Articles By All

Path: /college-football/college-footballs-pivotal-players-seven-big-ten
Body:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other “Pivotal Players” so far:
ACC
 

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

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

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

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

College Football's Top 25 Linebackers for 2012

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

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

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

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

11. Dion Bailey, USC
As only a freshman, Bailey proved to be an invaluable member of the Trojan defense. He posted 81 tackles, a pair of sacks and a pair of interceptions en route to freshman All-American honors. Now, as a sophomore, Bailey has Butkus Award potential and the chance to lead the his team to a national championship.
 
12. Mike Taylor, Wisconsin
The other half of one of the most devastating linebacking duos in the nation, Taylor is entering his fourth season as a starter. Last year, he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors after leading the Big Ten (and ranking third in the nation) with 150 tackles. With some issues on the defensive line and in the secondary, Taylor and fellow backer Chris Borland will need to be at their best in 2012. 
 
13. Michael Clay, Oregon
Clay is one of the Pac-12’s most underrated players heading into 2012. Despite missing two games last season, he recorded 102 tackles, three sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles. Despite his standout year, Clay didn’t even earn honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. Expect that to change in 2012, as the San Jose native will be in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 honors as the leader of Oregon’s linebacking corps.  
 
14. Jordan Hicks, Texas
Few linebackers have the sheer explosiveness of the West Chester, Ohio native. He saw his first significant starting action last fall and should be ready to step into a bigger role as a junior. He racked-up 64 tackles in only eight starts and will undoubtedly make more plays in 2012.
 
15. Max Bullough, Michigan State
With Denicos Allen, Bullough makes up half of an elite linebacker tandem, and with the rest of the Spartans ‘backers, he’s in the middle of the best unit in the Big Ten. Bullough is a standout play-caller on the field and excelled as a run-stuffer for a unit that allowed 100.5 rushing yards per game (first in the Big Ten, ninth nationally). 
 
16. Jonathan Brown, Illinois
In a league that features Gerald Hodges, Mike Taylor and Chris Borland, it’s easy for Brown to be overlooked for preseason accolades. However, the junior should be one of Illinois’ top players in 2012. Brown recorded 108 tackles and 19.5 tackles for a loss last season, along with earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. Look for the Memphis, Tenn. native to raise his profile even more in 2012.
 
17. Denicos Allen, Michigan State
After playing mostly on special teams in 2010, Allen was one of the Big Ten’s top breakout performers last year. He played in all 14 contests, recording 83 stops, 18.5 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks. Allen doesn’t have prototypical size, but his speed and athletic ability allows him to wreck havoc in opposing backfields.
 
18. Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
Reddick is a four-year starter at linebacker who finished second on team in tackles last season with 71 total stops, 39 of those solo. He was the Tar Heels' leading tackler in 2010 with 74 (48 solo stops) and was named to The Sporting News' All-ACC Freshman team in 2009.
 
19. Jon Bostic, Florida 
The Wellington, Fla., prospect is now the elder statesman leader of the Gators defense. He led the team in tackles a year ago with 94 total stops and finished tied with second 10.0 tackles for a loss. He has played in 38 total games and made 19 career starts. His 6-foot-1, 250-pound frame makes him the most physical tackler on the Florida defense — a unit that will have to lead the team should it expect to compete in the East.
 
20. Nico Johnson, Alabama 
The forgotten man of the 2011 Alabama linebacking corps, Johnson finished fourth on the team in tackles. This on a defense that allowed an astonishing 183.6 total yards per game and 8.2 points per game. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder from Andalusia, Ala., will be the veteran presence on the reworked Bama defense in 2012.
 
21. Sean Porter, Texas A&M
Porter was Texas A&M’s top defender last season, recording 79 stops, 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss. He earned first-team All-Big 12 honors and is expected to be the leader on the Aggies’ defense in 2012. Porter will have to adjust to a new scheme, as Texas A&M is shifting from a 3-4 to a 4-3 attack. New coordinator Mark Snyder still needs to find ways to let Porter attack off the edge, but the new scheme may prevent him from recording 17 tackles for a loss once again.
 
22. Tom Wort, Oklahoma
Entering his third season as a starter, Wort has become a complete linebacker over the years. He’s topped 60 tackles both seasons and added his first two career interceptions last season. He’s tough and physical, but he’s filling a leadership void left by Travis Lewis.
 
23. Jelani Jenkins, Florida
The Northeastern prospect was an elite recruit and has proven to have athleticism to match. The only thing left for Jenkins to develop is a physical, nasty streak. Should he develop this aspect of his game, he has All-American potential – especially, with 23 career starts in two seasons under his belt.
 
24. Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers
It’s easy to overlook Beauharnais considering he plays next to All-American candidate Khaseem Greene. However, the senior is one of the Big East’s premier defenders, as evidenced by his 16 tackles for a loss and five sacks last year. Beauharnais will have to adjust to a new coordinator but he should close out his Rutgers’ career with a standout senior season.
 
25. Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech
Taylor led the team in tackles in 2010 and was doing the same through the first eight games of last season before suffering a leg injury that cut his junior campaign short. Despite missing the last six games, Taylor still earned honorable mention All-ACC recognition after posting a total of 53 tackles, seven tackles for a loss and five sacks in less than eight full games.
 
Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 25 Linebackers for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 06:15
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-10-biggest-injury-concerns-tight-end
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 tight end. The position continues to evolve thanks to the record-setting efforts of the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. Of course with more passes being thrown their way comes an increase risk of injury. These tight ends are the ones you should be most wary of when it comes to the potential for missing a game or two.

1. Jason Witten, Dallas
Witten has missed a total of one game in nine seasons. But the Cowboys' All-Pro and Tony Romo's favorite target suffered a lacerated spleen on a hit in the team's Aug. 13 preseason game, which changes everything. The good news is that it appears Witten will not need surgery, which would have put him out of action indefinitely. However, he is a longshot at best to play in Week 1 and no one knows for sure when he will be back on the field at this point.

2. Antonio Gates, San Diego
The talented tight end turns 32 this summer and has missed nine games over the last two years with a variety of lingering issues.

3. Owen Daniels, Houston
Experienced a slight return to form last fall but still missed time due to injury. Has missed 14 games over the last three seasons.

4. Dallas Clark, Tampa Bay
The aging vet has dealt with major injuries for the better part of two years, missing 15 games over that span. If healthy, he has a clear path to the starting job in Tampa.

5. Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati
After suffering an ACL tear in high school (2005) and college (2009), Gresham missed two games last season with a hamstring injury. He returned and played well in the second half of the season. Gresham suffered a right knee sprain in the Bengals' preseason game against Atlanta, but appears to have escaped serious injury.

6. Rob Gronkowski, New England
When you play a physical brand of football like the Gronk, injuries will always be a concern. Hopefully, the ankle injury he sustained in the 2011 playoffs isn’t a sign of things to come.

7. Tony Moeaki, Kansas City
There were high hopes for the second-year player before he tore his ACL in the preseason and missed the entire 2011 season.

8. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota
Showed the ability to stay healthy last year (he missed one game) but had a history of significant injuries while at Notre Dame.

9. Martellus Bennett, New York Giants
The former Dallas Cowboy has always had massive physical upside, but due to lack of focus and minor injuries, he has never delivered on his talent.

10. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta
The greatest ever to play the position has missed only two career games, but Gonzo is 36, and one would think that at some point his body may begin to break down.

— Published on August 24, 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football: 10 Biggest Injury Concerns at Tight End</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 06:04
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-philadelphia-eagles
Body:

What can the Philadelphia Eagles 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 Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Inquirer

Who should be the first Eagles wide receiver on fantasy draft boards?
The safer pick is Jeremy Maclin, who is a more consistent, productive receiver on a weekly basis. The no-guts, no-glory pick is DeSean Jackson. He remains capable of scoring every time he gets the ball. The question is whether he responds to his new contract with all-in commitment, and the gut feeling here is that he will.

Should owners have any concerns about LeSean McCoy holding up for another 300-plus touches?
Running backs are always a concern in terms of durability. It’s a high-attrition position. The mitigating factor with McCoy is that the Eagles’ offense is built upon getting him the ball in space. He is not grinding it out between the tackles; he’s catching screens and taking tosses designed to get him in the open field.

Which Michael Vick will we see in ’12?
The answer to this question will make or break the Eagles. There are two major concerns for those drafting Vick: his durability and his knack for turning the ball over. That makes him a big risk with potential high reward for fantasy owners.

Which rookie defender has more value, Mychal Kendricks or Vinny Curry?
Tough to know exactly how a team will deploy rookies, but there is one very clear indicator. The Eagles’ entire defense is predicated on their defensive line getting pressure. D-linemen had 44 sacks for the Eagles in 2011. Linebackers had just five all year. It is a reach to assume that Kendricks, an undersized linebacker, will generate more sacks and turnovers than Curry, who will likely be part of the rotation at end.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Dion Lewis, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Bryce Brown, RB
Overvalued: Michael Vick, QB
Top Rookie: Fletcher Cox, DT
Bounce-Back: DeSean Jackson, WR
Top IDP: Jason Babin, DE

2012 Draft Class

1. Fletcher Cox DT 6/4 298 Mississippi State
2. Mychal Kendricks LB 5/11 239 California
2. Vinny Curry DE 6/3 266 Marshall
3. Nick Foles QB 6/6 243 Arizona
4. Brandon Boykin CB 5/9 182 Georgia
5. Dennis Kelly T 6/8 321 Purdue
6. Marvin McNutt WR 6/3 216 Iowa
6. Brandon Washington G 6/3 320 Miami (Fla.)
7. Bryce Brown RB 6/1 223 Kansas State

Fantasy Impact: With Michael Vick’s penchant for injuries, the Eagles need to have a quality backup. Nick Foles will serve as the No. 3 quarterback this year, and if he develops as expected, he could be Philadelphia’s quarterback of the future. Marvin McNutt had a productive career at Iowa but will be fighting for time as the No. 4 or No. 5 receiver.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at TB, CIN, WAS)

Tampa Bay drafted defensive players with four of its first five picks to try and fix a defense that allowed a league-worst 30.9 points per game. Cincinnati was 14th-best against QBs and WRs and 10th-best against RBs. Michael Vick vs. RGIII will make for an interesting championship week. Tampa Bay and two games at home are not a bad trio of games for Philly.

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 Philadelphia Eagles</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 06:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-pittsburgh-steelers
Body:

What can the Pittsburgh Steelers 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 Scott Brown, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Can Isaac Redman be the full-time ball-carrier while Rashard Mendenhall gets back up to speed?
The Steelers are going to find out. No other healthy back on the roster has more than 25 career carries, meaning the Steelers will lean heavily on Redman. Redman shined after Mendenhall went down early in the regular-season finale, and the former undrafted free agent runs with authority. But the Steelers haven’t seen enough to anoint Redman as a
No. 1 back though he will be given every opportunity to prove he is just that.

What do you expect from Ben Roethlisberger this season?
A third 4,000-yard passing season, more touchdowns and fewer interceptions. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley plays to his team’s strengths, and it’s hard to imagine him not taking advantage of the skill the Steelers have at quarterback and wide receiver.

Who will post more catches, yards and touchdowns in 2012: Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown?
It’s hard not to like Brown here. He broke out in 2011 after arriving at training camp as the No. 4 receiver, and he is the more complete player of the two. Take away the deep ball from Wallace, as teams did in the second half of last season, and the fourth-year veteran puts up pedestrian numbers. Plus the precipitous drop in his production after the first eight games last season and his uncertain contract situation make Wallace a wild-card heading into 2012.

Which linebacker is most likely to bounce back and be the most productive: Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley or James Harrison?
It is close between Woodley and Timmons. Injuries forced the Steelers to play Timmons both inside and outside in 2011, and the lack of continuity did not help his development. Timmons should be more productive if he plays most, if not all, of the season inside. Woodley had been terrorizing quarterbacks before suffering a pulled hamstring last October, and the nagging injury robbed him of his burst and effectively ended his season. If he stays healthy in 2012, Woodley will finish among the NFL leaders in sacks.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Isaac Redman, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Emmanuel Sanders, WR
Overvalued: Mike Wallace, WR
Top Rookie: Chris Rainey, RB
Bounce-Back: Lawrence Timmons, LB
Top IDP: Troy Polamalu, S

2012 Draft Class

1. David DeCastro G 6/5 316 Stanford
2. Mike Adams T 6/7 323 Ohio State
3. Sean Spence LB 5/11 231 Miami (Fla.)
4. Alameda Ta’amu NT 6/3 348 Washington
5. Chris Rainey RB 5/9 180 Florida
7. Toney Clemons WR 6/2 210 Colorado
7. David Paulson TE 6/4 246 Oregon
7. Terrence Frederick CB 5/10 187 Texas A&M
7. Kelvin Beachum G 6/3 303 SMU

Fantasy Impact: The offensive line has been an issue for several years in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers may have finally fixed this unit by drafting David DeCastro and Mike Adams. Both will play right away. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley brought all-around threat Dexter McCluster to Kansas City, and Chris Rainey could fill a similar role in Pittsburgh.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (SD, at DAL, CIN)

The playoffs might get progressively harder for Big Ben and Co. San Diego had the 11th-worst scoring defense (23.6 PPG) in the NFL and was 26th against fantasy QBs and 15th against WRs. Dallas ranked 18th against fantasy QBs and WRs. Cincinnati was 14th against QBs and WRs. Maybe new OC Todd Haley can help Pittsburgh improve on its 21st-ranked scoring offense (20.3 ppg).

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 Pittsburgh Steelers</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 06:02
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-st-louis-rams
Body:

What can the St. Louis Rams 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 Jim Thomas, St. Louis-Dispatch

Does Steven Jackson have another 1,000-yard season left in the tank?
He sure does. Jackson has been incredibly consistent, with seven consecutive seasons of 1,000 yards or more. Only five players in NFL history have had eight or more consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, and four of those players are in the Hall of Fame (Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, Thurman Thomas) and the fifth is LaDainian Tomlinson, a future Hall of Famer. Jackson takes care of his body, and coach Jeff Fisher still is a firm believer in running the ball — and running it often.

What kind of role can fantasy players expect from rookie Isaiah Pead?
If things go well, and the offense is at least respectable, Pead could get 100 carries and maybe 30-40 receptions. He will be used to spell Jackson, and probably will see lots of duty on third downs as well. And if Jackson should go down with an injury and miss a game or two, Pead will be the feature back. The shifty Pead also has value in the return game, although it’s uncertain if he’ll handle punt returns, kickoff returns — or both.

Is there any receiver on the roster worth drafting?
Certainly not with your early picks, but there are some decent options late. Danny Amendola, healthy after missing 15 games last season with a dislocated elbow and torn triceps, should catch plenty of passes, although his yards per catch won’t be great. Rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens are expected to have big roles, but will they be able to learn the offense quickly enough to put up big numbers early?

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Robert Quinn, DE
Deep-Sleeper: Lance Kendricks, TE
Overvalued: Steven Jackson, RB
Top Rookie: Isaiah Pead, RB
Bounce-Back: Sam Bradford, QB
Top IDP: James Laurinaitis, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Michael Brockers DT 6/5 322 LSU
2. Brian Quick WR 6/3 220 Appalachian State
2. Janoris Jenkins CB 5/10 193 North Alabama
2. Isaiah Pead RB 5/10 193 Cincinnati
3. Trumaine Johnson CB 6/1 204 Montana
4. Chris Givens WR 5/11 198 Wake Forest
5. Rokevious Watkins G 6/4 338 South Carolina
6. Greg Zuerlein K 6/1 187 Missouri Western
7. Aaron Brown LB 6/1 225 Hawaii
7. Daryl Richardson RB 5/10 192 Abilene Christian

Fantasy Impact: Surrounding Sam Bradford with more weapons was essential, and the Rams added two potential starting receivers with Brian Quick and Chris Givens. Isaiah Pead will work as the team’s change-of-pace back and should be handcuffed to Steven Jackson in all formats.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at BUF, MIN, at TB)

Steven Jackson was the only fantasy-relevant Ram in 2011, ranking 10th among RBs. Sam Bradford was the 33rd-ranked fantasy QB. No receivers or tight ends were in the top 35 of their position. If they turn it around, the Rams have an easy playoff schedule, particularly the last two weeks as Minnesota and Tampa Bay were in the bottom 16 against fantasy QBs, RBs and WRs 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 St. Louis Rams</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 06:01
Path: /college-football/big-12s-top-impact-freshmen-2012
Body:

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 Texas Longhorns know all about true freshman running backs as the No. 1 incoming freshman tailback in the nation, Malcolm Brown, finished with 742 yards and five scores last season despite missing three games. Mack Brown welcomes another No. 1 runner in Jonathan Gray to campus who should see plenty of playing time this time around too. This season will feature another class of stellar prospects who will mold the landscape in the Big 12 (listed alphabetically): 

The Big 12's Top Impact Freshmen for 2012

LaDarius Brown, WR, TCU
Casey Pachall has loads of talent to work with in the passing game. He has names like Boyce and Dawson. And he has plenty of smaller, slot guys who make big plays happen in open space near the line of scrimmage. What he would love is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound big body that can go down the field and deep over the middle. The big fella from Waxahachie, Texas, gives him a weapon like that.

Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
The No. 5-rated defensive tackle prospect in the entire nation will enter the 40 Acres for the first time with eyes on playing time. He will bolster a key area of concern for the Horns and could eventually work his way into the starting line-up. The Brenham, Texas, prospect checks in at 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds.

Quenton Bundrage, WR, Iowa State
The Cyclones offense is anything but situated and the receiving corps is a big part of that problem. The coaching staff is hoping the Sunshine State prospect is ready to produce in his first year on the field. He is a big target at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds and could make a big difference for whichever quarterback wins the job in Ames.

La'Raven Clark, OL, Texas Tech
The biggest impact newcomer for Tech has to be this starting offensive lineman. The 6-foot-3, 310-pounder hails from Rockdale, Texas, and will be charged with protecting the team's two most valued weapons in quarterback Seth Doege and tailback Eric Stephens.

Spencer Drango, OL, Baylor
No pressure for Drango in 2012. Following the Year of the Bear, the youngster from Cedar Park, Texas, could be responsible for protecting new quarterback Nick Florence's blind side. He checks in at 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds and should benefit from playing alongside Cyril Richardson. These two give Baylor one of the biggest tackle tandems in the country.

Devonte Fields, DL, TCU
The Frogs have been dealing with injuries all over the depth chart and with the recent issues along the defensive line, Fields has had his chance to showcase his talents in camp. He has been impressive and it has earned him the chance to see the field as a key reserve (if not more). From Arlington, Texas, he is one of the highest-rated recruits in TCU history and Gary Patterson is hoping he can provide a spark in the pass rush.

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

Daje Johnson, AP, Texas
The Texas version of De'Anthony Thomas could be a big-time play-maker for Mack Brown this fall. Unfortunately, he is already starting to act big-time, getting suspended for the season opener for a violation of team rules. His all-purpose ability, however, won't be kept down long as he will catch passes, get carries and possibly get involved on special teams. He can score from anywhere on the field — once he is on the field, of course.

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

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

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

Tre Parmalee, WR, Kansas
A local prep super star in Overland Park, Kan., Parmalee should be a factor for the Jayhawks much like Tyler Lockett was for Kansas State last year and Jordan Thompson (WVU) and Daje Johson (Texas) this fall. He isn't a big player at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, be he has plenty of quickness and agility. He could be used in the pass, run and return games.

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

Freshman Position Battles To Watch:

Cayleb Jones, Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson, WR, Texas
All three have already cracked the two-deep, but significant playing time is a long shot. The future is bright with this group, however.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Aviante Collins, OL, TCU
Injuries have forced a lot of movement on the Frogs' OL depth chart and these two big freshmen have impressed thus far.

Durron Neal and Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
Metoyer will get the first crack and most of the headlines, but these two have loads of talent and big upside.

Tyler Pankey and Adam Orlosky, OL, West Virginia
Both come to Morgantown from Ohio and both have locked up spots on the two-deep as key reserves along the line.

Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkins, LB, Texas
A reworked position has allowed both players to see the field plenty in camp. Expect plenty of reps from these two.

Karl Joseph and K.J. Dillon, S, West Virginia
These two stellar safeties are listed as No. 2's but both will play a ton this fall according to the coaching staff.

Javares McCroy and Derek Edwards, WR, Texas Tech
Both have worked their way onto the field this summer — be it special teams or in the slot.

Deante Gray and Kolby Griffin, DB, TCU
These two youngsters will push the vets for playing time now that injuries have opened up opportunities. 

Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet, QB, Texas
Yes, David Ash is the starter, but both of these kids are talented enough to push for time should Ash and Case McCoy falter.

Other Names To Watch:

Christian Brown, DT, West Virginia
Isaiah Bruce, LB, West Virginia
Ty Darlington, C, Oklahoma
A.J. Hilliard, LB, TCU
Taylor McNamara, TE, Oklahoma
Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma
Alex Ross, RB, Oklahoma
Frank Shannon, LB, Oklahoma
Brandon Shepard, WR, Oklahoma State
Gary Simon, CB, Oklahoma
Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma
Duke Thomas, CB, Texas

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Related Big 12 Content

Big 12 Coaches Anonymous Scouting Reports
The Big 12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Big 12 Defensive Line Rankings for 2012

College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big 12 Offensive Line Rankings for 2012

Big 12 Wide Receiver Rankings for 2012
Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big 12 Team

Big 12 Heisman Contenders for 2012
College Football Realignment Winners and Losers
The History of Big 12 Realignment
Introducing West Virginia to the Big 12
TCU Comes Home to the Big 12

Teaser:
<p> The Big 12's Top Impact Freshmen of 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/pac-12s-top-impact-freshmen-2012
Body:

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 Pac-12's three-time defending conference champion used a true freshman of their own last fall to earn the league crown. De'Anthony Thomas was stellar in all phases of the game and his big-play ability not only helped the Ducks to a championship, but a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. This season will feature another class of stellar prospects who will mold the landscape in the Pac-12 (listed alphabetically): 

The Pac-12's Top Impact Freshmen for 2012

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

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

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

Jake Brendel, OL, UCLA
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound pivot has a chance to start as a redshirt freshman this fall. He hails from Plano, Texas, and will look to stabilize a portion of the UCLA offense that has been lacking of late. 

DJ Foster, RB, Arizona State
This tiny speedster has a chance to make big plays this fall. Cameron Marshall is the starter, but has been out of practice, thus giving the uber-recruit from Scottsdale, Ariz., plenty of chances. He has been too dynamic in camp for Todd Graham to keep off the field.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nelson Spruce, WR, Colorado
The 6-foot-2, 195 pounder got his chance when Paul Richardson went down with a serious injury. From Westlake Village, Calif., Spruce has already earned a starting spot in the Buffs offense. If he can hold off a talented group nipping at his heels, he should have a great first season on the field.

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

Bryce Treggs, WR, Cal
Playing opposite of Keenan Allen should allow for the very talented Treggs to get plenty of looks in 2012. While Allen draws safety help and double-coverage, the Top-100 wide receiver from Bellflower, Calif., will be lined-up in isolation coverage schemes.

Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State
The Beavers running game was atrocious last fall and Mike Riley has no qualms about starting a true freshman in the backfield. Especially, if they are from Texas or Florida. Woods comes to Corvallis from Austin suburb Pflugerville, Texas. He is much bigger and more durable than Malcolm Agnew, who also figures heavily in the carries mix.

Yuri Wright, DB, Colorado
Immature tweeting aside, Wright has loads of upside and raw talent. Will he need to mature and develop off the field in order to become the great athlete scouts think he can become? Yes. But on a depth chart that has many voids, Wright figures to make an instant impact in Boulder.

Freshman Position Battles To Watch:

Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy, OL, Stanford
Two huge recruits, literally and figuratively, will battle for starting tackle position all season.

Jaydon Mickens and Kendyl Taylor, WR, Washington
Both could start opposite of Kasen Williams as both are listed as starters in latest depth chart.

Kenny Walker, Javon Williams, Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien, WR, UCLA
Young quarterback has an elite collection of young pass catchers to choose from.

Maurice Harris, Darius Powe, Chris Harper, WR, Cal
Treggs is already a starter and these are the next three names listed on the depth chart.

Devon Blackmon and B.J. Kelley, WR, Oregon
With Tacoi Sumler leaving, there should be chances for these two to step up.

Daniel Nielson, Kala Freil and Siaosi Aiono, OL, Utah
Nielson is leading this pack as all three are vying for snaps with the No. 1 offense.

Travis Freeney and Evan Seger, LB, Washington
The latest depth chart projections have these two battling for the starting strongside backer.


Scott Starr and Anthony Sarao, LB, USC
Young LB corps has some solid depth with these two backing Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard.

Lene Maiava and Jacob Arzouman, OL, Arizona
Veteran offensive line will be pushed by these two talented freshman. One might steal a starting spot.

Other Names To Watch:

Zach Banner, OL, USC
Todd Barr, DL, Cal
Ezekiel Bishop, S, Arizona State
Alex Carter, CB, Stanford
Tyson Coleman, LB, Oregon
Kenneth Crowley, CB, Colorado
Xavier Cooper, DL, Washington State
Noor Davis, LB, Stanford
CJ Dozier, LB, Arizona
Michael Eubanks, QB, Arizona State
Ka'imi Fairbairn, K, UCLA
Josh Garnett, OL, Stanford
Johnny Jackson, WR, Arizona
Ellis McCarthy, DL, UCLA
Carlos Mendoza, LB, Arizona State
Darryl Monroe, LB, Washington State
Cyler Miles, QB, Washington
Aaron Porter, LB, UCLA
Jarrell Oliver, RB, Utah
Gerald Thomas, WR, Colorado
Greg Townsend Jr., DE, USC
Max Tuerk, OL, USC
Josh Tupou, DT, Colorado
Soma Vainuku, FB, USC
J.T. Washington, RB, Arizona
Kodi Whitfield, WR, Stanford
Jason Whittingham, STUD, Utah
Leonard Williams, DE, USC
Shadow Williams, LB, Arizona
Travis Wilson, QB, Utah

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Related Pac-12 Content

The Pac-12 Top 50 Players for 2012
Pac-12 Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes

Ranking College Football's Top 20 Linebacking Corps for 2012

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

Predicting the Pac-12's Breakout Players for 2012

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

Ranking the Pac-12's Linebacking Corps for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Offensive Lines for 2012

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

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Athlon's 2012 All-Pac-12 Team

Top 25 Pac-12 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

Teaser:
<p> The Pac-12's Top Impact Freshmen of 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-defensive-backs-2012
Body:

Interception totals can be fluky, but even when you take away his 13 picks from last season, NC State's David Amerson is one of college football's top defenders. At 6-foot-3 Amerson has the size to match up against any receiver in the ACC or across the nation. Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks has quietly emerged as one of the top corners in college football and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2012. USC's T.J. McDonald leads the way at safety but LSU's Eric Reid, Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson and Oregon's John Boyett will push him for the No. 1 ranking this season.

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 20 Cornerbacks for 2012

1. David Amerson, NC State
At 6-foot-3, 194 pounds, Amerson has uncommon size for a cornerback. He also put up uncommon results last season. His 13 interceptions last season were an ACC record and one short of the FBS record held by Washington’s Al Worley. Amerson had four multi-interception games last season and returned two picks for touchdowns. Hard to believe, but Amerson did not have any interceptions in his first season in 2010.

2. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
While LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu will grab headlines for being one of the nation’s top playmakers at cornerbacks, Banks is quietly the SEC’s No. 1 coverman. He started all 13 games last season and earned first-team All-SEC honors, while recording 71 tackles and three forced fumbles. Banks is already drawing significant interest from the NFL, especially with his 6-foot-2 frame. The Mississippi native is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2012.

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

4. Quandre Diggs, Texas
Just a freshman, Diggs stepped into one of the best defensive backfields in the country last season and fit right in. The younger brother of former Longhorn and San Diego Charger Quentin Jammer, Diggs had four interceptions last season. With Diggs a year older, the Texas secondary could be even better than the one that finished 10th nationally in pass efficiency defense.

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

6. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
While Greg Reid will be missed, Rhodes was Florida State’s top cover corner and should keep the Seminoles ranked among the top 25 in pass defense in 2012. Rhodes had a strong freshman year, recording 58 stops and four interceptions and earning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. His play in 2011 dropped off a bit, but at 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, Rhodes should easily bounce back into All-American contention.

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

8. Tharold Simon, LSU 
When is comes to NFL upside and potential, few nickelbacks have as much talent as the sophomore from Eunice, La. He finished third in the SEC with 10 pass break-ups in only two starts. He has a huge frame for a corner at 6-foot-3 and 193 pounds and many believe he is the best coverman on the LSU roster. In fact, much like Morris Claiborne did last fall, Simon will likely be locked-up with the opposition’s top wide receiver. It won’t take long for Simon to become a household name nationally in 2012.

9. Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State
It’s never easy being a cornerback in the Big 12, especially when you have to face offenses at Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and now West Virginia. Brown has been one of the league’s top corners over the last two years, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2011. The senior isn’t the biggest corner (5-foot-8), but he broke up 15 passes and is a physical presence on the outside.

10. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
A second-team All-ACC selection last season, Fuller established himself as the next great Virginia Tech defensive back in 2011. After playing primarily in the Hokies’ nickel package in 2010, Fuller started all 14 games last season – half of those at nickel back/whip linebacker and the other seven at cornerback. Fuller led the team with 14.5 tackles for a loss and also added 4.5 sacks and two interceptions.

11. Carrington Byndom, Texas
The Lufkin, Texas native has appeared in 25 games during his two-year career. He started every game last fall and recorded 57 tackles, 8.0 tackles for a loss and two interceptions.

12. Dee Milliner, Alabama
The Tide lose three starters in the secondary, including two first-round draft picks, but Milliner has experience with 16 starts in the last two seasons. Like many on the Alabama roster, he’s a one-time stud recruit taking his turn in the spotlight. Three interceptions last season indicate he might be ready.

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

14. Logan Ryan, Rutgers
As a Thorpe and Benarik Award watch lister, Ryan might be the top pure coverman in the Big East. The in-state product (New Berlin, N.J.) posted 67 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 14 pass break ups and three interceptions as only a sophomore on what was easily the league’s top defense. Ryan is getting plenty of NFL attention and could be tempted to leave for the next level with another stellar year of play in Piscataway.

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

16. Nigel Malone, Kansas State
The senior from Manteca, Calif., didn’t take long to prove to be another JUCO gem for Bill Snyder. The first-year player led the Big 12 in interceptions a year ago with seven and is the leading returnee in what is a depleted secondary. Expect quarterbacks to avoid Malone’s side of the field this time around.

17. Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma
Improving the pass defense is one of the top priorities for new coordinator Mike Stoops. The Sooners allowed 241.5 yards per game through the air last season, including 485 in the loss to Baylor. Hurst was a second-team All-Big 12 selection last season and has started 27 games over the last two years. The senior should be Oklahoma’s top corner, but this unit will have an uphill battle to earn first-team all-conference honors with Quandre Diggs, Brodrick Brown, Nigel Malone and Carrington Byndom all returning.

18. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Gilbert’s ability to cover wide receivers on the edge isn't the only thing he does extremely well. He is one of the league's fastest players and can be a dangerous return specialist as well — as indicated by his OSU record four kick return touchdowns.

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

20. Merrill Noel, Wake Forest
Jim Grobe’s penchant for redshirting freshmen paid off again as Noel was widely recognized as a freshman All-American last season. The ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year had an astonishing 19 pass breakouts to go with 66 tackles and two picks.
 

College Football's Top 20 Safeties for 2012

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

2. Eric Reid, LSU
The hard-hitting safety became a force during his sophomore season, tying for the team lead in tackles (76) with cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. Reid also forced two fumbles, had two interceptions and recovered a fumble last season for John Chavis’ stellar defense. Reid was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week after an excellent performance in LSU’s 9-6 victory at Alabama during the regular season. His critical fourth-quarter interception in that game was a top play of the 2011 campaign.

3. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
Few players exhibit as much raw athletic ability as the 5-foot-11, 200-pound safety. After playing a hybrid safety position which required much more time in the box, Jefferson has moved to his natural position of free safety. He will be allowed to flow all over the field and make plays now that Mike Stoops and Tim Kish are calling the plays. Jefferson has loads of talent supporting him, so the Sooners should be vastly improved in the secondary this fall.

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

5. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
A stable force at the back end of Mack Brown’s defense since 2009, Vaccarro has played in 38 games in three seasons. The Brownwood, Texas safety nearly claimed the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award (honorable mention POY). He did a little bit of everything for Manny Diaz last fall as he set career highs in tackles (82) but also proved to be able to get into the opponent’s backfield with 8.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks. With loads of starting experience, and plenty of talent around him, the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder is easily one of the best safeties in the nation.

6. Matt Elam, Florida
Elam is the key player in a secondary that could be one of the SEC’s best. Elam was one of only five Gators to start every game last season, recording 78 tackles with 11 for a loss and seven pass break ups.

7. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
After playing in all 14 games at cornerback as a true freshman in 2010, Joyner moved back to safety in time for 2011 and emerged as one of the ACC’s top defensive backs. He recorded 54 stops and four interceptions, while earning first-team All-ACC honors. At 5-foot-8 and 195 pounds, Joyner is a tad undersized for safety, but his physical presence, speed and range make up for any concerns about his height.

8. Robert Lester, Alabama
With Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick off to the NFL, the secondary needs a big year from Lester. The Alabama native been a starter over the last two years, earned second-team All-SEC honors in 2010 and has picked off 10 passes in his career. With inexperience at cornerback, Lester’s leadership will be valuable to a unit that could be under attack early in the year with games against Michigan and Arkansas. The senior is an Athlon Sports second-team All-SEC selection for 2012.

9. Bacarri Rambo, Georgia
Rambo may be absent for the start of the season due to a suspension, which would be a major blow to the Georgia defense. Rambo was an AP first-team All-American last season after recording 55 tackles with a team-leading eight interceptions. Rambo was the key playmaker for a secondary that helped Georgia finish fourth nationally in pass efficiency defense.

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

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

12. Hakeem Smith, Louisville
After a Big East Rookie of the Year award back in 2010, Smith turned in a first-team All-Big East season as only a sophomore last fall. The Jonesboro, Ga., native has quickly supplanted himself as one of the most versatile safeties in the country. The junior has posted back-to-back 80-tackle seasons and has a chance to enter the NFL Draft in 2013 with another great campaign this year. Especially, if he can lead the Cardinals defense to a Big East Championship.

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

14. Jarred Holley, Pittsburgh
Holley is entering his fourth season as a starter for his third head coach with the Panthers. Holley set a career high in tackles last season with 67, but he’s also proven to be a ball hawk with five interceptions as a sophomore and three as a redshirt freshman. 

15. Terence Garvin, West Virginia
Garvin has been a steady performer for West Virginia over the last three years and will play a key role in the new 3-4 scheme in 2012. The Baltimore native has 158 tackles in his career and recorded two picks last season. With the Mountaineers moving to the Big 12, the defense will be facing more pass-first offenses in 2012. Sliding Garvin from safety to linebacker should help West Virginia counter some of those passing attacks, while also allowing him to roam around the line of the scrimmage a little more.

16. Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
Dixon was a huge catch for Baylor on the recruiting trail and the former top 100 recruit is poised for his best season in Waco. He made 89 stops and recorded one interception last year, while earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Dixon will man Baylor’s hybrid linebacker/defensive back position and should make a push for first or second-team all-conference honors.

17. Earl Wolff, NC State 
In one of the nation’s top secondaries, Wolff locks down the back end. He is a physical player at 6-foot-0 and 207 pounds and it showed with his 105 tackles last year — good for second on the team. He intercepted three passes while playing for a defense that led the ACC in turnover margin (+1.08/game). The senior from Raeford, N.C., returns for his final season with eyes on a conference championship.

18. Duron Harmon, Rutgers
After spending his first two years as a backup, Harmon emerged as one of the leaders in the secondary in 2011. He made 49 tackles and picked off five passes, en route to earning first-team All-Big East honors. With another offseason to work as the starter, Harmon build upon last year's success with another All-Big East campaign in 2012.

19. Isaiah Johnson, Georgia Tech
Johnson is a player on the rise after starting all 13 games as a sophomore last season. The Georgia native recorded 78 stops and three interceptions last year and is an Athlon Sports second-team All-ACC selection for 2012. Expect Johnson to be active around the line of scrimmage, as well as contributing significantly to Georgia Tech's pass defense.

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

 

Writeups compiled by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Mark Ross and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

Related College Football Content

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Linebackers for 2012
Ranking College Football's Best Defensive Linemen for 2012

Ranking College Football's Best Offensive Linemen for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 15 Tight Ends for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 Wide Receivers for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 Running Backs for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Quarterbacks for 2012

College Football's All-Name Team for 2012

Projecting College Football's Win Totals for 2012

College Football's Top Storyline Games for 2012

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top Defensive Backs for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 05:54
Path: /nfl/top-20-fantasy-football-injury-risks
Body:

As every fantasy football player knows there's a lot of risk that goes into drafting certain players. If the players make it on the field, your fantasy team will thrive. If they're hit with an injury, you're in trouble. Here's a look at 20 NFL players who offer varying degrees of risk with potentially big rewards.

RUN AWAY!
Stay away completely; you’re wasting a roster spot on a future disappointment.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars
Keep in mind Mojo’s 2011 knee issues when debating whether a back who wants a new contract, would be fine with a trade, and plays for arguably the worst franchise in football is worth drafting.

Mike Vick, QB, Eagles
Unless you’re playing in a Madden 13 video game fantasy football league, avoid the oft-injured Vick — who has already taken a beating in limited time this preseason.

Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
Witten reportedly will not need surgery on his injured spleen. But there are too many other tight ends out there to risk drafting a guy with such a potentially serious internal problem.

Reggie Bush, RB, Dolphins
Don’t let the perfect storm of 1,000-yard 2011 season and "Hard Knocks" hype fool you. No matter how many USC visions dance in your head, this injury-prone runner's best days are behind him.

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos
A broken pinky finger and a torn Achilles have limited Thomas to just 21 games over his first two seasons. Plus, Thomas’ raw route running is more suited to Tim Tebow’s heave-ho go-route game than it is Peyton Manning’s precision passing attack.

 

DOUBTFUL
Too much downside; don’t rely on any of these guys for more than a bench spot.

Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
Expectations for the four-time MVP are unfair. Manning is 36 years old, fresh off at least four neck surgeries and playing for a new team. He also missed a full season and may not be able to make all the throws in the route tree yet.

Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders
Sure, when he’s healthy DMC looks like the second coming of Adrian Peterson or Eric Dickerson. And McFadden teased fantasy owners with 1,664 total yards and 10 total TDs in 2010. But his other three years have produced a combined 1,470 rush yards and nine rush TDs.

Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers
The heir to L.T. fractured his collarbone and is expected to be out until at least Week 3. Even if healthy, however, Mathews has been an over-drafted fantasy bust his entire career. What’s to like?

Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs
A brutal blow was dealt to fantasy owners across the globe last year when Charles — a consensus 2011 first-round pick — was lost for the season with a left knee injury in Week 2. The speed demon may or may not have lost a step, and he may or may not lose a few carries to Peyton Hillis this year.

Kenny Britt, WR, Titans
Multiple knee surgeries and problems between the ears have made Britt one of the worst headaches in fantasy football. Britt is just as likely to be suspended (or arrested) as he is to be a dominant fantasy receiver this year.

 

QUESTIONABLE
It’s a risk, for sure. But the reward should ultimately be worth the gamble.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
Despite suffering a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee in Week 16 last December, Peterson appears to be on track to return to the field early on in 2012. Remember Peterson’s rookie year, when he was the RB2 on nearly every fantasy championship team? That could be the case again in 2012.

Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions
A china doll who played a total of 13 games over his first two seasons, Stafford played all 16 last year and threw for 5,038 yards and 41 TDs. With Megatron in his prime, Stafford’s 2011 numbers are repeatable.

Trent Richardson, RB, Browns
The curse of the new Browns continues to plague Cleveland. Richardson had his sore left knee scoped in early August. But 21-year-olds heal fast and T-Rich has the power, speed, patience and explosiveness to be one of the premier backs in the game.

Matt Forte, RB, Bears
A sprained MCL ended Forte’s season after 12 games last year. Prior to that, however, the versatile Forte 48-of-48 games over his first three seasons. Plus, he’ll be eager to prove his worth after signing a long-awaited contract extension.

Greg Jennings, WR, Packers
An early August concussion, coupled with a sprained MCL late last season make Jennings reasonably risky. But with Aaron Rodgers pitching, a healthy Jennings could put up Jordy Nelson numbers.

 

PROBABLE
Don’t worry too much about injury issues, draft these guys and feel good doing so.

Arian Foster, RB, Texans
A nagging hamstring issue caused Foster to miss two of the first three games of 2011. He also played through a torn meniscus in 2010. But after posting 2,177 total yards and 15 total TDs in 15 games (including playoffs) last year, Foster has earned his status as the consensus No. 1 overall pick in fantasy football.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
After injuring his ankle in the AFC title game, “The Gronk” hobbled his way through the Super Bowl. But the 6’6”, 265-pounder has had seven months to heal and is coming off a 90-catch, 1,327-yard, 17-TD season. The Patriots may want Bibi Jones’ favorite player to tone it down, but no one should tone down the fantasy love for Gronkowski.

Andre Johnson, WR, Texans
A groin injury slowed Johnson in late July and he only played seven games in 2011 due to multiple hamstring issues. Although Johnson has an injury-risk reputation, he has a solid track record. In nine seasons, he has played all 16 games five times, in 13 games twice and missed significant time only twice — playing nine games in 2007 and seven games last year.

Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
Tight hamstrings dogged Jones as a rookie, causing him to miss three games and limiting his availability in several others. But when the 6’3”, 220-pounder was on the field, he was a beast — with 959 yards (17.8 ypc) and eight TDs. With Roddy White lined up on the other side, Jones is poised for a breakout sophomore season.

Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers
Plantar fasciitis — which affects the connective tissue on the sole of the foot — has been a lingering issue for Gates, who missed a combined three games from 2003-09 before missing nine total games the last two seasons. With Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham going early, the fantasy legend that is Gates could be one of this year’s best values.

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy football injury report weighing the risk vs. reward of big names like Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, Rob Gronkowski, Andre Johnson and Julio Jones.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 13:51
Path: /nfl/10-nfl-coaches-hot-seat
Body:

The 2012 NFL season kicks off in less than two weeks, which means teams will start finalizing their 53-man rosters very soon. Once Week 1 rolls around, however, the focus on job security switches from the players to the head coaches. As is typically the case, several enter the upcoming season on the proverbial "hot seat."

Below is a look at the coaches who really need to win in 2012 or otherwise they may want to start polishing up their resume.

2012 NFL Head Coaches Hot Seat Rankings

1. Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers
After missing the playoffs for a second straight season with a team that many expected to contend for a Super Bowl title, some were surprised that Turner got a reprieve for this season. There’s little doubt that this is Turner’s last stand with the Chargers, who should be able to compete with the now Peyton Manning-led Broncos for AFC West supremacy in 2012. For his career, Turner has a sub-.500 record (107-113-1) in 14 seasons and has only been to the playoffs four times. Two of those appearances have come in his five seasons with the Chargers, but if Turner has any hopes of keeping his job, just making the playoffs may not be enough this season.

2. Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles
Reid is the most tenured coach in all of the NFL as he enters his 14th season leading the Eagles. The franchise’s all-time leader in wins (126), Reid has taken the team to the playoffs nine times, won six division titles, one NFC Championship, and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIX following the 2004 season. However, after signing several marquee free agents, the Eagles’ so-called “Dream Team” stumbled out of the gates in 2011, starting the season 1-4. They never really got any momentum going until the end, when they won four in a row against non-playoff teams, and finished the season a disappointing 8-8. Owner Jeffrey Lurie has not come out and said so publicly, but it’s pretty clear that Reid and the Eagles need to not only make the playoffs this season, but get beyond the first round. Otherwise there will probably be significant changes, starting at the top.

3. Rex Ryan, New York Jets
Last season was the first in three that Ryan did not lead his Jets to the playoffs, although he did get them to just a win away from the Super Bowl in his first two. However, when the team you share the city with has two world championships in the past five seasons, it’s pretty clear that you need to do more than just talk a good game. Ryan seems to have moved on from his annual Super Bowl guarantees, which is a wise move on his part. Besides, if he and the Jets don’t fare better than 8-8 this season, the only guarantee he will need to worry about is one coming from owner Woody Johnson about his job security.

4. Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Garrett may be entering just his second full season as a head coach, but let’s not kid ourselves here, the Dallas Cowboys aren’t your typical NFL franchise. Garrett has posted a winning record (15-13) in his tenure, but the ‘Boys went 8-8 in 2011, missing the playoffs for the second straight season. Jerry Jones isn’t known for being a patient man and with a potential coaching free agency pool that could include the likes of Super Bowl winners Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, Brian Billick and Jon Gruden, Garrett can ill afford a slow start or losing season.

5. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings
Just like Garrett, Frazier has been in charge of the Vikings for only one full season. However, that’s where the similarities end between the two coaches as the Vikings and Cowboys are in two entirely different situations. The Vikings are in complete rebuild mode and no one is expecting them to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. That said, if Frazier isn't even able to improve on last year’s 3-13 dismal showing then no one would be surprised if owner Zygi Wilf goes with someone else to oversee the rebuild in Minnesota.

6. Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears
After starting the 2011 season 7-3, the Bears stumbled miserably down the stretch finishing 1-5 and missing the playoffs. Season-ending injuries to both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte played a significant role behind the team’s collapse. That’s why new general manager Phil Emery addressed the depth at both quarterback and running back as well as added wide receiver Brandon Marshall during the offseason. With these moves and others, Smith and the Bears really have no excuses should they miss the playoffs for the fifth time in the last six seasons. If that happens, Smith’s run in the Windy City could come to an end.

7. Chan Gailey, Buffalo Bills
Like the Bears, the Bills got off to a great start (5-2) last season, before watching it all come apart and finishing a disappointing 6-10. The Bills focused their offseason efforts on upgrading the defense, highlighted by the signing of marquee free agent Mario Williams. If the team doesn’t show signs of taking that next step in 2012 and posts an eighth straight losing season, the first casualty will more than likely be the 60-year-old Gailey.

8. Pat Shurmur, Cleveland Browns
The Browns haven’t been in the playoffs since 2002 and have had two winning seasons in the past 10. No one is expecting them to contend for a playoff spot in 2012, especially since they are in the same division as Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but there’s no reason they can’t win more than four games this season either. The Browns have put together several solid drafts recently, highlighted by this year’s first-round picks Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden. If Shurmur and his team doesn’t start showing some results on the field, chances are someone else will get the chance to coach the young pups in 2013.

9. Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs
Injuries devastated the Chiefs early and often last season, but that still wasn’t enough of an excuse for Todd Haley to save his job. Crennel took over, went 2-1 in the final three games, and should get a healthy Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and other key players back this season. Now it’s up to Crennel to show he’s the right man to lead the Chiefs back to the playoffs. Even though he and general manager Scott Pioli have a relationship that goes back to their days with the Patriots, Crennel’s track record as a head coach (24-40 with Cleveland from 2005-08) isn’t exactly the strongest.

10. Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals
Whisenhunt has won two division titles and led the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII in his five seasons so far in the desert. The problem is, both playoff appearances and the NFC Championship came with Kurt Warner leading the offense. Since Warner’s retirement, the Cardinals have gone 13-21 and missed the playoffs the last two seasons. To make matters worse for Whisenhunt, Arizona's quarterback situation has been the story of Cardinals' traning camp, mainly how poorly Kevin Kolb, whom the Cardinals invested more than $62 million after trading for him in 2011, has performed. Whether Kolb, backup John Skelton or rookie Ryan Lindley ends up with the starting job remains to be seen, but it's clear that the position could play a significant role in Whisenhunt’s future with the team.

Three More Names to Watch

Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans
Kubiak led the Texans to their first-ever 10-win season, division title, playoff appearance and playoff victory in 2011 and then signed a two-year contract extension that takes him through the 2014 season in June. So why is he even mentioned here, you ask? Because for the first time in franchise history, the Texans are not only expected to make the playoffs, but compete for a spot in the Super Bowl. Kubiak’s never had to coach a team with such high expectations, so what happens if the Texans don’t meet said expectations?

Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Yes Payton won’t be coaching this season, so he can’t do anything to “hurt” his resume, if you will. However, given the damage done, not only to Peyton’s reputation and wallet, but also to the Saints’ franchise itself, because of the bounty scandal, you can’t help but wonder if perhaps Payton has already coached his last game for the Saints. He is under contract through the 2015 season, but I have to think should he want out of the Big Easy or vice versa, something can be worked out. Did I mention Payton has a house in Dallas?

Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins
What’s a coach with 157 career wins (14th all-time) and two Super Bowl titles have to worry about? Perhaps nothing, but Shanahan has gone just 11-21 in his first two seasons in Washington. His contract runs through 2014 and it pays him $7 million a year, but money has never been an issue for Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Shanahan's best seasons came when he had a quarterback named John Elway on his roster. Will he be able to revisit that success with his new field general, No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III? More importantly, will he get enough time to even find out?

— By Mark Ross, published on August 23, 2012

Related NFL Content

Ranking the NFL's Top 10 Head Coaches in 2012
2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the NFC's Best Coach?
2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the AFC's Best Coach?

2012 NFL Quarterbacks: Ranking the Best and Worst Starters

Ranking the NFL’s Best Backup Quarterbacks

The 10 Worst NFL Teams Since Expansion

NFL Quarterbacks Rewrote Record Books in 2011

Miami Dolphins QBs Since Dan Marino: An NFL Horror Story

2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers


AFC South
Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs

Oakland Raiders

San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings


NFC South
Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

St. Louis Rams

Click here to order your Athlon Sports Pro Football 2012 Preview magazine

Teaser:
<p> 10 NFL Coaches on the Hot Seat</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 13:16
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC North, Baltimore Ravens, NFL
Path: /nfl/baltimore-ravens-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 Baltimore Ravens check in at No. 7.

Convinced that the Ravens are on the verge of reaching the Super Bowl, owner Steve Bisciotti issued a quick reply when asked what the AFC North champions needed to do to make it to the big game: “Hold on to a ball.” Bisciotti was referring to Lee Evans dropping a potential game-winning touchdown in a bitter AFC title game loss also remembered for kicker Billy Cundiff misfiring on a short field goal.

Although middle linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed are a year older, the Ravens are still contenders on the heels of a 12–4 campaign in which they went undefeated at home and swept the division.

“Teams like the Patriots and Steelers are older than we are,” Bisciotti says. “I don’t see age being a window-closer.”

Getting back to within one game of the Super Bowl will be an arduous challenge. The Ravens face the fourth-most difficult schedule in the NFL. They face 11 quarterbacks who’ve been named to the Pro Bowl — including consecutive games against Peyton Manning and Eli Manning — and eight games against playoff teams from a year ago. “It’s a tough schedule, but it’s a schedule for the Baltimore Ravens,” cornerback Lardarius Webb says. “It makes us work a little harder.”

Offense

Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice remains the centerpiece of an offense built around a punishing running game. One of the most productive all-purpose threats in the game, Rice piled up a league-high 2,068 yards from scrimmage last season and scored a franchise-record 15 touchdowns. Rice’s trademark elusiveness and versatility spearhead the offense. And the franchise player has the advantage of bruising fullback Vonta Leach creating holes.

Rookie Bernard Pierce and Anthony Allen are vying to be the primary backup to Rice after Ricky Williams’ abrupt retirement. Pierce is regarded as the favorite to win the job.

Quarterback Joe Flacco is known for his stoic personality, his strong right arm, and his durability. The franchise’s all-time leading passer with 13,816 yards and 80 touchdowns has made it to four consecutive playoff appearances and two AFC title games, going 44–20 under center and never missing a start. The Ravens are interested in a long-term contract extension with Flacco, who’s entering the final year of his rookie deal.

Flacco’s top avenues downfield are veteran Anquan Boldin and speedster Torrey Smith. Boldin lacks deep speed but uses muscle, savvy and sure hands to get the job done. Smith overcame a rough start to set a franchise rookie record with eight receiving scores (including one in the AFC title game). With better consistency, he could emerge as a 1,000-yard receiver.

The Ravens signed former Texans receiver Jacoby Jones to a $7 million contract hoping that he’s the answer for a third wide receiver.

Their other candidates include Tandon Doss, David Reed, LaQuan Williams and rookie Tommy Streeter. At 6'5", 220 pounds, Streeter is adept at the fade route.

Tight end Todd Heap wasn’t missed — Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta combined for 94 catches, 933 yards and eight touchdowns.

The offensive line is in flux at left guard after the departure of Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs. Jah Reid and Kelechi Osemele are fighting to replace him in what shapes up as the key camp battle. Gritty Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda is one tough farm boy, utilizing leverage and strength to muscle defenders. Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk is up in years but is still a viable blocker whose strong suits are intelligence and experience. The Ravens are banking on left tackle Bryant McKinnie following through on his promise to report in better shape. Michael Oher provides a solid blocking presence at right tackle.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s biggest challenges are getting better play from his tackles and improving in the red zone.

Defense

Promoted to defensive coordinator after Chuck Pagano went to the Colts, Dean Pees already faces a crisis. The third-ranked defense in the NFL suffered a damaging blow when NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs partially tore his Achilles tendon in April. Suggs (14 sacks, seven forced fumbles) could miss much of the season, if not all of it. Rookie Courtney Upshaw is the frontrunner to be plugged in at Suggs’ rush linebacker spot. Paul Kruger is slated to take over at strong-side outside linebacker with Jarret Johnson gone. Pernell McPhee, a fifth-round steal with six sacks as a rookie, and Sergio Kindle will need to contribute more as pass-rushers.

The Ravens will rely heavily upon Lewis, the emotional leader of a tradition-rich defense. His range and coverage skills have declined, but he’s still one of the best middle linebackers. Inside linebacker Jameel McClain is so highly regarded he was retained with a $10.5 million contract.

Webb has become a true shutdown corner and was rewarded with a $50 million contract. Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith make corner one of the top positions on the team. Reed is an instinctive, capable centerfielder but has durability and tackling issues caused by neck and shoulder injuries. Strong safety Bernard Pollard is an intimidating hitter.

The defensive line is anchored by disruptive tackle Haloti Ngata. Terrence Cody is a beefy nose guard who commands double-teams inside. McPhee and Arthur Jones are competing for Cory Redding’s vacated left end spot.

Specialists

Flubbing a rushed field goal try against the Patriots carries consequences for Cundiff, a 2010 Pro Bowl kicker. The Ravens are expected to acquire a veteran to challenge him in camp, and they’ve already signed undrafted former Texas kicker Justin Tucker.

While punter Sam Koch averaged a career-high 46.5 yards last season, kick coverage was shoddy. The Ravens surrendered a total of three touchdowns on returns, ranking 31st in kickoff return average and 24th in punt returns. To (hopefully) fix the problem, the Ravens signed Pro Bowl special teams ace Corey Graham and brought back Brendon Ayanbadejo.

By signing Jones, an accomplished punt returner, the Ravens are optimistic that they’ve upgraded their return game. Webb is indispensable on defense, so adding Jones was a necessity.

Final Analysis: 2nd in the AFC North

Super Bowl prospects dimmed a bit due to Suggs’ injury, but the Ravens are still capable of making a serious run. The offense will need another huge year from Rice and clutch performances from Flacco to generate more points. The defense might need to blitz more, and Lewis and Reed need to stay healthy. The special teams have nowhere to go but up.

At the worst, the Ravens have the talent, leadership and coaching to get back to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.

Related: 2012 Baltimore Ravens Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Sticking With It
Although cornerback Lardarius Webb is extremely valuable to the defense after signing a $50 million contract, he still wants to remain the big-play threat at punt returner. Last year, Webb returned one punt for a touchdown and averaged 10 yards per return. He wants to stay involved even if he’s not the primary punt returner since the Ravens signed Jacoby Jones. “Yes, I would love to be a returner,” Webb says. “That’s what made Deion Sanders so great, because he was returning kicks and returning punts and returning interceptions to the house. That’s what made him Deion Sanders. So, that might make me Lardarius Webb.”

Promoting From Within
Led by general manager Ozzie Newsome, director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, director of pro personnel Vince Newsome and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz, the Ravens’ scouting department is regarded as one of the best in the NFL. The Ravens groom personnel employees from a young age through a so-called 20-20 club, referring to hiring 20-year-olds for a $20,000 salary. Added Newsome: “The guys actually started when they were a little older than 20 and for more than $20,000, but that’s what we call them.”

Proving Himself
Jah Reid knows he’ll have to earn the left guard job vacated when Pro Bowl blocker Ben Grubbs signed a $36 million contract with the Saints. The 6'7", 335-pounder currently ranks first on the depth chart, but faces competition from rookie Kelechi Osemele. “I certainly have to go in and expect to play,” Reid says. “I want this position, and it’s mine to lose.”

Reunited
Curtis Painter had an edge of familiarity when he auditioned for the team this spring, beating out Kyle Boller and Dennis Dixon at a tryout. Painter played for Ravens quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell with the Colts before Caldwell was fired last season. He’s expected to be the third quarterback.

Home-field Advantage
The Ravens went undefeated at home and were one of only three teams to accomplish that feat last season (along with the Packers and Saints). Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have won 18 of their last 19 regular-season games at home and are 27–5 in Baltimore overall since he took over four years ago.

Hold That Line
The Ravens are stout on defense. They ranked first in red zone defense last season, allowing only 16 touchdowns for a 38.1 TD percentage.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

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

Order your 2012 Baltimore Ravens Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Baltimore Ravens Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Baltimore Ravens 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 12:45
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-bristol
Body:

The Race for the Chase is heating up and after two weeks of late-race drama the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Thunder Valley for the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

When the series hits the high-banks, it will be on a much different racing surface than the drivers have been accustomed to over the past few seasons. After the 2007 reconfiguration of the track, progressive banking was added in the corners, allowing for multiple grooves and two- and three-wide racing.

The racing on the new configuration was exciting and competitive, however many fans bemoaned the changes and called for a return to the Bristol of old. While it may have been the changes to the track, a lagging economy, or a host of other reasons, attendance fell from 160,000 in August 2007 to 102,000 earlier this year.

Listening to the fans, Speedway Motorsports, Inc.'s Bruton Smith took measures into his own hands and altered the track layout for the second time in six years. By grinding down the top racing groove, Smith hopes to create the style of racing Bristol was synonymous with when the grandstands were full and there was a waiting list for tickets.

Yet for many of the drivers, the change to Bristol is an unwelcome sight. Making changes based solely off the opinion of fans, Smith did not consult the competitors before taking away the top groove, boasting, "I do not consult race drivers when I am building a speedway."

After a painstaking process of removing embanked concrete intended to last “15 to 18 years,” according to track general manager Jerry Caldwell, Goodyear brought in Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer for a two-day tire test of the new configuration.

Each of the drivers confirmed the field would be unable to race around the top groove, forcing drivers to fight for space on the bottom of the track.

“The drivers aren’t going to be happy, but the spectators probably will be because it is going to put more cars in a closer space,” Burton said following the June tire test. “By taking away that groove, it is going to change your mind about going up there. I think it is going to be two grooves, unless Goodyear brings a tire with a lot of grip. If that is the case, you’ll want to run around the bottom. Making the groove smaller is a good thing, it is going to put the action back to the bottom and middle of the track.”

So, now that the track has changed, what can you expect for your fantasy outlook?

Well, I wouldn’t stray far from the statistics — new Bristol or old. While the groove may have changed, the drivers that excel at Bristol will continue to do so this weekend under the lights.

To find the hottest driver at BMS the past two events, look no further than the man that has finished second the last two weeks: Brad Keselowski. The Penske Racing driver is the defending race winner, went to Victory Lane in dominant fashion here in March and is looking for his fourth win of the 2012 season.

Currently fifth in the Sprint Cup standings, Keselowski is tied with former champions Stewart and Jimmie Johnson with the most wins on the season. A win Saturday night would not only mean a sweep of the year's Bristol races, but would also move Keselowski into the top seed heading into the Chase.

In March, Keselowski dominated the final race on the multi-groove surface, leading 232 of the 500 laps. In the past two weeks, the No. 2 car has been in contention for the win, losing out by only a slight margin to Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen and Greg Biffle at Michigan.

Since his victory in Kentucky seven races ago, Keselowski has five top 5s and seven top 10s. So obviously, this team has been on a roll as of late — and that roll should continue right through the mountains of East Tennessee. With confidence on his side and the team gunning for another win or two before the Chase, it is hard to bet against Keselowski Saturday night under the lights.

Much like last weekend, if Keselowski wants to end up in Victory Lane, he will have to beat Johnson. Looking as if he was on his way to his fourth victory of the season last week at Michigan, a blown motor in the final laps resulted in a frustrating 27th-place finish.

A former winner at Bristol, Johnson is always a threat on the high-speed short track. In his last seven races at BMS, the five-time champion has one win, four top 5s and six top 10s.

While Keselowski took advantage of Johnson's issues last Sunday, it was Kyle Busch who lost the win late in the race two weeks ago in Watkins Glen. Currently 14th in the standings, Busch is third in the Chase wild card hunt behind Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman. While the past few months have been more than frustrating for the driver of the No. 18 Toyota (only three top 10s in the last 11 races), there could be no better track for Busch than Bristol to get back into contention.

With the second-best average finish (10.6), Busch has five wins at Bristol, including four of the last seven races. With time running out before the Chase cut-off, Busch will need to get up on the wheel and get the job done.

Admittedly off at Bristol since his March 2011 win, he and crew chief Dave Rogers will have to dial the car in to the new configuration without over-thinking the setup, as they have done in the past.

Also consider last week's winner (and current points leader) Biffle, as well as fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. for your lineup Saturday night. Both have been extremely strong as of late and have run well at Bristol in the past.

Five Favorites: Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Saturday's Bristol Night Race NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Bristol Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 12:21
Path: /news/tennessees-offense-suffers-huge-loss-darick-rogers-suspension
Body:

No matter how talented a player is, there comes a point where you just have to let them go. Tennessee may have reached that point with receiver Da’Rick Rogers. The junior has been suspended indefinitely from the team, putting his status for SEC play and the entire 2012 season in doubt.

Making matters worse for Tennessee is this isn’t Rogers’ first incident. The junior missed a portion of spring practice and there was some thought he may be transferring out of the program. However, Rogers came back to the team and was expected to be the Volunteers’ No. 1 receiver early in the year.

Rogers was one of the top receivers in the SEC last season, catching 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns. He recorded six 100-yard efforts in 2011, including 116 yards and two scores in the 27-21 win over Vanderbilt. Rogers earned first-team All-SEC honors last year and was ranked as one of Athlon’s top 15 receivers for 2012.

Without Rogers, Tennessee will have to rely even more on Justin Hunter and junior college recruit Cordarrelle Patterson. Hunter is returning from an ACL tear but if healthy, should be one of the top receivers in the SEC. Patterson was one of the top junior college recruits but it will take him some time to adjust to the FBS level.

Losing Rogers will be felt immediately in the season opener, as the Volunteers take on NC State. The Wolfpack own one of the nation’s top defensive backfields, led by All-American cornerback David Amerson. With Rogers suspended, NC State can leave Amerson on Hunter, forcing Patterson or one of the other Volunteer receivers to become the No. 1 target for quarterback Tyler Bray.

Rogers’ suspension is just another distraction for Tennessee going into 2012. The Volunteers are coming off a disappointing 5-7 season, and coach Derek Dooley is squarely on the hot seat with a 11-14 record over the last two years. Tennessee still has plenty of firepower on offense to make some noise in the SEC, but Rogers was expected to be a key part of the passing game.

Considering Rogers’ incident in the spring and his fall suspension, Dooley and the coaching staff has to wonder whether he is worth the trouble anymore. Although Rogers is one of the best receivers in the SEC, dealing with a constant distraction just isn’t worth it – especially for a coaching staff that needs a big year to save their jobs.

Even if Rogers returns during the year, there’s no telling how rusty he will be. It will take some time for Bray and Rogers to develop a connection once again, which could slow down Tennessee’s offense. Considering the Volunteers’ schedule, there’s no time for the offense to jell. After the opener against NC State, Tennessee takes on Florida in Week 3 and Georgia in Week 5.

Eliminating Rogers as a distraction would be the best move for Dooley and the Tennessee staff. However, considering what Rogers brings to the field, it’s a tough decision facing the Volunteers, especially in a make-or-break season.

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related College Football Content

Ranking College Football's Top 30 Wide Receivers for 2012
Ranking College Football's Top 15 Tight Ends for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 RBs for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 QBs for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Top 75 Players for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012

College Football's Top 10 Players Returning From Injury

Projecting College Football's Win Totals for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Teaser:
<p> Tennessee's Offense Suffers Huge Loss With Da'Rick Rogers Suspension</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/10-first-year-starting-qbs-who-could-win-college-footballs-national-title
Body:

When predicting college football’s national champion, experience at quarterback is usually one of the most important factors to consider. However, is it time to reconsider how important experience is under center? Three of the last four teams to play in the title game had a first-year starter at quarterback. Alabama’s Greg McElroy took home the title in 2009, while Auburn’s Cam Newton won the Heisman and national championship in 2011.

Since the BCS was created in 1998, nine quarterbacks have played for the national title in their first season:

1998: Tee Martin, Tennessee - W
1999: Michael Vick, Virginia Tech - L
2002: Craig Krenzel, Ohio State - W
2007: Matt Flynn, LSU - W; Todd Boeckman, Ohio State
2009: Greg McElroy, Alabama - W
2010: Cam Newton, Auburn - W; Darron Thomas, Oregon
2011: AJ McCarron, Alabama – W

Is the emergence of first-year quarterbacks as national champs a new trend in college football? Considering the unpredictability from year-to-year, it’s probably too early to make any judgments. The success of McElroy, Newton and McCarron show different options can lift a team to the title. Newton carried Auburn, while McElroy and McCarron were steady for Alabama team’s that boasted one of the nation’s best rushing attacks and defenses.

Although it’s too early to make any long-term predictions about this recent trend, there is a good possibility a first-year starter at quarterback will make it to the national title game in 2012. Which teams are the most likely to have a first-year starter at quarterback and play for the national championship?

Top 5 Contenders to Win the National Title With a First-Year Starting Quarterback

1. LSU (Zach Mettenberger)
After struggling to generate a consistent passing attack last season, LSU hopes Mettenberger is the missing piece to another run at the national title. Mettenberger spent one year at Georgia and transferred to Butler Community College to play in 2010. In his one season in the junior college ranks, Mettenberger threw for 2,678 yards and 32 touchdowns. He played in five games last season for the Tigers, completing 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards and one touchdown. With one of the best defenses in the nation and a punishing rushing attack, LSU won’t need Mettenberger to throw for 3,500 yards. However, in order for the Tigers to win (not just play) the national championship, he needs to be a difference maker.

2. Oregon (Marcus Mariota or Bryan Bennett)
Whether it’s Mariota or Bennett taking the first snap for the Ducks this season, Oregon will be a national title contender. Oregon returns 10 starters and has a capable duo (Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas) to pickup where LaMichael James left off at running back. Bennett made one start in relief of Darron Thomas last season, throwing for 156 yards and two touchdowns against Colorado, while rushing for 69 yards. Mariota redshirted last season and made quite an impression in the spring game, throwing for 202 yards and adding 99 more on the ground. Mariota brings more athleticism to the offense, but Bennett has plenty of mobility to thrive in this offense. Coach Chip Kelly shouldn’t be too worried about starting a new quarterback, as Mariota or Bennett should keep Oregon’s offense among the best in the nation.

3. Texas (David Ash or Case McCoy)
Quarterback play is really the only obstacle standing in the way of Texas competing for a Big 12 title. Oklahoma is the preseason favorite but lost two offensive line starters and is still searching for the right mix at receiver. The Longhorns return the conference’s best defense, along with a deep stable of running backs and an improving offensive line. David Ash finished 2011 with an edge over Case McCoy, but the battle continued into the fall, with Ash earning the No. 1 role for the season opener. Although Ash earned the right to start, McCoy will see some playing time. Playing two quarterbacks isn’t necessarily bad, but it doesn’t sound like Ash put any distance on McCoy for the No. 1 spot. After improving its win total by three games from 2010 and 2011, Texas could be in for a similar jump in 2012. However, finishing the regular season unbeaten and knocking off Oklahoma for the Big 12 title will depend on how much Ash or McCoy progresses and clearly assumes the No. 1 spot.

4. Michigan State (Andrew Maxwell)
The battle between Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska to win the Big Ten Legends Division should be one of the most competitive races in college football. The Spartans are the defending division champs, but must replace quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. Cousins finished his Michigan State career with 9,131 yards and 66 touchdowns, along with serving as one of the team’s leaders during his three-year run as the starter. Maxwell was a highly-regarded prospect coming out of high school but has played sparingly over the last two seasons. He has thrown for 294 yards and one touchdown in his short career in East Lansing, while completing 56.9 percent of his passes. With one of the Big Ten’s top defenses, offensive lines and running backs (Le’Veon Bell), Maxwell won’t have to win games on his own. However, early tests against Boise State, Notre Dame and Ohio State could decide if the Spartans challenge for another 11-win season or finish behind the Wolverines and Cornhuskers in the division.

5. Oklahoma State (Wes Lunt)
The Cowboys nearly made the national title last season, coming within one field goal of beating Iowa State and finishing unbeaten. Getting to No. 1 or No. 2 in the polls will be a little more challenging in 2012, especially with the departure of quarterback Brandon Weeden, receiver Justin Blackmon and center Grant Garner. Lunt (a true freshman) enrolled in time to compete in spring practice, which enabled him to get a head start on learning the offense. He played well in the spring game, throwing for 215 yards and two touchdowns on 15 completions. Lunt’s spring performance was enough to vault him into the No. 1 spot, and he appeared to widen the gap in the fall. The Cowboys have a cupcake opener against Savannah State and take on Arizona and Louisiana-Lafayette before playing Texas to open Big 12 play. Mike Gundy has done a good job of developing quarterbacks throughout his tenure, and Lunt looks like the next superstar to lead Oklahoma State’s offense.
 

Five Longshots/First-Year QBs to Watch

Auburn (Kiehl Frazier or Clint Moseley)
Unfortunately for Auburn, there’s no Cam Newton on the roster once again. The Tigers ranked 100th nationally in total offense last season and may not be much better in 2012, especially with uncertainty under center and the departure of running back Michael Dyer. Sophomore Kiehl Frazier is expected to start at quarterback, but he has only thrown 12 passes in his career and was recruited to run Gus Malzahn's spread offense. New coordinator Scot Loeffler plans to implement a pro-style attack, which will require an adjustment period for Frazier. Clint Moseley is also in the mix to start but has been dealing with shoulder trouble in fall camp. Although the offense is an issue, Auburn’s defense should be solid, especially under new coordinator Brian VanGorder and one of the SEC’s top defensive lines. Another reason to consider Auburn a longshot for cracking the top 10 is a difficult schedule, which features road trips to Mississippi State, Alabama and Vanderbilt, along with a neutral site game against Clemson. Although the Tigers should be strong in the trenches, the offense needs another year of development to threaten for another national championship.

Boise State (Joe Southwick)
It will be impossible to replace Kellen Moore, but Boise State is still a threat to make a BCS bowl. Southwick has played in 16 games, throwing for 400 yards on 40 completions. He also has two touchdowns and completed 74.1 percent of his throws. Southwick was pushed by true freshman Nick Patti for time in the spring, but pulled away in the fall. Reloading on offense hasn’t been an issue for coach Chris Petersen, but the Broncos return only one starter on defense. The schedule is favorable, but trips to Michigan State, Nevada and Wyoming won’t be easy. Considering Boise State’s penchant for reloading, the Broncos won’t slip too far in the top 25. However, contending for a national title is probably a year away. 

Florida (Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel)
Considering the offenses Florida had under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, it has been a surprise to see just how much this offense has struggled over the last couple of years. With John Brantley finishing his eligibility, Florida will turn to sophomores Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel under center. Both players received some playing time last season and have been in a virtual dead heat for the starting job in preseason workouts. Brissett is the better passer, while Driskel brings more athleticism to the position. In addition to the question marks at quarterback, Florida needs to find playmakers at running back and receiver and shore up a questionable offensive line. The defense should be salty, which should keep Florida in the hunt for the SEC East crown. However, a national title is an extreme longshot with the concerns on offense.

Notre Dame (Everett Golson, Andrew Hendrix or Gunner Kiel)
If the Irish want to play in a BCS bowl this year, they have to find an answer at quarterback. Dayne Crist started the opener against South Florida last season but was pulled in favor of Tommy Rees. Although Rees finished with 20 touchdowns and 2,871 yards, he threw 14 picks and struggled against Notre Dame’s toughest opponents last year – Florida State, Stanford and USC. An off-the-field incident will keep Rees from playing in the opener against Navy, which opens the door for Everett Golson. The redshirt freshman brings a different dimension to the offense with his mobility and could help spark an offense that scored less than 20 points in each of the last three games in 2011. If Golson fails to impress in the opener, coach Brian Kelly could turn to Hendrix (sophomore) or Kiel (true freshman). Another obstacle to Notre Dame making a run at a national title is a schedule that features games against Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, USC and Oklahoma. Ouch. Even if the Irish show improvement, it’s a longshot they can navigate those five games without a loss.

Stanford (Josh Nunes or Brett Nottingham)
In a mild surprise, coach David Shaw declared Nunes the starter for the season opener against San Jose State. Nottingham held a slight edge over Nunes at the conclusion of spring practice, but was unable to win the job in the fall. It’s possible both quarterbacks will play significant snaps in 2012, however, there’s no question Stanford will miss Andrew Luck. Nunes has thrown only two passes in his career, while Nottingham tossed eight last year. Expect the Cardinal to lean on the rushing attack and a defense that returns seven starters. Stanford’s schedule will present some challenges, especially with road games against Washington, Notre Dame, California and Oregon. Although the Cardinal is due for a fall, this program still has enough talent to be a top 15 team.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

 

Related College Football Content

Ranking College Football's Top 30 Wide Receivers for 2012
Ranking College Football's Top 15 Tight Ends for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 RBs for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 QBs for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Top 75 Players for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012

College Football's Top 10 Players Returning From Injury

Projecting College Football's Win Totals for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Teaser:
<p> 10 First-Year Starting QBs Who Could Win College Football's National Title</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 05:20
Path: /college-football/secs-top-impact-freshmen-2012
Body:

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 SEC featured two huge stars as freshman a year ago in South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney — who might already be the best DE in the nation — and Georgia tailback Isaiah Crowell. Of course, after Crowell was dismissed from the team, the Dawgs could have another true freshman runner push for SEC Offensive Freshman of the Year. This season will feature another class of stellar prospects who will mold the landscape in the SEC (listed alphabetically): 

The SEC's Top Impact Freshmen for 2012

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

Landon Collins, S, Alabama
The secondary under Nick Saban will always be an area of strength and the nation’s No. 2 safety only makes it better. With Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick leaving, there should be room for the massive Collins to get onto the field alongside Robert Lester. 

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
The 'Bama offense should be more explosive and more dynamic in 2012 and this is due in part to the boost in talent Nick Saban is getting at wide receiver. Cooper was a star in the Under Armour All-American event and has done nothing to disprove that in camp thus far. Look for Cooper to work his way into the starting line-up.

Quay Evans, DT, Mississippi State
Along with fellow tackle Nick James, Evans should expect to be one of a handful of Bulldog freshmen to see action early. The Morton, Miss., prospect was a Top 100 recruit and fills a need following the departure of NFL first-rounder Fletcher Cox.

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

Darreon Herring, LB, Vanderbilt
James Franklin announced last weekend that three true freshmen will be playing right away and Herring is one of them. The speedy tackler from Stone Mountain, Ga., is listed as the No. 2 outside backer but could very easily slide into the starting line-up once the season gets underway.

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

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

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

Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
The massive (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) linebacker has been battling Ferlando Bohanna for the starting middle linebacker job that may not get decided until well into the fall. McKinney has proven to be a leader even as a freshman and could easily earn the starting spot at MLB for Dan Mullen.

Otha Peters, LB, Arkansas
The linebacking corps at Arkansas has dealt with some injuries this summer and that has opened the door for players like Peters to step in and contribute. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder from Covington, La., is in a heated battle for a starting spot. Either way, expect the true frosh to play big minutes this fall.

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

Jay Rome, TE, Georgia
The only thing standing in the way of the 6-foot-6, 250-pound freak of nature and certain stardom is himself. Mark Richt loves the athleticism and raw play-making ability Rome brings to the table, especially with Orson Charles now in the NFL. But the head Dawg wants to see consistent effort and some added toughness.

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

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

Zach West, OL, Kentucky
The hometown kid from Lexington Christian Academy is locked into a starting guard spot opposite Larry Warford. The 6-foot-4, 312-pounder could have played a year ago but Joker Phillips allowed the big blocker to develop. Now, he has four years of eligibility and a starting spot along the line.

Trey Williams, RB, Texas A&M
Christine Michael and Ben Malena are perfectly capable SEC tailbacks. But Michael has been injury prone throughout his career and Malena isn’t a scat back. Williams, on the other hand, brings a dynamic, speedy skillset to the offense and will complement both of the bigger backs perfectly.

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

Freshman Position Battles To Watch:

Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills, CB, LSU
These two shold battle for the starting spot vacated by the Honey Badger. 

Kris Frost, Javier Mitchell and Cassanova McKinzy, LB, Auburn
There isn't a ton of depth for Auburn at LB, so fans should expect a lot of new faces making tackles this fall.

Beniquez Brown and Richie Brown, LB, Mississippi State
Expect to see plenty of youth in the defensive front seven for Dan Mullen this fall.

Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers, RB, Ole Miss
Jeff Scott has been banged-up and these two youngsters have been impressive in camp thus far.

Raphael Andrades and LaTroy Pittman, WR, Florida
The offense is in desperate need of play makers, so expect both to get a long look in camp.

Greg Robinson, Christian Westerman, Alex Kozan and Avery Young, OL, Auburn
The Tigers OL is stacked with young talent and these two could step in and play very quickly.

Other Names To Watch:

Caleb Azubike, DL, Vanderbilt
Jonathan Bullard, DL, Florida
James DeLoach, LB, Georgia
Travin Dural, WR, LSU
Dante Fowler Jr., DE/OLB, Florida
Reid Ferguson, LS, LSU
Kris Frost, LB, Auburn
De’Vante Harris, CB, Texas A&M
Dee Hart, RB, Alabama
Joshua Hosley, CB, Auburn
DJ Humphries, OL, Florida
Danielle Hunter, DE, LSU
Jordan Jenkins, DL, Georgia
Brian Kimbrow, RB, Vanderbilt
Justin King, AP, Tennessee
Dillon Lee, LB, Alabama
Ricardo Louis, WR, Auburn
LaDarrell McNeil, DB, Tennessee
Antonio Morrison, LB, Florida
Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Sheldon Royster, S, South Carolina
Justin Scott-Wesley, WR, Georgia
Justin Taylor, RB, Kentucky
Dwayne Thomas, DB, LSU
Eddie Williams, DB/WR, Alabama

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Related SEC Content

Breakout Stars to Watch in the SEC for 2012
SEC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes

SEC's Top 25 Games for 2012

Projecting College Football's 2012 Win Totals

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 Running Backs for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 Wide Receivers for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Top 75 Players for 2012

Teaser:
<p> The SEC's Top Impact Freshmen of 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 05:17
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-defensive-linemen-2012
Body:

Winning the battle in the trenches is crucial to claiming college football's national championship. The SEC has claimed six consecutive national titles, so it should come as no surprise this conference has some of the top defensive linemen. South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney is in for a monster sophomore season, while LSU's Sam Montgomery will make a run at first-team All-American honors. The SEC is represented in the defensive tackles, as four of the top 10 reside from the conference.

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 Defensive Linemen for 2012

Top 20 Defensive Ends for 2012

1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina 
It is hard to argue that any one player in the nation has more upside than this 6-foot-6, 260-pound freak of nature. As only a freshman, Clowney posted 8.0 sacks and forced five fumbles. He earned Defensive Freshman of the Year honors in the SEC and claimed a spot on the Freshman All-American team after his 36-tackle, 11.5-tackles for a loss debut season. The only thing keeping the star defensive end from being the top player in the league is his mental grasp of the game. He is still an underclassmen and still has some maturing to do before he becomes the most dominate defensive player in the nation. It may not take too long, however.

2. Sam Montgomery, LSU
The powerful defensive end was named first-team All-SEC last season, and the junior will be one of the top players in the country this year. Montgomery made 49 tackles (with 13.5 for loss) in 2011 and led the Tigers with nine sacks. The South Carolina native is the latest in a long line of stellar LSU defensive lineman. He will combine with fellow pass rusher Barkevious Mingo to form one of the best defensive end tandems in the country in 2012.

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

4. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Few players ever enter the college ranks ready to play like Jeffcoat was. Obviously, his long-standing NFL legacy helps, as his fundamental understanding of the game is superior to most players his age. His 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame helps too. Jeffcoat started all 13 games as a sophomore, earning second-team All-Big 12 honors after recording 54 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. With another stellar season on the 40 Acres, JJ-44 will likely take his talents to the next level.

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

6. Corey Lemonier, Auburn
As only a sophomore, the former top 100 recruit realized his potential by leading the Tigers with 9.5 sacks. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound rush end finished his second season on The Plains with 47 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss and 15 QB hurries. He was the lone star on a defense that struggled mightily a year ago, but could emerge as an All-American superstar now that new coordinator Brian VanGorder is running the ship. Look for him to build around the future NFL draftee from Hialeah, Fla.

7. Barkevious Mingo, LSU 
As a sophomore on an undefeated team, Mingo finished second on the team in sacks (8.0) and led the team in tackles for a loss (15.0). While he may not be as complete a player as his defensive end counterpart Montgomery, Mingo might possess more explosiveness off the edge. He is long at 6-foot-5 and 240 pound and can get up the field with great quickness. He has first-round NFL potential and should only build upon his second-team All-SEC performance of 2011.

8. Alex Okafor, Texas
Jackson Jeffcoat’s partner in crime hails from an Austin suburb called Pflugerville. “Big Oak” has played in 39 games in his Longhorn career and is coming off his best season. The 6-foot-4, 265 pound end set career highs in tackles (56), tackles for a loss (14.0) and sacks (7.0) to go with 14 quarterback hurries. He earned AFCA All-American honors and was a unanimous first-team All-Big 12 selection. Okafor and Jeffcoat might form the best defensive end duo in the nation this fall.

9. Brandon Jenkins, Florida State
Jenkins’ numbers dropped last year, but he still remains one of the nation’s top pass rushers. He recorded 13.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2010 but with defenses paying more attention to his side of the line, Jenkins finished with eight sacks and 12 tackles for a loss in 2011. The Tallahassee native has earned All-ACC honors each of the last two years and is on the preseason watchlists for the Bednarik, Nagurski and Lott Impact Trophy. With Bjoern Werner emerging as one of the ACC’s top ends on the other side, Jenkins and Florida State's defensive line should rank among the nation's best.

10. Bjoern Werner, Florida State
Werner is one of the most interesting stories in college football. As a German exchange student, he played only two seasons of high school football in the United States and quickly emerged as a key member of Florida State’s rotation in the trenches. Werner recorded 37 stops, seven sacks and 11 tackles for a loss last year and is an Athlon Sports second-team All-ACC selection for 2012. With Brandon Jenkins back on the other side for his senior year, Florida State should have one of the top defensive end combinations in college football.

11. Devin Taylor, South Carolina
Taylor’s profile slipped a bit playing alongside All-American Melvin Ingram and freshman sensation Jadeveon Clowney, but he was an AP first-team All-SEC selection just two seasons ago. He finished 2010 with 7.5 sacks and 46 tackles. Last season, Taylor was third on the team with six. He’ll be a veteran leader for Clowney.

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

13. James Gayle, Virginia Tech
A second-team All-ACC selection last season, Gayle tied for sixth in the conference and led Virginia Tech in sacks with seven. He also had 38 total tackles and was second on the team with 12.5 tackles for a loss. He was named the ACC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week on two different occasions in 2011 and started every game he played in (13), missing one due to injury.

14. Stansly Maponga, TCU
Even before last season, Maponga was tabbed as the next defensive star for the Horned Frogs. He delivered in his second season as a starter and looks to continue his improvement as a junior. Maponga had nine sacks and five forced fumbles last season. In one season, he jumped from three tackles for a loss to 13.5. The Big 12 awaits.

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

16. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
With Aaron Lynch’s decision to transfer, Tuitt will have to take on a bigger role on the defensive line in 2012. As a freshman in 2011, Tuitt played in nine games and recorded 30 tackles and two sacks. He needed some time to transition from high school to college, but Tuitt was one of the defensive line’s top players at the end of the year, registering 26 of his 30 tackles over the final six games. The sophomore will is expected to start on the outside in 2012 and will be one of the team’s top pass-rush threats on the line. Notre Dame will miss Lynch, but Tuitt’s development could help the Irish own one of the nation’s top 10 defensive lines. 

17. Jamie Collins, Southern Miss
Collins has played at each level of the defense over the last three years but has settled at end after a standout 2011 season. The Mississippi native started all 14 games and recorded 98 tackles and 6.5 sacks last year. New coach Ellis Johnson was one of the top defensive coordinators in the SEC in recent years and should maximize Collins' talent for a monster 2012 season.

18. Trevardo Williams, Connecticut
The undersized defensive end from Bridgeport, Conn. has yet to miss a game in his three-year Husky career. He set career highs with 43 total tackles, 15.0 tackles for a loss and led the Big East with 12.5 sacks last fall.

19. Walter Stewart, Cincinnati
The Ashville, Ohio native has never missed a game in his Bearcat career and could be in for a breakout final season. He posted 44 total tackles, 11.0 tackles for a loss and 6.0 sacks, while helping Cincinnati's defense show big improvement last year.

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


Top 20 Defensive Tackles for 2012

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

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

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

4. Joe Vellano, DE/DT, Maryland 
The 6-foot-1, 285-pound defensive end from Rexford, N.Y., is the star of the Maryland roster. He led the nation in tackles per game (7.8) by a lineman last year. He has started all 25 games the last two years with 157 tackles, 18.0 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. While he doesn’t possess true down lineman size that the scouts on Sundays look for, his motor is unmatched by most of the nation and allows him to achieve at an All-American level. It is why he is ranked as the ACC’s top defensive lineman by Athlon Sports for the 2012 season.

5. Bennie Logan, LSU 
The powerful defensive tackle will lead the interior of an excellent LSU defensive line in 2012. As a sophomore, Logan totaled 57 tackles and three sacks. He was named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week against Mississippi State last season after making five tackles, with three behind the line of scrimmage, in the 19-6 victory.

6. Sharrif Floyd, Florida
After starting 11 games at defensive end last season, Floyd moves back into the interior this year. The Philadelphia native made 46 tackles last season. He’ll look to use his big body (6-3, 303) to open up the Gators’ pass rush.

7. Jesse Williams, Alabama
The big fella has had an interesting career path to BCS national champion. He is from Brisbane, Australia and attended Western Arizona C.C. before Nick Saban found him last fall. All he did was lock down the D-Line for the stingiest defense in modern college football history.

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

9. John Jenkins, Georgia
As expected, Jenkins was an instant impact player for Georgia's defense last season. After spending two years at Gulf Coast Community College, the Connecticut native was a perfect fit in the Bulldogs' 3-4 scheme, recording 28 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble. Jenkins should be better in his second year of SEC play, which is a scary thought for opposing linemen. 

10. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh 
A local product out of Pittsburgh Penn Hills, Donald was second in the Big East with 11 sacks and tied for second with 16 tackles for a loss in his first season as a starter. He will have to adjust to a 4-3 defense after playing every lineman position in the 3-4 last season. He started the final five games at end last season, but he’ll be a tackle in 2012.

11. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
If ACC fans weren’t familiar with Jernigan after his standout freshman season, it might be time to get acquainted. He quickly emerged as Florida State’s top defensive tackle, recording 30 stops and six tackles for a loss. Jernigan is already garnering plenty of attention this preseason, as he was named to the Outland Trophy watchlist and is an Athlon Sports third-team All-ACC selection. With another offseason to work in the weight room and with coordinator Mark Stoops, look for Jernigan to build off his impressive debut season.  

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

13. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
After transferring from junior college, Williams made his presence known immediately as he was one of four North Carolina defensive players to start all 13 games in 2011. Williams finished his junior season with 54 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, three pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

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

15. Josh Boyd, Mississippi State
With Fletcher Cox departing to the NFL, Boyd will see more attention from opposing defenses in 2012. There’s no question he’s capable of handling the extra defender, as his 6-foot-3 frame allows him to provide plenty of push on the interior against opposing offensive lines. Boyd is an Athlon Sports second-team All-SEC selection for 2012 and should pickup where he left off in 2011.

16. Nitkita Whitlock, Wake Forest
The self-proclaimed 5-foot-9 and ¾ defensive tackle (don’t forget those three-quarters by the way) has come a long way from Texas prep outside linebacker with no offers to play Division I football. Heading into 2012, Whitlock has become one of the peskiest defensive lineman in the nation after a second-team All-ACC, 64-tackle, 14.0-TFL season in 2011. 

17. Abry Jones, Georgia
Jones is the second Georgia defensive tackle to make this list. Teammate John Jenkins ranks among the top 10 defensive tackles in college football, but Jones shouldn't be overlooked after three solid seasons at Georgia. He started all 14 games and recorded 47 tackles and four sacks last year. Jones will team with Jenkins to form one of the nation's top defensive tackle combinations. 

18. Everett Dawkins, Florida State
The Seminoles are overflowing with depth on the defensive line. Ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner are two of the best in the ACC, while sophomore Timmy Jernigan is a rising star in the middle. In his first full year as the starter last season, Dawkins recorded 25 tackles and earned honorable mention All-ACC honors.

19. Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
Playing nose guard isn’t a glamorous statistical position, but it’s crucial to the success of any 3-4 scheme. At 6-foot-3 and 326 pounds, Nix is the perfect anchor for the interior of the line. In his redshirt freshman campaign last year, he recorded 45 stops and four tackles for a loss. Inserting Nix into the starting lineup paid immediate dividends, as Notre Dame’s defense allowed only eight rushing scores last year. With Aaron Lynch leaving the team in the spring, opposing defenses could devote more attention to Nix, but he should be a consistent performer in 2012. 

20. Anthony Johnson, LSU
Despite 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.
 

Writeups compiled by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Mark Ross and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

Related College Football Content

Ranking College Football's Best Offensive Linemen for 2012
Ranking College Football's Top 15 Tight Ends for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 Wide Receivers for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 Running Backs for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Quarterbacks for 2012

College Football's All-Name Team for 2012

Projecting College Football's Win Totals for 2012

College Football's Top Storyline Games for 2012

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top Defensive Linemen for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 05:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-pivotal-players-six-acc
Body:

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

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

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

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

We begin our look at pivotal players with the 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
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 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

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: 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
Body:

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
Body:

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

Find us on facebook

Follow us on twitter (@theCFFsite)

Email us:   theCFFsite@thecollegefantasyfootballsite.com

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
Body:

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.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New York Giants</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 04:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-new-york-jets
Body:

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.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New York Jets</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 04:02
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-23
Body:

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

Pages