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Path: /news/notre-dame-footballs-new-uniforms-are-disaster
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Uniform changes at Notre Dame have been pretty rare. However, under Brian Kelly, the Irish tweaked the color of their helmet and wore alternate uniforms last season in the Saturday night game against Michigan.

While neither of those changes were a particularly a drastic switch, Notre Dame has shown some willingness to tweak its uniform, especially as alternate jerseys have become a new craze in college football.

However, any traditionalists will want to cover their eyes after looking at the new Notre Dame jerseys. Luckily for Fighting Irish fans, these will be worn in the Oct. 6 matchup in Chicago against Miami. 

Needless to say, these are quite different and aren't popular with the Notre Dame fanbase. Although the uniform colors aren't bad, the helmet is a disaster. The Irish's shining gold helmet is one of the best in college football and the new split look is a bad look for Notre Dame.

Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame Football's New Uniforms Are a Disaster</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 16:37
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-cincinnati-bengals
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What can the Cincinnati Bengals do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Keith Goheen, Freelance Writer

Can BenJarvus Green-Ellis flourish in a full-time workhorse role or will Bernard Scott finally deliver on his big-play potential?
The Bengals won’t ask Green-Ellis to be the prototypical workhorse back, not in the manner that Cedric Benson was used for the past few seasons. Green-Ellis is a better receiver out of the backfield, and the thrust of this offense is going to be through the air. The Bengals are banking on Green-Ellis to continue his production in the red zone and goal-to-go situations. Scott’s role could expand some, but he won’t get enough carries to be overly enticing to fantasy owners.

Who should owners target at wide receiver after A.J. Green has been taken?
The Bengals have several unproven candidates who could be worth a late-round investment. Rookie Mohamed Sanu caught 115 passes as a senior at Rutgers, but the Bengals also like fifth-round pick Marvin Jones. A sleeper choice? Former University of Cincinnati receiver Armon Binns, who spent most of last season on the practice squad.

Can Jermaine Gresham provide more than just touchdowns in this offense?
He started to show some of that last season and, with the lack of a proven No. 2 receiver opposite A.J. Green, Gresham will get more opportunities this season. He took a step forward in his overall game in 2011, but he’s got potential for much greater things.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Dan Herron, RB
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Mohamed Sanu, WR
Bounce-Back: None
Top IDP: Ray Maualuga, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Dre Kirkpatrick CB 6-1 186 Alabama
1. Kevin Zeitler OG 6-4 314 Wisconsin
2. Devon Still DT 6-5 303 Penn State
3. Mohamed Sanu WR 6-2 211 Rutgers
3. Brandon Thompson DT 6-2 314 Clemson
4. Orson Charles TE 6-2 251 Georgia
5. Shaun Prater CB 5-10 190 Iowa
5. Marvin Jones WR 6-1 199 California
5. George Iloka S 6-4 225 Boise State
6. Dan Herron RB 5-10 213 Ohio State

Fantasy Impact: A.J. Green is set as the Bengals’ No. 1 receiver, but Mohamed Sanu could be the team’s No. 2 or No. 3 option this year. Orson Charles is still developing and will likely be Cincinnati’s No. 2 tight end behind Jermaine Gresham. Marvin Jones is a steady wide receiver and could earn snaps this season.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (DAL, at PHI, at PIT)

This is probably one of the least desirable fantasy postseason schedules. Two of the three games are on the road. Fantasy championship week is at Pittsburgh — second-best against fantasy QBs, WRs and TEs in 2011. It’s not much better the previous week, as Philadelphia was in the top half against the three aforementioned positions as well.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> A fantasy football perspective on the team</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 12:45
All taxonomy terms: Dallas Cowboys, Jason Witten, NFL, Monthly, News
Path: /nfl/cowboys-jason-witten-injures-spleen-week-1-status-doubt
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Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten suffered a lacerated spleen in Monday's preseason game against Oakland, putting his Week 1 availability very much in doubt.

The two-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler has a "very serious" small laceration that caused internal bleeding. The team said his spleen is not ruptured, but if his condition does not improve he may still require surgery which would sideline him indefinitely. For now, Witten will certainly miss the remainder of the preseason and there's a strong chance he will miss the Sept. 5 season-opener against the defending Super Bowl champion and NFC East rival New York Giants.

Witten suffered the injury on a hit from Raiders' linebacker Rolando McClain in the first quarter of Monday's game. Witten missed the next several plays, but eventually returned to the field and caught one more pass before the starters were removed from the game. A more thorough examination after the game disclosed the injury.

While the team waits to see if Witten's condition improves or gets worse over the next week or so, the Cowboys' offense will need to figure out what it's going to do without one of its top offensive playmakers. Since 2004, Witten has averaged 83 catches and 945 yards receiving a season. He’s also caught 40 touchdowns during that same eight-season span.

Witten, who has missed just one game in his entire career so far, is 55 receptions away from passing Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin to become the Cowboys' all-time leading receiver. Witten's 696 career catches are the third-most by a tight end in NFL history.

No one will miss Witten more than quarterback Tony Romo. Since 2006, when Romo became the Cowboys' starting quarterback, more than a quarter of his total completions (439 of 1,672) and 14 percent of his touchdown passes (21 of 149) have gone to Witten.

With Witten on the sidelines, Romo and the Cowboys' offense will turn to John Phillips as the starting tight end. Phillips, a four-year pro out of Virginia, played in all 16 games for the Cowboys in the 2009 and '11 seasons. He has caught a total of 22 passes for 163 yards and one touchdown in his brief career. Phillips didn't play in Monday's game as he has been limited by a sprained ankle.

The only other tight ends the Cowboys have on the roster currently are 2012 sixth-round pick James Hanna from Oklahoma, undrafted rookie Andrew Szczerba (Penn State) and Harry Flaherty, who was added as a result of Witten's injury. Hanna and Szczerba both caught passes on Monday night, but clearly they nor Phillips are near as established or feared as Witten. The team also may decide to bring in another veteran tight end at some point, depending on how Hanna and Szczerba respond to taking on larger roles in the offense.

And speaking of the Cowboys' offense, expect to see some changes in how head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan employ the passing attack. The onus is now on receivers Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, etc., as well as running backs DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones to step up their production in Witten's absence. Romo also will need to show trust in his receivers and backs since he will be without his favorite target for the immediate future, if not longer.

FANTASY SPIN: Among tight ends, Witten finished the 2011 season tied for fifth in receptions (79) and third in receiving yards (942). Between his consistent production and obvious chemistry with Romo, Witten entered the season as a clear-cut top-10 fantasy tight end option, and was top-five according to some rankings. However, with the uncertainty surrounding his injury and how long it will keep him out, Witten should probably move down the list as players like Fred Davis, Jermichael Finley, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Pettigrew, and perhaps even Tony Gonzalez are currently safer options. For now, draft Witten with caution as there's a chance he could be out an extended period of time, especially if it's determined he will need surgery.

As far as the rest of the Cowboys' offense goes, ignore the tight end position until further notice, or at the very least, until one of other options shows some proof of production. The emphasis is now on the wide receivers and running backs, specifically to see if any of them can take advantage of Witten’s absence.

Romo attempted 522 passes last season, which was 11th among quarterbacks, with Witten being targeted for 117 of those. That was the most on the team and the fourth-most among tight ends. Assuming Dallas doesn’t change its offensive game plan drastically, it’s safe to assume that Witten’s targets will have to go elsewhere.

Bryant was the second-most targeted Cowboy in 2011 with 103, but he’s also yet to make it through a complete season without missing at least one game. Austin had more receiving yards (2,361) and touchdown catches (18) than Witten did in the 2009 and ’10 seasons combined, but hamstring injuries limited him to just 10 games last season. If he’s healthy, he should be considered the lead contender to become Romo’s favorite target.

It’s not a stretch to expect both Bryant and Austin’s numbers to go up at least slightly as long as Witten is sidelined. However, the greatest opportunity exists for whoever wins the No. 3 receiver job, whether that is Ogletree, Harris or someone else.

Remember, last year it was Laurent Robinson, not Bryant or Austin or even Witten, who led the Cowboys in touchdown catches with 11. Robinson took full advantage of Austin’s injuries to break out for 54 receptions, 858 yards receiving and a tie for the fourth-most touchdown catches in the league. Robinson parlayed his breakthrough season into a five-year, $32.5 million contract that he signed with Jacksonville as a free agent this offseason.

Even if Austin and Bryant stay healthy, which is no guarantee, Witten’s absence probably means the Cowboys will run even more three- and four-wide receiver sets than they normally would. With Robinson off to the Jaguars, the opportunity is clearly there for one of the other Cowboy receivers to step up and establish themselves.

Robinson was one of fantasy’s biggest sleepers and surprises last season. For now, it appears the pieces are all there for a repeat performance by another unknown Cowboy receiver in 2012. The question is which one and will you be paying close enough attention to pounce when the time is right.

— By Mark Ross, published on August 16, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Cowboys' Jason Witten Injures Spleen, Week 1 Status in Doubt</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 12:15
Path: /college-football/big-12-footballs-breakout-players-2012
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Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task. 

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

Predicting the Big 12's Breakout Players for 2012

Brandon Carter, WR, TCU – The Horned Frogs should have no problem fitting in their first season with the Big 12. With quarterback Casey Pachall and a solid group of receivers returning, TCU’s offense will be one of the best in the conference. Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson are the team’s top two receivers, but Carter is a name to watch. He caught 23 passes for 352 yards and three scores as a true freshman last year, while averaging 13.7 yards on 10 punt returns. Carter may not lead the team in receptions, but he’s on the cusp of a breakout season in 2012.

Steve Edmond, LB, Texas – Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho were one of the best linebacker duos in college football last season, so there’s no question they will be missed. However, Texas is never short on talent, and Edmond looks like a future star in the Big 12. He played in 12 games and recorded 16 stops last season, while also forcing one fumble. Edmond ranked as one of the top 100 prospects in the 2011 signing class by most recruiting services and is slated to start at middle linebacker in 2012. At 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, the sophomore has the size and strength to help immediately against the run.

Tom Farniok, C, Iowa State – Offensive linemen simply don’t get enough credit nationally. With that in mind, it’s tough to say Farniok could be a household name by the end of the year, but he could emerge as one of the top centers in the Big 12. The Sioux Falls native redshirted in 2010 but started all 13 games at center last season. Farniok was named Iowa State’s most outstanding newcomer and will only get better in his second season as a starter.

Nick Florence, QB, Baylor – Florence isn’t a complete unknown to most around college football, but 2012 will be his first opportunity to start a full season. And there’s plenty of pressure on his shoulders, especially as he tries to replace Heisman winner Robert Griffin. Florence started seven games with Griffin sidelined for the year with a torn ACL in 2009, throwing for 1,786 yards and six scores. The senior is better equipped to succeed in 2012, especially with a solid offensive line returning, along with one of the Big 12’s top receiving corps. Don’t expect Florence to win the Heisman, but he should lead Baylor to its third consecutive bowl appearance.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State – Fans around the Big 12 are certainly familiar with Gilbert, but it’s time for the rest of the nation to take notice. As a freshman in 2010, Gilbert played in 12 games and recorded 18 tackles. However, his biggest impact came on special teams, averaging 26.8 yards per kickoff return and taking two back for a score. Gilbert played a bigger role on defense in 2011, recording 59 stops and 10 pass breakups. He continued to be a dangerous option on special teams, averaging 27 yards per kickoff return and taking two for touchdowns. Gilbert should be even better as a cornerback with another offseason to develop and at 6-foot-0, 194 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to matchup against the top receivers in the conference.

Tyler Lockett, WR/RS, Kansas State – The last name Lockett is certainly familiar to Kansas State fans. Kevin Lockett caught 217 passes during his Wildcat career, while Aaron Lockett ranks fourth on the school’s all-time receiving list with 2,400 yards. Tyler Lockett was just emerging as a potential weapon for Kansas State’s offense last year but suffered a season-ending injury in early November. In nine games, Lockett rushed for 110 yards, caught 18 passes for 246 yards and averaged a whopping 35.2 yards per kick return. The sophomore should be a bigger part of Kansas State’s offense in 2012, while also keeping his spot as one of the most dangerous return men in the nation.

Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State – Lunt has some of the biggest shoes to fill in the Big 12. Brandon Weeden led Oklahoma State to a Big 12 championship last season and threw for 9,260 yards and 75 touchdowns during his career in Stillwater. Lunt enrolled in time to participate in spring practice and impressed the coaching staff enough to earn the No. 1 spot over J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf. Asking Lunt to repeat Weeden’s success as a true freshman is nearly impossible, but Oklahoma State has a track record of developing good quarterbacks, and the offense can lean on running back Joseph Randle. Don’t expect Lunt to contend for All-American honors, but the Cowboys shouldn’t suffer much of a drop in production with the freshman at the controls.

Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma – Finding weapons for quarterback Landry Jones is the biggest fall priority for the Sooners’ offense. Kenny Stills is one of the Big 12’s top receivers, but after that is where the question marks begin. Metoyer did not qualify last season and attended Hargrave Academy in preparation for 2012. He was one of the top receivers in the 2011 recruiting class and did not disappoint in spring practice, catching six passes for 72 yards in the Red-White game. Although Ryan Broyles will be missed, Metoyer’s emergence should ease concerns about the Oklahoma receiving corps.

Tracy Moore, WR, Oklahoma State – Replacing Justin Blackmon is no easy task, but the Cowboys have plenty of capable receivers ready to step up. Which one will become the clear No. 1 target is still up in the air, but Moore will probably finish with the team lead in catches and yards. Through three seasons in Stillwater, Moore has grabbed 73 receptions for 1,067 yards and eight touchdowns. He is coming off his best year (45 catches) and will move from one of the inside receiver spots to the outside. Blake Jackson, Charlie Moore and Josh Stewart are also breakout candidates, but Tracy Moore should push for All-Big 12 honors in 2012.

Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas – With James Sims sidelined for the first three games due to a suspension, the Jayhawks will lean on Pierson to carry the rushing attack. In a relief role last season, he recorded 71 carries for 396 yards and three touchdowns. Pierson’s best performance came in the 31-30 loss to Baylor, posting eight carries for 70 yards and one score. At 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, the sophomore doesn’t have ideal size to be an every down back. However, Pierson should team with James Sims to form an effective one-two punch at running back.

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor – Terrance Ganaway was one of the Big 12’s breakout players last season, leading the Baylor rushing attack with 1,547 yards and 21 scores. With Ganaway out of eligibility, the Bears will turn to Seastrunk, Jarred Salubi and Glasco Martin to handle the bulk of the carries. Although Salubi and Martin have been steady in limited work, Seastrunk is the player most Baylor fans are excited to see this season. He ranked as one of the nation’s top running back recruits coming out of high school and redshirted at Oregon in 2010. Seastrunk transferred from the Ducks after his freshman season and made a splash in Baylor’s spring game, rushing for 138 yards and one touchdown. The sophomore has big-play potential and may not match Ganaway’s totals but should help to keep Baylor’s offense among the best in the Big 12.

Will Smith, LB, Texas Tech – Junior college recruits are hit-or-miss, but it looks like Texas Tech found a potential difference maker for its defense when Smith stepped onto campus. The California native had a strong showing in the spring, recording six tackles in the final spring scrimmage, along with earning the starting middle linebacker job. Smith wasn’t highly regarded coming out of the JUCO ranks, but all signs point to the 6-foot-3 linebacker making an instant impact in 2012.

Jordan Thompson, WR, West Virginia – With Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey entrenched as the top two receivers, Thompson will likely finish third on the team in catches. However, in West Virginia’s offense, there are plenty of receptions to go around, especially after quarterback Geno Smith threw 526 passes last season. Thompson isn’t a huge target (5-foot-7), but neither is Austin (5-foot-9). The freshman from Katy, Texas should team with Austin to form a dangerous pair of inside receivers, while emerging as one of West Virginia’s top players for 2013.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related Big 12 Content

Big 12 Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes
The Big 12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Big 12 Defensive Line Rankings for 2012

College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big 12 Offensive Line Rankings for 2012

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

Athlon's 2012 All-Big 12 Team

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

Teaser:
<p> Big 12 Football's Breakout Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 06:38
Path: /fantasy/how-2011-fantasy-football-busts-will-do-2012
Body:

There are first-round flops and high-priced mistakes made in every fantasy draft, every season. Here’s a look at those players who failed to live up to their expectations in 2011, and a preview of what to expect from those “busts” in 2012.

Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers
2011 stats: 16 games, 4,624 yards, 27 TDs, 20 INTs, rush TD, five lost fumbles
What went wrong in 2011: Rivers scored 12 total TDs and lost 17 turnovers over the first eight games of the season, sinking many fantasy teams in the process.
What to expect in 2012: A return to 2009-11 form, when Rivers averaged 4,324 yards, 31 TDs and 11 INTs. As an added bonus, Rivers has played all 96 games since taking over for Drew Brees in 2006.

Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
2011 stats: 13 games, 3,303 pass yards, 18 TDs, 14 INTs; 589 rush yards, TD
What went wrong in 2011: Fantasy owners struck gold with Vick as a waiver wire pickup in 2010. The electric lefty was a Vick-tim of his own success and subsequent expectations in 2011. Athlon Sports warned to “Beware of Vick” in last year’s magazine. A nightmare season for Vick was a distinct possibility for the “Dream Team” quarterback.
What to expect in 2012: Vick has not played as many as 15 games since the 2006 season — his only 16-game campaign. But he is still capable of carrying a team any given week. (Remember the six-total-TD effort against the Redskins on Monday Night Football?)

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Buccaneers
2011 stats: 781 rush yards, five TDs, 15 receptions for 148 yards
What went wrong in 2011: Blount TKO’d all scoring systems with 977 rush yards and five TDs over the last 11 weeks of 2010. A sophomore slump, however, failed to produce those same numbers in 14 games.
What to expect in 2012: Tampa Bay drafted Boise State running back Doug Martin in the first round. Blount could vulture a few TDs like Mike Alstott did during Warrick Dunn’s heyday, but don’t expect a ton of a carries out of the former Oregon Duck.

Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
2011 stats: 10 games, 474 rush yards, five TDs, 11 receptions for 46 yards
What went wrong in 2011: Despite playing in a high-octane offense, Ingram struggled to put stats on the ledger. Worse, he was easily bruised and battled a turf toe (among other ailments) for much of the season.
What to expect in 2012: Still searching for his first career 100-yard game, Ingram will almost certainly have a better sophomore campaign — if only because there’s nowhere to go but up.

Chris Johnson, RB, Titans
2011 stats: Four years, $53.5 million … Oh, and 16 games, 1,047 rush yards, four TDs, 57 receptions for 418 yards
What went wrong in 2011: First, Johnson held out for a new contract. After the NFL lockout ended, he arrived in a Titans camp that included a new coach, coordinator and quarterback. Once the season started, CJ couldn’t find his once-feared first step.
What to expect in 2012: With a chip on his shoulder and cash in his pocket, expect CJ to run like Usain Bolt this year. As one of the few feature backs, Johnson’s upside is much greater than his first-round risk.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers
2011 stats: 15 games, 928 rush yards, nine TDs, 18 receptions for 154 yards
What went wrong in 2011: The year got off on the wrong foot with a few regrettable Tweets. In Weeks 1-14, Mendenhall topped the 100-yard mark once, while rushing for 70 or fewer yards in 10 games.
What to expect in 2012: Mendenhall tore the ACL in his right knee in Week 17. He’s damaged goods and coming off a bad year. Let one of the Steelers fans in the draft reach for Mendenhall.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
2011 stats: 15 games, 58 receptions for 961 yards, four TDs, 41 rush yards
What went wrong in 2011: D-Jax pouted for a new contract and played down to his attitude level with numbers comparable to his rookie year — not the two years prior, when he had a combined 2,453 yards from scrimmage and 20 total TDs.
What to expect in 2012: Not happy with an unhappy Jackson, the Eagles paid their top wideout. An undeniably talented headcase, Jackson is the definition of a boom-or-bust pick — especially now that he’s been paid.

Chad Ochocinco, WR, Patriots
2011 stats: 15 games, 15 receptions for 276 yards and one TD
What went wrong in 2011: Ochocinco had uno or dos catches in 10 games and nada in the other five contests.
What to expect in 2012: Well, he changed his last name back to Johnson (again), signed with his hometown team, the Dolphins, and then promptly messed up what could he his last shot in the NFL with yet another off-fiend incident. So to sum it all up, should you draft the receiver-formerly-known-as-Ochocinco? Child please.

Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts
2011 stats: 16 games, 75 receptions for 960 yards and four TDs
What went wrong in 2011: The Colts replaced Peyton Manning with Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins. As a result, Wayne failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since 2003 and scored his fewest TDs since 2002.
What to expect in 2012: With Andrew Luck playing from behind with few weapons at his disposal, a routine Reggie season should be available at a discounted rate.

Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jaguars
2011 stats: 15 games, 39 receptions for 460 yards
What went wrong in 2011: Lewis dropped off the fantasy map one season after posting 58 catches for 700 yards and 10 TDs.
What to expect in 2012: Unless Blaine Gabbert is the most improved player in the league as a second-year signal-caller, Lewis will continue to struggle.

— Published on August 16, 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> How 2011 Fantasy Football Busts Will Do in 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:46
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-fall-practice-quarterback-battles
Body:

The kickoff to the 2012 college football season is just around the corner, but quarterback battles remain in full swing across the nation. Most national title contenders have settled on a quarterback, but Oregon - ranked by most experts in the top 10 - has yet to settle on a starter. Texas could push Oklahoma for the Big 12 title but needs to pick between David Ash or Case McCoy. And there's plenty of other intriguing battles outside of the top 10-15 teams in the nation, including Rutgers, Kentucky, Iowa State and Notre Dame.

College Football's Top 15 Quarterback Battles for Fall Practice

1. Oregon – The battle to replace Darron Thomas is college football’s most intriguing quarterback battle. The Ducks have the pieces in place to compete for a national title but need a quarterback to settle into the starting role. Sophomore Bryan Bennett began spring practice with an edge, especially due to his experience last year. Bennett threw for 369 yards and six touchdowns in limited work, while also adding 200 yards on the ground. Marcus Mariota redshirted last season but had a strong showing in the spring game, throwing for 202 yards and adding 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Although it’s never a good thing to replace a solid starting quarterback, the Ducks have to feel good about their options. Bennett and Mariota are both capable of leading Oregon to a Pac-12 title, it’s just a matter of settling on one. Don’t be surprised if both players receive starts, but Mariota’s edge in athletic ability eventually gets the nod as Oregon’s No. 1 quarterback.
Predicted Winner: Mariota

2. Texas – The gap between the Longhorns and Oklahoma for the No. 1 spot in the Big 12 has narrowed this offseason. The Sooners lost two offensive linemen, but all signs point to a return to full strength for running back Dominique Whaley. Texas averaged just 189.9 passing yards a game last season, and its quarterbacks threw 15 interceptions on 357 attempts. David Ash edged Case McCoy for the No. 1 spot late last year and finished spring practice with the starting nod. True freshmen Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet are in the mix, but the battle is expected to be between Ash and McCoy for the top spot. Considering Texas improved by three wins from 2010 to 2011, if Ash can give the Longhorns just a little more through the air, it’s not out of the question this team can win the Big 12.
Predicted Winner: Ash

3. Stanford Just like Boise State and Kellen Moore, the Cardinal will find it impossible to replace Andrew Luck. In three seasons with Stanford, he threw for 9,430 yards and 82 touchdowns, while leading the program to two BCS bowl appearances. Vying to replace Luck are three candidates: sophomore Brett Nottingham, junior Josh Nunes and redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan. Nottingham completed 5 of 8 throws for 78 yards and one score last season, while Nunes dealt with a foot injury and did not record a snap. Hogan is a longshot to win the No. 1 spot, leaving Nottingham and Nunes as the two candidates battling to start. Both quarterbacks are inexperienced, but the Cardinal returns a solid offensive line and group of running backs for the offensive to lean on. Heading into the final days of fall practice, it’s a tight battle for the right to start in the season opener against San Jose State.
Predicted Winner: Nottingham

4. Notre Dame If the Irish want to have any shot at winning 10 games and reaching a BCS bowl, they have to find an answer at quarterback. Tommy Rees started most of last season, finishing with 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns. However, he also tossed 14 picks and struggled in Notre Dame’s final two games. Rees is suspended for the season opener, leaving redshirt freshman Everett Golson, sophomore Andrew Hendrix and true freshman Gunner Kiel as the three candidates vying for the start against Navy. Hendrix played in five games last year, throwing for 249 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for 162 yards and one score on 25 attempts. Golson is an intriguing dual-threat option but has no game experience. Kiel rated as the No. 2 quarterback in the 2012 signing class by Athlon Sports but may need another year to develop.
Predicted Winner: Golson

5. Florida – Considering the offenses Florida fielded under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, it’s hard to understand how the Gators ranked 105thnationally in total offense and 71st in scoring last year. A multitude of problems appeared for Florida last season, starting with a lack of playmakers at running back and receiver, offensive line issues and trouble meshing with Charlie Weis’ system. New coordinator Brent Pease comes from Boise State and should be a much better fit in Gainesville. Sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are locked into a tight battle for playing time. Brissett threw for 206 yards and two touchdowns in limited work last year, while Driskel threw for 148 yards and two picks. Brissett is a better passer, while Driskel offers more on the ground. Driskel suffered a shoulder injury in fall camp, which could impact how this race plays out. Considering how close this battle is, it wouldn’t be a shock to see both players split snaps early in the year. Will Muschamp would like to settle on one quarterback, but this battle may extend into the season.
Predicted Winner: Brissett

6. Wisconsin The Badgers are hoping another transfer can be the answer at quarterback in 2012. Russell Wilson’s only season in Madison was a huge success, leading Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl, while throwing for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns. Danny O’Brien spent the last two years with Maryland, throwing for 4,086 yards, 29 scores and 18 picks. He had a standout freshman season but struggled to adapt to a new offense in 2011. O’Brien doesn’t have Wilson’s mobility or ability to create plays on the run, but is better than his performance showed last year. Competing with O’Brien for the No. 1 spot is senior Curt Phillips and redshirt freshman Joel Stave. Injuries have hindered Phillips throughout his career, while Stave has no game experience. O’Brien may not be as effective as Wilson, but he should have a solid season and one that leads Wisconsin to the Leaders Division title.
Predicted Winner: O’Brien

7. Boise State Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: It will be impossible to make Bronco fans forget Kellen Moore. There’s simply no way to replace 14,667 career passing yards and 142 touchdowns in one offseason. However, Boise State usually reloads without much trouble, which should keep the offense performing at a high level in 2012. Joe Southwick has the edge to start the season opener against Michigan State, and he has 400 yards and two touchdowns in two seasons as a reserve. True freshman Nick Patti is similar to Moore in size (5-foot-10, 187 pounds) and had a good showing in the spring. Redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea and sophomore Grant Hedrick are also in the mix but are behind Southwick and Patti for playing time.
Predicted Winner: Southwick

8. Texas A&M – With a new coaching staff, conference and starting quarterback, the Aggies will be dealing with a lot of changes for the 2012 season. Kevin Sumlin was one of college football’s top head coaching hires, but he has a tough task ahead of him this year, especially with the move to the SEC and a young quarterback taking over. Jameill Showers finished spring practice atop the depth chart but has very little experience after throwing just five passes in relief duty last year. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel is a better dual-threat option and is off to a strong start in fall practice. Sophomore Matt Joeckel has no game experience but threw for 3,145 yards and 40 touchdowns as a senior in high school. True freshman Matt Davis has the most upside of this group but likely needs a year to develop. Although Showers entered fall No. 1 on the depth chart, Manziel made enough of a push to win the job and was named Texas A&M's starting quarterback for the season opener against Louisiana Tech.
Named Winner: Manziel

9. Auburn A year after winning the national championship and owning one of college football’s top offenses, the Tigers slipped to 100thnationally in total offense and 70th with 25.7 points per game. Replacing Cam Newton was no easy task, especially with three inexperienced candidates vying for time. Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley combined for 16 touchdowns but also threw nine picks and failed to complete more than 60 percent of their throws. Kiehl Frazier played in all 13 games as a true freshman last season but completed only 5 of 12 passes for 34 yards. He made more of an impact on the ground, rushing for 327 yards and three scores. Gus Malzahn departed for Arkansas State, and Gene Chizik hired Scot Loeffler to coordinate the offense. Loeffler is bringing more of a pro-style attack to Auburn, but do the Tigers have a quarterback to execute the passing attack? With Trotter leaving after the 2011 season, it’s a two-man battle between Frazier and Moseley. Although Moseley has the edge in experience, Frazier should take the first snap for Auburn in 2012.
Predicted Winner: Frazier

10. Rutgers – After winning four out of their last five games in 2011, the Scarlet Knights are one of the favorites to win the Big East title. However, there’s a new coach (Kyle Flood) and a quarterback battle. Chas Dodd has 15 career starts, while throwing for 3,211 yards and 21 touchdowns during that span. Gary Nova started five games as a true freshman last year and finished with 1,553 passing yards and 11 touchdowns. Dodd has the edge in experience, but Nova has more upside and his arm strength should help Rutgers stretch the field more. Although Nova may have a few growing pains, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the field.
Predicted Winner: Nova

11. Arizona StateNew coach Todd Graham struggled to get his high-octane offense on track at Pittsburgh and could have similar issues if the Sun Devils can’t find a quarterback. Three candidates are locked into a battle for playing time: Redshirt freshman Michael Eubank and sophomores Mike Bercovici and Taylor Kelly. Kelly and Bercovici each played in two games last year, combining for seven pass attempts and 46 yards. Eubank has the most potential (and is the best fit for the offense) but doesn’t have any experience. Kelly was thought to be the odd man out exiting spring practice but is making a push for playing time this fall. Even if Kelly manages to edge the other two candidates for the starting nod, expect Eubank to start the most games for Arizona State in 2012.
Projected Winner: Eubank

12. Virginia – The right to be Cavaliers’ No. 1 quarterback wasn’t expected to be much of a battle at the end of the 2011 season. Michael Rocco held off David Watford early last year and finished by throwing for 312 yards in the bowl game against Auburn and 238 yards and one score in the upset victory over Florida State. However, Virginia landed Alabama transfer Phillip Sims, and the former Crimson Tide quarterback was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. Although Rocco has the edge in experience, Sims has more long-term upside and could be difficult to keep off the field.
Predicted Winner: Rocco

13. Iowa State – Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett had their moments last season, but neither quarterback could gain enough of an edge to claim the outright starting spot. Jantz led Iowa State to a 3-0 start but lost the job to Barnett halfway through the year. Barnett finished 2011 with 1,201 passing yards and six scores, while leading the Cyclones to an upset victory over Oklahoma State. Although the position is unsettled, Paul Rhoads should feel confident that he has two options who can help to lead Iowa State back to a bowl game. It’s possible both quarterbacks play in 2012, but Barnett’s upside could be the deciding factor.
Predicted Winner: Barnett

14. CincinnatiThe Bearcats got an early look at 2012 when Zach Collaros missed three games late last season due to a leg injury. Cincinnati’s offense wasn’t the same without Collaros but did manage to score at least 30 points in two out of the three games in his absence. Munchie Legaux made three starts last season and finished with 749 passing yards and five scores, while adding 185 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. However, he threw four picks and completed just 47.4 percent of his throws. Pushing Legaux for time in the spring was senior Brendon Kay, but he has very little experience. Freshmen Bennie Coney, Patrick Coyne and Trenton Norvell have upside but will be longshots to ascend to No. 1 on the depth chart. Even though Legaux needs some work as a passer, he should get better with more experience and his rushing ability will be a valuable asset for Cincinnati.
Predicted Winner: Legaux

15. Kentucky With an 11-14 record through his first two years in Lexington, Joker Philips is on the hot seat. The Wildcats probably need to win five or six games to save his job, and their success in 2012 will largely hinge on whether or not they can find a quarterback. Maxwell Smith stepped into a tough situation last year, starting three games late in the season as a true freshman, finishing with 819 yards and four touchdowns. He also tossed four picks, including two in a 19-10 loss to Georgia. Morgan Newton entered last year as the starter but struggled mightily, throwing for 793 yards and seven picks, while completing just 47.7 percent of his throws. The wildcard to watch is true freshman Patrick Towles, ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Kentucky by most recruiting services.
Predicted Winner: Smith


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:40
Path: /college-football/big-east-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes
Body:

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

Big East Coaches Anonymously Scout Their Conference Foes

Cincinnati

Opposing coaches size up the Bearcats:

"Butch Jones had a nice bounce back season. After his 4-8 year replacing Brian Kelly, the Bearcats shocked a lot of people getting to 10 wins. And that was even though they lost quarterback Zach Collaros to injury.

They had the Big East’s offensive and defensive players of the year in running back Isaiah Pead and defensive end Derek Wolfe. But Collaros, Pead, Wolfe and also linebacker J.K. Schaffer, a leader the past three years on defense, are all gone.

This year, they’ll base the offense around quarterback Munchie Legaux, who did an admirable job filling in for Collaros. He’ll have to take over the reins for the Bearcats this season.

Cincinnati may have lost more key contributors than any other league team, but don’t sell Jones’ bunch short. They used the doubts about them last year as motivation to pull off 10 victories.

I think they took too many hits graduation wise to reach double-digit wins, but certainly a bowl trip is not out of the question.

Virginia Tech should be the only potential problem in a very weak non-conference schedule that also includes Delaware State, Miami (Ohio), Fordham and Toledo."

Connecticut

Opposing coaches size up the Huskies:

"Not surprisingly Paul Pasqualoni’s debut season at Connecticut didn’t live up to Randy Edsall’s final season with the Huskies. Edsall bolted for Maryland after leading UConn to the Big East title and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. Pasqualoni took over for Edsall and had a fairly uneventful season.

The Huskies weren’t real impressive but weren’t horrible either. They were just – I’m not sure how to say this – but average.

They never played an exciting brand of football under Edsall and that has not changed with a new head coach.

Last year, their offense was very, very pedestrian  This year looks to be probably more of the same with six starters back on offense and eight starters back on defense.

Even though Johnny McEntee started every game last season, they used Scott McCummings in their wildcat formation. Neither way was particularly threatening from a defensive standpoint.

They do have a good young runner in Lyle McCombs. He’s going to be a good one. Unfortunately he’s about all they have an offense.

Unless they can get more out of the quarterback position, teams will focus on stopping McCombs.

Last year they only managed five wins and I’d say that sounds about right for this season especially with a non-conference schedule with back-to-back games against ACC teams N.C. State and Maryland."

Louisville

Opposing coaches size up the Cardinals:

"Two years, two bowl games for Charlie Strong. Good for him. I’m glad he’s having success because I think a lot of athletic directors missed the boat on him when he was defensive coordinator at Florida. Only Tom Jurich had the guts and was smart enough to take a chance on him and it’s paying off.

Not surprisingly Strong is winning at Louisville with defense. Last year the Cardinals only allowed more than 25 points twice and nobody scored more than 35 all season. Now they return virtually their entire lineup on the defensive side.

They’re also loaded on offense. Eight starters are back, but none are as significant as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He was thrown into the fire as a freshman last year and I thought he performed tremendously. Defenses sort of figured him out later in the season, but that’s to be expected for a first-year guy. I really think he is a terrific player and his performance can be the difference between Louisville winning the Big East and being a top 25 team or just languishing finishing with another seven-win season."

Pittsburgh

Opposing coaches size up the Panthers:

"For all the missteps, bad hires and musical chairs that have occurred with Pitt’s head coaching position, I think they’re very fortunate to end up with Paul Chryst. I thought they were in good shape with Todd Graham, after what happened with Mike Haywood. But then Graham bolted after one very mediocre season leaving the Panthers searching for yet another head coach.

Chryst had a great deal of success at Wisconsin and I think that can bring that same success with him to Pittsburgh.

I think Chryst’s style of offense will benefit Tino Sunseri. He’s been a whipping boy of Pitt fans, but I think he’ll do more by being asked to do less in Chryst’s system.

The biggest beneficiary will be Ray Graham. He was having a monster year last season before going down with a knee injury. Graham should get plenty of opportunities in Chryst’s offense.

That should also open up things considerably downfield for receivers Mike Shanahan and Devin Street.

The defense doesn’t return much but that shouldn’t be that big of a concern. If Pitt’s new offensive attack can grind it out, eat the clock and win the time of possession battle, the defense should be more than adequate.

The secondary should be strong. They’ve got some talent back there with safeties Jarred Holley and Andrew Taglianetti and cornerback K’Waun Williams."

Rutgers

Opposing coaches size up the Scarlet Knights:

"Greg Schiano had the best recruiting class in school history locked up. He had his best overall team since he got to Piscataway. All the pieces were in place for Rutgers to finally win a Big East championship under Schiano. But, of course, Schiano left just days before signing day to take the head coaching position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So Schiano’s Big East title-less streak won’t end.

I think Rutgers’ non-title streak could end this fall even with new coach Kyle Flood. With West Virginia gone to the Big 12, the Scarlet Knights have the best shot to win the league championship.

Next to Schiano the biggest departure that will have the greatest impact is wide receiver Mohamed Sanu’s decision to leave early for the NFL. He was a game-changer and there’s no question he will be missed.

Other than Sanu, Rutgers has a good core back starting with running back Jawan Jamison.

Quarterbacks Chas Dodd and Gary Nova will battle for starting spot. Dodd had his moments last year, but was inconsistent.

Rutgers has always been tough defensively under Schiano and this year will be no exception.

Linebacker Khaseem Greene is a beast. Offenses have to account for him on every play. Safety Duron Harmon also is one of the league’s best at his position.

The best thing Schiano left Flood was a ridiculously easy non-conference schedule, which should guarantee four wins against Tulane, Howard, Kent State and Army."

South Florida

Opposing coaches size up the Bulls:

"Skip Holtz is one of the good guys in coaching, but he had to be one of the unluckiest coaches in the country last year. He had a solid first year leading South Florida to a bowl game but last season was a total and complete disaster. A 4-0 start had the Bulls thinking they might be headed to their first BCS bowl in program history. What followed was a disaster, losing seven of their last eight games. It wasn’t necessarily the losses, but how they lost. Other than a blowout at Pittsburgh, they could have easily won the other six games, four losses were by three points each and two others by 10 points or less.

This year is the final one for quarterback B.J. Daniels. He’s had more than his shares of ups and downs. He’s been plagued by inconsistency throughout his career, but I think he’s primed for a big year.

I know every year USF is picked as a sleeper team to win the Big East.

Running back Darnell Scott and wide receiver A.J. Love are the biggest losses, but with 17 returning starters this could be the year since Holtz has to have better luck this fall.

While they could compete for the Big East title, they might only go 2-3 in non-conference play visiting Nevada and Miami and hosting Florida State along with gimmies against Ball State and Chattanooga."

Syracuse

Opposing coaches size up the Orange:

"I thought Doug Marrone had finally turned Syracuse’s program around. After an 8-5 debut season, the Orange started last season 5-2 including a home thrashing of West Virginia. They only needed one victory to make a second consecutive bowl game and instead went in the tank. Syracuse ended the season losing their last five games. And they weren’t competitive in most of those contests. Only one was by fewer than 13 points.

So what’s ahead in Marrone’s third season? The first half success or the second half slump? I’d like to hope Marrone could have more success, but with their non-conference schedule I think there will be more losses than wins. They have games against USC, Missouri, Northwestern and Minnesota.

If the Orange is going to have a chance, they’ll need a big year from quarterback Ryan Nassib. There was a lot of hype when he came to Syracuse. Not sure if it was fair or not, but he hasn’t lived up to it. At least not that. That could change this year.

If the defense doesn’t make drastic improvements, that’s not going to matter. They held only three teams to fewer than four touchdowns. They just don’t impress me defensively.

Shamarko Thomas and Marquis Spruill can be big-time defenders, but after that they don’t have much. This is likely their last season in the Big East. I know they’d like to go into the ACC next year on an upswing of a bowl trip. I just don’t see that happening."

Temple

Note: The Owls did not play a Big East team last season, so Athlon was unable to get a scouting report from an opposing coach. However, a coach from the MAC offered this on Temple:

"The Big East better watch out, this team is bigger and faster than most may think. 

From of a physical standpoint they are certainly ready for the Big East."
 


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Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:33
Path: /college-football/college-football-secs-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 SEC's top 40 must-see football games for the 2012 season:

1. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Alabama at LSU
The plotline for these two programs over the last 18 months or so has been well documented. Game of the Century Part 1 was an offensively challenged 9-6 road win for LSU on the legs of Brad Wing and Drew Alleman. While the Tigers deserved all the credit for the brutally contested clutch win, it still appeared to most who watched the game that Alabama was the superior team. As it turns out, it wasn’t really even close. LSU showed up for the BCS national championship game woefully under prepared and clearly lacking focus and motivation. The game now shifts to Baton Rouge, and the Death Valley faithful have had November 3 circled on the calendar ever since that fateful night in January when their team gained 92 total yards and five first downs.

2. Week 6 (Oct. 6) Georgia at South Carolina
If the SEC West semifinal is LSU-Bama, then the Eastern’s semi will take place in Columbia on the first Saturday in October. Normally one of the first two games of the year, the Bulldogs and Gamecocks have to wait until the second month to square off. The Cocks won last year in a shootout in Athens on the back of turnovers and special teams — they scored essentially four touchdowns on defense and a fake punt. But Marcus Lattimore’s fourth quarter performance was what sealed the win for Carolina, and No. 21 is back healthy this fall. Georgia already has a strong track record of success in Williams-Brice Stadium and should have its full compliment of defensive stars by the time these two meet as well. The Dawgs have won four of the last five in Columbia.

3. Week 3 (Sept. 15) Alabama at Arkansas
Arkansas fans are optimistic that, even without Bobby Petrino, their Razorbacks can compete for an SEC title. Well, winning the West is the first step and Week 3 gives John L. Smith a chance to prove his worth against the defending national champions. That said, AJ McCarron outplayed Tyler Wilson, Nick Saban out-coached Petrnio and the Bama defense out-stifled the Hogs last time they met. Arkansas will have to reverse nearly all of the above to pull off the upset this season. Running the ball more effectively will narrow the gap, as Bama outgained the Hogs 197 to 17 on the ground in the 38-14 decision last fall. Can the return of Knile Davis, and getting the contest at home, tip the scales in favor of Coach Smith? Fans won’t have to wait long to find out.

4. Week 13 (Nov. 23) LSU at Arkansas
Arkansas has had some recent success in this series with three wins in the last five meetings. However, last fall’s 41-17 whitewashing of the Hogs pushed LSU into the SEC title game. Les Miles’ bunch rushed for 286 yards and three touchdowns at a per carry clip of 6.2 yards. Tyler Wilson and company mustered 248 total yards of offense. Shifting the series back home gives the Hogs a better shot at an upset this time around. So will having Knile Davis back fully healthy — a guy who rushed for 152 yards and a score on 30 carries in the 31-23 win over LSU two years ago.

5. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.)
The Dawgs have won only four times in this series since 1989, but last year’s 24-20 win helped Georgia make it back to Atlanta and the SEC title game. On the arm of Aaron Murray and the river boat gambling of Mark Richt, Georgia won its first Outdoor Cocktail Party since 2007. If the Dawgs out-rush the Gators 185 to -19 again this year, fans can bank on another UGA victory.

6. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Auburn at Alabama
The Iron Bowl is filled with as much hatred as any other rivalry in the history of college football. And the stakes have never been as high as they have been over the past few seasons. The winner of this game has gone on to win the BCS National Championship in each of the last three seasons. The intensity and passion of an already rabid rivalry has reached an all-time high. With Bama acting as defending champs and Auburn enthused about new coordinators, War Eagle fans are expecting something much tighter than last season's 42-14 outcome.

7. Week 8 (Oct. 20) South Carolina at Florida
Both South Carolina and Georgia get plenty of key contests at home this fall, but Carolina’s trip down to The Swamp is the second biggest SEC East game of the year. From 1940 to 2004, the Gamecocks were winless against the Gators. Since then, Steve Spurrier has defeated his alma mater three out of seven times, including the last two. Having said that, last year’s meeting was a hotly contested, defensive struggle in which both quarterbacks struggled to complete passes. Expect the defenses and ground games to play huge roles. If South Carolina wants to take the next step in its search for its first SEC title, winning on the road within the division is a must.

8. Week 6 (Oct. 6) LSU at Florida
The Tigers and Gators lay claim four of the last nine national championships and both claim two of the best SEC resumes in history. While Florida won’t feature a vintage Gators squad, particularly on offense, this game still has plenty of weight in 2012. Florida’s defense should be nasty, but will have to play better at the point of attack after allowing 238 yards rushing to LSU last fall. The Gators mustered only 213 total yards in their second straight loss in the long-time crossover series.

9. Week 3 (Sept. 15) Florida at Tennessee
Yes, the Florida-Tennessee rivalry has seen better days. No, neither is picked to win the East. But this game has no shortage of storylines — or future NFL talent. One team possesses an electric high-flying offense while the other boasts one of the most explosive defenses in the league. And both have a head coach feeling the pressure from alumni and fans to win now. Florida has won seven straight in the series, but will be coming to Knoxville following a brutal trip to Texas A&M in Week 2. Meanwhile, the Vols will face ACC sleeper NC State in Week 1, so if both teams struggle out of the gate, this game could decide more than just bowl eligibility. If both enter 2-0, one team will leave as the clear contender to Georgia and South Carolina for SEC East supremacy.

10. Week 1 (Sept. 1) Alabama vs. Michigan (Arlington, Texas)
This might be the marquee non-conference match-up of the season. It is the first regular season match-up between the two historic programs and the Wolverines own a two (1988, 200) to one (1997) lead in the series. The thought that it may be one-sided, however, keeps it from sitting much higher on the list. The defending national champions have one of the deepest college teams ever assembled and Brady Hoke will be hard-pressed to stop the Bama rushing attack in the second half. Michigan can keep it close for three quarters, but in Jerry's Palace with that offensive line, Nick Saban should come away victorious.

11. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Arkansas at South Carolina
This series has been heavily one-sided over the last few years. Arkansas has won three straight in a big way (118-64) and has won five of the last six overall. This is Carolina's best chance to end the current streak as it welcomes the Hogs to Columbia. The Gamecocks' pass rush and front seven is going to pressure Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis and gives Steve Spurrier his best chance at a win over Arkansas since 2008.  

12. Week 1 (Sept. 1) Auburn vs. Clemson (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.

13. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Georgia at Missouri
Columbia won’t be the same as College Station, but fans have to expect a raucous atmosphere in the newly touched-up Faurot Field. That said, Mizzou has a more explosive offense than Texas A&M and will be facing the East favorites, who will be short-handed due to suspensions. Georgia needs to be on upset alert in Week 2.

14. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Arkansas at Texas A&M
This game should need no introduction. The second-half collapse last fall by the Aggies was one in a season filled with late-game gagging. Tyler Wilson threw for 510 yards and scored 25 points in the second half after trailing 35-17 at halftime in Cowboys Stadium. There will be no neutral field, however, this year as the game goes home-and-home for the next two years.

15. 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. The last three years have seen South Carolina stake a major claim to in-state supremacy and none 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.

16. Week 1 (Aug. 31) Tennessee vs. NC State (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?

17. Week 7 (Oct. 13) South Carolina at LSU
LSU has a commanding 16-2-1 series lead and 1994 was the last time the Gamecocks defeated the Tigers. While Carolina has a shot at the SEC title game — and a potential rematch with the Bayou Bengals — a win over LSU on the road in October feels like a stretch.

18. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Alabama at Tennessee
The Third Saturday in October hasn’t had the same luster as it had in days of yore, but if the Vols are improved like many believe, the drama of the 2009 meeting could easily be recreated in Knoxville this fall.

19. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Florida at Texas A&M
The first SEC home game for the Aggies and the 12th Man is going to be downright nuts. The gameday atmosphere in College Station needs no help, but adding SEC implications and the Florida Gators makes Kyle Field on Sept. 8 must-see TV.

20. Week 1 (Aug. 30) South Carolina at Vanderbilt
The season opener for both — not just for the SEC, but for the college football world — will feature Marcus Lattimore, Steve Spurrier and James Franklin (as well as what is easily the best SEC city). One of these two will be 1-0 in conference before every other SEC team even plays its first game of the year. The other will have a conference loss before the first Saturday of the year. No pressure, Commodores!

21. Week 6 (Oct. 6) Arkansas at Auburn
The Hogs dominated their home games a year ago and Auburn was one of the many victims. Tyler Wilson threw for 262 yards while the ground game rolled-up 176 yards and three scores in the 38-14 win. That said, Auburn posted 292 yards on the ground, further highlighting the Razorbacks' defensive issues.

22. 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.

23. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Tennessee at Georgia
These historic SEC programs haven’t seen too many close finishes of late with six of the last seven featuring double-digit point differentials. Georgia has won three out of four in the series, but the Vols are 2-2 in their last four trips to Athens. This is a game the Dawgs have to win.

24. Week 4 (Sept. 22) LSU at Auburn
The Bayou Bengals have won four of the last five meetings, including the memorable 24-17 battle on the Plains two years ago. It was the last time LSU visited Auburn and this time a national title could be on the line for the other Tigers.

25. Week 8 (Oct. 20) LSU at Texas A&M
These two old rivals used to play all the time until the series ended in the mid-90s. It was renewed in 2010 when they met in a 41-24 Cotton Bowl win for LSU. Now, the rivalry is back on track in a very different way — with SEC conference standings on the line. 

26. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Tennessee at South Carolina
Always fun when Big Orange nation battles with Steve Spurrier. Brutal road test for UT.

27. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Georgia Tech at Georgia
Easily the best named rivarly in college football: Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.

28. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Tennessee at Vanderbilt
In-state rivarly is heating up to a rolling boil where bowl rights and recruiting trail storylines abound.

29. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Missouri at Tennessee
Few stadiums Mizzou has ever played in will match the experience of Neyland, and that's before you consider the potential bowl implications. 

30. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Georgia at Auburn
The oldest running rivalry in the South produced a lopsided 45-7 UGA destruction of the Tigers last season.

31. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Alabama at Missouri
The entire city of Columbia will understand what being in the SEC means when the Crimson Tide visits town.

32. Week 4 (Sept. 22) Missouri at South Carolina
Second SEC game, the first on the road, for Mizzou will be even tougher than the debut.

33. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Missouri at Florida
Road trip to brutal SEC venue begins nasty final month for the Tigers.

34. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Auburn at Vanderbilt
Major opporutnity for the Dores to get a signature home win over perennial SEC power.

35. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Missouri at Texas A&M
First ever SEC meeting between two teams that have battled for years in the Big 12.

36. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Mississippi State at Ole Miss
Egg Bowl means very little nationally — but has huge import for Magnolia Staters.

37. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Tennessee at Mississippi State
Key swing game for both teams could mean trip to the postseason for Bulldogs, Vols.

38. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Texas A&M at Auburn
Third meeting all time (1911, 1986) between two teams battling for bowl privileges.

39. Week 6 (Oct. 6) Vanderbilt at Missouri
The Battle for James Franklin bragging rights between head coach and quarterback.

40. Week 4 (Sept. 22) Vanderbilt at Georgia
UGA was lucky to escape West End last fall with a 33-28 win, now gets Dores at home.

Best of the Rest:

41. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Vanderbilt at Florida
42. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Texas A&M at Alabama
43. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Washington at LSU
44. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Arkansas at Mississippi State
45. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Auburn at Mississippi State
46. Week 4 (Sept. 22) Rutgers at Arkansas
47. Week 1 (Sept. 2) Kentucky at Louisville
48. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Mississippi State at LSU
49. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Kentucky at Tennessee
50. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Mississippi State at Alabama

Athlon Sports Must-See TV for 2012:

Big 12's Must-See Games of 2012
Big Ten's Must-See Games of 2012
SEC's Must-See Games of 2012
Pac-12 Must-See Games of 2012 (Fri.)

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports SEC Predictions and Team Previews:

West:

1. LSU Tigers: No. 2
2. Alabama Crimson Tide: No. 3
3. Arkansas Razorbacks: No. 13
4. Auburn Tigers: No. 30
5. Texas A&M Aggies: No. 32
6. Mississippi State Bulldogs: No. 47
7. Ole Miss Rebels: No. 71

East:

1. Georgia Bulldogs: No. 8
2. South Carolina Gamecocks: No. 10
3. Florida Gators: No. 26
4. Missouri Tigers: No. 31
5. Tennessee Vols: No. 37
6. Vanderbilt Commodores: No. 41
7. Kentucky Wildcats: No. 75

Teaser:
<p> College Football: SEC's Must-See Games of 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:20
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-great-68-questions-17-east-region
Body:

College football season hasn’t begun, but here at Athlon we’re already hard at work in thinking about the 2012-13 basketball season. Believe us, the season will be here before you know it.

Every team has questions about the upcoming season, but some are bigger than others.

 

We’ll look at some of the biggest questions for 2012-13. Like the NCAA Tournament, we’re taking on 17 questions in each of our four regions of the country (South, East, Midwest and West) for our Great 68 questions. We’ve “seeded” our questions, too, ranking the biggest questions in each region.

 

On Tuesday, we examined 17 questions in our South Region, which included the Big 12 and SEC.

 

Today, we ranked the top 17 questions in our East Region, which includes the ACC, Big East, Colonial Athletic Association and the Ivy League.

 

East Region No. 1 seed: Will NC State live up to the hype?

NC State will be at or near the top of most ACC preseason rankings with a young, talented team that reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006 last season, played in the Sweet 16 for the first team since 2005 and finished with the most wins (24) since 1988. NC State is hungry to be back in the spotlight. Will Mike Gottfried’s second team be the one to deliver? C.J. Leslie (second-team All-ACC) and Lorenzo Brown (third-team All-ACC) will lead a group of three McDonald’s All-Americans (guards Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis and forward T.J. Warren). Leslie and Brown played well at the end of last season, leading the Wolfpack to Tourney wins over No. 6 seed San Diego State and No. 3 seed Georgetown, but the Pack still went 1-6 against ACC teams that reached the field.

 

No. 2: What’s next for Jim Calhoun?

The Connecticut coach suffered a hip fracture after a bicycle accident this summer, but it’s not likely to keep him from coaching. However, Calhoun is 70 years old and a cancer survivor who missed games last season while recovering from an operation related to spinal stenosis. The Huskies, who went 20-14 overall and 8-10 in the Big East, are also facing a postseason ban. Speculation about his future has been one of the storylines of the offseason, but Calhoun also is quite stubborn. And he’s nearing 900 career wins.

 

No. 3: Was Louisville’s Final Four run a sign of things to come or an aberration?

At the end of the regular season, Louisville looked nothing like a Final Four team. The Cardinals went 2-4 in the last six (the wins were over DePaul in overtime and Pittsburgh by 3) to stand at 22-9 overall and 10-8 in the Big East before the conference tournament. Louisville went on an eight-game win streak in the postseason to win the Big East Tournament and reach the Final Four. Did the Cards simply get hot at the right time or should those results be the norm for 2012-13? Possibly the latter. After two seasons of injury concerns, Louisville’s due for some better luck on that front. Peyton Siva is a Big East Player of the Year candidate, and Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng should form a formidble frontcourt. Sophomore Wayne Blackshear is looking to stay healthy, and George Mason transfer Luke Hancock will be eligible. Those are good reasons to believe the Cards will look more like the team in the 2012 postseason over the course of a full year.

 

No. 4: Is North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo ready for a Thomas Robinson-like breakout?

North Carolina under Roy Williams isn’t going to be low on talent and won’t stay down for long. That said, North Carolina must expect a drop off with Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller gone. No one will pick the Tar Heels to be title contenders, but how North Carolina absorbs those losses could depend on McAdoo. He considered a jump to the NBA Draft despite averaging just 15.6 minutes per game last season (averaging 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds). Like Robinson before last season, McAdoo could have started for most teams but was blocked by established veterans. With Zeller, Barnes and Henson gone, McAdoo will have his chance to flourish.

 

No. 5: How will Duke’s backcourt shake out?

Seth Curry is one of the only certainties in the Duke backcourt with Andre Dawkins redshirting in 2012-13. Rasheed Sulaimon is another highly decorated freshman following the one-and-done Austin Rivers, but he’s mostly a scorer. That leaves a void at point guard. Junior Tyler Thornton and sophomore Quinn Cook played last season, but neither were impact players.

Related: Krzyzewski leads ACC coach rankings

 

No. 6: Are Michael Carter-Williams and DaJuan Coleman ready to take charge for Syracuse?

Last season, Carter-Williams averaged only 10.3 points, and Coleman was in high school. Together, they could determine the course of Syracuse’s season. Four key members of last season’s 34-win team are gone, but Jim Boeheim has good reason to be confident in veterans Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair and Rakeem Christmas. The point guard spot will go to Carter-Williams, who is a good passer with outstanding vision. Coleman could stabilize the frontcourt if he can hold on to the starting job at center, allowing Christmas to play forward.

Related: Boeheim tops rankings of Big East coaches

 

No. 7: Will Steven Adams be a rare freshman star for Jamie Dixon?

Freshmen seldom play major roles for Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon. The coach, though, rarely has signed a freshman like Steven Adams, a seven-foot center who was a consensus top-10 recruit. After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 and finishing 5-13 in the Big East, Pitt needs a jolt. The Panthers have veterans returning (though not leading scorer Ashton Gibbs), but some have yet to reach their potential, such as Dante Taylor. Adams, fellow freshman and James Robinson and Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler could be shots in the arm.

Related: Basketball conference realignment winners and losers

 

No. 8: Has Notre Dame moved from overachiever to Big East frontrunner?

Notre Dame has started the season ranked in the AP poll only once in the past six seasons, yet the Irish finished second in the Big East two years ago and third last season. The six-season run has included six 20-win seasons and five NCAA Tourney bids. Notre Dame has a veteran frontcourt with Jack Cooley, Scott Martin and Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman plus an athlete backcourt of Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant. Notre Dame will have preseason expectations for the first time in several years. Speaking of which, the Irish have started the season ranked in the preseason four times under Brey and missed the NCAA Tournament in three of those seasons.

 

No. 9 Can Reggie Johnson lead Miami to a signature season?

Miami last season had a winning record in the ACC for the first time since the Hurricanes joined the conference -- all of that despite an injury to Reggie Johnson and ineligibility from Durand Scott. All the while, Kenny Kadji became one of the ACC’s biggest surprises and Shane Larkin impressed as a freshman. If Miami has all its cogs in place for the duration of a season -- especially one with so man questions at the top of the conference -- the Hurricanes could be in line for a special season. Consistency from Johnson could be the key. 

 

No. 10: Where does Villanova go from here?

Marquette, Pittsburgh and Villanova were the only Big East teams to make the NCAA Tournament each year since the league reorganized in 2005-06. Now Marquette stands alone with that superlative. Pitt reloaded with Adams and other newcomers, but Villanova may be in a precarious position after going 13-19 last season. Normally a haven for point guards, Villanova has questions in its backcourt with Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek gone (though neither lived up to his billing). The rebuilding job could be a multi-year project.

 

No. 11: When will Maryland be ready to win again?

Mark Turgeon’s first season wasn’t all that different from Gary Williams’ last -- 17 wins and an absence from the NCAA Tournament. The season was a slog, but Turgeon is optimistic for the future. Sophomore guard Nick Faust has a bright future, and the incoming freshman class, anchored by three standout frontcourt prospects, was nationally ranked. Maryland should be back in NCAA contention soon, possibly as early as this season and certainly by 2013-14.

 

No. 12: Who will be the Big East’s 2012-13 version of USF?

The Bulls have been among the bottom five teams in the Big East since they joined the conference, but they defied the odds by going 12-6 in the Big East and reaching the Sweet 16 with a team that lacked a double-digit scorer. Will another Big East team enjoy that kind of leap forward? DePaul has an All-Big East contender in Cleveland Melvin, but the Blue Demons are in an awfully deep hole. Rutgers is still young. Seton Hall lacks a point guard. Providence could be a candidate, but the Friars could be a year away if five-star guards Ricky Ledo and Kris Dunn are unavailable for all or parts of 2012-13. How about USF again? Anthony Collins played ahead of his years as a freshman point guards, and Augustus Gilchrist was the only one of the top five starters to exhaust his eligibility.

 

No. 13: Are Florida State’s part-timers ready for starring roles?

Leading scorer Michael Snaer is the Seminoles’ only returning starter, but sixth man Ian Miller and forwards Okaro White and Terrance Shannon are all juniors looking to move into more prominent roles. White can be a major scoring threat while the physical Shannon played only seven games due to injury. Miller may take on the point guard job vacated by Luke Loucks. The Seminoles brought plenty of junior college transfers and freshmen to fill out depth, but the play of Snaer’s veteran supporting cast likely will determine if FSU makes an unprecedented fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.

 

No. 14: With VCU out, can Drexel finally represent the Colonial in March or will Delaware shock the league?

Drexel routinely finds a way into the NCAA bubble debate but comes up empty. Last season was perhaps the Dragons’ strongest case as they went 29-7 and won the Colonial regular season title. VCU defeated Drexel in the CAA Tournament final, though, banishing Drexel to the NIT for the fifth time in 11 seasons under Bruiser Flint. Now, VCU is gone to the Atlantic 10. This season, Drexel may have to contend with George Mason and Old Dominion, but the Dragons lost only one senior of last season’s team. Instead of VCU, upstart Delaware may challenge Drexel for the CAA title. The Blue Hens return just about everyone -- including junior Devon Saddler (18.1 ppg) and senior Jamelle Hagins (12.4 ppg, 11.1 rpg) -- to a team that went 12-6 in conference.

 

No. 15: Will Harvard continue to be a national player?

Harvard may be a runaway favorite to repeat as Ivy League champion, but will the Crimson be a thorn in the side of major-conference programs (Harvard defeated Florida State last season, but lost to UConn in December and Vanderbilt in the round of 64)? Keith Wright is gone, but coach Tommy Amaker has recruited at a high enough level to keep Harvard interesting. Wesley Saunders was Amaker’s most highly decorated signee, but he played only 13.9 minutes as a freshman last year.

Related: Amaker ranks among top coaches outside the Big Six

 

No. 16: What does the new-look bench mean for St. John’s?

Maybe that should read new-look/old-look bench. Steve Lavin is back after missing most of the season after recovering from prostate cancer surgery. Meanwhile, assistant Mike Dunlap, Lavin’s interim coach and a respected Xs and Os man, was hired as the Charlotte Bobcats’ head coach. Aside from the coaching situation, St. John’s struggled to a 13-19 season more likely because of youth. Lavin inherited a senior-laden team when the Red Storm surprised to win 21 games and reach the NCAA Tournament in 2010-11. With two standout recruiting classes, Lavin has more pieces in pace, though they’re all freshmen and sophomores. Expect growing pains, but not quite as much as last season.

 

No. 17: Who should I get to know in the Big East?

All six members of the Big East’s first-team all-conference squad are gone. That makes room for new blood to make a run at stardom in the league. Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick may have been overlooked last season and could make a bid for conference player of the year. And Marquette isn’t without replacements for Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett and “switchable” Jamil Wilson will be worth watching in Milwaukee. At Georgetown, Otto Porter should take his place in the run of versatile Hoyas forwards, which has included Dajuan Summers and Jeff Green.

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> College Basketball's Great 68 Questions: 17 for the East Region</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:09
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breakout-sophomore-players
Body:

Not every rookie enjoys immediate success. Here’s our list of players we expect to shine in their second seasons in the NFL.

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle
This hard worker is limited physically, but he’s extremely dependable and has little competition for targets in Seattle.

Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego
It took some time for the local product to get used to the NFL, but he showed flashes of ability against Green Bay (four catches, 79 yards), Oakland (five, 97, TD) and Denver (three, 50). With Vincent Jackson moving on to Tampa Bay, Brown can expect even more targets.

Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay 
An aging Donald Driver should create chances for the explosive and versatile Cobb in the slot. The 2012 Packers’ offense could easily provide value for three wide receivers.

Leonard Hankerson, WR, Washington
The former Miami Hurricane posted his first 100-yard game in only his second career start before his season ended due to a hip injury. He is on schedule to be back for summer camp and could start in 2012.

Roy Helu, RB, Washington
Robert Griffin III’s best friend this fall will be an effective ground game. Helu, a former Nebraska Cornhusker, started only five games as a rookie and scored only three times. Still, he posted a 4.2 yards-per-carry average and caught 49 passes. What keeps Helu from feature back status? Mike Shanahan’s infamously unpredictable running back rotation.

Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans
Ingram dealt with nagging injuries as a rookie, but the former Heisman Trophy winner scored in four of the last six games he played and posted his two best rushing totals (91 and 80 yards) over his final four games of the season. Fully healthy, Ingram should prove why the Saints moved back into the first round to draft him in 2011.

Taiwan Jones, RB, Oakland
The Eastern Washington product will compete with scat-back Mike Goodson for time behind Darren McFadden — who has rarely been healthy in his brief career. Jones has been incredibly productive at every stop and has the talent to give Run DMC a break for 10-12 touches per game.

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Detroit
After rupturing his Achilles tendon last August, Leshoure never got the chance to show his explosive playmaking skill that made him a 1,700-yard, 17-TD back at Illinois. He has the size and physical presence Detroit has craved for years, and if he can stay healthy he could explode in 2012. Keep in mind that Leshoure is suspended for the first two games of the season due to his off-field transgressions.

Greg Little, WR, Cleveland
Only A.J. Green caught more passes among NFL rookie wideouts last season than Little’s 61. No one should be more excited about the addition of Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson than Mr. Little.

Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee
Matt Hasselbeck will need to stay healthy — and play very well — to keep this talented gunslinger off the field. Locker displayed a big arm, above-average athletic ability and should be surrounded with more talent.

Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota
With a new left tackle, a pair of new receivers to go with Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph and a (hopefully) healthy Adrian Peterson, Ponder should be trending upward into 2012.

Stevan Ridley, RB, New England
The former LSU Tiger can be a workhorse back. His best three games came in the final three games of the season, when he got double-digit carries and averaged 70 yards rushing. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis gone to Cincinnati, the job as No. 1 back could be Ridley’s.

Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota
Expect many two-tight end sets from the Vikings. Rudolph has had injury issues in the past, but he has way too much speed, size and athleticism to be kept off the field.

Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore
He made a name for himself in 2011, but Smith is still undervalued in mock drafts. With another year of seasoning, Smith will only build on his solid first season.

Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami
New coach Joe Philbin isn’t exactly a run-first coach, but there is no reason for Thomas not to improve dramatically in Year 2. A full season of healthy football will yield a nice ROI for a player of his raw talent — especially considering Reggie Bush’s penchant for injury.

Titus Young, WR, Detroit
The battle for the slot between this second-year player and rookie Ryan Broyles will be interesting. But in the Lions’ offense, there should be room for both to excel. Young caught at least four passes in each of the final four games last year.

— Originally published in the 2012 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breakout Sophomore Players</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:04
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-baltimore-ravens
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Aaron Wilson, Carroll (Md.) County Times

Has Joe Flacco topped out or is there another level of production in store for Flacco owners?
Flacco has the necessary weapons, arm strength and accuracy to regularly produce 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns per season. Where we could see an upgraded Flacco is through improved fundamentals taught by new quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell. The primary obstacle to bigger numbers, however, is the Ravens’ reliance on Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice in a run-first offense and Flacco’s tendency to use Rice so much as a safety valve.

Can Torrey Smith build on his stellar rookie season and become a No. 1 wide receiver?
Smith is capable of expanding his game and becoming a more complete downfield target, something he proved when his hands gradually improved toward the end of last season. He’s a legitimate big-play threat who’s also being utilized now on intermediate routes in addition to fly patterns and bubble screens. Where Smith needs to continue to hone his game is by catching the football cleanly on a consistent basis. His speed is rare, but the continued presence of veteran Anquan Boldin on the roster means he’ll still be sharing the workload.

Is Ed Dickson going to be the primary tight end or will Dennis Pitta steal enough targets to keep Dickson off fantasy rosters?
The Ravens’ plan is to utilize both tight ends, with Dickson slated to receive more targets than Pitta. While Dickson’s strengths are his superior size and explosiveness, Pitta has arguably the best hands on the team.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Torrey Smith, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Ed Dickson, TE
Overvalued: Anquan Boldin, WR
Top Rookie: Courtney Upshaw, LB
Bounce-Back: None
Top IDP: Ray Lewis, LB

2012 Draft Class

2. Courtney Upshaw OLB 6-2 272 Alabama
2. Kelechi Osemele G 6-5 333 Iowa State
3. Bernard Pierce RB 6-0 218 Temple
4. Gino Gradkowski C 6-3 300 Delaware
4. Christian Thompson S 6-0 211 S. Carolina St.
5. Asa Jackson CB 5-10 191 Cal Poly
6. Tommy Streeter WR 6-5 220 Miami (Fla.)
7. DeAngelo Tyson DE 6-2 315 Georgia

Fantasy Impact: The Ravens traded out of the first round but landed an instant impact player in Courtney Upshaw. With Terrell Suggs suffering a torn Achilles, Baltimore needs Upshaw to help with the pass rush in 2012. He could be a sleeper to target in IDP leagues. With Ben Grubbs signing with New Orleans, Kelechi Osemele has a chance to start at guard. Bernard Pierce will back up Ray Rice and should be a handcuff pick in all formats.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at WAS, DEN, NYG)

Ray Rice, last season’s top fantasy points collector at the running back position, will face two defenses in the semifinals and finals of most fantasy postseasons that were 11th- and 12th-worst against fantasy running backs. And Rice should be used in bulk these three weeks, as the Ravens try to slow down pass offenses led by Robert Griffin III, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Baltimore Ravens</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:02
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-atlanta-falcons
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Knox Bardeen, CBSSports.com

We know he will still get the goal-line and short-yardage carries, but will Michael Turner reach 300 touches for the fourth time in five years?
No, we’ve seen the end of the days when Turner gets 300 or more carries per year. The Falcons are going to limit his touches to keep him fresh throughout the season, and they’ll be able to do that with the emergence of Jacquizz Rodgers.

How many touches will Rodgers get?
Coach Mike Smith said on a number of occasions last season that he felt Rodgers could be an every-down back. I’m not ready to completely agree with that just yet. I do think Rodgers earned the right to carry the ball more in 2012, and quite frankly, the Falcons need him to do so to spell Michael Turner. Rodgers carried the ball 57 times in 2011, and as long as both he and Turner stay healthy, I think Rodgers will approach 100 carries in 2012.

Is it possible that Julio Jones actually becomes a better fantasy option than Roddy White?
Yes, it’s a real possibility. I don’t think Jones will get as many targets or receptions as White, but Jones could accumulate more yards and get into the end zone more frequently. There isn’t a receiver on this team that is trusted more to move the chains than White, who almost had more first downs via the pass than the next two highest players on the team combined. White has a knack for knowing how to get the ball across the first-down marker and is depended on frequently in those situations. Jones can stretch the field, and in new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s new scheme, the Falcons will be a more vertical team.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Jacquizz Rodgers, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Harry Douglas, WR
Overvalued: Michael Turner, RB
Top Rookie: Charles Mitchell, S
Bounce-Back: John Abraham, DE
Top IDP: Sean Witherspoon, LB

2012 Draft Class

2. Peter Konz C/G 6-5 315 Wisconsin
3. Lamar Holmes T 6-6 333 Southern Miss
5. Bradie Ewing FB 6-0 239 Wisconsin
5. Jonathan Massaquoi DE 6-2 264 Troy
6. Charles Mitchell SS 5-11 202 Mississippi State
7. Travian Robertson DT 6-4 302 South Carolina

Fantasy Impact: The Falcons were without a first-round pick due to the trade to acquire Julio Jones in last year’s draft. With few needs at the skill positions, Atlanta focused on upgrading the depth on the offensive line and acquired two future starters in center Peter Konz and tackle Lamar Holmes. Fullback Bradie Ewing replaces Ovie Mughelli as the team’s lead blocker and is likely to start in 2012. Jonathan Massaquoi likely won’t start but could see playing time as a pass-rush specialist. This draft filled some needs but isn’t likely to produce any fantasy value.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at CAR, NYG, at DET)

Matt Ryan and his receivers get last season’s eighth-, sixth- and 12th-worst defenses against fantasy quarterbacks and the 21st-, fifth- and sixth-worst defenses against receivers. Plus, the Falcons will be facing three potent offenses themselves. All three quarterbacks were top eight in fantasy points, and all three teams had a receiver in the top seven in fantasy points last season.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Atlanta Falcons</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:01
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-arizona-cardinals
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Scott Bordow, Arizona Republic

Can Beanie Wells stay healthy and build on his breakout 2011 campaign?
Even if Wells does stay healthy it’s unlikely he’ll equal or better his 2011 numbers, when he ran for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns. That’s because the Cardinals plan to split his carries with second-year back Ryan Williams, who missed all of last season with an patella tendon injury. The Cardinals were raving about Williams in training camp before he got hurt. Wells will probably get the ball at the goal line because he’s the bigger back, but his injury history and Williams’ availability should make fantasy players beware.

Which “first-year” player will have a bigger fantasy impact in the desert, Williams or Michael Floyd?
Floyd is the pick because he’ll be the No. 2 receiver barring a holdout or injury, and Williams will split time with Wells at tailback. Floyd also will benefit from all the attention Larry Fitzgerald gets on the other side. Teams that decide to double Fitzgerald will try to cover Floyd one-on-one with their second-best defensive back. Also, at 6'3" and 225 pounds, Floyd will be an enticing target in the end zone.

Does Todd Heap have any fantasy gas left in the tank or is Rob Housler the better pick?
Heap produced when he played last season, but the problem is he doesn’t play enough. The Cardinals love Housler’s ability to get deep down the middle of the field, and his 2011 statistics (12 catches, 133 yards, no TDs) would have been much better had Kolb not underthrown him so many times. Neither tight end will put up big numbers, but Housler has more potential.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Rob Housler, TE
Deep-Sleeper: Ryan Williams, RB
Overvalued: Beanie Wells, RB
Top Rookie: Michael Floyd, WR
Bounce-Back: Kevin Kolb, QB
Top IDP: Daryl Washington, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Michael Floyd WR 6-3 225 Notre Dame  
3. Jamell Fleming CB 5-11 206 Oklahoma  
4. Bobby Massie T 6-6 316 Ole Miss  
5. Senio Kelemete G 6-4 301 Washington  
6. Justin Bethel S 6-0 190 Presbyterian  
6. Ryan Lindley QB 6-4 230 San Diego State  
7. Nate Potter T 6-6 300 Boise State

Fantasy Impact: The Cardinals have been looking for a reliable No. 2 receiver to pair with Larry Fitzgerald since Anquan Boldin was traded to Baltimore. Michael Floyd struggled with injuries at Notre Dame but should be a valuable addition to the passing attack and will help take some of the pressure off of Fitzgerald. Jamell Fleming should contend for snaps as Arizona’s No. 3 corner, while Bobby Massie and Senio Kelemete help improve the depth on the offensive line. Ryan Lindley has upside but needs a year or two of development before pushing for playing time.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at SEA, DET, CHI)

Two home games against teams traveling nearly across the country are never a bad thing come playoff time. And Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd will face two defenses at home that were sixth- and 11th-worst against fantasy receivers last season. Seattle and Chicago were in the top half of the league against the run, so the Cards’ receivers may be leaned upon more.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Arizona Cardinals</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/50-best-baseball-nicknames-all-time-1
Body:

Nicknames and baseball players just seem to go together like bat and ball. For as long as young boys and men have been batting baseballs around, they have given each other descriptive nicknames for facial features, deformed body parts, the way they played the game, hair color and, the most popular, shortening their surnames. In fact, some players with nicknames were given nicknames for their nicknames. 

Here are the 50 best—and often very politically incorrect—nicknames in baseball history.

50. Don Mossi
Ears
 (
also The Sphinx)
Perhaps you had to see Mossi to really appreciate the name. In Ball Four, Jim Bouton said Mossi “looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open.”

49. Ernie Lombardi
Schnozz

Not to allow Mossi and his ears steal all the thunder, the catcher who was also known as the world’s slowest human had a beak of monumental proportions. But the catcher hit his way into the Hall of Fame.

48. Nick Cullop
Tomato Face

Cullop spent 23 years in the minors, hit 420 home runs and had 2,670 hits, both minor league records when he retired.

47. Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown
Three Finger

Known more commonly as Three Finger Brown than by Mordecai, Brown capitalized on losing most of his index finger in a childhood farming accident. Apparently that helped him throw a devastating curveball described by Ty Cobb as the toughest in baseball.

46. Don Zimmer
The Gerbil

Despite the success for the Red Sox in the late 1970s, Zim is blamed for the team’s collapse in 1978, ultimately losing a playoff game at Fenway Park (commonly known as the Bucky Dent game). Because of this, lefthander Bill Lee, with whom Zimmer often sparred, gave him the name Gerbil.

45. Bill Lee
Spaceman

And speaking of Lee, it wasn’t as though he was a mental giant himself. The lefthander’s outrageous, often irreverent personality and his fearless rhetoric earned him the name Spaceman, allegedly, from John Kennedy (the Red Sox utility infielder, not the former President). Just being left-handed in Boston was probably enough.

44. Jim Grant
Mudcat

Grant, who became one of the most successful African-American pitchers in the 1960s, was the roommate of his boyhood idol Larry Doby when he first came to Cleveland. It was the veteran Doby who dubbed him “Mudcat”, saying that he was “ugly as a Mississippi mudcat.”

43. Jim Hunter
Catfish

Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finely often seemed more interested in flashy P.R. than winning baseball games. Evidently, this nickname was a product of the PR-conscious Finley more than any angling the Hall of Fame pitcher might have done in his home state of North Carolina.

42. Randy Johnson
Big Unit

Okay, get your mind out of the gutter. Former Expos teammate — yes, Johnson was originally a member of the Expos — Tim Raines once collided with him during batting practice, looked up at the 6’10” hurler and proclaimed, “You’re a big unit.”

41. Mark Fidrych
The Bird

The affable righthander enjoyed talking to the baseball while on the mound and manicuring the mound on his hands and knees between innings. But it was because of his resemblance to Big Bird of Sesame Street fame that Fidrych was given his name.

40. Marc Rzepczynski
Scrabble

Some surnames scream for nicknames, like Yastrzemski with Yaz, and Mazeroski with Maz. But there are few names that could earn more points in the famous word game than this lefthander’s.

39. Doug Gwosdz
Eye-chart

Ancestors of the former catcher of the San Diego Padres must have misspelled this name somewhere down the line. But as astute teammates surmised, his jersey resembled those charts hanging on walls in optometrists’ offices.

38. Johnny Dickshot
Ugly

First of all, that is his real name. And secondly, he referred to himself as the “ugliest man in baseball.” So, we have no qualms about Dickshot making the list.

37. Luke Appling
Old Aches and Pains

Dubbed by teammates, it’s unclear whether the name was given in jest. But it is clear that Appling didn’t mind complaining about the physical demands of the job all the way to the Hall of Fame.

36. Roger Bresnahan
The Duke of Tralee

Nothing really unusual about this name; after all many players were named in honor of their hometowns. Earl Averill was the Duke of Snohomish after his hometown in Washington. But, Bresnahan was from Toledo. For some reason he enjoyed telling folks he was born in Tralee, Ireland.

35. Bob Feller
Rapid Robert

Taking the American League by storm as a teenager led to this nickname as well as The Heater from Van Meter (Iowa).

34. Edward Charles Ford
The Chairman of the Board

Well known as Whitey because of hair color, the lefty dominated the American League for 16 seasons as a member of the Yankees. As a tribute to his calm, cool demeanor in tough situations, he became known as the Chairman of the Board.

33. Leon Allen Goslin
Goose

Several sources agree on how Goslin acquired his name. Evidently, he waved his arms as he chased fly balls, had a long neck, and was not the most graceful player.

32. Willie Mays
Say Hey Kid

There is no definitive agreement on how Mays acquired this classic name.

31. Mickey Mantle
The Commerce Comet

Mantle, a star athlete from Commerce, Oklahoma, was offered a football scholarship by the University of Oklahoma, but wisely chose baseball.

30. Joe Medwick
Ducky-Wucky
(also Muscles)
According to Baseball-Reference.com, fans called Medwick Ducky-Wucky more than merely Ducky, presumably because of his gait, or perhaps the way he swam. Teammates, seemingly out of self-preservation, never called him Ducky-Wucky, but chose instead the name, Muscles.

29. Brooks Robinson
Vacuum Cleaner

If you ever saw Brooksie do his work around the hot corner, you would quickly understand the moniker. Teammate Lee May once quipped, “Very nice (play)...where do they plug Mr. Hoover in?”

28. Aloysius Harry Simmons
Bucketfoot Al

With an exaggerated stride toward third base. Bucketfoot Al bashed major league pitching at a .334 clip on his way to the Hall of Fame.

27. Lynn Nolan Ryan
Ryan Express

No one readily admits giving him the name, but any hitter who stood in the box against Ryan is keenly aware of what the name means.

26. Darrell Evans
Howdy Doody

One look at the famous puppet and a glance at the power-hitting lefty, and you’ll know why.

25. Dennis Boyd
Oil Can

Born in Mississippi (where beer may be referred to as oil), the colorful righthander carried the nickname on to the major leagues.

24. Johnny Lee Odom
Blue Moon

Reportedly, a classmate in grade school thought Odom’s face looked like the moon. Really?

23. Frank Thomas
Big Hurt

Given to Thomas by White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson. Thomas put the big hurt on American League pitching for 19 years.

22. Garry Maddox
Minister of Defense

If you watched Maddox patrol center field for the Phillies in the 1970s, you immediately get the name.

21. Mike Hargrove
Human Rain Delay

And you think Nomar Garciaparra invented the step-out-of-the-box-and-adjust-your-batting-gloves routine. Nope. Seasons changed between pitches when he was at bat.

20. Daniel Joseph Staub
Le Grand Orange

Known as Rusty by the Texans while with the Colt .45s, he became Le Grand Orange in Montreal as a member of the original Expos.

19. Jimmy Wynn
Toy Cannon

His small stature and powerful bat led to this moniker.

18. Steve Balboni
Bye-Bye

Presumably, Balboni was given the name because of his propensity to hit home runs. It may also be noted that a double meaning could be bye-bye, as in “He gone” back to the dugout because of his propensity to strike out.

17. Joakim Soria
The Mexicutioner

When the Royals’ closer took the mound, it was usually lights out for the opponent’s offense. He has since requested another, less violent name.

16. Frank Howard
The Capital Punisher

While playing in the nation’s capital, Howard punished AL pitching for 237 home runs in seven seasons, twice leading the league with 44, and finishing second in 1969 with 48.

15. Carl Pavano
American Idle

After signing a four-year, $38 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2005 season, Pavano made just nine starts in four seasons, going 3-3 with a 5.00 ERA.

14. Lawrence Peter Berra
Yogi

Evidently when Berra sat with arms and legs crossed a friend suggested he looked like a Hindu yogi. Now the term Yogi is associated with malaprops more than Hindu.

13. Mariano Rivera
The Sandman

Good night batters.

12. Rickey Henderson
Man of Steal

One look at his stats and you understand this one: 1,406 career steals and a record 130 in 1982.

11. Shane Victorino
The Flyin’ Hawaiian

Victorino plays the game with endless energy and spunk, but his heritage rules the day.

10. Vince Coleman
Vincent Van Go

A true artist of the stolen base.

9. Ken Reitz
Zamboni

Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon marveled at how the St. Louis third baseman could pick up everything.

8. Pablo Sandoval
Kung Fu Panda

The loveable Giant Panda.

7. Fred McGriff
Crime Dog

One of ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman’s nicknames that actually stuck. Thanks McGruff, the cartoon Crime Dog.

6. Kenny Rogers
The Gambler

“Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser. The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

5. Jose Bautista
Joey Bats

Bautista was terrific as Joey Bats in “The Hitman” on YouTube. He’s been even better as himself for the Blue Jays.

4. Harry Davis
Stinky

Poor Davis lost his job as Detroit first baseman to some kid name Hank Greenberg in 1933.

3. Ron Cey
The Penguin

Playing for Tommy Lasorda in the minor leagues must have had its pros and cons. Having your manager dub you Penguin because of your awkward running style would probably fall on the con side.

2. William Ellsworth Hoy
Dummy Hoy

As if anyone needed reminding, here’s a clear indicator of just how far political correctness has come in 100 years. William Ellsworth Hoy lost his hearing and ability to speak as a result of childhood meningitis. At only 5’4”, he was difficult to strike out and was the first player to hit a grand slam in the American League. He died in 1961, just five months shy of his 100th birthday.

1. George Herman Ruth
Babe 
(also the Bambino, Sultan of Swat, The King of Sting, The Colossus of Clout)

Babe was the only major leaguer large enough for five larger than life nicknames.

 

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.

Teaser:
<p> From Ears to Babe, here are our 50 favorite</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 16:20
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-22
Body:

Watkins Glen had members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council talking from what should have been done at the end of the race with oil on the track to what they saw throughout the entire event. Fan Council members also shared their thoughts on Dodge’s recent announcement that it will leave NASCAR after this season. Here’s what the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had to say on those issues:


Grade Sunday’s Cup race at Watkins Glen

46.5 percent called it Great
42.8 percent called it Good
8.7 percent called it Fair
2.0 percent called it Poor

What Fan Council member said:
• OMG! I was there and the final incident between Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski happened right in front of me! It was not only the greatest road course race I’ve ever seen, it was in the top-5 finishes I’ve ever seen!

• Best race all year and my guy wasn’t even in the running.

• I still don’t understand why people don’t like the road course races. They’ve been more exciting than Bristol for the past few years.

• Outside of Smoke’s charge to the front and Junior’s surprise appearance in the top 10 at a road course during the race, this one was a snoozer until the end.

• Please! There was passing, there was spinning-out-of-nowhere, and then there was that FANTASTIC FINISH!!! Holy cow — I haven’t been that involved in a race in AGES! Loved it!

• More. Road. Courses. PLEASE! Especially one in the Chase. Phenomenal racing all day long.

• The race was good. People will say it was great because of the ending, but I was disappointed that a missed call impacted the finish. Even had I been OK with the ending of the race, I do not believe that a race is judged by it’s ending. Instead, it is the pit strategies and side-by-side racing throughout the race that I consider.

• Race was great from start to finish ... and what a finish! That last lap literally got me up on my feet (and I have no idea when the last time THAT happened!!). Probably a bad call on NASCAR’s part to not throw the caution, but damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I agree with BK: Now that was racing!! Kudos to Ambrose!

• I thought most of the race was awful, especially when the cars got strung out with big gaps. The last lap was incredible, but not enough to save the rest of it.

• I’m really beginning to like these road courses — and not just for the last lap. This race was really good all the way through. And the length of the race was perfect!!

• What was not to like? Even if you don’t care for road courses, there was action all over the track, even when it was a little spread out up front for a while. The last few laps with Kyle, Brad and Marcos was fantastic. And seeing Tony Stewart mow through the field after his penalty was pretty outstanding!


What did you think of the end of the Watkins Glen race?
With some drivers saying there was oil on the track, NASCAR did not throw a caution. Series officials said afterward that their spotters positioned around the track couldn’t see the oil. The oil played a role on the last lap with Kyle Busch running through it and allowing Brad Keselowski to close. They hit, with Busch spinning. Then Keselowski and winner Marcos Ambrose ran off course and into each other in a duel to the finish. So, what did Fan Council members think of the finish?

47.5 percent said it was racing the way it should be
38.8 percent were conflicted — they’re not for what they saw but not against the action
13.7 percent said it was embarrassing to the sport to allow oil to impact the finish

What Fan Council members said:
• NASCAR’s hands were tied because there was no oil visible on the track. Drivers scream their heads off about debris when they believe it will benefit them and NASCAR knows better than to call a caution without first confirming it for themselves. Now granted, a majority of the field was reporting oil, but at that point the white flag was already in their air and it would have been a big controversy had NASCAR thrown the yellow and ended the race on the final lap. People would have been livid for not letting it play out. I believe NASCAR got this one right, it was a bad set of circumstances and they went with their gut. It was a fantastic finish we all would have missed out on had a caution been thrown prematurely.

• NASCAR is always saying they don’t want to throw the yellow because it will impact the end of the race. Well, by them not throwing the yellow it impacted it. It seems like there is something clouding their vision lately of making the right calls.

• The drivers almost to a man said that they couldn’t see the oil. If they can’t, how would NASCAR see it? I think that by the time the driver complaints over the radio reached NASCAR, it was too late to stop the race. The best driver won the race, in my view.

• The “that was racing the way it should be” was for the skill of the three drivers — they were very entertaining and put on a good show. But I do think that NASCAR should have heard the drivers complaining of oil. There were lots of comments on Twitter and in-car radios, so (NASCAR) should have known. While it was exciting and fun, it put people in danger. I think we are only talking about the excitement because no one got hurt, but it was lucky that no one did. If we had had the same end to the race that we had last year with a big giant wreck, and if someone had gotten hurt, the “excitement” wouldn’t have been what we talked about on Monday. Shame on NASCAR for not better protecting the drivers.

• As much as I hate it when NASCAR throws bogus debris cautions, a caution for oil at the end was necessary. When oil on the track affects drivers’ finishes and has such substantial impact on the points, something needs to be put in place so it does not happen again. That said, the finish from an action perspective was great. Great car control, great racing — but it is almost invalidated because of the oil that created it.

• So, nobody saw the oil, what were they supposed to do, stop the race because it seemed like something might be slippery due to people spinning out? That happens sometimes in racing. It’s not necessarily because of something on the track. If they start micro-managing split-second moments at the end of races, NASCAR is dead on arrival.

• NASCAR was in a no-win situation. By the time everyone realized what was going on, the white flag had flown. If NASCAR had flown the caution after that, then they would have gotten crucified for not letting the race finish as it would have ended under caution.

• Everyone, including the drivers talking about the oil, said you couldn’t SEE the oil. If that’s the case, then why would NASCAR throw the caution? I believe NASCAR when they said the on-track officials didn’t see anything so they didn’t throw the yellow. Lastly, if the oil was THAT bad, wouldn’t a lot more of the drivers have spun out? Jeff Gordon aside, most of the guys completed the last lap just fine, thank you.

• The end of the race was just silly. NASCAR is supposed to offer real racing, not sliding around like a demolition derby.

• I’m somewhat glad NASCAR chose to follow the old dictum “Leave well enough alone.” Had the outcome been different, I’m certain to have complained with greater vigor.


Dodge is leaving NASCAR after this season. Does it matter to you?

50.3 percent said No
49.7 percent said Yes

What Fan Council members said:
• I really don’t care for Dodge, however, competition amongst the manufacturers is part of what makes the sport great and the money they bring to the sport leads to development of new technologies. I hope Dodge is able to put something together that they can be competitive with and return in 2014.

• Sad to see Dodge go away but I am not biased toward one manufacturer or another. I pull for drivers who race, not corporations.

• I think it is sad that the only two American manufacturers in NASCAR are Ford and Chevy. I have been a fan since way back when all manufacturers (I remember the Matador!) were racing. It added a lot more to the race and manufacturer loyalty actually meant something. NASCAR has its own self to blame for all the rule changes, and the so-called “Car of Tomorrow.” The only thing left to pull for is decals. I’m glad to see the new car changes coming next year and hope it improve things.

• Nope! I have driven a Ford and now own a Chevy so I’m not that worried about Dodge dropping out. Now if we could just get Toyota out so we can once again call it “The Great AMERICAN Sport”…

• Not really. I could give a rip about manufacturers. I have, however, wondered why Nissan isn’t in NASCAR. And frankly, I’d like to see “stock” cars for other manufacturers (i.e., BMW, VW) compete in NASCAR.

• Dodge is my favorite manufacturer in the sport and the Challenger and 2013 Charger are two of the best looking cars I’ve seen in the sport and I’ll be disappointed to not see them again — or in the case of the Charger, never get to see it. I think they could have taken a mid-level team like a Furniture Row or Front Row and given them solid support and made them a contending team.

• I’d rather have every manufacturer be represented strongly at some level, but I’d rather see no Dodges than see a half-hearted effort with a third-level team. Besides, how would Dodge even know how good they were if, say, Front Row Motorsports was their flagship team?

• If it does not make good sense for Dodge to spend millions in NASCAR with little return, they should keep their money and get out. It does not bother me that Dodge is leaving with three other strong manufacturers left in the sport.

• It’s a very bad sign for NASCAR, and that matters to me.

• Sad to see an American manufacturer leave the sport. I just hope it doesn’t lead to another foreign manufacturer.


The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was founded and is administered by Dustin Long. Fans can join by sending Dustin an email at dustinlong002@gmail.com.

Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
 

Teaser:
<p> Dustin Long's Backseat Drivers Fan Council weighs in on all the happenings at Watkins Glen — from the racing action to whether NASCAR should have thrown a caution on the race's final lap.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 15:11
All taxonomy terms: Big Board, Fantasy, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-fantasy-football-rankings-quarterbacks
Body:

The 2012 NFL Fantasy Season is officially here. Mock drafts abound. Rookie round-ups are complete. Bye week cheat sheets are everywhere. The creative juices are flowing with hysterical team names. Positional rankings are popping up everywhere. And the ever-important Athlon Sports 2012 Big Board, the most accurate consensus top 150 list of fantasy footballers on the web, continues to take shape.

New to our Big Board is NFL.com's initial NFL fantasy rankings as we have expanded from seven lists to eight. We also added a "Previous" column to indicate the previous ranking. Athlon, with special help from FantasyRundown.com, will continue to broaden and deepen its trademark consensus Big Board and positional rankings all summer long.

CBS: CBSSports.com (Updated: 7/13/12)
PFF: ProFootballFocus.com (Updated: 6/26/12)
ESPN: ESPN (Updated 6/20/12)
FFT: FFToolbox.com (Updated 7/15/12)
Y!: Yahoo! Sports (Updated 6/23/12)
NFL: NFL.com (2012 Debut)
FOX: FoxSports.com (Updated 5/31/12)
AS: Athlon Sports (Updated 7/1/12)

Updated: 10:00 a.m. CT, July 17, 2012

Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Positional Rankings: Quarterbacks

Rank Previous Top 150 Player: Team CBS PFF ESPN FFT Y! NFL FOX AS
1. 1 4 Aaron Rodgers GB 4 5 4 7 6 2 1 4
2. 2 8 Drew Brees NO 5 17 8 8 11 6 9 8
3. 3 10 Tom Brady NE 10 25 6 9 12 5 5 7
4. 4 12 Cam Newton CAR 14 10 23 11 13 13 8 19
5. 5 15 Matthew Stafford DET 15 42 13 24 19 10 13 11
6. 6 33 Michael Vick PHI 29 13 32 53 43 41 26 47
7. 7 42 Tony Romo DAL 40 35 45 58 53 40 32 41
8. 8 45 Eli Manning NYG 36 53 27 54 50 63 35 42
9. 9 52 Philip Rivers SD 44 61 64 75 59 50 37 43
10. 10 54 Peyton Manning DEN 47 48 49 78 58 59 34 73
11. 11 67 Matt Ryan ATL 52 64 73 66 76 65 60 81
12. 12 73 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 58 86 79 80 62 71 64 71
13. 13 86 Robert Griffin III WAS 82 30 101 - 75 82 79 110
14. 14 91 Matt Schaub HOU 69 - 86 85 111 89 67 94
15. 15 93 Jay Cutler CHI 99 127 99 95 72 97 73 101
16. 16 101 Josh Freeman TB 128 70 104 116 116 101 97 102
17. 17 117 Andy Dalton CIN 116 126 110 110 129 113 109 128
18. 19 119 Carson Palmer OAK 108 110 126 - 122 111 126 104
19. 18 122 Joe Flacco BAL 130 101 122 - 130 133 90 127
20. 21 123 Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF 143 77 137 - 135 122 103 -
21. 20 128 Andrew Luck IND - 92 138 - 136 105 112 -
22. 23 138 Alex Smith SF - 120 107 - - 138 124 -
23. 22 142 Sam Bradford STL 146 - 130 - - 124 104 -
24. 27 Matt Flynn SEA - 128 136 - - 141 149 -
25. 26 Mark Sanchez NYJ - - - - - 129 146 -
26. UR Matt Cassel KC - 129 - - - 149 - -
27. UR Christian Ponder MIN - 130 - - - - - -
28. UR Matt Hasselbeck TEN - - - - - 135 - -
29. 25 Kevin Kolb ARI - - - - - - 142 -

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Fantasy Content:

Athlon Sports Big Board: Top 150
2012 NFL Fantasy Football Athlon's Top 250
2012 Fantasy Football Mock Draft I
2012 Bye Week Cheat Sheet
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: QBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: RBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: WRs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: TEs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DLs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: LBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: IDP Top 75

Related: Order your Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Preview Magazine Here

You can preorder your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.
Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Big Board, Fantasy, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-fantasy-football-rankings-running-backs
Body:

The 2012 NFL Fantasy Season is officially here. Mock drafts abound. Rookie round-ups are complete. Bye week cheat sheets are everywhere. The creative juices are flowing with hysterical team names. Positional rankings are popping up everywhere. And the ever-important Athlon Sports 2012 Big Board, the most accurate consensus top 150 list of fantasy footballers on the web, continues to take shape.

New to our Big Board is NFL.com's initial NFL fantasy rankings as we have expanded from seven lists to eight. We also added a "Previous" column to indicate the previous ranking. Athlon, with special help from FantasyRundown.com, will continue to broaden and deepen its trademark consensus Big Board and positional rankings all summer long.

CBS: CBSSports.com (Updated: 7/13/12)
PFF: ProFootballFocus.com (Updated: 6/26/12)
ESPN: ESPN (Updated 6/20/12)
FFT: FFToolbox.com (Updated 7/15/12)
Y!: Yahoo! Sports (Updated 6/23/12)
NFL: NFL.com (2012 Debut)
FOX: FoxSports.com (Updated 5/31/12)
AS: Athlon Sports (Updated 7/1/12)

Updated: 9:00 a.m. CT, July 18, 2012

Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Positional Rankings: Running Backs

Rank Previous Top 150 Player: Team CBS PFF ESPN FFT Y! NFL FOX AS
1. 1 1 Arian Foster HOU 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1
2. 2 2 Ray Rice BAL 2 2 2 2 2 3 3 2
3. 3 3 LeSean McCoy PHI 3 4 3 3 3 4 4 3
4. 4 6 Maurice Jones-Drew JAC 6 11 5 6 7 7 7 6
5. 6 7 Ryan Mathews SD 8 3 12 5 5 9 11 13
6. 5 9 Chris Johnson TEN 9 7 9 10 8 11 10 9
7. 7 14 Darren McFadden OAK 12 27 30 12 16 19 15 14
8. 9 17 Matt Forte CHI 22 33 18 15 15 16 19 12
9. 8 18 Marshawn Lynch SEA 11 37 17 17 18 27 14 15
10. 10 20 DeMarco Murray DAL 18 16 21 18 22 25 18 34
11. 11 24 Trent Richardson CLE 17 29 36 14 9 22 41 33
12. 14 25 Adrian Peterson MIN 27 19 28 21 21 30 36 22
13. 13 26 Jamaal Charles KC 49 23 24 16 25 29 28 17
14. 12 27 Steven Jackson STL 20 21 31 23 37 31 25 36
15. 15 34 Fred Jackson BUF 33 52 34 34 32 44 21 38
16. 16 37 Michael Turner ATL 21 96 37 33 35 43 27 21
17. 17 39 Ahmad Bradshaw NYG 25 41 44 31 45 45 40 46
18. 20 43 Darren Sproles NO 41 56 43 35 40 47 47 44
19. 18 46 Frank Gore SF 62 79 38 44 52 42 31 20
20. 19 47 Reggie Bush MIA 57 47 51 38 42 56 43 45
21. 21 57 Roy Helu WAS 67 87 42 39 61 61 57 48
22. 24 59 Shonn Greene NYJ 66 68 58 50 70 58 63 55
23. 26 60 Doug Martin TB 54 60 83 43 38 54 88 68
24. 23 61 Beanie Wells ARI 43 94 62 46 77 55 61 58
25. 22 63 BenJarvus Green-Ellis CIN 45 115 52 47 65 60 70 54
26. 25 64 Willis McGahee DEN 70 73 50 73 79 62 54 49
27. 27 72 Jonathan Stewart CAR 88 89 54 56 69 68 82 65
28. 28 75 Isaac Redman PIT 77 117 72 67 73 81 75 64
29. 33 78 Jahvid Best DET 101 75 70 91 85 64 77 69
30. 30 79 Donald Brown IND 97 63 95 96 82 92 80 75
31. 31 81 Mark Ingram NO 113 102 78 90 92 69 87 51
32. 29 82 DeAngelo Williams CAR 100 - 67 74 78 80 72 66
33. 32 83 James Starks GB 96 81 92 60 90 85 99 88
34. 34 85 C.J. Spiller BUF 89 83 81 79 89 88 115 78
35. 36 90 Peyton Hillis KC 86 99 88 98 88 94 107 90
36. 35 95 Michael Bush CHI 95 - 76 84 97 87 86 93
37. 37 99 Stevan Ridley NE 84 123 75 - 101 75 100 76
38. 39 100 Ben Tate HOU 107 - 65 119 94 95 102 77
39. 40 104 Toby Gerhart MIN 94 - 90 105 117 93 117 89
40. 38 105 LeGarrette Blount TB 103 109 121 117 119 120 76 100
41. 42 111 Pierre Thomas NO 105 107 119 132 107 108 105 130
42. 43 112 David Wilson NYG 127 125 97 134 105 98 139 91
43. 41 113 Mikel Leshoure DET 79 - - 115 96 106 110 116
44. 45 118 Felix Jones DAL 110 112 102 - 127 121 113 114
45. 44 131 Daniel Thomas MIA 131 - 111 - 133 143 101 129
46. 46 133 Ryan Williams ARI 115 - - 136 112 147 128 117
47. 47 134 Shane Vereen NE 125 - - 114 123 131 138 133
48. 49 136 Ronnie Hillman DEN 122 104 - 131 113 - - -
49. 51 137 Bernard Scott CIN 140 121 116 - - 137 - 115
50. 48 143 Mike Tolbert CAR 129 - 127 - 142 - 132 131
51. 53 Rashard Mendenhall PIT 132 - - - 148 127 147 135
52. 50 Tim Hightower WAS - - - - 125 128 - 136
53. 55 Mike Goodson OAK 120 - 143 - 141 - - 143
54. 54 Joseph Addai NE - - 100 - - - - -
55. 56 Jacquizz Rodgers ATL - - - - 106 - - 149
56. 62 Joe McKnight NYJ - 118 - - - - - -
57. 60 Cedric Benson FA - - - - - - 133 139
58. 58 Evan Royster WAS 138 - - - - - 143 -
59. 52 Brandon Jacobs SF - - - - - - 135 -
60. 57 Rashad Jennings JAC - - - - - - - 137
61. 61 Isaiah Pead STL - - - - 150 - - 140
62. 63 Kevin Smith DET - - 141 - 149 - - -
63. 67 Javon Ringer TEN - - - - - - - 144
64. UR Jonathan Dwyer PIT - - 145 - - - - -
65. 68 Kendall Hunter SF - - - - - - 148 -

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Fantasy Content:

Athlon Sports Big Board: Top 150
2012 NFL Fantasy Football Athlon's Top 250
2012 Fantasy Football Mock Draft I
2012 Bye Week Cheat Sheet
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: QBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: RBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: WRs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: TEs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DLs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: LBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: IDP Top 75

Related: Order your Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Preview Magazine Here

You can preorder your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.
Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: New Orleans Saints, NFC, NFC South, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-orleans-saints-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The New Orleans Saints check in at No. 13.

Don’t count out the Saints. They might be down after the NFL bounty scandal, but they’re far from out of the race to the NFC championship. Over the years, the Saints have shown a remarkable resiliency under head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. Whether it is a hurricane relocation or freak midseason injury to Payton, they have thrived in adverse situations.

The Saints will play the entire 2012 season without Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, and GM Mickey Loomis, assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt and defensive end Will Smith are each facing multi-game suspensions for their involvement in the bounty probe. What effect their losses have on Sundays remains to be seen. But it seems certain the Saints will have to rely on Brees and the league’s most prolific offense more than ever this season.

Offense

The league’s No. 1 offense was unfazed by the bounty sanctions, which is bad news for NFL defenses. The Saints attack opponents at all levels of their defense and are adept at exploiting weaknesses with an aggressive multi-faceted system that relies heavily on Brees’ superior decision-making and uncanny accuracy. His pocket awareness, anticipation and mobility make him one of the most difficult sacks in the league. At 33, he’s in his prime, has few weaknesses and has shown no signs of slowing down.

The addition of running back Darren Sproles and the emergence of tight end Jimmy Graham took the passing attack to another level last season. Graham follows in the footsteps of Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates as former college basketball power forwards turned star NFL tight ends. Graham creates mismatches with his 6'7" frame and 37-inch vertical leap.

The Saints’ receiving corps has a little bit of everything. Marques Colston is the go-to guy on third down and in the red zone. He has excellent size, hands and body control. Lance Moore uses savvy and superior quickness to beat defenders and find seams in zones on underneath and intermediate routes. Devery Henderson’s deep threat role has diminished in recent years, but he can still deliver a big performance if defenses ignore him. The primary candidates to replace Robert Meachem are Adrian Arrington, Joseph Morgan and Nick Toon.

The Saints’ stable of running backs is deep and talented even though they rarely get to showcase their skills in the pass-happy system. Sproles fit seamlessly into Reggie Bush’s satellite back role and made fans quickly forget about the one-time franchise savior. Injuries derailed Mark Ingram’s rookie season. When he played, he showed flashes of his Heisman Trophy skills. His rare blend of agility, power and balance make him a yards-after-contact machine. He appears primed for a breakout season. Hulking Chris Ivory provides the power between the tackles and will continue to play the closer role in the fourth quarter. Pierre Thomas is the jack-of-all-trades back. He’s one of the best screen receiver/runners in the business and another Brees favorite.

The offensive line continues to be a strength, led by powerful All-Pro guard Jahri Evans. Ben Grubbs replaces Carl Nicks at left guard. Former journeyman Brian de la Puente outplayed veteran Olin Kreutz and Matt Tennant to win the starting center job last season. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod and right tackle Zach Strief ably man the flanks. 

Defense

The 2009 season, in which the Saints ranked among the league leaders in takeaways, is starting to look like an outlier. Before and after, the Saints have ranked among the league’s worst in total yards allowed (24th) and takeaways (31st). The lack of production is puzzling considering the talent on hand.

Consequently, Steve Spagnuolo became the third defensive coordinator in Payton’s six-year tenure. Spagnuolo is expected to continue the high-pressure system predecessor Gregg Williams ran for the previous three seasons, albeit out of more conventional sets and alignments.

His first order of business will be to improve the club’s perennially tepid pass rush, and he’ll have to do it without his best pass-rusher, Smith, for the first four games. Smith remains a solid player and sound against the run, but he has lost his burst off the edge. At right end, the staff hopes Cameron Jordan can take a step forward after a solid-but-unspectacular rookie year. He lacks the explosiveness to be an elite pass-rusher. Junior Galette has the speed and burst Jordan lacks but must develop other skills and techniques to be an effective rusher at this level.

The linebacker corps was overhauled in the offseason. Three veterans with starting experience — Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain — were signed in free agency to bolster a unit that has struggled to make many sacks, interceptions or fumble recoveries in recent years. Lofton will replace Vilma in the middle. He’s bigger, younger and healthier than Vilma but isn’t as instinctive or as adept in coverage. Hawthorne, a big hitter who can play all three linebacker spots, will compete with Jon Casillas and Chamberlain on the weak side. Veteran Scott Shanle and Martez Wilson will compete on the strong side. Wilson has the size and athleticism the unit has lacked in recent years.

The secondary is talented and experienced but lacks quality depth. Cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson should excel in Spagnuolo’s press coverage. Robinson should be an upgrade over Tracy Porter, whose performance tailed off because of injuries the past two seasons. Former third-round pick Johnny Patrick, a tough, physical player the coaches like, has the inside track at the nickel spot. Roman Harper is a classic in-the-box strong safety. He’s one of the instinctive playmakers on the unit but can be exploited when opponents catch him in man-to-man coverage. Malcolm Jenkins has not met high expectations since converting to free safety from cornerback. 

Specialists

Once a weakness, the Saints’ special teams made significant improvements in several areas last season. Punter/kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead owns one of biggest legs in the game. The elusive Sproles handles punt and kickoff return duties with equal effectiveness. In addition to his game-breaking running skills, he’s a sound ball-handler and decision-maker. Coverage units were improved thanks to an influx of young defensive talent. The lone question mark is placekicker Garrett Hartley, who is coming off a season-ending hip injury.

Final Analysis: 2nd in the NFC South

Brees and the high-flying offense are good enough to carry the club to another division title. But the Saints need the defense to play more consistently and produce more big plays if the club hopes to become the first team to play in the Super Bowl on its home field. The Saints have a veteran team and are built to win now, but their leadership will be challenged early. The losses of Payton, Vitt, Vilma and Smith will be tough to overcome, but they are manageable for a team as talented and experienced as the Saints. Their status as playoff contenders remains unchanged. A fourth consecutive double-digit win season is achievable.

Related: 2012 New Orleans Saints Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Suspensions
The impact of the bounty scandal on the Saints’ personnel might be tough to sort through. Here’s a rundown of who was punished by the NFL: Head coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma are suspended for the season. General Manager Mickey Loomis is suspended for the first eight games. Assistant head coach/linebacker coach Joe Vitt will be suspended for the first six games of the season and will be the interim head coach upon his return on Oct. 28 at Denver. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will be the head coach in place of Vitt through the first six games. Payton’s suspension began before the NFL Draft in April, while the suspensions for Loomis and Vitt will begin following the preseason. Vilma was not the only player suspended, but he faces the harshest punishment. Current Saints defensive end Will Smith (four games) and former Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove (eight games, now with Green Bay) and linebacker Scott Fujita (three games, now with Cleveland) also face suspension to start the season. Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was hired by St. Louis before the bounty system was revealed, is suspended indefinitely.

Famous Friend
Payton has cultivated a number of celebrity friends during his tenure as Saints coach. Among them: Jimmy Buffett, who showed his support for the embattled head coach during the offseason, appearing at a Final Four concert in a “Free Sean Payton” T-shirt. At his Jazz Festival show in May, he tweaked the lyrics to his hit “Margaritaville”: “Some people say that Sean Payton’s to blame, but I know, it’s all Roger Goodell’s fault.”

Double Dip
It was a busy offseason for 85-year-old owner Tom Benson, who shocked everyone by purchasing the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets in April. Benson is the only person to own an NBA and NFL team in the same market. His first order of business is to re-brand the team. Among other things, Benson wants a more colloquial nickname.

Pastor Jed
Center Brian de la Puente and fullback Jed Collins are tight friends. How tight? Collins became a licensed minister and officiated the wedding ceremony for de la Puente and his wife Makenzie in 2011.

Off The Clock
The Saints didn’t have a first- or second-round draft choice for the first time in history. They traded their first-round pick in the 2011 draft to New England in a deal to acquire Mark Ingram. This year’s second-round pick was stripped by commissioner Roger Goodell in the bounty scandal.

Offensive Explosion
The Saints set 10 NFL records during their 2011 season, all on offense. Among them: Most yards (7,474), net passing yards (5,347), highest passing percentage (71.3), pass completions (472), first downs (416), passing first downs (280), fewest fumbles (six) and third down conversion rate (56.7 percent).

Good Fit
Guard Ben Grubbs was acquired to replace Carl Nicks as the starter at left guard. Grubbs has the bulk and lower-body strength to anchor the interior wall in pass protection yet is athletic enough to pull on traps and screens, two staples of Sean Payton’s offense.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Cincinnati Bengals
No. 14: Philadelphia Eagles
No. 13: New Orleans Saints
No. 12: Thur., August 15, 2012

Order your 2012 New Orleans Saints Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 New Orleans Saints Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> New Orleans Saints 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-2012-win-projections-athlon-vs-vegas
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Even if you don't place any wagers on sports, the lines/projections from the good folks in Vegas are always something to check out before each season and before each week of games. Not only is it interesting content, but Vegas has a good pulse on the teams and is often one of the most accurate sources of predictions. 

To get ready for the upcoming college football season, Athlon took a look at how its predictions matched up against a couple of sports books and one excellent source of Vegas information (Beyond the Bets). 

Athlon and the sports books in Vegas largely agreed the win totals for teams, as there weren't many large variations in projections. However, below are a few props we like heading into 2012, as well as a few that should be avoided. 

BEST BETS

Boise State Despite having only seven returning starters, the Broncos are still the team to beat in the Mountain West. Quarterback Kellen Moore will be impossible to replace, but Boise State’s offense can lean on senior running back D.J. Harper and a veteran offensive line. Most books have the Broncos pegged at 9.5 wins, while Athlon has them slotted for 10. Outside of Michigan State, there’s not a sure loss on the schedule. Games against BYU, Nevada and Wyoming won’t be easy, but it’s hard to imagine Boise State losing all three of those games.

Boston CollegeThe Eagles closed out 2011 with some momentum, winning two out of their final three games, including a 24-17 upset win over Miami. Although Boston College has some momentum entering the offseason, the 5Dimes over/under total of 5.5 seems optimistic. The Eagles play Notre Dame, Army and Northwestern in the non-conference portion of the schedule, while catching Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech – arguably the two best teams from the Coastal – in ACC play. Outside of the Sept. 8 date against Maine, there’s really not a guaranteed win on Boston College’s schedule, so the under at 5.5 looks awfully enticing.

Hawaii Norm Chow is a popular hire for Hawaii, but his debut season could be a rough one. The Warriors open with USC and close out September with games against Nevada and BYU. A 1-3 start is likely, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier with road games against San Diego State, Colorado State and Fresno State in October/early November. The Warriors also have question marks at quarterback and are transitioning from the run and shoot to more of a pro-style attack. Although Hawaii has some talent returning on both sides of the ball, surpassing more than four wins seems unlikely.

Illinois Even though Athlon agrees with Vegas on the Fighting Illini’s win projection (6), this one has some potential. Illinois has one guaranteed win in non-conference play (Charleston Southern) and has three swing games against Western Michigan, Arizona State and Louisiana Tech. The Big Ten slate got a little easier too with the defections at Penn State. With games against Minnesota, Purdue and Indiana in conference play, it seems pretty reasonable the Fighting Illini should have a good shot to get to seven wins in 2012.

Iowa StateMost win projections have the Cyclones at four wins for 2012. However, that seems a little low considering Paul Rhoads’ teams have overachieved every year since he arrived in Ames. Iowa State has a difficult non-conference slate, which includes matchups against Tulsa and Iowa. Although a bowl game seems to be out of reach, getting to five victories and exceeding expectations once again is well within the reach of the Cyclones. This one is risky, but history suggests Iowa State will surprise once again.

Kansas State - Everything seemed to go the Wildcats' way last season, winning eight of their 10 games by seven points or less. Although Kansas State was outgained by an average of 106.8 yards per game in conference play, winning the turnover battle (+12) helped to close the gap on its Big 12 foes. It will be tough for Kansas State to repeat last season's 10 wins, but getting to eight or nine is a reasonable expectation. Most books have the Wildcats at 7 or 8 wins, which doesn't drift too far from Athlon's thinking (7-5). Even though Athlon likes Kansas State to finish with seven wins, if you can catch this prop at seven and take the over, there's a good chance the Wildcats pull off an upset or two and finish with eight or nine wins. 

LouisvilleMost books seem to have the Cardinals at 8 or 9 wins, while Athlon has this team projected at 10 victories. Considering Louisville is a young team and the Big East is unpredictable, this one certainly has some risk involved. However, the Cardinals return 12 starters, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is primed for a breakout year after throwing for 2,129 yards last season. The schedule is also very manageable, as Louisville could be favored in every game, except the season finale at Rutgers. Considering the schedule and returning talent, 10 or 11 wins is a reasonable expectation for Charlie Strong's team.

LSUThe Honey Badger is gone, but don’t expect that to slow down the Tigers in 2012. LSU is Athlon’s pick to win the SEC and finish the regular season with an unbeaten 12-0 mark. Going undefeated in the SEC is never easy, but the Tigers managed to run through the conference slate without a loss last year. Most win total projections have LSU at 10/10.5, so the over looks like a good pick.

Miami The win projections all seem to agree Miami will have right around six or seven wins in 2012, but a schedule that features non-conference games against Kansas State, Notre Dame and South Florida could make it difficult just to get bowl eligible. Also, there’s still a NCAA investigation hanging over the program, and a bowl ban could impact how this team performs in 2012. Athlon projects Miami to get to six wins, so any place that has the Hurricanes at 6.5 or 7 is a good spot to take the under.

Nebraska Most of the win projections seem to agree the Cornhuskers will have around  8 or 9 wins in 2012. Athlon disagrees slightly with Vegas, projecting Nebraska to have 10 wins. Although the Cornhuskers are far from a perfect team, running back Rex Burkhead and quarterback Taylor Martinez from a dangerous one-two combination on offense, while the defense brings back seven starters. Non-conference games against Arkansas State and UCLA won’t be easy, but the Cornhuskers should be 4-0 by the time Big Ten play arrives. This team also catches a break with two swing games (Wisconsin and Michigan) in Lincoln. Even if Nebraska just gets to nine victories, taking the over on 8.5 is one we like for 2012.

USC It’s difficult to go undefeated, but you have to like the Trojans’ chances of running the table in 2012. The non-conference schedule is very favorable, and USC hosts Oregon, California and Notre Dame. Road tests against Washington, Stanford and Utah will be tricky, but the Trojans should emerge with an 11-1 or 12-0 record. Most books have USC pegged at 10.5, while Athlon projects 12 victories in 2012. Even if the Trojans drop one game, taking the over on 10.5 victories looks like one of the best bets on the board.

West Virginia One of the most surprising over/under win totals from this preseason has to be West Virginia. The Mountaineers are picked by most books at 8.5, while Athlon projects 10 wins. Sure, there will be an adjustment period by going into a new conference, but West Virginia’s schedule isn’t overwhelming. The Mountaineers should go 3-0 in non-conference play and catch Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State at home. Road trips to Texas and Oklahoma State are the two potential losses. Even if West Virginia doesn’t get to 10 victories, it’s hard to see it losing more than three this year.

WORST BETS

Auburn There’s not much discrepancy in the win projections for Auburn, as most books have the Tigers at 7.5, while Athlon has Gene Chizik’s team at 7. The schedule isn’t easy, as Auburn opens up against Clemson, followed by dates against Mississippi State and LSU in September. There’s plenty of young talent at Auburn, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this team match last season’s eight wins. However, the schedule is difficult and there’s still a question mark about the quarterback play. Both sides of the ball will also have new coordinators. With a over/under projection of 7.5 wins, there’s a very narrow window to make this one a good bet.

ClemsonEvery year, it seems the Tigers have one of the ACC’s most-talented rosters, but struggle to reach expectations. Clemson won the ACC Championship last season but it won’t be easy to match that success in 2012. The Tigers must replace three solid starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, while this team closed out 2011 by losing three out of their final four games. Clemson has the talent to win the ACC, but the question marks on both lines are enough to give pause on the win total projection. Most books have the Tigers at 8.5 wins, while Athlon projects 9.

Michigan While the Wolverines make the worst pick category, it’s almost a don’t bother section. Michigan’s projected win total is in the 8-10 range, with Athlon having the highest pick on the board. The Wolverines took a step forward under Brady Hoke last season, and return Heisman candidate Denard Robinson at quarterback. Optimism in Ann Arbor is high after last season, but a difficult schedule and the loss of two key linemen could make repeating 11 wins unlikely. If you can get the Wolverines at 8 for the over/under projection, it’s worth a shot. However, at 9 or 9.5 victories, it’s hard to recommend that as one we like.

Missouri/Texas A&M - There's really not much of a difference in Vegas and Athlon's win total projections for 2012 for both Missouri and Texas A&M. However, moving from the Big 12 to the SEC will be a step up in competition, and both teams have question marks going into this season. Missouri quarterback James Franklin is coming off shoulder surgery, while the Aggies are searching for a new starter under center, while playing for a new coach (Kevin Sumlin). Missouri and Texas A&M aren't going to be overwhelmed in the SEC, but there's too many unknowns to consider this a safe pick this season.

Notre Dame Unless you are feeling really lucky, don’t bother taking a look at the Irish for any over/under win props this season. Most books have Notre Dame at 8.5 and Athlon has the projected win total at 8. With games against Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and USC, the Irish are facing one of the most difficult schedules in college football. Eight wins seems to be the most likely outcome, but it’s going to be close.

Penn StateBefore the NCAA sanctions were announced, most books had the Nittany Lions pegged at 6.5 or 7 victories for 2012. However, there’s no telling what to expect from this team, especially after the departure of running back Silas Redd, receiver Justin Brown and kicker Anthony Fera. While the Penn State players have plenty of pride, there’s just no way of knowing if the motivation can hold up through a full season, especially with no bowl appearance on the line. Bottom line: Stay away from Penn State in the over/under win totals for 2012.

Note: Win totals do not take into account any conference championship/bowl game.

Note: All Penn State win projections were compiled before NCAA sanctions.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

 
Air Force     6.5       5.5 6
Akron     2.5       2.5 2
Alabama 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10 11
Arizona     5.5       5.5 6
Arizona State   5.5 5   5   5 5
Arkansas 8.5 8.5 9 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 9
Arkansas State     6.5       8.5 9
Army     5.5       5.5 5
Auburn   7.5 7.5 7.5 7.5   7.5 7
Ball State     4.5       5.5 6
Baylor     6       6.5 7
Boise State 9.5 9.5 10 9.5 9.5 9.5 9.5 10
Boston College     4.5       5.5 3
Bowling Green     7       7.5 7
Buffalo     2.5       4.5 3
BYU 8.5 8.5 8.5   8 8.5 8 7
California   6.5 6.5   6.5   6.5 7
Central Michigan     4.5       4.5 3
Cincinnati   7.5 7.5   7.5   7.5 7
Clemson 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 9
Colorado     4       3.5 3
Colorado State     4.5       6.5 7
Connecticut     6.5       5.5 5
Duke   3.5 4       3.5 4
East Carolina     6       5.5 8
Eastern Michigan     5       5.5 5
FAU     2       3.5 2
FIU     7.5       7.5 8
Florida 8 7.5 8 7.5 8 8 8 8
Florida State 10 10.5 10 10 9.5 10 9.5 10
Fresno State     6       7.5 7
Georgia 9.5   9.5 9.5 9.5 9.5 9.5 10
Georgia Tech   7.5 7.5   8   8 8
Hawaii     3.5 5.5     4.5 4
Houston     9       9.5 8
Idaho     3.5       4.5 3
Illinois   6.5 6   6   6.5 6
Indiana     4       3.5 3
Iowa   7.5 8   7.5   7.5 7
Iowa State     4.5 4.5     4.5 4
Kansas     3.5       3.5 3
Kansas State 7 7.5 8   8 7 8 7
Kent State     5.5       5.5 6
Kentucky   4.5 4.5       5.5 4
Louisiana Tech     8       8.5 9
Louisiana-Lafayette     7       7.5 8
Louisiana-Monroe     5       4.5 5
Louisville 8 8.5 9   9 8 9 10
LSU 10 10.5 10.5 10.5 10 10 10 12
Marshall     5.5       6.5 6
Maryland     4       4.5 4
Memphis     2       2.5 3
Miami   6.5 6   7   7 6
Miami (Ohio)     6.5       5.5 5
Michigan 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 9 8.5 9 10
Michigan State 8.5 8.5 8 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 9
Minnesota     4.5       5.5 5
Mississippi State 7 7.5 7.5     7 7.5 6
Missouri 6.5 7.5 7   7 6.5 7 7
MTSU     4.5       4.5 3
Navy   7.5 6.5       6.5 7
NC State   7.5 8   7.5   7.5 8
Nebraska 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 10
Nevada 8.5 8.5 7.5 7.5   8.5 7.5 8
New Mexico     2.5       2.5 2
New Mexico State     3.5 4.5     5.5 5
North Carolina   7.5 7.5   7.5   7.5 8
North Texas     5       5.5 5
Northern Illinois     8.5       8.5 7
Northwestern     6       6.5 7
Notre Dame 8.5 8.5 8 8 8.5 8.5 8.5 8
Ohio     9.5       9.5 9
Ohio State 8.5 8.5 9 9 9 8.5 9 11
Oklahoma 10.5 9.5 10 10.5 10 10.5 10 11
Oklahoma State 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 7.5 8.5 7.5 8
Ole Miss   3.5 5       5.5 4
Oregon 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10 10.5 10 11
Oregon State     5.5       4.5 3
Penn State*   6.5* 6.5* 6.5* 7*   7* 7*
Pittsburgh   7.5 7   7   7 7
Purdue     6.5       6.5 6
Rice     3.5       3.5 3
Rutgers   7.5 8.5       7.5 8
San Diego State     6       5.5 5
San Jose State     5.5       5.5 5
SMU     6.5       6.5 6
South Alabama     2       2.5 2
South Carolina 8.5 8.5 9 9 8.5 8.5 8.5 9
South Florida     7.5   7.5   7.5 8
Southern Miss     7.5       8.5 6
Stanford 8 7.5 7.5   7 8 7 8
Syracuse     5.5       5.5 5
TCU 7.5 8.5 8.5   8.5 7.5 8.5 8
Temple     4       4.5 4
Tennessee 7.5 7.5 6.5   7 7.5 7 7
Texas 9 8.5 9 9 9 9 9 10
Texas A&M 7 7.5 6.5   7 7 7 7
Texas State     1       2.5 2
Texas Tech     7       6.5 6
Toledo     7       7.5 8
Troy     5.5       5.5 4
Tulane     1.5       2.5 2
Tulsa     8.5       7.5 8
UAB     3       3.5 4
UCF     8.5   8.5   8.5 8
UCLA 6 5.5 6 5.5 6 6 6 6
UMass     1       1.5 1
UNLV 3 2.5 3 3.5   3 4.5 3
USC 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10 12
Utah 8   8     8 7.5 7
Utah State     7       7.5 8
UTEP     4       4.5 4
UTSA     4       4.5 4
Vanderbilt   5.5 5.5       6.5 6
Virginia   6.5 6   7   7 7
Virginia Tech 9 9.5 9 9.5 9.5 9 9.5 10
Wake Forest     6       5.5 5
Washington   7.5 7.5 7 7.5   7.5 8
Washington State   5.5 5.5       5.5 6
West Virginia 8.5 8.5 8.5   8.5 8.5 8.5 10
Western Kentucky     6       6.5 5
Western Michigan     8.5       8.5 8
Wisconsin 9 8.5 9.5   9 9 9 9
Wyoming     6       5.5 8

All Penn State win projections were compiled before NCAA sanctions.

Related College Football Content

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections
Athlon's 2012 College Football Rankings

Athlon's 2012 All-American Team

2012 College Football All-Name Team

20 College Football Coaches and Their Celeb Lookalikes

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anking the SEC's Top 75 Players for 2012
Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Teaser:
<p> College Football 2012 Win Total Projections: Athlon vs. Vegas</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 07:00
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The Heisman Trophy may be the most coveted trophy in all of sports.

Ten of the last 11 winners of this priceless award have been quarterbacks. And since 1950, only one time has a non-offensive skill player — e.g., quarterback, running back or wide receiver — claimed the historic award (Charles Woodson, 1997). Yes, the quarterback is the most important position on the field. Yes, few players touch the ball more than a workhorse running back. But just because big uglies, heavy-hitters and pass rushers don't often get the famed trip to Radio City Music Hall in New York City, it doesn't mean they don't deserve it.

So expect to see more than just signal callers, pass-catchers and tailbacks on Athlon Sports' conference-by-conference Heisman Contenders.

2012's Top 25 Heisman Trophy Contenders:

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC (SR)
2011 Stats: 3,528 yds, 39 TD, 7 INT, 14 rush yds, 2 TD
No one in their right mind can make the case that Matt Barkley isn’t the First-Team All-American quarterback and top Heisman contender nationally. If someone else has someone else atop their Heisman ballot, they are simply being cute. He has the records, the stats, the Golden Boy image, the preseason No. 1 team in the nation and a plethora of talented skill players to work with. In fact, the only negative Heisman pundits can lob at Barkley is, in fact, that he is the clearcut Heisman favorite. When was the last time the obvious preseason stiff-armed favorite actually won the award? Bueller?

2. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (SR)
2011 Stats: 2,173 yds, 20 TD, 15 INT, 1,176 rush yds, 16 TD
There is no player in a better Heisman situation in the Big Ten than Robinson, but because Montee Ball was so unstoppable a year ago, they are essentially 1a and 1b in the Big Ten. Shoelace has the NCAA records, the electric, big-play, highlight-reel skills needed to enthrall voters, a better chance at a Big Ten title, has multiple national showcase games in and out of conference and plays the all-important quarterback position (11 of last 12 winners). If he can stay healthy, he has an excellent chance to be sitting next to Barkley in New York come December. Some improved efficiency and a win over Alabama, of course, wouldn't hurt.

3. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (JR)
2011 Stats: 818 yds, 10 TD, 19 rec., 182 yds, TD (7 games)
If healthy, there is no running back in the nation with more physical talent than the Gamecock junior. The per-game averages are astounding for No. 21 and there is no reason to think he won’t maintain his elite level of production behind one of the better O-Lines in the SEC. He has averaged over 100 yards rushing and has scored 30 total touchdowns in 20 career games. Lattimore can move the pile with power, can get to the edge with speed and will make defenders look silly trying to cover him in the passing game. He has averaged an absurd 130.5 yards from scrimmage for his career and has topped 170 yards rushing five times in 20 games. He has missed time in both seasons because of injury, mostly due to his incredibly physical running style, and he was held back in spring ball this year. However, Lattimore appears ready to lead the Gamecocks in 2012 and, needless to say, he is the complete package in the backfield.

4. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (SR)
2011 Stats: 1,923 yds, 33 TD, 24 rec., 306 yds, 6 TD
It is nearly impossible to argue with Ball’s production, but the 2012 Badgers are not going to be the same team that set school records for scoring two years in a row. Gone is uber-leader Russell Wilson, offensive genius Paul Chryst and three first-team All-Big Ten blockers. Ball will still post big numbers this fall, but a 1,600-yard, 16-TD season will pale in comparison to his 2011 output — and might not get him back to New York. At least, not without another Big Ten title ring on his finger.

5. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (SR)
2011 Stats: 4,385 yds, 31 TD, 7 INT, 2 rush TD
The list of accolades for the Mountaineers' starting quarterback is already long and distinguished, yet he might be ready to add the most important award in college sports. He led the Big East in passer efficiency and total offense a year ago — finishing eighth nationally at 334.8 yards per game. His 4,385 passing yards were a school record and he might possess the strongest throwing arm in the nation. With a deep and talented skill corps and play calling from offensive wizard Dana Holgorsen, Smith has a great shot at landing in Manhattan come December.

6. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State (JR)
2011 Stats: 82 rec., 1,388 yards, 12 TD
Who is the leading returning receiver in the Pac-12? No, it’s not a guy named Woods, Allen or Lee. It’s Wilson with his 1,388 yards. In fact, the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder has had one of the quietest two-year starts to any career in the nation (party due to his current zip code) as he has 137 catches, 2,394 yards and 18 scores in two years. He has had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with a revolving door at quarterback and Paul Wulff running the ship. Now, he has Mike Leach calling plays for him — a coach who has never had a quarterback pass for less than 3,400 yards. I got two words for you: Michael Crabtree.

7. De’Anthony Thomas, AP, Oregon (SO)
2011 Stats: 595 yds, 7 TD, 46 rec., 605 yds, 9 TD, 2 ret. TD
Few players can rip off huge chunks of yards like The Black Mamba, who averaged nearly 12 yards per offensive touch as a freshman. His highlight-reel explosiveness is exactly what Heisman pundits everywhere crave. He contributes to the offense in every imaginable way — 2,235 all-purpose yards, 18 total TDs — and can be completely unstoppable in the open field (see Rose Bowl footage). Thomas averaged 10.0 touches per game last year, and with LaMichael James no longer on the roster, fans can expect lethal doses from the most poisonous running back in the nation.

8. Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska (SR)
2011 Stats: 1,357 yds, 15 TD, 21 rec., 177 yds, 2 TD
Sexy Rexy Superman Burkhead is arguably the most complete football player in the nation. He has every skillset a coach can ask for in a workhorse feature back: Strength, size, toughness, durability, vision, instincts, quickness, hands and leadership. He may be the most underrated player in the country at any position. For Burkhead to make it to NYC in December, however, he will likely have to lead his team past Michigan and into the Big Ten title game. A tall order until the defense improves its overall play.

9. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech (JR)
In only his first full season as the starter, Thomas showed why he has such a high ceiling. He threw for over 3,000 yards with 19 touchdowns while rushing for 469 yards and 11 more touchdowns on the ground – which tied a school record for rushing TDs by a quarterback at a school with a long history of scamblers. His 6-foot-6, 262-pound frame has drawn Cam Newton comparisons, and while he isn’t nearly as explosive, Thomas has the capability of posting huge numbers and winning an ACC title this fall. He just needs to play better against Clemson.

10. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (JR)
Last fall the Tigers quarterback led the ACC in total offense at 289.0 yards per game. His 3,828 ranked first in the league as did his 33 touchdown passes. He added 218 yards rushing and five more scores on the ground. With a loaded collection of receivers and running backs returning this fall, Boyd should be able to post another huge year under the tutelage of Chad Morris. A big performance on the road against Florida State would go a long way to getting Boyd to New York.

11. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (JR)
2011 Stats: 3,149 yds, 35 TD, 14 INT, 103 rush yds, 2 TD
Only USC quarterback Matt Barkley returns to college football with more touchdown passes than Murray’s 35. He has posted back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons as an underclassman and has accounted for 65 total touchdowns over the last two years. He also led his team to its first SEC Championship game since 2005. The junior quarterback from Tampa, Fla., is a gamey, tough, poised leader who has competed for championships at every level of play. He will only get better in 2012. That said, a win on the road at South Carolina and possible SEC title would go a long way in getting Murray to The 646.

12. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas (SR)
2011 Stats: 3,638 yds, 24 TD, 6 INT, 4 rush TD
The Hogs quarterback was slightly more efficient (63.2% to 59.1%) than Murray, had a better TD:INT ratio (24:6 to 35:14) and topped the Bulldog in passing yards (3,638 to 3,149). Wilson has all the tools to continue to grow into an NFL quarterback but will likely struggle to improve on his ’11 numbers. There is plenty of talent around him, but replacing Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs won’t be easy. Most importantly, the top offensive mind in football, Bobby Petrino, is no longer calling plays and making in-game adjustments. Wilson should have another great year in Fayetteville, but significant improvement from last year’s already very solid numbers seems far fetched. For Wilson to get an invite to Radio City Music Hall would most assuredly require a win, or wins, over Alabama and LSU, which seems unlikely.

13. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (SO)
Few players have ever been ready to compete at a Heisman level right out of high school like Watkins. As a true freshman, Watkins led the ACC in all-purpose yards: 1,219 receiving, 231 rushing, 826 kick return and 12 punt return yards. He scored a total 13 touchdowns and would likely be in the top 10 if he wasn't suspended for two games — including a key non-conference test against Auburn in Week 1.

14. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (SR)
2011 Stats: 4,463 yds, 29 TD, 15 INT, 2 rush TD
There are plenty of question marks surrounding Jones the quarterback — like major statistical regression and a horrible road record. But the Sooner quarterback has as good a shot as any in the Big 12 to be Big Apple bound at year’s end. He is surrounded by the most talent of any team in the league and should be the leader of the Big 12 champions. Should Jones correct his road woes and produce another big statistical year, he very easily could land on Heisman ballots, and perhaps, in the national title game.

15. Keith Price, QB, Washington (JR)
2011 Stats: 3,063 yds, 33 TD, 11 INT, 10 rush yds, 3 TD
Steve Sarkisian has a great one in Price. In the first six games of Price’s first season as the starter, all he did was lead the nation in touchdown passes with 21 scoring strikes. He set single-season Washington passing records and should only improve in his third year in Coach Sark's system. He has plenty of talent around him and multiple marquee showdowns on the schedule (at LSU?). If he can stay healthy — and gets some improved offensive line play — he could easily find himself in New York come December.

16. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (SO)
2011 Stats: 1,159 yds, 13 TD, 4 INT, 715 rush yds, 7 TD
If Heisman voters are trying to find a darkhorse from the Big Ten, they need to look no further than Ohio State’s quarterback. Miller showed flashes of brilliance as only a true freshman on one of the worst Buckeye teams in two decades. And now he has spread guru Urban Meyer tailoring his high-powered attack to Miller’s perfectly suited dual-threat skillset. This team could have the best record in the league, but Ohio State’s offensive leader will have to overcome the program’s current sanctions on his way to the Big Apple.

17. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State (SR)
2011 Stats: 1,918 yds, 13 TD, 6 INT, 1,141 rush yds, 27 TD
Klein won’t be able to sneak up on any defenses this time around after rolling up a sick 1,141 yards rushing and an NCAA-record 27 rushing touchdowns (by a QB). He added big plays in key situations while leading the Wildcats to the Cotton Bowl. What he lacks in pure passing ability he makes up for with grit and toughness. However, he may need to use his arm more in 2012 as coordinators are now prepared for his talented dual-threat skills. It will be tough for CK-7 to replicate both the statistics and win total in 2012.

18. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State (JR)
2011 Stats: 1,216 yds, 24 TD, 43 rec., 266 yds, 2 TD
He may not be built like a true three-down workhorse, but he certainly plays like it. Randle brings speed, power and pass-catching skills to one of the most explosive attacks in the country. With a new (true freshman) quarterback and rebuilt offensive line, it will difficult to top his 1,482 total yards, 26 touchdowns or 43 receptions from last year. But if he can come close, Randle will find himself mentioned with the best backs in the country.

19. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia (SR)
2011 Stats: 101 rec., 1,186 yds, 8 TD, 182 rush yds, TD, 2 ret. TD
Austin is one of the most dynamic and explosive play-makers in all of the nation. He set a school record with 101 receptions last year and led the nation in all-purpose yards (198.0 per game). In addition to his receiving skills, the inside slot man rushed for 182 yards to go with 938 kick return yards and 268 punt return yards. He finished with 11 total touchdowns and could be poised for a C.J. Spiller-type of season in Morgantown.

20. Robert Woods, WR, USC (JR)
2011 Stats: 111 rec., 1,292 yds, 15 TD
The uber-talent from SoCal exploded into living rooms as a sophomore in 2011. He not only broke USC receiving records, but set a Pac-12 record with 111 receptions in only 12 games. He caught at least two scores in four straight games at one point and has clearly built a rapport with No. 1 on this list. The only thing keeping this dynamic play-maker from being higher is lingering bone inflammation in his ankle. Following arthroscopic surgery in December, Woods still has yet to begin summer workouts. Fans have to be concerned about Woods' upside this fall.

21. Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina (SO)
Another freshman in the ACC, Bernard burst onto the scene with four touchdowns in his frist two career games. He then rattled off five straight 100-yard efforts, to finish with 1,253 yards and 13 scores in his first year on a collegiate gridiron. With arguably the top offensive line returning in front of him and a stellar quarterback we’ll address in just a moment, the South Florida product is poised for a huge second year in Chapel Hill.

21. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee (JR)
2011 Stats: 1,913 yds, 17 TD, 6 INT, Rush TD (7 games)
The lanky junior has plenty of growing up to do — both mentally and physically — but all signs point to the 6-foot-6 gunslinger having his best season in 2012. He has one of the nastiest wide receiver duos in the nation at his disposal and a developing offensive line blocking for him. He was on pace for video game numbers after throwing for 332 yards per game and 14 touchdowns in the first four games of last year. A broken thumb forced him to miss five games and all but ended his breakout sophomore campaign. He has the best frame in the SEC at quarterback and possibly the best throwing arm in the league, so if he can stay healthy, he will post big numbers. If Tennessee wins enough, he could be in New York at season’s end.

23. Keenan Allen, WR, Cal (JR)
2011 Stats: 98 rec., 1,343 yds, 6 TD, 55 rush yds
This east coast product (Greenboro, N.C.) has already placed himself securely in the Cal record books in only two seasons on campuster after a massive sophomore campaign. Wilson will have the best stats and Woods, when healthy, might be the most explosive, but there may not be a more physically gifted athlete in the Pac-12 than Allen. If he can reach paydirt a few more times in 2012, which is possible with improved quarterback play, this graceful gazelle might need to book a flight back East later this year.

24. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon (SR)
2011 Stats: 939 yds, 11 TD, 17 rec., 184 yds, 3 TD
Barner has dealt with injury issues throughout his career in Eugene, but should he stay healthy, this senior to be has proven to be plenty capable of carrying the Ducks’ running back torch. In three career starts, Barner posted 433 yards rushing on 58 attempts and 102 yards receiving on three catches to go with eight total touchdowns. Ironically, the only thing keeping him from a potential Heisman trip to the Big Apple could be his backfield mate De’Anthony Thomas.
 
25. Ryan Aplin, QB, Arkansas State (SR)
2011 Stats: 3,588 yds, 19 TD, 16 INT, 588 rush yards, 10 TD
The dual-threat Red Wolves signal caller posted huge numbers as a junior and could be poised for a massive statistical campaign in 2012. He now has spread guru Gus Malzahn — who will design a system that will fit his skillset perfectly — calling plays for him on the defending Sun Belt championship squad. With talented wide receivers around him, Aplin has a great chance to be this year's Mid-Major darling.
 
The Best of the Rest:

Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas (JR)
2011 Stats: None, 2010 Stats: 1,322 yds, 13 TD, 19 rec., 136 yds, TD
As a sophomore in 2010, Davis rolled-up 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns in basically seven games. He averaged 146.8 yards per game and scored 12 touchdowns once given the starting reins in Week 7. A season-ending ankle injury cost him the entirety of 2011 but should allowed Davis to be rested heading into his junior season. He is expected to be at full strength to start 2012 behind what should be an excellent QB-OL combination. Yet, he too will miss superstar offensive guru Bobby Petrino on the sidelines — whose high-flying passing attack was predicated first on the power running game.

Ray Graham, RB, Pitt (SR)
This talented tailback was on a tear when four plays into the primetime showdown with UConn, his season ended with a torn ACL. He had posted 939 yards rushing and nine scores in the first seven games of the year prior to the injury. If fully healthy, Graham could easily be the Big East’s top Heisman candidate now that offensive genius Paul Chryst is calling plays in the ‘Burgh.

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State (JR)
There are some focus and consistency concerns with Bell, but should things fall into place for the tailback, the junior could be in for a massive year in East Lansing. The Spartans will boast a potent offensive line and will have to turn to the running game in order to break in a new quarterback and receiving corps. Which is exactly how Mark Dantonio wants to win games anyway. There are few running backs with as much upside as Bell in this league.

Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah (SR)
The Morris Trophy winner from a year ago as the Pac-12’s top defensive lineman, Lotelelei should be in Heisman conversations across the country. Nebraska sent a defensive tackle to New York in 2009, so why can’t the Utes do the same? Utah’s Star up front could be the top DT taken in the 2013 NFL Draft as this defense ranked No. 1 in the league in scoring defense, No. 1 in turnover margin and No. 3 in rushing defense. Using him in some gimmick plays — e.g., along the offensive line or in goalline packages — would go a long way towards boosting his national profile.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (SO)
2011 Stats: 36 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 8.0 sacks, 5 FF
The preseason first-team All-American was named SEC Freshman of the Year in 2011 after completely justifying his lofty recruiting status as the nation’s top prospect. He posted 36 total tackles, 8.0 sacks and 12.0 tackles . He made big plays as his five forced fumbles indicate. There may not be a bigger impact player on defense in the entire nation as the freakish pass rusher must be accounted for on every play — whether he is lined-up at end or tackle.

Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama (SR)
The senior from Germantown, Tenn., is the most versatile, experienced and dynamic offensive blocker in the nation. He has been an all-league performer at all three offensive line positions and claimed the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman a year ago. He has two national championship rings and will pave the way for a third Heisman contender in as many seasons. There is little left for Jones to prove.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (SO)
The true freshman built his confidence week upon week and now enters his second year as the top Heisman contender in the league. He trailed only Geno Smith in completion percentage last year (64.5%) and posted the Big East’s No. 2 passer efficiency (132.44) mark. Most importantly, he has added bulk and strength to his frame after playing his best ball down the stretch. He posted a career high 274 yards in the bowl loss and chucked five touchdowns in the final two games.

John White, RB, Utah (SR)
In only his first season on campus, White broke the single-season Utah rushing record with 1,519 yards. What is more impressive is how he did it. The Utes had little-to-no quality quarterback play last year due to injuries and it allowed defenses to stack the box against White. All he did was carry the ball 316 times and score 15 touchdowns in the face of eight- and nine-man fronts. With just a little support from the passing game in 2012, White could post Radio City Music Hall-type numbers.

Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee (JR)
The only thing that was going to stop Hunter from dominating SEC opponents last year was a season-ending torn ACL in his left knee. He had posted 16 catches for 302 yards and two scores in only two games before his year was ended on his first catch in The Swamp in Week 3. All signs are pointing to his knee being fully healthy for the start of the season, but rebuilding strength and explosiveness is much easier said than done. If healthy, J-Hunt has a chance to be an All-American who will be drafted in the first round next April.

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> College Football: Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:35
Path: /college-football/byu-football-coaches-anonymously-scout-cougars
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 around the nation to talk anonymously about BYU.

Opposing Coaches Anonymously Scout BYU

“Well, Jake Heaps is gone. Kid was the top-ranked high school quarterback at one point, and now he’s off to Kansas to play for Charlie Weis. I’ll be interested to see how that goes.

Riley Nelson is now the guy at quarterback. He probably feels less pressure now; he is no longer competing against the big recruit, the guy that every fan wanted to see in there. Nelson is a talented kid.

They put together a pretty nice schedule for an Independent team. They’ve got three Pac-12 schools (Washington State, Utah and Oregon State), an ACC school (Georgia Tech) and Notre Dame.

Michael Alisa did a good job for them (at running back).  He’s got decent size (6'1", 213). He’s a nice player.

(Cody) Hoffman, the receiver, is a big kid. Can be a tough matchup for the defense. He made some big plays for them last year. I know he played well in the bowl game.

This was not a great team last year. I know they won 10 games, but the schedule was pretty soft, and they won a bunch of close games. Give them credit — 10 wins is still 10 wins, but I’d be surprised if they did again, especially with a more difficult schedule.

Bronco (Mendenhall) always does a nice job with the defense. They are really good at what they do, and the guys buy into their system. They are solid.”

Related BYU Content

College Football's Top 20 Wide Receiving Units for 2012
Ranking College Football's Top Dual-Threat Quarterbacks for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Athlon's 2012 All-American Team

Teaser:
<p> BYU Football: Coaches Anonymously Scout the Cougars</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:32
Path: /olympics/olympics-2012-which-colleges-led-way-london
Body:
Michigan's Michael Phelps led the Olympics in medals (six), but where did his alma mater Michigan rank?

Football and basketball remain king, but at least once every four years, schools should brag about their Olympic medal count.

 

That’s at least the case in the Pac-12, where four schools sent athletes to the London Olympics who won at least 10 medals. 

 

USC alone earned 20 medals by our count, which was as many as the Netherlands and Ukraine and more than New Zealand, Brazil, Spain and Jamaica (Usain Bolt notwithstanding).

 

Although the Pac-12 remains competitive across a wide array of Olympic sports — from water polo and rowing to soccer and basketball — Florida and Michigan made a bid for No. 1 in the medal count thanks to their two star swimming alums.

 

In our medal count, we counted current and former athletes for each school as well as those who have already signed a letter of intent. Although team events count for only one medal in the Olympics’ official standings, we credited medals for each individual on a team or leg of a relay.

 

For example, Florida receives credit for individual medals for swimmer Ryan Lochte’s and sprinter Jeff Demps’ legs on relay teams and two medals for Abby Wambach's and Heather Mitts’ presence on the USA women’s soccer team.

 

Also, we aimed to include only athletes who competed for the school in question. Sorry, USC, you don’t get credit for Allyson Felix’s gold medals. She attended USC but did not participate in the track team.

 

With all that in mind, here’s our count for the schools that led Olympics in medals.

 

USC (20 medals)

Gold: 9 | Silver: 9 | Bronze: 2

Notes: USC’s medal haul included athletes from the United States, France, Tunisia, Spain and Russia in track, swimming, water polo, soccer, volleyball and beach volleyball. Swimmer Rebecca Soni earned gold medals in the 200m breaststroke and 4x100m medley relay and the silver in the 100 breast. Omitted from our count of USC medalists are two swimmers who competed elsewhere, Amanda Weir (Georgia) and Margaux Farrell (Indiana). Allyson Felix, who won three gold medals in track, attended USC but did not compete for the Trojans.

 

Cal (17 medals)

Gold: 11 | Silver: 1 | Bronze: 5

Notes: Swimmer Dana Vollmer, who began her college career at Florida but finished at Cal, took home gold in the 100m butterfly, the 4x100m medley relay and 200m free relay. Nathan Adrian matched Vollmer’s medal count with two golds (400m free, 4x100m medley relay). Cal medaled in swimming, soccer, water polo and rowing.

 

Stanford (15 medals)

Gold: 12 | Silver: 2 | Bronze: 1

Notes: Stanford earned more gold medals than any college and more than all but six countries in the Olympics. The Cardinal’s 12 gold medals alone were more than all but five other schools. Stanford earned its gold medal haul thanks to women’s sports — water polo, soccer, beach volleyball, rowing — plus a gold in men’s tennis doubles.

 

Florida (14 medals)

Gold: 6 | Silver: 5 | Bronze: 3

Notes: Ryan Lochte tied for the second-most individual medals in the Olympics with five: Gold in 400m individual medley and 800m free relay, silver in the 200m IM and 4x100m free relay and bronze in the 200m backstroke. Swimmer Elizabeth Beisel and long jumper/high jumper Will Claye also had multiple medals for Florida. Longtime Gators men’s swimming coach Gregg Troy also led the American men’s swim team in London. Florida alums also medaled in track and soccer. (Dana Vollmer’s three gold medals are included in the tally for Cal, where she finished her college career.)

 

Michigan (13 medals)

Gold: 9 | Silver: 2 | Bronze: 2

Notes: Clearly, former Wolverine Michael Phelps’ six medals (four gold, two silver for the most in the London Olympics) lead the way here. Four other Michigan alums medaled in swimming, but Ann Arbor also produced a gold medalist in water polo (Betsey Armstrong) and a silver medalist in rowing (Janine Hanson).

 

Texas (12 medals)

Gold: 5 | Silver: 5 | Bronze: 2

Notes: Swimming led the Longhorns’ medal haul with Ricky Berens winning gold as part of the 4x200m free relay team (with Michigan’s Phelps and Florida’s Lochte and Conor Dwyer) and 4x100m medley relay (with Phelps, Cal’s Adrian and Northwestern’s Matthew Grevers). Texas was good for Team USA in track relays, too with Bianca Knight (4x100m) and Sanya Richards-Ross (4x400m) running in gold-medal races. Richards-Ross added a gold in the 400m. 

 

Washington (10 medals)

Gold: 2 | Silver: 6 | Bronze: 2

Notes: Washington is an outlier in that none of its 10 medalists participated in track or swimming. Instead, the Huskies medaled in rowing (one gold, four silvers, three bronze), cycling (one silver) and volleyball (one silver). Women’s soccer goalie Hope Solo, who earned a gold medal, was Washington’s most prominent Olympian.

 

Two schools (eight medals each)

Georgia

Gold: 4 | Silver: 1 | Bronze: 3

Notes: Swimmer Allison Schmitt matched Lochte’s five medals, tied for the second-most individual medals in the Olympics after Phelps. Schmitt claimed one more gold than Lochte, though, with gold in the 200m free, 4x100m medley relay and 4x200m free relay. Former Bulldog Amanda Weir, who earned a bronze as part of the 4x100m free relay team, ended her college days at USC, but did not compete for the Trojans.

 

UCLA

Gold: 6 | Silver: 1 | Bronze:

Notes: UCLA’s six gold medals came in three team sports: Men’s basketball (Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook), women’s soccer and women’s water polo.

 

Two schools (seven medals each)

Princeton

Gold: 1 | Silver: 2 | Bronze: 4

Notes: The Ivy league makes an appearance as Princeton earned medals in rowing (one gold and two silver’s in women’s eight, one bronze in men’s four) and two bronzes in fencing.

 

Tennessee

Gold: 3 | Silver: 1 | Bronze: 3

Notes: Candace Parker and Tamika Catchings won two of Tennessee’s gold medals in women’s basketball. Justin Gatlin earned two medals with a silver in the 4x100m relay and a bronze in the 100m.

 

OTHER NOTES

♦ Eleven of 14 schools in the SEC claimed at least one medal. Mississippi State, Missouri and Vanderbilt were the only ones that did not. After Florida, Georgia and Tennessee listed above, the SEC programs with the most medals were: LSU (four), Arkansas and Auburn (three each), South Carolina and Texas A&M (two each), Alabama, Kentucky and Ole Miss (one each). 

 

♦ Eight of 12 schools in the Pac-12 claimed at least one medal. After USC, Cal, Stanford, Washington and UCLA listed above, Arizona followed with five medals, then Arizona State and Oregon with three each.

 

♦ Eight of 12 schools in the Big Ten claimed at least one medal. After Michigan’s 13, Penn State was a distant second with five, followed by Minnesota and Nebraska (four each), Northwestern and Purdue (three each) and Illinois and Indiana (two each).

 

♦ Connecticut claimed six gold medals — all in women’s basketball.

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> USC, Pac-12 programs lead our collegiate medal count</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:29
Path: /college-football/college-football-coaches-anonymously-scout-notre-dame
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 around the nation to talk anonymously about Notre Dame.

College Football Coaches Anonymously Scout Notre Dame

Opposing coaches size up the Fighting Irish:

“So the Fighting Irish hired Brian Kelly to turn in consecutive 8–5 seasons? I don’t think so. Kelly’s been an improvement since taking over for Charlie Weis, but I believe the Irish have been a little bit underwhelming.

Last year they probably deserved better than 8–5, but they beat themselves in so many games.

I still can’t figure out how Notre Dame lost to South Florida or Michigan. The close Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State summed up the season.

The quarterback position obviously draws the most attention. I’ll be interested to see what Kelly does there. Does he stay with Tommy Rees or give Gunner Kiel a shot? It probably doesn’t matter; the way Kelly pulls his quarterbacks, they’re all going to play or not play the same amount.

I think it’s imperative Kelly picks a starting quarterback and stays with him. It’s tough to play that position, especially at Notre Dame, if you’re constantly looking over your shoulder.

The schedule has its share of minefields such as Michigan, USC, Stanford, Michigan State and Oklahoma. So maybe another 8–5 record wouldn’t be so bad this season, even if the alums won’t like it.”

Related Notre Dame Content

Notre Dame 2012 Schedule Analysis
Notre Dame 2012 Fall Practice Preview

Ranking College Football's Top 20 Linebacker Units for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 20 Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 20 Offensive Lines for 2012

Teaser:
<p> College Football Coaches Anonymously Scout Notre Dame</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:16
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-dallas-cowboys
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Charean Williams, Fort Worth-Star Telegram

If you could only have one fantasy wide receiver on this team, who would it be?
Tony Romo trusts Miles Austin more than he trusts Dez Bryant, so at crunch time, the quarterback is going to look for Austin more than Bryant. If Austin can stay healthy, he is the choice.

Can DeMarco Murray hold up for a full season of work?
Murray entered the NFL with questions about his ability to stay healthy. He had a dislocated kneecap, a hamstring injury and a knee injury during his career at Oklahoma, which was a contributing factor in his being available for the Cowboys in the third round in 2011. Murray was on pace for a 1,000-yard season as a rookie until breaking his right ankle and requiring surgery. Murray does not have a history of staying healthy, so it is risky to rely on him without a backup plan.

What type of role can we expect to see from Felix Jones?
Unless DeMarco Murray is injured, Jones’ role with the Cowboys will be relegated to a kickoff returner and third-down back. But if Murray goes down, Jones’ role, and thus his fantasy value, will increase.

Is Jason Witten still an elite fantasy tight end?
Witten just turned 30. He did not have 1,000 yards receiving in 2011, the first time since 2008 that happened. Still, Witten led the team with 79 catches, and he had 942 yards and five TDs. He remains Tony Romo’s favorite target and still should be productive this season. He just might not reach 1,000 yards, and his history says he will score only four to five touchdowns.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Felix Jones, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Kyle Orton, QB
Overvalued: DeMarco Murray, RB
Top Rookie: Morris Claiborne, CB
Bounce-Back: Miles Austin, WR
Top IDP: Sean Lee, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Morris Claiborne CB 6-0 185 LSU
3. Tyrone Crawford DE 6-4 275 Boise State
4. Kyle Wilber OLB 6-4 249 Wake Forest
4. Matt Johnson S 6-1 212 E. Washington
5. Danny Coale WR 6-0 200 Virginia Tech
6. James Hanna TE 6-4 243 Oklahoma
7. Caleb McSurdy ILB 6-1 242 Montana

Fantasy Impact: Addressing a shaky defense was the Cowboys' offseason priority. Cornerback was addressed in free agency by signing former Chief Brandon Carr and selecting Morris Claiborne. Claiborne and Carr should give Dallas a much-improved secondary. Tyrone Crawford and Kyle Wilber are solid fits in the 3-4, but neither will produce IDP value this year. The additions in the secondary and the front seven should make the Cowboys a top-15 fantasy defense. Danny Coale is a steady possession receiver but is unlikely to emerge as a fantasy option in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at CIN, PIT, NO)

Starting up the fantasy playoffs against two AFC North defenses stinks. Cincinnati was 14th-best against QBs and WRs and 10th-best against RBs. Pittsburgh was second-best against fantasy QBs, WRs and TEs and fourth-best against RBs. The saving grace is that Pittsburgh is in Dallas for the semifinals, and the Cowboys then play host to a Saints team that was one of the worst against QBs (26th), WRs (24th) and RBs (29th).

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Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Dallas Cowboys</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-big-tens-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 12's top 30 must-see football games for the 2012 season:

1. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Michigan at Ohio State
Easily the biggest rivalry in the Midwest is, in most years, the biggest rivalry game in the nation. With the Urban renewal taking place in Columbus and Brady Hoke reenergizing the Michigan faithful in lightning rod fashion last fall, this game should return to the 10 Year War level of intensity. So can the Wolverines walk into the Horseshoe and beat the Buckeyes this fall? It will be tougher than most Maize and Blue fans want to admit. Ohio State has nothing else to play for but ruining its rival’s season. Ohio State has a better overall roster of talent. And Ohio State is at home. Remember, the worst Ohio State team in a decade nearly defeated the best Michigan team in half a decade last fall on the road in Ann Arbor. The smart money is on Ohio State.

2. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Michigan State at Michigan
This game has been one of streaks of late. Michigan won six straight from 2002 to 2007 before Michigan State took over the state in 2008. If the Spartans want to win a fifth straight in the series, quarterback play will have to stabilize for Michigan State over the first half of the season. This game could easily decide not only the Legends Division title but also the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl participant. For a team like Michigan State, who hasn’t played in Pasadena since 1988, this game carries more than just in-state bragging rights. Shockingly, Michigan is searching for its first Big Ten title since 2004 and a win over Sparty likely gives it to them.

3. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Michigan State at Wisconsin
This season could be an inverted version of last season for Michigan State and Wisconsin. It is hard to see State going into Madison and getting the win — a place Sparty hasn’t won in since 2001. Yet, these could very easily meet again in the second annual B1G championship game. These two played two of the most memorable Big Ten football games in the history of the league last year and this fall could feature two more heart-stopping editions of what is developing into an elite rivalry game.

4. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Ohio State at Michigan State
The preseason buzz around C-Bus will either be proven wrong — or completely justified when both Michigan State and Ohio State open Big Ten play in Week 5. The Buckeyes don’t play a tough non-conference game, so fans will find out exactly how far Braxton Miller has developed and just how salty the OSU defense will be in this game. Should Ohio State win on the road against Sparty, an 11-1 type of season is extremely possible. Should Brutus return home with the loss, expectations for Ohio State will be tempered very quickly.

5. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Ohio State at Wisconsin
Bucky Badger was literally inches from being undefeated last fall. The MSU hail mary and Braxton Miller’s near-the-line-of-scrimmage touchdown heave were both inches from going Wisconsin’s way. The Big Red defeated OSU 31-18 with relative ease the last time Ohio State visited Camp Randall, but this game will be decidedly tougher. While Ohio State can’t technically play for the Big Ten title, winning this game and claiming the best record in the division still means a lot to Urban Meyer. Fans know who actually won the Pac-12 South last year.

6. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Michigan at Nebraska
The round robin in the Legends Division should be extremely entertaining this fall and Michigan has to face the Huskers on the road. However, if Nebraska wants to contend this fall, playing better defense against the Wolverines' rushing attack will be imperative. Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint combined for 221 yards and four touchdowns in the 45-17 blowout last fall. This game could be the pivotal road trip for Michigan — at least, until November 24.

7. Week 4 (Sept. 22) Michigan at Notre Dame
Michigan has won three straight in this historic rivalry and none more painful than the most recent edition. Last year's final drive with under 30 seconds to play capped one of the largest fourth-quarter comebacks in the series history. Denard Robinson was brilliant, at times, but really the Notre Dame secondary played poorly. Brian Kelly is looking for his first win in the series and has a nasty defensive front seven to play with this time around. Robinson will need more than one ice bath when this one is over.

8. Week 1 (Sept. 1) Alabama vs. Michigan (Arlington, Texas)
This might be the marquee non-conference match-up of the season. It is the first regular season match-up between the two historic programs and the Wolverines own a two (1988, 200) to one (1997) lead in the series. The thought that it may be one-sided, however, keeps it from sitting much higher on the list. The defending national champions have one of the deepest college teams ever assembled and Brady Hoke will be hard-pressed to stop the Bama rushing attack in the second half. Michigan can keep it close for three quarters, but in Jerry's Palace with that offensive line, Nick Saban should come away victorious. 

9. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Nebraska at Michigan State
If Michigan is the preseason favorite to win the Legend's Division, then these two are the chief contenders. The Cornhuskers controlled the ball and dominated the 24-3 contest in Lincoln, Neb. Kirk Cousins had arguably his worst game as a senior as the Spartans allowed four sacks. At home, Sparty will be looking for revenge — and a possible return trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title showdown. However, if the Big Red defense can repeat last's year performance on a much less experienced quarterback, the upset is certainly possible. 

10. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Wisconsin at Nebraska
The 48-17 destruction of Nebraska marked the first time the corn-fed Big Red and dairy-fed Big Red did battle since 1974. This year Russell Wilson is gone and this game shifts to Lincoln for the Big Ten opener. Nebraska gets the revenge factor, the home-field advantage and will have played a couple of challenging non-conference tests. The only edge Wisconsin gets is that of style as their new Adidas uniform look only slight better than the "N" threads.

11. Week 3 (Sept. 15) Notre Dame at Michigan State
Mark Dantonio teams rarely get pushed around at the point of attack. They rarely play fundamentally ineffective football. And they rarely get beat 31-13. But that is what an 0-2 Notre Dame team did to the eventual division champs. Michigan State rushed for a season-low 29 yards in the defeat and the Irish defensive line has only gotten better. Winning on the road won't be as easy for Brian Kelly and there is no way Dantonio has let his team forget about the embarrassment of last fall.

12. Week 1 (Aug. 31) Boise State at Michigan State
These two programs have won a lot of football games over the last few years. And while this isn't a vintage Broncos squad, Boise State is much closer to reload status than it is rebuild. That said, the physicality of the Spartans in the trenches will be a huge hurdle to overcome for the less-talented, smaller program from Idaho. Should the BSU front lines hold up against MSU, the national opinion from BCS conference snobs that Chris Peterson's teams are consistently overrated will be silenced. 

13. Week 1 (Sept. 1) Ohio at Penn State
This might be the most watched football game of the year this fall. And it has nothing to do with MAC front-runner Ohio and its dynamic big-play quarterback Tyler Tettleton. Joe Paterno won't on the sidelines. Beaver Stadium will be 108,000 deep with We Are pride. Bill O'Brien leads a Penn State team that feels like a complete unknown. It will be an extremely surreal experience and most of the nation will be tuned in.

14. Week 6 (Oct. 6) Nebraska at Ohio State
Ohio State was playing well against Nebraska deep into the second half last fall when Braxton Miller was injured and lost for the afternoon. The Cornhuskers took advantage and pulled-off the 34-27 win. The ground game was excellent against the stingy OSU front, rushing for 232 yards and 51 carries. Against what should be the best defense in the league in the Horseshoe, Rex Burkhead will find much less open space this time around.

15. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Wisconsin at Penn State
The season finale will be an emotional experience for Penn State fans. And a win over Penn State would likely clinch a trip to the Big Ten title game for Wisconsin, much like last fall. The Badgers have not won in Happy Valley since 2003.

16. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Nebraska at Northwestern
The Huskers had beaten Ohio State and thumped Michigan State and had eyes on a Big Ten title when thes Wildcats walked in Lincoln and pulled-off one of the biggest — and most entertaining — upsets of the year. Nebraska couldn’t stop Kain Colter — who will be starting this fall under center for Northwestern.

17. Week 13 (Nov. 23) Nebraska at Iowa
The whole ear of corn is on the line in this season-ending developing rivalry. The Huskers rolled-up 222 yards rushing in the win over Iowa while James Vandenberg’s had one of his toughest game of the year (182-0-1). Bowl eligibility and future employment could be on the line at season’s end for Kirk Ferentz.

18. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Iowa at Michigan
Brady Hoke’s bunch won’t take this one lightly as the Hawkeyes pulled the upset 24-16 in Kinnick Stadium last year. It was one of two losses for Michigan and revenge will be on the mind of Denard Robinson.

19. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Ohio State at Penn State
Going on the road into Beaver Stadium is never easy, even with the heavy-handed NCAA penalties floating over PSU. A match-up between these two powers is normally a top ten B1G match-up. The OSU revenge tour continues with this one.

20. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Penn State at Nebraska
The yearly cross-over rivalry game will certainly take a hit due to sanctions, but there is something really special about the Big Red Husker uniforms knocking heads with the classic Nittany Blue. It was a tightly played affair last fall (17-14, Neb.).

21. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Iowa at Michigan State
The Spartans pushed the Hawkeyes around last fall to the tune of 288 yards passing and 155 yards rushing. Iowa mustered 87 yards on the ground. Expect tough sledding once again for Iowa, this time, on the road.

22. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Wisconsin at Purdue
If you are looking for an upset alert in the bizarre Leaders Division this fall, it could easily be Purdue over Wisconsin. The Boilers have a solid defensive line and weird things happen in West Lafayette this time of the year.

23. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Minnesota at Wisconsin
The NCAA’s oldest rivalry has been played more times than any other game in history. This game has taken place since 1890 and Minnesota owns the all-time series 59-54-8. Yet, the Badgers have won eight straight.

24. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Penn State at Illinois
The storylines between the two new head coaches in the Big Ten may fade away eventually, but right now, fans can bet Bill O’Brien has lost no love for poacher Tim Beckman and Illinois.

25. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Iowa at Northwestern
These two were hotly debated in our meetings this season and both should be eyeing bowl eligibility this fall. Iowa has won only two of the last seven meetings and a win could be a postseason trip for both teams. 

Best of the Rest:

26. Week 6 (Oct. 6) Illinois at Wisconsin
27. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Iowa State at Iowa
28.Week 2 (Sept. 8) Nebraska at UCLA
29. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Purdue at Notre Dame
30. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Illinois at Michigan
31. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Penn State at Iowa
32. Week 3 (Sept. 15) Cal at Ohio State
33. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Penn State at Purdue
34. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Purdue at Ohio State
35. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Purdue at Illinois

Athlon Sports Must-See TV for 2012:

Big 12's Must-See Games of 2012


Big Ten's Must-See Games of 2012


SEC's Must-See Games of 2012

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports Big Ten Predictions and Team Previews:

Legends:

1. Michigan Wolverines: No. 7
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers: No. 14
3. Michigan State Spartans: No. 18
4. Northwestern Wildcats: No. 49
5. Iowa Hawkeyes: No. 50
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers: No. 62

Leaders:

1. Ohio State Buckeyes: No. 6
2. Wisconsin Badgers: No. 17
3. Penn State Nittany Lions: No. 44
4. Illinios Fighting Illini: No. 52
5. Purdue Boilermakers: No. 53
6. Indiana Hoosiers: No. 89

Teaser:
<p> College Football: Big Ten's Must-See Games of 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:00

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