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Each week, the Athlon editors vote on the most prestigious award in all of college football. A nine-man conglomerate of college football gurus from Athlon Sports will vote for their top Heisman Trophy candidates. The votes will be tallied and the result will be posted as the Athlon Sports Heisman Watch List every Wednesday of the regular season.

Voting: Each first place vote gets five points. A second place vote gets four points. So on and so forth with a fifth place vote getting one point. The voting will expand to 10 after the first weekend of action.

USC's Matt Barkley will enter the regular season as the prohibitive favorite to win the coveted stiff-armed trophy. But when was the last time the overwhelming preseason favorite actually hoisted the trophy? Sure, Matt Leinart, Ricky Williams and Ron Dayne were high profile players with lofty preseason expectations. But were any the clearcut No. 1 choice like Andrew Luck? Or Barkley? 

Having said that, the Trojan's signal caller wasn't a unanimous choice heading into Week 1. Barkley got seven of the nine first place votes and is still clearly Athlon's top choice to win the trophy. But Geno Smith and Marcus Lattimore each got one first place vote, creating some dissention within the Athlon ranks.

My personal favorite vote of the preseason Watch List? Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones. The reigning Outland Trophy winner has played three positions for two national championship teams and is arguably the best player in the SEC. 

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC (Sr., 7 first place votes)
There is no reason to think Barkley won't, at minimum, be in New York at season's end as a Heisman finalist. Much like Luck last fall, he is clearly the nation's top quarterback and plays for a team that will post huge offensive numbers. The stats, marquee primetime showdowns, national title aspirations and extraordinary off-the-field persona are all written in boldface in his current Heisman resume. Frankly, the only wart on The Golden Boy's preseason bio is that he is the definitive pick to win the award. While that may seem counter intuitive on the surface, the favorite is rarely victorious at season's end.

  Name Pos. Team Total Pts 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
1. Matt Barkley QB USC 42 of 45 7 1 1 - -
2. Montee Ball RB Wisconsin 23 of 45 - 4 1 2 -
3. Denard Robinson QB Michigan 23 of 45 - 2 3 3 -
4. Marcus Lattimore RB South Carolina 21 of 45 1 - 3 3 1
5. Geno Smith QB West Virginia 11 of 45 1 - 1 - 3
6. Landry Jones QB Oklahoma 5 of 45 - 1 - - 1
7. Logan Thomas QB Virginia Tech 4 of 45 - 1 - - -
8. A.J. McCarron QB Alabama 2 of 45 - - - 1 -
9. Marquess Wilson WR Washington St 1 of 45 - - - - 1
10. De'Anthony Thomas AP Oregon 1 of 45 - - - - 1
11. Barrett Jones OL Alabama 1 of 45 - - - - 1
12. Aaron Murray QB Georgia 1 of 45 - - - - 1

2. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (Sr.)
It sends a great message to the college football world that the top two names on this list put the NFL on hold to return to college. And Ball did so after a historic season in Madison that will be extremely difficult to replicate. Three first-team All-Big Ten blockers, offensive wizard Paul Chryst and team leader Russell Wilson have all moved on from the Wisconsin offense. Ball should easily top 1,400 yards and 15 scores — but that would be 24 fewer touchdowns than last season. He should post huge numbers once again, but a return trip to NYC seems unlikely on a team that may lose four games.

3. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (Sr.)
The most explosive athlete in the nation under center is the Wolverines signal caller. He will have plenty of marquee match-ups to prove his Heisman mettle as Michigan faces Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan State and Notre Dame this year. And staying healthy — and undefeated — against that schedule is a tall order. Shoelace is another 1,300-yards from becoming the NCAA's all-time leading rusher from the quarterback position and should be in New York at season's end. But to win the award, Michigan will likely need to win the Big Ten — and the Alabama game.

4. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (Jr.)
The most talented running back in the nation will be on full display on national TV this week against SEC opponent Vanderbilt. He has not dealt with any contact this summer, but the Gamecocks workhorse should need little time to get reacclimated with big time football. Lattimore is a special player with special talents and could be the driving force of an SEC title run by Steve Spurrier's bunch. Should Carolina make it to Atlanta – or further — then it will be on the broad and powerful shoulders of Lattimore. 

5. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (Sr.)
My first place vote went to the rifleman from Morgantown, W.Va. He has a huge arm, a crazy-deep receiving corps, a mad genius drawing up plays and a chance at putting together some huge marquee performances. Smith could lead the nation in passing yards and touchdowns should things fall right and this would all but assure him a trip to The Big Apple come December. While a Big 12 title won't be mandatory for a Heisman run, an upset win over Oklahoma and/or Texas along the way wouldn't hurt. 

6. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech (Jr.)
A Cam Newton clone will have the stats and potential deep championship run to get him to NYC.

7. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (Sr.)
The numbers should be huge if the receivers are more consistent and the running game stays healthy.

8. A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama (Jr.)
The offense will limit his statistical production but he could be the most important player on one of the nation's best teams.

9. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State (Jr.)
Has posted 137 rec., 2,394 yds and 18 TDs in two seasons without Mike Leach. Can you say Michael Crabtree?

10. De'Anthony Thomas, AP, Oregon (So.)
The most explosive, dynamic player in the nation should have plenty of highlights on his reel.

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> 2012 Heisman Trophy Watchlist: Week 1</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Fantasy, News
Path: /college-football/college-fantasy-football-week-1-emergency-starters
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So, you drafted Ryan Aplin, Brett Smith, or Jordan Lynch, and didn’t realize they have unfavorable matchups in Week 1.  We understand.  You play in a 20-team league or a league that requires two starting quarterbacks, so you are probably searching the waiver wire looking for a last-minute addition to complete your starting roster.  Check back every week and take a look at our Emergency Starters, a list of players most likely available in your league worthy of a one-week addition.

Emergency Starters—Week 1


Joe DiSalvo: (@theCFFsite on Twitter)


Quarterback

Ryan Radcliff-Central Michigan vs SE Missouri State

MarQueis Gray-Minnesota at UNLV

Chris Coyer-Temple vs Villanova

Jonathan Perry-UAB vs Troy

Corey Robinson, Troy at UAB

Nathan Scheelhaase-Illinois vs Western Michigan

 

Running Backs

Johnathan Franklin-UCLA vs Rice

Storm Woods-Oregon St vs Nicholls State

Damon Bullock-Iowa vs Northern Illinois

Akeem Shavers-Purdue vs Eastern Kentucky

Isaac Bennett-Pitt vs Youngstown State

Kenny Hilliard-LSU vs North Texas

Kendial Lawrence-Missouri vs SE Louisiana

Alonzo Harris-Louisiana vs Lamar

 

Receivers

DeVonte Christopher-Utah vs N. Colorado

Reese Wiggins-ECU vs Appalachian State

Alex Torres-Texas Tech vs Northwestern State

Brandon Coleman-Rutgers at Tulane

Josh Huff-Oregon vs Arkansas State              

 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Quarterbacks

Dayne Crist-Kansas vs. South Dakota State

Ryan Nassib-Syracuse vs. Northwestern

Tanner Price-Wake Forest vs. Liberty

Tre Roberson-Indiana vs. Indiana State
 

Running Backs

Shawne Alston-West Virginia vs. Marshall

Tony Jones-Colorado vs. Colorado State

Brandon Ross-Maryland vs. William & Mary


Wide Receivers

Dan Buckner-Arizona vs. Toledo

MeKale McKay-Arkansas vs. Jacksonville State

T.J Moe-Missouri vs. SE Louisiana

Devin Street-Pittsburgh vs. Youngstown State

 

For more college fantasy news and information, check out: The College Fantasy Football Site

Find us on facebook

Follow us on twitter (@theCFFsite)

Email us:   theCFFsite@thecollegefantasyfootballsite.com

Teaser:
<p> College Fantasy Football: Week 1 Emergency Starters</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - 04:57
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Fantasy, News
Path: /college-football/college-fantasy-football-week-1-odds-vegas-play
Body:

In the world of fantasy football, some team owners are relentless in their search for information that will give them a competitive edge over their competition.  Others just simply rely on projections from so-called experts, who try to convince everyone they have devised a computer program that accurately projects player stats by using a scientific formula so complicated that it makes the Drake equation seem elementary.  Eventually, those computer-driven computations prove no more accurate than an old-fashioned gut feeling.  However, in a quest to find a formula for fantasy success, one should just ask the question, “What are the odds?”

Quite simply, Vegas odds could give you all of the necessary insight to make smart roster decisions on a week-to-week basis.  In this weekly article, theCFFsite considers the point spreads and totals(over/under) in order to give our readers a unique perspective into some of the week’s most interesting fantasy matchups.

Week 1 What are the odds?

Best Fantasy Matchups (Games with the most fantasy potential)

Toledo at Arizona

Line:  Arizona -10(O/U-70)

Projected score based on point spread:  Arizona 40-30

Best plays:

Toledo (QB-Terrance Owens, RB-David Fluellen, WR-Bernard Reedy)

Arizona (QB-Matt Scott, RB-KaDeem Carey, WR-Dan Buckner)

theCFFsite projects:  Arizona 31-28

 

San Diego State at Washington

Line:  Washington -14.5(O/U-62)

Projected score based on point spread:  Washington 39-24

Best plays:

San Diego St (QB-Ryan Katz, WRs-Colin Lockett, TE-Gavin Escobar)

Washington (QB-Keith Price, WR-Kasen Williams, TE-Austin Seferian-Jenkins)

Also consider:

San Diego St (RBs-Adam Muema, Walter Kazee)

Washington (RBs-Jesse Callier, Bishop Sankey)

theCFFsite projects:  Washington 42-28



Troy at UAB

Line:  Troy -5.5 (O/U-60)

Projected score based on point spread:  Troy 33-27

Best plays:

Troy (QB-Corey Robinson, RB-Shawn Southward, WR-Eric Thomas)

UAB (QB-Jonathan Perry, WR-Jackie Williams)

Also consider:

Troy (WR-Chip Reeves)

UAB (RB-Greg Franklin, WR-Patrick Hearn)

theCFFsite projects:  Troy 31-28

 

One-Sided Matchups (Using the odds to find a dominating ‘D’)

Buffalo at Georgia

Line:  Georgia -37.5(O/U-53.5)

Projected score based on point spread:  Georgia 45-8

Stay away from:

Buffalo (RB-Branden Oliver)

theCFFsite projects:  Georgia 45-9

 

Bowling Green at Florida

Line:  Florida -29(O/U-48)

Projected score based on point spread:  Florida 39-9

Stay away from:

Bowling Green (QB-Matt Schilz, RB-Anthon Samuel)

theCFFsite projects:  Florida 38-10

 

Central Florida at Akron

Line:  UCF -24(O/U-46.5)

Projected score based on point spread:  UCF 35-11

Stay away from:

Akron (RB-Jawon Chisholm)

theCFFsite projects:  UCF 35-14

 

Kentucky at Louisville

Line:  Louisville -14(O/U-41)

Projected score based on point spread:  Louisville 28-13

Stay away from:

Kentucky (WR-LaRod King)

theCFFsite projects:  Louisville 27-14

 

Hawaii at USC

Line:  USC -39.5(O/U-65)

Projected score based on point spread:  USC 52-13

Stay away from:

Hawaii (All players)

theCFFsite projects:  USC 59-15

 

Arkansas State at Oregon

Line:  Oregon -35.5(O/U-67.5)

Projected score based on point spread: Oregon 52-16

Stay away from:

Arkansas St (QB-Ryan Aplin, RB-David Oku)

theCFFsite projects:  Oregon 63-20

 

Oklahoma at UTEP

Line:  Oklahoma -31(O/U-62)

Projected score based on point spread:  Oklahoma 47-16

Stay away from:

UTEP (RB-Nathan Jeffery)

theCFFsite projects:  Oklahoma 59-16
 

Must Watch Games

Clemson vs Auburn

Line:  Clemson -3(O/U-62)

Projected score based on point spread:  Clemson 33-30

The Tigers will undoubtedly miss the play-making ability of Sammy Watkins, who is serving a two-game suspension.  If Clemson improves on the defensive side of the ball this season, they will emerge as a dark horse title contender.

theCFFsite projects:  Clemson 34-24
 

South Carolina at Vanderbilt

Line:  South Carolina -7(O/U-46)

Projected score based on point spread:  South Carolina 27-20

The Commodores are looking to make a statement at home Thursday night, but the Gamecocks have too much depth and should grab an early lead in the SEC East standings.

theCFFsite projects:  South Carolina 31-21
 

Boise State at Michigan State

Line:  Michigan St -7(O/U-55)

Projected score based on point spread:  Michigan St 20-14

This may be a favorable matchup for the Broncos as the Spartans’ bruising style of play should shorten the game and allow Boise State a chance to hang around long enough to spring an upset. 

theCFFsite projects:  Michigan State 20-17
 

Michigan vs Alabama

Line:  Alabama -12.5(O/U-42.5)

Projected score based on point spread:  Alabama 28-15

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is a special talent, but the Alabama defense will be ready for the challenge.  Expect the Tide to control the lines of scrimmage and wear down the Wolverines in the second half.

theCFFsite projects:  Alabama 31-13

 

theCFFsite in Must Watch games (2011):

Season:  Straight Up (40-9) ATS: (35-14)

 

The College Fantasy Football Site

By:  Joe DiSalvo

Follow Joe on twitter (@theCFFsite)

Teaser:
<p> College Fantasy Football: Using Odds to Determine Best Week 1 Matchups</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - 03:26
Path: /nascar/nascar-news-notes-week-3
Body:

Greg Biffle credits an aggressive approach with his team’s return to the points lead and says once NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup starts, there won’t be any backing down.

Biffle regained the points lead after his victory at Michigan and held it despite finishing 19th last weekend at Bristol. That finish was good enough to clinch a Chase spot and return him to NASCAR’s playoffs after missing it last year.

Biffle has three finishes of sixth or better in the last five races, including the Michigan win and a third-place finish at Indianapolis. He notes that with his team comfortably in the playoffs, they could try more things and, often, the experiments have worked.

“We have been decent in the points so we have kind of tried to step out of the box and do some things to try and learn for the Chase and really be more aggressive with the setup and go for the win and say, ‘Hey, if it doesn’t work we won’t cry over spilled milk,’” says Biffle, who led the points after 11 races earlier in the season. “That is all you can do. You can’t flip a switch. We are already running as hard as we can.”

Once the Chase begins, Biffle says little will change on how the team races.

“I think we will be and we will have to be pretty aggressive on the setups simply for the fact that we will have to be conscious of our finishes,” he notes. “That is going to be a huge factor, but it is almost like if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. What we are doing is working. We are having consistent races so we are only going to be six points ahead of about half the guys in the Chase (after the points are reset). We are only going to be three behind, as of right now, four of them. That could change this weekend but it is going to be really tight in the points.

“That 12-20 point cushion (on the top four) I have is all going to disappear and it is going to be really super tight on the points. Each position is super-important. I think everybody realizes that going to Chicago.”


CHASE-CLINCHING SCENARIOS   Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth clinched Chase spots last weekend at Bristol. Kenseth clinched only a wild card spot. He can clinch a full Chase spot (and thus use the bonus points for his win) by finishing 40th at Atlanta, finishing 41st and leading a lap or finishing 42nd and leading the most laps.

Any driver who leaves Atlanta 49 points ahead of 11th place in the points clinches a Chase spot. 

Other Chase-clinching scenarios are:

• Martin Truex Jr: Finish 14th or place 15th and lead a lap or finish 16th and lead the most laps.
• Clint Bowyer: Finish 11th or place 12th and lead a lap or finish 13th and lead the most laps.
• Brad Keselowski: Finish seventh or place eighth and lead a lap or finish ninth and lead the most laps.

A victory would secure at least a wild card spot for Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick or Tony Stewart. They would need help from others to clinch a top-10 Chase spot at Atlanta.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this week with Greg Biffle, Dale Earnahrdt Jr., Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 19:13
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, New England Patriots, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-england-patriots-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

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

The New England Patriots check in at No. 4.

After a rocky midseason stretch, with a near-loss to the Cowboys followed by back-to-back losses to the Steelers and the Giants following a week off, it appeared that a deep postseason run wasn’t in the cards for the Patriots last season. But New England bounced back on its rival’s home turf, thumping the Jets in prime-time on Nov. 13, and didn’t lose again until the Super Bowl. Only one of the teams they faced over the final eight weeks of the regular season made the playoffs, but the soft schedule allowed coach Bill Belichick to tinker with his lineups, get inexperienced players needed snaps, and for the team to weather some injuries.

With time to step back, Belichick took a hard look at his squad and has brought in over a dozen free agents, reminiscent of his early days in New England when he gave older or oft-injured players “prove it” deals. After last season, when a flawed team came so close to winning it all, it’s hard to argue that the new guys won’t get that chance.

Offense

Tom Brady threw for over 5,000 yards. Rob Gronkowski set new standards for tight ends. And the Patriots averaged over 30 points per game. So keep things status quo? Hardly.

New England is stockpiling wide receivers. The Pats signed Brandon Lloyd, who knows the team’s system from his time with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in both Denver and St. Louis, and also brought back Brady favorite Jabar Gaffney and Donté Stallworth. Wes Welker and Deion Branch will continue to be a big part of the attack.

After relying too heavily on Welker and, when he was still with the Pats, Randy Moss, in recent years, it seems Brady will be getting back to the early days of his career, when he said that his favorite receiver was the open one.

Once overlooked, Welker is now the prototype slot receiver in the NFL and remains one of Brady’s favorites, on and off the field. He caught 122 passes last season and has averaged 111 catches over the past five years. If Lloyd can live with having big stats one week and a quiet game the next, he will thrive in New England. Brady will be by far the best quarterback he has played with in his career.

Gaffney, who played with the Patriots from 2006-08, had career highs in both receptions (68) and yards (947) last year in Washington. Branch started 15 games last season and caught 51 passes for 702 yards and five scores. Chad Ochocinco was a huge disappointment in 2011. He caught only 15 passes and scored one touchdown in 15 games — and still seemed unsure of where to line up during the Super Bowl.

There’s no telling how Gronkowski will be affected after losing a large chunk of the offseason to recovery from ankle surgery. But he didn’t have a true offseason last year — due to the lockout — and still managed to catch 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. Gronkowski already has some saying he could be the best ever at the tight end position. He is nearly impossible to cover down the field, and he is also an adept blocker.

In Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, a hybrid who has lined up everywhere for New England from out wide to in the slot to the backfield, the Pats feature the best tight end tandem in the league. Hernandez caught 79 passes for 910 yards in his second season in the league.

The running game will likely again be by committee, with Stevan Ridley the favorite to be the primary ball-carrier. Ridley finished his rookie season on a down note, with fumbles in back-to-back games, but he showed explosion when he got his chances. Fellow second-year back Shane Vereen will be looking to redeem himself after a rookie season lost to injury.

The offensive line will look different — for the first time in over a decade Matt Light won’t be manning left tackle. In his place will be second-year pro Nate Solder, who was drafted in 2011 to eventually succeed Light.  

Defense

The top priority in the offseason for Belichick was to address the team’s defense, a group that ranked 31st in the NFL last season. Specifically, he improved the pass rush at the end position — signing free agent Trevor Scott, and drafting Chandler Jones and Jake Bequette.

Fixing the front seven is what’s needed. The secondary drew much of the criticism, a given when a team allows over 4,700 passing yards as the Pats did in ’11. But an average-at-best group of corners and safeties are going to look bad when asked to cover too long because the pass rush can’t create pressure. It’s unavoidable.

The linebacking corps also got a boost with the addition of Dont’a Hightower in the first round. Hightower, who played for Nick Saban at Alabama, is a smart, versatile player whose presence may allow Jerod Mayo to use his athleticism more. Brandon Spikes, when he’s been on the field, has been a thumper in the run game, but his biggest problem has been staying on the field (suspension 2010, injury 2011).

That oft-maligned secondary will see some changes. Cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who started his first game as a rookie but missed the final 14 to injury, will be back and team with Kyle Arrington. Devin ­McCourty is likely looking at a permanent switch to safety. Sterling Moore, the hero of the AFC Championship Game, returns, though he’ll be pressed by rookie Alfonzo Dennard. New England also picked up savvy veteran slot corner Will Allen.

Specialists

Stephen Gostkowski remains reliable in the kicking game. The sixth-year pro converted 28-of-33 field goal attempts last and made 10-of-13 from beyond 40 yards. Punter Zoltan Mesko built on a solid rookie season last year, averaging 46.5 yards per kick. Julian Edelman is a consistently solid punt returner and might be a top candidate to fill the kickoff return job as well.

Final Analysis: 1st in the AFC East

With Belichick and Brady in control of the Patriots, the playoffs have become routine; they went 13–3 last year and nearly won the Super Bowl despite a defense that gave up 21.4 points per game. It was perhaps Belichick’s best coaching work to date.

In 2012, they have a schedule that on paper is the easiest in the NFL, a strong offense that has been bolstered in free agency, and a defense that has undergone an extreme makeover.

This year, the playoffs are almost a given. It’s what happens in January and February that will define this club. In 2007, Belichick signed and acquired big names, and the Patriots came within a few minutes of an undefeated season. This year, he’s signed big names and drafted potential stars. This team is the class of the AFC. Anything short of a trip to the Super Bowl will be a disappointment. 

Related: 2012 New England Patriots Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Super Stat
Tom Brady had 27 completions in the Super Bowl XLVI loss to the Giants to set the NFL record for most completions in postseason history with 499, moving past Brett Favre (481). Brady added 276 passing yards to push his postseason total to 5,285 yards, fourth best in NFL history.

Krafting A Winner
The Patriots’ 23–20 win over Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game was their 28th playoff game since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994. New England’s 19 playoff victories over that span are the most in the NFL (Pittsburgh has 17). The Pats also lead the league in total victories (212), Super Bowl titles (three), conference championships (six), and division championships (11) since Kraft purchased the team.

Keeping Up With The Joneses
To say that first-round draft pick Chandler Jones comes from an athletic family is an understatement. Oldest brother Arthur is a top defensive line reserve for the Ravens, and middle brother Jon “Bones” Jones is the UFC light middleweight champion.

Pass? Not this time
Head coach Bill Belichick has made trading down and collecting draft picks into a cottage industry. But not this year. New England had two first-round picks thanks to a trade with New Orleans during the 2011 draft, and Belichick moved up from both to snag Jones and Dont’a Hightower. The last time he traded up in the first round was in 2003, when the Pats moved up one spot to get Ty Warren.

Nate Who?
Defensive back Nate Ebner is a former national-level rugby standout who didn’t play a down of high school football, walked on at Ohio State and was a special teams demon. Still, Ebner had few designs on being drafted until opening eyes at OSU’s Pro Day. Now he’s a sixth-round NFL pick and heading to training camp with New England.

140 Characters or Fewer
Chad Ochocinco may not have given the Pats much on the field, but off it he convinced Wes Welker to join Twitter. Within days, Welker had racked up tens of thousands of followers, and among other things, the Pats’ franchise player has used the medium to wryly express his desire for a long-term contract. When the Patriots tweeted him happy birthday wishes in May, he responded, “Guess what would be the perfect Birthday gift? :)”

Service With A Smile
Despite wearing a gray hoodie and not the standard blue polo shirt, defensive back Sterling Moore was mistaken for a Best Buy employee twice in one visit to a Massachusetts store last year. The irony was that as a teenager in Pittsburg, Calif., Moore actually did work at Best Buy. 

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Cincinnati Bengals
No. 14: Philadelphia Eagles
No. 13: New Orleans Saints
No. 12: Dallas Cowboys
No. 11: Denver Broncos
No. 10: Detroit Lions
No. 9: Chicago Bears
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons
No. 7: Baltimore Ravens
No. 6: Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 5: New York Giants
No. 4: New England Patriots
No. 3: Wed., August 29

Order your 2012 New England Patriots Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 New England Patriots Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> New England Patriots 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: New York Giants, NFC, NFC East, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-york-giants-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

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

The New York Giants check in at No. 5.

It was as if lightning struck twice in the same spot on the same day four years apart. That’s how similar the Giants’ surprise 2011 championship season was to their incredible 2007 run.

And when it happened again, when they made it two Super Bowl championships in five seasons, the Giants should’ve been branded an NFL powerhouse and a franchise on the verge of becoming a dynasty. Instead, they have the same questions they left open the last time they were defending champions:

Are they on the verge of greatness? Or was the whole thing just a fluke?

That may be an insulting question to the defending champs, but it’s one they’re going to have to answer this season. Are they the team that was struggling at 7–7 just before Christmas, or the team that went on a 6–0 roll for the ages through Green Bay, San Francisco and then the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI?

They return most of the starters from the team that won it all. They just need to prove that they were more than an average team that got hot at exactly the right time.

Offense

Eli Manning backed up his words and proved he is “elite” entering 2012, vaulting himself into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. His 4,933 yards, 29 touchdowns and 61 percent completion rate were things the Giants had dreamed of since the blockbuster draft-day trade in 2004. The fact that he dropped his interception total from 25 to 16 was a welcomed change, too.

Of course, the doubters never cease, so the big question is: Can he do it again? Can he carry the Giants again? He helped an unknown, undrafted receiver in Victor Cruz (82 catches, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns) become a star. He overcame a shaky, injury-riddled offensive line and the NFL’s worst rushing attack. He was the reason they survived early on and then thrived late in the season.

Can everyone else join him on the elite level? It won’t be easy, because there are some missing pieces. The most notable absence is receiver Mario Manningham, who left as a free agent and left a hole on the outside opposite Hakeem Nicks. Presumably that hole will be filled by Rueben Randle, a second-round pick out of LSU. His presence will allow Cruz to stay in the slot, where he’s as dangerous as they come.

The running game remains a big question, though. The loss of Brandon Jacobs (152 carries, 571 yards) to free agency isn’t a big one, especially since they replaced him with a first-round pick (David Wilson of Virginia Tech). But Ahmad Bradshaw has a history of foot and ankle injuries and is still recovering from yet another offseason “procedure” on his foot. Also, Bradshaw’s average of 3.9 yards per carry in 2011 was the lowest of his five-year career.

There’s no guarantee the rushing attack will be any better this season. That puts everything on “Elite” Eli’s shoulders again.

Defense

If there’s any area emblematic of how schizophrenic the Giants were last season, it’s the defense, which was beyond awful at times, and brilliant when it counted. They managed to shut down three pretty potent offenses in the playoffs — the Falcons, Packers and Patriots — and displayed a devastating pass rush throughout. Yet the defense ranked only 27th during the regular season and was a big reason why the team almost missed the playoffs.

One thing they clearly have, when healthy, is one of the best pass rushes in the league. Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks) and Osi Umenyiora (nine) were a devastating duo, and Justin Tuck is their most complete end. Chris Canty knows how to get pressure from the inside at tackle.

It’s the rest of the defense that could be an issue. The Giants have a linebacking corps with talent — Michael Boley, Mathias Kiwanuka, newly acquired Keith Rivers and speedy Jacquian Williams — but no true middle linebacker and no real impact player. In the secondary, they have cornerback Corey Webster and safety Antrel Rolle, but their hopes are pinned on Terrell Thomas’ attempt to return from a torn ACL, Prince Amukamara’s recovery from a foot injury, and safety Kenny Phillips’ attempt to rediscover his explosiveness in a contract year.

The secondary played very well during the playoff run, but Perry Fewell’s defense is only as good as its pass rush. If Tuck and Umenyiora can stay healthy, and Pierre-Paul can continue his march toward what seems to be an inevitable Defensive Player of the Year award, the defense will be as good as any in the league. If the pass rush falters, the Giants could be in a lot of high-scoring games.

Specialists

One year after they ­couldn’t survive the foibles of a shaky rookie punter, the Giants found one they want to keep in Steve Weatherford, who was a rock on special teams. He had a brilliant season, showing a stronger-than-expected leg and a Jeff Feagles-like knack for hitting the sidelines and the corners of the field. That had a remarkably settling effect on the Giants’ special teams, which had been one of their biggest problems in 2010. The coverage improved dramatically and opposing return men didn’t seem so dangerous anymore.

The Giants’ return men weren’t very dangerous either, though. They hope Domenik Hixon can make it back from a second ACL tear. More likely, however, the Giants will hand return duties to a couple of speedy second-year players in Jerrel Jernigan and Da’Rel Scott.
Lawrence Tynes has been both consistent and clutch in his years with the Giants. The team’s last two trips to the Super Bowl were clinched on his overtime kicks in the NFC Championship Game. 

Final Analysis: 1st in the NFC East

Here’s the lesson from last season: Count out the Giants at your own risk. They are talented. They are resilient. They are well-coached. And they have an internal clock that lets them know when it’s crunch time. They came back from a fourth quarter deficit to win seven times last season, including in Super Bowl XLVI. They came back from the brink of elimination with a run for the ages that began on Christmas Eve. And here’s something to note: Four years ago their remarkable run to the Super Bowl XLII championship didn’t end at their parade. They opened the following season on an 11–1 run and might’ve won it all had Plaxico Burress not infamously shot himself in the leg.

Assuming nothing like that happens again, the Giants should be considered the favorites in the NFC East and a true Super Bowl contender. Whether they win it all will depend on health and whether they can get hot again late in the season. But they’ll be in the hunt. There are no signs that this team is going away.

Related: 2012 New York Giants Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Live from New York … 
After winning his second Super Bowl (one more than his brother), Eli followed his brother Peyton into the spotlight at Studio 8H and became the 10th NFL personality (nine players and John Madden) and fifth quarterback to host “Saturday Night Live.” He had turned down the job in 2008, months after Peyton hosted, because, Eli said, “Peyton had done so well. I thought it might be a little fresh in everyone’s mind.”

No Pressure, Kid
When the Giants took tight end Adrien Robinson in the fourth round, Giants GM Jerry Reese called him “The JPP of tight ends.” That’s a tough moniker to live up to, considering “JPP” is Jason Pierre-Paul, a raw rookie in 2010 who is now one of the best defensive players in the NFL. In four years at Cincinnati, Robinson caught 29 passes.

Mission Accomplished 
Has anyone ever come from farther out of nowhere than Victor Cruz? The former undrafted free agent caught 82 passes for a franchise-record 1,536 yards last season. His goal before the year started? “To catch a pass in a game that mattered,” he said.

Still Waiting
The Giants traded for a former first-round linebacker, Keith Rivers, but they still didn’t draft one of their own. That makes 28 consecutive drafts for the Giants without taking a linebacker in Round 1. Their last one? Carl Banks in 1984.

From Butter To Glue
In 2010 the Giants’ season disintegrated in a mess of turnovers — 42 to be exact — which was very unusual for a Tom Coughlin team. In 2011 they nearly cut the number in half, dropping to 24 and having a plus-7 turnover ratio. In the postseason they were even better — one interception, no fumbles, plus-6 in four games.

Airing It Out
The Giants had the NFL’s worst rushing offense in 2011, and the big-play part of their game disappeared. One year earlier they were second in the NFL with 23 runs of 20 yards or more. Last year? An NFL-worst four. Of course, the Giants were fifth in the league with 67 pass plays of 20-plus yards.

Breaking Up The Band
From 2007-09, David Diehl, Rich Seubert, Shaun O’Hara, Chris Snee and Kareem McKenzie set a post-NFL merger record, starting 38 straight regular-season games together as an offensive line. Now only Diehl and Snee remain, and only Snee (right guard) will still be playing in the same position this season.

Bonus Picks
The Giants feel like they have two No. 1 and two No. 2 draft picks joining the team this year because their top two picks in 2011 had lost seasons. Cornerback Prince Amukamara, the first rounder, lost all of training camp and nine regular-season games with a broken foot. Defensive tackle Marvin Austin, the second-round pick, was sidelined for the entire season with a torn pectoral muscle. Austin also missed his senior season of college while serving a suspension, so he hasn’t played football since 2009. 

 

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Cincinnati Bengals
No. 14: Philadelphia Eagles
No. 13: New Orleans Saints
No. 12: Dallas Cowboys
No. 11: Denver Broncos
No. 10: Detroit Lions
No. 9: Chicago Bears
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons
No. 7: Baltimore Ravens
No. 6: Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 5: New York Giants
No. 4: Tues., August 28

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

Related: 2012 New York Giants Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> New York Giants 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /nfl/5-biggest-busts-nfl-training-camp
Body:

When the doors opened to training camp in late July, everyone was filled with such promise. There was hope renewed. There were storylines in unexpected places. Everyone had their eyes set on a big season. Everyone had the Super Bowl in their sights.

But now that the final days of summer are mercifully ticking away and the countdown to the Sept. 5 opener is on, doesn’t it seem like everything has changed? Some hope is already gone. Some promise has been replaced by aggravation. Some stories have more than played themselves out.
 
The hope that remains can wait until another day. First, it’s time to survey the summer landscape for the biggest disappointments of the summer. Here are the players, issues and storylines that fizzled the most in the past few weeks – the five biggest busts of training camp, 2012:
 
TebowMania
It was the biggest story of summer, whether you liked it or not. ESPN camped a crew in Cortland, N.Y., to chronicle him and the New York newspapers assigned people just to cover one man – never mind that Tim Tebow was just a backup quarterback/gimmick. And it took maybe 24 hours for the tone around the coverage to turn angry. Right about the time Tebow’s shirtless run through the rain made back page news, fans began complaining that enough Tebow was more than enough.
 
Yet the coverage continued, and for what? The Jets didn’t unveil their “Tebow-cat” offense at all during the summer, making everyone wonder if it has any chance of working at all. Meanwhile, running the regular offense – he is, after all, the backup quarterback – Tebow was a miserable 9 for 22 for 96 yards in the first two preseason games. That’s a completion percentage of 40.9 percent. He also ran six times for 39 yards. Not bad, but hardly as dymanic as, say, Michael Vick.
 
TebowMania? There’s a cure for that. Watching him and reading about him every day is the best antidote there is.
 
Chad Ochocinco/Johnson/whatever 
The signing of one of the NFL’s greatest personalities was trumpeted in headlines and on HBO’s "Hard Knocks," where the one-man marketing machine and this NFL reality TV show seemed like a match made in heaven. It probably didn’t hurt ratings either when Johnson ended up getting cut from the Dolphins after allegedly assaulting his wife.
 
Put that heinous act aside, though, for a second. What exactly were we all thinking caring about this? Anyone who saw OchoJohnson with the Patriots last season knows he’s done. In 15 games he had 15 catches, and some scouts marveled that he even had that much. This preseason he added nothing to his total, and it’s highly unlikely any other teams will pick him up.
 
Don’t get me wrong. JohnCinco had an impressive and interesting 10-year career in Cincinnati and I have no problem with all the silly fun things he did in that time. But he’s 34 years old and it’s over. And we probably should have known.
 
Replacement refs 
The NFL keeps trying to put a positive spin on this mess, though clearly they aren’t watching the games when they do it. The amount of blown calls is being vastly underplayed because these are preseason games and nobody cares about the results.
 
But what happens in the regular season when, like they did in the Giants-Jaguars game, the refs give the team trailing one extra play? What about all those muggings/pass interference penalties they’re missing? What about the times they march off 15 yards on a penalty instead of half the distance to the goal?
 
Those are the types of minor things the replacement refs have missed this summer and according to players, coaches and scouts it’s happened in every game. It’s only going to get worse when it happens in a game that counts and it costs a team a game in the standings, costs gamblers a ton of money, and costs the paying fans a chance to see a game that is on the level and fair.
 
Matt Flynn 
The biggest question of the offseason was “Where will Peyton Manning play?” but there was always a subtext to his decision. Anyone who missed out on Manning would undoubtedly take a stab at Flynn, the former backup to Aaron Rodgers who was the most interesting free agent quarterback on the market.
 
He ended up spurning the Miami Dolphins to sign a three-year, $26 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks. And now it looks like he’ll be cashing those checks on the bench.
 
After going a mediocre 17 of 26 for 102 yards and an interception in two preseason games, Flynn is on the verge of losing the starting job to impressive rookie Russell Wilson. The 5-10 rookie got the start in the third preseason game and played into the third quarter, dazzling everyone by completing 13 of 19 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
 
The Seahawks were leading 44-7 when he left the game, enroute to a 44-14 win. Flynn is now nursing an elbow injury, and he probably can take his time coming back.
 
The Kick-a@# Cowboys 
Jerry Jones kicked off training camp by vowing to a group of fans in Oxnard, Calif., that “Y'all should come to Cowboys Stadium and watch us beat the Giants' asses.” Since then, here’s what’s happened to “America’s Team” – injuries and controversies.
 
Aside from Jones’ rant, which did nothing but anger the defending Super Bowl champions, he’s also had to deal with the fall out from petulant receiver Dez Bryant’s alleged assault of his own mother. That led to the creation of the “Dez rules” which he apparently agreed to, including no alcohol, no strip clubs and a midnight curfew. Presumably if he breaks any of those he’ll be put in time out.
 
Meanwhile, the ‘Boys budding dynasty is crumbling before Jones’ eyes. Tight end Jason Witten may miss the opener with a lacerated spleen. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff could miss it too with a badly sprained ankle. And injuries have made the opening night status of Bryant (knee), receiver Miles Austin (hamstring) and center Phil Costa (back) unknown, too.
 
That’s not exactly the way any team wants to kick off what it seems convinced will be a championship run.
 
By RALPH VACCHIANO
Teaser:
<p> Players, issues and storylines that fizzled the most in the past few weeks</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:41
Path: /college-football/10-players-will-decide-college-footballs-2012-national-title
Body:

Every college football team has personnel issues that will be a question mark going into the season, but some have national title implications. LSU fell short of winning a national title last year, largely due to the struggles of quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee against Alabama. Zach Mettenberger could be the missing piece to LSU's title run in 2012, especially if he can help the Tigers stretch the field. However, Mettenberger isn't the only question mark among teams in the top 10, as Oregon will have a new starting quarterback, and USC has significant issues on the defensive line.

10 Players Who Will Decide College Football's 2012 National Title

1. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
With one of college football’s best defenses and rushing attacks, Mettenberger won’t need to win games on his own this year. However, the Tigers’ biggest weakness last season was the passing attack, which was clearly on display in the national title loss to Alabama. Mettenberger has thrown only 11 passes in his LSU career but ranked as one of the top quarterbacks coming out of high school in 2009. Mettenberger should give LSU a much-needed boost in the passing game, which will allow the Tigers to stretch the field more in 2012. However, if Mettenberger struggles, Alabama could surpass LSU for the SEC West title.

2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Considering the recent success of Oregon quarterbacks, and Chip Kelly’s no-huddle, spread offense, all signs point to Mariota becoming a future star. The Hawaii native edged sophomore Bryan Bennett for the starting nod in the fall and assumes the controls of one of the nation’s top offenses. Although Mariota should be one of college football’s top breakout players, his performance in the Nov. 3 game against USC could decide whether the Pac-12 Championship is in Eugene or Los Angeles. A first-year starter always has an adjustment period, but if Mariota can avoid any major hiccups, the Ducks could be playing for the national title in January.

3. George Uko, DT, USC
There’s no question USC should have one of college football’s best offenses. However, the defense is under the microscope after ranking 102nd nationally against the pass last season. The Trojans should be better in the back seven this year, but the line is a major concern. USC lost key contributors Nick Perry, Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris, leaving the depth chart thin on experience and depth. Uko played in all 12 games last year, recording 18 tackles and 1.5 sacks. The sophomore needs help from the rest of the players on the interior, but if USC wants to win a national title, Uko will have to play a key role in stopping opposing rushing attacks.

4. Cameron Erving, LT, Florida State
There’s really no way to sugarcoat it: Florida State’s offensive line was a disaster last season. The Seminoles allowed 3.2 sacks per game and averaged just 112.2 rushing yards per contest. A big reason for the issues up front was youth, as Florida State started four freshmen in the bowl win over Notre Dame. The Seminoles hope they found some answers in the spring, as Erving shifted from defensive tackle to left tackle and will protect quarterback EJ Manuel’s blindside. Florida State is the favorite to win the ACC title but contending for the national championship rests heavily on a young line and how quickly Ervin develops at left tackle.

5. Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma
After losing receiver Ryan Broyles in early November, Oklahoma’s passing attack was never the same. The Sooners posted 447 passing yards against Baylor but didn’t post more than 256 in each of the final three games. Although quarterback Landry Jones deserves some of the blame for the struggles, he needs more help from the receiving corps. Kenny Stills is a solid No. 1 target, but Metoyer is expected to emerge as one of the Big 12’s top receivers. The Texas native had a huge spring and all signs point to a monster season. If Metoyer is as good as advertised, the Sooners won’t miss Broyles in 2012.

6. David Ash, QB, Texas
Just like LSU, Texas boasts one of the nation’s best defenses and rushing attacks. The Longhorns led the Big 12 in total defense last season and have three backs that could start in 2012 – Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray. Texas doesn’t need Ash to be Colt McCoy, but he has to give Texas a spark through the air. Ash threw for 1,079 yards and four touchdowns on 174 attempts, but he also tossed eight picks and completed 56.9 percent of his throws. The sophomore will start the opener against Wyoming, but backup Case McCoy is also expected to play. With weapons like Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis on the outside, Texas should be able to stretch the field more in 2012. Not only does Ash need to jumpstart the passing game, but he also has to be more careful with the ball.

7. Danny O’Brien, QB, Wisconsin
A transfer quarterback from the ACC (Russell Wilson) turned out well for Wisconsin last season. Will the Badgers find the same magic in 2012? O’Brien had a terrific freshman season, throwing for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns in College Park in 2010. However, a change in coaching staffs prevented O’Brien from building on his freshman campaign, and he managed only 1,648 yards and seven touchdowns. The junior doesn’t have Wilson’s mobility, but he is a proven starter and a reliable option. With running back Montee Ball and the Big Ten’s best offensive line returning, O’Brien can be eased into the lineup. If O’Brien finds his freshman form, the Badgers should push for another Big Ten title.

8. John Theus, OT, Georgia
With the departures of center Ben Jones and tackle Cordy Glenn, the Bulldogs have huge question marks up front. Keeping quarterback Aaron Murray healthy and upright in the pocket is Georgia’s best hope at playing for a national title, and the coaching staff is putting a lot of faith in Theus. The true freshman from Jacksonville ranked as the No. 2 offensive lineman by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class and earned the starting right tackle spot in fall practice. Junior Kenarious Gates will start at left tackle, but Theus’ emergence will be just as critical to keeping Georgia’s offense among the best in the SEC.

9. Adrian Hubbard/Xzavier Dickson, LB, Alabama
With the departure of Courtney Upshaw on the outside, the Crimson Tide needs a new playmaker to emerge off the edge. Hubbard and Dickson didn’t play a ton of snaps last season, but both are physically ready for life in the SEC. Hubbard recorded 1.5 sacks in limited action, while Dickson picked up three tackles in seven games. Matching Upshaw’s production (9.5 sacks) may not come from one player, but both sophomores need to play a huge role in establishing Alabama’s pass rush.

10. Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina
Shaw made nine starts last season and finished with an impressive 8-1 record. After a sluggish performance in the opener against East Carolina, Shaw returned to the lineup on Oct. 8 against Kentucky and threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns. He finished the final three games of the season with three 200-yard efforts and eight touchdowns, while tossing only one pick. With Alshon Jeffery departing for the NFL, the Gamecocks need to find a new go-to target, but the offense will get a boost with the return of running back Marcus Lattimore. With Lattimore returning to full strength and a solid defense, Shaw doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards every game. However, assuming he continues to improve, South Carolina will have a chance to win the East and challenge Alabama or LSU for the SEC title.
 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

 

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Ranking College Football's Offensive Linemen for 2012

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Ranking College Football's Top Defensive Backs for 2012

Teaser:
<p> 10 Players Who Will Decide College Football's 2012 National Title</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:39
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-coaches-hot-seat-2012-0
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The 2012 college football season kicks off on Thursday night and the next 14 weeks are crucial to the job status of several coaches around the nation. Boston College's Frank Spaziani tops Athlon's post-fall practice hot seat rankings, while Kentucky's Joker Phillips checks in at No. 2. 

College Football's Top 20 Coaches on the Hot Seat: Post Fall-Practice Edition

1. Frank Spaziani, Boston College (20-19, 3 years)
The Eagles have watched their win total decline in each of the last three seasons and missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 1998 last year. Spaziani faces an uphill battle to keep his job after this season, as a challenging schedule will make a bowl appearance difficult, while the school will have a new athletic director in 2013.

2. Joker Phillips, Kentucky (11-14, 2 years)
The good news for Phillips? Kentucky has some momentum going into this season, especially after beating Tennessee in the 2011 season finale. However, the program has watched its win total decline over the last two years and getting to six wins in 2012 will be tough with a schedule that features matchups against Louisville, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Phillips deserves more time, but Kentucky can’t afford to fall behind in the SEC, especially with Missouri joining the East and Vanderbilt’s recent rise under James Franklin.

3. Derek Dooley, Tennessee (11-14, 2 years)
Another 5-7 season won’t be tolerated in Knoxville. The Volunteers have only one season of more than nine wins since 2005 (10 in 2007) and have failed to make a bowl game in two out of the last four years. Of course, Dooley isn’t to blame for all of the struggles since he has been in Knoxville only two seasons, but there are high expectations at Tennessee. With quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Justin Hunter returning, the Volunteers should have one of the SEC’s top offenses. However, a rushing attack that ranked last in the SEC last season will have to improve if Tennessee wants to challenge Georgia or South Carolina for first in the East.

4. David Bailiff, Rice (23-38, 5 years)
Throw out a 10-win season in 2008 and Bailiff has just 13 victories in four seasons with the Owls. There’s far less scrutiny at Rice than there is at a BCS job, but Bailiff needs to show this program is heading back in the right direction after winning four games in 2010 and 2011.

5. George O’Leary, UCF (50-51, 8 years)
O’Leary is the first coach on this list that could win a conference championship in 2012 – sort of. UCF is appealing its NCAA sanctions, which have banned the Knights from postseason play and participating in the Conference USA title game. However, if UCF manages to win the appeal, this team is the favorite to represent C-USA’s East Division in the conference championship. O’Leary has had an up and down career at UCF, winning 10 games in 2007 and 11 in 2010 but recorded just five victories in 2011. With the Knights moving to the Big East in 2013, another mediocre season could spell the end of O’Leary’s tenure in Orlando.

6. Jeff Quinn, Buffalo (5-19, 2 years)
It’s been tough to find success in Buffalo, as the Bulls have only one winning season over the last 10 years. Quinn took over after Turner Gill left for Kansas but has managed only five overall wins, with three coming in MAC play. Buffalo showed some progress last year, nearly beating Northern Illinois (MAC West champ) and defeating Ohio (MAC East champ) 38-37. Branden Oliver is the MAC’s top returning running back, and the Bulls have six starters back on defense. If Buffalo can get more consistent play from its quarterbacks, the Bulls should improve on last season’s win total (3).

7. Dan Enos, Central Michigan (6-18, 2 years)
Enos has been unable to build on the success Brian Kelly and Butch Jones had at Central Michigan from 2004-09. The Chippewas have recorded back-to-back three-win seasons and lost six out of their last seven games in 2011. Central Michigan returns plenty of firepower on offense this year, as quarterback Ryan Radcliff and receivers Titus Davis and Cody Wilson are back. However, Radcliff must be more careful with the ball, and the defense has to improve after ranking 11th in the conference last year. With games against Michigan State, Iowa, Northern Illinois and Toledo in the first five weeks of the season, Enos has a chance to save his job by pulling an upset over either Big Ten foe or by beating two division rivals.

8. Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech (13-12, 2 years)
Tuberville seemed like a perfect fit for Texas Tech when he was hired after the 2010 season. However, the results on the field have been mixed. Despite beating No. 1 Oklahoma on Oct. 22 last year, the Red Raiders did not play in a bowl game for the first time since 1999 last year. Texas Tech’s win total has declined in each of the last three years, and the defense will have its fourth coordinator in four seasons. With three easy non-conference games, the Red Raiders should open up 3-0. However, another 5-7 season will make it difficult for Tuberville to return to Lubbock in 2013.

9. Bobby Hauck, UNLV (4-21, 2 years)
Hauck inherited a program that had just one season over .500 since 2000, so it’s unfair to pin all of the struggles on him. However, the Rebels have shown little progress in his first two years in Las Vegas, winning just two games and were blown out in most Mountain West contests last season. UNLV has some promising talent on the team, but there is also lot of youth. Barring a complete disaster, Hauck should return for 2013. However, the Rebels need to take some steps in the right direction in 2012.

10. Mike Price, UTEP (45-52, 8 years)
Since posting back-to-back seasons of eight wins in 2004-05, the Miners have failed to finish over .500. However, UTEP surprised many by winning five games last year and could be in the mix for a bowl game in 2012. Price is in the final year of his contract, so there’s plenty of pressure to perform. Considering the personnel losses at Houston, Tulsa and SMU, the Miners have potential to surprise in Conference USA’s West Division.

11. Randy Edsall, Maryland (2-10, 1 year)
Edsall had a disastrous debut in College Park, and it will be a struggle to improve on last season’s record in 2012. The Terrapins will start a true freshman quarterback, and both sides of the ball have new coordinators. Edsall deserves more than two years, but he will be under heavy scrutiny going into 2013 if Maryland fails to win more than three games.

12. Rick Stockstill, MTSU (35-40, 6 years)
Stockstill was once considered a rising star in the coaching ranks but is coming off a disappointing 2-10 season.

13. Robb Akey, Idaho (19-43, 5 years)
Akey led the Vandals to 14 wins from 2009-10 but slumped to a disappointing 2-10 mark in 2011. With an uncertain future at the FBS level, Idaho needs to win to be more attractive for a spot in a conference.

14. Dewayne Walker, New Mexico State (9-29, 3 years)
Just like fellow WAC foe Idaho, New Mexico State is slated to be a FBS Independent in 2013. It’s questionable that an Independent schedule can work for the Aggies over the long haul but it has to be done to stay on the FBS level in 2013. New Mexico State is one of the toughest jobs in the nation, but the Aggies have lost at least nine games in each of Walker’s three seasons in Las Cruces.

15. Jeff Tedford, California (79-48, 10 years)
The Golden Bears have been up and down in Tedford’s tenure, recording 10 wins in 2006 but have 12 wins over the last two years. Only adding to Tedford’s hot seat is the opening of a renovated Memorial Stadium, while the Pac-12 North isn’t getting any easier with the arrival of Mike Leach at Washington State and Washington on the rise under Steve Sarkisian.

16. Dave Clawson, Bowling Green (14-23, 3 years)
Clawson had an impressive debut with the Falcons in 2009, winning seven games and earning a bowl trip to Boise. However, the Falcons have failed to build on that success, recording seven victories over the last two seasons. Bowling Green has a promising core returning for 2012, and the younger players this team had to play in 2010 and 2011 should be ready to lead this team back to a winning record.

17. Bill Cubit, Western Michigan (47-39, 7 years)
Cubit has four winning seasons and three bowl appearances during his tenure in Kalamazoo. Despite his success, the Broncos have not played for a MAC title since 2000, and some believe the program has underachieved during his tenure.

18. Todd Berry, Louisiana-Monroe (9-15, 2 years)
After winning five games in four years at Army from 2000-03, Berry was a curious hire at Louisiana-Monroe. The Warhawks have nine wins in his tenure, and it will be important for Berry to show progress in his third season.

19. Doug Marrone, Syracuse (17-20, 3 years)
With a move to the ACC on the horizon for 2013, Marrone hopes to show the program is back on track in 2012. The Orange won eight games in 2010 but slipped back to 5-7 last year. Marrone is a good fit at Syracuse but another disappointing season will have him squarely on the hot seat entering 2013.

20. Mack Brown, Texas (141-39, 14 years)
Even though Brown needs just 27 victories to become Texas’ all-time winningest coach, there’s always pressure to perform in Austin. The Longhorns are on the right track but another 5-7 or 6-6 season will make the fanbase even more restless.


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

 

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Ranking College Football's Defensive Linemen for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Linebackers for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top Defensive Backs for 2012

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2012</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:37
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-sleepers-10-teams-could-return-ncaa-tourney
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In 2012, 30 of 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament field missed out a bid a season earlier.

The tally included eight from the six major conferences, including returns to prominence for Indiana and NC State. A quarter of the Sweet 16 -- the Hoosiers, Wolfpack, Baylor and Ohio -- was comprised of teams that a year earlier were either in consolation tournaments or missed the postseason altogether.

In 2012-13, Tournament droughts undoubtedly will end with a handful of teams capable of reaching the second weekend.

As Athlon begins to preview the upcoming season, we’ll take a look at some of the sleeper teams capable of emerging into Tournament contenders.

One key note: We are not including Arizona in this list of “sleeper” teams. Despite playing in the NIT last season, the Wildcats likely will begin the season among the top two in the Pac-12 and potential national top 10 thanks to a strong crop of newcomers. In short, Arizona is hardly a true “sleeper” team.

2012 SLEEPER TEAMS THAT COULD CRASH THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
Arkansas
2011-12 Postseason: None (18-14, 6-10 SEC)
The Razorbacks have missed the NCAA Tournament in each of the last four seasons, but the drought may come to an end as the program enters the second season under Mike Anderson. Despite being named a coaches’ second-team All-SEC selection, guard B.J. Young was one of the most overlooked players in the SEC. Young averaged 15.3 points and 2.3 assists as a freshman -- in a league full of impressive rookies. The key for the Hogs, however, will be the return of Marshawn Powell, who averaged 10.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 2010-11. He played only two games last season before sustaining a torn ACL. He’ll add size and experience to a team thin on both.
Related: SEC coach rankings

Iowa
2011-12 Postseason: NIT second round (18-17, 8-10 Big Ten)
Last season had a handful of high points for Iowa: Rare wins in the Big Ten Tournament (over Illinois) and the NIT (over Dayton), but the signature moments were during the Big Ten season. The Hawkeyes swept the season series with Wisconsin and defeated NCAA participants Indiana and Michigan. Leading scorer Matt Gatens is gone for the Hawkeyes, but Iowa’s next five leading scorers were freshmen and sophomores last season. The Big Ten will be competitive, but the Hawkeyes should threaten to reach their first NCAA Tournament since 2006.
Related: Midwest Region questions: Are Minnesota, Iowa on the rebound?

Delaware
2011-12 Postseason: College Basketball Invitational first round (18-14, 12-6 Colonial)
The last coach to take the Blue Hens to the NCAA Tournament was Mike Brey in 1998 and ’99. In 2011-12, coach Monte Ross led Delaware to its first winning record in a decade. The departure of VCU to the Atlantic 10 and roster turnover at George Mason and Old Dominion may open the door for Delaware to end its Tournament drought, but the CAA likely will be a one-bid league for the fourth time in five seasons. Junior Devon Saddler (18.8 ppg) and senior Jamelle Hagins (12.4 ppg, 11.1 rpg) are back on a team that returns its top five scorers.

Marshall
2011-12 Postseason: NIT first round (21-14, 9-7 Conference USA)
Marshall received a major boost when Dennis Tinnon (10.2 ppg, 10 rpg) received an extra year of eligibility. He’ll team with DeAndre Kane (16.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, 1.4 spg) for one of the top duos in the league. One of the key questions will be how the Thundering Herd replaces senior point guard Damier Pitts. Marshall also will need to prove itself against C-USA favorite Memphis. The Tigers swept the regular season series and defeated the Thundering Herd 83-57 in the conference tournament final.

Massachusetts
2011-12 Postseason: NIT semifinals (25-12, 9-7 Atlantic 10)
The Atlantic 10 is undergoing a changing of the guard of sorts. Butler and VCU are in, and Temple and Xavier are in stages of starting over. UMass could be poised to pounce. Thanks to the arrival of 5-9 point guard Chaz Williams from Hofstra, UMass had its first winning season under Derek Kellogg. The Minutemen’s core players were sophomores and juniors last season, including forward Sampson Carter, who averaged 8.6 points and and 3.9 rebounds in an injury-shortened season.
Related: Atlantic 10 coach rankings

Miami
2011-12 Postseason: NIT second round (20-13, 9-7 ACC)
Miami already enjoyed its first winning record in the ACC since joining the league in 2004-05. Now, the Hurricanes will set their sights on only their second NCAA appearance in the last decade. Kenny Kadji (11.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg) was a revelation after his transfer from Florida. He and center Reggie Johnson could form one of the league’s best frontcourts if Johnson stays healthy and improves his consistency. Malcolm Grant is gone, but guards Durand Scott, Shane Larkin, Rion Brown and Trey McKinney Jones all averaged at least seven points per game.
Related: East Region questions: Can Reggie Johnson lead Miami to signature season?

Minnesota
2011-12 Postseason: NIT runner up (23-15, 6-12 Big Ten)
Trevor Mbakwe played only the first seven games of the season, averaging 14 points and 9.1 rebounds, before missing the remainder of the season with a knee. Without their veteran forward, the Gophers never found their stride during the Big Ten regular season. That changed into the postseason when junior Rodney Williams and freshman point guard Andre Hollins broke out for hot streaks in the Big Ten Tournament and NIT. With Mbakwe healthy and Williams and Hollins playing as they did late last season, the Gophers won’t finish 6-12 in the conference for the third consecutive season.
Related: Big Ten coach rankings

Oklahoma State
2011-12 Postseason: None (15-18, 7-11 in the Big 12)
Oklahoma State missed the field the last two seasons, finishing with the program’s first losing record since 1987-88. Another losing record seems a long shot. Guard Marcus Smart is one of the nation’s elite freshmen. He and sophomore Le’Bryan Nash give the Cowboys two McDonald’s All-Americans. Before missing the final five games with an arm injury, Nash struggled with consistency last season but finished with 13.3 points and five rebounds. In addition, the Cowboys had only one senior last season, leading scorer Keiton Page.
Related: Big 12 coach rankings

Pittsburgh
2011-12 Postseason: Won College Basketball Invitational (22-17, 5-13 Big East)
Pittsburgh had been one of the nation’s most consistent programs under Jamie Dixon and Ben Howland, reaching 10 consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Little went right ford Dixon last season, though, as Pitt went 6-15 from Dec. 23 through the start of the CBI. The Panthers will miss Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson, but they add seven-foot center Steven Adams. Freshmen haven’t played a major role for Dixon, but he hasn’t signed many as highly touted as Adams. A handful of Panthers like Dante Taylor will need to take the next step, but it’s tough to count out a Dixon-coached team with a senior point guard like Tray Woodall.
Related: National coach rankings: Dixon checks in at No. 13

Stanford
2011-12 Postseason:
Won NIT (26-11, 10-8 Pac-12)
The Cardinal is in its best position to return to the NCAA Tournament since the arrival of Johnny Dawkins. The Cardinal has a young, if undersized, backcourt, in  6-1 Chasson Randle and 5-11 Aaron Bright. Forward Josh Owens is gone, but the Cardinal returns nearly everyone else and adds freshman forward Rosco Allen. Stanford started last season 5-1 in the Pac-12 and 15-3 overall before a midseason swoon eliminated the Cardinal from NCAA contention.
Related: West Region questions: Is the heat on Dawkins?

Tennessee
2011-12 Postseason:
NIT second round (19-15, 10-6 SEC)
The arrival of freshman Jarnell Stokes changed the complexion of Tennessee’s season once the Volunteers started SEC play. The team that lost to Austin Peay and Charleston in December without Stokes defeated Vanderbilt and Florida in February and March. Trae Golden (13.6 ppg, 4.5 apg) and Jeronne Maymon (12.7 ppg, 8.1 apg) are back as well, making the Vols a factor in the SEC race in their second season under Cuonzo Martin.
Related: South Region questions: What does a full season of Jarnell Stokes mean for UT?

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> College Basketball Sleepers: 10 teams that could return to the NCAA Tourney<br />  </p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:04
Path: /college-football/college-football%E2%80%99s-pivotal-players-seven-pac-12
Body:

This week, teams around the nation moved from preseason camp mode and into game-week preparation.

We’re starting to see coaches name starting quarterbacks and settle on position battles.

Although questions are still out there before the season, some weigh more heavily than others. As the preseason winds down, we’re picking who we believe to be “pivotal players,” or in other words, key players who need to step up where their teams need them most.

Athlon Sports’ characteristics of a “pivotal player:”
• He plays for a conference or division contender.
• He plays at a position of weakness for his team.
• He’s an unestablished player with potential to solidify his team’s position of weakness.

We begin our look at pivotal players with the Pac-12 on our final day of the series.

PAC-12 PIVOTAL PLAYERS
Kevin Danser, OG, Stanford
New starting quarterback Josh Nunes will get most of the attention for replacing No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck, but the new starters on the offensive line shouldn’t be overlooked as the Cardinal rely even more heavily on the run game. Danser takes over the right guard spot held by David DeCastro, who was the key blocker up front on a run-heavy team. Danser saw his share of time as a backup last season, but he’s in his first season as a starter.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
UCLA has had the talent to compete in the Pac-12, but the Bruins haven’t been able to capitalize for a variety of reasons. The injury bug at quarterback hasn’t helped. Coach Jim L. Mora hopes the Bruins are ready to enter a new era with the redshirt freshman Hundley at quarterback. With a standout running back (Johnathan Franklin) and tight end (Joseph Fauria) and talented but young receivers, Hundley could be the missing piece in the Bruins’ offense.

J.P. Hurrell and Robert Mullins, LB, Cal
Cal quietly has led the Pac-10/12 in total defense in each of the last two seasons, and now the Bears must replace Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks at linebacker. Stepping into the two inside linebacker spots are Hurrell and Mullins, two seniors who are entering their first season as starters. The duo will be tested early against Nevada, a team that generally runs the ball well. Before September is over, the Bears will also play back-to-back road trips against Ohio State and USC.

Hau’oli Jamora, DE, Washington
The season-ending injury to Jamora was an early setback in a season full of setbacks for the Huskies’ defense in 2011. Jamora was expected to be one of Washington’s best defensive players before suffering a torn ACL in the fourth game of the season. A year earlier, Jamora was off to a promising start to his career with 49 tackles and eight tackles for a loss as a freshman. If healthy, Jamora will make up half of an impressive end tandem along with Josh Shirley, who had 8.5 sacks last season.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
It’s tough to pick anyone else on the Ducks’ roster who could be more pivotal to Oregon’s season. The pieces are in place for another Pac-12 title or more, but quarterback is an uncertainty. The redshirt freshman Mariota edged out the more experienced Bryan Bennett since he burst on the scene in the spring game. Mariota may be the best true dual-threat quarterback Oregon has had since Dennis Dixon -- but can the rookie outduel Matt Barkley?

David Rolf, TE, Utah
Rolf played defensive end and linebacker at Michigan State in 2008 and 2009 before transferring to Utah. The Utes moved him to tight end where he will start this season. It’s not that strange of a switch for the 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior, who played wide receiver in high school. After ranking last in the Pac-12  in passing last season, Utah will look to restore some balance to the offense. A healthy Jordan Wynn at quarterback will help, as will a deep group of tight ends led by Rolf.

George Uko, DT, USC
If there’s an Achilles’ heel to USC’s title aspirations, it may be the defensive line. Not only is it the thinnest position on the team, quality defensive line play has been the key to disrupting the Oregon offense. If USC needs to defeat the Ducks twice for a Pac-12 title (or national championship game appearance), Uko could be the key player. He started twice last season, making him a veteran by comparison to the rest of the linemen.

Previous pivotal players
ACC

Big 12
Big East

Big Ten

SEC

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> College Football’s Pivotal Players: Seven from the Pac-12</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:03
Path: /college-football/college-football%E2%80%99s-pivotal-players-eight-sec
Body:

This week, teams around the nation moved from preseason camp mode and into game-week preparation.

We’re starting to see coaches name starting quarterbacks and settle on position battles.

Although questions are still out there before the season, some weigh more heavily than others. As the preseason winds down, we’re picking who we believe to be “pivotal players,” or in other words, key players who need to step up where their teams need them most.

Athlon Sports’ characteristics of a “pivotal player:”
• He plays for a conference or division contender.
• He plays at a position of weakness for his team.
• He’s an unestablished player with potential to solidify his team’s position of weakness.

We begin our look at pivotal players with the SEC on our final day of the series.


SEC PIVOTAL PLAYERS
Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida
The Gators’ post-Tebow quarterback conundrum will continue into its third season. And by the sound of things, Will Muschamp doesn’t have an answer yet.  Brissett and Driskel will both play in the opener against Bowling Green and will rotate series by series or quarter by quarter -- a recipe that generally isn’t conducive to success. Florida has little time to make a decision with road trips to Texas A&M and Tennessee in the second and third weeks of the season.

Trey DePriest, LB, Alabama
Few places on Alabama’s defense could be classified as a ”weakness.” There’s too much talent for that, but without Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, the Crimson Tide is looking to break in new faces at linebacker. The sophomore may be a good bet to make a name for himself as he steps in for Hightower at middle linebacker. DePriest had 25 tackles as a freshman last season. He may have little trouble topping that number this season.

Kendial Lawrence, RB, Missouri
Pass-heavy teams can win in the Big 12, but can it be done in the SEC in 2012? With quarterback James Franklin and wide receivers T.J. Moe and Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri should be among the best passing teams in the SEC. How Lawrence performs in the absence of Henry Josey will be the key to a balanced offense. Lawrence returned from a leg injury last season to fill in for an injured Josey, topping 100 yards twice in his last four games against standout defenses for Texas and North Carolina.

Rajion Neal, RB, Tennessee
It’s mind-boggling the school that produced Arian Foster, Jamal Lewis and Travis Henry had the worst run game in the SEC for the last two seasons. Neal played running back and receiver last season, but Derek Dooley named him the starting tailback during preseason camp. Neal solved fumbling issues from earlier in his career and was the most consistent candidate in practice. Now, he needs to perform during the season.

Kenarious Gates, OT, Georgia
Gates started nine games last season, but he’ll take a bigger role in 2012 on Georgia’s biggest question mark on offense. After two seasons at right and left guard, Gates steps into the left tackle position vacated by NFL second-round draft Cordy Glenn. A 6-foot-5 and 328 pounds, Gates has the size to play tackle in the SEC. He’ll soon find out if he can hold his own over the course of the season.

Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina
Alshon Jeffery had a down season last year, but he was still a clear No. 1 target with nearly twice as many receiving yards as South Carolina’s second-leading receiver Sanders. At 5-8, Sanders doesn’t match Jeffery’s size, but Sanders wins in the speed department -- he averaged 9.3 yards on punt returns. South Carolina has a handful of candidates to replace Jeffery, but Sanders is the most experienced.

Tharold Simon, CB, LSU
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger may be the key player to LSU’s season, but the Tigers already proved they could win the SEC despite a question mark at quarterback. Tyrann Mathieu was LSU’s best defensive playmaker, but he wasn’t the most technically sound defensive back. Simon, though, can be a lockdown cornerback. With Mathieu gone and a freshman likely to start alongside Simon, opponents may try to test the LSU secondary more than a year ago.

Tenarius Wright, LB, Arkansas
Wright was a somewhat established player the last two seasons with nine starts and 20 tackles for a loss, but that was at defensive end. With Jerry Franklin gone, Arkansas moved the 6-2, 252-pound senior to middle linebacker. He’s played linebacker before, but that was in high school. Back at the position since spring, Wright might hold the key to the Arkansas defense.

Previous pivotal players
ACC

Big 12
Big East

Big Ten

Pac-12

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> College Football’s Pivotal Players: Eight from the SEC</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-washington-redskins
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Rich Campbell, Washington Times

What are reasonable fantasy expectations for rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III?
It would be difficult for any rookie to equal what Cam Newton did last season. RG3 could get there, but let’s start lower. Grossman and John Beck last season combined for 4,009 yards, 18 touchdowns and 24 interceptions with a 58.4 completion percentage. The yardage total is a testament to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s ability to devise a quality scheme and exploit matchups. Griffin completed 72.4 percent of his passes at Baylor last season with 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Despite being a rookie, he should protect the ball this season better than Grossman and Beck did. You also can expect some rushing production. That at least makes Griffin a viable fantasy option after the first and second tiers of proven NFL passers. And if you’re in a keeper league, RG3’s value skyrockets.

Will Mike Shanahan pick one running back and stick with him? Or is Roy Helu Jr. doomed to be part of a committee?
The Redskins are going to employ a committee approach until they acquire a running back they can’t afford to take off the field. Think Terrell Davis or Arian Foster level. Washington is still searching for that player, so for now they’ll go with Tim Hightower, Helu and Evan Royster. Hightower is positioned to be the starter despite coming off a torn ACL in his left knee. Redskins coaches believe him to be a strong fit for the outside zone scheme because of his speed and vision. Helu fits more as a backup for now.

Will Fred Davis be the top pass-catching fantasy option on this team? Or will it be one of the young, promising wide receivers?
Kyle Shanahan wants to spread the ball around and exploit matchups. That Davis led the team in receptions last season at the time of his suspension was as much a product of a lack of other receiving options as it was Davis’ talent. Now that Davis is surrounded by receivers such as Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, relying on Davis to consistently be the top pass-catcher is a mistake.

At 37 years old, can London Fletcher still be a productive fantasy starter?
Fletcher continued to defy his age last season and led the NFL with 166 tackles. His vision, intelligence and preparation help him make plays, but he still is physically stout, as well. At some point his body is going to break down, but he has played in 224 consecutive games, so feel good about riding this wave until it does.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Pierre Garcon, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Evan Royster, RB
Overvalued: Roy Helu, RB
Top Rookie: Robert Griffin III, QB
Bounce-Back: Leonard Hankerson, WR
Top IDP: London Fletcher, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Robert Griffin III QB 6-2 223 Baylor
3. Josh LeRibeus G/C 6-3 312 SMU
4. Kirk Cousins QB 6-3 214 Michigan State
4. Keenan Robinson ILB 6-3 242 Texas
5. Adam Gettis G 6-2 293 Iowa
6. Alfred Morris RB 5-9 219 FAU
6. Tom Compton T 6-5 314 South Dakota
7. Richard Crawford CB 5-11 191 SMU
7. Jordan Berstine S 5-11 205 Iowa

Fantasy Impact: After years of mediocre quarterback play, the Redskins traded up to acquire Robert Griffin III as the team’s new signal-caller. Alfred Morris was a solid late-round pickup and is a good fit for Washington’s zone-rushing attack. However, he is a long shot to have any fantasy value this season. Kirk Cousins has a shot to serve as Griffin’s backup.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (BAL, at CLE, at PHI)

It could be tough sledding for the Redskins and RGIII in the fantasy postseason. The Browns and Ravens were ranked first and third, respectively, against fantasy QBs last season and the Eagles ranked 15th. And the Browns and Ravens were first and sixth, respectively, against WRs. On the flip side for Roy Helu, the Browns and Eagles and both ranked poorly against fantasy RBs.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Washington Redskins</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-tennessee-titans
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Nathan Rush, Athlon Sports

Is Chris Johnson still worthy of a first-round selection?
Yes. Chris Johnson remains the undisputed centerpiece of the Titans offense. Last year was a tale of two seasons for CJ, who was a miserable disappointment over the first eight games (572 total yards, one TD) and a solid fantasy starter over the final eight contests (878 total yards, three TDs). CJ’s second half included outbursts of 193 total yards in Week 12 and 157 total yards and two TDs in Week 13 — key weeks on the fantasy calendar’s stretch run.

Will there be any lingering effects of Kenny Britt’s terrible knee injury in Week 3 last year?
Britt had a second surgery in late May, as a result of continued swelling around the knee during rehab training. Although this was spun as a routine cleanup procedure to help the healing process, the operation did little to alleviate the growing concern that Britt will not be 100 percent in Week 1 this year. He has played in only 31-of-48 possible games as a pro. As usual, expect Britt to do significant damage with limited playing time in 2012.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Jared Cook, TE
Deep-Sleeper: Damian Williams, WR
Overvalued: Nate Washington, WR
Top Rookie: Kendall Wright, WR
Bounce-Back: Kenny Britt, WR
Top IDP: Colin McCarthy, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Kendall Wright WR 5-10 196 Baylor
2. Zach Brown LB 6-1 242 North Carolina
3. Mike Martin DT 6-1 306 Michigan
4. Coty Sensabaugh CB 5-11 189 Clemson
5. Taylor Thompson TE 6-6 287 SMU
6. Markelle Martin S 6-1 207 Oklahoma State
7. Scott Solomon DE 6-3 262 Rice

Fantasy Impact: With Kenny Britt rehabbing from a torn ACL, the Titans needed to add another receiver to the mix. Kendall Wright brings big-play ability and could start this season. He should be selected in redraft formats and is one of the top keeper picks at receiver. The rest of the Titans’ draft was focused on building the defense, as five selections went into that side of the ball. Taylor Thompson played defensive end at SMU but has the size and hands combination to make an impact at tight end in the NFL. However, he is a project and will struggle to play in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at IND, NYJ, at GB)

Whether it’s Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker at QB, the Titans’ playmakers — Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Jared Cook — all have a favorable fantasy postseason slate. They are on the road to take on Colts and Packers teams that were ranked in the bottom 16 against all three position groups, and they get a solid Jets team at home in a Monday Night Football game.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Tennessee Titans</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:02
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-tampa-bay-buccaneers
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Rick Stroud, St. Petersburg Times

Which Josh Freeman can fantasy owners expect to draft? The one who threw 25 TDs and six INTs in 2010 or the one who tossed only 16 TDs and 22 INTs last season?
Josh Freeman has rededicated himself this season, having lost 15-to-20 pounds from his powerful 6'6" frame. Freeman’s weight loss has been overshadowed by what he gained in weapons. For the first time in his career, he has a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Chargers free agent Vincent Jackson. The Bucs also signed Saints free agent guard Carl Nicks and moved Jeremy Zuttah to center. Receiver Mike Williams should function better with coverage rolling to Jackson’s side. Freeman has to break his reliance on Kellen Winslow, who was shipped to Seattle for a seventh rounder. In his place is heady vet Dallas Clark. Freeman also has a back to check the ball down to in first-round pick Doug Martin. Remember, as bad as Freeman was, he set career marks in yards and completion percentage.

What sort of timeshare can owners expect from the Doug Martin-LeGarrette Blount backfield duo?
There’s a good reason the Bucs drafted Martin. In addition to adding some depth at the position, Martin is viewed by new coach Greg Schiano as an every-down back, meaning he can run, catch and protect. Blount was one-dimensional at best. Blount will be used in four-minute situations, when the Bucs want to pound the ball. Martin will do almost everything else and should be the much more enticing fantasy option on draft day.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Mike Williams, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Arrelious Benn, WR
Overvalued: Vincent Jackson, WR
Top Rookie: Doug Martin, RB
Bounce-Back: Josh Freeman, QB
Top IDP: Mason Foster, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Mark Barron S 6-2 213 Alabama
1. Doug Martin RB 5-9 223 Boise State
2. Lavonte David LB 6-1 233 Nebraska
5. Najee Goode LB 6-0 244 West Virginia
6. Keith Tandy CB 5-10 199 West Virginia
7. Michael Smith RB 5-9 205 Utah State
7. Drake Dunsmore TE/FB 6-3 235 Northwestern

Fantasy Impact: New coach Greg Schiano wants to build the offense around a powerful rushing attack, so it was no surprise when he selected Doug Martin to pair with LeGarrette Blount in the backfield. Blount has started the last two years for the Buccaneers, but Martin is expected to lead the team in carries and yards this season. Michael Smith brings a different dimension to the backfield and will see carries as a change-of-pace threat. Lavonte David and Mark Barron are two impact defensive acquisitions and should be monitored in IDP leagues.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (PHI, at NO, STL)

Tampa Bay ranked 27th in the NFL in scoring offense and last in scoring defense  last season. No offensive players were top-12 fantasy players at their position. Playing the Eagles and Saints in the fantasy playoffs means playing catch-up, so there should be some production. St. Louis was equally bad — 32nd scoring offense, 26th scoring defense. The fantasy title game is a wild card.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 05:01
Path: /mlb/2012-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-august-27
Body:

Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week for August 27, 2012.

 1. Nationals — Is there some friction among management?

 2. Reds — Winning one of three vs. St. Louis was enough.

3. Rangers — Adrian Beltre joining Josh Hamilton in MVP race.

 4. Yankees — Powerful lineup has scored just 23 runs in last eight games.

 5. Braves — Bullpen much more rested than this time last season.

 6. Rays — Best record in the majors this month.

 7. Giants — Lead the National League in runs in August.

 8. White Sox — Back-to-back home sweep of the Yankees and Mariners.

 9. A’s — Allowed just 29 runs in last 10 games, winning eight.

10. Dodgers — Pull off biggest blockbuster trade in several years.

11. Pirates — Beginning to leak oil.

12. Cardinals — Begin the week at Pittsburgh, end it at Washington - not easy.

13. Orioles — Finished the week tied with Oakland for second wild card spot.

14. Tigers — White Sox come to Motown this weekend.

15. Diamondbacks — After hosting Reds for three, will play 25 straight vs. NL West.

16. Angels — Sweep at Fenway was nice, but have lost 15 of 24.

17. Mariners — Won eight in a row, then lost three one-run games at Chicago.

18. Red Sox — Traded injured player, malcontent and huge contracts to L.A.

19. Phillies — Won five of seven last week vs. first-place teams.

20. Padres — Beginning to separate themselves from the bottom teams.

21. Mets — Won back-to-back just three times since the break.

22. Marlins — Scored four runs or less in last 11 losses.

23. Brewers — 23 blown saves lead the majors.

24. Royals — Won eight of nine inside division with Det. and Minn. this week.

25. Blue Jays — Averaging fewer than three runs a game in August.

26. Indians — Lost 23 of their last 28 games — crashing and burning.

27. Twins — Scott Diamond: 10-5, 3.04 ERA; rest of starters: 22-54, 6.15.

28. Rockies — Wins leader Rex Brothers has yet to start a game.

29. Cubs — Opponents reaching base at a .357 clip off the bullpen.

30. Astros — Would they really consider trotting out Roger Clemens? Yes.            

AL Player of the Week

Adrian Beltre, Texas—The Rangers are in the business of scoring lots of runs and business has been good. Last week Beltre batted .433 and slugged 1.100. He drove in nine runs and scored seven with nine extra-base hits. He had a three-homer game on Wednesday against Baltimore, then hit for the cycle vs. Minnesota on Friday.

 

AL Pitcher of the Week

Max Scherzer, Detroit—Scherzer won both of his starts last week, going seven innings and allowing just one earned run in each game. The righthander has now made eight consecutive starts with at least eight strikeouts. The streak covers 52.1 innings and includes 70 whiffs.

 

NL Player of the Week

Allen Craig, St. Louis—St. Louis continues to battle for one of the wild card spots, and Craig keeps on raking. He hit .440 last week with two homers. His nine RBIs led the NL and his eight runs were second. He had three three-hit games and one three-walk contest.

 

NL Pitcher of the Week

Adam Wainwright, St. Louis—With the Cardinals precariously holding a spot in the postseason, and with the bullpen a bit sketchy, it’s important that St. Louis starters get deep into games. Wainwright shut out Houston and tossed 5.2 innings in a win against division leader Cincinnati. In 14.2 innings, Wainwright walked one and struck out 14.

Teaser:
<p> A look at the best and worst baseball teams in the league.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 18:09
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-aug-27
Body:

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

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (8/20-8/26):

  Name Team Pos. R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Adrian Beltre TEX 3B 7 5 9 0 .433 1.533
2. Jason Heyward ATL OF 5 4 8 2 .393 1.254
3. Allen Craig STL 1/2/OF 8 2 9 0 .440 1.220
4. Giancarlo Stanton MIA OF 7 5 8 0 .286 1.167
5. Dustin Pedroia BOS 2B 6 2 6 3 .357 1.133
6. Ian Kinsler TEX 2B 7 2 9 0 .407 1.278
7. Aaron Hill ARI 2B 5 3 7 2 .308 1.049
8. Pedro Ciriaco* BOS 2/3/SS 8 1 4 1 .464 1.126
9. Jimmy Rollins PHI SS 5 1 7 3 .346 .956
10. Mitch Moreland* TEX 1B/OF 6 2 10 0 .360 .986
11. Andre Ethier LAD OF 7 2 6 0 .440 1.200
12. Angel Pagan* SF OF 10 0 2 2 .414 1.090
13. Michael Saunders* SEA OF 5 3 6 1 .333 1.345
14. Freddie Freeman ATL 1B 6 3 6 1 .296 1.116
15. Derek Jeter NYY SS 7 3 4 0 .357 1.129
16. Alex Rios CHW OF 6 1 3 3 .348 .984
17. Edwin Encarnacion TOR 1B/3B 5 3 6 0 .368 1.350
18. Matt Holliday STL OF 6 0 8 0 .444 1.111
19. Jacoby Ellsbury BOS OF 5 0 4 3 .379 .848
20. Josh Hamilton TEX OF 6 1 9 0 .333 .886
21. John Mayberry* PHI 1B/OF 5 2 7 0 .346 .910
22. Jonathan Lucroy* MIL C 3 2 7 0 .467 1.489
23. Will Venable* SD OF 7 0 3 1 .476 1.236
24. Jon Jay* STL OF 6 0 3 2 .407 .888
25. Jose Reyes MIA SS 4 2 6 1 .300 .964

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Backstop Help

It is a shame that his wife dropped a suitcase on his hand, because Jonathan Lucroy was assured of his best season of his short three-year career. He is now up to .333 with a .937 OPS on the season with eight dingers in 207 at-bats. But if you need help at catcher for the final title push, the Brewers backstop is a great place to start.

Outfield Speed

If you need some outfield speed, it looks like there are plenty of options on the waiver wire. Will Venable (18 SB, 6% owned), Coco Crisp (28 SB, 43%), Ben Revere (30 SB, 38%), Cameron Maybin (24 SB, 39%) and even Juan Pierre (32 SB, 19%) should be available in most formats and all can provide a bump in one or two categories. Crisp offers the most complete line while Revere will help your team batting average as well.

First Baggers

Mitch Moreland (23% owned), Garrett Jones (56%) and John Mayberry (5%) could all be useful for teams with first base or corner infield concerns. Jones is the No. 5-rated 1B over the last month while Moreland and Mayberry have had great last weeks. All three can offer some pop while not hurting your team in any other way. They are low-risk, high-reward pick-ups.

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Max Scherzer DET 21.0 3 27 0.86 0.90
2. Kyle Kendrick PHI 21.2 3 16 0.83 0.69
3. Felix Hernandez SEA 16.2 2 17 0.54 0.48
4. Hiroki Kuroda NYY 25.0 2 15 1.44 0.56
5. Clayton Kershaw LAD 24.0 2 26 2.63 0.71
6. Matt Harrison TEX 22.1 2 14 1.21 0.67
7. Adam Wainwright STL 20.2 3 19 1.74 0.87
8. David Price TB 15.0 1 16 0.00 0.53
9. Kris Medlen* ATL 16.0 2 13 0.00 0.81
10. Madison Bumgarner SF 23.1 2 21 1.93 0.90
11. Matt Cain SF 15.0 2 11 1.20 0.73
12. Yovani Gallardo MIL 14.0 2 18 1.93 0.86
13. Matt Harvey* NYM 13.2 1 17 1.32 0.73
14. Wade Miley ARI 14.0 2 10 0.64 0.93
15. J.A. Happ* TOR 13.1 1 15 1.35 0.75
16. Cliff Lee PHI 21.1 1 26 2.53 1.03
17. Stephen Strasburg WAS 12.0 2 17 2.25 1.08
18. Mark Buehrle* MIA 19.2 3 11 2.29 1.07
19. Chad Billingsley (DL)* LAD 18.1 2 10 1.47 1.04
20. Zach Britton* BAL 13.2 2 11 1.32 1.10

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

1. Kris Medlen, ATL: at SD (Tues.) 65% owned
I told you to start him last week and he delivered 7.0 shutout innings with a 7:1 K:BB ratio and the win. Now, he gets San Diego. 

2. Jonathon Niese, NYM: @ PHI (Thur.) 61% owned
This kid has been lights-out for the Mets of late. The last time he didn't finish the sixth inning was May 28 and has 11 quality starts in his last 15 starts, including three straight. He has allowed three ER in three starts this year against the Phillies.

3. Derek Holland, TEX: at CLE (Sun.) 53% owned
The lefty from Ohio has been frustrating to owners all season with his up and down play. But he has been solid in his last three outings: 1-0, 20.1 IP, 17 K, 3 BB, 8 ER. He also gets the Rays on Monday.

4. Tommy Milone, OAK: at CLE (Tues.) 40% owned
On the year, Milone has useful 3.87 and 1.19 ERA and WHIP season-long ratios. He last time out, he pitched 8.0 innings with one earned run. He has 36 Ks and only 4 BBs in his last six starts. He gets Boston on Sunday.

5. Hisashi Iwakuma, SEA: at Min (Tues.) 21% owned
He hasn't allowed four earned runs in a start since July 15 and has allowed one earned run over his last two outings. He has won three of his last four decisions and gets the Twins offense. He gets the Angels on Sunday.

Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of last month:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Aroldis Chapman CIN 13.1 1 11 19 0 0.68 0.75
2. JJ Putz ARI 11.2 0 8 16 0 0.00 0.51
3. Greg Holland KC 14.1 2 7 12 0 0.63 0.84
4. Fernando Rodney TB 14.0 0 11 12 0 0.64 0.86
5. Jim Johnson BAL 10.0 0 9 8 0 0.00 0.40
6. Jonathan Papelbon PHI 12.1 1 7 15 0 0.73 0.81
7. Grant Balfour OAK 12.2 0 7 13 2 1.42 0.39
8. Tyler Clippard WAS 13.0 0 10 13 0 2.08 1.08
9. Rafael Betancourt COL 11.1 0 9 6 0 0.79 0.88
10. Kenley Jansen LAD 8.1 1 5 13 0 2.16 0.48
11. Wilton Lopez HOU 12.2 2 2 12 0 1.42 0.71
12. Rafael Soriano NYY 11.2 0 7 9 0 1.54 0.86
13. Glen Perkins* MIN 11.2 1 3 11 0 1.54 0.60
14. Jose Valverde DET 12.0 0 7 10 0 2.25 0.83
15. Jason Motte STL 9.2 0 7 16 0 2.79 1.03
16. Craig Kimbrel ATL 8.0 0 2 18 0 0.00 0.50
17. Huston Street (DL) SD 6.1 0 4 6 0 0.00 0.00
18. Adam Occtavino* COL 23.1 3 0 18 1 2.70 1.03
19. Luke Gregerson* SD 14.0 0 1 14 9 0.00 0.71
20. Steve Cishek* MIA 11.0 0 8 11 0 2.45 1.18

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: Aug 27</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 09:57
Path: /college-football/college-football%E2%80%99s-pivotal-players-seven-big-12
Body:

This week, teams around the nation moved from preseason camp mode and into game-week preparation.

We’re starting to see coaches name starting quarterbacks and settle on position battles.

Although questions are still out there before the season, some weigh more heavily than others. As the preseason winds down, we’re picking who we believe to be “pivotal players,” or in other words, key players who need to step up where their teams need them most.

Athlon Sports’ characteristics of a “pivotal player:”
• He plays for a conference or division contender.
• He plays at a position of weakness for his team.
• He’s an unestablished player with potential to solidify his team’s position of weakness.

We begin our look at pivotal players with the Big 12 with more conferences to follow.

BIG 12 PIVOTAL PLAYERS
David Ash, QB, Texas
Texas has a nationally elite defense, a deep stable of running backs and a solid offensive line. The Texas quarterback, then, is the prototype for our definition of a “pivotal player.” If Ash plays like he did in the bowl win over Cal (14 of 22,  142 yards, touchdown), Texas will have a chance to compete for the Big 12 title and perhaps more. Play like he did midseason (eight interceptions in six games), and Texas stays in the middle of the pack. A full season of Jaxon Shipley and a complete offseason of competing for the job could stabilize Ash’s hold on the position.
Related: Ten first-year quarterbacks who could challenge for a national title

Nick Florence, QB, Baylor
We were tempted to go with Oregon running back transfer Lache Seastrunk or a defensive player like nose guard Kaeron Johnson, but the pressure to keep Baylor relevant is on Florence’s shoulders. Coach Art Briles wants to throw the the ball around -- and if Baylor’s defense is anything like it was last season, he’ll need to air it out just to keep up. Florence started seven games as a freshman in 2009 and burned a redshirt late last season to throw two touchdown passes against Texas Tech. He’s not Robert Griffin III, but Baylor hopes it can continue to run a spread, no-huddle efficiently with the senior Florence.
Related: Florence, Seastrunk among key breakout players for Big 12

Joel Hasley, LB, TCU
Linebacker suddenly became a thin spot for the Horned Frogs over the offseason with Tank Carder gone to graduation, Tanner Brock dismissed amid a drug scandal and Deryck Gildon out with academic issues. The sophomore Hasley could grab a spot alongside returning starter Kenny Cain in TCU’s 4-2-5 scheme, but Hasley’s nine career tackles highlights a position short on experience.
Related: Big 12 coaches anonymously scout conference opponents

Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State
As with Florence, expectations for Lunt should be tempered -- perhaps moreso considering Lunt’s age. The defending Big 12 champions handed their offense over to an early-enrolling true freshman in the spring. Lunt is the rare rookie to start for Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. Gundy last started a sophomore in 2007 when Zac Robinson took over for Bobby Reid. Still, Lunt ran a similar offense in high school at Rochester (Ill.), according to The Oklahoman. Oklahoma State might need to wait until he’s a veteran to compete for a championship again, but if Lunt adjusts to the speed of the college game, the Cowboys should at least be a tough out.
Related: Pickens’ cash, Gundy’s coaching lead Oklahoma State’s rise to power

Shaq Rowell, DT, West Virginia
West Virginia continued to tinker with its top defensive concern during the preseason, eventually settling on Rowell, a junior college transfer in 2011, at nose tackle, according to The Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette. The move allows returning starter Will Clarke to move to end and Jorge Wright to move to defensive tackle on the three-man front. Rowell’s 6-4, 308-pound frame perhaps makes him be a better fit for the nose position than Wright (6-2, 291).
Related: Geno Smith tops Big 12 player rankings

Boston Stiverson and Cody Whitehair, OL, Kansas State
Kansas State could begin the season with two redshirt freshmen on the right side of the offensive line with Whitehair at tackle and Stiverson at guard. That’s a good deal of inexperience for a team that will try to grind opponents behind quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert.
Related: K-State linemen among top freshmen in Big 12

R.J. Washington, DE, Oklahoma
Washington was a highly coveted recruit in 2008, but he’s been a career backup so far. He broke out of sorts last season with five sacks and 16 tackles. Oklahoma may need more in the absence of Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis. Washington will start alongside fellow senior David King for a team that ranked eighth nationally in sacks last season.
Related: Landry Jones ranked among top 10 quarterbacks for 2012

Previous pivotal players
ACC

Big Ten

Big East

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Teaser:
<p> College Football’s Pivotal Players: Seven from the Big 12</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:39
Path: /college-football/college-football-coaches-anonymously-scout-2012-top-25-teams
Body:

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches around each conference to talk anonymously about their opponents. Below is a collection of quotes from Athlon's conference-by-conference scouting for teams in Athlon's Top 25 

College Football Coaches Talk Anonymously About Top 25 Teams

1. USC

Opposing coaches size up the Trojans: 

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

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

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

2. LSU

Opposing coaches size up the Tigers: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Alabama

Opposing coaches size up the Crimson Tide:

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Oregon

Opposing coaches size up the Ducks:

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

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

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

5. Oklahoma

Opposing coaches size up the Sooners: 

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

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

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

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

6. Ohio State

Opposing coaches size up the Buckeyes:

“Last season, they had to deal with the suspensions of Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Boom Herron and others to start the year. This time they have to deal with the realization that they are banned from playing in the postseason. Even with no hopes for a bowl game, Urban Meyer will quickly learn firsthand the expectations of coaching at Ohio State.

Meyer’s got most of the key contributors back from last season’s disappointing six-win team. Quarterback Braxton Miller is obviously the key to running Meyer’s spread attack. And Meyer’s got a good one. I have no doubt Miller will thrive in that system.

As promising as the offense looks with Miller at the controls, the defense could be even better. All but two starters return, led by defensive lineman John Simon and safety C.J. Barnett.

They are recruiting at a very high level. The first season might not be great, but they are set up to win at a high level in the next few years.

The schedule sets up very favorably for Meyer. Ohio State shouldn’t even be tested in its first four games before consecutive games against Michigan State and Nebraska. After that, the Buckeyes’ biggest challenge is their final two games against Wisconsin and Michigan. Ohio State should easily post eight wins under Meyer in his first season, and reaching double digits isn’t that much of a stretch.”

7. Michigan

Opposing coaches size up the Wolverines: 

“I wonder what Brady Hoke can do for an encore. It was not a bad Michigan debut for Hoke by winning 11 games, beating Ohio State and winning the Sugar Bowl. Although I’m sure Michigan fans would not list them in that order of importance. Now how can Hoke follow that up or improve on it? It won’t take long to find out as we’ll certainly get a good idea if Michigan can be a legitimate national title contender when they open the season against Alabama in Dallas.

Quarterback Denard Robinson is back, along with running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and wide receiver Roy Roundtree. Junior Hemingway, who was Robinson’s favorite and sometimes only target, is gone, as well as defensive stopper Mike Martin. There’s no way to overemphasize his importance to the Wolverines’ defense last season. Martin is one of three defensive line starters that are gone, but basically the rest of the defense returns. They made huge strides under first-year coordinator Greg Mattison, but it’s imperative that they are able to consistently stop the run, especially against Alabama in the first game of the season and in Big Ten play.

I think Michigan can be even better than last season, but now that they’re expected to be better, can they handle the added expectations? That is the key for them.”

8. Georgia

Opposing coaches size up the Bulldogs:

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

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

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

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

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

9. Florida State

Opposing coaches size up the Seminoles:

“Expectations again will be sky-high for (Jimbo) Fisher. Can the Seminoles finally live up to them this year? I’d hate to have those expectations to have to compete for a national title or bust every season, but I guess it’s better than the alternative.

If quarterback EJ Manuel can stay healthy this year, I think this is the year the Seminoles break through and make a national title run. Manuel is a very good quarterback in a league with a lot of nice quarterbacks.

The reason I like the Seminoles a lot this year is because of all the talent they return — nearly their entire offensive and defensive starting units are back.

What’s scary is that the defense can be even better than last season when they were dominating at times. After their midseason hiccup in consecutive losses to Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest, they didn’t allow more than 19 points in their final eight games.

Defensive end Brandon Jenkins could have left early for the NFL, but instead returned for his senior season. That’s huge for them.

If FSU is ever going to live up to the lofty expectations, this is the year. They’ve got the talent. But we’ve heard that before.”

10. South Carolina

Opposing coaches size up the Gamecocks: 

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

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

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

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

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

11. Texas

Opposing coaches size up the Longhorns: 

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

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

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

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

12. West Virginia

Opposing coaches size up the Mountaineers: 

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

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

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

13. Arkansas

Opposing coaches size up the Razorbacks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. Nebraska

Opposing coaches size up the Cornhuskers:

“Most places, if they had a choice, would take nine wins a year. Nebraska is not one of those places. Bo Pelini’s nine-win season was viewed somewhat as a disappointment — okay, it was viewed as a major disappointment.

The Cornhuskers thought the Big Ten would have to adjust to them, but it was the other way around. Nebraska’s only signature victory was against a Michigan State team playing the week after an emotional Hail Mary upset against Wisconsin. The losses were brutal. They were blown out by Wisconsin and Michigan and upset at home by Northwestern. The Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina summed up the year.

Will the Huskers bounce back or will they regress? They have nearly everyone back, at least most of the key contributors, such as quarterback Taylor Martinez, I-back Rex Burkhead and wide receiver Kenny Bell. I like Burkhead. He is really good. Tough kid.

The defense also returns nearly intact, but last year they were simply porous at times. I can’t remember the last time a Nebraska defense allowed that many points. Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini moved on to take the head coaching position at FAU, so we’ll get to see if John Papuchis, who was their defensive line coach, can fare any better as Nebraska’s new coordinator.”

15. Clemson

Opposing coaches size up the Tigers: 

“Everyone is going to start with the Orange Bowl blowout. How in the world do you give up 70 points — in a football game? I think (Dabo) Swinney actually can use that game as a positive this year. Obviously it will be a major source of motivation, and he’ll certainly have to spin it the right way or the Tigers could regress this season.

Don’t feel too bad for Swinney: He’s gonna be just fine, especially with what he has back on offense. By no means is quarterback Tajh Boyd an unknown, but I really think he’s still vastly underrated. A terrific dual-threat that continues to get better and better and better.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was a beast last year. It’s scary to think how much better he can get. With Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson’s got two of the nation’s top receiving threats. And don’t forget about running back Andre Ellington. The Tigers have some serious talent on the offensive side of the ball.

The defense had some issues last year, surrendering a ton of points late in the regular season. New coordinator Brent Venables needs to have an immediate impact.

The sad thing for Clemson is last year’s 8–0 start seems like it was five years ago. Has a conference championship ever felt so dissatisfying?"

16. Virginia Tech

Opposing coaches size up the Hokies: 

“Logan Thomas has slowly developed into one of the top quarterbacks in the country. I really believe that. He grew so much mentally last season and his game is at such a different level. With him back for his second season as a starter, the Hokies have to be considered one of the favorites to win the ACC.

Last year was supposed to be the year for Virginia Tech and Frank Beamer, but they couldn’t beat Clemson in the regular season or in the ACC title game. They have historically had a stud at tailback, but now with David Wilson gone early for the NFL, the Hokies might actually be a little down at the position.

Thomas is among a few returning starters on offense, so the defense might have to carry them, and with nearly everyone back, that is entirely possible.

While they had no solution for stopping Clemson, they did a good job handling their other opponents. They will be tough up front, returning the entire defensive line of James Gayle, J.R. Collins, Derrick Hopkins and Antoine Hopkins. I think they’ll have the ACC’s best defense. The biggest questions are if they can find a way to beat Clemson and will Thomas receive enough support from an unproven offense?”

17. Wisconsin

Opposing coaches size up the Badgers:

“What has happened to Wisconsin is fascinating. The Badgers have lost six assistants since last year. They’re now scattered all over the country. It will be interesting to see how the staff comes together this year, with some new faces.

They also lost quarterback Russell Wilson, who was basically a one-year free agent, but Bret Bielema’s managed to bring in another quarterback in Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien. I don’t think O’Brien will put up the numbers that Wilson did, but he doesn’t have to — his main duty will be turning around and handing the ball to Montee Ball.

Ball’s decision to return for his senior season is a huge boost for the Badgers. I think most people, including myself, thought he would be gone to the NFL. I think the fact that Ball returns keeps the Badgers in the running for a third consecutive Rose Bowl trip.

Returning linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland lead what I thought was an underrated defense. For the most part, other than the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State and the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon, the defense shut down a lot of offenses.

If not for surrendering a couple of last-minute Hail Mary passes against Michigan State and Ohio State, the Badgers could have had an unbeaten regular season. The Badgers get both teams at home this year.”

18. Michigan State

Opposing coaches size up the Spartans:

“Kirk Cousins might not have been the most talented quarterback and he certainly wasn’t the most elusive in the pocket, but Cousins was the quintessential team leader and pulse of the Spartans. You don’t simply throw a new starter in there and replace someone with his character and integrity and all the intangibles he meant to the team. But that’s what Mark Dantonio’s got to try to do. Andrew Maxwell has the unenviable task of trying to replace Cousins as the Spartans’ quarterback.

If replacing Cousins isn’t daunting enough, the Spartans also must replace their top two receivers, B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, and running back Edwin Baker.

While the offense takes some time to develop a new identity, the defense will be expected to do most of the heavy lifting. And the Spartans will be loaded on defense. Eight starters are back, including defensive backs Isaiah Lewis and Johnny Adams, linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, and defensive lineman William Gholston, all of which are All-Big Ten-caliber players.

I’ll be interested to see if the Spartans can return to the Big Ten Championship Game and also what kind of start they get off to with three tough home games early against Boise State, Notre Dame and Ohio State.”

19. Oklahoma State

Opposing coaches size up the Cowboys: 

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

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

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

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

20. Notre Dame

Opposing coaches size up the Fighting Irish:

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

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

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

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

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

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

21. Stanford

Opposing coaches size up the Cardinal:

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

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

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

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

22. TCU

Opposing coaches size up the Horned Frogs: 

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

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

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

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

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

23. Louisville

Opposing coaches size up the Cardinals:

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

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

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

24. Boise State

Opposing coaches size up the Broncos:

"Losing Kellen Moore and Doug Martin, I think that hurts a ton. They’ve got their system going and they’ve kept their coaches around. The system with Peterson is still there, but Moore was one of the best quarterbacks in the country. When you lose a guy of that caliber, they’re just not going to be the same.

It doesn’t matter who you plug in; you lose experience, you lose leadership, you lose that swagger that those kind of guys bring to your team. It’s going to be a big test to see what they can do.

I have no idea who was behind Moore at Boise. I don’t know how they’ll keep it going at that level. But they do a great job of developing guys.

The first time you see Kellen Moore in person, he’s 5-11, 200, he looks like a Backstreet Boy. But the dude can ball. They do a great job developing their skills and talent.

That’s always a tough spot in the schedule when you’ve got those guys. I think their cupboard’s pretty full."

25. Washington

Opposing coaches size up the Huskies: 

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

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

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

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Teaser:
<p> College Football Coaches Anonymously Scout 2012 Top 25 Teams</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:29
Path: /fantasy/2012-fantasy-football-improving-and-declining-defensespecial-teams
Body:

Choosing the right defense/special teams unit for your fantasy football team is not a decison that should be taken lightly. Last season, three DSTs (San Francisco, Philadelphia and Houston) scored 180 or more fantasy points. That total put them among the top 55 overall and top 33 if your remove quarterbacks.

While every defense isn't as productive in fantasy scoring as the likes of the 49ers, Eagles and Texans, there are some units out there on the rise that could prove valuable. Likewise, there are some that you may be better off passing on this season. Here's Athlon Sports' take on four of each.

GOING UP

1. Buffalo Bills
After the Bills allowed 371.1 yards per game last season, it was clear changes needed to be made on Buffalo’s defense. Dave Wannstedt replaced George Edwards as defensive coordinator, and the team switched to a 4-3 alignment. The change in schemes likely helped lure standout end Mario Williams away from Houston. The two-time Pro Bowler will team with fellow offseason acquisition Mark Anderson to inject some much-needed punch to the pass rush. Rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore will help a secondary that allowed 30 passing touchdowns last season.

2. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks ranked ninth in the NFL in total defense last year and made solid moves to improve this unit even more in the offseason. The addition of first-round pick Bruce Irvin out of West Virginia should help a pass rush that tied for 19th in the league with 33 sacks last season. The linebacking corps has question marks, but rookie Bobby Wagner brings speed and a physical presence to the middle. The Seahawks ranked fourth in the NFL with 22 interceptions in 2011, and the secondary returns intact.

3. Dallas Cowboys
The secondary was the biggest weakness for Dallas last season, but the offseason acquisitions should turn it into a strength. Brandon Carr was signed away from Kansas City to anchor one cornerback spot, while the team traded up in the first round to pick LSU product Morris Claiborne, who will start at the other spot. Both players are an upgrade over last season’s starters. Dallas needs linebacker Anthony Spencer to have a big season.

4. Kansas City Chiefs
Despite the absence of safety Eric Berry, the Chiefs finished 11th in the NFL in total defense in 2011. With Berry back in the mix, Kansas City’s defense could climb into the top 10. Stanford Routt was signed to replace Brandon Carr at cornerback, and the team expects a breakout year from outside linebacker Justin Houston. Rookie nose tackle Dontari Poe has upside, but his production didn’t match his talent at Memphis. If Poe, Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson produce up front, this defense will be a good bargain on draft day.

GOING DOWN

1. New Orleans Saints
It’s been a tumultuous offseason in New Orleans, and the distractions could take a toll on this team in 2012. The Saints finished a disappointing 24th in total defense last year, and linebacker Jonathan Vilma is expected to miss all of this season due to a suspension. Signing Chris Chamberlain, David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton should bolster the linebacking corps, but the pass rush remains a question mark. Veteran Steve Spagnuolo was a solid hire as defensive coordinator, but it’s hard to envision this unit emerging as an every week starter in fantasy leagues.

2. Oakland Raiders
Considering the pieces in place, finishing 29th in the NFL in total defense was a major disappointment last season. New coach Dennis Allen should bring some aggressiveness to this unit, but the back seven is littered with question marks. Linebacker Rolando McClain could miss time in 2012 due to legal issues, while Aaron Curry has been a disappointment. The safety spots are set with Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch returning, but Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell will be tested frequently at cornerback.

3. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore should remain one of the top 12 fantasy defenses, but this unit is on the decline. Linebacker Terrell Suggs will likely miss all of 2012 due to a torn Achilles. Rookie Courtney Upshaw is a capable option, but replacing the NFL Defensive Player of the Year is no easy task. The depth took a hit with Jarret Johnson now in San Diego and Cory Redding and Tom Zbikowski departing to join former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis.

4. Miami Dolphins
Miami finished 15th in total defense last season, so there are reasons to be optimistic about this unit’s performance for 2012. However, the Dolphins are transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and had to cut safety Yeremiah Bell in a salary cap move. The Sean Smith-Vontae Davis cornerback tandem has had its moments but needs to play more consistently. Miami could be an option in select matchups, but with some players changing positions due to the new scheme, 2012 is a transition year.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> 2012 Fantasy Football: Improving and Declining Defense/Special Teams</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:04
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-seattle-seahawks
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Dan Raley, Freelance Writer

Was Marshawn Lynch simply in beast mode for a new contract or can owners count on a repeat performance?
The big attraction to Lynch is he’s a self-starter. He plays with attitude. He was just as good in his previous season with the Seahawks without a contract incentive hanging over him. He stands to benefit from having a better quarterback (Flynn) and sturdier offensive line (if Russell Okung can stay healthy). If all goes well, Lynch’s fantasy numbers should be very, very good.

What are reasonable fantasy expectations for Matt Flynn in his first year as the starter?
Flynn, in his limited appearances with Green Bay, showed himself to be a big-numbers guy, every fantasy player’s dream. Another six-touchdown passing game is a stretch, but count on him for maybe two or more per game, plus 200-plus yards per outing — or double what Tarvaris Jackson provided as last year’s Seattle starter.

Is there a pass-catcher on this roster who will be an every week fantasy starter in 2012?
Probably not. The Seahawks insist that Sidney Rice, after having offseason surgery on both shoulders, will be healthy and Flynn’s No. 1 target. However, Rice’s five-season pro track record indicates he’s an extremely fragile player. Remember, undrafted rookie free agent Doug Baldwin was the top receiver in 2011 and Golden Tate remains on the roster as well. Seattle also signed free agents Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards prior to the start of training camp, but it's anyone guess if the two mercurial veterans will contirbute anything on the field, let alone make the team.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Matt Flynn, QB
Deep-Sleeper: Doug Badlwin, WR
Overvalued: Sidney Rice, WR
Top Rookie: Robert Turbin, RB
Bounce-Back: Zach Miller, TE
Top IDP: Chris Clemons, DL

2012 Draft Class

1. Bruce Irvin DE 6-3 245 West Virginia
2. Bobby Wagner LB 6-0 241 Utah State
3. Russell Wilson QB 5-11 206 Wisconsin
4. Robert Turbin RB 5-10 220 Utah State
4. Jaye Howard DT 6-3 301 Florida
5. Korey Toomer LB 6/2 234 Idaho
6. Jeremy Lane CB 6-0 190 Northwestern State
6. Winston Guy S 6-1 218 Kentucky
7. J.R. Sweezy DT 6-5 298 NC State
7. Greg Scruggs DE 6-3 284 Louisville

Fantasy Impact: The Seahawks added Matt Flynn to compete with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, but Russell Wilson will get a chance to win the job in preseason camp. Wilson lacks ideal size but can be a starter in the NFL. Robert Turbin is a physical back like Marshawn Lynch, so playing time could be sparse in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (ARI, vs. BUF, SF)

Marshawn Lynch was the only fantasy-relevant Seahawk last season, ranking fifth among RBs. He gets the 49ers and their top-ranked rush defense from a year ago in the fantasy title game. He was the only back to rush for 100 yards and score a TD against San Francisco last season. Matchups against Arizona and Buffalo, ranked in the bottom 12 against the run last year, should be a bit kinder.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Seattle Seahawks</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, Big East
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-impact-freshmen-2012
Body:

Actual college football games are taking place this week!

And while National Signing Day 2012 seems like ages ago, thousands of freshmen (and redshirt freshman) will take their first steps onto the hallowed grounds of stadiums all over the nation this weekend. Most won't even dress for the varsity squad this season and many won't ever play. But a select few uber-recruits will have the chance to make an immediate impact on the college football landscape. 

Last week, Athlon Sports highlighted the biggest name and biggest impact freshman in each BCS conference. If you want to dig deeper into the 'by-conference' rankings, they are linked below. And since hundreds of names will make big impacts across the nation, it is virtually impossible to rank the Top 25. Names like Landon Collins, Amari Cooper, Dan Voltz, DJ Foster, Carlos Watkins and Leonte Carrou just missed making this list, but are expected to make some impact in year one.

The Top 25 Impact Freshmen for 2012 (listed alpabetically):

* - indicates redshirt freshman

Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon
The 2011 cycle featured De'Anthony Thomas. This season it's the massive (6-7, 290) defensive end-offensive tackle two-sport star from Elk Grove, Calif. He will be a key reserve and pass-rush demon for Chip Kelly to begin. Don't be shocked if the nation's No. 3 prospect is a starter by year's end.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State*
The massive redshirt freshman receiver could be a game-changer for EJ Manuel and the Florida State passing game. At 6-foot-5 and 240-pounds, Benjamin may be the most talented FSU pass-catcher since the deep collection of NFL talent of the late 90s and early 00s. 

Joe Bolden, LB, Michigan
Few players have entered college with greater expectations than the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Cincinnati prospect. The true freshman enrolled early and made a big name for himself in spring ball with incredible instincts, physicality and explosiveness. He could force Kenny Demens to outside linebacker at best and will be the top reserve at worst. Bolden will be an All-Big Ten player very soon.

Evan Boehm, OL, Missouri
The coaching staff in Columbia has been full of praise for their star prospect at guard. He has been battling for the starting spot and Gary Pinkel has stated the Lee’s Summit, Mo., native has the size and maturity to play right away. He would be the only the third true freshman offensive lineman to ever play under the Mizzou coach.

Sheldon Day, DL, Notre Dame
An early enrollee, the massive defensive lineman from Indianapolis (Ind.) Warren Central has already proven he belongs on the field. And in a defensive front that is stacked with young talent, it is even more impressive the impact the 6-foot-2, 290-pound freshman has had up front. He should be a household name in short order for Irish fans.

Stefon Diggs, WR/RS, Maryland
The in-state speedster was the No. 5 overall prospect in the nation last fall and was a recruiting coup for the embattled Randy Edsall. The 6-foot, 185-pound dynamo will touch the ball in the passing game, ground game and return game. He should start right away and should be a close friend of unexpected new starting quarterback and fellow freshman Perry Hills.

Ereck Flowers, OL, Miami
If the big local product from the city of Miami continues to play like he has in camp, he could very well be the starting right tackle at The U. His work ethic and size – at 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds — will provide much needed help along the offensive front for Al Golden.

Perry Hills, QB, Maryland
When C.J. Brown tore his ACL, one of two freshmen were going to get the call to start for new coordinator Mike Locksley. Caleb Rowe appears to have lost the job to the Hills, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound signal caller from Pittsburgh. On a team that won two games a year ago and features huge amounts of roster turnover, Hills has been thrust into the most important starting position on the field. Should he adapt quickly, he could easily be in contention for ACC Freshman of the Year. If he struggles, Randy Edsall could be looking for work.

Jonathan Gray, RB, Texas
No high school running back has ever been as productive as Gray was at Aledo High School. He sits behind two elite sophomores in Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown, but Gray could see upwards of 100 touches this fall. He has the power, the speed, the receiving skills, the upside, the toughness and the agility. There is nothing he cannot do on a football field and it should make him an All-American in short order.

Deontay Greenberry, WR, Houston
The star wide receiver from California was a top 100 recruit who was set to sign with Notre Dame. His 11th hour NSD switch to Houston was highly-publicized and has created added pressure to succeed. From all accounts, however, Greenberry is set to earn a starting spot for Houston as a true freshman. He is easily the highest-rated recruit in Cougars history and will fit perfectly in the pass-happy system Tony Levine wants to run.

Dorial Green-Beckam, WR, Missouri
The most prolific high school receiver in American prep history will suit up for Mizzou this fall. The nation’s No. 1 overall prospect can expect to see a lot of passes throw his way. His 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame creates match-up issues all over the field and will be impossible to cover, both vertically and in the slot. DGB will be a big star in the SEC.

Darius Hamilton, DL, Rutgers
The prized gem of the most heralded Knights class in school history was 6-foot-4, 260-pound defensive lineman from nearby Don Bosco Prep. He began camp as an end, but after excelling in camp already, he has been shifted down to tackle. He knows the 3-technique from his prep glory days and should be an instant impact player for what should once again be the league's top defense.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA*
This move had to be made. Hundley is the most talented and has the highest upside of any quarterback on the roster (he also has yet to miss a start due to injury). In all seriousness, though, the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder from Chandler, Ariz., gives new Bruins head coach Jim Mora Jr., offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and the rest of the coaching staff a chance to succeed longterm in Westwood.

Jabari Hunt-Days, LB, Georgia Tech*
The younger brother of Tech quarterback, Snyjyn Days, could provide immediate help at inside backer. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Marietta, Ga., prospect redshirted last fall and knows Al Groh's system well enough to make a big impact this fall. Tech fans are hoping for some reinforcement for a defense that allowed 274 and 268 yards rushing in losses to Virginia and Virginia Tech respectively last fall.

Linebackers, LSU
Kwon Alexander, Ronnie Feist, Deion Jones, Lamar Louis and Lorenzo Phillips could all see playing time this fall. It is anybody’s guess as to who will get the most playing time, but look for Alexander and the two spring enrollees, Louis and Feist, to get the first crack at contributing.

Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State
There was a heated quarterback battle in Stillwater all spring and summer long. So it came as a bit of a surprise when the underdog from Rochester, Ill., was named the starter relatively early in the process by Mike Gundy. His 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame gives Gundy what he craves from a quarterback: a big, tall, accurate, pocket passer who makes quick decisions. There will be plenty of growing pains and learning experiences for Lunt, but this coaching staff clearly loves what they have in the true freshman.

Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State
Many around the Wazzu program are already claiming Freshman All-American status for the wideout from Los Angeles. He is a tiny slot sparkplug who is already wowing coaches in camp. In Mike Leach's high-flying offense, Marks can expect big numbers.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon*
He is still in a heated battle with Bryan Bennett that may last the entire season, but there is no doubt that the Dennis Dixon-clone will play a bunch in 2012. He has burst, explosiveness and speed like Dixon, but is also a much thicker athlete at nearly 200 pounds. He won the spring battle but is neck-and-neck with Bennett.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M*
Despite an immature physical dust-up that resulted in an arrest this summer, the talented dual-threat beat out Jameil Showers to earn the starting job for the Aggies. He posted huge numbers, both through the air and on the ground, as a high school senior two years ago, and in Kevin Sumlin’s system, fans can bet on big numbers from the redshirt freshman.

Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma
This prep-schooler has fans in Norman boiling over with anticipation. He has drawn huge reviews in camp and could possibly overtake Kenny Stills as the No. 1 option. His all-around skillset fits better on the outside and, for a unit that played inconsistently in support of Ryan Broyles last fall, will be a welcome sight for Landry Jones. Freshman All-American status wouldn't be over-reaching.

Ondre Pipkins, DT, Michigan
The massive defensive tackle from Kansas City is expected to help plug the hole left by Mike Martin up the middle. A recent neck injury in practice put a scare into Maize and Blue nation and sent Pipkins to the hospital. All signs point to Pipkins being ready for the opener against Alabama, but how well an injured freshman's neck will be able to hold up against Barrett Jones, Chane Warmack and DJ Fluker remains to be seen.

Running Backs, Georgia
Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have the chance to be a special freshman tandem this fall. These two are going to get tons of carries and Gurley has been the early star of camp for the Dawgs. Along with massive fullback Quayvon Hicks, Mark Richt has a more than enough talent to offset the loss of the aforementioned Crowell. Look for the burley Gurley and the speedy Marshall to compliment each other perfectly.

Isaac Seumalo, OL, Oregon State
It's all in the family for the locker prep blocker. His father, Joe, is the DL coach and his brother, Andrew, starts along the Beavers' offensive line. He was essentially pencilled into the starting line-up the second he committed to Oregon State, so don't expect to see him on the bench for a team that was pathetic in the running game a year ago.

John Theus, OL, Georgia
This big blocker from Jacksonville, Fla., could be the starter at left tackle from the second Georgia kicks off the 2012 season. He was the No. 2 offensive line prospect in the nation and the Dawgs are in big need of depth along the offensive front. Along with Zach DeBell, Theus will help stabilize the UGA front.

Shaq Thompson, S, Washington
This is a once in a lifetime type of player. And he will start from the first snap of the year — even if the new defensive coaching staff has to run five defensive backs out there. He can play in the box, can blitz off the edge, can play man-up in coverage and patrol the deep middle-third. Fans should be shocked if he isn't a Freshman All-American.

Other Names To Watch:

Ishmael Adams, CB, UCLA
The lockdown cover corner was arguably the top player at his position in the US Army All-American bowl and it hasn't taken long for him to fit in at UCLA. He is likely the most game-ready freshman in this class, so expect the Westlake Village, Calif., product to be in the line-up quickly.

Nelson Agholor, AP, USC
The speedster from across the country in Tampa, Fla., has big-play potential and a well-documented childhood. Expect the versatile back-receiver hybrid to be used all over the field, including special teams. He has proven to be a quick study this summer.

Travis Blanks, DB, Clemson
The Tigers' defensive woes are well documented. Prospects like Blanks should help new defensive coordinator Brent Venables attempt to improve a unit that was abused in the second half of the 2011 season. The hybrid talent, at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, should be used all over the field in various roles after enrolling early last January.

Austin Blythe, OL, Iowa
The Williamsburg, Iowa, product will be the baby of the All-Iowa starting offensive line in Iowa City. All five starters hail from the Hawkeye State and this redshirt freshman will lock down the right guard position. This is a unit under heavy scrutiny, however, as it finished last in the Big Ten in rushing last fall and 78th in the nation in sacks allowed.

Jaxon Hood, DL, Arizona State
The big fella from Chandler, Ariz., is currently atop the depth chart along the interior of the ASU defensive line. Hood checks in at 6-foot-1 and 290 pounds and has proven to the staff he is capable of playing at a high level right out of the gate.

Tracy Howard, CB, Miami
This talented defensive back might be the biggest impact freshman in the ACC this season. Miami fans can expect the speedy coverman from Miramar, Fla., to be on the field from the first snap of the ball. Miami will play a lot of young players, and the No. 2-rated defensive back prospect in the nation has already drawn excellent reviews in camp for his play and leadership. 

Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
The tiny tailback from Miami has speed to burn and will make some big plays this fall in a variety of ways. His 4.4 speed, to go along with the ability to catch the ball and make big plays on special teams will force Al Golden to get Johnson into his game plans. He may not have the size to unseat Mike James, or even be a 25-carry per game back, but Johnson will drop his fair share of jaws.

Mekale McKay, WR, Arkansas
The massive 6-foot-6 hoops star has made an immediate impact on the Hogs offense as he could very well start opposite Cobi Hamilton. With the very talented Tyler Wilson at quarterback, McKay has a chance to do his best DGB impersonation this fall. Few veteran cornerbacks will be able to match up with his raw leaping and overall athletic ability that earn him Mr. Basketball in the state of Kentucky last year.

Offensive Line, Kansas State
The right side of the Wildcats offensive front will feature a pair of freshman starters. Cody Whitehair is a 6-foot-5, 300-pounder from Abilene, Kan., and appears to be locked into the right tackle spot while the right guard spot will be manned by Andover, Kan., prospect Boston Stiverson, who checks in at 6-foot-4 and 306 pounds. Look for KSU's strength on offense to be the left side until these two can pick-up the speed of the game.

Jordan Rigsbee, OL, Cal
The redshirt freshman offensive lineman will have the chance to lean on his big brother and fellow starter along the offensive line, Tyler. The younger Rigsbee earned a starting spot out of spring and has kept that job through camp. He is bigger than his brother at 306 pounds (Tyler is only 290).

Shaq Roland, WR, South Carolina
Alshon Jeffery is gone and Steve Spurrier is hoping his new toy from Lexington, S.C., will help fill the void. The speedy pass-catcher was the No. 5 wideout prospect in the nation, the top prospect in the state, and has wowed the coaching staff since stepping on campus.

Rushel Shell, RB, Pitt
There is a very small chance Shell is redshirted, but his obvious talent and recruiting hype will make it hard for Chryst to keep the uber-prospect on the bench. He's the Keystone State's all-time leading rusher with 9,078 yards and scored a WPIAL record 110 career TDs. He also owns the national prep mark for consecutive 100-yard games with 39 — breaking the great Billy Sims' mark. Chryst will have fun using this dynamo.

Noah Spence, DL, Ohio State
Spence was the No. 1 defensive line prospect in the nation for a reason. He is an absolute monster. His size, strength, explosiveness and speed may force Urban Meyer to shoehorn him onto the field as a true freshman. This team is loaded with defensive line talent and there doesn't seem like a clear spot for Spence. But his raw physical skills might be too much for Meyer to ignore. Aldophus Washington might not be too far behind either.

Jordan Thompson, WR, West Virginia
This little guy has speed to burn and has proven he belongs on the field as a freshman. In a four-wide receiver set, Thompson has earned a starting spot on the inside. He is as small a football player as there is — he is listed at 5-foot-7 and 167 pounds — but is also as dynamic as any athlete in the league. The Katy, Texas, product could post big numbers as a freshman.

Nick VanHoose, CB, Northwestern
The scout team super star from last fall nearly got his redshirt pulled halfway through the season. Yet, Pat Fitzgerald resisted and the result will be a polished all-league-type of player stepping into a starting role in his first year on the field. He has speed and quickness to burn — as his role as Denard Robinson on the scout team will attest to — and should be able to lock down one half of the field.

TJ Yeldon, RB, Alabama
The twisting, turning, gyrating, impossible-to-tackle running back from Daphne, Ala., will have a shot to play early and often this fall. Eddie Lacy has a toe issue and Dee Hart is returning from a torn ACL, so the door is open for the big powerback.

- by Braden gall

@bradengall

Top Impact Freshman to Watch By Conference 2012:

ACC's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012
Big 12's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

Big East's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

Big Ten's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

Pac-12's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

SEC's Top Impact Freshmen to Watch in 2012

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 25 Impact Freshmen of 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/tim-tebow-or-mark-sanchez-who-should-start-new-york-jets
Body:

Athlon Sports will preview the upcoming 2012 NFL season with in-depth roundtable debates with our editors and other experts from around the world of football.

Q: Who should be the starting quarterback of the New York Jets: Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow?

Alan Schechter, TheJetPress.com
Mark Sanchez should be the starter for the New York Jets. He is the better quarterback, and it is not close. Watch each of them play and you will know why. For every long pass that Tim Tebow completes, there are 4-5 that are not even close. In the preseason game against the Giants, Tebow rolled to his right and had a wide open Stephen Hill in the endzone. However, there was nobody within 10 yards of him, and yet Tebow couldn’t make the connection. He airmailed a few others over guys heads, but the one to Hill was bad. And after the game, he made excuses for it instead of owning up to a bad throw. Mark Sanchez would make that throw each and every time. Tim Tebow is not a consistent quarterback. He is a gimmick.

As far as Sanchez goes, nobody gives him enough credit for the success that he has had. He's led the Jets to two AFC Championship games, and his numbers are actually slightly better than Eli Manning’s when you compare their first three seasons as starting quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez needs his offensive line to play well, so the ground and pound can get moving, and then he can work off of the play action. He needs his weapons to be out on the field, and he will be just fine. Going into the Panthers game in Week 3 of the preseason, Sanchez is completing 75 percent of his passes. Enough said.

Mark Sanchez is the only one to start at quarterback for this team. If Tim Tebow starts for any other reason than opening with a Wildcat play, or a Sanchez injury, the season will go very badly for the New York Jets.

Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster)
In one sense, the Jets have an enviable QB situation: Sanchez and Tebow have a combined playoff record of 5-3 as starting quarterbacks. Still, I can’t overlook the conventional wisdom that if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any, and the fact that we’re even having this debate tells me that the Jets are set to struggle. But since you asked, here goes: I’d stick with Sanchez and save Tebow for short-yardage, goal-line or change-of-pace situations. That’s the scenario that made sense when the move was made to acquire Tebow, and it still holds today.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I believe Mark Sanchez should be the starter, even though his interception totals are alarming. The USC product has increased his touchdown and passing yard numbers each season, and the team has won around him when the running game and defense are solid. The obvious problem with Sanchez is his accuracy, but Tim Tebow was the only regular NFL quarterback with a completion percentage under 50 percent last year. Tebow’s strength is running the ball out of the “Wildcat”, and he should have success doing that with the Jets. I see Sanchez being the lead signal caller, with Tebow giving the Jets a quality power running option on short yardage and in the red zone.

Nathan Rush, Athlon Sports
Mark Sanchez has to be the starter for Week 1. But his leash won't be very long if the Jets sputter off the runway. Tim Tebow will be high-energy and even higher-profile — on the sidelines, at the goal line and in the Wildcat. The Sanchize better start Tebowing, because his job is in jeopardy. But he deserves to take the first snap from center at MetLife Stadium against the Bills.

Mark Ross, Athlon Sports
Despite an apparent lack of production, Sanchez is still the best option for the Jets at quarterback. He put up career numbers last season and has been accurate (completed nearly 70 percent of his passes) in the preseason as well. Even though he and Tebow have the same number of interceptions (two) and touchdown passes (zero), Tebow has completed less than 40 percent of his throws. Tebow’s great in the Wildcat and can definitely help this offense in the right role, but that’s not as starting quarterback. Sanchez has earned the right to be under center for the Jets in Week 1. Then again, if the offensive line doesn't do a better job in pass protection, then they may as well throw Tebow back there. His accuracy won't be an issue since he won't even have enough time to throw a pass.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is a comical discussion. Tim Tebow is a great leader, a positive member of any locker room, will bring attention to your brand and can't really complete NFL passes. Any other 25-year old starting quarterback with two AFC title game appearances, an increase of key statistics across the board and nary a losing record in three seasons would be viewed as the franchise. He is one of only three quarterbacks who have won a playoff game in at least two of the last three years. He has done something most can only imagine when he outplayed Tom Brady on the road in a playoff win over the Patriots. He finished second to only Cam Newton in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback last year. Sanchez has increased his yards, touchdowns, completion percentage and QB rating in each of this three seasons. Yet, he might be the most scrutinized signal caller in the league and takes entirely too much blame for a roster loaded with knuckleheads and egomaniacs. Tebow is a nice weapon, Sanchez is the only hope for a deep run in the playoffs.

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Tim Tebow or Mark Sanchez: Who Should Start for the New York Jets?</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-san-diego-chargers
Body:

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Bernie Wilson, Associated Press

Is Ryan Mathews ready to carry the load and become an elite fantasy running back?
He needs to be. He showed the bursts and long gains that fans and fantasy owners have expected ever since the Chargers moved up 16 spots to draft him with the 12th pick overall in 2010. It’s been a slow process, from injuries in his rookie year — as well as an inability to pick up the blitz that cost him playing time — to not being in shape during training camp last season. After rushing for 1,091 yards last year, Mathews should be ready for more in 2012.

Philip Rivers committed 25 turnovers last year. Can he eliminate his mistakes and return to fantasy’s elite QB club?
Even Rivers seemed mystified about the turnovers and will do everything he can to reduce them. The fumbled snap at Kansas City was the Chargers’ equivalent of the ball going through Bill Buckner’s legs, and many of those interceptions came from Rivers trying to do too much. That said, Rivers will need some help from his teammates so he doesn’t feel the need to carry the offensive load.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Robert Meachem, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Eddie Royal, WR
Overvalued: Malcom Floyd, WR
Top Rookie: Ladarius Green, TE
Bounce-Back: Nate Kaeding, K
Top IDP: Eric Weddle, DB

2012 Draft Class

1. Melvin Ingram OLB 6/2 276 South Carolina
2. Kendall Reyes DE 6/4 296 Connecticut
3. Brandon Taylor SS 5/11 209 LSU
4. Ladarius Green TE 6/6 238 UL Lafayette
5. Johnnie Troutman G 6/4 314 Penn State
7. David Molk C 6/2 288 Michigan
7. Edwin Baker RB 5/9 210 Michigan State

Fantasy Impact: With the offense returning largely intact, rebuilding the defense was the top priority through the draft. Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes will help to bolster the front seven, with Ingram filling a hybrid linebacker/end role. Antonio Gates is still San Diego’s starter at tight end, but Ladarius Green could help in two-tight end sets. Green is a sleeper to watch in keeper formats. Edwin Baker, a seventh-round pick, could push Curtis Brinkley for playing time as San Diego’s No. 2 tailback.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at PIT, CAR, at NYJ)

The Chargers make the dreaded cross-country trip twice in the fantasy postseason this year, and they do so against two of the traditionally strongest defenses in the league. However, in the last three years San Diego has played 11 times east of the Mississippi River and scored 20 or more points in 10 of those games. Hosting Carolina in Week 15 should translate into opportunities for the Chargers’ playmakers.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the San Diego Chargers</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 05:59
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-san-francisco-49ers
Body:

What can the San Francisco 49ers do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Eric Gilmore, Freelance Writer

Will Frank Gore ever be an elite fantasy back again or has he been permanently relegated to RB-2 status?
Gore probably doesn’t get into the end zone often enough to be considered an elite fantasy back, but he rushed for 1,211 yards last season, cracking the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth time in the past six years. Gore carried 282 times last year, the second-most in his career, but he likely won’t have as heavy a workload this season. The 49ers have more weapons in the backfield, and they also seem intent on passing the ball more this year. They drafted A.J. Jenkins in the first round and signed free agents Randy Moss and Mario Manningham.

Is Randy Moss going to provide any fantasy value at age 35?
Despite sitting out last season, the 35-year-old Moss appeared to be in great shape during his first few offseason workouts with his new team. The real test won’t come until he puts on the pads and gets into a game. The fact that he caught only 28 passes in 2010 and played for three teams — the Pats, Vikings and Titans — is a huge red flag. In other words, fantasy buyer, beware. Moss might be worth a late-round flyer, but nothing more.

Can the Niners repeat as fantasy’s top team defense and special teams?
The 49ers are positioned well for an instant replay on both fronts. They return their entire starting defense. The only change in that group will be linebacker Aldon Smith, coming off a 14-sack season, bumping Parys Haralson to a backup role. The 49ers were next to impossible to run against last season, and there’s no reason that should change.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Alex Smith, QB
Deep-Sleeper: Kendall Hunter, RB
Overvalued: Frank Gore, RB
Top Rookie: A.J. Jenkins, WR
Bounce-Back: Randy Moss, WR
Top IDP: Patrick Willis, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. A.J. Jenkins WR 6-0 192 Illinois
2. LaMichael James RB 5-8 194 Oregon
4. Joe Looney G 6-3 309 Wake Forest
5. Darius Fleming OLB 6-2 245 Notre Dame
6. Trenton Robinson S 5-10 195 Michigan State
6. Jason Slowey T 6-3 303 Western Oregon
7. Cam Johnson OLB 6-3 268 Virginia

Fantasy Impact: The 49ers needed to upgrade their offensive playmakers to make a run at the Super Bowl. Signing Randy Moss and Mario Manningham gives Alex Smith two veterans at receiver, while A.J. Jenkins is a promising rookie prospect. Jenkins could be buried on the depth chart this year but should be a late-round keeper prospect. LaMichael James won’t start but is a perfect change-of-pace option to Frank Gore and Brandon Jacobs. James’ fantasy value is limited in 2012, but he could be handcuffed to Gore in case of injury.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (MIA, at NE, at SEA)

The 49ers have made plenty of offensive additions, and hopefully they won’t dilute an already inconsistent fantasy offense — TE Vernon Davis (ninth) was the only top-10 offensive fantasy player. The three opponents are hard to judge now, as Miami has a new coaching staff and New England and Seattle drafted on the defensive side (14 of their combined 17 picks).

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the San Francisco 49ers</p>
Post date: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 05:59

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