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Path: /college-football/college-football-bowl-predictions-part-1
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By Mitch Light

New Mexico Bowl — Temple vs. Wyoming
For the second time in three seasons, Wyoming is in a bowl game with a true freshman at quarterback. Two years ago, Austyn Carta-Samuels guided the Cowboys to a win over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl. With Carta-Samuels gone — he transferred to Vanderbilt in the offseason — coach Dave Christensen handed the offense to Brett Smith, who ranks second in the Mountain West in total offense and fourth in passing efficiency. The key for the Cowboys, however, will be on defense. They rank 115th in the nation in stopping the run — a huge concern with Temple’s potent rushing attack on the horizon.
Temple 24, Wyoming 21

Idaho Potato Bowl — Utah State vs. Ohio
Utah State opened up the season with a 42–38 loss at Auburn, the defending national champs. The Aggies went on to lose four of their next six games — all by 10 points or less — before ending the season on a five-game winning streak. Ohio must regroup after blowing a 20–0 lead in the second half to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game. Three of the Bobcats’ four losses came by three points or less. These are two solid teams.
Utah State 27, Ohio 24

New Orleans Bowl — UL-Lafayette vs. San Diego State
Mark Hudspeth did a great job in his first year at UL-Lafayette, guiding the Ragin’ Cajuns to an 8–4 overall record and their first bowl game in the FBS ranks. San Diego State is making back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in school history. The Aztecs will lean heavily on underrated tailback Ronnie Hillman, who ranks third nationally in rushing (138.0 ypg).
San Diego State 34, UL-Lafayette 21

Beef O’Brady’s Bowl — FIU vs. Marshall
Marshall, at 5–3, had its first winning record in seven seasons in Conference USA. The Herd got it done with a true freshman (Rakeem Cato) taking the majority of the snaps at quarterback. FIU failed to repeat at Sun Belt champs, but the Golden Panthers still won eight games in the regular season, including their final three.
Marshall 20, FIU 14

MAACO Bowl Las Vegas — Arizona State vs. Boise State
Boise State, 11–1 overall, was relegated to the MAACO Bowl for the second straight season after getting snubbed in the BCS bowl selection process. This team deserves better. Arizona State, on the other hand, is fortunate to still be playing. The Sun Devils lost their final four games, including the last two at home, to finish at 6–6.
Boise State 37, Arizona State 21

Poinsettia Bowl — Louisiana Tech vs. TCU
Louisiana Tech is one of the more undervalued teams in the nation. The Bulldogs went 8–4 overall and won their final seven games. They lost by two points at Southern Miss (11–2), by one point to Houston (12–1) and by six, in overtime, at Mississippi State. TCU is obviously very good — the Frogs won at Boise State — but Louisiana Tech, a double-digit underdog, is capable of winning this game.
Louisiana Tech 24, TCU 21

Hawaii Bowl — Nevada vs. Southern Miss
Southern Miss got shipped off to Hawaii despite winning the Conference USA Championship Game. It’s a fun trip for the players, but too far for the majority of the fans, many of whom would have made the relatively short trip to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. Nevada once again brings a high-powered attack to the table; the Wolf Pack have averaged over 500 yards per game in each of the past four seasons.
Southern Miss 41, Nevada 37

Independence Bowl — Missouri vs. North Carolina
SEC-bound Missouri salvaged what had been a disappointing season by winning its final three games, including a 17–5 decision over Texas and a 24–10 win over Kansas in the final Border War showdown for the foreseeable future. North Carolina struggled down the stretch, not surprising for a team playing with an interim head coach (Everett Withers) who was never expected to get the job on a full-time basis.
Missouri 28, North Carolina 17

Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl — Western Michigan vs. Purdue
Western Michigan boasts one of the nation’s most potent pass-catch duos in Alex Carder and Jordan White. The Broncos rank eighth in the nation in passing (328.8 ypg) and White leads all receivers nationally with 10.6 receptions per game. WMU will have to score a bunch of points, because its defense could have trouble with Purdue.
Purdue 41, Western Michigan 33

Belk Bowl — Louisville vs. NC State
Picked by most to finish near the bottom of the Big East in 2011, Louisville was the surprise of the league, tying for the title with West Virginia and Cincinnati. And with talented true freshman Teddy Bridgewater emerging at quarterback, the future is bright for the Cards. At NC State, Tom O’Brien likely saved his job by winning three of his final four games, most notably a 13–0 shutout vs. rival North Carolina.
Louisville 23, NC State 17

Military Bowl — Toledo vs. Air Force
Toledo averaged 52.8 points in its last six games, but managed to only go 5–1 in that stretch. The Rockets lost to Northern Illinois, 63–60, at home in a game that ultimately cost them the MAC West title. Air Force was a bit of a disappointment, finishing in fifth place in the Mountain West with a 3–4 league record.
Toledo 41, Air Force 27

Holiday Bowl — California vs. Texas
Texas limped to the finish line, losing three of its final four games. Amazingly, the Longhorns are 6–11 in the Big 12 over the last two seasons. Cal played well late, winning three of its last four, with the only loss coming by three points at Stanford.
California 27, Texas 17
 

Teaser:
<p> Mitch Light takes a look at the first round of bowl games.</p>
Post date: Friday, December 16, 2011 - 07:54
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC
Path: /college-football/turning-point-auburn-2012
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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

One year after winning the national championship, Gene Chizik is looking at a turning point in his tenure at Auburn.

Chizik’s coaching staff took a hit over the last few weeks, with offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ted Roof departing for other jobs. Malzahn left to be the head coach at Arkansas State, while Roof left to become the defensive coordinator at UCF.

Roof’s defenses never finished higher than 60th in total defense and 53rd in scoring in his three years at Auburn. The 2011 version ranked 11th in the SEC in rushing, total and scoring defense, while the pass defense finished last in the conference. Youth and a lack of proven depth were to blame for much of the issues this season.

Chizik is going to call the plays for the defense in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia, but will hire a coordinator in the offseason. Florida State’s Mark Stoops has been rumored as a possible target by Auburn and other names are sure to emerge.

Malzahn’s departure is clearly a bigger loss for Chizik. The Tigers finished 17th nationally in scoring in 2009 and seventh last season.

Auburn will certainly pay well for its coordinators next season, so Chizik will be able to attract some top talent to rebuilding his coaching staff. However, it won’t be easy to replicate Malzahn’s system. The Tigers have recruited to run Malzahn’s spread offense, so choosing a different scheme could add transition time. Considering the question marks on defense and strength at running back, Auburn may not want to continue its with up-tempo offense.

With quarterback Cam Newton leaving early to the NFL, the offense was never the same this year. The up-tempo scheme never took off, and the Tigers averaged only 20 points in SEC play this year. Quarterback was a question mark all season, as Clint Moseley, Barrett Trotter and Kiehl Frazier all took snaps for Auburn. And neither was able to clearly separate from the others as the No. 1 guy.

Quarterback won’t be the only question mark for Auburn’s offense this offseason. Running back Michael Dyer is suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl and isn’t a lock to return to the roster for next season. The sophomore rushed for 1,242 yards and 10 scores this year, which followed up a terrific freshman campaign.

With Dyer sidelined for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason will be forced to shoulder the workload in the backfield. McCalebb rushed for 532 yards this season, while Mason added 97.

If Dyer does not return to the team in 2012, the outlook in the backfield won’t be much better. McCalebb and Mason will return, while Florida transfer Mike Blakely will be eligible next season. While that trio isn’t bad, Auburn – assuming he does not return – will miss Dyer’s ability to be the clear go-to back. And there’s also the issue of who will be Auburn’s quarterback next year?

It’s unfair to say Chizik is on the hot seat one year removed from winning the national title. However, his tenure has reached a critical juncture. Take away last season’s record and Auburn is 15-10 in two years under Chizik. With Malzahn and Roof departing, Chizik has another chance to put his stamp on the program.

There’s no question the Tigers have talent in the program. After all, this team has ranked among the best in college football in recruiting over the last couple of seasons.

Another 7-5 season won’t sit well in Auburn and there will be a lot of turnover and uncertainty facing this team going into 2012.

Teaser:
<p> With losses of Gus Malzahn and Michael Dyer, the Auburn Tigers are at a crossroads</p>
Post date: Friday, December 16, 2011 - 07:27
Path: /college-football/famous-idaho-potato-bowl-preview-ohio-vs-utah-state
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Utah State (7-5) vs. Ohio (9-4)

Date: Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Location: Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho

The second matchup of bowl season features a battle on the blue turf in Boise. Although this game won’t register much interest on the national radar, this one could be one of the most entertaining pre-Christmas bowls.

The last four winners of this bowl have scored 40 points, so a shootout isn’t out of the question.

Although Utah State finished 7-5, it was a season of several close calls. The Aggies were unable to hold onto a lead late in the fourth quarter against Auburn, lost by one point to Colorado State, were defeated by three points to BYU and fell by a touchdown to eventual WAC champion Louisiana Tech. Since losing to the Bulldogs, the Aggies have won five in a row.

Ohio enters this matchup with victories in five out of its last six games. However, the Bobcats closed out the season on a disappointing note. Ohio led Northern Illinois 20-0 at halftime in the MAC title game, but the Huskies rallied for a 23-20 victory. Although two weeks have passed since that loss, it’s fair to wonder if the Bobcats will carry the disappointment from that loss to Boise.

This is Utah State’s first postseason appearance since playing in this bowl in 1997 against Cincinnati. The Aggies are 1-4 in bowl trips, with their lone victory coming against Ball State in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl.

Ohio is 0-5 in bowl appearances, including a 48-21 blowout loss to Troy in last season’s New Orleans Bowl.

WHEN OHIO HAS THE BALL:

In first season as the starter, Tyler Tettleton has emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the MAC. The sophomore threw for 3,086 yards and 26 scores, while adding 635 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. His dual-threat ability has been a huge asset in the development of Ohio’s offense this year.

Tettleton isn’t the only player doing damage on the ground for the Bobcats, as running back Donte Harden is 61 yards away from getting to 1,000. The senior has only two rushing scores, but is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and has caught 23 passes this year.

Senior LaVon Brazill is Tettleton’s go-to target in the passing game. Brazill caught 66 passes for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Riley Dunlop, Donte Foster, Jordan Thompson and Phil Bates will all factor into the receiving corps, giving the Bobcats a deep group of targets for their passing attack.

The Aggies gave up 28.3 points a game this year, but led the WAC in total defense and finished second in the conference against the run. Linebacker Bobby Wagner is one of the nation’s top defenders from outside of the BCS conferences, recording 140 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions this season.

Stopping Tettleton is likely to be Utah State’s No. 1 priority on defense. However, it would be a surprise if the Aggies are able to completely shut down Ohio’s offense. Utah State’s defense held its last two opponents to 21 or fewer points, but gave up at least 31 in the three prior contests.

WHEN UTAH STATE HAS THE BALL:

Running back Robert Turbin missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but has showed no ill-effects from that injury. Turbin rushed for 1,416 yards and 19 scores on 229 attempts this season, while catching 16 passes for 164 yards and four touchdowns. Turbin is clearly Utah State’s go-to back, but Michael Smith and Kerwynn Williams will also get touches. Both players add more big-play ability in the backfield, as Smith averaged seven yards a carry, while Williams averaged 6.7 yards per attempt.

The Aggies will lean on their rushing attack (277.5 yards per game), but Ohio won’t be pushed around in the trenches. The Bobcats owned one of the MAC’s top defenses, ranking 30th nationally against the run and allowing only 11 touchdowns on the ground this year. Three Ohio defenders earned second-team All-MAC honors, including linebacker Noah Keller, who has to play a key role in slowing down Turbin.

Chuckie Keeton was one of the top freshman quarterbacks in the nation before an injury against Hawaii forced him to miss the final four regular season games. Adam Kennedy assumed the starting job in Keeton’s absence, throwing for 700 yards and eight touchdowns in the final four contests. Keeton is expected to be available to play, but Kennedy will start.

With their success on the ground, Utah State has been averaging only 23 passing attempts a game this year. However, Kennedy and Keeton are capable passers and are averaging 12.5 yards per completion. The Aggies don’t have an incredibly deep group of receivers, but Matt Austin (34 receptions) and Stanley Morrison (25 receptions) are solid options.

Special Teams

Ohio kicker Matt Weller earned second-team All-MAC honors this season, connecting on 24 of 33 attempts. He displayed good long-range ability, nailing 6 of 14 attempts from 40 yards or more.

The Bobcats also got a solid year from Donte Harden on kickoff returns, as he averaged 26.3 yards on 21 returns.

Utah State kicker Josh Thompson attempted just nine field goals this season, but connected on six. Punter Tyler Bennett averaged 44.2 yards per punt and downed 19 inside of the 20.

Kerwynn Williams was one of the top kickoff returners in the WAC last season, but his averaged dipped from 27.2 per return in 2010 to 22.7 this year. Williams and Eric Moats will handle the bulk of punt return duties.

Prediction

If you are hungry for college football action this Saturday, this should be the game to watch. Both teams aren’t lacking for talent on defense, but all signs point to a high-scoring affair. The Aggies seem to have turned a corner under coach Gary Andersen and a victory over Ohio would be their eighth of the season – equaling their best win total since 1979. Expect a back and forth game, but Utah State’s rushing attack will be the difference in the end.

Utah State 31, Ohio 27

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Utah State vs. Ohio</p>
Post date: Friday, December 16, 2011 - 06:26
All taxonomy terms: NFL Fantasy Start or Sit, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/nfl-fantasy-football-start-and-sit-week-15
Body:

-by Braden Gall ( @AthlonBraden on twitter)

Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Week 15 Rankings

Start These Quarterbacks:

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (at St. Louis)
Dalton’s performance hasn’t been elite of late, but the defenses he has faced are: Pittsburgh twice, Baltimore, Houston. And he fared admirably, averaging 216.7 yards per game with five touchdowns. He hasn’t throw an interception in three straight games, and the Rams haven’t been stopping any part of any offense.

Tim Tebow, Denver (New England)
Would the NFL simply cancel the season and award the Lombardi Trophy to Tim Tebow himself if he were to pull off an upset of Tom Brady and the Pats? With the Patriots' ability to score early, Tebow might be in 2-minute mode for the final three quarters, and that is great news for fantasy owners. New England is still last in passing defense at over 308 yards per game allowed, and Tebow could be in store for another big game on the ground as well.

Jake Locker, Tennessee (at Indianapolis)
The rookie was a top-five option last week in fantasy and will be facing the worst team in the NFL this weekend. The Colts allow a league-worst 29.4 points per game and have a league-worst six interceptions. Locker will get it done both with his powerful right arm and mobile lower extremities. Look for another solid outing from the youngster.

T.J. Yates, Houston (Carolina)
If you need to dig deep, look for Yates to produce again. His clutch performance in the second half last week proved he has great leadership ability — and it bumped a mediocre fantasy day into 300-yard, 2-TD range. In two starts, he has 488 yards, 3 TD and one INT — and now he faces a defense ranked 29th in scoring (27.3 ppg).

Toughest Match-ups

Cam Newton, Carolina (at Houston)
All three of this week’s “Lowered Expectations” are tough benches, but also have brutal match-ups. Houston has been nearly dominant on defense: Fifth in INT (17), third against the pass (183.5 ypg) and a nasty fourth in scoring (16.0 ppg). With homefield advantage still on the line for Houston, expect this team to rally around its ailing defensive coordinator. A 183-1-3, 32-? line sounds about right for Newton. It will all come down to the rushing touchdowns column.

Philip Rivers, San Diego (Baltimore)
The Chargers and Rivers are hot through the air (6 TD, 0 INT) over the last two — against Jacksonville and Buffalo. Rivers is still having one of his worst seasons statistically, and his offensive line has been terrible. Against a Baltimore pass rush that is leading the league in sacks (45.0), is third in scoring defense (16.5 ppg), fifth against the pass (192.3 ypg) and has allowed a league-low nine touchdown passes, Rivers' upside appears very limited.

Ben Roesthlisberger, Pittsburgh (at San Francisco)
Keep a close eye on Big Ben’s ankle. He is questionable for a game that has major playoff implications in the AFC, so it is unlikely he misses time. He is one of the toughest hombres in the league, but the Niners have been nasty on defense all season. Their 18 interceptions rank second in the league, and the ground game won’t help him at all. There is very little to like about the two-time Super Bowl champ this week.

Start These Running Backs:

Cedric Benson, Cincinnati (at St. Louis)
His 21 carries for 91 yards last week against Houston is much more impressive than the 9.1 fantasy points indicate. And now he gets the worst rushing defense in the league, as the Rams allow 156.8 yards per game. They clearly had no desire to stop Marshawn Lynch on Monday night and won’t be game for the Bengals' power rushing attack either.

Roy Helu, Washington (at NY Giants)
Helu has been a top-10 back over last three weeks as he has topped the century mark and the 23 carry plateau in each game. And Giants have been about as bad as any team…ever…over the last three weeks. They have allowed 40.3 points per game in the last three weeks, and the Skins offense should be able to move the ball in what will be a high-scoring affair.

Reggie Bush, Miami (at Buffalo)
Michael isn’t the only Bush who should be in your lineup this weekend. (Sorry.) The former Saint is running with renewed vigor and has back-to-back 100-yard games to show for it. The Bills have been atrocious for the better part of two months and are allowing 130.7 yards rushing per game at a 4.7-yard clip.

Ryan Grant, Green Bay (at Kansas City)
Assuming James Starks is out again, Grant is the guy against a defense that surrenders 132.5 yards rushing per game. Grant ran with renewed energy last week in what was his best game in what seems like three seasons (10 att., 85 yards, 2 TD, 1 rec., 13 yards). The Chiefs, with a new head coach now, are coming off a disgusting performance against the Jets: 37 points allowed, 159 yards rushing allowed, three rushing TDs allowed.

Felix Jones, Dallas (at Tampa Bay)
Welcome back, King Felix! The Cowboys gave Jones the ball 22 times for 137 yards from scrimmage in the Sunday night shootout with the Giants. While no team has been as bad as New York on defense of late, Tampa Bay isn’t far behind. The Bucs are 29th in the league against the run (139.7 yards per game) and a league-leading 19 rushing touchdowns. Plug and play.

Toughest Match-Ups

Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh (at San Francisco)
The Niners are on the verge of greatness when it comes to playing the run. They still haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown (second place: five allowed), they lead the league in rushing defense (70.5 ypg) by a wide margin and are No. 1 in scoring defense at 14.0 points allowed per game. With Big Ben banged up, it's tough to see big numbers for Mendenhall.

Ryan Mathews, San Diego (Baltimore)
The Ravens are third in the NFL in rushing touchdowns allowed with six, are third in the NFL in points allowed per game at 15.5 and are No. 2 in the NFL against fantasy running backs. In a PPR league, he deserves a slight bump in value, but it is hard to see him continuing his roll on the ground this weekend.

Frank Gore, San Francisco (Pittsburgh)
Rushing yards will be tough to come by on both sides of the ball Monday night. The Steelers are allowing 15.2 points per game, good for second in the NFL. They have allowed an NFL 3rd-best six rushing touchdowns and only 97.0 yards per game. Gore hasn’t reached the 100-yard mark since Week 9, so don’t expect it to happen this weekend.

Start These Wide Receivers:

Santana Moss or Jabar Gaffney, Washington (at NY Giants)
The Giants have been awful of late and the secondary is a big part of their struggles. Moss is coming off a 3-81-1 game and has 12 receptions in his last three. Gaffney has 18 receptions for 279 yards and two scores in his last three. Without Fred Davis, these two should get the majority of the targets against the porous G-Men.

Donald Driver or James Jones, Green Bay (at Kansas City)
Jordy Nelson is a must start with Greg Jennings out; however, both Driver and Jones deserve a look this weekend as well. Driver set a season high with 75 yards last week and has at least four catches in each of the last two. Jones is more of a hit-or-miss (94, TD one week sandwiched by zero catch performances) but has more upside than Driver. Pick your poison and hope you picked correctly.

Demaryius Thomas, Denver (at New England)
Thomas is a physical specimen who has all the natural ability to be an elite receiver but has experienced nagging injuries and a steep learning curve. With 11 catches for 222 yards and three scores over his last two games, it appears that he is starting to blossom. Against the worst Patriots secondary in more than a decade, he should play well.

Lowered Expectations:

DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia (NY Jets)
Much like the way you should bench whichever running back is facing the 49ers, whoever gets locked down by Derrelle Revis is a near must-bench as well. With his antics, contract talk and Michael Vick’s struggles, it is hard to recommend D-Jax this week. He hasn’t topped 100 yards since Week 4 and has scored one time in eight games.

Steve Smith, Carolina (at Houston)
Smith is a tough bench, but the Panthers passing game has little upside this weekend. The Texans have been excellent against both phases of offense. And Smith has struggled of late, totaling 11 catches, 75 yards per game and no touchdowns over his last three. Look for a 5-70-0 line as his potential upside.

Michael Crabtree, San Francisco (Pittsburgh)
The former two-time Biletnikoff Award winner has become a must-start of late. Unfortunately, Monday night isn’t one of those. This game features two of the best front sevens in all of football, and both quarterbacks and running games will struggle. Look for a very low-scoring, tightly played affair. No big plays for Crabtree this weekend.
 

Teaser:
<p> NFL Fantasy Football Start and Sit: Week 15</p>
Post date: Friday, December 16, 2011 - 06:00
Path: /news/shortened-nba-schedule-means-teams-need-youth-and-depth
Body:

by Josh Kipnis

The Chris Paul madness is over.  Finally.  The NBA’s opening tipoff starts in 10 days, so what do you say we stop talking about free agency and start focusing on the actual game.

In the aftermath of the lockout, it seems nothing has changed.  The players remain the puppet masters, despite a coup attempt from the owners this summer.  By far, the most hyped difference is the shortened 66-game schedule set to tipoff on Christmas day.  But have you given this idea a real thought yet?  Sure, you were pissed the season was delayed a month, but have you considered what affect this new schedule will have on every team? 

Players are not going to be getting the rest they previously cherished.  In years past, each team played 82 games in 170 days.  That’s a game in every 2.07 days.  This year, teams will have to play 66 games in 123 days--averaging a game every 1.86 days.  It seems like a small change, but think about Lakers’ center, Andrew Bynum.  He missed 28 games last season, and that’s when the Lakers played just about every other day.  Shortening his rest in between games is the last thing they need. 

Playing this often, the keys to success this year are going to be youth and depth.  By the season’s end, the youngest and freshest teams are going to be whirling dervishes in comparison to the stagnant play of the elderly (can you say hip replacement?)  Who will make a run in the playoffs?  Who will uncharacteristically struggle?  The answers may surprise you.

Whirling Dervishes

Los Angeles Clippers

The whole Chris Paul mess pushed me back and forth on this one.  I wish they could’ve found a way to keep Eric Gordon, but nevertheless, they got one of the two best point guards in the game.  With Kaman, Aminu, and Gordon gone, their depth diminished, but not too much.  Re-signing DeAndre Jordan, as well as bringing on Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups this off-season was huge. The Clippers starting five is as good as anyone (I feel like I should be slapped in the face.  The Clippers?).  Billups may be aging, but that’s where Eric Bledsoe comes into play.  Holding onto him was key, and he could be up for the 6th Man Award this season.

Indiana Pacers

What is happening in the NBA!  Since when can the Clippers and Pacers both be good in the same year?  Seriously, stop laughing; this team has some weapons. Danny Granger averaged over 20 PPG in 2010, and I see no signs of those numbers declining.  The biggest flaw in Granger’s game though, was his efficiency rating--last season, he ranked 50th (You would too if you had the offensive supporting cast of Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansborough, and Darren Collison).  But that problem is solved.  Indiana signed Hornets’ star and leading scorer David West, taking pressure off Granger and adding a much-needed veteran voice to this young squad.  I see them in the playoffs in a five or six spot.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Do I dare say it?  I really (really) want to.  NBA Champs…

How cool would it be to see this team win it all?  The only thing holding me back is experience.  Durant averaged 27.7 PPG last year, making him the youngest player in NBA history to win the scoring title.  But will he ever emerge as a clutch player?  It is the only thing missing in his repertoire (aside from any sense of defensive intensity).  We’ve seen him fade into the shadows during crunch time too much.  It’s time for the Durantula to cast his web.

Chicago Bulls

I know I said youth and depth were needed, but I’m making an exception here.  Why? Three words: Derrick Freakin Rose. He single-handedly carried his team to the Eastern Conference Finals last spring, and this year he will continue his success.  The new schedule plays to his strengths perfectly.  He is the epitome of a whirling dervish.

Hip Replacements

Los Angeles Lakers

For the first time (ever?) the Lakers will be the second best team playing in the Staples Center.  The Clippers and Lakers are polar opposites this year.  While the Clippers begin to build their youthful organization, the Lakers are evaluating retirement plans and checking into nursing homes.  There is absolutely no chance the Lakers can survive this season.  66 games in 123 days will prove to be way too much for LA to handle.  Consider the ages of their starting lineup: Bryant (33), Fisher (37), Gasol (31), Meta World Peace (32.  “The Artest formally known as Ron”), and Bynum (24.  His knees have more fluid than the Bears’ Sam Hurd has cocaine.)  And the players coming off the bench?  Aside from newly acquired player, Josh McRoberts, they have three guys (Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Luke Walton) who are all 31.  They simply don’t have what it takes this year.  The Odom trade is going to kill them.  I know Kobe is a winner, but too many things are falling out of place.  They will still make the playoffs, but it won’t be any higher than a five seed.

Boston Celtics

Kevin Garnett is already lashing out at Commissioner Stern for not giving teams enough of a pre-season.  A few days ago, Garnett told reporters that, “Timing is everything.”  Sorry KG, if that’s the case then looks like your Celtics have a whole lot of nothing.  The Big Three isn’t what it used to be.  Period.  Each year they pride themselves on having the best defense in league.  But can they continuously hold opponents under 100 points with this much mileage?  Pierce (34), Garnett (35), and Allen (36) will outperform each and every team mentally, but the physical aspect is what’s lacking.  And how about Rondo?  The speedster is most effective in transition, pushing the ball up the court whenever the chance presents itself.  Will Coach Doc Rivers even let him though?  A transition offense isn’t an effective game-plan when you have a bunch of old men limping up the court.  Also, how will the off-season trade rumors play with Rondo’s emotions?  Lamar Odom sure didn’t like it.

Christmas is just 10 days away, and that means we are inching ever so close to NBA basketball again.  This year’s schedule is something we haven’t seen before.  With so many games being played in so little time, age, stability, and depth have never been so significant.  Who will be the superior team in LA?  Can the Celtics continue to be a beast in the East?  Does Durant have what it takes to go the distance?  Only time will tell.  Basketball is back, baby!

Teaser:
<p> NBA teams will have to play 66 games in 123 days this year. &nbsp;With less rest in between games, a team's youth and depth have never been so important.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 20:16
Path: /college-football/mora-weis-and-davie-among-offseasons-most-interesting-hires
Body:

The coaching carousel in college football has been as crazy as ever this offseason. It started with former Notre Dame boss Bob Davie going to New Mexico, and now has progressed to where Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach are in the Pac-12 and Urban Meyer is feeling healthy enough to lead Ohio State. Speaking of leaving Gainesville, Charlie Weis takes over at Kansas and will be on his third job in three years since leaving South Bend. The Arizona State search was very strange before landing on Todd Graham, who barely had time to text his former Pittsburgh players before heading to Tempe. Gus Malzahn will actually take a pay cut in going from Auburn offensive coordinator to Arkansas State head coach, and add new UCLA boss Jim Mora to the list of coaches heading back to the sidelines after some television time. Many of the new hires seemed to come out of left field, leaving fan bases stressed. However, sometimes we see stranger hires end up working well in the wild world of college football.

Most curious coaching hire of the offseason?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
I think UCLA’s decision to hire Jim Mora is one of the most curious coaching moves from this offseason. Mora has no collegiate head coaching experience, but has a solid NFL background, including stops with five different teams (head coach with the Seahawks and Falcons). His only experience as a college coach came in 1984, when he served as a graduate assistant at Washington. Although some have called this hire a huge mistake, I think it’s worth the risk for the Bruins. Mora is putting together a solid coaching staff, which includes ace recruiter Adrian Klemm and former Arizona State offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. He has yet to name a defensive staff, but considering his background, Mora will play a large role in calling the shots on that side of the ball. Only time will tell if Mora is a good fit in college. However, with the options on the table, Mora is worth the risk - especially if he continues to assemble a solid coaching staff.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch
Well, Gus Malzahn’s decision to take over at Arkansas State was a curious decision on his part, but it was a great move by the school. From the school’s point of view, I’d say New Mexico’s hiring of Bob Davie is very questionable. Davie has been out of coaching for more than a decade and, more important, he wasn’t very successful during his five years as the boss at Notre Dame. His overall record of 35–25 doesn’t look too bad, but keep in mind that he took over a program that had averaged 9.6 wins in the previous nine seasons under Lou Holtz. Davie went 7–6 in his first season (1997) and went on to have a losing record two times in his final three years with the Irish. I don’t understand why the powers at be at New Mexico believe that a coach who could not succeed at Notre Dame — a school with a ton of built-in advantages — can win consistently with the Lobos. And again, the man has been out of coaching for more than 10 years. This one doesn’t make sense.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
Curious is an interesting word to describe a coaching hire. Charlie Weis at Kansas isn't as much curious as is it underwhelming and questionable. But by far the biggest head-scratcher in this year's coaching carousel was UCLA's hiring of Jim Mora. He has energy, personality and will be a great spokesman for the university. Isn't that what Rick Neuheisel was — except he played quarterback at UCLA and had more than a decade of head coaching experience at the highest levels of college football. What makes anyone believe that Mora, a man with one year of college coaching experience as a graduate assistant 27 years ago, will be able to achieve where Neuheisel failed? Clearly the Bruins athletic department needs to commit to football once and for all if it ever expects to compete with their Trojan brethren from across town, but seeing Mora’s name atop the headlines this weekend was curious to say the least.

Nathan Rush
Charlie Weis to Kansas, huh? Was anyone in Lawrence cheering "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!" after that hire? The big man is a proven NFL offensive coordinator, but has struggled at the college level, as both a head coach and coordinator. Weis went 35–27 over five years at Notre Dame, carrying 19–6 record over his first two seasons with "Tyrone Willingham's players" and a 16–21 mark over his last three seasons once he was comfortably settled into his rut at South Bend. In his one season as the playcaller at Florida, Weis' Gators struggled as the nation's 72nd scoring offense, 75th rushing attack and 87th passing game. Weis has failed to find success, and the end zone, at two of the country's premier football institutions. Now KU expects him to reverse that trend at a basketball school playing in a dying football conference. Too bad Jimmy Clausen doesn't have any eligibility left.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I thought the UCLA decision to go with Jim Mora was curious. It seemed like the Bruins were trying to duplicate the Pete Carroll hire at USC instead of signing a current college coach who would be more equipped to succeed with some limitations on the football program. Mora may do well, but I do not see UCLA’s struggles as the same situation that USC was in after a bad Paul Hackett tenure. The strangest situation in the offseason had to be Gus Malzahn’s decision to leave a higher-paying gig as the Auburn OC to go to Arkansas State, but that should work out well for the Red Wolves.
 

Teaser:
<p> Mora, Weis and Davie among offseason's most interesting hires.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 17:17
Path: /fantasy/dont-expect-much-maurice-jones-drew-against-falcons
Body:

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has been the best fantasy RB over the last four weeks by 16.5-points (106.8), and is coming off a four-TD, 40.6-fantasy point day against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week.

His matchup is much tougher in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons. However he is the only viable fantasy option Jaguars have — the Jags know it, the Falcons know it and you know it — but it should go without saying that he cannot be pulled from your lineup.

The Falcons are the fifth-ranked rush defense in the league, allowing 95.2 yards per game and nine touchdowns, but that is also against the seventh fewest rushing attempts per game (24.3). Backs have had success as of late, including Arian Foster’s 22.7-point fantasy day in Week 13 and DeAngelo Williams’s 15.6-point day last week

Jacksonville knows it has to lean on MJD and is certainly doing so as of late. The Jaguars are third in the league this season in rushing attempts per game (31.3), which has helped produce the 10th-best rushing attack at 119.3 yards per game. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, it all the attempts and yards has still only produced the 23rd most rushing TDs of the season (7).

But MJD has seen a resurgence as of late, scoring five of those seven TDs in the last six weeks and he still has only gone below 85 yards rushing once this season (Week 8 and he made up for it with a TD).

And he is finally becoming a more consistent threat in the passing game. After seeing only 17 targets for 11 catches, 75 yards and no scores through the first seven weeks, MJD has seen 33 targets for 30 catches, 274 yards and three scores. More specifically, the last three weeks, MJD has seen targets of 6, 8 and 6 for games of 4-for-67, 6-for-91 and a score and last week’s 6-for-51 and two scores.

The Falcons are giving up the fifth-most catches (27) but just the 17th-most yards (167) to RBs over the last five weeks. The Jaguars, despite having a rookie QB, no receivers and a massive amount of injuries on the defensive side still are second-best when it comes to production from their fantasy RBs over the last five weeks.

So all the worry about Maurice Jones-Drew staying healthy enough to be relevant come postseason was worth nothing in the preseason. He was a steal for you in most drafts, and continues to get it done on a bad team with no help around him.

Start him vs. Atlanta, take what you can get and be happy that one of the best values in this year’s draft has paid off in bunches.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
 

Teaser:
<p> MJD will be the focus of Atlanta's defense. And that's not good for fantasy owners</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 16:57
Path: /nfl/nfl-picks-every-game-week-15
Body:

A quick preview of every game on the NFL schedule for Week 15, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports editors Mitchell Light, Rob Doster, Nathan Rush, Patrick Snow and Steven Lassan:

Jaguars (4-9) at Falcons (8-5)
The Dirty Birds have not been great closers, but they have won the games they were expected to win at home — with only defeats to the Packers and Saints (in overtime) in the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome this season.
Falcons by 7

Cowboys (7-6) at Buccaneers (4-9)
The first Saturday night game of the season pits two teams licking their wounds. The Boys have lost back-to-back games on painful missed potential game-winning field goals — both of which came after timeouts that “iced” kicker Dan Bailey. The Bucs have simply lost seven straight games and are desperate to win.
Cowboys by 7

Bengals (7-6) at Rams (2-11)
St. Louis is the Gateway to the second-Worst team in the NFL (and No. 2 pick in the draft); Cincy is still eyeing a longshot playoff berth.
Bengals by 6

Dolphins (4-9) at Bills (5-8)
Miami crushed Buffalo, 35–8, in Week 11. That was the Bills’ third straight loss in a streak that has since grown to six consecutive defeats.
Bills by 1

Titans (7-6) at Colts (0-13)
Rookie Jake Locker could make his first start of the season, following a left calf injury to old man Matt Hasselbeck. But Tennessee is just hoping to avoid handing Indy its first win of the year. The Titans still have an outside shot at a Wild Card berth, but must win their last three.
Titans by 13

Redskins (4-9) at Giants (7-6)
Comeback king of New York, Eli Manning, will be looking to avenge a 28–14 Week 1 loss at Washington when the G-Men host the Skins.
Giants by 7

Saints (10-3) at Vikings (2-11)
Drew Brees loves playing indoors. N’Awlins is 3–2 in the elements this season and 7–1 under a roof in a temperature-controlled dome.
Saints by 10

Packers (13-0) at Chiefs (5-8)
Expect to hear plenty of great quotes from Vince Lombardi and Hank Stram prior to this rematch of Super Bowl I, which the Packers won 35–10 on Jan. 15, 1967 in Los Angeles.
Packers by 16

Panthers (4-9) at Texans (10-3)
Cam Newton hits Houston looking to win his third straight road game, after taking victories in Indy and Tampa Bay in Weeks 12 and 13.
Texans by 2

Seahawks (6-7) at Bears (7-6)
Chicago has gone 0–3 since Jay Cutler’s thumb injury; the Hawks are 4–1 the past five weeks.
Bears by 2

Lions (8-5) at Raiders (7-6)
Ndamukong Suh returns just in time to show the Black Hole what a real scary, dirty player looks and acts like on and off the field.
Raiders by 1

Jets (8-5) at Eagles (5-8)
This meeting would have been a quote-board bonanza earlier this season. As it stands, Philly’s only role is that of Jets spoiler.
Eagles by 2

Browns (4-9) at Cardinals (6-7)
Phoenix is rising, having won five of its last six games following a 1–6 start to the season.
Cardinals by 5

Patriots (10-3) at Broncos (8-5)
Tom Brady and Tim Tebow are carrying a combined 10–0 record, with 18 TDs and two INTs over the past five weeks. This week, however, either Tom or Tim Terrific will suffer a loss.
Patriots by 4

Ravens (10-3) at Chargers (6-7)
San Diego needs to win out and have Denver and Oakland fall apart in order to contend for the AFC West title. Meanwhile, Baltimore is jockeying for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Both teams badly need this win.
Ravens by 1

Steelers (10-3) at 49ers (10-3)
Both of Pittsburgh’s top two offensive players — quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey — have been diagnosed with high-ankle sprains and are questionable heading into this Monday night matchup with the fifth-ranked overall defense (305.1 ypg) and No. 1 rush defense (70.5 ypg). The Niners could use a win, however, having lost two of their last three after a 9–1 start to the season.
Steelers by 1

Last week: 11-5 // Season: 144-64
 

Teaser:
<p> A look at every NFL game for Week 15 — including the New England Patriots at Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers at San Francisco 49ers — with the consensus pick of Athlon Sports' editors.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 16:55
Path: /news/can-we-stop-tim-tebow-vs-tom-brady-comparisons
Body:

Stop. Please stop. OK, so Tim Tebow is having a good run. But just because the Denver Broncos are playing the New England Patriots doesn't mean that Tim Tebow is squaring off against Tom Brady.

By calling it Tebow vs Brady, we're putting Tim Tebow (the guy who has started, like, 11 NFL games) in the same breath as Tom Brady, possibly the greatest quarterback of all time. Does anyone think this whole Tebow-mania has gone even farther than way too far now?

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to take anything away from Tim Tebow's recent run. OK, fine, I do. I want to take a lot away from it. Let me explain:

The Denver Broncos' winning streak can barely be attributed to Tebow's play. On almost any other team, his 3 quarters of "zeroics" would put his team out of the running for a 4th quarter comeback. It's not Tebow who's winning these games, it's the Broncos' defense and special teams that's winning these games. Remember when the Bears made it to the Super Bowl in 2006 riding Rex Grossman, a stellar defense and a special teams that no one had ever seen before? 

Do you think a Bears-Patriots match-up would be "Grossman vs Brady?" Let me answer that for you: No...no it definitely would not. (Well, maybe they would be if he "Grossman'd" after every big win.)

But this year, since Tebow has become the poster boy for Jesus, there's something "spiritual" about Denver's run. As if God is wearing his Tebow jersey every week and magically makes things happen in the Broncos' favor just to see his second favorite son win another one.

But if anything, God's wearing a Vonn Miller jersey. Or a Matt Prater jersey. Or a Vonn Prater jersey (he's God, he can do awesome stuff like that.)

Let's go over the Tebow's winning streak, with reasons you can point to (that has nothing to do with Tebow) why the Broncos' won that game.

Against the Bears: Caleb Hanie is not good at football. Marion Barber is an idiot. And then, Matt Prater.

Against the Vikings: Due to injuries, you were next in line to play corner for the Vikings.

Against the Chargers: Some Sundays, the Chargers forget how to play football. This was one of those Sundays. Oh, and Matt Prater never forgets how to kick field goals.

Against the Jets: OK, this comeback was pretty cool. But if Sanchez doesn't throw a pick 6, Tebow's last second run makes it a 13-10 Jets win.

Against the Chiefs: Tebow was 2 for 8. I don't need another reason.

Against the Raiders: Willis McGahee ran for 163 yards. 39 more than Tebow threw for. And Eddie Royal returned a punt for a touchdown. 

Against the Dolphins: Denver got the onside kick and the Dolphins laid down.

So, while Tebow gets all the glory, the Denver defense is the real MVP of this team, keeping other teams off the scoreboard just enough so Tebow can shred a few prevent defenses on his way to being the reason for the season.

So, instead of Tebow vs Brady, can we please start referring to this Sunday's Pats-Broncos game as Brady vs A Very Good Defense, a Great Kicker, Pretty Good Special Teams and a Guy Who Hikes the Ball.

Thank you.

Teaser:
<p> Just because they're playing each other, Tim Tebow shouldn't be compared to Tom Brady</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 16:29
Path: /fantasy/roddy-white-and-julio-jones-will-let-you-down-against-jags
Body:

It’s semifinals weeks for most of us in the fantasy football world, and you start clinching up a little more when it comes to setting your lineups. Such is the case with the opening game of Week 15 as the Jacksonville Jaguars travel to play the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.

Falcons receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones are certainly two players many of us are counting on to get our semifinals started off the right way, but the numbers say they might not come through.

The 4-9 Jaguars, and their decimated secondary, are still the No. 4 ranked pass defense in the league at 190.8 yards per game thanks to being thrown on just 30.8 times per game (ranked 28th in the league). And unlike other teams ranked high against the pass because they are terrible against the run — Cleveland (2nd against the pass 31st against the run) and St. Louis (8th against the pass and 32nd against the run) — Jacksonville is 16th against the run at 111.5 yards per game.

However, the Jaguars have allowed six of the last eight feature backs they have faced to gain at least 80 all-purpose yards and an average of 16.1 fantasy points per game.

Week 6 — Rashard Mendenhall, 20.6
Week 7 — Ray Rice, 8.8
Week 8 — Arian Foster, 18.9
Week 10 — Donald Brown, 8.5
Week 11 — Chris Ogbonnaya, 20.4
Week 12 — Arian Foster, 18.4
Week 13 — Ryan Mathews, 18.9
Week 14 — LeGarrette Blount, 14.5

Conversely, No. 1 WRs have averaged 9.3 fantasy points since Week 6 against the Jaguars. They are tied for seventh in the league with just 16 passing touchdowns allowed.
Jacksonville has allowed six TDs to receivers in the first seven weeks and four in the last four weeks — three of them coming from three different San Diego receivers in Week 13.

Week 6 — Mike Wallace, 14.6
Week 7 — Anquan Boldin, 12
Week 8 — Kevin Walter, 9.5
Week 10 — Reggie Wayne, 2.8
Week 11 — Greg Litle, 8.4
Week 12 — Andre Johnson, 3.2
Week 13 — Vincent Jackson, 18.8
Week 14 — Mike Williams, 5

The only No. 2 receiver to have a valuable fantasy day since Week 6 would be San Diego’s Malcom Floyd in Week 13 with four catches for 108 yards and a score.

Granted, the Jaguars have faced decent running teams like the Ravens and Texans since Week 6 and have not faced potent passing attacks in that time (i.e. Colts, Browns, Buccaneers and the Texans), but what do you consider the Falcons is the question going into Week 15, and what do you think their defense will give to the Jaguars?

The Falcons are 16th in the league in rushing. Michael Turner is averaging 12.5 points per game since Week 6. He has had three single-digit fantasy days in a row with no TDs in that time and 76 yards rushing as the best day. Atlanta is 10th in passing with White averaging 13.5 points since Week 6 and the rookie Jones in and out of the lineup. When he’s in and active he’s great (12.45 PPG this season). He has battled hamstring issues this season and is now probable with a back injury for Thursday’s game.

The Falcons rank top 10 in both rushing attempts per game (28.2) and passing attempts per game (36.9).

So you really have to flip a coin and try to figure out which Atlanta offense is out there Thursday night? Is it the one that wants to showcase two talented receivers in a nationally televised game or one that wants to pound Turner against a team that has been much more friendly to RBs in six of the last eight weeks than it has receivers? Turner averages 22.3 yards per game rushing more at home this season (94.2) than away, whereas Ryan is pretty even at home and away this season.

Also keep in mind, the Jaguars only have RB Maurice Jones-Drew as a viable fantasy option and he faces the No. 5 rush defense in the league. So this one could be over in a hurry.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
 

Teaser:
<p> The Falcons receivers won't put up many fantasy points against Jacksonville</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 15:31
Path: /overtime/bernie-fine-headline-current-or-future
Body:

It's hard to tell if that Bernie Fine headline is from today or from the future. If all the allegations of sexual abuse coming out against the ex-Syracuse basketball assistant coach are true, we're guessing he probably won't stop when he finally does get to prison. 

Although we'd hope that the inmates would be doing more of the abusing than getting abused.

Teaser:
<p> Depending on how you read it, it can a number of ways</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 13:39
All taxonomy terms: arrested, Chicago Bears, drugs, Sam Hurd, News
Path: /news/sam-hurd-arrested-buying-truckload-drugs
Body:

Sam Hurd, the Chicago Bears receiver known for...well, he wasn't really known for anything football related, was arrested for trying to buy 5-10 kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana each week. Now he's known as the unknown football player who tried to buy a crapload of drugs.

Hurd, who was apparently trying to set up a huge drug dealing network in Chicago (shouldn't you wait til your football career is over to try this?) was caught trying to buy the drugs off an undercover agent on Wednesday night.

Rumors are flying around Chicago that he was a drug kingpin and provided his teammates with drugs. Those rumors won't go away until the investigation is complete, but it looks like Hurd is not going to be a Chicago Bear for much longer.

The Bears are reportedly trying to waive him and are going to attempt to get a portion of his contract money back. Whether Hurd has already spent that on cocaine and smoke remains to be seen, but we're guessing the Bears won't be getting much in return after he spends whatever he has on attorney fees.

Why a professional athlete would think this is a good idea makes no sense whatsoever. The Bengals Jerome Simpson was caught with almost 9 pounds of pot in his house. 

If convicted, Hurd wuld face up to 40 years in prison and a $2 million fine. Hurd had signed a three year $5.1 million contract this summer with the Bears. It completely blows the mind that he would throw it all away trying to become the King of Chicago's drug scene.

Teaser:
<p> The Chicago Bears receiver was allegedly setting up a drug-selling network</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 11:16
Path: /mlb/who-wins-world-series-first-st-louis-cardinals-or-los-angeles-angels
Body:

by Charlie Miller

With Albert Pujols signing with the Los Angeles Angels, ending his 11-year tenure in St. Louis, just how much does that swing the balance of power in baseball? While the Cardinals are coming off their second World Series title in six years, even with Pujols they would have not been a favorite to win again in 2012. But how far does Pujols’ defection knock St. Louis down the pecking order in the National League? The NL Central isn’t exactly the toughest division in baseball.

And how much do the signings of both Pujols and starting pitcher C.J. Wilson push the Angels up the depth chart in the American League? Are those two signings enough to tip the scales to L.A. in the AL West? Remember, two-time AL champion Texas resides in that division. And with the strong AL East — eight of the last 10 AL wild card teams have come from the AL East — winning the division is the only realistic shot at the postseason if you play in the Central or West.

So, who wins the World Series first, St. Louis or the Angels?

Good question.

The Case for St. Louis
St. Louis has a few loose ends to tie up in order to lock up some key players, but World Series hero David Freese, clean-up hitter Matt Holliday, rising star Allen Craig, centerfielder Jon Jay, starter Jaime Garcia, prospect Shelby Miller and essentially an entire bullpen are locked up for the next four years or beyond. And at relatively reasonable prices. Ace Chris Carpenter, who was one of the Redbirds’ postseason heroes last season, is signed for two more years. So not only do the Cardinals have a proven core in place, but there remains enough payroll flexibility to fill holes.

Now back to the “loose ends.” They hold the key to the Cardinals’ next five years. Catcher Yadier Molina can be a free agent after 2012 and Adam Wainwright is signed through 2013. Getting extensions done for Molina and Wainwright will keep the Cardinals squarely in the hunt in the National League.

They may not be the odds-on favorite to win any single season, but as we’ve seen over and over again, once teams reach the postseason, the season resets enough for any hot team to win. Were the Cardinals really the best team in baseball in 2011? No. Not even the best in the National League. They squeaked into the playoffs courtesy of the Atlanta Braves on the final day of the season. Having an ace in Wainwright and stalwart Molina behind the plate gives the Redbirds a terrific opportunity to reach the postseason. Then anything can happen.

The final loose end is securing one more first baseman/outfielder. Not only for 2012 while the Cardinals wait for Craig to return from knee surgery, but for 2013 and beyond after Lance Berkman is presumably gone.

It’s easy to see how the Cardinals can be in the hunt in the NL Central for the next several seasons. The reigning champion Brewers are about to lose Prince Fielder and MVP Ryan Braun is facing a 50-game suspension. That’s a huge blow to the lineup in Milwaukee. It remains to be seen how quickly the Cubs can become contenders again, but at this point there are no real signs of improvement. They lost their best hitter from last season and have two ugly contracts (Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano) strangling their payroll. I suspect new president Theo Epstein will right the ship soon, but I don’t see the Cubs becoming a juggernaut in the near future. The Reds can be contenders, but they face payroll constraints and must deal with the impending free agency of Brandon Phillips after 2012 and former MVP Joey Votto after 2013.

Let’s face it, there are no dominant teams in this division, leaving an opportunity for St. Louis.

What could go wrong
St. Louis is beginning a new era, and not simply because No. 5 is no longer hitting in the No. 3 hole. Tony La Russa is no longer in charge in the dugout. Rookie manager Mike Matheny is the new sheriff in town and has little experience. While Matheny played a role in the development of both Molina and Wainwright, both could leave just as Pujols — a close friend of Molina — did this winter.
And what if Matheny just isn’t ready? Having a veteran pitching coach in Dave Duncan in the dugout and experienced Jose Oquendo still on the staff provides some kind of safety net. But if Matheny falters badly, the franchise could be set back a few years. The bullpen, which was much maligned early last season, became a team strength down the stretch. But counting on arms like Jason Motte, Eduardo Sanchez, Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn and Marc Rzepczynski could prove to be fool’s gold. And what if Freese’s World Series performance turns out to be the peak of his career?

Bottom Line
There are certainly no guarantees, far from it. But the Cardinals will continue to put themselves in position to make the playoffs for the next several seasons. And that alone gives them a shot at winning the franchise’s 12th championship.

Teaser:
<p> Now that Albert Pujols has departed St. Louis for sunny Los Angeles, just how does his move shift the balance of power in baseball?</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 08:34
Path: /college-football/best-sec-teams-bcs-era
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @AthlonBraden)

The BCS is wrapping up its 14th season of action, and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late '90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?

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

"First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
* - team played in the SEC Championship game


15. Georgia Bulldogs, 2005 (10-3, 7-2*)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Championships: SEC
Key Stats: Forced four Jared Zabransky interceptions in the 48-13 season opening win, finished eighth in the nation in scoring defense (16.4 ppg), and D.J. Shockley led the SEC in passing efficiency (148.26).
Award Winners: N/A
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Tim Jennings (2nd, 2006), Mohamed Massaquoi (2nd, 2009)

The Dawgs began by destroying No. 19 Boise State and beat No. 7 Tennessee on the road before losing in the Cocktail Party to No. 18 Florida (without starting quarterback D.J. Shockley) and at home against No. 17 Auburn. Richt’s bunch, led by Shockley, rebounded with a win over No. 24 Georgia Tech and shellacked No. 3 LSU in the SEC title game 34-14. The Sugar Bowl had to be moved to Atlanta due to Hurricane Katrina, and the Dawgs ran into a Pat White-Steve Slaton buzzsaw, losing 38-35 to West Virginia.

14. LSU Tigers, 2001 (10-3, 6-3*)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Josh Reed set SEC receiving records for yards in a game (293), season (1,740) and career (3,001) as well as the single-game receptions mark (19). All but his career yards mark still stand. His 145.0 yards per game led the nation.
Award Winners: Josh Reed (Fred Biletnikoff)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Josh Reed (2nd, 2002), Michael Clayton (1st, 2004), Devery Henderson (2nd, 2004), Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004)

This team may have been the third-best team in the SEC in 2001 — it lost to No. 3 Florida and No. 4 Tennessee on consecutive weeks early in the year. But the Bayou Bengals easily handled the extraordinarily talented Tennessee team in the SEC championship game 31-20. Led by the SEC’s all-time leading receiver and Biletnikoff winner Josh Reed, Nick Saban announced that the Tigers had returned to prominence with LSU’s first conference title since 1988 and a Sugar Bowl championship over Illinois.

13. Tennessee Volunteers, 2001 (11-2, 7-2*)
Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer
Championships: SEC East, Citrus Bowl
Key Stats: Finished third in the nation in rushing defense (85.3 ypg) while Travis Stephens’ 122.0 yards rushing per game led the SEC. The Vols were a 17.5-point underdog to Florida.
Award Winners: Casey Clausen (Citrus Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: John Henderson (1st, 2002), Donte Stallworth (1st, 2002), Albert Haynesworth (1st, 2002), Eddie Moore (2nd, 2003)

Ranked no lower than 11th in the polls, Tennessee — and the rest of the nation — had to deal with the tragedy of 9/11 in their own way. The rivalry game with No. 2-ranked Florida was moved from Week 3 to December 1 where the Vols were 17.5-point underdogs. With 226 yards from Travis Stephens, the Vols pulled off the massive 34-32 upset and earned a trip to Atlanta an a rematch with an LSU team Tennessee had already defeated back in September. A likely trip to the National Championship Fiesta Bowl and a date with the best Big East Team of the BCS Era was on the line for Big Orange Nation. However, backup LSU quarterback Matt Mauck ran the Tigers to victory over the heavily favored Vols. Tennessee went on to beat Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. This team sent 22 players into the NFL Draft from 2002-2004.

12. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2008 (12-2, 8-1*)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC West
Key Stats: Finished No. 2 nationally against the run (74.1 ypg) and third nationally in total defense (263.5 ypg); John Parker Wilson’s 7,924 yards are an all-time Alabama record.
Award Winners: Andre Smith (Outland), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Andre Smith (1st, 2009), Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011)

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

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

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

10. Georgia Bulldogs, 2002 (13-1, 8-1*)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Finished fourth in the nation in scoring defense (15.1 ppg) and led the SEC in scoring (32.1); no Georgia team has scored more than 2002’s 450 points.
Award Winners: David Pollack (SEC Player of the Year), Mark Richt (SEC Coach of the Year), Musa Smith (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Jonathan Sullivan (1st, 2003), George Foster (1st, 2003), Boss Bailey (2nd, 2003), Jon Stinchcomb (2nd, 2003), Ben Watson (1st, 2004), Sean Jones (2nd, 2004), David Pollack (1st, 2005), Thomas Davis (1st, 2005), Reggie Brown (2nd, 2005), Tim Jennings (2nd, 2006)

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

9. LSU Tigers, 2007 (12-2, 7-2*)
Head Coach: Les Miles
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: LSU beat seven ranked teams; the only BCS champion with two losses.
Award Winners: Glenn Dorsey (Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott, SEC Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Glenn Dorsey (1st, 2008), Tyson Jackson (1st, 2009)

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

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

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

7. Auburn Tigers, 2004 (13-0, 9-0*)
Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: The Tigers finished the regular season No. 3 in the BCS standings, led the nation in scoring defense (11.3 ppg), led the SEC in scoring offense (32.1 ppg); Jason Campbell led the league in passing efficiency (172.89).
Award Winners: Carlos Rogers (Thorpe), Jason Campbell (SEC Off. Player of the Year), Carnell Williams (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Tommy Tuberville (AP National, SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Ronnie Brown (1st, 2005), Carnell Williams (1st, 2005), Carlos Rogers (1st, 2005), Jason Campbell (1st, 2005), Marcus McNeill (2nd, 2006), Ben Grubbs (1st, 2007)

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

6. Florida Gators, 2006 (13-1, 8-1*)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Florida held Heisman winner Troy Smith to four completions in the title game and the Buckeyes to 82 total yards.
Award Winners: Percy Harvin (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Reggie Nelson (1st, 2007), Jarvis Moss (1st, 2007), Derrick Harvey (1st, 2008), Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010)

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

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

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

2010 Schedule:

Sept. 4: Auburn 52, Arkansas State 26 (Auburn, AL)
Sept. 9: Auburn 17, Mississippi State 14 (Starkville, MS)
Sept. 18: Auburn 27, Clemson 24 (Auburn, AL)
Sept. 25: Auburn 35, (#12) South Carolina 27 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 2: Auburn 52, UL Monroe 3 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 9: Auburn 37, Kentucky 34 (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 16: Auburn 65, (#12) Arkansas 43 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 23: Auburn 24, (#6) LSU 17 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 30: Auburn 51, Ole Miss 31 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 6: Auburn 62, Tennessee-Chattanooga 24 (Auburn, AL)
Nov. 13: Auburn 28, (#9) Alabama 27 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Dec. 4: Auburn 56, (#18) South Carolina 17 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 10: Auburn 22, (#2) Oregon 19 (Glendale, AZ, BCS NCG)

4. Tennessee Volunteers, 1998 (13-0, 9-0*)
Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer
Championships: SEC, Fiesta Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: This team put 11 players into the first or second round of the NFL Draft; Peerless Price is second all-time in BCS bowls with 242 all-purpose yards in the Fiesta Bowl, his 49.8 yards per catch is a BCS title game record.
Award Winners: Phillip Fulmer (AP National Coach of the Year), Peerless Price (Fiesta Bowl MVP), David Cutcliffe (Broyles)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Al Wilson (1st, 1999), Peerless Price (2nd, 1999), Jamal Lewis (1st, 2000), Shaun Ellis (1st, 2000), Raynoch Thompson (2nd, 2000), Chad Clifton (2nd, 2000), Dwayne Goodrich (2nd, 2000), Casey Coleman (2nd, 2000), Deon Grant (2nd, 2000), Travis Henry (2nd, 2001), John Henderson (1st, 2002)

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

1998 Schedule:

Sept. 5: Tennessee 34, (#17) Syracuse 33 (Syracuse, NY)
Sept. 19: Tennessee 20, (#2) Florida 17 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 26: Tennessee 42, Houston 7 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 3: Tennessee 17, Auburn 9 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 10: Tennessee 22, (#7) Georgia 3 (Athens, GA)
Oct. 24: Tennessee 35, Alabama 18 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 31: Tennessee 49, South Carolina 14 (Columbia, SC)
Nov. 7: Tennessee 37, UAB 13 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 14: Tennessee 28, (#10) Arkansas 24 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 21: Tennessee 59, Kentucky 21 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 28: Tennessee 41, Vanderbilt 0 (Nashville, TN)
Dec. 5: Tennessee 24, (#23) Mississippi State 14 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 4: Tennessee 23, (#2) Florida State 16 (Tempe, AZ, Fiesta Bowl)

3. LSU Tigers, 2003 (13-1, 8-1*)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: Only one time did a team score more than 14 points against LSU (Arkansas, 24). Led the nation in total defense (252.0 ypg) and scoring defense (11.0 ppg), held Heisman winner Jason White to 13-of-37 passing in title game.
Award Winners: Chad Lavalais (SEC Def. Player of the Year), Nick Saban (AP National Coach of the Year), Justin Vincent (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Michael Clayton (1st, 2004), Devery Henderson (2nd, 2004), Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004), Marcus Spears (1st, 2005), Corey Webster (2nd, 2005), Joseph Addai (1st, 2006), Andrew Whitworth (2nd, 2006), LaRon Landry (1st, 2007), Dwayne Bowe (1st, 2007), Chris Davis (1st, 2007)

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

2003 Schedule:

Aug. 30: LSU 49, UL Monroe 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 6: LSU 59, Arizona 13 (Tucson, AZ)
Sept. 13: LSU 35, Western Illinois 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 20: LSU 17, (#7) Georgia 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 27: LSU 41, Mississippi State 6 (Starkville, MS)
Oct. 11: Florida 19, LSU 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Oct. 18: LSU 33, South Carolina 7 (Columbia, SC)
Oct. 25: LSU 31, (#17) Auburn 7 (Baton Rouge, LA
Nov. 1: LSU 49, Louisiana Tech 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 15: LSU 27, Alabama 3 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 22: LSU 17, (#15) Ole Miss 14 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 28: LSU 55, Arkansas 24 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Dec. 6: LSU 34, (#5) Georgia 13 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 4: LSU 21, (#3) Oklahoma 14 (New Orleans, LA, Sugar Bowl)

2. Florida Gators, 2008 (13-1, 8-1*)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Led the SEC in rushing (231.1 ypg), total offense (445.1 ypg), scoring (43.6 ppg), pass efficiency defense (96.76), scoring defense (12.9 ppg), punting (38.1 ypp), turnover margin (+1.57) and passing efficiency (170.6). Percy Harvin led the SEC in scoring at 10.2 ppg.
Award Winners: Tim Tebow (Maxwell, SEC Off. Player of the Year), Brandon James (SEC Special Teamer of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)

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

2008 Schedule:

Aug. 30: Florida 56, Hawaii 10 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 6: Florida 26, Miami 3 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 20: Florida 30, Tennessee 6 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 27: Ole Miss 31, Florida 30 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 4: Florida 38, Arkansas 7 (Fayetteville, AR)
Oct. 11: Florida 51, LSU 21 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 25: Florida 63, Kentucky 5 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 1: Florida 49, Georgia 10 (Jacksonville, FL)
Nov. 8: Florida 42, Vanderbilt 14 (Nashville, TN)
Nov. 15: Florida 56, South Carolina 6 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 22: Florida 70, Citadel 19 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 29: Florida 45, Florida State 15 (Tallahassee, FL)
Dec. 6: Florida 31, Alabama 20 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 8: Florida 24, Oklahoma 14 (Miami Gardens, FL, BCS NCG)

1. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 (14-0, 9-0*)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Finished second in the nation in total (244.1 ypg), rushing (78.1 ypg) and scoring defense (11.7 ppg).
Award Winners: Mark Ingram (Heisman Trophy), Rolando McClain (Butkus, SEC Def. Player of the Year), Javier Arenas (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Javier Arenas (2nd, 2010), Terrence Cody (2nd, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011)

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

Florida and Alabama split against each other over the 2008-2009 seasons. Both had a Heisman Trophy winner and both went on to claim the national title. However, the Crimson Tide get a small edge because they finished the season undefeated — something Tim Tebow never did in his four-year college career. Since these two specific teams will obviously never have the chance to face each other, fans are left to argue about which team would win if pitted against each other on a neutral field with all the marbles on the line.

Now, that might actually be something worth Tebow-ing for.

2009 Schedule:

Sept. 5: Alabama 34, Virginia Tech 24 (Atlanta, GA)
Sept. 12: Alabama 40, FIU 14 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 19: Alabama 53, North Texas 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 26: Alabama 35, Arkansas 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 3: Alabama 38, Kentucky 20 (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 10: Alabama 22, Ole Miss 3 (Oxford, MS)
Oct. 17: Alabama 20, South Carolina 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 24: Alabama 12, Tennessee 10 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 7: Alabama 24, LSU 15 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 14: Alabama 31, Mississippi State 3 (Starkville, MS)
Nov. 21: Alabama 45, Tennessee-Chattanooga 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 27: Alabama 26, Auburn 21 (Auburn, AL)
Dec. 5: Alabama 32, Florida 13 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 7: Alabama 37, Texas 21 (Pasadena, CA, BCS NCG)

"First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
* - team played in the SEC Championship game

Just missing the cut: 1999 Alabama Crimson Tide, 2000 Florida Gators, 2001 Florida Gators, 2006 Arkansas Razorbacks, 2007 Florida Gators


Athlon Sports Ranks the Best Teams in Every BCS League:

The Top 10 Big East Teams of the BCS Era

The Top 10 ACC Teams of the BCS Era

The Top 10 Big Ten Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 Pac-12 Teams of the BSC Era
The Top 10 Big 12 Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 SEC Teams of the BCS Era

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports ranked the best SEC teams of the BCS era.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 07:10
Path: /college-football/coaching-candidates-replace-todd-graham-pittsburgh
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

With Todd Graham leaving for Arizona State, Pittsburgh has to embark on its third coaching search in the last two seasons. Mike Haywood was hired to replace Dave Wannstedt last December, but was fired two weeks later due to a domestic violence charge. Graham was hired from Tulsa to replace Haywood, but chose to depart after just one season.

Who will replace Todd Graham at Pittsburgh?

Steve Addazio, head coach, Temple – Addazio is in his first season as a collegiate head coach, leading Temple to an 8-4 regular season record and a berth in the New Mexico Bowl. He is regarded as a good recruiter and has spent time as an assistant at Notre Dame, Indiana and Florida. Addazio is very familiar with the East Coast, as he grew up in Connecticut and worked there as a head coach on the high school level. There's very little track record as a head coach on the FBS level, but Addazio's ability to recruit and success with the Owls in 2011 makes him an intriguing candidate for Pittsburgh.

Teryl Austin, defensive backs coach, Baltimore Ravens – Austin’s name popped up in last season’s coaching search and will likely do so once again. He played at Pittsburgh from 1984-87 and was born in Sharon, Pa., so there's certainly a lot of familiarity with the Panthers. He has plenty of experience on the college level, working at Penn State (1991-92), Wake Forest (1993-95), Syracuse (1996-98), Michigan (1999-02) and at Florida in 2010. Austin has never been a head coach, but he has a solid resume and NFL experience.

Tom Bradley, interim Penn State coach – Bradley nearly landed the Pittsburgh job last season and figures to be in the mix once again. However, he is also in the running to keep the full-time spot at Penn State. Bradley was born in Johnstown, Pa. and has spent his entire coaching career at Penn State. His blue-collar attitude and approach would work well in Pittsburgh, but he has very limited experience as a head coach. One tricky question that must be answered: Is Bradley too toxic after the situation at Penn State? Although Bradley would be a solid hire, it would be difficult for Pittsburgh to hire him after what transpired in Happy Valley this season.

Paul Chryst, offensive coordinator, Wisconsin – Chryst is a highly-regarded offensive mind and seems ready for his first head coaching position. Under his direction, Wisconsin has led the Big Ten in scoring offense for three consecutive years and finished fourth nationally in scoring with an average of 44.6 points a game in 2011. Chyrst has stops as an assistant at Oregon State and in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers. He graduated from Wisconsin in 1988, so he may not be anxious to leave Madison. However, Bret Bielema is entrenched as the head coach, so he will have to look outside of Wisconsin for a chance to lead a program. Chryst wouldn't be flashy, but all signs point to him being a successful head coach.

Frank Cignetti, offensive coordinator, Rutgers – Cignetti is a Pittsburgh native, and it would be a major surprise if he didn't have interest in the position. He has been a successful assistant throughout his career, making stops with Fresno State, North Carolina, California and Rutgers, along with NFL experience in Kansas City, New Orleans and San Francisco. Cignetti had a short stint as the Panthers’ offensive coordinator under Dave Wannstedt from 2009-10. Although he has never been a head coach, Cignetti’s background and experience at Pittsburgh has to be attractive for athletic director Steve Pederson.

Mario Cristobal, head coach, FIU – There's no question Cristobal is one of the top coaches from a non-AQ school. But is he ready to make the jump to a BCS job? Cristobal inherited a disaster at FIU and has recorded a 24-37 record in five seasons, while leading the Golden Panthers to back-to-back bowl games. He played at Miami and has spent most of his coaching career in South Florida, so he may not be eager to take a job out of the state. Hiring Cristobal would be a home run for Pittsburgh, but the interest may not be mutual.

Ron English, head coach, Eastern Michigan – Coaching at Eastern Michigan is arguably one of the toughest jobs in college football. The Eagles have had just two seasons of at least six victories since 1988. English went 2-22 in his first two seasons in Ypsilanti, but led Eastern Michigan to a 6-6 record in 2011. He also has made stops as an assistant at San Diego State, Arizona State, Michigan and Louisville. English’s background on defense and blue-collar approach would be a good fit in Pittsburgh. Like Paul Chryst, English would not be a flashy name, but would be a good hire for a program that needs stability. 

K.C. Keeler, head coach, Delaware – Keeler has very successful on the FCS level, leading Delaware to an 81-46 record over the last 10 years. Also, the Blue Hens have made four playoff appearances under his watch, including a FCS championship in 2003. Before coming to Delaware, Keeler was also a successful head coach at Rowan, posting an 88-21-1 record in nine years. He grew up in Emmaus, Pa., but graduated from Delaware, so he may not be too interested in leaving - even for a chance to land a good FBS job. 

Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson – Morris recently inked a lengthy extension at Clemson, but an opportunity to be a head coach could be enough to convince him to leave Death Valley. He has experienced a quick rise through the coaching ranks, as he has spent just two seasons on the FBS level. Morris coordinated a Tulsa offense that averaged 41.4 points a game last season, while leading the Tigers to an average of 33.6 this year. Before coming to Tulsa in 2010, Morris was a high school coach at Lake Travis in Texas. Not having collegiate head coaching experience has to work against Morris, but he’s emerging as one of the top offensive minds in college football.

Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State – Narduzzi has been steadily moving up the coaching ranks over the last 10 years. He worked at Miami (Ohio) in 2003 as defensive coordinator, before jumping to take the same position at Cincinnati with Mark Dantonio in 2004. He joined Dantonio at Michigan State in 2007 and has developed one of the top defenses in college football this season. The only blemish on Narduzzi’s resume is the lack of head coaching experience. It's only a matter of time before Narduzzi lands a FBS head coaching gig - but is he ready to lead a BCS school? Considering Pittsburgh needs stability, choosing someone with no head coaching experience could be risky. 

Paul Rhoads, head coach, Iowa State – Luring Rhoads away from Iowa State won’t be easy. But it would be a mistake if Pittsburgh didn't at least call about his interest. Rhoads has been one of the nation’s most underrated coaches over the last three years, leading the Cyclones to an 18-19 record and two bowl appearances. He previously coached at Pittsburgh as the defensive coordinator from 2000-07. Rhoads is a coach with a blue-collar attitude, which will work well in Pittsburgh. Considering Rhoads is from Iowa, leaving behind the Cyclones could be difficult. However, winning at Pittsburgh in the Big East (until 2014) is an easier road to handle than the Big 12. 

Sal Sunseri, outside linebackers coach, Alabama – Although he has no extended head coaching experience, Sunseri has to be an attractive target for Pittsburgh. He played with the Panthers from 1978-81 and worked at the school from 1985-92 as a defensive assistant. Sunseri also has stops as an assistant at Louisville, LSU, Michigan State and with the Carolina Panthers. He joined Alabama’s staff in 2009, working with the outside linebackers and serving as an assistant head coach to Nick Saban. Considering Sunseri’s playing and coaching experience, he would likely consider this a destination job and wouldn’t be looking to bolt anytime soon (if ever).

Mark Stoops, defensive coordinator, Florida State – Stoops has been rumored to be a target for the open Auburn defensive coordinator position, but for now, appears to be staying at Florida State. Stoops is due for his first coaching position soon, and he’s paid his dues as an assistant, working at South Florida, Wyoming, Houston, Miami and Arizona. He has no connections to Pennsylvania, but grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, so he is somewhat familiar with the area. And his recruiting connections in Florida could pay dividends if he is hired at Pittsburgh. Florida State is bringing back one of the top defenses in college football next season, which could entice Stoops to stick around and raise his profile for 2012 openings.

Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart signed an extension at Western Kentucky this offseason, but that likely won’t stop Pittsburgh from pursuing him if it is interested. The Hilltoppers won just two games in the two years prior to his arrival, but Taggart has brought steady improvement, leading Western Kentucky to a 7-5 record this season. He worked under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford from 2007-09 and is one of the youngest head coaches (35) in college football.

Longshots

Bud Foster, defensive coordinator, Virginia Tech – Despite opportunities to interview as a head coach – including Pittsburgh last season – Foster has been content to remain an assistant with Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech. He has coordinated the Hokies’ defense since 1995, emerging as one of the top assistants in college football during that span. With the Panthers moving to the ACC in 2014, would Foster want to compete against Beamer? Or is he content to remain a defensive coordinator? Considering Foster's history of sticking around in Blacksburg, it would be a surprise if he left for Pittsburgh.

Todd Haley, former Kansas City Chiefs coach – Haley spent a good chunk of his youth in Pittsburgh, as his dad (Dick Haley) worked as the Steelers’ player personnel director from 1971-1990. Although Haley is certainly familiar with the area, he does not have any collegiate head coaching experience. However, Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson hired a NFL dropout (Bill Callahan) at Nebraska, which makes Haley one to keep on the radar.

Jeff Jagodzinski, former Boston College head coach – It’s been a surprise Jagodzinski hasn’t landed another college head coaching position after two successful years at Boston College. He did not have an amicable divorce from the Eagles, as he was fired for interviewing with the Jets for their head coaching position at the end of the 2008 season. Since getting canned from Boston College, he has spent one year with the Buccaneers and one with the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL.

Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State – If you are looking for a wildcard to watch in this search, Lembo is the name to remember. He recorded a 44-14 record and two FCS apperances in five seasons at Lehigh, before leading Elon to a 35-22 record and one playoff appearance in five years. After finishing with six victories in the two years prior to Lembo’s arrival, the Cardinals won six games in 2011. Lembo is a bright offensive mind and has had success at every stop.

Randy Shannon, former Miami head coach – Shannon has no ties to the Pittsburgh area, but has head coaching experience, posting a 28-22 record in four years at Miami. Although he didn’t have tremendous success on the field, Shannon helped to cut down the off-the-field incidents and improve the Hurricanes’ work in the classroom. After a disappointing tenure at Miami, he is hungry to get back in the mix and prove he can have more success on the sidelines than he did with the Hurricanes.

Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Oklahoma – Venables is regarded as one of the top defensive coordinators in college football, working as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator since 2004. He is a Kansas native and has only coached in the Midwest, so it seems unlikely he would jump at an opportunity to coach at Pittsburgh.

Teaser:
<p> Who will replace Todd Graham at Pittsburgh in 2012?</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 06:23
Path: /college-football/new-orleans-bowl-preview-san-diego-state-vs-ul-lafayette
Body:

by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)

New Orleans Bowl
Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. San Diego State (8-4)

Date: Dec., 17 at 9 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.

Both teams ended this season with an 8-4 record, with Louisiana-Lafayette claiming third in the Sun Belt and San Diego State finishing fourth in the Mountain West. The Big Easy crowd will see plenty of points in what should be a Saturday night thriller — the Ragin’ Cajuns averaged over 32 points per game this season while the Aztecs scored over 29 points per contest. Both clubs were led by head coaches in their first year at their respective schools. Long-time New Mexico head coach Rocky Long joined Brady Hoke at SDSU as defensive coordinator in 2009 after leaving Albuquerque. When Hoke took the Michigan job, Long was promoted to lead the Aztecs. Mark Hudspeth took over in Lafayette this season after two years as a position coach at Mississippi State under Dan Mullen. Prior to MSU, Hudspeth was a very successful head coach at Division II North Alabama for seven seasons.

The New Orleans Bowl will be the first postseason contest for Louisiana-Lafayette as an FBS member, and it will be only the third bowl game at any level in school history. San Diego State got its first postseason win since 1969 in last year’s 35-14 Poinsettia Bowl victory over Navy. The Aztecs will only be making their third postseason appearance over the last 20 seasons, so back-to-back bowl wins would be very significant to the growth of the SDSU program.

San Diego State had seven players named first-team All-Mountain West, including two-time, all-league tailback Ronnie Hillman. The elusive runner totaled 1,656 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground this season. Five Ragin’ Cajuns were tabbed first-team All-Sun Belt, with tight end Ladarius Green receiving that honor for the second consecutive season. He is the NCAA's active career leader in touchdowns by a tight end.

WHEN SAN DIEGO STATE HAS THE BALL

It all starts with the aforementioned Hillman. The best San Diego State runner since Marshall Faulk ranked No. 3 in the nation in rushing, Hillman is averaging 138 yards per game. He topped the 100-yard rushing mark nine times this season, while going over 140 yards in seven of those games. The sophomore sensation is actually eligible for next April’s NFL draft (three years removed from high school) so this could his last SDSU game.

Quarterback Ryan Lindley had an inconsistent season, having to break in new targets after the departures of receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson from last season’s potent offense. Colin Lockett led the Aztecs with 52 catches for 885 yards, but the top red zone target is All-MWC tight end Gavin Escobar (seven TDs). The SDSU offensive line did an excellent job in pass protection, as well as paving the way for Hillman.

All-Sun Belt linebacker and leading tackler Lance Kelly will lead a Louisiana-Lafayette defense that ranked 72nd in the nation. Obviously, the Ragin’ Cajuns' top priority will be to stop Hillman from running wild. Louisiana-Lafayette will attempt to get some pressure on Lindley with all-league defensive lineman Bernard Smith, who led the team with 13 tackles for loss and six and a half sacks.

WHEN LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE HAS THE BALL

Quarterback Blaine Gautier is the key player on the Ragin’ Cajuns efficient attack, which ranked 65th in total offense but 32nd in scoring. The junior signal caller tossed 20 touchdowns against five interceptions this season, while also adding 434 yards on the ground. Running back Alonzo Harris led the team with 638 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gautier has a pair of first team All-Sun Belt weapons in receiver Javone Lawson and tight end Ladarius Green. Lawson had 54 catches for 899 yards and six scores. Green struggled with injuries early in the season, but he had 32 receptions for 308 yards and four touchdowns in his last four games. SDSU will definitely need to know where No. 89 is at all times.

Senior linebacker Miles Burris led the Aztecs with a staggering 19 tackles for loss (eighth in the country) and eight sacks this season. SDSU had 27 takeaways this year and is led by two All-MWC defensive backs, Larry Parker (seven interceptions) and Leon McFadden

Special Teams

Both teams have excellent punters and do not get much in the return game. The advantage here falls to Louisiana-Lafayette based on field-goal kicking. The Ragin’ Cajuns kicker and punter, Brett Baer, was 16-of-18 on field goal attempts this year with five makes of 40-plus yards. He also averaged 40.5 yards on 75 punts, including stopping 24 inside the 20-yard line.

San Diego State punter Brian Stahovich, a two-time All-MWC selection, averaged a solid 43.4 yards on 57 attempts. He had 16 punts over 50 yards and put 17 of them inside the 20-yard line.

Aztecs kicker Abelardo Perez struggled this season, only converting five of his 13 field-goal tries.

Prediction

San Diego State seems to have the talent advantage in this one, but Louisiana-Lafayette will play well in its home state. Mark Hudspeth is a rising star in the coaching profession, and his staff has had three weeks to scheme for Ronnie Hillman and the Aztecs’ defensive pressure.

SDSU is one of the best teams in the country in turnover margin, and that could make the difference in the New Orleans Bowl. Look for an exciting Saturday night in the Big Easy, and for Hillman to star in a close Aztecs’ victory.

San Diego State 31, Louisiana-Lafayette 27

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2011 New Orleans Bowl: San Diego State vs. UL Lafayette.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 06:18
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-rankings-week-15
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 15 Fantasy Football Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 15 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

OFFENSIVE SCORING
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

DEFENSIVE SCORING
0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points

KICKER SCORING
PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points

Teaser:
<p> Don't know who to start this week? Athlon Sports ranks all the positions you need to set your fantasy line up</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 05:33
Path: /college-football/boise-state-kellen-moore-finale-highlight-early-bowl-matchups
Body:

Bowl season is upon us, and there are several quality storylines in the early matchups. Some college football stars to look for in the pre-Christmas slate are Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, San Diego State tailback Ronnie Hillman, Utah State runner Robert Turbin, Louisiana-Lafayette tight end Ladarius Green and TCU linebacker Tank Carder. The Horned Frogs won the Mountain West, and they will take on WAC champion Louisiana Tech in an interesting Poinsettia Bowl matchup. Boise State’s Moore will lead one of the more accomplished senior classes in college football history into Las Vegas to tangle with Arizona State in what could be Dennis Erickson’s last collegiate game. Additionally, C-USA champion Southern Miss will meet Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl before Larry Fedora leaves Hattiesburg to take over at North Carolina.

Pre-Xmas Bowl you are most excited to see?

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
I will go with the Las Vegas Bowl — and not just for the glitzy panoramic shots and plethora of talent in Sin City. Arizona State and Boise State will square off in the Dirk Koetter Bowl for the only the second time in history, with ASU winning the only previous meeting 56-7 back in 1996. The most intriguing storyline isn't what league Boise State will be in next fall or Todd Graham coaching the Sun Devils in 2012; instead, it should be one of the most celebrated senior classes to ever go through any university. Seventeen of the starting 24 will be playing in their final college game, including the NCAA's all-time winningest quarterback Kellen Moore and Boise State single-season receiving touchdown record holder Tyler Shoemaker. Throw in safety George Iloka, tailback Doug Martin, defensive linemen Billy Winn and Shea McClellin and linebacker Byron Hout, and you will be watching the final game for a class that has gone 49-3 thus far. This group needs to be appreciated one more time as they attempt to get to 50 wins.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch
I’m actually looking forward to the Poinsettia Bowl because I believe Louisiana Tech, a 10.5-point underdog, has a legitimate chance to beat TCU. Tech is one of the more undervalued teams in the nation. The Bulldogs went 8–4 overall and won their final seven games, including a 27–7 win at Ole Miss and a 24–20 victory at Nevada. They lost by two points at Southern Miss (11–2), by one point to Houston (12–1) and by six, in overtime, at Mississippi State. Sonny Dykes’ team will need a big game from tailback Lennon Creer, a one-time Tennessee Vol who has rushed for 80 yards or more five times this season. When healthy — he missed the final two games with an Achilles injury — Creer is a true difference-maker. TCU is obviously a very good team — the Horned Frogs won at Boise State — but this team isn’t quite as stout on defense in 2011. The Frogs have given up 28 points or more four times, including 50 to Baylor and 40 to SMU (in overtime). Louisiana Tech should be able to score some points; it will be up to the Bulldog defense to keep TCU’s offense in the 20s.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I will take the Saturday night party at the New Orleans Bowl when Louisiana-Lafayette meets San Diego State. Both programs have nice momentum right now, and there are two stars in particular that fans should check out. The Aztecs are led by running back Ronnie Hillman, who totaled 1,656 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground this season. The elusive sophomore (although he is NFL draft-eligible for being three years removed from high school) topped the 100-yard mark nine times this season, going over 140 yards seven times. Ragin’ Cajuns tight end Ladarius Green struggled with injuries early in the season, but he had 32 receptions for 308 yards and four touchdowns in his last four games. He is also the NCAA active career leader in touchdowns by a tight end. Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth is a rising star and led the Ragin’ Cajuns to their first postseason appearance since becoming an FBS member in his first season at the school. San Diego State seems to have a slight talent advantage, but Louisiana-Lafayette should play well in its home state.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
I’m intrigued by a couple of the pre-Christmas matchups, but probably the most by the Las Vegas Bowl. Arizona State enters this game with little momentum, after losing its last four regular season games and coach Dennis Erickson was canned following the finale. Erickson will coach in the bowl game, but can the Sun Devils send him out a winner? Boise State just missed out on a trip to a BCS game and this is another opportunity for it to earn a victory against a team from one of the AQ conferences. Although the Sun Devils struggled at the end of the regular season, their passing attack could give the Broncos trouble. Boise State struggled to stop TCU’s receivers and has been dealing with injuries in the secondary most of this year. If Arizona State is motivated, the offense should be able to move the ball through the air. However, can its defense slow down the Broncos? How about Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore taking on Sun Devils’ linebacker Vontaze Burfict? Assuming Arizona State shows up ready to play, this has the potential to be one of the most entertaining games of bowl season.
 

Teaser:
<p> Boise State, Kellen Moore finale Highlight Early Bowl Matchups</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 17:43
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-tight-end-rankings-week-15
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 15 — Tight End Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 15 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

OFFENSIVE SCORING
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Rob Gronkowski NE at DEN
2 Jimmy Graham NO at MIN
3 Jermichael Finley GB at KC
4 Jason Witten DAL at TB (Saturday)
5 Antonio Gates SD vs. BAL
6 Tony Gonzalez ATL vs. JAC (Thursday)
7 Aaron Hernandez NE at DEN
8 Brandon Pettigrew DET at OAK
9 Owen Daniels HOU vs. CAR
10 Kellen Winslow TB vs. DAL (Saturday)
11 Vernon Davis SF vs. PIT
12 Dustin Keller NYJ at PHI
13 Jake Ballard NYG vs. WAS
14 Jermaine Gresham CIN at STL
15 Brent Celek PHI vs. NYJ
16 Greg Olsen CAR at HOU
17 Anthony Fasano MIA at BUF
18 Dallas Clark IND vs. TEN
19 Ed Dickson BAL at SD
20 Visanthe Shiancoe MIN vs. NO
21 Jared Cook TEN at IND
22 Heath Miller PIT at SF
23 Scott Chandler BUF vs. MIA
24 Evan Moore CLE at STL
25 Marcedes Lewis JAC at ATL (Thursday)
26 Daniel Fells DEN vs. NE

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 14:53
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-running-back-rankings-week-15
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 15 — Running Back Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 15 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

OFFENSIVE SCORING
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Arian Foster HOU vs. CAR
2 Ray Rice BAL at SD
3 Maurice Jones-Drew JAC at ATL (Thursday)
4 LeSean McCoy PHI vs. NYJ
5 Chris Johnson TEN at IND
6 Michael Bush OAK vs. DET
7 Adrian Peterson MIN vs. NO
8 Marshawn Lynch SEA at CHI
9 Michael Turner ATL vs. JAC (Thursday)
10 Felix Jones DAL at TB (Saturday)
11 Shonn Greene NYJ at PHI
12 Reggie Bush MIA at BUF
13 Ryan Mathews SD vs. BAL
14 Beanie Wells ARI vs. CLE
15 Roy Helu WAS at NYG
16 Cedric Benson CIN at STL
17 Steven Jackson STL vs. CIN
18 Willis McGahee DEN vs. NE
19 Frank Gore SF vs. PIT
20 Darren Sproles NO at MIN
21 Marion Barber CHI vs. SEA
22 LeGarrette Blount TB vs. DAL (Saturday)
23 Rashard Mendenhall PIT at SF
24 Ahmad Bradshaw NYG vs. WAS
25 BenJarvus Green-Ellis NE at DEN
26 Ryan Grant GB at KC
27 C.J. Spiller BUF vs. MIA
28 Jonathan Stewart CAR at HOU
29 Brandon Jacobs NYG vs. WAS
30 Ben Tate HOU vs. CAR
31 DeAngelo Williams CAR at HOU
32 Donald Brown IND vs. TEN
33 Mike Tolbert SD at BAL
34 Peyton Hillis CLE at ARI
35 Pierre Thomas NO at MIN
36 Kevin Smith DET at OAK
37 Mark Ingram NO at MIN
38 Maurice Morris DET at OAK
39 Toby Gerhart MIN vs. NO
40 Khalil Bell CHI vs. SEA
41 Daniel Thomas MIA at BUF
42 Dexter McCluster KC vs. GB
43 LaDainian Tomlinson NYJ at PHI
44 Thomas Jones KC vs. GB
45 Kendall Hunter SF vs. PIT
46 Danny Woodhead NE at DEN
47 Ricky Williams BAL at SD
48 James Starks GB at KC

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 14:39
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-quarterback-rankings-week-15
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 15 — Quarterback Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 15 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

OFFENSIVE SCORING
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Aaron Rodgers GB at KC
2 Drew Brees NO at MIN
3 Tom Brady NE at DEN
4 Eli Manning NYG vs. WAS
5 Matthew Stafford DET at OAK
6 Tony Romo DAL at TB (Saturday)
7 Cam Newton CAR at HOU
8 Tim Tebow DEN vs. NE
9 Matt Ryan ATL vs. JAC (Thursday)
10 Philip Rivers SD vs. BAL
11 Michael Vick PHI vs. NYJ
12 Joe Flacco BAL at SD
13 Mark Sanchez NYJ at PHI
14 Ben Roethlisberger PIT at SF
15 Andy Dalton CIN at STL
16 Rex Grossman WAS at NYG
17 Carson Palmer OAK vs. DET
18 Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF vs. MIA
19 Matt Moore MIA at BUF
20 Matt Hasselbeck TEN at IND
21 T.J. Yates HOU vs. CAR
22 Alex Smith SF vs. PIT
23 Josh Freeman TB vs. DAL (Saturday)
24 John Skelton ARI vs. CLE
25 Tarvaris Jackson SEA at CHI
26 Christian Ponder MIN vs. NO

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 14:36
Path: /overtime/kendrick-perkins-drops-32-pounds-new-biggest-loser-winner
Body:

The Biggest Loser winner was revealed last night, but I think we may have a new loser who might be vying for second place.

Kendrick Perkins put on a few pounds last year. He's not the type of player known for lack of effort. The Oklahoma City Thunder player apparently packed on all his 2010 pounds after suffering a knee injury.

But instead of loafing on his couch all summer cramming Twinkies in his mouth and praying for a year-long NBA lockout like a kid hoping for a snow day, Kendrick hit the gym twice a day and dropped all his excess weight.

Perkins told the Associated Press about his workout:

Perkins said he spent about three hours many mornings during the offseason lifting weights and doing conditioning work to help get him out of his knee braces, then he'd get up shots and play pickup games whenever he could. He also hired a nutritionist to help get him slimmed back down to 275 pounds, where the Celtics had him listed at the start of last season.

"I was just eating whatever I wanted. You have to change up your diet a little bit. But there was a lot of things that was healthy on the menu that I actually liked," Perkins said. "I feel a ton better. … It's just a sacrifice you've got to put in. You've really just got to be honest and look yourself and look yourself in the mirror and go from there. [...]

"Obviously, when you get lighter, you move quicker and you jump higher. I've never been a real leaper but I've got some kind of hops now," Perkins said. "It's all good."

OK, so the Biggest Loser winner lost like 250 pounds, nowhere near what Perkins worked off. But still. He should be commended.

So what does this mean for the Oklahoma City Thunder? Maybe they'll play him during crunch time of playoff games now that he's a leaner (and still pretty mean.)

Teaser:
<p> The OKC forward dropped a lot of offseason weight</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 14:16
All taxonomy terms: Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/college-students-guide-boozing
Body:

College Students’ Guide to Boozing
Via: Best Online Colleges blog

Remember the Periodic Table? It's colorful display of all the universe's elements draped every college and high school science class. But were you ever really interested in the symbol for magnesium? No. So here's a much better version of that table.

The College Student's Guide to Boozing takes all the elements of sweet, sweet, alcohol and puts them in delicious Periodic Table form. Starting at the weakest (cider) and going all the way to something called "shit on grass." Which actually sounds more like what you do after you've drank most of this periodic table.

Click on the image to make it bigger.

Teaser:
<p> If you thought the Periodic Table taught you important stuff, you were right.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 08:22
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-defensespecial-teams-rankings-week-15
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 15 — Defense/Special Teams Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 15 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

DEFENSIVE SCORING
0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points

Rk Player OPPONENT
1 Chicago Bears vs. SEA
2 Green Bay Packers at KC
3 Pittsburgh Steelers at SF
4 Baltimore Ravens at SD
5 Cincinnati Bengals at STL
6 San Francisco 49ers vs. PIT
7 Houston Texans vs. CAR
8 Detroit Lions at OAK
9 New York Jets at PHI
10 Dallas Cowboys at TB (Saturday)
11 Atlanta Falcons vs. JAC (Thursday)
12 Tennessee Titans at IND
13 Seattle Seahawks at CHI
14 Arizona Cardinals vs. CLE
15 Philadelphia Eagles vs. NYJ
16 Miami Dolphins at BUF

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 07:50
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-kicker-rankings-week-15
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 15 — Kicker Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 15 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

KICKER SCORING
PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 John Kasay NO at MIN
2 Dan Bailey DAL at TB (Saturday)
3 Stephen Gostkowski NE at DEN
4 David Akers SF vs. PIT
5 Mason Crosby GB at KC
6 Billy Cundiff BAL at SD
7 Sebastian Janikowski OAK vs. DET
8 Neil Rackers HOU vs. CAR
9 Jason Hanson DET at OAK
10 Robbie Gould CHI vs. SEA
11 Nick Novak SD vs. BAL
12 Mike Nugent CIN at STL
13 Rob Bironas TEN at IND
14 Matt Prater DEN vs. NE
15 Alex Henery PHI vs. NYJ
16 Lawrence Tynes NYG vs. WAS

Teaser:
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Post date: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 07:41

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