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Path: /college-football/notre-dame-2012-heisman-contenders

The Heisman Trophy may be the most coveted trophy in all of sports.

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

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

Notre Dame's Top 5 Heisman Trophy Contenders:

1. Manti Te’o, LB
The star middle linebacker turned down the NFL and could actually build upon his already solid resume. He is searching for his third straight 100-tackle season and has 28.5 career tackles for a loss. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award and the Lott Trophy a year ago and is looking for even more in 2012. Expect an outstanding defensive front to make life easier for the talented tackler.

2. Cierre Wood, RB
The Irish running back rolled-up 1,102 yards rushing a year ago — the most by a South Bend tailback in over half-a-decade (1,267, Darius Walker). Without great quarterback play, Wood will easily the be the focal point of the offense, which could work both for and against the talented tailback. Jonas Gray has moved on, giving Wood the bulk of the touches, but defenses will be able to key on him should Brian Kelly not get improved quarterback play.

3. Tyler Eifert, TE
Fans could make the case that Eifert is the best tight end in the nation. Like Te’o, Eifert also turned down the NFL to return to Notre Dame. With Michael Floyd moving on to Sundays, Eifert is easily the top target in the Kelly passing attack and could improve on his 63-803-5 stat line from 2011. Tight ends also tend to be targeted more by young, inexperienced and “less-effective” quarterbacks as safety valves. And this one is the first-team preseason All-American for 2012.

4. Stephon Tuitt, DE
The 2011 defensive line class for Kelly was simply ridiculous and Tuitt is a huge part of it. He has a massive frame, huge upside and as much physical talent as any Irish defensive lineman in years. By the end of 2011, as only a freshman, Tuitt was transforming into the dominate player fans were expecting to see. The sky is the limit for this monster of prospect.

5. Theo Riddick, WR
Injuries and position uncertainty have caused Riddick’s career to take some unexpected turns. But his raw play-making ability and versatility should finally allow Riddick to achieve his breakout campaign in 2012. He isn’t the same player as Floyd but can be used in more ways by Kelly. Fans should expect to see No. 7 touching the ball in a variety of unique and entertaining ways this fall.

Other Names to Watch:

Zach Martin, OL
Louis Nix III, DL
TJ Jones, WR
Braxton Cave, C
Everett Gholson, QB

2012 Notre Dame Preview Content:

•  Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Team Preview
•  Notre Dame Fighting Irish Greatest Players Since 1967
•  Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Team Predictions
•  The Greatest Moments in Notre Dame Football History
•  Notre Dame Cheerleader Gallery
•  Will Brian Kelly Lead Notre Dame to a BCS Bowl?
•  Jokes About Notre Dame Rivals

-by Braden Gall


<p> Notre Dame 2012 Heisman Contenders</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 21, 2012 - 10:03
Path: /college-football/exclusive-qa-robert-griffin-iii

Robert Griffin III, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor and No. 2 pick overall in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins, is quickly becoming one of the most recognizable faces in sports. Recently RG3 sat down with Baylor Bear Insider editor Jerry Hill for Athlon Sports Monthly and provided some insight about his well-decorated past and a future with endless potential.

Athlon Sports: Winning the Heisman would obviously be special at any school. But was it even more gratifying to do it at a school like Baylor that did not enjoy much success in football in the 15 years before you arrived?
RG3: Winning the Heisman at Baylor University, for Baylor University, Baylor Nation and Baylor alums everywhere, made it special. Being able to lift a community, Waco, Copperas Cove, and surrounding areas, is what made the accomplishment gratifying.

When you were sitting there next to Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck at the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York, how confident were you that you were going to win? And what was that moment like when you heard your name called?
I was confident, but I was more nervous and anxious, because you never know what the voters look at when they place their ballots. At Baylor University, we knew we were the most exciting team in college football. We had big-time players making big-time plays, and we had our collection of “Heisman Moments.” At that time, you are rendered powerless until they utter . . . “The winner of the 2011 Heisman Memorial Trophy is . . . Robert Griffin III, RG3.” Now, you just have to remember the speech.

Other than winning the Heisman, was there one particular “best memory” from your days at Baylor?
Best memories, you mean? On the field, I remember two blocks I threw to help my teammates score touchdowns. The first one was my freshman year against Iowa State, where I pancaked a guy, helping Kendal Wright score. The other was in the 2011 Alamo Bowl, when I helped Jarred Salubi score after I threw a block that helped him escape. I also remember taking three knees to win games — one ended a 16-year bowl drought; one marked our first victory against Oklahoma and a (former) Heisman winner; and one marked us as Alamo Bowl champions with 10 wins. They said we couldn’t do it . . . and we still did it.

What’s one thing that few people would know about Robert Griffin III?
I don’t have dreads. My hair is braided off the scalp. And I doubt that many people know that I dunked in the eighth grade when I was 5-6, just as tall as you, Jerry (laughing).

You obviously attracted a lot of widespread attention for the different socks you wear. How did that start, and do you plan on rolling out some new ones in the NFL?
I started wearing the socks my sophomore year in high school, just as a sign that I was comfortable in my own skin and who I was. Contrary to popular belief, I never wore the socks on the field. But I do plan to continue wearing them off the field and might even have my own designs.

When you suffered a torn ACL during your sophomore season in 2009, were there days when you were going through rehab for the knee injury that you just wanted to give up? How did you fight through that?
I never faced a time when I wanted to quit. I did have a decision to make early on in my rehab, though. I could go through the motions and come back a shade of myself or just the same guy. Or I could push myself to the limit, just as I had been trained to do my whole life, and come back a better player than anyone had ever seen. I pushed and pushed and pushed, because my family, my future family, my friends and my teammates needed me to. I wasn’t going to let them down.

With several of the major schools recruiting you to play something other than quarterback, did that motivate you even more to prove them wrong?
You mean Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma? It’s not really as many as people think, but it wasn’t extra motivation. Do I remember who the three teams were? Yes. But you can’t do things to prove others wrong. All you can do is perform, so that they regret their decisions.

Because of the option offense you ran at Copperas Cove (Texas), most people viewed you as more of a runner than a passer coming out of high school. Was there anything specific you did to improve your throwing ability?
First, I was given the option to throw. We were a pro-style running team in high school, and we were great at it. Because of my speed, I have always faced the criticism that I can’t throw. But I just pushed forward and performed. The stats on the books at Baylor say enough.

What was the point when you first realized that you had the talent to be a top-5 pick in the NFL Draft?
The day coach Art Briles named me the starter at Baylor. I went through a lot in the process. But if you can’t see what you can become, you won’t put in the work to go and capture it.

You obviously agonized over the decision to leave school early for the NFL Draft. How difficult was it for you to forego your senior year at Baylor?
It was the hardest decision thus far in my life. I played on one good knee for a whole half (against Northwestern State in 2009) — after tearing my ACL on the first drive — for my teammates, coaches and Baylor Nation. It wasn’t about money or fame. I truly love my Baylor University, and that is what made it difficult. I cried when I told my teammates, because they truly are my brothers for life. It means something to me to wear the BU on my helmet and across my chest. It means even more to wear it with the guys that I did.

Seeing what Cam Newton was able to do last year, does that give you confidence that you can make a similar impact this year as a rookie starter with the Washington Redskins?
I plan to come in and do all the little things — study, work hard, earn respect and get better. If you come in to make an impact, you won’t make one. You have to focus on the small things so that all the big things can fall into place.

Washington gave up a lot of picks to move up and take you with the No. 2 pick overall in the Draft. Does that put extra pressure on you?
I don’t look at it as pressure. If anything, it makes me want to go out and get to work sooner. They believe in me. That’s why they gave up so many picks for me. There have been a lot of great quarterbacks that have had terrible rookie years. I don’t want to be that guy. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I’m not that guy. Peyton Manning didn’t have a great year as a rookie, and now he’s considered one of the best of all-time. You’ve just got to work through the bumps and try to succeed in whatever ways you can.

<p> An Exclusive Q&amp;A with Robert Griffin III</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 21, 2012 - 06:26
Path: /college-football/big-east-2012-heisman-contenders-way-it-should-be

The Heisman Trophy may be the most coveted trophy in all of sports.

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

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

The Big East's Top 10 Heisman Trophy Contenders:

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

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

3. B.J. Daniels, QB, USF (SR)
Daniels’ raw explosiveness and athleticism have always been obvious, but he has yet to put his whole game together for a full season. However, he came close in 2011 with his best year to date: 2,604 yards, 13 TD, 7 INT, 601 yards rushing, 6 TD. The Bulls must improve on their 1-6 league record (which they should) for Daniels to have a chance at the stiff-armed trophy of Ed Smith.

4. Lyle McCombs, RB, UConn (SO)
Under Randy Edsall the Huskies churned out highly productive runners so McCombs would have done the current Maryland head coach proud in Year 1. The redshirt freshman posted six 100-yard efforts in his first season and finished second in the league in rushing. Three starters and a stud tight end are back to pave the way for the studly sophomore.

5. Matt Brown, RB, Temple (SR)
As a back-up to Bernard Pierce, Brown still finished eighth in the MAC in rushing with 916 yards. He has shown to be a tremendous second option in three seasons with the Owls, but now gets the spotlight to himself in Steve Addazio's system. Defenses will be tougher in the Big East, but Brown should be plenty capable.

6. Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers (SR)
Greene should be the front-runner to claim Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors…again. He led the league in tackles with 141 stops and is the heart and soul of what should be the league’s best unit…again. Fans should expect big things from Ray Graham’s brother. A broken leg sustained in the bowl game a year ago seems like a distant afterthought.

7. Justin Pugh, OL, Syracuse (SR)
An All-Big East first-team selection a year ago, Pugh enters this season as a preseason Athlon Sports All-American and the top blocker in the conference. He paved the way for one of only three 1,000-yard Big East runners a year ago and will now be responsible for protecting senior quarterback Ryan Nassib.

8. Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville (JR)
One of the nation’s top safety prospects, the junior is poised for a huge season after leading the Cards in tackles last year (6.5/game). If the Cardinals are going to win 10 games and earn a Big East championship, it will be on the shoulders of the talented Smith.

9. Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse (SR)
In his third year in the system, Nassib could be poised for his best year. He increased his touchdown passes, yardage totals and completion percentage from 2010 to 2011. With Pugh watching his back, one of the few pro-style passers in the league should continue to develop.

10. Munchie Legaux, QB, Cincinnati (JR)
Has loads of upside with a tremendous throwing arm and athletic ability. He also is the leader in the clubhouse in terms of game experience for the Bearcats. The leash will be short with Legaux, but should things fall into place, he has the upside to win games and post big numbers.

Other Names to Watch:

Devin Street, WR, Pitt (JR)
Keystone product could explode after a very productive 53-754-2 stat line a year ago.

Demetris Murray, RB, USF (SR)
Will take over for Darrell Scott but will also lose time to Lindsey Lamar.

Tino Sunseri, QB, Pitt (SR)
Struggled mightily last year with Todd Graham. Should be that much better with Chryst.

DeDe Lattimore, LB, USF (JR)
Finished 6th in tackles and played behind enemy lines all year: 7.0 sacks, 13.0 TFL.

Alec Lemon, WR, Syracuse (SR)
Leading returning receiver should build on 68-834-6 stat line.

Rushel Shell, RB, Pitt (FR)
Elite level talent who will complement Graham perfectly for Chryst.

Jawan Jamison, RB, Rutgers (SO)
Will split time with talented sophomore Huggins but will build on 897-yard 2011 season.

Savon Huggins, RB, Rutgers (SO)
Way too talented to be kept off the field. Is slated to split carries with Jamison.

Dominique Brown, RB, Louisville (JR)
Needs to break off bigger chunks but has chance to be feature back for top team.

Jarred Holley, S, Pitt (SR)
Does a bit of everything (67 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) and is the leader of Panthers’ D.

Related: 2012 Athlon Sports Big East Predictions

Athlon's 2012 Big East Team Previews

Cincinnati Rutgers
Connecticut South Florida
Louisville Syracuse
Pittsburgh Temple

-by Braden Gall


<p> Big East 2012 Heisman Contenders: The Way It Should Be</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 21, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/big-12-2012-heisman-contenders-way-it-should-be

The Heisman Trophy may be the most coveted trophy in all of sports.

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

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

The Big 12's Top 25 Heisman Trophy Contenders:

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

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

3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State (SR)
Klein won’t be able to sneak up on any defenses this time around after rolling up a sick 1,141 yards rushing and an NCAA-record 27 rushing touchdowns (by a QB). He added another 13 scoring strikes with 1,918 yards through the air while leading the Wildcats to the Cotton Bowl. What he lacks in pure passing ability he makes up for with grit and toughness. However, he may need to use his arm more in 2012 as coordinators are now prepared for his talented dual-threat skills.

4. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State (JR)
He may not be built like a true three-down workhorse, but he certainly plays like it. Randle brings speed, power and pass-catching skills to one of the most explosive offenses in the country. With a new quarterback and rebuilt offensive line, it will difficult to top his 1,216 yards, 26 touchdowns or 43 receptions from last year. But if he can come close, Randle could earn his way to Manhattan.

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

6. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas (SR)
This local product could be the top defensive end drafted come next April should things fall right for the Horns' defense in 2012. Okafor finished last season with 50 total tackles, 7.0 sacks and 12.5 tackles for a loss as a junior. On what should easily be the top defensive unit in the Big 12, Okafor will be a huge part of any sort of Burnt Orange championship push.

7. Casey Pachall, QB, TCU (JR)
In his first season as the starter and only a sophomore, Pachall would have finished second in the league to only Robert Griffin III in passer efficiency (had he been in the Big 12). He had an outstanding 25:7 TD:INT rate and led his team to a conference championship in a “rebuilding” year. Sledding will be much tougher in the Big 12, but Pachall quickly proved he can be a big time quarterback.

8. Trey Millard, AP, Oklahoma (JR)
The physical fullback is one of the most valuable players on the Sooners' roster. He’s known more for lead blocking than getting touches (169 yards rushing, 127 receiving yards and three total touchdowns), so his 61-yard TD run versus Kansas State was a true highlight. Millard also led OU with 14 special-teams tackles and was voted first-team All-Big 12 by the league’s coaches for his all-around play. He may never be appreciated nationally the way he deserves and could be the best all-around football player on the Sooners roster.

9. Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia (JR)
Alongside teammate Austin, Bailey was also a first-team selection in 2011 and he is coming off of a school-record 1,279-yard campaign as a sophomore. He has played alongside his quarterback since his prep days in Miramar, Fla., and should be on the verge of national prominence this fall — if Austin and Ivan McCartney don’t take too many targets from him.

10. Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma (JR)
As the nation’s No. 1 "athlete" recruit two years ago, Jefferson has quietly turned into one of the most promising young defensive backs in the nation. He has played somewhat out of position (down more in the box) but it has allowed him to develop into a big hitter and sound tackler. He has the speed and athleticism to stabilize the backend of the maligned Sooner secondary from a year ago. With Mike Stoops and Tim Kish now coaching him up, Jefferson could be in for stardom this fall.

11. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas (JR)
Okafor may be one year ahead on the development curve, but the upside for this NFL legacy is sky-high. Jeffcoat is the No. 2 returning sack artist in the league with 8.0 sacks and will look to build on his team lead in the category.

12. Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma (JR)
This talented junior to be has all the tools needed to be an NFL receiver and is playing in one of the most quarterback-friendly schemes in the nation. He should only build on his 61-catch, 849-yard, 8-TD 2011 season now as the No. 1 target.

13. Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech (SR)
Has any player ever thrown for a quieter 400 completions, 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns like Doege (and it’s Day-Gee) did last fall? Technically, it was 32 touchdowns and 398 completions, but either way, Tech has a good one under center. Now, it just needs to win games (and any semblance of a defense would help).

14. Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas (SO)
The top running back prospect in the nation did as much to prove his mettle in year one as possible. He carried 172 times for 742 yards and five scores and should only get better — but will have to hold off a talented depth chart that is breathing down his neck.

15. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State (SR)
It took him a few years and multiple zip codes but Brown has realized his All-American potential. The talented tackler should once again be the heart and soul of the KSU defense. A unit that must show improvement across the board if it wants to compete for a league title.

16. Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor (SR)
Williams is a future NFL star but without Griffin III throwing the ball and Kendall Wright distracting safeties, things will be more difficult for Baylor. But make no mistake, Williams has the talent to be an elite No. 1 target for the new Bears signal caller.

17. Kenny Vacarro, S, Texas (SR)
Versatile NFL prospect can cover in man and zone schemes with ease. Posted 67 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and 6.5 tackles for loss. He is the complete package.

18. Dominique Whaley, RB, Oklahoma (SR)
Health is really the only major concern for Whaley, who was off to an incredible start last year before being lost for the season in Week 6. He had nine scores and was averaging 130 yards from scrimmage per game. He could have a huge final year.

19. Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas (SO)
This Longhorn legacy proved that in one short year that he will be a special player. All he did as a freshman was lead his team in interceptions (4) and kick return yards. He posted 48 total tackles and 13 pass break-ups.

20. Eric Stephens, RB, Texas Tech (SR)
Much like Whaley, Stephens was off to a red-hot start before a serious knee injury sidelined him in the fifth game of the year. If healthy, Stephens should return to his torrid 2011 pace which featured 565 yards and eight touchdowns in five games.

21. Cyril Richardson, OL, Baylor (JR)
There is a logjam of talented blockers fighting for first-round NFL status and the massive Richardson, at 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds, is one of them. If Baylor can return to the postseason with a reworked offense, this guy could be the main reason.

22. A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State (SR)
The Big 12’s No. 2 tackler (116) from a year ago claimed Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors and should be just as stout in 2012. No doubt Klein is eyeing his third straight 100-tackle season for the Cyclones.

23. Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State (SR)
One of the most physical players in the league, Knott should also be working towards his third straight 100-tackle season in Ames. Improved defensive line play would go a long way for both Klein and Knott.

24. Stansly Maponga, DL, TCU (JR)
Defensive end Stansly Maponga is a breakout star waiting to happen. The two-year starter led the Frogs with 13.5 tackles for a loss, nine sacks and forced five fumbles last season.

25. Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas (FR)
Freshman Johnathan Gray helped Aledo (Texas) win three Class 4A state titles while rushing for 10,908 yards and setting the national high school record for rushing touchdowns with 205.

Other Names to Watch

Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma
Waymon James and Matthew Tucker, RB, TCU
Josh Boyce, WR, TCU
Jaxon Shipley, WR, Texas
Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas
Eric Ward, WR, Texas Tech

Related: 2012 Athlon Sports Big 12 Predictions

Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Previews

Baylor Oklahoma State
Iowa State TCU
Kansas Texas
Kansas State Texas Tech
Oklahoma West Virginia

-by Braden Gall


<p> Big 12 2012 Heisman Contenders: The Way It Should Be</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 21, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-fantasy-football-rankings-idp-top-75

The 2012 NFL Fantasy Season is here. Mock drafts abound. Rookie round-ups are nearly complete. Bye week cheat sheets are everywhere. Positional rankings are popping up everywhere, which at Athlon Sports also includes Individual Defensive Players or IDPs

While the ever-important Athlon Sports 2012 Big Board, the most accurate consensus top 100 list of fantasy footballers on the web, includes the most common and used positions in fantasy football, IDPs are also a part of many leagues out there. So true to our word of providing you everything you need to get you ready for the upcoming fantasy football season, here are our overall IDP rankings.

Rankings are based on Athlon Sports standard scoring for IDPs:

Solo tackle = 1 pt
Tackle assist = 0.5 pts
Sack = 3.5 pts
Interception = 3.5 pts
Forced fumble/recovery = 2 pts
Defensive TD = 8 pts
Safety = 2 pts
Pass Defended = 0.5 pts
Blocked Kick = 4 pts

Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Positional Rankings: Individual Defensive Players (IDP)

2011 FP = Fantasy points scored in 2011, per Athlon Sports standard scoring

Rank Player Team POS Bye 2011 FP
1. Jason Pierre-Paul NYG DL 11 146.8
2. Jared Allen MIN DL 11 157.0
3. Patrick Willis SF LB 9 114.0
4. Justin Tuck NYG DL 11 53.0
5. Trent Cole PHI DL 7 84.0
6. Desmond Bishop GB LB 10 124.5
7. Julius Peppers CHI DL 6 93.5
8. James Laurinaitis STL LB 9 146.5
9. Eric Berry KC DB 7 0.0
10. Mario Williams BUF DL 8 30.5
11. Derrick Johnson KC LB 7 140.0
12. Jabaal Sheard CLE DL 10 90.3
13. Navarro Bowman SF LB 9 144.0
14. Tyvon Branch OAK DB 5 110.3
15. Calais Campbell ARI DL 10 117.0
16. D’Qwell Jackson CLE LB 10 162.3
17. Daryl Washington ARI LB 10 128.0
18. Patrick Chung NE DB 9 58.5
19. Sean Weatherspoon ATL LB 7 118.5
20. Charles Johnson CAR DL 6 72.5
21. Elvis Dumervil DEN DL 7 72.3
22. Jason Babin PHI DL 7 107.5
23. Curtis Lofton NO LB 6 143.0
24. George Wilson BUF DB 8 115.6
25. Cliff Avril DET DL 5 110.5
26. Stephen Tulloch DET LB 5 131.5
27. Jerod Mayo NE LB 9 91.0
28. Chris Long STL DL 9 82.5
29. Eric Weddle SD DB 7 110.5
30. Colin McCarthy TEN LB 11 74.0
31. Paul Posluszny JAC LB 6 114.5
32. Pat Angerer IND LB 4 127.5
33. Kam Chancellor SEA DB 11 115.5
34. Ray Lewis BAL LB 8 101.5
35. Brian Urlacher CHI LB 6 119.0
36. J.J. Watt HOU DL 8 81.8
37. LaRon Landry NYJ DB 9 51.3
38. Sean Lee DAL LB 5 109.0
39. Charles Tillman CHI DB 6 138.5
40. Haloti Ngata BAL DL 8 89.0
41. Aldon Smith SF LB/DL 9 93.0
42. Osi Umenyiora NYG DL 11 56.5
43. Luke Kuechly CAR LB 6 DNP
44. Antoine Bethea IND DB 4 119.0
45. Jeremy Mincey JAC DL 6 90.5
46. Justin Smith SF DL 9 86.8
47. DeMarcus Ware DAL LB 5 128.3
48. Morgan Burnett GB DB 10 119.5
49. Mark Barron TB DB 5 DNP
50. Carlos Dunlap CIN DL 8 44.3
51. Chad Greenway MIN LB 11 131.5
52. Earl Thomas SEA DB 11 99.5
53. Mathias Kiwanuka NYG LB/DL 11 93.8
54. Roman Harper NO DB 6 119.8
55. Karlos Dansby MIA LB 7 109.5
56. Rolando McClain OAK LB 5 114.0
57. Charles Woodson GB DB 10 121.2
58. London Fletcher WAS LB 10 153.3
59. Ndamukong Suh DET DL 5 49.5
60. Cameron Wake MIA LB/DL 7 70.6
61. Lawrence Timmons PIT LB 4 95.5
62. Patrick Peterson ARI DB 10 127.4
63. Chris Clemons SEA DL 11 89.5
64. Brian Cushing HOU LB 8 122.5
65. Von Miller DEN LB 7 103.3
66. Jarius Bryd BUF DB 8 120.5
67. Kameron Wimbley TEN DL 11 87.0
68. Adrian Clayborn TB DL 5 67.8
69. Jon Beason CAR LB 6 4.0
70. Kelvin Sheppard BUF LB 8 62.5
71. Troy Polamalu PIT DB 4 105.0
72. Quintin Mikell STL DB 9 108.0
73. Ahtyba Rubin CLE DL 10 87.0
74. DeMeco Ryans PHI LB 7 58.0
75. Bernard Pollard BAL DB 8 90.0

— Published on June 21, 2012

Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Fantasy Content:

Athlon Sports Big Board: Top 150

2012 Fantasy Football Mock Draft I

2012 Bye Week Cheat Sheet

Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: QBs

Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: RBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: WRs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: TEs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DLs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: LBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DBs

Related: Order your Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Preview Magazine Here

You can preorder your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.
<p> 2012 NFL Fantasy Football Rankings: IDP Top 75</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 21, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, NC State Wolfpack, News
Path: /college-football/nc-state-football-can-wolfpack-win-acc-2012

NC State finished 2011 by winning four out of their final five games. The Wolfpack return quarterback Mike Glennon, and a secondary that could be one of the best in the ACC. 

Is NC State an ACC Title Contender in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
As strange as it may seem, we may figure out how seriously to take NC State after the first two weeks of the season when the Wolfpack face Tennessee and Connecticut both away from Raleigh. Granted, these two teams each finished 5-7. If the Wolfpack is going to contend for the ACC, it should handle the rebuilding Volunteers. The Vols’ biggest strength on offense -- Tyler Bray and his receivers -- faces NC State’s greatest strength with David Amerson leading four returning starters. Connecticut should be easy work, but that’s a road game. Like Tennessee, Connecticut has some key players returning from injury, but Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon should feast against that secondary. If NC State wins both games comfortably, watch out.

We’re going to hear a ton about Amerson’s 13 interceptions for good reason, but turnover margin is fluky. NC State ranked sixth nationally in that category at plus-14. As much as Tom O’Brien would love for his veteran secondary to repeat its 27 interceptions, he can’t depend on it. That means every other position group is going to need to step up, starting with the run game (11th in the ACC) and offensive line (10th in the ACC in sacks allowed). And of course, there’s Glennon, whose name is unfairly linked to Russell Wilson. He’s one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks and finished last season on a tear with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions in the last three games against Clemson, Maryland and Louisville. He’ll be the key. Florida State and Clemson have proven they’re not immune to letting good things slip away. NC State could be a team ready to pounce.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
I am very high on NC State and think they can absolutely compete for an ACC crown in 2012. This is due entirely to how it is constructed. An excellent offensive line, a tremendously talented veteran quarterback, a solid defense and hard-nosed head coach. These are the most important aspects to any football team when trying to pinpoint sleepers in any league. The Wolfpack has tremendous leadership with Mike Glennon under center in his second full season as the starter and steely-eyed ACC stalwart Tom O'Brien steering the entire ship. And Wolfie will be stout up front at the point of attack – both offensively and defensively - as Athlon has ranked the O-line No. 2 in the league and the D-line No. 3 in the ACC.

Clemson and Florida State are the top picks in the Atlantic Divison, but NC State gets a few scheduling breaks in 2012. First, the Seminoles must visit Raleigh in what could be a decisive ACC bout. Second, there is no Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech on the schedule at all. And with the recent domination of instate rival North Carolina - O'Brien hasn't lost to the Tar Heels as the Wolfpack headman – NC State should feel optimistic about its ACC crossover play. It also finishes with three of the final four conference games at home.

Yes, the one road game in Novmeber is a trip down to Death Valley on November 17, but if that game turns into an Atlantic Division title game, well, just ask Tigers fans what happened when these two met last year. NC State 37, Clemson 13.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think Virginia Tech, Clemson and Florida State are the best teams in the ACC, but NC State isn’t too far behind. The Wolfpack got off to a 2-3 start last season, but rallied to win four out of their final five games. However, while NC State had an impressive finish, it also lost to Boston College and needed a furious second-half rally to beat Maryland.

There are a lot of positives for this team going into 2012, especially with Mike Glennon returning under center. The Wolfpack has one of the conference’s best offensive lines, but playmakers need to be found in the receiving corps. Running back James Washington was steady last season, and has plenty of help on the ground from sophomore Anthony Creecy and Mustafa Greene.

The defense allowed 24.7 points a game last season, but forced 39 turnovers and ranked eighth nationally with 3.1 sacks a game. With seven starters returning, this unit should be solid once again. Cornerback David Amerson is among the best in college football at his position, while solid depth has been established on the defensive line. Although the Wolfpack may give up some yards, if they can continue to force turnovers and sacks, they should keep this team in the hunt for the ACC title.

Will NC State win the ACC in 2012? I’d be surprised if it did. However, I could see this team finishing with nine wins and pulling off an upset against Florida State in Raleigh on Oct. 6. The Wolfpack catch a break in the crossover opponents, as they miss Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Considering NC State was 5-5 heading into the final three games of last year, it’s a testament to how much this team improved in the last half of 2011 and should better in 2012.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I believe NC State will be among the top three or four teams in the league, but I don’t know if I’d call the Pack a true ACC contender because they play in the more difficult Atlantic Division, home to both Florida State and Clemson.

There is, however, a ton of positive momentum in Raleigh after State won four of its last five games in 2011, highlighted by the dominating 37–13 victory over Clemson. Mike Glennon is poised to have a big senior season after throwing 31 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. The defense, solid last year, should be strong once again. There are some concerns at linebacker, but the secondary, led by David Amerson, should be among the best in the league.

Barring a surprising rash of injuries — which has happened to this team in the past — Tom O’Brien’s club figures to win eight or nine games overall and finish over .500 in the ACC. 

Mark Ross
No. Don't get me wrong, I expect NC State to win about eight games once again this and go to its third straight bowl game under head coach Tom O'Brien. But as far as the ACC race goes, I see the Wolfpack finishing third, possibly second, in the Atlantic division.

This is a well-balanced football team with an offense led by quarterback Mike Glennon and a defense led by All-American cornerback David Amerson and the rest of the secondary, but the sum of these parts doesn't beat the strengths of the top two teams in the Atlantic - Clemson and Florida State. Clemson has the best offense in the ACC while Florida State has the best defense, and each of these units rank up there when it comes to the best in the nation.

To be an ACC title contender, NC State will have to go through both Clemson and Florida State. The last time the Wolfpack beat the Tigers and Seminoles in the same season was 2002, and I don't see that changing in 2012. This year's NC State team is a good team, but not an ACC title contender.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Tom O’Brien’s club has a great shot at eight or nine overall wins, but I do not see the Wolfpack as a major contender for the league title. Clemson and Florida State project as the top two teams in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, and NC State looks like a clear third. To be better than that, the Wolfpack will need to be more consistent across the board. The Mike Glennon-led offense was awesome in the last three games (37, 56 and 31 points) of last season, but scored only 10, 13, and 0 in the three prior contests. The defense was great against Clemson, North Carolina and Virginia but faltered badly versus Wake Forest, Cincinnati and Florida State.

Glennon and a veteran offensive line will give the NC State attack a chance to put up big numbers, especially if Tobias Palmer and Bryan Underwood can become big-time targets at the receiver position. The defense, a group that produced 39 takeaways in 2011, may be the key to contending in the ACC. The secondary is excellent and brings back all four starters who helped lead the nation with 27 interceptions last year. The line should be solid, but there are some holes to fill with the linebacker unit.

The Wolfpack will need to at least split with tough division foes FSU and Clemson to contend in the conference. They avoid Virginia Tech in the Coastal, but road games at Miami and North Carolina as well as hosting a scrappy UVA bunch will not be easy. If NC State gets production from its front seven on defense and develops some outside threats on offense, then O’Brien’s club will be a tough out in ACC play.

Related ACC Content

Athlon's 2012 ACC Predictions
2012 NC State Team Preview

College Football 2012 Rankings: No. 28 NC State

ACC Expansion: No Buyer's Remorse

<p> Can NC State contend for the ACC title?</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 21, 2012 - 05:49
Path: /college-football/conference-usa-football-2012-predictions

Editor's Note: Athlon's 2012 predictions were completed before UCF's postseason ban was announced.

After eight seasons of stability, Conference USA will be ripped apart in 2013 when Memphis, UCF, Houston and SMU bolt for the Big East. There will still be some solid programs in the league — Southern Miss, Tulsa and East Carolina stand out — but the conference will never be the same.

So who takes the title in the final season of the current 12-team, two-division format? UCF and East Carolina are the teams to beat in the East Division, while Houston and Tulsa appear to be the class of the West.

UCF slumped to 3–5 in the league last season after winning the East with a 7–1 mark in 2010. The ’11 record, however, was a bit deceiving; the Knights lost four league games by seven points or less and actually outgained C-USA foes by an average of 39.7 yards per game. UCF boasts a solid quarterback in sophomore Blake Bortles, but George O’Leary’s team will lean on the running game with a deep corps of tailbacks (Latavius Murray, Storm Johnson and Brynn Harvey) and a veteran offensive line. Although the Knights should be improved in 2012, the NCAA has placed a one-year postseason ban on the program.

East Carolina made a dramatic improvement on defense last season, jumping 64 spots in the national rankings from 120th in 2010 to 56th in ’11. The Pirates will have to be solid on D once again, because they must replace standout quarterback Dominique Davis, who threw for over 7,000 yards in two seasons at ECU.

Defending C-USA champ Southern Miss is under new leadership, as former South Carolina assistant Ellis Johnson steps in for Larry Fedora, now the head coach at North Carolina. Johnson inherits a team that is losing a three-year starter at quarterback (Austin Davis) and several key pieces on defense.

Marshall continues to take small steps forward under third-year coach Doc Holliday. The Thundering Herd have the personnel to finish in the top half of the East, but a tough schedule — they play both Houston and Tulsa from the West — will be difficult to overcome. UAB and Memphis both made coaching moves. Garrick McGee, the former offensive coordinator at Arkansas, is the new boss in Birmingham, while Justin Fuente, the co-offensive coordinator at TCU the past three seasons, takes over at Memphis.

Houston will attempt to defend its C-USA West crown with a new quarterback (David Piland takes over for Case Keenum) and a new coach (Tony Levine replaces his former boss, Kevin Sumlin). The Cougars, who were 12–0 in 2011 before a loss to Southern Miss in the C-USA title game, still have a ton of talent at the skill positions and will be tough to beat.

Bill Blakenship guided Tulsa to an impressive 7–1 record in the league in his first season as a collegiate head coach. Quarterback G.J. Kinne is no longer around, but the Golden Hurricane have a quality replacement, former Nebraska Cornhusker Cody Green.

SMU went 5–3 last year, but the Mustangs lost three league games by at least 24 points and didn’t beat a C-USA team that had a winning conference record. With major concerns on both the offensive and defensive line, it might be tough for June Jones’ club to contend in 2012.

UTEP, Rice and Tulane will battle for the final three spots in the West. The Miners welcome back quarterback Nick Lamaison and four starters on the offensive line, but they have a very tough C-USA slate (at ECU, at Southern Miss, vs. UCF). Rice has struggled on the offensive end since its breakthrough 2008 season that ended with a win in the Texas Bowl. David Bailiff is under to pressure to win. Tulane is under new leadership, with former Saints assistant coach Curtis Johnson taking over for Bob Toledo. Johnson will lean on senior quarterback Ryan Griffin and junior tailback Orleans Darkwa.

Athlon's 2012 Conference USA Team Previews

East West
East Carolina Houston
Marshall SMU
Memphis Rice
Southern Miss Tulane
UAB Tulsa

<p> 2012 Conference USA Football predictions</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 21, 2012 - 05:47
Path: /nascar/dale-earnhardt-jrs-long-road

Sunday, June 17, will be remembered by Junior Nation as they day when their boy finally came home. Much like John J. did at the end of Rambo, Dale Earnhardt Jr. came full-circle, literally, this past Sunday in the Irish Hills of Brooklyn, Michigan.

After 143 races and four years of futility, Earnhardt won the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway and moved to within four points of the championship lead currently held by 2000 rookie classmate, friend and former Busch Series rival Matt Kenseth. It wasn’t a fuel mileage fluke as his previous win at MIS in June 2008; it was, as his old man once said, “an ass-kickin’!”

Since that last win a number of changes, both within his team and with the driver himself, have taken place. Truth be known, the last seven years have been less than productive for the driver whose surname is synonymous with success — as well as the entire sport in which he competes. While he has endured many unfortunate and unfair tags (there is actually a website dedicated to his drought), this dry spell of Old Testament proportions harkens back to the 2005 season.

Many are quick to jump on the bandwagon and bash a driver when he’s down. Those new to the sport that recognize the name but wonder what all the hype is about may not know the story of Earnhardt’s eight-year dilemma. It’s a long road from where he came from to get back to racing relevance in 2012. And this is how he got here:

2004: The ’04 season saw Earnhardt winning the race that took his father 20 attempts at conquering, the Daytona 500. What was a lifetime struggle for The Intimidator, Junior knocked out in only his fifth attempt. He would go on to win six races that season, and not just on the plate tracks that were the domain of what was Dale Earnhardt, Inc. during the early- to mid-2000s.

If not for a fiery accident during practice for an ALMS race in Sonoma — the site of this weekend’s Sprint Cup race — and a slight misjudgment of a pass on Carl Edwards late in the going at Atlanta with only four races to go in the championship chase, Earnhardt may have won the Cup title. There was also the matter of a 25-point fine for an innocuous slip of the tongue during his Victory Lane interview at Talladega, a reminder of how things had evolved in the sport since his late father won his seventh championship some 10 years earlier. Surely, this would serve as the springboard to propel him into the rare air of Daytona 500 and Sprint Cup champion in 2005 …

2005: The season started with a shake-up within the Dale Jr. brain trust. The idea was to end the bickering between Tony Eury Jr. and Tony Eury Sr. – his cousin and uncle who served as principles on his No. 8 team – by bringing in new chief Pete Rondeau. It was a total team swap between the flagship No. 8 and then-driver Michael Waltrip’s No. 15 machines that saw Waltrip’s results improve slightly, but sunk Earnhardt’s into also-ran status. Competition Director Steve Hmiel was installed as interim crew chief after just 11 races, with the No. 8 team winning one race, a fuel mileage gamble at Chicagoland. The rest of the season was a disaster, with finishes in the mid-30s par for course, ending the year 19th in points, well out of the Chase.

2006: Earnhardt was reunited with cousin Eury Jr. once again, and the performance returned — although it was spotty at best. A win at Richmond in the spring was his lone triumph of the year, but he did qualify for the Chase. A second win at Talladega was snatched away on the final lap, when Brian Vickers hooked teammate Jimmie Johnson on the backstretch on the final lap, who then hooked Earnhardt, sending both spinning through the infield dirt. This also began a period of instability at DEI, with more outsiders coming in to what had been a family-oriented and operated race team with its namesake driver going into the final year of his contract.

2007: Things got off to a rocky start before the 2007 season even began. At a preseason test and media event at Daytona in January, RCR driver Kevin Harvick deemed Teresa Earnhardt a “deadbeat owner” whose absence from the track was having a negative impact on the DEI teams of which she was listed as CEO. During this time, Earnhardt admitted that his relationship with his owner/stepmother “ain’t a bed of roses,” but was quick to defend her following Harvick’s comments.

It was, however, a glimpse into the dysfunction that had become DEI, as well as Teresa Earnhardt’s refusal to cut her stepson into the company that bore his name. The 2007 season also marked NASCAR’s first in-race dabbling with the first-generation CoT, and with it came a new set of challenges to compound matters.

Eury’s out-of-the-box CoT tinkering brought about a whopping 100 point/$100,000 fine, as well as a six-race suspension following discovery of illegal wing mounts to the car at Darlington. It was a harbinger of things to come, and it would end up being the first season since his full-time arrival in the series that Earnhardt failed to win a race.

The bombshell that dropped in May found Earnhardt, his sister Kelley and Eury Jr. leaving the operation at season’s end. Earnhardt and Eury headed to Hendrick Motorsports, while Kelley moved to Earnhardt’s Nationwide team, JR Motorsports.

<p> After breaking a four-year winless drought at Michigan last Sunday, it's best to see the path that took Dale Earnhardt Jr. full-circle, back into contention and relevance in the Sprint Cup Series.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - 14:05
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-12

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s victory celebration is long over and now it’s time to look ahead. Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council were asked to look ahead on what Earnhardt’s victory means related to the title race and at this weekend’s race — the first race on a road course this season. Of course, members did have time to look back at Michigan and give that race a grade.

Here’s what members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had to say:


56.2 percent said it’s a sign that he truly is a title contender this year
35.8 percent said it was nice but it’s only one win, let’s not get carried away
8.0 percent said it does not matter to me

What Fan Council members said:
• I am less impressed with the victory then I am his other numbers for the season so far. Twelve top 10s, six top 5s, 218 laps led, average finish of seventh, and he has completed every lap of competition this season, all in just 15 races. The extraordinary numbers that team has posted are Jimmie Johnson-esque and are remarkable for any driver. I may not be a Junior fan, but I believe that team is the best in the garage this year and may possibly do what I previously thought was impossible and win Junior a championship.

• Junior obviously has momentum right now, but let's all take a deep breath and realize how long the season is. We're “Pro-Junior” in our household, but I'm not gonna run out and get an 88 tattoo any time soon …

• Steve Letarte has put together a team that believes in themselves and they are staying consistent. They need to win more to compete for the title, but I believe they are on the right track.

• Consistent season so far + contending for wins + second in points + a win = title contender.

• Of course he is a title contender!! Have you looked at his stats this year???

• I feel like Smoke in this regard. Glad to see it happen, but give it a rest like it’s the second coming. With Hendrick equipment, he should win more than two points races in five years. If he runs well at Sonoma and Kentucky and even takes the points lead, then I would be more impressed.

• One win in the past four years in the best equipment (in) NASCAR . It’s quite sad that there was this much celebration over it.

• He's a virtual lock for the Chase now. I expect the team to take more chances and be a huge threat in the Chase. He's got the consistency down, and now has proven the team can win in dominating fashion.

• That was a strong showing for the 88. I think this season will finally shut the mouths of some of the naysayers.

• I like Junior, but one win doesn't mean he's going to win the championship this year. Let's wait and see what the future brings.

• Don't understand all the hype! Hasn't proved anything in his career. If he didn't have the name Earnhardt, he probably would be in the 51 car!

• I thought he was a title contender even before the win Sunday (and this is coming from a non-Junior fan). He and Letarte seem to have great chemistry with each other, (and) with guys like Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards having somewhat off years Junior could definitely pull out a championship and probably spark off victory riots across the country.


57.1 percent called it Good
29.8 percent called it Great
10.2 percent called it Fair
2.8 percent called it Poor

What Fan Council members said:
• Are you kidding me? Junior led almost half the race and won going away. And Kyle Busch kicked rocks while his brother kept spinning himself out. It doesn't get any better.

• When the post-race excitement matches the pre-race excitement with equally exciting racing in between, then it's a pretty great race.

• It was a lot better than I thought it would be. With all the speed/tire problems leading up to the green flag, I was afraid we were in for another gas mileage race.

• I will enjoy Michigan more when the groove widens back out to the wall

• Being there was great, even with the rain delay. The place was electric. Especially at the end of the race, I have never seen so many excited people. It was like the section I was in was holding its breath and then went crazy.

• I thought it was a very good race and think NASCAR made the right decision in the tire change.

• I attend this race every year and this one felt “racier” than normal. Perhaps the suspense from all the pre-race unknowns — tires, engines, speeds — carried over into the race.

• I thought it was a good race. Suspense because no one knew what the tires were going to do, adding to that the rain washed all the rubber off the track. The race itself was just solid.

• Today's race was the first I unhesitatingly checked “Great.” There was passing all over the place, racing three- and four-wide, hard racing side-by-side with give and go. No phantom cautions, (the) cautions (were) called when necessary, no speeding debacles or major issues with tires or fuel. I also have to give props to NASCAR for making sure this didn't turn into “Indy Tire Fiasco Part II.” They saw the probability of the race either being run 10 to 15 laps at a time or 30 cars hitting the wall at 200 mph due to tire blowouts. I'm more than willing to watch cars running at slightly slower speeds if it saves injury and/or equipment.

• Pretty interesting race with lots of storylines: Dale’s win, JGR’s tumultuous day, Kurt Busch’s bad luck continuing, tires blistering, fast speeds and other things, as well. I enjoyed it even though my driver wasn't a contender for most of the race.

<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council wieghs in on Dale Earnahrdt Jr.'s championship hopes, his win at Michigan and road course racing at Infineon and Watkins Glen.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - 10:46
Path: /college-football/sec-football-2012-all-conference-team

The 2012 college football season is just around the corner, and Athlon continues its countdown to kickoff with a look at our first, second and third All-SEC teams for this season.

Related: Athlon Sports All-SEC Team As Recruits

Athlon's 2012 All-SEC Team

First-Team Offense

QB Aaron Murray, Georgia

RB Knile Davis, Arkansas

RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina

WR Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas

WR Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee

TE Chris Gragg, Arkansas

C Barrett Jones, Alabama

OL Alvin Bailey, Arkansas

OL Alex Hurst, LSU

OL Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

OL Larry Warford, Kentucky

First-Team Defense

DL Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

DL Corey Lemonier, Auburn

DL Sam Montgomery, LSU

DL Barkevious Mingo, LSU

LB Jon Bostic, Florida

LB Nico Johnson, Alabama

LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia

CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State

CB Tharold Simon, LSU

S Bacarri Rambo, Georgia

S Eric Reid, LSU

First-Team Specialists

K Caleb Sturgis, Florida

P Brad Wing, LSU

KR Andre Debose, Florida

PR Dustin Harris, Texas A&M


The Breakdown of Athlon's 2012 All-SEC Team

  First Second Third Overall
Alabama 2 4 3 9
Arkansas 4 2 3 9
Auburn 1 3 1 5
Florida 3 3 2 8
Georgia 3 0 5 8
Kentucky 1 0 0 1
LSU 6 3 1 10
Mississippi State 1 3 1 5
Missouri 0 1 0 1
Ole Miss 0 0 2 2
South Carolina 2 2 1 5
Tennessee 1 1 2 4
Texas A&M 2 3 2 7
Vanderbilt 0 1 3 4


Second-Team Offense

QB Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama

RB Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt

WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee

WR Ryan Swope, Texas A&M

TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn

C T.J. Johnson, South Carolina

OL Chris Faulk, LSU

OL Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State

OL Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

OL Chance Warmack, Alabama

Second-Team Defense

DL Josh Boyd, Mississippi State

DL Shariff Floyd, Florida

DL Bennie Logan, LSU

DL Devin Taylor, South Carolina

LB Alonzo Highsmith, Arkansas

LB Jelani Jenkins, Florida

LB Sean Porter, Texas A&M

CB E.J. Gaines, Missouri

CB Dee Milliner, Alabama

S Matt Elam, Florida

S Robert Lester, Alabama

Second-Team Specialists 

K Drew Alleman, LSU

P Steven Clark, Auburn

KR Tre Mason, Auburn

PR Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State

Third-Team Offense

QB Tyler Bray, Tennessee

RB Onterio McCalebb, Auburn

RB Christine Michael, Texas A&M

WR Odell Beckham, LSU

WR Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia

TE Jordan Reed, Florida

C Travis Swanson, Arkansas

OL Chris Burnette, Georgia

OL D.J. Fluker, Alabama

OL Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt

OL Xavier Nixon, Florida

Third-Team Defense

DL Abry Jones, Georgia

DL Rob Lohr, Vanderbilt

DL Damontre Moore, Texas A&M

DL Jesse Williams, Alabama

LB Cameron Lawrence, Mississippi State

LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama

LB Alec Ogletree, Georgia

CB Prentiss Waggner, Tennessee

CB Trey Wilson, Vanderbilt

S Charles Sawyer, Ole Miss

S Shawn Williams, Georgia

Third-Team Specialists

KR Zach Hocker, Arkansas

P Tyler Campbell, Ole Miss

KR Dennis Johnson, Arkansas

PR Ace Sanders, South Carolina

Athlon's 2012 SEC Previews

Related Content: Athlon's 2012 SEC Predictions

East West
Florida Alabama
Georgia Arkansas
Kentucky Auburn
Missouri LSU
South Carolina Mississippi State
Tennessee Ole Miss
Vanderbilt Texas A&M

<p> 2012 SEC All-Conference Team</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - 06:23
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-fantasy-football-rankings-defensive-backs

The 2012 NFL Fantasy Season is here. Mock drafts abound. Rookie round-ups are nearly complete. Bye week cheat sheets are everywhere. Positional rankings are popping up everywhere, which at Athlon Sports also includes Individual Defensive Players or IDPs

While the ever-important Athlon Sports 2012 Big Board, the most accurate consensus top 100 list of fantasy footballers on the web, includes the most common and used positions in fantasy football, IDPs are also a part of many leagues out there. So true to our word of providing you everything you need to get you ready for the upcoming fantasy football season, here are our IDP rankings for defensive backs (DB).

Rankings are based on Athlon Sports standard scoring for IDPs:

Solo tackle = 1 pt
Tackle assist = 0.5 pts
Sack = 3.5 pts
Interception = 3.5 pts
Forced fumble/recovery = 2 pts
Defensive TD = 8 pts
Safety = 2 pts
Pass Defended = 0.5 pts
Blocked Kick = 4 pts

Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Positional Rankings: Defensive Backs

Rank, Name, Position, Team (2011 Fantasy Points per Athlon Sports standard scoring)

1. Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs (0.0 FP)
Even if Berry, who is returning from a torn ACL suffered in Week 1 last season, is missing a half-step, he’ll be the last line on a defense that ranked top 11 in most snaps on the field in three of the past four years. If he’s near 100 percent, Berry brings corner-like ball skills to his sure, and willing, tackling ability.

2. Tyvon Branch, S, Oakland Raiders (110.3 FP)
Last year marked the first time in three seasons as a starter that Branch fell outside the top-10 DBs in a typical IDP format. He still managed to rank second at the position in total tackles.  Branch’s fantasy numbers dipped last year because of a lack of turnovers and sacks. Chalk it up to bad luck, and stay confident in him.

3. Patrick Chung, S, New England Patriots (58.5 FP)
Chung suffered one injury after another in his second season as a starter. There was thumb surgery, a foot injury that cost him nearly the entire second half, and a knee problem that hampered him into the playoffs.

4. George Wilson, S, Buffalo Bills (115.6 FP)
Last season marked the first time he opened a year in the lineup, and Wilson led all defensive backs in scoring before a Week 10 neck injury. Two years before, he boasted a top-10 scoring average over just 12 starts.

5. Eric Weddle, S, San Diego Chargers (110.5 FP)
According to Pro Football Focus, Weddle ranked third overall among safeties in 2010 and fourth last year. Weddle is as big an INT threat as any safety in the league, which he finally showed last year.

6. Kam Chancellor, S, Seattle Seahawks (115.5 FP)
Chancellor’s ability to cover ensures he stays on the field in sub packages, and that big body helped tie for 10th among DBs in solo tackles. It doesn’t hurt that his defense ranked second in scrimmage plays over the past three years.

7. LaRon Landry, S, New York Jets (51.3 FP)
Landry is as big of a gamble as anyone at the position. He scored like a linebacker in 2010, though, and was productive despite limitations last year.

8. Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago Bears (138.5 FP)
The Bears’ vet has finished outside the top eight DBs just once in the past four years. He has ranked among the top 16 six of the past nine years. Only once has he finished lower than 27th.

9. Antoine Bethea, S, Indianapolis Colts (119.0 FP)
Bethea delivered 33 more total tackles last year than in any other season. The Colts’ free safety picked off 11 passes over the previous four years and knocked away the second most of his career last season.

10. Morgan Burnett, S, Green Bay Packers (119.5 FP)
Despite a top-five fantasy season, Burnett was actually limited by a broken hand last year. After three interceptions through the first three games, he didn’t pick another until the playoffs.  He still never went more than three games without breaking up a pass and tied for third among defensive backs in total tackles.

11. Mark Barron, S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Rookie, DNP in NFL in ’11)
Barron profiles similarly to Eric Berry coming into the league, if not quite as talented. He has the tackling willingness to play near the line on run downs and the ball skills to stay on the field and deliver big plays. Sean Jones finished top-20 in DB tackles at the back of this defense last year, and Barron has the potential to be even better.

12. Earl Thomas, S, Seattle Seahawks (99.5 FP)
Thomas isn’t likely to post the tackle numbers of Kam Chancellor, his bigger teammate at safety, but he actually rated higher in run defense than Chancellor last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Of course, we already knew about the ball skills that helped him pick off five passes as a rookie.

13. Roman Harper, S, New Orleans Saints (119.8 FP)
Tying for 33rd in the league in sacks is no big deal — unless, of course, you’re a safety. Harper’s 7.5 sacks more than doubled the next DB’s total (Chris Crocker, 3.5). Harper’s 73 solo stops last season marked his lowest total in five years as a starter.

14. Charles Woodson, CB/S, Green Bay Packers (121.2 FP)
Woodson has proved his ability to play multiple spots well, whether it be outside, covering the slot or at safety. Fantasy owners need not worry where he’ll play or whether he’ll produce. Woodson has finished four straight seasons among the position’s top seven.

15. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals (127.4 FP)
If your league awards individual points for kick-return TDs, Peterson isn’t lasting this long in your draft. He electrified on special teams last year, but he has room to grow on defense. Pro Football Focus rated him 89th among all NFL corners in coverage, which could actually help his fantasy outlook.

16. Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills (120.5 FP)
As a rookie, Byrd posted unrepeatable interception numbers. They disappeared in a second season that saw a tackle spike. In 2011, Byrd put it all together and turned in a top-five performance.

17. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers (105.0 FP)
Polamalu has missed 21 games over the past six years. He tied for 18th at the position in total tackles last year, the first time since 2005 he ranked among the top 40. The upside, though: From 2008-10, he averaged one pass defensed per game and more than one INT for every two.

18. Quintin Mikell, S, St. Louis Rams (108.0 FP)
Mikell endured a down 2011, but it wasn’t really reflected in his fantasy stats. Mikell’s pass coverage suffered, including a dip of 10 passes defensed from the previous year, but he managed to finish 15th at the position on tackles and forced fumbles.

19. Bernard Pollard, S, Baltimore Ravens (90.0 FP)
Starting 13 games, Pollard nearly doubled his previous season high for passes defensed and forced more than one fumble for the third time in four years. Ed Reed’s continued presence should allow Pollard to play in his comfort zone, closer to the line.

20. T.J. Ward, S, Cleveland Browns (40.5 FP)
Ward says he’s over the foot sprain that cost him half of last season, but it’s hard to forget injury concerns that followed him into the league. The risk is worth it for a guy was second among DBs in 2010 in solo tackles.

21. Jason McCourty, CB, Tennessee Titans (124.0 FP)
Chalk up McCourty’s breakthrough fantasy season to two factors: He rated tops in the league in run defense among corners, according to Pro Football Focus. He also faced the third-most passes.

22. Antrel Rolle, S, New York Giants (100.1 FP)
A word of caution before you draft Rolle: The Giants spent the third-most plays in the league on defense last year, nearly 100 more than the year before. That means more tackle chances for everyone, and Rolle — not surprisingly — went for career highs in solos and assists.

23. Darian Stewart, S, St. Louis Rams (107.0 FP)
Stewart could have been looking at Roman Harper-type usage under Gregg Williams, before the bounty suspension. Even without Williams last year, though, Stewart was among the most frequent secondary blitzers in the league.

24. Dawan Landry, S, Jacksonville Jaguars (98.8 FP)
The Jags ranked 25th in defensive scrimmage plays last year. That didn’t help Landry’s numbers, though he still tied for 11th at the position in total stops. Landry enjoyed two four-INT seasons among his first three healthy campaigns with the Ravens.

25. Kenny Phillips, S, New York Giants (92.0 FP)
The most important stat for Phillips the past two years was probably games played. His 2009 knee injury led to rumors of a chronic condition that threatened to doom his career, but he has missed just one game since.

26. Antoine Winfield, CB, Minnesota Vikings (46.5 FP)
Three of the past five seasons have seen Winfield miss six games or more. His production remains stellar when he’s on the field, though, and coverage metrics suggest Winfield might even be improving in that area as he ages.

27. Charles Godfrey, S, Carolina Panthers (91.0 FP)
As you get further down the DB list, you should be seeking upside. Godfrey provides that, with five double-digit fantasy outings each of the past two seasons. Godfrey ranked third and seventh the past two years among safeties in yards allowed after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus.

28. Lardarius Webb, CB, Baltimore Ravens (116.5 FP)
Webb was one of 10 cornerbacks not to allow a touchdown in coverage last year. According to Pro Football Focus, he played significantly more snaps than all but one of those other nine guys. Webb’s tackles slipped as last season wore on, and passes defensed carried his value.

29. Reggie Nelson, S, Cincinnati Bengals (111.0 FP)
The free safety didn’t go more than two games without a pass defensed at any point last year and finally topped his rookie season production. Nelson will never be the surest tackler on the field, but the Bengals showed with his new contract that they like him at the back of their defense.

30. Brandon Flowers, CB, Kansas City Chiefs (85.0 FP)
Flowers tied for 22nd among corners in targets faced despite his team seeing the fewest pass plays in the league last year.  Over the past three years, only Darrelle Revis has broken up more passes than Flowers’ 57. That doesn’t even include the 11 INTs.

— Published on June 20, 2012

Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Fantasy Content:

Athlon Sports Big Board: Top 150

2012 Fantasy Football Mock Draft I

2012 Bye Week Cheat Sheet

Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: QBs

Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: RBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: WRs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: TEs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DLs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: LBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: IDP Top 75

Related: Order your Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Preview Magazine Here

You can preorder your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.
<p> 2012 NFL Fantasy Football Rankings: Defensive Backs</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/big-ten-2012-heisman-contenders-way-it-should-be

The Heisman Trophy may be the most coveted trophy in all of sports.

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

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

The Big Ten's Top 25 Heisman Trophy Contenders:

1. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (SR)
There is no player in a better Heisman situation in the Big Ten than Robinson, but because Montee Ball was so unstoppable a year ago, they are essentially 1a and 1b. Shoelace has the NCAA records, the electric, big-play, highlight-reel skills needed to enthrall voters, a better chance at a Big Ten title, has multiple national showcase games in and out of conference and plays the all-important quarterback position (11 of last 12 winners). If he can stay healthy, Robinson will have the slight edge over Wisconsin’s workhorse.

2. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (SR)
It is nearly impossible to argue with Ball’s production. But the 2012 Badgers are not going to be the same team that set school records for scoring two years in a row. Gone is uber-leader Russell Wilson, offensive genius Paul Chryst and three first-team All-Big Ten blockers. Ball will still post big numbers this fall, but a 1,700-yard, 18-TD season will pale in comparison to his 2011 output — and won’t get him back to New York.

3. Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska (SR)
Sexy Rexy Superman Burkhead is arguably the most complete football player in the nation. He has every skillset a coach can ask for in a workhorse feature back: Strength, size, toughness, durability, vision, instincts, quickness, hands and leadership. For Burkhead to make it to NYC in December, however, he will likely have to lead his team past Michigan and into the Big Ten title game. A tall order until the defense improves its overall play.

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

5. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska (JR)
The Huskers’ quarterback is finally an upperclassmen and will have to show improved consistency and accuracy in the passing game to get into the Heisman mix. However, he has electric play-making ability and is poised for his best season yet at the helm of a program known for its dual-threat Heisman Trophy signal callers. With the Big Ten’s top receiving corps around him, Martinez has a chance to silence all of his critics in 2012. And potentially win a conference title as well.

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

7. John Simon, DL, Ohio State (SR)
One of the most competitive and dependable defensive lineman in the nation is also one of the strongest players in the history of the Buckeye program. Now, permanently on the edge, Simon is virtually unstoppable. Ohio State should have the top defense in the Big Ten and the burly D-lineman, while not the most talented, is the clear leader of the unit. Offensive tackles beware.

8. James Vandenberg, QB, Iowa (SR)
In a league loaded with explosive athletes under center, Vandenberg is the best pure passer. In fact, he is one of the only true pocket passers in the entire conference. He has a solid duo to throw to in Keenan Davis and C.J. Fiedorowicz, but could be hurting for offensive support otherwise. Replacing record-setting wideout Marvin McNutt without the help of a traditionally potent Iowa rushing attack (12th in Big Ten in rushing last fall and no Marcus Coker) will be tough. It is unfortunate that Vandenberg isn’t playing in a vintage Hawkeye attack, otherwise, he could be a Big Ten POY candidate.

9. Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB, Michigan (JR)
The Wolverines have been looking for a Mike Hart replacement for half-a-decade and Brady Hoke might have found one in Toussaint. The junior-to-be was downright dominant down the stretch last year — rushing four times for 120 yards or more in the final six games. Certainly, this offense will miss David Molk but the O-Line still has enough beef to be very successful in 2012.

10. Silas Redd, RB, Penn State (JR)
It is unfortunate that Redd’s numbers and national awareness won’t match his overall level of talent. He is a power back who would be a top Heisman contender on most Penn State teams. This, obviously, isn’t your regular Nittany Lion squad. The Leaders Division could be wide open, however, and if PSU makes a push for the league crown it will come squarely on the wide, powerful shoulders of Silas Redd.

11. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
The original Honey Badger is a relentless machine who is constantly around the football and wrecking havoc in the opposition’s backfield. He is a rare big-play athlete at a position that gets little to no Heisman appreciation.

12. MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota
At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds with extremely athletic speed and agility, Gray has the upside to post huge numbers in the Twin Cities this fall. He rushed for 327 yards and three touchdowns on 54 carries in the final two games of the year. If he can only win a few games and be a consistent passer.

13. Travis Frederick, OL, Wisconsin (JR)
A consensus second-team All-Big Ten pick as a guard, Frederick now slides inside to fill the massive void left by Peter Konz. He will be the best player on the best line in the league.

14. Johnathan Hankins, DL, Ohio State (JR)
Arguably the top defensive line prospect in the league, Hankins is a projected top ten pick after dropping weight in the off-season. Simon might be the heart and soul, but Hankins could be the difference maker.

15. Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern (JR)
Few quarterbacks enter their first year under center with this type of stat line: 135 att., 654 yards, 9 TD rushing, 43 rec., 466 yards, 3 TD receiving and a tidy 6:1 TD:INT ratio. Wildcats quarterbacks are also incredibly productive and Colter might be the most talented in recent memory.

16. William Gholston, DL, Michigan State (JR)
Is right there with Hankins for most physically gifted prospect in the league. But Gholston has to mature on and off the field to realize his full potential as a three-down defensive monster.

17. Stephen Houston, RB, Indiana (JR)
A junior college transfer, Houston got the green light from Kevin Wilson a third of the way into 2011. He responded with 856 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns in eight games.

18. Danny O’Brien, QB, Wisconsin (JR)
He is not even close to Russell Wilson so the comparisons end with the fact they are fellow ACC graduates. But he showed some talent as a freshman and will now be in the most stable, best situation of his career.

19. Jacob Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin (JR)
Until the end of the season, Abbrederis was leading the nation in punt returns. He also rarely drops a pass, runs perfect routes and can even make some plays in the rushing game. He could easily be the top wideout in a league devoid of talent at the position.

20. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
This Boilermaker shouldn't get drafted too far behind Gholston, Hankins and Simon come April 2013. And in a league stacked with defensive line talent, Short has a chance to push for top honors.

21. Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois (JR)
Which quarterback will Illinois get this fall? Scheelhaase has been both an inconsistent passer and electric game-changer in the same season. The new coaching staff will stablize the junior-to-be in 2012.

22. Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State (SR)
Jacob Pedersen might be the most complete tight end but Stoneburner is the most talented pass-catcher of the bunch — and is named the best, too. He posted eight catches, 93 yards and four touchdowns in the first two games of last year. Look for more of that this fall as Miller develops around him.

23. Tre Roberson, QB, Indiana (SO)
Part of the reason Gunner Kiel is on a different campus in Indiana was the emergence of the speedy Roberson. Try 419 yards rushing in seven weeks as the starter. Kevin Wilson will be better prepared to utilize his developing quarterback’s skills this time around.

24. CJ Barnett, S, Ohio State (JR)
The Buckeyes defense should be the top unit in the Big Ten and Barnett is the physical and vocal leader of the secondary. He plays all over the field.

25. James White, RB, Wisconsin (JR)
Expect new coordinator Matt Canada to utilize more two-back sets than his predecessor did and it means more touches for White. He could also be used in the slot as a pass catcher as well.

Other Names to Watch:

Keenan Davis, WR, Iowa (SR)
Very talented pass-catcher needs to take final step in development.

Denicos Allen/Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State (JR)
Explosive sack artists and dependable tackling machine are both stellar.

Jacob Pedersen, TE, Wisconsin (JR)
Long line of All-American Badgers tight ends continues with Pedersen.

Johnny Adams, CB, Michigan State (SR)
Likely the best pure coverman in the Big Ten.

Ricky Wagner, OL, Wisconsin (SR)
Possibly the most Sunday talent of any blocker in the league.
Related: 2012 Athlon Sports Big Ten Predictions

Athlon's 2012 Big Ten Team Previews

Leaders Legends
Indiana Iowa
Illinois Michigan
Ohio State Michigan State
Penn State Minnesota
Purdue Nebraska
Wisconsin Northwestern

-by Braden Gall


<p> Big Ten 2012 Heisman Contenders: The Way It Should Be</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/sec-football-2012-all-conference-team-recruits

The 2012 college football season is just around the corner, and Athlon continues its countdown to kickoff with a look at all-conference teams from across the nation. But where did all these tremendous all-league performers come from and how did they get where they are today? Some showed up on campus as five-star uber-recruits and others defied all odds as walk-ons. Athlon analyzes how the 2012 preseason All-SEC team ranked as recruits.

Related: Athlon Sports 2012 preseason All-SEC Teams

AC100: Athlon Consensus 100 prospect

All-SEC Preseason First-Team Offense:

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (2009) AC100
The Tampa (Fla.) Plant product was a high school state champion and the No. 4 overall quarterback recruit in the nation. He was the No. 31-rated prospect overall in the class of 2009 by Athlon Sports.

Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (2010) AC100
There was little doubt that Lattimore was the No. 1 running back prospect in the nation. The top player in the Palmetto State from powerhouse program Duncan-Byrnes, Lattimore was the No. 5 overall recruit in the nation by Athlon Sports.

Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas (2009)
The Missouri City (Texas) Fort Bend Marshall tailback was the No. 17-rated running back in the nation, the No. 166 overall prospect and the No. 18-rated player in the state of Texas by Rivals. 

Da'Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee (2010) AC100
The talented Calhoun (Ga.) prospect was the No. 4 wide receiver prospect in the nation and the No. 21 overall recruit regardless of position by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 2 player in the Peach State.

Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas (2009)
The Texarkana (Texas) Texas High recruit was a three-star talent, the No. 63-rated wideout in the nation and the No. 64 player in the state of Texas by

Chris Gragg, TE, Arkansas (2008)
Hailing from Warren (Ark.) High, Gragg was a two-star unranked recruit by He was a 6-foot-3, 195-pound wide receiver recruit.

Barrett Jones, C, Alabama (2008)
The Outland Trophy winner was the No. 1 offensive center prospect in the nation as ranked by Rivals. He was their No. 60 overall prospect, a four-star talent and the top prospect in the state of Tennessee (Germantown-Evangelical Christian).

Alvin Bailey, OL, Arkansas (2009)
Bailey signed with Arkansas out of Broken Arrow (Okla.) High as a three-star offensive guard prospect. Rivals ranked him 27th nationally at his position and 13th in the state of Oklahoma.

Alex Hurst, OL, LSU (2008)
Another Volunteeer State prospect (Arlington, Tenn.), Hurst was a three-star mid-level recruit who ranked as the No. 12 player in the state and No. 59 at his position (OT) by

Luke Joeckel, OL, Texas A&M (2010)
The Arlington (Texas) High just missed making the AC100 as he was the No. 106 overall recruit in the '10 class. He was the No. 13-rated offensive lineman in the nation by Athlon Sports.

Larry Warford, OL, Kentucky (2009)
A three-star recruit from Richmond (Ky.) Madison Central, Warford was the No. 4-rated player in the Bluegrass State by and the No. 30-rated offensive guard in the nation.

All-SEC Preseason First-Team Defense:

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (2011) AC100
Clowney was the No. 1 overall player in the entire nation in last year's class. The Rock Hill prospect topped nearly every major recruiting service rankings for much of the year.

Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn (2010) AC100
From Hialeah, Fla., Lemonier was the No. 7 overall defensive end prospect in the nation two years ago. He was the No. 38-rated player regardless of position by Athlon Sports.

Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU (2009) AC100
The Greenwood (S.C.) High defensive end was the No. 43-rated overall prospect in the nation and the No. 4-rated defensive end by Athlon Sports.

Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU (2009)
From West Monroe, La., Mingo was listed as a 6-foot-5, 209-pound outside linebacker. He was the No. 29 overall linebacker and finished as the 196th overall player in the country by Athlon Sports.

Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia (2009) AC100
Orginially signing with USC, the Columbus (Ga.) Carver was listed as the No. 6-rated linebacker in the nation, was the top prospect in the state of Georgia and was the 28th overall recruit in the country by Athlon Sports.

Jon Bostic, LB, Florida (2009)
Like Joeckel, Bostic just missed the AC100 as the No. 109-rated player in the class of 2009. The Wellington (Fla.) Palm Beach Central tackler was the No. 11 linebacker in the nation by Athlon Sports.

Nico Johnson, LB, Alabama (2009) AC100
Inking with Bama from Andalusia, Ala., Johnson was the No. 5-rated linebacker in the country back in 2009. He was the No. 21 overall prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports.

Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State (2009)
From Maben (Miss.) East Webster, Banks was listed as a three-star athlete who finished as the No. 23-rated player in the state of Mississippi by Rivals.

Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU (2010)
Rivals listed Mathieu as the No. 5-rated player in the state of Louisiana, the No. 13-rated cornerback and the No. 191-rated overall prospect in the nation.

Eric Reid, S, LSU (2010) AC100
The Geismar (La.) Dutchtown safety was Athlon Sports' No. 9-rated defensive back and No. 80-rated overall recruit in the nation two years ago.

Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia (2008)
From Donalsonville (Ga.) Seminole County was a three-star recruit by, the No. 40-rated athlete and the No. 29-rated player in the state of Georgia.

Athlon's 2012 SEC Previews

East West
Florida Alabama
Georgia Arkansas
Kentucky Auburn
Missouri LSU
South Carolina Mississippi State
Tennessee Ole Miss
Vanderbilt Texas A&M

-by Braden Gall


<p> SEC Football: 2012 Preseason All-Conference Team As Recruits</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - 05:58
Path: /college-football/mac-football-2012-all-conference-team

The 2012 college football season is just around the corner, and Athlon continues its countdown to kickoff with a look at our first and second All-MAC teams for this season.

Athlon's 2012 All-MAC Team

First-Team Offense

QB Tyler Tettleton, Ohio

RB Branden Oliver, Buffalo

RB Anthon Samuel, Bowling Green

WR Nick Harwell, Miami (Ohio)

WR Bernard Reedy, Toledo

TE Garrett Hoskins, Eastern Michigan

C Zac Kerin, Toledo

OL Eric Fisher, Central Michigan

OL Eric Herman, Ohio

OL Dann O'Neill, Western Michigan

OL Brian Winters, Kent State

First-Team Defense

DL Austin Brown, Miami (Ohio)

DL Chris Jones, Bowling Green

DL Roosevelt Nix, Kent State

DL Sean Progar, Northern Illinois

LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo

LB Dan Molls, Toledo

LB Dwayne Woods, Bowling Green

CB Travis Carrie, Ohio

CB Dayonne Nunley, Miami (Ohio)

S Jahleel Addae, Central Michigan

S BooBoo Gates, Bowling Green

First-Team Specialists

K Matthew Sims, Northern Illinois

P Brian Schmiedebusch, Bowling Green

KR BooBoo Gates, Bowling Green

PR Demarius Reed, Eastern Michigan

The Breakdown of Athlon's 2012 All-MAC Team

  First Second Total
Akron 0 1 1
Ball State 0 4 4
Bowling Green 6 1 7
Buffalo 2 2 4
Central Michigan 2 1 3
Eastern Michigan 2 2 4
Kent State 2 1 3
Miami 3 0 3
Northern Illinois 2 4 6
Ohio 3 3 6
Toledo 3 3 6
UMass 0 0 0
Western Michigan 1 4 5

Second-Team Offense

QB Alex Carder, Western Michigan

RB Jawon Chisholm, Akron

RB David Fluellen, Toledo

WR Perez Ashford, Northern Illinois

WR Cody Wilson, Central Michigan

TE Jordan Thompson, Ohio

C Skyler Allen, Ohio

OL Dominic Flewellyn, Bowling Green

OL Jordan Hansel, Ball State

OL Gokhan Ozkan, Buffalo

OL Logan Pegram, Northern Illinois

Second-Team Defense

DL Freddie Bishop, Western Michigan

DL T.J. Fatinikun, Toledo

DL Steven Means, Buffalo

DL Nathan Ollie, Ball State

LB Justin Cudworth, Eastern Michigan

LB Travis Freeman, Ball State

LB C.J. Malauulu, Kent State

CB Marlon Pollard, Eastern Michigan

CB Lewis Toler, Western Michigan

S Johnnie Simon, Western Michigan

S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois

Second-Team Specialists

K Matt Weller, Ohio

P Scott Kovanda, Ball State

KR Tommylee Lewis, Northern Illinois

PR Bernard Reedy, Toledo

Athlon's 2012 MAC Team Previews

Related Content: Athlon's 2012 All-MAC Team

East West
Akron Ball State
Bowling Green Central Michigan
Buffalo Eastern Michigan
Kent State Northern Illinois
Miami Toledo
Ohio Western Michigan

<p> MAC Football 2012 All-Conference Team</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - 04:38
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-10-worst-head-coaches-2012

Whether a college football coach is entering his first season or coming off a national championship, all are under heavy scrutinty. And just like the best coaches in the NCAA, the record isn't always a true indicator of success or bad coaching. As the 2012 season inches closer, Athlon continues its spring preview with a look at the 10 worst coaches in college football. Although some of these coaches are unproven, their resume is unproven and on paper, a bad hire for the program. If we had to make a head coaching hire tomorrow, these 10 coaches would be at the bottom of our list. 

College Football’s Top 10 Worst Coaches

1. Carl Pelini, FAU (First Year)
Considering FAU has watched its win total decline in each of the last four seasons, hiring Pelini to rebuild the program is a curious move. Pelini has no head coaching experience on the collegiate level and one has to wonder how much control he had over the defense at Nebraska despite the title of defensive coordinator the last four years. Pelini also has no ties to the Florida area, which is certainly a concern for the Owls in recruiting. Although he has yet to coach a game, it’s hard to find reasons to think Pelini will work out as FAU’s head coach.

2. Kevin Wilson, Indiana (1-11, 1 year)
Indiana is not an easy place to win, but Wilson’s first season in Bloomington was not pretty. The Hoosiers lost to Ball State and North Texas, with their only victory coming against South Carolina State (38-21). Indiana did not win a Big Ten game for the first time since 1995 and only one conference game was decided by seven points or less. The Hoosiers played a handful of young players last year, so there’s plenty of hope for 2012 and beyond. Wilson still has plenty to prove, as this is his first head coaching gig on the college football level, and the Hoosiers may have been the worst BCS team last year.

3. Dan Enos, Central Michigan (6-18, 2 years)
Enos inherited a program that won at least eight games in each of the last four seasons prior to his arrival and claimed three MAC titles during that span. Instead of building upon that success, Enos has led the program to a disappointing 6-18 record and finds himself squarely on the hot seat in 2012. Although Enos came to Mount Pleasant after the departure of some key players (quarterback Dan LeFevour and wide receiver Antonio Brown), Central Michigan has underachieved the last two years and will struggle to finish higher than fourth in the MAC West in 2012.

4. Bobby Hauck, UNLV (4-21, 2 years)
Hiring a coach from Montana hasn’t exactly turned out well for a couple of FBS programs. Mick Dennehy compiled a 39-12 record with the Grizzlies, but went 19-37 in five years with Utah State. Joe Glenn went 39-6 in three years with Montana, but went 30-41 in six seasons with Wyoming. Hauck followed Glenn in Missoula and posted an 80-17 record, but has experienced very little success since coming to UNLV. Although the cupboard was less then full when Hauck inherited the team, the Rebels have failed to show much progress and was blown out by FCS opponent Southern Utah last year. Hauck will be allowed a few years to right the ship, but there’s little to suggest UNLV will post a winning mark in 2012.

5. Frank Spaziani, Boston College (20-19, 3 years)
Boston College has been trending in the wrong direction over the last three seasons, and Spaziani will likely need a winning record to return in 2012. The Eagles won 20 games in two seasons under Jeff Jagodzinski, but Spaziani has been unable to continue that momentum, and Boston College’s win total has declined over the last three years. Jagodzinski didn’t exactly leave a full cupboard for Spaziani, but the Eagles have shown little progress under his watch and a very challenging 2012 schedule will make it difficult for this team to get bowl eligible. 

6. Joker Phillips, Kentucky (11-14, 2 years)
Thanks to the victory over Tennessee in the season finale, Phillips may have bought himself a little more time in Lexington. However, there’s definitely some uneasiness over the direction of the program. Phillips inherited a team that was coming off four consecutive bowl appearances, but the win total has declined over the last two years. Although Kentucky ended up with five victories last season, there were close calls against Western Kentucky and Central Michigan and a 30-point loss to Vanderbilt in SEC play. Unless Phillips gets the Wildcats back in a bowl in 2012, Kentucky could be looking for a new coach in December. 

7. Jeff Quinn, Buffalo (5-19, 2 years)
Wins have been difficult to find at Buffalo, as the Bulls have only two winning records since 1996. Success has also eluded Quinn during his two years with Buffalo, as he has just three wins in MAC play. Another 2-10 or 3-9 season could spell the end of Quinn’s tenure with the Bulls, but there are reasons to believe Buffalo could be better in 2012. Running back Braden Oliver should be the MAC’s leading rusher and seven starters are back on defense. If Quinn can get Buffalo to four or five wins this year, he should be safe and easily move off this list for 2013. 

8. David Bailiff, Rice (23-38, 5 years)
Bailiff has experienced some high points during his career, but has mostly been a .500 or worse coach. He led Texas State to a 5-6 record in 2004 and followed that up with an 11-3 record in 2005. Despite a 5-6 mark with the Bobcats in 2006, he was hired to follow Todd Graham at Rice. Bailiff went 3-9 in his first year with the Owls, but posted an impressive 10-3 mark in 2008. However, the last three years have been mediocre, as Rice is just 10-26 during that span. Unless Bailiff shows progress, the Owls will likely have a new coach roaming the sidelines in 2012.

9. Curtis Johnson, Tulane (First Year)
With its last winning season in 2002, the Green Wave is desperately needs a shot of energy and someone who can rebuild Tulane into a consistent bowl team. Johnson brings some positives to Tulane, as he is a native of New Orleans and is regarded as a good recruiter. However, Johnson has never been a head coach or coordinator and his last stop in college was in 2005 with Miami. Just like Carl Pelini, it’s hard to judge anyone that has yet to coach a game. However, Johnson’s resume leaves a lot to be desired and plenty of doubts about whether he can rebuild Tulane.

10. Norm Chow, Hawaii (First Year)
Chow is a well-respected assistant, and is returning home to Hawaii as the Warriors make the jump from the WAC to the Mountain West. However, his offenses the last few years have been so-so, especially as his style and scheme did not mix with UCLA and Rick Neuheisel’s pistol attack. The biggest question surrounding Chow is why he is getting his first head coaching opportunity at age 65. Chow’s background makes him a perfect fit at Hawaii, but this being his first head coaching opportunity this late in his career is certainly troubling.

Ranking the Coaches: Top 25 Nationally
Ranking the Coaches: ACC
Ranking the Coaches: Big East
Ranking the Coaches: Pac-12
Ranking the Coaches: Big 12
Ranking the Coaches: Big Ten
Ranking the Coaches: SEC

<p> Athlon ranks the 10 worst coaches in college football.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - 04:19
Path: /nascar/ambrose-vs-road-course-juniors-confidence-level-and-martins-vacation

To break one trend, Marcos Ambrose knows he’ll likely endure another when the Sprint Cup Series competes at Sonoma in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday in the first of two races at road courses this season.

Ambrose, who won at Watkins Glen last year for his first Cup victory, seeks to break a string of seven different winners on road courses. To do so, he’ll have to avoid the litany of trouble that lurks on the tight, 12-turn road course.

The last couple of races on the Northern California course have featured beating and banging synonymous with short-track racing.

“It is a technically challenging track, it’s hard to make passes,” Ambrose says. “Even if it’s clean, it’s very easy to make contact.

“The drivers understand that you’re going to have to do a few bump-and-runs, and you’re going to have to make contact to win the race. We’re all prepared for that, and we all understand the consequences of that.”

Ambrose, who is 17th in the point standings, needs a victory to have a chance at a wildcard spot in the Chase.

“We still feel like we’ve got a chance to make the Chase if we can win some races,” he says. “We’ve got speed. We just have to convert those speed runs into good results.”

Ambrose has finished between ninth and 14th in four of the last five races. He goes to Sonoma with higher expectation since his racing background is in road racing.

After finishing 42nd in his first time at Sonoma in 2008, Ambrose has not finished worse than sixth since. He led 35 laps in 2010 but lost the lead when, as he was saving fuel, he turned the engine off and couldn’t restart it under caution. A few cars passed him when he stopped on course and NASCAR placed him in the lineup where he regained caution speed. Only seven laps remained and the mistake cost Ambrose a chance to win. That helped Jimmie Johnson win and continue the streak of different winners on road courses.

On the other road course at Watkins Glen, Ambrose has recorded four top 5s in four Cup starts and owns a 2.2-place finish.

Kyle Busch started the different-winner streak when he won at Watkins Glen in ’08. Kasey Kahne won at Sonoma and Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen in ’09, while Jimmie Johnson was victorious at Sonoma in 2010 and Juan Pablo Montoya was first at Watkins Glen. Last season, Kurt Busch won at Sonoma and Ambrose won at Watkins Glen.

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long looks at Marcos Ambrose and his record on NASCAR's road courses, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s confidence level, Elliott Sadler's title hopes in the Nationwide Series and Mark Martin's Sprint Cup vacation.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 17:07
Path: /nascar/nascar-horsepower-rankings-3

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
We’ve said all along that Earnhardt’s consistency warranted the top spot, but a lack of any wins kept him from it. Well, the 143-race national nightmare is over, and Junior can now lead the way.

2. Jimmie Johnson
Replace the engine and start in the rear of the field? No problem for Chad Knaus and crew. They just handed the ball to J.J., who drove it to a fifth-place finish with blistered tires and an empty gas tank.

3. Matt Kenseth
Third-place runs at Dover and Michigan bookend a seventh at Pocono. Kenseth maintains his lead in the point standings heading to Sonoma, where neither he nor Earnhardt are ... well, good.

4. Greg Biffle
Looked to be the class of the field on Sunday until lap 70, when Earnhardt took to the point and Biffle’s handling went away just slightly. Still, a fourth-place finish works in the grand scheme of things.

<p> Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally ascends to the top of Athlon Sports' Horsepower Rankings after breaking a 143-race winless skid with a victory at Michigan International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 13:31
All taxonomy terms: Carolina Panthers, NFC, NFC South, NFL
Path: /nfl/carolina-panthers-2012-schedule-analysis

Scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season. So the Athlon NFL editors will spend the next month dissecting each and every week of the 2012 slate for all 32 teams in the league.

Carolina Panthers 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: at Tampa Bay
Week 2: New Orleans
Week 3: New York Giants (Thurs.)
Week 4: at Atlanta
Week 5: Seattle
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Dallas
Week 8: at Chicago
Week 9: at Washington
Week 10: Denver
Week 11: Tampa Bay
Week 12: at Philadelphia (Mon.)
Week 13: at Kansas City
Week 14: Atlanta
Week 15: at San Diego
Week 16: Oakland
Week 17: at New Orleans

Order your 2012 Carolina Panthers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- Carolina opens its 2012 season with back-to-back divisional games - at Tampa Bay and home to New Orleans. All told, the Panthers play three divisional games among its first four and then doesn't play another until Week 11. Getting off to a good start in divisional play would go a long ways towards setting the tone for the season as a whole.

- The Panthers play the NFC East and AFC West as their cross-divisional opponents this season. This means a visit from the defending Super Bowl champs in Week 3, a Thursday night showcase that offers the Panthers a chance to shine at home. The pairing with the East also sets up a tantalizing Week 9 match up in Washington, which will pit the past two Heisman Trophy winners - Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III - against one another. As far as the games against the AFC West go, there's the Week 10 visit from Denver, which is led by former Carolina head coach John Fox and new quarterback Peyton Manning.

- Carolina's two floating games are against Seattle and at Chicago. The home game against the Seahawks is the week prior to the Panthers' bye in Week 6. The week off will give the team the chance to prepare for a difficult four-game stretch, one that begins with a home date versus Dallas. After that it's consecutive road contests in Chicago and Washington before coming back home to host the Broncos.

- It's fitting the Panthers' Week 12 game in Philadelphia is on Monday night. It offers a primetime slot for what could be, barring injury, a quarterback showcase featuring Newton and the Eagles' Michael Vick.  Both have similar styles in that they are capable of making the big play anywhere on the field with either their arm or legs.

- Carolina will play more games against AFC West foes (three) than its own division (two) in the final five weeks of the season. The Panthers go to Kansas City in Week 13 and will also make the trip cross country to face San Diego in Week 15. Those road contests are sandwiched by a home game against Atlanta. The Panthers host Oakland in Week 16 before ending the season in New Orleans against the Saints.

Fantasy Focus: Quarterback Cam Newton had 14 rushing touchdowns last season, the most of any quarterback in a season in NFL history. The team has said it wants to limit the second-year signal-caller's rushing attempts in 2012, especially in the red zone and around the goal line, to limit the number of hits he takes. To that end, the Panthers added former San Diego running back Mike Tolbert to a backfield that already includes Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. Even though there are several mouths to feed, if Carolina sticks to the running game and follows through on limiting Newton's rushes, there should be plenty of opportunities for all three running backs to provide fantasy value this season. Looking at the Panthers' 2012 schedule, they play seven teams that finished in the top 16 in terms of fantasy points allowed to running backs in 2011. Tampa Bay, who Carolina plays twice, allowed the most of any team last season, and fellow NFC South rival New Orleans ranked eighth. Philadelphia (9th-most), Kansas City (10th), Oakland (11th), the Giants (12th) and Denver (16th) also are on Carolina's schedule this season and finished in the top half of this category in 2011.

— by Mark Ross, published on June 19, 2012

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

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

<p> Carolina Panthers 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 06:02
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Tennessee Titans, NFL
Path: /nfl/tennessee-titans-2012-schedule-analysis

Scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season. So the Athlon NFL editors will spend the next month dissecting each and every week of the 2012 slate for all 32 teams in the league.

Tennessee Titans 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: New England
Week 2: at San Diego
Week 3: Detroit
Week 4: at Houston
Week 5: at Minnesota
Week 6: Pittsburgh (Thurs.)
Week 7: at Buffalo
Week 8: Indianapolis
Week 9: Chicago
Week 10: at Miami
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: at Jacksonville
Week 13: Houston
Week 14: at Indianapolis
Week 15: New York Jets (Mon.)
Week 16: at Green Bay
Week 17: Jacksonville

Order your 2012 Tennessee Titans Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- The schedule-makers didn't do Tennessee a lot of favors as far as the start of its 2012 season goes. The Titans play four playoff teams from last season among its first six games. Tennessee opens against New England at home and then has to go out west to take on San Diego. Then it's back home to host Detroit before heading to Houston to face the defending division champion Texans. A road game in Minnesota is the Titans' first break, but it precedes a Thursday night home date with Pittsburgh in Week 6.

- The Titans play the AFC East and NFC North as their cross-divisional opponents this season. They get New England, the Jets, Detroit and Chicago all at home, making their Week 16 trip to Green Bay the toughest road assignment from this part of their schedule. If anything, Titans' fans should be excited about the prospects of seeing the Patriots, Jets, Lions and Bears play in Nashville, Tenn.

- Tennessee's floating games are at San Diego and versus Pittsburgh and both of these come within the first six games of its schedule. West coast trips for teams east of the Mississippi are always difficult, and this one for the Titans comes in between their season opener at home against the Patriots and a Week 3 contest with Detroit. The Thursday night game against the Steelers will represent the fifth straight season these teams will have met. The Steelers have won the last three meetings.

- The Titans' bye comes in Week 11, which means they will only have six games remaining when they return to action. When they get back on the field in Week 12, they will play the first of three straight divisional games. Outside of AFC South contests, the Titans will host the Jets for Monday Night Football in Week 15 and make the dreaded trip to Lambeau Field in December to face the defending NFC North division champion Packers.

- Four of Tennessee's final six games are divisional contests, including two against Jacksonville. Depending on how the Titans manage their first 10 games and the match ups with the Jets and Packers, they could be in a position to control their playoff fate with a strong finish against the rest of the AFC South.

Fantasy Focus: Chris Johnson disappointed fantasy owners last season as he finished 2011 with the fewest rushing yards (1,047) and total touchdowns (four) of his career. In his defense, he did have to deal with the transition to a new coaching staff and offensive system, a process that was made more difficult because of the NFL lockout and its affect on the normal offseason schedule. However, it also should be pointed out that Johnson himself contributed to his lack of preparation time by holding out prior to signing a lucrative, long-term contract before the season started. But that was then and this is now. With no contract to worry about, Johnson has the luxury of a normal offseason to familiarize himself with the playbook and get on the same page with both the coaching staff and his offensive line. Given these positives and his track record, the former CJ2K is a popular choice to bounce back with a big fantasy season in 2012. If there's any caveat to this optimistic outlook, however, it would be the schedule. Tennessee will play six of the 10 teams who gave up the fewest fantasy points to running backs in 2011, led by Houston, who ranked second. Pittsburgh came in third in this category, along with Miami (5th), Chicago (8th), San Diego (9th) and Jacksonville (10th). And remember, the Titans will play both the Texans and Jaguars twice in 2012.

— by Mark Ross, published on June 19, 2012

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

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

<p> Tennessee Titans 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 06:01
Path: /college-football/big-12-football-2012-all-conference-team-2

The 2012 college football season is just around the corner, and Athlon continues its countdown to kickoff with a look at our first, second and third All-Big 12 teams for this season.

Related: Athlon All-Big 12 Team As Recruits

Athlon's 2012 All-Big 12 Team

First-Team Offense

QB Geno Smith, West Virginia

RB Malcolm Brown, Texas

RB Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State

WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia

WR Stedman Bailey, West Virginia

WR Kenny Stills, Oklahoma

C Joe Madsen, West Virginia

OL Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma

OL Cyril Richardson, Baylor

OL Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State

OL LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech

First-Team Defense

DL Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

DL Stansly Maponga, TCU

DL Alex Okafor, Texas

LB Arthur Brown, Kansas State

LB Jordan Hicks, Texas

LB A.J. Klein, Iowa State

LB Jake Knott, Iowa State

CB Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State

CB Quandre Diggs, Texas

S Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas


First-Team Specialists

K Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State

P Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State

KR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

PR Tavon Austin, West Virginia

The Breakdown of Athlon's 2012 All-Big 12 Team

  First Second Third Overall
Baylor 1 3 2 6
Iowa State 2 1 0 3
Kansas 0 2 2 4
Kansas State 2 3 3 8
Oklahoma 3 8 4 15
Oklahoma State 5 1 6 12
TCU 1 2 3 6
Texas 6 2 4 12
Texas Tech 1 2 0 3
West Virginia 5 2 2 9

Second-Team Offense

QB Collin Klein, Kansas State

RB Eric Stephens, Texas Tech

RB Dominique Whaley, Oklahoma

WR Josh Boyce, TCU

WR Darrin Moore, Texas Tech

WR Terrance Williams, Baylor

C Ivory Wade, Baylor

OL Tyler Evans, Oklahoma

OL Blaize Foltz, TCU

OL Tanner Hawkinson, Kansas

OL Mason Walters, Texas

Second-Team Defense

DL David King, Oklahoma

DL Toben Opurum, Kansas

DL R.J. Washington, Oklahoma

DL Meshak Williams, Kansas State

LB Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State

LB Corey Nelson, Oklahoma

LB Tom Wort, Oklahoma

CB Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma

CB Nigel Malone, Kansas State

S Ahmad Dixon, Baylor

S Terence Garvin, West Virginia

Second-Team Specialists

K Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma

P Kirby Van Der Camp, Iowa State

KR Tavon Austin, West Virginia

PR Quandre Diggs, Texas


Third-Team Offense

QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma

RB Waymon James, TCU

RB Trey Millard, Oklahoma

WR Tracy Moore, Oklahoma State

WR Tevin Reese, Baylor

WR Jaxon Shipley, Texas

C BJ Finney, Kansas State

OL Jeff Braun, West Virginia

OL Lane Johnson, Oklahoma

OL Nick Puetz, Kansas State

OL Duane Zlatnik, Kansas


Third-Team Defense

DL Will Clarke, West Virginia

DL Ashton Dorsey, Texas

DL Vai Lutui, Kansas State

DL Nigel Nicholas, Oklahoma State

LB Kenny Cain, TCU

LB Steve Edmond, Texas

LB Alex Elkins, Oklahoma State

CB Carrington Byndom, Texas

CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

S Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma State

S Bradley McDougald, Kansas


Third-Team Specialists

K Aaron Jones, Baylor

P Tress Way, Oklahoma

KR Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

PR Brandon Carter, TCU


ALSO CHECK OUT Big 12 2012 All-Conference Team As Recruits

Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Previews

Related Content: Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Predictions

Baylor Oklahoma State
Iowa State TCU
Kansas Texas
Kansas State Texas Tech
Oklahoma West Virginia

<p> 2012 Big 12 All-Conference Team</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 06:01
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-fantasy-football-rankings-linebackers

The 2012 NFL Fantasy Season is here. Mock drafts abound. Rookie round-ups are nearly complete. Bye week cheat sheets are everywhere. Positional rankings are popping up everywhere, which at Athlon Sports also includes Individual Defensive Players or IDPs

While the ever-important Athlon Sports 2012 Big Board, the most accurate consensus top 100 list of fantasy footballers on the web, includes the most common and used positions in fantasy football, IDPs are also a part of many leagues out there. So true to our word of providing you everything you need to get you ready for the upcoming fantasy football season, here are our IDP rankings for linebackers (LB).

Rankings are based on Athlon Sports standard scoring for IDPs:

Solo tackle = 1 pt
Tackle assist = 0.5 pts
Sack = 3.5 pts
Interception = 3.5 pts
Forced fumble/recovery = 2 pts
Defensive TD = 8 pts
Safety = 2 pts
Pass Defended = 0.5 pts
Blocked Kick = 4 pts

Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Positional Rankings: Linebackers

Rank, Name, Position, Team (2011 Fantasy Points per Athlon Sports standard scoring)

1. Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers (114.0 FP)
Willis has finished each of his pro seasons among the top five linebackers in fantasy football. Willis produced career highs in pass breakups and forced fumbles despite missing three games.

2. Desmond Bishop, LB, Green Bay Packers (124.5 FP)
Only D’Qwell Jackson delivered a better fantasy scoring average among linebackers last year. Bishop tied for the league lead in sacks for an inside backer, despite losing three games to a calf injury.

3. James Laurinaitis, LB, St. Louis Rams (146.5 FP)
Not a whole lot changed for Laurinaitis in 2011, so it’s tough to nail down the reason for his jump of 21 assisted tackles. Coach Jeff Fisher touted first-round pick Michael Brockers as a guy who will tie up blockers and clear pursuit lanes for his star middle linebacker.

4. Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City Chiefs (140.0 FP)
Johnson followed a slow start last season by delivering double-digit fantasy points in seven of the final 10 fantasy weeks, despite the fact that the Chiefs spent two fewer snaps per game on defense than in any of the previous four years.

5. NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco 49ers (144.0 FP)
It would have been unfair to expect Bowman to step in and be Patrick Willis, but he basically did. The question will be whether he can repeat the performance now that the league knows about him. The presence of both on the same defense should help each player, and — like Willis — Bowman will stay on the field in all packages.

6. D'Qwell Jackson, LB, Cleveland Browns (162.3 FP)
Finally back healthy last season, Jackson led the league in solo tackles and ranked second only to London Fletcher in total stops. Jackson also delivered a career high in sacks and can’t help but enjoy the Browns’ improved defensive line.

7. Daryl Washington, LB, Arizona Cardinals (128.0 FP)
Washington tied several others for the sack lead among inside linebackers. Pro Football Focus rated him second-best at the position in pass rushing, fourth-best in coverage. That keeps Washington on the field and keeps opposing offenses from knowing how he’ll be deployed.

8. Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Atlanta Falcons (118.5 FP)
The departure of Curtis Lofton in free agency should turn Weatherspoon into the Falcons’ leading tackler. Weatherspoon is an impact pass-rusher and coverage player who will stay on the field in all packages.

9. Curtis Lofton, LB, New Orleans Saints (143.0 FP)
Jonathan Vilma’s suspension only ensures that Lofton will man the middle for his new team. He ranked fifth in the league in tackles — his second finish among the top six in the past three seasons.

10. Stephen Tulloch, LB, Detroit Lions (131.5 FP)
A two-down type with the Titans, Tulloch graded out as the league’s second-best coverage player at inside linebacker last season, according to Pro Football Focus. That delivered a career high in interceptions and indicates upside beyond his five passes defensed. Three sacks were also a personal best.

11. Jerod Mayo, LB, New England Patriots (91.0 FP)
Mayo became largely a 4-3 outside linebacker last season and fared just fine with it. Mayo’s versatility keeps him on the field across formations, which will prove important with so many new pieces entering the Patriots’ fray. With health, he should continue his late-2011 fantasy production.

12. Colin McCarthy, LB, Tennessee Titans (74.0 FP)
Over the final eight games, McCarthy averaged 9.3 fantasy points in our scoring format. That would have placed him among the top 10 linebackers for the season, just ahead of NaVorro Bowman.

13. Paul Posluszny, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars (114.5 FP)
Posluszny’s numbers dipped last season, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. His career-high nine passes defensed were evidence of arguably his best performance in pass coverage. Poz’s all-around ability provides upside and keeps him on the field.

14. Pat Angerer, LB, Indianapolis Colts (127.5 FP)
A rookie-led unit should still allow the defense to spend lots of time on the field, which was the biggest mark in Angerer’s favor last year. He’s moving to Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 scheme, but Angerer remains the squad’s clear best bet for tackles.

15. Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens (101.5 FP)
A toe injury cost him four games, but Lewis still managed the position’s 12th-best scoring average. It was his sixth straight season ranking among the top 12 and followed three years of not missing a game. Lewis has delivered two sacks or more in six straight seasons with at least seven passes defensed in five of those.

16. Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago Bears (119.0 FP)
Urlacher isn’t quite the same player he used to be, but you can’t tell by his fantasy numbers. His three interceptions in 2011 were his most since 2007. Beware of a decline, but don’t ignore him.

17. Sean Lee, LB, Dallas Cowboys (109.0 FP)
Lee got off to a fast start in 2011, with three interceptions over his first five games and three 11-plus tackle games in that span. Lee’s strong run defense results in a good tackle base, pairing well with coverage upside.

18. Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers (Rookie, DNP in NFL in ’11)
The early plan in Carolina is for Kuechly to man the weak side and Jon Beason to stay in the middle. Kuechly brings range, speed, smarts, cover skills — basically everything. We don’t yet know if the team will keep all three linebackers on the field for passing downs, but Kuechly shouldn’t go anywhere.

19. DeMarcus Ware, LB, Dallas Cowboys (128.3 FP)
Ware leads the NFL in sacks over the past four years, five years, six years and seven years. Even in a standard format, Ware hasn’t ranked outside the top 30 linebackers since his rookie year. In 2011, Ware never went two consecutive games without a sack. He delivered more than one in six outings.

20. Chad Greenway, LB, Minnesota Vikings (131.5 FP)
Greenway enjoyed his second straight season as a top-five tackle producer in 2011. His 65 assists helped prove the importance of counting that category to any IDP leagues still lagging in the land of solos-only.

21. Karlos Dansby, LB, Miami Dolphins (109.5 FP)
Settling in at middle linebacker when the Dolphins go 4-3 would be good for Dansby's fantasy value. Strong-side linebacker likely wouldn’t be so good. Dansby’s talent as a pass-rusher and in coverage make him worth a risk.

22. Rolando McClain, LB, Oakland Raiders (114.0 FP)
McClain’s criminal conviction obviously adds risk. Even if his sentence doesn’t interfere with the regular season, the league figures to dock him at least a couple of games. McClain broke out as a fantasy factor and might have scored more if not for a foot injury. He could be on a short leash with the Raiders.

23. London Fletcher, LB, Washington Redskins (153.3 FP)
Fletcher led the league in tackles last season with 166 total. This marked the sixth time in seven seasons the veteran's had at least 95 solos, and the 70 assists he had in 2011 marked a career high. Still, he’s 37 and playing next to the emerging Perry Riley. That threatens to siphon some tackles.

24. Lawrence Timmons, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers (95.5 FP)
Timmons is among the league’s fastest, most athletic inside linebackers. Sacks and INTs bring considerable upside.

25. Brian Cushing, LB, Houston Texans (122.5 FP)
Cushing played the third-most snaps of any Texans defender and performed quite well in every facet. Pro Football Focus credited him with 31 combined hits and hurries beyond his four sacks, and Cushing continued to improve in coverage.

26. Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos (103.3 FP)
Miller couldn’t have been much better in his first season. He finished just two of his first 12 games without a sack. A fractured thumb cost him a game and severely limited his production down the stretch, yet Miller tied for ninth in the league in sacks and carries upside beyond that.

27. Jon Beason, LB, Carolina Panthers (4.0 FP)
Two years ago, Beason was among the surest things in IDP. But his numbers dipped as he slid outside for the injured Thomas Davis, and then last year he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon. It’s also a distinct possibility that first-round pick Luke Kuechly pushes Beason out of the middle. Beason gets some benefit of the doubt, but you must draft with caution.

28. Kelvin Sheppard, LB, Buffalo Bills (62.5 FP)
Heading into his first season as Buffalo’s defensive coordinator, Dave Wannstedt has already talked about Sheppard’s fit at middle linebacker in the new 4-3 scheme. Sheppard will need to prove himself in coverage to stay on the field for third downs and keep from capping his production.

29. DeMeco Ryans, LB, Philadelphia Eagles (58.0 FP)
Ryans started a bit slowly last year in his return from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. Ryans’ biggest problem was that Houston’s new 3-4 scheme left him as a part-time player. That won’t be the case in Philly, where Ryans is poised for bounce-back numbers based on sheer opportunity.

30. Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Rookie, DNP in NFL in ’11)
The Derrick Brooks comparison isn’t fair, because the Bucs no longer deploy the old Tampa-2 defense. On the weak side, David should be able to work around his limited size and leverage the tackling ability that led him to average more than 10 per game each year at Nebraska.

— Published on June 19, 2012

Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Fantasy Content:

Athlon Sports Big Board: Top 150

2012 Fantasy Football Mock Draft I

2012 Bye Week Cheat Sheet

Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: QBs

Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: RBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: WRs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: TEs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DLs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: IDP Top 75

Related: Order your Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Preview Magazine Here

You can preorder your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.
<p> Athlon breaks down each position on the fantasy gridiron, including IDPs.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/pac-12-2012-heisman-contenders-way-it-should-be

The Heisman Trophy may be the most coveted trophy in all of sports.

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

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

The Pac-12's Top 25 Heisman Trophy Contenders:

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC (SR)
No one in their right mind can make the case that Matt Barkley isn’t the First-Team All-American quarterback and top Heisman contender nationally. He has the records, the stats, the Golden Boy image, the preseason No. 1 team in the nation and a plethora of talented skill players to work with. In fact, the only negative Heisman pundits can lob at Barkley is, in fact, that he is the clearcut Heisman favorite. When was the last time the obvious preseason stiff-armed favorite actually won the award?

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

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

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

5. Robert Woods, WR, USC (JR)
The uber-talent from SoCal exploded into living rooms as a sophomore in 2011. He not only broke USC receiving records, but set a Pac-12 record with 111 receptions in only 12 games. He caught at least two scores in four straight games at one point and has clearly built a rapport with No. 1 on this list. The only thing keeping this dynamic play-maker from being higher than No. 5 is lingering bone inflammation in his ankle. Following arthroscopic surgery in December, Woods still has yet to begin summer workouts.

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

7. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon (SR)
Barner has dealt with injury issues throughout his career in Eugene, but should he stay healthy, this senior to be has proven to be plenty capably of carrying the Ducks’ running back torch. In three career starts, Barner posted 433 yards rushing on 58 attempts and 102 yards receiving on three catches to go with eight total touchdowns. Ironically, the only thing keeping him from a potential Heisman trip to the Big Apple could be his backfield mate De’Anthony Thomas.

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

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

10. Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State (SR)
There is a lot of projection and finger-crossing going on with Tuel this fall. He has the Tuels needed to be successful, especially for a quarterback genius like Mike Leach. But he has been consistently injured for the better part of his career. Should he stay healthy, the Cougars' offense could set school records and reach the postseason for the first time in years.

11. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford (SR)
The Cardinal's offensive onus sans Luck, Martin, Fleener and DeCastro now falls to Taylor. Things will be undoubtedly tougher without the quartet. However, David Shaw has instilled a physical mindset that begins with the rushing attack and Mr. Taylor.

12. Marqise Lee, WR, USC (SO)
A tremendously talented first-year player got the benefit of defenses focusing on Woods a year ago and it led to a 73-catch, 1,143-yard 11-TD season. Should once again be productive in explosive offense led by elite quarterback.

13. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford (SR)
Maybe not as physically gifted as Shayne Skov, but Thomas is certainly more dependable. The outside tackle is a fierce competitor and a preseason first-team All-American. The savvy linebacker plays sideline-to-sideline — and in your backfield.

14. Isi Sofele, RB, Cal (SR)
Jeff Tedford recommitted himself to the ground game after starting the year 4-4. Sofele got 88 carries in the final four games and it resulted in 569 yards and three wins. Cal has had a long line of productive backs and this senior to be is the next.

15. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington (SO)
Washington might have the best tight end in the nation. As only a freshman, ASJ landed all over the Huskies' record books. His 6-foot-6, 260-pound frame was virtually unstoppable down the stretch as he caught 19 (of his 41) passes for 209 yards and two scores over the final four games.

16. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State (SR)
There may not be a better pure coverman in the nation than this senior Beaver. He is also an electric return man and special teamer, which only adds to his Heisman clout. Should Oregon State return to the postseason it will be in large part because of Mr. Poyer.

17. Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State (SR)
Posted his best career game in the spotlight against USC last year (141 yards, 3 TD) and it led to a huge upset. With a new quarterback and new offensive scheme, Marshall should be the focal point of ASU’s offense.

18. Marcus Mariota/Bryan Bennett, QB, Oregon (FR/SO)
If one of these two talented dual-threats can lock down the starting job in Eugene, he will have a great chance to post Heisman-type numbers. The offense is too powerful and both of these quarterbacks are athletic enough to conjure images of Dennis Dixon. 

19. Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (SO)
Rich Rodriguez has been known to produce Heisman Trophy-caliber backfields. Carey is one of the most talented runners in recent Wildcats memory and proved himself plenty capable as a freshman (425 yards, 6 TD)

20. T.J. McDonald, S, USC (SR)
The preseason first-team All-American hunts heads, delivers huge blows, leads the No. 1 team in the nation and has an NFL pedigree. What’s not to like?

21. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA (SR)
It feels like Franklin has been toting the rock in Westwood forever, but 2012 will be his final, and potentially finest, season. After a 1,000-yard sophomore season, Franklin got 48 fewer carries as a junior. With an increased workload and improved offensive scheme, Franklin should return to form in 2012.

22. Michael Clay, LB, Oregon (SR)
This Ducks defense could be sneaky good and it begins with leadership from its heart and soul. The stocky Clay is lightning quick and incredibly savvy. Expect big things from the senior in 2012.

23. Curtis McNeal, RB, USC (SR)
With little depth on the roster behind him, McNeal looks like Lane Kiffin’s guy in 2012. He established himself as the year went along, finishing with four 100-yard efforts over the final six games. But can his tiny 5-foot-7 frame handle the workload?

24. Shaq Thompson, S, Washington (FR)
Not too many true freshman will show up on Athlon’s Heisman Watch List, but Thompson deserves it. He should start right away, will play all over the field and could restore defensive prominence in Seattle. He is a once-in-a-decade type of safety.

25. Matt Scott, QB, Arizona (SR)
Do dual-threat quarterbacks normally produce big numbers in RichRod’s zone read? If he can stay healthy, Scott should have little problem posting big numbers in the new option attack. I would say redshirting turned into a brilliant maneuver by the senior to be.

Other Names To Watch:

Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State (SO)
Turned the ball over too much but also posted 3,328 yards and 16 TDs as only a freshman.

Kasen Williams, WR, Washington (SO)
Tremendously gifted athlete who showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman.

John Boyett, S, Oregon (SR)
Another heady veteran on what could be best Ducks D in years.

Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA (SR)
Extremely gifted physical talent who needs quality QB play to make a real splash.

Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon (SR)
Overtly talented and versatile yet occasionally inconsistent defensive “drop end.” 

Related: 2012 Athlon Sports Pac-12 Predictions

Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Team Previews

North South
California Arizona
Oregon Arizona State
Oregon State Colorado
Stanford UCLA
Washington USC
Washington State Utah

-by Braden Gall


<p> Pac-12 2012 Heisman Contenders: The Way It Should Be</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/big-12-2012-all-conference-team-recruits

The 2012 college football season is just around the corner, and Athlon continues its countdown to kickoff with a look at all-conference teams from across the nation. But where did all these tremendous all-league performers come from and how did they get where they are today? Some showed-up on campus as five-star uber-recruits and others defied all odds as walk-ons. Athlon analyzes how the 2012 All-Big 12 team ranked as recruits.

Athlons Sports 2012 preseason All-Big 12 Teams

AC100: Athlon Consensus 100 prospect

All-Big 12 First-Team Offense

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (2009)
Eugene Smith was ranked as the the No. 14 quarterback in the nation by Athlon Sports and the No. 139 overall player in the nation from Miramar, Fla.

Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State (2010)
From Wichita (Kan.) Southeast, Randle was the No. 20 running back recruit in the nation by Athlon Sports and No. 195 nationally.

Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas (2011) AC100
Brown was the No. 1 running back recruit in the nation in last year's class. The Belton, Texas product was the top Lone State State prospect and was the No. 4 overall recruit in the nation. 

Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia (2009)
The all-purpose back from Baltimore (Md.) Dunbar was listed as the No. 19-rated running back in the nation by Athlon Sports, good for No. 164 overall in the class of 2009.

Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia (2009)
From the same high school as Smith, the four-star Bailey was the No. 61-rated player in the state of Florida by He was the No. 48 wide receiver in the country.

Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma (2010) AC100
The Carlsbad (Calif.) La Costa Canyon prospect was the No. 71 overall recruit in the nation and the No. 13-rated wide receiver in the country by Athlon Sports.

Ben Habern, C, Oklahoma (2008)
The Argyle (Texas) Liberty Christian blocker was a Rivals250 member and was ranked as the No. 3 offensive center recruit in the country.

Gabe Ikard, OL, Oklahoma (2009)
This three-star recruit was the No. 15-rated tight end prospect in the nation by He was the 14th best player in the state of Oklahoma (Bishop McGuinness).

Cyril Richardson, OL, Baylor (2009)
The big fella from Crowley (Texas) North was a mid-level, three-star prospect who ranked as the 90th best offensive tackle recruit in the nation.

Lane Taylor, OL, Oklahoma State (2008)
Taylor came to Oklahoma state from Arlington (Texas) Martin and was a two-star recruit who didn't land on any state, national or positional rankings.

LaAdrian Waddle, OL, Texas Tech (2009)
Was a three-star recruit from Columbus, Texas and was listed as the No. 74-rated offensive guard prospect in the nation by

All-Big 12 First-Team Defense

Jackson Jeffcoat, DL, Texas (2010) AC100
The NFL legacy was the No. 2 defensive end prospect in the nation, the top recruit from the state of Texas and was ranked as the No. 4 overall recruit in the nation by Athlon Sports.

Stansly Maponga, DL, TCU (2009)
Rivals ranked the Lewisville (Texas) Hebron native as the No. 20 strongside defensive end prospect in the nation. He was a three-star recruit.

Alex Okafor, DL, Texas (2009) AC100
Athlon Sports had Okafor as the No. 40 overall prospect in the nation and the No. 3 defensive end recruit in the country.

Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State (2008) AC100
From Wichita (Kan.) East, Brown was ranked by Athlon Sports as the No. 1 linebacker recruit in the country and was No. 7 overall regardless of position.

Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas (2010) AC100
The West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West tackler was the No. 1 player in the state of Ohio by Athlon Sports, the No. 16-rated prospect in the nation regardless of position and the No. 2 linebacker in the country.

A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State (2009)
Hailing from Kimberly, Wisc., Klein was the No. 6-rated player in the Badger State and was the No. 86-rated outside linebacker recruit in the nation by Rivals.

Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State (2009)
The sure-handed tackler from Waukee (Iowa) High was rated as the No. 9 player in the state of Iowa by He was a two-star prospect.

Brodrick Brown, CB, Oklahoma State (2008)
From Spring (Texas) Westfield, Brown was a three-star recruit who failed to land on any state, positional or national ranking of any kind.

Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas (2011) AC100
The NFL legacy from Angleton, Texas was the No. 4-rated defensive back in the country and was the No. 38-rated player in the nation by Athlon Sports.

Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma (2010) AC100
The Chula Vista (Calif.) Eastlake prospect was the No. 1 "athlete" recruit in the nation by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 25 overall player in the country.

Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas (2009)
From Brownwood (Texas) Early, Vaccaro was the No. 18-rated safety in the nation and the No. 38-rated player in the state of Texas by

Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Previews

Baylor Oklahoma State
Iowa State TCU
Kansas Texas
Kansas State Texas Tech
Oklahoma West Virginia

<p> Big 12 2012 All-Conference Team As Recruits</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/sun-belt-football-2012-predictions

With the defections in the WAC, the Sun Belt is no longer college football’s worst conference. The addition of South Alabama brings the Sun Belt to 10 football members for 2013, and this conference will undergo a bit of a makeover next year, as North Texas and FIU will be moving to Conference USA, with Texas State and Georgia State picked as replacements.

Arkansas State will be one of the most intriguing teams to watch outside of the BCS. Former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is taking over as head coach, and has the perfect triggerman for his spread attack in quarterback Ryan Aplin. The senior should post monster numbers under Malzahn’s watch, but the Red Wolves have to replace two all-conference performers on the line. The defense also suffered some key departures, as seven starters are gone from last season’s unit.

Arkansas State is Athlon’s projected Sun Belt champion for 2012, but FIU and Louisiana-Lafayette aren’t far behind. The Golden Panthers must replace quarterback Wesley Carroll and receiver T.Y. Hilton, but should have the Sun Belt’s best defense. Mark Hudspeth proved to be a terrific hire for Louisiana-Lafayette last year, and the Ragin’ Cajuns will be in the mix to earn another bowl trip.

There’s a drop off after the top three teams in the projected standings, but Louisiana-Monroe, Western Kentucky, North Texas and Troy are all capable of pushing for a fourth-place finish and a winning record. The Warhawks are led by junior quarterback Kolton Browning, who should be healthy after dealing with a sternum injury most of the 2011 season. The Hilltoppers are on the rise, but must replace star running back Bobby Rainey. The Mean Green is in a similar position to Western Kentucky, as they have to replace running back Lance Dunbar, but should have an improved passing attack in 2012. Troy was the conference’s biggest disappointment last year and need a big year from quarterback Corey Robinson to get back in the mix for the conference title.

MTSU has watch its win total decline over the last two years, and the pressure is starting to build on coach Rick Stockstill. Only eight starters return, but quarterback Logan Kilgore will be surrounded by a handful of playmakers. The Blue Raiders struggled on defense last season and brought in former Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix to help solve some of the problems.

FAU and South Alabama are expected to finish at the bottom of the conference in 2012. Legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger retired at the end of 2011, and the school picked Nebraska assistant Carl Pelini to be its next head coach. Pelini is a curious fit at FAU and will have his hands full with an offense that averaged just 248.8 yards per game last year. South Alabama is one of four new FBS teams this season and has recorded an impressive 23-4 record in three seasons under coach Joey Jones.

Athlon's 2012 Sun Belt Team Previews

Arkansas State MTSU
FAU North Texas
FIU South Alabama
Louisiana-Lafayette Troy
Louisiana-Monroe Western Kentucky

<p> Sun Belt Football 2012 predictions.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 04:04
Path: /nascar/nascar-silly-season-primer

Joey Logano, you captured your first race win since 2009 less than two weeks ago. You passed a future Hall of Famer, Mark Martin, to do it. You’re now just 51 points away from the Chase with a possible wild card ticket in your back pocket. What’s next for you?

The answer, surprisingly enough, may not be Disneyworld, but the unemployment line. Unless Mickey Mouse can find a few million hidden inside Epcot Center, Logano faces the possibility that Home Depot, Dollar General and other major sponsors may start drooling over a free agent class that’s the biggest NASCAR’s had in several years. The catch, of course, is whether some of these companies will stick around or opt for a veteran considering the alarming number of blank quarterpanels of late. But assuming the money is there, the long list of drivers available could mean we have a mean game of musical chairs in a few months.

Here’s a look at how some of the major NASCAR teams stand for next year and which wheelmen could be hotly pursued as Silly Season heats up:

Hendrick Motorsports
Driver Lineup:
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne
Signed For 2013: All four.
Analysis: Think Hendrick Motorsports is slumping? Try telling that to the guy polishing the trophies. He’s been working overtime this month, as HMS has won five of the last six races (including the All-Star event) since Mother’s Day weekend. Moving forward, driver and sponsor stability should only help as it attempts to place all four team cars in the Chase for the first time in HMS history. Jeff Gordon’s a longshot there, but should he make the playoffs along with his trio of teammates, they’ll have the added benefit of avoiding a media circus over future plans. You can still win the Chase in that environment (see: Tony Stewart, cutting crew chief Darian Grubb) but it’s not an obstacle you’d like to place in your path.

Roush-Fenway Racing
Driver Lineup:
Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth
Signed For 2013: Biffle, Edwards.
Analysis: Jack Roush has been publicly adamant that he wants Kenseth, the only Cup champion on Ford’s roster, signed for the long-term. And why not? He’s the 2012 Daytona 500 winner, leads the standings and has been with the team for a dozen years. But the fact he’s run the last two Sundays unsponsored — particularly the one in Ford’s backyard (the EcoBoost sponsorship means no company stepped up to cover) — is a troubling sign. Young Ricky Stenhouse Jr., one of the sport’s up-and-coming talents, is rolling over the competition in the Nationwide Series. Ideally, Roush wants to bring him up and expand to four cars, but how long can he fund Kenseth partially out of his own pocket? A similar situation occurred with Jeff Burton, in 2004 and he wound up at Richard Childress Racing despite a sterling track record.

So where would Kenseth go? Remember, Penske Racing is switching to Ford next season and has a possible opening in AJ Allmendinger’s No. 22, and there’s already a Roush-to-Penske pipeline history (Kurt Busch). I’d call it an unlikely scenario, for certain, but if the money doesn’t materialize here … it may dictate some moves.

Joe Gibbs Racing
Driver Lineup:
Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano
Signed For 2013: Busch and Hamlin.
Analysis: Gibbs’ contracts are a little tricky to figure out in the press — there’s no public end date for Busch and Hamlin’s deals — but it’s assumed both will be back in 2013. Hamlin, in particular, is surging back towards his 2010 brilliance with new crew chief Darian Grubb. The real question mark surrounds the No. 20, which was almost handed to Carl Edwards in 2011 before he spurned Gibbs’ advances for Ford. Logano now has a victory, but he’s still led less than 200 laps over a four-year Cup career. Rumor has it Home Depot has been looking for someone who could run up front more consistently; Kurt Busch had been mentioned as a possible replacement, pushed heavily by his brother until this month’s Dover debacle took that signing off the table.

Will Logano have yet another chance to save his job? I would have to think it’s Chase or bust despite Joe Gibbs’ vote of confidence at Michigan on Sunday. Without the postseason, summer’s success will be forgotten once the No. 20 gets ignored over the final 10 races. Ryan Newman, Brian Vickers (a Toyota guy) and possibly even Martin Truex Jr. could be available to replace him. Logic would have it Logano wouldn’t look elsewhere – this ride would be the best opportunity available for him. So it’s on the Gibbs family to decide whether Logano will ever match those lofty expectations Mark Martin anointed him with all those years ago.

Richard Childress Racing
Driver Lineup:
Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard
Signed For 2013: All three.
Analysis: RCR may be having an awful season by tits standards – only Harvick is currently in the Chase – but the Childress lineup appears to be set moving forward. Burton is signed for the next two years, while Menard brings sponsorship to the table. The only question is whether Childress wants to expand to a fourth car, having equipment ready for Austin Dillon’s rookie run in 2014. Kurt Busch was briefly rumored here, but that is again off the table and RCR can easily stick with what it has. So unless a top-tier driver is available, with the right sponsor and the right opportunity, RCR is probably out of this year’s free agent chase.

Penske Racing
Driver Lineup:
A.J. Allmendinger, Brad Keselowski
Signed For 2013: Keselowski
Analysis: Now here’s where it gets interesting. With the nightmare season Allmendinger has had – six finishes outside the top 30 in 15 races – it’s hard to imagine him being re-signed. So who gets the offer? Parker Kligerman, a Newman-like prospect, has excelled in the Truck Series this season but is at least a year away. Sam Hornish Jr. has had a B-plus year in the Nationwide Series, at best, and Penske would rather put him in a third Cup car when ready than the No. 22.

That means Penske will look outside for a replacement for a ride that hasn’t won a Cup title but remains well-respected inside the garage (and has a solid sponsor). Would Penske take a chance on Logano if the youngster were set free? Or how about Regan Smith, whose contract with single-car Furniture Row is also up? Darkhorses include Kenseth, Vickers or even Stenhouse with the switch to Ford. Remember, Kurt Busch came out of nowhere the last time Penske plucked a big name – he was even under contract and had to buy out of the deal at Roush. Expect this domino to make the biggest difference in where drivers head.

Stewart-Haas Racing
Driver Lineup:
Ryan Newman, Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart
Signed For 2013: Patrick, Stewart.
Analysis: Stewart has made it publicly clear he wants Newman back for 2013. What he doesn’t have right now is the money to do it. Should the U.S. Army be prevented from sponsoring a car next year, patchwork deals aren’t enough to keep the No. 39 competitive enough to Newman’s liking. On the fringes of the Chase and without a top-10 finish in two months, Newman’s team is acting like one that’s turning into a “lame duck” program. But would Stewart really be willing to stick to a two-car operation with Patrick as the only option for direct feedback? There was speculation Kurt Busch, who drives for Phoenix Racing with Hendrick chassis, could have been an option (oh, the irony in how Stewart defended him). But again, sponsorship becomes a concern — as does Stewart and Busch’s history) making this one a bit of a question mark.

Michael Waltrip Racing
Driver Lineup:
Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers
Signed For 2013: Bowyer
Analysis: We’ll start with Truex, who is in position to make the Chase for the first time with the NAPA Toyota. Considering the auto parts company stuck through tough times in the worst of the Michael Waltrip years, it’s hard to see it leaving as long as Truex sticks around and continues to perform. Will the New Jersey native, enjoying his finest season, think this car is the best option for the long-term? As long as he makes the Chase, the answer will almost certainly be yes. If not, in-house Vickers becomes an immediate option. Martin, as always, will have the ball in his court on a possible return; at 53, he’s still driving at a 30-year-old level.

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Driver Lineup:
Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya
Signed For 2013: Montoya
Analysis: 2010’s Cinderella story lost his slipper in the winter that year – and he’s still looking to get it back. Jamie McMurray has just two top-5 finishes in his last 49 starts, far removed from Daytona and Brickyard glory. And with sponsorship in question for 2013, so is his employment. The problem for Earnhardt Ganassi is getting a top-tier replacement to believe in the future of its NASCAR program. Despite a full-scale overhaul last season, letting longtime employees like Steve Hmiel and Tony Glover go, it’s still on pace to miss the Chase with both cars. Only once, in 2009 (Montoya), has an EGR car made the postseason, meaning only another Cinderella-in-waiting might look at that car. A long way to go, but if Allmendinger gets released, he has the open-wheel background and resume that’s perfect for that seat.

Richard Petty Motorsports
Driver Lineup:
Marcos Ambrose, Aric Almirola
Signed For 2013: Ambrose?
Analysis: RPM’s possible switch to Dodge in 2013 continues to be the hot topic around the garage. A rumor the switch would be announced last weekend was firmly denied by officials on both sides — and it did not. Were it to eventually happen, it could mean tough times for Aric Almirola despite recent improvement behind the wheel. Why? Wouldn’t Dodge go after a marquis name after losing Brad Keselowski from its lineup? Ambrose, too, continues to be an enigma after a strong first season in the No. 9 Ford. Remember, he had a similar beginning driving for JTG-Daugherty’s No. 47 but by the end of his second season, a “sophomore slump” had him moving elsewhere. With zero top-5 finishes in 15 starts this season, success on the road courses will be critical to making the Chase. Without them? It’s almost certainly a disappointing year.

Single-Car Teams
One thing we know for sure at Phoenix Racing: Kurt Busch will not be back in 2013, either after being kicked to the curb or signing with another high-profile ride. As for Furniture Row, Regan Smith will be a hot commodity and this time, it’s going to need to show improvement for him to re-sign. The team had recently pursued sponsorship to land Busch and may need to expand to keep last season’s upset Southern 500 winner.

by Tom Bowles
Follow Tom on Twitter: @NASCARBowles


<p> Athlon Sports contributor Tom Bowles looks ahead to NASCAR's Silly Season, examining which drivers may be switching seats in 2013.</p>
Post date: Monday, June 18, 2012 - 21:42