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Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-offensive-lines-2012
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They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.

Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.

It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards.

Athlon's Top 20 Offensive Lines for 2012

1. Alabama The offensive line was one of the key pieces to Alabama’s national title last season, and this unit will be strong once again in 2012. Barrett Jones (right) is regarded as college football’s best returning offensive lineman and will move from left tackle to center to replace William Vlachos. Left guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker should challenge for All-SEC honors this year. Anthony Steen (right guard) and highly regarded Cyrus Kouandjio (left tackle) round out the starting lineup.

2. LSU Leading the way for college football’s top running back corps will be a veteran offensive line that returns four starters. Tackles Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst started all 14 games last year and are drawing significant interest from the NFL as first-round picks next year. Center P.J. Lonergan has 26 career starts, while Josh Williford is back at guard after starting nine games last year. Josh Dworaczyk missed all of 2011 with an injury but has All-SEC potential when healthy.

3. USCMatt Kalil will be missed, but USC is in good shape up front. Four starters are back, led by Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-America center Khaled Holmes. Right tackle Kevin Graf was solid in his first year as a starter last season and will be flanked on the left side by promising sophomore Aundrey Walker. John Martinez and Marcus Martin are dependable guards. Depth is a concern, but that problem could be alleviated when incoming freshmen Zach Banner and Jordan Simmons arrive.

4. Texas A&MThe Aggies will have a tough time contending in the difficult SEC West in 2012, but the line should be a building block on offense for new coach Kevin Sumlin. Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel form one of the best tackle combinations in the nation, and both should be All-SEC performers in 2012. The interior of the line will be manned by veteran center Patrick Lewis (35 career starts), while Jarvis Harrison, Shep Klinke and Cedric Ogbuehi will fight for playing time at the guard spots.

5. Oklahoma Three starters are back from last season’s unit, which allowed only 11 sacks and led the way for rushers to average 4.5 yards per carry. Guard Gabe Ikard has started 25 games over the last two years and is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American for 2012. Ikard may slide to center this year, especially with Ben Habern’s decision to give up football before fall practice. Lane Johnson will bring senior leadership to the lineup, while Adam Shead will likely take Ikard’s place at guard. This unit suffered another tough loss when Tyler Evans was ruled out for the year with a torn ACL.

6. WisconsinEven with the departure of first-team All-Big Ten selections Peter Konz (center), Josh Oglesby (tackle) and Kevin Zeitler (guard), the Badgers remain one of the top offensive lines in college football. Anchoring the line will be senior Ricky Wagner and center Travis Frederick – both Athlon All-Americans for 2012. This unit will be under the direction of a new coach (Mike Markuson), but Wisconsin always seems to produce standout offensive lines.

7. North CarolinaSwitching from a pro-style offense to a spread attack will require an adjustment period from this group, but the Tar Heels remain the No. 1 line in the ACC. Left tackle James Hurst and guard Jonathan Cooper are two of the ACC’s top players and could be in the mix for All-American honors. The only question mark will be finding a replacement for Cam Holland at center.

8. Oregon Two starters are gone from last season’s line but don’t expect that to slow down the Ducks’ offense in 2012. Guard Carson York is recovering from a knee injury suffered in the Rose Bowl and could be sidelined or limited for the first few games of 2012. Sophomore Jake Fisher and center Hroniss Grasu are in for big seasons, while seniors Ryan Clanton and Nick Cody anchor the right side of the line.

9. Notre Dame Lost in the quarterback issues from last season was a solid offensive line in South Bend. This unit allowed only 17 sacks last year and returns three starters for 2012. Left tackle Zack Martin is the unit’s top performer after starting 26 consecutive games in his first two years on campus. Guard Chris Watt and senior Braxston Cave are back as returning starters, while the unit will look to Mike Golic Jr. and Christian Lombard to replace Taylor Dever and Trevor Robinson on the right side.

10. MichiganIt’s not a particularly strong year for offensive lines across the nation, so even with the departure of David Molk, the Wolverines should rank among the top 10-15. Left tackle Taylor Lewan has All-American potential, while senior Patrick Omameh and junior Michael Schofield are back as returning starters. Ricky Barnum will likely replace Molk at center.

11. Michigan StateThis unit went into 2011 as a question mark but emerged as a strength by season’s end. The Spartans finished 19th nationally with just 16 sacks allowed, and the line led the way for rushers to average four yards a carry. Four starters are back for 2012, including Athlon Sports first-team All-Big Ten guard Chris McDonald. With Andrew Maxwell taking over for Kirk Cousins at quarterback, Michigan State will likely lean on its rushing attack early in the year.

12. Texas With concerns about the quarterback play, look for the Longhorns to rely heavily on their rushing attack in 2012. Although Texas has one of the top backfields in the nation, the offensive line’s improvement has also made a big difference in the ground game. Guard Mason Walters should be in the mix for all-conference honors, while the coaching staff is high on sophomore tackle Josh Cochran. Junior college transfer Donald Hawkins is expected to win the left tackle spot.

13. Stanford Replacing All-Pac-12 performers David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin won’t be easy, but the Cardinal at least has a solid foundation to start the rebuilding process. David Yankey started all 13 games as a freshman last season and should be the unit’s top performer in 2012. Cameron Fleming and Sam Schwartzstein are back as key contributors for a unit that allowed only 11 sacks last year.

14. Arkansas This unit struggled at times last year, but the pieces are in place to rank among the top five offensive lines in the SEC. Alvin Bailey is one of the top guards in college football, while center Travis Swanson has started all 26 games in his career. The tackle spots are in good hands with Jason Peacock and Brey Cook.

15. South Carolina Line coach Shawn Elliott has some work to do this fall, as the Gamecocks return only two starters on the line. However, the cupboard isn’t bare. Guard A.J. Cann is an emerging force on the left side, while center T.J. Johnson enters his senior year with 40 consecutive starts. Redshirt freshman Brandon Shell will take over for Rokevious Watkins at left tackle.

16. NC StateThere’s plenty of room for this unit to improve after allowing 34 sacks year. However, with four starters back, the Wolfpack should have one of the nation’s most-improved offensive lines. Four seniors could anchor the starting lineup, including center Cam Wentz and left tackle R.J. Mattes. Rob Crisp has big-time talent and will be counted upon to win the job at right tackle.

17. Georgia Tech It’s always tough to judge an offensive line that does very little pass blocking, but the Yellow Jackets should rank among the best in the ACC this year. Guard Omoregie Uzzi is an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2012 and enters his third season as a starter. Jay Finch is one of the top centers in the ACC, while Will Jackson and Ray Beno are back as returning starters.

18. VirginiaThe Cavaliers will miss Austin Pasztor and Anthony Mihota, but three starters are back, including Athlon Sports third-team All-American Oday Aboushi. Morgan Moses will start at right tackle and is a rising star to watch in the ACC. Luke Bowanko returns after starting all 13 games at right guard last year. 

19. South Florida Chaz Hine and Jeremiah Warren must be replaced, but the Bulls should be the Big East’s No. 1 line with the return of three starters. Senior left tackle Mark Popek is the headliner, while sophomore Quinterrius Eatmon is a rising star on the right side.

20. Louisiana Tech The Bulldogs are a heavy favorite to win the WAC title and should have no trouble scoring points with four starters coming back on the line. Seniors Kevin Saia, Stephen Warner and Jordan Mills should all be in the mix for all-conference honors.

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Athlon's College Football Rankings for 2012

Athlon's All-American Team for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Offensive Lines for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:22
All taxonomy terms: crossword, Monthly
Path: /monthly/august-2012-crossword-solution
Body:

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 17:57
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/top-10-london-olympic-momentsso-far
Body:

1.  Phelps Becomes Most Decorated Olympic Athlete in History

Even with all the question marks surrounding Michael Phelps and his purported laziness in training heading into the London Olympics, it was still a foregone conclusion that the swimming great would pass gymnast Larissa Latynina to become the most decorated Olympian of all time. Phelps' 19th medal would come during the 4x200m freestyle relay, which Phelps uncharacteristically anchored.  Ending his Olympic career with 22 medals (18 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze), Phelps will likely go down as the greatest swimmer ever. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.  Usain Bolt sets Olympic Record in Men’s 100m Final

Questions surfaced about the speed of the 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist after his disqualification at the 2011 World Championships and more recently, his loss to countryman Yohan Blake at the Jamaican Olympic Trials. However, Bolt once again proved that he is the world’s fastest man, running an Olympic Record 9.63s in the finals that left the rest of field in the dust. He joins the venerable Carl Lewis as only the second person in history to successfully defend their gold medal in the 100m dash. (UPDATE: Bolt has become the first man to win the Olympic 100-200m double twice.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.  GYMNASTIC MOMENTS

McKayla Maroney’s Near-Perfect Vault 

McKayla Maroney’s performance on the vault during the team gymnastics competition was pivotal in lifting the United States to its first Olympic gold medal in the event since the 1996 Atlanta Games. The 2011 World Champion in the vault made her two-and-a-half twisting laid-out Yurchenko vault, colloquially known as an Amanor, look easy. She scored a 16.233 that experts agree should have been even higher as the judges inexplicably deducted 0.267 points from Maroney. Of all the highlights from Team USA’s gold medal performance, none will be remembered more than this amazing vault. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gabby Douglas Becomes the First

Equally as memorable is the amazing achievement of Gabby Douglas, the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion, and the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. Her winning smile and athletic achievement has made her a household name.

 

4.  Murray Defeats Federer in Men’s Singles Final

Playing on home turf, Murray avenged his loss to Federer in the Wimbledon Championship to bring home a gold medal for Great Britain. Murray won emphatically, defeating No. 1 Federer in straight sets. His victory marked the first time Great Britain has taken gold in tennis since the sports’ reintroduction to the Olympics in 1988. No sport means more to the host nation Great Britain than tennis, whose roots lie in Birmingham, England, making Murray’s victory especially sweet.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.  Missy Franklin Sweeps Backstroke Events in Olympic Debut

No athlete making their Olympic debut has ever been subjected to as much pressure as 17-year-old Missy Franklin was coming into the London Games. She lived up to the hype, however, earning four gold medals and one bronze, and setting two world record times. Franklin emerges out of these games as one of the most prominent female athletes in the world and figures to an even greater threat four years from now in Rio. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6.  South African Double-Amputee Reaches 400m Semi-Finals

Oscar Pistorius didn’t even have to make an Olympic final to make history.  Named one of Forbes Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, Pistorius made history as the first double-amputee runner to compete at the Olympic games.  Overcoming his disability to run with some of the world’s fastest men, the South African native reached the semi-final of the men’s 400m. His participation should mark a watershed moment in parathlete history, since it proved to the world that a disabled athlete can and should be taken seriously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7.  China’s 16-Year-Old Phenom Ye Shiwen Shocks the World

You may not have heard of Ye Shiwen before the London Olympics, but the entire world is familiar with the swimmer following her extraordinary performance in the 400m IM. Her world-record time of 4:28.43 was nearly 3 seconds faster than the silver medalist and even more shocking, the last 50m of her race was faster than Ryan Lochte’s split in the same event. The performance was so extraordinary that it immediately drew suspicion from pundits who claimed that such dramatic improvement in personal best times could only be the result of doping. However, the much more likely scenario is that the athlete’s still-growing body accounted for the dramatic reduction in her personal best time since competing in the 2010 Asian Championships. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8.  Kayla Harrison Wins Gold Medal in Judo

Kayla Harrison’s career-defining performance in the Women’s 78kg Judo Final completed the athlete’s story of individual perseverance as well as lifted the hopes of USA Judo as Harrison’s 2-0 victory over Britain’s Gemma Gibbons finally gave the United States the gold medal that had eluded them for so long. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9.  Women’s Soccer Semifinal (USA vs. Canada)

We couldn’t pick just one moment from this epic match between these North American powerhouses in what was arguably the best team match of these Olympics so far. Christine Sinclair’s determined performance kept the underdog Canadian team in the game scoring all three goals for her squad. The United States’ Megan Rapinoe went toe-to-toe with Sinclair, scoring two goals of her own in the match and setting up the indirect penalty kick in the 79th minute that ultimately sent the game into extra time. 

The most iconic moment would come in the third and final minute of injury time that had been added on to extra time, as U.S. striker Alex Morgan converted a 6-yard header on a long cross from Heather O’Reilly to give the U.S. a 4-3 win and a trip to the finals against Japan. With this victory, the U.S. will meet Japan in a highly-anticipated rematch of the 2011 World Cup Final. (UPDATE: The U.S. beat Japan in the Olympic women's soccer final Thursday 2-1, avenging their 2011 World Cup loss and bringing home the gold for the third straight time.)    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10.  Kimberly Rhode Becomes First Athlete to Win Medals for an Individual Event in Five Consecutive Olympics

This is the top moment from the London Games that you’ve probably never heard of. Kimberly Rhode equaled a world record, shooting 99 out of 100 clays en route to a gold medal in skeet shooting. Her victory marks the first time that any athlete has ever won individual medals in five separate Olympics. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-by Eric Chalifour

Teaser:
<p> The most amazing moments of the 2012 Summer Games</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 12:18
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympic-photo-day-lolo-jones-finishes-fourth
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America's sweetheart, Lolo Jones, failed to medal in the 100-meter hurdles, finishing fourth as the rain fell in London. The result was especially painful for Jones, who was seeking redemption after tripping over the ninth of ten hurdles with the lead in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Unfortunately, rather than experiencing the thrill of victory, Twitter's favorite track star suffered the agony of defeat.

Teaser:
<p> America's sweetheart, Lolo Jones, failed to medal in the 100-meter hurdles, finishing fourth as the rain fell in London.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 11:08
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-aug-8
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Here's the Fab Five for Aug. 8, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:

1. Women's 200m Finals
The U.S. Big Three in the women's sprints — Carmelita Jeter, who won silver in the 100m; Sanya Richards-Ross, gold medalist in the 400m; and Allyson Felix, a two-time silver medalist in the 200 — have made their way through qualifying and will vie for a U.S. medals sweep in this thrilling event.

2. Women's Beach Volleyball Finals
It's an all-American final match, as Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings don the bikinis for what could be the last time in Olympic competition to take on April Ross and Jennifer Kessy. The veteran duo will have their hands full, but look for May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings to add to their legend with another gold.

3. Men's Decathlon
The unofficial title of World's Greatest Athlete is up for grabs, and Americans Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee will have a say, especially considering that Eaton set the world record in the U.S. Olympic trials. On tap today: 100 meters, the long jump, the shot put, the high jump and 400 meters

4. Men's Water Polo: U.S. vs. Croatia
The American men have their backs against the wall, having lost their last two matches and facing the tournament's top team, the Croatians, who have yet to lose a match in these games. The U.S. hasn't claimed gold in this event since 1904.

5. Men's Basketball: U.S. vs. Australia
The Aussies figure to offer little resistance to Team USA, although the Yanks have run hot and cold during these games. The best player Oz can muster is likely Patty Mills, a backup for the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers.

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.
 

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

Teaser:
<p> Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings go for their third straight gold in today's beach volleyball final.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 10:37
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-21
Body:

Throughout the Olympics one often hears about a “Dream Team’’ in one sport or another. So what about NASCAR?

Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council were asked if they were an owner with four teams and could pick any Cup driver in any era, who would be the four for their Dream Team? Their picks proved quite interesting.

They also debated Jeff Gordon’s chances of making the Chase and Sunday’s Pocono race. Here’s what Fan Council members had to say:


Who is on your NASCAR Dream Team?

74.3 percent selected Dale Earnhardt Sr.
58.9 percent selected Jimmie Johnson
43.2 percent selected Tony Stewart
38.7 percent selected Richard Petty

Others
33.2 percent selected Jeff Gordon
23.6 percent selected David Pearson
18.8 percent selected Kyle Busch
15.1 percent selected Cale Yarborough
10.6 percent selected Tim Richmond
10.3 percent selected Dale Earnhardt Jr.
9.6 percent selected Darrell Waltrip
7.5 percent selected Davey Allison
6.8 percent selected Junior Johnson
6.5 percent selected Matt Kenseth
No other drivers received more than 5 percent of the vote

What Fan Council members said:
• Dale Earnhardt for sheer tenacity and stubborn will. Jeff Gordon because he’s won championships with multiple crew chiefs. Cale Yarborough because he is the only driver who has REALLY won three championships back-to-back-to-back (sorry, I'm not counting Chase trophies — that is over 10 races not a full season.) David Pearson because he has an amazing winning record while rarely running a full schedule.

• I would want a team deep with knowledge, and someone to groom. That is why I picked Kyle Busch. Could you imagine Busch with the tutelage of Petty, Earnhardt and Jaws?

• Tony, Kyle, Dale (Sr.), and David Pearson. That's a winning team for certain! Four guys who could win in anything they stepped foot in. And can you imagine what the conversations and fights in the hauler would be like? Woohooo!

• The King: Because he is The King with wins that would guarantee me sponsors and TV “face time.” But also because he cares about the fans to a legendary level and would bring me a very loyal fan base. Smoke: Because if it has wheels and I need it to cross the finish line first, I want his butt in that seat. Curtis Turner: If he couldn't swing deals to get sponsorship money for me, he'd come up with some scheme to get someone else to give me the money. And he had no fear when it came to racing. Bill Elliott: Another great racer who took care of his cars more than the other three! Popular, a great back story, media friendly and sponsor sensitive.

• I picked DW, Tim Richmond, Kyle Busch and Smoke. All four can wheel anything with tires, and do it well. I went with an old-school/new-school theme. I see all four of these guys sort of being one in the same in their respective periods. There is enough talent there to fill Lake Lloyd but the egos and attitudes would be the only problem!

• Big E, Smoke, Busch and Junior Johnson. Give 'em a big slice of badass!

• Had to go with Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty, just because they are the best drivers this sport has seen. Then I went with two darkhorse choices: First, Terry Labonte just because he is one of the most consistent and level-headed drivers the sport has seen, and can definitely be a true asset on a Dream Team. Then I went with Buddy Baker because he has driven so many types of vehicles, not just NASCAR, and has a true need for speed and aggressive style that could help win in a style like in an Olympic-like format.

• I tried to go with some from a different era. So I went with Davey Allison, who let's face it, if he were still alive, would have been a great champion and made some great stats. Jimmie Johnson — five championships all in a row, people think he's vanilla, but he'll blow your socks off. Enough said. Dale Earnhardt — people feared him on the track and he’s a seven-time champion. Enough said. And Cale, first driver to win three championships (consecutively) and one hell of a driver.

• I chose The Intimidator because he knew what he needed from a car at all times and could rattle the best out there. He always gave 100 percent and hated losing. Seven titles and 76 wins along with a strong fan base (helps sales) would give my team a strong boost. Smoke has won in multiple forms of racing and is one of the best stock car drivers in recent memory. I would take Smoke in a one-race, winner-take-all battle over anyone. Pearson is a confident driver, but he will sneak up on you. Anyone that can be as dominant at Darlington and the big tracks like the Silver Fox will be on my team. Ned Jarrett is humble, well-spoken and drove as hard as he needed to. He would save the equipment and drive intelligently. I like the balance of my team and feel as though it could stand up against any team.

• Obviously, the best three drivers ever: Dale Sr., the King, and Five-Time. For my fourth driver, I went with Tim Richmond. Had he not be taken from us far too early, Dale Sr. would not have seven titles.

• This was one of the toughest questions ever! To put together my Dream Team I not only took into consideration talent but drivers who would complement each other and help each other be better than their raw talent alone. In my opinion, the all-time, all-around leadership of Richard Petty, the take-no-prisoners attitude of Dale Earnhardt Sr., the steadying even-keel resolve of Jeff Gordon and the feisty drive-the-wheels-off-anything-with-superb-car-control of Kyle Busch would blend perfectly, creating an unbeatable team.

• Most importantly, I would want Chad Knaus, Ray Evernham, Smokey Yunick and Dale Inman as my Dream Team’s crew chiefs.

Teaser:
<p> In the spirit of the Olympics, Dustin Long's Backseat Drivers Fan Council discuss NASCAR's Dream Team, grade Pocono and talk about Jeff Gordon's Chase chances.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 10:29
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-wide-receiving-corps-2012
Body:

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

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.

Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.

It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards.

Athlon's Top 20 WR/TE Corps for 2012 

1. USC There’s not a better one-two receiver combination in the country than Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. The duo combined for 2,435 yards on 184 catches and 26 scores. Both players should contend for All-America honors in 2012. Sophomore George Farmer, redshirt freshman Victor Blackwell and junior De’Von Flournoy are expected to round out the rotation, and true freshman Nelson Agholor could earn playing time as well. Tight end Randall Telfer is an underrated weapon. Bottom line: Matt Barkley should have no trouble finding weapons to throw to in 2012.

2. Clemson The Tigers must replace tight end Dwayne Allen, but there’s no shortage of weapons for quarterback Tajh Boyd. Sammy Watkins was one of the top freshmen in college football last season and is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American for 2012. However, he is suspended for the first two games of the season due to an off-the-field incident. DeAndre Hopkins was overshadowed by Watkins last year, but he finished with 72 catches for 978 yards and five scores. Jaron Brown, Adam Humphries, Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant are capable options as well, and Brandon Ford is expected to step in for Allen at tight end.

3. West VirginiaThe Mountaineers don’t have much proven depth here, but there’s a lot to like about the starting corps. Tavon Austin led the team with 101 receptions last season, while Stedman Bailey ranked first with 1,279 yards and 12 receiving scores. Ivan McCartney was a solid No. 3 option last year, catching 49 passes for 585 yards, but his status for 2012 was up in the air early in fall practice. This group could get a boost from freshmen Jordan Thompson, Dante Campbell and Travares Copeland.

4. Tennessee "If" is the key word surrounding Tennessee’s receiving corps for 2012. Justin Hunter was off to a fast start in 2011 but suffered a torn ACL in the third game of the season. He is expected to be at full strength this fall. Da’Rick Rogers led the team with 67 receptions for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns, but he spent most of the spring in Derek Dooley’s doghouse. If Hunter and Rogers stay on the field, Tennessee will have the SEC’s best collection of pass-catchers, especially with tight end Mychal Rivera and junior college wideout Cordarrelle Patterson expected to be significant contributors.

5. Baylor Kendall Wright will be catching passes on Sundays, but Art Briles isn’t worried about his receiving corps for new quarterback Nick Florence. Terrance Williams finished second on the team with 59 receptions for 957 yards last year and should assume the go-to role in 2012. Tevin Reese returns after averaging 17.2 yards per catch last season and will be joined by Lanear Sampson (42 catches) and tight end Jordan Najvar (15 catches) as experienced and dangerous weapons for the Bears. This group got a boost in July with the addition of Michigan transfer Darryl Stonum.

6. Florida State If the Seminoles can find the right mix on the offensive line, quarterback EJ Manuel is going to have a huge season. Rashad Greene was one of the ACC’s top receivers last season, even after missing four games due to injury. Look for the sophomore lead the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns in 2012. Senior Rodney Smith caught 36 passes last year and is back as a solid No. 2 threat. The Seminoles are loaded with options outside of Greene and Smith, including sophomore Christian Green and juniors Willie Haulstead and Kenny Shaw. Redshirt freshman Kelvin Benjamin has the talent to become a major factor in the receiving corps in 2012.

7. Washington Even with Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar departing, the Huskies are still in great shape at receiver. Kasen Williams had a solid freshman campaign, catching 36 passes for 427 yards and six scores last year. Look for Williams to become the No. 1 target for quarterback Keith Price. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins also had a standout freshman season, nabbing 41 receptions for 538 yards and six touchdowns. Seniors James Johnson and Cody Bruns are experienced and will factor prominently into the receiving corps.

8. Georgia Wide receiver or cornerback? That’s the question facing the Bulldogs coaching staff and where to play Malcolm Mitchell. With suspensions taking a toll in the secondary early in the year, Georgia may be forced to play Mitchell more on defense – at least through the first few games. Even if Mitchell has to play cornerback, there’s plenty of options for quarterback Aaron Murray. Senior Tavarres King led the team with 47 catches and 705 yards last year, while Michael Bennett returns after recording 32 receptions in 2011. The coaching staff hopes Marlon Brown finally reaches his potential, but the group has other contributors waiting in the wings, including Chris Conley and Justin Scott-Wesley.

9. Washington StateMike Leach pass-first offense should have no trouble getting off the ground this year. Marquess Wilson is one of the nation’s best receivers and will surpass 1,000 yards for the second year in a row. The Cougars need a few targets to step up around Wilson, and sophomore Kristoff Williams and freshman Dominique Williams will be two players to watch in fall practice. Converted tight end Andrei Lintz is also expected to be a key factor in the receiving corps.

10. Oklahoma How will the Sooners replace Ryan Broyles? That’s the big question facing this unit in the fall. The passing attack struggled once Broyles was knocked out for the year and now that he’s moved onto the NFL, the door is open for inexperienced players to step up. Junior Kenny Stills should challenge for first-team All-Big 12 honors, and freshman Trey Metoyer is one of the Big 12’s top breakout players. However, after Stills and Metoyer is where the question marks begin. Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks are suspended indefinitely, leaving freshmen Durron Neal, Derrick Woods and Sterling Shepard as major contributors. Junior college recruit Lacoltan Bester joined the team after spring practice and will be a wildcard to watch this fall.

11. Texas A&M New coach Kevin Sumlin and coordinator Kliff Kingsbury are no stranger to producing standout passing attacks. During Sumlin’s tenure at Houston, the Cougars ranked among the nation’s best through the air. With a new quarterback taking over, it could be a challenge finishing in the top 10 in passing offense this season. However, the Aggies have plenty of receivers to ease the transition. Senior Ryan Swope will be the No. 1 target after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 scores last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu (50 catches) and Kenric McNeal (8 catches) are experienced receivers, but sophomore Malcome Kennedy and freshman Thomas Johnson will figure prominently into the mix.

12. TCUThe Horned Frogs should have no trouble fitting into the offensive-minded Big 12. Quarterback Casey Pachall is back after throwing for 2,921 yards and 25 scores last season, and he will be throwing to a deep, athletic group of receivers. Josh Boyce is the headliner, catching 61 passes for 998 yards and nine scores last year. Skye Dawson (45 catches) and Brandon Carter (23) are back as the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers, while sophomore David Porter and freshman LaDarius Brown will add depth and playmaking ability.

13. Texas TechAs usual, the Red Raiders aren’t short on receiving options. Eric Ward led the team with 84 catches, 800 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and is primed to be the team’s go-to target once again in 2012. Darrin Moore got off to a fast start last year, but an injury prevented him from becoming a bigger factor in the offense. Moore’s status with the team for 2012 is up in the air due to an off-the-field incident. Senior Alex Torres is a dependable option for quarterback Seth Doege, but he is recovering from a torn ACL. This group needs freshman Jakeem Grant and sophomores Jace Amaro and Bradley Marquez to step up as key contributors in 2012.

14. Texas There’s no question the Longhorns have talent here. However, the quarterback position remains a concern going into fall practice. Jaxon Shipley had a standout freshman season, catching 44 passes for 607 yards and three touchdowns. He should be an even bigger factor in the passing attack this year. Mike Davis heads into his junior year with back-to-back seasons of at least 45 catches, while freshman Cayleb Jones could be an impact newcomer. The wildcard to watch will be redshirt freshman tight end M.J. McFarland.

15. BYU The Cougars return their top three targets from last season, including Cody Hoffman (61 catches) and Ross Apo (34). JD Falslev will serve as the No. 3 option for quarterback Riley Nelson after grabbing 31 passes last year. Marcus Mathews caught 27 passes last season and is the likely starter at tight end.

16. Notre Dame Michael Floyd will be missed, but the Fighting Irish return the nation’s best tight end (Tyler Eifert) and capable targets in TJ Jones, Theo Riddick and Robby Toma. DaVaris Daniels and Davonte Neal are two names to watch in 2012.

17. Missouri T.J. Moe is back as the No. 1 receiver, but all of the excitement in Columbia is with Dorial Green-Beckham. The true freshman ranked as the top prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and should be an impact newcomer. Juniors Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington will likely be the No. 3 and No. 4 options for quarterback James Franklin.

18. Nebraska It’s a weak year for receivers in the Big Ten, but there’s also a lot of potential with the group returning to Nebraska. Kenny Bell had a solid freshman campaign in 2011, catching 32 passes for 461 yards and three scores. He should be the go-to target for quarterback Taylor Martinez, but keep an eye on sophomore Jamal Turner and junior Quincy Enunwa. The Cornhuskers are in great shape at tight end with seniors Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton returning.

19. South FloridaThe Bulls should have the Big East’s No. 1 receiving corps, especially if Sterling Griffin can stay healthy for the entire year. The junior emerged as the favorite receiver for quarterback B.J. Daniels, but a foot injury sidelined him late in the season. Sophomore Andre Davis is an intriguing talent, while the coaching staff hopes Florida transfer Chris Dunkley can become another dangerous weapon for Daniels. Tight end Evan Landi is an underrated option over the middle.  

20. RutgersMohamed Sanu is gone, but the cupboard is far from bare for coach Kyle Flood. Senior Mark Harrison looks to bounce back after a disappointing junior year, while sophomore Brandon Coleman should be one of the Big East’s top breakout players. Senior Tim Wright and junior Quron Pratt will see plenty of snaps as the No. 3 and No. 4 options. Tight end D.C. Jefferson is due for a breakout season and should see more passes his way with Sanu catching passes in the NFL.

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 06:30
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Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson are the clear favorites to win the ACC title in 2012 and there's no shortage of players from those three teams in the top 50 players. Clemson's Sammy Watkins will serve a two-game suspension this year but ranks as the conference's best player. Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas should be better in his second season as the starter, while Florida State is loaded with defensive talent. 

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

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

Athlon's Top 50 ACC Players for 2012

1. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Despite his two-game suspension to start 2012, Watkins checks in as Athlon’s No. 1 player in the ACC. High expectations surrounded Watkins from the moment he arrived on campus, and he quickly emerged as Clemson’s top target, catching 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 scores. The Florida native was also a dangerous weapon on special teams, averaging 25 yards per kickoff return and taking one back for a touchdown in the win over Maryland. Although Watkins could have trouble matching last season’s totals, expect the sophomore to finish as a first-team All-American.

2. David Amerson, CB, 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.

3. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Thomas wasted little time in establishing himself as the latest productive and dangerous dual-threat quarterback to wear a Virginia Tech uniform. Last season, the sophomore set a new school single-season mark for total yards with 3,482 and accounted for a total of 30 touchdowns. He was the team’s second-leading rusher (469 yards) and passed for more than 3,013 yards, the second-most by a Hokie quarterback in a season, with all of this coming as a first-year starter.

4. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson 
The junior from Hampton, Va., led the ACC in total offense last year (289.0 ypg) and was a key reason why Clemson hoisted the conference championship trophy a year ago. He accounted for an ACC record 38 touchdowns in 2011 and ranks first in Tigers’ history in most every major passing category. His 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame fits Chad Morris’ system perfectly, and with a variety of supremely talented skill players around him, he should post another huge statistical season in Death Valley. The key for Boyd’s long-term legacy, however, will be how his team finishes the season. Cutting back on his interceptions, he threw nine of his 12 during Clemson’s 2-4 finish, will go a long way to repeating as ACC champs.

5. Joe Vellano, 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.

6. Brandon Jenkins, DE, 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.

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

8. Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
Bernard burst on the scene in his first season in a North Carolina uniform as he became the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 1997. The leading rusher among all FBS freshmen, Bernard finished the season third in the ACC In rushing with 1,253 yards, scored 14 total touchdowns and was a first-team all-conference selection.  Bernard redshirted in 2010 after tearing his ACL on the third day of fall practice, but made an immediate impact in 2011 and enters this season as one of the ACC’s top running backs.

9. James Gayle, DE, 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.

10. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Werner is one of the most interesting stories in the ACC. 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. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
Despite a shoulder injury and little help from his offensive line and rushing attack, Manuel finished 2011 with 2,666 yards and 18 passing scores. Even more impressive than his passing yards was his 65.3 completion percentage and eight interceptions over 311 attempts. Manuel had plenty of highlights, throwing for 249 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl and 321 yards against NC State. With a loaded group of receivers, Manuel should have a chance to surpass last season’s totals. However, Florida State’s offense needs the offensive line to give him more protection, and the rushing attack to provide more balance in 2012.

12. Mike Glennon, QB, NC State
In many ways, NC State’s offense didn’t miss a beat in 2011 even with first-year starter Mike Glennon assuming the reigns from All-ACC performer Russell Wilson, who transferred to Wisconsin for his final season. Glennon tossed 31 touchdown passes, which is the second-most in a single season in school history, while passing for more than 3,000 yards and completing nearly 63 percent of his attempts. 

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

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

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

16. Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina
After sitting behind then-starter and current Houston Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates, Renner took full advantage of his first opportunity to shine. The sophomore set a North Carolina single-season record in 2011 with 26 touchdown passes while becoming only the second player in school history to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a season. He also led the ACC and was 10th in the nation in passing efficiency as he completed nearly 70 percent of his throws.

17. Kyle Fuller, CB, 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.

18. Xavier Rhodes, CB, 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.

19. Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
When healthy, Ellington is one of the top backs in the ACC. He missed part of 2010 with a toe injury and was hobbled at various times last season. Ellington still managed to run for the eighth-best total in Clemson history in 2011 with 1,178 yards. The 5-9, 190-pound back has carried Clemson’s tradition of big-play backs by averaging 5.8 yards per carry in his career.

20. Lamarcus Joyner, S, 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.

21. Nitkita Whitlock, DT, 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. 

22. Bruce Taylor, LB, 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.

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

24. Jeremiah Attaochu, LB, Georgia Tech 
Despite missing two games a year ago, Attaochu led the team in sacks (6.0) and tackles for a loss (11.5). He is developing into one of the most dynamic edge players in the ACC and can be unblockable on the outside. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder from Washington, D.C., is only a junior and has a chance to explode onto the national scene. Improving the ACC’s seventh-ranked rush defense would go a long way to getting Tech back to the title game.

25. Earl Wolff, S, 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.

26. Merrill Noel, CB, 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.

27. Steve Greer, LB, Virginia
The only major holdover from the Al Groh era, Greer is an anchor at linebacker for his second coach and second scheme (from 3-4 to 4-3) in Charlottesville. The fifth-year senior led the Cavs in tackles last season with a career-high 103 stops despite missing the bowl game. 

28. Kevin Reddick, LB, 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.

29. Conner Vernon, WR, Duke
Vernon has racked up 2,675 receiving yards and 13 touchdown passes on 198 catches in three seasons for the Blue Devils, leading the team in receiving the last two seasons. He could threaten school and ACC records by the end of the season.

30. DeAndre Hopkins, WR Clemson
Hopkins is a clear No. 2 receiver on a team with Sammy Watkins, but he’s poised to make a statement of his own in 2012. The junior caught 72 passes last season (fourth-most in Clemson history) for 978 yards with five touchdowns. He also had three 100-yard receiving games in the final seven.

31. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State
Thanks to Sammy Watkins’ emergence last season, it was easy to overlook Greene’s freshman totals. He caught 38 passes for 596 yards and seven scores but was slowed by an injury that forced him to miss four games midway through the year. With a full offseason to heal back to 100 percent, Greene should be one of the ACC’s top receivers and the No. 1 target for quarterback EJ Manuel.

32. Timmy Jernigan, DT, 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.  

33. Perry Jones, RB, Virginia 
Few backs in the nation play as versatile a role as Jones does for the Wahoos. He had 20+ carries only three times last year and nearly got to 1,000 yards rushing, but he also posted 48 receptions for 506 yards in the passing game. His big-play, open-space ability even landed him on the punt return team for a few games. Expect another solid year from the non-traditional running back from Chesapeake, Va.  

34. Anthony Chickillo, DE, Miami
The sophomore from Tampa, Fla., is one of the few proven commodities along the Miami defensive line. He never takes a play off and has all the physical tools at 6-foot-4, 250-pounds to become an All-ACC star. Yet, he is still young and has plenty of growing to do. Should some names develop around him, Chickillo could become the Canes top defensive player.

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

36. Demetrius Hartsfield, LB, Maryland 
The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder from Raleigh, N.C., had to fill the void when Kenny Tate got hurt a year ago. He performed more than admirably by posting 12.0 tackles per game, good for fifth nationally and second in the ACC.

37. Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
Jones is on the move this year, switching from the strongside to the weakside of the linebacking corps. Although the change in positions isn’t that big of a deal, Jones helped in coverage from the strongside in 2011 and that assignment is expected to go to converted safety Nick Moody in 2012. Moving to the weakside should help Jones be more of a playmaker for Florida State’s defense this year.

38. J.R. Collins, DE, Virginia Tech
Collins earned honorable mention All-ACC honors last season after starting all 14 games and leading Hokie defensive linemen with 57 total tackles. He also contributed 9.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks and picked off a pass.

39. Kenny Tate, LB, Maryland
Tate received a medical redshirt after missing all but four games last season, giving the Terrapins a major boost on defense. He had 100 tackles, 8.5 for a loss and three interceptions in his last full season in 2010. He’s a former safety looking to play a full year at linebacker.

40. Everett Dawkins, DT, 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.

41. Kevin Parks, RB, Virginia 
All this record-setting back needs is touches. He is built low to the ground, which makes him impossible to hit cleanly, and plays much bigger than his 5-8 frame,. All he did in his first two college games last year was score five touchdowns. 

42. Antone Exum, CB, Virginia Tech
An honorable mention All-ACC selection at safety in 2011, Exum is expected to start at cornerback for the Hokies this fall. Exum led the team with 89 total tackles and had 10 pass break ups to go with one interception.

43. Derrick Hopkins, DE, Virginia Tech
Hopkins started all 14 games last season, including five of them alongside older brother Antoine, on the Hokies’ defensive line. Derrick finished his first season as a full-time starter with 51 total tackles, five tackles for a loss and three sacks.

44. Tanner Price, QB, Wake Forest
Price was one of the most improved players in the ACC last season, passing for 3,017 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. He improved his completion percentage from 56.8 percent to 60 percent as well.

45. Brandan Bishop, S, NC State
David Amerson garners much of the attention in the Wolfpack secondary, but Bishop and fellow safety Earl Wolff form a solid duo. Bishop has nine interceptions and 204 tackles over the last three years.

46. Malliciah Goodman, DE, Clemson
A senior and a returning starter, Goodman (51 tackles, eight quarterback hurries) is the key player on a Tigers defensive line lacking depth and veterans.

47. Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest
With Chris Givens moving onto the NFL, Campanaro will become the new No. 1 receiver for quarterback Tanner Price. He had a huge sophomore year last season, catching 73 passes for 833 yards and two scores. The junior will have a chance to push those totals even higher in 2012. 

48. Orwin Smith, RB, Georgia Tech
Smith is a home-run threat out of the backfield for the Yellow Jackets, averaging an national-best 10.1 yards per carry. Eleven of his 61 touches went for touchdowns.

49. Kevin Pierre-Paul, LB, Boston College 
With Luke Kuechly departing, KPP will have to be a leader now on the weakside. The slightly undersized (6-1, 212) junior from Norwalk, Conn., finished second on the team in tackles with 74 stops.

50. Sylvester Williams, DT, 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.


Team Breakdown of Athlon's Top 50 ACC Players

Boston College - 1
Clemson - 6
Duke - 1
Florida State - 9
Georgia Tech - 3
Maryland - 3
Miami - 1
NC State - 4
North Carolina - 6
Virginia - 5
Virginia Tech - 7
Wake Forest - 4

 

by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven) and Mark Ross

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Teaser:
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Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 06:12
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Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Buffalo Bills check in at No. 18.

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

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

Offense

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Top Buffalo Bills Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

Specialists

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

Final Analysis: 2nd in the AFC East

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

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

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

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

Related: 2012 Buffalo Bills Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Thur., Aug. 9

Order your 2012 Buffalo Bills Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

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

Teaser:
<p> Buffalo Bills 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, Buffalo Bills, NFL
Path: /nfl/buffalo-bills-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

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

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

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

@BuffaloBills (Followers: 103,711)

Top Bills To Follow:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bills Beat:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bills Blog Roll:

Press Coverage is The Buffalo News' Bills blog.

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

Buffalo Rumbings is SB Nation's Bills blog.

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

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

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

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

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Thursday, Aug. 9

Order your 2012 Buffalo Bills Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

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

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

@bradengall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long reports on Dodge leaving NASCAR, AJ Allmendinger's Adderall claim and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s take on Watkins Glen.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 16:56
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympics-photo-day-us-womens-soccer
Body:

It was a thrilling day for the U.S. women on the pitch at Old Trafford. Here, the Americans celebrate Abby Wambach's goal that tied the match with Canada 3-3. Alex Morgan's header in extra time would give the U.S. the win.

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 10:32
Path: /nascar/nascar-horsepower-rankings-9
Body:

1. Jimmie Johnson   Although a flat tire foiled Johnson’s hopes for a second straight victory, it’s pretty obvious who the best team on the circuit is these days. Last week: 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

LSU

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

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

 

USC

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

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

 

West Virginia

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

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

 

Alabama

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

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

 

Tennessee

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

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

 

Arkansas

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

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

 

Washington State

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

The sideshow: Mike Leach being Mike Leach.

 

Ohio State

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

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

 

Maryland

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

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

 

Akron

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

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

 

A few others we’d watch:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

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

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

Illinois

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

Indiana

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

Iowa

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

Michigan

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

Michigan State

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

Minnesota

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

Nebraska

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

Northwestern

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

Ohio State

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

Penn State

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

Purdue

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

Wisconsin

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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

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

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

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

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

Offense

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Top New York Jets Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

Specialists

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

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

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

Final Analysis: 3rd in the AFC East

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

Related: 2012 New York Jets Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Wed., Aug. 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

@NYJets (Followers: 425,845)

Top Jets To Follow:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jets Beat:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jets Blog Roll:

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

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

Gang Green Nation is SB Nation's Jets blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Wednesday, Aug. 8

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

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

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

@bradengall

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

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

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

The Candidates:

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

#2 Johnny Manziel (FR)
2011 stats: Redshirted

#16 Matt Joeckel (SO)
2011 stats: None

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

The Breakdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Verdict:

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

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

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

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

Predicted Winner: Showers

 


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Related SEC Content

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

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

SEC 2012 Linebacker Rankings

SEC 2012 Defensive Line Rankings

SEC 2012 Offensive Line Rankings

SEC 2012 Wide Receiver Rankings

Athlon's 2012 SEC Predictions

2012 College Football Bowl Projections

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

SEC's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers

Athlon's 2012 All-SEC Team

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

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

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

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

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

“Gordon in Chase wild card contention once again.”

“Earnhardt drops transmission, retains points lead.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter:
@MattTaliaferro

 

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

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

 

 1. Reds — Aroldis Chapman toughest pitcher in majors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 9. Giants — Sweet sweep at Colorado.

10. Cardinals — Sweep Brewers during 1982 Reunion Weekend.

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

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

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

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

15. Rays — Batted just .225 in July.

16. Diamondbacks — Next 10 games vs. contenders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26. Padres — Chase Headley earning team MVP honors.

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

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

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

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

 

AL Player of the Week

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

 

AL Pitcher of the Week

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

 

NL Player of the Week

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

 

NL Pitcher of the Week

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

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

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

1. 

 

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20.

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

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

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

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

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Opportunity Knocks

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

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

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

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

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

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

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of last month:

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

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: Aug 6</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 10:51
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-aug-6
Body:

Here's the Fab Five for Aug. 6, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:

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

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

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

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

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

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.
 

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 10:14
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympics-photo-day-usain-bolt
Body:

Jamaica's Usain Bolt reacts to his win in the men's 100-meter final with his signature pose in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. Bolt set an Olympic record with a time of 9.63 to earn his second straight gold in the Games' marquee event.

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 09:54

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