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Having paid out a whopping $55 million in signing bonuses to quarterback Aaron Rodgers and outside linebacker Clay Matthews, the Green Bay Packers successfully locked up their two biggest stars. But they have also caused a segment of their passionate fan base to worry that with so much money tied to only two players, the salary-cap ramifications will be disastrous.

But while Rodgers (five years, $110 million) and Matthews (five years, $66 million) certainly didn’t come cheap, general manager Ted Thompson’s annual draft-and-develop youth movement, a salary cap that won’t be flat forever and the structure of each deal mean that the Packers will remain Super Bowl contenders as long as their $176 million men remain healthy. “I like where we’re at,” Rodgers says. “Obviously, there were some (fans concerned) about not doing a lot in free agency. (But) the Packer way (is) where you draft a guy in your system.”

For yet another offseason, Thompson avoided signing any outside unrestricted free agents, marshaling his resources to pay his stars and again relying on the draft to fill holes. And  there were still holes that needed to be filled.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 3rd

Related: 2013 Green Bay Packers Schedule Analysis

Offense
Coach Mike McCarthy loves to call his offense “quarterback driven,” but for the first time since Ryan Grant put together back-to-back 1,200-yard rushing seasons in 2008 and 2009, Rodgers might not have to be behind the wheel all the time. There’s no doubt that at age 29 he is on top of his game, even though he wasn’t as statistically dominant in 2012 as he was when he won the NFL MVP in 2011. He’s as good as it gets against the blitz, but the problem for the Packers’ offense last year was the steady diet of Cover-2 defenses it saw, as opponents had no reason to fear the running game.

That could finally change after the team drafted Alabama’s Eddie Lacy in the second round and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin in the fourth. In his previous eight drafts, Thompson had selected a total of four running backs, so this would indicate a shift in offensive philosophy. Perhaps McCarthy can do for Rodgers what Mike Sherman did for Brett Favre in the early 2000s, when Pro Bowl running back Ahman Green improved the QB’s quality of life. McCarthy says he made some “scheme adjustments” even before the draft, clearly hoping that a respectable running game will mean that Rodgers won’t see two deep safeties every time he drops back. The backfield depth took a hit during training camp when third-year pro DuJuan Harris injured his knee and was placed on injured reserve.

While the free agent defection of Greg Jennings and the retirement of Donald Driver erased two beloved names from the depth chart at receiver, Rodgers still has plenty of pass-catching talent around him. Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones still make for a pretty impressive 1-2-3 combination if all three can stay healthy. Cobb, in his second NFL season, led the Packers in receiving in 2012 with 80 catches for 954 yards and eight touchdowns in regular-season play; Jones set career highs in 2012 in receptions (64), yards (784) and touchdowns (an NFL-best 14); and when Nelson was healthy for a full 2011, he caught 68 passes for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. Nelson missed a significant amount of training camp after undergoing knee surgery in early August and it's possible he could miss the first week or two of the regular season. Unheralded Jarrett Boykin also caught the quarterback’s eye as the No. 6 receiver last year and could blossom. The team also paid starting tight end Jermichael Finley his $3 million roster bonus on March 26, meaning he’s back for his sixth season in Green Bay with an $8.25 million cap number — and even higher expectations.

The offensive line must improve. Not only did the unit allow Rodgers to be sacked 51 times last season, but the running game also ranked No. 20 in yards per game and No. 22 in yards per rush. At center, Evan Dietrich-Smith is under the microscope after assuming the starting job from now-retired Jeff Saturday late in the regular season. The line also took a big hit during training camp when starting left tackle Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL, ending his 2013 season before it even got started. Bulaga's loss puts even more pressure on fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari, who is penciled in as Bulaga's replacement as Rodgers' blindside protector.

Although Rodgers' durability is one of his greatest assets, the Packers did shuffle the deck somewhat behind him during training camp. In early August, Green Bay signed 2006 No. 3 overall pick Vince Young as a free agent. Young, who went to two Pro Bowls (2006, '09) as Tennessee's starter before getting released and signing with Philadelphia in 2011, then proceeded to beat out incumbent backup Graham Harrell, who was released on Aug. 25. Unfortunately, Young didn't do enough to secure one of the final roster spots, so for now, the Packers will go with last season's seventh-round pick B.J. Coleman as the only other quarterback on the roster.

Related: Green Bay Packers' Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013

Defense
On defense, the unit is trying to get past its epic season-ending embarrassment, as the San Francisco 49ers rolled up 579 yards — and Colin Kaepernick ran for more yards than any quarterback in a game in NFL history (181) — in a 45–31 NFC Divisional Playoff thrashing. The healing must start in the front seven. Even as good as Matthews is, there are still issues on the line. Defensive end Mike Neal’s emergence was encouraging — playing just 322 snaps as situational pass-rusher, he finished with 4.5 sacks — but he, like big-bodied inside guys Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji, is going into the final year of his contract. The addition of first-round pick Datone Jones should help tremendously, adding some much-needed speed.

Matthews’ new deal was not the only move at linebacker. A.J. Hawk agreed to a pay cut; Brad Jones re-upped for three years, $11.75 million; Robert Francois re-signed as a restricted free agent; and unrestricted free agent Erik Walden (Indianapolis) and untendered restricted free agent Frank Zombo (Kansas City) both departed. Fill-in starter D.J. Smith was jettisoned, too. Inside, there are plenty of players, but it’s debatable how many of them are good. Desmond Bishop, the team's leading tackler in 2011, was released during the summer as the Packers weren't pleased with his ongoing recovery from the serious hamstring injury that kept him out all of 2012. Jones is slated to replace Bishop as the other starting inside linebacker opposite Hawk. Outside, Matthews, 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry and under-the-radar second-year man Dezman Moses all generate pressure, but in a scheme predicated on outstanding play from that position, it seems thin.

In the secondary, gone is future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson, released in a cost-cutting move. Cornerback Tramon Williams, considered in 2010 to be one of the top-five cover men in the league, still isn’t the player he was before suffering nerve damage in his shoulder in 2011. Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt expects a four-way competition for the two starting jobs involving Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Davon House.

Specialists
Longtime kicker Mason Crosby got a case of the yips that may or may not be resolved. A year after going 24-of-28, he was a league-worst 21-of-33 (63.6 percent) on field goal attempts. In a close game, can he deliver? Meanwhile, Tim Masthay has quietly become one of the top punters in the NFL, but the return game is an issue, too. Given that Cobb emerged as the Packers’ top pass-catcher, has he become too valuable on offense to continue as the full-time return man? It’s a question McCarthy continues to wrestle with.

Final Analysis: 1st in NFC North
The Packers certainly “lost” the offseason, as NFC contenders San Francisco and Seattle did more to improve their teams on paper. But this is how the Thompson and McCarthy regime works. They’ll count on their own guys to either emerge out of nowhere or improve by leaps and bounds and count on their star veterans to keep delivering at the highest level. It’s not the sexiest approach, but the Packers are 53–27 in the regular season since Rodgers took over at quarterback, with a Super Bowl XLV title to show for it. As disappointing as back-to-back NFC Divisional Playoff losses have been, the Packers remain solid contenders in a stacked conference.

Order your 2013 Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHoustonDenver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen BayNew OrleansSan Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

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Green Bay Packers 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Thursday, August 29, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/north-carolina-tar-heels-vs-south-carolina-gamecocks-preview-and-prediction
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College football’s 2013 season kicks off with an ACC-SEC matchup between North Carolina and South Carolina. The Tar Heels were ineligible to play in the postseason last year but compiled an impressive 8-4 record in coach Larry Fedora’s first year. The Gamecocks went 11-2 in 2012, defeating Georgia and rival Clemson in impressive fashion.

Even though both teams are coming off a good season, the stakes are even higher in 2013. South Carolina’s schedule should allow it to be a factor in the national title conversation. North Carolina is one of the frontrunners to win the ACC’s Coastal Division and could improve on last year’s 8-4 mark.  

These two teams have played only once since 1992, with South Carolina winning 21-15 in 2007. The Tar Heels lost their last game against an SEC opponent, dropping a 30-24 contest to LSU in Atlanta in 2010.

Three Things to Watch

North Carolina’s offensive line
The Tar Heels had one of the ACC’s best offensive lines last season, allowing less than one sack per game and paving the way for running backs to average 5.1 yards per carry. However, three new starters will step into the lineup on Thursday night. Guard Jonathan Cooper was the biggest loss for North Carolina, but left tackle James Hurst is one of the ACC’s best linemen, and center Russell Bodine started all 12 games last year and was named to the Rimington watch list (nation’s best center) for 2013. Hurst and Bodine is a good place to start the rebuilding effort up front, but the rest of the line will be under pressure against South Carolina’s defensive line, which is arguably the best in college football with All-American Jadeveon Clowney leading the way off the edge. Guards Caleb Peterson (redshirt freshman) and Landon Turner (sophomore) have very little experience, and right tackle Jon Heck redshirted last year. North Carolina has good size in the trenches, but this is a huge test for a revamped line in the first game of the year.

Dylan Thompson or Connor Shaw?
South Carolina has two quarterbacks its feels comfortable with, and coach Steve Spurrier has hinted he plans on getting both on the field at the same time. Connor Shaw threw for 1,956 yards and 17 scores last season, while Dylan Thompson threw for 1,027 yards and 10 touchdowns. Shaw is the better runner, recording 435 yards and three scores on 131 attempts. Whether it’s Shaw or Thompson at quarterback, South Carolina has to find a couple of reliable receivers. Bruce Ellington is questionable to play with a hamstring injury, which means Damiere Byrd, Shaq Roland and Nick Jones needs to step up for the Gamecocks’ passing attack. There’s no question South Carolina can win with both quarterbacks. But it’s uncertain how this quarterback rotation or depth chart will play out in 2013. North Carolina’s defense struggled to stop the pass last year, and even if Ellington is sidelined, stopping Thompson and Shaw is a tough assignment.

Setting the tempo
One way for North Carolina to neutralize South Carolina’s advantage in the trenches is with tempo. The Tar Heels averaged 75 plays a game last season, which is 10 more than the Gamecocks averaged on offense in 2012. With another offseason to learn Fedora’s offense, North Carolina should pickup the tempo even more in 2013. And if the Tar Heels can keep South Carolina’s defense on the field, it should help to wear down some of the linemen, allowing Renner more time to throw in the pocket.

Key Player: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
South Carolina is deep and talented on the defensive line, but the linebacking corps will feature three new starters this year. Ebron’s ability to work the middle of the field to take advantage of the inexperienced defenders could be crucial in this matchup. The junior caught 40 passes for 625 yards and four scores last season, and the coaching staff wants him to be even more involved with the offense in 2013. Thursday night would be a good place for Ebron to deliver.

Final Analysis

If North Carolina can dictate the tempo and wear out South Carolina’s defense, then Fedora’s team will have a chance to win. However, the Gamecocks offense will present plenty of problems for the Tar Heels. Thompson and Shaw are capable of leading this offense on scoring drives, while running back Mike Davis is a rising star. Expect North Carolina to move the ball at times, but South Carolina’s defense will be too much in the end.

South Carolina 31, North Carolina 23

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Top 10 Games of Week 1

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North Carolina Tar Heels vs. South Carolina Gamecocks Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, August 29, 2013 - 09:32
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
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Week 1 of the college football season officially kicks off on Thursday night, headlined by an intriguing non-conference matchup between North Carolina and South Carolina, along with a key SEC contest in Nashville with Vanderbilt hosting Ole Miss. But that’s not all of the action this weekend. Clemson-Georgia, LSU-TCU and Virginia Tech-Alabama are just a few of the other big matchups for Week 1. The favorites can't win every game each week, so it's no surprise one of the most popular discussion points every Saturday is upset picks. Each week on AthlonSports.com, the editors will give an upset pick for the upcoming week of action.

College Football's Week 1 Upset Predictions

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): Boise State (+3.5) over Washington
Considering the low spread, it’s hard to call this one an upset. But I’m short on other choices, so Boise State is the pick. The Broncos beat Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl, and Chris Petersen’s team returns a good chunk of its core from last year. The offense should be better in quarterback Joe Southwick’s second season, and the defense returns five starters from a unit that ranked 12th nationally in fewest yards allowed. This matchup is a huge game for both teams. A win by Boise State will put it in the driver’s seat to make another run at an at-large spot in a BCS bowl. For Washington, this will be the first game in the newly renovated Husky Stadium, and with a challenging schedule, the contest is a must-win if the Huskies want to win more than seven games. Boise State’s secondary is a concern, but Washington’s offensive line may not give quarterback Keith Price enough time to throw for the passing attack to exploit an inexperienced pass defense. 

David Fox (@DavidFox615): Louisiana-Lafayette over Arkansas (-10.5)
A disclaimer: When we do these upset picks each week, I’m going to be bold. We’re supposed to pick any upset, but where’s the risk (and fun) in picking two-point underdog to win? I’m going to try to focus on upsets with a point spread of at least a touchdown. Go big or go home, right? That’s why I’ve picked Louisiana-Lafayette over Arkansas. The Razorbacks won’t be the mess they were early last season under John L. Smith, but they won’t be that good either. Junior quarterback Terrence Broadway finished last season on a hot streak and could cause similar problems ULM’s Kolton Browning did for Arkansas last season. No one would say the Sun Belt is gaining on any major conference, but the good Sun Belt teams are beating the bad SEC teams at a rate we haven’t seen before. This is one the Sun Belt can win.

Mark Ross: North Carolina (+11.5) over South Carolina
Yes, this game is in Columbia, the home team hails from the SEC, has the one-man wrecking crew named Jadeveon Clowney and a pretty stout defense over all. However, I'm a little more skeptical of the Gamecocks' offense whereas North Carolina's attack is all about tempo. Unless SC just completely shuts down the Tar Heels, NC's pace and the number of plays the offense runs alone could be enough to wear down, or at least slow down, Clowney and the rest of the pass rush. Granted, the Tar Heels will need most, if not all, of the breaks and bounces to go their way, especially on defense, but what's not to say the Gamecocks aren't looking ahead to next Saturday's game? It's probably the fan in me more than anything, but I'll take Renner and the Heels to steal one away from the home team.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
I will go bold with the Fightin' Ragin' Hudspeths to go into Fayetteville and win over the Arkansas Razorbacks. UL Lafayette is the frontrunner to win the Sun Belt and has a nice nucleus returning for 2013. The Hogs have proven they can be beaten at home by a small school from Louisiana, as Monroe did just that last year. If Arkansas is too excited about the start of the Bret Bielema era — or too distracted by @JenBielema twitter pictures — and not focused entirely on beating a very good Ragin' Cajuns team, they could start the new regime's era in very disappointing fashion.

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Top 10 Games of Week 1

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Post date: Thursday, August 29, 2013 - 09:27
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The showdown at the Georgia Dome Saturday night between Georgia and Clemson highlights the Week 1 action in the SEC. The only league game, Ole Miss at Vanderbilt, takes place Thursday night in Nashville. 

SEC Week 1 Game Power Rankings

1. Georgia (-2) at Clemson (8 ET, ABC)
The marquee matchup of Week 1 pits two teams with legitimate national title aspirations. Clemson is known for its explosive attack — and rightfully so — but Georgia was actually the more efficient offensive team last season. The Bulldogs led the nation in yards per play (7.09) and ranked second in passing efficiency. Clemson compiled more yards (512.7 ypg) than Georgia (467.6 ypg) because the Tigers ran about 15 more plays per game. Georgia’s defense has been singled out as a cause of concern due to heavy personnel losses, but we can’t forget that this was not a particularly good defense (by Georgia standards) last season. The Dawgs gave up 31 points or more four times and ranked sixth in the league in both total defense and scoring defense. The next wave of Bulldog defenders is ready to emerge, and Georgia — even without standout linebacker/safety Josh Harvey-Clemons in the lineup (suspended) — will field a more talented defense than Clemson. The Dawgs will give up some points — no team will shut down Tajh Boyd & Co. — but don’t assume the Georgia defense will be a weakness in Week 1. 

2. Ole Miss (-3) at Vanderbilt (Thursday, 9:15 ET, ESPN)
This is a crucial game for two up-and-coming programs that would like nothing more than to start the season with an SEC win in Week 1. Ole Miss dominated this series from the 1950s through the mid-2000s, but Vanderbilt has won six of the last eight (including three straight) against the Rebels. Last year, the Commodores rallied from 17 down in the second half to knock off Ole Miss 27–26 in Oxford despite giving up over 400 yards passing. This year, the teams appear to be evenly matched once again. The focus will be on both quarterbacks. Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace will be playing his first game since undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason. The reports have been positive, but we won’t know if Wallace, a native of Middle Tennessee, is completely healthy until he faces a live defense. Vanderbilt will turn to fifth-year senior Austyn Carta-Samuels, who started for two years at Wyoming before transferring to Vanderbilt. Both quarterbacks will be without their No. 2 receivers — Ole Miss’ Vince Sanders is injured; Vanderbilt’s Chris Boyd is suspended. Should be a great game in Nashville. 

3. LSU (-4) vs. TCU (Arlington, Texas) (9 ET, ESPN)
Two offseason developments reduced TCU’s chance of knocking off LSU Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium. First, Devonte Fields, the Horned Frogs’ All-America defensive end, was suspended for the first two games for a “violation of university and team policy.” Then, just a few weeks ago, starting linebacker Joel Hasley decided to quit football. The Frogs will still be stout on defense — when aren’t they? — but few teams can afford to be without two of their top players. LSU will be playing its first game under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who is hoping to diversify the Tigers’ attack, which has leaned heavily on the run in recent years. Zach Mettenberger had his moments last year (298 yards vs. Alabama), but the former Georgia Bulldog was a bit of a disappointment in his first season as the starter at LSU. A solid game from Mettenberger against TCU would be a great sign for the Tigers. 

4. Alabama (-19.5) vs. Virginia Tech (Atlanta) (5:30 ET, ESPN)
Virginia Tech has been hit hard by injuries in preseason camp — not a good sign when Alabama, the defending national champs and the preseason No. 1 team, is on the schedule in Week 1. Virginia Tech shook up its offensive staff in the offseason after the ’12 Hokies scored 17 points or less in four of their final six games. Scott Loeffler, who spent last season at Auburn, is now calling the plays in Blacksburg. He has a talented quarterback (Logan Thomas) at his disposal but few other proven playmakers. The projected starting running back, J.C. Coleman, isn’t expected to play against Alabama due to injury, and none of the wide receivers on the roster caught more than 20 passes last year. Oh, and have we mentioned the offensive line is banged up? This is a tough spot for Frank Beamer’s club. An upset is highly unlikely. 

5. North Carolina (+11.5) at South Carolina (6 ET, ESPN)
South Carolina opens the season in a familiar spot — on national television on Thursday night. Last year, the Gamecocks escaped Nashville with a 17–13 Week 1 win at Vanderbilt. This year, the opener figures to be a bit less stressful. North Carolina is a solid team, but this looks to be a bad matchup for the Tar Heels. North Carolina’s biggest area of concern is on the offensive line, and the Heels will have three new starters making their debut against one of the top defensive fronts in the nation. Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles & Co. could make life very difficult for quarterback Bryn Renner. Defensively, North Carolina is replacing its top two players (linebacker Kevin Reddick and tackle Sylvester Williams) from a unit that gave up 33 points or more in six games. The secondary, despite the return of four players who started at least eight games last season, is a big concern.

6. Mississippi State (+12.5) vs. Oklahoma State (Houston) (3:30 ET, ABC/ESPN2)
Oklahoma State is the pick by many (including Athlon Sports) to win the Big 12 title, but very few expect the Cowboys to be a factor in the national title race. The offense will have a new play-caller as Mike Yurcich takes over for Todd Monken (now the coach at Southern Miss), but it will be a surprise if the Pokes aren’t among the national leaders in total yards. Quarterbacks Clint Shelf and J.W. Walsh will be throwing to an elite crop of wide receivers that is led by junior Josh Stewart. This looks to be a favorable matchup on both sides of the ball for Oklahoma State. The Pokes will look to attack a Mississippi State defense that will feature two new starters at cornerback. And on the other side of the ball, the strength of the Oklahoma State defense is the interior of the line. This could present some problems for Mississippi State tailback LaDarius Perkins and force quarterback Tyler Russell to throw the ball to a receiving corps that has some talent but is largely untested. 

7. Western Kentucky (+4.5) vs. Kentucky (Nashville) (7 ET, ESPNews)
Perhaps the lowest point of Kentucky’s 2012 season came in Week 3 when the Wildcats lost 32–31 at home in overtime to Western Kentucky. Now energized by a new coaching staff, UK will be seeking revenge when these two in-state rivals get together in Nashville. The key for Kentucky will be to slow down tailback Antonio Andrews, who rumbled for 125 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries in the Toppers’ win in Lexington last season. Bobby Petrino is known for his passing attacks, but he realizes that with a new quarterback (junior Brandon Doughty), his best bet is to lean heavily on Andrews and the ground game.

8. Washington State (+16) at Auburn (7 ET, ESPNU)
One of the more underrated storylines of the 2013 season is the quarterback situation at Auburn. Gus Malzahn has tabbed Nick Marshall, a former defensive back at Georgia who threw 20 interceptions in junior college last season, as the starter. Marshall is an incredible athlete, but at some point he will have to prove he can consistently throw the ball down the field. Washington State is in Year 2 of the Mike Leach era. The Cougs figure to be better — most notably on the offensive line — but Auburn has the decided talent advantage.

9. UL Lafayette (+10.5) at Arkansas (4 ET, Fox Sports Net)
Bret Bielema’s first game as the boss in Fayetteville will not be easy. UL Lafayette returns seven starters from an offense that averaged more than 450 yards and 35 points last season. Quarterback Terrance Broadway, in only nine starts, set single-season school records for total offense (3,616 yards) and completion percentage (65.4). This offense will move the ball. Arkansas will counter with an attack that will feature heavy doses of tailback Jonathan Williams. A former 4-star recruit from Texas, Williams hasn’t received a ton of pub in the preseason, but the sophomore will be the feature back on a Bielema-coached offense. Translation: He will run for well over 1,000 yards.

10. Toledo (+23.5) at Florida (12:21 ET, SEC Network)
The Gators opened the 2012 season at home against a team from the MAC, and it turned out to be quite a struggle. Florida and Bowling Green were tied 14–14 midway through the third quarter before the Gators pulled away late for the 27–14 win. Toledo stacks up favorably to last year’s Bowling Green team. The Rockets are far more potent on offense but won’t present too much resistance defensively. Only two starters return from a Toledo defense that gave up 473.2 yards per game last season. It will be a significant cause for concern if the Florida offense has trouble scoring points on Saturday.

11. Rice (+27.5) at Texas A&M (1 ET, ESPN)
Johnny Manziel will miss the first half of the season-opener, becoming the first returning Heisman winner to be suspended at any point in the following season (according to Chris Huston, the Heisman Pundit). Manziel will return to the lineup in the second half, and by that point his Aggies should be in complete control.

12. Murray State at Missouri (7 ET, PPV)
Missouri should barely break a sweat against a Murray State team that lost at Florida State 69–3 in the 2012 opener. This game will mark the return of tailback Henry Josey, who hasn’t played since suffering a devastating knee injury in November 2011. At the time of his injury, Josey ranked fifth in the nation in rushing with 127.7 yards per game. He could be a pivotal player for a much-improved Mizzou offense.

13. Austin Peay at Tennessee (6 ET, PPV)
The Butch Jones era begins with a tune-up against one of the worst FCS programs in the nation. Austin Peay went 2–9 in 2012 (one of the wins came against Culver-Stockton) and ranked 107th in the nation in total offense. Don’t put much stock into anything you might see in this box score.

5 Pivotal Players for Week 1

Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina
The former 4-star recruit steps into the role as the No. 1 back at South Carolina — a position held by Marcus Lattimore (when healthy) the past three years. Davis, a 5-9, 215-pound sophomore, ran for 275 yards on 52 carries last season as a true freshman. South Carolina has been known as a run-first team in recent years, but the Gamecocks ranked last in the SEC in 2012 by averaging only 3.67 yards per carry (a stat that was not helped by the team’s 260 yards lost due to sacks). Davis’ emergence as an All-SEC-caliber back would be a nice boost to the South Carolina offense.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Murray has won a bunch of games and thrown for a ton of yards during three years as the starter at Georgia, but despite leading his team to two straight SEC title games, the senior quarterback has been — at times — underwhelming on the big stage. Georgia is 2–7 vs. ranked opponents during the Murray era — a stat he is well aware of. “I gotta win the big games,” Murray told the Macon Telegraph. “I’ve gotta step it up and play better when it comes to big-time games. I know that. And that’s something I’m looking forward to this year, is taking that next step and taking on those bigger teams.” He will have an opportunity to “step it up” this weekend when the Bulldogs head to Clemson.

Jonathan Krause, WR, Vanderbilt
Krause put up some decent numbers (24 receptions for 243 yards) as a true freshman in 2009 on a bad Vanderbilt offense. In the past two seasons, however, he combined to catch only 34 passes for 240 yards. He has been a nice weapon as a punt returner but a non-factor in the passing game. Now, however, with Chris Boyd out (suspended), Krause will have an opportunity to shine as the Commodores’ No. 2 receiver.

Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Ole Miss
The nation’s consensus No. 1 incoming freshman, Nkemdiche played his way into the starting lineup during preseason camp. The 6-5, 294-pound defensive end will be on a national stage Thursday night against a Vanderbilt offensive line that features one of the more underrated tackles in the nation, senior Wesley Johnson. The Ole Miss staff will no doubt try to create some mismatches and give Nkemdiche a chance to make plays in his first college game.

Mississippi State’s cornerbacks
The Bulldogs must replace one of the top cornerback tandems in the nation, Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun are the new starters, and they won’t have time to ease into their new roles. Oklahoma State, the Week 1 opponent, has ranked in the top 10 in the nation in passing offense in each of the last three seasons, and the 2013 Pokes feature an elite corps of wide receivers. The Mississippi State secondary will have to play well to give the Bulldogs a chance to win this game.

Athlon Week 1 SEC Predictions

 

David FoxBraden GallSteven LassanMitch Light

N. Carolina (+11.5) at S. Carolina 

S. Carolina 24-14

S. Carolina 28-13

S. Carolina 31-23

S. Carolina 28-14

Ole Miss (-3) at Vanderbilt

Ole Miss 28-21

Vanderbilt 31-24

Vanderbilt 24-20

Vanderbilt 30-27

Toledo (+23.5) at Florida 

Florida 28-17

Florida 31-13

Florida 34-20Florida 37-20

Rice (+27.5) at Texas A&M 

Texas A&M 48-10

Texas A&M 61-13

Texas A&M 48-10Texas A&M 51-7

Miss. State (+12.5) vs. O-State 

Okla. St 31-21

Okla. St 30-21

Okla. St 34-24Okla. St 38-24

UL Lafayette (+10.5) at Arkansas 

UL Lafayette 24-21

Arkansas 31-28

Arkansas 31-27Arkansas 34-30

Alabama (-19.5) vs. Va. Tech

Alabama 41-14

Alabama 41-14

Alabama 34-13Alabama 34-14

Austin Peay at Tennessee 

Tennessee 35-7

Tennessee 34-13

Tennessee 59-7Tennessee 47-0

W. Kentucky (+4.5) vs. Kentucky 

WKY 35-17

WKY 21-20

Kentucky 27-24Kentucky 23-13

Washington St (+16) at Auburn

Auburn 24-14

Auburn 35-20

Auburn 38-20Auburn 30-13

Murray State at Missouri 

Missouri 35-10

Missouri 38-10

Missouri 48-14Missouri 41-10

Georgia (-2) at Clemson 

Clemson 38-35

Georgia 34-31

Georgia 38-34Geeorgia 34-27

LSU (-4) vs. TCU (Arlington)

LSU 21-14

LSU 27-17

LSU 27-20

LSU 24-10

 

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Georgia's trip to Death Valley Highlights Weekend Slate
Post date: Thursday, August 29, 2013 - 07:15
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The painfully long offseason is in the past and football is here.

The Big Ten will begin in familiar fashion as most of its conference contenders — Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska — should have little problem dispatching much-lesser opponents. However, Northwestern and Penn State expect to win more than they lose this fall and both will begin with difficult games away from home.

Elsewhere, Jerry Kill and Kevin Wilson look to continue developing their programs as Year No. 3 begins at Minnesota and Indiana respectively while a new head coach at Purdue is just beginning that very same process.

Finally, two embattled coaches at Iowa and Illinois start what could be make-or-break seasons with must-win games in Week 1. Let the madness begin.

Big Ten Week 1 Game Power Rankings:

1. Northwestern (-5.5) at Cal (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Pat Fitzgerald knows a Legends Division title and subsequent Big Ten title is next on his to-do list and a win on the road against a Pac-12 team would be a bold first statement. Both teams are stacked with explosive offensive playmakers and this game should be one of the more entertaining affairs nationally this weekend. But to suggest that this is anything but a coin flip would be overlooking what should be a much-improved Golden Bears squad.

2. Syracuse (+8.5) vs. Penn State (3:30 p.m., ABC, East Rutherford)
Bill O’Brien gets his second season underway with an intriguing BCS conference test at a neutral site. Neither team has announced who will start at quarterback publicly but odds are uber-recruit Christian Hackenberg won’t be on the Nittany Lions' bench very long. He is a special player who needs to gain experience quickly on a team with a veteran offensive supporting cast and consistently high aspirations.

3. Central Michigan (+31) at Michigan (3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Devin Gardner has spent the entire offseason as the starter and now it is his time to shine. The Chips should provide little push-back against the Wolverines so look for Brady Hoke to establish a ground game in an effort to get an extended look at his running back stable. The youthful and emerging defensive front needs to take advantage of the rebuilt CMU offensive line.

4. Buffalo (+34.5) at Ohio State (Noon, ESPN2)
Much like Michigan, Urban Meyer expects to get a long look at his talented underclassmen in this one-sided opener. The defensive line is breaking in four new starters and Braxton Miller needs names to step up around him on offense. One highly touted true freshman to watch in what should be an easy win for OSU will be all-purpose dynamo Dontre Wilson.

5. Purdue (+10.5) at Cincinnati (Noon, ESPNU)
Not too many Big Ten teams begin the year as a double-digit underdog to an American Athletic Conference team with a new head coach. However, that is exactly what first-year head coach Darrell Hazell is facing in his B1G debut this weekend. Rob Henry will start at quarterback but it will have to be a complete team effort to upset the Bearcats on the road in just the second-ever meeting between the two programs.

6. Northern Illinois (+3) at Iowa (3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Kirk Ferentz enters a critical year with his hands full in Week 1. The defending MAC champs and Orange Bowl participants will come to town unfazed by the bright lights of Kinnick Stadium led by superstar dual-threat quarterback Jordan Lynch. Iowa is 8-0 all-time against the Huskies but barely held off NIU last year 18-17 in Soldier Field.

7. UNLV (+14) at Minnesota (Thurs., 7 p.m., Big Ten Network)
The Gophers' opener marks the first time in the five-year history of TCF Bank Stadium that Minnesota will begin the year at home. UNLV won just two games last year and will be facing an uphill battle against a Minnesota team that is very young but more talented than perceived.

8. Indiana State (+24) at Indiana (Thurs., 7 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Kevin Wilson begins his third year at the helm in Bloomington with a bowl bid in his sights. Therefore, every win is critical, especially against an in-state rival in which his team is favored by more than three touchdowns. Indiana will welcome back potential star quarterback Tre Roberson, who will rotate with Cam Coffman and Nate Sudfeld in Week 1.

9. Wyoming (+29) at Nebraska (8 p.m., Big Ten Network)
The No. 1 offense in the Big Ten has its sights set on a return trip to the Big Ten championship game. However, it will likely be the defense that will determine if the Huskers have what it takes to win the Legends Division. Wyoming’s talented dual-threat quarterback Brett Smith led the Mountain West in passing efficiency last year and will be a sneaky good test for a developing Black Shirts defense.

10. Western Michigan (+27.5) at Michigan State (Fri., 8 p.m., Big Ten Network)
The Spartans will look extremely familiar on Friday night as the punishing, physical defense won’t be pressed by this middling MAC offense. However, all eyes will be on what could be tentative quarterback play and an inexperienced set of skill players. Mark Dantonio could use upwards of four different quarterbacks. Watch for talented true freshman Damion Terry.

11. UMass (+44.5) at Wisconsin (Noon, Big Ten Network)
The Gary Andersen Era in Madison should get underway with minimal fanfare. The students will be slow to enter Camp Randall as the Badgers should face little resistance from the Minutemen. Both Joel Stave, the tall statuesque passer, and Curt Phillips, the resilient and athletic, yet oft-injured, dual-threat, are listed as co-starters and both will see plenty of snaps.

12. Southern Illinois (+17) at Illinois (Noon, Big Ten Network)
In just one season Tim Beckman has found himself squarely on the hot seat. Illinois was 119th in total and scoring offense a year ago and won’t improve on its 2-10 record if that side of the ball doesn’t improve. Nathan Scheelhaase is still under center and is charged with reigniting the Illini attack. The Salukis may offer one of only a few chances for victory in 2013.

Big Ten Week 1 Pivotal Players:

1. Northwestern’s secondary
Nick VanHoose and company are extremely talented and have plenty of experience but these Wildcats will have their hands full with Cal’s offensive skill players. Running back Brandon Bigelow and wide receivers Bryce Treggs, Kenny Lawler and Chris Harper are difficult matchups and are impossible to tackle one-on-one. This group must be steady in the open field against the Bears' playmakers.

2. Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State
With Penn State losing leadership and production from the front seven in the form of Mike Mauti and Gerald Hodges, it will fall to the reigning Big Ten Defensive Freshman of the Year to pressure whoever is under center for Syracuse. The secondary should be able to contain the vertical passing game, so it is up to Barnes to control the line of scrimmage.

3. Iowa's linebackers
One of the best games-within-the-game to watch this weekend will be Iowa's Butkus candidates James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey against Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch. He completed just 6-of-16 passes for 54 yards in last year’s one-point loss to Iowa but rushed for 119 yards and a TD on the ground. Lynch will put enormous pressure on the Hawkeyes' loaded linebacking corps — and it should be fun to watch.

4. Ryan Russell, DE, Purdue
The only way the Boilermakers can pull off the upset against Cincinnati is if the front line holds its own against a team that led the Big East in rushing last year. Russell and fellow D-liner Bruce Gaston must pick up where Kawann Short left off if Purdue expects to win this weekend.

5. Philip Nelson, QB, Minnesota
The Gophers should win their opener against the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV. But more importantly is how Nelson plays. He could be the difference between a second straight bowl game or yet another losing season in the Twin Cities. The local product needs to get off to a hot start.

Big Ten Week 1 Prediction Grid:

GameBraden GallMitch LightSteven LassanDavid Fox
Northwestern (-5.5) at CalN'western, 31-21 N'western, 27-24N'western, 34-24N'western, 28-17
Syracuse (+8.5) vs. Penn StPenn St, 24-17Penn St, 20-10Penn St, 24-17Penn St, 17-7
Purdue (+10.5) at CincinnatiCincinnati, 31-21Cincinnati, 21-14Cincinnati, 27-24Cincinnati, 27-17
C. Michigan (+31) at MichiganMichigan, 41-13Michigan, 42-14Michigan, 41-17Michigan, 42-10
Buffalo (+34.5) at Ohio StOhio St, 38-10Ohio St, 31-0Ohio St, 48-20Ohio St, 49-13
N. Illinois (+3) at IowaIowa, 20-17Iowa, 29-24Iowa, 27-24N. Illinois, 21-14
UNLV (+14) at MinnesotaMinnesota, 31-14Minnesota, 31-14Minnesota, 31-17Minnesota, 28-10
Indiana State (+24) at IndianaIndiana, 41-10Indiana, 31-7Indiana, 41-17Indiana, 35-21
Wyoming (+29) at NebraskaNebraska, 49-13Nebraska, 42-14Nebraska, 45-20Nebraska, 42-17
W. Michigan (+27.5) at Michigan StMich. St, 27-7Mich. St, 27-13Mich. St, 30-13Mich. St, 21-10
UMass (+44.5) at WisconsinWisconsin, 44-10Wisconsin, 47-0Wisconsin, 45-7Wisconsin, 35-7
Southern Illinois (+17) at IllinoisIllinois, 27-13Illinois, 23-10Illinois, 34-17Illinois, 27-14
Year-to-date:0-00-00-00-0

 

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Big Ten Week 1 Preview and Predictions
Post date: Thursday, August 29, 2013 - 07:15
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Most of the ACC should have an easy Week 1 victory, but there are a few marquee matchups that will play a role in the national and conference title picture.

The showdown between Georgia and Clemson is easily one of the best games of the opening weekend. Both teams should have no trouble moving the ball on suspect defenses. The Bulldogs came up just a few yards short of playing for the national championship last year, and if the Tigers want to remain in the hunt for the 2013 BCS title, they need to beat Georgia. And this matchup, along with North Carolina-South Carolina is a chance for the ACC to gain conference bragging rights and respect.

The only conference game in the ACC takes place in Pittsburgh. Florida State travels to the Steel City to welcome the Panthers to the ACC on Labor Day. This game also features the much anticipated debut of quarterback Jameis Winston, while the Panthers will turn to former Rutgers’ passer Tom Savage to start under center.

More Week 1 Previews: Big 12 Big Ten Pac-12 SEC

ACC Week 1 Game Power Rankings

1. Georgia (-2) at Clemson (8 ET, ABC)
It’s only Week 1, but the Georgia-Clemson matchup should factor prominently into the national title picture. Georgia has one of the toughest two-game stretches of any FBS team to start the year, so the Bulldogs can’t afford to get off to a slow start. Clemson should be favored in all of its ACC games in 2013, with its two matchups against SEC opponents – Georgia and South Carolina – the toughest ones on the schedule. There should be plenty of fireworks on Saturday night in Death Valley, as both teams averaged over 35 points a game last year. Clemson will miss running back Andre Ellington and receiver DeAndre Hopkins, but quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins is still one of the best duos in the nation. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray needs five touchdown passes to reach 100 in his career, and the senior has the best backfield in the nation at his disposal with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. There’s no question both teams should score plenty of points. But which can make stops on defense? Georgia is returns only three starters on defense and has been dealing with a few injuries in its secondary this fall. Clemson is in better shape in terms of returning personnel on defense, but the Tigers’ secondary is also an issue. And that's a big concern against Murray and the Bulldogs’ receiving corps.

2. Florida State (-10.5) at Pittsburgh (Monday, 8 ET, ESPN)
The Steel City is home to the only conference game between ACC opponents this week. Pittsburgh makes its ACC debut against Florida State – a team it has not played since 1983. While the Panthers’ introduction to the ACC is a huge storyline, this game features the debut of quarterback Jameis Winston for the Seminoles. Winston was the No. 1 quarterback in the 2012 signing class by Athlon Sports and was impressive throughout the offseason. Winston redshirted last year, so his first snap of college experience will come on the road. Although Winston has enormous upside, he is surrounded by a strong supporting cast, which should allow coach Jimbo Fisher to ease him into the game. The Seminoles have a new defensive coordinator (Jeremy Pruitt) and will shift to more 3-4 looks for this game. Even with a rebuilt defense and scheme, Pittsburgh could have trouble moving the ball on Florida State. Quarterback Tom Savage hasn’t played in a game since 2010, and running back Isaac Bennett has been dealing with injuries in fall camp. The Panthers return eight starters on defense, and this unit needs to force a few turnovers to help its offense on Monday night.

3. North Carolina (+12.5) at South Carolina (Thursday, 6 ET, ESPN)
In a bit of a surprise, these two schools have played only once since 1992. South Carolina won the last meeting 21-15 in Chapel Hill. This year, the stakes are much higher. The Gamecocks are considered one of the top threats to win the national title, while North Carolina is positioned to make a run at the ACC Championship. South Carolina’s strength is on defense, where end Jadeveon Clowney is a legitimate top-five Heisman candidate this year. Stopping Clowney is a tough obstacle for the Tar Heels, especially on an offensive line that loses guard Jonathan Cooper and two other starters. But left tackle James Hurst is one of the ACC’s best, and he will be tasked with protecting the blindside of quarterback Bryn Renner. North Carolina likes to go fast on offense, and its tempo could help slow down the South Carolina pass rush. Even if the Tar Heels move the ball on offense, their defense will have its hands full on Thursday night. The Gamecocks have two quarterbacks that could start, and running back Mike Davis is a rising star. North Carolina’s offense should have success, but its defense may not be able to stop South Carolina.

4. Alabama (-20) vs. Virginia Tech (Atlanta) (5:30 ET, ESPN)
In terms of name value, this game has plenty of appeal. However, this matchup is shaping up to be a huge mismatch. Alabama begins its national title defense with 14 returning starters, including quarterback AJ McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley. Virginia Tech stumbled to a 7-6 mark last year, and the Hokies have several question marks entering this contest. The offensive line struggled throughout fall camp, and a true freshman (Jonathan McLaughlin) is slated to start at left tackle. But the Hokies’ problems extend to the rushing attack and receivers, and quarterback Logan Thomas is still trying to get comfortable in new coordinator Scot Loeffler’s offense. Mobile quarterbacks have given Alabama trouble in recent years, so Thomas will have to take advantage of his legs when things break down in the pocket. Virginia Tech’s defense is its best chance at winning this game. The Hokies have one of the best defenses in the nation and will be going up against a Crimson Tide offensive line with three new starters. Expect McCarron and receivers Amari Cooper and Chris Black to test a secondary with two talented freshmen expected to see major snaps (Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson).

5. Penn State (-8) vs. Syracuse (East Rutherford, N.J.) (3:30 ET, ABC)
The Nittany Lions and Orange have recently rekindled a rivalry that was played nearly every season from 1922-90. After a hiatus from 1990-2007, Penn State claimed victories in 2008 and 2009 over Syracuse. Both teams enter this matchup in transition, as the Orange will be entering the ACC this season and are under the direction of a new coach (Scott Shafer). The Nittany Lions lose a few key leaders from last year’s team, and coach Bill O’Brien has yet to name a quarterback. Junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson or highly touted true freshman Christian Hackenberg will start on Saturday. And whichever quarterback wins the job will be surrounded by a solid supporting cast, including All-Big Ten receiver Allen Robinson and three starters on the line. Syracuse also has a quarterback question mark, with Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen and sophomore Terrel Hunt vying for time. The Orange’s rushing attack – led by junior Jerome Smith – will test a Penn State defensive line that is thin on depth and returns just three starters in its front seven. With two new starting quarterbacks, a low-scoring game wouldn’t be a surprise.

6. BYU (-1) at Virginia (3:30 ET, ESPNU)
One of the opening week’s most-intriguing non-conference affairs takes place in Charlottesville. The Cougars have a challenging schedule ahead in their third season of Independence, while Virginia has its sights set on a rebound after going 4-8 last year. The strength of both teams is clearly on defense. BYU returns All-American linebacker Kyle Van Noy and three other starters on defense from a unit that allowed only 14 points a game in 2012. The Cavaliers return seven starters on a defense that ranked fourth in the ACC in yards allowed. Points could be at a premium on Saturday, and both offenses can’t afford the ill-timed turnover. David Watford topped Greyson Lambert for the Cavaliers’ starting quarterback spot, and the sophomore’s mobility will present a challenge for BYU’s defense. New Cougars’ quarterback Taysom Hill played in six games last year before a knee injury sidelined him for the rest of 2012. Both teams have good skill players, so whichever quarterback plays the best game will be the difference in this too close to call matchup.

7. Louisiana Tech (+14) at NC State (12:30 ET, ACC Network)
The Bulldogs and Wolfpack share plenty of similarities going into this game. Both programs have a new coach (Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech and Dave Doeren, NC State). And both teams have a new starting quarterback that transferred from a BCS conference. Doeren has been coy with his quarterback choice, but Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell is expected to start this Saturday. The Bulldogs will turn to former Texas Tech passer Scotty Young. This is a dangerous spot for NC State, especially with a new quarterback and schemes on both sides of the ball. Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon (1,194 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2012) will test a Wolfpack run defense that allowed 154.8 yards per game last year. Louisiana Tech has only five returning starters, so this is a drastically different team than the one that went 9-3 last year.

8. Villanova (+16.5) at Boston College (12 ET, ESPN3)
The Eagles open the Steve Addazio era with a dangerous FCS opponent. The Wildcats ranked No. 9 in the first FCS poll for 2013 and return quarterback John Robertson (2,986 total yards and 28 scores last year). These two teams have not met since 1980, with Boston College holding a 29-15-1 series edge. The Eagles return plenty of experience with 16 returning starters, and quarterback Chase Rettig and receiver Alex Amidon should be one of the top pass-catch combinations in the ACC. Addazio wants the Eagles to establish the run more in 2013, and senior running back Andre Williams will test a Villanova defense that allowed 156.2 yards per game last year. Don Brown comes to Boston College after coordinating one of the nation’s top defenses at Connecticut. The Eagles should be more aggressive on defense in 2013 and will make for an intriguing matchup against Villanova’s offense. 

9. FAU (+32) at Miami (Friday 8 ET, ESPNU)
Less than 50 miles separate these two campuses, but this will be the first matchup between Miami and FAU. Although they have never played before, the Hurricanes and Owls have some history. Legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger played a key role in developing both programs, and this is the first meeting in a three-game series. The Hurricanes are still under a cloud of NCAA uncertainty, but the talent is in place to finally win the ACC Coastal. FAU has plenty of question marks surrounding its team entering the second year under coach Carl Pelini. The Owls won two out of their last five games and return 13 starters. However, replacing quarterback Graham Wilbert has been a chore for the coaching staff this offseason, and three quarterbacks could play on Friday night. Junior college transfer JaQuez Johnson is expected to start, but freshmen Greg Hankerson and D.J. Juste could play. The Hurricanes shouldn’t have to sweat too much in this one, and the Owls’ defense will be a good opportunity for quarterback Stephen Morris to get acclimated to new coordinator James Coley.

10. FIU (+22) at Maryland (12:30 ET, FSN)
After a season filled with quarterback injuries, the Terrapins are hoping for better luck in the injury department in 2013. C.J. Brown will assume the No. 1 role after missing all of last year with a torn ACL, and the senior will be throwing to one of the nation’s top receivers in Stefon Diggs. Maryland’s defense ranked third in the ACC in yards allowed  in 2012, but only four starters return this season. While the defense will be a work in progress in 2013, FIU’s offense shouldn’t provide much of a test for the Terrapins. New FIU coach Ron Turner does have a solid quarterback to work with (Jake Medlock), but running back Kedrick Rhodes was dismissed from the team this offseason. The Panthers also return only two starters on defense. Maryland had a close call against William & Mary in last year’s opener, but Randy Edsall’s team shouldn’t struggle to beat FIU.

11. Elon (+46) at Georgia Tech (12 ET, ESPN3)
The Yellow Jackets have a light start to the 2013 season. Paul Johnson’s team hosts an Elon team coming off a 3-8 record last year and then has a bye week next Saturday. The Phoenix are led by former NC State assistant Jason Swepson and are 0-5 in previous matchups against FBS opponents. Elon’s rush defense allowed 229.6 yards per game last season and will have a difficult assignment trying to slow down Georgia Tech’s option attack. Quarterback Vad Lee will make his first start for the Yellow Jackets, and the sophomore is in for a breakout year after rushing for 544 yards and nine scores in a backup role last year. With Elon breaking in a new starting quarterback and struggling to stop the run on defense, Georgia Tech should have no trouble putting away the Phoenix early on Saturday.

12. North Carolina Central (+33) at Duke (3 ET, ESPN3)
The Blue Devils enter 2013 with momentum on their side. Duke is coming off its first bowl appearance since 1994, and the program is positioned to close the gap on the rest of the ACC. The Blue Devils open with a FCS opponent for the fifth time in six seasons. Quarterback Anthony Boone performed well in limited action last year, throwing for 212 yards and four touchdowns in a win against Virginia. The junior will make his second career start against North Carolina Central on Saturday night, a team Duke defeated 54-17 in 2012. The Eagles are coming off their first winning season (6-5) since 2007 but return only eight starters. North Carolina Central is also dealing with some offseason controversy, as Henry Frazier was fired in late August after an arrest for violating a domestic violence protective order. Duke should be able to have this one in control by halftime.

13. Presbyterian (+38) at Wake Forest (Thursday, 6:30 ET, ESPN3)
Injuries and youth played a role in the Demon Deacons’ struggles last year, so there’s plenty of optimism in Winston-Salem about returning to a bowl game in 2013. Wake Forest has 15 returning starters, and the offense received good news in the offseason when running back Josh Harris won an appeal to play his senior year. Presbyterian is one of the nation’s smallest colleges with an enrollment of 1,200, and the Blue Hose are just 8-36 over their last four years. It’s tough for Wake Forest to glean much from this game, especially after Presbyterian allowed 502.5 yards per game last season. However, the Demon Deacons are hoping to see progress from their offensive line after allowing 2.3 sacks a game in 2012. With an ACC game next week against Boston College, this should be a good tune-up for Wake Forest.

ACC Week 1 Pivotal Players

Clemson’s secondary
The Tigers’ depth chart didn’t give much clarity to the cornerback situation for the opener against Georgia. Both cornerback spots had a designed or between two players. Juniors Garry Peters, Bashaud Breeland and Martin Jenkins, along with senior Darius Robinson will be under fire on Saturday night. Georgia’s offense is led by senior quarterback Aaron Murray, and receiver Malcolm Mitchell is one of the best in the SEC. The Tigers gave up 240.3 yards per game through the air last year, and the secondary is one of the team’s biggest concerns for the opener.

Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
In order for the Tar Heels to hang around on Thursday night, Ebron needs to have a big game. As a sophomore last year, he grabbed 40 receptions for 625 yards and four touchdowns. Ebron will be matched up against a South Carolina defense that has three new starters at linebacker. Considering quarterback Bryn Renner will be under pressure from the Gamecocks’ defensive line, Ebron is a nice safety valve to have in the middle of the field. 

Jonathan McLaughlin, OT, Virginia Tech
A true freshman starting at left tackle is never a good feeling for any head coach. But that task is an even bigger nightmare when Alabama is the Week 1 opponent. McLaughlin won the starting left tackle job this fall and is tasked with protecting the blindside of quarterback Logan Thomas. Expect the Crimson Tide to use plenty of different looks to confuse McLaughlin on Saturday night.

Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse
Regardless of whether it’s Drew Allen or Terrel Hunt at quarterback on Saturday, Syracuse should plan on a heavy dose of Smith. The junior rushed for 1,171 yards and three scores last season and will test a Penn State defensive line that is thin on proven depth. If Smith can keep the chains moving, he will take some of the pressure off of Syracuse’s inexperienced quarterbacks.

David Watford, QB, Virginia
There’s not much separating Virginia and BYU this Saturday, but both teams have some uncertainty at quarterback. Watford redshirted after throwing for 346 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman in 2011. BYU ranked third nationally in total defense last season and should be solid up front once again in 2013. However, the secondary has been hit hard by injuries and could be vulnerable to the Cavaliers’ passing attack.
 

ACC Week 1 Predictions

GameDavid FoxBraden GallSteven LassanMitch Light
UNC (+12) at South CarolinaSo. Carolina 24-14So. Carolina 28-13So. Carolina 31-23So. Carolina 28-15
Presbyterian (+38) at Wake ForestWake Forest 42-7Wake Forest 34-7Wake Forest 45-7Wake Forest 40-10
FAU (+32.5) at MiamiMiami 49-10Miami 41-17Miami 45-13Miami 43-10
Villanova (+16.5) at Boston CollegeBC 34-10BC 20-7BC 27-13BC 31-10
Elon (+46) at Georgia TechGa. Tech 52-10Ga. Tech 51-10Ga. Tech 51-10Ga. Tech 53-12
La. Tech (+14) at NC StateNC State 28-10NC State 30-17NC State 34-20NC State 31-14
FIU (+22) at MarylandMaryland 31-13Maryland 31-7Maryland 38-13Maryland 31-7
Penn State (-8) vs. SyracusePenn State 17-7Penn State 24-17Penn State 24-17Penn State 20-10
BYU (-1) at VirginiaBYU 21-10BYU 17-14BYU 27-24BYU 23-20
N.C. Central (+33) at DukeDuke 35-17Duke 34-13Duke 45-7Duke 34-10
Alabama (-20) vs. Virginia TechAlabama 41-14Alabama 41-14Alabama 34-13Alabama 34-14
Georgia (-2) at ClemsonClemson 38-35Georgia 34-31Georgia 38-34Georgia 34-27
FSU (-10.5) at PittsburghFSU 38-10FSU 31-14FSU 27-13FSU 24-7

 

Teaser:
ACC Week 1 Preview and Predictions
Post date: Thursday, August 29, 2013 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/big-12-week-1-preview-and-predictions-2013
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In a conference as tightly contested as the Big 12 should be in 2013, a number of decisions and developments leading up to week 1 could have major consequences.

No pressure, Big 12 coaches.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen Bob Stoops surprisingly opt for a redshirt freshman quarterback and Gary Patterson play coy with his starting lineup. Mike Gundy now has to find a new starting left tackle in addition to juggling two QBs he knows can win Big 12 games. And Mack Brown, well, no one really knows what to expect from his talented but underachieving squad.

No Week 1 games will count in the Big 12 standings, but there are plenty of games for national prestige, chiefly TCU’s and Oklahoma State’s neutral site games against SEC West teams. If the Big 12 is going to back up Stoops’ bold talk in the offseason concerning the SEC, Week 1 would be a good time to clear up any misconceptions.

Elsewhere, nearly every other Big 12 team is guarding against an upset. Oklahoma and Kansas State will face a pair of teams that have shown they’re not intimidated my major conference competition.

Big 12 Week 1 Game Power Rankings

All games Saturday, unless noted.

1. LSU vs. TCU in Arlington (9 p.m, ESPN)
Who’s going to play and when will be the theme early for TCU and LSU. Horned Frogs’ coach Gary Patterson says he’s confident in using both quarterbacks Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin. Both will be on the field for the coin flip, whatever that means. Pachall has been the favorite to reclaim his starting spot since spring practice, but Boykin, who rushed for 417 yards last season, brings an added dimension. Patterson also returned star defensive end Devonte Fields (10 sacks last season) to the depth chart as an alternate starter, though the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Fields is not likely to play. Les Miles was similarly vague on running back Jeremy Hill, who will play, but it’s not clear how much. Once the personnel is settled, TCU will hope its quarterback tandem, running back Waymon James and an experienced receiving corps has an edge over a rebuilding LSU defense.

2. Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State in Houston (3:30 p.m., ABC)
Oklahoma State was Athlon’s pick to win the Big 12. But the Cowboys were ranked outside the top 15 and were closely bunched with Oklahoma, Texas and TCU in the national top 25. In theory, a Big 12 favorite should be able to handle a second-tier team in the SEC West, but there are plenty of question marks for Oklahoma State. Two new coordinators will be in play for Oklahoma State. On offense, Mike Yurcich, a former offensive coordinator at Division II Shippensburg, will juggle a pair of quarterbacks in Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh who have more Big 12 wins than he does. The Mississippi State defense has a new coordinator of its own in Geoff Collins, who was an assistant on last year’s staff but intends on using a more blitz-centric scheme.

3. ULM at Oklahoma (7 p.m., Fox Sports Net)
Trevor Knight gets his first career start for Oklahoma, so that will be the focal point on the offense (more on him in the pivotal players section). Instead, the Sooners’ defense will be worth watching in its second season under Mike Stoops. ULM’s Kolton Browning was magical against Arkansas, Auburn and Baylor to start last season. OU’s defense wasn’t quite as bad as those three teams, but the Sooners ranked sixth in the Big 12 in yards per play.

4. Texas Tech at SMU (Friday, 8 p.m., ESPN)
Few games this season will have more pass-offense oriented minds in one stadium with new coach Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech and June Jones and Hal Mumme at SMU. Texas Tech’s passing game, though, may be in question. Receiver Jakeem Grant let slip that quarterback Michael Brewer had missed practice time with a back injury. Freshman Davis Webb had been taking first-team snaps, Grant said, but Kingsbury wouldn’t reveal if Brewer, Webb or freshman Baker Mayfield would take the first snaps against SMU.

5. North Dakota State at Kansas State (Friday, 8:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Kansas State is coming off a Big 12 title and back-to-back major bowl appearances, but North Dakota State has reason to brag, too. The Bison have won two consecutive FCS titles and are Athlon’s preseason No. 1 in that division. New Wildcats quarterback Jake Waters faces a defense that led the FCS in scoring defense the last seasons while the K-State defense takes the field with only two returning starters. K-State won’t be able to pencil in a win against a North Dakota State that has defeated two FBS opponents by at least two touchdowns in the last two seasons (Minnesota and Colorado State).

6. New Mexico State at Texas (8 p.m., Longhorn Network)
Texas should make easy work of New Mexico State, but this will be a critical season for the Longhorns. A week before facing BYU’s standout defense on the road, the Texas offense will be under the microscope as Major Applewhite unveils a new up-tempo approach against New Mexico State. And two weeks later, the defense with a healthy Jordan Hicks at linebacker will be in focus against Ole Miss.

7. Wofford at Baylor (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net)
Baylor shouldn’t have too much trouble with Wofford, but this will be the debut of quarterback Bryce Petty as the starting quarterback for the Bears. Wofford runs the option, which may at least make things for a Baylor defense that struggled last few seasons.

8. William & Mary at West Virginia (noon, Fox Sports 1)
The West Virginia offense enters a new era with Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey gone. With Andrew Buie likely to redshirt, the running back position — and the direction for the offense as a whole — is in the hands of Houston transfer Charles Sims. The next question is at quarterback where Florida State transfer Clint Trickett and Paul Millard are listed as co-starters.

9. Northern Iowa at Iowa State (8 p.m.)
Iowa State is hopeful a move to the Pistol formation will jumpstart the offense. Teams have tried it with mixed success over the seasons, but Iowa State at least went to someone familiar with running out of the formation. New offensive line coach Chris Klenakis was an offensive coordinator at Nevada under Chris Ault, the coach who devised the Pistol in the first place.

Big 12 Week 1 Pivotal Players

Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma
The redshirt freshman quarterback is a pivotal player for the entire season for Oklahoma. Knight passed short-yardage specialist Blake Bell and sophomore Kendal Thompson to take hold of the starting quarterback spot last week, but Knight began to impress coaches as a stand-in for Johnny Manziel during practice for the Cotton Bowl. After a quarterback run of Landry Jones, Sam Bradford and Jason White, Oklahoma will have a quarterback who can make plays in the ground game for the first time in a long time.

Oklahoma State’s left tackle
Offensive tackle has been a position of strength for the Cowboys in recent seasons, but they will need to make a sudden adjustment with a season-ending knee injury to starter Devin Davis. Parker Graham started at left tackle last season but was moved to guard. The other potential replacements are Michael Wilson, a redshirt freshman, and Chris Grisbhy, a junior college transfer who has been on campus for a year. Whoever the Pokes choose, he’ll be under pressure against an underrated Mississippi State defensive line led by rising star end Denico Autry.

TCU’s linebackers
The Horned Frogs’ linebackers were a question mark before returning starter Joel Hasley left the team. TCU has tried to get more athletic at the position against the spread offenses in the Big 12, moving former safety Jonathan Anderson to one of the starting spots. The adjustments for Big 12 offenses might not help against LSU’s physical run game.

Casey Pachall, QB, TCU
As noted, Pachall and Boykin have been mentioned equally for TCU, but it’s tough to imagine the Horned Frogs defeating LSU or winning the Big 12 without Pachall in his 2011 form. Pachall will face two standout safeties led by Craig Loston against LSU, along with a pair of younger cornerbacks that should be more seasoned than when they struggled in the bowl game against Clemson.

John Hubert, RB, Kansas State
Hubert hasn’t exactly been a game-breaking tailback over the last two seasons. Kansas State’s offense has been equally dependent on Collin Klein. Klein is gone, and the Wildcats have gone with Jake Waters over Daniel Sams, who is skilled as a runner. It’s up to Hubert to anchor the run game alone.

Big 12 Week 1 Predictions Grid

 David FoxBraden GallSteven LassanMitch Light
Texas Tech (-5.5) at SMUTech 35-31Tech 34-28Tech 34-24Tech 41-24
North Dakota St (+13) at Kansas StateKState 24-17 KState 30-21KState 30-20

KState 37-17

William & Mary (+32) at West VirginiaWVU 35-10WVU 41-17WVU 51-10WVU 41-10
Mississippi St (+12.5) vs. Oklahoma StOSU 31-21OSU 31-21OSU 34-24OSU 38-24
ULM (+21) at OklahomaOU 31-17OU 34-24OU 38-24OU 37-24
Wofford (+28) at BaylorBaylor 42-10Baylor 45-10Baylor 50-17Baylor 51-3
Northern Iowa (+9.5) at Iowa StateIowa St 24-13Iowa St 24-14Iowa St 34-17Iowa St 33-13
New Mexico State (+42) at TexasTexas 49-7Texas 37-7Texas 52-7Texas 44-6
LSU (-4.5) vs TCULSU 21-14LSU 27-17LSU 27-20LSU 24-10

 

Teaser:
TCU, Oklahoma and more keep drama going until kickoff
Post date: Thursday, August 29, 2013 - 07:14
Path: /college-football/2013-pac-12-week-1-preview-and-predictions
Body:

Week One of the season is generally reserved for warm-up tests with cream-puffs so that new coaches and new quarterbacks can ease their way into the schedule.

That won’t be the case in the Pac-12 in 2013. Cal, Washington State and Colorado are underdogs to start the season while Washington, Utah and those same Buffaloes will open things with important regional rivalry games. And the double whammy of new coach-new QB will be on display in both Berkeley (Cal) and Denver (Colorado).

Sure, there should be some routs in Eugene, Tucson, Corvallis and Los Angeles, but this is no ordinary Week 1 for the Pac-12. Seven or eight wins in the 10-game Pac-12 slate this weekend would be considered a huge success.

Pac-12 Week 1 Game Power Rankings:

1. Boise State (+3.5) at Washington (10:00 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)
After an 18-month hiatus from Husky Stadium, the fans in the Pacific Northwest get to test out their new toy. The beautiful new building will be broken in with style when Chris Petersen and his Broncos come to town in Week 1. These two will be facing each other for the second consecutive game after Boise State slipped past U of W 28-26 in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas to end last year. Petersen has made a career of winning huge Week 1 BCS tests but Washington is 8-1 in its last nine home openers. Boise is targeting an unbeaten season and the Huskies want to compete in the stacked Pac-12 North, so both need the statement win right out of the gate.

2. Northwestern (-5.5) at Cal (10:30 p.m., ESPN2)
There will be no shortage of big plays and highlight-reel moments with these two offensive-minded BCS teams. The Wildcats are loaded with skill players while new Golden Bears coach Sonny Dykes brings some explosive weapons and a great offensive system to the table as well. One team won 10 games a year ago and the other lost nine, but these two will look much more even than those records indicate. The key will be the play of Cal's first-year starting quarterback Jared Goff, because talented redshirt freshman Zach Kline is waiting in the wings.

3. Utah State (+2.5) at Utah (Thurs., 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
The in-state round robin between Utah, BYU and Utah State is wildly underrated nationally and will be critical for both programs this fall. Utah State and star quarterback Chuckie Keeton are breaking in a new head coach in Matt Wells while Kyle Whittingham is trying to get Utah back to a bowl game after missing the postseason last year for the first time since 2002. This was a 27-20 overtime home win for the Aggies last year.

4. Washington State (+15.5) at Auburn (7 p.m., ESPNU)
Mike Leach begins his second tour with a key non-conference road game against the nation’s best conference. This team played 17 freshmen a year ago and need those younger players to develop quickly as Wazzu opens in one of the nastiest road environments in the nation. That, or the biggest storyline of opening weekend for the Cougars will be the 131st consecutive flag appearance on ESPN's "College Gameday."

5. USC (-23) at Hawaii (Thurs., 11 p.m., CBS Sports)
Lane Kiffin will play both Cody Kessler and Max Wittek at quarterback while Silas Redd stays back in California working on his surgically repaired knee. Both Kiffin and Hawaii’s Norm Chow, a former Trojans’ assistant, are entering critical seasons on the sidelines. USC’s primary goal should be to return to the mainland fully healthy and with an easy road win.

6. Nicholls State (+59) at Oregon (4 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
This one should get ugly very quickly in new coach Mark Helfrich’s debut. His job is to make sure the No. 2-ranked scoring offense (49.5 ppg) and No. 5-ranked total offense (537.4 ypg) maintains its Chip Kelly-level of production. The Colonels, who were 1-10 last year, won’t put up much of a fight.

7. Colorado (+3) vs. Colorado State (Sun., 6 p.m., CBS Sports, Denver)
The Rocky Mountain Showdown will feature the debut of Colorado’s new head coach Mike MacIntyre. Only one other Buffaloes coach since 1931 — Rick Neuheisel in 1995 — has won his first game and having to face the in-state rival Rams won’t make it easy on MacIntyre.

8. Nevada (+21) at UCLA (10 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
There are freshmen everywhere on the rebuilt UCLA defense and they will be tested by the signature pistol offense and Nevada’s explosive quarterback Cody Fajardo. That said, star quarterback Brett Hundley should have his way with the Wolf Pack defense. Look for a young offensive line and young defense to get its feet wet for the Bruins in what should be an easy win.

9. Eastern Washington (+27) at Oregon State (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
Sean Mannion (rightly so) was named the starting quarterback this week in what should be a workman-like ‘13 debut. The Beavers are breaking in a bunch of new defensive pieces in what should be a relatively easy win. In the world of bizarre stats, Oregon State’s best two seasons, 2000 and '04, began with wins over Eastern Washington.

10. Northern Arizona (+35) at Arizona (10 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
The lone Friday night affair should be a big learning experience for the Wildcats' quarterbacks. B.J. Denker should be the starter and has the most experience but there are a lot of talented and hungry players nipping at his heels. When, not if, the game gets out of hand, Rich Rodriguez should be freed up to play his backups in an effort to see what he’s got. 

Pac-12 Week 1 Pivotal Players:

1. Washington’s offensive line
The Huskies' offense was atrocious last year, stemming largely from an injury-riddled offensive line. Those guys are all back and need to give quarterback Keith Price and running back Bishop Sankey room to maneuver against a normally very strong Boise State front seven if Washington wants to win this weekend.

2. Jared Goff, QB, Cal
Goff unexpectedly beat out Zach Kline for the starting gig in Dykes' QB-friendly offense and he should have plenty of support around him. If he wants to pull the potential upset in Week 1, he needs to limit mistakes and get the ball to guys like Brandon Bigelow and Bryce Treggs.

3. Utah’s front seven
The Utes had to replace four of this unit’s seven starters in the offseason, including All-American nose tackle Star Lotulelei. It gave up 302 yards of total offense to Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton last year and will have to be better this time around to start ’13 with a win.

4. Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, QB, USC
Kiffin wants Wittek, but most acknowledge Kessler has been the better player. He lacks the big-time arm strength that Wittek has and that is why Kiffin has been so stubborn about naming a starter. Both will play this weekend and Kessler could end the discussion with a great game right out of the gate.

5. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
He might be the most talented defensive player in the conference and he will be tested by a feisty Nevada offense led by star dual-threat quarterback Cody Fajardo. The Bruins' secondary could feature four freshmen, so it’s on the front seven to develop quickly and contain Fajardo.

Pac-12 Week 1 Prediction Grid:

GameBraden GallMitch LightSteven LassanDavid Fox
Boise St (+3.5) at WashingtonWashington, 24-21Boise St, 24-21Boise St, 27-24Boise St, 27-24
Northwestern (-5.5) at CalN'western, 31-21N'western, 27-24N'western, 34-24N'western, 28-17
Utah St (+2.5) at UtahUtah, 20-17Utah St, 21-20Utah, 27-24Utah St, 35-28
Washington St (+15.5) at AuburnAuburn, 35-20Auburn, 30-13Auburn, 38-20Auburn, 24-14
USC (-23) at HawaiiUSC, 38-14USC, 44-13USC, 45-10USC, 49-7
Nicholls St (+59) at OregonOregon, 59-13Oregon, 60-10Oregon, 62-7Oregon, 63-10
Colorado (+3) vs. Colorado StColorado, 23-20Colorado, 35-31Colorado, 24-20Colorado St, 17-14
Nevada (+21) at UCLAUCLA, 38-21UCLA, 27-10UCLA, 34-24UCLA, 35-21
E. Washington (+27) at Oregon StOregon St, 34-7Oregon St, 35-7Oregon St, 38-17Oregon St, 49-14
Northern Arizona (+35) at ArizonaArizona, 42-17Arizona, 44-14Arizona, 48-17Arizona, 38-10
Year-to-date:0-00-00-00-0

 

Teaser:
Pac-12 Week 1 Preview and Predictions
Post date: Thursday, August 29, 2013 - 07:11
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-atlanta-motor-speedway
Body:

To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List. The main picks are designed to make optimal use of Yahoo!’s 9-start maximum rule over the course of the season. The “also consider” section ranks unmentioned drivers strictly by expected result without consideration of start limitations.


Next up: AdvoCare 500 (Atlanta Motor Speedway)
Race: 500 miles, 325 laps (Track: 1.54-mile oval)
2012 winner: Denny Hamlin


A-List: (Pick two, start one)
Jeff Gordon  Jeff Gordon

With Gordon's seventh-place finish at Bristol last week, his late dash to secure a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup looks a lot like his efforts in 2012. If they continue to match up, Gordon may in position to score some hefty fantasy points at Atlanta. Gordon finished second last year to Denny Hamlin in a nail-biter that saw the No. 24 get outside of Hamlin in the final turn.

Atlanta was also the site of Gordon's third-most recent Cup Series win in 2011. He led 146 laps in that rain-postponed edition and held off Jimmie Johnson in a stirring duel. With the runner-up finish last year, Gordon now has 16 top 5s at the track, and owns the second best average running position (10th) of all drivers in the last 14 races at AMS


Brad Keselowski
A crash knocked Brad Keselowski to a 30th-place finish at Bristol last week when he least needed it. The defending series champion is now in real danger of missing the Chase entirely. Fortunately, Atlanta has been plenty good to Keselowski for two straight seasons. In 2011, he raced to a sixth-place finish. Last year, Keselowski placed third.

Sure, Johnson may be a nice pick — he owns the best average on-track position among all drivers — but Keselowski offers fantasy players a chance to conserve a Johnson start for the Chase. Keselowski desperately needs a top finish. When push came to shove last season, he earned them.

Also consider: Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth


B-List: (Pick four, start two)
Denny Hamlin  Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin is mired in a slump that he's called the worst of his career. His Joe Gibbs Racing-prepared cars aren't impressively fast. He's had brutal luck. And he's completely out of the Chase picture thanks to an early season injury. Regardless, Hamlin remains a go-to driver at Atlanta. His 11.1 average recent running position at the 1.5-mile track is third-best in the series, and he's the defending race-winner. Hamlin has also led six of the last seven Atlanta races.

Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards is often Mr. Positivity when he’s being interviewed, so it’s easy to take his enthusiasm with a grain of salt. But after Bristol, Edwards looked beyond energized with the way his car had responded to changes throughout the weekend — despite exiting the race with engine problems. If those advancements continue at Atlanta, Edwards may just find his second win of the year. He does own three career wins and eight top 5s at the track. Don’t forget about his top-5 effort at Texas earlier this year, either.

Martin Truex Jr.
Truex is an iffy start at Atlanta after it was revealed that he suffered a broken bone in his right hand during a crash at Bristol. It’s the type of injury that could fall either way for a driver in terms of affecting on-track performance. In Truex’s case, it’s safe to say he’ll minimize the distraction if only because of the pressure sitting on his shoulders to secure a Chase bid. He’s currently qualified in a wild card spot, but doesn’t have much room to spare. Fortunately, Truex owns the fifth-best average running position at Atlanta in the series and has been strong on 1.5-mile tracks for the past two seasons.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
A former Atlanta winner, Earnhardt has seen his share of ups and downs at the Georgia track. For Hendrick Motorsports, they’ve mostly been down. Earnhardt nailed down a third-place finish in his HMS debut in 2008 but didn’t record a top 10 for the team until last year when he was seventh. While that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, remember that Earnhardt was especially strong at Texas Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway this season before mechanical problems struck.

Also consider: Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle



C-List: (Pick two, start one)
AJ Allmendinger
Driving the No. 47 again for JTG-Daughtery Racing, Allmendinger is back at a track where he had success before he ever set foot in a Penske Racing car. Allmendinger owns a pair of top-10 finishes at Atlanta from his days at Richard Petty Motorsports in 2010 and ’11. Beyond previous success, Allmendinger should also benefit this weekend from testing at the 1.5-mile track just a few weeks ago. Crew chief Brian Burns said the team made solid progress developing a new front suspension package.

David Ragan
The Georgia native heads home this weekend on the heels of a surprisingly-good 12th-place finish at Bristol last weekend. Ragan is back at Atlanta in the same boat as Allmendinger — he had the chance to test the No. 34 during the Goodyear tire test at the track to confirm the new tire type. That extra information should be critical to a smaller team like Front Row Motorsports, and may translate to a top-20 finish Sunday night. Better yet, Ragan is sponsored this week by a brand of boiled peanuts. Does a C-List feel good story need any more ingredients? Not if boiled peanuts are on the menu.

Also consider: Trevor Bayne, Casey Mears


Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photos by Actions Sports, Inc.
 

 

Teaser:
Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski top the list of fantasy picks for NASCAR's trip to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the AdvoCare 500.
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 18:09
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas A&M Aggies, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/johnny-manziel-suspended-half-against-rice-autograph-scandal
Body:

The autograph scandal involving Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is over. After meeting with the defending Heisman winner and reviewing the facts in the case, Manziel will only be suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game against Rice.

In addition to missing the first half of Saturday’s contest, Manziel will have to address the team about the lessons learned from this situation, and Texas A&M will have to revise its education about student-athlete autographs. Seriously, we aren’t making that up.

Manziel is expected to play in the second half against the Owls, but most importantly, the sophomore’s status isn’t in question for the huge SEC West showdown against Alabama on Sept. 14.

Texas A&M and NCAA released a joint statement concerning Manziel and the investigation surrounding his status:

Statement from Texas A&M University System Chancellor, John Sharp:

“I am proud of the way both Coach Sumlin and Johnny handled this situation, with integrity and honesty. We all take the Aggie Code of Honor very seriously and there is no evidence that either the university or Johnny violated that code.”

Statement from Texas A&M Director of Athletics Eric Hyman:

“Texas A&M University would like to thank the NCAA staff, not only for its fairness and professionalism throughout this process, but also for the expediency of its actions.  Texas A&M is a proud member of the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference and, as such, we will continue to abide by the rules governing the association and the conference.  Texas A&M is committed to competing with integrity and sportsmanship, and we will continue to ensure strict compliance guidelines for our student-athletes, coaches and supporters.” 

Statement from NCAA Vice President of Academic and Membership Affairs Kevin Lennon:

“Student-athletes are often asked for autographs from fans, but unfortunately, some individuals’ sole motivation in seeking an autograph is for resale. It is important that schools are cognizant and educate student-athletes about situations in which there is a strong likelihood that the autograph seeker plans to resell the items.”

Texas A&M and the NCAA will have no further comment on this matter.

 

Teaser:
Johnny Manziel Suspended for a Half Against Rice for Autograph Scandal
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 17:40
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-link-roundup-august-28
Body:

One more day until kickoff.

Contact us on twitter with a link or a tip we should include each day. (@AthlonSteven)

College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Wednesday, August 28th

Oklahoma State's starting left tackle Devin Davis has been lost for the year due to a torn ACL. And here are some freshmen to watch from the Cowboys in 2013.

The Sporting News' Matt Hayes goes around the nation with his first-and-10 column. Also, some good insight in the Sporting News' weekly exit poll.

Lost Lettermen takes a look at five crazy Alabama fans.

The quarterback battle between Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook is just beginning at Michigan State.

Louisville defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin was injured in a hit-and-run accident. 

USC athletic director Pat Haden thinks Lane Kiffin will pick a quarterback after the first or second game of 2013.

Georgia's secondary will be littered with inexperience against Clemson.

Boston College gained the services of a transfer this week.

Northern Illinois will be without its starting running back against Iowa.

West Virginia has decided to redshirt running back Andrew Buie in 2013.

Syracuse wants Terrel Hunt and Drew Allen to be ready to play against Penn State.

Two Georgia Tech receivers are suspended for the season opener.

Austyn Carta-Samuels took an interesting path to Vanderbilt.

Here are 10 coordinators to watch in 2013.

Pittsburgh may be without running back Isaac Bennett for its opener against Florida State.

Texas defensive tackle Ashton Dorsey has decided to transfer.

The Big Ten Network takes a look at some freshmen to watch in 2013.

Teaser:
College Football's Link Roundup: August 28
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 15:03
Path: /college-football-2013-top-5-qb-competitions
Body:

As we sit days away from the start of the college football season, several big time programs have yet to make a decision at the most important position in football, Most of these QB competitions that won’t be resolved until noon on Saturday. Let’s take a look at the top 5 quarterback competitions that will affect the 2013 season.

1. USC
Max Wittek vs. Cody Kessler

On the USC depth chart both Wittek and Kessler are listed as co-starters. This choice could be the decision that decides the future of Lane Kiffin’s career at USC. Both players are redshirt sophomores, though Wittek has the pair's only starting experience after taking over for Matt Barkley in the final two games last season. For the year, Wittek finished 36-of-69 with a 3-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Kessler has only two career passing attempts. Kiffin has confirmed that both will play in the Trojans’ season opener against Hawaii. Already firmly on the hot seat, the third year coach can’t get this wrong or he will be gone.

2. West Virginia
Clint Trickett vs. Paul Millard

Dana Holgorsen has the unenviable task of replacing standout quarterback Geno Smith. He will have to choose between the Florida State transfer Trickett and Smith’s former backup Millard. While Millard has experience running Holgorsen’s complex offense, he has only thrown 19 career passes while Clint Trickett has significantly more game experience. Trickett’s best season game in relief of EJ Manuel in 2011, where he started two games and threw for 675 yards and seven touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Ford Childress is third on the depth chart but may play in the season opener.

3. Penn State
Tyler Ferguson vs. Christian Hackenburg

The rebuilding process in Happy Valley continues as Bill O’Brien will be choosing between two quarterbacks who have combined to throw zero passes at the collegiate level. The frontrunner is the highly touted freshman Hackenburg, who was the top ranked quarterback in last year’s recruiting class. While Hackenburg has been impressive since his early summer enrollment, sophomore Tyler Ferguson’s experience in the Penn State offense from enrolling early has kept him in the conversation. The old school O’Brien has said he will pick one quarterback to stick with through the entire 2013 season, but he has said he won’t make his decision public until the offense runs out onto the field for its first series against Syracuse.

4. Wisconsin
Joel Stave vs. Curt Phillips

Head coach Gary Andersen has said his plan is to make his choice for starting quarterback public on the first series of Wisconsin’s season opener Saturday against Massachusetts. Last season, Stave threw for 1,104 yards before being sidelines by a broken clavicle against Michigan State. He was leading the Big Ten in pass efficiency at the time with 149.6 rating. Phillips, a sixth-year senior, started the final five games, but averaged only 77.1 passing yards last season.

5. Cincinnati
Munchie Legaux vs. Brendon Kay

Legaux may have the best name in college football, but his play was so poor midway through last season that Butch Jones handed the starting job to Kay. Kay was impressive as he completed 63 percent of his passes for 1298 yards and a 10-2 touchdown-interception ratio. Despite his 4-1 record as a starter, including a victory over Duke in the Belk Bowl, Kay’s has lost a firm grip on the starting job due to a sore shoulder he has been battling this offseason. Tommy Tuberville says he expects both quarterbacks to see action in the opener against Purdue; however, if healthy, Kay should be the starter.

Teaser:
College Football 2013: Top 5 QB Competitions
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 12:11
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-episode-1
Body:

Athlon Sports is proud to be the multimedia hub for college sports coverage: From our preseason annuals that begin the countdown to the season starting in June, to athlonsports.com everyday during the season and offseason, to the Athlon Sports monthly.

We’d like to be a part of your podcast rotation, too, during the season.

The Athlon Sports Cover 2 podcast will feature the editorial staff of host Braden Gall and a rotating cast of co-hosts David Fox, Mitch Light and Steven Lassan.

In our debut podcast, Gall and Fox talk about:

3:34 On what excites us most for the 2013 season (non-Manziel division).
6:19 A cool year for the hot seat
8:40 Why no one knows what to expect from Georgia-Clemson
13:51 Breaking down the rest of a big week 1 for the SEC, including TCU-LSU, Mississippi State-Oklahoma State
17:34 Talking week 1 undercards, including Northwestern-Cal, Ohio-Louisville and Boise State-Washington
22:04 Why Florida, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Louisville and Arkansas need to be on upset alert in week 1

The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com and our RSS feed. And coming soon to iTunes.

Please send any comments, questions and podcast topics to @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615 on Twitter.

 

Teaser:
The Athlon editorial staff will keep you in the know, on the go
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 11:15
Path: /college-football/michigan-state-sticks-andrew-maxwell-qb
Body:

Michigan State’s offense ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in scoring and total yards per game last season, so it was no surprise when coach Mark Dantonio opened up the quarterback battle this spring.

However, Andrew Maxwell held onto the starting job and will open the year as the No. 1 quarterback against Western Michigan.

Although Maxwell is the starter, Dantonio plans to play Connor Cook against the Broncos. Tyler O’Conner and true freshman Damion Terry may play this season, but both are behind Maxwell and Cook for now.

Andrew Maxwell started all 13 games last season but finished with just 2,606 passing yards and 13 touchdowns. He also tossed nine picks and did not play well in the bowl game against TCU.

Michigan State’s defense should be one of the best in the Big Ten this year. But if the Spartans are going to make another trip to Indianapolis, the offense has to show big improvement.

Teaser:
Michigan State Sticks With Andrew Maxwell at QB
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 10:49
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-august-28-2013
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Aug. 28.

 

• To celebrate Madden 25, here's a photo shoot of scantily clad models recreating Madden moments.

 

College football is so perfect, we even love its ridiculousness.

 

Sporting News picked the brains of some college football greats in anticipation of Week 1 action. A sneak peek: Jake Plummer would take Johnny Football over AJ McCarron or Aaron Murray.

 

Here's a list of five top celebrity college football fans. I think they missed a few. Will Ferrell, anyone?

 

If you don't know the George Raveling "I Have a Dream" story, you need to.

 

• Play of the night: Didi Gregorius Willie Mays'd a shallow pop-up.

 

• Not the play of the night: C.J. Wilson faceplanted on his way to the pitcher's mound.

 

• Videobombing is played, so you have to get creative with it, which the Rockies mascot managed to do.

 

The SEC's top dynamic duos, starting with Georgia's Gurshall two-headed monster.

 

The LolJets added to their quarterback tire fire: the guy who lost his backup gig to Vince Young. It just keeps getting better.

 

Kate Upton took a golf lesson from The King. That's what I call a win-win.

 

• This'll whet your appetite for football: Watch Michigan recruit Jabrill Peppers break about nine tackles on a touchdown run.

 

 

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 10:42
Path: /college-football/college-football-2013-conference-and-national-title-predictions
Body:

With kickoff for the 2013 college football season just around the corner, there’s just enough time for one more set of predictions.

Athlon’s editors met before the preseason magazine was released to iron out the predictions after spring practice was completed. But there wasn’t a consensus on every conference title race or the top 25 rankings.

Louisville, Ohio State and Tulsa were the only unanimous conference title predictions, and there was plenty of disagreement in the Big 12, ACC, Big Ten and even the SEC.

Alabama is widely considered the favorite to claim the 2013 BCS title, but the Crimson Tide wasn’t selected by all four editors to play for the national championship. Ohio State, Oregon and Stanford also drew mentions in the BCS title predictions. 

Will the SEC's title run continue in 2013? Or will Ohio State, Oregon or Stanford end the SEC's dominance? 


College Football's 2013 Conference and National Title Predictions
 

 Steven LassanMark RossBraden GallDavid Fox
 @AthlonSteven@AthlonSports@BradenGall@DavidFox615
ACC Coastal:
ACC Atlantic:
ACC Champion:
     
American Athletic: 
     
Big 12: 
     
Big Ten Leaders:
Big Ten Legends:
Big Ten Champion:
     
C-USA East: 
C-USA West:
C-USA Champion:
     
MAC East:
MAC West:
MAC Champion:
     
MW Mountain:
MW West:
MW Champion:
     
Pac-12 North:
Pac-12 South:
Pac-12 Champion:
     
SEC East:
SEC West:
SEC Champion:
     
Sun Belt:
     
National Title: Alabama over Ohio StateOregon over Ohio StateAlabama over StanfordAlabama over Stanford


Related College Football Content

College Football Bowl Projections for 2013
10 Players That Will Decide the National Title in 2013
College Football's Top 35 Breakout Players for 2013
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The Top 100 Players of the BCS Era
College Football's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2013
College Football's Top 25 Wide Receiver Corps for 2013
College Football's Top 25 Offensive Lines for 2013
College Football's All-Name Team for 2013

Teaser:
College Football 2013 Conference and National Title Predictions
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 10:30
Path: /nfl/pittsburgh-steelers-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

General manager Kevin Colbert chafes at the notion that the Steelers are rebuilding after the kind of roster turnover that qualified as astounding given his organization’s reputation as one of the most stable in the NFL. Coach Mike Tomlin insists that the Steelers are simply in transition after an 8–8 season. Whether transition is merely a euphemism for rebuilding will be determined by how the Steelers respond after missing the playoffs for just the second time since Tomlin took over in 2007.

For the second consecutive year, the Steelers cut ties with a handful of key veterans, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, strong safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor and tight end Heath Miller are the remaining core players from the team that played in three Super Bowls and won two of them during a six-year period. Miller, the Steelers’ 2012 MVP, likely won’t be 100 percent at the start of the season after sustaining a torn ACL at the end of last season. That puts even more pressure on Roethlisberger, Polamalu and Taylor to stay healthy if the Steelers are to challenge Baltimore and Cincinnati for supremacy in the AFC North.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 4th

Related: 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule Analysis

Offense
The fragile union between Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley enters its second season. For all of the psychoanalysis that is devoted to the relationship, Roethlisberger was having a Pro Bowl-caliber season before sustaining a rib injury in November. He struggled after returning to the starting lineup, and it may not get any easier this season, even if Roethlisberger stays healthy. The Steelers lost one of the NFL’s top deep threats when wide receiver Mike Wallace bolted to Miami in free agency. Miller, who has long been Roethlisberger’s security blanket and one of the top all-around tight ends in the league, may take some time to get back to full speed. The Steelers will depend on veteran Matt Spaeth, second-year man David Paulson and another tight end coming off a torn ACL, David Johnson, until Miller returns.

Wallace’s departure means the Steelers will rely heavily on Antonio Brown in the passing game. Brown, the Steelers’ MVP in 2011, took a step backward last season. The fourth-year man won’t have the luxury of having a burner opposite him on the field. Emmanuel Sanders replaces Wallace, and the fourth-year veteran has shown flashes but has also been injury-prone and inconsistent. Plaxico Burress won't be able to help the passing attack, as the long-time Steeler sustained a season-ending shoulder injury during training camp. The passing game will be helped immensely if third-round draft pick Markus Wheaton makes an impact as a rookie.

There are also questions about the skill players who will line up behind Roethlisberger. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are not every-down backs, and the Steelers drafted Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell with the hope that he will develop into their feature back. Bell's NFL debut, however, will be delayed as he injured his foot in his first preseason game. The good news is that Bell did not need surgery and the injury is not deemed serious. The bad news is that he will more than likely miss at least the first month of the regular season. With Bell sidelined, the Steelers will turn to Redman and Dwyer to carry the load, as well as LaRod Stephens-Howling, who was signed to provide depth and serve as a receiving threat out of the backfield.

The Steelers did not draft an offensive lineman in 2013 because they invested so heavily in that area in previous drafts. Four of the projected five starters are either first- or second-round picks. All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey anchors the line, with the Steelers also expecting big things out of right guard David DeCastro. Tackles Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams both have to stay healthy and become more consistent. The Steelers are dangerously thin up front.

Defense
The Steelers finished first in the NFL in total defense last season, but that proved to be fool’s gold. They did not put enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks and did not force enough turnovers. Gone are five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton and outside linebacker James Harrison, who was cut after the two sides couldn’t agree on the amount of a pay cut for the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The Steelers also lost starting cornerback Keenan Lewis to the New Orleans Saints in free agency.

The Steelers are high on former undrafted free agent Steve McLendon, who replaces Hampton and can also play defensive end. They must get more out of former first-round picks Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward at defensive end. Hood is going into his third season as a starter but has been, in Tomlin parlance, just another guy. Heyward has shown very little in two seasons, and that is a concern since Brett Keisel, 34, whom he backs up, isn’t getting any younger.

Lawrence Timmons, who should have made the Pro Bowl last season, and veteran Larry Foote return at inside linebacker. One of the biggest questions on the team is whether the outside linebackers will provide the necessary pass rush, which is critical to the defense’s success. Former Pro Bowler LaMarr Woodley had only four sacks last season. Jason Worilds gets the first crack at replacing Harrison, and the former second-round pick has played well in spots. First-round pick Jarvis Jones should provide help at outside linebacker even if he is only a situational pass-rusher.

The loss of Lewis thrusts Cortez Allen into the starting lineup, and Allen looked like a viable long-term starter after filling in for the injured Taylor last season. Taylor is still one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, and the Steelers signed William Gay, who spent the 2012 season in Arizona, to play nickel back.

Polamalu is the wild card. The 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year gives coordinator Dick LeBeau a piece to move all over the field, and Polamalu is a game-changer when he is healthy. The problem is that Polamalu has missed 22 games since 2009, and his age (32) and aggressive style of play don’t bode well for getting an entire season out of the seven-time Pro Bowler. Free safety Ryan Clark is 33 but seems to get better with age. Perhaps the biggest issue the Steelers have at the back end of their defense is the lack of proven depth.

Specialists
Shaun Suisham is entrenched as the kicker, and the ninth-year veteran was close to automatic last season. Drew Butler returns as the punter after a decent rookie season. Stephens-Howling has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns during his career, and Brown is a dangerous punt returner. Tomlin would love for a younger player to emerge there so he can minimize Brown’s exposure to big hits.

Final Analysis: 1st in AFC North
A franchise quarterback like Roethlisberger is always going to give his team a chance to contend for the Super Bowl, which is the only goal in Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger must have a capable supporting cast, and it would help if the investment the Steelers have made in the offensive line started paying off. A healthy Polamalu and a return to form by Woodley would make the defense more opportunistic. There are a lot of ifs, however, and if Pittsburgh’s marquee players do not lead the way — or are not able to because of injuries — the Steelers are looking at another third-place finish in the AFC North and another long offseason.

Order your 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHouston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New OrleansSan Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

Teaser:
Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/seattle-seahawks-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Without being asked, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll informed beat writers on a conference call that then-rookie Russell Wilson would be his starting quarterback to open the 2012 season.

Dead silence.

Because of Wilson’s 5'11" stature, plus his first-year status, no one had pressed Carroll about this possibility. No one realistically envisioned this happening. A year later, Wilson at the offensive controls makes perfect sense. The diminutive quarterback was the ignition point for an explosive zone-read offense, tied Peyton Manning’s rookie record for touchdown passes (26), and was as responsible as anyone for the Seahawks getting into the playoffs and coming up with their first postseason road victory since 1983.

Wilson’s presence has created so much momentum for the franchise — making it the preferred destination for high-impact free agent Cliff Avril and newly acquired (and well paid) Percy Harvin in the offseason — the Seahawks have people convinced that anything is possible this season.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 4th

Related: 2013 Seattle Seahawks Schedule Analysis

Offense
All Seattle had to do was find a steady quarterback to get this team over the hump. Free agent signee Matt Flynn was supposed to be the guy. Wilson relegated him to three mop-up appearances, and Flynn now plays for Oakland. With his strong right arm, Fran Tarkenton-like scrambling ability (489 yards rushing) and high-level efficiency (a club-record 100.0 passer rating), Wilson created nonstop problems for opposing teams. His challenge will be to counter the defensive adjustments that will come his way a second time around the league.

Yet the Seahawks took a proactive step to ease the pressure on Wilson and further frustrate opposing defensive coordinators by acquiring the triple-threat Harvin. He was the one thing the Seattle offense sorely lacked — a legitimate breakaway threat. He was expected to upgrade the team’s weakest offensive position area and allow the Seahawks to be more creative than ever. That was, however, until Harvin decided to undergo surgery in early August to repair his injured hip. Harvin will miss a significant chunk of the regular season, if not all of it, which changes the entire outlook of the receiving corps. Now Wilson will need to lean on wide receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, who led the Seahawks with 50 and 45 receptions after battling chronic injury and inconsistency, respectively, even more than originally expected. Rice's surgically repaired knee remains a concern and it would help Wilson and the offense if tight end Zach Miller could become a little more reliable and productive. Harvin's absence also presents an opportunity for third-year wideout Doug Baldwin or rookies Chris Harper and Jermaine Kearse to emerge and provide more depth.

The slashing and durable Marshawn Lynch remains one of the NFL’s most productive running backs, regardless of who’s at quarterback. He was better than ever when on the receiving end of Wilson handoffs, coming up with a career-high 1,590 yards rushing (third in the league). He relishes his role as a violent runner.

When Carroll took over the franchise, he made rebuilding a sorry offensive line his first order of business. It took a while, but the coach finally got the desired results. Left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger stayed healthy for the first time in the same season and became Pro Bowl starters. Big and mobile, Okung is the closest thing to a dominant Seahawks lineman since Walter Jones retired. Okung has the ability to get out and run and mow people down. That said, he still needs to address a lingering issue: He and right tackle Breno Giacomini were two of the most penalized offensive linemen in the league, flagged for 13 and 12 infractions, respectively, making them drive-killers at times. Unger is deceptively strong and quick. Left guard James Carpenter boasts star quality but has been injury-prone. Converted defender J.R. Sweezy finished his rookie season as a starter and is the top candidate at right guard. Paul McQuistan started all 16 games last season and will serve as the first guy off the bench if he doesn't retain his starting job.

Defense
The back seven boasts as much speed and big-play ability as any in the league, but the line has been merely adequate. The lack of a pass rush was responsible for multiple fourth quarter defeats last season. Deeming this position a priority, the Seahawks added veteran tackle Tony McDaniel and ends Michael Bennett and Avril, the latter strong enough to bring added pressure and agile enough to play linebacker. They also drafted three more D-linemen. Avril (29 sacks over the past three seasons) is a ready replacement for Chris Clemons, whose timetable for a return from a playoff knee injury is unclear. Run-stuffing Red Bryant and speed-rusher Bruce Irvin are productive as situational ends.

The linebacking corps might have been the Seahawks’ most questionable group entering last season. Bobby Wagner made it one of the most secure. Another ready-to-play rookie, Wagner was surprisingly savvy and speedy while stepping in from the outset and leading the team in tackles (140). K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith, who moves up from a reserve role to new starter, man the outside spots, and few linebacking corps cover as much ground as these guys. There’s a big falloff in talent, however, with the backups.

The secondary is easily Seattle’s biggest stockpile of talent. They’re game-changers in every sense, with three of the four starters scoring twice each on interceptions or blocked kicks in their brief careers. Three of them have been Pro Bowlers. Cornerback Richard Sherman, the only one in his backfield who hasn’t gone to Hawaii yet, had a team-high eight picks, 24 passes defensed and plenty of swagger. He also returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for a score. Fellow corner Brandon Browner has nine interceptions in two seasons, two for scores. Free safety Earl Thomas is a productive center fielder and a two-time Pro Bowler, and strong safety Kam Chancellor is a ferocious hitter. Seattle also signed three-time Pro Bowl selection Antoine Winfield as its nickel back.

Specialists
Dependable placekicker Steven Hauschka and punter Jon Ryan are accuracy guys rather than boomers. Hauschka connected on 24-of-27 field goal attempts, with each of his misses coming from 50 yards or more. Ryan dropped 30 punts inside the 20-yard line. Harvin's acquistion initially made Pro Bowler Leon Washington expendable. Now someone else will need to step up in that department with Harvin sidelined for much of the regular season. Tate will more than likely handle the punt return duties.

Final Analysis: 2nd in NFC West
Wilson is one of 20 starters returning, and one of six Seahawks players who went to the Pro Bowl. Offensive firepower abounds. All the pieces are in place for the Seahawks to make a deep playoff run, if not a second Super Bowl appearance in eight seasons. Wilson and Wagner, the precocious team leaders on each side of the ball, need to avoid sophomore slumps. The newcomers, minus Harvin, also need to contribute. There hasn’t been this much hype surrounding a Seattle team entering a season since 1985, and that one couldn’t handle it, finishing 8–8. Can these Seahawks measure up? Certainly the element of surprise with Wilson behind center is long gone. But don’t rule out anything with this team.

Order your 2013 Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHouston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New OrleansSan Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

Teaser:
Seattle Seahawks 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /thompkins-dobson-and-sudfeld-where-should-patriots-rookies-go-fantasy-drafts
Body:

Pay attention fantasy football fans because it's a new world for the New England Patriots and their receivers this season. A whirlwind offseason for the Patriots has seen the departure of trusted regulars Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, the arrest of Aaron Hernandez, and a likely start on the PUP list for tight end Rob Gronkowski.

In fact, Tom Brady returns with just one wide receiver (Julian Edelman with 21 receptions) from the 2012 season. While Patriots fans and fantasy owners alike were quick to panic at the depletion in talent, it is important to remember that change brings opportunity.

Ever active in the draft and when it comes to identifying potential hidden gems, New England has brought in a handful of rookies that, with Brady at the helm, could be poised for surprise seasons and are worth a look in fantasy football leagues.

Kenbrell Thompkins, WR: The undrafted rookie free agent has emerged as an early favorite target of Tom Brady as he enjoyed a breakout performance last Thursday against Detroit in the Patriots' third preseason game in which he was targeted 11 times. He finished the game with eight receptions for 116 yards. Thompkins has an excellent shot at securing a starting spot come Week 1 against Buffalo.

Ranking on Athlon Sports' final Preseason Fantasy Football 2013 Big Board (Top 250): No. 147 (No. 53 WR)

Aaron Dobson, WR: The second-round pick was expected to nab the No. 2 receiver spot; but a rather underwhelming preseason has caused him to slip down the depth chart. Brady appears growing more comfortable with the Marshall product each week and the durability concerns surrounding Danny Amendola, along with Dobson’s upside and play-making ability, could make him a factor earlier than expected.

Ranking on final Preseason Big Board: No. 231 (No. 74 WR)

Zach Sudfeld, TE: Another undrafted rookie, Sudfeld finished among the top 10 tight ends in the nation in receptions during his final season at Nevada and looks to be Tom Brady’s newest weapon at the position. His 6-7, 230-pound frame will make him a major red zone threat and he should see plenty of passes thrown his way while Gronkowski is out.

Ranking on final Preseason Big Board: No. 184 (No. 22 TE)

Teaser:
Thompkins, Dobson and Sudfeld: Where should the Patriots' rookies go in fantasy drafts?
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: San Francisco Giants, videos, Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/hunter-pence-hits-longest-home-run-2013
Body:

The Giants' Hunter Pence crushed a ball during the first inning of yesterday's game against the Rockies. The ball was estimated to have traveled 476 feet, making it the longest home run in MLB this season. 

 

Teaser:
The Giants' Hunter Pence crushed a ball during the first inning of last night's game against the Rockies. The ball was estimated to have traveled 476 feet, making it the longest home run in MLB this season.
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 09:02
All taxonomy terms: Atlanta Braves, Funny, videos, Overtime
Path: /overtime/braves-elliot-johnson-does-postgame-interview-pretending-be-nascar-driver
Body:

The Atlanta Braves' Elliot Johnson was interviewed about hitting a triple following yesterday's game against Cleveland. Johnson's response seems have come straight out of a NASCAR PR manual as he thanked numerous sponsors, his car, and his crew chief. 

 

Teaser:
The Atlanta Braves' Elliot Johnson was interviewed about hitting a triple following yesterday's game against Cleveland. Johnson's response seems have come straight out of a NASCAR PR manual as he thanked numerous sponsors, his car, and his crew chief.
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 08:32
Path: /college-football/top-10-games-first-weekend-college-football
Body:

By Monday evening, a good portion of an offseason’s worth of predictions and debates may be out of date.

That’s part of the anticipation for the first weekend of the season, which will stretch from Thursday through Monday night. Plenty of games with plenty to learn, pretty much.

Here’s a quick guide to the games we watching closely and what lessons he hope to gain for each team.

1. Georgia at Clemson
Need to know: Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC
What we will learn about Georgia: A great deal about Todd Grantham’s defense. The results didn’t match the talent last season. The Bulldogs allowed 4.1 yards per carry last season, ranking 11th in the SEC. And that was with first-round draft picks Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree (granted, Ogletree was suspended the first four games). Missing oversized safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, who is serving a one-game suspension, and returning only three starters will put stress on the Georgia defense against one country’s best quarterbacks.
What we will learn about Clemson: If the secondary is good enough for a top-10 team. The Tigers’ secondary is the weak link on the defense. Safety Travis Blanks is the only returning starter here, and he needs to have a breakout season as a sophomore. The lingering pass defense problem from 2012 can’t extend into the 2013 opener against Georgia’s Aaron Murray.

2. LSU vs. TCU in Arlington, Texas
Need to know: Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about LSU: Who is ready to take charge. Will the young defense be ready to play at normal LSU levels? Will Zach Mettenberger be able to take the next step under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron? TCU's Casey Pachall and Waymon James have proven they can put stress on a defense when healthy and available. And Mettenberger will be tested against a Gary Patterson defense that proved it could translate success from the Mountain West to the Big 12.
What we will learn about TCU: What’s up Patterson’s sleeve. Patterson’s not offering many clues for his plans against LSU. He hasn’t announced a starting quarterback between Pachall and Trevone Boykin, though Pachall appears to be the favorite. Patterson also snuck defensive end Devonte Fields, who was supposed to be suspended, onto the depth chart. TCU has been hit by player departures (projected starting linebacker Joel Hasley) and injuries on the offensive line, so perhaps Patterson is grabbing any advantage he can get.

3. North Carolina at South Carolina
Need to know: Thursday, 6 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about North Carolina: The line is a major question mark for North Carolina’s offense, which was one of the most consistent in the ACC last season. If the offensive line can anchor an ACC contender. Three starters are gone, including first-round draft pick, Jonathan Cooper. Left tackle James Hurst will have his hands full with Jadeveon Clowney, but the good news is he won’t face anyone better for the rest of the season.
What we will learn about South Carolina: Are the defensive players not named Jadeveon ready to win the SEC? South Carolina has some holes at linebacker and to a lesser extent in the secondary. South Carolina needs to prove it can handle North Carolina and quarterback Bryn Renner before facing Georgia and Aaron Murray in the second week of the season.

4. Boise State at Washington
Need to know: Saturday, 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1
What we will learn about Boise State: If Joe Southwick is ready to carry Boise State. The quarterback was much improved in the final games of last season, throwing nine touchdowns and no interceptions in the final four games last season. He was 26 of 38 for 264 yards with two TDs in the bowl game against Washington, but Southwick will need to be a road performer. Besides Washington, the Broncos face Fresno State, Utah State, BYU and San Diego State on the road this season.
What we will learn about Washington: If more experience will turn the offense around. The Huskies repaired one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12 during the 2012 offseason. They’ll need to upgrade the offense this season if they’re going to get over the seven-win hump. A banged-up offensive line didn’t help Keith Price at all last season. Now, Washington has a healthy line, skill position talent (especially if Mackey Award contender Austin Seferian-Jenkins plays) and up-tempo tweaks in the scheme.

5. Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
Need to know: Thursday, 9:15 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about Ole Miss: A bit about how this brutal start will go. Ole Miss has a ton of momentum after closing last season with a win over Mississippi State, a bowl victory and a star-studded signing class. But the Rebels have to play games, and the early part of the schedule includes four of the first five on the road. If the Rebels can’t defeat Vanderbilt, how confident will they be against Texas (Sept. 14) and Alabama (Sept. 28)?
What we will learn about Vanderbilt: Who is Austyn Carta-Samuels? Vanderbilt won nine games under Jordan Rodgers last season, and now the job is being handed to a Wyoming transfer. Carta-Samuels had a nice freshman season in Laramie, but that’s a long way from reaching a bowl out of the SEC. Carta-Samuels will be without his No. 2 receiver in Chris Boyd, who was indicted in connection to the campus rape case. Police accuse Boyd of advising another defendant in covering up the crime.

6. Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State in Houston
Need to know: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC
What we will learn about Mississippi State: If the Bulldogs are ready for the big-time. Mississippi State folded against the top competition in the SEC last season. Oklahoma State is in the crowd atop the Big 12, but Mississippi State can still make a statement in Houston. The Bulldogs have a standout defensive line that will go up against an OSU unit that’s missing starting left tackle Devin Davis, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
What we will learn about Oklahoma State: An intro to a new offense. On one hand, Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh have had the entire offseason to prepare for starting this season — a year ago, freshman Wes Lunt, who has since transferred, was named the starter in spring. That’s good news, but those veterans are working under new coordinator Mike Yurcich.

7. Virginia Tech vs. Alabama in Atlanta
Need to know: Saturday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about Virginia Tech: Not much, really. The Crimson Tide embarrassed Michigan 41-14 to open last season. That’s a mark Virginia Tech may strain to avoid.
What we will learn about Alabama: How dominant this team could be. Frank Beamer has said Alabama is the best team Virginia Tech has faced during his tenure. If there’s a breakout offensive star — T.J. Yeldon or Amari Cooper — doing something big against Virginia Tech may be enough to put one or the other in the Heisman conversation along with AJ McCarron.

8. Florida State at Pittsburgh
Need to know: Monday, 8 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about Florida State: What role Jameis Winston may play. The redshirt freshman quarterback could be one of the breakout stars for 2013, but there may be little reason for coach Jimbo Fisher to play that hand, at least not yet. The Seminoles should have one of the best defenses in the ACC plus plenty of running back depth so Winston doesn’t need to be a star in his first start.
What we will learn about Pittsburgh: The direction of the running back position. Pittsburgh has had a number of deficiencies in its final seasons in the Big East, but running back hasn’t been one of them from LeSean McCoy to Dion Lewis to Ray Graham. The baton could have been passed to decorated recruit Rushel Shell, but he elected to transfer. When he wanted to return, coach Paul Chryst didn’t take him back. Pitt also had injuries to the top two running backs, junior Isaac Bennett and freshman James Conner, during fall practice.

9. Ohio at Louisville
Need to know: Sunday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about Ohio: The Bobcats’ status as a MAC team to watch. Consistency has been the biggest trademark for Ohio in recent years. The Bobcats have won between eight and 10 games in each of the last four seasons. Frank Solich has been here since 2005. But a MAC title has been elusive as flashier teams with transient coaches have won the league. Ohio may have what it takes to win the league this season.
What we will learn about Louisville: If the defense is ready to go undefeated. Teddy Bridgewater and the offense will be fine, but Charlie Strong’s D had its lapses last season. The Cardinals allowed 524 total yards in a loss to Syracuse and struggled to find a pass rush at times last season. Ohio returns the backfield duo of Tyler Tettleton and Beau Blankenship, who combined for 480 total yards against Penn State in the opener last season.

10. Rutgers at Fresno State
Need to know: Thursday, 10:30 p.m., ESPNU
What we will learn about Rutgers: How the defense will replace its stars. The Scarlet Knights lost Big East defensive player of the year Khaseem Greene, lockdown corner Logan Ryan and veterans Scott Vallone and Steve Beauharnais. That’s a lot for Rutgers to lose in one offseason, especially when the first game of 2013 is on the road against Fresno quarterback Derek Carr.
What we will learn about Fresno State: A bit about Fresno State’s Mountain West prospects. The Bulldogs hasn’t won an outright conference title since it’s been the same league with Boise State. The Bulldogs are expected to go toe-to-toe with the Broncos this season, possibly meeting in the first Mountain West title game. Defeating Rutgers at home in the opener would be a signal that Fresno is ready to take on Boise State and San Diego State.

Teaser:
Our picks of the top 10 games this weekend and what we may learn
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-all-125-college-football-coaches-hot-seat-2013
Body:

Coaches are always a hot topic during any college football season. And once the calendar turns to late October, replacements and potential firings will dominate the headlines even more.

There’s a difference between a coach on the hot seat and the overall pressure surrounding a coach. And it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the two categories. But Athlon Sports has tried to come up with a ranking of all 125 coaches with hot seat and overall pressure on the program in mind.

UNLV’s Bobby Hauck and USC’s Lane Kiffin are clearly on the hot seat entering 2013. Hauck has won just two games in each of his three seasons with the Rebels, while Kiffin – even though he received a vote of confidence from athletic director Pat Haden – can’t afford to have another 7-6 season. Connecticut’s Paul Pasqualoni and Eastern Michigan’s Ron English are also two coaches that need to show progress in order to stick around for 2013.

When it comes to pressure on a head coach from on a down year, look no further than Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham. Both coaches rank inside of the top 50 of the preseason 125 hot seat rankings, but neither coach is in any danger of losing their job. The ranking for those two coaches is more about the pressure on surrounding the program after a down year.

Ranking all 125 coaches when it comes to hot seat/pressure surrounding the program is an impossible task. Keep in mind, just because a coach ranks high on the list doesn’t mean we think he will be fired at the end of the year. Also, there’s really no separation from No. 28-100 on this list. So don’t get too caught up in the No. 55 or No. 76 ranked coach.


Ranking All 125 CFB Coaches on Hot Seat/Pressure on Program to Win in 2013

RkCoachTeamRecordAnalysis
1Bobby Hauck6-32 (3 years)Hauck has won just two games in each of UNLV's three seasons.
2Lane Kiffin25-13 (3 years)Kiffin got the vote of confidence from AD Pat Haden.
3Paul Pasqualoni10-14 (2 years)Defense has been good, but offense has struggled mightily.
4Ron English10-38 (4 years)EMU is one of the toughest jobs in college football.
5Mack Brown150-43 (15 years)Pieces are in place for Texas to make a Big 12 title run.
6Tim Beckman2-10 (1 year)Could he survive another 2-10 or 3-9 record?
7Dan Enos13-24 (3 years)Easy late season schedule helped CMU get bowl eligible last year.
8Don Treadwell8-16 (2 years)RedHawks haven't made much progress under Treadwell.
9Tony Levine6-7 (1+ year)With new stadium opening in 2014, Levine needs to show progress.
10Gary Pinkel90-61 (12 years)Good coach, but is Missouri falling too far behind rest of SEC?
11Jeff Quinn9-27 (3 years)Bulls won 3 out of last 4 games last year.
12Doc Holliday17-20 (3 years)Thundering Herd has talent to win C-USA in 2013.
13Steve Sarkisian26-25 (4 years)Huskies have three consecutive 7-6 seasons.
14Mike London16-21 (3 years)Recruiting well but has two losing seasons in three years.
15Kirk Ferentz100-74 (14 years)Huge buyout - in no danger of getting fired. 
16Randy Edsall6-18 (2 years)Terps need to show more progress for upcoming move to the Big Ten.
17Rich Ellerson17-32 (4 years)Went 12-13 in first two years. 5-19 in next two.
18Dave Christensen22-28 (4 years)Has two bowl appearances in four years.
19Norm Chow3-9 (1 year)Warriors have a ways to go under Chow.
20Charlie Weis1-11 (1 year)Talent improving thanks to addition of transfers.
21Charley Molnar1-11 (1 year)Tough job. Minutemen should show progress in 2013.
22Jim Grobe73-74 (12 years)No danger of getting fired but just 1 bowl game in last 4 years.
23Ron Turner1st yearQuestionable hire.
24Joey Jones25-15 (4 years)Will take some time for USA to compete for Sun Belt titles.
25Carl Pelini3-9 (1 year) 
26Skip Holtz1st yearWhich Holtz is Louisiana Tech getting? East Carolina or USF?
27Rick Stockstill43-44 (7 years)Rebounded last year after rough 2011.
28Kyle Whittingham71-32 (8 years)No danger of getting fired. But pressure to rebound after 5-7 record. 
29Bo Pelini49-20 (5 years)Nebraska is always a high pressure job. 
30Dan McCarney9-15 (2 years)McCarney should get UNT competitive in C-USA.
31Mike Leach3-9 (1 year)Cougars should be better in Leach's second year. 
32Dana Holgorsen17-9 (2 years) 
33David Bailiff30-44 (6 years)Rewarded with contract extension after 2012.
34Dan Mullen29-22 (4 years)Not an easy job. But needs to close gap with top teams in West.
35Kevin Wilson5-19 (2 years) 
36Larry Blakeney169-98-1 (22 years)Back-to-back losing records for first time at Troy.
37Mark Helfrich1st yearIs he the right choice to succeed Chip Kelly?
38June Jones31-34 (5 years)No danger of being fired. Four straight bowl games.
39George O'Leary60-55 (9 years) 
40Rod Carey0-1 (1st year)Can Carey build off what Dave Doeren leaves behind?
41Dave Clawson22-28 (4 years)Falcons will be in hunt for MAC East title this year.
42Kyle Flood9-4 (1 year) 
43Ruffin McNeill19-19 (3 years) 
44Garrick McGee3-9 (1 year) 
45Tommy Tuberville1st year 
46Paul Chryst6-7 (1 year)Up and down 2012. Should get better in next few years.
47Frank Beamer216-104-2 (26 years)Pressure to rebound after 7-6 mark in2 012.
48Bobby Petrino1st year 
49Terry Bowden1-11 (1 year)Struggled last year, but Zips should be improved in '13.
50Jim McElwain4-8 (1 year) 
51Dennis Franchoine23-24 (4 years)Has Texas State on the right track.
52Bryan Harsin1st yearA solid hire for the Red Wolves.
53Brian Polian1st yearReplacing a legend like Chris Ault won't be easy.
54Ron Caragher1st year 
55Matt Wells1st year 
56Paul Haynes1st year 
57Scott Shafer1st yearHas to guide Syracuse through ACC transition. 
58Sean Kugler1st year 
59Curtis Johnson2-10 (1 year)Green Wave on the right track.
60Bronco Mendenhall74-29 (8 years)Cougars play a challenging schedule this year. 
61Bob Davie4-9 (1 year) 
62Matt Rhule1st year 
63Rocky Long17-9 (2 years) 
64Al Golden13-11 (2 years)Will Miami finally win the Coastal this year?
65Todd Monken1st yearShould make USM fans forget Ellis Johnson. 
66Brady Hoke19-7 (2 years)Always pressure to win big at Michigan. 
67Ken Niumatalolo40-26 (5 years) 
68Mark Richt118-40 (12 years) 
69Dabo Swinney40-21 (4+ years) 
70Jimbo Fisher31-10 (3 years)Seminoles back on the rise under Fisher. 
71Bob Stoops149-37 (14 years)Has won at least 10 games in 6 out of last 7 years.
72Mark Dantonio51-28 (6 years) 
73Paul Johnson41-26 (5 years) 
74Frank Solich59-44 (8 years) 
75Jerry Kill9-16 (2 years) 
76Tim DeRuyter9-4 (1 year)Bulldogs should push Boise State for MW title. 
77P.J. Fleck1st yearMaking a splash on the recruiting trail. 
78Butch Jones1st yearCan Jones return Tennessee to SEC title contender status?
79Bret Bielema1st year 
80Mark Stoops1st yearStoops is doing a great job on the recruiting trail. 
81Gus Malzahn1st yearGreat fit at Auburn. 
82Mike MacIntyre1st yearNeeds time to rebuild roster.
83Matt Campbell10-4 (1+ year)One of the rising stars in the coaching ranks.
84Jim Mora9-5 (1 year) 
85Darrell Hazell1st yearCan he work a quick turnaround?
86Steve Addazio1st yearOff to a good start on the recruiting trail. 
87Larry Fedora8-4 (1 year) 
88Dave Doeren1st year 
89Sonny Dykes1st year 
90Rich Rodriguez8-5 (1 year) 
91Todd Graham8-5 (1 year) 
92Mike Riley81-67 (12 years) 
93Larry Coker12-10 (2 years) 
94Bill Blankenship19-8 (2 years) 
95Les Miles85-21 (8 years) 
96Pete Lembo15-10 (2 years)Another rising star to watch in 2013. 
97Todd Berry17-20 (3 years) 
98Justin Fuente4-8 (1 year)Tigers won three in a row to finish 2012.
99Brian Kelly28-11 (3 years) 
100Trent Miles1st yearGeorgia State made a great hire in Miles. 
101Gary Andersen1st year 
102David Cutcliffe21-40 (5 years)Will the Blue Devils become an annual bowl team?
103Will Muschamp18-8 (2 years) 
104Hugh Freeze7-6 (1 year) 
105Troy Calhoun47-31 (6 years) 
106Willie Taggart1st yearBest hire of the offseason. 
107Kliff Kingsbury1st yearFormer Texas Tech QB has returned to Lubbock.
108Paul Rhoads24-27 (4 years) 
109Doug Martin1st yearNo pressure as a FBS Independent this year. 
110Paul Petrino1st yearNo pressure as a FBS Independent this year. 
111Mark Hudspeth18-8 (2 years) 
112Kevin Sumlin11-2 (1 year) 
113James Franklin15-11 (2 years) 
114Charlie Strong25-14 (3 years) 
115Mike Gundy67-35 (8 years) 
116Gary Patterson116-36 (12 years) 
117Art Briles33-30 (5 years) 
118Bill O'Brien8-4 (1 year) 
119Steve Spurrier66-37 (8 years) 
120David Shaw23-4 (2 years) 
121Pat Fitzgerald50-39 (7 years) 
122Bill Snyder170-85-1 (21 years) 
123Chris Petersen84-8 (7 years) 
124Urban Meyer12-0 (1 year) 
125Nick Saban68-13 (6 years)Three championships (and counting) at Alabama


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Teaser:
Ranking All 125 College Football Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2013
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-football-pre-week-1-heisman-voting
Body:

Each week of the college football season, Athlon Sports will poll some of the nation's best college football people from every region of the country. Each voter offers up a top five and each first-place vote is worth five points. A second-place vote is worth four points, so on and so forth. With 13 voters, a perfect ballot — i.e., 13 first-place votes — would give a player 65 total points.

Johnny Manziel is the defending Heisman winner but the odds are stacked against him. Tim Tebow, Matt Leinart, Sam Bradford and Mark Ingram all returned to try to defend their stiff-armed trophies and failed. Only 1-in-77 players has ever won the award a second time, that being, of course, the legendary Ohio State tailback Archie Griffin. Manziel will have to repeat arguably the greatest season in history in the toughest division in football with a giant bulls-eye on his back, from both opposing defenses and the NCAA. And while there appears to be a Heisman revolution developing, the majority of the initial vote-getters were, in fact, quarterbacks.

So without further ado, here is our 13-member Heisman Trophy panel and how the votes look heading into the first week of the regular season:

Pre-Week 1 Results:

 PlayerPos.TeamTot. Pts1st2nd3rd4th5th
1.Braxton MillerQBOhio St42/6552211
2.Johnny ManzielQBTexas A&M385211-
3.Marcus MariotaQBOregon3323221
4.Jadeveon ClowneyDESouth Carolina2812411
5.AJ McCarronQBAlabama22-2224
6.Tajh BoydQBClemson11--14-
7.Teddy BridgewaterQBLouisville7-1--3
8.Marqise LeeWRUSC6-1-1-
9.Aaron MurrayQBGeorgia5--1-2
10.Kevin HoganQBStanford2---1-
11.Taylor MartinezQBNebraska1----1

 

The Voting Panel (click name for twitter accounts):

NameOrganizationWebsite
Tom DienhartBig Ten NetworkBigTenNetwork.com
Bryan FischerPac-12 NetworkPac-12.com
David FoxAthlon SportsAthlonSports.com
Braden GallAthlon SportsAthlonSports.com
Steven GodfreySB NationSBNation.com
Chris HustonHeisman PunditHeismanPundit.com
Steven LassanAthlon SportsAthlonSports.com
Chris LevelRed Raider SportsRedRaiderSports.com
Mitch LightAthlon SportsAthlonSports.com
Billy LiucciTexAgsTexAgs.com
Dan RubensteinSB Nation/Solid VerbalSolidVerbal.com
Josh WardMr. SEC/WNMLMrSEC.com
Jim YoungACC Sports JournalACCSports.com

 

Teaser:
College Football: Pre-Week 1 Heisman Voting
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/will-johnny-manziel-repeat-heisman-winner-2013
Body:

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been in the spotlight this offseason for his various off-the-field activities. While the sophomore has garnered some bad publicity since the Cotton Bowl, the season opener is just a few days away, and he is one of the frontrunners to claim the Heisman Trophy.

Although it’s uncertain if Manziel will be forced to miss any games due to the recent autograph scandal, he will have his hands full repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner. This is one of the deepest groups of contenders for the award in recent memory, and Manziel will have a difficult task repeating last year’s numbers.

Athlon’s editors debate Manziel's Heisman chances, along with the frontrunner for the ward in 2013. 

Will Texas A&M Quarterback Johnny Manziel Repeat as the Heisman Winner in 2013?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even before the ongoing investigation into the autograph scandal, I thought it was going to be very difficult for Johnny Manziel to repeat as the Heisman winner. Manziel simply set the bar too high as a true freshman, throwing for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns, while adding 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. Repeating those numbers without receiver Ryan Swope and left tackle Luke Joeckel wasn’t going to be easy. And after entering 2012 with low expectations, Texas A&M was going into 2013 with a bullseye on its back. Also, plenty of SEC coaches spent the offseason trying to figure out a way to stop Manziel, and the rest of the SEC will be more prepared for the Aggies in 2013. Even if Manziel doesn’t repeat as the Heisman winner, he should still have an outstanding year and will be in the mix for first-team All-SEC honors once again.

As for my frontrunner, I have to go with Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. In the first season under coach Urban Meyer last year, Miller threw for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,271 yards and 13 scores. With a better supporting cast in place, look for the junior to see a significant increase in his passing yards. Miller should benefit from another offseason to grasp Meyer’s offense, and his Heisman campaign will certainly be helped by the Buckeyes’ run at a national title. But let’s not forget about South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The junior is college football’s best player, but will he get enough support as a defensive player to win the Heisman? 

Mark Ross
Even if Manziel had not been the subject of so many headlines, scrutiny and criticism during the spring and summer, I would not pick him to win the Heisman again. The not-so positive media coverage aside, the odds are pretty much stacked against Manziel to repeat. For starters, only one man has ever done so, and Archie Griffin accomplished this feat nearly 40 years ago. More recently, Tim Tebow had a shot at the rare repeat in 2008, and while he didn't have a horrible season by any means (42 total touchdowns), he still finished third in the Heisman voting.

Just like Tebow in 2008, this season Manziel not only has to, in essence, beat every other FBS player to win another Heisman, he also has to beat himself. Regardless of how gaudy the Texas A&M quarterback's statistics are this fall, if he doesn't top last year's record-breaking numbers (5,116 total yards of offense, responsible for 47 touchdowns), then it's hard for me to see him generating the same level of support from the Heisman voters. And unlike last year when be burst on the scene as a redshirt freshman, every one knows who Johnny Football is, which makes his job as a starting quarterback in the SEC — also known as the nation's toughest conference — that much harder.

Just because we won't see Manziel win back-to-back Heismans, that doesn't mean a dual-threat sophomore quarterback won't claim the famous stiff-armed trophy in 2013. Come December, I am picking Oregon's Marcus Mariota to finish ahead of Alabama's AJ McCarron and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Manziel doesn't even finish in the top five.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The odds are stacked heavily against Johnathan Manziel's favor. Sam Bradford, Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow and Mark Ingram couldn't repeat, leaving just one winner in nearly 80 years as a two-timer. There is a reason Archie Griffin is the only two-time winner and that is because it is virtually and literally impossible. Defenses have more film to study and are focused more on stopping No. 2 and his supporting cast isn't nearly as experienced and capable. Johnny Football is wired to handle distractions and will be a pleasure to watch once again in 2013, but his off-the-field issues have to impact the rest of team somehow. The bottom line is Manziel produced one of, if not the, greatest statistical season in college football history. By definition, he won't be able to replicate that this fall. He will have a big season and maybe get back to New York. Give me Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to win the stiff-armed trophy in 2013.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
If Tim Tebow couldn’t become the first two-time Heisman winner since Archie Griffin, I doubt many players could. Reigning Heisman winners not only have to be better than the field in a give season, they have to be demonstrably better than they were a season earlier. Johnny Manziel’s season was historic in 2012, nearly 90 yards of total offense better than Cam Newton’s 2010 season. And even if Manziel approaches his 400 yards of total offense per game and 47 total touchdowns, his offseason behavior and so-what demeanor will cause some voters to look for plausible alternatives — I don’t agree with this, but it’s a sentiment that’s out there. And plausible alternatives will be out there, unlike they were last season. Imagine if the Heisman vote were taken after the bowl games last season: How many would be voting for Manti Te’o and Collin Klein then? So that brings me to this season’s Heisman pick. The field is simply too crowded to feel strongly about anyone, especially how the last few Heisman winners were far from the preseason favorites. Braxton Miller is an easy preseason pick, though. Like recent Heisman winners, Miller is the clear focal point of his offense in the air and on the ground. He’ll play for a title contender and a name team, and he’ll have a chance for a late-season push against Michigan and probably a Big Ten title game.

Related College Football Content

College Football Bowl Projections for 2013
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Teaser:
Will Johnny Manziel Repeat as the Heisman Winner?
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 07:13

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