. Rank Fasano first, though Charles Clay appears to have bigger upside as a receiver and will be on the field plenty. Michael Egnew also showed a feel for route-running in college. It’s not clear what to expect from Les Brown, since he’s so new to the position.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Davone Bess, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Clyde Gates, WR
Overvalued: Reggie Bush, RB
Top Rookie: Lamar Miller, RB
Bounce-Back: Daniel Thomas, RB
Top IDP: Karlos Dansby, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Ryan Tannehill QB 6-4 221 Texas A&M
2. Jonathan Martin T 6-5 312 Stanford
3. Olivier Vernon DE 6-2 261 Miami
3. Michael Egnew TE 6-5 252 Missouri
4. Lamar Miller RB 5-11 210 Miami (Fla.)
5. Josh Kaddu LB 6-3 239 Oregon
6. B.J. Cunningham WR 6-1 211 Michigan State
7. Kheeston Randall DT 6-4 293 Texas
7. Rishard Matthews WR 6-0 212 Nevada

Fantasy Impact: The success or failure of the Dolphins’ 2012 draft will hinge on whether or not Ryan Tannehill emerges as a successful starting quarterback. He should be selected in keeper formats, with his biggest impact likely to come in 2013. Lamar Miller is a big-play threat but is behind Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas for carries.

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

New HC. New OC. New QB. Can Reggie Bush repeat? Deal with all of these scenarios then start the fantasy playoffs against San Francisco’s defense and a Jacksonville defense that ranked in the top seven against QBs, RBs and WRs. The good news: If the Dolphins find a reliable TE they could be worth a play. Jacksonville (30th) and Buffalo (32th) were terrible against fantasy TEs last season.

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Miami Dolphins</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-offensive-linemen-2012
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Playing on the offensive line is one of the least glamorous positions on the field. However, the players in the trenches are some of the most important, as the offense can't move the ball with a line that struggles to block. The 2012 college football season has plenty of talented linemen ready to challenge for All-American honors, led by Alabama's Barrett Jones. The senior is switching from left tackle to center but is expected to have another standout year. 

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

College Football's Top Offensive Linemen for 2012

Top 5 Centers for 2012

1. Barrett Jones, Alabama
Three years, three different positions. That’s how valuable Jones has been to Alabama’s offensive line during his career in Tuscaloosa. The Tennessee native started the first 25 games of his career at right guard and shifted to left tackle last season. He earned first-team All-SEC honors in each of the last two years and will slide inside to man the center spot with the departure of William Vlachos. Jones is the nation’s most versatile offensive lineman and the defending Outland Trophy winner should be one of college football’s top performers in 2012.

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

3. Travis Frederick, 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. 

4. Gabe Ikard, OG/C, Oklahoma
With Ikard leading the way, Oklahoma expects to have one of the Big 12’s top offensive lines. He started 12 games as a freshman in 2010 and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors for his performance in 2011. Ikard’s value to the team was on full display after he moved from guard to center to replace the injured Ben Habern last year. The junior is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2012 and will likely slide back to center with Habern deciding to retire before fall camp.

5. Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson 
The 6-foot-5, 285-pound senior from Pelion, S.C., is the unquestioned leader of the Tigers offensive line. He is the lone returning starter from a group that led the ACC in passing offense and finished second in scoring. Protecting the deep collection of skill players is atop his priority list, and should he do that, Clemson could repeat as ACC champs.
 

Top 15 Offensive Tackles for 2012

1. Ricky Wagner, 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. 

2. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M 
Not too many players step into a BCS conference and start all 13 games as a true freshman. Joeckel did just that back in 2010 before earning first-team All-Big 12 honors last fall. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound bookend has played in all 26 possible career games and helped lead an O-Line that finished fourth nationally in sacks allowed per game last fall (0.69). The Aggies will experience growing pains shifting into the SEC, but the Joeckel-led offensive line shouldn’t be an issue.

3. Alex Hurst, LSU
The 6-foot-6, 340-pound senior right tackle was a force last season in paving the way for the powerful LSU running game. Three different Tigers running backs reached the 500-yard mark last season, and LSU compiled 35 touchdowns on the ground. Hurst was recognized as first-team All-SEC by the league’s coaches in 2011, and he will be a top All-America candidate this season. Hurst and Chris Faulk should form the best tackle duo in the country in 2012.

4. Chris Faulk, LSU 
After redshirting in 2009, the big left tackle from Slidell, La., worked his way into a starting spot by the end of his freshman season. Despite dealing with a severe ankle sprain against Mississippi State, Faulk still started 13 of the 14 games en route to the BCS national championship game. He earned second-team All-SEC honors while protecting the blindside of both Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. Behind Faulk and company, LSU finished second in the run-heavy SEC in rushing offense at 202.6 yards per game.

5. Taylor Lewan, 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.

6. D.J. Fluker, Alabama
Fluker has started 21 games in his first two years in Tuscaloosa but is on the verge of a breakout year. The Alabama native was a key cog in the Crimson Tide’s rushing attack, allowing backs to average 5.5 yards per carry and record 34 scores on the ground. At 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds, Fluker has the strength to dominate on the right side of the line and continues to improve as a pass blocker. Look for the junior tackle to push for first-team All-SEC honors this season.

7. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
The son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews helped pave the way for an Aggies offense that ranked No. 7 in the country and scored over 39 points per game last season. Texas A&M might not be able to equal that type of production in the physical SEC, but the transition will be much easier because of the quality of the A&M offensive line led by left tackle Luke Joeckel, center Patrick Lewis and a powerful right tackle in Matthews.

8. Oday Aboushi, Virginia
The Brooklyn, N.Y., lineman has started the last two seasons on an improving Cavaliers offensive line. Aboushi was twice the ACC’s offensive lineman of the week on the way to second-team all-conference honors. Aboushi, whose parents moved to the U.S. from Palestine, was honored at a reception last season for Muslim-Americans hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

9. James Hurst, North Carolina
Hurst has started every game but one in his first two seasons as North Carolina’s left tackle. He got his first start in the second game of his true freshman season and has been a mainstay at left tackle since. A Freshman All-American in 2010, Hurst received second-team All-ACC honors last season. He and teammate Jonathan Cooper became the first Tar Heel offensive line tandem to receive all-conference honors since 1993.

10. Justin Pugh, Syracuse
One of the nation’s top offensive tackles, Pugh enters his junior season with high expectations. He has started all 25 games over the last two seasons, culminating in two all-conference awards (2nd team in 2010 and 1st team in 2011). He has paved the way for back-to-back 1,000-yard rushers and is charged with protecting star quarterback Ryan Nassib this fall. With a great year at Syracuse, Pugh could leave early for the NFL. However, the junior is dealing with an injury that could force him to miss the start of 2012.

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

12. LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders anchor up front is this senior from Columbus, Texas. Waddle has started 25 consecutive games and enters his final season in Lubbock as a reigning second-team All-Big 12 selection. Fans can bet on a first-team-type of season from the 6-foot-6, 320-pounder.

13. Morgan Moses, Virginia
The Cavaliers resurgence under Mike London began with recruiting victories like Moses, who came to UVa with five stars next to his name. He helped pave the way for Jones and Kevin Parks en route to finishing fourth in the ACC in rushing last fall. Additionally, the 6-foot-6, 335-pounder helped the Virginia finish third in the league (23rd nationally) with only 1.23 sacks allowed per game. Look for Moses to lead the Wahoo rushing attack once again in 2012.

14. Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Getting consistent play from the offensive line has been an issue for Notre Dame in recent years, but 2012 could be different. Martin has been a steady performer in his first two years and could challenge for All-American honors this season. He started all 13 games at left tackle last year and enters 2012 with 26 consecutive starts. The Irish allowed only 17 sacks last season and could improve upon that number with Martin returning for 2012. 

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

Top 15 Guards for 2012

1. Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech
Uzzi is the leader of Georgia Tech’s offensive line, starting 24 games over the last two years and earning first-team All-ACC honors in 2011. He is a good fit in Georgia Tech’s blocking scheme, largely due to his good lateral ability and physical presence when clearing the way for rushers. The senior is an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2012 and was a big reason why the Yellow Jackets ranked second in the nation in rushing last season.

2. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
A two-time second-team All-ACC honoree, Cooper has the most starts (35) of any player on North Carolina’s roster. Cooper is a four-year starter on the Tar Heels’ offensive line as he made 10 starts at left guard as a redshirt freshman in 2009. For his career, Cooper has started every game he has played in, missing three in his first season because of injury. He pairs with tackle James Hurst to form one of the top left sides in the ACC.

3. Chance Warmack, Alabama
Barrett Jones is clearly the No. 1 offensive lineman for Alabama, but don’t overlook Warmack. The steady senior has started 25 straight contests and earned second-team All-SEC honors last season. The Georgia native is regarded as one of the top offensive guards for the 2013 NFL Draft and should increase his stock with another outstanding year.

4. Larry Warford, Kentucky
Warford is probably one of the nation’s most underrated players. He enters 2012 with 25 consecutive starts and has earned All-SEC honors in each of the last two seasons. At 6-foot-3 and 343 pounds, Warford has the size and strength to be a road grader on the ground, while helping to keep opposing linemen off the quarterback. The senior is an Athlon Sports first-team All-SEC selection for 2012.

5. Cyril Richardson, Baylor
Circle Richardson’s name if you are looking for someone who could emerge as one of the nation’s best linemen in 2012. He started all 13 games at left tackle last season and earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Richardson will move back inside to guard this year, and has massive frame (6-foot-5, 335 pounds) should give quarterback Nick Florence plenty of protection, while opening up rushing lanes for Jarred Salubi and Lache Seastrunk.

6. Alvin Bailey, Arkansas
There’s no question Bailey has the talent to be one of the top offensive linemen in the nation. However, he didn’t have the best spring, and the coaching staff isn’t guaranteeing him a starting spot for the opener. Bailey has started the first 26 games in his career and was selected as a second-team All-SEC selection last year. If the Oklahoma native plays up to his ability, he should finish higher on this list at the end of 2012.

7. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
Jackson was the anchor for the Bulldogs' offensive line, which averaged 175.3 rushing yards per game last season. The 6-foot-4 guard started all 13 games in 2011 and earned second-team All-SEC honors. The SEC is loaded with talent on the offensive line, but Jackson should not be overlooked.

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

9. Braden Hansen, BYU
Hansen has been a steady presence for BYU's offensive line and enters 2012 with 39 consecutive starts. The senior has been named to the Lombardi and Outland Trophy watch lists for 2012 and is on the radar for scouts in the 2013 NFL Draft.

10. Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
The leader of the Pokes offensive line, Taylor returns for his final season with 36 career starts under his belt. As the only returning starter up front for one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, the Arlington, Texas native will be counted on for more leadership this fall.

11. Spencer Long, 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.

12. Chris McDonald, 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.
 
13. Mason Walters, Texas
The top blocker on a unit that has underachieved, Walters has started all 25 games of his two-year career at right guard. He is hoping to build upon his honorable mention All-Big 12 selection from last year.
 
14. Carson York, Oregon
York has been a stabilizing force on Oregon’s offensive line, starting 36 career games. However, his status for the season opener is in doubt, as he suffered a serious knee injury in the bowl win over Wisconsin. If healthy, York should be one of the best guards in the nation.
 
15. Blaize Foltz, TCU
With only two returning starters, the offensive line is the Horned Frogs' biggest question mark on offense. However, TCU has a solid duo to build around on the interior. Foltz should be leader for this unit after earning first-team All-Mountain West honors in 2011 and will be expected to challenge for All-Big 12 accolades in 2012.
Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top Offensive Linemen for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 05:15
Path: /nascar/nascar-news-notes-week-2
Body:

One theme is consistent among competitors as NASCAR returns to Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time since track changes intended to create tighter racing.

“I just hope that they didn’t screw it up,” points leader Greg Biffle says.

“I just hope they didn’t screw up the race track,” Ryan Newman says.

“Nobody really knows what is going to happen,” Jimmie Johnson says.

After lackluster attendance in the spring and complaints by fans about the lack of action, track officials narrowed the groove to force cars to run closer together and create that door-banging excitement some fans said was lacking.

“I think it is going to be exciting either way,” Biffle says. “I heard they ground the corner more down the straightaway so that when you come up off the corner you will go across that patch coming on to the straightaway, which may be difficult to go from the bottom groove. They carried it around maybe further than it needed to be, but we will have to wait and see when we get there how the race track drives now. I hope it is good.”

Newman is worried what type of racing drivers will see.

“I hope they didn’t take the racing away,” he says. “The beating, banging and crashing is not the racing that I like. That’s what some of the fans enjoy, but that’s not the racing I like. I like being able to run side-by-side. The problem we had the tire just didn’t allow us to be able to fall off so the first five laps of the run were like the last five, 120 (laps) later. Your car didn’t fall off, your balance didn’t change, and everybody was virtually the same speed.

“To me, the tires are the biggest issue when it comes to a place like that.”

Goodyear did a tire test this summer. Cup teams will use a different left-side tire than in the spring race. The right-side tires will remain the same version run in the spring.

“I’m more interested in the changes done to the tire compound than anything else,” says Brad Keselowski, who has won the past two Bristol Cup races. “I think that’ll be the bigger key to the puzzle and we’ll just have to see how that unfolds. Obviously, I’m going to run all three series Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and if there’s a difference in the track I should be the first to know.”

The Camping World Truck Series races Wednesday night at Bristol with the Nationwide race Friday night and the Cup race Saturday night.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a lap around the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. The "new" Bristol, 2013 schedule and Danica in the Cup Series highlights the news of the week.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 16:36

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