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Path: /college-football/top-15-sec-football-teams-bcs-era

The BCS just put a bow on its 15th season of action and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late '90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?

The debates will rage on for decades, but here is Athlon's two cents. Here are the Top 15 SEC teams of the BCS Era (1998-present):

Note: "First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks

1. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Finished second in the nation in total (244.1 ypg), rushing (78.1 ypg) and scoring defense (11.7 ppg).
Award Winners: Mark Ingram (Heisman Trophy), Rolando McClain (Butkus, SEC Def. Player of the Year), Javier Arenas (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Javier Arenas (2nd, 2010), Terrence Cody (2nd, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011), Trent Richardson (1st, 2012), Mark Barron (1st, 2012), Dont'a Hightower (1st, 2012), Dre Kirkpatrick (1st, 2012), Courtney Upshaw (2nd, 2012)

Led by boy genius quarterback Greg McElroy and a host of national award-winning first-round NFL Draft picks, the Alabama Crimson Tide won their first national title since 1992. Nick Saban defeated five ranked opponents before taking down No. 2 Texas in the BCS National Championship game 37-21. This was the best defense in the nation, finishing second nationally in three of the four major statistical categories. In a rematch of the 2008 SEC title game, McElroy did his best Tebow impression by completing 12-of-18 passes for 239 yards without a turnover while picking up key yards on the ground. Heisman winner Mark Ingram rushed 28 times for 113 yards and three scores in the tear-inducing 32-13 win over Florida in Atlanta. Thus far, 10 first-round picks have entered the NFL from the 2009 roster. That number could grow this April should Barrett Jones get his name called early.

2. Tennessee Volunteers, 1998 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: This team put 11 players into the first or second round of the NFL Draft; Peerless Price is second all-time in BCS bowls with 242 all-purpose yards in the Fiesta Bowl, his 49.8 yards per catch is a BCS title game record.
Award Winners: Phillip Fulmer (AP National Coach of the Year), Peerless Price (Fiesta Bowl MVP), David Cutcliffe (Broyles)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Al Wilson (1st, 1999), Peerless Price (2nd, 1999), Jamal Lewis (1st, 2000), Shaun Ellis (1st, 2000), Raynoch Thompson (2nd, 2000), Chad Clifton (2nd, 2000), Dwayne Goodrich (2nd, 2000), Casey Coleman (2nd, 2000), Deon Grant (2nd, 2000), Travis Henry (2nd, 2001), John Henderson (1st, 2002)

In Year 1 A.P. (after Peyton), the Vols put together their greatest season in nearly five decades. Tee Martin stepped in at quarterback, and aided by a monster backfield that included Travis Henry, Jamal Lewis, Travis Stephens and Shawn Bryson, led the Vols past six ranked opponents for Tennessee’s sixth national championship. The defense held nine of its 13 opponents to 18 points or less. Despite a BCS record 199 yards receiving (242 all-purpose yards) and the game-winning 79-yard touchdown for game MVP Peerless Price, the most important and memorable moment from the 1998 title run involved a stumbling Razorback. Late in the Arkansas game, Tennessee was all but beaten until Billy Ratliff forced guard Brandon Burlsworth into quarterback Clint Stoerner, who gently and inexplicably “placed” the football on the ground. The Vols used a Henry touchdown run in the final seconds to seal the comeback from a 21-3 deficit and the eventual national championship.

3. Florida Gators, 2008 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Led the SEC in rushing (231.1 ypg), total offense (445.1 ypg), scoring (43.6 ppg), pass efficiency defense (96.76), scoring defense (12.9 ppg), punting (38.1 ypp), turnover margin (+1.57) and passing efficiency (170.6). Percy Harvin led the SEC in scoring at 10.2 ppg.
Award Winners: Tim Tebow (Maxwell, SEC Off. Player of the Year), Brandon James (SEC Special Teamer of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)

Tim Tebow had his Heisman Trophy (2007) and a national championship ring (2006). But when the Florida Gators lost to the Ole Miss Rebels in The Swamp on a final drive fourth-down stop, Tebow took his legendary legacy to new heights. After fumbling, taking sacks and missing open receivers, the Gainesville idol gave one of the most famous speeches in college football history: “You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.” The Gators then went on to crush quality opponents Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State and Alabama by an average of 31.8 points per game. The win over No. 1 and unbeaten Alabama pushed the Gators into the national title game against another No. 1. The Chosen One then delivered on his promise (and halftime speech) by throwing for 231 yards and two scores while rushing for 109 yards on 22 carries to outlast Oklahoma 24-14. He claimed his second national championship in three years before announcing he would return for his senior year. The 2008 Gators tied the 1996 national champs as the highest-scoring team in school history (611 points).

4. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2011 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Set a BCS era record with 8.2 points allowed per game, led the nation in total defense (183.6 ypg), rushing defense (72.2 ypg) and passing defense (111.5 ypg). Held LSU to zero points, five first downs and 92 yards of offense in the BCS title game.
Award Winners: Trent Richardson (Doak Walker Award, SEC Off. Player of the Year), Barrett Jones (Outland Trophy, Wuerffel Trophy)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Trent Richardson (1st, 2012), Mark Barron (1st, 2012) Dre Kirkpatrick (1st, 2012), Dont'a Hightower (1st, 2012), Courtney Upshaw (2nd, 2012)

As Athlon Sports' preseason pick as the National Champion, Alabama rolled through its schedule — which included easy victories over three ranked opponents — until the "Game of the Century" on November 5 against LSU. The Tide outplayed the Tigers on offense and defense in that game, but was destroyed on special teams and it cost Saban a perfect season. After crushing rival Auburn, the Tide headed to New Orleans for a rematch with LSU. In a performance that would make the Bear weep openly, the Tide held Jordan Jefferson and the Bayou Bengals to five first downs, 92 yards of offense and no points. Alabama led the nation in every major defensive team NCAA statistic and it showed in the title game. This Crimson Tide team is the only BCS National Champion who failed to win its conference championship and the offense did not possess the same level of explosive talent on offense (and it lost a game) to be ranked ahead of the 2009 Alabama title squad.

5. LSU Tigers, 2003 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Only one time did a team score more than 14 points against LSU (Arkansas, 24). Led the nation in total defense (252.0 ypg) and scoring defense (11.0 ppg), held Heisman winner Jason White to 13-of-37 passing in title game.
Award Winners: Chad Lavalais (SEC Def. Player of the Year), Nick Saban (AP National Coach of the Year), Justin Vincent (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Michael Clayton (1st, 2004), Devery Henderson (2nd, 2004), Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004), Marcus Spears (1st, 2005), Corey Webster (2nd, 2005), Joseph Addai (1st, 2006), Andrew Whitworth (2nd, 2006), LaRon Landry (1st, 2007), Dwayne Bowe (1st, 2007), Chris Davis (1st, 2007)

Armed with the nation’s nastiest defense, Nick Saban restored the LSU name to prominence in only his fourth year at the helm. His team led the nation in total defense at 252 yards per game and scoring defense at exactly 11.0 points per game. Arkansas was the only team to score more than 14 points against the Bayou Bengals in 2003. Quarterback Matt Mauck steered the ship, freshman Justin Vincent and sophomore Joseph Addai powered the offense and one of the deepest receiving corps in history gave LSU tremendous balance. With three one-loss teams sitting atop the standings — and USC ranked No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches Poll — the computers controversially placed the Sooners in the National Championship game against the Tigers. After the 21-14 win over an Oklahoma team boasting the Heisman, Thorpe, Lombardi and Bednarik winners, LSU claimed the BCS national title — splitting the votes with USC. It was their first national championship since 1958.

6. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2012 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championship: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing and total defense for the second straight year and was second nationally in scoring defense, AJ McCarron was second nationally in passing efficiency. 
Award Winners: Barrett Jones (Rimington)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A

The 2012 Crimson Tide championship team isn't as strong defensively as the unit that dominated the college football landscape the year before, but defending a title is almost always more difficult than winning the first one. AJ McCarron had spotlight moments all season long, including 264 yards and four touchdowns against Notre Dame in the title game. Had McCarron not thrown the goal-line interception against Texas A&M, this team would have easily landed in the top five. This team rolled up 529 yards of offense in one of the more impressive title game performances in the 15-year history of the BCS. And did it against one of the best defenses in the nation.

7. Auburn Tigers, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: The Tigers finished the regular season No. 3 in the BCS standings, led the nation in scoring defense (11.3 ppg), led the SEC in scoring offense (32.1 ppg); Jason Campbell led the league in passing efficiency (172.89).
Award Winners: Carlos Rogers (Thorpe), Jason Campbell (SEC Off. Player of the Year), Carnell Williams (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Tommy Tuberville (AP National, SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Ronnie Brown (1st, 2005), Carnell Williams (1st, 2005), Carlos Rogers (1st, 2005), Jason Campbell (1st, 2005), Marcus McNeill (2nd, 2006), Ben Grubbs (1st, 2007)

The 2004 Auburn Tigers backfield might be one of the most talented in college football history. Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams (Kenny Irons was redshirting) and Jason Campbell led the Tigers to an unblemished record. Only two teams stayed within 10 points of Auburn during the regular season (LSU 10-9, Alabama 21-13) while the three-headed backfield pounded opposing defenses. While Auburn beat four ranked teams, it missed out on the BCS national title game to an undefeated Oklahoma team. The Sooners got crushed by USC while Auburn snuck past Virginia Tech to win the Sugar Bowl. To this day, Tigers fan rue the missed opportunity of 2004. Auburn would have been a heavy underdog to USC and was defeated by what was largely the same team at home the year before 23-0. But it would have been fun to watch the two teams square off.

8. Florida Gators, 2009 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC East, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Tim Tebow led the nation in passing efficiency (164.17), set the SEC all-time total offense record (12,232 yards), and the SEC’s all-time touchdowns responsible for record (145).
Award Winners: Aaron Hernandez (John Mackey), Maurkice Pouncey (Rimington), Tim Tebow (SEC Off. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)

After the Gators claimed the 2008 BCS National Championship, Tim Tebow decided to return to Gainesville for his senior season. He led the Gators to an undefeated regular season mark and berth in the SEC Championship game against No. 2 Alabama. The rematch of the 2008 SEC title game went the way of the Tide 32-13, as Greg McElroy outplayed Tebow. While it was not the third national title he wanted, Tebow finished his career by setting a BCS bowl record for total yards with 533 and passing yards with 482 in the 51-24 win over Cincinnati. It was only the Gators' second win over a ranked opponent all season.

9. Auburn Tigers, 2010 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Gene Chizik
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Cam Newton's 4,327 yards of total offense set a single-season SEC record; Tigers set a school record with 41.2 points per game, led the nation in passing efficiency 180.52, won seven games by one score or less.
Award Winners: Cam Newton (Heisman Trophy, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, SEC Off. Player of Year), Nick Fairley (Lombardi), Lee Ziemba (SEC Top Blocker)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Cam Newton (1st, 2011), Nick Fairley (1st, 2011)

One-year wonders Cam Newton and Nick Fairley gave Auburn arguably its most important recruiting haul in history when they both chose the Loveliest Village on the Plains. The Heisman Trophy winner willed his team to victory against Mississippi State, Clemson, Kentucky, Alabama, Oregon and defined his legacy with an incredible 49-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of a tied game with LSU. His 217 rushing yards in the 24-17 win over the Tigers broke a single-game SEC rushing record for a quarterback. Newton finished with 2,854 yards passing, 1,473 yards rushing and an SEC second-best 51 total touchdowns. This is the only 14-win team in school history and was the highest-scoring Tigers team in program history by a wide margin — their 577 points topped Terry Bowden’s 1995 team by 139 points (41.2 ppg against 36.5 ppg).

10. Florida Gators, 2006 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Florida held Heisman winner Troy Smith to four completions in the title game and the Buckeyes to 82 total yards.
Award Winners: Percy Harvin (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Reggie Nelson (1st, 2007), Jarvis Moss (1st, 2007), Derrick Harvey (1st, 2008), Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010)

After defeating a ranked Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas, the Florida Gators entered the 2006 BCS national title game as a big underdog to Ohio State. But an NFL-heavy defense delivered one of the greatest defensive performances in championship game history. Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, Derrick Harvey and company harassed Heisman winner Troy Smith all day. Smith threw for 35 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and was sacked five times. They held the OSU rushing attack to 47 yards on 23 carries. Ohio State totaled 82 yards of offense in the 41-14 beatdown. Cult hero Tim Tebow touched the ball 11 times and scored twice to begin his eternal legacy at Florida. This team produced nine 2007 NFL Draft picks alone. The only loss came at the hands of No. 11 Auburn 27-17 in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

11. LSU Tigers, 2007 (12-2, 6-2)
Head Coach: Les Miles
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: LSU beat seven ranked teams; the only BCS champion with two losses.
Award Winners: Glenn Dorsey (Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott, SEC Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Glenn Dorsey (1st, 2008), Tyson Jackson (1st, 2009)

By definition only, this is the “worst” BCS national champion due to its two losses. However, wins over ranked Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee (with back-up quarterback Ryan Perrilloux) and Ohio State gave the Bayou Bengals the crystal football nonetheless. The Tigers were undefeated in regulation, however, as both Kentucky and Arkansas needed overtime to top them. Despite the two losses and the 83 combined points allowed, the LSU Tigers defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in relatively easy fashion 38-24. Matt Flynn threw four touchdown passes, and the defense, led by an 8-tackle, 1.5-sack, forced fumble performance by Ali Highsmith, kept the Bucks at arm’s length the entire game. It was the Tigers' second national title in five years.

12. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2008 (12-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC West
Key Stats: Finished No. 2 nationally against the run (74.1 ypg) and third nationally in total defense (263.5 ypg); John Parker Wilson’s 7,924 yards are an all-time Alabama record.
Award Winners: Andre Smith (Outland), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Andre Smith (1st, 2009), Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011)

In Nick Saban’s second season at The Capstone, the Tide was quickly back in the national title picture. The Tide boasted a senior-laden offense, beat three ranked teams for an 8-0 SEC record and were the No. 1 team in the land when they headed to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game with the No. 2-ranked Florida Gators. The Gators' defense foiled the Tide’s hopes for a national title by holding quarterback John Parker Wilson to 12-of-25 passing, no touchdowns and one key interception. The loss to Florida sent Alabama to the Sugar Bowl against an unbeaten Utah team. Without Andre Smith — or a chance at the crystal football — the Tide failed to play motivated football and fell 31-17 to what might be considered the best Ute team in program history.

13. LSU Tigers, 2011 (13-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Les Miles
Championships: SEC
Key Stats: No. 2 nationally in total and scoring defense, No. 2 nationally in turnover margin
Award Winners: Morris Claiborne (Thorpe Award)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Morris Claiborne (1st, 2012), Michael Brockers (1st, 2012), Reuben Randle (2nd, 2012)

This team was nearly as dominant on defense as the eventual national champion Crimson Tide, but its offense paled in comparison. A perfect regular season was tainted with arguably the worst performance in the BCS National Championship in the 15-year history of the game. Certainly, Alabama deserves credit for why LSU struggled so mightily in New Orleans last year. But 92 total yards of offense and five first downs indicated the 13-0 record was not nearly as pretty as previously assumed. This is the only team to be shutout in the BCS title game and is the only SEC team to ever lose the BCS title game.

14. Georgia Bulldogs, 2002 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Finished fourth in the nation in scoring defense (15.1 ppg) and led the SEC in scoring (32.1); no Georgia team has scored more than 2002’s 450 points.
Award Winners: David Pollack (SEC Player of the Year), Mark Richt (SEC Coach of the Year), Musa Smith (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Jonathan Sullivan (1st, 2003), George Foster (1st, 2003), Boss Bailey (2nd, 2003), Jon Stinchcomb (2nd, 2003), Ben Watson (1st, 2004), Sean Jones (2nd, 2004), David Pollack (1st, 2005), Thomas Davis (1st, 2005), Reggie Brown (2nd, 2005), Tim Jennings (2nd, 2006)

No Georgia team has ever won more games or scored more points in a single season than the 2002 edition. And other than the 1980 Vince Dooley team and the 1945 Wallace Butts team, no Dawgs squad has had a better record than the 13-1 mark. Led by David Greene at quarterback and a stacked defense (Pollack, Davis, Jones, Jennings), Georgia rolled to an 8-0 mark before losing in the Cocktail Party 20-13 to Florida. After being knocked out of the national title hunt, Georgia crushed Ole Miss, topped Auburn, pummeled rival Georgia Tech before destroying Arkansas in the SEC title game. They capped the season with a Sugar Bowl title over Florida State.

15. Georgia Bulldogs, 2007 (11-2, 6-2)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Championships: Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: This team led the SEC in sacks (3.23 pg) and was eighth nationally; Georgia’s 42-30 win over Florida was only the second win over the Gators in 10 tries; this was the second-highest scoring team in school history at 32.6 points per game.
Award Winners: Knowshon Moreno (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Matthew Stafford (1st, 2009), Knowshon Moreno (1st, 2009), Mohamed Massaquoi (2nd, 2009)

The most talented quarterback in school history, Matthew Stafford came close to leading Georgia back to the national title game. An early loss to South Carolina did not end the Dawgs' title hopes, however, an inexplicable 35-14 road loss to underdog Tennessee did cost Mark Richt a chance at playing a two-loss LSU in the SEC title game. The Tigers defeated the Volunteers, who won the SEC East crown via a tie-breaker, and went on to beat Ohio State in the BCS national championship game, while Georgia was left to face an undefeated Hawaii team in the Sugar Bowl — in the same building as LSU. Georgia forced six turnovers and held the Warriors to minus-5 yards rushing in the 41-10 victory. Stafford was the first overall pick in the draft one year later.

<p> Top 15 SEC Football Teams of the BCS Era</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 06:10
All taxonomy terms: super bowl, NFL, Monthly
Path: /nfl/super-bowl-blowouts-era-best-forgotten

It wasn’t so long ago that the star of Super Bowl Sunday was a talking frog. Or a dancing monkey. Or Cindy Crawford enjoying a refreshing cola.

For a stretch of time that lasted more than a decade, the only suspense after kickoff of the Super Bowl came from anticipating the next clever commercial. More often than not, the actual game was over before it even started.

From 1984-97, in particular, the Super Bowl morphed into a near-annual blowout—anything but a battle between the NFL’s two best teams. During that period of time, the average margin of victory was an obscene 21.4 points and nine of the 14 games were decided by more than two touchdowns.

But a funny thing has happened this millennium. The focus has shifted back to football thanks to a series of tight contests, each more compelling than the next. Since 2000, only two Super Bowls have been decided by more than 14 points, while eight games have ended with a one-score differential. Three others—Super Bowl XL (Steelers-Seahawks), XLI (Colts-Bears) and XLIV (Saints-Colts)—also featured one-score margins at some point in the fourth quarter.

Clearly, it seems, something has changed in a drastic way to make the NFL’s title game far more competitive. Except that’s not actually the case.

A common refrain is that the tighter Super Bowl scores are a byproduct of the NFL’s salary cap. The timing makes sense—the cap came into place in 1994, which was the tail end of the blowout era. And the cap’s reason for existence is tied largely to ensuring competitive balance, so a closer Super Bowl would appear to be the perfect manifestation of that goal.

But that’s not consistent with the way the NFL has changed since ’94. Instead, according to Aaron Schatz, who runs Football Outsiders, a popular advanced metrics website, parity has actually declined in the salary cap era. “In general, the best teams have been coming in stronger each year, while the worst teams have been worse and worse, using our advanced stats,” Schatz says.

So how, then, do we explain the Super Bowl shift? It’s actually the product of two factors. First and foremost, time has allowed us to see the 1984-97 period as a statistical outlier. It’s abnormal for any team to beat another by 20-plus points in any game, let alone when two top teams spar in the Super Bowl. The string of blowouts, not the recent stretch of close games, is the real story, because Super Bowls prior to 1984 also tended to be more competitive. What happened in the ’80s and ’90s was unnatural. 

The blowouts weren’t all the product of random chance, though. “We all know the NFC was much better than the AFC throughout the ’80s,” Schatz says. Indeed, the dominant teams of that era were the 49ers, Giants and Redskins, with the Cowboys joining the mix in the ’90s. Facing the AFC champion (often the Broncos or Bills) often turned out to be a breeze compared to surviving the NFC gauntlet. But that still doesn’t mean the outcomes should have been so one-sided.

This year, though, appears headed in the other direction. According to Schatz, this season featured more close games than any in NFL history. Sure, in time we will probably see that as nothing more than a statistical outlier, too. But if you’re into omens, it bodes well for Feb. 3.

Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Ravens vs. 49ers and the history of the big game.

<p> Super Bowl Blowouts: An Era Best Forgotten</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 06:00
Path: /nfl/five-reasons-why-baltimore-ravens-will-win-super-bowl-xlvii

Super Bowl XLVII is set for Sunday, Feb. 3 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. While the majority of the focus has been on the matchup up between the sons of Jack Harbaugh, this Har-Bowl (or Super Baugh, if you prefer) will be decided on the field by the teams that are led by John and Jim, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.

Related: 5 Reasons Why the San Francisco 49ers Will Win Super Bowl XLVII

Here are five reasons why John Harbaugh’s Ravens will leave New Orleans with the Lombardi Trophy in tow:

1. Ray Lewis’ Storybook Ending
Even Hollywood couldn’t have scripted this potential ending to linebacker Ray Lewis’ Hall of Fame career. Already a lock for enshrinement in Canton, many thought Lewis’ career would end prematurely after sustaining a triceps injury back on Oct. 14. The fact that Lewis was even able to return for the playoffs for one “last ride” is enough of a story in itself, but now that he finds himself with the opportunity to go out on top, as a world champion? Now that’s magical.

The Ravens have rallied around their emotional leader to get to New Orleans, but it’s not like the 17-year veteran hasn’t done his part as well. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year leads all postseason participating with 44 tackles in three games so far, including 25 solo stops. His presence and passion has re-charged a Ravens’ defense that has been able to rise to the occasion during these playoffs. This Ravens team wants nothing more than to send No. 52 off into the sunset with a second Super Bowl ring, just as Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway did back in 1999 in Super Bowl XXXIII.

And Lewis isn’t the only Raven who has waited a long time for this opportunity either. Ed Reed, the ball-hawking safety who took home Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2004, is finally getting his chance on the game’s biggest stage after 11 seasons, as is center Matt Birk, who has started 187 regular-season games in his 14-year career with the Ravens and Vikings.

2. Flacco Playing Like an Extra-Ordinary Joe
As good as Baltimore’s defense has been this postseason, the Ravens would not be in Super Bowl XLVII if not for the performance of quarterback Joe Flacco. Criticized by both pundits and fans alike, Flacco has made considerable progress in quieting down some of the doubters, and it couldn’t come at a better time in his career.

While he has never put up regular-season statistics on par with the likes of a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, or what Andrew Luck did in his first pro season, Flacco has proven he can get the job done when it matters most. The first quarterback in NFL history to win at least one postseason game in each of his first five seasons, Flacco has led the Ravens to the franchise’s second-ever Super Bowl appearance by out-performing Brady, Manning and Luck on the field. This postseason, Flacco has thrown for 853 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions, good enough for a 114.7 passer rating, in leading his Ravens to wins over the Colts, Broncos and Patriots. The latter two victories came on the road, which is also the case for six of his eight career postseason wins.

Flacco is clearly playing the best football of his career, which may not only result in a coveted world championship, but also will more than likely allow him to cash in off the field as well. Flacco is a free agent after the season, and while his next contract numbers probably won’t approach the totals of a Manning, Brady or Drew Brees, there is little doubt he is in for a rather sizable raise. Life is really good for a certain 28-year-old quarterback out of Delaware right now.

3. Ravens’ Defense Soaring at Right Time
Among the top 10 defenses in the NFL in both yards and points allowed from 2008-11, the Ravens took a step backwards during the regular season, finishing tied for 12th in scoring defense (21.5 ppg) and 17th in total defense (350.9 ypg). Some of this can be attributed to injuries, as the team lost All-Pro cornerback Lardarius Webb for the season back in Week 6, while linebackers Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis each missed at least half the regular season.

This defense has turned things around in the playoffs, however, especially as it relates to the red zone and tightening things up in the second half. Even though Indianapolis had 25 first downs and 419 yards of total offense against Baltimore in the Wild Card round, the Colts were 0-for-3 in the red-zone, only managing three field goals in a 24-9 loss.

The following game in Denver, the Ravens forced Peyton Manning into three turnovers, including the key interception that led to the game-winning field goal, and held his offense to just three touchdowns (two touchdowns were on special teams). The double overtime victory was Denver’s second loss at home all season and their first loss in 11 games.

The Ravens followed up that huge road victory with an even bigger one, shutting down Tom Brady and the Patriots and shutting the home team out completely in the second half of the AFC Championship game. The Ravens turned the Patriots away on three of their four trips in the red zone, while forcing the home team into three miscues, including two picks of Brady.

4. Special Teams Could Take Flight in Superdome
The Ravens led the NFL in kickoff return average (27.3 ypr), thanks in large part of the efforts of All-Pro kick returner Jacoby Jones. Jones averaged 30.7 yards per kickoff return, taking two kicks back for touchdowns, while also returning a punt for a score too. The 49ers gave up the second-most yards (26.9) per kickoff return during the regular season, so this could potentially be an area the Ravens can take advantage of.

While Ravens punter Sam Koch has a big leg and can use it to pin opponents inside the 20, he is not on the same level as the 49ers’ Andy Lee, who took home first team All-Pro honors this season for the third time in his career. Kicker, however, is a completely different story, as the Ravens have a clear edge there right now, despite the fact that Justin Tucker is just a rookie.

Tucker made 30-of-33 field goal attempts during the regular season, including all four from beyond 50 yards, and has yet to miss a kick in the postseason (2-of-2 FGs, 12-for-12 PATs). Contrast that to his counterpart David Akers, whose 69 percent success rate on field goals during the regular season was second-lowest in the league, and whose struggles continued with a missed 38-yarder against Atlanta in last Sunday’s NFC Championship game.

Fortunately for Akers and the 49ers, that missed kick didn’t cost them the win over the Falcons, but the stakes and pressure will be even higher come Feb. 3. While Akers’ own confidence has already been called into question, what about his coach’s confidence in his kicker. Does Jim Harbaugh even give Akers a shot at a long field goal, say beyond 40 yards, should a 49ers drive stall? That’s not something that John Harbaugh has to worry about right now with Tucker, at least not until the game has started.

5. The Ravens Have Been Down This Road Before
The Ravens entered the playoffs as the fourth seed in the AFC, the same position they were in following the 2000 season when they would go on to defeat the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. That season, the Ravens defeated the No. 5-seeded team (Denver) at home, followed by road wins over the No. 1 (Tennessee) and 2 (Oakland) teams, and finished the job by taking out the NFC’s top seed, the Giants, in Tampa, Fla.

This season, the Ravens got to New Orleans by beating the No. 5-seed Colts at home, followed by victories over No. 1 Denver and No. 2 New England on the road. All that stands between them and a second Lombardi Trophy for the franchise is NFC Champion San Francisco, who was the No. 2 seed on its side of the bracket.

For what it’s worth, since the Ravens defeated the higher-seeded Giants back in Super Bowl XXXV, the lower-seeded teams are 9-2 in the big game. This record could be 10-2 depending on how you view Super Bowl XLIV, when Indianapolis and New Orleans, the top seeds from each conference, met. The Colts won more games in the regular season than the Saints did, although it was the Saints winning the one that counted most, the last one, 31-17 in Miami, Fla.

That said the past two Super Bowl champions were seeded lower than their opponent, Green Bay (sixth) over Pittsburgh (second) in Super Bowl XLV, and the New York Giants (fourth) over New England (first) last year.

<p> Five Reasons Why the Baltimore Ravens Will Win Super Bowl XLVII</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Monthly
Path: /monthly/what-age-do-nfl-players-start-drawing-their-pensions

At what age do NFL players start drawing their pensions?

— Ed Johnson, Panama City Beach, Fla.
Players start collecting their pensions at age 55. To qualify, they must be credited for three full seasons (four for players before 1992). A full season is defined as being on the active roster (or on injured reserve or the physically unable to perform list) in three games.
— Rob Doster, Senior Editor
<p> At what age do NFL players start drawing their pensions?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 16:58
All taxonomy terms: Monthly
Path: /mlb/whats-record-most-foul-balls-hit-single-bat

What is the record for most foul balls hit in a single at-bat? 

— Bert Steinberg, Port Hueneme, Calif.

There are no records kept for foul balls during particular at-bats, but there is one unusual record in this category that is likely to never be broken. Philadelphia outfielder Richie Ashburn, who played from 1948-62, was known for his ability to prolong at-bats by fouling off pitches. During one such at-bat in Philadelphia, he fouled off 14 pitches. One of them struck a woman who was sitting in the stands, breaking her nose. While she was being carried off on a stretcher, she was hit by a second foul ball from Ashburn during the same at-bat.
— Charlie Miller, Editorial Director
<p> What's the record for most foul balls hit in a single at-bat?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 16:52
All taxonomy terms: Monthly
Path: /monthly/who-considered-best-athlete-turned-musician

Who is considered the best athlete-turned-musician? I think it is one of these three: Wayman Tisdale (jazz), Shaquille O’Neal (rap) or Bernie Williams (soft jazz). What do you say?

— Nelson Jimenez, Stamford, Conn.
I like your mention of late NBA star Tisdale and retired New York Yankee Williams, both of them accomplished musicians. But you’re being a tad generous by including the Big Aristotle, who’s not exactly renowned for busting rhymes. Other examples of athletes-turned-musicians include boxer Oscar de la Hoya, who recorded a pretty cheesy Latin pop album that, astonishingly, was nominated for a Grammy; tennis player John McEnroe, who wielded a rock-and-roll axe for The Johnny Smyth Band back in the 1990s; soccer star Alexi Lalas, who fronted a band called Gypsies that opened for Hootie and the Blowfish during their 1998 European tour; and Deion Sanders, who recorded a poorly received funk album called “Prime Time” that was released in 1995. I’ll go with Tisdale, who got his musical start playing bass guitar at his dad’s church and ultimately mastered the instrument and recorded eight jazz albums prior to his tragic death in 2009. One of those albums, “Face to Face,” reached No. 1 on the Billboard contemporary jazz chart.
I’ll tell you who it’s not: track star Carl Lewis, whose best-known musical foray was his legendary butchering of the National Anthem prior to a Bulls-Nets game in 1993 — proof that most athletes should stick to sports.
— Rob Doster, Senior Editor
<p> <strong>Who is considered the best athlete-turned-musician?&nbsp;</strong></p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 12:46
Path: /nfl/15-greatest-plays-super-bowl-history

What defines a great play?

Degree of difficulty? Gravity of the moment? The greatness of the players involved and their place in NFL history? Entertainment factor? How about all of the above.

Game-winning touchdowns, heroic out-of-body experiences, historic moments and even some hilarious gaffes — looking at you Garo Yepremian — all make the Super Bowl the greatest sporting event of the calendar year. Hall of Fame careers are made and broken in the final football game of the season and trying to narrow down half-a-century of action to the 10 best individual plays is virtually impossible.

1. Super Bowl XXXIV: One Yard Short
The Titans and Rams put on a second-half show for the fans in Atlanta. Kurt Warner hit Isaac Bruce on a 73-yard touchdown pass with just over two minutes to go in a tie game to take the lead. Steve McNair then whirled his way down the field to the St. Louis 10-yard line to set up the final play of the game. Mike Jones then made the play of his career by tackling Kevin Dyson just 12 inches shy of the game-tying touchdown. It would have been the first and only overtime game in Super Bowl history.

2. Super Bowl XXXII: John Elway’s helicopter run
It was the defining moment of what many believe is the best Super Bowl ever played. It was third-and-six from the Packers 12-yard line with the game tied 17-17 in the second half. One of the game’s greatest players drops back to pass, scrambles right and then dives into the air in the face of three Green Bay defenders. Elway gives up all regard for his body and wills himself to a first down. Terrell Davis scored the go-ahead touchdown two plays later and Elway wins his first Super Bowl.

3. Super Bowl XXV: Scott Norwood’s wide right
There have been many game-winning field goals in Super Bowl history — but none on the final snap with one team trailing and the chance to win the game. Adam Vinatieri’s kicks were clutch but those games would have gone into overtime had he missed. No, Scott Norwood became the only true goat of a Super Bowl when his 47-yard field goal sailed just inches wide right. The miss capped an extraordinary drive that capped an extraordinary game stacked with Hall of Fame players and coaches.

4. Super Bowl XXIII: Joe Montana to John Taylor
The 10-yard pass to John Taylor with 39 seconds left wasn’t in and of itself a miraculous play. It wasn’t all that difficult and it wasn’t all that remarkable. But it represents all that Joe Montana was as an NFL Hall of Famer. He got the ball with 3:10 left on the clock down 16-13 on his own eight-yard line and all he can think about is John Candy. It is the latest game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl history.

5. Super Bowl XLII: Eli Manning to David Tyree (and Plaxico Burress)
In terms of degree of difficulty, few plays in any game much less the Super Bowl can match this one. Eli Manning's Houdini act in the pocket to avoid getting sacked is nearly as impressive as David Tyree’s duct tape and chicken wire helmet catch in traffic 32 yards down the field. Four plays later, Manning floated a 13-yard game-winning touchdown to a wide open Plaxico Burress to give the Patriots their one and only loss of the season. After three extremely slow quarters, Super Bowl XLII ended in extraordinary fashion.

6. Super Bowl XLIII: Big Ben to Santonio Holmes
The Cardinals entered the fourth quarter trailing the Steelers 20-7. Kurt Warner then proceeded to score 16 straight points to take a three-point lead over Pittsburgh with just over two minutes to play. Ben Roethlisberger then marched his team to the Arizona six-yard line where, with unbelievable accuracy and some magic toes at his disposal, he somehow connects with Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left to play.

7. Super Bowl XVIII: Marcus Allen 74-yard run
It is likely the most impressive run in Super Bowl history. After twisting and changing directions in the backfield, Marcus Allen split the heart of the Washington Redskins defense for the longest run in Super Bowl history (later broken by Willie Parker). The play capped the third quarter and put a fork in the ‘Skins hopes. Allen finished with 191 yards rushing and was named the MVP.

8. Super Bowl XVII: The Diesel’s fourth-and-one gallop
The Redskins were trailing 17-13 with 10 minutes to go in the game facing a fourth-and-one on the Miami 43-yard line. Joe Gibbs leaves his offense on the field and calls ’70 chip’ for his star running back John Riggins. The burly runner, nicknamed The Diesel, breaks a tackle, bounces the play off tackle and races 43 yards for the game-winning touchdown. The play epitomized who Riggins was as a ball carrier.

9. Super Bowl X: Lynn Swann’s Magical Reception
When it comes to acrobatic, spectacular catches, Tyree might not even be able top the grace of Lynn Swann. From deep in his own territory, the eventual game MVP reeled in a 53-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw that changed the game. Mark Washington is in perfect position to make a play on the ball for the Cowboys, but somehow Swann out leaps the defender, bobbles the ball and hauls in the pass as he is falling to the ground. Swann finished with four receptions for 161 yards and the game-winning 64-yard touchdown catch as well. This clash of the titans was won with style and grace.

10. Super Bowl III: Joe Namath’s Called Shot/Finger Wag
It wasn’t technically one play, but Joe Namath’s guarantee and subsequent history finger wag will go down in Super Bowl lore. It was likely the most important Super Bowl ever played. It was the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. And the moment could have only been made possible by a brash personality like Namath.

11. Super Bowl XLIV: Saints onside kick to start second half
Possibly the ballsiest call in Super Bowl history, Sean Payton converts on an onside kick to start the second half and it sets the tone for the Saints' storied Super Bowl championship.

12. Super Bowl XXXVI: Adam Vinatieri Part I
Vinatieri Part I capped Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s coming out party as they upset the heavily favored Rams with a 48-yard game winner.

13. Super Bowl XXXVIII: Adam Vinatieri Part II
An underrated Super Bowl ended with Vinatieri Part II when he broke the 29-29 tie as time expired against the Panthers.

14. Super Bowl XXVII: Leon Lett chased down by Don Beebe
The game wasn’t close and the play didn’t really matter, but no one will ever forget little Don Beebe embarrassing big Leon Lett at the goalline.

15. Super Bowl I: Max McGee one-hander
A hungover, second-string Max McGee makes a spectacular one-handed catch to score the first touchdown in Super Bowl history.

Best of the Rest:

16. Super Bowl XIV: Bradshaw to Stallworth for 73-yard game winner
17. Super Bowl XX: William Perry steals Sweetness’ touchdown
18. Super Bowl XLVI: Manning to Manningham Sideline Fade
19. Super Bowl XIII: Jackie Smith is sickest man in America
20. Super Bowl XXXI: Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return TD

Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Ravens vs. 49ers and the history of the big game.

<p> Top 15 Greatest Plays in Super Bowl History</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-bracket-update-jan-23

As the college basketball season nears the end of the first month of the new year, the standings still reveal a handful of surprises.

Instead of Arizona and UCLA, Oregon is atop the Pac-12. Ole Miss is undefeated in the SEC, though the Rebels have yet to run into the Florida steamroller. Meanwhile, Miami is the only team unscathed in ACC play.

The Hurricanes will have perfection tested this week when they play host to Duke, and on the other side of the country, UCLA and Arizona will try to reclaim a pice of Pac-12 dominance when the two meet at the McKale Center.

Here’s our look at the rest of the week and how it could impact the postseason.

All times Eastern.


UCLA at Arizona (Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN2)

Just about every preseason source had either UCLA or Arizona as the top team in the Pac-12 (Athlon picked Arizona). Five games into the conference season, and both are chasing Oregon. Arizona bounced back from its loss to the Ducks to defeat Arizona State 71-54 on the road. Meanwhile, UCLA will need more from freshman Jordan Adams, who didn’t have a field goal against Oregon on Saturday.

Related: Key stats from last week in college basketball

Duke (Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
Florida State (Sunday, 6 p.m, ESPNU)

Back in December, it seemed a broken thumb for Reggie Johnson would be a major detriment to Miami’s NCAA Tournament hopes. After losing two of their first three without Johnson, Miami has reeled off five consecutive wins, including a 4-0 start in the ACC. A strong showing against Duke -- Miami already has a win in Chapel Hill as well -- would add to Miami’s legitimacy in the ACC even if Duke is shorthanded without Ryan Kelly. In facing Florida State (10-7, 2-2 ACC), Miami will look to avoid a letdown no matter the result against the Blue Devils.

Related: Duke retains top spot in power rankings

at Nevada (Wednesday, 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
New Mexico (Saturday, 4 p.m., NBC Sports Network)

The Mountain West contenders have started to beat each other up, and none has more bruises than San Diego State. Before last week, the Aztecs had gone 14-2 with one loss in an aircraft carrier game in the opener against Syracuse and a one-point loss to Arizona in Hawaii. Then came back-to-back MWC losses. San Diego State lost 82-75 at home to UNLV and then had only four field goals and nine points in the first half of a 58-45 loss at Wyoming. The Aztecs should get past Nevada with little difficulty, but they’ll be tough to take seriously as an MWC contender if they lose at home to New Mexico on Saturday.

RISING: Syracuse
at Villanova (Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPNU)
Syracuse reasserted its spots as one of the nation’s top five five teams last week by defeated Louisville on the road and then grinding out a win over Cincinnati on a quick turnaround Monday afternoon. The Orange this without one of their most most valuable players in James Southerland. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams has proven he’s capable of carrying Syracuse to a Big East title.

SINKING: Illinois
Michigan (Sunday, 6 p.m., Big Ten Network)
The season is in danger of going into a downward spiral for Illinois, which has lost three in a row and started 1-4 in the Big Ten. A 68-54 loss to Northwestern on Thursday was particularly alarming. A swing against Michigan on Saturday, Michigan State, Indiana and Minnesota between now and Feb.1 0 could bury Illinois in its bid for the NCAA Tournament.

Lehigh at Bucknell (Wednesday, 6 p.m., CBS Sports Network)

What a game this could have been if not for a broken foot for Lehigh’s star guard C.J. McCollum. Lehigh averaged 79.4 points per game with McCollum and 67.3 points in the last three without him (not including a win over Division III Muhlenberg). Lehigh is still 3-0 in the Patriot League, but so is Bucknell, who gave Missouri a scare earlier this month.

Colorado State at New Mexico (Wednesday, 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
The Rams have a bit of staying power. Dorian Green came out of nowhere to score 24 points in win over UNLV last week.

Wyoming at UNLV (Thursday, 9 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Offcourt problems have been an issue in Laramie, but Wyoming may still be a factor after defeating San Diego State 58-45. The Aztecs helped Wyoming by scoring nine points in the first half.

BYU at Gonzaga (Thursday, 11 p.m., ESPN2)
Perhaps the two teams can swap sob stories of being on the wrong end of miracle game-winners -- BYU against Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga against Butler.

Maryland at Duke (Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Maryland has lost three of its last four but defeated NC State 51-50 last week. The Terrapins might not be able to win in Cameron, but can’t they show they’re a Tournament team?

Minnesota at Wisconsin (Saturday, 2 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe is averaging 15 points and 10.3 rebounds in the last three games.

Oklahoma at Kansas (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
We’re starting to hear talk of Ben McLemore having one of the top seasons in Kansas history. Catch him while you can.

UCLA at Arizona State (Saturday, 4 p.m., Fox Sports Network)
The Sun Devils gave Arizona fits until freshman scorer Jahii Carson got into foul trouble.

Temple at Butler (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2)
A run down of the teams Temple and Butler have defeated this year: Indiana, Gonzaga, Syracuse. The Owls have been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde act, though, by losing at home to St. Bonaventure on Saturday.

North Carolina at NC State (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
Since defeating Duke, NC State lost to Maryland and slogged through a win over Clemson.

Michigan State at Indiana (Sunday, noon, CBS)
Michigan State’s win over Ohio State on Saturday reminded us not to leave out the Spartans when talking about the Big Ten’s dominance. Tom Izzo and his former assistant Tom Crean split last year’s season series.

<p> UCLA, Arizona try to regain footing in Pac-12 race while Miami looks to make statement in this week's Bracket Update</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/5-reasons-why-ohio-state-alabamas-biggest-threat-2013

Can the rest of college football stop the SEC from its eighth straight national championship? That’s the big question facing coaching staffs in the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and at Notre Dame this offseason. Alabama is a heavy favorite to win its fourth BCS title in five years in 2013, but the No. 2 spot in most preseason polls is expected to be a tossup between Oregon and Ohio State. The Buckeyes are coming off an undefeated regular season but was unable to play in a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions. The Ducks finished 2012 with 12 victories but a 17-14 loss to Stanford ended their hopes of playing for the national title.

Even though the 2013 season is still months away, it’s never too early to take an early look at how Oregon and Ohio State might stack up next year.

Although the Ducks are picked by most to be the No. 2 team next year, Athlon’s early top 25 has the Buckeyes ranked just behind Alabama.

5 Reasons Why Ohio State (Not Oregon) Is Alabama’s Biggest Threat in 2013

1. Coaching
Urban Meyer versus Mark Helfrich? No offense to the Oregon first-year head coach but this intangible is heavily favored in Ohio State’s direction. Helfrich was promoted to keep continuity from the Chip Kelly era but has no previous head coaching experience. Although Helfrich knows the Ducks’ culture and has played a role in developing their offense, there will be a drop-off from Kelly.

Meyer has been one of college football’s most successful coaches of the BCS era, recording a 39-8 record from stops at Bowling Green and Utah and a 65-15 mark at Florida. Meyer won two national championships during his tenure in Gainesville and is 12-0 in his only season with the Buckeyes.

2. Schedule
Neither team has a difficult schedule, but Ohio State’s slate is slightly easier than what Oregon will face. The Buckeyes face Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M in the non-conference portion, and Oregon will play Nicholls State, Nevada and Tennessee.

While the non-conference portion is essentially even, Ohio State has an easier path to a national championship in the Big Ten. Outside of the Buckeyes, the Big Ten isn’t expected to have another team inside of most preseason top-15 lists. Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern will be ranked outside of the top 15 but will still present a challenge for the Buckeyes. Ohio State has four conference road games, with the toughest being a matchup against Michigan.

Oregon’s road to an unbeaten record is more difficult, especially with a date at Stanford on Nov. 7. The Ducks also face Washington in Seattle, and the Huskies could be one of the Pac-12’s most-improved teams next season. Oregon also plays UCLA – the preseason favorite in the South Division – but misses USC and Arizona State.

There will always be a game that is tougher than most expect once the season kicks off, however, Ohio State has a favorable path to another 12-0 mark in the regular season.

3. Improving playmakers
Even though quarterback Braxton Miller started all 12 games in 2012, Ohio State can’t rely on the junior passer to survive another season with 227 carries. Miller is a perfect fit for coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense, and with another offseason to work with the coaching staff, he is expected to be one of the top Heisman contenders in 2013.

Taking some of the pressure off Miller will be essential to a national championship run. The good news for Ohio State is nearly all of its skill players from last season return, and running back Jordan Hall is back after missing nearly all of 2012 due to injury. Hall has potential to play in a Percy Harvin role for the Buckeyes, along with serving as a complement back to starter Carlos Hyde. Although Hyde finished the year with less than 1,000 yards, he had two 100-yard efforts in the final three games and scored 16 touchdowns in 10 games.

Hyde and Hall will be one of the Big Ten’s top running back duos next season, and the receiving corps returns four out of its top five statistical receivers from 2012. Corey Brown is back after catching 60 passes for 669 yards and three scores, and Devin Smith heads into his junior year with 10 career touchdown receptions.

There’s no shortage of playmakers in Eugene, starting with running back De’Anthony Thomas. Receiver Josh Huff averaged 15.4 yards per reception, and tight end Colt Lyerla is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. However, with the departure of running back Kenjon Barner, the Ducks lack a proven running back that can handle 20-25 carries a game.

Oregon may have more overall playmakers, but Ohio State’s supporting cast next season is in better shape than it was in 2012.

4. Defensive improvement in Columbus?
The Buckeyes’ defense started off Big Ten play on a bad note last season. Ohio State allowed 38 points to Nebraska and 49 against Indiana. Although both games resulted in a victory for the Buckeyes, it wasn’t a vintage defensive effort most in Columbus were used to seeing. Ohio State’s defense was better in the second half of the season, allowing 20.4 points over the final five contests and generating four sacks in three out of the final four games.

Even though the defense loses linemen John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Garrett Goebel and Nathan Williams, this unit has potential to show improvement in 2013. Co-coordinators Everett Withers and Luke Fickell have a full offseason to get the players acquainted with the scheme, while Meyer has brought in two of the nation’s best recruiting classes in 2012 and 2013. The back seven of the defense should be the strength for Ohio State, especially thanks to the decision of cornerback Bradley Roby to return for another year in Columbus.

Due to the success of its offense, Oregon’s defense often gets overlooked. The Ducks allow 374.2 yards per game but held opponents to 21.6 points per contest and forced 40 turnovers. Oregon’s defense was also hit hard by personnel departures, losing standouts Dion Jordan (defensive end) and linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay to graduation. Even though the Ducks have a few holes to fill, this unit shouldn’t suffer too much of a drop-off.

The edge in defense should slightly favor Oregon, but the Buckeyes have plenty of time to let their new starters get acquainted with the lineup. With Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M in the first four games of the season, Ohio State should work out the kinks by the time it plays Wisconsin and Northwestern to open Big Ten play.

5. Braxton Miller’s development as a passer
Although Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller had an outstanding sophomore campaign, he still has room to grow in Meyer’s offense. Miller completed 54.1 percent of his throws as a freshman and improved that number to 58.3 percent in 2012. With another offseason to work with Meyer and coordinator Tom Herman, Miller could push that total to over 60 percent. The Ohio native averaged 169.9 passing yards per game in 2012 and that total could easily be over 200 next year.

In addition to Miller’s development in Ohio State’s spread attack, his surrounding cast is improving, and the receiving corps has emerging weapons like Corey Brown and Devin Smith. And with the Buckeyes likely to take some carries off his shoulders, Miller will have an opportunity to focus more of his attention on attacking defenses with his arm. 

Related College Football Content

College Football's Early Top 25 for 2013
Early Big Ten Predictions for 2013

Early SEC Predictions for 2013

Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2013

<p> 5 Reasons Why Ohio State Is Alabama's Biggest Threat in 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 10:25
Path: /college-basketball/nc-state-player-rips-head-coach-mark-gottfried

Thomas De Thaey played 22 career games for the NC State Wolfpack. He averaged 1.7 points per game before transferring out of Raleigh in November of 2012.

He was obviously watching the Wolfpack get upset by a mediocre Wake Forest team on Tuesday night because this is what he thought of the performance by his former team and head coach Mark Gottfried the next morning:


<p> NC State Player Rips Head Coach Mark Gottfried</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/ac100-finalized-top-25-recruits-2013

After over a year of evaluation that includes underclassman combines, spring and summer camps, the fall high school season and winter All-Star events, the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 is finalized.

Names like Mississippi State’s Chris Jones, Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Oregon’s Thomas Tyner saw their stock sky-rocket in the final rankings while others like Michigan’s Shane Morris watched their names fall precipitously in the AC100.

Every prospect in the AC100 is an elite talent who is highly coveted by essentially every program in the nation. But only the best of the best earn “five-star” status by landing in the Top 25.

1. Robert Nkemdiche, DE (6-4, 285)
Loganville (Ga.) Grayson
Finalists: LSU, Ole Miss

From start to finish, the big defensive end from Georgia was the consensus No. 1 overall player in the nation by all four recruiting websites — Rivals, Scout, ESPN and 247Sports. He has an elite combination of size and speed to go with a motor that rarely slows down. He has offers from every major school in the nation and had previously been committed to Clemson. However, his older brother, Denzel, was a redshirt freshman at Ole Miss in 2012 and the Rebels have been arguably the hottest team in recruiting the last few months. It should come down to LSU and Ole Miss for Nkemdiche (pronounced Kem-dee-chee).

2. Jaylon Smith, LB (6-3, 220)
Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers
Committed: Notre Dame

After a great showing in the US Army Bowl, Smith jumped to the No. 2 slot in the nation. He has an elite hybrid frame to play outside linebacker and defensive end on the next level. He led his team to four consecutive state championships for Luers High School playing both offense (150 yards rushing and 3 TDs in the title game) and defense. He is a hard worker, an excellent leader and a perfect fit at Notre Dame.

3. Vernon Hargreaves III, DB (5-11, 185)
Tampa (Fla.) Wharton
Committed: Florida

Much like Smith, Hargreaves III performed at an elite level in a national all-star event this winter. He posted five tackles, two pass breakups and an interception to earn MVP honors of the Under Armour All-America Game. He is the top coverman in the nation and is headed to Florida to continue the recent trend of outstanding young cornerbacks (Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins, etc.). He is strong, fast, savvy and a near lock to contribute right away in 2013.

4. Laremy Tunsil, OL (6-6, 295)
Lake City (Fla.) Columbia
Finalists: Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia, Florida State

The No. 1 offensive lineman in the nation is a highly coveted youngster from The Sunshine State. The massive Tunsil has all the necessary tools — size, power, strength, agility, killer instinct — to be a bookend left tackle at the next level. He will spend the final two months of the recruiting process visiting his finalists: Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia and Florida State.

5. Su’a Cravens, DB (6-1, 205)
Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta
Committed: USC

If fans are looking for the next great USC safety, Cravens is the guy. In the T.J. McDonald-Taylor Mays mold, Cravens has a big frame and speed to match. He can play all over the secondary giving him the chance to contribute early in nickel and dime situations. He is a hard worker and has been well coached by Vista head man and former star Trojans linebacker Chris Claiborne.

Related: Watch Athlon's interview with Su'a Cravens

6. Eddie Vanderdoes, DT (6-3, 300)
Placer (Calif.) High
Finalists: USC, Notre Dame, Washington, UCLA, Alabama

A long-time USC commitment, Vanderdoes reopened his recruitment late in December. The massive defensive tackle is the best player at his position nationally and has the ability to be a three-down interior lineman. He wanted to revisit some of his other options and it appears Notre Dame, Alabama, Washington and UCLA are now all in the mix for the D-lineman. Rumors are swirling that USC is still the team to beat when Vanderdoes makes his official announcement on National Signing Day (Feb. 6) at Placer High School.

7. Reuben Foster, LB (6-1, 250)
Auburn (Ala.) High
Finalists: Alabama, Auburn, Washington, Georgia

A burly linebacker, Foster is physically prepared to contribute right away on the college level. There is no doubting his rare athletic talents as a true interior thumper at middle linebacker. And following his recruitment has been equally as compelling as his tackling ability. He first committed to Alabama before switching to Auburn (and getting an AU tattoo to prove it). He then decommitted a second time from the Tigers and the race to the finish should be exciting. Both the Tide and the Tigers are still in the mix as Washington and Georgia will figure prominently as well. Stay tuned!

8. Matthew Thomas, LB (6-3, 210)
Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington
Finalists: Miami, Florida State, Georgia, Alabama, USC

A Miami area Defensive Player of the Year as a junior, Thomas developed into one of the best tacklers in the nation this fall. With added bulk and power, he should be a versatile weapon in any defensive front. It appears five schools will be in the mix for Thomas’ services: Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, Miami and USC. It may be hard to beat the state of Florida in this one.

9. Kenny Bigelow, DT (6-3, 300)
Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian
Committed: USC

Despite his excellent frame and overall size, Bigelow was athletic enough to excel at linebacker and tight end at Eastern Christian. This gives him the feet and quickness to be a disruptive force against the heart of the offensive line. He should be able to play all three downs at tackle and will be joined at USC by high school teammate and fellow AC100 prospect Khaliel Rodgers.

10. Montravius Adams, DT (6-4, 300)
Vienna (Ga.) Dooly County
Finalists: Georgia, Clemson, Alabama, Florida, Auburn

The No. 2 Peach State prospect is the third defensive tackle in the 2013 Top 10 making this a deep class at the nose guard position. Adams appears like an intense battle between Georgia and Clemson that will go down to the wire but Alabama, Auburn and Florida might be in the mix as well. He is an explosive player who posted 25 sacks over a two-year span at Dooly County (2010-11).

11. Max Browne, QB (6-5, 210)
Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline
Committed: USC

The No. 1 quarterback in the nation hails from the same high school as the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the 2010 class, Jake Heaps. USC fans are hoping Browne pans out better than Heaps did for BYU. Browne is a poised, polished, mature leader and appears ready to challenge for early playing time in SoCal. He capped his high school career with an unbeaten 4A state championship by throwing for 4,526 yards, 49 touchdowns and just five interceptions on 73.5-percent passing. He finished with an Evergreen State record 12,947 yards passing and 882 completions. His performance earned him the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year award.

12. Derrick Henry, RB (6-3, 245)
Yulee (Fla.) High
Committed: Alabama

A late riser in the recruiting rankings, Henry jumped Kelvin Taylor as the No. 1 running back recruit in the nation. The massive talent might not end his Alabama Crimson Tide career at running back, but he will go down as one of the best prep runners in history. He set the 59-year-old national high school rushing record with 11,610 yards in his YHS career (Ken Hall, 11,232 yards). Henry excelled in San Antonio at the US Army Bowl as a running back, but as his size, Nick Saban has to consider him an option at a variety of positions.

13. Christian Hackenberg, QB (6-4, 210)
Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy
Committed: Penn State

The race to be recognized as the nation’s No. 1 quarterback prospect ended up being much closer than anticipated. Hackenberg was clearly the best passer at the Under Armour Game and might have more upside than Browne. He has a big frame with room to grow, a powerful arm and is accurate with the football. His skill set is exactly what head coach Bill O’Brien is looking for at Penn State and having a talent like Hackenberg poised to step on campus had to be a big part of why the head coach stayed in Happy Valley.

14. Laquon Treadwell, WR (6-3, 195)
Crete (Ill.) Crete-Monee
Committed: Ole Miss

The No. 1 wide receiver in the nation is heading into the deep South to play his college football. The Chicago area talent recently committed to Ole Miss over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The surging Rebels are getting an electric prospect who is widely considered one of the most physically advanced and college-ready players in the class. Many also believe Treadwell is the best receiver to come out of the Chicagoland area in the modern recruiting era — which includes Kyle Prater, the No. 1 WR in the 2010 class.

15. Jalen Ramsey, DB (6-0, 190)
Nashville (Tenn.) Brentwood Academy
Committed: USC

A unique and interesting personality, Ramsey has the size, speed, intelligence and work ethic to play all over the field in college. He projects as a cornerback currently but has the length and frame to grow into an elite safety should his coaching staff decide that is where he fits best. He is committed to USC but the Trojans will have to fight Vanderbilt, Alabama, Florida and others to keep the talented defensive back in the fold down the stretch.

Related: Watch Athlon's interview with Jalen Ramsey

16. Kendall Fuller, DB (6-0, 175)
Olney (Md.) Good Counsel
Committed: Virginia Tech

There was little doubt where this elite talent would be playing his college football. With three older brothers, Kyle, Corey and Vincent, making names for themselves in Blacksburg, Va., it came as no surprise that Kendall picked Virginia Tech over Clemson. The youngest Fuller is similar to current Hokie star Kyle in his ability to lock down receivers and play a physical brand of football.

17. Jonathan Allen, LB (6-3, 255)
Ashburn (Va.) Stone Bridge
Committed: Alabama

If SEC fans are looking for the next Jarvis Jones, Allen might be the guy. He is an explosive up the field player who will terrorize opposing quarterbacks as well as ball carriers. He is one of the most decorated players in Virginia prep football and will undoubtedly be a star in Nick Saban’s linebacker-friendly system in Tuscaloosa.

18. Chris Jones, DE (6-5, 250)
Houston (Miss.) High
Committed: Mississippi State

The fastest riser in the nation this cycle is the big defensive end from The Magnolia State. He committed to Mississippi State back in the summer when he was listed as a three-star recruit by most services. After a stellar senior year and strong showing in the Under Armour Game, he has sky-rocketed to five-star status. He posted 160 tackles, 45 tackles for loss and 14 sacks as a senior and made it all the way to No. 2 in the nation by Either way, the talent evaluators are smitten with Mr. Jones.

19. O.J. Howard, TE (6-5, 220)
Prattville (Ala.) Autauga
Committed: Alabama

The No. 1 tight end in the nation is headed to Alabama with an impressive resume. He was named AISA Lineman of the Year in The Yellowhammer State this fall after finishing with 12 touchdowns on offense and 57 tackles on defense. All of this while missing four games. He is already enrolled in classes at Alabama, and, with his impressive athletic frame, should provide instant help for Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron.

20. Thomas Tyner, RB (6-0, 205)
Beaverton (Ore.) Aloha
Committed: Oregon

The big-time running back is a two-time 6A Offensive Player of the Year in the state of Oregon and set the single-season state rushing record with 3,415 yards this fall. He set two other state records by rushing for 643 yards and 10 scores in one game this season as well. To top it all off, Tyner holds the state 100m track record as well. He is currently committed to Oregon where he would have a chance to play in arguably the best offensive system in the nation — with or without Chip Kelly. His skills are a perfect fit for Mark Helfrich’s speed-based rushing attack.

Related: The Top 10 Best Two-Star Recruits of the Modern Era

21. Carl Lawson, DE (6-3, 245)
Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton
Committed: Auburn

The big-time defensive lineman is currently committed to Auburn, although the coaching change on the Plains has created rumors that a host of other programs are making a charge. Ole Miss, Tennessee, North Carolina and Clemson could find themselves in the mix for Lawson should he look elsewhere. No matter where he signs, he brings prototypical size and skills to the defensive end position and should help a defense right away.

22. Kelvin Taylor, RB (5-10, 215)
Bell Glade (Fla.) Glades Day
Committed: Florida

If the last name is familiar for Gators fans, it should be. The son of Florida legend Fred Taylor, Kelvin has been a Sunshine State prep star for years. He rushed for 103 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries in his first high school game — as an 8th grader. He has prototypical running back size, power and speed and will try to follow in his father’s footsteps in Gainesville. He finished his career with 10,688 yards and won two 2A state championships.

23. Robert Foster, WR (6-3, 190)
Monaca (Pa.) Central Valley
Committed: Alabama

Nick Saban continues to recruit the Northeast heavily and with success. Foster is the No. 2 wide receiver in the nation and the No. 1 player in the state of Pennsylvania and he is headed to the two-time defending champs. A mature athlete, academics and competing for championships were atop Foster’s wish list. He has a big frame, can play inside or outside on offense and will be an option in the return game as well.

24. Keith Ford, RB (5-11, 203)
Cypress (Texas) Cypress Ranch
Committed: Oklahoma

In a game filled with miscues and defensive dominance, Ford might have been the most productive offensive player in the Under Armour game. An electric kickoff return provided one of the few big plays of the game. It displayed all that Ford will be for the Oklahoma Sooners. He has wiggle in the open field, the speed to get to the edge and will develop plenty of power and strength to move the chains inside. The top player in the state of Texas totaled 2,368 yards from scrimmage and scored 28 total touchdowns as a senior.

25. Ricky Seals-Jean, ATH (6-5, 230)
Sealy (Texas) High
Committed: Texas A&M

Versatility is the name of the game for RSJ. The jumbo athlete projects as a wide receiver, tight end or at a variety of spots on defense. That said, his recent verbal commitment to Texas A&M has to indicate his desire to play offense. The former Texas Longhorn commitment tore up his knee early in his senior season, resulting in Mack Brown backing off. However, Seals-Jean recovered nicely to play well in the US Army Bowl and will now be a dangerous down the field target for reigning Heisman Trophy recipient Johnny Manziel.

View the complete 2013 Athlon Consensus 100

More Recruiting Videos:

AC100 On Campus: Ethan Pocic
AC100 On Campus: Robbie Rhodes

AC100 On Campus: Jalin Marshall

AC100 On Campus: Jake Raulerson

AC100 On Campus: Cameron Burrows

AC100 On Campus: Dontre Wilson

AC100 On Campus: Taco Charlton

AC100 On Campus: Torii Hunter Jr., Part I

AC100 On Campus: Torii Hunter Jr., Part II

AC100 On Campus: Josh Banderas, Part I

AC100 On Campus: Josh Banderas, Part II

<p> AC100 Finalized: The Top 25 Recruits of 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 06:50
Path: /nfl/25-greatest-tight-ends-nfl-history

Few positions in football have evolved as much as the tight end — which has morphed from that of old school glorified sixth offensive lineman to modern giant slot receiver. Keeping that role reversal in mind, we rank the 25 greatest tight ends in NFL history.

1. Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs (1997-2008), Falcons (’09-12)
6-time first-team All-Pro
13-time Pro Bowler
1,242 catches for 14,268 yards (11.5 ypc) and 103 TDs

The No. 13 overall pick out of Cal played basketball for the Golden Bears and then used his 6’5”, 250-pound frame to ball about as hard as any pass-catcher this side of Jerry Rice during a sure-fire Hall of Fame career. Gonzalez currently ranks second in all-time receptions, sixth in all-time receiving TDs and seventh in all-time receiving yards — all of which rank first among tight ends.

Regardless of whether the soon-to-be 37-year-old retires following a painful loss in the NFC Championship Game, Gonzalez has already established himself as the greatest to ever play the tight end position.

2. Kellen Winslow, Chargers (1979-87)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1995
3-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
541 catches for 6,741 yards (12.5 ypc) and 45 TDs

Winslow teamed with fellow Hall of Famers Dan Fouts and Charlie Joiner to form the nucleus of the dynamic “Air Coryell” passing attack. One of the original downfield threats from the tight end spot, the 6’5”, 250-pounder led the entire NFL in receptions in 1980 and ’81.

The No. 13 pick out of Missouri posted three of the more impressive seasons ever — with 89 catches for 1,290 yards (14.5 ypc) and nine TDs in 1980, 88 catches for 1,075 yards and 10 TDs in 1981, and 88 catches for 1,172 yards and eight TDs in 1983. Plus, Winslow sired Kellen Winslow II, a full-time “soldier” and part-time tight end who was drafted No. 6 overall in 2004.

3. Mike Ditka, Bears (1961-66), Eagles (’67-68), Cowboys (’69-72)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1988
2-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl VI champion (Cowboys)
427 catches for 5,812 yards (13.6 ypc) and 43 TDs

The No. 5 overall pick out of Pitt exploded onto the scene like only Hurricane Ditka can, posting 56 catches for 1,076 yards (19.2 ypc) and 12 TDs as a rookie. The first tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame also caught a TD from Roger Staubach in Super Bowl VI.

4. John Mackey, Colts (1963-71), Chargers (’72)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1992
3-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
331 catches for 5,236 yards (15.8 ypc) and 38 TDs
19 rushes for 127 yards (6.7 ypc)

Many on this list were winners of the John Mackey Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top collegiate tight end. A big-play threat who revolutionized the position, Mackey supporters can make a strong case that he is the best ever.

5. Shannon Sharpe, Broncos (1990-99, 2002-03), Ravens (’00-01)
Hall of Fame, Class of 2011
4-time first-team All-Pro
8-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXXII champion (Broncos)
Super Bowl XXXIII champion (Broncos)
Super Bowl XXXV champion (Ravens)
815 catches for 10,060 yards (12.3 ypc) and 62 TDs

Sterling Sharpe’s lesser-known little brother was a seventh-round pick (No. 192 overall) out of Savannah State who worked his way to the top of the tight end mountain — and now he won’t stop talking about it.

But there’s plenty for Shannon to brag about after a career that included back-to-back Super Bowl wins playing with the Broncos’ John Elway and a third Super Bowl ring in four seasons as the Ravens’ go-to guy — a role that led to the longest TD reception in playoff history, a 96-yard score in the 2000 AFC title game.

6. Antonio Gates, Chargers (2003-12)
3-time first-team All-Pro
8-time Pro Bowler
642 catches for 8,321 yards (13.0 ypc) and 83 TDs

Another former basketball player, Gates went undrafted out of Kent State before posting up overmatched defenders with a rare blend of size (6’4”, 255), power and agility. A series of foot injuries have stunted Gates’ career, but not before he was to redefine the parameters within which the position is played.

7. Ozzie Newsome, Browns (1978-90)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1999
1-time first-team All-Pro
3-time Pro Bowler
662 catches for 7,980 yards (12.1 ypc) and 47 TDs

Before becoming the front office architect of the Baltimore Ravens, Newsome was one of the greatest Cleveland Browns and most impressive tight ends in history.

8. Dave Casper, Raiders (1974-80, ’84), Oilers (’81-83), Vikings (’83)
Hall of Fame, Class of 2002
4-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XI champion (Raiders)
Super Bowl XV champion (Raiders)
378 catches for 5,216 yards (13.8 ypc) and 52 TDs

After recording just nine combined catches in his first two seasons, Casper became one of Kenny Stabler’s favorite targets on the classic Raiders dynasty that defined the franchise.

9. Jason Witten, Cowboys (2003-12)
2-time first-team All-Pro
8-time Pro Bowler
806 catches for 8,948 yards (11.1 ypc) and 44 TDs

Four 1,000-yard seasons have put Witten in rarified air among tight ends. And the star on the helmet won’t hurt when it comes time to voting for the Hall of Fame.

10. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots (2010-12)
1-time first-team All-Pro
2-time Pro Bowler
187 catches for 2,663 yards (14.2 ypc) and 38 TDs

The “Gronk” posted the single greatest season ever by a tight end, with 90 catches for 1,327 yards (14.7 ypc) and 17 TDs in 2011. A 6’6”, 265-pound freak show on and off the field, the 23-year-old is the new Frankenstein monster prototype for NFL tight ends.

11. Jackie Smith, Cardinals (1963-77), Cowboys (’78)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1994
5-time Pro Bowler
480 catches for 7,918 yards (16.5 ypc) and 40 TDs
38 carries for 327 yards (8.6 ypc) and three TDs

12. Charlie Sanders, Lions (1968-77)
Hall of Fame, Class of 2007
3-time first-team All-Pro
7-time Pro Bowler
336 catches for 4,817 yards (14.3 ypc) and 31 TDs

13. Jerry Smith, Redskins (1965-77)
1-time first-team All-Pro
2-time Pro Bowler
421 catches for 5,496 yards (13.1 ypc) and 60 TDs

14. Ben Coates, Patriots (1991-99), Ravens (2000)
2-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
499 catches for 5,555 yards (11.1 ypc) and 50 TDs

15. Todd Christensen, Giants (1979), Raiders (’80-88)
2-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
461 catches for 5,872 yards (12.7 ypc) and 41 TDs

16. Keith Jackson, Eagles (1988-91), Dolphins (’92-94), Packers (’95-96)
3-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
441 catches for 5,283 yards (12.0 ypc) and 49 TDs

17. Jay Novacek, Cardinals (1985-89), Cowboys (’90-95)
1-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXVII champion (Cowboys)
Super Bowl XXVIII champion (Cowboys)
Super Bowl XXX champion (Cowboys)
422 catches for 4,630 yards (11.0 ypc) and 30 TDs

18. Brent Jones, 49ers (1987-97)
4-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXIII champion (49ers)
Super Bowl XXIV champion (49ers)
Super Bowl XXIX champion (49ers)
417 catches for 5,195 yards (12.5 ypc) and 33 TDs

19. Mark Bavaro, Giants (1985-90), Browns (’92), Eagles (’93-94)
2-time first-team All-Pro
2-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXI champion (Giants)
Super Bowl XXV champion (Giants)
351 catches for 4,733 yards (13.5 ypc) and 39 TDs

20. Riley Odoms, Broncos (1972-83)
2-time first-team All-Pro
4-time Pro Bowler
396 catches for 5,755 yards (14.5 ypc) and 41 TDs
25 carries for 211 yards (8.4 ypc) and two TDs

21. Raymond Chester, Raiders (1970-72, ’78-81), Colts (’73-77)
4-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XV champion (Raiders)
364 catches for 5,013 yards (13.8 ypc) and 48 TDs

22. Dallas Clark, Colts (2003-11), Buccaneers (’12)
1-time first-team All-Pro
1-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XLI champion (Colts)
474 catches for 5,322 yards (11.2 ypc) and 50 TDs

23. Steve Jordan, Vikings (1982-94)
3-time first-team All-Pro
6-time Pro Bowler
498 catches for 6,307 yards (12.7 ypc) and 28 TDs

24. Billy Joe Dupree, Cowboys (1973-83)
3-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XII champion (Cowboys)
267 catches for 3,656 yards (13.4 ypc) and 41 TDs
26 rushes for 178 yards and one TD

25. Heath Miller, Steelers (2005-12)
2-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XL champion (Steelers)
Super Bowl XLIII champion (Steelers)
408 catches for 4,680 yards (11.5 ypc) and 39 TDs

<p> The 25 Greatest Tight Ends in NFL History, including Tony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow, Mike Ditka, John Mackey, Shannon Sharpe, Antonio Gates, Ozzie Newsome, Dave Casper, Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski, Jackie Smith, Charlie Sanders, Jerry Smith, Ben Coates, Todd Christiensen, Keith Jackson, Jay Novacek, Brent Jones, Mark Bavaro, Riley Odoms, Raymond Chester, Dallas Clark, Steve Jordan, Billy Joe Dupree and Heath Miller.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 06:40
Path: /college-football/top-10-pac-12-teams-bcs-era

The BCS just put a bow on its 15th season of action and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late '90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?

The debates will rage on for decades, but here is Athlon's two cents. Here are the Top 10 Pac-12 teams of the BCS Era (1998-present):

Note: "First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks

1. USC Trojans, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-12, Orange Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense (79.4 ypg) and turnover margin (+1.46), led the Pac-10 in scoring (38.2 ppg) and finished No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (13.0 ppg), USC did not rank below third in the Pac-10 in any of the 14 tracked team stats.
Award Winners: Matt Leinart (Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp, Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Reggie Bush (Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Shaun Cody (Pac-10 Co-Def. Player of the Year),
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Lofa Tatupu (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2008), Keith Rivers (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2008), Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009)

The best team in the Pac-10 since the BCS began might have been the best team in any league during the BCS era. After a split national title in 2003 with LSU, the Trojans entered 2004 as the No. 1 team in the nation. An opening weekend win over ACC champ Virginia Tech in Landover started what would become a magical ride to a BCS National Championship. The Trojans went wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the nation, claimed the Heisman Trophy and put together the most impressive national championship game in the brief history of the BCS. Quarterback Matt Leinart, in his second year under center and armed with an NFL roster full of skill players, led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency (156.54) and finished with 3,322 yards and 36 total touchdowns (against only six interceptions). He capped his Heisman campaign with 332 yards and a BCS bowl record five touchdown passes in the destruction of unbeaten No. 2 Oklahoma. The two-headed rushing attack of LenDale White (1,108 yards, 15 TDs) and Reggie Bush (1,416 yards from scrimmage, 15 TDs) made it virtually impossible for anyone to stop the 2004 Trojans. Eighteen different Trojans from the 2004 BCS National Championship team were selected in the first or second rounds of the NFL Draft. This team had the stats, the resume, the undefeated title season, the NFL talent, a superstar coach and is the best Pac-10 team of the BCS era because of it.

2. USC Trojans, 2005 (12-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10
Key Stats: Led the nation in total offense (579.8 ypg) and second in the country in scoring (49.1 ppg), Reggie Bush led the nation in all-purpose yards (222.3), allowed 467 yards of total offense to Vince Young in the BCS NCG
Award Winners: Reggie Bush (Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker, Walter Camp, Pac-10 Player of the Year), Pete Carroll (Pac-10 Co-Coach of the Year), Matt Leinart (Johnny Unitas)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2008), Keith Rivers (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2008), Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010)

The defending BCS National Champs returned largely intact for 2005 and began the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. After beating five ranked teams — three of which came on the road — the Men of Troy claimed their fourth straight Pac-10 championship. Do-everything tailback Reggie Bush led the nation in all-purpose yards at 222.3 yards per game and claimed the Heisman Trophy — the second straight for USC (Leinart, 2004). A 513-yard performance and this touchdown run in a shootout win over a ranked Fresno State team likely clinched the stiff-arm trophy for the dynamic running back. After crushing rival UCLA, the Trojans finished the 2005 season having never left the No. 1 line in the polls. They carried a 34-game winning streak into the BCS National Championship game against Texas in what became the first time two Heisman winners ever played in the same backfield. Leinart threw for a title game record 365 yards, but the Trojans defense could not stop Vince Young in what is the greatest game ever played according to this college football writer. This team had 20 first or second round draft picks on the roster and were 19 seconds away from claiming their third straight national title.

3. USC Trojans, 2003 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl, AP National Championship
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense (60.2 ypg) and punting (43.7 ypp) and finished second nationally in turnover margin (+1.54), finished first or second in the league in 10 of 14 tracked team stats
Award Winners: Matt Leinart (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year), Pete Carroll (Home Depot Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Kenechi Udeze (1st, 2004), Jacob Rogers (2nd, 2004), Keary Colbert (2nd, 2004), Mike Williams (1st, 2005), Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Lofa Tatupu (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2007), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2007), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2007)

After starting the year by crushing No. 6 Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium, USC reached No. 3 in the polls before a thrilling triple-overtime loss to Cal 34-31. USC dropped to 10th in the polls and never lost again. Led by first-year starter Matt Leinart, USC crushed Arizona State, Notre Dame, Washington and Arizona on the road and destroyed No. 6 Washington State at home by 27 points. The Trojans finished No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches' Poll at the end of the regular season, but was left out of the BCS championship game for Oklahoma (who got crushed by Kansas State 35-7 in the Big 12 title game). LSU went on to beat the Sooners and USC handled Michigan in the Rose Bowl with relative ease. The AP awarded the Men of Troy the National Championship while the BCS title went to the Bayou Bengals. It was the last split National Championship in college football. This team featured two Heisman Trophy winners and 16 "First Day" draft picks.

4. Oregon Ducks, 2010 (12-1, 9-0)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Championships: Pac-10
Key Stats: LaMichael James led the nation in yards rushing per game (144.3) and scoring (12.0 ppg); team led the nation in scoring offense (47.0 ppg) and total offense (530.7 ypg), Darron Thomas threw two key interceptions and the Ducks rushed for 75 yards in the BCS NCG.
Award Winners: LaMichael James (Doak Walker), Chip Kelly (Eddie Robinson, Pac-10 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: N/A

One of the most powerful, explosive and fast-paced offenses in league history led the nation in scoring and total offense at 530.7 yards per game and 47.0 points per game. The Ducks' run at their first BCS title game began with a 35-point second half in Neyland Stadium against the Tennessee Vols. They scored at least 50 points in the next seven games until Chip Kelly led his team into Berkeley. The only test of the regular season came in the form of a sloppy 15-13 win over Cal that featured a defensive and special teams touchdown. After easy wins over Arizona and Oregon State, the Ducks squared off with Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers. The highest-scoring, most powerful team in school history (school-record 611 points) was held to 75 yards rushing on 32 carries while Auburn rolled up 254 yards on 50 attempts. Kelly came up three points short as the Tigers kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired.

5. USC Trojans, 2008 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring defense at 9.0 points allowed per game, also led the nation in pass defense (134.4 ypg) and pass efficiency defense as well. Finished No. 2 in total defense nationally (221.7 ypg).
Award Winners: Rey Maualuga (Bednarik, Pac-10 Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010), Taylor Mays (2nd, 2010), Tyron Smith (1st, 2011)

After starting the season 2-0 and reaching No. 1 status, first-year starter Mark Sanchez and the Men of Troy got upset on a Thursday night in primetime by true freshman dynamo Jacquizz Rodgers and the Oregon State Beaver. Rodgers ran for 186 yards and the Trojans dropped to No. 9 in the polls. They wouldn't lose again. USC punished ranked opponents Oregon and Cal and crushed rivals Notre Dame and UCLA en route to yet another Rose Bowl appearance. Penn State was no match for USC, losing 38-24. The offense was outstanding with Sanchez utilizing names like Damian Williams, Ronald Johnson, Joe McKnight and Patrick Turner. But the defense was downright unbeatable. One of the greatest linebacking corps in NCAA history — Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing — helped USC lead the nation in scoring defense. Eight teams failed to score more than seven points on the trio in 2008.

6. Oregon Ducks, 2012 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Championships: Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Marcus Mariota led the nation in road passing efficiency
Award Winners: Marcus Mariota (Pac-12 Off. Freshman of the Year), 
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A

Like many teams of late — Oklahoma State in 2011 or Boise State in 2010 — the 2012 Ducks were one field goal away from playing for the BCS National Championship. One overtime home loss to an elite Stanford team cost Chip Kelly another shot at the Crystal Ball. This was likely the best defense in Eugene since at least Haloti Ngata's tenure and the backfield was downright unstoppable. Marcus Mariota was the best road passer in the nation, Kenjon Barner shredded defenses and De'Anthony Thomas continues to prove he may be the most explosive player in the country. This team's resume is better than many think as it posted blowout wins over bowls teams Kansas State, Oregon State, Arizona, Washington, Arizona State and USC. 

7. Washington Huskies, 2000 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Rick Neuheisel
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-10 in rushing (211.7 ypg), topped an 11-1 Miami team 34-29
Award Winners: Marques Tuiasosopo (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year, Rose Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Marques Tuiasosopo (2nd, 2001), Jerramy Stevens (1st, 2002), Larry Tripplett (2nd, 2002), Tank Johnson (2nd, 2004)

In what might have been the most exciting and competitive season in modern Pac-10 football, a three way round robin tie between a 7-1 Oregon (who beat Washington 23-16 in Autzen Stadium) and a 7-1 Oregon State led to the Huskies earning the trip to Pasadena. Marques Tuiasosopo led Washington past a brutal non-conference slate that included one-loss Miami and head coach Rick Neuheisel's former employer Colorado. A 33-30 win over Oregon State — and an Oregon loss to the Beavers in the Civil War due to five Joey Harrington interceptions — helped U of W return to its first Rose Bowl since 1993. This embattled team and program was willing to do whatever it took to win — and win it did. Capped by a 34-24 win over Drew Brees' Purdue in the Rose Bowl, the Huskies won 11 games for the first time since Don James' national title team of 1991, and they haven't come close to touching 10 wins ever since.

8. Oregon State Beavers, 2000 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Dennis Erickson
Championships: Pac-10, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Ken Simonton led the Pac-10 in rushing (134.0 ypg), OSU led the conference in total defense (314.4 ypg) and scoring defense (18.5 ppg).
Award Winners: Dennis Erickson (Pac-10 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Chad Johnson (2nd, 2001), Nick Barnett (1st, 2003), Dwan Edwards (2nd, 2004)

In what has to be considered the best Beavers team in program history, Dennis Erickson used a plethora of junior college talent to lead Oregon State to its first 10+ win season ever. The 11 wins are still a school record, and the conference co-championship was the first league title for the school since 1964. While the defense, led by NFL future star Nick Barnett, was the Pac-10's best, it was the offense that impressed the most. Quarterback Jonathan Smith was the league's No. 2 passer. Running back Ken Simonton led the league in rushing at 134 yards per game. And a pair of future NFL stars, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, keep defenses honest on the outside. The team's only loss came at the hands of eventual Rose Bowl champion Washington in Husky Stadium 33-30. Erickson's bunch wrapped up the magical year by crushing Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl.

9. Stanford Cardinal, 2011 (11-2, 8-1)
Head Coach: David Shaw
Championships: None
Key Stats: Led the Pac-12 and was third nationally in rushing defense, Andrew Luck led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency
Award Winners: Andrew Luck (Pac-12 Off. Player of the Year), David Shaw (Pac-12 Coach of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Andrew Luck (1st, 2012), David DeCastro (1st, 2012), Coby Fleener (2nd, 2011), Jonathan Martin (2011)

It is extremely difficult to separate the last three Cardinal teams and decide which one was the best. All three played in BCS bowls with two wins in the Orange Bowl (2010) and Rose Bowl (2012). The 2011 team lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl and it didn't win the Pac-12 crown, however, it was likely the most talented and complete roster of the group. The foursome that was drafted in the first two rounds are as talented a group as any school ever has watched depart in one offseason. Add to the entire collection of defensive stars that made the 2012 team so talented and Cardinal fans will likely look back on their 2011 team as the best of the BCS era.

10. USC Trojans, 2002 (11-2, 7-1) 
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Orange Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-10 in total offense (449.2 ypg), scoring offense (35.7 ppg), rushing defense (83.2 ypg), total defense (284.9 ypg), scoring defense (18.5 ppg) and passing efficiency (149.21).
Award Winners: Carson Palmer (Heisman Trophy, Johnny Unitas), Mike Williams (Pac-10 Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Carson Palmer (1st, 2003), Troy Polamalu (1st, 2003), Kenechi Udeze (1st, 2004), Jacob Rogers (2nd, 2004), Keary Colbert (2nd, 2004), Mike Williams (1st, 2005), Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006)

The beginning of the Trojan-Pete Carroll reign over the West Coast could be marked by the 2002 Men of Troy. Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer finally lived up to his recruiting hype with 3,942 yards and 37 total touchdowns. And he did it against nine different ranked opponents. Early season losses on the road against a ranked Kansas State team by seven and a ranked Washington State team by three cost the Trojans a shot at the national title game. The Cougars actually played in the Rose Bowl (a 34-14 loss to Oklahoma), but USC finished as the highest-rated team in the league (#5) after a convincing 38-17 win over No. 3 Iowa in the Orange Bowl. This team sent 46 different players into the NFL and was obviously led on defense by huge names like Polamalu, Cody, Patterson and Udeze. Carroll won a share of his first national title the following season, but this '02 edition of Fight On started it all.

Best of the Rest:

Stanford Cardinal, 2012 (12-2, 9-0) Pac-12 Champions
Stanford Cardinal, 2010 (12-1, 8-1)
Oregon Ducks, 2001 (11-1, 7-1) Pac-10 Champions
UCLA Bruins, 1998 (10-2, 8-0) Pac-10 Champions
Oregon Ducks, 2011 (12-2, 9-1) Pac-12 Champions
USC Trojans, 2006 (11-2, 7-2) Pac-10 Champions
Oregon Ducks, 2009 (10-3, 8-1) Pac-10 Champions
USC Trojans, 2007 (11-2, 7-2) Pac-10 Champions
Cal Golden Bears, 2006 (10-3, 7-2) Pac-10 Champions

<p> Top 10 Pac-12 Teams of the BCS Era</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 06:40
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-power-rankings-jan-22

The discussion for the top spot in college basketball continues to be a contentious one, but we’re sticking with the same No. 1 team we’ve had for several weeks — Duke.

Two weeks ago, the last four undefeated teams lost. A week ago, two other contenders for the top spot, Indiana and Louisville, also lost. Granted, Duke faced Georgia Tech last week while Indiana visited Wisconsin and Louisville lost to Syracuse. The Blue Devils had a much more manageable week against Georgia Tech, who is winless in the ACC.

While Duke remained No. 1, other teams saw major gains as Oregon defeated UCLA on Saturday, moving to 2-0 against the top two teams in the preseason in the Pac-12. The Ducks moved from No. 22 to No. 16. Butler, by defeating Gonzaga on a buzzer beater late Saturday, moved into the top 10.

Related: Key stats from Jan. 14-20


1. Duke (16-1, 3-1 ACC)
Last week’s rank: 1
Last week’s results: Defeated Georgia Tech 73-57
This week: at Miami, Maryland
Buzz: Devils hold on to No. 1 ranking in rout of Georgia Tech.

2. Michigan (17-1, 4-1 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 3
Last week’s results: Defeated Minnesota 83-75
This week: Purdue, at Illinois
Buzz: Michigan might be nation’s best offensive team.

3. Kansas (16-1, 4-0 Big 12)
Last week’s rank: 4
Last week’s results: Defeated Texas 64-59
This week: at Kansas State, Oklahoma
Buzz: Ben McLemore is getting Freshman of the Year buzz.

4. Syracuse (18-1, 6-0 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 5
Last week’s results: Defeated Louisville 70-68, defeated Cincinnati 57-55
This week: at Villanova
Buzz: Orange squeeze out wins vs. Louisville, Cincinnati.

5. Louisville (16-2, 4-1 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 2
Last week’s results: Defeated Connecticut 73-58, lost to Syracuse 70-68
This week: at Villanova, at Georgetown
Buzz: Peyton Siva struggles as Cards lose late lead vs. Syracuse.

6. Indiana (16-2, 4-1 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 5
Last week’s results: Lost to Wisconsin 64-59, defeated Northwestern 67-59
This week: Penn State, Michigan State
Buzz: Hoosiers have lost 11 straight games to Wisconsin.

7. Arizona (16-1, 4-1 Pac-12)
Last week’s rank: 7
Last week’s results: Defeated Arizona State 71-54
This week: UCLA, USC
Buzz: Mark Lyons is averaging 19.4 points per game in Pac-12 play.

8. Florida (14-2, 4-0 SEC)
Last week’s rank: 12
Last week’s results: Defeated Texas A&M 68-47, defeated Missouri 83-52
This week: at Georgia, at Mississippi State
Buzz: Gators playing as well as any team in the nation.

9. Minnesota (15-3, 3-2 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 7
Last week’s results: Lost to Indiana 83-75
This week: at Northwestern, at Wisconsin
Buzz: The Gophers’ three losses have come to Duke, Michigan, Indiana.

10. Butler (16-2, 3-0 Atlantic 10)
Last week’s rank: 14
Last week’s results: Defeated Richmond 62-47, defeated Gonzaga 64-63
This week: at La Salle, Temple
Buzz: Bulldogs use some Hinkle Magic to top Gonzaga.

11. Kansas State (15-2, 4-0 Big 12)
Last week’s rank: 11
Last week’s results: Defeated TCU 67-54, defeated Oklahoma 69-60
This week: Kansas, at Iowa State
Buzz: Rodney McGruder (15.2 ppg) only Wildcat scoring in double figures.

12. Gonzaga (17-2, 4-0 West Coast Conference)
Last week’s rank: 9
Last week’s results: Defeated Portland 71-49, lost to Butler 64-63
This week: BYU, San Francisco
Buzz: Late-game execution dooms Zags at Butler.

13. NC State (15-3, 4-1 ACC)
Last week’s rank: 10
Last week’s results: Lost to Maryland 51-50, defeated Clemson 66-62
This week: at Wake Forest, North Carolina
Buzz: Pack yet to show consistency needed to contend.

14. Michigan State (16-3, 5-1 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 19
Last week’s results: Defeated Penn State 81-72, defeated Ohio State 59-56
This week: at Wisconsin, at Indiana
Buzz: Sparty has feasted on relatively soft Big Ten slate.

15. Ohio State (13-4, 3-2 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 15
Last week’s results: Lost to Michigan State 59-56
This week: Iowa, at Penn State
Buzz: Buckeyes’ D among nation’s best at forcing turnovers.

16. Oregon (16-2, 5-0 Pac-12)
Last week’s rank: 22
Last week’s results: Defeated USC 76-74, defeated UCLA 76-67
This week: Washington State, Washington
Buzz: Ducks now own wins over Arizona and at UCLA.

17. VCU (16-3, 4-0 Atlantic 10)
Last week’s rank: 18
Last week’s results: Defeated St. Joseph’s 92-86 (OT), defeated Duquesne 90-63
This week: at Richmond, La Salle
Buzz: Rams rout Duquesne after OT scare vs. Saint Joe’s

18. New Mexico (16-2, 3-0 Mountain West)
Last week’s rank: 24
Last week’s results: Defeated Bose State 79-74 (OT)
This week: Colorado State, at San Diego State
Buzz: Lobos the only unbeaten remaining in wild MWC.

19. Wichita State (17-2, 6-1 Missouri Valley)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated Illinois State 74-62, defeated Creighton 67-64
This week: at Missouri State, Bradley
Buzz: Shockers knock off Creighton in key Valley duel.

20. Creighton (17-2, 6-1 Missouri Valley)
Last week’s rank: 17
Last week’s results: Defeated Northern Iowa 79-68, Lost to Wichita State 67-64
This week: at Drake, at Southern Illinois
Buzz: Bluejays lead nation in three-point shooting (45.2 percent).

21. Miami (13-3, 4-0 ACC)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated Boston College 60-59
This week: Duke, Florida State
Buzz: Duke visits Coral Gables for a huge ACC showdown.

22. Ole Miss (15-2, 4-0 ACC)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated Vanderbilt 89-79 (OT), defeated Arkansas 76-64
This week: Tennessee, at Auburn
Buzz: Ole Miss is 4–0 in the SEC for first time in 76 years.

23. Cincinnati (16-4, 4-3 Big East)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated DePaul 75-70, defeated Marquette 71-69 (OT), lost to Syracuse 57-55
This week: Rutgers, at Seton Hall
Buzz: Late lead slips away in Monday matinee at Syracuse.

24. Marquette (13-4, 5-1 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 21
Last week’s results: Defeated Seton Hall 69-62, lost to Cincinnati 71-69 (OT)
This week: Providence
Buzz: Three of four losses have been by two points or less.

25. Wisconsin (13-5, 4-1 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 25
Last week’s results: Defeated Indiana 64-59, lost to Iowa 70-66
This week: Michigan State, Minnesota
Buzz: Badgers shock IU in Bloomington then lose at Iowa.

Out: No. 13 San Diego State, No. 16 Missouri, No. 20 UCLA, No. 23 Connecticut

<p> Duke remained the No. 1 team in our power rankings while Oregon and Butler used signature wins this week to make major gains</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 14:14
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/senior-bowl-2013-mike-glennon-jordan-poyer-and-marquise-goodwin-rise

NFL scouts, coaches, administrators and support staff have converged on Mobile for the Senior Bowl. The draft is still a few months away, but this week’s events in Mobile are a huge opportunity for teams to get acquainted with the prospects, along with evaluation of their skills against top competition.

Senior Bowl News and Notes

Roster Notes

The Senior Bowl is under new management this year. Phil Savage spoke to the crowd before weigh-ins began and pointed out several interesting roster-affecting items.

First, seven players flatly turned down a Senior Bowl invitation. Among them, Alabama’s Chance Warmack (OG), West Virginia’s Geno Smith (QB), Wisconsin’s Montee Ball (RB) and the now infamous Manti Te’o of Notre Dame (LB).

Twelve players were extended invitations but could not attend due to injuries which have not healed to the point that they could safely or effectively participate.

Of greater interest is the fact that five players had to pull out within the past 72 hours because of new injuries which occurred (ideally) because of preparatory workouts.  Included in this group is West Virginia’s Tavon Austin (RB/WR), Florida’s Jonathan Bostic (LB), Southern Cal’s Khaled Holmes (OC) and South Carolina’s DJ Swearinger (FS).

Of the players who reported, here is a list of the outliers:

Lightest player:  Onterio McCalebb (RB/RS), Auburn - 164 pounds (5’ 10 1/8” tall).

Shortest player: Robbie Rouse (RB), Fresno State – 5’5 7/8” (186 pounds)

Heaviest player: D.J. Fluker (OT), Alabama – 355 pounds (6’4 7/8” tall)

Tallest Player: Margus Hunt (DL), SMU – 6’8 1/4”  (277 pounds)

Dynamic Duo: Rutgers placed two linebackers on the North’s roster (Steve Beauharnais and Khaseem Greene) and they weighed exactly the same (236 pounds).

Harvard has not been a recent pipeline of talent into the NFL. However, it did register a player on this year’s roster. The Crimson supplied the North’s only fullback – Kyle Juszczyk (6’ 1 3/8” 248).

Crimson Tide Well Represented

The reigning National Champions have five players on this year’s South roster: D.J. Fluker, OT (6’ 4 7/8” 355); Nico Johnson, LB (6’ 1 7/8”, 249); Robert Lester, S (6’ 1 1/4” 212); Carson Tinker, LS (6’ 0 1/8”, 231); and Michael Williams, TE (6’ 5 3/4 “, 269).

Small Schools

Every year, the Senior Bowl gives players from smaller schools a chance to shine against the best of the best from the BCS schools. This year’s small school participants include: Robert Alford (DB), Southeastern La. (5’ 9 7/8” 186); Garrett Gilkey (OL), Chadron State (6’ 5 7/8” 314); Montori Hughes (DL), Tennessee-Martin (late addition – did not attend weigh in); Aaron Mellette (WR), Elon (6’ 2 1/2 “ 216); Ty Powell (LB), Harding U. (late addition – did not attend weigh in); B.W. Webb (DB), William & Mary (5’ 10 1/4”, 183); and Brandon Williams (DL), Missouri Southern (6’ 1 7/8” 341).


North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon, Miami (Ohio)’s Zac Dysert and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib are the signal-callers for the North. They have been taking equal reps at practice. Yesterday’s rotations in 11 on 11’s started with Nassib and ended with Dysert. Dysert’s last rep may have been the most impressive as he hit Kansas State’s Chris Harper on a deep route to end the session.

On Tuesday, Glennon was given the first reps in 11 on 11’s and, unfortunately, the very first snap was a dropped exchange under center. It is too early to read anything into the rotations but it is noteworthy that all of the quarterbacks pushed for routes downfield rather than settle with check-down receivers as was their cautious pattern on Monday.

Oregon State Representing!

Oregon State put unexpected stress on the outcome of the Pac 12 standings with a stout performance in 2012. Their success can be assigned, in part, to the mighty contributions of two players who occupy positions on the North squad – cornerback Jordan Poyer and wide receiver, Markus Wheaton.  The ability for them to battle each other in practice every snap sharpened their respective units into top-20 groups (OSU ranked #20, nationally, in both passing offense and pass-efficiency defense).

Wheaton has been one of the more impressive receivers the past two days for the North. He is slippery and has caught nearly every ball thrown to him. He has been able to slip behind coverage on several occasions. He catches the ball with his hands away from his body and soaks it in.

Poyer’s name was mentioned by colleague and adversary alike during media night. Texas’ Marquise Goodwin identified Poyer as someone with whom he was familiar from their bowl game and as somebody whose great skills was only raising Goodwin’s own game.

Poyer is sticky.  He is quick with his direction changes and neither flustered nor displaced with hand replacements and physical play from the receivers.

Keep an eye on the Oregon State guys.  They will impact not only this game but should leave a mark on the next level.

Goodwin Continues to Impress

Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (two-time NCAA champion long-jumper) clearly demonstrated that he had an extra gear on the field yesterday. He caught the balls he should have caught and did it with his hands. He was quick to switch from catch to progressing upfield and he was not afraid to scrap with a very physical group of corners.

Goodwin continued to catch balls today and get past defenders in drills.

With his elite speed and explosiveness in a small package, he is one of the more intriguing players this week.

Random Notes

UConn has a pair of cornerbacks at the Senior Bowl and both are having a good week, so far. Dwayne Gratz was one of the stickier cornerbacks in one-on-one drills with the receivers yesterday and continued that trend today. Meanwhile, UConn teammate Blidi Wreh-Wilson has quietly put in a solid two practices.

Michigan’s Denard Robinson is being worked at receiver but is in a yellow jersey like the quarterbacks.  He showed some good moves on Tuesday and continues to get work as a punt returner.  He was kept out of Monday’s drills but was allowed to mix it up a little on Tuesday.  In his first contested snap, he caught the ball in a crossing pattern off of a good separation move but he was stripped of the ball.  He was not included in the more intense 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills. So, it is hard to tell whether and to what extent he can progress against actual opposition.

The North’s defensive backs are physical.  Very physical.  Perhaps the most physical is Washington’s cornerback, Desmond Trufant.  Having two brothers in the NFL does not hurt but, whatever the reason, he seems utterly at home in this environment. He is among the most physical of his unit and has even hammed it up with the NFL Network staff on the sidelines following a few plays.


Brock Murphy is a freelance sports writer and college football analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]

<p> Senior Bowl 2013: Mike Glennon, Jordan Poyer and Marquise Goodwin On the Rise</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 12:36
Path: /college-football/recruiting-top-15-two-star-recruits-modern-era

Recruiting rankings are an inexact science, and even the experts will admit that. It is virtually impossible to measure heart, work ethic, mental focus and self-awareness in 17- and 18-year-old kids. Especially, in the face of the most important decision they will ever make.

Athlon Sports will finalize the Athlon Consensus 100 for the Class of 2013 this week. It's the sixth annual conglomerate recruiting top 100 for Athlon Sports, and even as the truest, most accurate recruiting ranking, there are still plenty of names that fall through the cracks.

The "modern recruiting era," aka the internet recruiting service era, dates back just more than a decade of time. There have been countless contributors who have blossomed into All-Americans despite being much-lesser known commodities than the likes of Matt Barkley.

Here are the best two-star prospects of the modern recruiting era (signing class):

1. Case Keenum, QB, Houston
Abilene (Texas) Wylie (2006)

The NCAA’s all-time record-holder for passing yards (19,217), total offense (20,114), 300-yard games (38), 4,000-yard seasons (3), completions (1,546), passing touchdowns (155) and touchdown responsibility (178) had a single offer coming out of high school. After Keenum had won the state title as a junior at Wylie, Art Briles was the only head coach to offer the slender passer a chance to play FBS football. Over 20,000 yards later, Keenum has not only reinvigorated Cougars football but has also helped elevate his program to the Big East Conference.

2. Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State
Rialto (Calif.) Eisenhower (2004)

The big offensive tackle was passed over by local schools USC and UCLA, but Dan Hawkins at Boise State saw something he loved right away. Clady redshirted in his first season in Idaho but started every game for the next three seasons. He was a major part of the 2006 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma before landing on several All-America teams in 2007. After his redshirt junior season, Clady left for the NFL and was selected with the 12th overall pick by the Denver Broncos. He has blossomed into one of the NFL’s top left tackles.

3. B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College
Washington Township (N.J.) Westwood (2004)

The big nose guard had three offers coming out of high school: Boston College, Rutgers and Wisconsin. While the offer sheet was certainly more prestigious than the average two-star prospect’s, it took until October of his final prep season to land the BC scholarship ( During his final season at Chestnut Hill, Raji helped lead a unit that ranked No. 1 in the ACC in rushing defense, total defense and pass efficiency defense. The big nose guard was taken with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and played a major role in the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl Championship in 2010.

4. J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Pewaukee (Wisc.) High (2007)

Originally committed to Minnesota and signed with Central Michigan, Watt needed two schools and multiple positions to finally land with the Houston Texans. Watt played tight end upon entering college before transferring and walking-on at Wisconsin, where he earned a scholarship with his work ethic and intensity. His switch to the defensive line paid off in droves as he racked up 106 tackles, 36.5 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks in two seasons. He was the No. 11 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and became the first rookie defensive lineman in NFL history to record a sack and an interception for a touchdown in a playoff game. Watt started all 16 games as a rookie, led Houston in tackles for a loss (13) and helped the Texans to their first postseason berth in franchise history.

5. Mike Iupati, OG, Idaho
Anaheim (Calif.) Western (2005)

Hailing from American Samoa originally, Iupati moved to Southern California and excelled as a defensive tackle at Western High School. He was shown interest from other larger programs — Colorado, Oregon State, Arizona — but due to insufficient academic performance, Iupati was not eligibile to receive a scholarship. So the family of this powerful blocker took out a loan to pay for tuition, room and board at Idaho. Under Robb Akey and behind the leadership of Iupati, Idaho went to only its second bowl in school history in 2009 when the Vandals defeated Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl. Iupati was selected with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the 49ers and was a huge part of the NFC Championship run by San Francisco in 2011.

6. Eric Weddle, SS, Utah
Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Alta Loma (2003)

The California native’s offer sheet included New Mexico State, Wyoming, UNLV and Utah back in 2003. It didn’t take long to realize that the Utes had found a great player in Weddle, as the versatile defensive back started the last nine games as a freshman, garning freshman All-America honors. He was a standout strong safety and return man his second year in Salt Lake City. He was named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 and claimed Emerald Bowl MVP honors. In 2006, he claimed his second straight MWC Defensive POY award. He started 45 of his 48 career games (21 at corner, 18 at safety and six at nickelback) while finishing with 277 tackles, 10 sacks and an MWC-record 18 interceptions. He also ran the ball 52 times for 259 yards and six touchdowns on offense, completed 2-of-6 passes, punted twice and was a holder on field goals. The do-everything athlete was selected by the San Diego Chargers with the 62nd (second round) pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

7. Jerry Hughes, DE, TCU
Sugar Land (Texas) Austin (2006)

TCU, Iowa State and North Texas were the offers Hughes had to choose from coming out of high school. Gary Patterson knew he had a special player as Hughes was one of only four freshman to see the field in 2006. As a senior in 2009, Hughes led the Mountain West with 11.5 sacks and helped lead a defense that ranked No. 1 in the nation in total yards allowed (239.7 ypg). He was a two-time All-America selection and finished with 142 career tackles, 40.5 tackles for a loss and 28.5 sacks. The Frogs went 42-10 during Hughes’ time, and the defensive end was selected in the first round by the Colts in the 2010 NFL Draft.

8. Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri
Jasper (Texas) High (2006)

Coming out of high school, Weatherspoon was listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. He is now a star 6-foot-2, 244-pound outside linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons. His offer sheet included Missouri, Houston, Iowa State, TCU and Tulane. He claimed Special Teamer of the Year honors as a freshman for the Tigers and in only two full seasons as a starter, Westherspoon registered 266 total tackles, nine sacks, four interceptions and 33.5 tackles for a loss. He was a part of the winningest two-year span in Mizzou history (2006-2007) and was drafted by the Falcons with the 19th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

9. Owen Marecic, LB/FB, Stanford
Portland (Ore.) Jesuit (2007)

The Marecic family moved all over the country — from New Jersey to Boston to Los Angeles to Oregon — before Owen was recruited by Yale, Army and Stanford. Only the Cardinal and Portland State officially offered the two-way star. In his junior season, Marecic was the lead blocker for the Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart. He was also used in short yardage situations on defense as an inside linebacker. Jim Harbaugh then made him a true two-way star as a senior as Marecic was the only FBS player to start on both offense and defense. In a game against Notre Dame, he scored two touchdowns and intercepted a pass in a 26-second span. Marecic was a fourth-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2011 NFL Draft.

10. Jordan Todman, RB, UConn 
Dartmouth (Mass.) High (2008)

With offers from only UConn, Purdue and Northeastern, Todman quickly overachieved in Storrs, Conn. As a freshman, Todman rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown in his first career game. As a sophomore, his first season as the starter, he rushed for 1,188 yards and 14 touchdowns. In Todman’s final season as a Husky he finished second in the nation in rushing at 141.3 yards per game. His 1,695 yards led the Big East and he scored another 14 times as a junior. He skipped his final season in college to test the NFL waters and landed with the San Diego Chargers in the sixth round of the 2011 Draft.

11. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy (2007)

Castonzo was the first true freshman to start along the offensive line at BC since 1998, blocked for Matt Ryan and claimed freshman All-America honors in 2007. Became a two-time All-ACC performer and was the 22nd overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Colts.

12. Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest
Fayetteville (N.C.) E.E. Smith (2004)

A freshman All-American, Curry eventually earned the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. He was drafted with the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks.

13. Amobi Okoye, DT, Louisville
Huntsville (Ala.) Lee (2003)

How many 15-year-olds decide to play football at Louisville instead of Harvard? But a year later Okoye, at 16 years old, became the youngest player in the NCAA. He finished his college career with 55 tackles and eight sacks as a senior. The All-Big East and All-America selection was the youngest senior in the nation (19) before being selected by the Texans with the 10th overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

14. Alex Mack, OC, Cal
Santa Barbara (Calif.) San Marcos (2004)

Mack made 39 consecutive starts for the Golden Bears and was a Rimington Trophy finalist for the nation’s top center. He is now a Pro Bowl center for the Cleveland Browns after getting drafted with the 21st overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

15. Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas
Richardson (Texas) Berkner (2004)

Offered by Arizona, Kansas, Baylor, Tulsa and Kansas State. Talib’s risky play paid off in college as his highlight reel play at corner earned him the Jack Tatum Trophy and the Orange Bowl MVP in his final season. He was a consensus All-American and the 20th overall pick by the Tampa Bay Bucs in the 2008 NFL Draft.

Other Top Two-Stars To Consider:

Danario Alexander, WR, Missouri (2006) Martin (Texas) High
Dennis Pitta, TE, BYU (2003) Moorpark (Calif.) High
Tank Carder, LB, TCU (2007) Sweeney (Texas) High
Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State (2005) Piscataway (N.J.) High
Mardy Gilyard, RS, Cincinnati (2005) Palm Coast (Fla.) Flagler Palm Coast
Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State (2009) Astoria (Ore.) High

<p> Top 15 Two-Star Recruits of the Modern Recruiting Era</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 06:16
Path: /college-football/top-10-acc-teams-bcs-era

The BCS just put a bow on its 15th season of action and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late '90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?

The debates will rage on for decades, but here is Athlon's two cents. Here are the Top 10 ACC teams of the BCS Era (1998-present):

Note: "First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks

1. Florida State Seminoles, 1999 (12-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Championships: ACC, Sugar Bowl, National
Key Stats: Sebastian Janikowski led NCAA in FGM/Game (23 FGM). Led the ACC in passing 302.9 ypg and fourth in the nation in scoring at 37.5 ppg. Led the ACC in total defense (302.6 ypg).
Award Winners: Sebastian Janikowski (Lou Groza), Peter Warrick (Sugar Bowl MVP)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Peter Warrick (1st, 2000), Corey Simon (1st, 2000), Sebastian Janikowski (1st, 2000), Jamal Reynolds (1st, 2001), Derrick Gibson (1st, 2001), Tommy Polley (2nd, 2001), Anquan Boldin (2nd, 2003)

The best team of the BCS era in the ACC claimed nine first-team All-ACC performers (AP) and six second-team selections. Florida State became the first team in history to go wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in all three polls after beating five ranked opponents. It was the second-highest scoring Noles team of the BCS era and No. 7 highest-scoring team in FSU history. Chris Weinke and Peter Warrick outlasted Michael Vick and the Hokies in the memorable 1999 championship game. Warrick, after surviving some off-the-field incidents, claimed MVP honors after catching six passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns and returning a punt for a score. His 220 all-purpose yards are fourth all-time in a title game and his 20 points (3 TDs, 2-pt) are a BCS title game record. (It was the No. 11 BCS title game performance.) The win gave Bobby Bowden his second national championship.

2. Florida State Seminoles, 2000 (11-2, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Championships: ACC
Key Stats: Led the nation in passing (384 ypg) and total offense (549 ypg). Finished No. 2 in the nation in rushing defense (73.9 ypg) and scoring defense (10.3 ppg).
Award Winners: Chris Weinke (Heisman, Davey O'Brien, Johnny Unitas, ACC Player of the Year), Jamal Reynolds (Lombardi)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Jamal Reynolds (1st, 2001), Derrick Gibson (1st, 2001), Tommy Polley (2nd, 2001), Javon Walker (1st, 2002), Anquan Boldin (2nd, 2003), Alonzo Jackson (2nd, 2003)

After starting 5-0 — for their 17th straight win — the Noles fell to rival Miami by three points in Week 6. Florida State won six straight to land in their third straight BCS national title game. Chris Weinke won the Heisman Trophy by leading the nation in passing with 4,167 yards and finished his career as the school's all-time leading passer. This team featured three first-team All-Americans with Weinke, wideout Snoop Minnis (63 rec., 1,340 yards, 11 TD) and Lombardi winner Jamal Reynolds. Unfortunately, the third-highest scoring team in school history (511 points) was held to zero points in the BCS title game loss to Oklahoma — scoring their only two points on a safety. This defense held the opponent to less than 10 points in seven games of 13 games.

3. Virginia Tech Hokies, 2004 (10-3, 7-1)
Head Coach: Frank Beamer
Championships: ACC
Key Stats: No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense (12.8 ppg) and No. 4 in total defense (268 ypg)
Award Winners: Bryan Randall (ACC Player of the Year), Frank Beamer (ACC Coach of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Jimmy Williams (2nd, 2006), Darryl Tapp (2nd, 2006)

The Hokies played four top ten teams and won twice. Those two losses came against the two best teams in the nation — USC and Auburn — by a total of 14 points. Quarterback Bryan Randall took over full-time for Marcus Vick and threw for 2,264 yards while rushing for 511 with 24 total touchdowns en route to his ACC POY Award. This team sent 15 players over three years into the NFL Draft, despite none being selected in the first round.

4. Florida State Seminoles, 1998 (11-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Championships: ACC Co-Champs
Key Stats: Beat five ranked teams.
Award Winners: N/A
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Tony Bryant (2nd, 1999), Larry Smith (2nd, 1999), Peter Warrick (1st, 2000), Corey Simon (1st, 2000), Sebastian Janikowski (1st, 2000), Jamal Reynolds (1st, 2001), Derrick Gibson (1st, 2001), Tommy Polley (2nd, 2001)

The first year of the BCS began with a Florida State win over a ranked Texas A&M team before the Noles got shocked by NC State 24-7 in Week 2. The Noles then rattled off 10 straight wins, including victories over ranked USC, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Florida teams, to clinch a trip to the first-ever BCS title game. The Noles actually were co-champs with Georgia Tech, but won the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Tennessee Vols claimed the first BCS National Championship by way of a 23-16 Fiesta Bowl win over Florida State.

5. Virginia Tech Hokies, 2010 (11-3, 8-0)
Head Coach: Frank Beamer
Championships: ACC
Key Stats: Taylor set single-season school passing TD record (24) and all-time career passing yards school record (7,017 yards). Jayron Hosley led the nation in INT (0.69 pg). Tech led the nation in turnover margin (+1.36).
Award Winners: Tyrod Taylor (ACC Player of the Year, Off. POY, ACCCG MVP)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Ryan Williams (2nd, 2011)

Virginia Tech lost in heartbreaking fashion to Boise State on a final minute touchdown in Week 1, and clearly the hangover effect was out in full force the next weekend against James Madison. However, the Hokies never lost again in the regular season and became the first undefeated ACC team since 2000 Florida State. This team featured the program's all-time leading passer and receiver (Jarrett Boykin, 180 rec.) with a three-headed backfield of Ryan Williams, David Wilson and Darren Evans. Taylor led the ACC in passing efficiency as the Hokies led the league in scoring (35.5 ppg).

6. Florida State Seminoles, 2003 (10-3, 7-1)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Championships: ACC Co-Champs
Key Stats: No. 10 nationally in scoring defense (16.7 ppg). Went 0-2 against Miami.
Award Winners: Darnell Dockett (ACC Def. Player of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Michael Boulware (2nd, 2004), Greg Jones (2nd, 2004), Alex Barron (1st, 2005), Travis Johnson (1st, 2005), Braynt McFadden (2nd, 2005), Ernie Sims (1st, 2006), Antonio Cromartie (1st, 2006), Kamerion Wimbley (1st, 2006), Brodrick Bunkley (1st, 2006)

7. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 2009 (11-3, 7-1)
Head Coach: Paul Johnson
Championships: ACC
Key Stats: Led the ACC in rushing, total offense and scoring. No. 2 nationally in rushing at 295.4 yards per game. Went 2-0 against Clemson.
Award Winners: Derrick Morgan (ACC Def. Player of the Year), Paul Johnson (ACC Coach of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Derrick Morgan (1st, 2010), Demaryius Thomas (1st, 2010)

8. Florida State Seminoles, 2012 (12-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher
Championships: ACC, Orange Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in pass and pass efficiency defense. Finished No. 2 nationally in total defense. Scored 39.3 points per game on offense (10th nationally)
Award Winners: Bjoern Werner (ACC Defensive Player of the Year), Ronald Darby (ACC Def. Rookie of the Year), Chris Thompson (Co-Brian Piccolo Award)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A

9. Virginia Tech Hokies, 2007 (11-3, 7-1)
Head Coach: Frank Beamer
Championships: ACC
Key Stats: Finished No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (16.1 ppg) and No. 4 in total defense (296.9). Both led the ACC.
Award Winners: N/A
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Duane Brown (1st, 2008), Eddie Royal (2nd, 2008), Brandon Flowers (2nd, 2008), Jason Worilds (2nd, 2010)

10. Maryland Terrapins, 2001 (10-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Ralph Freidgen
Championships: ACC
Key Stats: Led the ACC in scoring offense (35.5 ppg) and scoring defense (19.1 ppg). Led ACC in total offense (439.7 ypg) and rushing defense (90.6 ypg). Was the first ACC team to win outright conference title other than Florida State since 1991.
Award Winners: Ralph Friedgen (Home Depot National Coach of the Year, ACC COY), EJ Henderson (ACC Player of the Year, Def. POY), Bruce Perry (ACC Off. Player of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: EJ Henderson (2nd, 2003), Madieu Williams (2nd, 2004)


Best of the Rest:

Clemson Tigers, 2012 (11-2, 7-1)
Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 2006 (11-3, 6-2) ACC Champions
Clemson Tigers, 2011 (10-4, 6-2) ACC Champions
Virginia Tech Hokies, 2011 (11-3, 7-1)
Virginia Tech Hokies, 2009 (10-3, 6-2)

<p> Top 10 ACC Teams of the BCS Era</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 06:11
Path: /college-football/top-10-big-12-teams-bcs-era

The BCS just put a bow on its 15th season of action and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late 90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?

The debates will most assuredly rage on for decades, but here is Athlon's two cents. Here are the Top 10 Big 12 teams of the BCS Era (1998-present):

Note: "First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks

1. Texas Longhorns, 2005 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Big 12 South, Big 12, Rose Bowl, National
Key Stats: School record 50.2 points per game, school single-season record for total yards (6,657), touchdowns (55), total yards per game (512.1) and yards per rushing attempt (5.9), Vince Young no. 6 in total offense (314.3 ypg) and no. 3 in passing efficiency
Award Winners: Mack Brown (Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, Big 12 Coach of the Year), Michael Huff (Jim Thorpe Award, Rose Bowl Defensive MVP), Vince Young (Big 12 Male Athlete of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Award, Manning Award, Maxwell Award, Rose Bowl Offensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Michael Griffin (1st, 2007), Michael Huff (1st, 2006), Brian Orakpo (1st, 2009), Aaron Ross (1st, 2007), Vince Young (1st, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Tim Crowder (2nd, 2007), Cedric Griffin (2nd, 2006), Limas Sweed (2nd, 2008)

Texas entered the season ranked No. 2 behind defending national champion USC, and that’s where the two found themselves when they met in the Rose Bowl in January 2006. To get to Pasadena, Texas steamrolled the competition, averaging more than 50 points a game and scoring 60 or more four times. In the second week of the season, Texas became the first non-conference opponent in 15 years to defeat Ohio State at home, and followed that win up about a month later by dominating Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry. The Longhorns destroyed Colorado 70-3 in the Big 12 Championship to set up the showdown with No. 1 USC. The Rose Bowl title tilt lived up to every bit of its billing as Vince Young put on the most impressive performance in BCS National Championship history, accounting for 84 percent of Texas’ total offense (467 out of 556) yards, and scored the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left to capture the Longhorns’ fourth national championship in thrilling fashion. Young was one of four consensus All-Americans on this Longhorns team, which also produced a total of 24 NFL Draft picks.

2. Oklahoma Sooners, 2000 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Championships: Big 12 South, Big 12, Orange Bowl, National
Key Stats: No. 7 in nation in both scoring offense (39 ppg) and scoring defense (16 ppg), no. 8 in total defense (278.9 ypg), no. 9 in pass defense (170.5 ypg) and no. 2 in pass efficiency defense, Josh Heupel no. 6 in nation in total offense (294.7 ypg)
Award Winners: Josh Heupel (AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Walter Camp Award), Bob Stoops (AP National Coach of the Year, Big 12 Coach of the Year, Eddie Robinson/FWAA Coach of the Year, Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, Walter Camp National Coach of the Year, Woody Hayes National Coach of the Year), J.T. Thatcher (Mosi Tatupu Award — national Special Teams Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Roy Williams (1st, 2002), Andre Woolfolk (1st, 2003), Teddy Lehman (2nd, 2004)

This Sooners team entered the season ranked No. 19 in the country, but fueled by an impressive three-game stretch in October, it ended the season ranked considerably higher. Behind quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up Josh Heupel and a stingy defense, the Sooners started October by destroying No. 11 Texas in the Red River Rivalry and then out-scored No. 2 Kansas State on the road and two weeks later dominated No. 3 Nebraska at home to vault to the top of the rankings. The Sooners would defeat Kansas State a second time in the Big 12 Championship to set up a showdown with No. 3 Florida State (No. 2 in the BCS standings) in the Orange Bowl. Even though they were playing in their home state, the Seminoles’ potent offense, led by quarterback and Heisman winner Chris Weinke, was held in check and scoreless by the Sooners defense in the lowest scoring Orange Bowl in 30 years. Fittingly enough, linebacker Torrance Marshall, who had six tackles and an interception (which ranks as the no. 4 Greatest BCS National Championship Performance), took home MVP honors as Oklahoma defeated Florida State 13-2 to capture its seventh national championship and first since 1985.

3. Oklahoma Sooners, 2004 (12-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Championships: Big 12 South, Big 12
Key Stats: No. 8 in nation in total offense (462.1 ypg), no. 6 in rushing defense (94.6 ypg), Adrian Peterson no. 6 in nation in rushing (148.1 ypg) and no. 15 in all-purpose yards (149 ypg) as a freshman
Award Winners: Jammal Brown (Outland Trophy), Jason White (Davey O’Brien Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Maxwell Award)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Jammal Brown (1st, 2005), Mark Clayton (1st, 2005), Davin Joseph (1st, 2006), Adrian Peterson (1st, 2007), Mark Bradley (2nd, 2005), Dan Cody (2nd, 2005), Brodney Pool (2nd, 2005)

This Oklahoma team lived up to its preseason ranking of No. 2, rolling through the regular season undefeated. The Sooners were led on offense by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jason White, freshman running back Adrian Peterson and an offensive line headlined by Outland winner Jammal Brown. All told, the Sooners’ roster featured five All-Americans and 10 All Big 12 selections. Oklahoma matched up with No. 1 USC in the Orange Bowl in a game that featured two Heisman Trophy winners in White and Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart, and two of the best running backs in the nation in Peterson and USC’s Reggie Bush. Unfortunately for the Sooners, the match up on paper didn’t play out on the field, as the Trojans dominated from start to finish, easily beating Oklahoma 55-19. Six years after the game, in June 2010, USC was forced to vacate two wins from its 2004 season, including the Orange Bowl game, after the NCAA ruled that it had used an ineligible player (Bush) among other violations.

4. Oklahoma Sooners, 2008 (12-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Championships: Big 12 South (shared), Big 12
Key Stats: NCAA record 716 points scored, no. 3 in nation in both total offense (349.4 ypg) and passing offense (349.4 ypg), no. 1 in passing efficiency, no. 1 in turnover margin (+1.64), Sam Bradford no. 1 in passing efficiency and no. 4 in total offense (340.5 ypg), Bradford also set school single-season records for yards (4,720), touchdown passes (50) and passing efficiency, DeMarco Murray no. 8 in all-purpose yards (167 ypg)
Award Winners: Sam Bradford (AP Player of the Year, Sammy Baugh Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Heisman Trophy), Bob Stoops (Big 12 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Sam Bradford (1st, 2010), Jermaine Gresham (1st, 2010), Phil Loadholt (1st, 2009), Gerald McCoy (1st, 2010), Trent Williams (1st, 2010)

The highest-scoring team in NCAA history, this Oklahoma team scored no less than 35 points prior to the BCS National Championship game against Florida. Quarterback Sam Bradford rewrote the Oklahoma record books on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. Oklahoma fell to No. 5 Texas, 45-35, in the Red River Rivalry, and ended up tied for first in the Big 12 South with the Longhorns and Texas Tech at 7-1. The Sooners ended up representing the Big 12 South in the Big 12 Championship thanks to a higher BCS ranking over the Longhorns and Red Raiders. After destroying Missouri in the Big 12 Championship, the No. 1 Sooners faced off against No. 2 Florida in the BCS title game. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who finished third to Bradford in the Heisman voting, threw two touchdown passes and the Gators’ defense held the potent Sooners offense to just two touchdowns to deny Oklahoma its eighth national title, defeating the Sooners 24-14.

5. Texas Longhorns, 2009 (13-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Big 12 South, Big 12
Key Stats: No. 3 in the nation in scoring offense (39.3 ppg), no. 3 in total defense (251.9 ypg) and rushing defense (72.4 ypg), tied for second in sacks (3.1 pg),
Award Winners: Mack Brown (Big 12 Coach of the Year), Colt McCoy (Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Manning Award, Maxwell Award, Sporting News College Athlete of the Year, Walter Camp Award)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Earl Thomas (1st, 2010), Lamarr Houston (2nd, 2010), Sergio Kindle (2nd, 2010), Aaron Williams (2nd, 2011)

This Texas team started the season ranked No. 2 and finished it there as the Longhorns rolled through the regular season and Big 12 undefeated. The offense, led by quarterback Colt McCoy and wide receiver Jordan Shipley, put plenty of points on the board, while the defense, led by defensive lineman Lamarr Houston, linebacker Sergio Kindle and defensive back Earl Thomas, kept the opposing team out of the end zone. Texas’ championship dreams were almost dashed by Ndamukong Suh and Nebraska as the Cornhuskers put up a fight in the Big 12 Championship game. The Longhorns escaped, 13-12, thanks to a last-second field goal and went on to face No.1 Alabama in the BCS title game. Unfortunately, for the Longhorns, McCoy went down early with an injury, forcing them to play with an inexperienced quarterback. That and the Crimson Tide’s punishing running game were too much to overcome as Texas fell to Alabama 37-21.

6. Oklahoma State Cowboys, 2011 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Mike Gundy
Championships: Big 12, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Brandon Weeden set single-season Cowboys yards and TD passing records, Finished second in the nation in passing (387.2 ypg) and scoring offense (48.7 ppg), Joseph Randle was fourth in the nation in scoring (12.0 ppg), Justin Blackmon was third in the nation in receptions (9.3/game)
Award Winners: Justin Blackmon (Biletnikoff Award, Fiesta Bowl MVP), Grant Garner (Big 12 Off. Lineman of the Year), Quinn Sharp (Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year), 
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Justin Blackmon (1st, 2012), Brandon Weeden (1st, 2012)

The Cowboys never experienced a season like it did in 2011 behind the leadership of quarterback Brandon Weeden. The star quarterback broke his own single-season school records for passing yards (4,727) and touchdowns (37) en route to the program's first Big 12 Championship. The remarkable Fiesta Bowl win over Stanford was the first Pokes first BCS bowl win in its first BCS bowl appearance. Blackmon set all types of records with an 8-catch, 186-yard, 3-TD performance in the Fiesta Bowl. A loss to Iowa State late in the year was the only thing that kept Mike Gundy from taking his alma mater to the promised land.

7. Oklahoma Sooners, 2003 (12-2, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Championships: Big 12 South
Key Stats: No. 3 in the nation in scoring offense (42.9 ppg), no. 5 in scoring defense (15.3 ppg), no. 3 in total defense (259.6 ypg), no. 2 in pass defense (146.4 ypg)
Award Winners: Tommie Harris (Lombardi Award), Teddy Lehman (Bednarik Award, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus Award), Derrick Strait (Thorpe Award), Bob Stoops (Big 12 Coach of the Year, Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year, Walter Camp National Coach of the Year, Woody Hayes National Coach of the Year), Jason White (AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Award, Heisman Trophy)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Jammal Brown (1st, 2005), Mark Clayton (1st, 2005), Tommie Harris (1st, 2004), Davin Joseph (1st, 2006), Mark Bradley (2nd, 2005), Dan Cody (2nd, 2005), Teddy Lehman (2nd, 2004), Brodney Pool (2nd, 2005)

Outside of a seven-point win against Alabama on the road, this Oklahoma team, which featured seven All-Americans and 11 first team All Big 12 members, was not challenged in its first 12 games of the season, winning by an average of more than 35 points per game. The offense, led by Heisman Trophy winner Jason White, scored 34 or more points in all but two games, including seven games with 52 or more points. The defense headlined by defensive lineman Tommie Harris, linebacker Teddy Lehman and defensive back Derrick Strait held every opponent to 28 points or less and gave up three or less three times. The Sooners’ train almost completely went off of the tracks after getting pummeled by No. 10 Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship 35-7. Even though the Sooners dropped to No. 3 in both of the human polls, they kept their No. 1 BCS ranking putting them in the Sugar Bowl against No. 2 LSU. For the second straight game, however, Oklahoma’s offense could not get on track as White had one of the worst games of his career. LSU’s defense held White to just 102 yards passing and picked him off twice, returning one of them for a touchdown as the Tigers defeated the Sooners 21-14 and won the national title, or at least according to the coaches’ poll.

8. Texas Longhorns, 2004 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Rose Bowl
Key Stats: No. 2 in nation in rushing offense (299.2 ypg), no. 7 in total offense (464.4 ypg), Cedric Benson no. 4 in nation in rushing (152.8 ypg), no. 7 in all-purpose yards (167.8 ypg) and scoring (20 TDs, 10.0 ppg)
Award Winners: Cedric Benson (Doak Walker Award), Derrick Johnson (Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus Award, Nagurski Trophy), Vince Young (Rose Bowl Offensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Cedric Benson (1st, 2005), Michael Griffin (1st, 2007), Michael Huff (1st, 2006), Derrick Johnson (1st, 2005), Aaron Ross (1st, 2007), Vince Young (1st, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Tim Crowder (2nd, 2007), Cedric Griffin (2nd, 2006),

Led by All-American running back Cedric Benson and young quarterback Vince Young, this Texas team dominated the ground game, rushing for almost 300 yards per game. Texas’ lone loss of the season was a big one, as the Longhorns fell to No. 2 Oklahoma 12-0 in the Red River Rivalry, which kept Texas out of the Big 12 title game. Texas still received a spot in a BCS bowl as they were sent to the Rose Bowl to face No. 12 Michigan. Down by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, Young scored twice and then led his team down the field to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired in the Longhorns’ 38-37 victory over the Wolverines. For the game, Young rushed for 192 yards and was responsible for all five (four rushing, one passing) of Texas’ touchdowns, earning what would be the first of his consecutive Rose Bowl Offensive MVP awards.

9. Texas Longhorns, 2008 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: No. 5 in nation in scoring offense (42.4 ppg), no. 2 in passing efficiency, no. 3 in rushing defense (83.5 ypg), no. 1 in sacks (3.6 pg), Colt McCoy no. 5 in total offense (340 ypg), no. 3 in passing efficiency, Brian Orakpo no. 6 in sacks
Award Winners: Colt McCoy (Archie Griffin Award, Big 12 Offensive MVP, Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP, Walter Camp Award), Roy Miller (Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP), Brian Orakpo (Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (5): Earl Thomas (1st, 2010), Lamarr Houston (2nd, 2010), Brian Orakpo (1st, 2009), Sergio Kindle (2nd, 2010), Aaron Williams (2nd, 2011)

This Texas team was firing on all cylinders out of the gate. Led by quarterback Colt McCoy, who would end up finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Sam Bradford, his counterpart from Oklahoma, the Longhorns scored 38 or more points in their first seven games. Included in this streak was a 45-35 win over No. 1 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry that not only put Texas atop the polls, but also in the driver’s seat for a spot in the Big 12 Championship and potentially, the national championship. However, Texas Tech would have something to say about that as the Red Raiders knocked off the Longhorns 39-33 in Lubbock just three weeks after the Oklahoma game. That resulted in a three-way tie atop the Big 12 South. Oklahoma got to play in the Big 12 Championship by virtue of a higher BCS ranking, while Texas was left out and had to settle for a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. While the Fiesta Bowl may not have been the postseason spot it had initially hoped for, Texas didn’t let that get in the way of its performance on the field, defeating No. 10 Ohio State 24-21 and setting the stage for its national title run the following season.

10. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 1999 (12-1, 7-1) 
Head Coach: Frank Solich
Championships: Big 12 North, Big 12, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: No. 3 in nation in scoring defense (12.5 ppg), no. 4 in total defense (252.3 ypg), no. 2 in passing defense (175.2 ypg), no. 6 in rushing defense (77.1 ypg), no. 4 in rushing offense (265.9 ypg),
Award Winners: Eric Crouch (Big 12 Co-Offensive Player of the Year, Fiesta Bowl MVP), Frank Solich (Big 12 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (4): Mike Brown (2nd, 2000), Toniu Fonoti (2nd, 2002), Dominic Raiola (2nd, 2001), Kyle Vanden Bosch (2nd, 2001)

Nebraska’s Blackshirts were in fine form to start the 1999 season as the Cornhuskers’ defense gave up 14 or fewer points the first six games. Texas put 24 on the board against them in Austin as the No. 18 Longhorns upset the third-ranked Cornhuskers on Oct. 23. Nebraska would rebound from that loss to win its next four by a combined score of 135-62, setting up a rematch against No. 12 Texas in the Big 12 Championship. This time the Cornhuskers won 22-6 and then ended the season with a 31-21 victory over No. 6 Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl.

Best of the Rest:

Kansas Wildcats, 2012 (11-2, 8-1) Big 12 Champions
Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2001 (11-2, 7-1)
Texas Tech Red Raiders, 2008 (11-2, 7-1)
Kansas State Wildcats, 2003 (11-4, 6-2) Big 12 Champions
Oklahoma Sooners, 2007 (11-3, 6-2) Big 12 Champions
Missouri Tigers, 2007 (12-2, 7-1)
Kansas Jayhawks, 2007 (12-1, 7-1)
Oklahoma Sooners, 2010 (12-2, 6-2) Big 12 Champions
Oklahoma Sooners, 2006 (11-3, 7-1) Big 12 Champions
Colorado Buffaloes, 2001 (10-3, 7-1) Big 12 Champions

<p> Top 10 Big 12 Teams of the BCS Era</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 06:10
Path: /nfl/amazing-stats-nfl-championship-weekend

NFL football is the greatest reality TV program of all time. The Giants and Colts made sure of that back in 1958. Each NFL fall weekend is a completely new and original experience for every player, fan and coach alike. New stories, new personalities, new winners and new losers. And new statistics.

Here are the most important, most intriguing and most bizarre statistics from NFL's Championship Weekend:

17: Largest NFC Championship game comeback in history for the 49ers
The Atlanta Falcons, ironically, held the previous record for largest comeback in an NFC Championship game at 13 points when they came from behind to beat the Minnesota Vikings in 1998. The 49ers watched Matt Ryan and Julio Jones rip through their Pro Bowl-laden defense in the first half to take a 17-0 lead seconds into the second quarter. But both sides of the ball made major adjustments and San Francisco outscored Atlanta 28-7 over the final three quarters to earn its sixth (5-0) trip to the Super Bowl.

27.6: Vernon Davis career playoff yards per catch
His touchdown totals have dropped for four consecutive years. His yardage totals have gone down four straight seasons as well. And he posted his lowest catch total (41) since 2008. But when the bright lights of the NFL playoffs have clicked on the last two years, Vernon Davis has been virtually unstoppable. He caught five passes for 106 yards and Colin Kaepernick's lone touchdown pass in the win over Atlanta to help lead the Niners back to Super Sunday. It gives the former Maryland Terrapins star 16 receptions, 398 yards and five touchdowns in four career playoff games. It was Davis' third 100-yard receiving effort and the third game he has caught at least one touchdown in four career starts.

39-9-1: Jim Harbaugh's coaching record the last three seasons
Stanford was 1-11 the year before Jim Harbaugh took over and in just four seasons, he led Stanford to a 12-1 year and the school's first-ever BCS bowl win in the Orange Bowl over Virginia Tech. This after back-to-back 11-1 seasons and Pioneer League titles at the University of San Diego. Since moving up to the NFL, he has coached in 36 games, including four playoff games, and has won 27 times. His has won at least 12 games in each of last three seasons (12-1 at Stanford, 14-4 and 13-4-1 at San Francisco) and is making his Super Bowl debut in just his second professional campaign.

0: Combined points scored in the second half by Atlanta and New England
Baltimore and San Francisco have their defenses to thank for making it to the Super Bowl, but the last two rounds of the playoffs definitely featured the offenses. The average combined score of the last six playoff games was 61.5 points per game — or over 30 points per game per team. Only the Patriots, ironically the top scoring offense in the league (34.8 ppg), and the Falcons failed to score at least 28 points over the last two weekends. Denver and Green Bay both scored over 30 points and lost while Houston put up 28 and was sent packing as well. It puts into perspective what both the Ravens and 49ers accomplished on the road this weekend by both pitching second-half shutouts against Tom Brady and Matt Ryan with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

67-1: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady's home record when leading at halftime
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady had never lost a home game together after leading at halftime when they took a 13-7 lead into halftime over Baltimore this weekend. The Ravens, behind a huge third quarter (and one play) from Joe Flacco, outscored the Patriots 21-0 in the second half. The Pats were stymied three times in the red zone (1-for-4) while Flacco produced four scores in four trips into the money zone. Flacco is now 8-4 in 12 career postseason starts.

5,949: NFL record postseason passing yards for Tom Brady
Brett Favre had thrown for more yards in the playoffs than any quarterback in history with 5,855 yards passing after an amazing 20-year career. Tom Brady didn't end his 13th NFL campaign the way he wanted to, but after throwing for 320 yards in the loss to Baltimore, he passed Favre as the most prolific postseason passer in league history. He has thrown for 5,949 yards in 24 career postseason games. More importantly, however, he fell to 5-2 as the starter in the AFC Championship game.

249: Total career games Ray Lewis will play in the NFL
When Lewis gyrates his way onto the field in Super Bowl XLVII he will be doing so for the 249th time in his illustrious 17-year career. It will be the last time football fans will have a chance to watch what could be the greatest middle linebacker to ever play the game. It will be his 21st career playoff game and there is little doubt that his emotional leadership has been and will be a huge factor in the Ravens' 2012 playoff fate.

2: Head coaches in the Super Bowl born in Toledo, Ohio
Only once have two brothers ever coached against one another in a regular season game. When Jim and John Harbaugh got together in 2011 on Thanksgiving it marked the first and only such occasion. Now, the same two brothers born 15 months apart from each other in Toledo, Ohio, to Jack and Jackie Harbaugh will stand on opposite sidelines in the biggest sporting event in the world. Odds are it will be simultaneously the most joyous and painful evening for Mom and Dad.

<p> Amazing Stats from NFL Championship Weekend</p>
Post date: Monday, January 21, 2013 - 06:45
Path: /college-football/10-players-replacing-biggest-names-college-football-2013

The start of spring practice is still over a month away, but college football coaches have already turned the page from 2012 to 2013. With the passing of the NFL Draft deadline and new recruits coming in after Signing Day, coaches have a good idea about their roster and some of the holes facing their team.

Even though it’s January, it’s never too early to start thinking about replacements for some of college football’s top departing players.

USC had a disappointing 2012 campaign, but the Trojans still have the talent to compete for the Pac-12 South title. However, replacing quarterback Matt Barkley will be no easy task. Max Wittek made two starts late in the year and will begin spring practice as the favorite to start under center for USC.

In addition to Wittek, the spotlight will be on Oklahoma’s Blake Bell, Stanford’s Barry Sanders and Wisconsin’s James White and Melvin Gordon – just to name a few.

10 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in College Football

Max Wittek, QB, USC 
Matt Barkley finished his USC career with a solid 2012 season but it certainly wasn’t the year most expected. Pegged as a heavy Heisman favorite in the preseason, Barkley finished the year with 3,273 yards and 36 touchdowns but missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. While not having Barkley certainly contributed to USC’s disappointing close to the year, his absence allowed Max Wittek to get a head start on 2013. In eight games this season, Wittek threw for 388 yards and three touchdowns but also tossed five picks and completed just 52.2 percent of his throws. With wide receiver Marqise Lee and running back Silas Redd returning next season, if Wittek quickly settles into the starting role, the Trojans will have a chance to push UCLA and Arizona State for the Pac-12 South title. 

Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma 
While Landry Jones never led Oklahoma to a national championship or emerged as a serious Heisman contender, the New Mexico native threw for 16,646 yards and 123 touchdowns over the last four seasons. Jones also guided the Sooners to 32 victories over the last three years, one BCS bowl appearance and an outright conference title in 2010. Bell is the frontrunner to replace Jones, although he will face competition in the spring from Drew Allen, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson. Bell has played sparingly over the last two seasons, throwing only 20 passes for 115 yards and no scores. The Kansas native has been a bigger factor on the ground, rushing for 372 yards and 24 touchdowns. There’s no question Bell will be a major factor in Oklahoma’s rushing attack. However, he has to show he can beat defenses with his arm on a consistent basis. 

Mario Edwards Jr., DE, Florida State 
Injuries to Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius Carradine forced Edwards into a bigger role than he anticipated in the preseason. However, stepping into significant snaps wasn’t an issue for the No. 2 rated recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. Edwards played in 11 games, recording 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks. The freshman made three stops in the Orange Bowl victory over Northern Illinois and picked up seven tackles in the ACC Championship win over Georgia Tech. Even though Florida State will have a new defensive coordinator (Jeremy Pruitt), the addition of Sal Sunseri and Charles Kelly as assistants should keep this unit among the best in the nation. If he picks up where he left off at the end of 2012, Edwards Jr. has potential to be an All-ACC selection in 2013.

Ego Ferguson/Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
No team was hit harder by the NFL Draft deadline than LSU. The Tigers lost 11 players a year early, including defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan. In addition to the early departures, Josh Downs and Lavar Edwards expired their eligibility after the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Ferguson and Johnson enter their junior season poised to emerge as standouts for LSU’s defense. Both tackles played in all 13 games this season, with Ferguson recording 14 stops, while Johnson made 30 tackles and three sacks. The Tigers need some time to let the new pieces on defense come together, but if Ferguson and Johnson emerge early in the year, LSU’s defensive line won’t miss a beat.

Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
Kelly has some of the biggest shoes to fill in college football next season. Barrett Jones departs Alabama as one of the most successful linemen of the BCS era, garnering first-team All-American honors for 2011 and 2012. Jones battled a foot injury last season, which allowed Kelly to gain valuable experience. The Ohio native played in 10 games in 2012 and is a key piece to Alabama’s offensive line next year. Kelly probably won’t match Jones’ postseason accolades next season, but he should keep the Crimson Tide line playing at a high level. 

Julien Obioha, DE, Texas A&M
Obioha isn’t technically replacing Damontre Moore, but the sophomore will be counted on for a bigger role in the defense next season. Moore was one of the SEC’s top defenders in 2012, leading Texas A&M with 85 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks. Obioha started 12 games as a true freshman, making 25 tackles and one sack. With Moore no longer in College Station, it’s up to Obioha to keep the Aggies’ pass rush among the top half of the SEC. Texas A&M will need more than Obioha to replace Moore, but considering he started 12 games as a true freshman, bigger things could be in store for the Louisiana native in 2013. 

Daniel Sams/Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State
Replacing Collin Klein’s production is no easy task for Kansas State in 2013. However, with Bill Snyder on the sidelines in Manhattan, the Wildcats can’t be counted out of the Big 12 title mix. Klein finished 2012 with 3,561 yards and 39 total scores and ranked third behind Johnny Manziel and Manti Te’o in Heisman voting. Sams played eight games in 2012, throwing for 55 yards on six completions and rushing for 235 yards and three scores on 32 attempts. Considering his experience last season, Sams should be the frontrunner to open 2013 as the starter. However, junior college recruit Jake Waters will compete with Sams in the preseason. Waters is regarded as one of the top junior college recruits in the nation and certainly isn’t being brought to Manhattan to hold a clipboard.

Barry Sanders, RB, Stanford
Coming off a 12-win season and a victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Stanford will be a legitimate national title contender in 2013. The Cardinal does have a few concerns to address in the offseason, starting on offense with the departure of running back Stepfan Taylor. The Texas native had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and scored 40 rushing touchdowns in his career. While Taylor is a huge loss, coach David Shaw does have capable options on the bench. Anthony Wilkerson has been a dependable backup over the last three years, while sophomore Remound Wright was a top-25 running back coming out of high school. Although Wilkerson and Wright will see a share of the carries, redshirt freshman Barry Sanders is ready for a breakout season. The Oklahoma native was regarded as one of the top 50 recruits in last year’s signing class and will have one of the Pac-12’s top offensive lines paving the way next season. 

Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
The pieces are in place for Ohio State to compete for a national title in 2013. However, there’s one glaring area of concern for coach Urban Meyer. The defense is losing ends John Simon and Nathan Williams, along with tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel. If the Buckeyes quickly reload up front, Ohio State could be making a trip to Pasadena to play for the BCS title. Spence was one of the Buckeyes’ top recruits last season and recorded 12 tackles in 11 games this year. The Pennsylvania native should benefit with another offseason to work in the weight room and is a key centerpiece in Ohio State’s defense in 2013.

James White/Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Even though record-setting running back Montee Ball expired his eligibility after the Rose Bowl, there’s not too much concern about the rushing attack in Madison. And despite a coaching change, Wisconsin won’t stray too far from its usual ground and pound offense. James White rushed for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2010 and has 1,519 yards and 18 scores over the last two years. Gordon redshirted in 2011 and rushed for 621 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman in 2012. His breakout performance came against Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship, gashing the Cornhuskers for 216 yards on nine carries. White isn’t built to handle 200-250 carries a year, which makes Gordon the perfect complement back at 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds.

Related College Football Content

College Football's Early Top 25 for 2013
Early ACC Predictions for 2013

Early Big East Predictions for 2013

Early Big Ten Predictions for 2013

Early Big 12 Predictions for 2013

Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2013

Early SEC Predictions for 2013

<p> 10 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in College Football in 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, January 21, 2013 - 06:31
All taxonomy terms: Baylor Bears, College Football, Big 12, News
Path: /news/baylor-football-unveils-gold-helmets-2013

New helmets, alternate colors and different uniforms combinations are some of the biggest trends with nearly every team in college football over the last few years. Some of the alternate jersey and helmet combinations are done to appeal to recruits and it certainly doesn’t hurt with extra revenue coming through the program in the way of merchandise sales.

With the 2013 season months away, plenty of programs will be unveiling new looks for the next season.

Baylor got a head start on continuing this recent trend, as assistant coach Jeff Lebby tweeted a picture of the Bears’ new gold (and very shiny) helmets for 2013:

<p> Baylor Football Unveils Gold Helmets for 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, January 21, 2013 - 06:20
Path: /college-basketball/amazing-college-basketball-stats-week-jan-14-20

With 347 Division I teams, following college basketball can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college hoops week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriguing, most important and most interesting stats from around the sport:

60. An arbitrary stat for the Butler’s buzzer beater against Gonzaga
What kind of stat should we choose for Roosevelt Jones’ buzzer-beating floater to defeat Gonzaga 64-62? How about No. 1, for the best game of the season so far? Or 3.5 as in seconds remaining when Jones stole David Stockton’s inbound pass when Gonzaga, led by 2? Or two, as in the top-15 teams (according to Butler has defeated this season (Indiana and Gonzaga)? Or five, as in total points for the Gonzaga starting backcourt of Kevin Pangos (12.1 ppg), Gary Bell Jr. (8.8 ppg), and Mike Hart (2.2 ppg)? Let’s go with 60, which is on the low end of an adult’s normal pulse rate at rest. Take a closer look at the video from the game-winning shot, find Butler coach Brad Stevens, and take his pulse:

26.8: Florida’s margin of victory in SEC games
The Gators defeated Missouri 83-52 on Saturday, giving the Gators another SEC rout. Florida is defeating conference opponents by an average of 26.8 points per game, the best scoring margin for any team in its conference this season. Only two other teams are defeating conference opponents by more than 20 points per game: Belmont by 22.1 points in the Ohio Valley and Southern by 20.4 in the SWAC.

6-to-10: Phil Pressey’s assist-to-turnover ratio against Florida
Missouri point guard Phil Pressey entered Saturday with a 2.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio this season, but he came close to flipping that against a top defensive team in Florida. Pressey had six assists and a career-high 10 turnovers agains the Gators. He also struggled from the field, going 1 of 7 with two points.

11: Points by Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams in the final 7:22 against Louisville
Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams was nearly a goat against Louisville. Through 32 minutes or so, he had eight turnovers, the last one off a Russ Smith steal to put Louisville up 62-57. Carter-Williams more than atoned for that by scoring 11 of Syracuse’s final 13 points and assisting on a Jerami Grant layup in the final 7:22. Carter-Williams had a steal of Peyton Siva and a dunk for the go-ahead basket and then a steal in a scrum under the basket to seal Syracuse’s 70-68 road win.

5.8: Points per game for Peyton Siva in his last four against Syracuse
Peyton Siva is one of the nation's top point guards, just not against Syracuse. The Cardinals senior has averaged 5.8 points per game against Syracuse in four games in the last two seasons. Louisville's 70-68 loss to Syracuse was Siva’s worst performance against the Orange since he became a full-time player. Siva scored 3 points on 1-of-9 shooting and 1-of-7 from three point range.

5-0: Oregon’s best conference start since 1973-74
Oregon, picked seventh in the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll, is off to a 5-0 start in the league, its best since 1973-74. The Ducks aren’t doing it cheaply either. They defeated UCLA 76-67 on the road Saturday more than a week after handing previously undefeated Arizona a 70-66 loss. Oregon will hope this 5-0 start is better than the one in the Pac-8 in 1973-74: The Ducks finished that season 15-11 overall and 9-5 in the conference.

17: Combined points for Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams against Oregon
UCLA was off to an inauspicious start when coach Ben Howland didn’t start Shabazz Muhammad as punishment for being late to practice. UCLA’s two star freshmen can score 17 points on their own on a given night — Muhammad averages 18.4 points per game, Jordan Adams 15.6. But against Oregon, Muhammad scored 10 points in 28 minutes. Adams struggled even more by scoring only seven points, all on free throws. He went 0 for 6 from the field.

17 and 13: Points and rebounds by Wichita State’s Carl Hall against Creighton
The return of Carl Hall from a broken thumb turned out to be the equivalent of a trade-deadline deal for Wichita State. Hall, who missed seven games from Dec. 20 to Jan. 13, scored 17 points and 13 rebounds in the 67-64 win over Creighton to give the Shockers the Missouri Valley lead. Hall is a former MVC defensive player of the year and Wichita State’s best low-post scorer.

50. Percentage of Ohio State’s scoring that came from Deshaun Thomas on Saturday
Perhaps belaboring the point, Ohio State does not have a second scorer to complement Deshaun Thomas. The 6-foot-7 matchup headache scored 28 points against the Spartans. Other Buckeyes not named Deshaun Thomas scored 28 points against the Spartans in Ohio State’s 59-56 loss. Thomas was 10 of 20 from the field against Michigan State, while seven other Buckeyes combined to go 9 of 27. On the game’s final play, Ohio State guard Shannon Scott, rather than getting the ball to Thomas, took a 3-pointer expecting to be fouled. The foul never came, and the off-balance, awkward shot hit the side of the backboard.

165: Games since Air Force scored 90 points against a Division I foe
In a huge week for statements in the Mountain West, even Air Force made news. The Falcons defeated NCAA Tournament contender Boise State 91-80, topping 90 points against a Division I opponent in 165 games. The last time was a 94-68 win over Wake Forest on Nov. 29, 2006. Air Force’s coach at the time was Jeff Bzdelik, who is now the coach at Wake Forest. At 10-6, Air Force will look to top 16 wins for the first time since 2006-07.

<p> Butler's buzzer-beating finish over Gonzaga headlines this week's top stats, also Florida's dominance, struggles for point guards at Louisville and Missouri, and a clutch point guard performance from Syracuse.</p>
Post date: Monday, January 21, 2013 - 06:00
Path: /nfl/nfc-championship-preview-and-prediction-san-francisco-49ers-vs-atlanta-falcons

The top two teams in the NFC meet on Sunday to determine who will represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVII, as the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons face off in the NFC Championship game at 3 p.m. ET on FOX. The 49ers find themselves in the conference title game for the second year in a row, but this time must get the job done on the road against the Falcons, who have lost just one game in the Georgia Dome this season.

When the San Francisco 49ers have the ball:
San Francisco’s offense was clicking on all cylinders in last week’s 45-31 win over Green Bay in the NFC Divisional round, thanks to a record-setting effort from quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The second-year pro out of Nevada, who ascended to the starting job in Week 11 because Alex Smith suffered a concussion, put together one of the best postseason performances in NFL history in his first-ever playoff game. Kaepernick tormented the Packers with both his arm and his legs, as he rushed for 181 yards, the most ever by a quarterback in an NFL game, and threw for another 263, while accounting for four total touchdowns (two rushing, two passing) and just one turnover (INT). Kaepernick averaged more than 11 yards per carry, but he wasn’t alone in chewing up yards on the ground against the Packers. Running back Frank Gore added 119 rushing yards and a touchdown of his own on 23 carries (5.2 ypc), as he and Kaepernick combined for 300 of the team’s 323 yards rushing, the most ever by the 49ers in a playoff game. The team’s 579 total yards of offense also set a new franchise postseason standard and were second only to the 621 yards the 49ers had in their 45-3 win over Buffalo back in Week 5. With Kaepernick and Gore getting it done on the ground, wide receiver Michael Crabtree continued his stretch of productive games, as he led the way with nine receptions for 119 yards and caught both of Kaerpernick’s touchdown passes. Crabtree has clearly established himself as the quarterback’s favorite target, as he has caught 50 passes for 714 yards and seven touchdowns in the eight games Kaepernick has started. Although he hasn’t been near as productive as Crabtree, tight end Vernon Davis can’t be overlooked, especially considering Atlanta gave up eight receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown to Seattle’s Zach Miller last week. Davis’ lone catch against Green Bay went for 44 yards, and the Falcons will have to do their best to limit big plays by the 49ers, which have been more commonplace since Kaepernick took over. Besides the long pass to Davis, Kaepernick also had a 45-yard hook up with Gore and both of his touchdown runs were on plays of 20 or more yards, highlighted by his 56-yard gallop in the third quarter to put the 49ers ahead for good. The 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, so as long as Kaepernick can take care of the ball when he’s in the pocket and make the right decisions when he gets out of it, this offense should produce. Kaepernick also showed his mental toughness and resolve against Green Bay when he bounced right back after throwing an interception on the 49ers’ first offensive series that the Packers returned for a touchdown and early 7-0 lead. That proved to be Kaepernick’s lone mistake that night, as he marched his team right back down the field on the next possession, capping it off with a 20-yard touchdown run.

Even though Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson torched Atlanta’s defense for 385 yards passing, the Falcons rose to the occasion when they needed to and did a solid job stopping the run last week. Atlanta held Seattle scoreless for an entire half and limited running back Marshawn Lynch to just 46 yards on 16 carries (2.9 ypc) for the game. Wilson led the Seahawks with 60 yards rushing on just seven carries (8.6 ypc), and the Falcons’ run defense will need a similar, if not better, effort against the 49ers’ two-headed rushing attack of running back Frank Gore and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Limiting Kaepernick’s impact on the ground will be especially key as the Falcons’ defense has struggled with quarterbacks who can run. In addition to Wilson’s production last week, Atlanta gave up a total of 202 yards rushing and two touchdowns on just 18 carries (11.2 ypc) in two games against Carolina’s Cam Newton during the regular season. Keeping Kaepernick contained in the pocket will be key, something that was a bit of an issue against Wilson, especially in the fourth quarter. As a collective unit, the Falcons’ defense played very well through the first three quarters, but experienced a number of breakdowns in the final period. The Seahawks scored three straight touchdowns in the fourth to take a one-point lead, as Wilson had little trouble finding tight end Zach Miller (8 rec., 142 yds., TD) in the middle of the field or was able to hook up with one of his wide receivers down the field. The 49ers don’t turn the ball over that often, so a more disciplined effort from the Falcons, one that goes a full four quarters, will be needed to try and slow down Kaepernick and company.

When the Atlanta Falcons have the ball:
Similar to its defense in stopping the run, Atlanta’s rushing offense also stepped up when it was needed most in the 30-28 win over Seattle. Led by running back Michael Turner’s 98 yards, the Falcons rushed for a season-high 167 yards on 26 carries (6.4 ypc) against the Seahawks. Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers (10 att., 64 yds.) provided a nice one-two punch in the backfield, making things easier on quarterback Matt Ryan and the passing game. The Falcons will need similar production from their two backs against a 49ers defense that gave up 104 yards rushing on just 16 carries (6.5 ypc) to the Packers. With the support of the ground game, Ryan did the rest, as the fifth-year starter put together his best playoff performance yet – 24-of-35 for 250 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions — against the Seahawks. The interceptions are still a concern and probably something that he can’t afford to repeat against the 49ers, but he made the throws when he needed to, especially the two completions with less than 31 seconds left that set up Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal. Just like they did against the Seahawks’ secondary, the Falcons’ wide receivers should be able to make some plays against the 49ers’ defense, provided the offensive line gives Ryan enough time to throw. Tight end Tony Gonzalez made several key catches against the Seahawks, but the 49ers’ linebackers are more experienced, athletic, talented and productive than the Seahawks’ corps. Wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, and probably even Harry Douglas and Rodgers, will need to make the most of the opportunities thrown their way because one has to figure the 49ers are going to key in on Gonzalez. It also will be up to Ryan to make wise decisions when he does throw, and try and not force the ball down field, a situation that produced one of his interceptions last week. Besides run blocking, the offensive line didn’t allow a sack against Seattle, which is another key in attacking San Francisco’s defense. The 49ers present some different challenges when it comes to their pass rush, so the Falcons’ line will need to put together one of its strongest all-around efforts to make an impact in both the running and passing games. The Falcons did a good job on converting third downs (6-of-11) against the Seahawks and will need similar success to keep drives alive and limit the number of possessions the 49ers’ offense gets. Even if they are unable to punch it into the end zone, the Falcons should be able to score points once they get past the 49ers’ 40-yard-line because of kicker Matt Bryant, especially if it’s a late-game situation. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bryant has connected on 17 of his 18 go-ahead or game-tying field goal attempts in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime of regular-season games in his career. His 94 percent success rate in these situations is the best of anyone with at least 15 such attempts in the NFL since 1970. Add to that the 49-yard game winner Bryant knocked through with just eight seconds remaining against the Seahawks last week, and it appears that the Falcons have not one, but two “Matty Ices” who can get the job done when the game is on the line.

San Francisco’s defense finished the regular season as one of the NFL’s best, but this unit has taken some lumps recently. The 49ers were third overall in total defense (294.4 ypg) and second in scoring defense (17.1 ppg), but have allowed considerably more yards and points in three of its last four games. Besides surrendering 352 yards and 31 points (one touchdown came via INT return) in the win over Green Bay, both New England (520, 34 in Week 15) and Seattle (346, 42 in Week 16) enjoyed a fair amount of success against the 49ers’ defense. Atlanta with quarterback Matt Ryan and his receiving weapons figure to present another stiff test for this defense, especially if the Falcons have the same success running the ball as they did against the Seahawks. That’s not to say this is not a defense capable of shutting the Falcons down either, as the 49ers placed six — free safety Dashon Goldson, linebacker Aldon Smith, defensive lineman Justin Smith, strong safety Donte Whitner, linebacker Patrick Willis (starters) and linebacker NaVorro Bowman (reserve) — on the NFC’s Pro Bowl team. In fact, the 49ers’ defensive struggles can be traced back to the Patriots’ game in Week 15, when Justin Smith tore the tendon in his left triceps. Smith missed the final two regular-season games, against the Seahawks and Cardinals, but was able to return against the Packers. He contributed five tackles in the win while wearing a brace on his left arm. The key for Smith and 49ers’ defense will be to stop the Falcons’ running game to try and make their offense one-dimensional. Then it will be up to the pass rush, led by Aldon Smith, to try and at least disrupt Ryan, as the Falcons haven’t given up a lot of sacks. The 49ers did a good job of limiting big plays by the Packers and will need to do the same against the Falcons, especially through the air.

Key Factor:
Quarterback play will probably go a long way in determining the outcome of this one. San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick may not have as much experience as Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, but he has the same number of playoff victories (one) and is coming off of a remarkable performance against Green Bay. If Kaepernick is able to duplicate what he did against the Packers, the Falcons will be hard-pressed to keep up.

However, this will be Kaepernick’s first playoff road game and you know the Georgia Dome will be rocking with the Falcons one win away from their second Super Bowl appearance. And it certainly is “Dome Sweet Dome” for Ryan, as he is 34-6 in his career, including last week’s Wild Card win, at home. Only Tom Brady has a better winning percentage at home among quarterbacks whose careers began in the Super Bowl era.

Besides playing at home, Ryan and the Falcons are still riding the wave of emotion (not too mention relief) from last week’s playoff win, and this momentum, coupled with an energetic home crowd, will allow them to stay with the 49ers for most of the game. In the end, however, San Francisco’s defense makes a few more stops and the running game wears down the Atlanta defense just enough to secure the 49ers’ sixth NFC title and a chance to claim a sixth Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans on Feb. 3.

Prediction: 49ers 31, Falcons 27


AFC Championship Preview and Prediction: Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots

<p> NFC Championship Preview and Prediction: San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons</p>
Post date: Saturday, January 19, 2013 - 13:31
Path: /nfl/afc-championship-preview-and-prediction-baltimore-ravens-vs-new-england-patriots

For the second year in a row the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots will face off with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line when the two teams kick things off in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game at 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS. The Ravens lost 23-20 to the Patriots in Gillette Stadium in last year’s AFC title game, as wide receiver Lee Evans couldn’t hold onto a potential game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter and kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. Both Evans and Cundiff are no longer with the Ravens, who beat the Patriots 31-30 in Baltimore back in Week 3 and have already shown they can win on the road in the playoffs in a hostile environment, as evidenced by last week’s come-from-behind 38-35 double overtime win in Denver.

When the Baltimore Ravens have the ball:
Somewhat maligned during the regular season to the point that the team made a coordinator change in December (from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell), Baltimore’s offense showed up in a big way in last week’s win. The Ravens’ 479 yards of offense sent a new franchise playoff record and were highlighted by quarterback Joe Flacco’s impressive passing performance. Sharing the field with league MVP candidate Peyton Manning, Flacco outshined his Denver counterpart, completing 18-of-34 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns, the biggest being a 70-yard bomb to wide receiver Jacoby Jones that tied the game with just 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Just as he did during the regular season, Flacco did most of his damage throwing the ball deep. Besides the 70-yarder to Jones, Flacco’s other two touchdown passes against the Broncos covered more than 20 yards, a 59-yard strike to Torrey Smith in the first quarter that put the Ravens in the scoring column and a 32-yard hook up with Smith that tied the game right before the end of the first half. During the regular season, Flacco completed 37 percent of his throws deeper than 20 yards with seven touchdowns and he had the most attempts of any quarterback without an interception. The Patriots are already aware of Flacco’s ability to beat teams deep, as he put up a season-high 382 yards passing against them in the Ravens’ 31-30 home win back on Sept. 23. The Ravens finished that game with 503 yards of offense, which has only be topped this season by the 553 they had in their Week 16 victory over the New York Giants. The Patriots’ defense has been highly susceptible against the pass, so it will need to tighten up its coverage against Jones, Smith, as well as fellow wideout Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta unless New England wants to see a repeat of what happened in Week 3. The Ravens, however, are by far anything but a pass-only team as they also picked up 155 yards rushing against the Broncos. Running back Ray Rice led the way with 131 yards on 30 carries (4.4 ypc) and he also had 101 on the ground the first time versus the Patriots. Backup Bernard Pierce has been key to the Ravens’ offensive success recently, but he sustained a knee injury against the Broncos. Even though Pierce said he will be out there on Sunday, expect him and his touches to be limited, putting more of the burden on Rice to produce on the ground. Going against an offense like New England’s, ball security will be critical as the Ravens need to make the most of their opportunities with the ball, while also not giving the Patriots many extra possessions. After losing two fumbles in the Wild Card win against Indianapolis two weeks ago, Rice held onto the ball against Denver with the Ravens’ only turnover versus the Broncos being a Flacco interception. Likewise, a Flacco pick was the lone giveaway in Baltimore’s Week 3 win over New England. The Ravens also gave up just one sack against the Broncos’ pass rush, which finished tied for the league lead in sacks, and didn’t allow a single one the first time they faced the Patriots.

After shutting Miami out in Week 17, New England’s defense returned to its regular-season form in its Divisional Playoff game against Houston. The Patriots gave up 425 yards and 28 points to the Texans, although to be fair 15 of the points came in the fourth quarter when the Patriots were nursing a 35-point lead. Still, given its statistical production during the regular season, the defense needs the offense to do its part to put the team in its best position to win. Look no further than the Week 3 meeting with Baltimore. The Ravens piled up 503 yards of offense against the Patriots, while holding New England’s offense to 396, one of the reasons why Baltimore came out on top 31-30. The Patriots’ strength on defense this season has been stopping the run, as they held the Texans’ Arian Foster to a modest 90 yards on 22 carries (4.1 ypc) last week and finished the regular season ranked ninth overall (101.9 ypg) in rush defense. Baltimore running back Ray Rice had 101 yards rushing by himself the first time against New England, and if the Patriots struggle to contain him and fellow back Bernard Pierce, it will more than likely just open up the Ravens’ passing game even more. The Patriots ranked near the bottom of the league against the pass (271.4 ypg) during the regular season, gave up 343 yards passing to Houston’s Matt Schaub last Sunday, while Baltimore’s Joe Flacco lit them up for a season-high 382 back in September. One rather significant change, the addition of former Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib, has occurred in New England’s secondary since that first matchup with the Ravens, but this hasn’t stopped teams from victimizing the Patriots’ pass defense either. For all the yards this defense has allowed, it has been able to limit the impact on the scoreboard, thanks in large part to turnovers and the fact that the offense has been able to stake them to large leads that dictate their opponents’ offensive game plan. Without the turnovers, however, this defense walks a thin line between bending and getting broken.

When the New England Patriots have the ball:
Pretty much like clockwork, New England’s offense had little trouble with Houston’s defense in last week’s win. The Patriots put up 457 yards and 41 points against the Texans, exceeding their regular-season averages of 428 yards and 35 points per game. The offense starts and ends with quarterback Tom Brady, who passed Joe Montana for most career playoff wins (17) while posting his fifth 300-yard passing game in the postseason. Brady completed 25-of-40 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns against the Texans, while he put up 335 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers against the Ravens in Week 3. However, Brady and the Patriots lost that game, and in seven career games against Baltimore, including the playoffs, he has thrown more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (seven), while completing less than 59 percent of his passes and averaging less than 244 yards passing per contest. Brady has particularly struggled in his two playoff matchups with the Ravens, including last season’s conference championship game when he tossed two interceptions and no touchdown passes. It’s no secret that the Patriots will need Brady to produce if they want to beat the Ravens, and he will have to do so without the services of Rob Gronkowski. The dynamic tight end, who missed some time during the regular season after breaking his forearm, re-injured the same arm against the Texans and will miss the remainder of the Patriots’ playoff run. New England doesn’t lack for weapons, not with wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd and tight end Aaron Hernandez among others, at Brady’s disposal, but that doesn’t mean the offense won’t miss Gronkowski’s presence either. That’s why running back Shane Vereen’s breakout game against Houston, in which he caught two touchdown passes and added a rushing score, couldn’t have come at a better time. The Patriots may need to rely on the running game a little more against the Ravens, which is where Vereen and leading rusher Stevan Ridley come into play. Ridley finished seventh in the NFL in the regular season with 1,263 yards rushing and contributed 82 yards on 15 carries (5.5 ypc) and a touchdown against the Texans last week. The first time against Baltimore, however, Ridley managed only 37 yards on the ground on 13 carries (2.8 ypc), so he will need to be more effective Sunday night. Sticking to their regular-season script, the Patriots didn’t have any turnovers versus the Texans, and are hoping for a second-straight mistake-free game against the Ravens. Pass protection is always a key for Brady’s effectiveness, and his offensive line surrendered just two sacks to the Ravens back in September.

Nowhere near as stout as in recent years, the Baltimore defense got the job done last Saturday against Denver in its Divisional Playoff showdown. While the Broncos finished with 398 yards of total offense, the Ravens forced quarterback Peyton Manning into three turnovers, returning one of his two interceptions for a touchdown, while holding the Broncos to just three yards per rushing attempt and only two offensive plays that covered more than 20 yards. In fact, if not for Broncos’ kick returner Trindon Holliday’s record-setting afternoon that featured a kickoff and punt return for touchdowns, this game may not have even gone into double overtime. But it did, and in the end it was the Ravens’ defense that made the game-changing plays, the biggest one being Corey Graham’s second interception late in the first overtime period, which set up Justin Tucker’s game-winning 47-yard field goal. Graham’s other pick also produced a score, as he returned his first-quarter interception 39 yards for a touchdown that gave Baltimore its first lead. Graham wasn’t even a starter at cornerback when the Ravens played the Patriots in Week 3, but that was before Lardarius Webb went down with a season-ending injury. Now firmly entrenched in the secondary, Graham will be called on again to put forth another big-game effort against the Patriots’ pass-catchers. Another change for the Ravens’ defense this time around will be the presence of pass-rusher and playmaker Terrell Suggs, who missed the first meeting in September while he was recovering from a partially torn Achilles tendon. And of course, the Ravens still have Ray Lewis patrolling the middle, as the Canton-bound linebacker is leaving it all on the field in his final season. Lewis followed up his 13-tackle effort in the Wild Card round with a season-high 17 stops against the Broncos. While Lewis may have lost a step and is somewhat limited by a triceps injury, his mere presence seems to elevate the defense’s play. Now it’s up to the Ravens’ defense to channel the emotion and energy the unit gets from its leader to its performance on the field. Anything but the defense’s strongest all-around effort probably won’t get the job done against the Patriots’ well-oiled, high-powered offensive machine.

Key Factor:
Let’s see, a conference championship rematch featuring one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history versus the game’s all-time winningest playoff quarterback? What’s not to like? In fact, whether it’s Baltimore or New England playing in New Orleans come Feb. 3, the AFC’s representative in Super Bowl XLVII will come pre-packaged with a made-for-TV subplot. For the Ravens it is Ray Lewis’ chance to ride off into the sunset on top, while the Patriots’ Tom Brady hopes to cement his place in Super Bowl history by capturing a fourth championship ring.

Before the endless media coverage of either storyline (not to mention so much more) can commence, however, the game to decide the AFC’s champion must be played. And this title game offers enough historical significance of its own, as it is the first conference championship rematch since Dallas and San Francisco battled for NFC supremacy three straight seasons in the early ‘90s (1992-94), and the first in the AFC since Cleveland and Denver faced off in 1986 and ’87.

It is very easy to pick the Patriots, since Brady is 17-6 in the postseason in his career and has the highest winning percentage in all home games of any quarterback whose career began in the Super Bowl era (min. 20 career starts). That said, Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco is no slouch himself when it comes to the playoffs, as his 7-4 postseason record puts him behind only Brady (17), Ben Roethilsberger (14), Peyton Manning (9), and Eli Manning (8) for playoff victories among active quarterbacks. And everyone except Eil Manning (11 career playoff games) has played in more playoff games than Flacco to this point. On top of that, five of Flacco’s seven postseason wins have come on the road, including one on Brady’s turf, a 33-14 victory over the Patriots in the Wild Card round on Jan. 10, 2010.

Playoff-tested quarterbacks and Hall of Fame-bound linebacker aside, this game will more than likely be decided based on which defense can rise to the occasion and make that key stop or force a pivotal turnover. The Ravens have had a fair amount of success holding Brady in check recently, while the Patriots’ defense has been bailed out more than once by a turnover or its own offense. In fact, last season it could be said that the Patriots got an assist from two Ravens — wide receiver Lee Evans, who dropped a potential game-tying touchdown pass and kicker Billy Cundiff, who then shanked the game-tying field goal attempt at the end of the game — in their 23-20 victory. Evans and Cundiff are both no longer on the Ravens’ roster, and with a nod to symmetry, I think their replacements — wide receiver Jacoby Jones and kicker Justin Tucker — will prove to be the difference in this one. After all, what’s wrong with adding another media-ready storyline to this game?

Prediction: Ravens 30, Patriots 28


NFC Championship Preview and Prediction: San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons

<p> AFC Championship Preview and Prediction: Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots</p>
Post date: Saturday, January 19, 2013 - 13:30
Path: /nfl/nfl-playoffs-picks-against-spread-nfc-afc-championship-games

A betting preview (against the spread) in the NFC and AFC Championship Games of the NFL Playoffs.

Lock of the Week
The great Colin Kaepernick takes his one-man band on the road to Atlanta this weekend, after passing for 263 yards, rushing for 181 yards and scoring four total TDs in San Fran during his playoff debut. The 49ers fell just short of a trip to the Super Bowl last season but they’ll be headed to New Orleans after winning this week.

49ers (-5) at Falcons
Matt Ryan is much better at home (34–6 career record, including playoffs) than he is on the road (23–19 record). But this season, he has struggled statistically at home, throwing 13 TDs and 11 INTs at the Georgia Dome compared to 21 TDs and five INTs on the road. The Niners defense will bring too much heat for Matty Ice to handle.

Backdoor Cover
Baltimore was shown no respect last week in Denver, entering the Divisional Round game as a 10-point underdog before pulling off a 38–35 double-overtime victory. Ray Lewis’ retirement tour may not shock the world this week, but it won’t go down without a fight — especially in a rematch of last year’s painful AFC title game loss.

Ravens (+10) at Patriots
Joe Flacco is 7–4 in the playoffs, with his four losses coming at New England (23–20), at Pittsburgh (31–24), at Indianapolis (20–3) and at Pittsburgh (23–14). In other words, Flacco is 10–1 as a 10-point underdog.

<p> NFL Playoffs Picks Against the Spread: NFC, AFC Championship Games, featuring the San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 18, 2013 - 12:19