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All taxonomy terms: Monthly, News
Path: /monthly/there-mlb-player-played-championship-teams-little-league

I’m wondering if there is a Major League Baseball player that played on a championship Little League World Series team and a championship College World Series team and a championship Major League Baseball team. 

— Kevin Bray, St. Petersburg, Fla.
No player possesses that unique Triple Crown. In fact, only two players have even appeared in each of the three settings you mention. Longtime Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek led his Altamonte Springs, Fla., team to the 1984 LLWS (losing in the finals to Seoul, Korea) before joining Georgia Tech teammates Nomar Garciaparra and Jay Payton in the 1994 College World Series, where they lost the title game to Oklahoma. Varitek was part of the curse-busting 2004 Red Sox and won another ring with the Sox in 2007. Ed Vosberg played for Tucson, Ariz., in the 1973 LLWS (Tucson lost in the finals to a Taiwanese team), then played for 1980 College World Series Champion Arizona before embarking on a journeyman career as a reliever that lasted until 2002 and included a stint with the 1997 World Champion Florida Marlins.
<p> Is there an MLB player that played on championship teams since Little League?</p>
Post date: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 16:14
All taxonomy terms: Golf, Monthly, News
Path: /golf/which-golfer-arnold-palmer-jack-nicklaus-and-tom-watson-has-most-holes-one

Which of my three favorite golfers — Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson — has the most holes-in-one? 

— Joe Triolo, Rockford, Ill.
It’s impossible to say just how many the three have combined to hit in leisurely rounds or during practice time, but here’s what we found: According to his website,, Jack has hit 20 holes-in-one in professional competition. Long-time Palmer assistant Doc Giffin calculates that Palmer has had about 20 in his life, although that likely includes non-tournament play. Watson’s number is tougher to pin down — it’s probably around 15 in competitive play — but he did thrill the crowd at the 2011 British Open at Royal St. George’s with a hole-in-one at age 61. You didn’t ask, but Art Wall, the 1959 Masters champion, holds the record; he’s credited with an astounding 45 holes-in-one during his professional career.
<p> Go on, ask us anything.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 15:57
All taxonomy terms: Monthly
Path: /monthly/best-performances-sports-biopic-history

Chadwick Boseman plays Jackie Robinson in the biopic “42,” which co-stars Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. But they are far from the first actors to portray iconic figures from classic true stories on the silver screen. Here are a few of the all-time great performances in sports biopics.

Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy
The Blind Side (2009)
Bullock earned the Academy Award for Best Actress by playing Michael Oher’s fiery adopted mother from Memphis in the highest grossing ($255 million) sports biopic ever.

Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Cooper plays the “Iron Horse” in a baseball classic that also includes cameos from Gehrig’s “Murderer’s Row” teammates Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and Mark Koening.

Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar
Invictus (2009)

Clint Eastwood directed Damon as the South African rugby star and Morgan Freeman as President Nelson Mandela in an emotional, politically charged “undefeated” drama.

Robert DeNiro as Jake LaMotta
Raging Bull (1980)

Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus featured arguably the most realistic fight scenes ever and earned De Niro the Academy Award for Best Actor for his gritty performance.

Tobey Maguire as Red Pollard
Seabiscuit (2003)

Maguire hung up his Spiderman costume and hopped in the saddle to play the once angry, one-eyed jockey Pollard in an uplifting Depression-era tale of redemption.

Barry Pepper as Roger Maris
61* (2001)
Pepper’s turn as Maris and Thomas Jane’s effort as Mickey Mantle highlight Billy Crystal’s labor of love in the HBO film based on Maris’ historic 1961 season.

Brad Pitt as Billy Beane
Moneyball (2011)
Pitt stars as the Oakland A’s general manager in another successful biopic based on a book by Michael Lewis, who also wrote the source material for The Blind Side.

Ronald Reagan as George “The Gipper” Gipp
Knute Rockne, All American (1940)
Before becoming the 40th President of the United States, Reagan urged Rockne — the iconic Notre Dame coach played by Pat O’Brien — to “win just one for the Gipper.”

Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks
Miracle (2004)
Russell sends chills of exhilaration through the audience with Brooks’ now famous — and parodied — pregame speech to the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team.

Will Smith as Muhammad Ali
Ali (2001)
Smith gained 35 pounds of muscle, going from 185 to 220 pounds, in order to play the champ in the Michael Mann film that also stars Jon Voight as Howard Cosell.

Denzel Washington as Herman Boone
Remember the Titans (2000)

Denzel also played boxer Rubin Carter in The Hurricane, but his best sports biopic role is that of the football coach attempting to inspire and unify a racially divided team.

RELATED: A Chat with Chadwick Boseman, Star of Jackie Robinson Biopic "42"

<p> From De Niro as Jake LaMotta in "Raging Bull" to Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy in "The Blind Side."</p>
Post date: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 14:00
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-april-22

Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2013 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire report every Monday. Our fantasy junkies cover the hottest hitters, best waiver wire pick ups, top starting pitching spot starts and sift through bullpens from around the league each and every week.

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (Apr. 8-Apr. 14):

  Name Pos. Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Carlos Gonzalez OF COL 7 1 6 2 .417 1.214
2. Mike Trout OF LAA 4 1 9 2 .391 1.052
3. David Wright 3B NYM 5 2 5 2 ..350 1.369
4. Evan Longoria 3B TB 6 4 6 0 .250 1.026
5. Carlos Gomez OF MIL 5 2 3 1 .500 1.470
6. Mike Napoli C/1B BOS 5 1 10 0 .354 1.096
7. Lorenzo Cain* OF KC 4 1 3 2 .556 1.508
8. Troy Tulowitzki SS COL 5 3 6 0 .333 1.242
9. Jacoby Ellsbury OF BOS 8 0 1 3 .355 .859
10. J.P. Arencibia* C TOR 5 4 5 0 .250 .964
11. Joe Mauer C/1B MIN 3 1 6 0 .588 1.491
12. Carlos Beltran OF STL 4 3 4 0 .375 1.192
13. Ryan Braun OF MIL 4 3 8 0 .200 1.010
14. Joey Votto 1B CIN 5 2 4 0 .385 1.100
15. Anthony Rizzo 1B CHC 4 3 5 0 .316 1.170
16. Desmond Jennings OF TB 6 2 3 2 .233 .706
17. Peter Bourjos* OF LAA 5 1 6 0 .318 1.010
18. Jose Altuve 2B HOU 4 0 3 2 .455 1.111
19. Todd Frazier 1/3/OF CIN 5 2 7 0 .238 .891
20. Bryce Harper OF WAS 4 2 4 0 .421 1.342
21. Mark Reynolds 1B/3B CLE 4 2 5 0 .368 1.053
22. Jonathan Lucroy* C MIL 4 2 6 0 .316 1.053
23. Robinson Cano 2B NYY 4 2 5 0 .346 1.068
24. Brandon Crawford* SS SF 6 2 2 0 .381 1.123
25. James Loney* 1B TB 4 1 5 0 .471 1.350

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Weekly Waiver Wire:

Jonathan Lucroy, C, MIL (57% owned in Yahoo! leagues)
On April 12, Lucroy was hitting .167 with no home runs and a pathetic OPS of .424. A six-game hitting streak later and Lucroy is sitting at .259/.768 with three homers and 10 RBIs. He has moved up to the No. 10-rated fantasy catcher — meaning he is a starter in a 10-team league — and will only continue to hit. Playing in the World Baseball Classic is likely what caused his slow start and owners can't expect the .320 average he posted a year ago, but Lucroy can hit. 

Brandon Crawford, SS, SF (40%)
The Giants took the UCLA shortstop in the fourth round of the 2008 MLB Draft and he is beginning to pay dividends. He has a great glove and has always been a solid fielder but his fantasy bat has come to life. And at a scarce position (one that's missing Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Derek Jeter), you cannot afford to ignore Crawford. Don't buy the power numbers — he has 10 HR in 694 career at-bats — but there is no reason he can't deliver solid counting stats. Think Alexi Ramirez-type production.

Yankee Free Agents
Travis Hafner is only eligible at UTL and is owned by only 34 percent of Y! leagues. Vernon Wells is owned in only 39 percent of Y! leagues. Neither should be considered long-term starters in your fantasy lineup, but while Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are out, these two will get at-bats. Hafner should capitalize on the short porch in right at Yankee Stadium and Wells appears to have plenty left in the tank. Both are worth the risk and both are ranked in the top 60 overall hitters thus far in 2013.

James Loney, 1B, TB (1%)
Only one-percent of Y! owners have use for a career .283 hitter? No, he will never deliver the power numbers — 74 homers in 3,213 career at-bats — but has always hit for average, driven in runs and been a solid fantasy backup at 1B or UTL. The Rays offense has taken off of late, winning four of five, and could still easily be the team to beat in the AL East. I am not using a waiver priority on Loney, but if I am desperate at corner infielder, he could be your guy.

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Matt Harvey NYM 22.0 3 22 1.23 0.73
2. Clay Buchholz BOS 23.0 3 25 0.78 0.96
3. Paul Maholm ATL 20.2 2 19 1.31 0.77
4. Hiroki Kuroda NYY 21.2 2 18 1.66 0.83
5. Jose Quintana* CHW 13.2 1 14 0.00 0.59
6. Lance Lynn STL 18.0 3 22 2.50 1.06
7. Adam Wainwright STL 16.0 2 16 1.69 0.81
8. Jorge De La Rosa* COL 18.0 2 14 1.50 0.83
9. Wade Davis* KC 12.0 2 13 0.00 1.00
10. R.A. Dickey TOR 12.1 2 11 0.73 0.81
11. Shleby Miller STL 13.0 1 14 1.38 0.62
12. Ervin Santana* KC 23.0 2 18 1.57 1.09
13. Derek Holland TEX 15.0 1 10 1.20 0.67
14. Yu Darvish TEX 13.0 1 18 2.08 0.77
15. Hisashi Iwakuma SEA 12.2 1 8 0.71 0.63
16. Carlos Villanueva* CHC 14.1 1 9 1.26 0.63
17. CC Sabathia NYY 16.0 2 15 2.25 0.94
18. Doug Fister DET 22.0 2 15 2.05 1.00
19. Max Scherzer DET 14.0 0 23 1.29 0.93
20. A.J. Burnett PIT 13.0 1 16 2.08 0.77

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

1. Shelby Miller, STL: Pittsburgh (Sun.) 73% owned
Miller will pitch against the Nationals on Monday (if you can add him day of) and will get the Pirates on Sunday. Both offenses are adequate but Miller has been nasty of late. The former first-round pick is showing fans why he was so highly touted by allowing four earned runs, striking out 18 and winning twice in his first three starts this season.

2. Travis Wood, CHC: at Miami (Sat.) 22% owned
The former Reds starter is rounding into form for the lowly Cubs. He won't get great run support (11 runs in three starts) but has been strong in all three of his starts thus far. He has allowed no more than two earned runs in a start and will get the anemic Marlins next weekend. He will face his former team on Monday in Cincinnati.

3. Wade Miley, ARI: Colorado (Sat.) 75% owned
Other than one inning in his last outing, Miley has been downright unhittable. Outside of a three-run seventh inning against the Yankees last Wednesday, Miley had allowed three earned runs in over 18 innings pitched. He won't post huge strikeout totals but will help ratios and get wins. He also gets the Giants on Monday if you can add day-of starters.

4. Ryan Dempster, BOS: Houston (Fri.) 70% owned
The strikeout totals have been unreal for Dempster — he has 33 Ks in 24.0 innings thus far — but has yet to notch a win. He will get the Astros on Friday and should be able to provide solid ratios and big strikeout numbers against this lowly AL West lineup.

5. Ryan Vogelsong, SF: at San Diego (Sun.) 78% owned
Vogelsong is owned in four out of five leagues but owners may have given up on the young hurler after a slow start to the season (5.89 ERA/1.47 WHIP through Sunday). He gets the Diamondbacks on Monday (if you can add and start same day) but more importantly will get the Padres on Sunday. Look for Vogelsong's numbers to improve over the next few weeks.

Closing Morsels:

The Brewers' closing job might be Jim Henderson's for good. He has four successful saves and one win in six appearances since taking over for John Axford. He has allowed one run and struck out eight over that span... The Cardinals went with Edward Mujica last Thursday and it worked as he struck out two in a 1.1-inning save. St. Louis hasn't had a save chance since so keep an eye on this one but Mujica is the one to own currently... In Detroit, Drew Smyly is pitching in an interesting role — he threw 5.2 scoreless innings on Saturday. He has a win, a save and two holds over 15.0 bullpen innings (1.80, 1.00, 17 K). In leagues with holds, a guy with "SP" eligibility is invaluable. And don't be shocked if the tall lefty gets some more save chances for the Tigers... Greg Holland had the rare two-save day on Sunday, and, with Kelvin Herrera working through some struggles of late, he appears to have regained favor in the ninth for the Royals... Keep a close eye on Boston and add Andrew Bailey immediately if you are desperate. He converted three straight saves last week after blowing a lead on Monday while Joel Hanrahan is on the DL. Bailey has been lights out: 9.1 IP, 1.93 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 3 SV, 15 K and is a must add.

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

<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: April 22</p>
Post date: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 12:30
Path: /nascar/matt-kenseth-joe-gibbs-racings-missing-piece

Two years ago, J.D. Gibbs came within a front bumper of stealing Carl Edwards away from Roush Fenway Racing. Then Ford’s hot young star, Edwards would have bumped Joey Logano out of the No. 20 ride to the tune of a reported $10 million.

Turns out, that could be the best money Gibbs ever saved.

What happened? Edwards got a sweeter deal, including stock options from Ford, to remain at RFR, then came within a whisker of the championship (losing to Tony Stewart in a tiebreaker). But he’s won just once since, stuck in rebuilding mode after losing longtime crew chief Bob Osborne, and hasn’t found a full-time sponsor to replace AFLAC, causing multiple companies — and occasionally Ford itself — to foot the bill.

In the meantime, the money thrown at Edwards, combined with patchwork sponsorship for Matt Kenseth’s No. 17 effort, made the latter ripe for the taking. JGR, with Logano still struggling a year later, grabbed Kenseth for an undisclosed amount – but likely a fraction of the Edwards price — saving backer Home Depot from potentially jumping ship completely. In the meantime, Gibbs’ outgoing driver won once more before handing the keys to a car that desperately needed a veteran’s help.

Where are we now, eight races in? Kansas’ Victory Lane offers a clue as we go Through the Gears:

FIRST GEAR: Matt Kenseth could be Joe Gibbs Racing’s missing piece.
Observers felt that Kenseth, looking for a fresh start after 13 years with Roush Fenway Racing, would click with the No. 20 team. But no one expected this type of start: two wins and six races led in eight starts for a team that’s been downright dominant at times. A driver known for consistency as opposed to controlling races, Kenseth already has led more laps this season (482) than he did throughout all of 2012. And it’s not like he was off the pace in his last year with RFR; Kenseth captured three victories, including the Daytona 500, and landed seventh in series points.

“I think it can always go better but things have been pretty good from a performance standpoint,” was his comment on Sunday concerning 2013. “I’m really, really happy. I think as an organization one of our cars — if all the stars would have aligned — could have won every race this year if everything would have worked out.”

Compare that to Roush Fenway Racing, which has half the wins and just 207 laps led thus far. How ironic was it that Kenseth’s final on-track pass for the lead came at the hands of his old car, the No. 17 driven by Ricky Stenhouse Jr.? Clearly, JGR got itself the better end of the deal, one it feels includes a leader within its stable of high-profile drivers.

For Kenseth, it’s more that the pressure’s off, with sponsorship secure and no mentoring needed for teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. The 2003 Cup champ has 10 times the experience than Logano, and add in top-15 finishes so far this season at every track that also hosts a Chase date (even Martinsville, once kryptonite), and it’s clear this addition could bring not just the 20 team, but the entire JGR organization into serious title contention this fall.

SECOND GEAR: Kyle Busch is cursed by Kansas.
Everyone talks about Kyle Busch’s newfound maturity. But the one person Busch still needs to see, fresh off an Anger Management appearance with Charlie Sheen, is a wizard. Kansas Speedway has been Busch’s Achilles Heel, the one track where he has yet to score a top-5 finish and a place where he’s been cursed for two-plus years. The spell was in full effect this weekend, as Busch wrecked three times — from practice through the race — en route to destroying two cars and winding up in 38th place.

“Spun twice on our own,” he quipped after the race-ending incident. “Just don’t know what to do with Kansas.”

Maybe one extra apology to David Reutimann would be a start. That driver, angry over the way Busch bumped him out of the way at Bristol in 2010, chose to get his revenge at Kansas later that season — at a crucial point in the Chase — which proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back on Busch’s title run. The Las Vegas native was wrecked by Reutimann, ran 21st and has done no better than 10th at the 1.5-mile oval since.

That remnant of “Old Kyle,” along with the mental frustration attached to it, still comes out on The Plains. That needs to stop, considering this track’s second date remains smack dab in the middle of the Chase.

THIRD GEAR: There is such a thing as too fast.
While Kansas put on a far better race compared to Texas a week ago, both experienced the same set of problems that hindered side-by-side competition. Average speeds in both cases were well over 190 miles an hour; straightaway speeds at Kansas approached 210. If NASCAR saw that high of a number at Daytona — considering what happened in February — restrictor plates would be replaced with parachutes attached to each car’s rear end.

So why didn’t NASCAR even blink at Kansas? For now, its answer to “slowing the cars down” is providing a safe, rock-hard Goodyear tire compound so that if a driver spins, it’s his or her own fault — sort of a weird way to deflect blame. But considering that’s exactly what’s happening — half-a-dozen cars spun out on their own Sunday — isn’t the risk failing to provide a reward? With the current compounds, cars can run upwards of 200 laps on left-side tires and have little to no falloff. That makes a car like Kenseth’s the best all day unless you can nip it through pit strategy to gain track position, which limits passing and excitement for fans.

The Gen-6 car, when provided a softer tire compound, has proven to be racier than the Car of Tomorrow. Restarts at Kansas showed its true potential, with cars four-wide at times in the desperate battle to gain positions before everyone bottomed out at the same speed. The pieces of the puzzle are there, NASCAR just has to find a way to slow the cars and pair them with a softer compound tire so the drivers can actually use them to their advantage.

<p> Reaction from NASCAR's weekend at Kansas Speedway.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 12:18
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-draft-sleepers-and-steals

The first round of the NFL Draft monopolizes coverage in the media and fan’s minds alike. While the first 32 picks are important and generally feature the most elite talents, the best organizations in football are competitive year after year because of quality middle round work.

Alfred Morris rushed for 1,613 yards and was a sixth-round pick. Russell Wilson posted one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history as a third-round pick. Lavonte David, Bobby Wagner and Mychal Kendricks were all second-rounders and the trio of linebackers totaled 353 total tackles last season. Round three was also kind to wide receivers, as T.Y. Hilton (50), Chris Givens (42) and T.J. Graham (31) were fourth, sixth and seventh among rookie wideouts in receptions in 2012.

The point is most NFL championships are built mostly between rounds two and five. Consistent winners in Green Bay, New England, Indianapolis and the New York Giants are perfect examples of how to win the draft each year.

So who should NFL teams be targeting in the middle rounds in 2013?

Here are 15 sleepers guaranteed to outperform their draft stock this fall:

Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State (6-2, 185)
There is a chance that this lengthy corner goes late in the first round, but assuming he drops past the first day, he will be a steal. He has tremendous length and physicality and is a perfect fit in a Tampa-2 cover scheme. He plays the run well and once he adds some weight to his frame, should be capable of battling with the bigger, more physical NFL wide receivers. He was a three-year starter at Mississippi State and a leader of a team that went to three straight bowl games.

Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina (5-8, 202) has 12 mock drafts posted in its Mock Draft Central and not one has Bernard listed in the first round. He isn’t a workhorse back, but that type of player has gone the way of the Dodo bird in the pass-happy NFL. Bernard brings a complete skill set to any offense, as he is an elite receiver and return man as well as running back. He has great quickness, burst and toughness to go with a compact frame that is difficult to hit. He also is a solid pass protector, giving him the chance to start right away. Other than Marcus Lattimore, Bernard might be the most talented runner in this draft.

Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers (6-1, 241)
Pitt running back Ray Graham’s half brother is a full-fledged NFL sleeper. One of the Big East’s top playmakers on defense the last three seasons, Greene posted nearly 400 tackles (387) in his decorated college career at Rutgers. He led what was one of the league’s best defenses and earned Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors as both a junior and senior. His tremendous speed and athletic ability make him a prototype 4-3 weak-side backer — a position that always delivers value in the middle rounds.

Zavier Gooden, LB, Missouri (6-1, 234)
Playing a lot of hybrid safety/linebacker at Missouri has given Gooden a unique skill set. He has excellent speed to cover loads of ground, both in run pursuit and pass coverage. He will have to battle the ‘undersized’ moniker as he lacks elite size for a linebacker, but more than makes up for it with toughness and athletic ability. His agility and speed should allow him to stick around for some time on the NFL level. Gooden isn’t a second-round pick but could be a steal in Rounds 3-5.

Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin (6-4, 312)
In a weak interior offensive line class, Frederick has a chance to be the best center in the draft. He has a thick body and versatility, excelling as both a guard and center at OL-friendly Wisconsin. He has been extremely well-coached, uses excellent technique and provides leadership and toughness up front. The Badgers have produced some big-time blockers under Bret Bielema of late and Frederick should be the next one as a potential second- or third-round pick.

Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama (6-4, 306)
Few players have ever been as decorated and successful as Jones. He won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top offensive lineman in 2011 and has been an All-SEC performer at tackle, guard and center against the nation’s best defensive linemen. He was a huge part of three national championships at Alabama and there is no reason to think he won’t stick in the NFL. He is a little undersized and has dealt with plenty of small injuries, however, his work ethic, leadership, versatility, intelligence and toughness should keep him in the NFL for years.

Corey Lemonier, DE/LB, Auburn (6-3, 255)
There was only one bright spot for the Tigers the last two seasons and his last name was Lemonier. He has tremendous athleticism for his size and will fit into any scheme on the next level. He proved himself as an undersized down lineman who wreaked havoc in opposing backfields — try 24.0 tackles for a loss and 17.0 sacks in just two years of starting. He will need to add bulk and power if he wants to play with his hand in the dirt, but could also stand up as a hybrid 3-4 OLB/DE type. He was an elite recruit who starred in college and there is no reason to think he won’t be a capable defender on Sundays.

Sio Moore, LB, UConn (6-1, 245)
Normally, top combine performers don’t impress me. But Moore’s numbers stand out considering how productive he was in college. He led most linebackers in 40-time (4.65), bench reps (29), vertical jump (38.0”) and broad jump (127.0”). He led a defense that was the Big East’s best a year ago while consistently battling against teams with dramatically more talent. When he left Storrs, Moore had 274 total tackles, an absurd 43.0 tackles for loss and 16.0 sacks. Sign me up.

Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State (6-0, 190)
The Oregon State Beavers cornerback might be the best defensive player in the history of the program. He has more than adequate size, dynamic return ability and a knack for making big plays on defense. He has an excellent football IQ and will lead by example on any roster. He isn’t an elite overall athlete but that shouldn't take away from the fact that he is a great football player. Look for Poyer to be a steal in the Round 3-5 range.

John Simon, DE, Ohio State (6-1, 257)
The book on Simon is pretty straight forward. He is undersized and lacks the elite explosiveness to be considered a first-round talent. However, he owns every major weight lifting record at Ohio State and was the unquestioned leader of an unbeaten Buckeyes team in 2012. He has one of the best motors in the draft, plays fundamentally sound football and maximizes his talent on every play. His toughness will allow him to play on the next level, ideally in a multiple front scheme. He wouldn’t be the first sawed-off defensive lineman to outperform his draft stock (see LaMarr Woodley or Robert Mathis).

Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M (6-0, 205)
Swope never stood out as a game-changer at any point in his career, but when he left College Station he was the most productive receiver in Texas A&M history. He is a gritty, tough-nosed, handsy receiver who isn’t scared of contact and will lead by example. He has plenty of speed and can make plays down the field. Swope is a guy whose sum of the parts is better than the whole. Think Marvin Harrison (NOT Wes Welker!)

Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford (5-9, 215)
This is a loaded running back class with as many as a dozen quality sleeper candidates and Taylor is one of them. He isn’t flashy or explosive, but he is extremely productive and rarely misses assignments. He posted three straight 1,000-yards seasons and touched the ball 881 times over the last three seasons. His durability isn’t in question either as he never missed a game over that span. He is a true workhorse back who picks up the blitz, catches the ball well and wins a ton of games.

Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky (6-3, 332)
The best player on the Kentucky roster the last two years has been Warford. On a team that provided him zero support on either side of the ball, this big blocker was consistently honored as one of the SEC’s best. He is a mauler and will physically control the point of attack on the next level just like he did against the best defensive lines in the nation. Guards don’t normally go in the first round, but 2013 could see two in Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper, however, Warford isn’t too far behind.

Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor (6-2, 208)
Great speed. Tremendous body control and ball skills. Excellent size and strength. Ridiculous levels of production. Leadership and intelligence. What’s not to like about Williams? In fact, it almost seems odd that Williams doesn’t get mentioned with names like De Andre Hopkins, Cordarrelle Patterson or Tavon Austin. He is much bigger and stronger than Austin and more polished and game-ready than Patterson. Expect a big first year from this likely second-round pick.

Robert Woods, WR, USC (6-1, 201)
Had Woods been allowed to come out as a sophomore, he would have easily been a first-round pick. All those records teammate Marqise Lee broke in 2012 were set the year before by Woods. The star wideout plays with a toughness that few receivers possess and has been extremely productive. He has adequate size, great hands, a tremendous feel for the game and speed to burn. If he falls out of the first round, fans can bet Woods will be a steal.

Other names we like:

Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (5-10, 214)
Matt Barkley, QB, USC (6-2, 227)
Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee (6-6, 230)
Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State (5-11, 190)
Kawann Short, DT, Purdue (6-3, 299)
William Gholston, DE, Michigan State (6-6, 280)
Kyle Long, OG, Oregon (6-6, 313)
Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma (5-11, 213)
Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA (5-10, 205)
Phillip Lutzenkirchen, TE, Auburn (6-3, 260)

<p> 2013 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals</p>
Post date: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: history, NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-busts-sleepers-and-solid-picks-2000-04

The 78th installment of what is officially called the “NFL Player Selection Meeting,” better known as the 2013 NFL Draft, will commence on Thursday. Thirty-two college players will hear their names called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell when the first round of the draft is broadcast live on ESPN from Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Following the first round, 222 more college players will be selected by all 32 NFL teams on Friday and Saturday. Every player that is picked will become a part of NFL history, regardless of whether they ever make it on the field.

Indeed, as history will tell, some past drafts have become more known for the players who were selected and did not enjoy success in a NFL uniform than those that did. There are also those players who did not hear their names called in the draft, but signed on with a team as an undrafted free agent and would eventually become solid players, if not All-Pros.

Here is a look back at the 2000-08 drafts, as we reminisce and see which picks panned out for teams (Solid Picks), and those that failed miserably (Busts), as well as acknowledging those players that didn’t let disappointment on draft day get in the way of fulfilling their dreams of playing in the NFL (Sleepers).

2000 NFL Draft
Let’s face it, the first draft of the 21st century will forever be known as the Tom Brady draft. The Patriots took Brady, a relatively unknown quarterback from Michigan with 199th overall pick in the sixth round. With three Super Bowl rings, more than 45,000 yards passing, 334 touchdowns, and an NFL-record 136 regular-season wins and counting to his credit, this is arguably the greatest value pick in the history of the NFL Draft.

Solid Picks: That’s not to say Brady was the ONLY player taken in the 2000 draft, mind you. The Ravens took running back Jamal Lewis, who had just the fifth 2,000-yard season in NFL history in 2006, with the fifth overall pick, and the Arizona Cardinals selected fellow back Thomas Jones seventh. Jones has rushed for more than 10,000 yards in his career. The Pittsburgh Steelers took Plaxico Burress with the eighth overall pick, but unfortunately Burress’ career will always be overshadowed by what took place off the field, rather than on it.

Chicago got Brian Urlacher with the ninth pick and he quickly became the next great Bear linebacker, following the likes of Hall of Famers Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary. The New York Jets got more than lucky with John Abraham at No. 13, while the Seattle Seahawks took Shaun Alexander from Alabama with the 19th pick. All Alexander did was earn NFL MVP honors in 2005 as he led the league in both rushing (1,880 yards) and touchdowns (27) as the Seahawks rode his legs all the way to the Super Bowl.

Also let’s give some credit to the Oakland Raiders, who have earned more than fair share of criticism when it comes to draft decisions. In 2000, however, they got two picks right when they selected kicker Sebastian Janikowski with the 17th overall pick and punter Shane Lechler in the 5th round (No. 142). All these two have did was form the NFL’s most valuable kicking duo for a remarkable 13 seasons. Too bad their success and productivity never rubbed off on the team as a whole.

Busts: The Browns missed big on Courtney Brown, who they took No. 1 overall. Brown never adjusted to the pro game, lasting just six forgettable seasons. The Bengals didn’t fare much better with Peter Warrick, who they took with the fourth overall pick, and Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, who was selected by the Giants at No. 11, was never able to establish himself in the NFL.

Sleepers: As has already been mentioned, Brady is probably the biggest draft sleeper of all time, but he was drafted. That was not the case for offensive linemen Shaun O’Hara and Brian Waters. O’Hara won a Super Bowl with the Giants, while Waters is a two-time All-Pro and been named to six Pro Bowls in his career.

2001 NFL Draft
The Atlanta Falcons and the San Diego Chargers swapped first-round picks, a trade which gave the Falcons the No. 1 overall pick in exchange for a third-round pick in 2001, second-rounder in 2002 and a player (wide receiver Tim Dwight). All in all, it was a trade that worked out for both sides as the Falcons took Michael Vick with the first pick and the Chargers ended up with LaDainian Tomlinson at No. 5. Vick took what was a moribund franchise to new heights and helped usher in a new era of athletic, mobile quarterbacks, while Tomlinson, who is currently third on the all-time touchdowns list and fifth in rushing yards, will go into the Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible.

Solid Picks: Besides Tomlinson, Richard Seymour (No. 6 overall) and Steve Hutchinson (No. 17) could both end up in the Hall of Fame eventually. Other notable first-round selections include Justin Smith (No. 4), Santana Moss (No. 16), Deuce McAllister (No. 23), Reggie Wayne (No. 30) and Todd Heap (No. 31). Drew Brees (No. 32) was taken by the Chargers with the first pick in the second round and Chad Johnson was taken by the Bengals four picks later. The New England Patriots took Matt Light (No. 48) later in the second round. Light retired last May following an 11-year career as the Patriots’ left tackle otherwise known as the blindside protector for the aforementioned Brady. In the third round, the Carolina Panthers selected Steve Smith (No. 74), who holds all of the franchise’s receiving records.

Busts: While Wayne, Johnson and Smith were hits for their respective teams, there were several wide receivers drafted in 2001 that ended up being big misses. In the first round alone, the Bears whiffed on David Terrell (No. 8 overall), the Redskins with Rod Gardner (No. 15) and the Eagles with Freddie Mitchell (No. 25). Mitchell was known more for what he said (including his infamous “FredEx” nickname) than what he accomplished on the field. Not what you want in any draft pick, let alone a first-rounder.

Sleepers: The Redskins signed linebacker Antonio Pierce, who would go on to make the Pro Bowl as a Redskin in 2006, as an undrafted free agent, while the Tennessee Titans (Rob Bironas) and Buffalo Bills (Shayne Graham) signed reliable kickers. Bironas was named first-team All-Pro in 2007, while Graham would only be with the Bills for one season before eventually becoming a Pro Bowler with the Bengals. Several other solid players got their start as undrafted free agents in 2001, including offensive lineman Stephen Neal (Patriots) and Rich Seubert (New York Giants).

2002 NFL Draft
Another draft with quarterbacks taken early that didn’t pan out. This time it was David Carr, who the Houston Texans took with the franchise’s first-ever No. 1 overall pick. Carr spent most of his five years with the Texans running around for this life, as he was sacked a NFL-record 76 times in his first year. It didn’t get much better in the years that followed as in many ways Carr was a victim of a lack of support. Detroit took Joey Harrington third, who in four years with the Lions won just 26 games and finished with more interceptions (62) than touchdown passes (60).

Solid Picks: In between the two quarterbacks, the Carolina Panthers selected defensive end Julius Peppers with the second overall pick. The athletic freak of nature was named the 2002 NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year and racked up 81 sacks and 37 forced fumbles in his eight years with the Panthers. He signed with the Bears as a free agent in 2010 and is still one of the NFL’s most-feared defensive players. The Colts also selected a defensive end with their first-round selection, Dwight Freeney (No. 11), and like Peppers, Freeney is a three-time, first-team All-Pro and has 107.5 sacks in his career.

While Peppers and Freeney could end up enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Canton when their careers are over, one player who’s already secured his spot is Ed Reed. The Ravens drafted the dynamic ball-hawk from Miami with the 24th overall pick and he has not disappointed. Reed is a nine-time Pro Bowler, been named first-team All-Pro five times, and is 10th in career interceptions with 61. The 2004 AP Defensive Player of the Year, Reed is the record-holder for longest interception return in NFL history, 108 yards. The only thing that was missing from Reed's resume was a Super Bowl ring and he crossed that off of the list in January, his final game as a Raven. Reed signed a three-year free agent deal with Houston in March.

The 2002 NFL Draft also had Clinton Portis (No. 51) and Brian Westbrook (No. 91) taken in the second and third rounds, respectively.

Busts: Besides Carr and Harrington, other first-round picks that didn’t exactly work out included defensive tackle Ryan Sims (Chiefs – No. 6), running back William Green (Browns – No. 16), wide receiver Ashely Lelie (Broncos – No. 19), and quarterback Patrick Ramsey (Redskins – No. 32).

Sleepers: The Steelers and the Ravens both found hidden gems among the undrafted free agents as the Steelers signed James Harrison and the Ravens brought in Bart Scott. Harrison was the 2008 AP Defensive Player of the Year, while Scott was a key member of the Ravens’ defense, which consistently ranked among the NFL’s best, for seven seasons.

2003 NFL Draft
Cincinnati tabbed Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer with the first overall pick. Palmer didn’t play at all in his rookie season but was the Bengals’ starter in 2004 and enjoyed seven fairly productive seasons there. Injuries took their toll on him starting with a significant suffered in the 2006 AFC Playoffs and later an elbow issue that resulted in him missing most of the 2008 season. Palmer’s tenure in Cincinnati came to a messy end as the team began the 2011 season without him before eventually trading him to the Oakland Raiders.

Solid Picks: They don’t get more solid than Andre Johnson, who Houston took with the second overall pick. The wide receiver from Miami is not only solidly built, but he’s a solid and steady contributor, with six Pro Bowl invites, six 1,100-yard receiving seasons and a total of 818 receptions in 10 seasons with the Texans.

The Panthers took Jordan Gross, who has established himself as a franchise tackle, with the eighth pick, and the Ravens found another defensive star in the first round, this time Terrell Suggs (No. 10). The Steelers also did pretty well in taking Troy Polamalu at No. 16, while the Raiders drafted their own All-Pro defensive back in Nnamdi Asomugha with the second-to-last pick in the first round.

Offensively, the Colts took tight end Dallas Clark (No. 24) in the first round, while the Cowboys took fellow tight end Jason Witten (3rd, No. 69) in the third round. Wide receivers Anquan Boldin (Cardinals – 3rd, No. 54) and Brandon Lloyd (49ers – 4th, No. 124) also came out of this draft. Lloyd never really produced for the 49ers, but that hasn't been the case in recent years for the Broncos and Rams. He signed with the Patriots as a free agent this offseason, teaming him with Tom Brady.

On the defensive side, some of the stalwarts that were drafted in 2002 include Osi Umenyiora (Giants – 2nd, No. 56), Lance Briggs (Bears – 3rd, No. 68), Asante Samuel (Patriots – 4th, No. 120), and Robert Mathis (Colts – 5th, No. 138).

Busts: Detroit’s lack of successful first-round picks continued in 2003 when they selected Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers with the second pick. Unfortunately, the local collegiate hero never grew up and his lack dedication and maturity combined with some bad luck with injuries sabotaged his brief time in the NFL. In three forgettable seasons with the Lions, Rogers caught a grand total of 36 passes and scored four touchdowns in just 15 games. Dewayne Robertson (No. 3) never really had the impact of a top 5 pick in his six-year career, but he lasted longer than fellow defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, whom New Orleans took with the fifth pick. Sullivan had 1.5 sacks in 36 games in his three seasons with the Saints.

In fact, of the eight defensive linemen taken in the first 15 picks of the 2003 draft more washed out than panned out. Suggs, Kevin Williams (Vikings – No. 9) and Ty Warren (Patriots – No. 13) all worked out in one degree or another, while Robertson, Sullivan, Jimmy Kennedy (Rams – No. 12), Michael Haynes (Bears No. 14), and Jerome McDougle (Eagles – No. 15) never really lived up to their first-round billing.

Sleepers: After the draft, San Diego signed a college basketball player as an undrafted free agent and it’s arguably one of the best moves the franchise has ever made. The Chargers took a chance on Antonio Gates, who was a forward on the Kent State basketball team, but has developed into one of the NFL’s top tight ends. Gates was named first-team All-Pro from 2004-06 and has 642 receptions, 8,321 yards receiving and 83 touchdowns in 10 seasons. The Chargers found another hidden gem in 2003 in offensive lineman Kris Dielman. Dielman retired in February 2012, after a nine-year career in which he was a two-time All-Pro selection and was invited to four Pro Bowls.

Similar to San Diego, Dallas took a chance on a small-college quarterback by the name of Tony Romo. Romo joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and after watching from the sidelines for two seasons, became the starter in 2006. Outside of injury, Romo has been under center since then and has earned three trips to the Pro Bowl in his six seasons as the starter. One of the most criticized quarterbacks in the league, by analysts, fans and even teammates alike, Romo has thrown for nearly 26,000 yards with 177 touchdowns and 91 interceptions in 121 career games, 93 of those starts.

2004 NFL Draft
The 2004 draft will probably go down in history as the Eli Manning draft. When Eli and his famous father, Archie, made it known that the younger Manning had no desire whatsoever to play for San Diego, the holders of the No. 1 overall pick, the Chargers orchestrated a trade with the New York Giants.

The Giants got the rights to the No. 1 pick in exchange for their first- and third-round pick in the 2004 draft and their first- and fifth-round selections in 2005. The Giants got Manning, who has since won two Super Bowls, and the Chargers took Philip Rivers with the fourth overall pick.

The Chargers also selected kicker Nate Kaeding with the 2004 third-round pick they got, and took Shawne Merriman in 2005 with the first-round pick (No. 12 overall) they received from the Giants. The Chargers ended up trading the extra fifth-round pick to Tampa Bay for offensive lineman Roman Oben. Oben was a reliable starter for about two seasons for the Chargers before retiring from football in 2008. All in all, this ended up being a win-win trade for both teams, although Rivers has yet to enjoy the postseason success that Manning has.

Solid Picks: Arizona took Larry Fitzgerald with the third pick and the former Pitt Panther has certainly thrived out in the desert. The 2004 NFL Draft could end up being known as one of the best quarterback drafts of all time as besides Manning and Rivers, Pittsburgh got Ben Roethlisberger at No. 11. Manning and Big Ben combined have already won four Super Bowls. Matt Schaub (No. 90) was taken by Atlanta in the third round and after being traded to Houston in 2007, he has developed into one of the top starters in the league.

Later in the first round, New England took Vince Wilfork (No. 21) and St. Louis drafted running back Steven Jackson (No. 24). Besides, Rivers and Kaeding, the Chargers got reliable center Nick Hardwick in the third round (No. 66) and defensive end Shaun Phillips (No. 98) in the fourth round.

Kansas City drafted Jared Allen (No. 126) in the fourth round, who has become a four-time All-Pro and one of the most productive pass rushers with first the Chiefs and now the Vikings. San Diego’s 2004 draft bounty continued with running back Michael Turner in the fifth round (No. 154). The backup to LaDainian Tomlinson his first four years, Turner signed with the Falcons as a free agent in 2008 and rushed for 6,081 yards and 60 touchdowns in five seasons in Atlanta before he was released by the team in March.

Busts: Considering he started 12 games for Seattle last season, it may be too harsh to label Robert Gallery a “bust.” Still, no one can really argue that the offensive lineman has not lived up to his billing when he was drafted No. 2 overall by the Raiders in 2004. A trio of wide receivers never developed into the first-round talents they were drafted as, headlined by Roy Williams, who the Lions took at No. 7. In fairness, Roy was not as bug a bust as Reggie Williams, who the Jaguars took with the ninth pick, or Michael Clayton (Buccaneers – No. 15). Unlike, Manning, Rivers and Roethlisberger, J.P. Losman (No. 22) did not pan out as an NFL quarterback, which was bad news for the team that drafted him in the first round, the Bills.

Sleepers: One wide receiver that didn’t get drafted, but certainly panned out was Wes Welker. The diminutive Welker from Texas Tech was signed by San Diego as an undrafted free agent, but was released before the 2004 season even started. Just think how good the Chargers’ ’04 draft would have been if they had kept Welker?

Welker signed with Miami where he was used mostly on special teams. He finally started seeing action at wide receiver in 2005 and prior to the 2007 NFL Draft was traded to New England for second- and seventh-round picks. All Welker’s did with the Patriots was post 672 receptions in six seasons, including leading the NFL three different times, along with 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns. Welker left New England and signed with Denver as a free agent, meaning he has traded one future Hall of Fame quarterback (Tom Brady) for another (Peyton Manning).

The Dolphins ended up with Samson Satele and Abraham Wright, the two players they drafted with the picks they got from the Patriots for Welker, and in many instances a front-row seat to the damage Welker and Tom Brady have done together. Welker is 9-2 in career meetings against his former team, with 95 receptions for 1,178 yards and six scores in those games.

Other NFL Draft-related Content

2013 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
2013 NFL Mock Draft: First-Round Picks

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Guards and Centers

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Defensive Tackles

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Middle Linebackers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Outside Linebackers

<p> Athlon Sports takes a look back at some recent NFL drafts to see which picks worked out and which ones didn't</p>
Post date: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-acc-running-backs-2013

Running back is a position in transition in the ACC.

Miami’s Duke Johnson should contend for All-American honors, but there’s not much in the way of proven, all-conference options outside of the sophomore. Florida State’s James Wilder and Syracuse’s Jerome Smith rank as the next two players, but Virginia’s Kevin Parks and Clemson’s Roderick McDowell could have breakout seasons in 2013.

Although the ACC doesn’t have a lot of proven all-conference options, there’s some quality depth with names like Wake Forest’s Josh Harris, Virginia Tech’s J.C. Coleman and Boston College’s Andre Williams capable of reaching 1,000 yards – if they have the opportunities.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top running backs in each conference.

Ranking the ACC's Running Backs for 2013

1. Duke Johnson, Miami (SO)
In one short season of action, the Miami (Fla.) Norland speedster already has a litany of accolades. He earned Freshman of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Special Teams Player of the Year honors in the ACC and was a Freshman All-American last season. He played all 12 games as a true freshman, rushing for 947 yards on the ground, along with 221 yards receiving and leading the ACC in kickoff returns (33.0 ypr). He scored 13 times and even threw a touchdown pass against Virginia. As the season went along, Al Golden trusted The Duke more with the ball in the backfield as Johnson rushed for 492 yards in the last four games. Look for Golden to give the 5-foot-9, 195-pounder as many carries as his smallish frame can handle in 2013.

2. Jerome Smith, Syracuse (JR)
After rushing for only 134 yards in 2011, Smith burst on to the scene in 2012. In 13 games, he recorded 1,171 yards and three touchdowns on 227 attempts. Smith didn’t factor much into the passing attack, catching only eight passes for 83 yards. The Delaware native emerged as a bigger factor in Syracuse’s offense over the second half of last year, recording four straight 100-yard efforts and posting his best performance against West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl (152 yards). Looking ahead to the fall, Syracuse's offense will be led by a new coordinator, new quarterback and also must revamp its offensive line after the departure of tackle Justin Pugh. With a lot of uncertainty on the Orange’s offense, look for Smith to see a heavy workload in 2013.

3. James Wilder Jr., Florida State (JR)
With Florida State expected to hand the quarterback duties to redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, the rushing attack will be counted on to carry the offense early in 2013. Wilder Jr. rushed for only 160 yards as a true freshman but recorded 640 yards and 11 touchdowns on 110 attempts in 2012. The Tampa native’s best performance came against Murray State (106 yards), while recording 65 yards on nine attempts against Clemson. After Chris Thompson’s injury against Miami, Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman became the focal point for the ground attack, and the duo should build on that success in 2013. Wilder Jr. was a big-time recruit in the 2011 signing class and is poised for a breakout season.

4. Kevin Parks, Virginia (JR)
The Cavaliers' rushing attack took a major step back in 2012 and the junior-to-be from Salisbury (N.C.) West Rowan is looking to reestablish the ground attack this fall. One of the most prolific rushers in American prep football history, Parks has been contributing since the first game of his career. He is only 5-foot-8 but has a compact and physical frame (around 200 pounds). He is tough at the goal line, and after leading the team in rushing a year ago, is poised for his best season. Parks has topped 700 yards in each of his first two seasons and owns the single-season school touchdown rushing record (9). He could be in for a big season as the Cavaliers' workhorse in 2013.

5. Devonta Freeman, Florida State (JR)
After Chris Thompson’s season-ending knee injury against Miami, Freeman became Florida State’s No. 1 back. He rushed for 104 yards against Duke, 148 against Maryland and recorded 59 yards in the ACC Championship victory over Georgia Tech. Freeman finished the year with 660 yards and eight scores, which was a slight improvement from his numbers as a freshman – 579 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. The Miami native is expected to split time with James Wilder Jr. and with a career per carry average of 5.9 yards, should provide plenty of pop for the Seminoles' rushing attack in 2013.

6. David Sims, Georgia Tech (SR)
Paul Johnson’s triple option attack once again led the ACC in rushing and the St. Matthews (S.C.) Calhoun County native is Georgia Tech's leading return rusher. The 6-foot, 220-pounder missed two games early in the year last fall but was given double-digit carries — a rarity for running backs in Johnson’s offense — in eight of the last nine games. He capped the season with his four best performances, topping 70 yards in each of the final four games. Sims enters his third season starting as the B-Back and is poised for his best year in 2013.

7. Roderick McDowell, Clemson (SR)
With Andre Ellington expiring his eligibility after the Chick-Fil-A Bowl win over Clemson, McDowell is set to become the No. 1 back for the Tigers in 2013. The South Carolina native has only been a reserve so far in his career, recording 674 yards and seven rushing scores on 129 attempts. McDowell showed promise late in 2012 as he rushed for 83 yards on 13 attempts against Duke and posted 83 yards on 12 carries against NC State. McDowell probably won’t be as effective as Ellington, but he should have a solid year if he can hold off Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard for playing time.

8. Shadrach Thornton, NC State (SO)
Thornton became a key contributor as a true freshman last season, finishing 2012 with 694 yards and three scores. He also was a factor in the passing attack, catching 30 passes for 274 yards and one score. Thornton had three 100-yard efforts over the final four games, including 114 yards and one touchdown against Clemson. With a new quarterback taking over at NC State, the rushing attack will be needed to help take the pressure off of the passing game. Thornton and teammate Tony Creecy could be one of the ACC’s top running back combinations at the end of the year.

9. Josh Harris, Wake Forest (SR)
Harris could be higher on this list, but he has struggled to stay healthy over the last two years and has yet to capitalize from the potential of a standout freshman season – 720 yards and seven scores – in 2010 . Harris had only one 100-yard effort in 2012, recording 129 yards and two touchdowns on 12 attempts against Army. He also rushed for 84 yards against Duke and Boston College. Wake Forest’s offensive line also is a huge concern going into 2013. But if the Demon Deacons can give Harris more room to run, he could top the 1,000-yard mark.

10. A.J. Blue, North Carolina (SR)
The senior-to-be from Dallas (N.C.) North Gaston appears poised to take over for the departing Giovani Bernard. The 6-foot-2, 215 pounder had some legal issues early in his Tar Heels career and has played sparingly in three season. He didn’t get his first start until last season (at Wake Forest) and showed flashes of ability by delivering his first and only 100-yard game. It isn’t likely that just one name takes over for Bernard but fans can expect heavy doses of Blue in 2013.

11. Romar Morris, North Carolina (SO)
The Salisbury (N.C.) High prospect debuted in college last season and is poised to complement the bigger A.J. Blue in the Chapel Hill. Morris is a much smaller (5-10, 185), all-purpose player who will be used out of the backfield, on third downs and in the return game. He brings excellent speed and burst to the offense and will be the lightning to Blue’s thunder for Larry Fedora.

12. Tony Creecy, NC State (JR)
Creecy was a key part of NC State’s rushing attack in 2012, finishing with 476 yards and five scores. He also caught 34 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown. Although Shadrach Thornton is poised to lead the Wolfpack ground game this year, Creecy should see plenty of carries and will be a factor in catching passes out of the backfield.

13. J.C. Coleman, Virginia Tech (SO)
The top returning running back for Virginia Tech is the 5-foot-7, 170-pound Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith product. The sophomore-to-be missed time this spring with leg and ankle issues but he should be ready to go come fall camp. Look for Coleman to build on his 492-yard freshman campaign.

14. Prince Tyson-Gulley, Syracuse (SR)
Tyson-Gulley is the perfect complement to Jerome Smith’s power in the Syracuse backfield. The Ohio native rushed for 830 yards and nine scores and caught 33 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns last year. With Smith and Tyson-Gulley returning, Syracuse should have one of the ACC’s top backfields in 2013.

15. Andre Williams, Boston College (SR)
New coach Steve Addazio wants to improve the rushing attack, and with Deuce Finch’s departure, the starting spot should go to Williams. The senior has 1,562 yards and 10 scores in three seasons in Chestnut Hill, including 191 yards and two touchdowns against Army in 2012. With an emphasis on the run for Boston College, the potential is certainly there for Williams to have a solid year.

16. Wes Brown, Maryland (SO)
The Terrapins averaged only 103 rushing yards per game last season. Getting more production from the ground attack is a must, and Brown, Brandon Ross and Albert Reid will likely share carries. Brown flashed potential last year, rushing for 121 yards against NC State.

17. Isaac Bennett, Pitt (JR)
With Ray Graham departing for the NFL and Rushel Shell transferring to UCLA, Bennett appears to be the heir apparent in Paul Chryst’s backfield. The Tulsa (Okla.) Booker T. Washington product has just 87 career rushes and 22 career receptions but filled in admirably for an injured Graham in 2011.

18. Jela Duncan, Duke (SO)
From famed Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek, Duncan led the Blue Devils in rushing a year ago as just a freshman. He tallied just 533 yards and four scores and with Sean Renfree moving on, more should be expected from the 5-foot-10, 200-pound runner.

19. Zach Laskey, Georgia Tech (JR)
Sims’ partner at B-Back last year, Laskey is the Yellow Jackets' No. 2 leading returning rusher. The dependable Georgia native posted two 100-yard efforts against lowly opponents Presbyterian and Boston College and should be counted on in 2013 for a bigger contribution this fall.

20. Khris Francis, North Carolina (FR)
With the departure of Giovani Bernard, the Tar Heels will turn to A.J. Blue, Romar Morris and Francis to carry the workload. Francis is a true freshman but made an impression in the spring and will be in the mix for time in the fall.

by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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<p> Ranking the ACC Running Backs for 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 07:25
Path: /college-football/rutgers-or-ucf-who-will-finish-higher-big-east-2013

Change has seemingly surrounded the Big East for the last couple of years. And the conference is undergoing a massive makeover later this offseason, as it will officially change names to the American Athletic Conference.

Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF join the Big East from Conference USA, with UCF expected to be the best team out of the newcomers.

Rutgers started 7-0 last season but finished just 2-4. The Scarlet Knights suffered some significant personnel losses, including standout linebacker Khaseem Greene.

Although UCF is moving up in the conference pecking order, can it beat Rutgers in the Big East standings?

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Rutgers or UCF: Who Will Finish Higher in the Big East in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Texas A&M and Boise State are the exceptions. Nearly every other team moving to a new league needed at least a year to feel out its surroundings. UCF won’t need to adjust to Houston, Memphis or SMU, so that helps. Still, Rutgers has challenged for a Big East title before, even if the Scarlet Knights crumbled late last year. Most of Rutgers’ season will depend on Gary Nova’s ability to rebound from his turnover-filled second half of last season. He still has a veteran offensive line with four starters back and a standout receiver in Brandon Coleman. It’s also time for Savon Huggins, one of their top recruits in 2011, to deliver at running back. On defense, Khaseem Greene, Logan Ryan, Steve Beauharnais and Scott Vallone will hurt. Those are three all-league caliber players on all three levels. They’ll need to find answers there, and they can’t afford an offense that put them in bad spots. Meanwhile, UCF has nice momentum, but there’s enough reason to be skeptical. The Knights - especially quarterback Blake Bortles - struggled to get over the hump against teams like Tulsa. UCF will face more teams like that in the new league.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Trying to pinpoint league records in the newly named American Athletic Conference has historically been as impossible as getting Nick Saban to smile on the record. The 2013 campaign shouldn't be any different as four new faces show up in the standings this time around. So gauging how new additions like UCF will perform is extremely difficult, but generally, teams stepping up in competition have growing pains. Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, TCU, West Virginia and Missouri all experienced major struggles in their new league debuts. With brutal non-conference game with Penn State and South Carolina also on the slate, UCF could be in for a rude awakening. Rutgers has recruited at a dramatically higher level and is comfortable playing at this level. Yes, UCF has won plenty of games in C-USA, but this is a different beast. Rutgers will win at UCF on Thursday night late in the year and I wouldn't be shocked if the Knights from New Jersey finish well ahead of the Knights from Orlando.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though this is UCF’s first year in a BCS conference, I like the Knights to finish ahead of Rutgers in the Big East standings. And UCF received some extra motivation recently, as its postseason ban for 2013 was been lifted, allowing the Knights to play in a bowl game in their first season in the Big East. UCF has more stability on offense with quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, while the receiving corps returns four players with at least 25 receptions. The biggest question mark for UCF is a defense that returns only four starters. The schedule also favors the Knights, as they won’t play Cincinnati – arguably the No. 2 team in the Big East in 2013.

Despite having some promising talent in the program, Rutgers suffered some heavy losses and it may be too much to overcome. Savon Huggins is a capable running back, but Jawan Jamison will be missed. Quarterback Gary Nova started off 2012 as one of the Big East’s top quarterbacks but struggled in the second half of the year. The defense was decimated by departures, including linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais, cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon. Also, the Scarlet Knights have two new coordinators, so there will be a transition on the coaching staff.

Both teams should be around eight overall wins, but I give UCF the edge to finish ahead of Rutgers in the final standings.

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
I'll take the Golden variety of Knight here because I have a little more faith in Blake Bortles than Rutgers' Gary Nova under center and I also think the Scarlet Knights lost more on defense even though UCF has fewer returning starters on that side of the ball.

Schedule-wise their conference slates are basically the same, but there is one difference and it could very well decide who finishes above the other. Both teams play preseason favorite Louisville, as well as UConn, Houston, SMU, South Florida, Temple and will face off against one another on Nov. 21 down in Orlando, Fla. The one game that's different? UCF plays at Memphis, while Rutgers hosts Cincinnati.

Even though that's a home game for Rutgers, I think UCF gets the edge in terms of opponent and I think this one game could be all the Golden Knights need to be the top Knight in the conference formerly known as the Big East in 2013.

Related College Football Content

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College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

<p> Rutgers or UCF: Who Will Finish Higher in the Big East in 2013?</p>
Post date: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 07:23
Path: /college-football/8-year-old-cancer-scores-td-ecu-spring-game

East Carolina players helped brighten the day of 8-year-old Noah Roberts, who's battling cancer. During the ECU spring game on Saturday, Noah sprinted to the end zone during the game's final play as the crowd cheered him on. A smiling Noah was lifted into the air by Pirates players following his score.
Noah, who returned to the hospital the following day, has been a fan of the team since his older sister began attending the school.
"He's a good kid, and I was proud to have the chance to lead him into the end zone," says ECU Running Back/Tight End Zico Pasut.
<p> 8-year-old with Cancer Scores TD at ECU Spring Game</p>
Post date: Sunday, April 21, 2013 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Monthly, News
Path: /mlb/chat-chadwick-boseman-star-jackie-robinson-biopic-42

When Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford) defied baseball’s “color barrier” by signing an African-American player, he understood that he needed a man with the guts to stare down the challenges the decision created. Similarly, any actor asked to play the legendary Jackie Robinson has to bring a lot more to the table than just acting ability. Chadwick Boseman, with a growing body of film and TV work, seemed uniquely suited to donning No. 42. But learning to field like an all-time great? That’s another story…
Did you play much baseball growing up?
I played Little League, but at a certain point I started playing basketball more seriously. It took the place of baseball. But I’m a sports fan in general. 
What were your first impressions of Jackie Robinson?
I remember being told the story of Jackie Robinson as a kid and being excited about him the same way I was about Muhammad Ali or Martin Luther King Jr. When I heard about this movie, I felt like I would give my right arm for it. 
For the role, you had to convincingly play like Jackie. How did you train for it? 
All the coaches I worked with concentrated on the way he did things. They studied his swing, and I studied his swing on my own. We would tape batting practice and they would film me baserunning, and then every two or three weeks they would take his footage and split-screen it (with mine) and give it to me and let me compare. We did that for almost five months. 
What was the toughest thing to nail? 
The fielding was much more difficult than the batting. I’m a natural athlete, so I have the hand-eye coordination to hit the ball. But the fielding? The footwork? Understanding where to throw the ball from, depending on where you receive it? I just wish there was more of it in the movie because I worked so hard on it! (laughs) When I saw the movie I was like, “Man, that’s all? That’s it?” (laughs) 
Did you have any contact with the Robinson family? 
(Jackie’s widow) Rachel Robinson has been trying to get this movie produced for a long time. She was involved in the process from the beginning. She came to the set. Once I got the role the first thing I did was go see her. I felt like I had to get her blessing. She sat me down, showed me pictures, gave me some books to read. She talked about their relationship. She didn’t necessarily spell out, like, body movements or anything, other than he was pigeon-toed and he put his hands on his hips a lot.  
What was it like on set? Did (director) Brian Helgeland keep you separated from the actors playing your teammates in order to develop believable tension?
I think he just left that up to us, because (shooting the film) was too stressful in terms of the workload anyway. Although, we didn’t stay in the same hotel.
One of the toughest scenes involves former Phillies manager Ben Chapman, who spews unrelentingly hateful things at Jackie from the dugout. Chapman is played by Alan Tudyk, who is known more for comedy — did you guys try and relieve tension between takes?
We never talked. No, we made it a point to never talk. When I met him the first time, I said, “You’re a great actor and I’m a fan of your work, but I’m not going to talk to you anymore.” And he said, “Cool.” He turned his eyes away from me, I turned my eyes away from him, and we walked past each other and we were like that the entire time that I was filming. For months. We never talked. 
Jackie has to be pretty stoic for much of the movie – advised not to fight back or explode – is that tougher as an actor to play?
Yes. I mean, I think it’s much easier when you have dialogue, absolutely, and for me, the pitfall would have been to be passive. Like, if I was passive, then I wouldn’t necessarily be doing anything. So I had to know what he would normally do in that situation. What would you do if someone insulted you or talked about your momma or your wife or used a racial slur, what would you normally do, and then have that be part of the moment when he doesn’t do anything – or else you’re not really watching anything. That was important. 
Not only do you play a legend, but you also get to work alongside one. You share a lot of screen time with Harrison Ford. What was it like working with him?
It was an amazing experience, man. If you put it in sports terms, you know how you gotta get up for certain teams that you play? Every time I had a scene with Harrison, I marked that game on the calendar. (laughs) I was so excited. I learned a lot from him. I tried to steal some of his tricks, you know? He had plenty of them. It was fun just watching his experience on the set. It’s something you have to be around, you can’t really learn it in school. It was just great to get a chance to soak it all up. 
So, Han Solo or Indiana Jones?
Han Solo. Definitely Han Solo.
When you’re not in L.A. working, you actually live in Brooklyn. Is there still something special about putting on that old Dodgers cap? 
Honestly, I just think it’s fly. (laughs) It’s the best cap you could possibly put on. And the old uniforms are just much more stylish than the new ones. But, yes — putting that jersey on for the first time was a magical moment. 
—By Eric Alt
<p> A Chat with Chadwick Boseman, Star of Jackie Robinson Biopic "42".</p>
Post date: Friday, April 19, 2013 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/10-things-every-fan-should-know-about-2013-nfl-schedule

Super Bowl XLVIII is still more than nine months away, but the path to play in MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2, 2014 has been laid out for all 32 NFL teams. The 2013 NFL regular season will officially kick off on Thursday, Sept. 5, and that matchup was just one several things that caught our attention.

Related: Ranking the NFL's Toughest Schedules of 2013

1. Defending World Champion Ravens Hit the Road
It’s bad enough that Baltimore, the defending Super Bowl champions, have to open on the road because of a scheduling conflict with its MLB brethren, the Orioles. But to open defense of said title in Denver, the site of where the Ravens’ remarkable postseason run began? Like the saying goes, “heavy is the head that wears the crown.”

2. Peyton Manning’s “Old Friends and Family Tour”
Speaking of the Broncos, one look at Denver’s schedule and you would think the NFL was setting him up for a farewell tour. For starters, he gets to open the season at home against Baltimore, the very team that ended his 2012 campaign in stunning fashion in January. The very next week, Manning and the Broncos go to New York to face younger brother Eli and the Giants.

A little more than a month later, Week 7 finds Denver in Indianapolis, allowing an NBC primetime audience that Sunday night the chance to see the Colts’ franchise quarterback of the past match up with the present, Andrew Luck. And if that’s not enough nostalgia for fans of No. 18, there’s the obligatory meeting with New England in Week 12, which also allows new Broncos target Wes Welker the chance to reacquaint himself with his former teammates, and a Week 14 visit to Nashville, Tenn., to face the Titans. Manning called Knoxville, Tenn., his home during his college days at the University of Tennessee, and his success on Rocky Top has carried over to when he’s faced (13-5 vs. Titans) his former AFC South rivals in his career.

3. 2012 Postseason Matchups, Take Two
Not only do we have rematches of both conference championship games on tap, but both are set for the same week and both will be in primetime. That’s right, Christmas will come a little early for NFL fans as Week 16’s slate features New England at Baltimore as the Sunday night game on Dec. 22 followed by Atlanta at San Francisco on Monday night. Even though there’s a chance playoff spots and perhaps even seeds could be settled by this point, you know these teams have this date already circled, especially the Patriots and Falcons.

The conference championship repeat tilts and the aforementioned Baltimore vs. Denver encore aren’t the only 2012 postseason matchups that will be revisited during the regular season either. San Francisco will start defense of its NFC championship by hosting Green Bay in Week 1, the same team the 49ers defeated 45-31 in last season’s NFC Divisional round. In fact all four divisional round matchups will take place again this season, as Seattle and Atlanta will face off in the Georgia Dome in Week 10, while Houston will get another crack at New England when the Patriots come calling in Week 13. And of course we’ll get two helpings of Green Bay against Minnesota, since the two are NFC North divisional foes.

The only thing that’s missing is a Super Bowl rematch between Baltimore and San Francisco, which also would have included the added element of former Raven wide receiver Anquan Boldin going up against his old team. Is it too late to revise the schedule?

4. Andy Reid Returns to the City of Brotherly Love
It had to happen, right? There was no way the NFL was going to pass up an opportunity to have Andy Reid return to Philadelphia as the visiting head coach. Whether you believe in conspiracy theories or not, the NFL has delivered. Reid will bring his Kansas City Chiefs to Philadelphia to face Chip Kelly’s new-look Eagles in Week 3. This game will take place on Thursday night, meaning not only will it kick off that week’s action, but it will be televised on, wait for it, the NFL Network. How’s that for synergy?

5. Chip Kelly Gets Used to Playing on Sundays
By the time Kelly makes his NFL head coaching debut his former team, the Oregon Ducks will have already played Nicholls State and Virginia. Instead of running up the score on a FBS team and an ACC school, Kelly will try to lead his Philadelphia team to victory over NFC East rival Washington in the first game of ESPN’s season-opening “Monday Night Football” doubleheader.

Kelly will play his first game at home the following Sunday against San Diego, which serves as the lead-in to the return of Andy Reid just four days later. The Week 3 Thursday slot does allow Kelly and his team the chance to catch their breaths and regroup, which is a good thing considering consecutive road games against Denver, the New York Giants and Tampa Bay are next on tap.

Then it’s back-to-back NFC East games against Dallas and the Giants along with another trip out west to face Oakland, a visit to Lambeau Field to take on Green Bay, and a second round with the Redskins before the Eagles go on bye in Week 12. Kelly will find out quickly that he’s not in the Pac-12 anymore.

6. Welcome to the NFL Coach!
Kelly won’t be the only one making his NFL head coaching debut come Week 1 either. Six other first-year head coaches were hired this offseason and similar to Kelly, the schedule-makers didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat for them. Five of the six get to debut at home, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Buffalo head coach Doug Marrone gets New England as his opener, while San Diego’s Mike McCoy will welcome defending AFC South champion Houston to Qualcomm Stadium. Marc Trestman’s first game as Chicago’s head coach will come at Soldier Field against Cincinnati, while new Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley will host Andy Reid and Kansas City. Of all the first-year head coaches that open up at home, Cleveland’s Rob Chudzinski probably got the kindest draw with Miami, who went 7-9 last season, on tap.

Like Kelly, new Arizona head coach Bruce Arians will make his head coaching debut on the road, as the Cardinals will be in St. Louis for an NFC West clash. If it’s any consolation to the new guys, they aren’t the only ones who drew tough opening assignments. Sean Payton, who was suspended all of last season for his role in the Saints’ bounty scandal, will return to the sidelines at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the first time in Week 1. And on the opponent will be none other than the Atlanta Falcons, defending NFC South champions and the team that tied Denver for best regular-season record (13-3) in 2012. Welcome back coach!

7. Don’t I Know You?
Thanks to free agency and other circumstances, Peyton Manning vs. Indianapolis, Wes Welker vs. New England and Ed Reed vs. Baltimore aren’t the only reunions we can look forward to seeing this season. For starters, the Denver-Baltimore season opener also means that new Raven Elvis Dumervil will not only try and sack Manning, his teammate last season, but show the Broncos the mistake they made in letting him get away in the first place.

New Minnesota wide receiver Greg Jennings will get not one, but two cracks at Green Bay, as the Vikings and Packers will square off in Weeks 8 and 12. Do you think the Packers fans will catch Jennings should he try to do a Lambeau Leap? On the flip side, Percy Harvin would like nothing more than to inflict some damage on the Vikings, when his former team comes to Seattle in Week 11. Miami wide receiver Mike Wallace will aim to do the same thing when Miami travels to Pittsburgh in Week 14. Atlanta running back Steven Jackson won’t have to wait nearly as long for his shot at his former team, as St. Louis will pay a visit to the Georgia Dome in Week 2.

These are not the only intriguing matchups that have been set up, and there could be even more depending on where remaining free agents such as Brian Urlacher, Dwight Freeney, Charles Woodson, John Abraham, Ahmad Bradshaw and Jerome Harrison end up. In other words, there could be even more stops added to the 2013 Payback Tour.

8. Must-See TV
Even though the NFL is America’s most popular and most watched sport, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a perceived pecking order when it comes to TV real estate. While “Monday Night Football” is the most recognizable time slot, the Sunday night game on NBC and, to a degree, the NFL Network’s Thursday night game also have to be in the discussion when it comes to broadcast assignments.

To that end, expect to see a lot of Atlanta, Denver, New England, the New York Giants, San Francisco and Washington in primetime this season. Each of these teams has five appearances scheduled across the three networks. The NFL Network is the most generous when it comes to its Thursday Night slate, as no team is scheduled to make multiple appearances.

On the other hand, the NBC slate of games has a distinct NFC East feel to it, as Dallas, the Giants and Washington have a collective eight appearances scheduled, while Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Green Bay, Houston, Indianapolis, New England, Pittsburgh and San Francisco also will each be featured more than once. The 49ers, Falcons and Redskins are also slated to play twice on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” as are the Bears, Chargers, Dolphins and Seahawks.

As it is currently constructed, only six teams – Arizona, Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City and Tennessee – are scheduled for only one primetime appearance during the regular season. What do these teams have in common? None made the playoffs last season and, other than the Titans, all have new head coaches this season.

9. Thanksgiving Day Trifecta
Nothing goes better with turkey, dressing and all the trimmings than a side of football, and once again the NFL has obliged with a tasty Thanksgiving Day tripleheader. Traditional Thanksgiving Day host Detroit and NFC North rival Green Bay will get things started with two more of the league’s most historic franchises – Oakland and Dallas – set to follow. The football feast concludes later that night when bitter AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore clash. Can you think of a more appropriate ending to a day centered around friends, family and fellowship?

10. Does Strength of Schedule Matter?
According to the NFL, Carolina has the toughest 2013 regular-season schedule, as the Panthers’ opponents posted a combined record of 138-116-2 (.543) last season. Why do the Panthers, who went 7-9 themselves in 2012, have the toughest slate? For starters, they are in the same division as Atlanta (13-3 in ‘12), and this season play the NFC West and AFC East in crossover action. Those divisions are home to playoff participants New England, San Francisco and Seattle, who went a combined 34-13-1 last season.

Teams have no control whatsoever who they play each season, as the NFL determines the schedule based on a rotating schedule that relates to crossover divisional play and other factors. The question then becomes does this so-called strength of schedule calculation matter?

We may find out this season, as expected contenders such as Green Bay, San Francisco, Seattle, New England and Atlanta rank among the top half of teams in terms of strength of schedule, while the New York Giants, Dallas and Houston are among the teams with the weakest schedules. And believe it or not, but the team that drew the least difficult draw based on this formula is none other than the Denver Broncos, the defending AFC West champions who went 13-3 last season.

Using the NFL’s formula is just one way to analyze the perceived difficulty of a team’s schedule. Click here for another take on this same exercise.


<p> Athlon Sports offers its observations and impressions of the 2013 NFL regular-season schedule</p>
Post date: Friday, April 19, 2013 - 10:25
Path: /nascar/nascar-teams-head-kansas-honor-boston

1. NASCAR honors victims, heroes of Boston Marathon explosions
Just as it did after the large-scale attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, NASCAR will serve in the role of honoring those affected by Monday's horrific events at the Boston Marathon. Beyond the expected emotional pageantry of Sunday's pre-race ceremonies at Kansas Speedway, two Sprint Cup teams with unique ties to Boston and its annual road race have even made plans to recognize and support the victims and heroes in various ways.

Roush Fenway Racing, the NASCAR venture tightly partnered with Boston's Fenway Sports Group, will carry a unique "B-Strong" decal on each of its cars this weekend. Team owner Jack Roush has also pledged to donate $100 per lap led by his team to relief efforts in Boston. Fenway Sports Group, of course, owns the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park and other Boston sports enterprises.

Meanwhile, Michael Waltrip will recognize his personal tie to the Boston Marathon by having each of his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota's sport car numbers this weekend in the same font as the marathon's bib number system.

“The news coming out of Boston this week was very personal to me,” said Waltrip. “When I ran the Boston Marathon in 2000, I remember thinking about what a privilege it was to be able to participate and all the hard work it took to be there. When you can see those international flags flying in Copley Square, you know you are about to complete your journey. I know the joy those runners were feeling at that moment when their worlds changed."

Undoubtedly, expect many in the garage to be sporting Boston Red Sox gear, too.

2. Streaking Kyle Busch hopes to avoid 2012 mistake
This season, when Kyle Busch has found the lead, there's been at least two times in seven races when he hasn't looked back. In three others — now good enough for a career-best streak — Busch at the very least hasn't fallen from the top 5 when the checkered flag fell.

A top 5 for Busch on Sunday would push that top-5 streak to six and, more importantly, overcome a major gaffe he had at Kansas just last fall. It'd also mark his first top 5 at the 1.5-mile track.

Busch was just about to assume the lead of last October's event on Kansas' newly-repaved surface when he lost control exiting Turn 4. He made slight contact in the process, but the damage was enough to steal any good handling from his No. 18. A later crash sealed his fate for the day in 31st.

"Hopefully, we have a good car like that this time around and I don’t make a mistake like that," Busch said.

Busch, of course, wasn't the only driver to fall prey to a tricky Kansas track. The caution flag waved a track record 14 times in October — good for a series high among all tracks in 2012.

3. Martin Truex Jr. has had enough second fiddle
If you didn't sense his disappointment after Saturday night's race at Texas Motor Speedway, let's make one thing abundantly clear: Martin Truex Jr. is straight tired of finishing second. It happened again at Texas, and it happened twice last season at Kansas.

Truex was by far more dominant in the spring race last season before the re-pave, leading 173 laps. The Texas runner-up meant it has been 210 races since Truex won his only career Sprint Cup race at Dover in 2007 for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. If you'll remember, Truex's win that day came in a Monday race after a Sunday washout and was overshadowed by antics between Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart that left both wrecked and Busch parked by NASCAR.

See why Truex might be a bit tired of playing back-up?

"We had a good run in (Las) Vegas, and ran well at Texas," Truex said this week, more removed from his disappointing Saturday night. "It seems like our mile-and-a-half, big track program is pretty good and kind of like Kansas, so (I) look forward to going there."

4. Almirola returns to site of best career Sprint Cup run
Predictions for Aric Almirola to run well in the season's first 1.5-mile track race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway fell way short, but a very solid seventh-place finish last weekend at Texas should bode quite well for the No. 43.

Leading 69 laps in last fall's Cup return to Kansas, Almirola fell out of contention from the lead when he began suffering tire issues. Eventually, despite turning the race's second fastest laps and proving to be a top-5 car by speed both early and late in green flag runs, a tire exploded on Almirola and put him in the Turn 4 wall.

He finished 29th.

It was both a glimmer of hope and a knotting defeat for the underdog Richard Petty Motorsports team. Almirola, still searching for his first career win and just his third career top-5 finish, admittedly hasn't stopped thinking about a return.

"I've been looking forward to Kansas since last October when we left there. We were so good last fall. To have it all taken away with some blown tires really stung," Almirola said.

A solid run at Kansas would be extra nice for Almirola due to sponsor Farmland being headquartered nearby. He'll do battle in a brand new chassis built by RPM.

<p> Five storylines to follow as the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads to Kansas Speedway for the STP 400.</p>
Post date: Friday, April 19, 2013 - 10:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL, NBA
Path: /college-football/athlons-essential-11-links-day-april-15

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 19.

• I think we can all agree that this one of the craziest, suckiest weeks in recent memory. I also think we could all use a slideshow of Michael Bay's sexiest leading ladies, like Scarlett Johansen (pictured), as a diversion.

One guy witnessed both of this week's tragedies and lived to tell about it. I just know that I'm not following this guy on his next excursion.

Some dude from Peoria is suing Derrick Rose for missing the season, claiming that as a Bulls fan, he suffered mental breakdowns and emotional distress due to Rose's absence. I can believe the mental breakdown part.

We now know who trashed their hotel room at the NFL Combine, leaving urine, feces and garbage in their wake. Guys, not to go all HR stickler on you, but this is not the way to impress future employers.

• Butt, meet couch: The top 10 video games still to come in 2013.

An interesting take on the college sports pay-for-play issue.

• Hot girls riding mechanical bulls? Hot girls riding mechanical bulls.

• Clown sale, bro: Bryce Harper is bummed that the Nats sold his Opening Day jersey without asking.

I link to this story about Derek Jeter only because I think the photoshop work is hilarious. 

Judging from this interview, the Ryan Lochte reality show will provide ample unintentional comedy gold.

• Will Notre Dame's new TV deal slow realignment? MrSEC sure doesn't think so

Jose Canseco did a Reddit Ask Me Anything. The results were predictably tremendous.

• Today's video: the best old-school throwdowns of this NBA season.

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

April 18

• As we bid farewell to Katherine Webb, her 15 minutes quite possibly up, here's a gallery of her greatest Splash moments.

Giants teammates shared a special dugout moment last night. Dude, you got me - my mouth was open.

10 world records that should stand forever, simply because, who would want to try to break them?

This Auburn fan paid tribute to Toomer's Corner in the most SEC way possible.

• Ever wonder what your favorite athlete would look like toothless? Click here and find out. Warning: Some of these are funny, but others are pure nightmare fuel.

• Tired of post-football tragedy stories? How about this - Myron Rolle is leaving football for medical school.

Masters champ Adam Scott will not be on The Bachelor. Turns out he has a girlfriend named Marie. Sorry, ladies.

This old guy got nailed right in the mobile device by a foul ball at a softball game. But his face was spared.

Phil Jackson is apparently itching to make a comeback. Something tells me he won't have trouble finding work.

• A California high schooler went all Johnny Vander Meer on his opponents, tossing back-to-back no-no's.

• Walk it off, Coach. Butch Jones stalked four miles during a recent Tennessee spring practice.

• America comes together in the wake of tragedy. Fans of the Bruins and Sabres drowned out the national anthem singer with their own spirited, patriotic rendition.

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

April 17

Katherine Webb has been forced to withdraw from that celebrity diving show due to injury. That news offers the excuse to run a photo of Ms. Webb. I'm just glad that Louie Anderson survived his experience on the show.

• The great Pat Summerall died yesterday. Here's an interesting account of how one kick launched him on a trajectory toward becoming a legend.

• Attention, degenerate gamblers: Yes, there are NFL Draft prop bets.

• Looking for proof that this NFL Draft lacks star power? ESPN The Mag put Honey Badger, he of the 10-plus failed drug tests, on the cover of its Draft issue.

The best fictional sports performances ever captured on celluloid.

What to watch for at Alabama's spring game this Saturday. My prediction: Boring, efficient and injury-free.

My colleagues at Athlon identify the 25 best sports-related ad campaigns of all time. I haven't looked yet, but "This is SportsCenter" had better be No. 1.

• Redemption for Shoelace: After one of the worst first pitches of all time, Denard Robinson did much better with his second chance.

• Remember the 7-year-old cancer patient who ran for the touchdown at the Nebraska spring game? He's got his own football card now.

Adam Scott is Masters champ. Adam Scott is also the dude from Parks and Rec. Confused?

• Random photo of the day: Here's a picture of Shaq holding Bubba Watson.

• The NBA: Where athletes and celebrities collide. Here, Billy Crystal approves of Jamal Crawford's ridiculous assist.

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

April 16

• Seems a little disrespectful to have fun on the Internet this morning. But I think we could all use a little diversion. So here we go. Sunday Night Football needs a new songstress, since Faith Hill (pictured) announced her retirement from the gig via Twitter. For continuity's sake, Carrie Underwood makes a lot of sense as a replacement.

Ben Revere made a spectacular diving catch. Through the magic of the GIF, you can watch it over and over.

The Chicago Tribune paid an appropriate tribute to Boston this morning.

• MLB food porn: The best new ballpark food of 2013.

Things you think are true, but aren't.

• This is just so insane, it might work: The Bachelor franchise wants Masters champion Adam Scott. Only if he brings Stevie Williams as his wingman.

• Vin Scully is a priceless living artifact of another age. Here he is telling the story of his job interview with Branch Rickey.

• Are you an SEC hater who would love for an upstart to end the league's stranglehold on the national title? These three teams offer you hope.

Lumpy Rutherford died, and another piece of my childhood died with him.

Greg Norman was too nervous to watch The Masters. Back in the day, he was apparently too nervous to play it, too.

• Porn for baseball nerds: The Hall of Fame has a copy of the Cubs' scouting report on Ernie Banks.

• This fan may repel women with his goofy giant novelty glove, but he can snag a baseball.

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

April 15

• Eligible bachelor Adam Scott won a golf tournament yesterday. He used to date tennis player Ana Ivanovic (pictured). Here's a slideshow to remind Adam of what he's missing, but I doubt he cares much right about now.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Masters champion. The only downside to Adam Scott's win: Steve Williams got to share it with him.

• Think the Aussies wanted this Green Jacket? Check out this photo of Adam Scott after his big 72nd hole birdie, and notice what countryman Marc Leishman's doing in the background.

A roundup of Twitter reactions to the action at Augusta. Aaron Rodgers summed it up: "Wow. I love golf."

• Golf Digest gives us a rundown of things that were overheard in The Masters galleries. My favorite: "I'm drinking beer and watching the best golfers in the world. Every day after this one automatically sucks."

• No matter who wins The Masters, Augusta National is the real star of the show. Here's photographic proof.

• Adam Scott moves up, Kobe goes down: Grantland's roundup of an eventful weekend in sports.

• "42" opened strong over the weekend. Here are 42 classic images of Jackie Robinson from the Sporting News archives.

• The '90s were a glorious time for the NBA. It was Michael Jordan's heyday after all. But he wasn't the only attraction. Here are the 30 greatest NBA players of the '90s.

Five SEC spring games, five observations from Saturday Down South.

• This is how we do soccer hooliganism over here.

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

<p> Rounding up the web's best sports links so you don't have to.</p>
Post date: Friday, April 19, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/ranking-nfls-toughest-schedules-2013

2013 NFL ScheduleThe NFL has got it all figured out. The most powerful, popular and lucrative sport in the history of sports has turned its annual schedule release into saliva-inducing, must-see TV for football-starved fans across the country.

And for the most part, all but two games have already been decided for every team. NFL schedules are fairly set in stone in terms of opponents. Each team rotates playing each division from the opposite conference every four years, each division in its own conference every three years and, of course, has its six division showdowns.

That leaves two open dates the NFL must fill for each team. Two games is all the NFL can manipulate in an effort to make a perceived playoff contender’s schedule more difficult and a perceived lower tier team’s schedule more favorable. Because of parity, scheduling isn’t the end-all, be-all determining factor for postseason success, but playing Jacksonville instead of New England sure does help.

Having said all of that, there are still many other subtleties the NFL must decide when it releases its schedule. Where to place bye weeks? Who plays on Thursdays and Mondays? What about home-road decisions? And the important back-loaded divisional schedules?

It's all part of the annual schedule party the NFL has created each spring. So with team and fan travel plans being feverishly orchestrated now that dates have been set, which teams appear poised to take advantage of a weaker slate (see Indianapolis last year)? And which will be facing the most daunting slate in 2013?

Related: 10 Things Every Fan Should Know about the 2013 NFL Schedule

1. Atlanta Falcons (2012: 13-3)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC West, AFC East
Swing Games: at Green Bay, Washington
Opposing '12 Record: .504 (15th)

A nasty crossover slate with the NFC West, two tough swing games against Green Bay and Washington, the New England Patriots and a division that has no easy games gives the Falcons what could be the toughest schedule in the NFL. A tricky road trip to New Orleans starts the year but Atlanta's schedule is front-loaded with home games (four of the first six). It means the two marquee late-season showdowns with NFC contenders San Francisco and Green Bay will come on the road. The only comfort comes in the form of AFC East games with Miami, Buffalo and the New York Jets. 

2. Minnesota Vikings (2012: 10-6)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC East, AFC North
Swing Games: Carolina, at Seattle
Opposing '12 Record: .516 (10th)

The NFC North teams will face arguably the toughest crossover schedules in the league, having to play what should be the deepest divisions in each conference. Add to it a road trip to Seattle and two games with the Packers and making the playoffs again feels like a tall order. The season begins with back-to-back road trips to Detroit and Chicago before a deadly eight-week mid-season stretch: at NY Giants, Packers, at Dallas, Washington, at Seattle, at Green Bay, Chicago and at Baltimore. The Vikes will play seven straight opponents who didn't having a losing record. No worries, Minnesota.

3. St. Louis Rams (2012: 7-8-1)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC South, AFC South
Swing Games: at Dallas, Chicago
Opposing '12 Record: .539 (4th)

The NFC West is likely the toughest division in football and having to face San Francisco and Seattle a combined four times is just unfair. Road trips to Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis and Carolina don't make matters any better. This schedule appears to match the gaudy .539 opponent's winning percentage and should be one of the toughest in the league. Anything above .500 might automatically make Jeff Fisher the Coach of the Year.

4. Cincinnati Bengals (2012: 11-5)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC East, NFC North
Swing Games: at San Diego, Indianapolis
Opposing '12 Record: .508 (12th)

The Bengals got no favors with their home schedule but fans in the Queen City will get their money's worth in 2013. The home slate features the Steelers, Packers, Patriots, Colts, Vikings and Ravens, five of which made the playoffs a year ago. The start and finish to the Bengals' season will be extremely tough, with two difficult five-game stretches bookending a softer heart of the slate. Other than an obviously difficult road trip to Baltimore, the middle six games provide a chance for Cincy to pick up some ground on its AFC competitors. If the Bengals are over .500 heading into the bye in Week 12, it would be considered a big success.

5. Green Bay Packers (2012: 11-5)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC East, AFC North
Swing Games: at San Francisco, Atlanta
Opposing '12 Record: .533 (6th)

The Packers have been an elite team for the better part of two decades so rarely does the franchise get scheduling breaks. This fall will be no different as Green Bay will face two of the top three teams — San Francisco and Atlanta — in the NFC as swing games. Four games with the NFC East and AFC North provide few breaks and six always cut-throat NFC North games will be challenging as usual. However, it all gets started outside of the division with an extremely trying three-game set against San Francisco in the Bay, Washington at home and at Cincinnati. With the bye week falling so early in Week 4, Green Bay will be faced with playing 13 straight games to end the year. And only two of the last 10 are against teams that posted losing records last season. 

6. Washington Redskins (2012: 10-6)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC North, AFC West
Swing Games: San Francisco, at Atlanta
Opposing '12 Record: .498 (18th)

Only the Packers will play a tougher set of swing games as the Redskins face both the Niners and Falcons in the final six weeks. Add to it battles with Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler as well as six always territorial divisional games and the 'Skins are facing one of the league's toughest schedules. That is to say nothing of the road trip to Minnesota. With Robert Griffin III's return still a guessing game, Washington needed some good news with the scheduling and it got absolutely no favors — other than the max five primetime games, of course.

7. Philadelphia Eagles (2012: 4-12)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC North, AFC West 
Swing Games: at Tampa Bay, Arizona
Opposing '12 Record: .496 (20th)

The good news is two relatively winnable swing games with the Cardinals and Bucs, home games with the Bears and Lions and meetings with the Raiders and Andy Reid-led Chiefs. However, the Eagles may not be favored in any other game it plays the rest of the season. The six games in the NFC East might be the toughest division schedule of any team in the NFL. No one in the league will play a tougher October: at Denver, at NY Giants, at Tampa Bay, Dallas, NY Giants. 

8. San Francisco 49ers (2012: 11-4-1)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC South, AFC South
Swing Games: Green Bay, at Washington
Opposing '12 Record: .520 (9th)

No one starts the season like the 49ers do. Green Bay, at Seattle, Indianapolis, at St. Louis and Houston at home gives the San Francisco the toughest but most exciting first month of anyone in the league. The Redskins and Robert Griffin III join the Packers in swing matches with the defending NFC Champions as well. The heart of this schedule eases up significantly (Arizona, Tennessee, Jacksonville, bye week, Carolina in order), but will get rough again in the final month and a half. Three key showdowns with the NFC North, including a primetime Week 16 battle with Atlanta, combine with three divisional games to create a daunting finish to the season for the Niners.

9. New England Patriots (2012: 12-4)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC North, NFC South
Swing Games: Denver, at Houston
Opposing '12 Record: .508 (14th)

The Patriots are in the easiest division in the easier conference but their schedule is balanced out by a nasty rotation of conference games. The Pats will play the toughest two possible swings games in their conference while also playing what could be the deepest division in the AFC North. Additionally, there is no easy out in the NFC South but at least the Saints must visit Foxborough — strangely, one week prior to the game Tom Brady COULD break Drew Brees' consecutive games with a touchdown streak. That said, the first month is a breeze and New England is all but guaranteed a 3-0 start.

10. Chicago Bears (2012: 10-6)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC East, AFC North
Swing Games: New Orleans, at St. Louis
Opposing '12 Record: .502 (16th)

There are much tougher sets of swing games than Chicago's games with the Saints and Rams, but there are also much easier ones too. An entire slate with the AFC North will be daunting as well for a reworked defense and offensive line that consistently struggles. The easiest two-game stretch on the schedule this fall for the Bears is a two-game road trip to Cleveland and Philadelphia in Weeks 15 and 16. And both of those could be nail-biters. This team should be excellent on offense but is slipping on defense and it will be tested by a host of elite quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers (twice), Joe Flacco, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III, Matthew Stafford (twice) and Andy Dalton. 

11. New Orleans Saints (2012: 7-9)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC West, AFC East
Swing Games: at Chicago, Dallas
Opposing '12 Record: .539 (3rd)

The Saints need to get off to a hot start and take advantage of the home-road splits early on. Three of the first four and six of the first 10 are at home, however, Atlanta, San Francisco and Dallas are three of the home opponents. That leaves a pair of two-game road trips in the final six weeks. Where to? At Atlanta and Seattle in Weeks 12 and 13 and at St. Louis and Carolina in Weeks 15 and 16. The defense better have made significant strides in the first half if it expects to compete in the second. Road trips include visits to Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson and Jay Cutler.

12. Jacksonville Jaguars (2012: 2-14)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC West, NFC West
Swing Games: at Cleveland, Buffalo
Opposing '12 Record: .508 (13th)

Two soft swing games won't ease the pain of having to face one of the toughest divisional schedules in the NFL as six with the Texans, Colts and Titans is no easy task. Crossover play features the brutal NFC West along with Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers from the AFC West. The Jaguars begin soft with Kansas City and Oakland and may not get another win until after the bye week in Week 9. This team might have to face one of the top five teams in the NFL five different times (Houston twice, no New England). Don't expect the Jaguars to be favored in more than two or three games.

13. Carolina Panthers (2012: 7-9)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC West, AFC East
Swing Games: NY Giants, at Minnesota
Opposing '12 Record: .543 (1st)

According to last year's records, the Panthers have the toughest schedule in the NFL. While the schedule isn't as daunting as those numbers might indicate, the team trying to scrap and claw its way above .500 got no favors from the league. Both swing games are tough and the foursome of NFC West tilts figures to be downright nasty. There is no break in the division for the Panthers either with all four teams sitting at 7-9 or better a year ago. Cam Newton will have to make headway early in the year despite facing the Seahawks in Week 1, the Giants in Week 3 and the Vikings on the road in Week 6. The second half of the season features two with Atlanta and New Orleans each, as well as New England and San Francisco. 

14. Seattle Seahawks (2012: 11-5)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC South, AFC South
Swing Games: Minnesota, at NY Giants
Opposing '12 Record: .516 (11th)

The start of the season looks to be plenty daunting with a huge matchup with San Francisco in Week 2. Road trips to face Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and the Houston Texans in the first five weeks sandwich the home game with the 49ers. There isn't much time to breathe as road trips to St. Louis and Atlanta and a visit from Adrian Peterson and the Vikings dot the middle of the schedule. The bye week comes late in the year and will be a welcome sight for a team that faces a nasty final month. Seattle will face the Saints at home, and the Niners and Giants on the road in back-to-back-back weekends to start December. The Seahawks should be able to exhale, however, as the final two are winnable division games at home.

15. Baltimore Ravens (2012: 11-5)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC East, NFC North
Swing Games: at Denver, Houston 
Opponents '12 Record: .535 (5th)

Just like the AFC rival New England, Baltimore will face a nasty pair of swing games in the conference as the season begins on the road against Peyton Manning. The Super Bowl champs also might have to defend their title playing in the deepest division in the AFC. But there is plenty of good news, however, as both the AFC East and NFC North crossover play are not all that daunting. Yes, Green Bay and New England are on the schedule, but so are the Lions, Bills, Jets, Bears, Dolphins and Vikings. There are clear tests for the Ravens but a repeat as the division champs is well within reach. The opponent's winning percentage looks stiff, but a few of Baltimore's opponents (Chicago, for example) appear to be trending in the wrong direction.

16. Detroit Lions (2012: 4-12)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC East, AFC North
Swing Games: at Arizona, Tampa Bay
Opposing '12 Record: .539 (2nd)

This is a crucial year for the powers that be in Detroit, and as one of the league's worst teams a year ago, the schedule in 2013 should be more manageable than in 2012. The Lions have the worst division schedule in the North as they don't get to face... themselves twice. But with a soft pair of swing games and an intriguing road schedule — five of the eight road games will be against teams that didn't make the playoffs a year ago — the Lions may have some chances at pull an upset or two. Atlanta, San Francisco and Seattle are obvious NFC omissions, giving Matthew Stafford a shot to improve on the four wins from a year ago. 

17. Arizona Cardinals (2012: 5-11)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC South, AFC South
Swing Games: Detroit, at Philadelphia
Opposing '12 Record: .520 (7th)

The Cardinals got a break with the Lions and Eagles in crossover play in what will be two of the few chances for wins in 2013. Arizona needs to get out of the gate fast once again and take advantage of three potential chances for wins in the first five (DET, TB, CAR) before a four-game stretch that includes the 49ers, Seahawks, Falcons and Texans. The schedule then lightens up again in late November and early December, however, the year will end with arguably the top two teams in the NFL: at Seattle and San Francisco at home.

18. Denver Broncos (2012: 13-3)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC East
Swing Games: Baltimore, at New England
Opposing '12 Record: .430 (32nd)

The Broncos posted the best record in the NFL last year and Denver looks like an early frontrunner to win the AFC. According to last year's win-loss record — which is always a dangerous endeavor — the Broncos will play the easiest schedule in the league. However, a four-pack with the NFC East is extremely dangerous and both swing games are nasty. Marquee showdowns with the Super Bowl champions and Tom Brady highlight a strong AFC schedule that also features the Colts and Texans as well. Additionally, the division will be much improved with the changes that have taken place in San Diego and Kansas City. Based on numbers this schedule doesn't appear to be all that daunting, but make no mistake, there is some serious juice to more than half of the Broncos schedule.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012: 7-9)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC West, AFC East
Swing Games: Eagles, at Detroit
Opposing '12 Record:  .500 (17th)

There are some brutal early season road trips and playing the entire NFC West is going to be rough, but there are some chances for wins in 2013 in Tampa. Both swing games are ones the Bucs should expect to win if they want to compete in the South — a division that featured three 7-9 teams a year ago. The AFC East also could serve up some victories for the Buccaneers. It might be a blessing facing New England and Seattle on the road since those would have been likely home losses. Tampa Bay has some tricky patches but there are few back-to-back surefire losses on this schedule and the Bucs could easily work their way back to seven wins.

20. Tennessee Titans (2012: 6-10)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC West, NFC West
Swing Games: at Pittsburgh, NY Jets
Opposing '12 Record: .488 (23rd)

The Titans have one of the more difficult AFC schedules in 2013. Four games with Houston and Indianapolis inside of the division are uphill battles as is a four-game set with the NFC West. Toss in road trips to Pittsburgh and Denver and a home visit from San Diego and Tennessee is looking at barely competing for .500. It has to defeat the Jaguars twice and win clutch home games with beatable opponents — Kansas City, NY Jets, Arizona — if the Titans want to improve on their six wins from last season.

21. Miami Dolphins (2012: 7-9)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC North, NFC South
Swing Games: at Indianapolis, San Diego
Opposing '12 Record: .520 (8th)

Traveling to the Colts and hosting the Chargers makes for two interesting swing games for a team bubbling just below the .500 surface. Eight tough crossover games with the NFC South and the AFC North give the Fish plenty of marquee home games — Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati — but also some brutal road trips — New Orleans, Pittsburgh. In the division is where Miami can make ground on a potential playoff bid. A 4--0 record against lowly New York and Buffalo is a must if the Dolphins want to compete for a Wild Card spot. 

22. New York Giants (2012: 9-7)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC North, AFC West
Swing Games: at Carolina, Seattle
Opposing '12 Record: .480 (24th)

The Giants' schedule is chalked full of juicy primetime matchups but doesn't seem to particularly overbearing. Three of the first four come on the road but are winnable, giving the Giants a favorable home-road split over the course of the second half. Also, playing the AFC West gives fans The Manning Bowl, but it also gives the Giants chances for wins. Battling with the NFC North is normally tough but the Giants have had Green Bay's number and it's hard seeing the rest of division improving. Once again, a balanced and tough but not elite division schedule will decide the Giants postseason fate.

23. New York Jets (2012: 6-10)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC North, NFC South
Swing Games: at Tennessee, Oakland
Opposing '12 Record: .496 (19th)

In a key year for Rex Ryan, the Jets got some help in the scheduling department. A pair of easy swing games, packaged with four games against Buffalo and Miami, gives New York a chance to flirt with seven or eight wins should all things fall into place. Five or six victories is a more likely target, as the slate features a long list of home games with non-playoff teams like Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Oakland and Cleveland. 

24. Cleveland Browns (2012: 5-11)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC East, NFC North
Swing Games: Jacksonville, Kansas City 
Opposing '12 record: .492 (21st)

Is it time for the Browns to begin to build in a positive direction? With easy crossover games with what could be each conference's worst division — the AFC East and NFC North — and two very winnable swing games, the answer appears to be yes. The Browns likely play the toughest intra-divisional schedule with six games against Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati, but all signs point to an improvement on the five-win 2012 season. The Browns will play six teams that lost 10 or more games a season ago.

25. Dallas Cowboys (2012: 8-8)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC North, AFC West
Swing Games: St. Louis, at New Orleans
Opposing '12 Record: .480 (25th)

Crossover play should be kind to the 'Boys this fall as both the NFC North and AFC West appear to be one-bid divisions. And both the Packers and Broncos must play in Dallas. Additionally, neither swing game will come against a playoff team from last year despite both being quality opponents. Toss in two games against the lowly Eagles and home games against the arch-rival Washington Redskins and New York Giants and the Cowboys have to be thinking postseason. Noticeably absent from the NFC slate are the best three teams in the league: San Francisco, Seattle and Atlanta.

26. Oakland Raiders (2012: 4-12)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC East
Swing Games: Pittsburgh, at NY Jets
Opposing '12 Record: .469 (29th)

There are some rough battles ahead for the Raiders in 2013 but the schedule makers did what they could to ease The Black Hole's pain. Two with Denver and one each with Indianapolis, Houston and the NFC East couldn't be helped. But the other half of the schedule isn't all that daunting, with Jacksonville, Tennessee, the Jets and two each with Kansas City and San Diego on tap, giving fans in Oakland some sliver of hope for this fall.

27. Buffalo Bills (2012: 6-10)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC North, NFC South
Swing Games: Kansas City, at Jacksonville
Opposing '12 Record: .496 (19th)

Few teams will get to play both 2-14 teams from a year ago but Buffalo does as it faces both Kansas City and Jacksonville in swing games. Four with the Jets and the Dolphins should give Doug Marrone and his new staff plenty of hope as well. They will need to make headway in those six as the other 10 are likely penciled in as loses. The NFC South round robin is brutal and the AFC North might be the deepest division in the AFC. And Buffalo gets to play New England to open and close the season. Winless in those ten is very possible.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers (2012: 8-8)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC East, NFC North
Swing Games: Tennessee, at Oakland
Opposing '12 Record: .496 (22nd)

The Steelers missed the postseason a year ago and enter a season with more questions marks than the Steel City has seen in over a decade. However, the schedule sets up nicely for Pittsburgh to make another run at the playoffs in 2013. Both crossover game are likely to be with one-bid divisions in the AFC East and NFC North, each of which could be their respective conference's worst. Both swings games are extremely winnable against the Titans at home and against what potentially could be the worst team in the league in Oakland. The six division games will be tough and a trip to Lambeau Field in Week 16 is poorly timed, but a home win over Cleveland in the season finale could easily put the Steelers into the playoffs. Back-to-back divisional road games to Baltimore and Cleveland late in November will be monumental. A trip to London in Week 4 is always difficult to predict and quantify.

29. Houston Texans (2012: 12-4)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC West, NFC West
Swing Games: at Baltimore, Patriots
Opposing '12 Record: .473 (27th)

There are some elite showdowns for the Texans in 2013 but there are also a lot of games in which they will be heavy favorites. Seattle, Denver, Indianapolis and New England at home are marquee matchups as are road trips to Baltimore, San Francisco and Indianapolis. Otherwise, the rest of schedule sets up nicely for Houston. Four with the Titans and Jaguars as well as the soft underbelly of the AFC West gives the Texans an easy path to another AFC South title. 

30. Kansas City Chiefs (2012: 2-14)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC East
Swing Games: Cleveland, at Buffalo
Opposing '12 Record: .473 (28th)

Andy Reid should find things to his liking in Kansas City this fall. On a team with sneaky-good talent, the schedule sets up nicely for some upward movement. There are fewer guaranteed losses on this schedule than one would imagine for a team that lost 14 games a year ago. The swing games are about as easy as the schedule makers could have made it on the Chiefs and there are worse things than battling with Jacksonville and Tennessee from the South. An intriguing slate of tough home games — Dallas, San Diego and the Giants — could feature an upset and should have fans in KC riled up.

31. Indianapolis Colts (2012: 11-5)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC West, NFC West
Swing Games: Miami, at Cincinnati
Opposing '12 Record: .461 (30th)

The Colts once again have a very favorable path to the postseason. A 3-1 record to start appears to be all but certain with Oakland, Miami and Jacksonville in the first month. The Colts have a nasty October capped by a trip to Houston in the first week of November as the schedule opens up into one of the easiest second-half slates in the league. Both the swing games and the AFC West crossover offers plenty of chances for key wins in the conference and should allow for Andrew Luck to lead his young Colts back to the playoffs.

32. San Diego Chargers (2012: 7-9)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC East
Swing Games: at Miami, Cincinnati
Opposing '12 Record: .457 (31st)

The new regime in San Diego is set up for early success with a favorable schedule and capable quarterback. The Bolts should be favored in both swing games with Miami on the road and Cincinnati at home. Six games with Kansas City (2), Oakland (2), Tennessee and Jacksonville should net nothing worse than a 4-2 mark. Even the tougher games with Indianapolis, Houston, Dallas and the New York Giants will happen way out on the West Coast. This slate sets up very nicely for a quick rebuilding process for the Chargers.


<p> Ranking the NFL's Toughest Schedules of 2013</p>
Post date: Friday, April 19, 2013 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/how-many-games-will-penn-state-win-2013

Penn State is banned from postseason play in 2013, but optimism is still running high in Happy Valley.

Bill O’Brien wasn’t lured away from Penn State by the NFL, and the second-year coach is clearly proved he ranks among the Big Ten’s best coaches after going 8-4 in 2012.

The Nittany Lions suffered some key personnel losses, including the departure of linebacker Michael Mauti, quarterback Matt McGloin and defensive tackle Jordan Hill.

Despite the departure of a handful of key players, Penn State returns running back Zach Zwinak and receiver Allen Robinson, and incoming freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg could be a future star.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

How Many Games Will Penn State Win in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Penn State can get to seven wins, but it won’t be easy. I was skeptical about Penn State even fielding a winning team last season, but Bill O’Brien earned his coach of the year nods thanks to his transformation of the passing game. Quarterback is still a question, but player development has come a long way. The defense will be the major concern, particularly from a leadership standpoint. Guys like Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill held this group together, and now they’re gone. Then throw in dismal special teams play. Still, the schedule is manageable. We can probably count on games against Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin as losses and games against Eastern Michigan, Kent State and Illinois as wins, but the rest is up for grabs. The worst of the sanctions is yet to come, so this may be the most competitive Penn State team we see for a couple of years.

Kevin McGuire, and, (@KevinonCFB)
Despite some relative uncertainty surrounding the key position of quarterback to start the 2013 season, Penn State should be able to manage to get through their non-conference portion with a winning record. Games against Eastern Michigan and Kent State at home should be marked down as wins and a home game against Central Florida should also be a possible win. The Syracuse game to open the year in MetLife Stadium, to me, is a toss up for now but a 4-0 start to the year is certainly not out of the question.

When I look at the schedule now I see three games I feel are likely losses: Michigan, at Ohio State and Nebraska. The road game at Wisconsin to end the year I would mark as a loss but who knows how things will end up at the end of the year.

Right now I think eight wins is the likely ceiling for Penn State, but seven wins may be more likely unless Bill O'Brien finds a way to work some more magic with the offense.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
There are serious issues at quarterback and with leadership on defense — at linebacker, in particular — but this Penn State roster is in much better shape than most fans would think considering what the Nittany Lions have dealt with over the last 18 months. The skill positions on offense are stacked and both lines of scrimmage should be a strength of the team overall. And frankly, the schedule isn't all that daunting. A 4-0 record in the four non-conference games (three at home, one nuetral) is all but guaranteed — Syracuse, Eastern Michigan, UCF and Kent State — and the bye weeks set up nicely before tough stretches of the season. Lets assume that road trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin and home games against Michigan and Nebraska are losses, that leaves extremely winnable games with Indiana, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. A 4-4 conference record would give Penn State another eight-win season under miracle worker Bill O'Brien — which would have to be considered an extremely successful campaign. 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though Penn State has some significant personnel losses, I think eight wins is a reasonable goal for 2013. Finding a new quarterback is the top priority for Bill O’Brien, but considering his work with Matt McGloin, he should be able to turn Steven Bench, Tyler Ferguson or Christian Hackenberg into a reliable starter. Breaking in a new quarterback is never easy, but the Nittany Lions have good skill players, and the offensive line returns three starters. The defense has six starters returning, including rising star defensive end Deion Barnes. The biggest question mark on defense will be replacing the leadership and production from linebackers Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and defensive tackle Jordan Hill, especially since all three players held the team together after the sanctions were announced.

While Penn State is far from a perfect team, the schedule works in its favor. Syracuse, Eastern Michigan and Kent State should be three guaranteed wins in non-conference play. UCF is a dangerous opponent, but Penn State should win that game to start 4-0. In Big Ten games, the Nittany Lions don’t have to play Northwestern or Michigan State and host Michigan and Nebraska in crossover play. Bill O’Brien’s team travels at Ohio State and Wisconsin – two games it was likely to lose to this season regardless of where it was played. Considering Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana are all winnable games, matching last season’s 8-4 record seems very likely for Penn State.

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
No one predicted that Bill O'Brien would lead Penn State to eight wins last season, let alone an impressive 6-2 showing in Big Ten play. Not only was O'Brien in his first season as a head coach on any level, he also was tasked with picking up the pieces in the wake of the worst scandal in NCAA history.

Even though the memory and the damage done by the scandal will never go away, one could argue that O'Brien has just as difficult a task facing him as it relates to the football field this season. O'Brien lost several key pieces from last season's senior-laden team and will have break in a new quarterback this fall. The offense could struggle to repeat last season's production, which puts more pressure on a defense that is replacing five starters, including two each on the line and among the linebackers.

That said, I am a firm believer in O'Brien and what he is building at Penn State, especially after what he accomplished last season. Thanks to a relatively soft non-conference schedule, I think the defense will be able to carry the team early which will allow the offense to develop and get better as the season progresses. In the end, call me optimistic, but I like the Nittany Lions to finish no worse than 7-5 overall and .500 in the conference.

Nathan Rush (@AthlonSports)
The over-under for Penn State this season is eight wins. On paper, losses to Michigan, at Ohio State, Nebraska and at Wisconsin are good bets. Make no mistake, these aren't Joe Paterno's national title-contending Nittany Lions of yesteryear. Even with players' names on the backs of the old school blue and white jerseys, it's hard to recognize the new Penn State of this post-Paterno era. But the Bill O'Brien brand appears to be growing in popularity following an overachieving 8–4 record (6–2 in Big Ten) in his debut season and a solid recruiting haul that includes early enrollee 5-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg. The "Grand Experiment Redux" has not become the Patriots of Pennsylvania juggernaut envisioned by O'Brien, who was Tom Brady's play-caller prior to PSU. But another eight-win season should help bring a little light to Happy Valley as it continues to recover from the dark days of the Jerry Sandusky scandal — which will prevent Penn State from playing in a bowl game this season.

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<p> How Many Games Will Penn State Win in 2013?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 19, 2013 - 07:45
Path: /college-football/ranking-secs-quarterbacks-2013

The SEC is one of college football’s top conferences for quarterback play in 2013.

Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel clearly ranks as the No. 1 quarterback for this season, as the sophomore hopes to repeat as a Heisman Trophy winner, while leading the Aggies to a SEC West title. Alabama’s AJ McCarron ranks as the No. 2 quarterback, with Georgia’s Aaron Murray not too far behind.

South Carolina’s Connor Shaw ranks as the No. 4 starting quarterback but is expected to share time with Dylan Thompson this fall.

Two quarterbacks that could rise significantly in this ranking in 2013 will be LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Florida’s Jeff Driskel. With both passers in their second year as a starter, improvement from 2012 should be expected.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top quarterbacks in each conference. One important note: This is just a ranking of starters and backups weren’t included for this article. Also, some projection for how we think quarterbacks are going to play for 2013 factored into this ranking.

Ranking the SEC Starting Quarterbacks for 2013

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (SO)
Manziel’s 2012 season is one of the best years by a freshman in college football history. In 13 games, Manziel threw for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushed for 1,410 yards and 21 scores. He tossed only nine picks and won the Heisman Trophy after leading Texas A&M to a 10-2 regular-season mark. Repeating his numbers from last season will be difficult, as the Aggies won’t have Kliff Kingsbury calling the plays and left tackle Luke Joeckel departed early for the NFL. Also, SEC defenses have a full offseason to study Manziel, so the road figures to be tougher for the sophomore in 2013. However, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is still in for a big season and should be a preseason first-team All-American.

2. AJ McCarron, Alabama (SR)
McCarron isn’t going to post huge numbers like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, but the senior is one of college football’s top quarterbacks and has a chance to finish his career as one of the most prolific of the BCS era. McCarron is coming off his best year under center, throwing for 2,933 yards and 30 scores in 2012. For his career, McCarron has tossed only eight interceptions in 690 attempts and has two national championships as Alabama’s No. 1 quarterback. Alabama has one of the SEC’s top receiving corps and despite the loss of three key offensive line starters, McCarron could improve on his 2012 totals.

3. Aaron Murray, Georgia (SR)
There is only one thing left unfinished on Murray’s pristine college resume: He needs to cap a season with a win in Atlanta to cement his legacy as one of the top SEC quarterbacks of all-time. He already holds the Georgia school record for passing efficiency after finishing second in the nation a year ago with a 174.82 rating, while his 3,893 yards and 36 touchdowns were UGA benchmarks as well. The 6-foot, 210-pound gunslinger needs less than 1,500 yards and just 19 passing scores, both of which are obviously well within reach, to set both SEC all-time records. The star from powerhouse Tampa (Fla.) Plant has started every one of his possible 41 career games, leading the Dawgs to a 22-6 record and two East Division titles over the last two seasons. A win in the SEC Championship game is all that Murray has left to accomplish.

4. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (SR)
Shaw won’t wow anyone with elite passing talent or overall accuracy, but he brings so much more to the offense than just throwing the football. The Flowery Branch (Ga.) High senior-to-be boasts a 17-3 record as a starter and brings an unquestioned level of toughness to the huddle. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder also has an uncanny ability to extend plays with his legs. However, this toughness and inclination to run the ball also has led to consistent injury trouble for the Gamecocks quarterback. He has missed five games over the last two seasons and was absent from spring football after offseason foot surgery. Backup Dylan Thompson is a more polished passer and Steve Spurrier has made it clear that both will play this fall, but Shaw’s leadership and toughness makes him the starter in Columbia. An underrated starter at that.

5. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State (SR)
In the first half of the season, Russell looked like an All-SEC quarterback. Through the first seven games, Russell threw 15 touchdowns and just one interception. However, in the next seven contests, he managed only nine scores and tossed nine interceptions. So where is Russell? Probably somewhere in the middle. The senior is clearly capable of playing better than he did at the end of last season. However, Russell is losing some of his best receivers and struggled to produce against the SEC West’s best teams. If Russell can regain his early 2012 form, he should be one of the SEC’s top-five quarterbacks this fall.

Related Content: Ole Miss or Mississippi State: Who Will Have More Wins in 2013?

6. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss (JR)
Wallace was one of the SEC’s top newcomers last year, throwing for 2,994 yards and 22 touchdowns, along with 390 rushing yards and eight scores. The Tennessee native tossed eight touchdowns over the final two games and threw for 310 yards in a narrow loss to LSU in mid-November. After a solid debut, the Ole Miss fan base is holding its breath about Wallace for 2013. The 6-foot-4 passer had shoulder surgery after the BBVA Compass Bowl but is expected to return by the season opener. However, shoulder surgeries – as evidenced by Missouri’s James Franklin – aren’t a guaranteed return to full health immediately. If Wallace does return to 100 percent, he should easily improve on last season’s numbers.

7. Zach Mettenberger, LSU (SR)
Big things were expected of Mettenberger in his first season as LSU’s No. 1 quarterback, but he fell short of those expectations. In 13 starts, he threw for 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns and tossed seven picks. Mettenberger had a solid performance against Alabama, torching the Crimson Tide for 298 yards and one score. However, he had only two other contests of more than 250 passing yards and finished the year on a down note with just 120 yards against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Mettenberger has a new coordinator in former NFL coach Cam Cameron and another offseason should help the Georgia native get more comfortable with his supporting cast. Mettenberger has room to improve and could rise in these rankings if he and Cameron can get on the same page.

8. Jeff Driskel, Florida (JR)
The Oviedo (Fla.) Hagerty prospect was the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation coming out of high school in 2011. He saw action in just five games as a freshman when John Brantley was injured and he was clearly out over his skis. But as a sophomore, the burly 6-foot-4, 240-pounder settled in as the starter and began to control the offense. Driskel is entering his third season on campus and his second full season as the unquestioned starter and it should be his best. He brings an elite level of athleticism — his 177 yards rushing against Vanderbilt is a school record for a quarterback — and is at his best on the run, out of the pocket and improvising. So if he can learn to play more consistent and efficient football within the confines of the designed offense, he could blossom into one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks.

9. James Franklin, Missouri (SR)
A highly-touted dual-threat prospect from Corinth (Texas) Lake Dallas, Franklin had a breakout 2011 campaign by throwing for 2,865 yards, rushing for 981 yards and accounting for 36 touchdowns. So expectations were sky high heading into 2012 before a serious shoulder injury last spring slowed his development. He also was limited by a balky knee last season. Transitioning into the physical and extremely competitive SEC is tough enough when fully healthy, so Franklin struggled mightily in his second season as the starter. He rushed for 859 fewer yards, threw for 1,303 fewer yards and produced 26 fewer touchdowns. He has the talent and the system to be productive but needs to stay healthy if he wants to get Mizzou back to the postseason as an SEC program. Franklin will be pushed by Maty Mauk for playing time in the fall.

10. Austyn Carta-Samuels, Vanderbilt (SR)
The senior-to-be from San Jose (Calif.) Bellarmine Prep was a star at Wyoming before transferring to Vandy. He earned Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors in 2009 after a dynamic first season in Laramie. He produced more than 2,000 yards of total offense as a sophomore before deciding he needed a change of scenery. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound athlete — he has 786 career rushing yards — lost the battle to start to Jordan Rodgers a year ago but is the guy for the Commodores in 2013. He has the ability to extend plays with his legs and will have elite talent around him at running back and wide receiver to lean on. Carta-Samuels should be capable of leading the Dores to an unprecedented third straight bowl game. If he struggles, redshirt freshman Patton Robinette will get a chance to lead the offense.

11. Jalen Whitlow, Kentucky (SO)
Four different Wildcats attempted at least 30 passes a year ago, but Whitlow (161) led the team. The wide spread of playing time portrays the struggles with productivity and injuries at the quarterback position for Kentucky a year ago. Enter new head coach Mark Stoops. The battle will rage deep into the summer but the 6-foot-2, 210-pound dual-threat option appears to be the early front-runner over fellow sophomores Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles. Whitlow brings an athletic dimension to the spread offense that new playcaller Neal Brown is looking for — see his 206 yards rushing and three touchdowns in seven starts a year ago — and he showcased his skills by dominating the heavily attended spring game in Lexington. The Prattville (Ala.) High prospect has some sneaky upside if he can hold on to the starting job.

12. Justin Worley, Tennessee (JR)
Sitting behind the brittle Tyler Bray the last two seasons gave Worley a leg up in the 2013 race for Tennessee’s starting quarterback job. He got work in three games as a freshman, throwing for 604 yards on 87 attempts, and saw time in three more games as a sophomore. This small bit of experience gives the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern product the inside track on Nathan Peterman and incoming four-star freshman Joshua Dobbs. The pro-style passer has a solid arm and big frame but it remains to be seen exactly who new coach Butch Jones is leaning towards. This position battle might run well past the season opener unless Worley proves he has developed in an SEC starter.

13. Brandon Allen, Arkansas (SO)
With Tyler Wilson expiring his eligibility, the Razorbacks are expected to hand the keys to the offense to Allen. The sophomore made one start last season (Alabama), throwing for 60 yards on 10 completions. The Arkansas native finished 2012 with 186 passing yards and three interceptions on 21 completions. Considering all that transpired with the Razorbacks last season, Allen shouldn’t be judged too much on his numbers from 2012. The 6-foot-3 quarterback was a four-star prospect coming out of high school by and has the size and skill-set to be a good fit in new coordinator Jim Chaney’s offense. Allen held an edge over Brandon Mitchell in spring ball and should take the first snap for Arkansas in 2013.

14. Kiehl Frazier, Auburn (JR)
Auburn’s offense was simply a disaster last season. The Tigers averaged 18.7 points a game and ranked 112th nationally in passing offense. A big reason for the sluggish offense was the departure of Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State at the end of 2011, which prompted Gene Chizik to hire Scot Loeffler as the team’s new coordinator. Loeffler implemented a pro-style attack, which didn’t mesh with Auburn’s personnel. Frazier and backup Jonathan Wallace are the biggest beneficiaries of Malzahn’s return to The Plains, as both quarterbacks are a better fit for the spread. Frazier finished 2012 with 753 passing yards and two touchdowns, along with eight interceptions. The junior has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster, which should give him the edge to start in the season opener.


by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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<p> Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2013</p>
Post date: Friday, April 19, 2013 - 07:35
Path: /nascar/nascars-most-memorable-driver-punishments

Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe traveled to The White House recently, as part of the recognition for winning the 2012 Sprint Cup championship. As it is, it might be the last time Keselowski and Wolfe do much celebrating for a while. NASCAR found the rear end housings in both the No. 2 and No. 22 Penske Fords to be “not within the spirit of the rules” – whatever that means. Actually, what it really means is both Keselowski and Joey Logano are docked 25 points and will be without their crew chiefs (each fined $100,000), car chiefs and team manager for the next six weeks – pending their appeal. While crew chiefs bear the brunt of being put across NASCAR’s knee, drivers are not immune as well. Let’s take a look at the 10 most memorable NASCAR driver punishments.

10. Dale Earnhardt Sr. – Coca-Cola 600 1993 – Held 1 lap for rough driving
There was a time when even “The Intimidator” got a little too rowdy for NASCAR’s liking. As this clip shows, Earnhardt got a little close to Greg Sacks on the 1993 Coca-Cola 600, causing him to spin off Turn 4. Earnhardt was held one lap for rough driving, much to the chagrin of an animated Richard Childress. Check out the tint job on that No. 3 car. Just what does Lumina mean anyway? Loosely translated, it means 1993 Champion and eventual winner of the Coke 600 despite spotting the field a lap. For Earnhardt, this penalty wasn’t so much a punishment as it was a slap on wrist.

9. Kyle Busch – AAA 500 – Held 3 laps for speeding on pit road/unsportsmanlike conduct
Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team put a hurtin’ on ’em last Saturday night at Texas, but it was a different story during the 2010 Chase. Recovering from a spin in the AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Busch was penalized a lap for speeding for what NASCAR took as him keeping from going to go a lap down. After initially refusing to come in, then going Walter Sobchak and invoking Constitutional rights, Kyle gave the official working his pit double No. 1’s — and earned himself an additional two laps in the Hole. Earmuffs …

8. Greg Biffle – 1999 Truck Series Championship – Intake manifold, 125-point fine  
The Biff has been with the Cat in the Hat ever since the late Benny Parsons told Jack Roush he needed to take a look. During the 1999 Truck Series season, Biffle was in a tight points battle with Jack Sprague and Dennis Setzer, with Biffle having just won his ninth race of the season at Las Vegas – the biggest payout race of the season. He came into the race with a 125-point lead and left with a 10-point deficit to Sprague. The reason? An issue with the intake manifold – one Biffle and crew chief Randy Goss maintained was an off the shelf part they had been using all season long. The fine proved costly, as Biffle lost the championship by a scant 8 points. Biffle would rebound to win the Truck Series title in 2000, and his nine-win ’99 season remains a record in the series to this day.

7. Robby Gordon – 2007 Pennsylvania 500 – Suspended one race for disregarding a black flag
I’ve always said that NASCAR would be a better place if it had more drivers like Robby Gordon. He’s a throwback if there ever was one, leaving the comfy confines of RCR to start his own team in 2005. You’d be hard pressed to find a better driver when right turns are permitted, and such was the case when NASCAR went north of the border in 2007. Gordon was running the Busch Series NAPA 200 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal when he got into it with Marcos Ambrose in the final laps, nerfing Ambrose and earning a black flag in the process. Instead of heeding a black flag, Robby kept his foot in it and assumed he had one the race. It was an awkward sight, seeing two cars perform victory burnouts – Kevin Harvick the official winner, and Robby Gordon who maintained that he won after the race. The next day, NASCAR suspended Gordon, not allowing him to drive in the Cup Series race at Pocono.

6. Kyle Busch – 2011 AAA 500 – Suspended one race for rough driving
What is it with Kyle Busch in Texas? It literally is checkers or wreckers with Kyle in the Lone Star State, and this incident with Ron Hornaday in 2011 is a perfect example. Truck regular Hornaday was in the midst of a title fight while Busch was running a truck for the team he owns with M&M’s sponsorship on the tailgate. On lap 15, Hornaday gets loose going around a lap truck, and forces Busch up into the wall. The caution comes out and Busch retaliates, driving Hornaday head-on into the wall, ending his night and title hopes. NASCAR parked Busch for the Cup race two days later in the middle of the Chase, was fined by his own team and received a final warning from sponsor M&M’s. Irony of ironies, Hornaday lost it and did the exact same thing this weekend at Rockingham to rookie Darrell Wallace Jr. who was driving the No. 54 Toyota that is normally Busch’s for Nationwide duty – but was a Joe Gibbs Racing truck. Oops.

5. Kurt Busch – 2012 Pocono 400 – Suspended one race for disrespecting media while on probation
What would a top 10 list of anything be without the best sound bite in NASCAR history? Kurt Busch had an up and down 2012 season. He was out at Penske and signed on with Phoenix Racing before the season started. They had decent equipment at Daytona, but wiped out four cars in the process. He had a top 10 going in the Southern 500 only to be felled by tire going down late — then engaged in a shouting match with Ryan Newman’s pit crew. That incident landed him on probation, which is when this incident with Bob Pockrass of The Sporting News occurred following a Nationwide race at Dover. Kurt was seated for the next race at Pocono. I know Kurt hates to dwell on the past, but this is top 10 material.

4. Carl Long – 2009 Winston Open – $200,000 fine/Banned from competition until paid 
They say you can’t fight City Hall – and Carl Long is living proof. In 2009, Long was fined 200 points and $200,000 for an engine that was .17 cubic inches over the 358 limit – and down over 50 horsepower to the contending teams. The engine lasted all of three laps before Long was out of the event. Long was initially suspended for 12 weeks but was then reduced to eight; however since he has been unable to pay the four-year-old fine, he is not allowed to compete in the Cup Series in any capacity. He currently is a crew member in the Nationwide Series, but is still locked out of the Sprint Cup garage until he can pay the fine for his long deceased engine.

3. Jeremy Mayfield and Aaron Fike – Suspended indefinitely for drug use  
Two of the sadder stories of the past decade involve two drivers who were once considered rising stars. Jeremy Mayfield was one of the up and coming drivers for Ford in the late 1990s before defecting to Dodge to help establish the groundwork for its 2001 return. After public criticism of team owner Ray Evernham’s personal affairs got him booted from the No. 19 Dodge midway through the 2006, he made a handful of starts for Bill Davis and tried to start his own team. In ’09, Mayfield was suspended for testing positive for methamphetamine. He has endured a host of legal and financial woes since, but maintains his innocence.

After Aaron Fike was working his way through the Truck and Busch series in the mid-2000s, and was sitting eighth in points in 2007 when he was arrested at an amusement park with his girlfriend, cooking up heroin in their car. He later admitted to having competed under the influence.

2. Curtis Turner – 1961 – Banned from competition for four years after supporting a driver’s union 
Curtis Tuner is one of the most legendary figures in NASCAR history – more for the way he lived then for gaudy records or highlight-reel finishes. He was a lumber baron who drove cars because he liked to, not out of necessity. His parties were the thing of legend, often taking a break just long enough to go run the race – and then return to the house to get back at it. In 1961 however, he was seeking to protect his fellow drivers by attempting to organize a driver’s union along with fellow 2013 Hall of Fame nominee Tim Flock. This did not sit well with Big Bill France, who essentially banned both for life. The ban was rescinded after four years, during which time Turner built the Charlotte Motor Speedway – with the help of some creative financing and a Smith & Wesson to get the bulldozers rolling again.

1. Mark Martin – 1990 Winston Cup Championship – 46-point fine, Richmond  
Under the new Chase points system, anything that happens in the first 26 races is often long forgotten by the time the final 10 events roll around. Under the system used from 1975-2003, it was a cumulative season-long fight with race No. 4 holding just as much value as race No. 30. In 1990, it would be the third race of the season that proved pivotal. A technical bulletin was issued that weekend with regards to welding and bolting a spacer plate to the intake manifold. Mark Martin’s No. 6 Ford passed inspection on three occasions that weekend without incident. It wasn’t until he won the race and Richard Childress phoned Bill France Jr., who was at home nursing a broken leg, protesting the win. As Jack Roush recounts, Childress made the claim to France, who was unaware of the bulletin and promised him that action would be taken. This was at a time when NASCAR was still leery of outsiders, and a Ford engineer who won championships in drag racing and SCCA road racing would meet that criteria — and Livonia, Mich., isn’t exactly North Wilkesboro, N.C. Martin and his Roush Racing team were fined 46 points and $30,000. He would ultimately fall short in the championship by 26 points to — who else? — the No. 3 Goodwrench team of Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress.

by Vito Pugliese
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RELATED: 11 Most Epic NASCAR Moments at Richmond

<p> The 10 most memorable driver punishments in NASCAR history.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 20:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-pac-12-quarterbacks-2013

Even though coach Chip Kelly left for the NFL, Oregon’s offense is in good hands with quarterback Marcus Mariota. After earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors last year, Mariota should be the Pac-12’s No. 1 quarterback in 2013 and could be in the mix for All-American honors.

The Pac-12 has plenty of talent returning in addition to Mariota, as UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly and Washington’s Keith Price rank as the top four options.

There’s also plenty of intrigue with the rest of the conference, as Utah’s Travis Wilson and California’s Zach Kline could be in for a breakout season.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top quarterbacks in each conference. One important note: This is just a ranking of starters and backups weren’t included for this article. Also, some projection for how we think quarterbacks are going to play for 2013 factored into this ranking.

Ranking the Pac-12 Starting Quarterbacks for 2013

1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (SO)
The redshirt sophomore-to-be with a calm demeanor has quickly become a fan and coach favorite in Eugene. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound signal caller is poised in the pocket and rarely gets flustered while operating one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. In his first season under center as a freshman, the Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis product accounted for 37 total touchdowns and 3,429 yards of offense (2,677 passing, 752 rushing) and nearly led the Ducks to a perfect record. Mariota paced the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and led the nation in road passer rating, proving his ability to stay cool under pressure. He is efficient, productive, leads by example and is only a sophomore. Watch out West Coast.

2. Brett Hundley, UCLA (SO)
Hundley had a record-setting debut for UCLA last season and was a key piece to the Bruins’ Pac-12 South title. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, he started all 14 games and set UCLA single-season records for passing yards (3,740), total offense (4,095 yards), and completions (318). Hundley tossed only 11 picks, with four coming in UCLA’s 43-17 loss to California. One of his best performances came against Nebraska, recording 358 yards and four passing scores in a 36-30 win for the Bruins. Despite the departure of running back Johnathan Franklin and tight end Joseph Fauria, UCLA’s offense shouldn't miss much of a beat in 2013. Hundley should be a lock for All-Pac-12 honors and will keep UCLA in the mix for the Pac-12 South title once again.

3. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (JR)
Kelly was one of the Pac-12’s biggest surprises last season, as he went from third on the depth chart after spring practice to starter by the first game. The Idaho native quickly showed why he was the team’s No. 1 quarterback, throwing for 249 yards and one touchdown in the Sept. 8 matchup against Illinois, and he opened Pac-12 play with back-to-back three-touchdown games. Kelly finished the season with 3,039 passing yards and 29 touchdowns, along with 516 yards and one score on the ground. He also ranked ninth nationally in passing efficiency. Kelly tossed only nine picks and went without an interception in each of the final three games. With an offseason to work as the No. 1 starter, look for Kelly to improve and challenge for All-Pac-12 honors.

4. Keith Price, Washington (SR)
Price’s 2012 season has to be considered a disappointment, considering how he played in '11. The Compton (Calif.) St. John Bosco quarterback set all types of school records two years ago, including single-season records for touchdown passes (33), completion percentage (66.9) and passing efficiency (161.09). It was arguably the best single-season by a Huskies passer in school history. So his major regression in every statistical category last fall has the 6-foot-1, 200-pound gunslinger entering a pivotal senior season. Certainly, widespread offensive line injuries were a major cause of Price’s struggles a year ago, but Steve Sarkisian needs his offensive leader to be more effective in 2013 if U of W expects to compete in the North. All signs point to Price returning to 2011 form in his final season at Washington.

5. Kevin Hogan, Stanford (SO)
It took eight games but David Shaw found his replacement for Andrew Luck when he inserted the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder into the lineup a few plays into the Colorado game. Hogan proceeded to lead the Cardinal to a 6-0 record to end the season — including the school’s first Rose Bowl win since 1972 — with efficient and dynamic play under center. He passed for 1,096 yards on 71.7-percent passing with nine touchdowns and just three interceptions while providing a spark on the ground with 263 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns. The McLean (Va.) Gonzaga product is a sneaky good athlete and quickly proved to be a savvy leader on The Farm. Should some pass-catchers develop around him, Hogan could be in for a huge season in 2013.

6. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (JR)
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound quarterback posted one of the best freshman seasons in Pac-12 history two seasons ago (3,328 yards). Mannion was off to a hot start in 2012 before suffering a knee injury four games into his sophomore season. The Pleasanton (Calif.) Foothill recruit was rushed back into action just three weeks later — coach Mike Riley has admitted as much — and it led to four interceptions and the team’s first loss of the year against Washington. Mannion was benched to heal properly and eventually returned to the field in the regular season’s final three games. The Beavers passer averaged over 300 yards passing per game (305.8 ypg) in his eight showings last year and could be in for a big junior season in Corvallis if he can stay healthy.

7. Cody Kessler, USC (SO)
There’s a clear drop-off in Pac-12 quarterbacks after the first six options are ranked. While Kessler has only thrown two passes in his career, it’s hard to ignore the potential of the starting quarterback at USC. The sophomore is still locked into a tight battle for the No. 1 spot with Max Wittek, but Kessler seemed to edge ahead this spring. The California native isn’t the biggest quarterback at 6-foot-1, but he brings more mobility to the table and elevated his performance this spring. Even though Kessler is unproven, if he picks up where he left off in the spring game, combined with the weapons at receiver and running back, the sophomore could have a huge season as USC looks to replace Matt Barkley.

8. Connor Halliday, Washington State (JR)
The Spokane (Wash.) Ferris prospect broke onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2011 when he threw for 494 yards and four touchdowns in a rare Pac-12 win over Arizona State. And that was before Mike Leach was calling plays for the Cougars. Last season, in just five starts, the 6-foot-4, 185-pound gunslinger threw for 1,878 yards and 15 touchdowns. With Jeff Tuel out of the picture after what seemed like a decade-long career in Pullman, Halliday is poised for a huge statistical season in Leach’s second season on the job. It remains to be seen, however, if those numbers will translate in the win column.

9. Zach Kline, California (FR)
Kline was an elite prospect coming out of Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley last season. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder was one of the most college-ready quarterbacks in the nation, and, after one season of redshirting, appears ready to take over as the star of the Golden Bears offense. He has a lightning quick release, accurate arm and deceptive mobility. He is a perfect fit in Sonny Dykes' patented high-flying passing attack, and while he should experience some freshman growing pains in 2013, fans in Berkeley have to be excited to have the Kline era officially underway.

10. Travis Wilson, Utah (SO)
Due to an injury to Jordan Wynn, Wilson was pushed into the starting lineup as a true freshman last season. And as expected, Wilson had his share of ups and downs. The California native threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona but completed only 8 of 23 throws against Washington. He finished the year with 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns and added 40 yards and four scores on the ground. At 6-foot-6, Wilson clearly has the size and skill set to eventually become one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks. However, the sophomore still has a ways to go, and in addition to the arrival of Dennis Erickson as co-offensive coordinator, the Utes must replace top running back John White. In time, Wilson will rise in the rankings. But for 2013, he’s still an unknown commodity.

11. B.J. Denker, Arizona (SR)
With Anu Solomon arriving on campus later this offseason, and Jesse Scroggins recovering from a foot injury, Denker holds on to the top spot for Arizona – at least for now. The junior college recruit made one start for the Wildcats last year, throwing for 136 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 44 yards and one score against Colorado. Denker finished 2012 with 259 yards passing and three scores. Although Denker finished spring atop the depth chart, the battle to replace Matt Scott will pickup once Solomon and Scroggins are able to compete. Denker played well in limited action last year, but don’t expect the senior to replicate Scott’s numbers if he is the No. 1 quarterback.

12. Connor Wood, Colorado (JR)
The Buffaloes opened spring practice with six quarterbacks vying for the starting spot. And the race appeared to be down to two candidates: Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood. However, Hirschman decided to transfer in mid-April, leaving Wood as the team's No. 1 quarterback. The wildcard to watch will be true freshman Sefo Liufau, as he will get a chance to steal the starting spot in the fall. Hirschman and Wood both played significant snaps last season, but neither played well enough to secure the No. 1 spot. Wood threw for 265 yards and one touchdown last year in his first chance at major action on the FBS level. New coach Mike MacIntyre should generate some improvement from Colorado’s offense in 2013, but the quarterback situation is still a major concern.

by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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<p> Ranking the Pac-12 Quarterbacks for 2013</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 07:31
Path: /college-football/will-west-virginia-mountaineers-make-bowl-2013

With the departure of quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, West Virginia is expected to be picked near the bottom of the Big 12 in 2013.

As expected under coach Dana Holgorsen, the Mountaineers should find a way to be solid on offense. However, the team doesn’t have much clarity in its quarterback race, and the defense was one of the worst in the nation last year.

The non-conference schedule is favorable for West Virginia, but there’s not a lot of guaranteed victories once Big 12 play arrives. 

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Will West Virginia Make a Bowl Game in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Missing a bowl game is a legitimate concern for West Virginia after going 7-6 with Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. The Mountaineers may flirt with a losing record, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Despite inexperience at quarterback and wide receiver, Dana Holgorsen will find some way to score points, probably centered around his running backs Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison. Both are capable of big games, but neither has proven it consistently or against top defenses. The biggest advantage for West Virginia is a lackluster Big 12, especially at quarterback. No Big 12 team is a clear pick for the top-15  at this point. And the West Virginia pass defense, abysmal a year ago, won’t face many top-flight quarterbacks, as indicated by our Big 12 quarterback rankings earlier this week. West Virginia is not in great shape right now, but there’s enough to work with to help the Mountaineers to bowl.

Tony Dobies, Staff Writer,, (@DOBIEST)
Two years ago, I would’ve laughed if you asked me whether West Virginia would make a bowl or not. “Of course they will,” I’d say. But, that’s just the way things have gone for this program over the past seven months.

West Virginia has quickly gone from a top-5 team to one that might not even challenge for a bowl. Without stars like Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, it’s going to be a new era in Morgantown.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen, now in his third year, has by far his hardest job yet. He’s forced to rebuild his high-powered attack and has to try to fix the gaping holes from last year’s defense. After a few offseason changes, the Mountaineers are headed into 2013 with hope.

The team seems to have bought into the T.E.A.M. acronym Holgorsen and his staff developed. It spent time learning about the history and tradition of the program earlier this year and that seemed to build camaraderie, something the players said was missed at times a year ago.

West Virginia will have a quarterback few have heard of (likely Ford Childress or Paul Millard) and a group of young receivers with potential but little experience. The offense will most likely rely on the running game, which doesn’t really fit what Holgorsen has done in the past.

The defense will be better. It can’t be worse. It seems the players have bought into a new, simpler system. The talent seems to be there, specifically at safety, to see some progress. Special teams could get a boost, too, from some youth at kicker.

The Big 12 Conference is expected to be down compared to a year ago. Seven of the top 10 quarterbacks in a pass-heavy league including four 4,000-yard passers are gone.

In addition, the Mountaineers could be a bit more comfortable with the Big 12 after the experience of a year ago.

For that reason, West Virginia should challenge for bowl eligibility. It will win no more than seven games and likely no less than five. I’ll say WVU finishes 6-6 and heads to another mediocre bowl.

In what should be considered a rebuilding year, six wins would be a decent season.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Considering West Virginia won seven games last season and must replace its top three players from that team – quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey – getting to a bowl game will be quite a challenge in 2013.

Despite the personnel losses and defensive question marks, I think West Virginia will find a way to get to six victories. It’s not going to be easy, but the Mountaineers have a path to a bowl game. Winning the three non-conference games is a must, and West Virginia has to beat Kansas and Iowa State in Big 12 play. If the Mountaineers win those five games, they should be able to steal a victory against Texas Tech or Oklahoma State in Morgantown to get bowl eligible.

While the quarterback position is getting most of the spring buzz, the bigger question mark for West Virginia is a defense that was one of the worst in the nation last year. With seven starters back, the Mountaineers should be able to show some improvement on this side of the ball. However, there are a lot of new players stepping into key roles on offense, which makes West Virginia arguably the biggest wildcard in the Big 12 in 2013.

Even though the Mountaineers are a team in transition, I think they will find a way to get to six wins and play in a bowl game for the 12th consecutive season.

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
After starting out last season 5-0, West Virginia proceeded to lose five in a row and had to scramble with wins in its last two games to secure a bowl bid. The Mountaineers' trip to the Pinstripe Bowl to face Syracuse didn't go as planned, as the Orange dominated their former Big East foes 38-14. That put a disappointing ending to a season that held so much promise in early October. Unfortunately, I think the sledding in 2013 will be even tougher as Dana Holgorsen will have to try and reverse the trend of last season's 2-6 finish without record-setting quarterback Geno Smith and basically all of his wide receiver production from '12. The only reason the Mountaineers finished above .500 last season was because of their prolific offense, which is now pretty much starting over from scratch. Even with seven starters returning on defense, I think this team will be hard-pressed to manufacture six wins this fall, because I am pretty certain these Mountaineers won't be able to generate 500 yards and 40 points a game. Remember that's what last year's team produced and it managed just seven wins.

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<p> Will the West Virginia Mountaineers Make a Bowl in 2013?</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 07:30
Path: /college-football/top-10-notre-dame-football-teams-all-time

Notre Dame has experienced a sustained stretch of "lean" years since claiming its last national title in 1988, failing to compete on a national level for elite bowls or championships (at least until the 2012 season). That still doesn't take away from the one of the most storied histories in all of college football. National championships, high-profile traditions, decades of winning, hundreds of NFL players, elite coaches and a picturesque campus have made the Fighting Irish one of the most powerful brands in the nation.

Even the College Football Hall of Fame is located in South Bend, Ind.

But how would Manti Te'o match up against The Gipper? Could Tim Brown make Ara Parseghian's disciplined teams pull their hair out? The Irish claim 11 consensus national championships and eight of those took place during the AP era (1934-present), so which one is the best? The fact of the matter is no one will ever know for sure, so trying to rank the best teams in Notre Dame history is virtually impossible. But we're going to try anyway.

1. 1988 (12-0)
Head Coach: Lou Holtz
Holtz and a star-studded coaching staff led the last Notre Dame team to win the National Championship and he did it in style. The only 12-0 team in Irish history rolled through the regular season, defeating four top 10 opponents, including No. 1 Miami, No. 2 USC and No. 3 West Virginia (in the Fiesta Bowl). Holtz was aided by Wisconsin legend Barry Alvarez on the defense and Jim Strong on offense for a team that defeated 10 of 12 opponents by double figures. The '88 group featured 29 future NFL players and 11 first- or second-round draft picks. The offense was led by two Heisman finalists in quarterback Tony Rice and Raghib Ismail, Tony Brooks, Anthony Johnson and Ricky Waters in the backfield and Andy Heck and Tim Grunhard paving the way. Defensively, all three layers of the defense had star power. Todd Lyght led the secondary while Mike Stonebreaker and Chris Zorich starred in the front seven. This was one of the most complete and utterly talented teams ever assembled.

2. 1947 (9-0)
Head Coach: Frank Leahy
Johnny Lujack is considered by some to be the greatest player in Notre Dame history and he led his '47 Irish squad to an unbeaten National Championship. Lujack claimed the Heisman Trophy on a team that featured five All-Americans, seven NCAA Hall of Famers and an astonishing 41 future NFL players. The defense pitched three shutouts and allowed more than seven points only once all season (19 at Northwestern). The season was capped by a dominating 38-7 win over rival and No. 3-ranked USC. Strangely enough, ND only played four of its nine games at home in South Bend that year. Yes, an unbeaten Michigan claims the National Championship in 1947 as well, but that doesn't have any relevance on how great this team ranks in Irish lore.

3. 1949 (10-0)
Head Coach: Frank Leahy
Two years after Lujack won the national title and Heisman, Leon Hart followed suit by claiming the stiff-armed trophy when he led the Irish to an unbeaten National Championship. Unbelievably, Hart was one of three Heisman finalists on this team (Bob Williams, Emil Stiko). And rightly so, this team didn't just beat opponents, it crushed them. This group outscored its opposition 360-86, with wins over No. 4 Tulane, No. 10 Michigan State and No. 17 USC. Six players were selected in the following NFL Draft (1950) and five players off of this powerhouse went on to become NCAA Hall of Famers.

4. 1966 (9-0-1)
Head Coach: Ara Parseghian
Arguably the best team coached by Ara Parseghian, the '66 squad boasted a ridiculous 12 All-Americans including Heisman finalists Terry Hanratty and Nick Eddy as well as Maxwell Award winner Jim Lynch. Historic Irish great Alan Page led a defense that was simply impenetrable, pitching six shutouts and only twice allowing more than seven points. The controversial tie, a 10-10 decision against No. 2 Michigan State in East Lansing, was highlighted by an extremely conservative game plan due to injuries to the star backfield of Hanratty and Eddy. The team returned to full strength following the tie and proceeded to destroy No. 10 USC 51-0 in Los Angeles to clinch the National Championship. Eight seniors off of this title team got drafted the following spring by the NFL.

5. 1973 (11-0)
Head Coach: Ara Parseghian
A deep, talented and speedy backfield helped propel the Irish to an unbeaten 10-0 regular-season mark and meeting with No. 1 undefeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Tom Clements quarterbacked this historic group by finishing his season with a national title-clinching, game-winning drive trailing by two in the final minutes of the game. When Bob Thomas' field goal sailed through the uprights, ND took the 24-23 lead and claimed the AP National Title. Dave Casper and Mike Townshend led an eight-man draft class the following spring.

6. 1977 (11-1)
Head Coach: Dan Devine
The best team of the fairly short Dan Devine era was long on NFL talent. Joe Montana led the offense while Ross Browner, Willie Fry and Bob Golic spearheaded a salty defensive side of the ball. A Week 2 loss to Ole Miss in Jackson, Miss., didn't stop the Irish from eventually matching-up with No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Despite entering the game No. 5 in the polls, a 38-10 beatdown of the Burnt Orange allowed the Irish to jump to No. 1 in the standings and gave Devine his only championship. Browner claimed the Lombardi and Maxwell Awards after his 1976 Outland Trophy while Ken MacAfee earned the Walter Camp Award. Both finished in the top five of the Heisman voting. The '77 team featured seven All-American and eight 1978 NFL Draft picks — none of which was the one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of football.

7. 1993 (11-1)
Head Coach: Lou Holtz
The best Notre Dame team not to win a national title came so close to capturing what would have been Holtz' second championship. After rolling through the first ten weeks of the regular season, No. 2 Notre Dame defeated No. 1 Florida State 31-24 to put the Irish squarely in the National Championship driver's seat. However, a painful 41-39 home loss to No. 12 Boston College derailed the Irish's title hopes. A Cotton Bowl win over No. 6 Texas A&M did little to ease the pain of the season finale loss to the Eagles. Lombardi winner and NFL All-Pro Aaron Taylor and Derrick Mayes starred on offense while stud nose tackle Bryant Young paced the defense. This is easily one of the most talented teams Notre Dame has ever assembled and it came two points shy of being ranked much higher on this list.

8. 1946 (8-0-1)
Head Coach: Frank Leahy
Not only did the 1946 squad go undefeated and claim a national title but it began a 37-0-2 dynasty that led to three championships for head coach Frank Leahy. The only non-victory on the season was a famous 0-0 tie with No. 1 Army in a game played in Yankee Stadium. This team posted five shutouts and didn't allow more than six points in any game. This team outscored its opponents 271 to 24, George Connor won the Outland Trophy, four players were All-Americans and seven players went on to the NCAA Hall of Fame.

9. 1989 (12-1)
Head Coach: Lou Holtz
The year after claiming an unbeaten title, Unitas Award winner Tony Rice returned to lead a loaded Irish backfield. With wins over nationally ranked Michigan (No. 2), USC (No. 9), Air Force (No. 17) and Penn State (No. 17), the Irish were cruising to a second straight national title before a trip to Miami ended any and all hope of a repeat. The No. 7 Hurricanes toppled ND 27-10 and dropped the Irish to No. 4 in the polls. Holtz' squad went on to manhandle No. 1 Colorado 21-6 in the Orange Bowl, leaving Irish fans to wonder what could have been.

10. 1943 (9-1)
Head Coach: Frank Leahy
Angelo Bertelli won the Irish's first Heisman Trophy by spearheading a national championship run in just Leahy's third season in South Bend. Bertelli was one of six All-Americans who defeated No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Navy, No. 3 Army, No. 8 Northwestern and No. 2 Iowa en route to an unblemished 9-0 record. The season finale loss against Great Lakes in Chicago, Ill., didn't stop the Associated Press from awarding Notre Dame with its first AP title.

The best of the rest:

11. 2012 (12-1)
Brian Kelly shocked the world by returning the Irish to the title game. It marked one of two 12-0 regular seasons in the history of Notre Dame football.

12. 1964 (9-1)
Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte earned a share of the national championship under first-year head coach Ara Parseghian.

13. 1992 (10-1-1)
A loaded backfield featuring Rick Mirer, Reggie Brooks and Jerome Bettis only lost to No. 18 Stanford.

14. 1948 (9-0-1)
A team in the heart of the Leahy Dynasty didn't get beat but a season-ending 14-14 tie with USC allowed Michigan to finish No. 1 in the polls.

15. 1941 (8-0-1)
Yet another 0-0 tie with No. 14 Army kept the Irish from topping Minnesota or Alabama for the title.

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<p> Top 10 Notre Dame Football Teams of All-Time</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 07:25
Path: /nfl/10-amazing-feats-shortened-sports-seasons

Labor disputes, strikes and lockouts happen in the billion-dollar business of pro sports. This year’s NHL season started in the second period. Last year’s NBA schedule didn’t tip off until midway through the second quarter. But sometimes, short seasons produce the craziest results. These are 10 of the best and worst historic moments from such seasons.

1. Mark Moseley, 1982 NFL strike
The only kicker in NFL history to win the Most Valuable Player award, Moseley was nearly automatic for the eventual Super Bowl XVII champion Washington Redskins — connecting on 20-of-21 field goals, yet just 16-of-19 extra points. Moseley hit his NFL-record 21st straight field goal on a game-winner against the Giants that clinched the Skins’ first playoff berth since 1976.

2. Chicago Blackhawks, 2012-13 NHL lockout
When the lockout ended and the puck finally dropped in January, the Blackhawks were ready to rock. Chicago got off to the best start in NHL history, earning at least one point in the first 24 games of the season. When the Hawks finally lost, 6–2 to the Avalanche, it was their first defeat since a 6–1 beatdown against the Predators on March 25, 2012.

3. Rollie Fingers, 1981 MLB strike
The only relief pitcher in history to be named Most Valuable Player, Fingers’ first season in the American League resulted in both an MVP and Cy Young Award. Rollie curled his mustache to the tune of a 6–3 record, 1.04 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 28 saves and 61 strikeouts in 78.0 innings for the Milwaukee Brewers. Fingers narrowly beat out Rickey Henderson — who hit .319 and had 56 stolen bases in 108 games — in what was essentially a two-man race for MVP honors.

4. Curt Flood, 1972 MLB strike
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Major League Baseball, 5–3, over Curt Flood, who has since become synonymous with free agency in MLB. After refusing a trade from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1969, Flood fought for players’ rights and — although he was unsuccessful in front of the Supreme Court — he ultimately ushered in the era of free agency (and inflated salaries) we know today.

5. Suge Knight, 1987 NFL strike
Before becoming one of the most feared men in the music industry during the 1990s, the Death Row Records CEO was a replacement player during the 1987 NFL strike — as a defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams, or “L.A. Shams” as they known. Fellow scabs included Sean Payton and Rick Neuheisel. But neither of those quarterbacks-turned-coaches has the street cred of the intimidating big man who was in the car when Tupac Shakur was shot and killed in Las Vegas after a Mike Tyson fight in 1996.

6. Fernando Valenzuela, 1981 MLB strike
“Fernandomania” jumped out to an 8–0 start with five shutouts and an ERA of 0.50 before finishing the season with a 13–7 record, 2.48 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and a NL-leading 180 strikeouts in 192.1 innings. Valenzuela’s leg kick windup and larger-than-life persona won over baseball fans everywhere during a dark strike-interrupted time. As a result, Fernando became the first rookie to win the Cy Young Award, while also claiming Rookie of the Year honors for the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

7. Tony Gwynn, 1994 MLB strike
Mr. Padre was attempting to become the first player to hit .400 since Ted Williams (.406) in 1941. Instead, Gwynn was forced to settle for a .394 average over 419 at-bats in 110 games. The 1994 season ended premature and a completely different type of history was made, as the World Series was canceled for the first time since 1904.

8. LeBron James, 2011-12 NBA lockout
The NBA regular season was shortened from 82 to 66 games the year that King James finally won his first ring. Does that add an asterisk to the Miami Heat star’s championship? Michael Jordan won his six rings after 82-game seasons, right? Well, James did average 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists in the 62 regular season games he played — before an eye-popping 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists over 23 playoff games.

9. Tim Duncan, 1998-99 NBA lockout
The first of Duncan’s four NBA Finals wins and three NBA Finals MVP Awards came following a lockout-shortened regular season that shrunk from 82 to 50 games. In just his second season, the “Big Fundamental” averaged 21.7 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots in 50 regular season games — before posting 23.2 points, 11.5 boards and 2.6 blocks in 17 playoff games alongside David Robinson.

10. Gary Bettman, 2004-05 NHL lockout
There was no Stanley Cup awarded for the first time since 1919, because there was no NHL season in 2004-05 — the first time in major pro sports that an entire season was canceled due to a labor dispute between players and owners. There were 1,230 games canceled over the 10 months and six days that the lockout lasted. No big deal for Commissioner Bettman, who has gone through three labor disputes since taking over the top spot in 1993.

<p> 10 Amazing Feats From Shortened Sports Seasons. Strikes and lockouts have resulted in some of the best, worst and strangest moments in sports history, including Mark Moseley, Rollie Fingers, Curt Flood, Suge Knight, Fernando Valenzuela, LeBron James, Tony Gwynn, Tim Duncan and the Chicago Blackhawks.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 15:30
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-winners-and-losers-draft-early-entry-deadline

The NCAA’s early entry draft deadline, moved up to April 16, functioned more like a suggestion rather than any sort of rule this season.

A handful of underclassmen announced their intentions on the NBA Draft before the NCAA’s April 16 deadline, but the real point of no return for many is the NBA’s deadline of April 28. The NCAA mark says an underclassman who has not signed with an agent must remove his name from consideration before April 16 if they want to return to school.

The April 28 date is established by the NBA, meaning an undecided underclassman in reality has an extra 12 days to make the call provided he doesn’t sign with an agent.

The rule was put into place to protect coaches who, in theory, wouldn’t have to save a scholarship for several weeks while a star player mulled the NBA Draft.

In practice, many coaches are doing just that. Here’s our look at the winners and losers for the NBA Draft deadline and everyone in between as the clock ticks down to April 28.


Oklahoma State
Cowboys coach Travis Ford was perhaps the biggest winner in the early entry deadline. He returned not only a potential top-five pick but also the point guard who helped Oklahoma State to its best season under Ford. Marcus Smart, who was in a neck-and-neck battle with Ben McLemore for national freshman of the year, elected to return to school, according to a report Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. Oklahoma State also returns Le’Bryan Nash, making the Cowboys a possible favorite in the Big 12.

The Gators held onto freshman Patric Young, who will give Florida one of the best froncourts in the country with freshman center Chris Walker and Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith. After three consecutive Elite Eight appearances, the Gators should open next season as a top-10 team.

No matter what happened with the NBA Draft deadline, Kentucky would be a winner going into next season thanks to a signing class that includes six McDonald’s All-Americans. The return of Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress at least ensure there will be veterans -- relatively speaking -- in this group. ESPN’s Chad Ford ranked both as top-25 prospects.

Shabazz Muhammad went to the NBA Draft as expected, but Kyle Anderson will return. The stat sheet stuffer who averaged 9.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals last season will give Steve Alford a leg up in his first season in Westwood. With the drama surrounding Ben Howland’s job status and Shabazz Muhammad’s eligibility and age gone, it will be interesting to see how Anderson and rising sophomore Jordan Adams fare in 2013-14.

Perhaps it’s tough to call a team a winner that lost Adonis Thomas to the draft an Tarik Black and Antonio Barton to transfers, but Memphis did keep its scoring and assist leader, Joe Jackson, on campus. He’ll be a key veteran on a team bringing in a highly touted five-man signing class.

Sean Kilpatrick may not have been in demand in the NBA Draft had he left, but that doesn’t mean anything for Cincinnati’s prospects. Instead, the Bearcats return the fifth-leading scorer in the Big East last season. Kilpatrick will be the key returnee to backcourt that loses Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker.

Arizona State
The Sun Devils have star power for the first time since James Harden left. Jahii Carson, the Pac-12 co-freshman of the year, submitted his name for evaluation, but didn’t see enough to leave Arizona State. He’ll make Arizona State an NCAA Tournament contender after the Sun Devils played in the NIT last season.


Trey Burke surprised no one by declaring for the NBA Draft this week. Now John Beilein is waiting to see how much the rest of his roster will change. Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary are all considering a jump. Robinson and McGary have been projected near the end of the lottery or lower.

North Carolina
Reggie Bullock announced Tuesday he would head to the NBA Draft,leaving North Carolina to wait out a decision by James Michael McAdoo. P.J. Hairston told the Greensboro News & Record he plans to return to school. If McAdoo, a potential late first-round pick, returns, North Carolina will have three of its top four scorers back on the roster.

Gregory Echinique and Grant Gibbs exhausted their eligibility, but Creighton will start from square one in the Big East if Doug McDermott leaves early. McDermott has been projected in the late first round or early second round.

Teams on Andrew Wiggins’ list
The 247Sports composite No. 1 prospect will wait out draft decisions before picking his school. The small forward could be a transformative player wherever he goes. If he picks Florida State, he’ll make the Seminoles a potential top-25 team. If he picks Kansas, he’ll ease the loss of all five starters. If he picks North Carolina, he’ll strengthen the Heels’ case as an ACC contender. If he picks Kentucky, he’ll add to the embarrassment of riches for the preseason No. 1 team.

The Bears didn’t have the Big 12 title-contending season expected of them, but they did end up winning the NIT. Will Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson return to school to atone for Baylor’s struggles in 2012-13? Projections are divided for both.

The senior-laden Hurricanes are already in a rebuilding mode of sorts with seniors Kenny Kadji, Durand Scott, Reggie Johnson and Julian Gable gone, but it remains unclear if they’ll do so without their best player. Shane Larkin is still seeking feedback on whether to return for his junior season. DraftExpress projected him as a first-round pick while ESPN’s Chad Ford did not.

Michigan State
Few teams could change their preseason ranking as much as Michigan State could based on the decisions of Adreian Payne and Gary Harris. With Payne and Harris, Michigan State is a preseason top-three team. Without them, Michigan State could still be pretty good with Branden Dawson and Keith Appling, but perhaps not a national title contender.

If Andre Roberson opts for the NBA Draft, he will be one of the only players leaving from the Buffaloes roster. Colorado could contend for a Pac-12 title if Roberson, who has led the Buffs to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, comes back to school.

Jordan McRae already announced he would return for his senior season. If Jarnell Stokes returns, the Volunteers could be virtually intact from last year. With Jeronne Maymon back from the knee injury that sidelined him all of last season, Tennessee could be a Tournament team in 2013-14 if Stokes returns.


Losing Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo was not a surprise, though Zeller could have returned for more seasoning after a lackluster NCAA Tournament. One of the other departures -- Remy Abell via transfer -- leaves Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey as the only regulars returning to the Hoosiers.

Marquette looked like a potential top-10 team with Vander Blue, but the Golden Eagles’ leading scorer elected to leave even though he’s not projected as a first-round pick. Marquette absorbed the losses of Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom last season, can the Eagles take another big loss.

Russ Smith’s father says his son will leave for the draft, though the Cardinals’ guard may not be a first-round draft pick. Louisville may be a top-five team without Smith thanks to new arrivals in the backcourt, but he was the Cards’ leading scorer on the way to the title.

Mountain West
The dismantling of the Mountain West began when none of its five teams in the NCAA Tournament reached the second weekend. Now, San Diego State loses Jamaal Franklin, UNLV loses Anthony Bennett and New Mexico loses Tony Snell early to the draft. Meanwhile, Colorado State loses six seniors.

Otto Porter waited until April 16 to announce his decision, but his leap to the NBA Draft erases the Hoyas’ hopes of being a top-15 team. Georgetown will look to rebuild around Markel Starks, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and a healthy Greg Whittington.

The Longhorns lost to the draft a player who gave them only 11 games last season, but Myck Kabongo still led Texas in scoring. The question is how bad could it get without him. Texas was 2-8 in the Big 12 before Kabongo was eligible this season, compared to 6-3 in the Big 12 with him. Texas has little in the way of top recruits joining the program.

SEC teams not named Kentucky, Florida or Tennessee
Georgia was a one-man show with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope last season, and he’s gone to the Draft. So is Arkansas point guard B.J. Young. But the most puzzling decision was that of Missouri point guard Phil Pressey, who inconsistent all of last season. Anyone hoping for an SEC rebound may have to wait a bit longer.

<p> The NCAA's draft deadline has passed, but the NBA deadline still has teams in limbo</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-ten-quarterbacks-2013

The Big Ten is heavy at the top when it comes to quarterbacks this season, as Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez and Michigan’s Devin Gardner could all be top-20 passers in 2013.

Miller is one of college football’s leading contenders for the Heisman and should thrive in his second year with coach Urban Meyer. Martinez showed big improvement last season and will be throwing to one of the Big Ten’s best receiving corps in 2013. This will be Gardner’s first opportunity to start a full season but he clearly showed he was ready for the opportunity last year.

The rest of the conference has some uncertainty, as Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue and Iowa all have a quarterback battle expected to extend into fall practice.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top quarterbacks in each conference. One important note: This is just a ranking of starters and backups weren’t included for this article.

Ranking the Big Ten's Starting Quarterbacks for 2013

1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (JR)
The electric dual-threat talent from Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne was the No. 2-rated quarterback prospect in the nation in 2011. He quickly stole the starting job as a true freshman before enjoying a breakout sophomore campaign under spread guru Urban Meyer. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound dynamo is the unquestioned leader of the Buckeyes and he consistently carried his team to an undefeated season with, at times, complete disregard for his own safety. He finished the year fourth in the Big Ten in rushing (1,271 yards) and was No. 2 in passing efficiency and total offense (Taylor Martinez). With speed, size and smarts, he is a perfect fit for Meyer’s offensive scheme and it means Miller could be the Heisman front-runner in 2013.

2. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (SR)
Martinez was clearly one of college football’s most-improved quarterbacks last season. In 14 contests, he threw for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns and added 1,019 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Martinez topped 300 yards passing three times and had five contests of 100 or more rushing yards. After showing steady improvement in each of his first three years as a starter, Martinez is poised for his best year at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are loaded at receiver and return three starters on the offensive line. Expect Martinez to be in the mix for All-Big Ten honors and be a top-15 quarterback nationally this season.

3. Devin Gardner, Michigan (JR)
After an injury sidelined Denard Robinson last season, Gardner finally got his chance to start at quarterback for Michigan. The former top recruit waited his turn behind Robinson and saw some snaps at receiver early in the year. However, Gardner showed no rust when he moved back under center on a full-time basis, throwing for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns over the final five games. In the Outback Bowl against South Carolina, Gardner completed 18 of 36 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns. His best performance came against Iowa, throwing for 314 yards and three scores, while adding 37 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Michigan needs to give Gardner more help at receiver and from its rushing attack, but the junior is poised to have an All-Big Ten year in his first as Michigan’s No. 1 quarterback.

4. Kain Colter, Northwestern (SR)
Even though Colter is ranked here, it’s essentially the duo of Colter/Trevor Siemian. In 13 games last season, Colter threw for 872 yards and eight touchdowns, rushed for 894 yards and 12 scores and caught 16 passes for 169 yards. Siemian passed for 1,312 yards and six touchdowns on 218 attempts last season. Most two-quarterback systems don’t work, but Northwestern seems to have found the right mix between Colter and Siemian. The Wildcats are coming off of a 10-3 season and the Colter-Siemian duo could lead this team to a spot in most preseason top 25 polls in 2013. 

5. Tre Roberson, Indiana (SO)
Roberson burst onto the scene as a true freshman midway through the 2011 season. The Indianapolis (Ind.) Lawrence Central product became the first true frosh to start in IU history when he took over the job against Illinois in Week 6. He tormented defenses the rest of the season with electric athletic ability (426 yards rushing) and had Hoosiers fans excited about 2012. However, after a huge game against Indiana State in the season opener, Roberson was lost for the season with a broken leg in Week 2. He redshirted and is poised to return to action this fall. Kevin Wilson has quickly created a potent passing attack in Bloomington and Roberson figures to be the star of the show in 2013.

6. Joel Stave, Wisconsin (SO)
Danny O’Brien was supposed to be the heir apparent to the great Russell Wilson. But the Maryland transfer looked lost from the start and Bret Bielema made the switch to Stave, a redshirt freshman walk-on from Greenfield (Wis.) Whitnall. Stave, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound pocket passer, totally rejuvenated the non-existent passing game the second he stepped into the lineup. He threw for 1,104 yards and six scores in less than six games, as he sustained a season-ending broken collarbone against Michigan State. The only two games the Badgers lost during the stretch were the two Stave couldn’t finish due to injury (Nebraska was the other), which only further indicates how important he was to creating balance on offense. Counting the loss to the Spartans, Wisconsin lost four of its last six games without Stave. Healthy and now in Gary Andersen’s prolific offensive scheme, look for Stave to flourish in his second season under center.

7. Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State (SR)
After struggling in his first season as Michigan State’s starting quarterback, Maxwell is under pressure to raise his performance in 2013. The Spartans have the talent and the schedule to win nine games this year, but quarterback play has to improve. In his first season as a starter, Maxwell threw for 2,606 yards and 13 touchdowns. However, he completed only 52.4 percent of his throws and tossed nine picks, including two in a key Legends Division loss to Northwestern. Maxwell was able to hold off Connor Cook and Tyler O’Connor this spring, but the battle will continue into the fall.

8. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (FR)
With Steven Bench’s decision to transfer after spring practice, the battle to replace Matt McGloin in Happy Valley is down to two contenders: Christian Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson. Hackenberg ranked as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2013 recruiting class but won’t arrive on campus until this summer. Ferguson joined Penn State from the junior college ranks this spring and heads into fall as a tentative No. 1. Hackenberg has the talent, but there’s no need for coach Bill O’Brien to rush him into the starting lineup.  

9. Philip Nelson, Minnesota (SO)
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill decided to remove Nelson’s redshirt midway through last season and inserted him into the starting lineup for the final seven contests. Nelson threw for six touchdowns in his first three games but went three contests without a score, before turning in a solid performance in the bowl game (7 of 16, 138 yards, two touchdowns). Nelson has dual-threat potential, which is the type of quarterback Kill used successfully at Northern Illinois. The sophomore has potential but needs more help from the receiving corps and rushing attack. Nelson should build off of last season’s showing with a solid 2013 campaign.

10. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois (SR)
Few quarterbacks in the nation have taken as many snaps and have as many question marks as the senior-to-be from Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound dual-threat quarterback has been a team and bowl game MVP (Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl) but has also been benched on more than one occasion and has missed plenty of time due to injury. He is a career 60.9-percent passer who threw more interceptions (8) than touchdowns (4) a year ago. His touchdown totals have dropped three straight seasons from 23 as a freshman to 20 as a sophomore and just eight a year ago. And the Illini went from back-to-back seven-win seasons to an abysmal 2-10 mark last fall. Scheelhaase’s legacy will be decided this fall and he has to play more consistent football if he wants fans to remember him like he was as a freshman — when he posted 1,825 yards passing and 868 yards rushing.

11. Rob Henry, Purdue (SR)
A three-star prospect from Ocala (Fla.) Trinity Catholic, Henry has overcome plenty in his Boilermakers career. He redshirted in 2009 before making seven starts as a second-year freshman in '10. Then, after being named team co-captain, he tore up his knee a week before the 2011 season started. He came back again in 2012 and helped contribute behind Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound dual-threat showed flashes of athletic ability with 547 yards rushing as a freshman and should still bring that type of dynamic to Darrell Hazell’s new offense. However, staying healthy will be a key if Henry wants to help Purdue get to the postseason for the third straight season.

12. Jake Rudock, Iowa (SO)
James Vandenberg’s career at Iowa ended on a down note, but he still threw for 5,786 yards and 35 touchdowns during his tenure in Iowa City. With Vandenberg out of eligibility, the Hawkeyes have a three-way battle for the No. 1 job this offseason. And considering none of the candidates have thrown a pass on the FBS level, it’s a wide-open battle that may not be decided until late in the fall. Rudock is believed to have the inside track, as he served as Vandenberg’s backup last year. The 6-foot-3 passer was the Broward (Fla.) County Player of the Year as a high school senior and redshirted in his first season on campus. If Rudock doesn’t win the job, Cody Sokol – a junior college recruit that redshirted last season – and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard will get a chance to push for the top spot.

by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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<p> Ranking the Big Ten Quarterbacks for 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 07:30
Path: /college-football/syracuse-or-pittsburgh-who-will-have-more-acc-wins-2013

The ACC welcomes two new teams into the fold for 2013, as Syracuse and Pittsburgh join from the Big East.

Syracuse went 8-5 last season but has a new coach (Scott Shafer) and suffered some key personnel departures. Quarterback Ryan Nassib must be replaced, and the defensive has key holes to fill on the line and in the secondary with the departure of safety Shamarko Thomas.

Pittsburgh finally has coaching stability with Paul Chryst, but the Panthers are coming off a 6-7 record in 2012. If Chryst can find the right quarterback – perhaps Rutgers transfer Tom Savage – Pittsburgh could make some noise in the Coastal Division. However, the Panthers need to find a go-to running back, especially after Rushel Shell decided to transfer in the spring.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Syracuse or Pittsburgh: Who Will Have More ACC Wins in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
This may be a race to six wins for both teams, but if either team has a chance to get into the seven- or eight-win range, it’s Pittsburgh. Even though the Panthers start at a two-win disadvantage since last season, the Panthers have a more solid nucleus than Syracuse. Paul Chryst has had a year to install his system and style and mend wounds from all the coaching turmoil since Dave Wannstedt was fired. Scott Shafer has the foundation rebuilt by Doug Marrone, but not the personnel. Although Rushel Shell left Pitt, this offense could be OK. Tom Savage may finally have a home after bouncing from Rutgers to Arizona to Pitt. He had an up-and-down freshman season with Rutgers, but he still finished with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Pittsburgh’s defense also has the potential to be pretty good. Aaron Donald and Jason Hendricks, the two best players , are among nine returning starters for a defense that was one three teams in the Big East to hold opponents to fewer than five yards per play.

Jim Young (@ACCSports)
Both Pitt and Syracuse come into the ACC with a lot of questions, particularly at quarterback. I tend to give the Panthers a slight edge over the Orange simply because they have better continuity on their coaching staff and that their expected starting QB, Rutgers transfer Tom Savage has actually, you know, started. But when in doubt, go to the schedule. The Panthers have to play at FSU, at Georgia Tech and at Virginia Tech. Ouch. Add in tough home games against Miami and UNC and that Pitt has to play Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, and I’ll predict that the Orange ends the 2013 season with more ACC wins. But I doubt either team managed to reach .500 in league play.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Both teams should be excited about entering the ACC but only one has legitimate shot at going bowling in 2013. Syracuse watched one of the most productive quarterbacks in school history, a potential first-round bookend left tackle and its overachieving head coach depart for the NFL. Meanwhile, Pitt welcomes back a head coach for the first time since 2009-10 (Dave Wannstedt). Paul Chryst is an offensive wizard and a developing star in the coaching ranks and he has more talent to work with in 2013 than newbie Scott Shafer. With winnable games in the ACC against Duke, Virginia and Syracuse — despite being in the Carrier Dome — Pitt has an outside shot at four conference victories. Florida State, North Carolina and Miami all come to Heinz Field and fans shouldn't be shocked if Pitt wins one of them. The Orange, on the other hand, have winnable home games with Wake Forest, Boston College and Pittsburgh (as well as an un-winnable one with Clemson) but likely won't register a road ACC win (Florida State, Georgia Tech, NC State, Maryland). I give Chryst and the Panthers an edge in their debut trip through the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Anson Whaley, Founder and Editor of Cardiac Hill, @PittPantherBlog
If you'd asked me this question a month ago, I'd have easily said Pitt. But that was before the departure of running back Rushel Shell, who is transferring out of the program. I'll still say the Panthers, but it's not as definitive. Pitt is breaking in a new quarterback with the loss of Tino Sunseri. That appears to be Arizona transfer senior Tom Savage, but redshirt freshman Chad Voytik had a huge spring game last week that could make the decision of head coach Paul Chryst a bit more difficult. There's also the loss of the team's leading running back and leading receiver, seniors Ray Graham and Mike Shanahan. That's a lot of production to replace and when you couple it with questionable offensive and defensive lines, there's plenty of reason to be concerned. On top of that, I also think the Panthers have the more difficult schedule. Still, the Orange will have their hands full trying to replace quarterback Ryan Nassib and the team's top two receivers from last season, seniors Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales. Pitt's secondary also has a chance to be special and I expect the defense to be solid with improved play from the linebackers. I'm not convinced either team has a very good year, but I'll say the Panthers have a slightly better inaugural ACC season than Syracuse.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Syracuse and Pittsburgh are solid additions for the ACC, but both teams are entering the conference in a state of transition. The Orange lost coach Doug Marrone to the NFL, and quarterback Ryan Nassib, safety Shamarko Thomas and tackle Justin Pugh have all departed. Pittsburgh finally had an offseason of coaching stability, but running back Rushel Shell decided to transfer, leaving the offense without one of its top playmakers.

Although both teams have some significant question marks entering the season, I think Pittsburgh will finish with more ACC wins. Even though the Orange landed Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen at quarterback, the Panthers should be better under center with Tom Savage getting the edge over Chad Voytik. Pittsburgh could also have one of the ACC’s best defenses in 2013, especially in the back seven where six starters from last year return. The Orange have one of the ACC’s top backfields with Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley, but the offensive line is a concern with Pugh and guard Zack Chibane departing. Syracuse also must rebuild its defensive line and find a new go-to receiver with the departure of Alec Lemon.

Coaching stability is a key aspect of this debate, as this is Scott Shafer’s first go-around as a head coach, while Chryst has one year under his belt. 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Even though Pittsburgh and Syracuse both enjoyed success in their final seasons in the Big East, it will be difficult for either team to build off of what took place in 2012 as they enter the ACC this fall. Both teams experienced heavy personnel losses at key positions, not to mention that Syracuse will be led by a first-year head coach. Even though Pittsburgh opens its season by hosting Florida State, I think the Panthers will navigate Year One in the ACC a little more successfully than Syracuse. The Orange don't play their first ACC game until Oct. 5, but it's against Clemson, a favorite to not only win the conference but also compete for the national title. However, before Syracuse hosts Clemson, the Orange have to get through the Big Ten double-header - home against Penn State, at Northwestern - that they open the season with. This is not exactly the ideal situation to break in a new quarterback and unproven wide receivers. Syracuse may have a slight edge over Pittsburgh when it comes to the depth of their respective divisions in the ACC, but the Panthers have more experience returning on both the field and sidelines and I think they will finish with a better conference record than the Orange this fall. Don't be surprised if this "race" isn't decided until the Nov. 23 meeting between these two in the Carrier Dome.

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<p> Syracuse or Pittsburgh: Who Will Have More ACC Wins in 2013?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 07:25