Articles By All

All taxonomy terms: Atlanta Falcons, NFC, NFC South, NFL
Path: /nfl/atlanta-falcons-2012-nfl-team-preview

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

The Atlanta Falcons check in at No. 8.

For the third time in four seasons, the Atlanta Falcons’ season ended in the first round of the playoffs. The New York Giants banished Atlanta from the postseason, 24–2, and went on to win the Super Bowl. There shouldn’t be any solace taken in the fact that in each of the three one-and-done playoff appearances, Atlanta lost to the eventual NFC representative in the Super Bowl.

The Falcons are in win-now mode, and that’s not just a playoff win. Atlanta needs — and is talented enough — to make a Super Bowl run.
Gone are both the offensive and defensive coordinators from the three failed Falcons playoff runs. General manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith brought in new coaching blood to spark a change. And team owner Arthur Blank is fully behind the change. Blank is tired of watching the late rounds of the playoffs from home. He’s calling for success, and he wants it immediately. 


The biggest addition to the Falcons’ offense will never step foot on the field of play. New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter plans three things that could greatly enhance play when Atlanta has the ball: 1) create a better vertical attack; 2) use the screen pass more frequently; 3) reduce Michael Turner’s workload.

Even though quarterback Matt Ryan says the playbook has only changed about 15 to 20 percent, the newly added schemes could bolster Ryan’s numbers dramatically.

Koetter has always been a deep-threat mastermind, and Atlanta has the tools in Roddy White and especially Julio Jones to stretch the field. Ryan has been working on strengthening his passing arm, and the quarterback will have a complete offseason to work with his receiving corps to perfect these new deep routes.

The Falcons rarely threw screen passes under Mike Mularkey. Koetter plans to work with the running backs and the offensive line to incorporate the screen game into the offense. This will not only help keep opposing teams from retreating too quickly into the secondary, but it will also get players like running backs Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers more involved in the offense. Snelling is the best receiver in the Falcons’ backfield, and Rodgers is a quick, change-of-pace back who can give Atlanta multiple looks. He had 151 receptions in three seasons at Oregon State.

At 30 years old, Turner is on the back end of his playing days. He finished third in the NFL in rushing with 1,340 yards but was far more dangerous in the beginning of the season than at the end. Four of his six 100-yard games came in the first seven weeks of the season, though he did have a season-high 172 yards in a Week 17 win over Tampa Bay. The Falcons will reduce Turner’s workload in 2012 in an effort to keep him healthy and explosive. Gone are the days when Turner would accumulate 300 or more carries in a season.

Turner’s lightened workload will mean more opportunities for Rodgers, the team’s fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft. The Falcons coaching staff believes Rodgers can be an every-down back in the future. That future is not in 2012, but if Rodgers can double his workload from his rookie season — he had 57 carries in 16 games — it will take pressure off of Turner and keep the veteran fresh in the second half of the season.

Other than a few changes on the offensive line — Joe Hawley could beat out Todd ­McClure at center and there is an open competition at right guard — the Falcons will look very similar on offense from a personnel standpoint. The team expects Jones, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 draft, to shine in his second season. He missed three complete games and all but one series of another because of injury in his rookie campaign. If healthy for 16 games, Jones has the ability to lead the NFC in receiving. Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez returns for his 16th and final season before heading off to his eventual destination, the Hall of Fame in Canton. 


As much of a game-changer as Koetter is expected to be on offense, new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is supposed to be even more of a catalyst for the Falcons’ defense.

Nolan comes to Atlanta equally experienced with the 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes. The Falcons have been playing the 4-3, and Nolan says it isn’t wise to change schemes immediately, but expect him to plug in a good number of hybrid looks.

The biggest difference in the front seven will be the absence of linebacker Curtis Lofton, who led the team in tackles in each of the last three years. The former second-round pick signed a five-year deal with NFC South rival New Orleans. Nolan plans to play a lot of nickel packages, which would have turned Lofton, who is weak in pass coverage, into a two-down linebacker. The Falcons didn’t feel the need to pay Lofton’s salary demands for first- and second-down work.

Instead, Atlanta traded for veteran help in the secondary. The Falcons acquired former All-Pro Asante Samuel, who will team with Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson to give the team three elite cornerbacks. Expect Samuel and Grimes to remain on the outside while Robinson moves inside to cover the slot receiver.

The NFL has turned into a pass-happy league, and the NFC South has four very talented quarterbacks. The Falcons will spend a lot of time in Nolan’s “Big Nickel” package, and the secondary — which has been an area of weakness in the past — could be a bright spot in 2012. 


Atlanta returns kicker Matt Bryant and punter Matt Bosher. Bryant led the league in accuracy, hitting 93.1 percent of his field goal attempts. Bosher, the team’s sixth-round pick in 2011, got off to a rough start as a rookie but was punting the ball very well late in the season.

Return specialist Eric Weems left via free agency, so the Falcons will look at corner Dominique Franks along with rookies Cody Pearcy and James Rodgers (Jacquizz’s brother) to step up on special teams. 

Final Analysis: 1st in the NFC South

Getting over the playoff hump is of the utmost importance to the Falcons, but it’s only the first step. Atlanta cannot just settle for winning a playoff game. It’s “win now” time for this team, and if the Falcons don’t advance to the NFC Championship Game, the year will be a failure.

Much of the roster looks the same, with upgrades in the secondary and on the offensive line. The biggest area of change — and what could quite possibly be the factor that pushes the Falcons over the hump — is with both coordinators.

Koetter and Nolan will breathe new life into this Falcons team on both sides of the ball. It will be up to Smith, the head coach, and the players to do the rest.  

Related: 2012 Atlanta Falcons Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Just How Good?
If you just give wide receiver Julio Jones the four games he missed as a rookie, his numbers would project to this: 72 receptions, 1,279 yards and 11 touchdowns. He might actually do better in 2012 and move into the top five of the league in yardage and touchdown catches.
Dome sweet dome Only two teams in the NFL have better home records than the Falcons since 2008. Atlanta’s 26 wins at the Georgia Dome trail only Baltimore (27) and New England (28).

Smith’s A Winner
Mike Smith is Atlanta’s 14th head coach in franchise history. He’s the first head coach to lead the Falcons to four consecutive winning seasons, and his 43–21 regular-season record is the best four-year mark in franchise history. With 43 wins, Smith sits in third place on the all-time Falcons coaching list behind Leeman Bennett (46) and Dan Reeves (49). A seven-win season would propel Smith into first place on the list.

Quick Out of the Gate
No team in the NFL has scored more points than Atlanta on its first possession of the game over the past four seasons. The Falcons have accumulated 173 points on their first drives of games since 2008. New Orleans is second (171) with New England third (163).

Close Game, No Problem
Over the last four seasons, Atlanta leads the league in games decided by eight points or less, with a 22–10 record since 2008. In games decided by a field goal or less, the Falcons are 9–6.

Tough in the Red Zone
Atlanta was extremely tough on opponents when backed up into the red zone in 2011. The Falcons’ defense held opponents to a 78.7 scoring percentage when inside the 20-yard line, giving up 22 touchdowns and 15 field goals on 47 trips inside the red zone.

Moving the Ball
In 2011, the Falcons set a franchise record for most total net yards gained in a season with 6,026 yards. Atlanta broke the record that was set by the 2008 squad, which posted 5,779 total yards.

Matt Bryant has been in the league 10 seasons and is showing no signs of slowing down. With three field goals in Week 7 last year, Bryant set a franchise record with 27 consecutive made field goals. His 27-for-29 performance in 2011 was good for third-best all time in the Falcons record books.
In good hands Tight end Tony Gonzalez moved into 11th place on the all-time list with his 875 receiving yards last year. Gonzalez now has 13,338 receiving yards in his career and needs 667 more to pass James Lofton and move into seventh place.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

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

Order your 2012 Atlanta Falcons Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Atlanta Falcons Schedule Analysis

<p> Atlanta Falcons 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-new-orleans-saints

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Jeff Duncan, New Orleans Times Picayune

What sort of time share can we expect in the Saints backfield between Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas?
The Saints will employ a similar strategy as last season, with all three getting their share of touches weekly. I expect Ingram to win the starting spot with Sproles playing primarily in the nickel packages and two-minute offense. Thomas will share the workload with Ingram, subbing in for a series or two each half. Chris Ivory is also in the mix. He is healthy now and is the club’s best power runner.

Do you expect Jimmy Graham’s numbers to come down across the board?
No. I expect similar numbers. Defenses undoubtedly will concentrate their game-plans on Graham more this season. But it’s very difficult for teams to focus on one Saints perimeter player because they have so many other weapons at their disposal. Moreover, Graham is so talented and such a mismatch for most defenders that Drew Brees often throws to him successfully even when he’s double-covered.

Will Devery Henderson finish as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver?
No. Henderson is on the downside of his career. He might inherit Robert Meachem’s starting spot, but I expect Lance Moore to become the clear No. 2 in terms of production. Henderson’s role has diminished in recent years while Moore’s actually has expanded. In fact, I think there’s a greater chance that one of the team’s stable of young receivers — Adrian Arrington, Joe Morgan or Nick Toon — will overtake Henderson for the third receiver spot than Henderson does of being the No. 2 receiver.

What sort of impact will the offseason drama have on Drew Brees and the prolific Saints offense?
Little if any. As long as Brees is around, the Saints offense will continue to rack up yards and points. The biggest concern is the loss of head coach Sean Payton, a brilliant game-planner and offensive strategist. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. and running game coordinator Aaron Kromer are well-versed in the Saints system and proved they could function just fine as play-callers a year ago when Payton went down with a leg injury. But Payton’s loss will be felt during weekly game-plan sessions, where he was a master at identifying opponents’ weaknesses and exploiting them. Still, the Saints have so much talent and Brees is essentially a coach on the field that I can’t see them dropping off much at all. The club’s top four rushers and top five receivers return from a unit that set the NFL record for yards gained in a season.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Lance Moore, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Nick Toon, WR
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Nick Toon, WR
Bounce-Back: Mark Ingram, RB
Top IDP: Curtis Lofton, LB

2012 Draft Class

3. Akiem Hicks DT 6-5 318 Regina College
4. Nick Toon WR 6-2 215 Wisconsin
5. Corey White S 5-11 206 Samford
6. Andrew Tiller G 6-4 324 Syracuse
7. Marcel Jones T 6-6 320 Nebraska

Fantasy Impact: Thanks to a trade of their first-round pick and losing a second-round selection due to the bounty scandal, the Saints were largely quiet in the draft. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks has a lot of upside, but he played collegiately in Canada and will have a steep learning curve to contribute in 2012. Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore are set as the top three receivers for quarterback Drew Brees, but Nick Toon could work his way into the mix as the No. 4 receiver. Although he might not make much of an impact in 2012, he could be one to watch in 2013 or 2014.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at NYG, TB, at DAL)

The Saints should get off to a great start against a Giants team that was in the bottom six against QBs, WRs and TEs and did little to improve its starting defense. The Buccaneers were bottom three against QBs and RBs and middle of the road against WRs and TEs but did go defense with four of the first five draft picks. The game in Dallas for the title game could be a shootout.

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

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

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New Orleans Saints</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 05:57
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-minnesota-vikings

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Jeremy Fowler, St. Paul Pioneer Press

Will Adrian Peterson return to full strength for the start of the season and therefore justify using a first-round draft pick to land him?
Peterson’s fantasy risk could keep owners nervous up until the days before the Vikings’ Week 1 opener. Asking Peterson to carry the ball 20 times a game less than nine months removed from a torn ACL would be ambitious. But don’t forget — Peterson is an otherworldly athlete, he’s drawn a line in the sand that he doesn’t plan to miss time and his rehab has gone smoothly by all accounts. If he doesn’t play Week 1, he likely won’t be out long.

How many touches can we expect from Toby Gerhart in 2012?
Even if Peterson returns to full health by Week 1, expect Gerhart to get eight-to-12 touches per game as the Vikings look to protect Peterson’s long-term promise. Gerhart seems to thrive off carries in bulk. If Peterson doesn’t make it back by the season’s start, Gerhart could have solid fantasy value.

Can Kyle Rudolph stay healthy and become a weekly fantasy starter at tight end?
Rudolph caught three touchdown passes in his last six games as a rookie and can become one of the most potent red-zone targets in the NFC North. Float it to the 6'6" Rudolph on a lob, and he’ll use his size and incredible hands to snatch the ball. Question is, can he consistently beat man coverage? And though the Vikings will run plenty of two-tight-end sets, Rudolph will be battling John Carlson for touches. Still, there’s little reason Rudolph shouldn’t break out.

Will Christian Ponder and the passing game be effective enough to create useful fantasy receivers other than Percy Harvin?
The Vikings have made enough improvements to the offensive line and at receiver to rescue a 28th-ranked passing offense to a more respectable level. They won’t challenge New Orleans’ touchdowns-in-seven-seconds-or-less offense, but Ponder will have more ammunition to work with after the Vikings added a potential elite left tackle (Matt Kalil), a viable deep threat (Jerome Simpson) and a talented receiving tight end to pair with Rudolph (Carlson). Let’s be real, though — the offense’s hopes hinge on Ponder’s progression. If he improves his decision-making, he’ll realize his sizable potential.

Which rookie wideout would you target in Minnesota?
The Vikings resisted the temptation to draft a receiver in the late-first or early-second round because they felt confident in Arkansas tandem Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. Despite a skill set suited for the slot (Percy Harvin’s home), Wright looks poised to have the bigger rookie impact than Childs, who is still trying to find his way after a torn patella tendon slowed him in his final two college years. The Vikings move Harvin around enough to make room for Wright, who will be explosive in space. Childs can be a deep threat eventually, but the Vikings have Simpson and Michael Jenkins to bridge the gap in 2012.
Note: Childs tore the patellar tendon in both knees early in training camp and is out for the season.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Toby Gerhart, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Kyle Rudolph, TE
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Blair Walsh, K
Bounce-Back: Christian Ponder, QB
Top IDP: Jared Allen, DE

2012 Draft Class

1. Matt Kalil T 6-7 295 USC
1. Harrison Smith S 6-2 214 Notre Dame
3. Josh Robinson CB 5-10 199 UCF
4. Jarius Wright WR 5-9 180 Arkansas
4. Rhett Ellison TE 6-5 250 USC
4. Greg Childs WR 6-3 217 Arkansas
5. Robert Blanton S 6-1 200 Notre Dame
6. Blair Walsh K 5-10 192 Georgia
7. Audie Cole LB 6-4 239 NC State
7. Trevor Guyton DE 6-3 280 California

Fantasy Impact: Tackle Matt Kalil will help protect the blindside of quarterback Christian Ponder and open up rushing lanes for Adrian Peterson. Outside of Percy Harvin, the Vikings lack playmakers at receiver. Jarius Wright and Greg Childs will help stretch the field, but neither is likely to sustain fantasy value in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (CHI, at STL, at HOU)

A start against the Bears should be good news for the WRs and TEs as Chicago was 11th-worst and seventh-worst, respectively, against the positions. The Vikes face a Rams team, now coached by Jeff Fisher, that was already top 10 against QBs and TEs. They play a Texans team in fantasy championship week that was top five against fantasy QBs, RBs and TEs last season and top 10 against receivers.

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

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

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Minnesota Vikings</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 05:56
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-miami-dolphins

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Ethan Skolnick, Palm Beach Post

Can Reggie Bush build on his first career 1,000-yard season or will Daniel Thomas (or Lamar Miller) steal a big chunk of his touches?
No offensive staff has believed in Bush as an every-down back until the one the Dolphins had last season. Now that staff is gone, and Joe Philbin hasn’t traditionally loaded up one guy with carries. Expect Bush to contribute more as a receiver, but less as a runner.

Is any Dolphins’ pass-catcher worth a fantasy roster spot?
No. Davone Bess is the Dolphins’ most reliable threat, but most of his damage is done horizontally, out of the slot, rather than vertically. Brian Hartline has slightly above-average speed and can tiptoe the sidelines, but more than 600 yards would be a stretch. And Clyde Gates is raw as a deep threat, with a long way to go.

Rank the four potential fantasy contributors at tight end for the Fish.
You know what you’re getting from Anthony Fasano, even though his improvement as a blocker won’t show up on the fantasy scoreboard. Rank Fasano first, though Charles Clay appears to have bigger upside as a receiver and will be on the field plenty. Michael Egnew also showed a feel for route-running in college. It’s not clear what to expect from Les Brown, since he’s so new to the position.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Davone Bess, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Clyde Gates, WR
Overvalued: Reggie Bush, RB
Top Rookie: Lamar Miller, RB
Bounce-Back: Daniel Thomas, RB
Top IDP: Karlos Dansby, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Ryan Tannehill QB 6-4 221 Texas A&M
2. Jonathan Martin T 6-5 312 Stanford
3. Olivier Vernon DE 6-2 261 Miami
3. Michael Egnew TE 6-5 252 Missouri
4. Lamar Miller RB 5-11 210 Miami (Fla.)
5. Josh Kaddu LB 6-3 239 Oregon
6. B.J. Cunningham WR 6-1 211 Michigan State
7. Kheeston Randall DT 6-4 293 Texas
7. Rishard Matthews WR 6-0 212 Nevada

Fantasy Impact: The success or failure of the Dolphins’ 2012 draft will hinge on whether or not Ryan Tannehill emerges as a successful starting quarterback. He should be selected in keeper formats, with his biggest impact likely to come in 2013. Lamar Miller is a big-play threat but is behind Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas for carries.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at SF, JAC, BUF)

New HC. New OC. New QB. Can Reggie Bush repeat? Deal with all of these scenarios then start the fantasy playoffs against San Francisco’s defense and a Jacksonville defense that ranked in the top seven against QBs, RBs and WRs. The good news: If the Dolphins find a reliable TE they could be worth a play. Jacksonville (30th) and Buffalo (32th) were terrible against fantasy TEs last season.

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

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

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Miami Dolphins</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-offensive-linemen-2012

Playing on the offensive line is one of the least glamorous positions on the field. However, the players in the trenches are some of the most important, as the offense can't move the ball with a line that struggles to block. The 2012 college football season has plenty of talented linemen ready to challenge for All-American honors, led by Alabama's Barrett Jones. The senior is switching from left tackle to center but is expected to have another standout year. 

When compiling the rankings, Athlon considered how each player will perform in 2012, some past performance, personnel losses around the quarterback, conference difficulty and pro potential. 

College Football's Top Offensive Linemen for 2012

Top 5 Centers for 2012

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

2. Khaled Holmes, USC
With Matt Kalil moving onto the NFL, it’s up to Holmes to become the leader for USC’s offensive line. That shouldn’t be a problem for the California native, as he has started in each of the last two years and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Holmes made a seamless transition from guard to center in 2011 and should be one of the top linemen in college football this year. 

3. Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
After starting most of last season at left guard, Frederick slides over to center to replace Peter Konz, a second-round pick by the Falcons in the 2012 NFL Draft. Frederick is not entirely new to the position, however; he started two games at center in ’11 — vs. Penn State on Nov. 26 and the Big Ten Championship Game vs. Michigan State. A 6-4, 328-pound junior, Frederick earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last fall. 

4. Gabe Ikard, OG/C, Oklahoma
With Ikard leading the way, Oklahoma expects to have one of the Big 12’s top offensive lines. He started 12 games as a freshman in 2010 and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors for his performance in 2011. Ikard’s value to the team was on full display after he moved from guard to center to replace the injured Ben Habern last year. The junior is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2012 and will likely slide back to center with Habern deciding to retire before fall camp.

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

Top 15 Offensive Tackles for 2012

1. Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
Entering his third season in the starting lineup, Wagner will anchor what should be the best offensive line in the Big Ten from the all-important left tackle spot. A 6-6, 322-pound fifth-year senior from West Allis, Wis., Wagner arrived in Madison as a walk-on tight end but has made a successive transition to the offensive line. He started at right tackle in 2010 but made the move to the left side last fall to replace former All-American Gabe Carimi. 

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

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

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

5. Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Lewan, a 6-8, 302-pound junior, has started 22 games over the past two seasons at left tackle. A second-team All-Big Ten pick last season (by the coaches), Lewan will be asked to be the leader of the Wolverines’ offensive line following the graduation of Rimington Award-winning center David Molk.

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

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

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

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

10. Justin Pugh, Syracuse
One of the nation’s top offensive tackles, Pugh enters his junior season with high expectations. He has started all 25 games over the last two seasons, culminating in two all-conference awards (2nd team in 2010 and 1st team in 2011). He has paved the way for back-to-back 1,000-yard rushers and is charged with protecting star quarterback Ryan Nassib this fall. With a great year at Syracuse, Pugh could leave early for the NFL. However, the junior is dealing with an injury that could force him to miss the start of 2012.

11. David Bakhtiari, Colorado
The junior left tackle is one of the few veteran, Pac-12-caliber players for Colorado, earning coaches’ second-team all-conference last season. Bakhtiari is entering his third season a starter.

12. LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders anchor up front is this senior from Columbus, Texas. Waddle has started 25 consecutive games and enters his final season in Lubbock as a reigning second-team All-Big 12 selection. Fans can bet on a first-team-type of season from the 6-foot-6, 320-pounder.

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

14. Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Getting consistent play from the offensive line has been an issue for Notre Dame in recent years, but 2012 could be different. Martin has been a steady performer in his first two years and could challenge for All-American honors this season. He started all 13 games at left tackle last year and enters 2012 with 26 consecutive starts. The Irish allowed only 17 sacks last season and could improve upon that number with Martin returning for 2012. 

15. Kevin Graf, USC
Protecting Matt Barkley might be considered the single most important charge of any unit in the nation. The former top 100 recruit turned All-Pac-12 junior is the most accomplished of the bunch and will be asked to lead in Matt Kalil's absence. The Agoura Hills, Calif., native is the third Graf to call Heritage Hall home — his brother and father both played at USC.

Top 15 Guards for 2012

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

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

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

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

5. Cyril Richardson, Baylor
Circle Richardson’s name if you are looking for someone who could emerge as one of the nation’s best linemen in 2012. He started all 13 games at left tackle last season and earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Richardson will move back inside to guard this year, and has massive frame (6-foot-5, 335 pounds) should give quarterback Nick Florence plenty of protection, while opening up rushing lanes for Jarred Salubi and Lache Seastrunk.

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

7. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
Jackson was the anchor for the Bulldogs' offensive line, which averaged 175.3 rushing yards per game last season. The 6-foot-4 guard started all 13 games in 2011 and earned second-team All-SEC honors. The SEC is loaded with talent on the offensive line, but Jackson should not be overlooked.

8. David Yankey, Stanford
The redshirt sophomore from Roswell, Ga., has big shoes to fill now that Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro have moved on. But the cupboard isn't bare with big Yankey leading the way. This unit was No. 17 nationally in rushing (trailing only Oregon inside the league) and seventh nationally in protecting the quarterback. Yankey should only be that much better in his second full season on the field.

9. Braden Hansen, BYU
Hansen has been a steady presence for BYU's offensive line and enters 2012 with 39 consecutive starts. The senior has been named to the Lombardi and Outland Trophy watch lists for 2012 and is on the radar for scouts in the 2013 NFL Draft.

10. Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
The leader of the Pokes offensive line, Taylor returns for his final season with 36 career starts under his belt. As the only returning starter up front for one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, the Arlington, Texas native will be counted on for more leadership this fall.

11. Spencer Long, Nebraska
A walk-on from Elkhorn, Neb., Long didn’t even see any game action until last season when he started every game at guard. Long was a key blocker for an offense that averaged 217.2 rushing yards per game, which ranked third in the Big Ten and 15th in the nation.

12. Chris McDonald, Michigan State
McDonald has been a nearly automatic presence in the Spartans’ starting lineup, making 17 consecutive starts and 26 overall at right guard. With a new starting quarterback, McDonald may have to pave the way for running back Le’Veon Bell to carry the offense.
13. Mason Walters, Texas
The top blocker on a unit that has underachieved, Walters has started all 25 games of his two-year career at right guard. He is hoping to build upon his honorable mention All-Big 12 selection from last year.
14. Carson York, Oregon
York has been a stabilizing force on Oregon’s offensive line, starting 36 career games. However, his status for the season opener is in doubt, as he suffered a serious knee injury in the bowl win over Wisconsin. If healthy, York should be one of the best guards in the nation.
15. Blaize Foltz, TCU
With only two returning starters, the offensive line is the Horned Frogs' biggest question mark on offense. However, TCU has a solid duo to build around on the interior. Foltz should be leader for this unit after earning first-team All-Mountain West honors in 2011 and will be expected to challenge for All-Big 12 accolades in 2012.
<p> College Football's Top Offensive Linemen for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 05:15
Path: /nascar/nascar-news-notes-week-2

One theme is consistent among competitors as NASCAR returns to Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time since track changes intended to create tighter racing.

“I just hope that they didn’t screw it up,” points leader Greg Biffle says.

“I just hope they didn’t screw up the race track,” Ryan Newman says.

“Nobody really knows what is going to happen,” Jimmie Johnson says.

After lackluster attendance in the spring and complaints by fans about the lack of action, track officials narrowed the groove to force cars to run closer together and create that door-banging excitement some fans said was lacking.

“I think it is going to be exciting either way,” Biffle says. “I heard they ground the corner more down the straightaway so that when you come up off the corner you will go across that patch coming on to the straightaway, which may be difficult to go from the bottom groove. They carried it around maybe further than it needed to be, but we will have to wait and see when we get there how the race track drives now. I hope it is good.”

Newman is worried what type of racing drivers will see.

“I hope they didn’t take the racing away,” he says. “The beating, banging and crashing is not the racing that I like. That’s what some of the fans enjoy, but that’s not the racing I like. I like being able to run side-by-side. The problem we had the tire just didn’t allow us to be able to fall off so the first five laps of the run were like the last five, 120 (laps) later. Your car didn’t fall off, your balance didn’t change, and everybody was virtually the same speed.

“To me, the tires are the biggest issue when it comes to a place like that.”

Goodyear did a tire test this summer. Cup teams will use a different left-side tire than in the spring race. The right-side tires will remain the same version run in the spring.

“I’m more interested in the changes done to the tire compound than anything else,” says Brad Keselowski, who has won the past two Bristol Cup races. “I think that’ll be the bigger key to the puzzle and we’ll just have to see how that unfolds. Obviously, I’m going to run all three series Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and if there’s a difference in the track I should be the first to know.”

The Camping World Truck Series races Wednesday night at Bristol with the Nationwide race Friday night and the Cup race Saturday night.

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a lap around the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. The "new" Bristol, 2013 schedule and Danica in the Cup Series highlights the news of the week.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 16:36
All taxonomy terms: Penn State Nittany Lions, Monthly
Path: /college-football/penn-state-football-near-death-experience

Penn State was spared the Death Penalty. But it will be many, many years before the Nittany Lions will field a competitive football team again. Acting with unprecedented speed and eschewing its standard investigative process, the NCAA handed down severe penalties that are sure to cripple this once-proud program for at least the next decade. Of the four major sanctions, only two — the four-year postseason ban and the scholarship reductions (the school must be down from 85 to 65 scholarships by 2014) — will significantly affect the program going forward. The school was also fined $60 million, but that’s hardly punitive to a university with an endowment of close to $2 billion. In addition, the program must vacate all of its wins dating back to the 1998 season. But that’s more symbolic. We can’t change history.

We can, however, alter the future, and that is what the NCAA has done — and rightfully so. Arguably, the NCAA stepped outside of its jurisdiction in this case. After all, Penn State did not break black and white NCAA rules of academic integrity and amateurism. This was a criminal matter. But the NCAA did what the courts could not: Act swiftly to punish Penn State football. It is not enough that the men in charge, the men who allowed Jerry Sandusky to prey on innocent boys, will be dealt with by the legal system. It is not enough that the university’s reputation has been tarnished, maybe forever. No, the football program had to be penalized as well. There needed to be ramifications for allowing one man, head coach Joe Paterno, to become so powerful that the school’s leadership was unwilling to take measures to stop Sandusky for fear of doing harm to the football program.

“In the case of Penn State, the results were perverse and unconscionable,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said at a press conference July 23. “No price the NCAA can levy will repair the grievous damage inflected by Jerry Sandusky on his victims. However, we can make clear that the culture, actions and inactions that allowed them to be victimized will not be tolerated in intercollegiate athletics.”

So while I’m a bit uncomfortable with the NCAA’s methods in this case — though there was a clear “lack of institutional control” in NCAA parlance — the end result more than justified the manner in which the penalties were handed down. This was a unique case that called for a unique response.

Penn State must move forward with a depleted roster and little hope for being relevant on the national stage for the foreseeable future. Several players, most notably star tailback Silas Redd, have already transferred, and others can transfer without penalty after the 2012 season.

Some have compared Penn State to USC. Don’t make that mistake. First of all, USC’s penalties — a two-year bowl ban and 10 lost scholarships per year over a three-year period — weren’t as severe. And, more important, USC was not involved in the biggest scandal in the history of college athletics. The school’s brand was not seriously damaged.

That, however, is not the case at Penn State.

Fair or not, it’s impossible to think about the university without thinking about a pedophile violating young boys in the showers of the football office and the ensuing coverup. That alone would be a tremendous hurdle for Bill O’Brien and his coaching staff to overcome on the recruiting trail. Now, add the sanctions to the mix, and Penn State will have the nearly impossible task of attracting talented football players to Happy Valley for the next four years. All of those young men from Aliquippa to Erie to Harrisburg who dreamed of one day putting on a Penn State uniform will have to question their dedication to Nittany Lion football.

So there will be football. No games will be missed — unlike at SMU, which lost two seasons of football. Instead, Penn State fans will watch a team of 60-odd scholarship players (20 fewer than most opponents), and those left likely won’t be the elite players who usually roam Beaver Stadium.

They won’t win many games. And that, to many Penn State fans, could be a fate far worse than the Death Penalty.

---By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)

<p> Penn State Football: A Near-Death Experience</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 15:31
Path: /golf/fedexcup-power-rankings

It's playoff season on the PGA Tour, as the players descend on Bethpage State Park for The Barclays, the first of a four-tournament sprint to the FedExCup title and its accompanying $10 million payout.

Don't look to us to explain the format; you need a math degree from MIT to work your way through the various statistical scenarios. What we can do is give you list of contenders for the sixth FedExCup title. Missing from this list are three of the last four FedExCup winners — Jim Furyk (2011), Bill Haas (2010) and Vijay Singh (2008) — indicating that a slight changing of the FedEx guard might be afoot. Of course, the Cup's only two-time winner, Tiger Woods, is in the thick of the chase for the championship, and since his major drought continues, he might have to console himself with $10 million. That would buy a lot of meals at Perkins.

Here are 15 players to watch as the world's best contend for the Cup. In this ranking, we considered performance in this year's majors and WGC events, since they most closely approximate the conditions and field strength of the FedExCup quartet.

1. Rory McIlroy
Rory sits atop the golf world after eight-shot PGA win.
Current FedEx position: 3
2012 Wins: 2
2012 Top 10s: 7

2. Tiger Woods
Major drought now four-plus years and counting, but he's the only two-time Cup winner.
Current FedEx position: 1
2012 Wins: 3
2012 Top 10s: 6

3. Keegan Bradley
Playing some of the planet’s best golf right now. Put up a credible PGA title defense.
Current FedEx position: 8
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top 10s: 5

4. Bubba Watson
Solid season proves he’s no one-hit wonder.
Current FedEx position: 5
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top 10s: 5

5. Jason Dufner
Skipping The Barclays, but still a threat to win the Cup.
Current FedEx position: 2
2012 Wins: 2
2012 Top 10s: 8

6. Justin Rose
Red-hot Rose had top 5s at the Bridgestone and the PGA. He's due for a win.
Current FedEx position: 12
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top 10s: 7

7. Zach Johnson
Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race.
Current FedEx position: 4
2012 Wins: 2
2012 Top 10s: 6

8. Steve Stricker
Typically solid campaign includes T7 at PGA.
Current FedEx position: 10
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top 10s: 7

9. Matt Kuchar
Missed cut at PGA was a buzzkill for Kooch, but he's played well at the other marquee events.
Current FedEx position: 9
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top 10s: 8

10. Carl Pettersson
Golf's most lovable Carl since Spackler is on a serious roll right now.
Current FedEx position: 7
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top 10s: 6

11. Ernie Els
Current FedEx position: 11
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top 10s: 5

12. Hunter Mahan
Current FedEx position: 6
2012 Wins: 2
2012 Top 10s: 4

13. Luke Donald
Current FedEx position: 16
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top 10s: 6

14. Dustin Johnson
Current FedEx position: 26
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top 10s: 5

15. Graeme McDowell
Current FedEx position: 27
2012 Wins: 0
2012 Top 10s: 4

<p> It's Playoff Season on the PGA Tour</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 11:49
Path: /nascar/nascar-horsepower-rankings-11

1. Jimmie Johnson  Loses a second one in three weeks in heartbreaking fashion. That may derail some teams, but with the 48, you get the feeling it only makes them more determined.

2. Brad Keselowski  Keselowski and the boys are rounding into form nicely, with seven consecutive runs of ninth or better. They’re going to be a handful at Bristol this weekend.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  After a broken transmission and a spin in the oil knocked Junior’s bunch back the last two weeks, they rebounded in fine fashion to the tune of a fourth-place finish in Michigan.

4. Greg Biffle  Earned his second win of the season at the 2-mile Michigan track. His other was at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway. For those keeping score, there are five such tracks in the Chase.

5. Matt Kenseth  It’s been a rocky month for Kenseth, who suffered a cut tire late at Michigan while running in the top 5. As luck would have it, the 17th-place result actually bumped him up a notch to second in the standings.

6. Kasey Kahne  Since a 33rd in the June Michigan race, Kahne has been spot-on, recording eight straight top-15 runs. Like Biffle, the tracks in the Chase line up well for Kahne and his engineer/crew chief-extraordinaire, Kenny Francis.

7. Clint Bowyer  A solid seventh at Michigan did the trick. However, if this team — albeit a relatively new team — is going to challenge in the Chase, it needs more than a boatload of fifth- to ninth-place showings.

8. Martin Truex Jr.  Truex, like his teammate Bowyer, has been as steady as they come this season. However, his No. 56 team must push beyond the sixth- to 10th-place pattern it has fallen into and win races.

9. Denny Hamlin  Virtually invisible at Michigan, Hamlin may have notched the most under-the-radar 11th-place finish in NASCAR history. You have to wonder, with a Chase spot virtually sown up, if this team is doing some testing.

<p> Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski are in a frenzied battle for supremacy of Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings. Could this be a preview of the NASCAR Sprint Cup title battle?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 10:11
All taxonomy terms: Chicago Bears, NFC, NFC North, NFL
Path: /nfl/chicago-bears-2012-nfl-team-preview

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

The Chicago Bears check in at No. 9.

Team president and CEO Ted Phillips fired general manager Jerry Angelo in the aftermath of last season’s team nose-dive from a 7–3 start to an 8–8 finish. The fatal fade was the direct result of quarterback Jay Cutler’s season-ending fractured thumb in the final minutes of the Week 11 victory over the Chargers. Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie was a disaster, and the loss of do-everything running back Matt Forté two weeks later didn’t help.

Phillips hired former Bears area scout Phil Emery to replace Angelo with one simple edict: Narrow the talent gap between the Bears and the NFC North rival Packers (15–1) and Lions (10–6) — and do it now.

Emery opened with a bang, trading for troubled three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who had worn out his welcome in Miami. Emery also added nine unrestricted free agents and re-signed five of his own. Two key newcomers, quarterback Jason Campbell and running back Michael Bush, give the Bears better depth at those positions than they’ve had since Lovie Smith became head coach in 2004. 


Cutler has never had a legitimate, No. 1 go-to receiver in Chicago. Johnny Knox has been the closest thing to it, but he will start this season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he continues his recovery from offseason spinal fusion surgery.

The 6'4", 230-pound Marshall should more than make up the difference. Judging by the numbers Marshall has compiled, especially as a Bronco in 2007-08 when Cutler was his quarterback (206 catches, 2,590 yards), the excitement over his arrival is justified. Another complaint about the Bears’ mediocre receiving units of the past three seasons has been a lack of size. In the second round of the draft, they added 6'3", 216-pound rookie Alshon Jeffery. Part of their plan for Jeffery is pairing him with Marshall and creating a matchup nightmare for opponents in the red zone. if Knox is able to return healthy, he brings elite speed and a deep threat who averaged 19.6 yards per catch last season and 18.8 in 2010. Although Devin Hester’s production has diminished the past two seasons, he provides another dangerous big-time playmaker. Earl Bennett is Cutler’s most trusted receiver, because he’ll willingly cross the middle and work underneath, and he almost always catches everything he touches.

The offensive line has been an issue over the past two seasons, allowing 105 sacks and ranking near the bottom of the NFL when it comes to protecting the quarterback. The only addition has been former 49ers guard Chilo Rachal, but the O-line’s bigger problems have been at the tackles. Last year’s No. 1 pick, Gabe Carimi, will solidify the right side, assuming he’s fully recovered from the dislocated kneecap that sidelined him after just two games last season. But left tackle will remain a trouble spot unless J’Marcus Webb shows great improvement or someone emerges to unseat him. But who? Webb could be helped by the departure of offensive coordinator Mike Martz. New coordinator Mike Tice, promoted from O-line coach, will not leave his left tackle on an island to protect Cutler’s blind side during seven-step drops, as was the case in 2011.

With Forté finally inked to a new long-term contract, he and Bush should form one of the more productive backfield tandems in the league. Bush's presence also should help keep Forté fresh by reducing his workload and the punishment he will sustain through the course of this season.


Every standout player on an above-average defense is over 30. But worry may be premature. Four of those old-timers were voted to the Pro Bowl last season — Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. It may be asking too much for all four to continue playing at the same elite level they have over the past decade, but none of them showed signs of wear last season. All four played all 16 games. But what are the odds they’ll remain that durable for another season?

Clearly, the Bears need more help from supporting players and for younger players to step up and play a bigger role, especially in the pass-rush department. The Bears tied for 19th in the NFL in sacks last season, despite the presence of right end Peppers, who had 11 sacks and still commands double-team attention. Even with offenses focused on Peppers, left end Israel Idonije contributed only five sacks. Up-and-down tackle Henry Melton quietly had seven sacks. But no one else who’s back for 2012 had more than two.

The Bears’ defense depends on getting pass-rush pressure almost exclusively from the linemen with little blitz help from the back seven, who ideally can focus on coverage. When the front four doesn’t produce, an average-at-best secondary is more easily exposed. An upgrade is needed across from Tillman, and the safety position has been a revolving door in Smith’s eight years. The Bears have selected a safety in each of the last eight drafts, but they’re still looking for a winning combination.

First-round pick Shea McClellin is being counted on to goose the pass rush, but it’s tough to imagine where any additional pressure will come from. Without that constant pressure up front, the Bears struggle to create the turnovers that have been a huge part of every successful defense during Smith’s reign. Since 2004, the Bears have 265 takeaways, the most in the NFL and 24 more than the second-place Panthers.


In their eight years under coordinator Dave Toub, the Bears have annually boasted some of the best special teams units in the NFL, and it’s more than Hester’s 17 return touchdowns. And there is much depth behind Hester, including Eric Weems, and Knox if he returns this season. Robbie Gould is the fifth-most accurate placekicker in NFL history, and his kickoffs have gotten longer over the years, while his range on field goals has increased. He was 6-of-6 from 50 yards or farther last season. Punter Adam Podlesh, in his first year with the team, had an impressive 40.4-yard net average.

Final Analysis: 2nd in the NFC North

By almost all accounts the Bears have upgraded the talent on their roster, especially among backups and role players. Their losses in free agency were minimal. But it remains to be seen if they’ve closed the gap with the Lions and, more important, the Packers. Critics could argue that the only elite player they’ve added is Marshall. But the Bears have high hopes for their top two draft picks, McClellin and Jeffery. And they believe that with the addition of Bush and Campbell they will not be susceptible to the type of free-fall they experienced last season when Cutler and Forté went out. They’re hoping to get at least one more Pro Bowl-type year from their four 30-something defensive stalwarts.

Related: 2012 Chicago Bears Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Getting The Band Back Together 
Jay Cutler has clamored for a big wide receiver, specifically Brandon Marshall, since he came to the Bears in 2009. But Cutler didn’t really think it would happen. “I’ve talked to anybody and everybody that would listen to me in this building about Brandon Marshall and trying to get him,” Cutler said shortly after the Bears acquired Marshall for two third-round draft picks. “He changes games. When I met with (GM) Phil (Emery), I told him I needed an X. We went and got one of the best in the game.” Marshall has had numerous alcohol-related legal run-ins and has a history of violence against women, but he says he’s getting better since being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Cutler spent three seasons with Marshall in Denver and will be there for his new teammate. “Me and Brandon have a relationship,” Cutler says. “There are times I am going to be tough on him. There are times I’m going to give him a hug. Whatever it calls for, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Mayberry, NFL
Coach Lovie Smith, a native of Big Sandy, Texas (population 1,288), can relate to the small-town background of first-round draft pick Shea McClellin, who was raised on a farm by his grandparents in a tiny Idaho town of 1,000. “I texted him and let him know that with 37 in his (high school) graduating class, and since there were 34 in mine, he’s a big-city boy to me,” Smith says. “But we have a spot for him and we’re excited for him to get here.”

Holding His Own
McClellin is considered somewhat of a tweener because he played defensive end and linebacker at Boise State and is “just” 6'3" and 260 pounds. The Bears will play McClellin at defensive end, and Smith has no concerns about his being an every-down player. “Weight is one of the most overrated things there is when you’re talking about a football player,” Smith says. “You’re talking about strength and athletic ability more than that. Shea, believe me, will be able to hold his own with the big boys.”

Going Long
In his first four NFL seasons, Robbie Gould attempted just two field goals of 50 yards or longer and missed both. In the past three seasons, he’s 11-of-13 from that distance, including 6-of-6 last year.

Sending A Message
Comic book aficionado Lance Briggs’ own creation “Pilot Season: Seraph” came out last year. Briggs teamed with writer Phil Hester and artist Jose Luis to tell the tale of Seraph, a man who, after trying to kill himself, instead becomes blessed with supernatural powers. Briggs says the theme of the comic book is faith and belief.

Instant Success
After being inactive for the first five games last season, second-round defensive tackle Stephen Paea sacked Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb for a safety on the second snap of his NFL career. “I didn’t even know,” Paea says. “I stood up and they said it was a safety.”

Trivial Pursuit
The only sack of 2010 fourth-round pick Corey Wootton’s NFL career came against the Vikings on Dec. 20, 2010, and essentially ended the career of Brett Favre, who left with a concussion, never to return. Probably.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

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

Order your 2012 Chicago Bears Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Chicago Bears Schedule Analysis

<p> Chicago Bears 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-biggest-preseason-questions-17-midwest-region-1

With Midnight Madness less than two months away, our look at some of the biggest questions in college basketball for 2012-13 continues into its second week.

Like the NCAA Tournament, we’re taking on 17 questions in each of our four regions of the country (South, East, Midwest and West) for our Great 68 Questions. We’ve “seeded” our questions, too, ranking the biggest questions in each region.


Last week we looked at the South Region (SEC, Big 12, Conference USA, Ohio Valley and Sun Belt) and the East Region (ACC, Big East, the CAA and the Ivy league).


Today, we examine the top 17 questions in the Midwest Region, which includes the Big Ten, Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley and the MAC.


Midwest Region No. 1 seed: Does Tom Crean have Indiana ready to return to the Final Four?

A year after returning to the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers are thinking even bigger. Indiana has been at or near the top of nearly every media outlet’s early top 25 for 2012-13, including Athlon’s early rankings in March. The Hoosiers were good enough to defeat three top-five teams last season (Kentucky, Ohio State, Michigan State), but all were in Bloomington. The Hoosiers went 0-3 against the same teams outside of Assembly Hall. Four starters return, including pro prospects Cody Zeller and Christian Watford, and the Hoosiers add a top-10 signing class to the mix. This group has talent and experience -- two things wholly absent from Crean’s first team in 2008-09. If Indiana can improve its road record (2011-12 included road losses to NCAA no-shows Nebraska and Iowa), the Hoosiers could contend for a Final Four or more.

Related: Big Ten coach rankings


No. 2: Will Deshaun Thomas step out of Jared Sullinger’s shadow?

Thomas arrived in the same signing class as Sullinger and was nearly as highly touted. Ohio State didn’t need Thomas to be a major contributor as a freshman, and as a sophomore he was the Buckeyes’ second-leading scorer after Sullinger.  With Sully and William Buford gone, Thomas will need to take the next step to become Ohio State’s biggest scoring threat. Thomas already improved his shooting percentage fro 47.8 percent as a freshman to 52 percent as a sophomore while more than doubling his minutes. The 6-foot-7 power forward averaged 18.9 points during the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments and could threaten to match that average over the course of the 2012-13 season.


No. 3: Did Trey Burke return to a Big Ten-championship team?

Trey Burke was a revelation as a freshman, averaging 14.8 points and 4.6 assists as Michigan tied for the best record in the Big Ten. He considered the NBA Draft and would have been the second Wolverines point guard in two seasons to leave early, joining Darius Morris. Instead, Burke returns to a team aiming for a deep NCAA Tournament run. Michigan has two things it hasn’t had under John Beilein: depth and a strong frontcourt that can either bang or win with finesse. The Wolverines also return guard Tim Hardaway Jr. -- and Burke to run the show.


No. 4: Who is Michigan State’s leader in the post-Draymond Green era?

At one point or another in the last three seasons, Green led Michigan State in scoring, rebounding and assists. Although the Spartans lose their best player, they should remain in Big Ten contention. Branden Dawson, Michigan State’s top signee a year ago, missed the final six games of the season. The Spartans will count on him to fill the rebounding role (Green averaged 10.6 per game last season, Dawson averaged 4.5). Point guard Keith Appling (11.4 ppg) is also back. His 130 assists were four fewer than Green. Fellow guard Travis Trice surprised last season, and fleet-footed McDonald’s All-American Gary Harris should be one of the top newcomers in the Big Ten. It may take a team effort to replace Green, but Michigan State has the bodies to do so.

Related: Tom Izzo ranks as nation’s No. 1 coach


No. 5: How will Butler and VCU take to their new conference?

Butler and VCU both have hopes of competing for an Atlantic 10 title in their first season in the league, though the A-10 may be a more rugged conference than the Horizon and Colonial, respectively. Of the two, VCU may be more equipped to compete immediately in the new league. The Rams return loads of experience from a team that won 29 games before losing by 2 to Indiana in the Round of 32. Butler landed in the College Basketball Invitational last season after going 11-7 in the Horizon League. Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke should help Butler’s main deficiency of outside shooting, but veteran point guard Ronald Nored is gone. With the traditional powers in the A-10, Temple and Xavier, going through some roster turnover, Butler and VCU may be in conference title mix.

Related: Stevens, Smart check in as top two coaches in A-10


No. 6: Who runs the point in Madison?

Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor didn’t match his prodigious junior season in 2011-12, but Taylor and his 87 career starts will be missed for certain. With a deep, senior-laden frontcourt of Jared Beggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz, Wisconsin has one clear question: Who will man the point? Josh Gasser is a junior who stepped in for Taylor when needed, but he may need to be more aggressive a shooter. Redshirt freshman George Marshall also is a good distributor and penetrator off the dribble.


No. 7: Is Saint Louis ready for the big time?

Rick Majerus finally has some consistency on his roster. His early teams with the Billikens were filled with freshmen, and shortly before the 2010-11 season, Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed were suspended for the season. Although leading scorer Brian Conklin is gone in 2012-13, Saint Louis is gearing up for another NCAA Tournament run, and perhaps more. The Billikens return six of the top seven scorers, including A-10 Player of the Year candidate Mitchell. After several seasons of Temple and Xavier perched atop the A-10, a changing of the guard may be on its way. Saint Louis, which has not won even a share of a conference title since 1971, is poised to take advantage.


No. 8: Temple and Xavier lose key cogs. Are they still A-10 contenders?

We’ve twice mentioned roster turnover at Temple and Xavier in this countdown.  That’s with good reason. Both Temple and Xavier have finished in the top three in the A-10 in each of the last five seasons. The trend may change this season. First, teams like Saint Louis, Butler, VCU and more are in the mix. Second, the Owls and Musketeers are rebuilding. Xavier may have to rely on sophomore Dez Wells and a handful of freshmen with veterans Tu Holloway, Kenny Frease and Mark Lyons (a transfer to Arizona) gone. Temple’s situation is a little less precarious. The Owls have a proven scorer in Khalif Wyatt and veterans Scootie Randall and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson on board, but guards Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore are out. Both should remain competitive, but NCAA Tournament berths for either are not guaranteed.


No. 9: Can the McDermotts take Creighton from good to great?

Dana Altman built a consistent NCAA Tournament program at Creighton, a program that has won at least 20 games in 13 of the last 14 seasons. The ceiling has never been higher in Omaha, with the Bluejays coming off a 29-6 season in Greg McDermott’s second season. All-American Doug McDermott is a National Player of the Year candidate again, but the goal is to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1974. Almost every piece is back for Creighton, but the departure of three-year starting point guard Antoine Young is a big loss. Sophomore Austin Chatman and senior Grant Gibbs can both run the point to their strengths, but neither may bring the scoring threat Young did.

Related: McDermott, Marshall crack top 10 of “best of the rest” coaches


No. 10: What does the post-Robbie Hummel era mean for Purdue?

Purdue coach Matt Painter is starting over. Due to the season-ending injury that kept him out of the 2010-11 season, Hummel didn’t leave with his signing class of JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore. Either way, Purdue will be young with nine underclassmen and four freshmen. The Boilermakers will have size and talent, but they’ll be at a major experience disadvantage against most other teams in the Big Ten. Not that it’s an unfamiliar place for Painter -- A team led by freshmen and sophomores, including Hummel and Moore, went 15-3 in the Big Ten in 2007-08.


No. 11: Does a healthy Trevor Mbakwe turn Minnesota to a Tournament team?

Tubby Smith led the Gophers to the NCAA Tournament in two of his first three seasons, but Minnesota slipped to 6-12 in the Big Ten in each of the last two. That said, Minnesota has to wonder what might have been last season. The Gophers got only seven games out of Trevor Mbakwe (13.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg) after he was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Senior Rodney Williams (17.2 ppg in the final nine games) and sophomore point guard Andre Hollins (16.8 ppg in the final nine) finished last season on a tear on the way to the NIT final. If that momentum carries, Minnesota will contend.


No. 12: Was John Groce the missing piece at Illinois?

John Groce’s teams at Ohio had a knack of getting hot at the right time. Despite never winning as much as a MAC division title, the Bobcats won two MAC tournaments in four seasons under Groce and advanced in the NCAA Tourney each time, including the Sweet 16 in 2012. Illinois has had the opposite program, missing the NCAA Tournament in three of the last five seasons. Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson are experienced guards who may excel under Groce, but Illinois may be a multi-year project. Groce, a noted recruiter at Ohio State, will be watched closely on his ability to restock the roster, too.

Related: Groce, Weber among top coaches hired for 2012-13


No. 13: Does Fran McCaffery have the nation’s top sleeper team?

Iowa quietly proved it was back on the right track last season, finishing with a winning record for the first time since 2006-07 and winning a postseason game (in the NIT) for the first time since 2003. Leading scorer Matt Gatens is gone, but the Hawkeyes are as optimistic as they’ve been in recent years. Every other key player returns. If freshman point guard Matt Gesell can handle the position, Iowa could contend for an NCAA Tournament spot.


No. 14: Are UMass and St. Joseph’s ready to step into A-10 prominence?

No one will confuse these UMass and St. Joe’s teams with the ones led by Marcus Camby and Jameer Nelson, but both schools enter the season with hopes of contending for NCAA Tournament berths. UMass returns all but one starter from a team that won 25 games and played in NIT thanks to the arrival of 5-9 point guard Chaz Williams. St. Joe’s brings back all five starters to a team that returned to 20-win status for the first time since 2007-08. The RedHawks also are led by one of the league’s best point guards, Carl Jones. 


No. 15: Does Ohio have another NCAA Tournament run in mind?

More often than not, when a mid-major loses a successful coach to a major power, it hits rebuilding mode. That might not be the case with post-John Groce Ohio. The Bobcats brought in former TCU coach Jim Christian, who is already a proven MAC winner, going 76-28 in the league and 137-59 overall at Kent State from 2002-08. D.J. Cooper (14.7 ppg, 5.7 apg) is a senior, and a handful of other key players return to a team that took North Carolina to overtime in the Sweet 16.


No. 16: Has the NCAA Tournament window closed at Northwestern?

Northwestern has come close to reaching its first NCAA Tournament, but the Wildcats have ultimately landed in the NIT in each of the last four seasons. John Shurna, Northwestern’s best player the last three seasons, is gone, meaning the  Wildcats will need a new go-to player. Drew Crawford, Dave Sobolewski and JerShon Cob are back, plus Northwestern adds Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire. The Wildcats lack the superstar, but they may be more balanced than they’ve ever been under Bill Carmody.


No. 17: What hope does Wichita State have with five seniors gone?

Wichita State spent three seasons building to 2011-12, winning the NIT a year before winning the Missouri Valley regular season title. Five seniors are gone, including two all-conference picks and an all-defensive team selection. Wichita State might not go neck and neck with Creighton, but the Shockers still have hopes for the postseason. Carl Hall was the league’s Newcomer of the Year last season, and Shockers could add a second consecutive player to win that award with the arrival of Oregon transfer Malcolm Armstead.

-David Fox 


<p> College Basketball's Biggest Preseason Questions: 17 for the Midwest Region</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 07:58
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/top-10-nfl-players-age-35-and-over

Typically as NFL players age, their skills diminish and their battered bodies fail, leading many to retire or find another line of work before they hit 30. But a few are able to stand the test of time and excel in a league full of 20-somethings. Here are the 10 best old-timers in the NFL.

1. Tom Brady, New England, QB (Age: 35)
Brady likely had a Hall of Fame career before the last two seasons, but has now taken his game to perhaps a higher level, averaging nine yards per attempt the last two years and completing over 65 percent of his passes in both. Last year, the numbers were insane: 5,235 yards, 39 touchdowns, 12 interceptions. Brady may not just be the best player over 35, he may be the best player, period.
2. Peyton Manning, Denver, QB (Age: 36)
So we don’t know what kind of player Manning will be after a neck injury cost him the 2011 season, but the Broncos were willing to pay $18 million (and jettison Tim Tebow) to find out. Suffice to say they’re counting on something like the numbers he posted in 2010, when he threw for 4,700 yards, 33 scores, and 17 picks. Until we know he can’t produce like he used to, it’s hard to justify ranking anyone other than Brady ahead of him.
3. London Fletcher, Washington, LB (Age: 37)
Fletcher is like a bottle of fine wine – the older he gets, the better he is. Last season may have been his best yet: he led the league with 166 total tackles, had a pair of interceptions, and forced two fumbles.
4. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta, TE (Age: 36)
The 12-time Pro Bowler made another last year with 80 catches, 875 yards and seven scores.
5. Ray Lewis, Baltimore, LB (Age: 37)
Some say Lewis has lost a step, but he keeps getting voted to Pro Bowls anyway: last year was his sixth straight. He led the stout Ravens defense with 107 total tackles last year, forced a pair of fumbles, and also had an interception.
6. Brian Waters, New England, G (Age: 35)
It’s hard to assign value to offensive linemen, but gives it a shot with a number it calls “approximate value.” Waters’ number was 11 last season. By comparison, Fletcher had a 12, Gonzalez, an 11, and Lewis, a 9. His comrades also recognized his value by selecting him to the Pro Bowl, his second-straight and sixth overall for the Patriots’ guard.
7. Charles Woodson, Green Bay, CB (Age: 35)
Woodson was a first team All-Pro selection after leading the NFL with seven interceptions last season, just two years removed from doing the same thing in 2009. They're already preparing a plaque for Woodson at the Hall of Fame; every passing season just adds another line of text.
8. Ronde Barber, Tampa, CB (Age: 37)
Barber’s definitely on the downside of his career, but it might be a Hall of Fame career, and last year, Barber did something that not many NFL corners do: start 16 games at age 37. He finished with three interceptions and 78 tackles, 66 of them solo.
9. Antoine Winfield, Minnesota, CB (Age: 35)
Like Fletcher, he’s gotten better as he’s gotten older until he missed 11 games with a broken collarbone last year. The Vikings’ corner had always been great against the run, but had also developed into a guy you didn’t want to throw against. Last year’s injury won’t sideline him this time around, and he’d made three-straight Pro Bowls coming into last season.
10. Jeff Saturday, Green Bay, C (Age: 37) 
Almost as strange as seeing Manning in a Broncos’ uniform will be someone other than Saturday snapping him the ball. Saturday signed a 2-year deal with the Packers, and is just one year removed from a Pro Bowl appearance.
by Chris Lee (@chrislee70), publisher of
<p> Sometimes in football, older is better</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 06:11
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-30-wide-receivers-2012

The Pac-12 and Big 12 are two of college football's top conferences for offense, so it's no surprise that eight of the top 10 receivers hail from those two leagues. USC's Robert Woods is coming off a stellar sophomore season and can only get better in 2012, especially if he is 100 percent recovered from an ankle injury. Clemson's Sammy Watkins will miss the first two games of the year but will be one of college football's top receivers by the end of 2012.

When compiling the rankings, Athlon considered how each player will perform in 2012, some past performance, personnel losses around the quarterback, conference difficulty and pro potential. 

College Football's Top 30 Wide Receivers for 2012

1. Robert Woods, USC
One half of USC’s impressive receiver duo, Woods was one of eight players in the country to catch more than 100 passes -- and he was the only one to do so in 12 games thanks to USC’s bowl ban. Woods will get his chance to play in the postseason after accounting for 176 catches for 2,084 yards and 21 touchdowns (15 last season) in his first two years at USC.

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

3. Keenan Allen, California
Few players in the nation have as much raw physical talent and skill as Allen possesses. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound stud from Greensboro, N.C., flashed first-round NFL talent as only a sophomore last year by catching 82 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns. He is the half-brother of quarterback Zach Maynard and clearly has an unspoken rapport with Cal signal caller. Look for this to be Allen’s final year in a Golden Bear uniform.

4. Tavon Austin, West Virginia
At 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds, Austin isn’t your prototypical wide receiver. Don’t be fooled though, the Baltimore native is one of college football’s top playmakers and will give Big 12 defenses plenty of headaches in 2012. He led the team with 101 receptions, ranked second with 1,186 yards, while catching eight touchdowns and taking two returns for a score on special teams. Austin closed out 2011 on a high note, catching 12 passes for 123 yards and four touchdowns in the Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. The senior is one of college football’s top all-purpose threats and should top 100 receptions once again in 2012.

5. Marquess Wilson, Washington State
Most Pac-12 fans are familiar with Wilson but expect to see him become a household name nationally after 2012. With Mike Leach’s pass-first attack coming to Pullman, the Cougars should be one of the top offenses in the nation. Wilson has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and caught 18 touchdown passes over the last two years. His best performance came against San Diego State in 2011, grabbing six passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. With Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Keenan Allen returning, it will be a battle to get first-team all-conference honors. However, there’s no question Wilson will have the stats to get in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 and All-American honors.

6. Marqise Lee, USC
With Robert Woods posting a record-setting season on the other side, it was easy to overlook Lee’s performance in 2011. As a true freshman, he finished with 73 receptions for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Lee came on strong over the second half of the season, catching at least seven passes in each of the final five games. Woods is still USC’s No. 1 receiver, but Lee will see plenty of passes in his direction. Expect the sophomore to surpass last season’s totals, while pushing for All-American honors.

7. Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
Bailey was a high school teammate of quarterback Geno Smith, and the chemistry showed. Bailey caught 72 passes, including 12 touchdowns. His 1,279 receiving yards set a school record and his eight 100-yard receiving game tied one. He’s the other half of the Big 12’s best receiving tandem along with Tavon Austin.

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

9. Terrance Williams, Baylor
Robert Griffin and Kendall Wright are gone, but the Baylor passing attack shouldn’t suffer too big of a drop in 2012. Williams will take over as the team’s No. 1 receiver after catching 59 passes for 957 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, the senior has the size and speed combination that will be very attractive for NFL teams next April. 

10. Kenny Stills, Oklahoma
Bob Stoops said Landry Jones’ late-season swoon wasn’t all on the shoulders of the quarterback. Certainly, that means Stills needs to improve his consistency. He was more productive last season as a No. 2 receiver to Ryan Broyles, but failed to catch a touchdown or produce a 100-yard game after the calendar turned to November. He has great potential, so now it’s time to put it all together.

11. Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee
Update: Rogers has been suspended indefinitely and may not play at Tennessee in 2012.

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

12. Josh Boyce, TCU
Boyce is TCU’s top big-play threat at receiver, with nearly twice as many yards last season than the Horned Frogs’ No. 2 wideout. Boyce finished last season with 61 catches for 998 yards for an average of 14.9 yards per catch. Three of his nine touchdowns came in the upset of Boise State, including two touchdowns that torched the Broncos secondary for 74 and 69 yards.

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

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

15. Nick Harwell, Miami (Ohio)
Harwell looks to be the next receiver in the list of standout receivers from the MAC. As a freshman in 2010, he caught 64 passes for 871 yards and six scores. Harwell was even better as a sophomore last year, grabbing 97 receptions for 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns. The Texas native had five games of at least 10 receptions, including 15 in the 24-21 loss to Temple. Harwell has been named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list for 2012.

16. Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
Patton was one of 2011's top impact junior college transfers, recording 74 catches for 1,135 yards and 10 scores. He was a first-team All-WAC selection and is on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award for 2012. Patton had one 200-yard game (Central Arkansas) last year and should be Louisiana Tech's No. 1 target once again this season.  

17. Markus Wheaton, Oregon State
In a league stacked with future NFL stars at wide receiver, it is easy for Wheaton to get overlooked. With a freshman quarterback throwing the ball, the dynamic athlete caught 73 passes for 986 yards to go with 190 yards rushing. It would not be going out on a limb to suggest Wheaton reaches paydirt more than the one touchdown he scored last fall.

18. Darrin Moore, Texas Tech
A suspension for a DWI arrest has clouded Moore’s status with the team for 2012. Before a leg injury against Nevada last year, Moore was one of college football’s leading receivers with 21 receptions through the first two games. If he avoids a lengthy suspension, the senior should contend for first-team All-Big 12 honors. There's certainly some risk by ranking Moore this high, but there's also a lot of potential based on what we saw last year. 

19. Odell Beckham, LSU
Beckham had an impressive debut as a true freshman in 2011, catching 41 passes for 475 yards and two scores. The New Orleans native is primed for a breakout year, especially with Rueben Randle moving onto the NFL. New quarterback Zach Mettenberger should be able to stretch the field more than Jordan Jefferson or Jarrett Lee did, which should allow Beckham to use his speed and athleticism even more in 2012. 

20. Tracy Moore, Oklahoma State
Justin Blackmon is gone, and so is Josh Cooper and their 193 catches between them. Moore is the Cowboys’ top returning receiver with 45 receptions for 692 yards and four touchdowns. The early returns on his move from inside receiver to outside have been positive.

21. Tevin Reese, Baylor
With Kendall Wright catching passes in the NFL, Reese and teammate Terrance Williams will be a bigger part of the offense in 2012. Reese has been a big-play threat for Baylor over the last two years, averaging 17.2 yards per catch last season, including a 69-yard touchdown against Oklahoma. Reese should post career-highs in catches, yards and touchdowns in 2012.

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

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

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

25. Emory Blake, Auburn
Injuries and quarterback play limited Blake's numbers last season, but he has potential to be one of the top receivers in the SEC. In 11 games last season, Blake caught 36 passes for 613 yards and five scores. He also averaged an impressive 17 yards per catch, while posting three 100-yard efforts last season. 

26. Cody Hoffman, BYU
Hoffman came on strong at the end of 2010 and picked up where he left off early in 2011. The California native caught eight passes for 138 yards against BYU in the third week of the season and closed out 2011 by recording three 100-yard performances. Hoffman is the No. 1 target for quarterback Riley Nelson and has a chance to improve on his numbers in 2012.

27. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
A former high school quarterback, Abbrederis gives the Badgers a big-play threat in the passing game. Last season, he caught 55 passes for a team-high 933 yards and eight touchdowns, and his 17.0 yards-per-catch average ranked second in the Big Ten behind Michigan’s Junior Hemingway.

28. Keenan Davis, Iowa
The Hawkeyes’ record-breaking receiver Marvin McNutt drew most of the attention last season, but Davis had the breakout season. Davis finished with 50 catches last year, after catching 15 total passes his first two seasons on campus. His 713 receiving yards and 14.3 yards per catch were respectable stats for a No. 2 receiver. Now, Iowa will learn how he takes to being No. 1.

29. Kasen Williams, Washington
With Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar expiring their eligibility at the end of 2011, the Huskies are looking for a new go-to target. Williams should be Keith Price’s preferred receiver in 2012, especially after catching 36 passes for 427 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman last year. 

30. Trey Metoyer, Oklahoma
Finding weapons for quarterback Landry Jones is the biggest fall priority for the Sooners’ offense. Kenny Stills is one of the Big 12’s top receivers, but after that is where the question marks begin. Metoyer did not qualify last season and attended Hargrave Academy in preparation for 2012. He was one of the top receivers in the 2011 recruiting class and did not disappoint in spring practice, catching six passes for 72 yards in the Red-White game. Although Ryan Broyles will be missed, Metoyer’s emergence should ease concerns about the Oklahoma receiving corps.

The Next 12

Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest
DeVonte Christopher, Utah
Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
Noel Grigsby, San Jose State
Darius Johnson, SMU
Alec Lemon, Syracuse
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
T.J. Moe, Missouri
Jaxon Shipley, Texas
Devin Street, Pittsburgh
Eric Ward, Texas Tech

20 Freshmen to Watch (True and Redshirt)

Nelson Agholor, USC
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Joel Caleb, Virginia Tech
Amari Cooper, Alabama
Quinshad Davis, North Carolina
Stefon Diggs, Maryland
Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
Deontay Greenberry, Houston
Cayleb Jones, Texas
Gabe Marks, Washington State
Trey Metoyer, Oklahoma
Andre McDonald, Minnesota
Davonte' Neal, Notre Dame
Durron Neal, Oklahoma
Jordan Payton, UCLA
Shaq Roland, South Carolina
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Jordan Thompson, West Virginia
Bryce Treggs, California

10 Transfers to Watch

DeAnthony Arnett, Michigan State (from Tennessee)
Brice Butler, San Diego State (from USC)
Chris Dunkley, South Florida (from Florida)
Bryce McNeal, Louisville (from Clemson)
Javares McRoy, Texas Tech (from Florida)
Shakim Phillips, Connecticut (from Boston College)
Kyle Prater, Northwestern (from USC)
Je'Ron Stokes, Bowling Green (Michigan)
Darryl Stonum, Baylor (Michigan)
Tyson Williams, Texas Tech (from West Texas A&M)

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

Related College Football Content

Ranking College Football's Top 15 Tight Ends for 2012
Ranking College Football's Top 30 RBs for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 QBs for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Top 75 Players for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012

College Football's Top 10 Players Returning From Injury

Projecting College Football's Win Totals for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

<p> College Football's Top 30 Wide Receivers for 2012</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:33
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-15-tight-ends-2012

The tight end position has been lacking in recent years, but there's a good crop of players ready to emerge in 2012. Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert ranks as Athlon's No. 1 tight end for this season, while Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins will only get better after a solid freshman campaign in 2011. Ohio State's Jake Stoneburner and Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz are two players who should easily surpass last year's totals, while non-BCS standouts Jack Doyle, Ryan Otten and Gavin Escobar should not be overlooked.

When compiling the rankings, Athlon considered how each player will perform in 2012, some past performance, personnel losses around the quarterback, conference difficulty and pro potential. 

College Football's Top 15 Tight Ends for 2012

1. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
An elite tight end is a rarity in college football in recent years. Luckily for Notre Dame, Eifert turned down the NFL Draft to return to South Bend and should be the nation’s best at his position going into the 2012 season. He ranked second on the team with 63 receptions, 803 yards and five receiving scores last year. Eifert had at least one catch in every game last season and caught eight passes for 75 yards and one touchdown in the win against Pittsburgh. With Michael Floyd finishing his eligibility in South Bend, Eifert is the now the leader of the receiving corps and should be targeted more by Notre Dame quarterbacks in 2012. 

2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
As only a true freshman, the big-time prep star from Gig Harbor High School produced a season no Washington freshman tight end has ever posted. His 538 yards receiving were No. 2 all-time in UW history for a freshman of any position while ranking No. 3 all-time for any tight end of any age. He did all of that on 41 catches to go with six touchdowns. He has a chance to be the best player at his position nationally with continued development.

3. Joseph Fauria, UCLA
The nephew of NFL veteran tight end Christian Fauria, Joseph Fauria caught 39 passes for 481 yards with six touchdowns last season. He’ll be a top target for new Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley in the new “Y” position.

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

5. Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin
Pederson was a reliable red zone threat for former Badger quarterback Russell Wilson, with eight of his 30 receptions resulting in a touchdown. The 6-4, 240-pound Illinois native caught at least one pass in all but one game — with a high of six for 80 yards and two scores vs. Oregon State — and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.

6. Levine Toiolo, Stanford
Stanford’s three-tight end attack is down to two with juniors Zach Ertz and Toilolo. Though Toilolo was the third of the tree, he finished 348 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

7. Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State
Stoneburner ran into some off-the-field trouble in the offseason but is expected to return to the roster in time for the opener against Miami (Ohio). The Dublin, Ohio native has 37 career catches for 445 yards and is expected to have a more prominent role in the offense in 2012. New coach Urban Meyer is installing a spread attack but Stoneburner’s athleticism and speed will be too attractive to keep on the bench. The senior could be Ohio State’s leading receiver in 2012. 

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

9. Ryan Griffin, Connecticut
Griffin will never be the flashiest pass-catching tight end in any league, but his all around play as both an in-line blocker and experienced receiver make him the best tight end in the Big East. His leadership will be invaluable along the line this fall.

10. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State
Escobar was the Mountain West's top tight end last season, catching 51 passes for 780 yards and seven scores. Repeating those numbers in 2012 could be difficult, especially with the Aztecs breaking in a new quarterback and the departure of running back Ronnie Hillman. The good news for San Diego State? New quarterback Ryan Katz has experience at Oregon State, and there's plenty of weapons on the outside, which should allow Escobar to continue to thrive over the middle.

11. Ryan Otten, San Jose State
Otten emerged as a key part of San Jose State's offense last year, posting career highs in catches (52), receiving yards (739) and scores (5). Injuries prevented Otten from reaching his potential in 2009 and 2010, as he combined for just 27 receptions over that span. The senior will have a new quarterback in 2012 but should push for 50-60 receptions once again.

12. Jack Doyle, Western Kentucky
Doyle has been a steady performer over the last three years and has been named to the Mackey Award watch list for the second consecutive year. He is coming off his best overall season, catching 52 passes for 614 yards, including nine for 89 yards in the 31-21 win over North Texas. The Hilltoppers will miss running back Bobby Rainey, but quarterback Kawaun Jakes should have his best season, which should allow Doyle to threaten last season's numbers.

13. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
Fiedorowicz has just 16 catches through two seasons at Iowa but is expected to have a breakout 2012 campaign. He came on strong over the final four games of 2011, catching 12 passes (three went for scores) over the final four weeks. New coordinator Greg Davis expects to get Fiedorowicz involved early and often in Iowa's offense this year.

14. Randall Telfer, USC
It's easy to overlook Telfer with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee dominating the catch totals each week. However, Telfer grabbed 26 receptions for 273 yards and five touchdowns as a true freshman last season. Expect the sophomore to become a bigger part of USC's offense in 2012.

15. Zach Ertz, Stanford
Ertz is the second Stanford tight end to crack the top 15 of this list. With Coby Fleener catching passes in the NFL, look for Ertz to see more looks in 2012. He caught 27 passes for 346 yards and four scores last season and will be a valuable safety valve for Stanford's new quarterback.

The Next 11

Matt Furstenburg, Maryland
Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State
Hubie Graham, Pittsburgh
Chase Harper, Texas State
Andrei Lintz, Washington State
Colt Lyerla, Oregon
Nick O'Leary, Florida State
Jordan Reed, Florida
Dion Sims, Michigan State
Michael Williams, Alabama
Luke Willson, Rice


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

Related College Football Content

Ranking College Football's Top 30 WRs for 2012
Ranking College Football's Top 30 RBs for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 QBs for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Top 75 Players for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012

College Football's Top 10 Players Returning From Injury

Projecting College Football's Win Totals for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

<p> College Football's Top 15 Tight Ends for 2012</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:30
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-games-2012

With 124 teams, ll conferences and Notre Dame, there are no shortage of great match-ups to fill the 14-week college football season. Rarely will a weekend go by without a top flight, marquee dual taking place somewhere in the country. And honestly, the weekends that always look bland and vanilla on the front end are generally the ones that end up providing huge upsets with national title implications hanging in the balance.

2012 won't be any different. There will be more than one Iowa State-Oklahoma State or Texas Tech-Oklahoma. There will be at least one more Michigan State-Wisconsin match-up. Maybe even two. And yes, there will be two more "Games of the Century" this season as well. Let's just hope that they don't take place at the exact same time — looking at you greedy TV executives. So with honey-do lists and in-laws to deal with, football fans can rest easy and budget their viewing needs according to Athlon Sports Top 25 Must-See college football match-ups. Because you don't want to miss any of these.


Importance: Does the game carry national, conference or divisional championship implication?
Level of Ability: Does the game involve the most elite players and coaches in the game today?
Storylines: What sort of rivarry, history, tradition and backstory exists?
Production Value: Does this game have high-flying, big-play, late-game heroics-type potential?

1a. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Alabama at LSU
The plotline for these two programs over the last 18 months or so has been well documented. Game of the Century Part 1 was an offensively challenged 9-6 road win for LSU on the legs of Brad Wing and Drew Alleman. While the Tigers deserved all the credit for the brutally contested clutch win, it still appeared to most who watched the game that Alabama was the superior team. As it turns out, it wasn’t really even close. LSU showed up for the BCS national championship game woefully under prepared and clearly lacking focus and motivation. The game now shifts to Baton Rouge, and the Death Valley faithful have had November 3 circled on the calendar ever since that fateful night in January when their team gained 92 total yards and five first downs.

1b. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Oregon at USC
The West Coast Game of the Century is easily the top football game west of the Mississippi this fall. In fact, when all the dust settles on the college football regular season, it could easily be the No. 1 football game played this fall. Two special offenses, a Heisman Trophy candidate, national title implications and the revenge factor from a terrific 38-35 showing last fall makes this must-see TV on Nov. 3. Fans better hope that the greedy television executives don't play the game at the exact same time as LSU-Alabama — which should decide the other half of the BCS national championship game on the exact same day. The Trojans are the pick since the game happens at home and they won last year, however, the Ducks' defense will be improved and good enough to win down in L.A. The scoreboard operator better do some stretching before the opening kick-off.

3. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Oklahoma vs Texas (Dallas, TX)
The Red River Shootout (no, I refuse to call it the rivalry based strictly on principle) is easily the most important football game played in the state of Texas every single season. The last 12 Big South champions were eitherTexas or Oklahoma, and other than Oklahoma State last fall, one of these two teams had claimed the Big 12 crown seven straight years. With Texas reestablishing itself last fall and Oklahoma getting Landry Jones back on offense, these two once again look like the top Big 12 champion picks in 2012. Therefore, the Texas State Fair once again will host the most important game played in the Big 12 this fall when the Cotton Bowl is cut right down the middle with Crimson and Cream on one side and Burnt Orange on the other.

4. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Michigan at Ohio State
Easily the biggest rivalry in the Midwest is, in most years, the biggest rivalry game in the nation. With the Urban renewal taking place in Columbus and Brady Hoke reenergizing the Michigan faithful in lightning rod fashion last fall, this game should return to the 10 Year War level of intensity. So can the Wolverines walk into the Horseshoe and beat the Buckeyes this fall? It will be tougher than most Maize and Blue fans want to admit. Ohio State has nothing else to play for but ruining its rival’s season. Ohio State has a better overall roster of talent. And Ohio State is at home. Remember, the worst Ohio State team in a decade nearly defeated the best Michigan team in half a decade last fall on the road in Ann Arbor. The smart money is on Ohio State.

5. Week 6 (Oct. 6) Georgia at South Carolina
If the SEC West semifinal is LSU-Bama, then the Eastern’s semi will take place in Columbia on the first Saturday in October. Normally one of the first two games of the year, the Bulldogs and Gamecocks have to wait until the second month to square off. The Cocks won last year in a shootout in Athens on the back of turnovers and special teams — they scored essentially four touchdowns on defense and a fake punt. But Marcus Lattimore’s fourth quarter performance was what sealed the win for Carolina, and No. 21 is back healthy this fall. Georgia already has a strong track record of success in Williams-Brice Stadium and should have its full compliment of defensive stars by the time these two meet as well. The Dawgs have won four of the last five in Columbia.

6. Week 4 (Sept. 22): Clemson at Florida State
There are two games inside of the ACC that truly stand above the rest this fall, and since Clemson-Florida State figures to have more fireworks, it gets the nod as the most anticipated game of the year. The Tigers rolled-up 443 yards of offense in the 35-30 win over the Noles in Death Valley last year. Jimbo Fisher and company don't plan on allowing that type of offensive production this time around. Considering the rebuilt Clemson offensive line — and getting the game in Doak Campbell Stadium — FSU should be able to control the line of scrimmage this year. It will fall to Tajh Boyd, who dropped 344 yards and three scoring strikes on FSU last year, to make the key plays if Clemson wants to win. Of course, getting EJ Manuel back under center, who missed last year's game with an injury, helps the Seminoles' chances as well.

7. Week 3 (Sept. 15) Alabama at Arkansas
Arkansas fans are optimistic that, even without Bobby Petrino, their Razorbacks can compete for an SEC title. Well, winning the West is the first step and Week 3 gives John L. Smith a chance to prove his worth against the defending national champions. That said, AJ McCarron outplayed Tyler Wilson, Nick Saban out-coached Petrnio and the Bama defense out-stifled the Hogs last time they met. Arkansas will have to reverse nearly all of the above to pull off the upset this season. Running the ball more effectively will narrow the gap, as Bama outgained the Hogs 197 to 17 on the ground in the 38-14 decision last fall. Can the return of Knile Davis, and getting the contest at home, tip the scales in favor of Coach Smith? Fans won’t have to wait long to find out.

8. Week 13 (Nov. 23) LSU at Arkansas
Arkansas has had some recent success in this series with three wins in the last five meetings. However, last fall’s 41-17 whitewashing of the Hogs pushed LSU into the SEC title game. Les Miles’ bunch rushed for 286 yards and three touchdowns at a per carry clip of 6.2 yards. Tyler Wilson and company mustered 248 total yards of offense. Shifting the series back home gives the Hogs a better shot at an upset this time around. So will having Knile Davis back fully healthy — a guy who rushed for 152 yards and a score on 30 carries in the 31-23 win over LSU two years ago.

9. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Oklahoma at West Virginia
While this match-up hasn’t happened much over the years — four times total and only once since 1982 — the most recent showdown in the Fiesta Bowl back in 2008 was one of the signature performances of recent BCS lore. The 48-28 win for West Virginia featured peak of the Pat White era and won the late Bill Stewart the head coaching job in Morgantown. Now, the Sooners will make their first-ever trip to Morgantown and more than just bowl bragging rights will be on the line. This is the top road test for Oklahoma this fall and a win over WVU on the road is a must if Bob Stoops wants to win yet another Big 12 championship.

10. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Michigan State at Michigan
This game has been one of streaks of late. Michigan won six straight from 2002 to 2007 before Michigan State took over the state in 2008. If the Spartans want to win a fifth straight in the series, quarterback play will have to stabilize for Michigan State over the first half of the season. This game could easily decide not only the Legends Division title but also the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl participant. For a team like Michigan State, who hasn’t played in Pasadena since 1988, this game carries more than just in-state bragging rights. Shockingly, Michigan is searching for its first Big Ten title since 2004 and a win over Sparty likely gives it to them.

Related: September's Top 10 Non-Conference Games of 2012

11. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Michigan State at Wisconsin
This season could be an inverted version of last season for Michigan State and Wisconsin. It is hard to see State going into Madison and getting the win — a place Sparty hasn’t won in since 2001. Yet, these could very easily meet again in the second annual B1G championship game. These two played two of the most memorable Big Ten football games in the history of the league last year and this fall could feature two more heart-stopping editions of what is developing into an elite rivalry game.

12. Week 1 (Sept. 3): Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
The best current ACC stat? The winner of this game has gone on to win the Coastal Division every year since the conference split into two divisions. So no pressure in Week 1 in primetime on Labor Day night, right? Logan Thomas did his best Cam Newton impersonation in last year's 37-26 Thursday night win in Atlanta, scoring five times in the victory. Bud Foster's defense did just enough to get the win and will have had all summer to prepare for the vaunted Paul Johnson triple option. This game will feature strength on strength as the Hokies should possess one of the nation's elite defenses while the Yellow Jackets return a deep and talented offensive line and backfield. The whole nation will be watching the game that should once again decide one half of the ACC championship equation.

13. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.)
The Dawgs have won only four times in this series since 1989, but last year’s 24-20 win helped Georgia make it back to Atlanta and the SEC title game. On the arm of Aaron Murray and the river boat gambling of Mark Richt, Georgia won its first Outdoor Cocktail Party since 2007. If the Dawgs out-rush the Gators 185 to -19 again this year, fans can bank on another UGA victory.

14. Week 11 (Nov. 8): Florida State at Virginia Tech
Should the preseason predictions hold true, this will be a preview of this season's ACC championship game. Virginia Tech is the clear heavy favorite in the Coastal while Florida State gets its primary Atlantic Division test with Clemson at home. The last time these two met, the Hokies out-ran the Noles 44-33 in the 2010 ACC title game. In fact, after three decades of dominance from FSU in the series, Frank Beamer has won two of the last three meetings. These are easily the top two defenses in the league and points will be at a premium for a pair of mammoth quarterbacks — the 6-5, 240 pound Manuel and the 6-6, 260 pound Thomas. Expect heavy hitting and lots of ice packs.

15. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Auburn at Alabama
The Iron Bowl is filled with as much hatred as any other rivalry in the history of college football. And the stakes have never been as high as they have been over the past few seasons. The winner of this game has gone on to win the BCS National Championship in each of the last three seasons. The intensity and passion of an already rabid rivalry has reached an all-time high. With Bama acting as defending champs and Auburn enthused about new coordinators, War Eagle fans are expecting something much tighter than last season's 42-14 outcome.

16. Week 1 (Sept. 1) Alabama vs. Michigan (Arlington, Texas)
This might be the marquee non-conference match-up of the season. It is the first regular season match-up between the two historic programs and the Wolverines own a two (1988, 200) to one (1997) lead in the series. The thought that it may be one-sided, however, keeps it from sitting much higher on the list. The defending national champions have one of the deepest college teams ever assembled and Brady Hoke will be hard-pressed to stop the Bama rushing attack in the second half. Michigan can keep it close for three quarters, but in Jerry's Palace with that offensive line, Nick Saban should come away victorious. This game means more nationally to college football than it does within the Big Ten — and even less than that in the SEC.

17. Week 8 (Oct. 20) South Carolina at Florida
Both South Carolina and Georgia get plenty of key contests at home this fall, but Carolina’s trip down to The Swamp is the second biggest SEC East game of the year. From 1940 to 2004, the Gamecocks were winless against the Gators. Since then, Steve Spurrier has defeated his alma mater three out of seven times, including the last two. Having said that, last year’s meeting was a hotly contested, defensive struggle in which both quarterbacks struggled to complete passes. Expect the defenses and ground games to play huge roles. If South Carolina wants to take the next step in its search for its first SEC title, winning on the road within the division is a must.

18. Week 3 (Sept. 15) USC at Stanford
While the top game out West is easy to pinpoint, the rest of schedule is loaded with very similar contests. With USC and Oregon as the clearcut picks to win the league, the next biggest game would have to be the top opportunity for an upset. At this stage, the Trojans' trip to Stanford feels like the toughest test for either team. The Cardinal have played very well against the Trojans over the last half decade, they play a physical brand of football that matches up well with USC, the game is at home on The Farm and it comes in only Week 3 of the season. Obviously, Stanford's quarterback play will have to be solid to win, but the ball-control ground game will give them a chance at a huge upset.

19. Week 6 (Oct. 4) USC at Utah
Thursday night. Primetime TV. Sold out road game against a very well coached team. This also is a recipe for an upset for the Trojans who will face the best team in the South in Week 6. This was a tricky 23-14 win for the Trojans last year in Week 2 where Jordan Wynn actually went toe-to-toe with Matt Barkley and held his own. The John White-led ground game had yet to get rolling and should be good enough at home to keep Barkley and Company off the field. Within the division, this is easily the biggest game of the year. Should Utah pull off the upset, it could be the biggest game of the year nationally.

20. Week 6 (Oct. 6) LSU at Florida
The Tigers and Gators lay claim four of the last nine national championships and both claim two of the best SEC resumes in history. While Florida won’t feature a vintage Gators squad, particularly on offense, this game still has plenty of weight in 2012. Florida’s defense should be nasty, but will have to play better at the point of attack after allowing 238 yards rushing to LSU last fall. The Gators mustered only 213 total yards in their second straight loss in the long-time crossover series.

21. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Ohio State at Michigan State
The preseason buzz around C-Bus will either be proven wrong — or completely justified when both Michigan State and Ohio State open Big Ten play in Week 5. The Buckeyes don’t play a tough non-conference game, so fans will find out exactly how far Braxton Miller has developed and just how salty the OSU defense will be in this game. Should Ohio State win on the road against Sparty, an 11-1 type of season is extremely possible. Should Brutus return home with the loss, expectations for Ohio State will be tempered very quickly.

22. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Ohio State at Wisconsin
Bucky Badger was literally inches from being undefeated last fall. The MSU hail mary and Braxton Miller’s near-the-line-of-scrimmage touchdown heave were both inches from going Wisconsin’s way. The Big Red defeated OSU 31-18 with relative ease the last time Ohio State visited Camp Randall, but this game will be decidedly tougher. While Ohio State can’t technically play for the Big Ten title, winning this game and claiming the best record in the division still means a lot to Urban Meyer. Fans know who actually won the Pac-12 South last year.

23. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Michigan at Nebraska
The round robin in the Legends Division should be extremely entertaining this fall and Michigan has to face the Huskers on the road. However, if Nebraska wants to contend this fall, playing better defense against the Wolverines' rushing attack will be imperative. Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint combined for 221 yards and four touchdowns in the 45-17 blowout last fall. This game could be the pivotal road trip for Michigan — at least, until November 24.

24. Week 4 (Sept. 22) Michigan at Notre Dame
Michigan has won three straight in this historic rivalry and none more painful than the most recent edition. Last year's final drive with under 30 seconds to play capped one of the largest fourth-quarter comebacks in the series history. Denard Robinson was brilliant, at times, but really the Notre Dame secondary played poorly. Brian Kelly is looking for his first win in the series and has a nasty defensive front seven to play with this time around. Robinson will need more than one ice bath when this one is over.

25. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Notre Dame at USC
These two historic rivals will do battle for the 83rd time when they meet on the final week of the regular season. While USC won last year and has claimed eight out of the past nine in the series, Notre Dame actually won the last the time they met in The Coliseum, 20-16 in 2010. Matt Barkley led a balanced offensive attack last fall to the 31-17 win in South Bend. USC rushed for 219 yards and posted 224 through the air. If the Irish expects to win out West again, it will have to muster more than 41 rushing yards.

Best of the Rest:

Week 3 (Sept. 15) Florida at Tennessee
Yes, the Florida-Tennessee rivalry has seen better days. No, neither is picked to win the East. But this game has no shortage of storylines — or future NFL talent. One team possesses an electric high-flying offense while the other boasts one of the most explosive defenses in the league. And both have a head coach feeling the pressure from alumni and fans to win now. Florida has won seven straight in the series, but will be coming to Knoxville following a brutal trip to Texas A&M in Week 2. Meanwhile, the Vols will face ACC sleeper NC State in Week 1, so if both teams struggle out of the gate, this game could decide more than just bowl eligibility. If both enter 2-0, one team will leave as the clear contender to Georgia and South Carolina for SEC East supremacy.

Week 13 (Nov. 24): South Carolina at Clemson
It may not be the most high-profile rivalry and it may not have national implications like many other rivalries, but it is hard to find a yearly battle that possesses as much vitriol as the Tigers-Gamecocks. From 1997 to 2008, Clemson owned the series, winning 10 of the 13 meetings. But the last three years have seen South Carolina stake a major claim to in-state supremacy. None of the games have been close as Carolina has outscored its rival 97-37. Both teams are focused on a conference title in their respective leagues, so the game means little to the actual standings, but don't tell that to the people in the Palmetto State. Or to two teams that could potentially be ranked in the Top 10 by the time they meet.

Week 6 (Oct. 6) West Virginia at Texas
The Mountaineers have played the Longhorns just once in the two programs' history and fans should certainly see more excitement than the 7-6 Texas victory featured back in 1956 down in Austin. These two teams appear to be the top challengers to Oklahoma in the Big 12 conference crown race and this contest will feature arguably the top offense in the league and the easily the top defense in the league. Geno Smith and his wide receivers will put loads of pressure on a unit with dynamic defensive ends and great cornerbacks. From an Xs and Os standpoint, there are few match-ups that will be more intriguing in any league across the nation.

Week 5 (Sept. 27) Stanford at Washington
Both programs have aspirations to challenge Oregon in the North this fall and both should creep up on 10 wins. Stanford has crushed the Huskies the last three meetings and has won six out of seven in the series. Without Andrew Luck, however, Washington and Keith Price have closed the gap significantly. The key will be the growth of the Husky defense after allowing 65 points last year and 105 total points in the last two meetings. Getting the game at home in Seattle may give the Dawgs the bump needed to end the Cardinal's winning streak.

Week 1 (Sept. 1): Clemson vs. Auburn (Atlanta, Ga.)
The first Saturday night of the season in the Georgia Dome has turned into a yearly must-watch contest and these two Tigers won't disappoint. Clemson won the meeting 38-24 last fall while Auburn won the 27-24 thriller en route to its National Championship in 2012. Brian VanGorder should have the Auburn defense much improved, but if Aubie expects to upset Clemson, it will have to get quality quarterback play on offense. This will be a great barometer game for both programs right out of the gate.

Week 6 (Oct. 6): Florida State at NC State
The top sleeper team in the ACC is Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack. They are strong at the point of attack on both offense and defense and have excellent leadership from quarterback Mike Glennon. These two teams match-up extremely well and getting the game at home for NC State could spell upset for Florida State. Manuel will be pressed by one of the nation's top secondaries while the strong Florida State defensive line will force Glennon to be successful down the field. This was no contest last fall in Tallahassee 34-0, but the last time Fisher took his team to Raleigh, the Pack got the best of FSU 28-24. 

Week 13 (Nov. 24) Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
The Bedlam Series is one of the great rivalries in all of the country, and while Oklahoma has dominated all-time (81-18-7) and of late (winners of eight of the last nine), the Cowboys claim the current bragging rights. The 44-10 destruction at home at the hands of Brandon Weeden and Mike Gundy was the first win for the Pokes in the series since 2002 and it clinched the program’s first Big 12 championship and a trip to the BCS. With a true freshman quarterback, walking into Norman and getting a win over the Sooners seems like a tall order. But fans can bet the atmosphere will be must-see.

Week 9 (Oct. 27) Notre Dame at Oklahoma
These are two of the most powerful, most prestigious, trophy-laden programs in the history of the sport. Notre Dame has dominated the all-time series 8-1, which includes an undefeated 4-0 record in Norman. The last time these two squared off was 1999 when Notre Dame outlasted the Sooners 34-30. The strength of this Irish team will be its defensive front and the strength of the OU team will be its offensive firepower, so the battle of wills in the trenches will determine if Notre Dame can maintain that unblemished road record against Oklahoma.

Week 11 (Nov. 10) West Virginia at Oklahoma State
These two have played one time since 1929 — and three times total — when Oklahoma State won 35-33 in the 1987 Sun Bowl in El Paso. Both teams have Big 12 title aspirations and both offenses ranked in the top 15 nationally in scoring and total offense last season. Add to it a Dana Holgorsen storyline that includes his former boss in Mike Gundy and fans should have plenty to watch on Nov. 10. The WVU headman spent 2010 as the offensive coordinator in Stillwater and now returns with a Big 12 rival stocked with offensive firepower.

Week 14 (Nov. 29): Louisville at Rutgers
The Cards are the prohibitive favorite and the 16-14 win over Rutgers last fall signaled a big turning point in Louisville's season. After a 2-4 start, the Cards out-lasted the top defense in the league before winning four of their next five games to end 2011. This year, on the final week of regular-season play, the Big East crown could be hanging in the balance. On paper, this road game should be the Cardinals' toughest league test and a third straight win over the Knights, a team that could be a top Big East contender, would likely produce Charlie Strong’s first trip to a BCS Bowl.

Week 12 (Nov. 17): NC State at Clemson
If the Pack is in fact the top sleeper team in this league, it will have to upset Clemson once again this season. After a 9-1 start, the No. 7-ranked Tigers went north to Raleigh and got embarrassed 37-13. Glennon was able to find success through the air throwing for 253 yards and three touchdowns in the win while the defense made Tajh Boyd look bad. He managed only 238 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. However, expect Clemson OC Chad Morris to point to the lack of a rushing attack last fall — 28 carries for 34 yards —as one of the biggest concerns. Getting the game at home gives Clemson the edge but should NC State defeat FSU in Week 6, this game could become an division championship contest.

Week 8 (Oct. 20): Virginia Tech at Clemson
These two played twice last fall and Logan Thomas will readily admit that he didn't get the job done in the two losses. The Clemson defense struggled all season long but somehow managed to stop the burly passer and the explosive Hokie ground game. The 23-3 regular season win was merely a precursor to Clemson's 38-10 dominance in the ACC title game. Thomas and the Hokie defense should be much improved in 2012, so fans can bank on this one being much tighter this time around. This, too, could be a championship game preview.

Week 12 (Nov. 17) Stanford at Oregon
Stanford-Oregon has decided not only the "North," but also the Pac-12 championship for back-to-back seasons and it could be the case once again in 2012. The Ducks have won two straight and eight out of nine in the series and the game returns to Autzen Stadium this fall. If the Cardinal expect to challenge Oregon in the North, its stacked linebacking corps will have to play better against the high-powered Ducks — a team that has scored 105 points in the last two meetings.

-by Braden Gall


<p> College Football's Top 25 Games of 2012</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:30
Path: /college-football/accs-top-impact-freshman-2012

With college football's fall practice in full swing around the nation, it's really the first time names made famous on recruiting websites are showing up in actual practice reports. When it comes to picking which freshmen will make an impact in their first season on campus, it's really all about who can pick up the playbook the fastest and who fits a need. The ACC saw names like Sammy Watkins and Giovani Bernard produce more than just All-ACC honors as freshmen last fall. Despite off-the-field issues facing both Watkins and North Carolina, both playmakers have a chance to lead their respective teams to the best record in the conference. This season will feature another class of stellar prospects who will mold the landscape in the ACC (listed alphabetically): 

The ACC's Top Impact Freshmen for 2012

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

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

Zac Brooks, RB, Clemson
Andre Ellington is a really good player but constantly misses time due to injury. There is no Mike Bellamy. And the rest of the depth chart lacks true upside. The coaching staff is counting on the Jonesboro, Ark., native to produce right away.

Kyler Brown, LB, Duke
From Matthews, N.C., Brown is expected to step in and help bolster the porous run defense that has all too often plagued the Duke defense. The redshirt freshman checks in at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds and should rack-up the tackles this fall in Durham.

Deon Bush, S, Miami
The Miami area prospect just missed landing in the top 100 recruiting rankings, but Bush will be hard to keep on the bench this fall. He has all the tools to be successful right away and only minor injury issues will keep him from contributing immediately.

Joel Caleb, WR, Virginia Tech
The uber-talented wideout has already been singled-out in practice by Frank Beamer. He has big-play ability, and Logan Thomas will need some help making things happen on offense should the Hokies expect to compete in the ACC.

Ronald Darby, DB, Florida State
There is no reason to believe this special talent won't become a big star in Tallahassee. Considering the recent departure of Greg Reid, the buzz Darby has been receiving from coaches and teammates alike seems to be much more than simple lip-service. He could make fans forget about the troubled Reid very quickly.

Quinshad Davis, WR, North Carolina
It took him two weeks to get onto the practice field, but Davis finally has made his UNC debut. His long, rangy frame could be the missing piece for a North Carolina offense that has all the pieces needed to be one of the most balanced and explosive in the league. The offensive line, the running game and the quarterback are already in place. 

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

Mario Edwards, DL, Florida State
Edwards is to the ACC what Anthony Johnson was to the SEC last fall. If he can pick up the mental aspects of the game quick enough to stay on the field, his raw physical ability should make him one of the brightest future stars in the league. Look for the massive 6-foot-3, 300-pound monster to bolster an already loaded defensive line in search of a conference crown. 

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

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

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

Germone Hopper, WR, Clemson
With Watkins suspended for the first two games, the high-flying Clemson offense will provide plenty of opportunities for youngsters to make an impact. Hopper has gotten plenty of early looks in practice as one of the highest-rated prospects in the entire Clemson class. The 6-foot, 170-pound pass-catcher from Charlotte, N.C., was the No. 11-rated wide receiver prospect in the nation. Someone other than DeAndre Hopkins will catch passes in those first two games.

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

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

Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson
Defensive line coach Dan Brooks has been impressed with Watkins thus far and thinks he will compete for a starting spot right away. The 6-foot-4, 275-pound, top-100 recruit from Forest City, N.C., will team with D.J. Reader to bolster a defensive line that desperately needs a boost.

Three RB Tandems To Watch:

Brandon Ross and Wes Brown, RB, Maryland
The high school teammate of Diggs, Brown, is a burly runner who will team with Ross, the redshirt freshman from New Jersey, in an effort to replace Davin Meggett. The ground game has always been a huge part of Edsall's coaching MO, but these two youngsters will attempt to build on the lone bright spot on the Terrapins' resume from last year — the ACC's No. 3-rated rushing attack.

Michael Holmes and JC Coleman, RB, Virginia Tech
Holmes could be this year's Bernard as he steps in as the top back in the Hokies' offense. While Holmes may not be a spectacular talent like David Wilson or Ryan Williams, he makes few mistakes and is as consistent as they come as a freshman. Coleman, who is dealing with a fractured hand, showed in a recent scrimmage that it will be tough to keep his big-play ability off the field for too long. 

Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell, RB, Duke
The pair of freshman tailbacks are already being counted on by David Cutcliffe to perform quickly in 2012. He believes in the two youngsters so much that former star running back prospect Desmond Scott has been moved to wide receiver. Look for both to get plenty of chances for an offense that ranked dead last in the ACC in rushing last fall. 

Other Names To Watch:

Marvin Bracy, WR/RS, Florida State
Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
Junior Gnockonde, LB/S, North Carolina
Eli Harold, LB, Virginia
Nick Hill, WR, Duke
Kiaro Holts, OL, North Carolina
Dylan Intemann, OL, Wake Forest
Raphael Kirby, LB, Miami
Alex Kinal, K, Wake Forest
Donaldven Manning, CB, Virginia Tech
Bradle Pinion, P, Clemson
Shakeel Rashad, LB, North Carolina
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

- by Braden Gall


Related ACC Content

ACC Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes
Ranking the ACC's Top 50 Players for 2012

Projecting College Football's Win Totals for 2012

Ranking the ACC's Must-See Games for 2012

The ACC's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

College Football's National Title Darkhorses for 2012

Ranking the ACC's Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the ACC Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the ACC Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

College Football's 2012 Bowl Projections

Will Randy Edsall Turn Around Maryland?

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

ACC's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 ACC Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-ACC Team

<p> The ACC's Top Impact Freshman of 2012</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:10
Path: /college-football/big-easts-top-impact-freshman-2012

With college football's fall practice in full swing around the nation, it's really the first time names made famous on recruiting websites are showing up in actual practice reports. When it comes to picking which freshmen will make an impact in their first season on campus, it's really all about who can pick up the playbook the fastest and who fits a need. The Big East saw names like Teddy Bridgewater and Lyle McCombs produce excellent rookie seasons last fall. Bridgewater, who claimed Big East Rookie of the Year honors in 2011, now enters his sophomore season with eyes on a BCS bowl. This season will feature another class of stellar prospects who will mold the landscape in the Big East (listed alphabetically): 

The Big East's Top Impact Freshmen for 2012

Keith Brown, LB, Louisville
Landing Brown was one of the many recruiting coups for Charlie Strong and his staff. His ties to South Florida helped sign the 6-foot-1, 230-pound tackler from Miami Norland. He has a chance to step in and bolster a young defense right from the onset. 

Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers
Growing up in the shadows of HighPoint Solutions Stadium at famed Don Bosco Prep, the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder has track speed to go with his physical frame and electric upside. There is no doubt he will be a big contributor on special teams, but his early camp reviews suggest a big role in the passing game as well.

Kristofer Curtis, OL, Syracuse
The big redshirt freshman from Fayetteville, Ga., is slotted into the starting line-up for the Cuse. He has been dealing with an injury issue that has slowed his development in camp, but should the 6-foot-3, 290-pound tackle return healthy, he should be a big part of the Orange's offensive attack.

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

Zach Hooks, LT, Temple
The left tackle position is the second-most important on the field and Hooks is already slotted in as the starter in Philadelphia. The 6-foot-6 blocker from Aliquippa, Pa., is poised to pave the way for one of the most talented backfields in Owls history.

Quanzell Lambert, LB, Rutgers
The coaching staff has been praising the middle linebacker from Sicklerville, N.J., since the second he stepped onto the practice field. He will learn behind Butkus candidate Steve Beauharnais this fall, but the 6-foot-1, 230-pounder could be the top reserve linebacker on the league's top defense. Update: Unfortunately, Lambert tweaked his ankle this week in practice and will miss some time — which could obviously impact his ability to contribute right away.

Kyle Federico, K/P, Rutgers
The Knights have had two kickers in eight years and Federico could make it only three in 12 should the early returns be accurate. He has the kicking duties to himself this fall after Jeremy Ito and San San Te made the position one of solid production for nearly a decade.

Steve Longa, LB, Rutgers
The youngster won't turn 18 until the end of November, but in two short weeks of practice, Kyle Flood knows he can't redshirt Longa. The rising star, much like Lambert, will spend this fall learning from talented veterans. But, again, like Lambert, Longa should see plenty of snaps this fall. These two talented tacklers are the future of Rutgers football.

Lafayette Pitts, DB, Pitt
The redshirt fershman has been battling sophomore Ohio State transfer Cullen Christian for a starting spot in the Pitt secondary. Either way, win or lose, Pitts will be playing plenty of snaps for the Panthers this fall. New coach Paul Chryst stated last week that Pitts had the slight edge as the starter.

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

Nate Smith, LB, Temple
The younger brother of former NFL tight end L.J., Smith is a bit undersized at 5-foot-10 and 220 pounds, but his tenacity, insticnts and work ethic have turned a lot of heads in Temple's camp. He is poised to be the Owls' starting middle linebacker in their return to the Big East in his first season on the field.

Chad Voytik, QB, Pitt
From Cleveland, Tenn., the talanted passer is a perfect fit for Chryst's high-powered offensive system. In fact, Voytik will draw some comparison's to former Chryst QB Russell Wilson. Above average mobility, a bit undersized, decent arm, quality poise and leadership skills. This is why starter Tino Sunseri  — who was inefficient and underwhelming last fall — needs to be looking over his shoulder .

Freshman Position Battles To Watch:

Ivan Foy and Rob Trudo, RG, Syracuse
These two youngsters will vie for the starting right guard spot this fall.

Braxton Lane/Nate Cole/Jeremy Graves, WR, Cincinnati
Butch Jones has mentioned all three as potential starters — or third options.

Oliver Vigille and James Washington, OLB, Syracuse
These two should be fighting for snaps on the outside. Both will provide talented depth.

Jefferson Ashiru and Marquise Vann, LB, UConn
Neither may start, but both will contribute to an excellent LB corps.

Other Names To Watch:

Chris Bivins, CB, USF
Ashton Broyld, WR, Syracuse
Dionte Buckley, RB, Cincinnati
Bennie Coney, QB, Cincinnati
Myles Davis, FB, Syracuse
Nick Dawson, LB, Louisville
Jaston George, CB, Syracuse
Eric Lee, DE, USF
D'Vario Montgomery, WR, USF
Devontre Parnell, DB, Louisville
Daniel Perry, DE, USF
Sean Price, TE, USF
Deaysean Rippy, DB, Pitt
Ron Thompson, TE, Syracuse
Tashon Whitehurst, LB, USF

- by Braden Gall


Related Big East Content

Big East Coaches Anonymously Scout the Big East
Ranking the Big East's Must-See Games for 2012

Big East Breakout Players for 2012

The Big East's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

Ranking the Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big East Linebacking Corps for 2012

Ranking the Big East Defensive Lines for 2012

College Football 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers

Ranking the Big East's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

Top 25 Big East Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Big East Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big East Team

Which Big East Teams Are on the Rise Heading into 2012?

<p> The Big East's Top Impact Freshman of 2012</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:10
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-10-biggest-injury-concerns-quarterback

Injuries are certainly a part of football, and fantasy football, for that matter, but when it comes to the latter that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't be prepared.

Here are the top injury concerns when it comes to quarterback. If you decide to draft one of these guys, be sure you add a capable backup at some point.

1. Michael Vick, Philadelphia
Style of play makes him the most injury-prone QB in the league. Played 16 games only once in his career (2006) and has missed seven games over the last two years. It also doesn't help his rep that he's already banged the thumb on this throwing hand in an earlier preaseason game and left Monday's night game against the Patriots after taking a hard shot to his ribs. Fortunately, x-rays came back negative, but if he's taking this much punishment in the preseason, what happens when the games count?

2. Sam Bradford, St. Louis
He had a significant shoulder issue in college, and an ankle injury cost him six of his last 11 games last fall. Needs to prove he can stay healthy.

3. Matt Schaub, Houston 
Major injuries appear to be fluky and unlucky, but the fact remains that he has played no more than 11 games in three of his last five years.

4. Matthew Stafford, Detroit
When healthy, he is as good as any quarterback in the league. Played in every game at Georgia but only 29 of a possible 48 regular-season games since entering the NFL.

5. Matt Cassel, Kansas City
After taking a pounding for the first nine games (and playing better than expected), he suffered an injury to his throwing hand that ended his season. Could this be his last chance in Kansas City?

6. Robert Griffin III, Washington
Missed a huge chunk of his second season at Baylor with a torn ACL, and his style of play lends itself to injuries. Can Mike Shanahan afford to let RG3 run free?

7. Peyton Manning, Denver
After starting 208 straight games, Manning missed all 16 games of the 2011 season. The neck appears to be healthy, but can he still take the big hits?

8. Tony Romo, Dallas
Oft-injured, gutty performer often plays through injury but is constantly banged up. Missed 10 games in 2010 and three games in 2008. Has O-Line improved enough to keep him healthy?

9. Jay Cutler, Chicago
Has taken a beating his entire pro and college career and has bounced back every time, but first major injury (thumb) cost him six games last year.

10. Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee
Played his first full season since 2007 last year, but  has been replaced by Jake Locker as the Titans' starter. Should Hasselbeck regain the starting job for whatever reason remember this — he turns 37 in September.

— Published on August 21, 2012

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

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

<p> Fantasy Football: 10 Biggest Injury Concerns at Quarterback</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:05
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-kansas-city-chiefs

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Kent Babb, Kansas City Star

How will Romeo Crennel divide the carries between Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis? Can they both provide fantasy value?
Assuming Charles is healthy, he’ll get the majority of carries — although he has been at his best with a power rusher splitting part of the load. Particularly with Charles returning from an ACL tear, the Chiefs will be careful with how much responsibility they give him, at least until he proves he has the same agility and breakaway speed he had before the injury. Hillis will be used in short-yardage situations, similar to the way Thomas Jones was used the previous two years. He’ll be a good source of touchdowns, but it’ll be Charles — if he’s healthy — who racks up the yards.

After Dwayne Bowe, who is the next wide receiver to target?
Steve Breaston is a solid receiver, but he’ll lack big plays and touchdowns. A sleeper choice would be second-year wideout Jon Baldwin, who is similar in build and hands to Bowe. He wasn’t dazzling in his rookie season, and the Chiefs will need him to take a step forward in his second year. Breaston is the safer choice, but Baldwin has the higher upside — and, of course, the higher risk.

Does Matt Cassel provide any fantasy value whatsoever?
If he’s at 2010 form, when he rarely threw interceptions, then sure. But Cassel also rarely has 300-yard passing games, even when he’s at his best. He’s a decent (very) late-round quarterback choice or a very good fantasy backup, but Cassel’s ceiling is remarkably low, even with a terrific rush offense and some very good receivers.

Will Tony Moeaki return to his rookie form of 2010 when he caught 47 passes for 556 yards and three scores?
Moeaki is another high-risk, high-reward player. If he’s healthy, he has the potential to be one of the league’s better tight ends. But that’s a huge if — and it has been since his college days. Moeaki has incredible hands and a remarkable ability to get open. The problem with him, and always has been, that he can’t stay healthy. So fantasy owners who take a chance on Moeaki, should probably draft another tight end in the early to mid-rounds, just to avoid the buyer’s remorse when Moeaki again suffers an injury.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Tony Moeaki, TE
Deep-Sleeper: Jon Baldwin, WR
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Devon Wylie, WR
Bounce-Back: Jamaal Charles, RB
Top IDP: Derrick Johnson, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Dontari Poe DT 6-3 346 Memphis
2. Jeff Allen G 6-4 306 Illinois
3. Donald Stephenson T 6-6 307 Oklahoma
4. Devon Wylie WR 5-9 186 Fresno State
5. DeQuan Menzie S 6-0 198 Alabama
6. Cyrus Gray RB 5-10 198 Texas A&M
7. Jerome Long DT 6-5 285 San Diego State
7. Junior Hemingway WR 6-1 222 Michigan

Fantasy Impact: The Chiefs’ first three picks were spent upgrading both lines, so there’s not much fantasy value likely to come out of this class. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe can be dominant, but his effort was questioned at Memphis. Jeff Allen played tackle at Illinois but could move inside to guard in the NFL. Devon Wylie will help on special teams and is penciled in as the No. 4 receiver. Running back Cyrus Gray was a solid late-round pickup but faces an uphill battle for playing time.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at CLE, at OAK, IND)

New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll comes over after coordinating for Miami and Cleveland. He had no top-10 fantasy producers for the Dolphins, and no Browns are on the tip of your tongue over the last five years. If a consistent player does emerge, the Chiefs do get the Raiders and Colts, easy fantasy defenses from a year ago, in the playoffs.

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

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

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Kansas City Chiefs</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:04
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-jacksonville-jaguars

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Tania Ganguli, Florida Times-Union

Is the addition of Justin Blackmon enough to make Blaine Gabbert a viable fantasy player in 2012?
The additions of Blackmon and Laurent Robinson, whom the Jaguars added in free agency, have already made the Jaguars receiving corps several times better than it was last season. It’s all on Gabbert now. Watch Gabbert during the preseason and training camp for signs that he has truly changed.

What are reasonable statistical projections for Blackmon in his first season?
His ceiling could be something like Anquan Boldin’s rookie year. Boldin had 101 catches for 1,377 yards in 2003. The Jaguars see a lot of similarities in the two receivers. The quarterback situation is the biggest thing to watch when it comes to Blackmon’s fantasy production.

Can Maurice Jones-Drew reach the 1,300-yard plateau for the fourth consecutive season?
Nobody motivates himself like Jones-Drew. No matter how good of a season he had in the previous year, he can always find a way to convince himself that he has something to prove. Last season, Jones-Drew came in trying to prove that the surgery he had to repair his 2010 torn meniscus wouldn’t affect his play. This year, coming off an NFL-leading 1,606 yards, his contract situation could be a motivating factor that keeps him at the high level he’s played for the past two seasons. Jones-Drew hasn’t attended the Jaguars’ voluntary offseason workouts in an effort to make known his dissatisfaction with his contract, which has two years left on it. Expect another big season from MJD.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Rashad Jennings, RB
Deep-Sleeper: Blaine Gabbert, QB
Overvalued: Laurent Robinson, WR
Top Rookie: Justin Blackmon, WR
Bounce-Back: Marcedes Lewis, TE
Top IDP: Paul Posluszny, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Justin Blackmon WR 6-1 215 Oklahoma State
2. Andre Branch DE 6-5 258 Clemson
3. Bryan Anger P 6-4 208 California
5. Brandon Marshall LB 6-2 243 Nevada
6. Mike Harris CB 5-10 184 Florida State
7. Jeris Pendleton DT 6-2 328 Ashland

Fantasy Impact: Quarterback Blaine Gabbert had an awful rookie season, but he didn’t have a lot of help in the receiving corps last year. The Jaguars have taken steps to solve that, as they signed Laurent Robinson and selected Justin Blackmon in the first round of the draft. Blackmon should provide some much-needed big-play ability, but his fantasy value will be determined by how quickly Gabbert can improve. The rest of Jacksonville’s draft was met with mixed reviews, but defensive end Andre Branch should spark a pass rush that ranked near the bottom of the NFL last year.

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

Perhaps Blaine Gabbert and Justin Blackmon will have some sort of chemistry by this point in the season. If so, the Jags get the Dolphins’ ninth-worst fantasy defense against WRs and 13th-worst against QBs, and the Patriots’ 32nd-ranked fantasy defense against WRs and 29th-ranked against QBs in the title game. MJD does have to play two top-10 and a 16th-ranked fantasy defense vs. RBs from a year ago.

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

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

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Jacksonville Jaguars</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-indianapolis-colts

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Phil Wilson, Indianapolis Star

Will Andrew Luck top Peyton Manning’s rookie numbers of 3,739 yards, 26 touchdowns and 28 interceptions?
The hunch is Luck won’t surpass Manning’s numbers, but he could eclipse the win total of three. Luck is so unselfish, he won’t be about putting up big numbers, and the Colts will want to run the ball more and play ball control as much as possible to protect an overhauled and learning-on-the-go defense.

How will the new coaching staff decide to use tailbacks Delone Carter, Donald Brown and Vick Ballard?
Expect Carter and Brown to be the tandem for now. Ballard gets a shot if he shows something in camp and one of the other two guys struggles. Brown has never been much of a blocker, so perhaps that opens the door for Ballard to get a few reps eventually.
Is Reggie Wayne’s fantasy career over, or can he bounce back after failing to reach 1,000 yards for the first time since 2003?
Wayne might never get back to the levels taken for granted in past years. Expect decent numbers, but it’s doubtful Luck will throw to him so much that the old statistical levels will come into play. This team must spread the ball around.

Which tight end will get the most targets, Coby Fleener or Dwayne Allen?
The guess will be Fleener because that’s who Luck knows. But seriously, flip a coin on them. Allen could be that guy. You never know which guy will stay healthier, who picks up the offense more quickly, which style will consistently get open more often, etc.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Coby Fleener, TE
Deep-Sleeper: Dwayne Allen, TE
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Andrew Luck, QB
Bounce-Back: Reggie Wayne, WR
Top IDP: Pat Angerer, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Andrew Luck QB 6-4 234 Stanford
2. Coby Fleener TE 6-6 247 Stanford
3. Dwayne Allen TE 6-3 255 Clemson
3. T.Y. Hilton WR 5-10 183 FIU
5. Josh Chapman DT 6-1 316 Alabama
5. Vick Ballard RB 5-10 217 Mississippi State
6. LaVon Brazill WR 5-11 191 Ohio
7. Justin Anderson T 6-5 342 Georgia
7. Tim Fugger OLB 6-3 248 Vanderbilt
7. Chandler Harnish QB 6-2 219 Northern Illinois

Fantasy Impact: The Colts surrounded No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck with plenty of help, including tight ends Coby Fleener (also a Stanford alum) and Dwayne Allen. Both will be valuable safety nets for the rookie quarterback. T.Y. Hilton is a dangerous all-around threat and will slide into the No. 3 receiver role in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (TEN, at HOU, at KC)

Rookies pepper the Colts’ roster at quarterback, receiver and tight end. Those rookies likely will be producing for a bad team and adjusting to the final games in the longer pro season. This is not a good fantasy situation, but there should be enough garbage points to make a few on this roster worthy of starts come fantasy postseason.

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

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

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Indianapolis Colts</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:02
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-houston-texans

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

Inside the Locker Room
with Sam Khan

Is Andre Johnson finally nearing the end of his career or is he still worth a first- or second-round selection?
This season will be Johnson’s 10th of his career, but even though he isn’t getting any younger, he’s still among the best receivers in the league — when he’s healthy. If he could be counted on for 16 games, I’d say he’s a first- or second-round pick, but he hasn’t gone for all 16 in three of the last five seasons, including missing nine regular-season games last year. The other factor worth considering: Johnson has never been a high touchdown guy — his highest single-season touchdown reception total is nine. He’s far from done, but injury history suggests passing on him in the first round.

Can Ben Tate be a starting fantasy running back despite not starting at running back on his own team?
If you’re in a league where you can start three running backs, I would say yes, but Tate is not quite to the point where you can make him an automatic start in a two-back league. Should Arian Foster get hurt, then Tate becomes that. Until then, he’s a good flex option or third running back.

How far do injury concerns drop Matt Schaub down draft boards?
A Lisfranc injury — which Schaub suffered in his right foot, ending his 2011 season — is serious, so there will be some concern for fantasy owners, even though Schaub’s offseason progress has been good and he’s expected to be 100 percent for training camp. His potential is great (more than 4,000 passing yards and 25-30 touchdown passes) but only twice since he joined the Texans in 2007 has Schaub appeared in all 16 games.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Ben Tate, RB
Deep-Sleeper: DeVier Posey, WR
Overvalued: None
Top Rookie: Randy Bullock, K
Bounce-Back: Andre Johnson, WR
Top IDP: Brian Cushing, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Whitney Mercilus DE 6-4 261 Illinois
3. DeVier Posey WR 6-2 210 Ohio State
3. Brandon Brooks G 6-5 343 Miami (Ohio)
4. Ben Jones C 6-3 316 Georgia
4. Keshawn Martin WR 5-11 189 Michigan State
4. Jared Crick DT 6-4 279 Nebraska
5. Randy Bullock K 5-9 205 Texas A&M
6. Nick Mondek T 6-5 307 Purdue

Fantasy Impact: Finding a receiver who can complement Andre Johnson has eluded Houston, and the door is open for DeVier Posey to contend for snaps in 2012. Posey should be a fringe pick in keeper formats. Kicker Neil Rackers was not re-signed, leaving Randy Bullock as the favorite to win the job in the preseason. Whitney Mercilus fits the 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker or rush end and should play immediately on passing downs in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at NE, IND, MIN)

The Texans will start the fantasy postseason at New England — their third straight game on the road — and will face a Patriots team that drafted defense with its first six picks after being the fourth-worst fantasy defense against QBs and the worst against WRs. After the game in New England, the Texans return home to face Indianapolis and Minnesota, two of the worst teams in the NFL in 2011.

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

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

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Houston Texans</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:01
Path: /mlb/2012-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-august-20

Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week for August 20, 2012.

 1. Nationals — Opponents are batting .210 with runners in scoring position.

 2. Reds — Another weekend, another walk-off win for Cincinnati.

 3. Yankees — Won nine of 12 and now visit Chicago and Cleveland.

 4. Rangers — David Murphy has been team’s best hitter in second half.

 5. Braves — Three sub-20,000 crowds last week during pennant race.

 6. Dodgers — Holding opponents to a .185 average with bases loaded.

 7. Pirates — 11 homers, 22 doubles in 12 games vs. St. Louis this season.

 8. Rays — Matt Moore, David Price in 2nd half: 10-1, 1.53 ERA, 0.96 WHIP.

 9. Giants — Can Giants overcome the loss of their offensive catalyst?

10. A’s — Grant Balfour has allowed 1 ER, 1 extra-base hit in July/Aug.

11. White Sox — Just one game above .500 in second half.

12. Orioles — Won 11 of 15 but can’t gain ground in AL East.

13. Cardinals — Only two home series losses since mid-June both to Pirates.

14. Tigers — Haven’t won a series outside their division in more than a month.

15. Diamondbacks — 14-16 when not playing the Astros in second half.

16. Angels — Crashing and burning with a 6.76 ERA in August.

17. Red Sox — 6-12 in August and fading fast.

18. Mariners — King Felix was perfect, but offense still not so hot.

19. Blue Jays — Struggling Jays batting just .217 in August.

20. Phillies — Seven games against best two teams in NL this week.

21. Mets — 11-24 since the break, only Houston is worse in NL.

22. Marlins — August batting avg.: Stanton & Reyes .313, rest of team .247.

23. Royals — Third place sounds nice, but would be last in other AL divisions.

24. Padres — Batting .179 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

25. Brewers — 13 straight games vs. Cubs and Pirates coming up.

26. Indians — Opponents are batting an even .300 this month.

27. Twins — Justin Morneau appears to be back in top form.

28. Rockies — Bats are alive at .310 in August; opponents are hitting .281.

29. Cubs — Swinging away: 142 strikeouts, 134 hits in August.

30. Astros — Managerial change can’t help in 2012.


AL Player of the Week

Miguel Cabrera, Detroit—The Tigers continue to struggle in the AL Central (arguably the worst division in baseball), but Cabrera remains a force and is contending for MVP honors. Miggy had four multi-hit games in a row, batting .476 for the week with a 1.386 OPS and seven runs scored.


AL Pitcher of the Week

Hiroki Kuroda, New York—With apologies to Felix Hernandez and his perfect game last week, Kuroda gets the nod for the award. He was nearly perfect twice. Last Tuesday, he tossed a two-hit shutout against the Rangers and followed that with eight innings allowing just one earned run vs. the rival Red Sox. For the week, he tossed 17 innings and gave up just six hits and two walks.


NL Player of the Week

Jay Bruce, Cincinnati—The Reds have certainly taken up the slack left in the lineup when Joey Votto was disabled due to knee surgery, and Bruce has been a huge part of that. Last week he had at least one hit and scored a run in every game. He batted .429 with three homers, seven extra-base hits and led the majors with nine runs.


NL Pitcher of the Week

Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles—As the Dodgers continue to battle the Giants in the NL West, Billingsley gave the team two tremendous starts last week against two teams in the wild card race. The righthander pitched eight shutout innings at Pittsburgh on Tuesday, then followed that with seven scoreless at Atlanta. He allowed just eight hits and three walks in 15 frames.

<p> A look at the best and worst baseball teams in the league.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 15:20
Path: /nascar/greg-biffle-wins-michigan

Neither Greg Biffle nor team owner Jack Roush is unaccustomed to visiting Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway. So it was no surprise that the duo ended up spraying champagne following Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 Sprint Cup race. What was a surprise were the circumstances that landed them there.

Running second to a scorchingly fast Jimmie Johnson, it looked as if Biffle would have to settle for a runner-up showing and “a good points day” after leading a respectable 19 laps and being a top-5 contender throughout the day.

However, as Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy streaked down Michigan’s long backstretch and near certain victory with six laps remaining, the engine sputtered, then detonated, becoming the fourth Hendrick powerplant of the weekend to experience problems.

As Johnson shifted to neutral, coasting to the garage on the track’s apron, Biffle assumed the lead as a yellow flag waved for oil dropped by Johnson’s shattered motor.

On the ensuing green-white-checker restart, Biffle fended off a gaggle of challengers as the field raced into Turn 1, nosing in front of Brad Keselowski and driving away in clean air to his second win of the 2012 season.

“It was going to be a great race no matter what,” Biffle said. “I felt like I could catch (Johnson), but we’ll never know. Passing him might have been a different story. But I certainly think that with seven (laps) to go, I probably could have pulled up close to him.”

Keselowski held on for second, while Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top 5. Johnson was relegated to a 27th-place finish and left the garage area, and then the facility, without speaking to reporters.

Keselowski, though, had plenty to say in his post-race press conference.

“I don’t know what to say other than I was just close to getting what would have been one of the biggest wins of my career,” the Michigan native said. “That would have been really special, but it wasn’t in the cards today.”

Then he took aim at the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared cars, which seem to have had a chassis advantage after winning seven of the last 13 races since early May.

“There’s parts and pieces on the car that are moving after inspection that make the car more competitive,” Keselowski explained when elaborating on a perceived advantage. “Some guys have it, some don’t. There’s a question to the interpretation of the rule. Penske Racing errs on the safe side because we don't want to be the guys that get the big penalty.

“Obviously, there’s a question to the interpretation (of the rule) that as of right now it’s legal, but I’m sure that Roger (Penske, team owner) doesn’t want to be the one caught red-handed.

“As a group at Penske Racing, we have not felt comfortable enough to risk that name and reputation that Roger has over those parts and pieces. Others have, which is their prerogative — I’m not going to slam them for it.”

He made it well known, though, that while Johnson may still be a pre-Chase title favorite, his No. 2 team is preparing for a 10-race war.

“The 48 has the most speed and the best history as far as the Chase is concerned,” Keselowski stated. “But it’s my job to not roll over and give it to them. We’re doing everything we can do and we nailed it on that last green-flag (pit) sequence (Keselowski beat Johnson off pit road). I’m proud as hell of my guys for doing that.

“The 48 might be the favorite for the championship, but we’re not going to roll over and just let them have it.”

So even in victory, Biffle, ironically the new points leader, flies under the radar — as he has throughout the season. And that seems just fine by him:

“I know that a lot of people don’t expect us to win the championship, don’t expect us to compete for the title. I don’t care what they say or who they want to talk about or what they talk about.

“We will be a factor when it comes down to Homestead, I promise you that.”

News & Notes: Michigan
•  Hendrick Motorsports had four engines experience problems — or all-out failures — over the Michigan race weekend. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart experienced valve train failures in Sunday’s race, while Jimmie Johnson had engine problems in practice, prompting a change. He had another go terminal with six laps to go on Sunday, costing him a fourth win this season.

On the flipside of the Hendrick engine docket was Kasey Kahne, who finished third, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (fourth) and Ryan Newman (eighth). Stewart and Gordon’s issues mirrored one another. As for Johnson, might ace crew chief Chad Knaus simply be testing the limits of durability prior to the Chase? For the time being, one can only speculate.

•  Mark Martin was involved in a scary wreck while leading the Pure Michigan 400 on lap 65. After colliding with Juan Montoya, Kasey Kahne and Bobby Labonte, Martin’s car careened into the edge of an opening in the pit road wall. The edge of the wall impaled his No. 55 Toyota, puncturing the oil cooler just behind the seat of the car, nearly striking some bystanders. All walked away unhurt.

•  Justin Allgaier nudged his way past Jacques Villeneuve and on to his first Nationwide Series win of the 2012 season at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. Allgaier used the bumper to move Villeneuve, who appeared to slow, on the final lap at the road course. Coincidentally (or not), Villeneuve used the same tactic to obtain the lead from Alex Tagliani on lap 66 of 81.

by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter:

<p> Greg Biffle took advantage of Jimmie Johnson's blown engine in the waning laps of the Pure Michigan 400 to notch his second win of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.</p>
Post date: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 15:13
Path: /mlb/mlb-trade-deadline-winners-and-losers-0

Every summer August 1 is something like New Year’s Day in baseball. General managers around the league work frantically through July 31 to reshape their teams into contenders or sell off spare parts in order to rebuild for the future. It marks the beginning of the pennant drive, with a different look to many lineups.

Many teams’ destinies are defined by decisions made at the annual trade deadline. There was no better example than in 2011. Both the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals rebuilt their pitching staffs, most notably their bullpens, at the deadline, and those key moves proved instrumental in both teams’ pennants.

Every trade deadline presents winners and losers. Here are this year's best and worst.

Houston Astros
It’s clear that the Astros are going nowhere this season. Painfully clear. However, they are moving to the American League West next season, and the building process is well underway to compete with the likes of the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels over the next five years. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has done a magnificent job stockpiling talented young pitchers. The 10-player deal with Toronto brought Houston two former first-round draft picks with big upsides in Joe Musgrove and Asher Wojciechowski. The Astros also grabbed a couple of corner outfield types from Arizona in Marc Krauss and Bobby Borchering. The two big swingers strike out too often for Arizona GM Kevin Towers’ liking, but their power should play well at Minute Maid Park.

Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are built to win now. The signing of Prince Fielder over the winter and the subsequent move of Miguel Cabrera to third gave the Tigers a powerful lineup but exposed the team defensively. With a gaping hole at second base, the Tigers were able to bring Omar Infante back to Detroit, and with him came starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who has a no-hitter on his resume. That should be enough to win the AL Central.

New York Yankees
These aren’t the Yankees of the free-spending, wheeling and dealing era, but these are shrewd Yankees who know how to build a winner. New York welcomed former Mariner Ichiro Suzuki to New York at very little cost. Casey McGehee should be a productive right-handed bat off the bench and a solid option at third while Alex Rodriguez is recovering from a hand injury. The pieces are in place for the favorite in the American League.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Witness baseball’s next version of the Evil Empire. The Dodgers are determined to win. They are determined to win back the fans in Los Angeles who were lost during the McCourt regime and prevent the Angels from getting all the headlines. Hanley Ramirez had lost his edge in Miami, but a change of scenery should be just what the doctor ordered. Shane Victorino provides Gold Glove defense in the outfield and can be the leadoff hitter the Dodgers have sorely needed in front of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier this season. The offense, which hit just six home runs in June, has suddenly become a force.

San Francisco Giants
The Giants added Carlos Beltran at this point last season and it wasn't enough to get the team over the hump. In dire need of offense, the team was without Buster Posey in 2011, so the hole was much deeper. Now with Posey in the lineup and Pablo Sandoval expected back soon, adding Hunter Pence is a huge boost for the Giants as they battle the Dodgers and for one of the wild card spots. In his career, Pence has a career .329 average at AT&T Park, not a friendly place for most hitters.

Chicago White Sox
The surprise team in the AL, the White Sox see the opportunity in the AL Central, and the addition of the second wild card certainly made the decision to go for it this season easier. Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano bring depth to a young pitching staff. Myers, especially, should be a welcome presence to a staff that has had as many as seven rookies at one time this season.

Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s not so much what the Pirates did that makes them winners, it’s just that they did more than their NL Central rivals St. Louis and Cincinnati. Wandy Rodriguez can be a huge lift to an already promising rotation. Gaby Sanchez, an All-Star in 2011 has been horrible with Miami this season and was demoted to the minors. He has a chance to revive his season and give manager Clint Hurdle some options at first base.

Toronto Blue Jays
It’s difficult to see exactly what the Blue Jays are up to. They gutted their farm system for very little in return, especially with such little impact this season. Adding Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter, Brad Lincoln, J.A. Happ and Steve Delabar deepens the bullpen for sure, but it’s not like those were the final pieces for a championship run.

St. Louis Cardinals
Last season the Cardinals added lefthander Marc Rzepczynski and righty Octavio Dotel and completely changed their bullpen. This season the additions of lefty Brian Fuentes and righthander Edward Mujica should serve the same purpose. But the key that is missing this season is that Edwin Jackson, also acquired last year, made 12 starts and threw 89 innings, allowing Kyle McClellan to move to the bullpen and complete the puzzle. Missing out on another starting pitcher this season will leave the Cardinals short of the postseason.

Cincinnati Reds
While the Reds seemed to have forgotten how to lose, even without superstar Joey Votto, the absence of a true leadoff hitter and big bat behind Votto will haunt the NL Central leaders. The Reds, with the best bullpen in the National League, improved themselves there by adding former Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton from the Kansas City Royals. Now Broxton and Sean Marshall in front of closer Aroldis Chapman really shortens games. But Reds fans are hoping the offense will do enough to get leads after six innings.

Miami Marlins
I don’t blame the Marlins for aggressively selling at the deadline. It makes sense. What’s tough to swallow for fans is that they were such aggressive buyers in the offseason, and even traded for Carlos Lee earlier in the season. Getting 21-year-old righthander Jacob Turner from Detroit should pay nice dividends for the future, but this season has turned into a debacle in South Florida.

Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox
I can understand throwing in the towel and watching the Yankees cruise to the AL East title. But with two wild cards, these teams are competing against the each other, the Chicago White Sox and Oakland A’s. It doesn’t take much to separate from that pack. But these teams didn’t pull the trigger on any opportunities for improvement.

Caught in Between
The Cleveland Indians, Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland A’s were caught in that precarious position on the verge of contending, but reluctant to forsake their futures for this season. All three have players attractive to contenders, but they are in position to contend next season and beyond. With teams ahead of them in their divisions getting stronger, it’s understandable why these three will play out the season standing pat.

Charlie Miller (@AthlonSports)

<br />
Post date: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 11:49