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All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/spectacular-crash-pikes-peak
Body:

The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is inherently dangerous; major elevation, high-speed cars and no fencing. Check out this amazing crash from Sunday by Jeremy Foley and co-driver Yuri Kouznetsov in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. Thankfully, the drivers reportedly had only minor injuries. But maybe there’s a reason it’s called “Devil's Playground.”

{H/T @Justin_Hyde}
 

Teaser:
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Post date: Monday, August 13, 2012 - 17:04
Path: /mlb/2012-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-august-13
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 13, 2012.

1. Nationals — Will they or won’t they shut down Stephen Strasburg?

2. Reds — Continuing to cruise without Joey Votto.

3. Yankees — Rangers and Red Sox visit the Bronx this week.

4. Rangers — Josh Hamilton heating up again with 12 RBIs in last nine games.

5. Braves — Lost just one series since the break.

6. Pirates — Easiest team to run on.

7. Dodgers — Fewest home runs in the majors, four less than the Giants.

8. Giants — Tim Lincecum-Stephen Strasburg matchup on Wednesday.

9. Rays — Majors’ best save percentage.

10. White Sox — Chris Sale in Cy Young discussion.

11. A’s — Pinch-hitters batting .300, AL average is .209.

12. Cardinals — Bullpen not getting any better.

13. Orioles — Used 10 starting pitchers this season.

14. Angels — Quickly losing ground in wild card race.

15. Tigers — Lost four of seven vs. Yankees and Rangers; Twins, O’s on deck.

16. Diamondbacks — Crept back into the race, but can’t get over the hump.

17. Red Sox — Rocking offense, woeful pitching.

18. Mariners — Starting pitching has been terrific, but still worst OBP in majors.

19. Blue Jays — Lost 11 of 14 with tough stretch ahead.

20. Mets — Visit two first-place teams (Cin. and Wash.) this week.

21. Marlins — Most stolen bases in majors.

22. Phillies — Trying to hold it together while playing out the string.

23. Twins — Swept by Rays, but just 3.5 games back of Cleveland.

24. Indians — Nine-game West Coast trip could be trouble.

25. Brewers — Bullpen saddled with 28 losses.

26. Padres — Tossed three shutouts in last six games.

27. Royals — Three regulars batting .294 or better.

28. Rockies — Carlos Gonzalez on pace for another 100 runs and RBIs.

29. Cubs — Won just one of 12, but Houston comes to town now.

30. Astros — No team strikes out more often than the Astros.

            

AL Player of the Week

Josh Hamilton, Texas—With Hamilton back on track, the Rangers are winning at a better clip than they were over the previous six weeks. After suffering through a terrible slump in July, Hamilton is now working on a 10-game hitting streak. Last week, he batted .455 with three home runs and nine RBIs. He scored seven runs and showed much more patience at the plate, which produced a .538 OBP.  With his bat warming up, Texas won four of six and now owns the best record in the American League.

 

AL Pitcher of the Week

Chris Sale, Chicago—The White Sox continue to defy the odds and maintain a slim lead over the Tigers in the AL Central. Sale tossed eight strong innings vs. Kansas City on nine days rest. The White Sox have been giving the young lefthander some extra rest when possible. For the week, he totaled 14.2 innings and did not walk a batter while striking out 18. He won both starts, defeating the Royals and A’s.

 

NL Player of the Week

Buster Posey, San Francisco—For the second week in a row, Posey had a tremendous stretch for the improving Giants. The All-Star backstop followed up on his previous Player of the Week honor with a .421 batting average and .571 OBP. Posey slammed three homers and knocked in seven runs.

 

NL Pitcher of the Week

Jake Westbrook, St. Louis—With just a little more than a month until his 35th birthday, Westbrook is quietly having the best year of his career — certainly his best since his All-Star season in 2004. The righthander has won his last five starts, and last week defeated the Giants and Phillies. In 13.2 innings, he allowed 11 hits and two walks. He struck out just seven, but recorded 18 groundball outs in the win over Philadelphia.

Teaser:
<p> A look at the best and worst baseball teams in the league.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 13, 2012 - 16:19
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/awesome-delorean-boat-san-francisco-giants-game
Body:

Either James Bond or Marty McFly was navigating through McCovey Cove outside at AT&T Park in San Francisco on Friday.

Teaser:
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Post date: Monday, August 13, 2012 - 15:14
Path: /nascar/ambrose-wins-watkin-glen
Body:

Defending Watkins Glen race-winner Marcos Ambrose entered the Sprint Cup Series’ Finger Lakes 355 as the odds-on favorite to win. And Ambrose, who also has three Nationwide Series victories at the Glen, didn’t disappoint.

The Australia native with an extensive background in Sports Car racing used every bit of his expertise, capping a wild last-lap battle with Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch to give Richard Petty Motorsports its first win since this same race last season.

What made Ambrose’s performance all the more impressive was that he emerged the victor with an oil slick covering the track. Navigating through the oil — as well as a couple off-road excursions — arguably made the conclusion at the Glen the most memorable of the season.

“It was absolute chaos at the end,” Ambrose said. “The three cars were very evenly matched. Kyle had a head start on us there. I was trying to chase him. I burnt my tires off, really burnt off the brakes. I thought, ‘I’m going to be stuck here in second.’

“All of a sudden I’m starting to slide out on oil — couldn’t work out where it was coming from, if it was from my car or on the track. I saw Kyle backing up to us. It was absolutely crazy at the end.”

Busch led the trio to the white flag with a comfortable cushion. However, as the leader, he was the first of the three to hit the oil dropped from Bobby Labonte’s wounded Toyota. Busch quickly let up as his car skidded through the 11-turn road course. Keselowski got to the bumper of the No. 18 Toyota and the two made contact in Turn 2, sending Busch sideways and, ultimately, to a seventh-place finish.

The drama was just getting started, though, as Ambrose and Keselowski duked it out for the top spot over the final nine turns as both fought slick spots all over the track — at one point, both machines careened off course, sliding through the grass but staying in the gas and keeping both cars straight.

As the two came out of the seventh turn, Ambrose tagged Keselowski’s bumper and pulled to the inside. He won the drag race from there, out-muscling Keselowski’s Dodge to the checkered flag.

Despite finishing second in heartbreaking fashion, Keselowski could appreciate the spirited duel.

“I just think this is what racing should be,” he said. “I think this is what the fans come to expect out of NASCAR racing and why it grew to the popularity that it did.”

Ambrose was still elated later, when he spoke of the oil slick that made for an adventurous final 2.45 miles.

“You couldn’t see where the oil was at,” Ambrose explained. “If it was a black streak, it would be OK, (but) it was almost like a fine spray. I was the first one to start sliding on it. For whatever reason, my line, I slid into Turn 1. I thought I was blowing up — I thought it was my oil.

“Not until I saw Brad and Kyle sliding as well, I thought, ‘OK, there’s something on the track and we’re going to have to deal with it.”

Busch went directly to the NASCAR hauler after the race, presumably to ask why a caution wasn’t thrown on the final lap when there was obviously a substance that hindered the racing.

“I have nothing good to say,” was all Busch would offer concerning his meeting with the sanctioning body.

Other drivers had issues with the lack of a caution, as well, most notably Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon.

“There was just oil everywhere from somebody,” Earnhardt said. “You couldn’t see it so you didn't know where to run. I saw the leaders were coming and I was just trying to get out of the way. They were in oil and I was in oil and then I watched everything that happened in front of me. It was a bad deal, I think.”

NASCAR didn’t share the drivers’ view.

“We didn’t have any reports of oil,” Cup series director John Darby said. “The only corner-worker reports were that the 47 (Labonte) was smoking. They were asked repeatedly if he was dropping everything. The report back to us was: ‘No, Tower. The track’s clear.’

“On the last restart, where the whole field of cars goes all the way around the race track and one car spins out and the rest of them are racing, it was obvious to me it wasn’t that bad.”


by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
 

Teaser:
<p> Marcos Ambrose beat Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch in a wild last-lap scramble to win NASCAR's Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 13, 2012 - 14:19
All taxonomy terms: Green Bay Packers, NFC, NFC North, NFL
Path: /nfl/green-bay-packers-desmond-bishop-out-year
Body:

The Green Bay Packers experienced the one thing NFL fans fear the most once preseason football gets started. 

Season-ending injuries to key starters. 

In this case, veteran linebacker Desmond Bishop isn't just a key starter, but possibly the best defensive player on the entire team. In the first preseason game of the year, Bishop tackled San Diego's Ronnie Brown and had his right leg bent unnatrually underneath him. The right knee was sprained but team doctor Pat McKenzie feared something much worse — a serious hamstring tear. A pull or a sprain can be fixed with ice, strecthing and 4-6 weeks of rehab. McKenzie discovered, after examining Bishop back at the team's facilities, that it was in fact a hamstring tear. The knee is hurting as well, but the hamstring is what will keep Bishop from returning to the field this year.

"Unfortunately, the hamsting injury was what we feared," said head coach Mike McCarthy after practice Saturday. "Surgery is imminent, and Desmond's season is in jeopardy. Once we have he surgery, we'll have a better idea on his status for this season."

The former 6th round selection is entering his sixth season out of Cal and has developed into the leader of the Packers defense from his inside linebacking position. He has 218 tackles — 115 last season even with missing three games — and 8.0 sacks over the last two seasons for the Packers. It also made him one of the top fantasy options at linebacker. He was ranked as the No. 6 overall IDP — individual defensive player — regardless of the position and the No. 2 overall linebacker in the entire league.

So Packers fans, McCarthy and fantasy owners alike are trying to find a replacement in short order. The official back-up at the "Mack" backer position is D.J. Smith. The second-year pro from Appalachian State got three starts in place of Bishop last fall and played well, posting 37 total tackles and one interception. With AJ Hawk and Clay Matthews still on board, the Packers linebacking corps has plenty of depth. But on a team that could be the best in the NFL and is eyeing a Super Bowl run, losing arguably the top defensive play-maker will cost the Packers somewhere along the line. That is the one thing fans can bet on.

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Green Bay Packers' Desmond Bishop Out for the Year?</p>
Post date: Monday, August 13, 2012 - 13:24
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/top-10-disappointments-2012-london-olympics
Body:

1. NBC’s tape-delaying, video-stream buffering coverage

NBC could not get it right at the 2012 London Olympics. Their tape-delayed coverage included lowlights such as Bob Costas nonchalantly spoiling Michael Phelps’ Olympic medal record-breaking race, a “Today Show” promo spoiling the Missy Franklin race set to air and an ill-timed “Animal Practice” sitcom promo featuring a monkey doing gymnastics immediately after Gabby Douglas became the first African-American to win gold in the women’s gymnastics individual all-around competition. Online coverage wasn’t much better, with the live-streaming video buffering during the middle of the men’s 100-meter dash — causing Twitter to declare Usain Bolt “faster than the internet.”

 

2. Lolo Jones finishing fourth in 100-meter hurdles

America’s sweetheart heading into London, Jones finished a painful fourth in the 100-meter hurdles — four years after tripping over the ninth of 10 hurdles with the lead in Beijing. Worse, a scathing N.Y. Times article declared Jones’ publicity “was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign. Essentially, Jones has decided she will be whatever anyone wants her to be — vixen, virgin, victim — to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses.” It was a disappointing Olympics for Lolo, to say the least.

 

3. Jordyn Wieber failing to qualify for individual all-around

Entering London, Wieber was the face of the USA’s “Fierce Five” women’s gymnastics team. But the reigning World Champion failed to qualify for the individual all-around competition — despite having the fourth-highest score among all gymnasts following preliminary qualifying. Due to a rule limiting each country to only two competitors in the individual all-around, Wieber was forced to sit out while teammates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman represented the USA. Adding injury to insult, Wieber suffered a stress fracture in her leg while in London.

 

4. McKayla Maroney winning silver in vault; McKayla is not impressed

Maroney had one of the greatest vaults of her life while helping the “Fierce Five” join 1996’s “Magnificent Seven” as the only USA women to claim Olympic team gold. The overwhelming favorite to win individual gold in the vault, however, suffered a fall that forced her to settle for silver. Her disappointed reaction to silver sparked a viral meme — “McKayla Is Not Impressed” — and made Maroney more of a household name than she would have been otherwise.

 

5. Ryan Lochte letdown following “next Michael Phelps” hype

The pre-Games heartthrob devolved into a grill-wearing disappointment in London. Lochte lost his highly anticipated head-to-head showdown with Michael Phelps in the 200-meter individual medley, finished third in the 200-meter backstroke and failed to medal in the 200-meter freestyle. He also let down his teammates, losing the lead as the anchor leg in the 4x100 freestyle relay. After entering with Phelps-sized expectations, Lochte was far from the gold standard in London.

 

6. Brazil losing to Mexico, failing to win first Olympic gold

Brazil allowed a Mexico goal just 29 seconds into the men’s soccer Gold Medal Match. After falling behind 2–0, Brazil’s Hulk scored his first goal of the tournament in stoppage time. Trailing 2–1 in desperation mode, Hulk beautifully set up teammate Oscar — whose header sailed high over the crossbar. Shortly after, the whistle blew, the match was over and Brazil was still 0-for in the nation’s quest to win Olympic gold in men’s soccer.

 

7. Australia barely cracking top 10 in Olympic medal count

Despite the pre-Games hype surrounding James Magnussen and Stephanie Rice, no Australian claimed individual swimming gold for the first time since 1972. In total, the Aussies won just seven gold medals, their fewest since 1992. Add 16 silver and 12 bronze to the count and Australia still only managed to finish 10th in the Olympic medal count — after finishing sixth, fourth and fourth in the three Games prior.

 

8. USA women’s indoor volleyball losing gold to Brazil

For the second consecutive Olympics, the USA lost to Brazil in the women’s indoor volleyball Gold Medal Match. Destinee Hooker led the top-ranked USA squad on an impressive run until losing 3–1 to Brazil with gold on the line. The USA has failed to win gold since indoor volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1964.

 

9. No baseball or softball in Summer Olympics

Baseball became an official sport in 1992, while softball followed in 1996. The USA won gold in baseball in 2000, and took bronze in 1996 and 2008. Meanwhile, the USA softball program was dominant, winning gold in 1996, 2000 and 2004 before losing to Japan and settling for silver in 2008. Both sports were considered American strengths but were discontinued prior to the 2012 London Olympics.

 

10. Closing ceremonies featuring Spice Girls, George Michael

Even the Queen and James Bond could not have saved London’s Closing Ceremonies — which included hip entertainment like the Spice Girls, George Michael, One Direction, Russell Brand and Tinie Tempah.
 

Teaser:
<p> McKayla is not impressed by NBC’s coverage, Lolo Jones or London's closing ceremonies.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 13, 2012 - 12:32
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-aug-13
Body:

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

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (8/6-8/13):

  Name Team Pos. R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Josh Hamilton TEX OF 7 3 9 1 .455 1.493
2. Adrian Gonzalez BOS 1B/OF 6 2 14 0 .393 1.290
3. Chase Headley SD 3B 6 3 11 0 .333 1.110
4. Billy Butler KC 1B 7 4 7 0 .333 1.305
5. Dustin Pedroia BOS 2B 8 0 4 2 .500 1.221
6. Desmond Jennings OF TB 9 1 2 2 .474 1.366
7. Alex Gordon KC OF 6 3 4 2 .333 1.022
8. Jon Jay* STL OF 6 0 4 2 .536 1.188
9. Erick Aybar* LAA SS 7 1 3 2 .458 1.105
10. Justin Morneau* MIN 1B 6 3 7 0 .375 1.194
11. B.J. Upton TB OF 6 2 7 2 .250 .933
12. Matt Kemp LAD OF 4 1 5 3 .400 1.044
13. Eric Chavez* NYY 3B 6 2 5 0 .536 1.651
14. Freddie Freeman ATL 1B 7 2 9 0 .273 1.021
15. Manny Machado* BAL SS 5 3 7 0 .375 1.500
16. Buster Posey SF C/1B 4 3 7 0 .421 1.466
17. Nick Markakis BAL OF 5 3 7 0 .323 1.063
18. Michael Bourn ATL OF 6 1 6 1 .375 1.083
19. Neil Walker PIT 2B 5 2 9 0 .321 .940
20. Mike Trout LAA OF 2 2 7 3 .261 .855
21. Ryan Howard PHI 1B 4 3 8 0 .304 1.072
22. Michael Morse WAS 1B/OF 5 3 6 0 .323 1.023
23. Matt Wieters BAL C 4 3 8 0 .292 1.162
24. Justin Ruggiano* MIA OF 4 2 4 2 .333 .985
25. A.J. Pierzynski CWS C 4 2 6 0 .435 1.197

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Manny Being Manny

The Orioles are going to be really good next season. The latest in a long line of very talented draft picks to make the big league roster, shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado made quite the debut this weekend. The third overall pick in the 2010 draft flew through the minors and made his debut last Thursday with a 2-4, 3B, R line to start. He then hit two bombs in his second game and then another on Sunday. He has six hits in 16 at-bats with 7 RBI and 5 runs. Just as important, he struck out only twice. Manny has huge upside and could easily be the next big star in the game. At a premium position, he is worth adding — especially, in keeper leagues.

Coors Field Delight

Look to add Marlins and Brewers this week as both will visit Coors Field in Colorado. With Giancarlo Stanton back in the line-up and Jose Reyes setting the table, names like Carlos Lee and Justin Ruggiano are worth a look this week. It also could be good news for the surging Rickie Weeks and always underrated Jonathan Lucroy. Get the rest of your Fish and Brewcrew into the line-up.

Aging First Basemen

Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard have seen former first-round fantasy value plummet to the waiver wire. Yet, both had solid weeks last week and both could provide plenty of pop down the stretch. Certainly, both could find the DL as well, but both seem to be showing signs of life, and while healthy, will provide HR, RBI and OPS help to most rosters.

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. James Shields TB 24.0 2 19 1.13 0.50
2. Roy Halladay PHI 15.0 2 13 0.60 0.40
3. Clay Buchholz* BOS 24.0 2 13 1.13 0.71
4. A.J. Burnett PIT 23.1 2 25 2.31 0.86
5. Jered Weaver LAA 22.1 2 17 2.01 0.76
6. Patrick Corbin* ARI 19.0 2 19 1.89 0.89
7. Adam Wainwright STL 16.0 2 14 1.13 0.81
8. Alex Cobb* TB 14.0 2 13 1.29 0.71
9. Miguel Gonzalez* BAL 21.2 2 17 2.08 0.88
10. Yovani Gallardo MIL 21.2 3 17 2.08 1.11
11. Clayton Kershaw LAD 13.1 2 14 2.03 0.68
12. R.A. Dickey NYM 16.0 1 19 1.69 0.75
13. Johnny Cueto CIN 22.1 2 21 2.82 0.90
14. David Price TB 22.0 1 21 2.05 0.86
15. Mike Fiers MIL 14.0 2 13 1.93 0.79
16. Cole Hamels PHI 16.0 1 15 1.13 0.81
17. Mat Latos CIN 14.1 1 13 0.63 0.77
18. Chris Sale CWS 14.2 2 18 2.45 0.95
19. Kris Medlen* ATL 16.2 2 16 1.62 1.08
20. Paul Maholm* ATL 16.0 1 13 1.69 0.69

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

1. Doug Fister, DET: at MIN (Tues.) 74% owned
Has posted six straight quality starts with 41 strikeouts and only six walks over that span to go with four wins. The Twins won't get to him this time around.

2. Scott Diamond, MIN: at SEA (Sat.) 50% owned
It is absurd that Diamond is owned in only half of the leagues out there. Do people not know he has 10 wins, a 2.97 ERA and 1.19 WHIP — for the TWINS!?!

3. Jarrod Parker, OAK: at KC (Tues.) 44% owned
Parker has loads of upside and has shown flashes of brilliance, but needs to be more consistent. He has ironed out the free-pass issues of late (25K: 6BB last 5 starts). Gets second start against Cleveland.

4. Chad Billingsly, LAD: at PIT (Tues.) 64% owned
Has had a great last month with four straight wins in four straight starts. He has cut down on the baserunners and the Ks will always be there. Gives you a second start at Atlanta this week too.

5. Clayton Richard, SD: SF (Sun.) 19% owned
Gets two starts this week (at ATL, Tues.) and is coming off a complete game shutout of the Cubs. Won't pile up Ks but should help ratios against these two offenses this week.

Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of last month:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Aroldis Chapman CIN 16.2 0 16 32 0 0.00 0.54
2. Huston Street (DL) SD 12.0 0 8 13 0 0.00 0.08
3. Fernando Rodney TB 15.1 0 11 13 0 0.59 0.78
4. Jason Motte STL 10.2 1 6 17 0 0.84 0.66
5. J.J. Putz ARI 9.2 0 6 14 0 0.00 0.41
6. Tom Wilhelmsen* SEA 13.0 0 9 15 0 2.77 0.77
7. Kenley Jansen LAD 12.1 1 7 17 0 1.46 1.14
8. Jonathan Papelbon PHI 14.2 1 7 16 0 1.84 1.09
9. Joel Hanrahan PIT 10.2 0 10 19 0 3.38 1.22
10. Craig Kimbrel ATL 9.0 0 5 16 0 1.00 0.44
11. Greg Holland* KC 15.0 3 3 16 1 2.40 1.13
12. Rafael Soriano NYY 11.2 0 7 12 0 2.31 0.77
13. Joel Peralta* TB 14.1 0 0 22 9 0.63 0.56
14. Kevin Jepsen* LAA 11.2 2 1 11 4 0.77 0.69
15. Steve Cishek* MIA 10.1 0 6 11 0 0.87 0.87
16. Jeremy Affeldt* SF 14.2 1 2 14 1 1.84 0.68
17. Glen Perkins* MIN 12.2 1 3 13 1 2.84 0.71
18. Octavio Dotel* DET 11.1 1 0 10 4 0.79 0.44
19. Vinnie Pestano* CLE 14.0 0 0 13 7 0.00 0.71
20. Jose Valverde DET 12.0 0 6 10 0 3.00 0.92

* - 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 13</p>
Post date: Monday, August 13, 2012 - 10:35
Path: /college-football/sec-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 SEC to talk anonymously about their opponents.

SEC Coaches Anonymously Scout Their Conference Foes

Alabama

Opposing coaches size up the Crimson Tide:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Ranking the SEC's Top 75 Players for 2012

Arkansas

Opposing coaches size up the Razorbacks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auburn

Opposing coaches size up the Tigers:

“Obviously it’s all about the coordinators and what kind of changes they make. Ted Roof is a good coordinator, but Brian VanGorder knows this league. That was a coup for Auburn, and I assume (Gene) Chizik will let him run the show. But on offense it’ll be hard for them not to have a downgrade from (Gus) Malzahn.

The guy Gabe Wright, the defensive tackle, he’ll probably have a big season this year, being his sophomore year. He made some plays last year. Their defensive ends are big and strong.

The linebacker they’re losing, (Eltoro Freeman), will be tough to replace. He was a good player.

I don’t know about the quarterback situation. I guess they don’t either. That’s never a good thing.

Their secret weapon, if it’s really a secret, could be (tight end) Philip Lutzenkirchen. I think he’ll have a big year. He’s coming off shoulder surgery, but he has the ability to make big plays.

Defensively, they’ll just be big and strong. That’s one thing I noticed last year — outside of LSU, Auburn’s defensive ends, in terms of physical presence, were the best in the league.

They definitely have a chance to make some noise in the West. They’ll be kind of a sleeper team coming off that 8–5 year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them contend. They have some really good young talent.”

Florida

Opposing coaches size up the Gators: 

“Consistency at quarterback was a big problem for them last year. John Brantley got hurt and lost some mobility.

I don’t think they had a great offensive line. That was an issue throughout the season.

Scheme was also a problem because they were trying to play a pro-style offensive with spread-style players. (Former offensive coordinator) Charlie Weis never seemed to have a handle on what he could do to get the offense going.

They were maybe the fastest team that we played against, but I did not think they were tough, and I think there were some issues between some players and coaches on the offensive side of the ball.

All of their receivers have tremendous potential, but none of them were very productive. In many ways, tight ends Trey Burton and Jordan Reed were their best receivers. Those guys and the two running backs, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, scared me catching the ball more than any of their receivers.

They were better on defense than what we thought they would be, from watching them on film.

They still have good players running around. They should be better than what they were, though. They still have guys who can run, and they still have a couple of decent defensive linemen and (Jelani) Jenkins, the linebacker, is a good player. For some reason, they didn’t click defensively as much as they should have.

Will Muschamp has a good reputation. He has been with some good teams, very successful teams.”

Georgia

Opposing coaches size up the Bulldogs:

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

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

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

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

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

Kentucky

Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats: 

“I don’t think Maxwell Smith is going to be the answer long term for them at quarterback. He came in and gave them a spark late in the year, but he is not a guy who is going to be a top-flight quarterback in this league.

CoShik Williams is a lower-level SEC back. He had some moments last year, but I think his best games were against Jacksonville State (148 yards) and Ole Miss (111).

Their personnel just wasn’t very good last year. They had higher expectations for Morgan Newton, who started off the season as their quarterback. He did some good things as a freshman a couple of years ago, but just didn’t pan out, for whatever reason.

They relied so heavily on Randall Cobb two years ago. He did everything for them, and they lacked that type of playmaker last year.

From a skill perspective, they didn’t put a whole lot of fear into the defense. And from a physical standpoint, with their offensive line and tight ends, you didn’t really need to load up the box to stop the run.

(Linebacker) Danny Trevathan was a good player. I liked him. He ran well. Ran like a defensive back. He was the one guy that stuck out when you prepared for them. Now, he’s gone. Not good for them.

They do a lot of good things on defense. They don’t necessarily have the personnel that other teams do, but they try to do a lot of different things.”

LSU

Opposing coaches size up the Tigers: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missouri

Opposing coaches size up the Tigers: 

“The Tigers have had some nice teams in the past, but I’m not so sure ‘nice teams’ will cut it in the SEC. I think Missouri is going to experience some serious problems competing in their first year in the SEC. The offense will give them a chance to be fairly successful, but I don’t think they’ll be physical enough on defense.

My biggest question is if the Tigers can survive a conference schedule featuring South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M plus nonconference games against Arizona State and Syracuse.

Quarterback James Franklin will immediately be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, but the Tigers will need big production out of their running game. Henry Josey emerged and had a tremendous season last year until he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Franklin underwent shoulder surgery and missed the entire spring. It looks like he’ll be fine, but I don’t know any scenario where it’s a good thing for your starting quarterback to miss spring drills.

Wide receiver T.J. Moe is the only top returning receiver, but he’s a good one. He literally catches everything thrown in his direction.

I’m interested to see how they hold up on the defensive line against some of the better offensive fronts in the SEC. Everyone is going to be watching them to see how they do in their first season in that league.”

Mississippi State

Opposing coaches size up the Bulldogs: 

“I look at them as scrappy. They’ve kind of had a couple down years, and they’re trying to re-invent themselves.

I’d say they’re a spread version of Georgia Tech, and that’s what they try to do. They try to run the ball. (Dan Mullen) might not have all the speed guys on the edge, like he did when he was at Florida working for Urban Meyer, but they are trying to do a lot of the same stuff. Once they get the players that fit their system completely, they could be dangerous, like Florida used to be.

They’re gonna be a well-coached team, especially with Mullen running the show. They always play hard. They’re fast.  

Losing (defensive tackle) Fletcher Cox will hurt in the middle. But I think they’ll have big strong kids.

I like the linebacker, Cameron Lawrence. He’s a good player.

With (quarterback) Chris Relf gone, they’ll have an opportunity to improve. I know they underachieved, but I think they’ll be able to do something this season.

They need Tyler Russell to play well at quarterback. He came in as a pretty hyped recruit, but he was never unable to completely beat out Relf, so that right there might tell you something. There is pressure on that kid this year.”

Ole Miss

Opposing coaches size up the Rebels:

“They turned the ball over too much and they didn’t get much out of the quarterback position. They couldn’t identify the guy they wanted to go with. They had Zack Stoudt, the junior college transfer, and Randall Mackey, and also Barry Brunetti, the kid who transferred from West Virginia.

They struggled to find an identity all season on offense, and it was because they couldn’t throw the ball.

They had two preseason all-conference guys on the offensive line (Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie). They had some good-looking guys up front.

They were inexperienced at the skill positions, and their best running back, Brandon Bolden, was hurt at times.

I like (running back) Jeff Scott. He can be really good. He is one of the leading punt returners in the conference. I think he can be a formidable upper-level SEC running back. But they need to get better on the offensive line. That is a big priority. And Scott will have to stay healthy. He was in and out of the lineup. He is one of the few playmakers they do have.

I don’t know much about the new coaching staff. I know Hugh Freeze was at Ole Miss before, and I know he did a good job at Arkansas State.

Their personnel on defense isn’t very good. That is their biggest problem.

They are near the bottom of the league from a talent standpoint. They’ve got to recruit better players.”

South Carolina

Opposing coaches size up the Gamecocks: 

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

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

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

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

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

Tennessee

Opposing coaches size up the Volunteers: 

“When they played hard they were good. But there were times when they just did not play hard. You can see that on film. When they play fast, they are good. But when they got down, they just shut it down.

A healthy Tyler Bray is really, really good. Just put on the Cincinnati game from early last year (Tennessee won 45–23). He was incredible in that game. He has a lot of ability. He needs to get himself straight mentally.

With (wide receivers) Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter coming back, and throw in the junior college guy they have coming in (Cordarrelle Patterson), and they are going to be scary, I think.

If you look at their offensive linemen, I think they are more athletic than tough. I think they lacked toughness up front. If you were at a combine, they are all the right height, the right size and have the right athletic ability, but I thought they lacked toughness.

You assume we will see a lot of Alabama stuff defensively with Sal Sunseri coming in as the new coordinator. It’s always nice knowing what you are going to go against. I’m sure he will have his own stuff and they will evolve, but at least we know what type of system he comes from.

They didn’t have any real strengths defensively. They were just okay across the board. I guess they were pretty good up front, but not what you would expect from them.”

Texas A&M

Opposing coaches size up the Aggies: 

“Like Missouri, they’re going to find the going gets tougher now that they’re in the SEC. First the schedule now has Florida, Arkansas, LSU and Alabama — all of those are projected top 25 teams. Then add in former Big 12 member Missouri and trips to Mississippi State and Auburn. The Aggies will have a tough time adjusting, more so than Missouri because the Aggies lost more key players.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Cyrus Gray and wide receiver Jeff Fuller formed a pretty damn good nucleus and all three are gone. Jameill Showers was Tannehill’s back-up last season, so he’ll get first shot at replacing Tannehill.

I’m glad Kevin Sumlin finally got a shot at a BCS school. He has proven he can coach, and he’ll win at Texas A&M. Hopefully they’ll be patient with him. He obviously benefitted from having Case Keenum at Houston, but he did a solid job building that program. Now he must build another with a lot tougher degree of difficulty — and a much, much tougher schedule. He’s not in Conference USA anymore. There are no off weeks in the SEC, at least not in conference play. It’s going to be an interesting season in College Station.”

Vanderbilt

Opposing coaches size up the Commodores: 

“(James) Franklin came in as a recruiter, and he’s lived up to his reputation. But now that he’s getting his guys, he has to coach them up.

I love (running back) Zac Stacy. I think he is really good, one of the best in the league. I think he can be an NFL back if he continues to get better. He can catch and he can throw and he can run. He is tough guy.

Their offense improved so much during the season. Never seen anything like it. Their staff deserves a ton of credit. They seemed to re-invent themselves after the first few games.

Putting (quarterback) Jordan Rodgers in the lineup helped. He was better than anyone thought.

That receiver, Jordan Matthews, is really good. He could be an NFL wide receiver. I think he lacks flat-out speed, but if you can be an upper-level player in the this league, I would think you have a chance to be a pro football player. He creates mismatches with size and he can go up and get the ball in a crowd.

They have a few guys that can play at the next level. I think until they develop a bigger offensive and defensive line, it’ll be harder to compete with the bigger schools.”
 

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Teaser:
<p> SEC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Monday, August 13, 2012 - 06:15
Path: /college-football/college-football-big-east-must-see-games-2012
Body:

As the college football season draws near, Athlon Sports is making sure fans know exactly when and where to tune in this fall. Here are the Big East's Top 20 must-see football games for the 2012 season:

1. Week 14 (Nov. 29): Louisville at Rutgers
The Cards are the prohibitive favorite and the 16-14 win over Rutgers last fall signaled a big turning point in Louisville's season. After a 2-4 start, the Cards out-lasted the top defense in the league before winning four of their next five games to end 2011. This year, on the final week of regular-season play, the Big East crown could be hanging in the balance. On paper, this road game should be the Cardinals' toughest league test and a third straight win over the Knights, a team that could be a top Big East contender, would likely produce Charlie Strong’s first trip to a BCS Bowl.

2. Week 3 (Sept. 15): Rutgers at USF
The Scarlet Knights and the Bulls are both looking up at Louisville in the preseason standings. Rutgers’ first nine games will feature only two tough tests — road trips to Arkansas and South Florida. And after what happened in last year’s meeting, fans can bet on this one being another thriller. The Knights scored two touchdowns in the final eight minutes to send the game into overtime where a San San Te field-goal won the game for Rutgers. South Florida feels it can push the Cards for conference supremacy as well with B.J. Daniels returning for his fourth-year under center. The winner of this early game will likely become the top contender to Louisville’s league crown.

3. Week 8 (Oct. 20): USF at Louisville
The 34-24 road win over USF last fall clinched a share of the Big East title for Strong’s bunch in 2011 and a home win over the Bulls in late October should all but do the same in '12. Daniels did not play in that game last year due to a shoulder injury and will be champing at the bit to get a crack at counterpart Teddy Bridgewater — who he had to watch produce arguably his best game as a freshman from the sidelines. The Cards QB threw three touchdowns, no interceptions and amassed 241 yards through the air in the clutch road win over USF last fall. A healthy Daniels makes this game more interesting, but this game being played in the "502" makes an upset more unlikely.

4. Week 7 (Oct. 13): Louisville at Pitt
The Cardinals' second toughest road test of the Big East year will be a trip up to The Steel City. The depleted Panthers won this game last fall 21-14 in Papa John’s Stadium, so revenge will certainly be on the minds of Cards players. Bridgewater had his best game running the football (54 yards) but the rest of the team managed only 61 yards rushing while the Panthers rolled up 200 yards on the ground — without Ray Graham. New Panther coach Paul Chryst brings an exciting and innovative offensive game plan to the table, so the X’s and O’s chess match between him and Strong should be entertaining to watch.

5. Week 14 (Dec. 1): Pitt at USF
Two teams with Big East title aspirations will meet on the final day of the regular season. The Bulls got hammered by Pitt and Ray Graham last year 44-17 in primetime on a Thursday night. The star tailback rushed for 226 yards and two scores in the beat down that signaled the unraveling of the Bulls season. The Bulls finished with just one win in its final seven games following the humiliating loss. Skip Holtz and the USF faithful will be fired up to welcome the chance at retaliation. And since the world will know what has happened in the Louisville-Rutgers game two nights earlier, there could be serious BCS implications involved in this season finale.

6. Week 3 (Set. 15): North Carolina at Louisville
The Big East rarely has opportunities to prove itself as a league against top-level competition, but this is its best chance at a signature non-conference win in 2012. The league’s projected top team will play host to a very sound UNC team that could easily win eight or nine games. This was a 14-7 home win for the Tar Heels last fall but it was only Big East Freshman of the Year Teddy Bridgewater’s second career start. 

7. Week 5 (Sept. 29): Florida State at USF
The last time these two met was back in September of 2009 — and South Florida won 17-7 in Tallahassee. Now, things are slightly different. Florida State has rebuilt its roster and the game will be played in Tampa. This is a huge in-state test for USF to not only prove its mettle on the field, but on the recruiting trail. Another win over the Noles would be easily the best win of the year by any Big East team.

8. Week 13 (Nov. 24): Rutgers at Pitt
The four-team round robin atop the Big East is complete with this Knights’ road trip across The Keystone State. The final three games of the year will be huge for Rutgers and fans can bet that Pitt hasn’t forgotten the 34-10 thumping Greg Schiano’s boys put on the Panthers last fall. Rutgers must finish the season strong as this tough road test is sandwiched around a trip to Cincinnati and a visit from Louisville to wrap-up the regular season.

9. Week 12 (Nov. 17): USF at Miami
Much like the FSU game, the Bulls can boost their in-state recruiting stock with a win over a traditional Sunshine State power. Not to mention add a huge feather in the non-conference Big East win cap. These two have split the last two seasons with the road team winning both. It could be a positive omen for an improved Bulls team facing the downtrodden Canes.

10. Week 12 (Nov. 17): Rutgers at Cincinnati
The Bearcats might be the Big East’s wild card this fall. They appear to be floating between the have’s and have not’s of the league — at least, in the preseason. They won 10 games in 2011, but got handled with ease by Rutgers last fall on the road. This year’s test could be a total crapshoot. Certainly, it will be one to watch.

11. Week 2 (Sept. 6): Pitt at Cincinnati
The season opener (yes, in Week 2) will be a huge conference test for Cincy right out of the gate. The Bearcats won 26-23 on the road in Pittsburgh last fall.

12. Week 13 (Nov. 23): USF at Cincinnati
Shootout in the New Sombrero ended in Bearcats favor last fall 37-34. Butch Jones has quite the home schedule, leaving the state only three times in the first 11 games.

13. Week 4 (Sept. 22): Rutgers at Arkansas
Not many people will give the Knights a chance at winning in Fayetteville, but a great defense is what you need to compete with Tyler Wilson. Crazier things have happened.

14. Week 10 (Nov. 3): Pitt at Notre Dame
A late-season road trip to South Bend will give Pitt a national TV chance at a signature non-conference win over a Top 25 team. This was a 15-12 ND win last fall.

15. Week 9 (Oct. 26): Cincinnati at Louisville
This will be only the second time all year that the Bearcats will leave the state of Ohio. Last year, Cincy won 25-16 in Nippert Stadium. 

The Best of the Rest:

16. Week 1 (Sept. 2): Kentucky at Louisville
17. Week 5 (Sept. 29): Louisville at Southern Miss
18. Week 3 (Sept. 15): Virginia Tech at Pitt
19. Week 4 (Sept. 22): Louisville at FIU
20. Week 5 (Sept. 29): Cincinnati vs Virginia Tech (Landover, Md.)

Athlon Sports Must-See TV for 2012:

ACC's Must-See Games of 2012

Big East's Must-See Games of 2012

Big 12's Must-See Games of 2012 (Coming Tues.)

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

2012 Athlon Sports Big East Predictions and Previews:

1. Louisville Cardinals: No. 23
2. South Florida Bulls: No. 34 
3. Pitt Panthers: No. 45
4. Rutgers Scarlet Knights: No. 46
5. Cincinnati Bearcats: No. 56
6. Syracue Orange: No. 67
7. UConn Huskies: No. 69
8. Temple Owls: No. 73

Teaser:
<p> College Football: Big East Must-See Games of 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, August 13, 2012 - 06:01
Path: /college-football/college-football-accs-must-see-games-2012
Body:

As the college football season draws near, Athlon Sports is making sure fans know exactly when and where to tune in this fall. Here are the ACC's top 40 must-see football games for the 2012 season:

1. Week 4 (Sept. 22): Clemson at Florida State
There are two games inside of the ACC that truly stand above the rest this fall, and since Clemson-Florida State figures to have more fireworks, it gets the nod as the most anticipated game of the year. The Tigers rolled-up 443 yards of offense in the 35-30 win over the Noles in Death Valley last year. Jimbo Fisher and company don't plan on allowing that type of offensive production this time around. Considering the rebuilt Clemson offensive line — and getting the game in Doak Campbell Stadium — FSU should be able to control the line of scrimmage this year. It will fall to Tajh Boyd, who dropped 344 yards and three scoring strikes on FSU last year, to make the key plays if Clemson wants to win. Of course, getting EJ Manuel back under center, who missed last year's game with an injury, helps the Seminoles' chances as well.

2. Week 1 (Sept. 3): Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
The best current ACC stat? The winner of this game has gone on to win the Coastal Division every year since the conference split into two divisions. So no pressure in Week 1 in primetime on Labor Day night, right? Logan Thomas did his best Cam Newton impersonation in last year's 37-26 Thursday night win in Atlanta, scoring five times in the victory. Bud Foster's defense did just enough to get the win and will have had all summer to prepare for the vaunted Paul Johnson triple option. This game will feature strength on strength as the Hokies should possess one of the nation's elite defenses while the Yellow Jackets return a deep and talented offensive line and backfield. The whole nation will be watching the game that should once again decide one half of the ACC championship equation.

3. Week 11 (Nov. 8): Florida State at Virginia Tech
Should the preseason predictions hold true, this will be a preview of this season's ACC championship game. Virginia Tech is the clear heavy favorite in the Coastal while Florida State gets its primary Atlantic Division test with Clemson at home. The last time these two met, the Hokies out-ran the Noles 44-33 in the 2010 ACC title game. In fact, after three decades of dominance from FSU in the series, Frank Beamer has won two of the last three meetings. These are easily the top two defenses in the league and points will be at a premium for a pair of mammoth quarterbacks — the 6-5, 240 pound Manuel and the 6-6, 260 pound Thomas. Expect heavy hitting and lots of ice packs.

4. Week 6 (Oct. 6): Florida State at NC State
The top sleeper team in the ACC is Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack. They are strong at the point of attack on both offense and defense and have excellent leadership from quarterback Mike Glennon. These two teams match-up extremely well and getting the game at home for NC State could spell upset for Florida State. Manuel will be pressed by one of the nation's top secondaries while the strong Florida State defensive line will force Glennon to be successful down the field. This was no contest last fall in Tallahassee 34-0, but the last time Fisher took his team to Raleigh, the Pack got the best of FSU 28-24. 

5. Week 12 (Nov. 17): NC State at Clemson
If the Pack is in fact the top sleeper team in this league, it will have to upset Clemson once again this season. After a 9-1 start, the No. 7-ranked Tigers went north to Raleigh and got embarrassed 37-13. Glennon was able to find success through the air throwing for 253 yards and three touchdowns in the win while the defense made Tajh Boyd look bad. He managed only 238 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. However, expect Clemson OC Chad Morris to point to the lack of a rushing attack last fall — 28 carries for 34 yards —as one of the biggest concerns. Getting the game at home gives Clemson the edge but should NC State defeat FSU in Week 6, this game could become an division championship contest.

6. Week 8 (Oct. 20): Virginia Tech at Clemson
These two played twice last fall and Logan Thomas will readily admit that he didn't get the job done in the two losses. The Clemson defense struggled all season long but somehow managed to stop the burly passer and the explosive Hokie ground game. The 23-3 regular season win was merely a precursor to Clemson's 38-10 dominance in the ACC title game. Thomas and the Hokie defense should be much improved in 2012, so fans can bank on this one being much tighter this time around. This, too, could be a championship game preview.

7. Week 13 (Nov. 24): South Carolina at Clemson
It may not be the most high-profile rivalry and it may not have national implications like many other rivalries, but it is hard to find a yearly battle that possesses as much vitriol as the Tigers-Gamecocks. From 1997 to 2008, Clemson owned the series, winning 10 of the 13 meetings. But the last three years have seen South Carolina stake a major claim to in-state supremacy. None of the games have been close as Carolina has outscored its rival 97-37. Both teams are focused on a conference title in their respective leagues, so the game means little to the actual standings, but don't tell that to the people in the Palmetto State. Or to two teams that could potentially be ranked in the Top 10 by the time they meet.

8. Week 13 (Nov. 24): Florida at Florida State
This rivalry certainly hasn't had the luster it once did back in the late '90s, but there is still plenty on the line when these two powerhouses get together in the regular-season finale. After the Gators won six straight in the series, the Noles have reclaimed Sunshine State supremacy in a big way the last two seasons with two dominating performances. The Gators have scored 14 total points in the last two games and scoring will once again be difficult. Both teams will win with defense this year and this game could feature upwards of half-a-dozen potential first-round NFL defenders. This will be a physical contest — one that Will Muschamp needs to be more competitive.

9. Week 1 (Sept. 1): Clemson vs. Auburn (Atlanta, Ga.)
The first Saturday night of the season in the Georgia Dome has turned into a yearly must-watch contest and these two Tigers won't disappoint. Clemson won the meeting 38-24 last fall while Auburn won the 27-24 thriller en route to its National Championship in 2012. Brian VanGorder should have the Auburn defense much improved, but if Aubie expects to upset Clemson, it will have to get quality quarterback play on offense. This will be a great barometer game for both programs right out of the gate.

10. Week 11 (Nov. 10): Georgia Tech at North Carolina
The Tar Heels cannot win the conference title or play in a bowl game, but Larry Fedora's first team in Chapel Hill should be very good. The offenses will be featured in this contest as both lines will pave the way for powerful rushing attacks. Tevin Washington and Bryn Renner, however, will likely control the outcome as whoever can complete key third-down passes should claim victory. A long Washington scoring strike late in the game last fall gave Tech the 35-28 win. This game will likely determine the top challenger to Virginia Tech in the Coastal — even if the Heels can't play in the title game.

11. Week 9 (Oct. 27): NC State at North Carolina
This in-state battle has been owned by the Wolfpack of late. They have won five straight in the contest and these two should both be excellent teams again in 2012. For NC State, who has eyes on the ACC title game, there could be more than Tar Heel State bragging rights on the line.

12. Week 6 (Oct. 6): Virginia Tech at North Carolina
The Tar Heels could be the top contender to the Hokies this fall and will have a great chance to pull the upset at home in the first week in October, but obviously won't be able to win the league. A very talented UNC rushing attack will go head-to-head with one of the best defenses in the nation.

13. Week 6 (Oct. 6): Georgia Tech at Clemson
The Jackets rushed for 383 yards in the 31-17 home win over the Tigers, giving Clemson their first loss of the year in extremely disappointing fashion. It gave Tech the fifth win in six years over Clemson. New defensive coordinator Brent Venables will have his hands full with the loaded Georgia Tech rushing attack.

14. Week 13 (Nov. 24): Georgia Tech at Georgia
Few games have a better name than the Peach State rivalry. And that both teams are rarely this evenly matched only adds to the game simply known as Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. These two have split the last four meetings and both could be playing for a 10th win by the time they meet in late November.

15. Week 1 (Aug. 31): NC State vs. Tennessee (Atlanta, Ga.)
This will be an excellent barometer game for both programs. If NC State wants to compete in the ACC, a win over Tennessee will send a shot across the bow of Florida State and Clemson. The Vols, and more specifically Derek Dooley, need to get 2012 started well, possibly more than any other SEC team. Two great QBs, Amerson vs. Hunter and the Georgia Dome? What more can you ask for?

16. Week 7 (Oct. 13): Florida State at Miami
It's been a long time since this game means as little as it will in 2012. Obviously, FSU has to win games like this if it expects to win the ACC and stay in the national title hunt. But there is still something exiting about the Tomahawk and "The U" getting together.

17. Week 13 (Nov. 24): Virginia at Virginia Tech
The Commonwealth battle was a dismantling last year when Tech rolled-up a 38-0 win over its in-state rival. Mike London has clearly reestablished the Cavaliers brand within Virginia's borders, much to Beamer's chagrin, but needs to take the next step on the field.

18. Week 3 (Sept. 15): Virginia at Georgia Tech
If London and the Cavs want to see their name mentioned alongside the Hokies for conference honors, it needs to continue winning this particular game — like it did last fall. The 24-21 win was one of the primary indicators that the new coaching staff is getting the job done in Charlottesville.

19. Week 10 (Nov. 1): Virginia Tech at Miami
Key road tests against well-coached teams always poses problems for conference title contenders. This game was much too close for Virginia Tech's liking last fall (38-35) and the Hokies will need to stay focused against the upstart youth of the Hurricanes.

20. Week 12 (Nov. 15): North Carolina at Virginia
The two Techs in the Coastal have won the division every year since the ACC split, so it falls to one of these two to knock them off. No, the Heels can't play for the ACC title but claiming the top record is the next best thing. Everyone knows who won the Pac-12 South last year.

21. Week 5 (Sept. 29): NC State at Miami
See Virginia Tech at Miami game above. Miami will spoil at least one season in 2012 due to Al Golden's coaching.

22. Week 10 (Nov. 3): Virginia at NC State
Two well-coached teams will battle in Raleigh in Week 10. This would be a signature win for the Cavs.

23. Week 7 (Oct. 13): North Carolina at Miami
See Virginia Tech-Miami and NC State-Miami road trips above.

24. Week 6 (Oct. 6): Miami vs. Notre Dame (Chicago, Ill.)
Two huge name brands playing in the nation's second city warrants a mention.

25. Week 5 (Sept. 29): Florida State at USF
The last time these in-staters faced each other, the Bulls claimed a huge moral, recruiting and actual victory over Big Brother.

The Best of the Rest:

26. Week 3 (Sept. 15): North Carolina at Louisville
27. Week 9 (Oct. 25): Clemson at Wake Forest
28. Week 4 (Sept. 22): Miami at Georgia Tech
29. Week 3 (Sept. 15): Wake Forest at Florida State
30. Week 4 (Sept. 22): Virginia at TCU
31. Week 11 (Nov. 10): Miami at Virginia
32. Week 9 (Oct. 27): BYU at Georgia Tech
33. Week 12 (Nov. 17): USF at Miami
34. Week 2 (Sept. 8): Miami at Kansas State
35. Week 12 (Nov. 17): Wake Forest at Notre Dame
36. Week 2 (Sept. 8): Penn State at Virginia
37. Week 11 (Nov. 10): Wake Forest at NC State
38. Week 8 (Oct. 20): Wake Forest at Virginia
39. Week 3 (Sept. 15): Virginia Tech at Pitt
40. Week 3 (Sept. 15): UConn at Maryland

Athlon Sports Must-See TV for 2012:

ACC's Must-See Games of 2012

Big East's Must-See Games of 2012

Big 12's Must-See Games of 2012 (Coming Tues.)

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports ACC Predictions and Team Previews:

Atlantic:

1. Virginia Tech Hokies: No. 16
2. North Carolina Tar Heels: No. 29
3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: No. 35
4. Virginia Cavaliers: No. 36
5. Miami Hurricanes: No. 48
6. Duke Blue Devils: No. 80

Coastal:

1. Florida State Seminoles: No. 9
2. Clemson Tigers: No. 15
3. NC State Wolfpack: No. 28
4. Wake Forest Wake Forest: No. 57
5. Maryland Terrapins: No. 72
6. Boston College Eagles: No. 86

Teaser:
<p> College Football: ACC's Must-See Games of 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, August 13, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /golf/rory-mcilroy-wins-pga-championship
Body:

Call it the Snore by the Shore. Twenty-one years after the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island brought the world's greatest players to their knees at the 1991 Ryder Cup in the famed "War by the Shore," Rory McIlroy turned the tables on Pete Dye's seaside creation, subduing the Ocean Course and an elite field in winning his second major championship in two years. In posting 13-under and winning by eight strokes, McIlroy reprised his eight-shot win at the 2011 U.S. Open, becoming the first player in golf history to earn his first two major wins in such dominant fashion.

Glory's Last Shot was Rory's personal showcase, as he destroyed the recent trend of late collapses with a textbook display of major championship golf — fairways, greens and made putts, with a few successful scrambles thrown in.

There would be no Adam Scott-style meltdown, no Jim Furyk-esque collapse. No, the only guys doing the collapsing were the guys chasing Rory. Tiger Woods, after entering another weekend tied for the lead in a major, faded to a 74-72 finish and played the year's four majors without an under-par weekend round in any of them. After turning back the clock on Thursday and Friday, Vijay Singh realized he was 49 and eight years removed from his last major, ballooning to a 74-77 weekend.

In the process of reclaiming the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Ranking, McIlroy added these distinctions to his ever-expanding resume:

• At 23 years, three months, McIlroy is the youngest player to win the PGA Championship.

• He's the second-youngest to win two majors. Jack Nicklaus was one month younger, when he won his second; Tiger  was four months older.

• His eight-shot margin broke Nicklaus' record of seven set in 1980.

When you're erasing Jack Nicklaus from the record books at age 23, the future is looking pretty bright.

Divots

• Ian Poulter mounted the only real charge of the day, posting birdies on his first five holes. The onslaught didn't last, though, as the Ocean Course bit back on the inward 9 and Poulter limped in with bogeys on four of his last six holes. Poulter, one of the more savvy users of social media, immediately took to Twitter after his round to say: "Sorry guys I gave it my all but the tank was empty at the end. What a dream start I just couldn't hang on. congrats impressive."

• Perhaps Team USA used up all the positive American energy over in London. Keegan Bradley came in as low American in an otherwise dismal showing by U.S. players. The defending champion, Bradley finished tied for third at 4-under following a final-round 68.

• Carl Pettersson proved once again that golf's rules, while cherished and reverently observed by players, can be stupid and severe. Carl committed the apparently unforgivable sin of moving a leaf during a backswing on the first hole of his final round, costing himself two strokes. Fortunately for the integrity of the Wanamaker Trophy, Pettersson didn't finish two shots behind.

• A drama-free PGA was also dull in terms of U.S. Ryder Cup points movement, but a poor showing by the U.S. contingent had to sound the alarm on the American side. Only eight of the top 20 finishers were of American vintage. After dotting the leaderboards at the season's first three majors, the Americans are likely the underdogs once again as the Ryder Cup approaches.

• Next, Rory turns his attention to the U.S. Open — the tennis kind. Girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki will attempt to reclaim her share of the glory in sports' power couple of the moment.

Teaser:
<p> Rory's The Story at The Ocean Course</p>
Post date: Sunday, August 12, 2012 - 19:06
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Virginia Tech Hokies, News
Path: /news/virginia-tech-football-unveils-new-hokie-whiteout-helmet
Body:

New helmets and jerseys seem to be popping up every day during college football's offseason. Northwestern, Mississippi State, Nebraska and Wisconsin are just some of the teams that have unveiled new threads for 2012. 

And even if teams don't change their whole combination, there's always the one-game special. That's the case with Virginia Tech, as the Hokies unveiled a special whiteout helmet that will be worn on Sept. 8 against Austin Peay.

This is definitely an interesting look and a different one than we have seen Virginia Tech sport in recent years. 

Teaser:
<p> Virginia Tech Unveils New Hokie Whiteout Helmet</p>
Post date: Saturday, August 11, 2012 - 10:58
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/brazil-vs-mexico-gold-medal-match-ten-things-you-need-know
Body:

1. The match is Saturday at 10 a.m. EST at Wembley Stadium

There will be no need for NBC to tape delay the Gold Medal Match. Brazil and Mexico kick off on a Saturday at a reasonable hour stateside. “The Venue of Legends” hosts one of the more anticipated events of the London Olympics. Wembley Stadium is the second largest stadium in Europe, with a 90,000 seating capacity.


2. These are Under-23 National Teams with three age exemptions

The Olympic rosters of Brazil and Mexico are not the same as their World Cup lineups. The Olympics are a U-23 tournament. Brazil’s age exceptions are defender-captain Thiago Silva (age 27), left-footed left back Marcelo (24) and superhero striker Hulk (26). Mexico’s age exceptions are goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona (31), defensive midfielder Carlos Salcido (32) and forward Oribe Peralta (28).


3. Neither Brazil nor Mexico has won Olympic gold in soccer

Brazil has won five World Cup titles (2002, 1994, 1970, 1962, 1958) but Selecao has failed to place any better than silver at the Olympics — losing 2–1 to the Soviet Union in 1988 and 2–0 to France in 1984. Brazil also took home bronze in 2008 and 1996; and lost the bronze to the Soviet in 1976. This is Mexico’s first Olympic medal match ever.


4. Brazil’s Neymar is the most exciting footballer at the London Olympics

The 20-year-old samba sensation is a rock star in shin guards. He may not be better than Lionel Messi, as Pele has suggested. But he is certainly the most exciting footballer in the London Olympics. Blessed with remarkable speed, deft touch and incredible creativity, Neymar has already had more than his fair share of highlights — including a give-and-go header goal and behind-the-back assist. And he might just save his best for last.

5. Mexico defeated Brazil, 2–0, at Cowboys Stadium in June

Jerry Jones’ Palace in Dallas, Cowboys Stadium (in Arlington), witnessed a preview of the Gold Medal Match on June 4. Mexico won, 2–0, in front of a partisan crowd — with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos scoring. In fairness, neither will be suited up against Brazil on Saturday. But Mexico does enter the match with the confidence of having taken down Brazil recently.


6. Mexico’s Giovani dos Santos will miss the match with injury

Mexico’s leading scorer and arguably its best player, dos Santos will be forced to sit out the Gold Medal Match due to a serious right hamstring injury. Dos Santos is the son of former Brazilian footballer Zizinho. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder would have provided yet another interesting storyline as well as a valuable offensive spark for Mexico.


7. Brazil’s Leandro Damiao leads the race for the Golden Boot

The Golden Boot is awarded to the player with the most goals at the end of the tournament. The striker — who wears the No. 9 of Ronaldo, the leading goal scorer in World Cup history — has six goals in only four matches. He is being chased by teammate Neymar (3 goals) and the Mexican duo of Giovani dos Santos (3) and Oribe Peralta (2).


8. Brazil and Mexico are the Olympics’ highest scoring teams

Brazil and Mexico are the only teams who have scored double-digit goals in the Olympics. Brazil leads the way with 15 goals for, while Mexico has put 10 balls in the back of the net. Not surprisingly, they are also the leading shot-takers of the Games of the XXX Olympiad — Brazil with 82 shots on goal, Mexico with 78. Both teams are also 1-for-1 on penalty kicks.


9. Mexico’s Jose de Jesus Corona has allowed only three goals

Corona has been the top goalkeeper in the Olympics, allowing just three goals in five matches. Only Spain’s David de Gea allowed fewer — but his two goals against came in only three matches for La Roja, who failed to score a goal of their own. A strong Mexico defensive front features Israel Jimenez, Diego Reyes, Nestor Araujo and Darvin Chavez; but Corona is minding the net brilliantly right now.


10. Brazil’s goaltending is suspect; its defense is strong

Original keeper Rafael was scheduled to start for Brazil before a right elbow injury knocked him out of the Olympics. Neto stepped up as the new starter but was replaced by 19-year-old Gabriel in net. Both have looked shaky between the posts. Luckily, whoever starts will have capable defenders Thiago Silva, Juan Jesus, Rafael da Silva and Marcelo patrolling, and the offense controlling possession. Still, if Brazil loses to Mexico, it likely will be due to lackluster goaltending.


Gold Medal Match Prediction:

Brazil 3, Mexico 2
 

Teaser:
<p> What to watch for when Brazil and Mexico go for gold (and goal) at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 14:08
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/lsu-dismisses-heisman-finalist-tyrann-mathieu
Body:

LSU dismissed Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu on Friday for a violation of team policy. 

Mathieu was the highest-profile playmaker for the SEC champions and preseason No. 2 team. During LSU’s run to the national championship game, the sophomore Mathieu forced six fumbles, returned two for touchdowns, intercepted two passes and returned two punts for touchdowns.
 
Although Mathieu became the face of LSU’s 13-1 team last season, he was not without his troubles. Mathieu was suspended for a violation of team rules, reportedly for a failed drug test, for the Oct. 22 win over Auburn.
 
Mathieu, whose rise from an unheralded recruit to the player nicknamed the “Honey Badger” was one of the signature stories for the 2011 season, has two years of eligibility remaining.
 
Without Mathieu, LSU will have to recover in both the secondary and special teams. The LSU defense already lost its top cover corner, Maurice Claiborne, to the first round of the NFL draft.
 
Safety Eric Reid is now the only returning starter in the secondary, but the Tigers are not hurting for talent in the defensive backfield. Tharold Simon was considered LSU’s top lockdown corner even with Mathieu on the roster. Replacing Mathieu on defense could be Jalen Collins, a 6-1, 184-pound redshirt freshman from Olive Branch Mississippi.
 
Odell Beckham Jr., forecast to be LSU’s top receiver, steps into Mathieu’s role in the return game.
 
Mathieu's dismissal could impact the national championship and SEC title race, but maybe not for the reasons you'd think.
 
Reasons LSU should panic.
Mathieu was LSU’s best defensive playmaker.

Starting with the 2010 bowl win over Texas A&M, Mathieu went on a remarkable seven-game stretch into 2011 in which he forced six fumbles, recovered four fumbles (returning two for touchdowns) and intercepted two passes. This was against teams like Oregon, West Virginia, Florida and Mississippi State. On a team with offensive deficiencies, his ball hawking and game-changing ability was invaluable.

Mathieu was a special teams demon.
His 62-yard punt return for a touchdown with 5:48 left in the first half against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game put LSU on the scoreboard and overshadowed a first half of inept offense. His 92-yard highlight reel touchdown against Arkansas a week earlier also made up for a slow start for the LSU offense, tying the game at 14 late in the first half and opening the floodgates to a 41-17 win. His 15.6 yards per punt return ranked fourth nationally.

LSU has two games to prep its pass defense.
The Tigers won’t face Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson until the last week of the regular season and won’t see Georgia’s Aaron Murray unless it's a rematch in Atlanta. That said, LSU will see an elite quarterback in the second week of the season. Washington’s Keith Price passed for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns last season and was second only to Andrew Luck in the Pac-12 last season in pass efficiency.

Reasons LSU shouldn’t panic.
Mathieu wasn’t the most indispensable player on the defense.

According to Athlon’s own estimations, Mathieu was the 19th-ranked player in the SEC, the seventh-ranked player for LSU and the fifth-ranked player on the LSU defense. Mathiue’s playmaking aside, safety Eric Reid and corner Tharold Simon could make cases to be more sound defensive backs. Mathieu was a Heisman finalist largely on his performance in LSU’s biggest games. In a five-game stretch from Oct. 15-Nov. 19, Mathieu was more or less a non-factor. He contributed no turnovers during that span, which included his suspension against Auburn.

Teams gambled with Mathieu ... and won.
Alabama’s A.J. McCarron challenged Mathieu’s side of the field in the BCS championship game with great success. McCarron passed for 234 yards against the Tigers to lead Alabama to a national title in the rematch. If there was a blueprint to beat the LSU defense, McCarron and Alabama may have exposed it.

With Zach Mettenberger, the margin for error might be smaller.
The spotlight was on Mathieu’s game-changing ability last season because LSU needed it so desperately with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee at quarterback. Zach Mettenberger could stabilize the LSU offense, which already has a standout offensive line and and impressive group of running backs. In short, LSU may not have many games like it did against Georgia, in which Mathieu’s punt return for a touchdown bailed out a first-down free first half.
 
-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> <span>LSU dismissed Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu on Friday for a violation of team policy.&nbsp;</span></p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 14:00
Path: /college-football/athlon%E2%80%99s-essential-eleven-links-day-11
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for August 10.

• The Lakers acquisition of big man Dwight Howard has some people thinking that Los Angeles is now the NBA’s team to beat.

• There was huge news in the SEC and college football earlier today with the announcement that LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, a Heisman finalist last season, has been dismissed from the team for violating school and team rules.

• To the surprise of no one, Kentucky’s John Calipari topped CBSSports.com's college basketball coaches’ survey as the sport’s biggest cheater. CBS also got some feedback on Cal’s influential “friend”, World Wide Wes.

• Mike Klis of the Denver Post looks at Peyton Manning’s return to the field in his Broncos debut.

• Today is a tough day for Orlando Magic fans, with another All-Star big man leaving them for Los Angeles.

• Tigers manager Jim Leyland believes that his top slugger, Miguel Cabrera, deserves the American League MVP over rookie Mike Trout of the Angels.

• New UCLA coach Jim Mora unfortunately pulled a “Lane Kiffin” with some recent comments, and then he tried to back off.

• Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt has no respect for Carl Lewis.

• The Chargers realized every team’s preseason fear last night, losing starting running back Ryan Mathews for four to six weeks to a broken clavicle.

• It looks like the Seattle Seahawks violated NFL rules by practicing Terrell Owens on the first day.

• Check out Amare Stoudemire training in Houston with Hakeem Olajuwon. Amare breaks out the old school short-shorts and even gets in a dig at Jeremy Lin at the end.

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


August 9

• Titans running back Chris Johnson believes he could beat Usain Bolt in the 40-yard dash, and maybe even in the 100 meters if he trained for it. Tennessee fans just hope Johnson can get back to totaling 100 meters in football games.

• ESPN’s Joe Schad sits down with a remorseful Bobby Petrino.

• If you’re going to accidentally dial 911, it probably should not be during a drug deal like this Scranton man. Ryan?

• Can Tiger Woods still reach 19 majors?

• Controversial Titans receiver Kenny Britt seems intent on reviving the old Chappelle Show skit, “When Keepin’ It Real Goes Wrong.”

• The NBA and other factions have expressed a desire for an age limit with Olympic basketball, but SI.com’s Ian Thomsen says that will not happen by 2016.

• They did it. For the third straight Olympics, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings won the gold medal in beach volleyball.

• Some ex-Penn State players are not enamored with the decision to add names to the backs of the Nittany Lions uniforms.

• Oregon coaches say there is no urgency to name a starting quarterback.

• New Giants infielder Marco Scutaro had an amazing night in a historic rout of the Cardinals.

• There has been no official word on Grenade Fishing becoming an Olympic sport in 2016. We can only hope.

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


August 8

• NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Cam Newton says he’d like to have a girlfriend, but not one who is just after fame and money. 99 problems...

• ESPN Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett writes that Illinois will play the Washington Huskies at Soldier Field in 2013, and that the Illini and Northwestern are competing heavily for supremacy in Chicago.

• Ah yes, older parents and technology.

• Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal calls out the critics of Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones.

• CBS’ Bruce Feldman ranks college football’s ten most valuable non-quarterbacks.

• Check out some wonderful photos from the Olympics.

• SI.com’s Chris Mannix examines the state of USA amateur boxing, after the American team failed to win a medal in the Olympics for the first time ever.

• Mandatory.com looks at some of the wildest stunts ever performed.

• Browns’ top pick Trent Richardson has a sore knee and may not play against the Lions in the preseason opener.

• West Virginia has signed head coach Dana Holgorsen to a contract extension through 2017.

• The New York Yankees are 3-7 on their last 10 games. And if things weren’t tough enough, look what happened last night to relief pitcher Cody Eppley via third baseman Eric Chavez.

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


August 7

• Ex-Jets quarterback and current broadcaster Boomer Esiason believes that New York should cut Tim Tebow because his presence is not benefiting the team.

• SI.com’s Andy Staples chronicles how television has changed college football.

• Check out Ricky Gervais jumping in the car with Jerry Seinfeld on their way to grab coffee, and the two comedians commenting on various aspects of life.

• Joe Posnanski looks at the mystery that is Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt.

• He’s back. Controversial wide receiver Terrell Owens has signed with the Seattle Seahawks after not playing in the NFL last season. Is there anything left in the tank at age 38?

• The Wisconsin Badgers will wear an alternate uniform for the Nebraska game, as will the Cornhuskers. Both schools have adidas-designed uniforms, and this game will feature the block “W” versus the block “N.”

• USA basketball easily took care of Argentina, 126-97, but Carmelo Anthony was not celebrating after receiving a cheap shot.

• It appears that Dodge will pull out of NASCAR after the 2012 season.

• Angels ace Jered Weaver is an amazing 15-1 after only 20 starts.

• So how did you stack up in the Google Olympics today?

Dodgers legendary broadcaster Vin Scully is hysterical as he does play-by-play of Rockies manager Jim Tracy getting kicked out of the game. The fun starts a little over a minute into the video; that is “blinkin’ fertilizer.”

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


August 6

• A huge story is brewing in the NFL, with ESPN reporting that the league has offered to lessen the suspension of Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma if he drops a civil lawsuit against commissioner Roger Goodell. The NFL denies the report, but this controversy is going to get very interesting.

• Check out this great interactive presentation by the New York Times on Usain Bolt’s speed versus other sprinters throughout Olympic history.

• If you missed it last Friday night in London, the combination of the Olympic rings and the moon made for a wonderful visual.

• Dave Miller of the National Football Post looks at some of college football’s best coordinators.

• How cool is it that the Upton brothers — B.J. of the Rays and Justin of the Diamondbacks — both hit career home run No. 100 on the same night?

• ESPN/ABC has released its lineup of college football announcing crews for the upcoming season.

• He may not medal in the 400-meter run, but double leg amputee Oscar Pistorius of South Africa has inspired everyone at the Olympics.

• The Cincinnati Reds have the best record in baseball and a 4.5-game lead in the NL Central, and their next 18 games are against opponents who currently have a losing record.

• Want a Patriots Super Bowl ring? Here you go.

• The extra wild card spot for the MLB postseason will add some suspense to September.

• Obviously bored in the fourth quarter of last night's Hall of Fame game, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock decides to sing Play that Funky Music for America. His “performance” starts about 30 seconds in to our Video of the Day.

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 

Teaser:
<p> The best sports links from the NFL, college football and basketball, MLB, the NBA, NASCAR and the world of entertainment.</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 12:29
All taxonomy terms: Ryan Mathews, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/chargers-ryan-mathews-breaks-collarbone-out-4-6-weeks
Body:

San Diego running back Ryan Mathews broke his collarbone on his first carry in Thursday night’s preseason game against Green Bay and is expected to be out between 4-6 weeks. With that diagnosis, the hope is that Mathews will be able to play at the latest by Week 3.

Mathews, who rushed for 1,091 yards with six touchdowns in 2011, appeared to be poised for an even bigger year in 2012 with the Chargers losing backup running back Mike Tolbert to the Carolina Panthers in free agency. Now, the coaching staff’s attention will turn to who will get the carries in Mathews’ absence, while fantasy owners figure out what to do regarding his draft status.

Fantasy-wise, all signs were pointing to a breakout year for the third-year pro, especially with Tolbert no longer around to vulture touchdowns. Tolbert scored 19 touchdowns combined the last two seasons, while Mathews had a total of 13 during that same span.

For all intents and purposes, it appeared that Mathews was going to become the league’s next workhorse back, a rarity these days, which had his fantasy value at an all-time high. Preseason fantasy rankings have Mathews as high as sixth among running backs and certainly among the top 10 overall.

This latest injury, however, also highlights one of the biggest criticisms when it comes to Mathews – durability. Mathews has missed time in each of his first two seasons, two games last year and four in 2001, because of different injuries. While this latest, a broken collarbone, doesn’t necessarily cement a “brittle” reputation for him, the fact that he’s looking at missing the first two weeks of the season, if not longer, certainly needs to be addressed when it comes to his draft value.

That said, I for one, am taking the optimistic approach with Mathews thinking that he will be out no more than the reported 4-6 weeks, meaning you will hopefully get more than enough games out of him (depending on the set up of your league’s playoffs) to maintain his current draft value.

For my money there are four clear-cut top-tier options when it comes to running backs this season – Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and Chris Johnson. These four are secured as the starters on their teams and are virtually guaranteed of touching the ball, provided they stay healthy, no less than 300 times this season.

After that there’s no shortage of appealing options certainly, but there’s no shortage of questions associated with each option. For example, Maurice Jones-Drew has yet to report to Jaguars’ training camp because he’s holding out for a new contract. Will this holdout carry over into the regular season? No one knows right now, but depending on when your league holds its draft, isn’t this enough reason to give you pause on calling his name out?

Matt Forte got his new contract, so he’ll be toting the rock for the Bears starting in Week 1. However, remember he missed the final four games of last season with an MCL sprain and the Bears signed Michael Bush in the offseason. Considering Bush rushed for 977 yards with the Raiders last season, you can’t help but wonder if Forte’s workload will be decreased this season as the Bears look to protect their latest long-term investment.

Speaking of injuries, what about Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles? Two dynamic, explosive running backs for sure, but they also are both coming back from severe keen injuries that ended their 2011 campaigns at different times. Charles got hurt in Week 1 of last season, while Peterson went down in Week 16. The difference in recovery time alone for the two would lead you to believe that Charles is the “safer” option, but the reports on Peterson’s recovery have been so positive. Which one do you take and when?

And we haven’t even gotten to Darren McFadden (injury risk), Marshawn Lynch (facing potential suspension due to legal troubles), DeMarco Murray (injury risk) or Trent Richardson, who just went under the knife to remove loose particles from a knee that has already been surgically repaired.

The point is this – once you get past the first four running backs, there are really no sure things. While Jones-Drew, Forte and, to a degree, Lynch, appear to be among the safest of the next best available options, I still think you can include Mathews in there as well.

For one, while Mathews did break a bone, he didn’t shred his knee like Charles or Peterson did. As long as the bone heals properly, which is why the initial prognosis is he will be out 4-6 weeks, it shouldn’t take him that long to get back into the flow of things with San Diego’s offense.

Also, even though all three have already had their share of injuries in their NFL careers, I would rather take my chances with Mathews than McFadden or Murray. McFadden has played no more than 13 games in any of his first four seasons, including just seven last year. Murray’s injury history goes back to his college days at Oklahoma and he is coming off a broken ankle he suffered last December. Mathews’ latest injury doesn’t affect his ankle or legs, while both McFadden and Murray have histories with such.

And far as Richardson goes, while I’m not expecting the knee surgery to keep him out an extended period of time it does cut into the rookie’s preparation time as he gets ready for his first NFL season. Combine that with the reports that this knee issue could “linger” as the season progresses, the questions I have related to Cleveland’s offensive line and the fact that rookie Brandon Weeden will be starting at quarterback, that’s enough reasons for me to think twice before drafting Richardson early, especially in a redraft league.

Provided Mathews is back in the lineup by Week 3, he still should be I line for a very productive season. The clear-cut No. 1 back, Mathews is also a viable weapon catching passes out of the backfield as he had 50 receptions for 455 yards last season. Even though he had a down year in 2011, Philip Rivers is still one of the top quarterbacks in the league, which increases Mathews’ value and potential to have a big season as the Chargers’ passing game should help open up rushing lanes but also present big-play opportunities for him.

Before he got hurt, I viewed Mathews as a solid top-10 fantasy running back option this season. My view hasn’t changed, even if it means Mathews won’t play until Week 3. I would put him clearly behind Foster, Rice, McCoy, Johnson, Forte and probably still Jones-Drew, but after that he’s definitely among the next-best available options and right now the only one I would consider taking ahead of him would possibly be Lynch.

Now as far as the San Diego backfield options go without Mathews, this screams running back-by-committee so I wouldn’t go looking for any sleepers here. The Chargers don’t lack for options as Jackie Battle, Curtis Brinkley and Ronnie Brown are all on the roster.

Last season, Brinkley was third on the Chargers in carries with 30, putting him considerably behind Mathews (222) and the now-departed Tolbert (121). Brinkley finished the season with 101 yards rushing (3.4 ypc) and a touchdown.

After losing Tolbert in free agency, the Chargers signed veterans Brown and Battle. Brown is a 1,000-yard rusher, but that came back in 2006 as injuries have taken their toll on the former Auburn Tiger who has taken with the second overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Last season with the Eagles, the now 30-year-old Brown rushed for only 136 yards on 42 carries (3.2 ypc) as the primary backup to McCoy.

For the second straight season, Battle could get an opportunity to establish himself because of an injury to the incumbent starter. Last season, Battle got four starts in Kansas City after Charles went down with season-ending ACL injury in Week 1. Although Battle’s opportunities decreased as the season went along, the sixth-year pro out of Houston finished 2011 with a career-high 597 yards on 149 carries (4.0 ypc) and two touchdowns.

It’s entirely possible that one of these could do enough in training camp and preseason action to lay claim to the starting position. Even if that happens, however, I don’t see enough reason to seriously invest in any of them, except in deeper leagues. Brown is nowhere near the dynamic player he once was and I just don’t think his body can sustain a heavy workload. Battle is one-dimensional, which really doesn’t fit how the Chargers were planning on using Mathews. The opportunity is there for Brinkley, but there’s no history of production to really cling to.

There’s also Le’Ron McClain, the All-Pro fullback the Chargers signed as a free agent in the offseason. Brought in to help clear the way for Mathews, McClain now may get a few more chances to carry the ball instead. That alone should tell you all you need to know about the Chargers’ backfield without Mathews – stay away.

In fact, the biggest beneficiary of Mathews’ absence could be Rivers and wide receivers Vincent Brown, Malcom Floyd and Robert Meachem and tight end Antonio Gates. Chances are without Mathews, the Chargers may be inclined to throw the ball even more than they usually do.

— By Mark Ross, published on August 10, 2012

Teaser:
<p> <font>Chargers' Ryan Mathews Breaks Collarbone, Out 4-6 Weeks</font></p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 12:19
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympic-photo-day-rhythmic-gymnastics
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Germany's Jana Berezko-Marggrander with the ball during the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around competition.

Teaser:
<p> Germany's Jana Berezko-Marggrander with the ball during the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around competition.</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 11:07
All taxonomy terms: LeBron James, Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-aug-10
Body:

Here's the Fab Five for Aug. 10, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:

1. Women's 4x100m Finals
Allyson Felix and Carmelita Jeter will try to lead the U.S. to the medal stand and past those pesky, dominant sprinters from Jamaica. The U.S. women posted the second-fastest time in history in the semis, so they have to be considered a slight favorite in what will be a start-studded event.

2. Men's 4x400m Finals
I don't know about you, but the guy I'm rooting for won't even be running today. American Manteo Mitchell helped the U.S. team make it through the preliminaries despite suffering a broke fibula midway through his leg of the race. After letting out an audible scream, Mitchell gutted out a respectable 46.1 lap as the Americans tied for first in the heat. Mitchell will be watching the finals but will still get whatever medal his teammates earn. The team from the Bahamas looks like a medal threat as well.

3. Basketball Semifinals: Team USA vs. Argentina
Things are getting real for Team USA as they face a talented, determined Argentine team in the semifinals. There's lingering bitterness over Argentina's win against the Americans in the semifinals in Athens in 2004, and the Argentines ramped up the intensity with some dirty play in the two teams' previous encounter in these Games, won by the U.S. 126-97.

4. BMX Cycling
The men's and women's finals in this thrilling niche sport are both on Friday. Dutch rider Raymon van der Biezen has become the story of this event, battling a series of injuries to lead his team into gold medal contention.

5. Men's 10m Platform Diving
The remarkable elegance of the Chinese divers will again be on display as China's Qui Bo is one of the favorites for gold. Britain's Tom Daley and American David Boudia are also medal contenders, as is defending gold medalist Matthew Mitcham of Australia.

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.
 

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

Teaser:
<p> LeBron James and Team USA take on Argentina in the men's basketball semifinals, plus women's 4x100 relay, men's 4x400 relay, BMX cycling and platform diving at the London Olympics.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 10:59
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/pga-championship-photo-day
Body:

Note to the players at this year's PGA Championship at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course: If your ball veers toward the water, it's best just to let it go.

Teaser:
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Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, San Diego Chargers, NFL
Path: /nfl/san-diego-chargers-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 San Diego Chargers check in at No. 16.

In a move unpopular with many fans, team president Dean Spanos decided to keep coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith after the Chargers finished 8–8 and out of the playoffs for the second straight year. Now it’s time for Turner and Smith to fire up the Chargers — or get fired.

Smith was more active than usual in free agency. Forced to replace star wide receiver Vincent Jackson, he signed Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal in a flurry of deals that should bolster the offense. Smith then used the draft to improve a defense that was the worst in the NFL on third down. With the first three picks, he took outside linebacker Melvin Ingram of South Carolina, defensive end Kendall Reyes of Connecticut and safety Brandon Taylor of LSU. 

The Chargers no longer have the luxury of playing in one of the weakest divisions in football. Oakland continues to improve. The Chiefs regain the services of standout tailback Jamaal Charles. And the Broncos, the defending division champs, now have Peyton Manning running the show.

Offense

No one will be as eager to bounce back as Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers, who has to hope that his mysterious struggles are behind him. Rivers committed a stunning number of turnovers, including the memorable fumbled snap at Kansas City. Rivers finished with 20 interceptions and five lost fumbles. Many fans wondered if he was hurt after taking a few hard shots to the chest early in the season. But his name never appeared on the injury report, and he insisted he was healthy.

The offensive line took a hit when four-time Pro Bowler Kris Dielman, a fixture at left guard, was forced to retire after a concussion. Dielman was as tough and nasty as they come, leaving the Chargers to replace an attitude as well as a player. Tyronne Green will give it a shot. The Chargers re-signed center Nick Hardwick and left tackle Jared Gaither. Gaither helped stabilize the left side of the line during the final five games of the 2011 season after being signed off waivers following a neck injury to Marcus McNeill, a 2006 second-round pick who was released in the offseason. Hardwick has been a starter since his rookie season of 2004. He made it known that he wanted to remain in San Diego and did not test the free agency market.

The team allowed Jackson to leave for Tampa Bay even though he caught 60 passes for a team-high 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns. San Diego felt it would be unable to address other needs if it they gave Jackson a deal in the range of the $55 million he signed with the Bucs. Meachem will start opposite injury-prone Malcom Floyd, while Royal — who often burned the Chargers during his time with Denver — will battle exciting second-year pro Vincent Brown for the No. 3 receiving spot.

Running back Ryan Mathews had a solid second NFL season, showing a nice burst en route to 1,091 yards and a spot in the Pro Bowl. Mathews will have a new escort this season, as Le’Ron McClain has replaced Mike Tolbert at fullback.

Tight end Antonio Gates returned to health after missing time early in the season with painful plantar fasciitis. He continues to draw double-teams and led the Chargers with 64 catches for 778 yards and seven scores.
If the Chargers can stay relatively healthy and avoid the turnover issues that plagued them last season, the offense has the ability to be among the best in the league. 

Related: Top San Diego Chargers Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

A glaring lack of impact players on defense hurt the Chargers to the point that they led the NFL by allowing opponents to convert 49.2 percent on third downs. The scapegoat was defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who was fired shortly after the 2011 season. He was replaced by linebackers coach John Pagano, brother of new Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano. John Pagano was beaming during the draft as the front office selected Ingram, Reyes and Taylor with the first three picks, giving him a player on each level of the defense. All three rookies are expected to provide an immediate impact, particularly in third down packages.

Reyes will be an upgrade in the defensive line rotation. Ingram will be inserted into the rotation at outside linebacker, joining Shaun Phillips, Antwan Barnes, and the newly acquired Jarret Johnson. A starter for the Ravens for the past five years, Johnson is strong against the run. Barnes had 11 sacks last season, while Phillips, who missed four games at midseason, had only 3.5. Larry English hasn’t lived up to his billing as a first-round pick out of Northern Illinois in 2009, largely because of foot injuries. He has only seven sacks in three NFL seasons.

Taylor will compete with Atari Bigby for the starting job at strong safety. The Chargers hope Taylor can give them the kind of hard-hitting play they haven’t had at strong safety since Rodney Harrison left for New England 10 years ago.

Free safety Eric Weddle was one of the bright spots on a disappointing defense. The veteran from Utah was named first-team All-Pro after recording 66 tackles and tying for the NFL lead with seven interceptions. He’s also developed into a leader in the locker room.  

Specialists

Nate Kaeding, the most accurate kicker in NFL history coming into the 2011 season, broke his leg on the season’s opening kickoff — which was returned for a touchdown by Minnesota’s Percy Harvin — and missed the rest of the year. Nick Novak stepped in and converted 27-of-34 attempts, but Kaeding is expected to get his job back. Mike Scifres continues to boom punts; he ranked sixth in the NFL with a 47.5-yard average. Royal will step in and take over punt returning duties. Richard Goodman, a reserve wide receiver, is in the mix to be the primary kickoff return specialist. 

Final Analysis: 2nd in the AFC West

Interestingly enough, the Chargers had their best start under Turner last season — they were 4–1 after five games — yet still missed the playoffs for the second straight year. They were undone by a six-game losing streak in the middle of the season. They did, however, close with a 4–1 run, which gives them some confidence heading into 2012.

Spanos has made it clear that Turner and Smith have to win in order to save their jobs. He didn’t specifically mention a deep playoff run, but it was implied.

The offense, a team strength for so many years, must become more efficient after a down year. That starts with Rivers at quarterback, but the new additions to the receiving corps will be under the microscope as well. The team addressed some glaring needs on defense in the draft. If the rookies make an immediate impact and Pagano, the new defensive coordinator, can solve the third down woes, the Chargers should be in the hunt for the AFC West title. 

Related: 2012 San Diego Chargers Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Remembering Junior
The Chargers were among the hardest hit emotionally when former linebacker Junior Seau died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in May. “We all lost a friend today,” team president Dean Spanos said. “This is just such a tragic loss. One of the worst things I could ever imagine.” The Chargers held a celebration of life service on May 11 at Qualcomm Stadium, where Seau starred for his first 13 NFL seasons.

Look Who’s Coming to Town
The Chargers will see several high-profile former teammates and coaches thanks to their matchup with the NFC South this season. In home games, they’ll face running back Michael Turner of the Falcons, and running back Mike Tolbert and former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera of the Panthers. In road games, they’ll face quarterback Drew Brees of the Saints and Vincent Jackson of the Buccaneers.

Royal Addition
Eddie Royal has a chance to make highlights with the Chargers rather than against them. While with Denver in 2009, Royal returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in a 34–23 Monday night victory at San Diego. In September 2008, after referee Ed Hochuli’s infamous blown call in Denver, Royal caught a fourth down touchdown pass from Jay Cutler and then ran the same route to catch the winning two-point conversion.

Party In The Parking Lot
There were plenty of emotional moments when left guard Kris Dielman announced his retirement in the offseason due to a concussion. The mood lightened somewhat when Dielman was asked if he’s going to still be around. “I’m excited to tailgate,” he said.
Whitehurst is back Charlie Whitehurst is back as Philip Rivers’ backup after a two-year sojourn to Seattle in which he threw his first NFL pass. Whitehurst was San Diego’s third-string quarterback behind Rivers and Billy Volek from 2006-09 and never attempted a pass in the regular season. After being traded to Seattle, he played in nine games in two seasons, throwing for 805 yards and three touchdowns, with four interceptions. He helped get the Seahawks into the playoffs in 2010. Hours after signing Whitehurst, the Chargers released Volek.

Turning Green
It might take San Diego State fans a while to warm up to rookie tight end Ladarius Green. In his final game at Louisiana-Lafayette, he caught five passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in a 32–30 victory over the Aztecs in the New Orleans Bowl. 

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Mon., Aug. 13

Order your 2012 San Diego Chargers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top San Deigo Chargers Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 San Diego Chargrs Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> San Diego Chargers 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-football-2012-schedule-analysis
Body:

Few teams inspire equal parts repulsion and adoration like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Yet, one thing any fan of any team must admit is that Notre Dame plays arguably the toughest schedule each and every season. This fall won’t be any different as the Irish will face 10 teams that got to bowl eligibility in 2011. Boston College and Navy are the only two teams on this schedule that were not bowl eligible last season. Additionally, Brian Kelly’s bunch will face six teams that won at least 10 games last year.

Week 1 (Sept. 1): Navy (9:00 AM ET, CBS) Dublin, Ire.
Overall Record: 72-12-1, Last Meeting: W, 56-14 (2011)

Week 2 (Sept. 8): Purdue (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 55-26-2, Last Meeting: W, 38-10 (2011)

Week 3 (Sept. 15): At Michigan State (8:00 PM ET, ABC)
Overall Record: 46-28-1, Last Meeting: W, 31-13 (2011)

Week 4 (Sept. 22): Michigan (7:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 15-23-1, Last Meeting: L, 35-31 (2011)

Week 5 (Sept. 29): Bye Week

Week 6 (Oct. 6): Miami, Fla. (7:30 PM ET, NBC) Chicago, Ill.
Overall Record: 16-7-1, Last Meeting: W, 33-17 (2010, Sun Bowl)

Week 7 (Oct. 13): Stanford (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 17-9, Last Meeting: L, 28-14 (2011)

Week 8 (Oct. 20): BYU (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 4-2, Last Meeting: W, 49-23 (2005)

Week 9 (Oct. 27): At Oklahoma (TBA)
Overall Record: 8-1, Last Meeting: W, 34-30 (1999)

Week 10 (Nov. 3): Pitt (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 46-20-1, Last Meeting: W, 15-12 (2011)

Week 11 (Nov. 10): At Boston College (TBA)
Overall Record: 12-9, Last Meeting: W, 16-14 (2011)

Week 12 (Nov. 17): Wake Forest (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 1-0, Last Meeting: W, 24-17 (2011)

Week 13 (Nov. 24): At USC (TBA, ABC/ESPN)
Overall Record: 43-35-5, Last Meeting: W, 31-17 (2011)

Week 14 (Nov. 31): Bye Week

Related: 2012 Notre Dame Team Preview

— After a four-decade win streak over the fine Naval Academy, the Middies claimed three of four from the Irish from 2007 to 2010. Kelly’s bunch got back on the winning side last fall in a one-sided 56-14 domination. This game has a decidedly different feel to it as it will take place across the pond in Dublin. While the fans love the 10 AM ET kickoff, the coaches will have to get their teams adjusted during a strange week of travel. Especially, considering that the Irish do not have a bye week following a long trip back to the States.

— From Week 2 to Week 4, the Irish will face three straight regional rivals from the Big Ten. These games will not only feature two 10-win teams from Michigan with BCS bowl aspirations, but recruiting battles hang in the balance as well. All four schools compete directly for recruits in the Midwest and winning on the field means more than just a single W or L in the standings. And, of course, revenge will be heavy on Irish minds after last year’s soul-crushing fourth quarter collapse against the biggest rival of the group Michigan. The first month will indicate what Notre Dame will be in 2012 and will likely feature the toughest two-week stretch of the year. Kelly is 0-2 against Michigan at Notre Dame.

Related: ND Predictions: Most Important Game, Key Position Battles and Top Newcomers

— After facing four straight bowl teams, the bye week will come at a welcome time for Kelly’s bunch. Ideally, the quarterback situation will have been sorted out long before Week 5 (I have been calling for Everett Golson to be the starter all summer), but this layoff should give the Irish offensive staff time to regroup and reevaluate its quarterback play — should something still be left to be determined.

— A trip around Lake Michigan to Soldier Field should be fun for the Windy City faithful. It just doesn’t appear to be promising for the Miami fans. Should the Irish be 4-0, they will have a chance to make a big statement in Chicago against a former national power.

— Week’s 7-9 should be the toughest stretch of games for the Irish in 2012. Stanford appears to be a carbon copy of Notre Dame this fall — questions at quarterback but a talented running game to go with a nasty front seven on defense — and matches-up very well with the Irish. The Cardinal have won three straight in the series. BYU has a big offense that will test the ND secondary. Luckily, both games will come in South Bend, but they lead up to a trip to Norman to battle the Sooners. Landry Jones and Co. will be able to handle the Irish defense, so it will fall to the Irish offense to produce if Kelly expects to compete with Oklahoma. These two historic powers haven’t played since 1999.

— The good news for Irish fans is that the easiest section of the schedule will come directly after the trip to Oklahoma. Pitt, Boston College and Wake Forest might be the three easiest opponents on the ’12 slate and all three will be played consecutively. The bad news? The Irish beat these three by a total of 12 points last year. Again, this stretch being defined as the “easiest” three games is another indicator of just how tough the Irish slate is every year.

— The season finale will be the team’s toughest single test of the year. Notre Dame has beaten USC once time since 2001 and could be facing an undefeated 11-0 Heisman Trophy-led offensive juggernaut on the road in Los Angeles. Yes, the last time Kelly took a team to The Coliseum, the Irish came away victorious, but that was the worst Trojan team since Peter Carroll’s first year — also, in 2001.

Official Season Prediction: 8-4, Pinstripe Bowl

Related: Athlon Sports 2012 Bowl Projections

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports 2012 Notre Dame Content:

2012 Notre Dame Team Preview
Debate: Can Brian Kelly Lead the Irish to a BCS Bowl?

Who are the Top 10 Notre Dame Players in 2012?

Team Predictions: Who Starts at QB, What is the Most Important Game and More

The 10 Greatest Fighting Irish Player of All-Time

Notre Dame Cheerleader Gallery

Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame Football: 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-linebacker-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 20 Linebacking Corps for 2012

1. Georgia – Thanks to the arrival of Jarvis Jones, the Bulldogs emerged as one of the top defenses in the SEC last year. After sitting out 2010 as a transfer from USC, Jones turned in a monster 2011 season, recording 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss. Ramik Wilson is expected to start at the other outside linebacker spot, while Mike Gilliard and Alec Ogletree anchor the middle. Ogletree recorded 52 tackles last year and is one of the SEC’s rising stars on defense.

2. Stanford – Even with Shayne Skov sidelined for nearly all of 2011 with a knee injury, the Cardinal still finished third nationally in rush defense. Chase Thomas has been a standout performer throughout his career with Stanford, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors last year. Skov is expected to return at full strength early in the season and leads a deep group of linebackers that includes experienced options in Jarek Lancaster, AJ Tarpley, Trent Murphy and James Vaughters.

3. Michigan State – Thanks to the return of all three starters from last season, the Spartans own the Big Ten’s top linebacking corps for 2012. Max Bullough is a prototypical middle linebacker and should be better in his second year as a starter. Denicos Allen led the team with 11 sacks and also registered 83 stops. Chris Norman rounds out the starting trio, and he recorded honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season.

4. Iowa State – A.J. Klein and Jake Knott are quietly two of the best linebackers in the nation. Klein earned Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year honors last season after registering 116 tackles and two sacks. Knott picked up second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2011 and has posted more than 100 tackles in each of the last two seasons. The third starting spot will likely go to sophomore C.J. Morgan.

5. Wisconsin – The Badgers finished 60th nationally against the run last year, but that number should improve in 2012 with two standouts returning in the linebacking corps. Chris Borland ranked second on the team with 143 tackles last year and picked up 19 tackles for a loss. Mike Taylor registered 150 stops and forced three fumbles in 2011. The unit must replace Kevin Claxton, but Ethan Armstrong and Conor O’Neill are experienced candidates.

6. Alabama – Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower will be missed, but the cupboard is far from bare for coordinator Kirby Smart. Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley should be in the mix for All-SEC honors, while sophomores Trey DePriest, Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson are on the cusp of a breakout season. Expect a small drop-off in performance early in the year, but this unit should rank as one of the SEC’s best by the end of 2012.

7. Florida – If the Gators want to challenge for the SEC East title, the defense will have to carry this team in the early part of the year. Will Muschamp and Dan Quinn have plenty of talent to work with, including senior Jon Bostic and junior Jelani Jenkins in the linebacking corps. Bostic recorded 94 tackles last season, while Jenkins made 75 stops. Freshman Antonio Morrison could break into the rotation as a backup on the outside this year.

8. Penn State – With the transfers of Silas Redd and Justin Brown, scoring points will be a challenge for the Nittany Lions’ offense this season. The good news for Penn State? The defense should be strong, especially at linebacker with senior Gerald Hodges and junior Glenn Carson back as starters. Hodges earned second-team All-Big Ten honors after recording 106 stops and 4.5 sacks last year. This unit could rank even higher at the end of the year if senior Michael Mauti can stay healthy. The depth took a hit with Khairi Fortt’s decision to transfer to California.

9. Notre Dame – Manti Te’o turned down a spot in the first round of the NFL Draft for one more year in South Bend. The senior led the team with 128 stops and 13.5 tackles for a loss last season and is a first-team Athlon Sports All-American for 2012. Joining Te’o as likely starters in the linebacking corps should be Prince Shembo, Dan Fox and Danny Spond. Sophomore Ishaq Williams will see plenty of snaps on the outside, and he will be counted upon to help ease the loss of Aaron Lynch. Having Te’o back boosts Notre Dame’s ranking in this list, but the rest of the unit needs to pickup their performance in 2012.  

10. Oregon – The Ducks must replace two key contributors from last season’s linebacking corps but don’t expect this unit to miss a beat in 2012. Senior Michael Clay is an underrated defender in the Pac-12 and he recorded 102 tackles and three sacks last year. Kiko Alonso had a breakout performance in the Rose Bowl (five tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1.5 sacks) and will help Clay anchor the interior. Boseko Lokombo will man one outside spot, while end/linebacker Dion Jordan will start at the hybrid rush position.

11. USC – With three sophomores likely to start, the Trojans could have the nation’s youngest starting trio at linebacker. Dion Bailey excelled after switching from safety last year, recording 81 tackles and Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. Hayes Pullard also had a standout freshman year, tying Bailey for the team lead in stops and recording four sacks and two forced fumbles. Lamar Dawson (25 tackles) is expected to start in the middle this season.

12. Rutgers – Three starters – including All-American candidate Khaseem Greene – are back to lead the Scarlet Knights’ linebacking corps in 2012. Greene led the team with 141 stops last season, while recording 3.5 sacks and 14 TFL. Steve Beauharnais anchors the interior, while making plenty of plays behind the scrimmage (16 TFL, 5 sacks). The third spot is expected to go to Jamal Merrell (44 tackles last year).

13. Oklahoma State – While the Cowboys’ offense garnered most of the attention last year, the defense led the nation in takeaways. A key reason for last season’s success was due to the trio at linebacker. Shaun Lewis picked up honorable mention All-Big 12 honors after recording 61 stops and 9.5 TFL last year. Alex Elkins didn’t play high school football, but excelled on the junior college level and finished second on the team with 90 stops last year. He should be better in his second year as a starter on the FBS level. Junior Caleb Lavey is expected to start at middle linebacker. With a few losses on the defensive line, the Cowboys need the linebacking corps to be active against the run.

14. Oklahoma – Travis Lewis was the heart and soul of the Sooners’ defense and there’s no question he will be missed. However, new linebacker coach Tim Kish will have plenty to work with. Juniors Tom Wort and Corey Nelson have played in Lewis’ shadow over the last two years and should be ready to push for All-Big 12 honors. The third spot is expected to be a hybrid linebacker/safety position, which could go to senior Joseph Ibiloye. 

15. Ohio State – Improvement. That’s the key word surrounding the Buckeyes after a disappointing 6-7 season. Even with three new starters taking over at linebacker, this unit should be one of the best in the Big Ten. Senior Etienne Sabino is due for a solid senior year, while sophomores Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier are primed for breakout seasons. Shazier recorded 57 tackles in 13 appearances last year. The biggest question mark about this unit will be depth, as there is very little in the way of experience after the starting trio.

16. Virginia Tech – Injuries wrecked havoc on the Hokies’ linebacking corps last season, and there’s plenty of concerns about this group going into 2012. Bruce Taylor was off to a solid start in 2011 - 53 tackles and five sacks through the first eight games - but a foot injury ended his season prematurely. Tariq Edwards played in all 14 contests last year but a shin injury limited his availability for preseason workouts. Senior Jeron Gouveia-Winslow was sidelined for most of the year with a foot injury but is expected to regain a starting spot this fall. Alonzo Tweedy and Jack Tyler will be the top reserves and could play major snaps early in the season with Taylor and Edwards working their way back to full strength.

17. Kansas State – Arthur Brown was one of the nation’s top linebacker prospects in the class of 2008 but failed to make an impact during his two years with Miami. However, the light switch flipped on for the Wichita native last season, recording first-team All-Big 12 honors and 101 tackles. Brown should be one of the Big 12’s top 25 players in 2012 and an All-American candidate. Junior Tre Walker will return at one of the outside spots, while converted quarterback Justin Tuggle will likely man the other.

18. Texas – Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were two of the Big 12’s top defenders over the last couple of years and won’t be easy to replace. However, the Longhorns aren’t short on talent in this area. Jordan Hicks is primed for a breakout year after making 65 stops last season. Sophomore Steve Edmond is another breakout candidate to watch at middle linebacker, while the coaching staff is high on junior Demarco Cobbs on the weakside.

19. Texas A&M – The Aggies are shifting from a 3-4 to a 4-3 attack, so the returning personnel will have an adjustment period. Sean Porter should be the headliner and the Aggies’ top playmaker on defense after recording 17 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks last year. Senior Jonathan Stewart returns after leading the team with 98 tackles in 2011, while Steven Jenkins is expected to win the third spot (61 tackles last year).

20. Michigan – This unit still has a ways to go before Brady Hoke or coordinator Greg Mattison consider it a strength, but it’s definitely on the right track. Senior Kenny Demens is back after leading the team with 94 tackles last year, while Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan are promising sophomores on the outside. Freshman Joe Bolden was one of the nation’s top linebacker recruits and will be tough to keep on the sidelines.


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Linebacker Units for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 05:52
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-defensive-back-units-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 Defensive Backfields for 2012

1. Texas – The Longhorns allowed just over 200 passing yards per game last season, but opponents managed to score only 13 times through the air. Quandre Diggs broke up 13 passes and recorded four interceptions last season to earn Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. Cornerback Carrington Byndom earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in his first season as a starter in 2011. Blake Gideon departs at safety, but Kenny Vaccaro and Adrian Phillips should be a standout duo in 2012.

2. LSU – The Tigers will miss shutdown corner Morris Claiborne but should still rank among the best in the nation in pass defense. Tyrann Mathieu can’t match Claiborne’s cover ability, but he is one of the team’s top defensive playmakers. Tharold Simon will start on the other side, while Jalen Collins will be the third corner. Eric Reid is coming off a standout season and will join Craig Loston as a starter at safety.

3. Michigan State – The Spartans allowed 20 touchdown passes last year but ranked 11th nationally in passing yards allowed per game. Three starters are back for 2012, including cornerback Johnny Adams. The senior emerged as a shutdown corner last season and could contend for All-America honors. Darqueze Dennard will start at the other corner spot. Isaiah Lewis is one of the Big Ten’s top safeties, while Kurtis Drummond and RJ Williamson will vie to replace Trenton Robinson at free safety.

4. Ohio State – Last season was considered a down year for defense in Columbus, but the Buckeyes still finished 14th nationally in pass defense. Four starters return for co-coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers, giving Ohio State one of the top defensive backfields in the nation. Cornerback Bradley Roby is an emerging star, while Travis Howard is expected to start at the other corner spot after recording 41 tackles and two interceptions last year. Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett could be the Big Ten’s top tandem at safety in 2012.

5. USC – The numbers weren’t particularly pretty for the Trojans last season. The secondary allowed 263.3 yards per game through the air, which ranked 102nd nationally and ninth in the Pac-12. While this unit gave up some yardage, it allowed only 17 passing scores. Expect USC to have the Pac-12’s top secondary in 2012, as all four starters return, including All-American safety T.J. McDonald. Cornerback Nickell Robey is an underrated player on the national level, while senior Isiah Wiley and Jawanza Starling look to build off their 2011 seasons.

6. Oklahoma State – Numbers don’t always paint a true picture of the effectiveness of any secondary. The Cowboys ranked 107th nationally in passing yards allowed last season but ranked 20th in pass efficiency defense. This group should improve upon those numbers in 2012, especially with three starters coming back to Stillwater. The cornerback duo of Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert is quietly among the nation’s best, while safety Daytawion Lowe is back after leading the team with 97 tackles last season.

7. Florida State – This unit suffered a setback with the dismissal of cornerback Greg Reid, but the Seminoles still rank No. 1 in the ACC and in the top 10 nationally of defensive backfields. Xavier Rhodes is a shutdown corner and could leave early for the NFL with a big 2012 season. Replacing Reid at the other corner spot will likely be sophomore Nick Waisome. Safety Lamarcus Joyner was a second-team All-ACC selection last year and will be joined by Terrence Brooks and Karlos Williams at free safety.

8. Florida – Here’s a scary thought for the rest of the SEC: The Gators ranked seventh in pass defense last year and could be even better in 2012. Junior Matt Elam is on the verge of becoming an All-American at strong safety, while sophomores Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy are coming off solid debut seasons. There’s plenty of proven depth in this unit, as Cody Riggs, Jaylen Watkins and De’Ante Saunders all have experience.

9. Oklahoma – The Sooners took a lot of criticism for their play in the secondary last season, but there is hope for a quick turnaround in 2012. New coordinator Mike Stoops is an excellent secondary coach, and this unit also has four starters from last year back in the mix. The only key departure from the defensive backfield is cornerback Jamell Fleming, but Demontre Hurst, Gabe Lynn and Aaron Colvin is a good trio to shut down opposing passing attacks. Tony Jefferson should be this unit’s best player, while senior Javon Harris is expected to get the nod at strong safety.

10. Virginia Tech – As long as the Hokies stay healthy, the secondary is one of the best in the ACC. Any injury could be a major issue, especially with very little proven depth in the defensive backfield. Kyle Fuller earned second-team All-ACC honors last season and will be joined by converted safety Antone Exum at cornerback. Sophomore safeties Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner have talent but lack experience.

11. NC State – With 14 returning starters from a team that closed out 2011 with wins in four out of their final five games, the Wolfpack are a popular sleeper pick in 2012. The defense should be one of the best in the ACC this year, especially with the return of cornerback David Amerson, who led the NCAA with 13 picks last year. Three seniors round out the starting jobs around Amerson, including Athlon Sports 2012 first-team All-ACC safety Earl Wolff.

12. Georgia – Suspensions have clouded the Bulldogs’ secondary in uncertainty early in the year, but this unit should rank among the best in the SEC at the end of 2012. Cornerback Sanders Commings is suspended for the first two games (including the SEC opener against Missouri), while safety Bacarri Rambo could miss the first four contests. Senior Branden Smith and safety Shawn Williams will anchor the other two starting spots in the secondary, and this group is expected to get a boost with receiver Malcolm Mitchell playing on both sides of the ball early in the year.

13. Alabama – There are some big shoes to fill this fall as the Crimson Tide look to find replacements for cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Mark Barron. There’s a solid foundation to build around with senior Robert Lester back at free safety and junior cornerback Dee Milliner returning with 17 career starts. John Fulton and junior college recruits Travell Dixon and Deion Belue will battle to replace Kirkpatrick. Sophomores Vinnie Sunseri and HaHa Clinton-Dix are locked into a tight battle to fill Barron’s strong safety spot.

14. Rutgers – The Scarlet Knights were quietly one of the nation’s stingiest pass defenses last season. This unit allowed only eight touchdown passes, while holding quarterbacks to a 51.8 completion percentage. David Rowe must be replaced at strong safety, but three other starters are back, including 2011 second-team All-Big East selection Logan Ryan. Strong safety Duron Harmon earned first-team honors last year after recording 49 tackles and five interceptions.

15. Oregon – Like the other units on Oregon’s defense, the secondary suffered a few losses, but there are few concerns about this group going into 2012. Coordinator Nick Aliotti does a good job of rotating players in and out of the lineup, which allows the reserves to gain plenty of valuable experience. The headliner for this group will be senior John Boyett. Sophomore cornerback Terrance Mitchell is a rising star to watch this season.

16. Mississippi State – The Bulldogs numbers against the pass were a little deceiving last year. Although they finished 11th in the SEC in pass defense, that placed them 27th overall in the nation. Cornerback Johnthan Banks is the SEC’s top cover corner and should be an All-American candidate in 2012. Senior Corey Broomfield doesn’t have the all-conference recognition that Banks gets but is a steady performer on the other side. Safety is a slight concern, especially with Nickoe Whitley recovering from a torn Achilles.

17. Utah – The Utes ranked 74th nationally against the pass last season but allowed only 18 passing scores and recorded 19 interceptions. Expect this unit to be solid once again in 2012 with three returning starters, including likely All-Pac-12 safety Brian Blechen. Fellow safety Eric Rowe started all 13 games as a freshman last year and should be even better as a sophomore. Seniors Mo Lee and Ryan Lacy should be steady options at cornerback.

18. Michigan – Much like the rest of the Wolverines’ defense in 2011, the secondary made significant improvement in the stat column. After allowing 261.9 passing yards per game in 2010, Michigan cut that number to 190.5 in 2011. Three starters are back for 2012, including promising sophomore Blake Countess at cornerback and senior Jordan Kovacs at safety.

19. Nebraska – Replacing Alfonzo Dennard (the Big Ten’s top defensive back in 2011) will be the top priority for new secondary coach Terry Joseph. The good news for the Cornhuskers is three starters are back, including senior safety Daimion Stafford and promising junior college transfer Mohammed Seisay.

20. Georgia Tech – The Yellow Jackets boast an underrated secondary, which returns three All-ACC candidates for 2012. Georgia Tech ranked second in the ACC in pass defense last year, and quarterbacks completed less than 56 percent of throws against this secondary. Cornerback Rod Sweeting and safety Isaiah Johnson should be the headliners for this unit in 2012.
 

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Defensive Back Units for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 05:42
Path: /college-football/pac-12-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes
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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 Pac-12 to talk anonymously about their opponents. 

Arizona

Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats: 

“It wasn’t a shock to me that (Mike) Stoops was fired last season, but I was surprised they pulled the plug on him midway through the year especially with the schedule they had last season. With Stoops gone, I don’t think they could have found a more perfect hire than Rich Rodriguez. I hate to say this, but I think he will be an absolute hit. It may not happen this season, but it’s inevitable. Rodriguez’s offensive attack will thrive in the Pac-12. He’s reunited again with former Michigan assistants Calvin Magee and Rod Smith, who will be his co-offensive coordinators. Of course, they won’t have the luxury of working with a talent such as Denard Robinson.  

This first year will be trying for Rodriguez offensively since the Wildcats lost quarterback Nick Foles and wide receiver Juron Criner. Senior Matt Scott is expected to run the offense. And they do have a great deal of talent on defense.  

I think the Week 2 visit by Oklahoma State could set the tone for the season if the Wildcats can pull off a victory. The biggest test will come two weeks later when Rodriguez makes his Pac-12 debut at Oregon.”

Arizona State

Opposing coaches size up the Sun Devils:

“I think one play that summed up how dysfunctional Arizona State’s program had become was during the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. (Dennis) Erickson had decided to punt on fourth down, but when the punt team started onto the field, Brock Osweiler turned and waved them back to the sideline. The quarterback, not the coach, was in charge of the team. That was just one of many issues with the Sun Devils. The handling of Vontaze Burfict was another. Now they bring in a nomad like Todd Graham, who seemingly floats from job to job every year or two. First he has to gain the trust of the team and the community that he won’t be bolting for another job after next season. That’s easier said than done. Plus he needs to improve from last year’s 6–7 season that ended with the embarrassing blowout loss to Boise State. Graham does not have an easy task. Osweiler is gone along with most of the offensive playmakers such as wide receivers Gerell Robinson and Aaron Pflugrad. 

They need to find a quarterback. The running backs are good, especially Cameron Marshall, but Graham needs the right quarterback to run his offense. He sure didn’t have one at Pitt last year.”

Cal

Opposing coaches size up the Golden Bears: 

“Last season wasn’t easy for Cal. They had no true home games, playing at a baseball park, while their home stadium was renovated. They managed another winning record under (Jeff) Tedford, but the offense was inconsistent. This year I expect more of the same. A game around .500. That’s sort of what Cal football has become — 5–7 two years ago, 7–6 last year. This year has 7–5 or 6–6 written all over it.  

They have some decent talent back. Quarterback Zach Maynard put up some numbers last year, and he gets wide receiver Keenan Allen, who I think is a big-time talent, and tailback Isi Sofele back this fall. Those three should give Cal three of the league’s top offensive skill players. Will they be able to score enough? The defense also has been inconsistent. It had some good moments — limiting Washington State and Oregon State to a TD or less. But it was no match against Oregon, UCLA and Washington. Three starters are back in the secondary while Aaron Tipoti is good on the defensive line.

Cal gets to play in its home stadium again this year, but I think we’ll get a better read on their season in their first two road games when they visit Ohio State and USC in back-to-back weeks. That is about as tough as it will get for any team in the nation next season.”

Colorado

Opposing coaches size up the Buffaloes: 

“Jon Embree’s first season was about what I expected — a lot more losses than wins. He was put in a very tough situation. First-time head coach taking over a program that had underachieved and playing their first season in a new league. Embree’s first season was set up to fail. There wasn’t a lot he could do. I was impressed, though, how they managed to win two of their last three, including an upset at Utah. That’s not an easy place to play. That showed me that Embree has the Buffaloes on the right track. It’s just going to take some time. 

The roster is still thin on talent. Quarterback Tyler Hansen and running back Rodney Stewart are both gone. They don’t return much at the skill positions. (Wide receiver) Paul Richardson’s injury (torn ACL) is a killer. They don’t have many really good players to begin with. He was one of them. 

Defensively they’ll be a little better after last year’s team allowed more than 40 points six times. Embree also didn’t catch any breaks with the schedule. He must play at Washington State in (Mike) Leach’s first Pac-12 game and also has consecutive road games against USC and Oregon and also visits Arizona. That’s tough.”

Oregon

Opposing coaches size up the Ducks:

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

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

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

Oregon State

Opposing coaches size up the Beavers:

“Mike Riley made it look easy for a few years in Corvallis. But these past two seasons, they’ve slipped a little bit with the back-to-back losing seasons. It certainly made Riley’s job easier when he had the Rodgers brothers, but they’re finally out of eligibility. 

Last year was a tough one for Oregon State. I know they had a ton of injuries to several starters and that contributed to the 3–9 season. Because of that they were forced to play a lot of freshmen and their inexperience showed, especially on defense in blowout losses to Wisconsin, Stanford and Oregon.

I think Oregon State will be one of the league’s surprises this season. All of those younger players are back with a year of experience and combined with getting their injured players back, that should dramatically help their depth situation. The biggest beneficiary should be quarterback Sean Mannion, who replaced Ryan Katz early in the year and started the final 10 games as a freshman. He’s got a lot of potential and getting him so much experience should pay dividends this year. There will be no more drama at the position; he is the guy.

They are in a tough division. Oregon and Stanford have been really good. Washington is getting better, and Cal is solid. And now, Washington State has Mike Leach. Tough, tough division.”

Stanford

Opposing coaches size up the Cardinal:

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

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

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

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

UCLA

Opposing coaches size up the Bruins:

“Slick Rick has left the building. Neuheisel is no longer coaching his alma mater. I know some didn’t think that highly of him, but I actually thought he was an underrated coach. He may have been too cool for some, I guess. 

Jim Mora Jr. is an interesting, interesting hire. The guy has been out of coaching for a while and now comes to UCLA. I’m not sure what to make of this hire. Bottom line, like everyone else in our business — win and it’s a successful hire and if he doesn’t win enough, he’ll be gone in a few years.

Kevin Prince returns for his senior year. He’s had his share of ups and downs under Neuheisel. How will he fare under Mora or specifically under new coordinator Noel Mazzone? Or do they opt for another option, such as Richard Brehaut or Brett Hundley? Whoever they settle on will have the luxury of having Johnathan Franklin back at running back. He’s a really good player, a guy a lot of people don’t know about nationally because UCLA hasn’t been very good.

Overall, the Bruins do return a good core from last year. Can Mora get them all headed in the same direction? That’s something Neuheisel, unfortunately, didn’t do enough of during his time.”

USC

Opposing coaches size up the Trojans: 

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

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

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

Utah

Opposing coaches size up the Utes:

“While some might question the thinking of Kyle Whittingham replacing offensive coordinator Norm Chow with 25-year-old Brian Johnson, I think it’s a great idea. It’s something different. The players are sure to be receptive to him; Johnson played the (quarterback) position so he has their respect in that aspect as well. Now can he call plays worth a darn? We’re certainly going to find out, but I think the kid will surprise some people. It doesn’t hurt that he has some good tools to work with in Jordan Wynn at quarterback and John White at running back. White was a big surprise last year. He was good.

The Utes return nearly their entire offense from a year ago and having some new young blood should help bolster last year’s numbers when they were held to 14 points or less five times, all losses.

(Defensive tackle) Star Lotulelei anchors the defense and might be the nation’s best at his position.

Last year, the Utes fared better than I thought in their first year in the Pac-12, finishing with eight victories. This year, I think they should be able to match that or exceed that many wins. This is a solid program. Just keeps on winning.”

Washington

Opposing coaches size up the Huskies: 

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

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

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

Washington State

Opposing coaches size up the Cougars: 

“I knew Mike Leach would eventually get back in coaching. I never thought it would be in Pullman, Washington. With that being said, I think Leach will do what Leach does best — provide tremendous sound bites and quotes for the media, and his offense will score a lot of points.

Paul Wulff doubled his win total last year, winning four games after two wins in 2010, but it wasn’t enough to save his job.

Quarterback Jeff Tuel and wide receiver Marquess Wilson should put up big numbers under Leach’s system. The Cougars won’t have trouble scoring points. That’s a certainty. Can they stop anyone? They couldn’t the past couple of years. That will be Leach’s biggest challenge. The talent level was getting better, but they still don’t have the players on defense to stop many teams in this league.

Ultimately I think Leach will be a huge success. Even if they don’t have an immediate turnaround, Leach will have enough quips and one-liners to keep everyone entertained at least for this season. He will be a breath of fresh air up there.”

 

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Ranking the Pac-12's Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Offensive Lines for 2012

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

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Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 05:23
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, San Diego Chargers, NFL
Path: /nfl/san-diego-chargers-top-twitter-accounts-follow
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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 San Diego Chargers official Twitter account:

@chargers (Followers: 146,200)

Top Chargers To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, August 10, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Shaun Phillips LB @ShaunPhillips95 434,112
2. Takeo Spikes LB @TakeoSpikes51 390,435
3. Richard Goodman WR @2_Good2BTrue 87,333
4. Eddie Royal WR @EddieRoyalWR 63,657
5. Antonio Gates TE @AntonioGates85 46,281
6. Ryan Mathews RB @mathews24 35,522
7. Le:Ron McClain FB @LeRon_McClain33 34,849
8. Curtis Brinkley RB @boonah920 29,563
9. Jacob Hester FB @JacobHester22 24,588
10. Atari Bigby S @20ataribigby 22,978
11. Melvin Ingram LB @MelvinIngram 21,581
12. Marcus McNeill OT @MarcusMcNeill73 17,505
13. Luis Castillo DT @LuisCastillo93 14,423
14. Roscoe Parrish WR @scoe11 12,744
15. Larry Englsih LB @LarryEnglish52 8,665
16. Nick Hardwick C @hardwina 8,551
17. Jordan Todman RB @JordanTodman 5,739
18. Edwin Baker RB @E_Baker4 5,046
19. Marcus Gilchrist CB @mgilchr 4,989
20. David Molk C @dmolk 4,490
21. Randy McMichael TE @randymac81 4,457
22. Cam Thomas DT @Baby_Zilla76 4,447
23. Corey Liuget DE @CoreyLiuget 3,519
24. Kendall Reyes DL @Kendall_Reyes 3,430
25. Antwan Barnes LB @vikes42 3,360

The Chargers Beat:

Kevin Acee, covers Chargers and columnist for San Diego Union-Tribune: @UTKevinAcee (20,180)

Michael Gehlken, Chargers beat writer for San Diego Union-Tribune: @UTgehlken (4,558)

Scott Bair, covers Chargers for North County Times: @NCTchargers (2,073)

Chargers Blog Roll:

Bolts From The Blue is SB Nation's Chargers blog.

Bolt Hype presents itself as "The San Diego Chargers Blog."

Bolt Beat and Chargers Gab are some others out there.

The ESPN AFC West blog is run by Bill Williamson and you can follow him @espn_afcwest.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Monday, August 13

Order your 2012 San Diego Chargers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 San Diego Chargers Season Preview
Related: 2012 San Diego Chargers Schedule Analysis

- By Braden Gall and Mark Ross, published on August 10, 2012

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> San Diego Chargers Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 04:20

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