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Two of college football’s storied programs will meet on Jan. 7 in the most-anticipated title matchup of the BCS era. For Alabama, a trip to the national championship has almost become routine. The Crimson Tide is making their third appearance in the BCS Championship in the last four seasons and are 2-0 under Nick Saban in this setting. Alabama is also looking to become the first back-to-back champion of the BCS era.
On the other sideline represents a return to glory. Notre Dame is back in a BCS bowl for the first time since 2007 and returned to the national title conversation for the first time since 1993 this year. The Fighting Irish was the only bowl eligible team to finish with an unbeaten record in 2012, while linebacker Manti Te’o finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. After finishing 8-5 in back-to-back seasons, coach Brian Kelly has Notre Dame back on track to national prominence once again. The Fighting Irish are on a roll on the recruiting trail, so don’t expect Notre Dame to slip back into mediocrity anytime soon.
These two teams have met six times, with Notre Dame owning a 5-1 series edge. The Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish have not played since 1987, when Notre Dame claimed a 37-6 victory in South Bend. Alabama’s only victory against the Fighting Irish came in 1986.
BCS National Championship – Alabama (12-1) vs. Notre Dame (12-0)
Date and Time: Jan. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Miami, Fla.
When the Notre Dame Fighting Irish has the ball:
The Fighting Irish aren’t as dynamic as some of Brian Kelly’s offenses at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, but this unit made steady progress over the last half of the season. After scoring more than 20 points twice through the first seven games, Notre Dame topped that mark in each of its final five contests.
Quarterback Everett Golson was a key factor in the late season improvement, finishing with seven touchdowns to just two interceptions over his final five games. Not only is Golson a threat to beat teams through the air, but his mobility could give Alabama’s defense plenty of headaches. The redshirt freshman rushed for 305 yards and five scores on 89 attempts this season. The Crimson Tide defense didn’t face a plethora of dual-threat quarterbacks in 2012 but struggled to contain Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel in early November. Although Golson has delivered in some key spots this year, he doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards for Notre Dame to win this game. Efficiency and playing mistake-free ball are bigger issues for Golson and will be crucial for the Fighting Irish’s hopes at winning.
The Fighting Irish don’t have a standout wide receiver, but help is on the way for the matchup with Alabama. DaVaris Daniels missed the final two games of the season with a clavicle injury and should be able to contribute on Monday night. The redshirt freshman caught 25 passes for 375 yards in 10 games. TJ Jones and Robby Toma should be the other top targets for Notre Dame at wide receiver, but the No. 1 weapon for Golson will be tight end Tyler Eifert. The senior led the team with 44 receptions for 624 yards and four touchdowns and needs to have a standout performance against a tough Crimson Tide defense.
Led by a veteran offensive line, Notre Dame will challenge Alabama’s No. 1 ranked rush defense. The Irish ranked 29th nationally in rushing offense, spearheaded by the one-two punch of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. Riddick led the team with 880 yards and five rushing scores, while Wood wasn’t far behind, generating 740 yards and four touchdowns on 110 attempts. Look for both players to see action in Monday night’s game, but rushing lanes could be difficult to find with Alabama allowing only 79.8 yards on the ground each contest. The Crimson Tide held opponents to nine rushing touchdowns and 2.5 yards per carry.
Make no mistake: There’s no glaring weakness with Alabama’s defense. Although the Fighting Irish lean slightly with the run, they may need to pass early to setup the ground attack. The Crimson Tide’s defense allowed only two opponents to score more than 20 points and generated 2.5 sacks per game. With over a month to prepare for this game, expect Alabama’s defense and Notre Dame’s offense to each have a few new looks and wrinkles to throw at the opposition. Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly has done a good job at bringing the offense along this season, but this matchup against the Crimson Tide will be Notre Dame’s toughest assignment of this year.
When the Alabama Crimson Tide has the ball:
Despite breaking in a new offensive coordinator and losing running back Trent Richardson to the NFL, Alabama’s offense improved its points and yardage generated per game. The Crimson Tide also displayed balance, averaging 224.6 yards per game on the ground, while throwing for 214.5 per contest.
Quarterback AJ McCarron thrived under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, throwing for 2,669 yards and 26 touchdowns. Additionally, the junior tossed only three picks and led the nation in passing efficiency. McCarron doesn’t have a deep group of proven receivers but there’s no shortage of weapons. True freshman Amari Cooper is one of the nation’s top rising stars at receiver, grabbing 53 receptions for 895 yards and nine scores this year. Cooper isn’t the only weapon for Alabama, as Kevin Norwood (26 catches), Christion Jones (25 catches) and tight end Michael Williams (21 catches) are all dependable targets. This group could get a boost in this game with the return of Kenny Bell. The junior suffered a broken leg against Auburn but has made a quick recovery and could play on a limited snap count against Notre Dame.
Although Alabama’s offense was balanced this year, there’s no question the success of this unit begins with the offensive line and rushing attack. The Crimson Tide’s front five is one of the nation’s best, allowing only 1.8 sacks a game and paving the way for running backs to generate 5.6 yards per carry. Center Barrett Jones suffered a foot injury against Georgia but is expected to play against the Fighting Irish.
Alabama’s offensive line faces a tough assignment on Monday night, as it looks to get a push against one of the nation’s top defenses. Notre Dame allowed only 92.4 rushing yards per game and held opponents to just two touchdowns on the ground. Jones’ battle against nose guard Louis Nix III could be one of the best one-on-one matchups of the bowl season, while the Fighting Irish rely on senior Kapron Lewis-Moore and sophomore Stephon Tuitt to lead the pass rush. In addition to the stout defensive line, senior linebacker and Heisman runner up Manti Te’o is a key presence in stopping the run.
Even if Alabama’s rushing attack struggles early, don’t expect Saban and Nussmeier to go away from handing the ball to Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Lacy and Yeldon combined for 2,182 yards and 27 rushing scores this year and each brings a different skill set to the offense. Lacy is more of a power runner, while Yeldon provides a home-run threat to the lineup.
Considering the defensive prowess on the Alabama and Notre Dame sideline, points could be at a premium in the BCS National Championship. The Crimson Tide has the edge on offense, especially at quarterback with the continued improvement of AJ McCarron. However, the Fighting Irish certainly won’t be intimidated by Alabama or the fact the SEC has won the last six national titles.
Will it be another national championship for the SEC? Or is Notre Dame ready to return to glory and win its first title since 1988?
Athlon’s editors make their pick for Monday night’s title game:
|Editor||Rob Doster||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light||Charlie Miller||Mark Ross||Nathan Rush|
|Prediction:||Alabama 17, ND 16||Alabama 27, ND 20||Alabama 20, ND 17||Alabama 24, ND 20||Alabama 23, ND 21||Alabama 17, ND 3||ND 20, Alabama 17||ND 17, Alabama 16|
|MVP Prediction:||C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama||AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama||Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama||AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama||Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama||AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama||Manti Te'o, LB, ND||Manti Te'o, LB, ND|
After leading Syracuse to a 25-25 mark over the last four years, Doug Marrone decided it was time to try his hand at the NFL. Marrone was picked as the new head coach for the Buffalo Bills and leaves Syracuse on a high note after beating West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl. Marrone’s overall record wasn’t impressive, but he did a good job of resurrecting the program after a horrible stint under Greg Robinson. The Orange are moving from the Big East to the ACC and are caught in some bad timing, especially with Signing Day less than a month away.
11 Coaches to Replace Doug Marrone at Syracuse
Rob Ambrose, head coach, Towson – Ambrose is a longshot to become Syracuse’s next coach, but he’s worth a mention due to his success at Towson. The Illinois native inherited a struggling team and won just three games through his first two years. However, the Tigers have won 16 contests over the last two seasons and made a playoff appearance in 2011. Ambrose has FBS experience as well, working on the Connecticut staff from 2002-08.
Dave Clawson, head coach, Bowling Green – Clawson took a lot of heat for Tennessee’s struggles on offense in 2008, but he is a proven head coach at three different stops. The New York native went 29-29 in five seasons at Fordham (1999-2003), which also included a trip to the FCS playoffs in 2002. Clawson jumped to Richmond in 2004 and led the Spiders to two playoff appearances, including an 11-3 mark in 2007. After the failed season at Tennessee, Clawson landed at Bowling Green and went 7-6 in his debut year and 8-4 in 2012. The Falcons played in their first bowl game since 2009 this season and have made steady improvement since going 2-10 in 2010.
Mario Cristobal, former FIU head coach – In perhaps the most ridiculous coaching move of this year, FIU decided to fire Cristobal after the 2012 season. While Cristobal’s overall mark (27-47) at FIU isn’t impressive, he is the perfect case of why coaching records can be deceiving. Cristobal inherited a program that was in awful shape and had just made the jump to FBS play. After winning nine games in the first two years with the Golden Panthers, Cristobal led FIU to back-to-back bowl games in 2010-11. Although most of Cristobal’s experience has come in Miami, he spent three seasons in the Northeast at Rutgers. Don’t let FIU’s poor decision to fire Cristobal fool you: He’s a very good coach and will be back on the sidelines in the near future.
Bob Diaco, defensive coordinator, Notre Dame – Diaco has quickly emerged as one of college football’s top assistant coaches and is ready for a chance to run his own program. The New Jersey native has never worked as a head coach but worked as an assistant at Iowa, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Virginia, Cincinnati and since 2010 with Notre Dame. Under Diaco’s leadership, the Fighting Irish have shown big improvement on defense, ranking first nationally in points allowed and fifth in total defense before the national championship. Diaco won the Broyles Award for the top assistant coach in the nation this year and despite his lack of head coaching experience, he should be near the top of Syracuse’s short list to replace Marrone.
Nathaniel Hackett, offensive coordinator, Syracuse – If Syracuse wants to promote from within, Hackett is a strong possibility to replace Marrone. The California native started his coaching career in 2003 at UC Davis, before coming to Stanford later that year. After spending three seasons with the Cardinal, he jumped to the NFL and worked two years with the Buccaneers and then two seasons with the Bills. Hackett joined Syracuse in 2010 and has been a key part of the offensive improvement over the last few years. The only downside to Hackett is his lack of head coaching experience.
Pep Hamilton, offensive coordinator, Stanford – Hamilton’s stock has been on the rise over the last two years and has been an instrumental part of Stanford’s success under David Shaw. Hamilton played quarterback at Howard from 1993-96 and later coached there from 1997-2001. After that stint at his alma mater, Hamilton worked as an assistant in the NFL with the Jets, 49ers and Bears, before returning to the college ranks in 2010. Hamilton was promoted to offensive coordinator with the Cardinal after Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State – Although Narduzzi has helped to mold Michigan State’s defense into one of the Big Ten’s best over the last few years, he hasn’t had many looks to be a head coach. The Connecticut native has worked as an assistant since 1993, including stops as a defensive coordinator in 2003 with Miami (Ohio), from 2004-06 at Cincinnati and since 2007 with Michigan State. Narduzzi’s defense ranked fourth nationally in yards allowed and ninth in scoring defense this year.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Considering Syracuse needs to move quick on finding a head coach due to recruiting, Roman could be out of the mix to replace Marrone, especially if the 49ers advance far in the playoffs. The New Jersey native has no head coaching experience but has stops as an NFL assistant with the Panthers, Ravens and Texans. With the success of David Shaw at Stanford and Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky, Roman is the next Jim Harbaugh assistant to land a head coaching gig. Roman also worked with Harbaugh at Stanford and helped to coordinate one of the nation’s best offenses.
Scott Shafer, defensive coordinator, Syracuse – If Syracuse doesn’t promote Nathaniel Hackett, Shafer is the other in-house option for the Orange. The Ohio native has worked as an assistant on the college level since 1991, making stops at Rhode Island, Northern Illinois, Illinois, Western Michigan, Stanford, Michigan and at Syracuse since 2009. Shafer led Syracuse’s defense to a top-10 ranking in yards allowed in 2010 and held opponents to just 19.3 points a game. Shafer doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but is familiar with the current personnel and would provide an easy transition from Marrone.
David Walker, running backs coach, Indianapolis Colts – Walker is a name many Syracuse fans are familiar with, as he played for the Orange from 1989-92. He rushed for over 2,000 yards in his career with Syracuse and joined the coaching ranks in 1994 as a high school assistant. Walker was named Syracuse’s running backs coach in 1995 and served in that capacity until 2004. He worked at Pittsburgh from 2005-2010 and has coached for the last two years with the Colts. Although Walker has strong ties to the university, he has no experience has a coordinator or head coach.
Bobby Wilder, head coach, Old Dominion – Wilder is a bit of an unknown commodity on the FBS level but he has experienced a lot of success in a short time at Old Dominion. In four seasons with the Monarchs, he has compiled a 38-10 record, which includes two appearances in the FCS playoffs. Wilder is no stranger to life in the Northeast, as he spent some time as an assistant at Boston College and Maine.
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NFL football is the greatest reality TV program of all time. The Giants and Colts made sure of that back in 1958. Each NFL fall weekend is a completely new and original experience for every player, fan and coach alike. New stories, new personalities, new winners and new losers. And new statistics.
Here are the most important, most intriguing and most bizarre statistics from NFL's Wild Card Weekend:
10: NFL playoff record players who caught an Aaron Rodgers pass
The MVP candidate threw for 274 yards and a touchdown in his first home playoff win Saturday night. He distributed the ball beautifully to the healthiest receiving corps he has had all season. Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb and James Jones were all on the field together for the first time since the first month of the season. All four star wideouts, three different tight ends and three running backs caught passes from No. 12 in the easy win for Green Bay. The defense, which was also at full strength for the first time in two months, welcomed back Charles Woodson in style. The unit held Adrian Peterson to just 99 yards after yielding 409 yards rushing to All Day in the first two meetings of the year. It was just the second time A.D. was held below 100 yards in the last 11 games. This team heads west for an old-school NFC showdown between its long-time rival in San Francisco.
1: Career playoff wins by QBs in Atlanta-Seahawks divisional showdown
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks will face Matt Ryan and the Falcons in the NFC Divisional Round next weekend, and the rookie from Wisconsin will be the only starting quarterback in the game with a playoff win under his belt. Ryan entered Wild Card weekend as one of only two NFC playoff quarterbacks with a career postseason start (Rodgers). Three new faces, including Minnesota's Joe Webb and Washington's Robert Griffin III, made their playoff debut this weekend and Wilson walked away as the only winner of the trio. Meanwhile, Ryan will be making his fourth career postseason start and he has yet to experience victory. He posted career and franchise highs in nearly every meaningful passing category this season to go with home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. An 0-4 start would begin to raise serious questions about the developing star. Seattle, meanwhile, has now won six straight games and won a road playoff game for the first time since 1983 (0-7).
425: Arian Foster's postseason rushing yards in three career games
If the New England Patriots want to repeat their dominating performance against the Texans from Week 14, they will have to stop Houston's tailback. Foster has played in three career playoff games in the last two seasons and has been electric in each one, rushing for at least 132 in all three games. He has carried the ball 83 times in that span for a 5.1 per attempt clip and has scored at least one touchdown in all three games. He has added 16 catches for 85 yards in the air as well. In the blue-collar win over Cincinnati (for the second straight season), Foster touched the ball 40 times for 174 yards and a touchdown to power his team to victory.
13: Tackles by Ray Lewis in the win over Indianapolis
One of the great careers of all-time will continue for at least one more weekend. Ray Lewis was lost for the remainder of the regular season in Week 6 to a serious left arm injury. The Ravens were 5-1 in the first six weeks before finishing the season 5-5 without their defensive leader. He returned to the field this weekend and played just as big a role on the field as he did in the locker room, finishing with 13 total tackles, one tackle for loss and a pass deflected. The Baltimore defense, which had been reeling the last month of the season, held the Colts' offense scoreless on three trips into the red zone, forced two key turnovers and didn't allow a touchdown all game long. Lewis and Company now head to the Rocky Mountains to battle long-time AFC rival Peyton Manning.
5: Seasons in a row that Joe Flacco has won a playoff game
Should Tom Brady defeat the Texans next weekend, he will tie Joe Flacco as the only two quarterbacks with postseason wins in each of the last two seasons. In fact, Flacco is the only QB in the Super Bowl era with a playoff win in each of his first five seasons. He is 6-4 in 10 career postseason games as the starter, including 4-0 in Wild Card matchups. Eight of his 10 playoff games have come on the road, where he he has led his team to a 4-4 mark. In addition, all four losses also were to teams that would go on to play in the Super Bowl, with two of the defeats coming in the AFC Championship Game (Pittsburgh in '09 and New England last season). A win in Denver this Saturday against Peyton Manning and the No. 1 seed Broncos seems like a tall order, considering No. 18 has won eight straight over the Ravens and the Baltimore defense has major question marks. Still, Flacco doesn't get enough credit for what he has accomplished in his first five years in the league. Although 10-year veteran Anquan Boldin provided plenty of support on Sunday, posting a Baltimore postseason-record 145 yards receiving and the game-sealing touchdown in the big win.
With 347 Division I teams, following college basketball can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college hoops week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriguing, most important and most interesting stats from around the sport:
2: Possessions keeping Arizona undefeated last week
Arizona is one of four remaining undefeated teams remaining -- Duke, Michigan and Wyoming are the others -- but the Wildcats needed a little luck to remain unbeaten last week. On Thursday, a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Colorado’s Sabatino Chen was waved off after video review. Arizona, which trailed by as much as eight with 1:44 left, dominated overtime against the Buffaloes in overtime on the way to a 92-83 win. But Colorado is an NCAA Tournament contender; Arizona’s opponent on Saturday was not. Utah (8-6, 0-2 Pac-12) gave the Wildcats all they handle in a 60-57 loss. The Utes’ final 3-point shot bounced off the rim, the backboard and then the rim again for another close call for Arizona. Before last week, the signature wins for Sean Miller's team over San Diego State and Florida came by one point each.
25, 14 and 4: Mike Muscala’s line against Missouri
File this note away when you fill out your brackets in March: Bucknell forward Mike Muscala had 25 points, 14 rebounds and four assists in a 66-64 loss at Missouri. Bucknell led until the final 3:37 before Missouri put the Bison away in the final seconds. Muscala, who arrived in Lewisburg, Pa., via Roseville, Minn., is a 6-foot-11, 239-pound forward who’s going to cause someone problems in the Tournament if Bucknell wins the Patriot League. Muscala’s day was just enough to overshadow Tigers guard Phil Pressey, who had a career-high 26 points.
4: Ns in Nnanna Egwu’s first name
A tip of the hat to Egwu, one of Illinois’ major difference-makers in a 74-55 win over Ohio State on Saturday. After losing two of three and with a brutal Big Ten slate ahead, Illinois needed to signal its staying power on the national stage. The victory over the No. 8 Buckeyes did that and more. The 6-foot-11 Egwu had the best game for any Illinois frontcourt player this season by scoring 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting with eight rebounds, three on the offensive glass. A perimeter-oriented team, Illinois was 20 of 31 (64.5 percent) from inside the 3-point line. Before Saturday’s win, Illinois had been shooting 48.6 percent from inside the arc. Even with the new inside game, Illinois still got 19 points from Brandon Paul and 8 of 27 shots from 3-point range.
7 of 29: Shooting from the field by Buckeyes not named Deshaun Thomas or Aaron Craft
Speaking of Ohio State, the Buckeyes’ ongoing difficulty in finding someone other than Deshaun Thomas to carry the load was evident in the 75-55 loss to Illinois. The Ohio State supporting cast (read: anyone other than Thomas or Aaron Craft) went 7 of 29 from the field, scoring 20 points. Thomas (24 points) and Craft (11) went 13 of 31 from the field. Lenzelle Smith Jr. was the only player to hit more than one field goal against the Illini.
50: Fateful number for Georgetown
Though not the most tantalizing team to watch, Georgetown is pretty good when the Hoyas or their opponent are under the 50-point mark. That changed Saturday when the Hoyas found a team that could flourish in an ugly game when Marquette defeated Georgetown 49-47. Before Saturday, Georgetown had been 4-0 when holding a team to fewer than 50 points; no surprise there. Before the loss to Marquette, Georgetown was 2-0 when scoring fewer than 50 points.
26: 3-pointers attempted by Pittsburgh against Rutgers
After a 12-1 start, Pittsburgh has lost its first two Big East games, including a 67-62 loss at Rutgers on Saturday. A major reason for the loss was an uncharacteristic boldness to shoot from long range. Pittsburgh has little business rolling the dice from beyond the 3-point line, but the Panthers attempted 26 shots from 3-point range against the Scarlet Knights. That’s nearly double Pitt’s average per game this season (13.4). Pittsburgh hit eight of its 26 attempts which as many 3-pointers as the Panthers had hit in its previous five games combined. That includes and 0-for-10 effort in the 70-61 loss to Cincinnati on Dec. 31.
0 for 11, 14 assists: Quinn Cook’s stat line against Wake Forest
The statline from the Duke point guard in the 80-62 win over Wake Forest on Saturday may make Missouri’s Phil Pressey blush. Cook missed all 11 of his shots from the floor and never got to the free throw line, but he managed to pickup 14 assists to one turnover against the Demon Deacons, the worst team in the ACC.
For the 13th year in a row, some the best and brightest future stars of the college football gridiron came together in San Antonio for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Each year dozens of elite prospects go head-to-head all week in practice trying to showcase their talents for former NFL coaches, the fans, their fellow recruits and college coaches. The East Team (black) defeated the West Team (yellow) 15-8 on the back of a few big plays from its offense and special teams. So after a week of practice and 60 minutes of play, who are the winners and losers from San Antonio?
U.S. Army Bowl Winners:
On the heels of a tremendous performance by his team in the Sugar Bowl, Charlie Strong once again was a big winner in San Antonio. For the second straight year, the Cards got a commitment from an elite prospect on national TV. Local star and game MVP James Quick gave Strong and The 'Ville a third major live announcement in the last two U.S. Army Bowl games. Then Quick, from famed Trinity High School, went out and scored the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter on a deep pass down the middle of the field. Many believed Quick was headed to Ohio State, so the small upset makes Louisville one of the hottest brands in the nation.
Ohio State Buckeyes
All week long, Plano (Texas) Prestonwood linebacker Mike Mitchell dominated the headlines. He was all over the field recording tackles from sideline-to-sideline and making believers of every scout in attendance. Then he made Buckeyes fans ecstatic by announcing he would be headed to Columbus to play his football. He picked Ohio State over Texas A&M and Oregon, and fans in The Lone Star State could consider this payback for Jordan Hicks leaving The Buckeye State.
Big Running Backs
The Under Armour running backs are talented but underperformed mightily in Tampa-St. Pete this week. But the two stars of the East backfield — 6-foot-3, 240-pound Derrick Henry and the 6-foot, 220-pound Derrick Green — showed that even in a defensive focused-environment, the running game can be effective. Henry, from Yulee (Fla.) High, will be enrolled in class at Alabama this week and rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Green, from Richmond (Va.) Hermitage, lists Michigan, Florida State, Miami, USC, Tennessee and Auburn as his finalists, and he rushed for 49 yards on six yards per carry. Both were extremely impressive.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Brian Kelly didn't land any big commitments this week in San Antonio, but the future of his roster was on full display. Seven U.S. Army All-Americans are heading to South Bend and a few of them impressed on Saturday. Namely, the Athlon Consensus 100's No. 4-rated player in the nation Jaylon Smith. The electric linebacker was all over the field posting four tackles and a blocked kick. Corey Robinson, the son of NBA legend David Robinson, Torii Hunter Jr., the son of MLB great, and lineman Steve Elmer joined Smith on the West Team. Running back Greg Bryant, linebacker Doug Randolph and offensive lineman John Montelus highlighted ND's commitments on the East Team. This came one day after the Irish got a huge commitment from Max Redfield in the Under Armour event.
Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline quarterback Max Browne is making a push to be the No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2013 and his late-game touchdown pass nearly gave his West Team a come-from-behind victory. Browne was just one of nine future USC Trojans playing for the West and one of 13 total USC verbal pledges in San Antonio. On the East roster, Jalen Ramsey was one of the week's stars in practice and offensive lineman Khaliel Rodgers was arguably the top blocker on the field.
The 2013 edition of the high school all-star event set an new attendance record with 40,199 fans in the Alamodome. Of course, many of them are the great men and women who serve in our nation's Army. Not only do the troops get a fun day watching the nation's best compete on national TV, but the prep recruits get a chance to interact with and learn from our country's real heroes. It's a win-win for everyone involved.
U.S. Army Bowl Losers:
Alabama Crimson Tide
It is hard to consider Nick Saban a real loser here, as his future star back (running or jack?) Derrick Henry put his 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame on full display. However, the Tide missed out on big-time elite rush end Al-Quadin Muhammad. The elite pass rusher from famed Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep picked Miami over Bama, Notre Dame and Rutgers. Additionally, Upland (Calif.) High defensive end Josh Mathis picked Washington over Bama, UCLA and USC.
Similarly to Alabama, fans shouldn't go passing out their bleeding hearts to the Ducks, but Oregon missed out on two elite prospects as well. Star linebacker Mike Mitchell was one of the best players all week in practice and the Plano (Texas) Prestonwood tackler picked Ohio State over Oregon and Texas A&M. The MVP of the game, wide receiver James Quick from famed Trinity High School in Louisville, picked the Cardinals over Oregon and Ohio State.
The West was able to block two short field goal attempts to help preserve the win. Notre Dame future star Jaylon Smith and future Texas Longhorn Antwuan Davis each blocked a kick while East return specialist Tiquan Mizell (Virginia) made the biggest special teams play of day. His long, late-game return set-up the game-winning score following a Max Browne touchdown pass and totally changed the momentum of the game.
Record-setting rookie quarterbacks will be on full display when the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins square off in Sunday’s NFC Wild Card matchup at 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX. The Seahawks (11-5) enter this contest on a five-game winning streak, while the Redskins (10-6) won their final seven games to capture the NFC East division title and first postseason berth since 2007. This game also features just the second pairing of rookie starting quarterbacks in NFL postseason history with the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and Redskins’ Robert Griffin III leading their respective offenses.
When the Seattle Seahawks have the ball:
Seattle’s offense finished the regular season ranked 17th in the NFL in total offense with 350.6 yards per game and ninth in scoring at 25.8 points per game. The Seahawks ended the season strong, averaging 38.6 points per game during their season-ending, five-game winning streak, including two straight games with at least 50 points. The Seahawks had the No. 3-ranked rushing offense (161.2 ypg), led by running back Marshawn Lynch’s 1,590 yards (third in the NFL). Even though Seattle was just 27th in passing offense with 189.4 yards per game, rookie starting quarterback Russell Wilson was more than efficient and effective in leading the Seahawks’ aerial attack. Wilson, who became the Seahawks’ starter largely due to a preseason elbow injury suffered by Matt Flynn, finished his inaugural NFL season by throwing 18 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in his last nine games. Overall, Wilson completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 3,118 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a franchise-record 100.0 passer rating. Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s 1998 mark for the most touchdown passes by a rookie quarterback and would have set the rookie record for passer rating if not for Robert Griffin III, his counterpart in this game. No Seahawk had more than 50 receptions during the regular season, but wide receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate did record seven touchdown catches apiece. Besides the 10 picks thrown by Wilson, the Seahawks fumbled the ball away eight times for a total of 18 turnovers committed.
Washington’s defense has made the most of its ability to create turnovers, which has been key considering the unit’s overall statistics. The Redskins finished the season ranked 28th in total defense (377.7 ypg), with the majority of the damage due to poor pass defense. The ‘Skins were fifth against the run (95.8 ypg), but 30th versus the pass (281.9 ypg) and yielded 31 touchdown passes, which tied them for the second-most in the NFL. However, due to the 31 turnovers created, including 21 interceptions, the defense was able to limit opponents to 24.3 points per game (22nd), which is respectable considering all the yards the unit surrendered.
When the Washington Redskins have the ball:
Even with a rookie at quarterback and running back, Washington’s offense finished the regular season in the top five of the NFL in total, rushing and scoring offense. The Redskins led the league in rushing offense (169.3 ypg), as running back Alfred Morris broke Clinton Portis’ franchise single-season rushing record and finished second only to Adrian Peterson with 1,613 yards rushing. Morris got stronger as the season wore on, averaging 126.8 yards rushing per game over the last four contests, including his 200-yard, three-touchdown effort at home in last Sunday’s division-clinching win over Dallas. Overall, the ‘Skins ranked fifth in the league in total offense with 383.2 yards per game and fourth in scoring at 27.3 points per game. Besides Morris, quarterback Robert Griffin III made some history of his own in his first pro season. Griffin completed nearly 66 percent of his passes for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions, setting the NFL record for passer rating by a rookie (102.4) in the process. The Heisman Trophy winner also was second to Morris in rushing with 815 yards rushing and seven rushing touchdowns (Morris had 13). Even though he missed six games with a foot injury, wide receiver Pierre Garcon still led the team in receptions (44) and yards (633), while veteran wideout Santana Moss was tops with eight touchdown catches. Another reason why the Redskins’ offense was so productive was that the team committed a total of just 14 turnovers, the fewest of any NFC team.
Seattle’s defense finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in points allowed (15.3) and among the top 10 in the three other major categories. The Seahawks ended up fourth in total defense (306.2 ypg), sixth against the pass (203.1 ypg) and 10th versus the run (103.1 ypg). This unit allowed a total of 23 offensive touchdowns during the regular season, including just 15 touchdown passes (tied for the second-fewest in the NFL). The Seahawks picked up 36 sacks, led by defensive end Chris Clemons’ 11.5, and were very productive in the turnover department. The defense forced 31 turnovers, including 18 interceptions. Eight of these picks were courtesy of cornerback Richard Sherman, who also had a hand in two (INT return, blocked field goal) of the six defensive/special teams touchdowns the Seahawks scored. While it is easy to point out that the Seahawks play very well at home, going undefeated this season at CenturyLink Field, the defense more than did its part on the road. The Seahawks gave up an average of less than 19 points per game in its eight road contests.
Redskins’ fans will no doubt be fired up for their first home playoff game since 1999, when the ‘Skins beat Detroit 27-13. In fact, this will be just the second playoff game ever at FedEx Field. The Redskins got to this point on the strength of the league’s best rushing attack, a dynamic rookie quarterback who showed poise beyond his years, and an opportunistic defense that seemed to get the key turnover when it needed it the most. The problem for the NFC East champions is that Seattle also has a productive running attack and its own record-setting rookie quarterback. The similarities end when it comes to the defenses, however, as the Seahawks have a considerable edge on that side of the ball. Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris will do all they can to give the home crowd something to cheer about, but in the end, the Seahawks’ defense will be the difference in this one.
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Redskins 23
AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans
NFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers
AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Indianapolis Colts vs. Baltimore Ravens
The NFL’s feel-good story of the 2012 season will collide with what will be the final chapter of a legendary career when the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens take the field for Sunday’s AFC Wild Card game at 1 p.m. ET on CBS. On one sideline are the Colts (11-5), who have won five out of their last six games and got Chuck Pagano, their head coach and inspirational leader, back on the sidelines last week. On the other are the Ravens (10-6), who dropped four of their final five to stumble to the finish, but will be riding their own wave of emotion as Ray Lewis, their defensive leader and the heart and soul of this team, gears up for one “last ride.”
When the Indianapolis Colts have the ball:
Indianapolis’ offense ended the regular season ranked 10th in the NFL in yards gained with 362.4 per game and tied for 18th in scoring with 22.3 points per contest. The Colts were 22nd in rushing offense (104.4 ypg) and seventh in passing offense (258.0), as quarterback Andrew Luck set the NFL record for passing yards (4,374) by a rookie quarterback. Although the No. 1 overall pick came three touchdown passes shy of matching predecessor Peyton Manning’s 26 in 1998, he threw 10 fewer interceptions (18 compared to 28) than No. 18 did in his first season and also led his team to the playoffs. The Colts’ reliance on Luck was due somewhat to a running game that managed just 3.8 yards per carry. Running back Vick Ballard has emerged as the lead backfield option, but he’s had just one 100-yard game and has scored two rushing touchdowns. Compare that to Luck, who has five rushing scores with nearly 150 fewer carries than Ballard. Veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne, one of the few remaining holdovers from the Manning era, put together another Pro Bowl-caliber season with a team-high 106 receptions (sixth in NFL) and 1,355 yards (seventh), but it’s another rookie, fellow wideout T.Y. Hilton who leads the way with seven touchdown catches and is averaging 17.2 yards per reception. If there are any concerns when it comes to Luck, they are those related to his 54.1 completion percentage, which is the second-lowest among qualified starting quarterbacks, the interceptions (18, tied for third-most), and that he’s been sacked 41 times. In addition to the picks, the Colts have fumbled the ball away nine times.
Consistently ranked among the top defenses in the league, Baltimore’s unit took a step backwards this season. The Ravens finished the regular season 17th in total defense, giving up 350.9 yards per game, and tied for 12th in scoring defense at 21.5 points per game. Statistically speaking, the Ravens fared better against the pass (228.1 ypg, 17th) compared to the run (122.8 ypg, 20th). What’s more, the defense allowed only 15 touchdown passes, which tied for the second-fewest in the NFL. The Ravens were in the middle of the pack when it came to sacks (37) and forced a total of 25 turnovers, including 13 interceptions, during the regular season.
When the Baltimore Ravens have the ball:
Baltimore’s offense ranked 16th in the league in total offense (352.5 ypg), but 10th in scoring at nearly 25 points per game. The Ravens were 11th in rushing offense with 118.8 yards per game, as running back Ray Rice went over 1,100 yards rushing for the fourth straight season. They ended up 15th in passing offense (233.7 ypg) with Joe Flacco throwing for a career-high 3,817 yards, along with 22 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. For all the criticism levied at Flacco, don’t forget that he’s the only starting quarterback in NFL history to make the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. As far as Flacco’s pass-catchers go, veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin led the team with 65 receptions and 921 yards, while Torrey Smith established himself as a legitimate vertical threat (17.4 ypc, 8 TDs). Tight end Dennis Pitta and Rice also were reliable targets, each posting 61 receptions with Pitta hauling in seven scoring strikes. The Ravens also have a viable weapon in return specialist Jacoby Jones, who averaged 30.7 yards per kickoff return and brought back two of them as well as a punt for touchdowns. His production earned him an invite to next month’s Pro Bowl as the AFC’s kick returner. Sacks (38) were somewhat of an issue, but ball security was not as the Ravens only turned it over 16 times, which tied them with the Patriots for the fewest in the AFC.
Of all the playoff teams, only Washington’s defense finished lower in the total defense rankings than Indianapolis’. The Colts were No. 26 in terms of yards allowed (Redskins No. 28), surrendering more than 374 per contest. The main culprit was the run defense, which ranked 29th due to the 137.5 yards rushing allowed per game. Their pass defense ranked 21st (236.8 ypg), as did the scoring defense (24.2 ppg). Two other factors that didn’t necessarily help were an inability to produce sacks (32) and turnovers. The Colts’ defense forced a total of 15 turnovers, including just three fumbles. That total is the second-fewest takeaways in the AFC.
There has been no better story in the NFL this season than Indianapolis and this young team rallying behind their head coach, Chuck Pagano. This Colts team has been “Chuckstrong” throughout and for Pagano this matchup with Baltimore represents a homecoming of sorts. Pagano was on the Ravens’ coaching staff from 2008-11, the last year serving as the team’s defensive coordinator, so he’s well familiar with the personnel. And that’s especially the case with Ray Lewis, the Ravens’ All-Pro linebacker who announced earlier this week that he will retire at the end of this season. As great as the Colts’ story has been and as much as the Ravens like and respect Pagano, Lewis is one of their own and I don’t see this team sending him off with a home loss. The Colts may have more wins and come into this one with more momentum, but this is still a flawed team, especially on defense, while the Ravens have won their past four opening playoff games. Have no fear Ravens fans, Lewis’ “last ride” won’t end on Sunday.
Prediction: Ravens 24, Colts 17
AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans
NFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers
NFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Seattle Seahawks vs. Washington Redskins
The Under Armour All-American Game features some the best and brightest future stars of the college football gridiron. Each year dozens of elite prospects go head-to-head all week in practice trying to showcase their talents for former NFL coaches, the fans, their fellow recruits and college coaches. The Black Team — named Team Highlight — defeated the White Team — named Team Nitro — 16-3 in a defensive "showdown." So after a week of tough practice and 60 minutes of brutal football, who were the winners and losers in St. Pete?
Under Armour Winners:
Penn State Nittany Lions
Not only did head coach Bill O'Brien announce that he will be returning to Penn State, the best quarterback in the event now appears locked into his verbal commitment to the Nittany Lions. Athlon Consensus 100 quarterback Christian Hackenberg wrapped-up his high school career as the winning quarterback after starting for the Black Team. The elite signal caller from Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia is considered by some to be the best QB prospect in the nation. He is all of 6-foot-4 and should easily grow into a 230-pound frame and he was regarded by many as the best quarterback in the event. He was poised and smooth all week in a defense dominated atmosphere and has PSU fans elated about the future.
The Tigers picked-up a verbal commitment during the game from nose tackle Ebenezer Ogundeko. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound interior lineman hails from Brooklyn, N.Y., and picked the Tigers over Syracuse and Florida. But not only did the Tigers land one big name in the game. Linebacker Ben Boulware from Anderson (S.C.) T.L. Hanna was one of the stars of the show playing physical football all week long. Drawing Zach Thomas comparisons due to build and skillset, the Clemson commit gave Tigers faithful a glimpse of what he can do on the next level.
Star defensive end Kendell Beckwith from Jackson (La.) East Feliciana announced at the game that he would be headed to LSU over Alabama. This commitment came on the heels of a big verbal pledge from massive Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Nova South defensive tackle Maquedius Bain earlier in the week. Bain checks in at 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds and the duo gave Les Miles an excellent week of action in Tampa Bay.
It is virtually impossible for offensive lines to play effective football in an all-star game setting like the Under Armour Game. So it should come as no shock that the defensive lines won the day. Big-time names like Robert Nkemdiche, the nation's top prospect, Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and DeMarcus Walker helped the defensive lines control the line of scrimmage with ease. The game featured 227 total yards of offense on 111 offensive plays.
Ole Miss Rebels
Speaking of Nkemdiche, many left The Trop with the vibe that the Grayson High School prospect will likely pick Ole Miss over LSU when he ultimately signs his letter of intent. His older brother, Denzel, is currently on the roster finishing his freshman year in Oxford and Huge Freeze has his Rebels surging on the recruiting trail. Look for Ole Miss to close the cycle with a flurry and possibly be the surprise team of the 2013 recruiting class.
A man among boys, the 6-foot-1, 250-pound linebacker from Auburn (Ala.) High showed the nation why he is the No. 1 linebacker in the nation. He is a physical presence on the inside and has elite upside on the next level. He claimed the co-MVP honors with Florida Gators cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. Foster has been committed to both Alabama and Auburn but is not committed to anyone at the moment. Washington, Florida State and Georgia are also in the final mix for the talented tackler.
Related: The Athlon Consensus 100
Under Armour Losers:
The Running Game
The two teams combined for 25 yards rushing on 38 total carries on Friday night. That is downright pathetic. However, it had much more to do with the offensive lines than the talent at tailback. Alvin Kamara showed excellent burst and quickness and no one is concerned about the future potential of NFL legacy Kelvin Taylor. However, something needs to be done about allowing these talented players to showcase their talents more effectively. Give the offense two weeks to prepare? Force nickelback situations on every play? I don't know what the answer is, but I know I want to see more from the game's best ball-carriers.
Other than Hackenberg, the talent on the field at quarterback appeared to be less than stellar. Cooper Bateman (Alabama) had a few solid plays but also turned the ball over. Kevin Olsen (Miami) won the starting job in practice but was average in the game. Certainly, the style of play lends itself to tough-sledding for all signal callers, but this stat line is fairly pathetic for 60 minutes of play between two all-star rosters: 22-of-73, 202 yards, 4 INTs.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Elite safety Tony Connor didn't announce as possibly expected and end Kendell Beckwith picked LSU over the Tide. Bleeding recruiting hearts shouldn't go rushing to comfort Nick Saban, who boasts one of the best classes in the nation. But missing out on both of these two players amide rumors that current verbal pledge DeMarcus Walker might be leaning towards Florida is a small disappointment.
Seriously? Team Highlight and Team Nitro? I love recruiting and following elite prospects as they commit, decommit, take visits and eventually blossom into the stars of tomorrow. But it sounds like they allowed 17-year olds to name the two rosters in Tampa-St. Pete. Weaksauce.
A betting preview of each of every game (against the spread) on Wild Card Weekend in the NFL Playoffs.
Lock of the Week
Win or lose, this is Ray Lewis' last dance in front of the home crowd in Baltimore, expect the city's new team to soar past its former franchise.
Ravens (-6.5) vs. Colts
For all the flak Joe Flacco has taken over the years, he has a 5–4 record in the playoffs with at least one postseason win in each of his four years in the NFL. Andrew Luck is trying to join Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Mark Sanchez and Shaun King as only the fifth rookie quarterback to ever win a playoff game.
Straight Up Upset
A rookie starting quarterback is guaranteed a win in this game, as league posterboy Robert Griffin III takes on everyone's underdog Russell Wilson.
Redskins (+3) vs. Seahawks
Seattle was an impressive 8–0 at home this season, but carried a 3–5 mark on the road. Historically, the Seahawks have lost eight consecutive postseason games on the road and have not won a road playoff game since Dec. 31, 1983. Only nine players on the current 53-man roster were even alive then.
These NFC North division rivals are playing for the second consecutive week and for the third time in the past six weeks. These teams are familiar foes.
Vikings (+9) at Packers
In Week 17, Minnesota knocked off Green Bay, 37–34; in Week 13, the Packers beat the Vikings, 23–14. Over the past three seasons, Minnesota has a 4–2 record vs. Green Bay against a similar spread. Plus, Adrian Peterson has run wild for 409 yards and three total TDs against the Packers this season.
Stay away completely, unless you are a hometown homer or a degenerate who has to have action on every game in the playoffs no matter what.
Texans (-5) vs. Bengals
Sure, this is a rematch of last year's AFC Wild Card, which Houston won 31–10 over Cincinnati. But the Texans have lost three of its last four contests and quarterback Matt Schaub — who has thrown one TD and three INTs during the 1–3 stretch run — will be making the first playoff start of his career.
The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers will face off for the second time in less than a week when their NFC Wild Card showdown kicks off on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. The Vikings (10-6) beat the Packers (11-5) last Sunday 37-34 in Minneapolis to secure their playoff berth, while costing the NFC North champions a first-round bye in the process. Even though these teams have played each other 104 times, this marks just the second postseason matchup. Minnesota beat Green Bay 31-17 in an NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field on Jan. 9, 2005. In that game, Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper threw four touchdown passes (two to Randy Moss), while future Hall of Famer Brett Favre tossed four interceptions in what was, at the time, just the Packers’ second home playoff loss in franchise history.
When the Minnesota Vikings have the ball:
Minnesota’s offense can be summed up in two words: Adrian Peterson. All the running back did this season is become just the seventh player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards, as he ended his spectacular campaign just nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season record. Peterson, who is just over a year removed from a devastating knee injury, posted a career-best 2,097 yards rushing, including 199 in last Sunday’s playoff-clinching win against Green Bay. In two games against the Packers, Peterson has piled up 409 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns. Peterson’s record-setting season is the main reason why the Vikings finished 20th in the league in total offense with 336.6 yards per game. They ended up second-to-last in passing offense (171.9 ypg), although second-year starting quarterback Christian Ponder did post some of his best numbers in last week’s win over Green Bay. Ponder completed 16-of-28 passes for 234 yards and a season-high three touchdowns in the Vikings’ 37-34 victory. It marked the first time since Week 8 that Ponder threw for more than 221 yards in a game. Ponder’s development has been hurt by the loss of wide receiver Percy Harvin, who went on injured reserve in early November after suffering a ligament tear in his ankle. Ponder’s favorite target since Harvin’s injury has been tight end Kyle Rudolph, who finished second to Harvin in receptions and yards, and leads the team with nine touchdown catches. Even with a lack of production from the passing game, the Vikings finished 14th in the league in scoring at 23.7 points per game, thanks in large part to the leg of Blair Walsh. The rookie kicker connected on all 10 of his field goal attempts from 50 yards and out and missed just three of 38 tries overall, earning him a Pro Bowl invite. If not for the 23 turnovers committed by the Vikings, including 12 interceptions thrown by Ponder, Walsh probably would own instead of share the record for most field goals made by a rookie kicker.
Green Bay’s defense finished 11th in the league in both yards (336.8) and points (21.0) allowed. The Packers were 17th against the run (118.5 ypg) and 11th against the pass (218.3 ypg). To be fair, the Packers did face five of the league’s top rushers in Peterson (twice), Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster, Chris Johnson and Frank Gore. Of this quintet, Peterson by far (409 yards in two games) did the most damage with Gore being the only other one to rush for more than 100 yards. The Packers produced the fourth-most sacks of any team with 47 and the defense picked off 18 passes. The unit also should get a boost with the return of All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson, who has missed the team’s past nine games after breaking his collarbone in Week 7.
When the Green Bay Packers have the ball:
Green Bay’s offense finished 13th in the league in total offense, which is more impressive when you take into consideration the ineffectiveness of its running game. The Packers averaged 359.4 yards per game in the regular season, with more than 70 percent of that courtesy of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the passing game (253.1 ypg, ninth). The Packers averaged 27.1 points per game, good for fifth overall, as Rodgers tossed 39 touchdown passes, which were second only to Drew Brees’ 43. The reigning MVP finished as the league’s top-rated passer (108.0) and threw just eight interceptions despite being sacked a league-high 51 times. Rodgers also is the team’s second-leading rusher with just 259 yards, which says all you need to know about the Packers’ inconsistent ground game. As a team, the Packers averaged 106.4 yards rushing (20th in NFL) and had a total of nine rushing touchdowns during the regular season, two of those by Rodgers. Contrast that to wide receiver James Jones, who led the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions. Rodgers has other targets to throw to, including wideouts Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, and tight end Jermichael Finley. Jennings and Nelson both missed time during the regular season due to injuries and Cobb was held out of last week’s loss to Minnesota because of an ankle injury, but all three should be in there tonight with Nelson (knee) appearing to be the biggest question mark. Even though he missed the regular-season finale, Cobb has already broken the Packers’ single-season record for all-purpose yards, while Jennings and Nelson combined for 11 catches, 207 yards and three touchdowns against the Vikings last Sunday. The Packers turned the ball over just 16 times in 16 games during the regular season, tying them for the second-fewest turnovers in the NFC.
Minnesota’s defense finished in the middle of the league in both total (350.0 ypg, 16th) and scoring (21.8 ppg, tied for 14th) defense. The Vikings were 11th against the run (105.8 ypg), compared to 24th (244.3 ypg) against the pass. Then again, facing Aaron Rodgers (twice), Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will do that to your pass defense statistics. The Vikings ended up right behind the Packers in sacks with 44 (tied with Houston for fifth in NFL), led by Pro Bowl reserve Jared Allen’s 12. The defense also has produced 22 turnovers, including 12 fumbles.
Believe it or not, even though Minnesota and Green Bay have played each other 104 times, this will be just the second time they will have met in the postseason. While this may technically serve as the rubber match of this season’s meetings, the stakes are completely different than they were for last week’s regular-season finale. The Vikings needed that victory more than the Packers, who had already secured a playoff berth by winning the NFC North. Green Bay did have a chance to earn a coveted first-round bye, but this is a veteran team with plenty of postseason experience under its belt. The same can’t be said for the Vikings, who were last in the playoffs in 2009. Even though the Vikings have Comeback Player of the Year and MVP contender Adrian Peterson in their backfield, there is no comparison when it comes to the quarterback position. The Packers have the reigning MVP leading their offense, while the Vikings will look to the league’s 21st-rated passer during the regular season, who will be starting his first career NFL playoff game. And it will take place on the road, on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. On top of that, the Packers also will welcome the return of defensive leader Charles Woodson to the secondary and should have its full complement of offensive weapons as well. It’s been a good run for the Vikings, but the Packers are still the class of the NFC North.
Prediction: Packers 34, Vikings 23
The Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans will face off in the postseason for the second straight season when they get together on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The Bengals (10-6) enter this game having won three in a row and seven of their last eight, while the AFC South champion Texans (12-4), stumbled late, dropping three of their last four games. Houston defeated Cincinnati 31-10 in last season’s Wild Card round, earning the Texans their first playoff victory in franchise history.
When the Cincinnati Bengals have the ball:
On offense, Cincinnati finished the regular season ranked 22nd in the NFL in yards with 332.7 per game and 12th in points with 24.4 per contest. The Bengals are 18th in rushing offense (109.1 ypg) and 17th in passing (223.6 ypg). Cincinnati’s offense has struggled somewhat recently, as the Bengals have averaged just 235 yards of total offense over their past three games. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has already set a career high in rushing yards with 1,094, but he had just 14 against Pittsburgh two weeks ago and missed the regular-season finale against Baltimore after injuring his hamstring during pregame warmups. Without him, the Bengals had just 47 yards on the ground versus the Ravens. Green-Ellis was back at practice on Wednesday, so it looks like he will be able to suit up for this one. If for some reason he’s unable to go or ends up being limited, the Bengals will most likely turn to Cedric Peerman (258 yards, 7.2 ypc). Quarterback Andy Dalton has already surpassed his passing yard (3,669) and touchdown (27) totals from his rookie season, but he’s thrown three more interceptions (16 to 13) this season too. He also tossed three picks in last season’s Wild Card loss to the Texans, and may be called on to make more plays depending on Green-Ellis’ health. Wide receiver A.J. Green is Dalton’s primary target, having finished in the top 10 in the league in both receptions (97) and yards (1,350), earning him a starting spot on the AFC’s Pro Bowl roster. Green tied for fourth in the league with 11 touchdown receptions, while tight end Jermaine Gresham had five scores among his 64 catches for 737 yards. Besides Dalton’s 16 interceptions, he has been sacked 46 times, the third-most of any quarterback in the league, and the Bengals as a team have lost 10 fumbles.
After getting off to a strong start, Houston’s defense has struggled at times during the second half of its schedule. The Texans finished the regular season seventh in the league in total defense at 323.3 yards per game, but gave up more than that in five of its last seven games, a stretch in which they went just 4-3. They are tied for ninth in points allowed at 20.7 per game, but surrendered 42 to both Green Bay and New England (both losses) and 37 in an overtime win against Jacksonville. Statistically speaking, the Texans have fared better against the run (97.5 ypg, seventh) compared to the pass (225.8 ypg, 16th), but they also lead the league in batted or tipped passes with 37. Houston’s defense suffered a significant loss when linebacker Brian Cushing tore his ACL in Week 5, but defensive end J.J. Watt has picked up the slack and then some. The AFC Pro Bowl starter at defensive end and Defensive Player of the Year contender led the league with 20.5 sacks and also forced four fumbles. Watt’s presence is a big reason why the Texans finished tied for fifth with 44 sacks. Watt made the most of his first career playoff game last season when he picked off a Dalton pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown right before halftime in the Texans’ Wild Card win over the Bengals.
When the Houston Texans have the ball:
More known for its running attack, Houston’s offense is fairly balanced. The Texans finished the regular season seventh in total offense with 372.1 yards per game and eighth in scoring at 26 per game. The Texans had the NFL’s eighth-ranked rushing offense (132.7 ypg), led by running back Arian Foster’s 1,424 yards and league-leading 17 touchdowns, 15 of those coming on the ground. The Texans’ passing attack finished 11th, as quarterback Matt Schaub posted the third 4,000-yard campaign of his career and had 22 touchdown passes. Wide receiver Andre Johnson posted another Pro Bowl-caliber season, finishing fourth in the league with 112 receptions and second in yards with a career-high 1,598. Tight end Owen Daniels led the team with six touchdown catches. The Texans’ offensive line, which features Pro Bowlers in tackle Duane Brown (starter), guard Wade Smith and center Chris Myers (reserves), has given up only 28 sacks to this point and the team has turned it over just 17 times, including an AFC-low four fumbles.
Cincinnati’s defense has been the team’s strength this season, as the Bengals finished sixth in the league in total defense (319.7 ypg) and eighth in scoring at 20 points per game. The Bengals are seventh in passing defense (212.5 ypg) and are 12th against the run (107.2 ypg). The defense has given up 300 yards of total offense only once in its past seven games, a big reason why the team went 6-1 during this stretch. The Bengals have been even more successful than the Texans in the sack department, finishing third in the NFL with 51. They also are second only to New England in the AFC in takeaways, as the defense has generated 16 fumbles and 14 interceptions. The heart of this unit is defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who leads the team with 12.5 sacks, has forced four fumbles and was voted in as a starter for next month’s Pro Bowl.
Houston is hosting and won its division, but there’s little question that it’s Cincinnati who enters this game with more momentum. The Bengals have won three in a row and seven of their last eight, while the Texans lost their last two and three out of their final four games. However, this also is a veteran Texans team that’s in the playoffs for the second straight season and finished last season in similar fashion before thumping the Bengals 31-10 in their Wild Card matchup. And don’t forget, Houston’s quarterback in that game was T.J. Yates, who was starting for an injured Matt Schaub. Even though Houston seems to be headed in the wrong direction at the worst time possible, I think the Texans’ balance on offense and pass rush on defense will be enough to hand the Bengals a second straight playoff defeat in Reliant Stadium.
Prediction: Texans 30, Bengals 23
With the 15th season of BCS bowl action about to take place, Athlon reviewed the tapes of the four (now five) biggest bowl games in college football. Since 1998, teams have been fighting to land a spot in the BCS and here are the players who made the most of their opportunities.
Here are the Top BCS National Championship Performances (year is the date of the game):
Also receiving votes: Ali Highsmith, LB, LSU (2008), Percy Harvin, WR, Florida (2009), Kellen Winslow, TE, Miami (2003), Javier Arenas, CB, Alabama (2010), Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon (2011), Cam Newton, QB, Auburn (2011), James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State (2008)
15. Maurice Clarett, RB, Ohio State, 2003 (Fiesta Bowl)
The true freshman didn't gash the Hurricanes defense, but he made his touches count. No one touched the ball on either team more than Clarett (23), including two touchdowns. His 5-yard scoring run in double overtime turned out to be the game-winning score. Clarett also played a key roll on "defense" as he forced and recovered a fumble following a Sean Taylor interception in the Miami redzone. (Of course, line judge Terry Porter might also get some votes for this list as well.) The 11.5-point underdog Buckeyes finished the year 14-0.
14. Reggie Bush/LenDale White, RBs, USC, 2006 (Rose Bowl)
Bush holds the BCS title game record for all-purpose yards with 279 in the 2006 Rose Bowl loss to Texas. He carried 13 times for 82 yards and a touchdown, caught six passes for 95 yards and returned five kicks for 102 yards. White's 124 yards are the fourth-best total in title game history and his 18 points (three touchdowns) rank third all-time. Unfortunately, Vince Young played for the other team in Texas' 41-38 win over USC.
13. Matt Leinart, QB, USC, 2006 (Rose Bowl)
If it weren't for Vince Young's heroics, this game by Leinart might have gone down as the best title game passing performance. He threw for a BCS championship game record 365 yards while his 29 completions and 72.5% completion rate would have been title game records if not for Young's numbers in the same game. His touchdown pass to Dwayne Jarrett came with just under seven minutes to play and gave USC a 12-point lead — before Young took his rightful place in history.
12. Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida, 2007 (BCS National Title)
In the dominating 41-14 win over No. 1 Ohio State, Harvey was a force off the edge. He finished with four solo tackles, a BCS championship game record three sacks and a forced fumble. Harvey and company held Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith to four completions, 35 yards and no touchdowns.
11. Peter Warrick, WR, Florida State, 2000 (Sugar Bowl)
The Sugar Bowl MVP caught six passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns to go with 57 punt return yards and another touchdown. He also scored a two-point conversion for a BCS title game record 20 points. His 220 all-purpose yards are fourth all-time in a title game. His specatular catch in the endzone is still one of the most electric plays in BCS title game history.
10. Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn, 2011 (BCS National Title)
Cam Newton was the unquestioned leader for the surprising Auburn Tigers, but true freshman tailback Michael Dyer was the star of the 22–19 win over Oregon in Glendale, Ariz. Dyer rushed carried the ball 22 times for 143 yards, including 57 on the final drive that set up the Tigers’ game-winning field goal. His 143 yards and 22 attempts are third all-time in a BCS title game history.
9. Ken Dorsey, QB, Miami, 2002 (Rose Bowl)
Dorsey led an offensive explosion with 362 yards passing and three touchdowns in Miami’s 37–14 win over Nebraska at the Rose Bowl. The victory capped a perfect 12–0 season for the Hurricanes, who delivered a national title to first-year coach Larry Coker. His 362 yards are third all-time in a BCS national title game.
8. Peerless Price, WR, Tennessee, 1999 (Fiesta Bowl)
Price made the most of his four receptions, totaling 199 yards in Tennessee’s 23–16 win over Florida State in the first-ever BCS National Championship Game. Price set up one UT touchdown with a 76-yard catch and then scored the Vols’ final TD of the game on a 79-yard strike from quarterback Tee Martin in the fourth quarter. His BCS record 199 yards, combined with his 42 punt return yards, were the second highest all-purpose yardage total (242) in BCS championship game history (behind Reggie Bush's 279). His 49.8 yards per catch is still a BCS championship game record as well.
7. Andre Johnson, Miami (Fla.), 2002 (ROSE BOWL)
Johnson hooked up with quarterback Ken Dorsey seven times for 199 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Hurricanes past overmatched Nebraska, 37–14, in the first Rose Bowl that served as the BCS National Championship game. His 199 yards tied Price for the single-game BCS title game record and his 226 all-purpose yards are the third-best total in title game history.
6. Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, RBs, Alabama, 2010 (BCS National Title)
Alabama’s two-headed monster at tailback combined for 215 yards and four touchdowns on 41 carries to lead the Crimson Tide to a 37–21 win over Texas. Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner, rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns while his understudy, Richardson, added 109 yards and two scores.
5. Chris Weinke, QB, Florida State, 2000 (SUGAR BOWL)
Weinke outdueled Virginia Tech redshirt freshman Michael Vick by passing for 329 yards and four touchdowns as the Seminoles topped the Hokies, 46–29, in the first Sugar Bowl of the new millennium. With the win Florida State completed the first perfect season of Bobby Bowden’s career as a head coach and secured the Noles’ second national championship.
4. Torrance Marshall, LB, Oklahoma, 2001 (ORANGE BOWL)
It was only fitting that a defensive player was named the MVP of the lowest-scoring Orange Bowl in 30 years. Marshall, a senior linebacker, recorded six tackles and intercepted a pass to lead Oklahoma to a 13–2 win over Florida State to secure the first national title for the Sooners since 1985.
3. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida, 2009 (BCS National Title)
Tebow capped off one of the greatest single seasons in college football history with a superb performance on the biggest stage. The junior quarterback threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns and added 109 yards rushing to lead the Gators to a 24–14 win over Oklahoma at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
2. Matt Leinart, QB, USC, 2006 (ORANGE BOWL)
The Trojans staked a claim to their second straight national title with a surprisingly easy 55–19 win over No. 2 Oklahoma. Leinart completed 18-of-35 passes for 332 yards and tossed an Orange Bowl record five touchdowns without throwing an interception. Steve Smith was on the receiving end of three of Leinart’s TDs. Leinart is still the only player in BCS history to throw five touchowns in one game.
1. Vince Young, Texas, 2006 (ROSE BOWL)
Young was brilliant in the final game of his career, setting a Rose Bowl record with 467 yards of total offense to lead Texas to a 41–38 victory over favored USC to claim the school’s first national title since 1970. Young completed 30 of 40 passes for 267 yards but is remembered more for his work on the ground. He carried the ball 19 times for 200 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by a nine-yard run on 4th down to give Texas the lead with 19 seconds remaining. His 20 total points scored (three rushing touchdowns, 2-point conversion), 30 completions and 75% completion rate are both national championship game records.
The matchup in Dallas will be a familiar one, but the Cotton Bowl will provide the first look at how a freshman Heisman winner will react to the burden of the award.
Only Florida’s Tim Tebow spent more time in college with the phrase Heisman-winner preceded his name. Like Tebow, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Alabama’s Mark Ingram both won the Heisman as sophomores, but both left school after their junior seasons.
Instead, Texas A&M’s 20-year-old redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel will be the marked man for the next three years.
“First and foremost, there’s the Cotton Bowl,” Manziel told USA Today’s George Schroeder. “From there, I have to be the guy that starts the motor for a run at the national title next year. That’s our goal. If more awards come, they come.”
At least for the bowl game, the trend is in the favor of the Heisman winner. The last three winners -- Ingram, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III -- all won their bowl games. Before that, Heisman winners had been snakebit in the postseason.
While Heisman winners have broken their bowl futility streak, so has Oklahoma under Bob Stoops. The Sooners have won three consecutive bowl games after they went through a 1-5 swoon from 2003-08.
The hot streaks will be put to a test in the Cotton Bowl where former conference foes will meet. In one of the oddities of conference realignment, the Aggies will face the Sooners 14 months since their last meeting, as Big 12 foes on Nov. 5, 2011. Oklahoma had won eight of the last nine meetings in the Big 12.
Cotton Bowl - Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
Date and time: Jan. 4, 7 p.m. Eastern
When Oklahoma has the ball:
Landry Jones is capable of the bonehead turnover from time to time, but the Sooners relied on his arm during the five-game winning streak to end the season. Jones passed for 1,980 yards with 17 touchdowns and six picks in the final five wins, including four consecutive one-score games. Where the Sooners relied on Ryan Broyles in the past, Oklahoma has been balanced in the receiving corps with four receivers topping 500 yards including transfers Justin Brown (Penn State) and Jalen Saunders (Fresno State). Oklahoma’s offensive line was beat up near the end of the season, so the long layoff could benefit the Sooners and Jones against the Texas A&M pass rush.
Lost in the Manziel storyline, defensive end Damontre Moore had a breakout season with 12.5 sacks this season. If Oklahoma relies on the run game, the Sooners have a capable duo of tailbacks. Damien Williams is a big-play back, and Brennan Clay has been a supersub late in the season. With 24 rushing touchdowns on 102 career carries, Blake Bell is a short-yardage specialist who is the heir apparent at quarterback after Jones leaves. Texas A&M’s defense performed well enough during the course of the season, but the Aggies have not played passing offense this effective since a win over Louisiana Tech on Oct. 13. The Bulldogs scored 57 points and amassed a season-high 615 yards that night.
When Texas A&M has the ball:
It starts with Johnny Manziel -- Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Manziel’s play-making ability is well-established as he’s been able to turn broken plays into big gains and touchdowns. He finished the season with 4,600 yards of total offense and 43 total touchdowns. But Manziel isn’t invincible. He threw three interceptions in a home loss to LSU and threw eight overall this season. His run game has been spotty with senior Christine Michael having an inconsistent final season, though he finished with 12 touchdowns. Mike Evans led A&M in receiving (1,022 yards), but veteran Ryan Swope was no stranger to the big catch.
Outland winner Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews lead one of the nation’s best offensive line. Oklahoma led the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense. The Sooners held the final eight opponents to fewer than 60 percent passing, including three teams to less than 50 percent passing.
If the matchup between the Heisman winner against Oklahoma and two former conference foes isn’t enough, the Cotton Bowl will pit two familiar coaches. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was an assistant at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops from 2003-07. That’s an intriguing subplot in a game in which the matchup, but Manziel enters the game with new pressure. This is the last college game for Landry Jones, so the quarterback intangibles may favor the Sooners senior.
Prediction: Oklahoma 42, Texas A&M 35
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If Ole Miss players need a tour guide around Birmingham, they could ask their opponents.
Making their third consecutive trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl, Pittsburgh players should know the hot spots around town by now. While Ole Miss may be happy to play in a bowl anywhere, the Panthers are happy to make a bowl trip with a full-time coach in tow.
The Panthers’ last two trips to Birmingham -- a loss to SMU last season and a win over Kentucky two seasons ago -- have been with interim coaches. But Paul Chryst, despite a coaching change at his previous employer Wisconsin, appears to be staying with Pitt, which had become a weigh station for head coaches since since firing Dave Wannstedt in 2010.
A year removed from a coaching change itself, Ole Miss was one of the most improved teams in the SEC under first-year coach Hugh Freeze. The Rebels won as many games last (six) as they did last two seasons under Houston Nutt combined.
BBVA Compass Bowl - Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Ole Miss (6-6)
Date and time: Jan. 5, 1 p.m. Eastern
Location: Birmingham, Ala.
When Pittsburgh has the ball:
Pitt is at its best when it can control the ground game, which shouldn’t be a shock with a former Wisconsin offensive coordinator running the show. Ray Graham, who missed the second half of 2011 with a torn ACL, didn’t look fully confident on his knee until late in the season. Graham averaged 139.2 yards from scrimmage per game and 4.9 yards per carry over his final five games. He’s spelled by Rushel Shell, who was a touted recruit out of Aliquippa, Pa. At quarterback, Tino Sunseri had been a liability, but he quietly had a career year s a senior. He threw 19 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, none after Sept. 15.
The Rebels defense is led by freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss’ only All-SEC selection. Nkemdiche finished with 12 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and three interceptions. Ole Miss installed a defense run primarily out of the 4-2-5, enabling the Rebels to finish second in the SEC in sacks and tackles for a loss.
When Ole Miss has the ball:
The Rebels are still working out the details in Hugh Freeze’s spread offense, but finishing in the top half of the SEC in scoring and total yards was a major leap forward. The offense finished with a flurry after a 37-10 loss to Georgia on Nov. 3. The Rebels rolled up at least 450 yards on the final three opponents, including 527 against Mississippi State. Quarterback Bo Wallace was able to move the ball against Vanderbilt, LSU and the Bulldogs, but he was still prone to turnovers (five interceptions in the last two games). Donte Moncrief is a reliable primary target with 13 receptions for 234 yards and five touchdowns in the final two games.
The main challenge for the Ole Miss offense will be to contain Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who had 18.5 tackles for a loss this season and nine in his last three games. Despite a solid run game led by Jeff Scott, Randall Mackey and the mobility of Wallace, teams were able to stop the Rebels behind the line of scrimmage with regularity.
Who knows which Pittsburgh team will show up? The Panthers outscored Rutgers and USF 54-9 in the final two games of the season, but that came on the heels of a loss to Connecticut, which came after an overtime loss with No. 1 Notre Dame. On the one hand, Pitt could be disappointed to play in the same bowl for the third consecutive year. But on the other, Pitt finally has a stable coaching situation. Still, Ole Miss is playing in its own region of the country and should be boosted by a rare bowl game appearance, even if it’s after New Year’s Day. The Rebels may have the best passing game Pittsburgh has seen since a 45-35 loss to Louisville on Oct. 13.
Prediction: Ole Miss 28, Pittsburgh 23
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Two mid-major programs whose success this year cost each of them their head coaches will meet up in the second-to-last bowl game of the season. The matchup between Kent State from the Mid-American Conference (MAC) and Arkansas State from the Sun Belt Conference also represents the first game between the two schools, although it’s the Red Wolves’ second straight appearance in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Last season, Arkansas State fell 38-20 to Northern Illinois, which beat Kent State in the MAC Championship Game on Nov. 30 to earn a trip to the Orange Bowl. The Huskies came up short in their first-ever BCS appearance, losing 31-10 to ACC champ Florida State.
Even though Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell has accepted the job at Purdue, he will lead the Golden Flashes in Mobile, Ala., against Arkansas State. Hazell was named MAC Coach of the Year after breaking the school record for most wins in a single season. The previous high was nine back in 1973. This is just the second bowl appearance in the program’s history, the other coming back in 1972, a 21-18 loss to Temple in the Tangerine Bowl.
Arkansas State will be led by defensive coordinator John Thompson, who is serving as interim head coach after Gus Malzahn took the head coaching position at Auburn. Thompson will look to lead the Red Wolves to a second-straight 10-win season. Hugh Freeze led the team to 10 wins and a spot in the GoDaddy.com Bowl last season, but didn’t coach in Mobile after being named the head coach at Ole Miss. Thompson will try to do what fellow interim head coach David Gunn couldn’t last season – post Arkansas State’s first-ever bowl victory. The Red Wolves are 0-2 in bowls since they became FBS members in 1992. Besides last year’s GoDaddy.com Bowl, the Wolves were beaten 31-19 by Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl in 2005.
GoDaddy.com Bowl – Kent State (11-2) vs. Arkansas State (9-3)
Date and Time: Jan. 6 at 9:00 p.m. ET
Location: Mobile, Ala.
When the Kent State Golden Flashes have the ball:
The Golden Flashes saw their school-record 10-game winning streak end with a 44-37 double overtime loss to Northern Illinois in the MAC title game on Nov. 30. The Flashes love to run the ball, as they are ranked 16th in the nation in rushing offense (228.3 ypg).
Running backs Dri Archer and Trayion Durham from a productive and dangerous combo, as the duo have combined for 2,600 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns. Archer, who was named first-team All-MAC, is averaging nine yards per carry, while Durham leads the team in carries (256) and is gaining nearly five yards per rushing attempt.
Senior quarterback Spencer Keith has five rushing touchdowns of his own, along with 1,864 yards passing and 12 touchdown passes. Archer also is the team’s leading receiver with 35 receptions for 539 yards and four scores, while wide receivers Eric Adeyemi and Josh Boyle have three touchdown receptions apiece.
Besides his exploits at running back and as a receiver, Archer also was honored as the MAC’s Special Teams Player of the Year. The junior is fifth in the nation with 189.2 all-purpose yards per game. As a kickoff returner alone, Archer averaged 38.2 yards per return and led the nation with three returns for touchdowns. Besides the threat of making a big play on special teams, the Golden Flashes have done a good job of protecting the football this season. They have turned it over just 17 times so far, including only seven fumbles.
Even though the unit benefits from a potent offense, Arkansas State’s defense has held its own. Overall, the Red Wolves are allowing 386.5 yards and 36.4 points per game. They have given up more than 29 points only three times and two of these games were against Oregon (57) and Nebraska (42). The Red Wolves are ranked 51st in the nation in total, scoring and rushing (153.3 ypg) defense, and are No. 58 against the pass (233.2 ypg). The defense hasn’t generated a consistent pass rush (1.5 sacks per game, 96th), and has forced a total of 22 turnovers to this point. Arkansas State does rank among the top 30 teams in terms of kickoff and punt return yardage defense, which could be key considering Archer’s presence for Kent State.
When the Arkansas State Red Wolves have the ball:
After starting the season 2-3, the Red Wolves have since rattled off seven straight wins, scoring 34 or more points in each game. For the season, Arkansas State is 16th in the nation in total offense with more than 481 yards and 22nd in scoring offense with more than 36 points per game.
The Red Wolves are led by senior dual-threat quarterback Ryan Aplin, who took home Sun Belt Player of the Year honors for the second straight season. Aplin, who is on track to finish his career as the conference’s all-time leading passer, has thrown for 3,129 yards and 23 scores this season with just four interceptions.
Aplin also has 443 yards rushing and six scores on the ground, one of four Red Wolves with at least 300 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns. As a team, the Red Wolves are averaging 217.4 yards rushing per game, which places them 21st in the nation. Junior running back David Oku, a transfer from Tennessee, leads the team with 1,024 yards rushing and a conference-high 15 rushing touchdowns. Oku was second in the Sun Belt in rushing and earned first-team all-conference honors.
Aplin’s leading target is Sun Belt Freshman of the Year J.D. McKissic. The first-year wide receiver made an immediate impact, posting a conference freshman record 92 receptions for 909 yards and four touchdowns. Fellow wideout Julian Jones leads the team with seven touchdown receptions (on just 13 catches), while seniors Josh Jarboe and Taylor Stockemer combined for 76 catches, 1,013 yards and seven scores.
Kent State’s defense has given up its share of yards, but has been able to mitigate the damage done thanks in large part to turnovers. The Golden Flashes are allowing nearly 420 yards per game (78th), but a respectable 25.1 points (49th) per game. Kent State is 40th against the run (143.4 ypg), but ranks near the bottom (106th), when it comes to defending the pass (276.5 ypg). However, the Golden Flashes have picked off 23 passes and have forced a total of 38 turnovers, tying them with Oregon for the most in the nation. The defense has returned five of these takeaways for scores of its own and also ranks 26th in the nation in sacks with 2.5 per contest.
Both programs are looking to end successful seasons with one more win before heading into an offseason characterized by change with new head coaches waiting in the wings. This game also serves as a curtain call for Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin, who has already led the Red Wolves to 19 wins in the last two seasons. The only thing missing from the record-setting senior’s resume is a bowl victory. Having played for an interim head coach in last season’s GoDaddy.com Bowl game, this scenario is nothing new to Aplin or the rest of the Red Wolves for that matter. As explosive as Kent State is on the ground and on special teams, with all-purpose dynamo Dri Archer leading the way, the defense has been very reliant on getting pressure on the quarterback and forcing turnovers. The Golden Flashes won’t get much help in these areas in this contest, however, as the seasoned Aplin caps off his Arkansas State career with one more win, the program’s first-ever in a bowl game.
Prediction: Arkansas State 34, Kent State 30
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The nation’s best prospects are competing in two major cities this weekend. San Antonio hosts the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and Tampa-St. Petersburg welcomes the Under Armour All-American Game.
The Under Armour game will take place Friday at 5 p.m. Eastern at Tropicana Field, while the Army Bowl will be played in the Alamodome at 1 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.
These two games offer a unique glimpse into the future of college football for fans and scouts alike. Fans get to see their future stars in action while scouts get to evaluate the nation’s best going head-to-head in both practice and the game. The majority of the Athlon Consensus 100 will be on full display this weekend under the bright lights and national TV audience.
And, of course, who could forget the live announcements. (See Landon Collins 2012)
Editor's Note: Rankings will be updated for the final time following both events this weekend.
Top Rated Prospects to Watch:
Laremy Tunsil, OL (AC100 No. 3)
The massive Lake City (Fla.) Columbia offensive tackle is currently the top lineman in the nation and will have a chance to prove himself against elite level defensive lineman — at both guard and tackle — on Saturday. The 6-foot-6, 295-pound Tunsil will visit his three finalists during the next month — Alabama, Florida State and Georgia — and likely will be one of the most watched players in the Alamodome this weekend.
Jaylon Smith, LB (AC100 No. 4)
With Reuben Foster competing in the Under Armour event and slipping slightly in the recruiting rankings lately, Smith could finish the cycle as the nation’s No. 1 linebacker with a good showing in San Antonio. The speedy 6-3, 215-pound tackler should be all over the field this week in Texas, and Notre Dame fans will be plenty attentive as Smith has been tabbed as a potential replacement for Manti Te’o.
Max Browne, QB (AC100 No. 6)
There is a chance Browne, the nation’s No. 1 quarterback from Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline, could finish the year as the No. 1 overall prospect in the nation regardless of position. The 6-5, 210-pound pro-style passer is the best pure pocket quarterback in this class, and the gap widened after a standout showing in US Army practice this week. Look for big things from the future USC Trojan on Saturday.
Su’a Cravens, DB (AC100 No. 8)
The Murrieta (Calif.) Vista prospect is in a battle with Under Armour All-American Vernon Hargreaves III and fellow US Army participant Kendall Fuller to finish as the No. 1 defensive back in the nation. Cravens is a monster at 6-2 and 210 pounds and has a chance to show why he is the nation’s best against two rosters stacked with secondary talent.
Kendall Fuller, DB (AC100 No. 11)
The defensive backs have been the story in San Antonio and Fuller has been a big reason why. The Olney (Md.) Good Counsel prospect is committed to Virginia Tech and has played well all week against a host of elite pass-catchers. The fluid coverman could leapfrog both Cravens and Hargreaves III with a great showing in the US Army Bowl.
Ricky Seals-Jean, ATH (AC100 No. 12)
The massive athlete has loads of upside at a variety of positions but has been catching passes all week in Texas. The Sealy (Texas) High prospect checked in at 6-5 and 220 pounds and is showing little effects of a severe knee injury he suffered early in September. The star excelled running the ball and playing quarterback and defense, so his overall athletic ability is tough to miss. Texas A&M is getting a good one in Seals-Jean.
Jalen Ramsey, DB (AC100 No. 25)
The Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy prospect is committed to USC and has added to the depth in the defensive backfield in San Antonio. A high school cornerback, he has wide shoulders and the frame to grow into a safety should he move to that position in college. Keep an eye on a savvy youngster as who is rarely out of position.
Video: See Athlon Sports sit down with AC100 prospect Jalen Ramsey
Derrick Green, RB (AC100 No. 45)
The burly running back from Richmond (Va.) Hermitage wants to carry the ball full-time in college and is using this week to prove those intentions. The 6-0, 220-pounder has provided excellence in all he has done on the field, playing physically in the trenches as well as showing off big-play explosiveness. He holds upwards of 50 scholarship offers and has taken three official visits (Auburn, Michigan, Tennessee). Oregon, Ole Miss, Miami and Florida State are in the mix as well.
Mike Mitchell, LB (AC100 No. 62)
The star linebacker from Plano (Texas) Prestonwood Christian has been a monster all week in practice. The 6-3, 220-pounder has played sideline-to-sideline football and has been strong against both the pass and run. He rarely misses a tackle and has excellent read-and-react skills. Mitchell could end up being the best player on the field this weekend. Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas A&M are his finalists, and the talented linebacker is slated to announce during the game.
Sleepers To Watch:
Tre’Davious White, DB (AC100 No. 99)
It is tough to be a sleeper as a top 100 player, but since the defensive backfields are so loaded with talent in San Antonio, White should have had a tougher time standing out. However, he has been all over the field using electric speed and big-play ability on both defense and special teams. Expect a big game from the future LSU Tiger from Shreveport, La.
Frank Herron, DE (unranked)
One of the surprises of the week has been the play of the defensive end prospect from Memphis Central. Scouts have been impressed with his growth during the last year, and he should continue to get bigger as heads to LSU. He has improved his form and technique throughout his prep career, and his development should be obvious come gametime.
DeSean Smith, TE (unranked)
Les Miles has to be ecstatic with the prospects he has in the Alamodome this weekend. Smith is another future Bayou Bengal who hails from Lake Charles (La.) Barbe. His football IQ has been on full display all week, and his ball skills are advanced for his age.
Mike Mitchell, LB (AC100 No. 62) Plano, Texas
Choices: Texas A&M, Oregon, Ohio State, Oklahoma
James Quick, WR (AC100 No. 69) Louisville, Ky.
Choices: Louisville, Ohio State, Oregon
Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE (No. 101) Ramsey, N.J.
Choices: Alabama, Notre Dame, Miami
Demarcus Robinson, WR (No. 113) Fort Valley, Ga
Choices: Clemson, Florida
Tyler Boyd, WR (No. 146) Clairton, Pa.
Choices: Pitt, West Virginia, Michigan State
Joe Mathis, DE (No. 201) Upland, Calif.
Choices: Alabama, USC, UCLA, Washington
Reeve Koehler, OL (unranked) Honolulu
Choices: Tennessee, Kansas, Arkansas, Cal
Tony Stevens, WR (unranked) Orlando
Choices: Texas A&M, Florida State, Ohio State
|Ohio State coach Thad Matta|
John Groce can win a tournament game or two. The Illinois coach proved that in the Maui Invitational this season and in two NCAA Tournaments at Ohio.
His first foray into the Big Ten regular season, though, is not off to a great start with a 68-61 loss to Purdue, one of a handful of teams in the league that will struggle for a postseason berth.
With two losses in the last three games, Groce will try to coax his team into regaining its early season from, but he’ll have to defeat a mentor to do it.
Groce served as an assistant for Ohio State coach Thad Matta from 2001-08 at Butler, Xavier and Ohio State, where he was recruited Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook to Columbus.
The Oden-Conley Ohio State team with Matta and Groce on the same bench reached the Final Four in 2007. When the two face off Saturday in Champaign, the game will be a key early matchup for momentum in a grueling Big Ten.
After the losses to Missouri and Purdue in the last three games, Illinois is looking to prove it has the staying power that eluded former coach Bruce Weber in his latter seasons in Champaign.
Ohio State’s situation isn’t as pressing, but the Buckeyes are looking to show they’re an upper-echelon Big Ten team. Ohio State saw a lead evaporate against Duke in a 73-68 loss on Nov. 28. Similarly, Kansas pulled away from Ohio State in a 74-66 victory on Dec. 22. A road win at Illinois could end up a key resume-builder for the postseason.
Game of the week
Ohio State (11-2, 1-0 Big Ten) at
Illinois (13-2, 0-1)
When: Saturday, 2:15 p.m. Eastern
Where: Assembly Hall, Champaign, Ill.
TV: Big Ten Network
Ohio State probable starters
G Aaron Craft (6-2/190, Jr.)
G Lenzelle Smith Jr. (6-4/205, Jr.)
F Sam Thompson (6-7/190, So.)
F Deshaun Thomas (6-7/225, Jr.)
F Evan Ravenel (6-8/260, Sr.)
Illinois probable starters
G Tracy Abrams (6-1/185, So.)
G D.J. Richardson (6-3/195, Sr.)
G Brandon Paul (6-4/200, Sr.)
F Tyler Griffey (6-9/220, Sr.)
F/C Nnanna Egwu (6-11/235, So.)
|Illinois guard Brandon Paul|
Brandon Paul has been the centerpiece to Illinois’ hot start the season, but as the 6-4 senior goes, so does Illinois. Paul takes his share of shots from the floor -- nearly 13 per game -- so when he’s not efficient, Illinois can struggle. Paul scored 15 points on 10 attempts and seven attempts from 3-point range in the loss to Purdue, which at least was a step up from recent games. Paul was 8 of 30 from the field and 2 of 13 from beyond the arc against Auburn and Missouri before the Purdue loss. He’ll be defended by one of the best defenders in the country in Aaron Craft. In his last game against Nebraska, Craft didn’t score, but he had eight assists and six rebounds while playing relentless defense. But that was against Nebraska, and Ohio State isn’t that far removed from another big guard, Kansas’ Ben McLemore, taking over a game. To stop Illinois, Ohio State will need to guard the 3-point line: Illinois is dependent on the 3-pointer to win. Paul and D.J. Richardson have attempted more than 100 shots from beyond the arc this season as Illinois gains 37.3 percent of its overall scoring from 3-point land.
Related: New Year's resolutions for Illinois, Ohio State and more
With fellow 2010 signee Jared Sullinger gone to the NBA, Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas continues to enjoy the scoring breakthrough he expected to have. Thomas is averaging 19.9 points per game on 15.3 shots from the floor. The 6-7 lefty who can step out to shoot for 3s could be a matchup problem for the Illinois frontcourt. Thomas also averages seven rebounds per game for a team that should have the advantage on the glass. Outside of Tyler Griffey’s 9.1 points per game, Illinois doesn’t bring much scoring on the front line. The 6-11 Nnanna Egwu could be a defensive troublemaker for the Buckeyes after picking up five blocks against Purdue. After Thomas, Ohio State’s best offensive threat from inside is the 6-7 LaQuinton Ross off the bench, but he hasn’t been a consistent option.
Illinois depends on guard Joseph Bertrand and forward Sam McLaurin on the bench, though Illinois is better off with Bertrand delivering in smaller doses. Ohio State is deeper than it’s been in recent years with eight players averaging 15 minutes per game. Ross leads the way with 9.5 points in 19.1 minutes per game. Guard Shannon Scott and center Amir Williams are also key players off the bench for Ohio State.
Both teams are a work in progress. Illinois needs to find away to balance its 3-point shooting with attacking the basket. Ohio State is looking for a secondary scorer beyond Thomas. Guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., forward Sam Thompson and Ross have not proven to be consistent enough to take the heat off Thomas. These will be X-Factors for both teams as they try to navigate the Big Ten.
Despite Illinois’ 12-0 start, John Groce’s team garnered skepticism. In recent weeks, that’s turned out to be warranted. Illinois may finish in the top half of the Big Ten, but the Illini aren’t the most balanced or efficient team in the Big Ten. Ohio State has its flaws, but Deshaun Thomas’ scoring and Aaron Craft’s defense may be too much for a bruised Illinois to handle, even at home.
Ohio State 75, Illinois 67
With the 2012 NFL regular season in the books, it’s time to hand out awards to the league’s top talent. This year, there are more players deserving recognition than there are trophies to hand out. However, these are the select few Athlon Sports believes to be award-worthy:
Most Valuable Player
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
After missing the entire 2011 season following four neck surgeries, Manning returned to his four-time MVP form in 2012. In his 15th year in the league, but first as a member of the Broncos, the 36-year-old future Hall of Famer had the second-best statistical season of his storied career — passing for 4,659 yards (42 yards shy of his single-season best), 37 TDs (second-most of his career) and only 11 INTs (third-fewest of his career) for a 105.8 passer rating (second-highest of his career).
Offensive Player of the Year
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
Against all odds, Peterson stormed back from a brutal knee injury suffered on Christmas Eve last season. Peterson became the seventh player in history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season — with 348 carries for 2,097 yards, on a league-leading 6.0 yards per carry, and 12 TDs, while also hauling in 40 catches for 217 yards and one TD through the air.
Defensive Player of the Year
J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
With respect to Denver’s Von Miller and San Francisco’s Aldon Smith, Houston’s second-year behemoth out of Wisconsin was the most dominant all-around defender in the NFL this year. Commanding constant double-teams, Watt tallied 81 total tackles, including 69 solo stops, with 20.5 sacks, a record 16 pass deflections and four forced fumbles.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins
RG3 headlines a crowded category that also includes Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Redskins running back Alfred Morris and Buccaneers running back Doug Martin. But the Heisman Trophy winner deserves to take home the hardware — with 3,200 passing yards, 20 TDs and five INTs for a 102.4 passer rating, along with 815 rushing yards and seven TDs.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Bobby Wagner, LB, Seahawks
Seattle’s second-round pick (No. 47 overall) was a relatively obscure middle linebacker out of Utah State who has developed into one of the leaders of the ball-Hawks from the Pacific Northwest. A playmaking threat from sideline-to-sideline, Wagner has notched 140 total tackles, three INTs and two sacks while starting 15 games for the Seahawks.
Co-Comeback Players of the Year
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
Manning and Peterson both had seemingly super-human MVP-worthy comeback campaigns. In fact, they might be the best two injury bounce-backs in NFL history. Break out the scalpel and cut this award in half.
Coach of the Year
Bruce Arians, Colts
The former Steelers playcaller was charged with taking over the top spot in Indy on an interim basis after the leukemia diagnosis of first-year coach Chuck Pagano. Arians responded with a 9–3 record and playoff berth.
Executive of the Year
John Elway, Broncos
The Broncos’ boss man lassoed Peyton Manning in the offseason — one year after drafting Defensive Player of the Year candidate Von Miller. This one’s for John.
Kansas State and Oregon have proven that it is possible to change your standing on the college football food chain. Consider the following: These two programs have a combined 11 appearances in the final AP top 10 since 1995; they combined for one (Oregon in 1948) prior to ’95. Kansas State, in particular, was viewed by most as the worst major college program in the nation for several decades.
How things have changed. Both teams were one game away from playing for the BCS National Championship this season. Oregon lost by three points at home to Stanford on the same night that K-State lost at Baylor 52–24.
Fiesta Bowl — Kansas State (11–1) vs. Oregon (11–1)
Date and Time: Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. EST
Location: Glendale, Ariz.
When Oregon has the ball:
Four the third time in the past three seasons, the Ducks rank in the top six in the nation in total offense (550.1 ypg) and top three in scoring offense (50.8 ppg). Oregon scored 42 points or more in all 11 of its wins but was held to 14 points and 405 total yards in the overtime loss to Stanford.
The triggerman for the 2012 version of Chip Kelly’s attack is Marcus Mariota, a redshirt freshman from Hawaii who didn’t earn the starting nod until just a few weeks before the season began. Mariota led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency — thanks in large part to a 30-to-6 touchdown-to-INT ratio — and ran for 690 yards and four touchdowns. He was at his best in the Ducks’ 62–51 win at USC, throwing for 304 yards and four touchdowns while adding 96 yards rushing on 15 attempts.
The Oregon offense is far from a one-man show. The Ducks are blessed with a host of playmakers to complement Mariota, most notably tailback Kenjon Barner and all-purpose threat De’Anthony Thomas. Barner ranks fifth nationally in rushing (135.3 ypg) despite averaging only 20.7 carries per game. He could have been a serious Heisman candidate with a bigger workload. Thomas, considered to be among the fastest players in college football, averages 7.6 yards per carry (second nationally among players with at least 90 attempts) and also leads the Ducks with 41 receptions.
Oregon ranks third nationally in rushing yards per game (323.3) — ahead of option teams Georgia Tech and New Mexico — and first in yards per attempt (6.06). The Ducks have rushed for over 250 yards in all but three games.
Junior Josh Huff was the only wide receiver with more than 22 receptions. The 5’11 Houston native missed significant action with a knee injury but still caught 29 passes for 467 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. Huff combined to catch 11 passes for 234 yards and five scores in consecutive weeks in early November.
Kansas State was solid for much of he season defensively but had trouble with both Oklahoma State (504 yards) and Baylor (580) in the final month. Baylor rushed for 342 yards and passes for 238 in its 52–24 win over the Cats. Baylor has good speed. Oregon has great speed.
When Kansas State has the ball:
Kansas State translates rather ordinary yardage totals into a high volume of points because it does several things very well — win the turnover battle (first in the nation at plus-1.75 per game), convert in the red zone and excel on special teams (first in the nation in both kick and punt returns).
Quarterback Collin Klein is the heavy lifter on the Wildcats’ offense. The fifth-year senior has throwns for 2,490 yards with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions and added 890 yards rushing and 22 scores on the ground. Klein had over 250 yards passing and 100 yards rushing three times in 2012 — in wins over Kansas, Iowa Stat and Texas.
Tailback John Hubert has emerged as a productive sidekick for Klein in the Wildcats’ backfield in the past two seasons. Lightly recruited out of Waco, Texas — he had no other BCS conference offers — Hubert has rushed for 892 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior after netting 970 yards as a sophomore in 2011.
K-State isn’t known for its playmakers on the outside, but the Cats feature three quality wide receivers who are capable of making big plays down the field. Chris Harper, who began his career as a quarterback at Oregon, leads the way with 50 catches and 786 yards. Tyler Lockett, a multi-purpose threat, is next with 40 receptions for 657, and Tramaine Thompson has 36 catches for 514 yards. All three have at least one 100-yard receiving game this season.
Statistically, this is the best Oregon defense of the Kelly era. The Ducks overall numbers aren’t great — they rank 47th in total yards allowed — but this is a defense that is on the field quite a bit because the Oregon offense scores so quickly. Broken down by yards allowed per play, the Ducks rank a respectable 27th in the nation at 5.06. Only two teams have scored more than 26 points against Oregon — Arkansas State had 34 (31 of which came after Oregon led 50–3) and USC scored 51.
Despite the fact that Oregon is favored by nearly 10 points, this is considered by most to be the most attractive of the non-title BCS bowls. Both teams hovered near the top of the polls for most of the season and — as stated above — both teams were one win away from playing in the title game.
Kansas State has made a habit out of proving its doubters wrong over the past two seasons, but Oregon has the superior roster. The Ducks’ prowess on offense is well known, but this is also a very strong defensive team that will be as healthy — especially on the front seven — as it’s been since the beginning of the season. Kansas State will score some points, but not enough to beat the high-flying Ducks.
Prediction: Oregon 38, Kansas State 21
Related College Football Content
The 2012 NFL MVP race was a four-horse dead heat to the finish. All four candidates are deserving and worthy of being named the most valuable player in the league. And all four are going to be historic players who likely will land in Canton.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are elder statesmen who have nothing left to prove on the football field. They are two of the greatest to ever play the game and both produced championship seasons for their teams. Aaron Rodgers is the reigning MVP and somehow willed his team to a division title with a beaten and bruised supporting cast. And Adrian "All-Day" Peterson produced one of the game's most remarkable single-season performances... ever.
Below is the case for each candidate and how my ballot will look, but first a statistical breakdown of the three elite quarterbacks:
|Name||W/L||Yards||Rank||TD||Rank||%||Rank||QB Rat||Rank||INT||Comp.||Att.||Rush Yd||TD|
And a look at the Minnesota Vikings' running back:
Tom Brady, QB, New England
Brady threw more passes, completed more passes and threw for more yards than both Manning and Rodgers en route to his NFL-record 10th divisional championship. His 4,827 yards is the second-best mark of his career — better than the perfect 16-0 season of 2007. His 34 touchdowns were the fourth-highest total in his career and the Pats earned a first-round bye. His eight interceptions were tied for the second fewest in his career. He beat Peyton Manning head-to-head this season, finished 3-3 against playoff teams and had one fourth-quarter comeback. Finally, Brady and the Pats had easily the best running game behind Stevan Ridley of the three quarterbacks. Also consider, mastermind Bill Belichick was still pulling all the strings on the sideline and both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez missed time this fall.
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver
The future Hall of Famer returned from missing an entire season with four neck surgeries and didn't miss a single beat. He had a higher completion percentage than both Rodgers and Brady, while also winning more games than both, including an AFC West crown. He also led his MVP brethren with three fourth-quarter comebacks. His 4,659 yards and 37 scoring strikes were both the second-best totals in his career. That said, Manning's supporting cast was likely the best of the three quarterbacks as his defense ranked No. 2 in the NFL in yards allowed and No. 4 in points allowed. His offensive line is likely the best of the three as well. He was 2-3 against playoff teams this fall.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay
From a statistical standpoint, Rodgers was better than both Brady and Manning. He was the most efficient passer in the NFL and accounted for more touchdowns (41) than his peers — and he did so on dramatically fewer passing attempts. His team was also the most affected by injury as stars Desmond Bishop, Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews missed most of the season while Cedric Benson, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson missed significant time on offense. All three of the Packers' most-recent first-round picks ended up on IR this fall (Nick Perry, Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod). He had two fourth-quarter comebacks and his running game was easily the worst of the trio, as no player on the team rushed for more than 500 yards. The Packers ranked 20th in rushing offense and 26th in rushing touchdowns. New England ranked 7th in rushing and led the league in rushing TDs while Denver was 16th in the NFL in rushing and 15th in rushing TDs. He was 2-4 against playoff teams, but everyone knows the Seattle loss doesn't really count and he was 2-0 against the 10-6 Chicago Bears.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota
All-Day was unbelievable in 2012. Less than one calendar year removed from major reconstructive knee surgery, Peterson was nine yards shy of breaking the all-time single-season rushing record. He played on easily the worst team of the four MVP candidates but literally carried a 3-13 team to a 10-win season and a playoff berth. He rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of the last 10 games and topped 150 yards in seven times over that span as well. He capped his remarkable season with a career-high 34 carries — including the game-winning, playoff-clinching 27-yard run — and 199 yards against Green Bay in the regular-season finale. His supporting cast is easily the weakest of the bunch as quarterback Christian Ponder was 25th in the NFL in passing yards (2,935), 23rd in passing touchdowns (18) and 21st in QB rating (81.2). No receiver on the team ranked in the top 60 in yards or the top 40 in receptions. This team was supposed to be one of the worst in the NFL this year according to preseason polls and, because of A.D., is visiting Lambeau Field for its first postseason game since 2009.
My 2012 MVP Ballot:
1. Adrian Peterson: The most talented runner on the planet carried a bad team to the postseason.
2. Aaron Rodgers: Did more with less than anyone in the league — and won the division.
3. Peyton Manning: One of his best years on a complete team after injury. Unlucky year to do it.
4. Tom Brady: Clearly the fourth option of the bunch, but no less impressive.
The merits of recruiting rankings are debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. Athlon continues its look back at recruiting rankings by comparing the starting line-ups in the BCS National Championship Game as recruits.
2012 Alabama's Starting Offenses as Recruits
A.J. McCarron, QB (2009) AC100
Alabama landed one of the nation’s top signal-callers when it inked McCarron back in 2009, and it showed in his SEC leading 66.7% completion rate in his first year under center. The lanky passer was the No. 8-rated QB prospect in the nation and was the No. 97 overall player in the '09 Athlon Consensus 100. Bad chest tattoo aside, Bama landed a good one when it beat out Miami, Ole Miss and Oklahoma for the Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul’s passer.
Eddie Lacy, RB (2009) AC100
The burly runner from Geismar (La.) Dutchtown was the No. 5-rated player in The Pelican State. Lacy was the No. 93-rated overall player in the AC100 and was the No. 11-rated running back behind names like Trent Richardson, Cierre Wood, Lamar Miller and Christine Michael. He picked Alabama over Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Mississippi State. Interestingly enough, LSU didn’t offer the in-state prospect. He was a four-star prospect by Rivals.com.
Christian Jones, WR (2011) National Recruit
A safety prospect from Adamsville (Ala.) Minor High School, Jones was a four-star prospect by rivals. He was the No. 18-rated safety in the nation and the No. 8-rated player in the state — a year in which Auburn signed four of the top six players in the state. Jones picked Bama over other elite offers like Auburn, Florida, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Texas A&M and UCLA.
Kevin Norwood, WR (2009) National Recruit
The D’Iberville (Miss.) High prospect had four offers coming out of high school. Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Miss were Norwood’s finalists. Rivals ranked the wideout a four-star player as the No. 147-rated player in the nation regardless of position. He was listed as the No. 5 player in The Magnolia State and the No. 22 wide receiver in the nation.
Amari Cooper, WR (2012) AC100
The big-play four-star freshman was an elite recruit who every school wanted. Alabama beat-out Miami, Florida, Florida State, West Virginia and dozens more for the Miami (Fla.) Northwestern prospect. Cooper was the No. 10-rated player in the state, the No. 8-rated wide receiver in the nation and was the No. 58-rated overall prospect in the nation (AC100). He isn’t the Freshman of the Year, but no first-year player will impact the national title more than this young pass-catcher. That includes T.J. Yeldon.
Chance Warmack, OG (2009)
This big blocker from Atlanta (Ga.) Westlake picked Alabama over Auburn, South Carolina and Rutgers. Warmack was ranked as the No. 29 player in the state of Georgia and the No. 20 offensive guard in the nation by Rivals.com. He was a three-star recruit.
Barrett Jones, C (2008) National Recruit
This Memphis (Tenn.) Evangelical Christian stud was the No. 1 prospect in the state of Tennessee (which included Dont’a Hightower), the No. 17 offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 146-rated player nationally regardless of position. He possessed offers from nearly everyone in the southeast but visited only Alabama, Florida and North Carolina. Jones helped Nick Saban sign the nation’s No. 1 class in 2008.
D.J. Fluker, OT (2009) AC100
This monster of a recruit actually moved from Biloxi, Miss., to Foley, Ala., for his final season of prep play. And everybody wanted him. He was the No. 2-rated offensive lineman in the nation and was ranked No. 19 overall in the 2009 AC100. He was the No. 10-rated player to enter the SEC and was second only to Dre Kirkpatrick in the Bama recruiting rankings. Fluker, who was committed to Alabama for over a year, was listed as big as 6-foot-7 as a recruit and upwards of 350 pounds by Rivals.com (he was listed officially at a modest 6-foot-5, 340 as an incoming freshman). He was a five-star talent.
Cyrus Kouandjio, OL (2011) AC100
The massive sophomore trailed only South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney in the 2011 Athlon Consensus 100 rankings. He was the No. 2-rated player in the nation and obviously was the No. 1-rated offensive lineman in the nation. The Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha followed his older brother from Maryland (as the No. 1 player in the state) South to Tuscaloosa. The younger Kouandjio actually announced on National Signing Day that he was headed to Auburn only to sign papers with Alabama later that day.
Anthony Steen, OL (2009)
The guard from Clarksdale (Miss.) Lee Academy was a three-star prospect back in 2009. He was the No. 26-rated offensive guard in the nation and the No. 16-rated player in the state. Even Nick Saban’s three-star signees are highly-touted as Steen also had offers from Florida State, Miami and Southern Miss.
Michael Williams, TE (2008) National Recruit
Williams was an all-state talent and the 2A Lineman of the Year from Reform (Ala.) Pickens County. Williams was a highly touted prospect who picked Alabama over Clemson and Georgia Tech — he just wasn’t a tight end. Williams was evaluated as the No. 17 defensive end in the nation by Scout and the No. 4 weakside defensive end in the nation by Rivals after 24 sacks over his final two prep seasons. His blocking and pass-catching skills proved to be too much, however, as he will start at tight end in the national championship game.
Honorable Mention: T.J. Yeldon, RB (2012) AC100
The future superstar (if he's not already) is more of a co-starter than a back-up. The Daphne (Ala.) High prospect was an AC100 talent who ranked as the No. 32 overall prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 3-rated player in the state (behind Jameis Winston and Chris Casher) and the No. 4-rated running back in the nation (behind Johnathan Gray, Keith Marshall and Trey Williams). Any coach in the nation would have taken Yeldon as Rivals gave him the rare fifth star.
Star ranking breakdown of Alabama's starting line-up (by Rivals.com, not counting Yeldon):
|Star Ranking||No. of Players|
2012 Alabama's Starting Defense as Recruits
Jesse Williams, DE (2011) JUCO
Williams came a long way to get to the Capstone and the BCS National Championship game. Originally from Cavendish Road High School in Brisbane, Australia, Williams enrolled at Western Arizona Community College in Yuma, Arizona in 2009. After two seasons as a JUCO, Williams signed with Alabama in the spring of 2011 as the No. 2-rated junior college prospect in the nation and a four-star player. The 6-foot-4, 330-pounder obviously made a big impact in only one year on campus.
Damion Square, DL (2008)
One of the unsung heroes of the Alabama team is one of the elder statesman. A 2008 three-star prospect from Houston (Texas) Yates, Square was the No. 55-rated player in the state of Texas and was the No. 37-rated defensive tackle in the nation by Rivals. He signed with the Crimson Tide over offers from Michigan, Nebraska, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Tennessee.
Ed Stinson, DL (2009) National Recruit
Rivals rated the Homestead (Fla.) South Dade prospect as a four-star weakside defensive end. He was ranked the No. 48 player in The Sunshine State and the No. 15-best weakside defensive end in the nation. He had offers from Auburn, Florida State, LSU and Miami along with the Crimson Tide.
C.J. Mosley, LB (2010) National Recruit
Much like Joeckel, Mosley just missed landing in the AC100 as a linebacker from Theodore (Ala.) High. He was the No. 113-rated overall prospect in the nation. Mosley finished as the No. 9-rated linebacker in the nation and the No. 3-rated player in the state of Alabama. Every program in the Southeast as well as a few from the Big 12 (Oklahoma) and the West Coast (Stanford) wanted to ink the star tackler.
Trey DePriest, LB (2011) AC100
The only player ranked ahead of the Springfield (Ohio) High prospect in the state was Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller. The linebacker was the No. 32-rated overall player in the Athlon Consensus 100 and was the No. 6-rated linebacker in the nation by Athlon Sports. Rivals gave him four-stars and DePriest had his pick of any school in the nation. Alabama defeated elite programs from coast-to-coast (Ohio State, LSU, Stanford, Florida, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech to name a few) to land the steady player.
Nico Johnson, LB (2009) AC100
A five-star prospect by Rivals, the Andalusia (Ala.) High outside linebacker was highly coveted by every Southeastern power. LSU, Auburn and Alabama were his eventual finalists and he ended the ’09 recruiting cycle as the No. 21-rated player in the nation by the AC100. He trailed only Dre Kirkpatrick and D.J. Fluker inside The Yellowhammer State rankings and was the No. 5-rated linebacker in the nation behind only Manti Te’o, Vontaze Burfict, Jelani Jenkins and Dorian Bell.
Adrian Hubbard, LB (2010) National Recruit
The Norcross (Ga.) High prospect barely missed landing in the AC100 as the No. 145-rated player in the country in the Class of 2010. Athlon Sports ranked him the No. 12-best linebacker prospect in the nation behind names like Jordan Hicks, Alec Ogletree, Corey Nelson, CJ Mosley and Christian Jones. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound prospect picked the Tide over Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia and South Carolina (among others). He was a four-star recruit by Rivals.
Dee Milliner, CB (2010) AC100
Only two players were ranked ahead of Mosley in the state of Alabama in 2010 and Milliner was one of them. The Millbrook (Ala.) Stanhope Elmore cornerback was the No. 1-rated player in the state and the No. 3-rated defensive back in the nation. He finished as the No. 15-rated overall prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports. His offers sheet included every major program from the Southeast.
Deion Belue, CB (2012) JUCO
Originally from Tuscumbia (Ala.) Deshler, Belue committed to Alabama over Auburn, Southern Miss and UAB back in 2010. The three-star instead landed in junior college at Booneville (Miss.) Northeast Mississippi C.C. Two years later, Belue finally got to Tuscaloosa after signing with Alabama for the second time as a three-star prospect (Rivals).
Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, S (2011) AC100
Few players were more highly-touted in the deep Alabama class of 2011 than Clinton-Dix. In a group that included DePreist, Xzavier Dickson and more, only Kouandjio ranked higher than the Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips product. He was the No. 10-rated player in the nation by the Athlon Consensus 100 and was given the prestigious fifth star by Rivals. Athlon ranked him the No. 1 player in the state of Florida and the No. 1 defensive back in the nation. USC, Florida, Florida State, Ohio State, South Carolina and Notre Dame are just a few programs Saban beat for the signature of HaSean “Ha-Ha” Clinton-Dix.
Robert Lester, S (2008) National Recruit
The Foley (Ala.) native was ranked as the No. 23 safety in the nation by Rivals back in 2008. His two finalists were Oklahoma and Alabama. The four-star prospect was ranked as the No. 15 player in the state of Alabama and has 10 interceptions over the last two seasons.
Athlon Consensus 100: The Top 100 Recruits in the Nation
The 2012 All-America Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big 12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-ACC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-SEC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big East Team as Recruits
The nation’s best prospects are competing in two major cities this weekend. San Antonio hosts the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and Tampa-St. Pete welcomes the Under Armour All-American Game.
The Under Armour game will take place Friday, Jan. 4 at 5 p.m. ET at Tropicana Field, while the Army Bowl will be played in the Alamodome at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday Jan. 5.
These two games offer a unique glimpse into the future of college football for fans and scouts alike. Fans get to see their future stars in action, while scouts get to evaluate the nation’s best going head-to-head in both practice and the game. The majority of the Athlon Consensus 100 will be on full display this weekend under the bright lights and national TV audience.
And, of course, who could forget the live announcements. (See Landon Collins 2012)
Editor's Note: Rankings will be updated for the final time following both events this weekend.
Follow @UnderArmourGame on twitter for updates and information.
Top Rated Prospects to Watch:
Robert Nkemdiche, DE (AC100 No. 1)
The Loganville (Ga.) Grayson prospect has had a roller coaster recruitment. He originally committed to Clemson before recently decommitting and announced this week that LSU and Ole Miss (where is older brother plays) are his two finalists. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound prospect is the unanimous No. 1 overall player by all four recruiting services and he should be on full display at The Trop.
Reuben Foster, ILB (AC100 No. 2)
Much like Nkemdiche, Foster has had a tumultuous recruitment process. He first committed to Alabama before his highly-publicized switch to in-state Auburn. And he got a Tigers tattoo to prove his dedication. That was short-lived as well after Foster decommited from yet another Yellowhammer Program. His five finalists are now Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Washington. The 6-foot-1, 250-pound tackler is a monster on the field and despite a small drop in the expert’s ranking of late, the Auburn (Ala.) High product should still standout on Friday night.
Vernon Hargeaves III, CB (AC100 No. 5)
The future Florida Gators star is the No. 1 defensive back in the nation and should have plenty of chances to shine against elite pass catchers all week long. He should also have plenty of family and friends in attendance as he hails from Tampa (Fla.) Wharton High School.
Montravius Adams, DT (AC100 No. 7)
The massive 6-foot-4, 310-pound defensive lineman is dealing with a sore ankle but is hard to miss out there on the field. The Vienna (Ga.) Dooly County star could push Nkemdiche for top billing in the nation should he show well in Tampa this weekend. He will waste little time over the next month taking four official visits over the next four weekends to Florida, Clemson, Alabama and Georgia in that order.
Matthew Thomas, OLB (AC100 No. 10)
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound tackler has a chance to finish the recruiting cycle as the No. 1 linebacker in the nation. He led Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington to a 4A state title Much like Adams, Thomas has a busy month ahead of him, as he has four official visits over a four-week span have been set. He will head to Alabama on Jan. 11 before visiting USC, Florida State and Georgia leading up to NSD. Local program Miami should also get a visit from the local star.
Carl Lawson, DE (AC100 No. 16)
The electric pass-rusher is slowly moving up the recruiting rankings and could easily finish in the top five following this week’s activities. The Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton prospect is a 6-foot-2, 250-pound dynamo off the edge who Auburn fans have to be excited to watch this weekend.
Kelvin Taylor, RB (AC100 No. 21)
The son of NFL great and former Florida Gators running back Fred Taylor has been a prep star in the state of Florida since he played high school ball as a middle schooler. He has only gotten bigger, stronger and better as the years have gone on. The Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Day product is committed to his father’s alma mater and is looking to begin his own legacy beginning this weekend. He is listed at the perfect running back size of 5-foot-10 and 218 pounds.
Christian Hackenberg, QB (AC100 No. 22)
Some have the Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy ranked as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the nation. Where he finishes in the ranking remains to be seen, but Penn State fans will be eagerly eyeing the big 6-foot-4, 210-pound signal caller this weekend. He has publicly expressed his concern about Bill O’Brien potentially leaving for the NFL so this is nervous time for Nittany Lions fans.
Sleepers To Watch:
Cooper Bateman, QB (AC100 No. 59)
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound quarterback hails from Salt Lake City (Utah) Cottonwood. Anyone ranked in the AC100 can’t really be considered a sleeper, but the future Alabama star has already had a great week of practice and could move up the rankings. Certainly, Crimson Tide fans will be tuning in to see how their future signal caller stacks up against the best the nation has to offer.
Chris Jones, DE (unranked)
The massive 6-foot-7, 260-pound defensive end has made a big name for himself this week with stellar work in practice. The Houston (Miss.) High product is committed to Dan Mullen and the Mississippi State Bulldogs and fans in Starkville should be ecstatic with the way he should perform on Friday night.
Grant Hill, OL (AC100 No. 93)
The massive blocker from Huntsville (Ala.) High School has also had a great week of practice, locking down some of the nation’s top defensive linemen. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive tackle prospect is currently committed to Alabama.
Leon McQuay III, DB (AC100 No. 31, Armwood, FL)
Choices: USC, Florida State, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Michigan
Trey Johnson, LB (unranked, Lawrenceville, GA)
Choices: Ohio State, Penn State, Florida, Tennessee
Priest Willis, DB (AC100 No. 36, Tempe, AZ)
Choices: LSU, Florida State, Virginia, Nebraska, Arizona State
Another stellar NFL season is in the books. And unlike any year in the past, rookie quarterbacks, single-season records, franchise records and all-time greats produced at unprecedented levels. The NFL record books were completely rewritten this fall and Athlon Sports has compiled all the important numbers the fans need to know about 2012:
10: Combined wins in 2011 for Colts, Vikings and Redskins
Minnesota (3-13), Washington (5-11) and Indianapolis (2-14) won a total of 10 games a year ago and all three picked in the top four of the 2012 NFL Draft. Those picks netted Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Matt Kalil. This year, those three teams combined for 31 wins and all three made the playoffs. Additionally, Seattle was 7-9 last year before inserting a rookie QB of their own to win 11 games this year.
1: Times the top two teams in the draft made the playoffs
Certainly trades could skew this number if a great team acquires a high pick years in advance, however, never in NFL history have the top two teams selecting in the NFL Draft go on to make the playoffs that same season. That is, before the Colts and Redskins did so this fall with Luck and Griffin III. Seven times has a team made the playoffs after picking first overall and only the Colts have done so with a rookie starter under center.
2,097: Adrian Peterson's No. 2 all-time rushing total
All-Day Peterson became just the seventh player to rush for 2,000 yards as he fell just nine yards shy of the all-time NFL record set nearly 30 years ago by Eric Dickerson (2,105). He also tied Earl Campbell's NFL record with seven games of at least 150 yards rushing this season.
1,964 and 727: Single-season receiving and pass attempts records by Lions
Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s all-time single-season NFL receiving record by catching a league-leading 122 passes for 1,964 yards this fall. He also set the NFL record with eight straight 100-yard games and tied Michael Irvin’s all-time record with 11 100-yard games this season. Matthew Stafford became the first player in NFL history to attempt at least 700 passes in a season. breaking Drew Bledsoe’s (691) record with 727 attempts this year. However, Detroit lost its final eight games of the year to finish a disappointing 4-12 after what appeared to be a breakthrough 10-win season and playoff appearance last year.
4,374: Andrew Luck's rookie record for passing yards
Few players have played as well as Luck did in their first year in the league. After Cam Newton set the single-season rookie passing record with 4,051 yards last season, Luck set the bar even higher with 4,374 yards this fall. His 23 passing touchdowns trails only Peyton Manning (26) and Russell Wilson (26) for the top spot among rookies and he also rushed for five touchdowns and 255 yards as well. Luck is the first QB taken No. 1 overall in the NFL draft to start a postseason game in his rookie year. Wideout T.Y. Hilton (1 att.) was the only other player on the team to attempt a pass this season.
13: Carolina Panthers lost the first 13 coin tosses of the year
The Panthers started the season 3-9 on the field but 0-for-13 on coin tosses (including one overtime flip). The laws of probability makes this accomplishment possibly the most unlikely in this pretty impressive year of stats. The odds of losing 13 straight coin flips is 1-in-8,192. The Panthers won their first coin toss before the kickoff of their 13th game.
100.0: Russell Wilson's franchise-record single-season QB rating
Matt Hasselbeck posted the “best” or most-efficient season by a Seattle quarterback with a 98.2 QB rating in 2005. Russell Wilson broke that mark in just his first season in the NFL by posting an elite 100.0 QB rating this season, which was good for fourth in the league. He also tied Peyton Manning’s rookie record for passing touchdowns with 26. Manning, however, threw 28 interceptions in 1998 while Wilson threw just 10 picks. In fact, his 100.0 rating would have been an NFL rookie record as well if not for…
102.4: Robert Griffin III's NFL-record rookie QB rating
He didn’t set passing yards records like Luck or touchdown records like Wilson but Griffin III posted the most efficient rookie season in NFL history with a 102.4 QB rating. The mark was the 39th-best overall season by a quarterback in history and at 22 years old, RG3 is the youngest player to ever have a season rated 100.0 or better. Despite not playing one game, Griffin’s line is unreal: 3,200 yards, 20 TD, 5 INT, 65.6-precent completions, the NFL rookie record for rushing yards by a QB with 815 yards and seven rushing TDs.
4: Career playoff wins by six starting NFC playoff QBs
The six starting quarterbacks in the NFC have nine career starts and four total wins — all four by Aaron Rodgers. The Packers' signal caller has six of the nine career postseason starts with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan claiming the other three (0-3). By comparison, the starting six quarterbacks in the AFC have 52 combined postseason starts and 30 career playoff victories.
5: Teams to have made the playoffs after starting 3-6
The Washington Redskins became the just fifth team in history to start the year 3-6 and still make the playoffs. The Skins won seven straight after their slow start to capture the NFC East title. Jacksonville (1996), Detroit (1995), New England (1994) and Cincinnati (1970) are the only other teams in NFL history to have started the season with six losses in their first nine games and then gone on to make the playoffs.
0: Teams that have won a wild-card playoff rematch after the losing the year before
This one needs some explaining. Cincinnati and Houston will play for the second straight season in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs. Three times have teams met in the wild-card round in consecutive seasons and all three times the loser of the first meeting went on to lose the second meeting. This is bad news for the Bengals, who lost 31-10 last year to the Texans.
6: First- or second-year QBs in the playoffs this year
Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder and Colin Kaepernick are in their second seasons in the NFL and all three have led their teams to the postseason. Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson are rookies and have led their teams to the postseason. A lot has been made of this rookie class as no postseason tournament has seen this many rookies, but the second-year guys need to be given just as much credit. The last two quarterback classes have been special — as Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Brandon Weeden, Nick Foles and Ryan Tannehill all look like starters next season as well.
8: Consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons by Steven Jackson
One of the most underrated players in the last decade reached 1,000 yards for the eighth consecutive year with 1,042 yards on 257 carries. Jackson has carried the ball at least 237 times in each of the last eight years and has done so on a team that hasn’t had one winning record over that span. The best team he ever played on was the 8-8 2006 squad. Jackson tied LaDanian Tomlinson and Thurman Thomas with eight straight seasons and only Emmitt Smith (11), Barry Sanders (10) and Curtis Martin (10) have longer such streaks.
0-11: Texans' record all-time in Indianapolis
Houston has now played 11 games in the Midwestern city and has lost every time. The latest one coming in the regular-season finale this fall, however, might be the most costly. The Texans dropped from the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs to the No. 3 seed and a first-round rematch from last year with the Cincinnati Bengals. After starting the year 11-1, Houston enters the postseason having lost three of its last four games — all to playoff teams (New England, Minnesota, Indianapolis).
17-1: Atlanta’s record when Matt Ryan throws at least 3 TDs
When Matt Ryan throws at least three touchdowns the Falcons win. Seven of those games took place this season as Ryan set career highs in completions (422), attempts (615), yards (4,719, breaking his own franchise record), touchdowns (32) and QB rating (99.1). Ironically, his lone loss with at least three scoring strikes came this season in a loss to New Orleans in which he posted his only career 400-yard passing game (411).
12 and 72: Peyton Manning's NFL records for 4,000-yard seasons and 300-yard games
109 times has a quarterback passed for at least 4,000 yards in a single-season and Manning claims 12 of those. He posted his second-best yardage total this fall with 4,659 yards and was just 41 yards shy of his personal best. This after four neck surgeries and sitting out the entire 2011 season. Drew Brees is second all-time with seven seasons of at least 4,000 yards passing. Additionally, Manning moved into second place behind Brett Favre in touchdown passes (436), completions (5,082) and wins (154).
10: NFL-record division titles for Tom Brady
Brady and the Patriots won the AFC East with relative ease this season with a 12-4 mark and a first round bye in the playoffs. In his 13th NFL season, Brady became the first player in NFL history to win 10 division championships. He passed Joe Montana’s previous record of nine division titles. Peyton Manning also won his ninth, tying Montana for second all-time.
33.5: NFL-record sacks in Aldon Smith’s first two seasons
After an excellent 14.0 quarterback sacks in his rookie year, Smith made a run at the single-season NFL record (Michael Strahan, 22.5) with 19.5 QB takedowns this season. The former first-round pick has blossomed into one of the most dynamic pass-rushers in history and his 33.5 sacks are an NFL record for sacks in the first two seasons of a career. Reggie White posted 30.0 sacks in his first two seasons in 1985 and '86.
54: Drew Brees' streak of consecutive games with a TD pass
Brees passed Johnny Unitas’ half-a-century old record for consecutive games with a TD pass (47) and then some in 2012. Atlanta snapped his streak in Week 12 at 54 straight games with at least one TD. Tom Brady, who sits at 48 consecutive games, also passed Unitas and could pass Brees in the Patriots' seventh game of the 2013 season.
110: Jason Witten's single-season NFL record for catches by a tight end
The Cowboys came up just short of making the playoffs this season but it wasn’t Witten’s fault. He surpassed Tony Gonzalez’ single-season record (102) set back in 2004 with 110 catches for Dallas.
18: NFL record for 10-catch games by Andre Johnson and Wes Welker
Both Wes Welker and Andre Johnson finished this season with 18 career games with at least 10 catches. Both players passed Jerry Rice’s all-time NFL record with 17 such performances.
45-51: Ken Whisenhunt win-loss record as head coach at Arizona
The Cardinals began the year 4-0 and were one of the early season surprises in 2012. Then Arizona lost 11 of its last 12 games. Six games under .500 isn’t going to get Whisenhunt to Canton anytime soon, but his 45 wins are the most by any head coach in Cardinals history. He also led this team to its lone Super Bowl appearance and came up one Santonio Holmes big toe away from winning the Lombardi Trophy. So is he the best coach in Cardinals' franchise history?
7: Coaches fired on Black Monday 2012
Whisenhunt, Lovie Smith (81-63), Andy Reid (130-93-1), Norv Turner (56-40), Chan Gailey (16-32), Pat Shurmur (9-23) and Romeo Crennel (4-15) were all fired on the 2012 edition of Black Monday. Three of those seven took their respective teams to the Super Bowl (Whisenhunt, Smith, Reid) and two of the grouo (Turner and Reid) have more than 100 wins in their careers.
9-of-14: Years Andy Reid led the Eagles to the postseason
It was time for Reid and the Eagles to part ways. Both are likely going to be better off and the former Philadelphia coach shouldn’t have to wait long before he gets another shot on the sidelines again. He posted eight seasons of at least 10 wins and averaged 9.3 wins per season over a 14-year career in the City of (not-so) Brotherly Love. The most important number, however, are his nine postseason trips. He was 10-9 in the playoffs and led his team to the Super Bowl in 2004. The bad in Philly won’t outweigh the good, so Reid will be back coaching in short order.
135: Eli Manning's longest active consecutive starts streak
Since Week 10 of his rookie season in 2004, Eli Manning hasn’t missed a start in 135 chances. His older brother, Peyton, watched his streak of 208 end last year when he missed the entire 2011 season. Eli, who just finished his ninth NFL season, would need to play more than 10 additional seasons (10 seasons and 2 weeks) without missing a start to reach Brett Favre’s all-time record of 297 straight starts.
There were plenty of other milestones and records that were set this year, including:
- Frank Gore passed Joe Perry as the 49ers' all-time leading rusher (8,839).
- Gore also passed Joe Perry as the 49ers' all-time rushing TD leader (51).
- Eli Manning passed Phil Simms as the Giants' all-time passing TD leader (211).
- Alfred Morris passed Clinton Portis as Redskins' single-season rushing leader (1,613).
- Marques Colston passed Joe Horn on the Saints' all-time TD receptions list (58).
- Jason Witten passed Michael Irvin as the Cowboys' all-time leading receiver (806).
- Josh Freeman passed Vinny Testaverde as Bucs' all-time passing TD leader (78).
- Ed Reed passed Rod Woodson for the most INT return yards in NFL history (1,541).
- Randy Moss passed Tim Brown and Isaac Bruce for 3rd all-time in receiving yards (15,292).
- Blair Walsh set the NFL record for 50-plus-yard field goals made in a season (10).
- Chris Johnson added to his own NFL record for rushing TDs of at least 80 yards (6).
Admit it: Most New Year’s resolutions don’t last.
All those promises to eat healthier and exercise more go by the wayside after only a few months.
Lucky for the following college basketball teams, New Year’s resolutions only have to last until early April at the latest.
As the New Year has begun and teams are beginning to focus on conference play, Athlon has a few suggestions of what teams, players and coaches need to resolve to accomplish in order to thrive in the 2013 portion of the season.
Some coaches must resolve to find the best lineup or locate the right personnel for the right time. Some leagues need to keep the momentum going or just stay interesting. Some teams need to improve a stat here or there (Kentucky, cough cough, free throws, cough cough).
No team is perfect this season, so any team's resolution could go a long way to success into March.
2013 COLLEGE BASKETBALL RESOLUTIONS
ACC: Establish a quality No. 2 team.
Duke is a clear-cut top team in the ACC, but does the league have a worthy challenger for the Blue Devils? Duke is ranked second in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. The only other ACC teams in Pomeroy’s top 30 are No. 25 Virginia (10-3) and No. 27 Miami (9-3). Meanwhile, top-ranked Duke and No. 23 NC State are the only teams ranked in the AP poll this week. The Wolfpack has shown signs of pulling its roster together since a 20-point loss to Oklahoma State in Puerto Rico. A 79-73 win over UNLV on Saturday showed North Carolina can’t be counted out. And Maryland has an intriguing roster, if not quality wins. All may be NCAA Tournament teams, but their ability to stand with the Blue Devils at the end of the season remains in question.
Arizona: Keep the momentum from the San Diego State victory.
Two of the Wildcats’ biggest weaknesses -- turnovers and 3-point defense -- weren’t a concern in a 68-67 win over San Diego State on Christmas. Against the Aztecs, Arizona had its fewest turnovers (eight) since the opener and held San Diego State to 4 of 17 from the 3-point line. The Wildcats already are the favorites in the Pac-12, but if they can keep up the trend from the Diamond Head Classic, Arizona will be that much more dangerous in March.
Atlantic 10: Be the most interesting conference race.
A handful of other leagues have established clear pecking orders, but who knows what will come of the Atlantic 10, which may have the most compelling conference race aside from the Big Ten. With wins over Indiana and Syracuse, respectively, Butler and Temple are better than anyone projected this season. VCU may be the best of the bunch after winning seven in a row by an average of 25 points. Eight of the league’s 16 teams have at least nine wins.
Baylor: Get its act together.
This is a recurring resolution: Baylor has one of the top rosters in the country but the results of a middling Big 12 team. Beyond Kansas, the Big 12 is a crapshoot, so a team with Baylor’s talent should be able to cruise into the NCAA Tournament. But then again, the Bears enter conference play at 8-4.
Catholic 7: Assemble a great pure basketball league.
Any calls for a break in conference realignment seem futile. The biggest victory, at least for basketball, would be for the Big East’s Catholic school defectors to assemble a quality league that makes sense geographically and philosophically, a throwback to the original Big East, in essence. Here’s hoping Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, Marquette, et al., learned from the mistakes of their former football colleagues and make logical moves in expansion.
Cincinnati: Relocate the scoring touch.
Cincinnati is one of the best rebounding teams in the Big East, but the Bearcats are going to need to break the 70-point mark at a more regular pace if they’re going to deliver as a top Big East team. In its lone loss of the season to New Mexico, Cincinnati shot 31.3 percent from the field and reached the free throw line four times in the 55-54 defeat.
Creighton’s Doug McDermott: Lock up national player of the year honors.
Who else is in the running for national player of the year? Trey Burke? Russ Smith? Mason Plumlee? McDermott may still be the top candidate out there, though he’s not going to have much room for error in the Missouri Valley. McDermott is averaging 22.9 points per game, but he’s diversified his game with career bests both in efficiency and overall attempts from 3-point range and the free throw line.
Duke: Stay healthy.
All of Duke’s starters are averaging at least 10 points per game. Four are averaging at least 30 minutes per game. That’s nice, but no other Blue Devil is averaging more than 3.9 points per game. Given the way the season derailed after Ryan Kelly was hurt last season, culminating in the loss to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament, Duke can ill afford any prolonged absences.
Florida: Figure out the go-to option in the backcourt.
For two years in a row, Florida has faded late in the Elite Eight. A go-to scorer in the backcourt has to be a priority for another Gators team with the potential to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Kenny Boynton struggled against Arizona and is 7 of 32 from 3-point range in the last six games. The Gators may want to put more on the shoulders of Mike Rosario and/or Scottie Wilbekin, but they’ve been cold from long range in recent games, too.
Georgetown: Don’t fool us again.
The Hoyas may not be a Big East frontrunner or a threat to reach the Final Four, but the 10-1 start with the only loss coming in overtime to Indiana is better than most expected for Georgetown. But then again, this is when things tend to go awry for the Hoyas. The young Georgetown team will start the Big East season with four road trips in the first six games, so we’ll find out by the end of the month of the Hoyas are a contender or fool’s gold again.
Gonzaga: Go on an NCAA Tournament run.
Mark Few may have his best team at Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs likely will be judged by their ability to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga has played in the Tournament every season under Few but has reached the Sweet 16 as many times in the last 11 seasons (twice) as he did in his first two. What might help is drawing a Big 12 team in the field: Gonzaga is 5-0 against the Big 12 this season.
Illinois: Become less dependent on 3-pointers.
Illinois is scoring 37.3 percent of its points from 3-pointers this season, an awfully high ratio for a team contending in a major conference. A cold shooting day could mean disaster for Illinois, and a team anchored by the streaky Brandon Paul could be doubly problematic if he's the one who loses he scoring touch from beyond the arc. Finding balance is going to be a key for Illinois if its going to remain among the top teams in the Big Ten.
Indiana: Give Victor Oladipo his due.
Though Cody Zeller appeared on magazine covers and remains Indiana’s top awards contender, it’s time for Oladipo to carve out a niche as the Hoosiers’ folk hero. The one-time defensive specialist is on his way to career highs in scoring (13.6 points per game), rebounding (5.9) and shooting (67.3 percent from the field).
Kansas: Don’t let point guard become a liability.
The Jayhawks seem to have all the pieces to dominate the Big 12 and to make a deep postseason run. The one glaring question is point guard, where Elijah Johnson has struggled. Freshman Naadir Tharpe has shown signs of become a quality option at that spot with 12 assists against American on Saturday and no turnovers in backup duty in the last four games.
Kentucky: Don’t let free throws sink the season.
This isn’t one of John Calipari’s best teams. That’s clear, but it can be better than it has been. The Wildcats are shooting only 64.2 percent from the line, including an 11-of-23 performance that helped sink UK against Louisville. In Kentucky’s four losses, the Wildcats are shooting 55.3 percent from the line.
Louisville’s Russ Smith: Play at this level all season.
Russ Smith is in the national player of the year conversation by averaging 20 points per game and playing great defense in the Cardinals’ press. But Smith can make risky decisions from time to time. When he’s on, he’s electrifying. And if he stays that way all season, he’ll be an All-American.
Related: Key college basketball stats from last week
Michigan: Stay humble.
At 13-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country, Michigan is in a spot it hasn’t seen since the Fab Five days. Trey Burke has been hailed as the nation’s best point guard, and the freshman class has helped transform the Wolverines into a title contender. But Michigan isn’t that far removed from losing in the NCAA Tournament to Ohio (whose former coach, John Groce, will face Michigan twice this season at Illinois). In less than a month (Jan. 13-Feb. 12), Michigan will make road trips to Ohio State, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Minnesota: Hold on to a spot in the top tier of the Big Ten.
Monday’s 76-63 win over Michigan State showed the Gophers have some staying power, but how much? The potential is there for a standout season in the Big Ten, but we haven’t seen Andre Hollins play consistently. Before scoring 22 against Michigan State, he scored five against Lafayette, and after scoring 41 on Memphis, he was 1 of 8 against Stanford. Same goes for Trevor Mbakwe, an Athlon preseason All-American, who is still working his way to full strength after last season's knee injury.
Missouri’s Phil Pressey: Avoid shooting slumps.
Pressey can be the best player on the floor even if he’s not shooting well, but imagine if Pressey knocked down more of his shots? He had 19 assists in the overtime loss to UCLA and 11 assists against Illinois, but he was also a combined 11 of 41 from the floor in those games.
Memphis: Dominate Conference USA.
Don’t let records fool you: Despite four teams with at least 10 wins, Conference USA is not in good shape. Memphis is the league’s only team in Ken Pomeroy’s top 50 and one of four in the top 100. With three standout recruiting classes, Memphis has the ability to rule the league, especially with key players hurting/ineligible at Marshall, the most likely foil for the Tigers this season. But Memphis can’t seem to get out of a season without drama. If Memphis can’t win the C-USA tournament, it may be sweating an NCAA Tournament bid.
Mountain West: Land five teams in the NCAA Tournament.
The Mountain West has never had more than four teams in the Tournament field, but this may be the season to change that. UNLV (11-2) and San Diego State (12-2) seem safe for bids, as does New Mexico (13-2). But Wyoming (13-0) remains undefeated with a stingy defense and a signature win over Colorado. Colorado State (12-2) is a veteran team that defeated Washington on the road and pounded Virginia Tech 88-52 on Dec. 23. And although Boise State (11-2) has a loss to Utah, it has a 13-point win at Creighton on its resume. Perhaps most important, the league won’t have a glut of teams dragging down the conference RPI other than perhaps Fresno State.
NC State: Make the most of its time out of the spotlight.
Remember, no one was on the NC State bandwagon until March last season. Maybe NC State will thrive again as a late bloomer. The Wolfpack are a long way removed from the 20-point loss to Oklahoma State but a long way from challenging Duke in the ACC. Now that no one’s talking about NC State as the ACC favorite anymore, the Wolfpack have been working on finding the right chemistry between its veterans and freshmen. The Pack will find out if the soul-searching has paid off when it faces Georgia Tech, Duke and Maryland in a three-game ACC swing.
Related: Top 50 individual sports performances for 2012
North Carolina: Find a lineup that works.
With few proven full-timers returning to North Carolina, perhaps it’s not a total surprise Roy Williams hasn’t found the right starting five. In filling in for Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston scored 15 points with four rebounds and four steals against UNLV in his first start of the season. When Bullock returns from a concussion, Williams will have to return Hairston to his bench role or play a smaller lineup. Either way, the key to the season may still be North Carolina’s ability to get the most out of James Michael McAdoo.
Ohio State: Find a second scorer.
Deshaun Thomas is scoring like Ohio State expected of him at 19.8 points per game, but who else is going to deliver? Lenzelle Smith Jr. was 3 of 13 against Kansas, including 0 for 7 from 3-point range. LaQuinton Ross has regressed since the start of the season. Aaron Craft isn’t scoring much either, but his best role is as a floor general. The lack of a secondary option was plainly obvious against Kansas and could continue to be that way through the Big Ten season.
Pac-12: Don’t embarrass yourself.
Let’s say this first: The Pac-12 is much better than it’s been. Arizona is a top-flight team. UCLA is getting better. Colorado and Oregon are in NCAA Tournament contention. In short, the Pac-12’s resolution should be to not screw it up. Four Tournament bids, after having eight total the last three seasons, would be a good place to start. Arizona advancing to the Sweet 16 or further would be better. And Tournament wins by the league’s second tier would be a nice touch.
Rivalries: Keep playing ‘em.
No longer conference rivals, Kansas and Missouri aren’t playing each other. Neither are West Virginia and Pittsburgh. Indiana and Kentucky couldn’t agree on where to play its series, so the matchup ended altogether. And Memphis and Tennessee will go on hiatus after this season. Ever wonder why college basketball’s regular season is fading? Maybe this is why.
Syracuse: Develop a Plan B after Michael Carter-Williams.
In Syracuse’s only loss of the season, Temple found a way to contain Carter-Williams to six assists (he averages 10.1) and 3 of 17 shooting. With Carter-Williams out of the picture some of the supporting cast failed to pick up the slack in the 83-79 loss. A backup plan needs to be in the works.
Tennessee: Become the SEC’s No. 4 team.
The top teams in the SEC are pretty clear with Florida, Kentucky and Missouri in NCAA Tournament contention. The bottom of the league, however, is a mess. In recent weeks, SEC teams have lost to Alabama A&M (Mississippi State), Southern (Texas A&M), Winthrop (Auburn), Iona (Georgia), Tulane and Mercer (Alabama). Where Tennessee fits in the equation is a mystery. The Volunteers guard with the best of them, but they’re challenged offensively. If Tennessee can figure things out in the offensive end, it could be the SEC’s No. 4 team.
Texas: Prove Myck Kabongo was the difference maker.
Kabongo’s NCAA-mandated suspension will end Feb. 13 against Iowa State, more than enough time for the sophomore guard to prove that he could have made a difference in the Longhorns’ stumbling start to the season. When Kabongo returns, he’ll be in the lineup against NCAA Tournament contenders Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor, plus the Big 12 tournament. If Texas finds itself on the bubble, Kabongo (9.6 ppg, 5.2 apg last season) could have a hand in putting the Longhorns into the field.
UCLA: Maintain the up-tempo offense.
Ben Howland strayed again from what helped UCLA reach three consecutive Final Fours early in his tenure. In recent games, he’s put more focus on running the court, a development that helped the Bruins defeat Missouri 97-94 in overtime on Dec. 29. His lineup is suited to the change, though Howland can’t be elated about the tradeoffs in the defensive end. Will he see this through to the end of the season?
UNLV: Develop chemistry among the glut of scorers.
Dave Rice doesn’t have the worst dilemma a basketball coach can have, but it is a dilemma nonetheless. UNLV has plenty of qualified scorers, especially in the frontcourt with Mike Moser and Khem Birch in the lineup. He has six players averaging at least nine points per game, though superb freshman Anthony Bennett (19.2 ppg) is the only one averaging more than 11. Making sure everyone is happy and involved may be an interesting challenge for the second-year coach.
The merits of recruiting rankings are debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. Athlon continues its look back at recruiting rankings by comparing the starting line-ups in the BCS National Championship Game as recruits.
2012 Notre Dame's Starting Offenses as Recruits
Everett Golson, QB (2011)
This deep South prospect was no ordinary three-star recruit. The Myrtle Beach (S.C.) High prospect had offers to play at Florida, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia Tech among many others. Rivals rated him as the No. 13 player in the state and the No. 16-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation.
Theo Riddick, RB (2009) National Recruit
The runner-turned-receiver-turned-runner was highly coveted coming out of Manville (N.J.) Immaculata. Athlon Sports ranked him the No. 185-overall player in the nation and the No. 24-rated running back in America. Rivals gave him four stars as he picked the Irish over offers from Penn State, West Virginia, Rutgers, Pitt, Maryland and Virginia. Riddick took the place of former start Cierre Wood — who was ranked as the No. 2 running back recruit in the nation back in 2009.
T.J. Jones, WR (2010) National Recruit
The Gainesville (Ga.) High native just missed landing in the Athlon Consensus 100 in 2010. He was the No. 116-rated overall prospect in the nation and was the No. 19-rated wide receiver nationally. The Peach State prospect held scholarships from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio State, Stanford, UCLA and Cal to go with Notre Dame. He was a four-star recruit according to Rivals.
DeVaris Daniels, WR (2011) National Recruit
Just like Jones, Daniels barely missed landing in the AC100 as he was rated the No. 105 overall player in the nation by Athlon Sports. The Vernon Hills (Ill.) High wide receiver was the No. 16-rated player at his position nationally and Rivals gave him a four-star ranking. Major college powers from all over the nation offered the talented Midwestern prospect: Oklahoma, Oregon, Arkansas, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Michigan State and Wisconsin to name a few.
John Goodman, WR (2008)
Both Goodman and receiver Robby Toma were three-star prospects coming out of high school. Goodman hails from Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger and was rated as the No. 3 player in the state and No. 51 player at his position by Rivals. He picked the Irish over Michigan, Iowa, Kentucky, Indiana and Purdue.
Tyler Eifert, TE (2009)
A high school teammate of Goodman’s at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger, Eifert was also a three-star pass catcher by Rivals one year later. Eifert was the No. 24-rated tight end in the nation and was the No. 10-rated player in the state by the online scouting service. He picked Notre Dame over Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Minnesota, Purdue, Cincinnati, Indiana and Wake Forest.
Christian Lombard, OL (2010) National Recruit
A big-time recruit from Palatine (Ill.) Fremd, Lombard was ranked in the Top 150 nationally (No. 146). The four-star prospect was the No. 20-rated offensive lineman in the nation by Athlon Sports and he picked Notre Dame over other big-time offers from Michigan, Nebraska, Stanford, North Carolina and Wisconsin (among many others).
Zack Martin, OL (2009) National Recruit
Michigan, Stanford, UCLA, Illinois, Virginia and Northwestern also offered Martin a chance to play college football. The four-star recruit from Indianapolis (Ind.) Bishop Chatard was the No. 26-rated offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 214-rated overall player in the country by Athlon Sports. Rivals listed Martin as the No. 2-rated player in the state behind only Montez Robinson.
Chris Watt, OL (2009) AC100
This top-100 prospect was the No. 8-rated offensive lineman in the nation back in 2009, trailing names like DJ Fluker, Xavier Nixon, Mason Walters and Marcus Hall. Athlon Sports ranked him the No. 49 overall player in the country. He was a four-star prospect from Glen Ellyn (Ill.) Glenbard West who picked Notre Dame over Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, Virginia, Northwestern, Illinois and Boston College.
Mike Golic Jr., OL (2008)
From West Hartford (Conn.) Northwest Catholic, Golic Jr., was headed to one campus and one campus only. The Notre Dame legacy — and son of famous ESPN personality Mike Golic Sr. — was a three-star recruit by Rivals who was ranked as the No. 8 center in the country. He was the No. 4-rated player in the state
Braxston Cave, OL (2008) National Recruit
Michigan, Notre Dame and Indiana offered the Mishawaka (Ind.) Penn prospect in 2008. He was the No. 4-rated center in the nation and the No. 2-rated player in the state by Rivals.com. He was given four-star status and ranked as the No. 192-rated overall recruit in the nation.
Star ranking breakdown of Notre Dame's starting line-up (by Rivals.com):
|Star Ranking||No. of Players|
2012 Notre Dame's Starting Defense as Recruits
Kapron Lewis-Moore, DL (2008) National Recruit
The star defensive end signed with the Irish from Weatherford (Texas) High and was ranked as a coveted four-star prospect by Rivals. He was the No. 13-rated strongside defensive end in the nation and was the No. 33-rated player in The Lone Star State. He held offers from Texas, Michigan, Louisville, Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Colorado and Kansas.
Louis Nix, DL (2010) National Recruit
The big fella from Jacksonville (Fla.) Raines barely missed landing in the Athlon Consensus 100 as the No. 102-rated player in the nation regardless of position. He was the no. 9-rated defensive tackle in a loaded year for the position and was a four-star recruit by Rivals. He had offers from Florida, Florida State, Clemson, Miami, Ole Miss and both North and South Carolina.
Stephon Tuitt, DL (2011) AC100
Athlon Sports ranked the Monroe (Ga.) Area High School prospect as the No. 44 overall player in the nation. He was the No. 4-rated player in the state behind Isaiah Crowell, Ray Drew and Jay Rome and was the No. 8-rated defensive lineman. Every school in the nation wanted the massive D-Lineman as he held seven SEC offers (Florida, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, Tennessee, Auburn, Vanderbilt) to go with Clemson, UCLA, North Carolina, Louisville and Notre Dame scholarships.
Prince Shembo, DL (2010) National Recruit
Hailing from Charlotte (N.C.) Ardrey Kell, Shembo signed with Notre Dame after Virginia Tech, Tennessee, North Carolina and West Virginia among others. He was a four-star prospect by Rivals and was the No. 7-rated inside linebacker in the nation. He was the No. 238-rated overall player in the nation and the No. 7-rated player in the state.
Manti Te’o, LB (2009) AC100
The Irish middle linebacker from Laie (Hawaii) Punahou is no stranger to the spotlight. He was the No. 1-rated linebacker in the nation and No. 3 overall player in the country, trailing only Matt Barkley (USC) and Russell Shepard (LSU) in Athlon Sports' 2009 recruiting rankings. Obviously, the No. 1 player in the state, Te’o held offers from every college program in the nation and was able to write his own ticket.
Dan Fox, LB (2009) National Recruit
The outside linebacker from Rocky River (Ohio) St. Ignatius was a four-star prospect by Rivals.com. He was the No. 13-rated outside backer in the nation and was the No. 15-rated player in the state of Ohio. He held offers from Stanford, Michigan State, Iowa, Pitt, Virginia and Boston College as well as Notre Dame.
Danny Spond, LB (2010) National Recruit
The Littleton (Colo.) Columbine prospect was listed as a four-star “athlete” by Rivals. He was the No. 2-rated player in the state and the No. 27-rated player at his position nationally. Colorado, Stanford, TCU, Duke, Colorado offered and Arkansas had interest as well.
Kei'Varae Russell, CB (2012) National Recruit
An early contributor, Russell signed with Notre Dame out of Everett (Wash.) Mariner last February. He had an offer from every school in the Pac-12 except USC as well as Vanderbilt, Purdue and Boise State. Athlon Sports ranked him as the No. 18-rated running back prospect in the nation and he was the No. 167-rated overall player in the nation. Rivals gave him four stars.
Bennett Jackson, CB (2010)
The Hazlet (N.J.) Raritan native was a three-star recruit with an impressive offer sheet. Michigan State, West Virginia, Iowa, Maryland, Pitt, Rutgers and others offered the Garden State prospect. Rivals rated him the No. 61-best wide receiver in the nation and the ninth-best recruit in the state.
Matthias Farley, S (2011)
Another Southeastern prospect, Farley hails from Charlotte (N.C.) Christian High School. He had offers from local programs (North Carolina, NC State, Duke) as well as teams from across the nation (UCLA, Wisconsin, Maryland, Notre Dame) and was given a three-star rating from Rivals.
Zeke Motta, S (2009) National Recruit
The undersized linebacker prospect was an elite talent coming out of Vero Beach (Fla.) High School. Athlon Sports ranked him as the No. 174-rated player in the nation and the No. 24-rated linebacker in America. Rivals thought higher of him and ranked him as the No. 54-overall player in the nation, nearly giving him a fifth star. The Irish safety could have accepted scholarships to play at Florida, Florida State, Clemson, Auburn, North Carolina, West Virginia, UCLA or Stanford.
Athlon Consensus 100: The Top 100 Recruits in the Nation
The 2012 All-America Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big 12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-ACC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-SEC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big East Team as Recruits