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All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, San Diego Chargers, NFL
Path: /nfl/san-diego-chargers-top-twitter-accounts-follow
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Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

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

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

@chargers (Followers: 146,200)

Top Chargers To Follow:

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

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

The Chargers Beat:

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

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

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

Chargers Blog Roll:

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

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

Bolt Beat and Chargers Gab are some others out there.

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

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

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

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

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

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

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> San Diego Chargers Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 04:20
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-watkins-glen
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The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the Northeast this weekend as it hits Watkins Glen International for the Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen. The second of two road course races this season, teams will have to adjust to turning both left and right, carrying high speeds and preparing for heavy braking with multiple elevation changes and opposite-side pit stops.

Always a challenge, some in the garage have excelled at the road course events while others have struggled mightily. While road racing experience and an open-wheel background may have made a significant difference in years past, the level of competition has evened out of late.

Track position, however, has always been a major factor in deciding a winner at Watkins Glen. Starting up front and staying there is one of the biggest keys to a successful day at the Glen. In the 29 Cup races here, 19 have been won from the top-5 starting spots — so pay attention Saturday’s qualifying.

Last year, race winner Marcos Ambrose used both road course experience and a solid starting spot to earn his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. Always one of the strongest drivers at Watkins Glen, Ambrose leads the field in terms of average finish, with an impressive 2.3.

In fact, in his four starts at the Glen, Ambrose has failed to finish worse than third. In addition, the Australian-native has won three of the four Nationwide Series races he has run.

Given his prior success at Watkins Glen, Ambrose is definitely among the top 5 favorites in this week's fantasy outlook, but he is not the favorite. That belongs to a determined, hard-nosed, skilled road course driver known as “Rowdy.”

While Ambrose scored the victory in last year's event, it was Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch that led the most laps (49 of 92). Although he led the field to the green flag on a final green-white-checker finish, Busch was muscled out of the way by Ambrose and Brad Keselowski, eventually settling in at the third spot. With one of the best cars that day, the third-place finish was a tough pill to swallow for the 2008 Watkins Glen winner.

Heading into this weekend's race, Busch is in need of not only a solid finish, but a win. After a disappointing 33rd-place finish last weekend at Pocono, the driver of the No. 18 Toyota is currently fourth in the wild card standings behind Kasey Kahne (2 wins), Jeff Gordon (1) and Ryan Newman (1).

Following the wreck at Pocono, Busch and his Dave Rogers-led team know if they want to be a part of the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup they have to win their way in. One of the most dangerous teams when it comes to recording a string of wins, the JGR driver admits their season struggles give them little hope. Despite having one win, six top 5s and nine top 10s, Busch also has eight finishes of 23rd or worse, including three DNFs.

Yet, if there was one driver and team that could turn their luck around in the final five regular-season races, it’s this one. Already a former winner at the Glen, Busch has an average finish of 9.3 (fourth best) at Watkins Glen and has finished in the top 10 in six of his seven Cup starts.

With playoff implications on the line and one of his best tracks in front of him, look for Busch and the No. 18 team to employ the right strategy and have a strong enough car to best the rest.

Among those Busch will have to beat is last week's winner at Pocono, Jeff Gordon.

Now in the thick of the Chase wild card battle after winning the rain-shortened race Sunday afternoon, Gordon has momentum on his side and is eager to celebrate his 20th year in the Sprint Cup Series by making the Chase. Although he admits the No. 24 team has struggled to find speed over the past decade at the Glen, that momentum and confidence can go a long way for a driver that could use another win in the next five races.

Five Favorites: Kyle Busch, Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell gives his weekly fantasy NASCAR tips for Sunday's running of the Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen International.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 13:37
Path: /college-basketball/kentucky%E2%80%99s-big-blue-nation-olympic-basketball-team-0
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Kentucky Wildcats basketball fans are known as the “Big Blue Nation.” But what if the Big Blue Nation were an actual sovereign nation eligible to compete in the 2012 London Olympics? How would an Olympic team comprised solely of Kentucky alums fare against the medal favorites like the USA, Spain and Argentina?

Here’s a hypothetical rundown of what UK in the UK would look like.

LEADERSHIP

Managing Director – Pat Riley
Head Coach – John Calipari
Assistant Coach – Dan Issel
Assistant Coach – Travis Ford
Student Assistant – Enes Kanter

Riley and Calipari would serve as the unquestioned leaders of the Cats. Riles would oversee the Big Blue Nation basketball program, in a czar role similar to Team USA’s Jerry Colangelo. Coach Cal would pace the sidelines a la Coach K for the USA.

CEREMONIES

Flag Bearer – Ashley Judd
Anthem – “My Old Kentucky Home”

The lovely Miss Judd would serve as the beautiful face of the Commonwealth during the Opening Ceremonies, with the classic Kentucky Derby standard, “My Old Kentucky Home” as the anthem to be played should Kentucky win gold.

STARTING FIVE-STARS

C – DeMarcus Cousins
Age: 21 (Aug. 13, 1990)
Height/Weight: 6-11, 270
Drafted: 2010, Sacramento Kings, No. 5 overall
2011-12 Stats: 18.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.4 spg, 1.2 bpg (NBA)

DMC was one of the final cuts made by Team USA. Boogie would bring the type of interior toughness that Spain has in the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, and that the USA lacks outside of Tyson Chandler.

F – Anthony Davis
Age: 19 (March 11, 1993)
Height/Weight: 6-10, 220
Drafted: 2012, New Orleans Hornets, No. 1 overall
2011-12 Stats: 14.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 4.7 bpg, 1.4 spg (NCAA)

Much like Kentucky early in the Civil War, the reigning NCAA Player of the Year, Final Four MOP and No. 1 overall NBA draft pick might be on the fencepost deciding whether to play for the USA or UK. But the unibrow-ed Uni-blocker would be a perfect running mate for the brutish Cousins down low.

F – Tayshaun Prince
Age: 32 (Feb. 28, 1980)
Height/Weight: 6-9, 215
Drafted: 2002, Detroit Pistons, No. 23 overall
2011-12 Stats: 12.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, 35.6 3P% (NBA)

A gold medal winner with the Redeem Team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2004 NBA champion, Prince provides valuable length defensively, veteran leadership and a history of making clutch 3-pointers in pressure situations.

G – John Wall
Age: 21 (Sept. 6, 1990)
Height/Weight: 6-4, 195
Drafted: 2010, Washington Wizards, No. 1 overall
2011-12 Stats: 16.3 ppg, 8.0 apg, 4.5 rpg, 1.4 spg (NBA)

Playing off the ball while Rondo runs the point, Wall would be charged with going toe-to-toe with the USA’s Kobe Bryant and Argentina’s Manu Ginobili. Turning defense into fast break offense would be a likely strength of the lightning quick backcourt of Wall and Rondo.

G – Rajon Rondo
Age: 26 (Feb. 22, 1986)
Height/Weight: 6-1, 185
Drafted: 2006, Phoenix Suns, No. 21 overall
2011-12 Stats: 11.9 ppg, 11.7 apg, 4.8 rpg, 1.8 spg (NBA)

The 2008 NBA champion was the assists leader in 2012 and steals leader in 2010. A defensive menace and one-of-a-kind playmaker, Rondo would play with a massive chip on his shoulder against Team USA and Heat rival LeBron James.

BENCH

F – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Age: 18 (Sept. 26, 1993)
Height/Weight: 6-8, 230
Drafted: 2012, Charlotte Bobcats, No. 2 overall
2011-12 Stats: 11.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.0 spg (NCAA)

The defensive specialist would get an early taste of tangling with LeBron, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.

G – Jodie Meeks
Age: 24 (Aug. 21, 1987)
Height/Weight: 6-4, 210
Drafted: 2009, Milwaukee Bucks, No. 41 overall
2011-12 Stats: 8.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 90.6 FT%, 36.5 3P% (NBA)

A designated shooter and spark off the bench, Meeks’ free-throw shooting would also be a valuable asset on a team that might struggle at the line.

F – Terrence Jones
Age: 20 (Jan. 9, 1992)
Height/Weight: 6-9, 250
Drafted: 2012, Houston Rockets, No. 18 overall
2011-12 Stats: 12.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 1.3 spg (NCAA)

The enigmatic talent would likely run hot and cold on the international stage. But Coach Cal would have the luxury of only playing Jones when he had a hot hand.

G – Brandon Knight
Age: 20 (Dec. 2, 1991)
Height/Weight: 6-3, 190
Drafted: 2011, Detroit Pistons, No. 8 overall
2011-12 Stats: 12.8 ppg, 3.8 apg, 3.2 rpg, 38.0 3P% (NBA)

Another ball-handler and shooter, Knight would see limited floor time behind Wall and Rondo but would be a nice option off the bench.

G – Doron Lamb
Age: 20 (Nov. 6, 1991)
Height/Weight: 6-5, 210
Drafted: 2012, Milwaukee Bucks, No. 42 overall
2011-12 Stats: 13.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 46.6 3P%, 82.6 FT% (NCAA)

Lamb would be a better option than even Knight. The sharpshooter with a savant’s basketball IQ would play essentially the same role with this team that he did with the 2012 NCAA champions.

F – Chuck Hayes
Age: 29 (June 11, 1983)
Height/Weight: 6-6, 250
Drafted: Undrafted
2011-12 Stats: 3.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.4 apg (NBA)

A mauler down low, Hayes would provide muscle and hustle, providing the most value banging with the USA’s LeBron, Melo and Kevin Love, as well as Argentina’s Luis Scola.

C – Josh Harrellson
Age: 23 (Feb. 12, 1989)
Height/Weight: 6-10, 275
Drafted: 2011, New Orleans Hornets, No. 45 overall
2011-12 Stats: 4.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 33.9 3P% (NBA)

“Jorts” would be the token white guy, the chief cheerleader and a valuable stretch-4 whose game might be better suited for international rules than for those of the NBA or NCAA.

TOUGH CUTS

G – Eric Bledsoe
Age: 22 (Dec. 9, 1989)
Height/Weight: 6-1, 195

F – Patrick Patterson
Age: 23 (March 14, 1989)
Height/Weight: 6-9, 235

C – Nerlens Noel
Age: 18 (April 10, 1994)
Height/Weight: 6-11, 215

The depth at point guard bumped Bledsoe, who shined playing alongside Chris Paul during the playoffs. Patterson isn’t as athletic as Jones, as tough as Hayes or as energetic as Harrellson. Incoming freshman Noel would have provided the best hair of the tournament — with his signature high top fade — but the young buck is still too green to run with the “national team” from the Bluegrass State.

VERDICT

If Kentucky fielded a team in the 2012 London Olympics, it would not have the depth to match Team USA. But the Wildcats’ length, speed and defense would be too much for the likes of Spain and Argentina. The Big Blue Nation would bring the silver medal back to Lexington.

by Nathan Rush
 

Teaser:
<p> If Kentucky basketball fielded a team of alums in the 2012 London Olympics, it would be a medal contender thanks to Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Rajon Rondo, Tayshaun Prince, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Co.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 12:59
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympic-photo-day-misty-may-treanor-and-kerri-walsh-jennings-win-gold
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Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings won their third straight gold medal in beach volleyball on Wednesday night in London, defeating fellow Americans April Ross and Jennifer Kessy in straight sets, 21–16, 21–16.

The two best friends won gold in Athens and Beijing before defending their crown in London — which is scheduled to be the duo’s final Olympic appearance.

“We played the toughest competition in the world and we’ve withstood every challenge to be hanging out on top,” Walsh Jennings told the Today Show, on the morning after their historic victory.

The 35-year-old May-Treanor is married to Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Matt Treanor and plans to start a family following her third gold. Meanwhile, the 33-year-old Walsh Jennings already has two sons — born in 2009 and 2010, following the Beijing Games.

The “Turtle” and “Six Feet of Sunshine” dug in to win and are now riding off into the sunset. The sport of women’s beach volleyball will never be the same.
 

Teaser:
<p> Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings won their third straight gold medal in beach volleyball.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 10:54
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-aug-9
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Here's the Fab Five for Aug. 9, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:

1. Men's 200m Finals
This 19-second thrill ride offers Usain Bolt another occasion to state his case as history's greatest sprinter. After practically cartwheeling to the finish line in the preliminaries, Bolt should maintain focus through the entire race this time in an attempt to stave off countryman and sidekick Yohan Blake and become the first sprinter to defend his gold medal in the 200. Wallace Spearmon is the only American in the race and will be among those battling for bronze.

2. Men's Decathlon
Ashton Eaton of the United States set a world record in the U.S. trials, and he holds a 220-point lead over countryman Trey Hardee heading into the final five events of this grueling two-day test — 110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1500m run.

3. Women's Soccer Finals: U.S. vs. Japan
The largest crowd ever to watch a women's match in the soccer-mad nation of Great Britain will gather to watch the U.S. and Japan battle for gold. The theme for the Americans is redemption after losing to Japan in last year's World Cup final.

4. Women's Water Polo Finals: U.S. vs. Spain
After surviving a coaching blunder and beating Australia — he called a timeout with one second left when the U.S. didn't have the ball, allowing Australia to tie with a penalty shot — the U.S. women will try to earn a first-ever gold medal in this event as they battle unbeaten Spain.

5. Women's Volleyball
The U.S. indoor women will try to follow the lead of their bikini-clad sisters on the beach as they face South Korea in a semifinal match. Surprisingly, the Americans have never won gold in this event. In the other semifinal, Brazil faces Japan.

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.
 

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

Teaser:
<p> Jamaica's Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake are the favorites in the 200-meter dash in London on August 9.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 10:51
Path: /college-football/sec-player-rankings-top-75-players-2012-0
Body:

With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, the SEC is bigger and better than ever. While the Tigers and Aggies probably won't win the conference in 2012, the addition of both teams only adds to the depth in the legaue. The last six national champions have come from the SEC and the conference should have a good chance to add No. 7 in 2012. 

Simply put, there's no shortage of talent in the SEC. Athlon ranked 75 players for this list but could easily rank 100 with the amount of returning talent in the league for 2012. 

Compiling the top 75 players of any conference is never an easy task. However, Athlon established a criteria to help compile the rankings. 

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

(Published August 9, 2012)

Athlon's Top 75 SEC Players for 2012

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

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

3. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Before his season ending knee injury on Oct. 15, Lattimore was a Heisman frontrunner. The week before the injury, Lattimore was sixth in the nation in rushing with 129.8 yards per game. Lattimore’s health will be one of the major storylines in the SEC. If he’s fully healthy, the Gamecocks could make a run at their first SEC championship.

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

5. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
This pass-rushing outside linebacker was sensational in his first season with the Bulldogs. He led the SEC with 13.5 sacks on his way to consensus All-American honors. Jones totaled 70 tackles last season, with a conference-leading 19.5 of them behind the line of scrimmage. He also added two forced fumbles and two pass breakups for a Georgia defense that ranked No. 5 in the country a year ago. Look for Jones and the Bulldogs defense to wreak more havoc on opponents in 2012.

6. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
It’s a close call for the No. 1 quarterback spot in the SEC. Murray and Tyler Wilson are both deserving, but with Arkansas losing coach Bobby Petrino and receivers Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, the edge goes to the Bulldogs’ signal-caller. Through Murray’s first two years in Athens, he has thrown for 6,198 yards and 59 touchdowns. His interception total increased last year (8 as a freshman, 14 as a sophomore), which will be one area the coaching staff wants to see him improve in 2012. The Bulldogs have to replace a couple of key offensive line starters, and receiver Malcolm Mitchell may spend the majority of the first part of the year at cornerback. There are concerns about Murray, but we think he will end up with first-team All-SEC honors at the end of 2012.

7. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Wilson successfully stepped into Ryan Mallett’s shoes as Arkansas’ starting quarterback last season, carrying on the Razorbacks’ best run of passers in program history. Wilson’s 3,638 yards was the second-highest total in school history as he became the program’s first All-SEC first-team quarterback. After the sudden coaching change, Wilson also was a stabilizing presence on the roster. He and Mallett are the only two quarterbacks to pass for 3,000 yards in school history.

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

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

10. Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
Expectations are high for Davis to return to the lineup at full speed after missing the 2011 season with a broken ankle. In 2010, Davis emerged over the final seven games of the season to rush for 1,028 yards and 12 touchdowns during that span. The Hogs’ will look forward to his power, speed and vision to return to the lineup after Arkansas ranked ninth in the SEC in rushing last season.

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

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

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

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

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

16. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
The 6-foot-6 quarterback has shown a ton of promise over his first two seasons in Knoxville, compiling 3,832 yards and 35 touchdown passes in 16 games. However, Bray must find a way to stay healthy for an entire season. He threw for 17 scores against six interceptions in seven games last year and has an elite receiving crew coming back. If a Vols rushing attack that ranked 116th nationally last year improves, Bray could have a monster 2012 campaign.

17. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
McCarron finished the 2011 season by playing some of his best football, throwing for 234 yards on 23 completions in the 21-0 victory over LSU in the national championship. He also threw for 184 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn and has not thrown a pick since the Nov. 12 victory over Mississippi State. With Trent Richardson moving onto the NFL, Alabama will put more on McCarron’s shoulders this season. New coordinator Doug Nussmeier should open up the offense a little more, which will allow McCarron to easily surpass last season’s totals and challenge for All-SEC honors.

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

19. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU
Note: Mathieu was dismissed after this article was published.
The LSU defensive back is a really, really, really good player with a tenacious attitude. But his Heisman candidacy was built more on a popular YouTube video, creative nickname, two punt returns in blowout wins and the support of the best defensive back in the nation more than anything else. Mathieu can be a game-changer on special teams and finds himself around the ball constantly. He is a welcome addition to any secondary, but he is not an elite coverman (see BCS title game) and does not have an NFL frame at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds. The evidence? He never checks the other team’s top receiver.

20. Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
The talented receiver caught seven touchdown passes as a freshman in 2010 while averaging a staggering 25.9 yards on 16 receptions. The expectations for Hunter were sky-high last season before he suffered a torn ACL in the third game of the year at Florida. Hunter did total 302 yards and two scores in the first two games before his injury. If he returns to his former elite athlete level, Hunter will be one of the most explosive weapons in the SEC.

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

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

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

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

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

26. Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee
Few players are a bigger anomaly than Mr. Rogers. He has NFL size, speed, explosiveness and upside. He is a nightmare match-up for any NCAA defensive back and will make huge plays after the catch. But the knucklehead factor is strong with the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Calhoun, Ga., native. He has had multiple issues off the field and his dedication/commitment to his team and craft remain a large question mark. He also has a tendency to drop the easy pass. Should things fall right and Rogers stays focused, he could be the best WR in the SEC. If not, he might be the third-best WR on his own team.

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

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

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

30. James Franklin, QB, Missouri
The biggest unknown surrounding Franklin is the status of his throwing shoulder. He was injured during spring practice but had successful surgery and returned in time to participate in the fall. Will Franklin have the same arm strength? How will the timing be with his receivers? Those are two key questions to watch for Missouri in fall practice. If healthy, Franklin should be one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks. He rushed for 981 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, while throwing for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns.

31. Jon Bostic, LB, Florida 
The Wellington, Fla., prospect is now the elder statesman leader of the Gators defense. He led the team in tackles a year ago with 94 total stops and finished tied with second 10.0 tackles for a loss. He has played in 38 total games and made 19 career starts. His 6-foot-1, 250-pound frame makes him the most physical tackler on the Florida defense — a unit that will have to lead the team should it expect to compete in the East.

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

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

34. Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt
Stacy set a school record for rushing yards (1,193) thanks to a burst over the second half of the season. Stacy rushed for 809 yards and 13 touchdowns in the final eight games of the season to earn second-team All-SEC honors.

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

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

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

38. Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas
The 6-foot-3 wide receiver should be quarterback Tyler Wilson’s favorite target this season. Hamilton had 34 catches for 542 yards and four touchdowns a year ago, averaging 15.9 yards per reception. He has the size and speed combination to be one of the top wideouts in the SEC and a star for the Razorbacks in 2012.

39. Chris Gragg, TE, Arkansas
The veteran tight end had an excellent season in 2011, ranking third on the team in receptions. Gragg totaled 41 catches for 518 yards and two scores, and he was a star (8 catches, 119 yards, 1 TD) in the Mississippi State game. Arkansas will look for more of the same in 2012.

40. Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M
Swope was one of the Big 12’s top receivers last season, catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 scores. His six 100-yard games and 89 catches were a school record. Matching those numbers could be difficult in 2012, especially with Texas A&M breaking in a new quarterback and offensive scheme. New coach Kevin Sumlin’s spread offense should allow for Swope to have plenty of looks in the open field, but he needs the new quarterback to quickly settle into the starting role. Even if Swope’s numbers drop a bit, expect the senior to challenge for first-team All-SEC honors. 

41. Philip Lutzenkirchen, TE, Auburn
Lutzenkirchen has 14 career touchdowns on 44 catches combined, while CBS broadcast team ensures we’ll never forget how to pronounce his name.

42. Malcolm Mitchell, WR/CB, Georgia
There were plenty of other big-name freshman in the SEC last fall, but none were as explosive or versatile as the Valdosta, Ga., product. After leading the team in receptions per game last fall, Mark Richt decided the speedy Mitchell will provide his best Champ Bailey impersonation. Expect to see Mitchell in the defensive backfield and in open space on offense. He is certain to be explosive no matter where he lines-up.

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

44. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Lacy steps into the top running back role after rushing for 674 yards (7.1 yards per carry) last season. He’ll be a big-play back even if Bama drifts to a committee approach.

45. Nico Johnson, LB, Alabama
The forgotten man of the 2011 Alabama linebacking corps, Johnson finished fourth on the team in tackles. This on a defense that allowed an astonishing 183.6 total yards per game and 8.2 points per game. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder from Andalusia, Ala., will be the veteran presence on the reworked Bama defense in 2012.

46. Brad Wing, P, LSU
The Australia native was amazing during his All-America season as a freshman in 2011. He averaged 44.4 yards on 59 punts, with 20 of them over 50 yards. Wing also placed 27 punts inside the 20-yard line and earned SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors twice last season.

47. Alonzo Highsmith, LB, Arkansas
A junior college transfer and the son of the former Miami running back of the same name, Highsmith had 91 tackles and a team-leading 12.5 tackles for a loss in his first season in Fayetteville.

48. Jelani Jenkins, LB, Florida
The Northeastern prospect was an elite recruit and has proven to have athleticism to match. The only thing left for Jenkins to develop is a physical, nasty streak. Should he develop this aspect of his game, he has All-American potential – especially, with 23 career starts in two seasons under his belt.

49. Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
The hard-hitting linebacker only played in eight games last season but still had a major impact. Ogletree compiled with 52 tackles (7.5 for loss), three sacks and two forced fumbles. He led the Bulldogs in tackles in each of the last five games, including 13 in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State.

50. Sean Porter, LB, Texas A&M
Porter was Texas A&M’s top defender last season, recording 79 stops, 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss. He earned first-team All-Big 12 honors and is expected to be the leader on the Aggies’ defense in 2012. Porter will have to adjust to a new scheme, as Texas A&M is shifting from a 3-4 to a 4-3 attack. New coordinator Mark Snyder still needs to find ways to let Porter attack off the edge, but the new scheme may prevent him from recording 17 tackles for a loss once again.

51. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
52. Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
53. John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
54. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
55. Trey Wilson, CB, Vanderbilt
56. Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M
57. Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt
58. Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina
59. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
60. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M           
61. Spencer Ware, RB, LSU
62. T.J. Johnson, C, South Carolina
63. Abry Jones, DE, Georgia
64. Shawn Williams, S, Georgia
65. Damion Square, DE, Alabama
66. Rob Lohr, DT, Vanderbilt
67. Prentiss Waggner, DB, Tennessee
68. Xavier Nixon, OL, Florida
69. Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
70. P.J. Lonergan, C, LSU
71. Cameron Lawrence, LB, Mississippi State
72. Caleb Sturgis, K, Florida
73. A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
74. Brad Madison, DE, Missouri
75. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri

Note: Florida's Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell were not rated due to injury.

Team Breakdown of Athlon's Top 75 Players in the SEC for 2012

Alabama - 11
Arkansas - 7
Auburn - 2
Florida - 6
Georgia - 8
Kentucky - 1
LSU - 12
Mississippi State - 4
Missouri - 4
Ole Miss - 0
South Carolina - 5
Tennessee - 5
Texas A&M - 6
Vanderbilt - 4


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

 

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Teaser:
<p> SEC Player Rankings: The Top 75 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:45
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Tennessee Titans, NFL
Path: /nfl/tennessee-titans-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 Tennessee Titans check in at No. 17.

Peyton Manning’s Tennessee homecoming parade has been cancelled, and Vince Young is on his second team since being booed off the stage in Music City following the 2010 season. It is up to either Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker to win the Super Bowl that has eluded 89-year-old owner Bud Adams, who founded the Houston Oilers (and co-founded the AFL) in 1960.

Second-year coach Mike Munchak will have an open competition to determine the Titans’ starting quarterback. Entering his 14th season, the 36-year-old Hasselbeck is an above-average passer who can beat bad teams and keep it close against superior competition — which, in a mediocre AFC South, may be all Tennessee needs to do to sneak into the playoffs with a wild card berth. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Locker heads into his second season with the type of big league arm (MLB’s Angels own his rights until 2015), mobility and moxie not seen in Nashville since Steve ­McNair’s co-MVP, Super Bowl runner-up heyday.

With the Colts starting No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck (a Pac-10 rival of Locker) and the Jaguars turning their team over to Blaine Gabbert (a 2011 draft classmate of Locker), now is a perfect time to go with the young gun — who threw for 542 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 99.4 rating, along with a highlight-reel diving score on the ground, in limited action (66 pass attempts) as a rookie. The loser of the Locker-Hasselbeck showdown will be arguably the best backup in the league.

Offense

Whoever plays quarterback will have the luxury of a loaded arsenal of weapons at his disposal. Chris Johnson follows in the footsteps of former franchise workhorse runners Eddie George and Earl Campbell. But not since the days of Haywood Jeffires, Ernest Givins and Drew Hill have the Oilers-Titans had a fleet of receivers like 6'3", 215-pound athletic freak Kenny Britt, 1,000-yard wideout Nate Washington, first-round pick Kendall Wright and 6'5" rising star tight end Jared Cook. That doesn’t mean Warren Moon’s Run ‘n’ Shoot offense is making a comeback, but second-year coordinator Chris Palmer will have options.

Still, the Titans are coached by a Hall of Fame O-lineman in Munchak — whose right-hand man, O-line coach Bruce Matthews, is a fellow Hall of Famer and former Oiler-Titan — and will remain a ball-control offense. Johnson is the straw that stirs the drink. The Tennessee faithful are eager to see the track star formerly known as CJ2K return to his All-Pro form and earn the $53 million deal he signed last offseason. The perfect storm of NFL lockout, contract holdout and new coach-coordinator-QB slowed Johnson out of the gate. But the interior of the offensive line was arguably the biggest problem with the running game last season. The signing of 11-year veteran guard Steve Hutchinson will help solidify the line — which boasts strong bookend tackles Michael Roos, a dancing bear on the blindside, and David Stewart, a nasty mauler on the right side as well as the team’s resident enforcer. The line did suffer a significant loss at the start of training camp, however, when center Eugene Amano suffered a season-ending triceps injury. Right guard Fernando Velasco has slid over and it appears the job is his to lose.

The return of a reliable ground game will open up the play-action passing attack, which could be especially dangerous depending on the health and behavior of Britt, who tore his ACL and MCL in Week 3 last season after posting 14 catches for 271 yards and three TDs the first two weeks. Although Britt required multiple surgeries this offseason, including two different procedures since May alone, his continued off-the-field trangressions may end up being the biggest hurdle to overcome. After being arrested and charged with another DUI in July, Britt could be subject to punishment from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, which could delay his return to the lineup further. Between questions about his health and his behavior, it's becoming clearer why the Titans drafted Wright in the first round.

Related: Top Tennessee Titans Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

The losses of scrappy corner Cortland Finnegan and versatile lineman Jason Jones will hurt, but maybe not as much as many believe. The secondary is led by safety Michael Griffin — who signed a new five-year contract in June after getting the franchise tag — and talented young corners Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty (twin brother of the Patriots’ Devin McCourty). Second-year coordinator Jerry Gray mixed and matched his base 4-3 with a slew of nickel packages last year, which will mean plenty of playing time for veteran safety Jordan Babineaux as well as rookies Coty Sensabaugh and Markelle Martin.

Up front, tackle Jurrell Casey enters his second season riding a wave of positive momentum. The 22-year-old 300-pounder flashed signs of stardom as a rookie and is being counted on to anchor the D-line, a unit that lacks the luxuries of proven depth or a dominant Albert Haynesworth or Jevon Kearse-caliber playmaker. Free agent Kamerion Wimbley and high-intensity hustler Dave Ball are both predictably solid pros at end. The spotlight is on 2010 first-round pick Derrick Morgan, a high-profile underachiever who has compiled nearly as many injuries as sacks (four) over his first two years. Karl Klug, Sen’Derrick Marks and rookie Mike Martin headline the rotation of big bodies set to line up next to Casey inside.

Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy wears No. 52 and thinks he’s Ray Lewis. As long as no one tells him otherwise, expect the young tackling machine out of Miami to continue to run through brick walls in search of the football. McCarthy’s toughness is contagious, but his wrecking ball style of play may impact his long-term durability. On the outside, Akeem Ayers looks the part and runs well but had a knack for missed tackles and poorly timed mental mistakes as a rookie. Fans are concerned that second-round pick Zach Brown may be a less physical version of Ayers. The fastest linebacker in the draft (4.50 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine), Brown was accused of being “allergic to contact” by NFL Network’s Mike Mayock.

The creative Gray may also implement a few 3-4 hybrid looks with Wimbley — who was an outside backer in Oakland — standing up to rush the passer. 

Specialists

A fan favorite, kicker Rob Bironas is one of the best in the business, hitting 29-of-32 field goals, including 6-of-7 from over 50 yards out. Punter Brett Kern had a career year in 2011, with a 43.6-yard average and 31 kicks downed inside the 20. Return specialist Marc Mariani was hurt by kickoff rule changes but had a 79-yard punt return to the house.

Final Analysis: 2nd in the AFC South

The Titans were the only team with a winning record (9–7) to miss the postseason in 2011. A Week 15 loss at Indy — which was the Colts’ first win of the season — was essentially a playoff-elimination game. Munchak’s second campaign should run much more smoothly, at least after the dust has settled on the quarterback competition in camp.

Houston is the overwhelming favorite in the AFC South, while Indianapolis and Jacksonville appear to be two of the least talented teams in the league. Tennessee is flying under the radar but has a chance to win its way into the playoffs. A front-loaded schedule includes four 2011 playoff teams in the first six weeks. If the Titans can survive early on, they could thrive once the season heats up — especially if CJ-barely-1K plays closer to the CJ2K level he’s proven capable of.

Related: 2012 Tennessee Titans Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Big Orange vs. Orange Crush
The Titans came painfully close to signing Peyton Manning, a former All-American at the University of Tennessee and Titans owner Bud Adams’ top offseason priority. “He is the man I want. Period,” said Adams. “I will be disappointed if it doesn’t happen.” It ­didn’t happen, but the state’s hopes were high after Manning was seen wearing a UT-orange shirt on his visit to Nashville. But Manning picked the Rocky Mountains over Rocky Top.

Emerald City South
New GM Ruston Webster is the latest in a growing line of key Titans who have roots in the Seahawks’ organization. The list includes Webster’s predecessor, new senior executive VP and COO Mike Reinfeldt; quarterback Matt Hasselbeck; guard Steve Hutchinson; and safety Jordan Babineaux. Even quarterback Jake Locker hails from Ferndale, Wash., which is about 100 miles north of Seattle.

Gotta Be the Shoes
@ChrisJohnson28 teased his Twitter followers in late May, tweeting: “I wish I can post these new CJ2K cleats for this year but I can’t yet y’all gonna see the fye.” Along with building suspense for the unveiling of his new shoes, Johnson also let his Tweeps know he bowled a 177, made a YouTube video stir-frying Ramen noodles with Orlando rapper Pressure Dommer and told USA track star Tyson Gay that he wanted to be on the 4x100 relay team at the London Olympics. Who knows? Maybe the gold-grilled runner would have worn Michael Johnson-style gold cleats?

Comeback Kid
Jake Locker nearly pulled off a pair of come-from-behind wins after coming off the bench to replace an injured Matt Hasselbeck at Atlanta and against New Orleans. The Locker-led Titans scored 14 unanswered points in the Georgia Dome and were a late-fourth quarter third down stop away from getting the ball back with a chance to win before ultimately losing 23–17. Locker was one play away from upsetting the Saints but failed to pull the trigger on 3rd-and-goal as time expired on a 22–17 defeat. Overall, the Titans were plus-12 on the scoreboard with Locker in the game in 2011.

Locker vs. Luck
Jake Locker and Andrew Luck played against each other twice in college, with Luck’s Stanford Cardinal owning a 2–0 edge — winning 41–0 in 2010 and 34–14 in 2009 — over Locker’s Washington Huskies. Locker and Luck have yet to make their first NFL starts, but the duo already has a history in what could be a long AFC South rivalry.

Doctor Bud
Owner Bud Adams received an Honorary Doctorate of Business from his alma mater Menlo College on May 5. Adams graduated from the small Atherton, Calif., private school in 1942 and established the K.S. Bud Adams Jr. Endowed Scholarship, which “provides assistance for nearly 20 Menlo students each year.”

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: Fri., Aug. 10

Order your 2012 Tennessee Titans Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Tennessee Titans Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Tennessee Titans Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Tennessee Titans 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:39
Path: /college-football/big-12-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 12 to talk anonymously about their opponents. 

Baylor

Opposing coaches size up the Bears:

“Of course the main focal point will be on having to replace Robert Griffin III, as it should be, but the Bears also lost a lot of other key players such as wide receiver Kendall Wright and running back Terrance Ganaway. Those guys were big-time threats on that offense. 

Senior Nick Florence has the difficult task of having to replace Griffin. He’ll still have a few viable targets like Lanear Sampson, Tevin Reese and Terrance Williams. 

They do such a great job at spreading out that offense and taking advantage of mismatches. Art Briles deserves a lot of credit for getting that thing going. While losing Griffin will be difficult to overcome, and it’s doubtful the offense can match last year’s numbers, the defense has eight returning starters and should be much better. They surrendered a lot of points and yards last season, but it didn’t matter because they could usually just outscore everyone. 

Baylor should have plenty of time getting adjusted to having Florence at quarterback since their first three games are against SMU, Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe.”

Iowa State

Opposing coaches size up the Cyclones:

“I love Paul Rhoads. He gets the absolute best out of every player and gives Iowa State the chance to win more games than they have any business winning. They got back to a bowl game last year, and this year I think they’ll be even better. First, they have to settle on a starting quarterback between senior Steele Jantz and sophomore Jared Barnett. Both bring different intangibles. I really think they can be effective with either one. Also, running back James White is part of a large group of returning starters on offense. They’ll work with new offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham. 

The defense features two of the best linebackers in the country in A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. Those guys should have monster seasons playing under Wally Burnham, who I think is one of the nation’s most underrated defensive coordinators.

With enough returning talent and seven home games, I think the Cyclones will have no problem getting back to a bowl game and believe they’ll be a surprise team in the Big 12.”

Kansas

Opposing coaches size up the Jayhawks: 

“There were a lot of interesting head coaching hires in the offseason. This one, though, had to rate near the top. I am dying to see if Charlie Weis can win at Kansas after not being able to win consistently with much better resources and tradition at Notre Dame. Whatever does happen it can’t be near the train wreck that they had with Turner Gill. They were at best a very, very average team talent-wise under Gill, yet they ran a spread offense. They just didn’t have the personnel to do that.

By bringing Weis on board and subsequently Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist, the Jayhawks will have an immediate upgrade at quarterback. Is there enough talent around Crist to give him a chance to do any damage? That’s doubtful and it certainly doesn’t help that running back James Sims was suspended for the first three games against South Dakota State, Rice and TCU.

Crist’s exploits on offense likely won’t matter much if the Jayhawks can’t shore up a porous defense. Last year, they were torched for at least 40 points in eight of 12 games. That is not easy to do. 

It will be a surprise if Kansas does not finish in last place in the league. They need more talent. It’s that simple.”

Kansas State

Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats:

“Here’s the bottom line: Bill Snyder’s teams will excel on special teams, be physical, won’t make mistakes and run some sort of option attack. The toughest thing about defending against them is they keep you honest at all times. That’s a compliment to the job offensive coordinator Dana Dimel does. As the talent continues to get better, Kansas State will continue to improve. 

One of the most impressive things about them is all their players buy in to Snyder’s way. He’s a no-nonsense guy, and quite frankly that’s not a quality that a lot of recruits are looking for. But he’s got guys that want to play for him, will run his system to perfection and they win because of it. Collin Klein is a perfect example. He is probably the most valuable, most underrated quarterback in the country. The guy just wins and he’s tough as nails. Got hit a lot last year, but just got up and kept playing. 

Winning 10 games last year was an overachievement. I think they’ve got the pieces in place to match that again this season.

Collin Klein was terrific last year. They were looking at moving the kid to wide receiver and he ends up being one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Isn’t a great thrower, but he really can hurt you with his legs. Tough kid, too. He took a pounding last year. They have to keep him healthy.”

Oklahoma

Opposing coaches size up the Sooners: 

“Landry Jones decided to return for his senior year, and Mike Stoops is back in Norman. Good times indeed. Last year I thought Jones was the league’s best quarterback. (Oklahoma State’s) Brandon Weeden proved me wrong. I think Jones decision to come back will pay huge dividends for the Sooners. 

Last year was a major disappointment in Norman. I know that. Everyone knows that. The preseason No. 1 team ending up in the Insight Bowl is not good. Ryan Broyles won’t be back, but Jones will be just fine. The Sooners offense will continue clicking. They’ve got some really good young receivers that will be a big part of the offense.

The biggest question marks are on the defense, but that’s where Mike Stoops comes into play. The Sooners lost some studs on that side of the ball. Guys like Travis Lewis, Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis. I still think Oklahoma is the most skilled team and most physical team in our conference. And I have a strong feeling after the bad taste in their mouth from last year, they’re going to prove it this year.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this team this year. They should be very, very hungry after what happened late last year. Their performance against Oklahoma State was not good. In a rivalry game? That surprised me.”

Oklahoma State

Opposing coaches size up the Cowboys: 

“Hats off — make that Cowboy hats off — to the job done by Mike Gundy. What he accomplished last year was remarkable. Just look at Oklahoma State’s history. You simply do not win like he did last year, winning the league title and nearly getting a shot at the national title. Obviously the money Boone Pickens has poured into facilities has made Gundy’s job a little easier, but still you can’t minimize the job Gundy has done in building a program.  

Now the fun starts for Gundy: How can he follow up last year’s record-breaking season without the duo of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon? One thing is for sure, you don’t have to worry about how Todd Monken will be as the offensive coordinator after replacing Dana Holgorsen. So who replaces Weeden? I don’t think it matters: Clint Chelf, Wes Lunt or J.W. Walsh. They won’t measure up to Weeden, but the offense will still scare you. They still have running back Joseph Randle. He’s big time. Will have a very good year for them.  

The defense sometimes is hit or miss, but it didn’t miss much last season. Bill Young’s group takes a lot of chances, but they pay off big-time. They also have eight starters back.

I think most people expect a huge drop-off for Oklahoma State. I don’t think it will be that drastic.”

TCU

Opposing coaches size up the Horned Frogs: 

“I think everybody is interested to see how they do in the Big 12 this season. I think they will be fine, but you never know. It’s a lot different when you’ve got to play three or four tough games in a row. They’ve beaten some good teams over the years, but they have not played a schedule like the one they will be playing this season.  

It was shocking to see their defense early last season. That Baylor game (TCU gave up 564 total yards) was very interesting. We all just assumed they could plug guys in. Didn’t happen. They got better late in the year, but that was clearly not what we were used to seeing from a Gary Patterson defense. 

They’ve got really good talent at the skill positions. They are loaded at running back. I like (Matthew) Tucker a lot. Their wide receivers aren’t as well known, but they have some guys who can play. We will find out this year.  

I thought (Casey) Pachall was pretty good last year. Taking over for Andy Dalton was not going to be easy, but the kid did a nice job. He will be even better this season.

Losing Tanner Brock (in the drug scandal) is big. That kid was good. And he was going to have a big season for them. … They’ve got some good players coming in. (Devonte) Fields, the defensive end, can really play. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him get on the field early. The quarterback, Tyler Matthews, is a good get, as well.”

Texas

Opposing coaches size up the Longhorns: 

“You see all that talent, all those resources, all that money and wonder why in the hell they aren’t winning big every year? The past two years Texas has been basically a .500 team. They haven’t been that physical, which surprises you, and they have some issues trying to find a quarterback.  

Last year (Mack) Brown figured he had to shake things up, bringing in Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz as his new coordinators. Texas was a little bit improved last year with those guys, but I don’t think the natives are going to settle for 7–5 regular seasons for any extended amount of time. While they had so much talent, a lot of it has been green.  

I think they could make a big jump this season if a quarterback can take control and command of the team. David Ash and Case McCoy will battle it out. They both have their bright spots and limitations. … Running back Malcolm Brown is going to be a good one. He’s scary. He had a super freshman season.  

For the most part the defense played well last year. They were fairly consistent, but were on the field a lot because of the inconsistency of the offense.”

Texas Tech

Opposing coaches size up the Red Raiders: 

“Tommy Tuberville really needs a big year this year. He managed eight wins and they won a bowl after replacing Mike Leach two years ago. Last year was a disaster. Five wins after they started out 4–0. Then they upset Oklahoma, I still don’t know how that happened. They got to 5–2, and only needed one more win to get to a bowl game only to lose their last five games; four of those they were run off the field.

This is a huge year for Tubs. He has a bunch of personnel back, so he needs to show some drastic improvement. What’s ironic is when he came on board, he stressed how much he wanted to run the ball and all they do is fling it around all the time. 

Quarterback Seth Doege is certainly a strength of the team. He can throw for a lot of yards and does a very good job spreading it around. The offense isn’t what’s been the problem in West Texas. It’s been the defense. Tuberville changes defensive coordinators more than he changes his socks. He’s got Art Kaufman as this year’s defensive coordinator, replacing Chad Glasgow, who replaced James Willis. They’ll also put in a new alignment, changing to the 4-3. 

I like Tuberville. Hopefully this new defensive system works better than the last one.”

West Virginia

Opposing coaches size up the Mountaineers: 

“Well, I guess that head coach-in-waiting arrangement worked out after all for (Dana) Holgorsen. He was thrown into the head coaching position a year early after West Virginia fired Bill Stewart. For a guy who had never been a head coach and didn’t have the year-long transition that he expected, I thought he did an exceptional job. Everyone knows he can run an offense, but taking control of an entire team is another matter.  

Bad news for Big 12 defensive coordinators is that the Mountaineers return plenty of talent from last season in quarterback Geno Smith and wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. They’ve also had a year to experience Holgorsen’s system so they’re only going to be that much more efficient. 

The biggest thing I’m interested to see is how the Mountaineers adjust to life in the Big 12 instead of the Big East. It will be a big difference facing teams like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas each week as opposed to the Big East teams. I think what will help Holgorsen is his time in the league as Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator. That will help with his familiarity with the league, but it’s still going to be a big adjustment making the upgrade in leagues and playing a much more difficult schedule. It will be a matter of will the Big 12 adjust to West Virginia or will West Virginia have to adjust to the Big 12.”

Related Big 12 Content

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 Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:35
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-defensive-lines-2012
Body:

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

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

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

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

Athlon's Top 20 Defensive Lines for 2012

1. LSU Even when the Tigers lose a standout up front, this unit never seems to miss a beat. Tackle Michael Brockers is gone, but Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are ready to emerge as key performers. Bennie Logan will be the anchor in the middle and should contend for All-SEC honors in 2012. The Tigers might have the top defensive end combination in college football, as Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are back after combining for 17 sacks last year.

2. Florida StateEven though the Seminoles finished second nationally in rush defense and averaged 3.1 sacks per game last year, this unit could be better in 2012. Ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner quietly accumulated 15 sacks last season, and that duo will be spelled by top recruit Mario Edwards Jr. The interior of the line is overflowing with depth, and sophomore Timmy Jernigan could be one of the breakout players in the ACC this season. Seniors Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud, along with junior Demonte McAllister will provide Jernigan with plenty of help at tackle.

3. Texas The Longhorns finished sixth nationally in rush defense last year, and two starters return for 2012. Ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat combined for 14.5 sacks last season and should challenge for All-America honors in 2012. With Kheeston Randall and Calvin Howell departing, the interior will have some new faces stepping into the rotation. Ashton Dorsey recorded five tackles for a loss in 2011 and will start at one interior spot. The other spot is expected to go to sophomore Desmond Jackson, but junior college transfer Brandon Moore will push for playing time.

4. Virginia Tech Standout defenses have been a hallmark of Frank Beamer, and the Hokies are loaded on this side of the ball for 2012. End James Gayle had a breakout season last year, recording 38 tackles and seven sacks in 14 contests. J.R. Collins was disruptive from the other end spot, collecting 57 tackles and six sacks. The Hopkins brothers, Derrick and Antoine, will start at the tackle spots, but expect to see plenty of Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall in the rotation.

5. South Carolina Melvin Ingram won’t be easy to replace, but the Gamecocks should still have one of the SEC’s top defensive lines in 2012. Jadeveon Clowney terrorized opposing quarterbacks as a freshman last year, recording 36 tackles and eight sacks. Devin Taylor had a relatively quiet 2011 season but will join Clowney as a starter at end. The interior will be anchored by promising sophomore Kelcy Quarles and senior Byron Jerideau.

6. Ohio State - 2011 was a disappointing all-around year for the Buckeyes. However, expect a quick turnaround in Columbus. New coach Urban Meyer is one of the best in college football and even with a bowl ban, should have Ohio State pushing for 10 or 11 victories. The defense was solid last season but wasn’t as dominant as we have seen in recent years. With three returning starters, the line should be one of the nation’s best in 2012. End John Simon and tackle Johnathan Hankins will contend for All-American honors, while senior Garrett Goebel is a steady performer at nose guard. This group will get an infusion of depth with a stellar freshman class, namely Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. 

7. Georgia – The Bulldogs are tough to evaluate on the defensive line, as their 3-4 alignment isn’t a conventional attacking unit like South Carolina or LSU. However, this group is one of the best in the SEC. Senior John Jenkins is a 358-pound immovable object on the interior. And the coaching staff can keep him fresh by rotating fellow senior Kwame Geathers into the interior. The end spots should go to seniors Cornelius Washington and Abry Jones.

8. Michigan State – Jerel Worthy’s departure is a huge blow for the Spartans’ defensive line. This unit led the Big Ten in rushing defense and recorded 44 sacks last year. Although Worthy will be missed, Michigan State returns ends William Gholston and Marcus Rush (combined for 9 sacks last season). The interior of the line will be watched closely early in the year, but Anthony Rashad White has experience, while Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge finished spring with the edge at the other tackle spot.

9. Oregon – The Ducks have quietly transitioned into a 3-4 scheme and there’s no shortage of talent or depth returning in 2012. End/linebacker Dion Jordan is an athletic force off the edge, recording 42 stops, 13 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks last year. Taylor Hart is also coming off a strong season, picking up 44 tackles and honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. The interior of the line should be anchored by Wade Keliikipi and senior Isaac Remington but look for Jared Ebert and Ricky Heimuli to see plenty of snaps. True freshman Arik Armstead is expected to push for playing time at end this year.

10. Alabama – Just like Georgia, it’s not easy to evaluate Alabama’s 3-4 alignment against 4-3 teams like Florida State, LSU and South Carolina. The linebackers play a key role in the rush defense, but the front trio also deserves credit for finishing No. 1 overall last season. Seniors Damion Square and Jesse Williams are back as returning starters and both should be in the mix for All-SEC honors. Ed Stinson and Quinton Dial will likely battle for the third spot on the line. Finishing No. 1 overall again in rush defense seems unlikely. However, don’t expect the Crimson Tide to drop too far in the defensive statistics this year. 

11. Florida – If not for two injured knees, the Gators could rank much higher on this list. Ronald Powell was poised for a huge season but suffered a torn ACL in the spring game. Dominique Easley’s status for the opener is also up in the air, as he is also recovering from a knee injury suffered late in the 2011 season. Even with Easley and Powell questionable for the first game, Will Muschamp still has plenty to work with. Sharrif Floyd is a third-team Athlon Sports All-American for 2012, while senior Omar Hunter will man the other tackle spot. Look for true freshman Jonathan Bullard and junior college transfer Damien Jacobs to factor into the rotation.

12. Auburn – The Tigers should have one of the nation’s most improved defensive lines in 2012. All four starters are back from a unit that allowed 189.2 rushing yards per game last season, including All-American candidate Corey Lemonier. Joining Lemonier at the end spot will be junior Nosa Eguae. Juniors Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter should start in the middle, but talented sophomores Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright will be tough to keep off the field.

13. Utah – The nation’s No. 1 defensive tackle resides in Salt Lake City. Senior Star Lotulelei is back to anchor Utah’s defensive line, and this unit gave Pac-12 offensive fronts all it could handle last year. Lotulelei will continue to take up two blockers, opening up senior Dave Kruger to wreck havoc from the other tackle spot. Joe Kruger and Nate Fakahafua will likely start at the end spots, but there’s very little in the way of proven depth after the top four.

14. Notre Dame – Aaron Lynch is gone, but the Fighting Irish still have plenty left in the tank to boast one of the nation’s top defensive lines. Nose guard Louis Nix III will be a difficult matchup for opposing offensive lines, while Kapron Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt man the end spots. Depth is an issue, but the coaches are excited about the potential of Chase Hounshell and Sheldon Day.

15. Oklahoma – Potential is the key word surrounding the Sooners’ defensive line. Three starters are gone, but the newcomers are experienced and certainly aren’t short on talent. Ends David King and R.J. Washington combined for seven sacks in limited work last year. Stacy McGee, Casey Walker and Jamarkus McFarland should be a solid trio in the middle. McFarland has yet to live up to the hype that had him ranked among the nation’s best coming out of high school.  

16. Illinois – Replacing Whitney Mercilus won’t be easy, but the Fighting Illini return three starters. End Michael Buchanan recorded 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles last season. He will be joined on the other side by senior Justin Staples (16 tackles in 2011). The interior is in good shape, largely due to the return of Akeem Spence (69 stops last year) and senior Glenn Foster.

17. South Florida – The Bulls allowed only 107.3 rushing yards per game last season and accumulated 39 sacks. This unit should be strong once again in 2012, led by junior Ryne Giddins. He recorded 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles on his way to earning second-team All-Big East honors. Tackle Cory Grissom suffered an ankle injury in spring practice but is on schedule to return in time for the season opener. Two spots on the line are up for grabs, but junior college recruit Tevin Mims and sophomore Elkino Watson are capable starters. 

18. Nebraska – After allowing 158.5 rushing yards per game last season, Bo Pelini knows this unit has to get better if Nebraska wants to win the Big Ten. Contributing to some of the problems last season was tackle Jared Crick suffering a season-ending injury early in the year. The Cornhuskers are counting on senior Baker Steinkuhler and Chase Rome to lead the way on the interior. Steinkuhler has a lot of talent, but needs to take his game up a notch. Senior Cameron Meredith and Jason Ankrah should be steady on the outside.

19. Penn State – With the departures on offense, the Nittany Lions could be winning a lot of ugly 13-10 games this season. Tackle Devon Still will be hard to replace, but the line returns Jordan Hill to man the interior, while ends Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley should be steady. Getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks will be crucial with four new starters in the secondary.

20. NC State – The Wolfpack are a sneaky defensive line to watch in 2012. Markus Kuhn and J.R. Sweezy must be replaced in the middle, but sophomores Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill gained valuable experienced last year. NC State has plenty of depth at end, headlined by sophomore Art Norman and junior Darryl Cato-Bishop.
 

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related College Football Content

College Football's Top 20 Offensive Lines for 2012
College Football's Top 20 WR/TE Corps for 2012

College Football's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2012

College Football's Top 20 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Athlon's College Football Rankings for 2012

Athlon's All-American Team for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Defensive Lines for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:31
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Tennessee Titans, NFL
Path: /nfl/tennessee-titans-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

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

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

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

@TennesseeTitans (Followers: 88,662)

Top Titans To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, August 9, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Chris Johnson RB @ChrisJohnson28 711,470
2. Will Witherspoon LB @willwitherspoon 134,788
3. Matt Hasselbeck QB @Hasselbeck 128,400
4. Jason McCourty* CB @McCourtyTwins 38,450
5. Michael Griffin S @MikeGriff33 24,458
6. Rob Bironas K @RobBironas 18,342
7. Shaun Smith DT @autumnsjs90 15,407
8. Mike Martin DT @GoMikeMartin 14,811
9. Marc Mariani WR @MarcMariani83 12,498
10. Kenny Britt WR @KennyBritt_18 12,205
11. Damian Williams WR @DwillOne7 11,474
12. Jared Cook TE @JaredCook89 11,152
13. Akeem Ayers LB @Akeem_Ayers 10,523
14. Kameiron Wimbley DE @Mr_Wimbley96 10,477
15. Alterraun Verner CB @Alvern_1 10,360
16. Colin McCarthy LB @COLINMcCARTHY52 9,714
17. Derrick Morgan DE @dmorg91 7,500
18. Jordan Babineaux DB @jordanbabineaux 7,271
19. Robert Johnson S @Robertjohnson32 6,595
20. Brett Kern P @brettkern6 5,668
21. Gerald McRath LB @4everUSM24 5,523
22. Javon Ringer RB @JavonRinger23 5,230
23. Tim Shaw LB @TShawsTruth 4,538
24. Jamie Harper RB @Newbreed23 4,228
25. Michael Roos OT @MichaelRoos 3,693

*Jason McCourty shares a Twitter account with his twin brother, Devin, who plays strong safety for New England.

Eddie George (@EddieGeorge27), the franchise's all-time leading rusher, and recently retired Titan, Keith Bulluck (@kbull53) are two franchise greats that Titans fans can follow if they wish to.

The Titans Beat:

Jim Wyatt, Titans beat writer for The Tennessean: @jwyattsports (16,158)

John Glennon, Titans beat writer for The Tennessean: @glennonsports (4,917)

Terry McCormick, co-owner of TitanInsider.com/AFC blogger for the National Football Post: @terrymc13 (3,131)

Teresa Walker, covers Titans for the Associated Press: @TeresaMWalker (2,241)

Titans Blog Roll:

Titans Insider is The Tennessean's blog for Music City's home team.

Music City Miracles is SB Nation's Titans blog.

TitanInsider.com is part of 247Sports' network of sites.

Titan Sized, Total Titans and Titans Gab are some others out there.

The ESPN AFC South blog is run by Paul Kuharsky and you can follow him @espn_afcsouth.

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: Fri., Aug. 10

Order your 2012 Tennessee Titans Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Tennessee Titans Season Preview
Related: 2012 Tennessee Titans Schedule Analysis

- By Braden Gall and Mark Ross, published on August 9, 2012

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Tennessee Titans Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:29
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-offensive-lines-2012
Body:

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

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

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

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

Athlon's Top 20 Offensive Lines for 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related College Football Content

College Football's Top 20 WR/TE Corps for 2012
College Football's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2012

College Football's Top 20 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Athlon's College Football Rankings for 2012

Athlon's All-American Team for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012

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

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

1.  Phelps Becomes Most Decorated Olympic Athlete in History

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.  GYMNASTIC MOMENTS

McKayla Maroney’s Near-Perfect Vault 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gabby Douglas Becomes the First

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

 

4.  Murray Defeats Federer in Men’s Singles Final

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.  Missy Franklin Sweeps Backstroke Events in Olympic Debut

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8.  Kayla Harrison Wins Gold Medal in Judo

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-by Eric Chalifour

Teaser:
<p> The most amazing moments of the 2012 Summer Games</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 12:18
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympic-photo-day-lolo-jones-finishes-fourth
Body:

America's sweetheart, Lolo Jones, failed to medal in the 100-meter hurdles, finishing fourth as the rain fell in London. The result was especially painful for Jones, who was seeking redemption after tripping over the ninth of ten hurdles with the lead in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Unfortunately, rather than experiencing the thrill of victory, Twitter's favorite track star suffered the agony of defeat.

Teaser:
<p> America's sweetheart, Lolo Jones, failed to medal in the 100-meter hurdles, finishing fourth as the rain fell in London.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 11:08
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-aug-8
Body:

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

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

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

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

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

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

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.
 

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

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

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

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

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


Who is on your NASCAR Dream Team?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Athlon's Top 20 WR/TE Corps for 2012 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related College Football Content

College Football's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2012
College Football's Top 20 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Athlon's College Football Rankings for 2012

Athlon's All-American Team for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Wide Receiving Corps for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 06:30
Path: /college-football/acc-player-rankings-top-50-players-2012
Body:

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

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

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

Athlon's Top 50 ACC Players for 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22. Bruce Taylor, LB, Virginia Tech
Taylor led the team in tackles in 2010 and was doing the same through the first eight games of last season before suffering a leg injury that cut his junior campaign short. Despite missing the last six games, Taylor still earned honorable mention All-ACC recognition after posting a total of 53 tackles, seven tackles for a loss and five sacks in less than eight full games.

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

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

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

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

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

28. Kevin Reddick, LB, North Carolina
Reddick is a four-year starter at linebacker who finished second on team in tackles last season with 71 total stops, 39 of those solo. He was the Tar Heels' leading tackler in 2010 with 74 (48 solo stops) and was named to The Sporting News' All-ACC Freshman team in 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Team Breakdown of Athlon's Top 50 ACC Players

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

 

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

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Will Randy Edsall Turn Around Maryland?

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ACC's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 ACC Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-ACC Team

Teaser:
<p> ACC Player Rankings: The Top 50 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 06:12
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, Buffalo Bills, NFL
Path: /nfl/buffalo-bills-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 Buffalo Bills check in at No. 18.

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

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

Offense

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Top Buffalo Bills Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

Specialists

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

Final Analysis: 2nd in the AFC East

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

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

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

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

Related: 2012 Buffalo Bills Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

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

Order your 2012 Buffalo Bills Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

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

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

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

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

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

@BuffaloBills (Followers: 103,711)

Top Bills To Follow:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bills Beat:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bills Blog Roll:

Press Coverage is The Buffalo News' Bills blog.

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

Buffalo Rumbings is SB Nation's Bills blog.

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

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

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

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

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

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

Order your 2012 Buffalo Bills Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

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

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

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Buffalo Bills Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 05:59
Path: /nascar/nascar-news-notes-week-0
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Unable to find the right partners, sponsors and teams to put together an effort for next season, Dodge announced Tuesday that it will withdraw from NASCAR after this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Jeff Gordon is making a move, but Jimmie Johnson still sits atop Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-teams-wed-see-hard-knocks
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College football is the world’s greatest reality show. The competition is more fierce than anything on Survivor. The glory is greater than anything on American Idol. And if you don’t think some players are prima donnas and some coaches are as downright nasty as Real Housewives, well, then you’ve never followed recruiting.

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

 

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

 

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

 

LSU

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

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

 

USC

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

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

 

West Virginia

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

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

 

Alabama

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

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

 

Tennessee

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

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

 

Arkansas

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

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

 

Washington State

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

The sideshow: Mike Leach being Mike Leach.

 

Ohio State

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

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

 

Maryland

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

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

 

Akron

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

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

 

A few others we’d watch:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

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

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

Illinois

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

Indiana

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

Iowa

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

Michigan

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

Michigan State

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

Minnesota

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

Nebraska

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

Northwestern

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

Ohio State

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

Penn State

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

Purdue

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

Wisconsin

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

 

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Teaser:
<p> Big Ten Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 05:17

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