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The committee approach at running back has become more prevalent in college football over the last five years, so it’s no surprise most teams have two or three players that could start each week for their offense.

The SEC is loaded at running back in 2013, with Georgia and Alabama taking the top two spots in Athlon’s top 25 backfields. But the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs aren't the only ones from the SEC in the rankings, as Texas A&M checks in at No. 5 and LSU is No. 14.

How did we come up with these rankings? A couple of factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2013 all factored into the rankings for the backfield. While some teams like Miami and Arizona are ranked largely due to one player, teams like Texas A&M, USC and Stanford may not have a superstar this year but have no shortage of depth.

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context. 

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature. 
 
Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.
 
It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 13th annual Athlon Awards. 

Ranking the Top 25 Running Back Units for 2013

1. Georgia
The Bulldogs lack depth in the backfield, but the Todd Gurley-Keith Marshall duo is the best in college
football. Gurley and Marshall combined for 2,144 of Georgia’s 2,556 rushing yards last year and scored 19 touchdowns. Gurley ranked second in the SEC by averaging 98.2 rushing yards per game in conference play. Both players could rush for 1,000 yards in 2013, as Georgia’s coaching staff plans to get Marshall
more involved in the offense this year.
 

2. Alabama 
Eddie Lacy is gone, but the Crimson Tide still have a deep stable of options. Leading the way is sophomore T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 scores as a true freshman. Yeldon is an Athlon Sports second-team preseason All-American. At 6-foot-1, 201 pounds, sophomore Kenyan Drake is a change-of-pace option, but he will face competition for carries from touted freshman Derrick Henry, junior Jalston Fowler and sophomore Dee Hart.
 

3. Texas 
The Longhorns return three running backs who have rushed for at least 500 yards in a season during their careers. Sophomore Johnathan Gray is the headliner after rushing for 701 yards as a true freshman in 2012. Joe Bergeron scored 16 touchdowns last season, and Malcolm Brown (742 yards in 2011) returns to full strength after missing most of 2012 due to injuries.


4. Oregon 
Despite losing Kenjon Barner, the Ducks are in good shape at running back. De’Anthony Thomas is one of college football’s most explosive players and is expected to handle more carries in 2013. Byron Marshall is also due for an increased workload after averaging 5.1 yards per carry in 2012. True freshman Thomas Tyner is one of the top running backs in the 2013 signing class and will be difficult for new Oregon coach Mark Helfrich to keep on the sidelines.
 

5. Texas A&M 
The Aggies likely won’t have a 1,000-yard rusher in 2013, but this unit has assembled plenty of depth thanks to the arrival of transfers Tra Carson (Oregon) and Brandon Williams (Oklahoma). Senior Ben Malena rushed for 808 yards and eight scores last season and has surprising power for a 5'8" running back. Talented sophomore Trey Williams is due for a bigger role in the offense after rushing for 376 yards and five touchdowns in 2012.


6. Wisconsin
Despite losing Montee Ball, the Badgers are in great shape at running back. Senior James White has 2,571 yards and 32 touchdowns in his career, while sophomore Melvin Gordon is a future star in the Big Ten. True freshman Corey Clement could be Wisconsin’s No. 3 option this season.
 

7. Baylor
Lache Seastrunk finished 2012 on a tear, averaging 138.5 yards per game over his final six contests. Seastrunk is expected to be one of the Big 12’s top rushers in 2013. Senior Glasco Martin is a punishing runner and scored 15 touchdowns on 179 attempts last year.
 

8. Ohio State
Yes, Carlos Hyde is suspended for at least three games, but Ohio State still has a wealth of options in the backfield. Junior Rod Smith, senior Jordan Hall, sophomore Bri’onte Dunn and redshirt freshman Warren Ball will shoulder the workload while Hyde is suspended and each could start for a handful of teams in college football. True freshmen Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott will also figure into the mix.
 

9. Nebraska
Ameer Abdullah filled in admirably when Rex Burkhead suffered a knee injury early last season, finishing 2012 with 1,137 yards and eight scores. Abdullah is set to build on those totals in 2013, but sophomore Imani Cross (324 yards last year) will push for playing time.
 

10. Arizona
Ka’Deem Carey thrived in coach Rich Rodriguez’s system, leading the nation with an average of 148.4 yards per game in 2012. The junior may not top last year’s 1,929 yards, but he is in for another big year. Daniel Jenkins considered a transfer to Washington State but returned to Tucson this summer. Jenkins and Pierre Cormier will compete for the No. 2 role.
 

11. Florida State
After rushing for 640 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, James Wilder Jr. is set to emerge as one of the ACC’s top backs in 2013. Junior Devonta Freeman has 1,239 yards over the last two years and will serve as Florida State’s No. 2 option. Redshirt freshman Mario Pender is a player to watch.


12. Arizona State
Even though Cameron Marshall has finished his eligibility, Arizona State’s rushing attack is in good shape with the return of Marion Grice and DJ Foster. Grice averaged 6.6 yards per carry last season and scored 19 overall touchdowns. Foster recorded 1,026 total yards in 2012.
 

13. Oklahoma
Damien Williams was solid in his first year in Norman, rushing for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns on 176 attempts. He will headline a talented backfield, which includes the nation’s top fullback in Trey Millard and experienced options in Roy Finch (5.2 yards per carry) and Brennan Clay. The future of Oklahoma’s rushing attack is in good hands with freshmen Keith Ford and Alex Ross.
 

14. LSU
If Jeremy Hill isn’t suspended for a significant chunk of the season, LSU could rank higher on this list. But even with Hill’s long-term status for 2013 uncertain, the Tigers have plenty of depth. Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard are proven options, and fullback J.C. Copeland is an underrated player.
 

15. USC
With a new quarterback taking over, expect the Trojans to lean more on the ground attack in 2013. Silas Redd rushed for 905 yards and nine touchdowns in his first season in Los Angeles. But the backfield just isn’t Redd, as true freshman Justin Davis and Ty Isaac ranked among the top-15 running backs in the 2013 signing class, and D.J. Morgan, Tre Madden and Javorius Allen are all capable options for coach Lane Kiffin.
 

16. Kent State
Dri Archer and Trayion Durham form the nation’s top non-BCS running back duo. Archer was one of college football’s best all-purpose players in 2012, recording 1,429 rushing yards and 39 catches for 561 yards last season. Durham rushed for 1,316 yards and 14 scores.
 

17. Miami
Duke Johnson turned plenty of heads as a true freshman last year, rushing for 947 yards and 10 scores, while catching 27 passes for 221 yards and one touchdown. Johnson also made a huge impact on special teams by averaging 33 yards per kick return. Although Johnson is ACC’s premier running back, depth is an issue. The Hurricanes need Eduardo Clements, Dallas Crawford or Gus Edwards to emerge as a reliable No. 2 option to take some of the pressure off of Johnson.
 

18. Kansas
The rushing attack was the lone bright spot in Lawrence last year. James Sims is one of the nation’s most underrated players, rushing for 1,013 yards and nine scores in 2012. He will be joined by Tony Pierson (760 yards last year), Taylor Cox (464) and talented sophomore Darrian Miller in the backfield this season.
 

19. Northwestern
Senior Venric Mark is one of the nation’s top all-purpose running backs. He recorded 1,366 rushing yards and 12 scores last season, while catching 20 passes and taking three returns for scores. Mark is only 5-foot-8, so it’s important for Northwestern to utilize its backups to spell the Texas native throughout the year. Senior Mike Trumpy is expected to serve as the top backup, and he has 1,061 yards in his career.
 

20. Washington
Bishop Sankey emerged as Washington’s go-to back in 2012, recording 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns on 289 attempts. While Sankey is one of the Pac-12’s top rushers, the Huskies are looking to address the depth this fall. Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper are talented but have struggled to stay healthy.
 

21. Stanford
Stepfan Taylor is gone, but Stanford’s rushing attack isn't in dire straits. Anthony Wilkerson rushed for 224 yards and one score in a backup role last season and has 914 yards and seven touchdowns in his career. Tyler Gaffney is back after spending a year playing minor league baseball, while redshirt freshman Barry Sanders will make his anticipated debut in 2013.
 

22. Western Kentucky
Even though new coach Bobby Petrino likes to spread the ball around through the air, his previous stops at Louisville and Arkansas showed he won’t forget about the rushing attack. Antonio Andrews recorded 3,161 all-purpose yards last year, which ranked second in NCAA history behind Barry Sanders. Leon Allen showed promise in his freshman campaign last year and will serve as backup. Fullback Kadeem Jones is an underrated player.
 

23. West Virginia
With Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey now in the NFL, the Mountaineers will rely more on their rushing attack this year. Andrew Buie is the team’s leading returning rusher (851 yards), but he will be pushed for time from Dustin Garrison and junior college transfer Dreamius Smith. Houston transfer Charles Sims will help in an all-purpose role and is a threat to score each time he touches the ball.
 

24. Oklahoma State
Joseph Randle will be missed, but thanks to some good recruiting by coach Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State should have a 1,000-yard rusher for the seventh consecutive season. Jeremy Smith has shined in a part-time role the last few years, recording 1,439 yards and 25 scores in 39 appearances. Smith will start, but expect to see plenty of Desmond Roland (301 yards in 2012).
 

25. Mississippi State
LaDarius Perkins quietly rushed for 1,024 yards and eight scores last season. The senior headlines Mississippi State’s ground attack, with talented sophomores Derrick Milton and Josh Robinson vying for the No. 2 role. Junior Nick Griffin (223 yards in 2012) suffered a torn ACL in December and his status for 2013 is uncertain.

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Teaser:
College Football's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2013
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/northwestern-football-game-game-predictions-2013
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Northwestern has never recorded back-to-back seasons of double-digit win totals in its program history. But coming off a 10-3 record, which included the Wildcats’ first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl, coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team is poised for even bigger and better things in 2013.

15 starters return for Fitzgerald, including quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark. The defense brings back seven starters, and there’s All-Big Ten talent at each level of the unit. Northwestern won three out of its final games last year, including a 34-20 victory over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl and a 23-20 win in East Lansing against Michigan State.

The Wildcats were just a play or two away from beating Michigan and Nebraska last year. If this team can address its pass defense and find a way to make a few more plays in close games, Northwestern could represent the Legends Division in Indianapolis this December.

What will Northwestern's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates: 

Northwestern's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions

GameSteven
Lassan
Brent
Yarina
Braden
Gall
Mark
Ross
Kevin
McGuire
8/31 at California
9/7 Syracuse
9/14 Western Michigan
9/21 Maine
10/5 Ohio State
10/12 at Wisconsin
10/19 Minnesota
10/26 at Iowa
11/2 at Nebraska
11/16 Michigan
11/23 Michigan State
11/30 at Illinois
Final Projection9-310-29-310-28-4

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Northwestern faces a challenging schedule this year but should be in the thick of the Legends Division race. Last season, the Wildcats finished 10-3 and were just a couple of plays away from a 12-1 mark. If Northwestern can improve its pass defense and continue to average just over 30 points a game, coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team will post a double-digit win total once again. Despite three new starters on the line, the offense will remain dangerous with the return of quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark. The defense has to get better against the pass, but three starters are back – including likely All-Big Ten cornerback Nick VanHoose – giving hope to coordinator Mike Hankwitz for a quick turnaround. Northwestern has a brutal crossover with the Leaders Division, catching Wisconsin and Ohio State in early October. But the Wildcats have a favorable road in Legends Division play, hosting Michigan and Michigan State. Beating the Wolverines or Cornhuskers for the division title won’t be easy, but Northwestern will be a tough out this year and should be a top-25 team on the national level.

Brent Yarina, Big Ten Network, (@BTNBrentYarina)
10-2?! With this grueling schedule?! Yeah, I must be chugging the Purple Kool-Aid. Fact is, I love this Northwestern team. Not only are the Wildcats fresh off a momentum-building 10-3 season, highlighted by the program’s first bowl win since 1949, they return 15 starters (8 offense; 7 defense) from a team that could have won all its games. Even better, Northwestern welcomes back its biggest names, from Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Brandon Vitabile on offense, to Chi Chi Ariguzo, Ibraheim Campbell and Tyler Scott on defense, to Jeff Budzien and the aforementioned Mark on special teams. This team is fast, it’s athletic, it’s balanced (only Ohio State figures to boast a better offense-defense combo), and it’s confident. The only real question is the offensive line, which replaces three starters. That’s a big deal, no doubt, however the anchor (Vitabile) is back and Colter and Mark’s improved health should help offset the inexperience up front.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The schedule is downright nasty for Northwestern and that is what keeps this team from taking a huge next step into the Big Ten championship game. Getting Ohio State and it's reworked defensive line early and at home give the Wildcats a huge chance at a program-defining win. But the back half of the schedule isn't friendly. Road games with Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa over a four-game span following the Ohio State game will be a trying and defining portion of the 2013 schedule. Home games with key division rivals Michigan and Michigan State are also very tough tests. Pat Fitzgerald has assembled the most talented team in Northwestern history, but can it withstand one of the Big Ten's toughest schedules?

Mark Ross
Pat Fitzgerald has been building a consistent winner at Northwestern during his tenure and this fall could be the time it all comes together. The Wildcats return a total of 15 starters, including one of the Big Ten's most explosive players in all-purpose dynamo Venric Mark. Fitzgerald also has two reliable options to call on at quarterback and is pretty deep in pass-catchers. Not to be left out, the defense took a step forward last season and returns experience on each level.

Schedule-wise, Northwestern opens up Big Ten play against Legends division favorite and national title contender Ohio State, but these Wildcats are talented and experienced enough to compete with any team in the league, both at home and on the road. Trips to Madison, Wis., and Lincoln, Neb., won't be easy, but the Wildcats get to host Michigan and Michigan State on their home turf. The pieces are in place for Northwestern to be just as good as it was last season, if not better. That is especially the case if the offensive line jells, the key players stay healthy and the entire team doesn't settle for what it accomplished in 2012.

Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), No2MinuteWarning.com and NittanyLionsDen.com
Last year was a fantastic ride for the gritty and determined Northwestern program. Ten wins was the result of a growing program continuing to build a winning foundation under head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who continues to produce more with less overall talent than many of his counterparts. But that's not to suggest Northwestern is lacking talent, because that is certainly not the case. Venric Mark rushed for over 1,000 yards and emerged as one of the Big Ten's top offensive players who could also do damage on special teams. The Wildcats also have one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten in Kain Colter, but the offensive line could be a concern. With some holes to plug on the line, keeping Colter protected and giving Mark room to work with could be more of an issue this season.

As was the case last season, Northwestern has a defense that will not quit but the talent is not particularly deep in the secondary. Opposing offenses should be able to expose that often enough to keep Northwestern's defense scrambling at times. The linebackers should be fine to hold their own in the middle of the field, so the pressure will be on Northwestern's defensive line to keep the pressure on consistently. This has been one of the problems in recent years as the line seems to break down physically later in games and in the season. This year's schedule is not exactly favorable either, with road games at Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska. Getting Ohio State at home after a bye week could be cause for an upset alert in early October, but I have the Buckeyes taking care of business. I look for Northwestern to be on the outside looking in on the Big Ten Championship Game, but they should absolutely playa  role in the Big Ten Legends Division picture in November, with key home games against both Michigan schools in consecutive weeks. I call Northwestern a wild card more than a legitimate contender.


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Teaser:
Northwestern Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/secs-impact-freshmen-watch-2013
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Darren McFadden, Percy Harvin, Knowshon Moreno, A.J. Green, Warren Norman, Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel are the last eight SEC Freshman of the Year winners.

That is four first-round NFL Draft picks and a Heisman Trophy winner with Harvin also being a part of two BCS national championship teams during his time at Florida. This is the bar that has been set in the nation’s toughest conference for first-year players. And with no end in sight to the SEC’s recruiting dominance — it signed 44 of the top 100 Athlon Consensus 100 prospects — this round of new faces should be just as exciting to watch. A host of big-time playmakers enter the fray with sky-high expectations. And many of these youngsters will play pivotal rolls on championship-caliber teams.

Potential Stars:

Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Ole Miss
He was the No. 1 prospect in the nation and is drawing (unfairly) comparisons to Jadeveon Clowney. While Nkemdiche is a totally different type of defensive end than Clowney, he should have a similar impact in his first year. His work ethic and physical tools will allow him to make plays each week but he will also spend a good deal of time this year learning how to play one of the toughest positions on the field.

Tray Matthews, S, Georgia
The Bulldogs' defense is working through a major rebuild and getting Matthews onto campus in January was a huge blessing. The Athlon Consensus 100 safety is already slotted into the starting lineup for a unit that desperately needs leadership and stability after heavy turnover in the offseason. Matthews is a great athlete with excellent intangibles, so he should adjust quickly to the college speed.

Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida
The Gators might have finally found an impact playmaker on the outside of the offense in Robinson. He is big, physical, explosive and has NFL written all over him. With injuries mounting, Robinson has a chance to play a huge role for an offense that desperately needs a go-to target in the passing game.

Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel, DE, Auburn
Physically, Lawson is ready to start opposite of Dee Ford at end for Auburn. He will battle with fellow top-100 prospect Daniel — and senior Nosa Eguae — to lock down that spot along the Tigers front for Ellis Johnson. Short (6-2), quick and powerful (260 pounds), Lawson is developed well beyond his years and has a chance to be a special player on the Plains. Even if it is in spot duty behind Eguae.

Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
There is a host of elite running backs entering the SEC this fall but Collins might have the best combination of upside, talent and opportunity. Bret Bielema’s system is run-heavy and there is little depth in the backfield blocking Collins' path to carries. Look for the 5-foot-11, 210-pound speed-power combo to play early and often for the Hogs.

LaQuan Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
The No. 1-rated wide receiver in the nation is landing in an offense that should throw the ball as much as anyone in the league. Treadwell is a monster physically and is as game-ready as any freshman at any position in the nation. He has some talent ahead of him on the depth chart but what he learns from Vince Sanders and Donte Moncrief will only help him develop into a playmaker quicker.

Marquez North, WR, Tennessee
The Volunteers are in desperate need of playmakers at wide receiver to replace the lawfirm of Hunter, Patterson and Rogers. North has gotten rave reviews in camp thus far and has elite vertical ability and size. The top prospect in the Vols class, North is 6-foot-4, 215 and should become the top target for whomever is playing quarterback.

Montravius Adams, DL, Auburn
The massive 6-foot-4, 320-pound tackle likely won’t start but fans will known all about him in short order. He will wear an odd number (No. 1) for a guy weighing in at more than three spins. However, it is his play that will get him noticed on the field as he develops into one of the league’s top true nose tackles.

Jerald Hawkins and Ethan Pocic, OL, LSU
The big redshirt freshman Hawkins had a great offseason and has continued his excellent play in fall camp. After Josh Williford was hurt again, Les Miles has had to move pieces around on his front line. Hawkins could slide into a starting spot at right tackle while the 6-foot-7 Pocic, an early enrollee and top 100 recruit, could start at center.

Related: The Top SEC Heisman Trophy Candidates

But where are all the Crimson Tiders?
Relax, 'Bama Nation. Alabama is so loaded, the Tide gets their own section. Nick Saban set a record this year by signing 15 Athlon Consensus 100 recruits as he has redefined recruiting in recent years. This is why I have to give the Tide their own section:

Derrick Henry, RB
Sure, he is listed as a running back and will get carries but he is so much more than that. He is talented enough to play H-Back, tight end, wide receiver, outside linebacker or even defensive end. But who wants to tackle 6-foot-3, 243 pounds of runner?

Jonathan Allen, DE/OLB
At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, Allen could be the perfect player for the Jack Back role in Saban’s 3-4 scheme. He can rush the passer, play the run and can drop into coverage.

O.J. Howard, TE
The actual H-back position will likely be filled by Howard. The nation’s top tight end recruit needs to improve his in-line blocking but has all the tools to be a big-time player as a hybrid tight end/H-back.

A'Shawn Robinson, DT
He isn’t likely to be a starter but his overly developed young frame and general passion for the game has drawn high praise from all parties. Look for Robinson to make a quick impact.

Reuben Foster, LB
“Grown man” is the phrase that comes to most when watching Foster line up in the middle of the 'Bama defense. He is a physical monster and is trying to pry his way into the lineup as just a true freshman.

Robert Foster, WR
He has drawn Julio Jones comparisons in very short order at The Capstone. He and fellow freshman Raheem Falkins have turned heads in camp — despite a crowded depth chart at wide receiver.

Others to Watch: Ryan Anderson, LB; Dee Liner, DL; Alvin Kamara, RB; Tyren Jones, RB; Altee Tenpenny, RB

Related: Getting to Know the New SEC Coaches

Early Contributors:

Kendell Beckwith, LB, LSU
Has a long way to go but any true freshman who could start at LSU must be talented.

Jeryl Brazil and Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
The “Jalens” have the starting jobs locked up, but these two speedsters could be special.

Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss
One of the nation’s top safety prospects will begin his career as an important nickel back.

Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
If not for No. 1 CB tandem in the nation, he’d likely be locked into a starting job.

Jaleel Hytchye, CB, Kentucky
Could start at corner for the young Wildcats secondary.

Andrew Jelks, OL, Vanderbilt
Will be the top reserve along a developing and improving 'Dores offensive line.

Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn
He is the best long-term option but will need to prove he is ready. Kiehl Frazier's move to safety helps.

Marcus Maye, S, Florida
Will be, at worst, the No. 3 safety for the Gators behind Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins.

Latevius Rayford and Jordan Cunningham, WR, Vanderbilt
A pair of true freshman wideouts have proven themselves quickly in fall camp.

Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Could easily be the starter as Matt Jones sits out recovering from serious viral infection.

Cody Waldrup, C, South Carolina
Struggled with snaps in spring but has tons of ability and the coaches are confident.

Ja’Quay Williams and Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M
Jumbo athletes (6-3, 215 and 6-5, 225 respectively) both could make a big impact right away.

Related: Complete 2013 SEC Football Predictions

Key Reserves:
Tashawn Bower, DE, LSU
Harold Brantley, DT, Missouri

Richie Brown, LB, Mississippi State
Jordan Diggs, LB, South Carolina
Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee
Greg Gilmore, DT, LSU
Jason Hatcher, DE, Kentucky
Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
Frank Herron, DE, LSU
Grant Hill, OL, Alabama
T.J. Holloman, DB, South Carolina
Chris Jones, DE, Mississippi State
Denver Kirkland, OL, Arkansas
Alex Koran and Jordan Diamond, OL, AUB
Christian LaCouture, DT, LSU
Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri
Justin Manning, DL, Texas A&M
Daniel McMillan, LB, Florida
Zach Myers, C, Kentucky
Ryne Rankins, LB, Georgia
Brock and Clayton Stadnick, OL, South Carolina
Tony Stevens, WR, Auburn
Ryan Timmons, WR, Kentucky
Laremy Tunsil, OL, Ole Miss (pictured)
Shaq Wiggins, CB, Georgia
Tim Williams, LB, Alabama

Related: SEC Coaches Anonymously Scout the SEC

Teaser:
SEC's Impact Freshmen To Watch in 2013
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/big-12s-impact-freshmen-watch-2013
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Of late, the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year hasn’t been nearly as impressive as the Defensive Freshman of the Year. Devonte Fields kept a line of elite defensive talents to win Frosh of the Year going in the Big 12. Quandre Diggs, Tony Jefferson, Shaun Lewis, Aldon Smith and Travis Lewis have all won the honor of late.

Meanwhile, J.W. Walsh, last year’s Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, might not even start this fall for Oklahoma State.

And if Big 12 recruiting continues to struggle the way it did during the 2013 cycle, both awards will lack star power. The entire conference signed just four top-100 players this year — or 11 fewer Athlon Consensus 100 prospects than Alabama’s 15.

That said, there are still some bright new faces to watch in this league. And many of these youngsters will play pivotal rolls on championship-caliber teams.

Potential Stars:

Robbie Rhodes, WR, Baylor
Rhodes might be the most gifted athlete in a long line of elite Baylor wide receivers. Tevin Reese has one starting spot locked down but the big, physical Rhodes should sneak his way into the starting lineup almost immediately. He brings a bigger frame than Terrance Williams and as much athletic ability as Kendall Wright — a scary combination.

Hatari Byrd, S, Oklahoma
The rumors about Byrd starting for the struggling Sooners defense have long run rampant in Norman. But as the season inches closer, those rumors are turning into facts as Byrd has seen time with the first-team defense at corner, safety and nickel back. He has great instincts and a big frame (6-1, 200) and will make a big impact in 2013.

Tyrone Swoopes, QB, Texas (pictured)
No, Swoopes won’t relegate David Ash to the bench. But the talk out of camp about the raw physical ability of the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder has been hard to ignore. He could be used in Wildcat situations, short-yardage, trick plays and even as a slot, H-back-type pass-catcher. Look out for this kid.

Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
The No. 2 recruit in the Bears class was this local product from Waco High School. At 6-foot and over 300 pounds, he is physically ready to compete with the Big 12’s O-line. Billings will need to adjust to the pace of play before he can start but that shouldn’t take long for this weight room warrior.

Shelton Gibson and Devonte Mathis, WR, West Virginia
Both youngsters appear to be slotted into, well, the slot. Tavon Austin made this position a marquee location in the West Virginia offense and these two have the potential to replace that production. Both are bigger and more physical than Austin but will have to fight their way into the starting lineup.

Ford Childress, QB, West Virginia
No, Childress likely won’t win the starting QB gig but the coaches haven’t been shy about how much they love the upside of the massive redshirt freshman. Clint Trickett and Paul Millard have much more experience but the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Childress is the long-term plan under center in Morgantown.

Alex Ross and Keith Ford, RB, Oklahoma
The redshirted Ross and true frosh Ford won’t start for the Sooners but will see plenty of reps this fall. Ross (209 pounds) will be one of the top replacements for Damien Williams and Brennan Clay. Both have gotten rave reviews from the coaches and Bob Stoops tends to play a lot of backs.

Related: Top Big 12 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Early Contributors:

Adrian Colbert, S, Texas
A bunch of names will be in the mix to replace Kenny Vaccaro.

Dondre Daley and P.J. Harris, WR, Iowa State
Both redshirt freshmen should see chances to earn starting time.

Reginald Davis and D.J. Polite-Bray, WR, Texas Tech
Both could be asked to step up early and produce behind Eric Ward.

Will Davis, LB, Kansas State
Totally reworked front seven could see a boost from the talked-about Davis.

Kyle Hicks, RB, TCU
Talented star running back is down the depth chart but loaded with talent.

Demonte Hoods, DT, Kansas State
This 300-pounder from Texas has a chance to be a key early contributor on rebuilt line.

L.J. Moore and Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma
Byrd gets the headlines but both Moore and Sanchez will see early time on the outside.

Jerel Morrow, CB, Oklahoma State
Leads a deep and talented freshman corner class for the Pokes.

Curtis Riser, OL, Texas
Talented recruit redshirted last fall and will be a top backup along the line.

Ra’Shaad Samples, WR, Oklahoma State
Small (5-10, 170), speedy slot talent who could provide a quick boost.

Ahmad Thomas, S, Oklahoma
Will get plenty of looks like the rest of the young Sooner defensive backs.

D.J. Ward, DE, Oklahoma
Along with Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Matt Dimon, Ward will factor into the rotation.

Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech
Michael Brewer has been banged up and Webb could be called upon earlier than expected.

Tanner Wood, DE, Kansas State
True frosh was one of the top players in the state and has size (6-5, 240) to play early.

Related: Complete 2013 Big 12 Football Predictions

Key Reserves:
Courtney Arnick, LB, Kansas
Greg Allen and Tevin Shaw, S, Kansas
Deante Burton, WR, Kansas State
Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor
Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma
Noble Nwachukwu, DE, West Virginia
Dee Paul, DB, Texas Tech
Ryan Reid and Orion Stewart, S, Baylor
Seth Russell, QB, Baylor
Jhajuan Seales, WR, Oklahoma State
Zac Veatch, OL, Oklahoma State
Keenon Ward, S, Texas Tech
Darius White, LB, Iowa State
Derrick Woods, WR, Oklahoma

Related: Big 12 Coaches Speak Anonymously About the Big 12

Teaser:
Big 12's Impact Freshmen To Watch in 2013
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 07:14
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/should-i-sign-autograph-flowchart-college-football-players
Body:
It's not easy being a college football athlete. Just ask Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel who's garnered a lot of unwanted attention from the NCAA for allegedly signing autographs for money. That's exactly why the fine folks at Fox Sports decided to step in and help out athletes with this handy-dandy flowchart. We think it should be mandatory reading for every high-profile college football player.
 
Source: Fox Sports
Teaser:
It's not easy being a college football athlete. Just ask Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel who's garnered a lot of unwanted attention from the NCAA for allegedly signing autographs for money. That's exactly why the fine folks at Fox Sports decided to step in and help out athletes with this handy-dandy flowchart. We think it should be mandatory reading for every high-profile college football player.
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 16:31
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-michigan-international-speedway
Body:

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


Next up: Pure Michigan 400 (Michigan International Speedway)
Race: 400 miles/200 laps (Track: 2-mile D-shaped oval)
June 2013 Winner: Greg Biffle


A-List (Pick two, start one)

Jimmie Johnson  Jimmie Johnson
If we're using the June Michigan race as any predictor — and we definitely should, based on the increased speeds of the Gen-6 car — then Jimmie Johnson is a pick more solid than Brian France’s unswayable stance on adding more road courses to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series calendar. Johnson didn’t win back in June for two reasons: The right front tire blew as he was chasing Greg Biffle for the lead, and crew chief Chad Knaus made a poor call on the second-to-last pit stop that hurt Johnson’s track position. Other than those faults, Johnson would have likely drove to his first Michigan win on a day when three of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars looked primed to win.

That Johnson has yet to win at MIS shouldn’t be a concern this weekend. He owns Michigan’s fourth-best average running position among all drivers, the series lead in most fastest laps in-race and nine career top-10 finishes. Oh, and that four-race “losing skid” he’s on? Yeah, that’s a real drought.


Kasey Kahne
Yes, we’re going with two Hendrick Motorsports drivers as the picks for the A-List. And yes, it’s a really good idea. In June, the organization was looking at a race shaping up to be a battle among three of its teams in Johnson, Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kahne was leading the race and pulling away after the halfway point when he lost a right front tire and careened off the Turn 1 wall, catching his car on fire in progress. He finished 38th.

Kahne, of course, has won since then and figures to be just as strong on Sunday. If anything, Hendrick Motorsports has improved from the Michigan weekend that could-have-been. In the last two oval races, the worst finish for an HMS car was Johnson's 13th-place run at Pocono.

Also consider: Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick


B-List (Pick four, start two)
Greg Biffle  Greg Biffle

The Hendrick Motorsports struggles in June may have gifted a win to Greg Biffle, but his solid run at the southeastern Michigan track wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Biffle has four wins, 10 top 5s and 13 top-10 finishes in his Cup career at MIS. He’s also the fastest active driver during green flag racing in the Irish Hills with an average lap speed of 177.096 mph. The accolades also include a series-best average running position (8.2) and the most laps raced in the top 15 (2,862). If immediate results are more important to your picks, consider that Biffle was plenty strong at the MIS sister track, Auto Club Speedway, when he finished sixth in the spring.


Kurt Busch
A running gag this season for observers of Kurt Busch’s first full-time effort in the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 has been predicting when or why a strong run would fall apart. Busch was plenty strong in June at Michigan when he started second and leap-frogged pole sitter Carl Edwards on the first lap and led the first 21 circuits. Less than nine laps later, though, Busch had stuffed his Chevy in the wall exiting Turn 2. He finished 35th.

It was an accident that looked and felt like Busch was pushing the car too hard after a pit stop sequence didn’t go to plan. That accident has appeared to be a bit of a turning point for Busch, as he’s nabbed five top-10 finishes in the last seven races. A two-time Michigan winner, Busch hasn’t scored a top 5 at the track since 2010. However, with a dose of patience, that could change Sunday.


Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The race that most eats at Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2013 remains his result from Michigan in June. The pre-race talk centered around the event being the one-year anniversary of Earnhardt's last win in the Cup Series. By Lap 120, he appeared to have as good of a shot as anyone. Junior was stretching his lead in the race’s middle parts and felt no pressure when something happened in the engine. Five laps after losing the lead on Lap 126, the No. 88 was in the garage and done for the day.

Earnhardt is typically one of the more collected and reserved drivers in the field, especially in his tenure under crew chief Steve Letarte. Sunday, with the pressure of qualifying for the Chase pretty much gone, we may see a no-holds-barred approach from Driver 88.


Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards left Michigan in June gritting his teeth in frustration. Teammate and eventual race winner Greg Biffle had opted not to fall back and help Edwards clean trash from his car’s front grille during the event, leading to an untimely pit stop. Edwards still managed to finish eighth, but felt a little bit of help could have meant more. That Edwards was able to rally to a top-10 finish shows he’ll likely again be a solid competitor on Sunday.

Edwards owns a pair of victories at the track and 10 career top-10 finishes. Aside from troubles that caught him in the August 2011 race, Edwards has finished on the lead lap in every other Michigan start.

Also consider: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano


C-List (Pick two, start one)
Austin Dillon

One of Bass Pro Shops’ “minor league” NASCAR drivers — let’s be honest, that’s a big reason why he’s racing for Stewart-Haas Racing this weekend in Tony Stewart's No. 14 — gets his best opportunity to date in a Sprint Cup car at a track where he has more Cup Series starts than any other. In two races, Dillon’s average Michigan finish is 17.5. Dillon was nothing short of impressive for a rookie in his most recent race at MIS in June. Driving a Joe Falk-owned, Richard Childress Racing-built No. 33, Dillon started seventh and finished 11th. The day before, he led 61 laps in the Nationwide race before he slapped the wall late in the event.

 

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse looked plenty ready for his step up to NASCAR’s big leagues after scoring consecutive Nationwide Series titles in 2011 and 2012. Amazingly, through 22 races in his full-time Roush Fenway Racing Sprint Cup ride, Stenhouse doesn’t have a single top 10. But that’s a bit of a misleading stat: Stenhouse's six top-15 finishes show he’s been steadily competitive. Driver No. 17 was 16th at Michigan in June.

Also consider: Danica Patrick, Trevor Bayne


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

Teaser:
Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle top the list of fantasy picks for NASCAR's trip to Michigan International Speedway for the Pure Michigan 400.
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 15:17
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-link-roundup-august-13
Body:

One day closer to the start of the season.

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

College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Tuesday, August 13th

Another day, more news about Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and autograph signings. What can Manziel learn from former LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu?

Who will win the Big Ten's individual player awards in 2013?

Saturday Down South takes a look at how the top 25 players in the SEC ranked as recruits.

Former Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk has some words of advice for Syracuse's Drew Allen.

Joel Stave and Curt Phillips are beginning to separate in Wisconsin's quarterback battle.

Western Michigan receiver Jaime Wilson suffered a broken ankle in practice this week.

Steven Godfrey of SB Nation profiles UL Monroe and coach Todd Berry.

Cincinnati tight end Jake Golic has decided to leave the team due to a back injury.

West Virginia's starting quarterback job is still up for grabs.

The key to TCU's Big 12 title hopes will be its offensive line.

Southern Miss has narrowed its quarterback competition.

Another bowl game? Yes, that's correct. Montgomery, Ala. could be getting a game in the new bowl cycle.

LSU will shuffle its offensive line due to an injury to guard Josh Williford.

BYU has lost a starting cornerback for the season due to a knee injury.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez isn't happy with his offense right now.

Where does Colorado's quarterback battle stand?

Teaser:
College Football's Link Roundup: August 13
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 14:29
Path: /mlb/12-amazing-mlb-stats-week-august-5-11
Body:

Oakland’s Josh Reddick goes on a binge in Toronto, Mo blows up, the Brewers can’t win on Thursdays and Clayton Kershaw can’t lose when he gets four runs. These numbers and more, in this edition of amazing MLB stats for the week of August 5-11.

5    Home runs for Josh Reddick in two days
Prior traveling to Toronto last weekend, Josh Reddick of the A’s had just five home runs in 276 at-bats this season. It’s also the number of home runs he hit over the course of eight plate appearances on Friday and Saturday. He came into the series with the Blue Jays batting .203 with a .326 slugging percentage. He hit three homers on Friday and two on Saturday.

.182    Braves’ opponents’ batting average last week
Atlanta pitching limited the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins to an average of 5.7 hits and 2.3 runs per game. The Braves scored one run total in their two losses.

.299    Boston’s opponents’ batting average last week
The Red Sox pitchers were considerably easier to solve than Atlanta’s last week. The Astros and Royals enjoyed batting against the Sox to the tune of a .299 average. Boston lost four of seven games on the road trip to Houston and Kansas City. The Astros plated 10 runs in a game won by Boston, and the Royals socked 16 hits in a Kansas City win.

21    Years since the Royals or the Tigers had a better record than the Yankees
You have to go all the way back to 1991 to find a season in which Detroit or Kansas City finished with a better record than the Yankees. The string ties the Braves, who have finished better than the Pirates for 21 years as well. As of Sunday, the Braves were a game ahead of the Pirates, but the Yankees trailed the Tigers by seven games and the Royals by 2.5.

27-29    Cardinals’ record since June 7
Since early June, the Redbirds have been terribly mediocre. With a 27-29 record over that span, the Cardinals have seen a four-game lead in the tough NL Central turn into a three-game deficit.

3    Consecutive blown saves by Mariano Rivera
The best closer the game has ever seen finally blew three consecutive games. The first on Wednesday at Chicago when he coughed up a one-run lead after allowing a double to Gordon Beckham and single to Adam Dunn in a game the White Sox would eventually win in 12 innings. On Friday in the Bronx, a two-out, two-run homer by Miguel Cabrera cost Rivera the save, but at least the Yankees won in the 10th on a Brett Gardner single. On Sunday, it was Cabrera again who victimized the closer. Rivera gave up solo shots to Cabrera and Victor Martinez to tie the game. Again, it was Gardner who bailed out Rivera with his second walk-off hit, this one a home run, in three days.

6-7    Blue Jays’ record when scoring five or more runs since the break
The Toronto offense has not been the Blue Jays’ problem since the All-Star break. In 13 games the Jays have plated five runs, usually enough to win for most teams. But in those games, the Jays have won six and lost seven.

18-33    Angels’ record vs. AL West teams
The Angels haven’t competed well within their own division this season, and that can’t make owner Arte Moreno very happy. Outside the AL West, the Angels are 35-31, but can’t seem to shake their closest rivals. Los Angeles has lost the last nine games within its division.

32    Days since the Phillies had a save
The last save for the Philadelphia Phillies came on July 11, the week before the All-Star Game. The Phillies are 7-18 during that stretch and produced just two save opportunities during that time, both resulting in blown saves by Jonathan Papelbon.

1-10    Record for the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday
While there is really no explanation, the Brewers own the worst record on any single day in the majors this season.

49-0    Clayton Kershaw’s career record with four runs of support
The Dodgers’ ace recently lowered his major league-best ERA to 1.88. And you would think with that miniscule number, his win-loss mark would be a bit better than 11-7. But he doesn’t exactly receive the best run support in the league, and it doesn’t take much. When he gets four or more runs in his career, he’s 49-0.

1    Game in the standings gained by St. Louis over the weekend
While the Redbirds were losing two of three at home to the rival Chicago Cubs, the NL Central-leading Pirates were getting swept at Colorado. So there was a little silver lining under the arch.

Teaser:
Oakland’s Josh Reddick goes on a binge in Toronto, Mo blows up, the Brewers can’t win on Thursdays and Clayton Kershaw can’t lose when he gets four runs. These numbers and more, in this edition of amazing MLB stats for the week of August 5-11.
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 14:16
Path: /mlb/2013-mlb-power-rankings-aug-13
Body:
Each week during the baseball season Athlon Sports looks at the best (Atlanta Braves) and worst (Houston Astros) baseball teams and players in the league. Here are our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week. 
 
Athlon Sports MLB Power Rankings
 1. Braves Opponents batted .172 last week.
 2. Red Sox Astros and Royals batted .294 off Boston pitching last week.
 3. Dodgers 19 of next 22 games vs. teams with losing records.
 4. Tigers Whipped up on Mo Rivera twice over the weekend.
 5. Pirates Swept at Colorado, now visit St. Louis for another showdown.
 6. Rangers Alex Rios provided a quick spark, but will it last?
 7. Cardinals Lost 13 of 18 and their hold on first place.
 8. A’s In AL West game of flip-flop, Oakland back in second.
 9. Rays Went 2-7 vs. NL West, happy to get back to AL opponents.
10. Orioles Baltimore faring a little better vs. NL West than Rays did.
11. Reds Expect big things at Milwaukee and Chicago this week.
12. Indians Tribe may be running out of gas.
13. Royals Fans still believe the postseason can happen for K.C.
14. Yankees 21-year streaks of better records than Det. and K.C. in jeopardy.
15. Diamondbacks Below .500 since the break and next 10 games will be tough.
16. Nationals Revenge at Atlanta this weekend?
17. Rockies Sweeping the Pirates was fun.
18. Mariners Hisashi Iwakuma hitting a wall: 3-5, 4.59 over last 11 starts.
19. Blue Jays Offense not the problem; 6-7 when scoring 5+ since break.
20. Padres Change of scenery appears to be good for Ian Kennedy.
21. Twins Just two off days left the rest of the season.
22. Mets Still bullish on young pitching.
23. Angels Lost nine in a row within their division.
24. Cubs Batting .226 and scoring less than three runs/game over last 18.
25. Phillies Phillies’ last save was July 11.
26. Giants Have a 3.09 ERA in August, but lost six of 11.
27. Brewers Only 1.5 games worse than defending champs. 
28. Marlins Non-pitchers are batting just .235 this season.
29. White Sox Scored fewest runs in American League.
30. Astros Growing pains keep getting worse.
 
AL Player of the Week
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
The best hitter on the planet continued to crush AL pitching last week. Miggy drove in 11 runs last week and among his four homers were two ninth-inning clouts off Mariano Rivera over the weekend.
 
AL Pitcher of the Week
Anibal Sanchez, Detroit
The Tigers are finally hitting and pitching like most experts expected coming into the season. Last week Sanchez allowed eight hits and three walks to go with his 19 whiffs over 14.2 innings in the Tigers’ wins at Cleveland and New York.
 
NL Player of the Week
Aaron Hill, Arizona
The underrated second baseman finished the week with a pair of hits in four straight games, including three doubles and two home runs, raising his average from .278 to .299. He batted .474 with a 1.471 OPS.
 
NL Pitcher of the Week
Stephen Strasburg, Washington
The Nats’ ace allowed just five and two runs over seven innings against the Braves, a game Washington would ultimately lose, then pitched the first complete game and shutout of his career against Philadelphia.
 
 
 
Teaser:
Each week during the baseball season Athlon Sports looks at the best (Atlanta Braves) and worst (Houston Astros) baseball teams and players in the league. Here are our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week.
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 13:47
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Tennessee Titans, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/tennessee-titans-game-game-predictions-2013
Body:

After just missing out on the playoffs in 2011 with a 9-7 record, the Tennessee Titans struggled throughout last season, finishing a disappointing 6-10. Both the offense and defense shared the blame, as quarterback Jake Locker went through quite a few growing pains in his first season as the starter and the Titans gave up the most points (29.4 per game) in the entire NFL.

The team was extremely busy on the free agent market, as it sought to revamp its offensive and defensive lines and add quality depth to other positions. In the draft the Titans took Alabama guard Chance Warmack with the 10th overall pick and traded up to get Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter early in the second round.

The additions along the offensive line and the signing of free-agent tight end Delanie Walker should only help Chris Johnson in the running game, which likewise will make Locker's job easier. Former Titans' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams also has returned to help current DC Jerry Gray turn around a Titans' defense that had trouble slowing down teams last season.

Third-year head coach Mike Munchak needs to get his team back into playoff consideration, as Titans owner Bud Adams has made it clear he wants to win and soon. Locker also finds himself on the hot seat, as the 2011 first-round pick needs to show Adams, general manager Ruston Webster, Munchak and the coaching staff, his teammates and the fans that he's the long-term answer at quarterback.

Can Locker and company win enough games to be a playoff contender in 2013? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:

Tennessee Titans' 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions

WKOPPWilly
Daunic
Braden
Gall
Brad
Hopkins
Steven
Lassan
Terry
McCormick
Darren
McFarland
Mark
Ross
Nathan
Rush
1at PIT
2at HOU
3SD
4NYJ
5KC
6at SEA
7SF
8BYEBYEBYEBYEBYEBYEBYEBYEBYE
9at STL
10JAC
11IND
12at OAK
13at IND
14at DEN
15ARI
16at JAC
17HOU
Final Projection10-68-89-78-88-88-88-810-6
AFC South5-13-34-23-32-43-34-24-2

Willy Daunic (@WillyD1025), co-host of 102.5 The Game's "Sports Night"
The Titans offseason was filled with a multitude of moves designed to give the team the best chance to win right now.  Mike Munchak and crew probably don't have the luxury of another bad season. As a result there are a ton of x-factors for this club, and the percentages tell you they are more likely to be 6-10 than 10-6. However, I have a strange feeling it's going to hit. The key is the revamped offensive line — adding free agent G Andy Levitre and first-round pick Chance Warmack. They must be a Top 10 unit with the physical presence that hasn't been there in years.  If they can, fellow first-round picks Jake Locker, Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright can take a step forward.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The Titans offense should be much improved with a healthy Jake Locker, rebuilt offensive line and a full year of Dowell Loggains calling the plays. The talent around Locker has improved dramatically through the draft and free agency so the offense could be one of the AFC's better units — if Locker can stay on the field. Defensively, this team needs to iron out the linebacking position and continue to develop a consistent pass rush. The addition of players like Bernard Pollard will help give this team a physical edge it has lacked since Jeff Fisher left town. One or two upsets and this team could push for a winning record, otherwise, it will win the games it is supposed to and lose those it shouldn't win.

Brad Hopkins (@b_hop72), Oilers/Titans LT for 13 years (1993-2005), now co-host of 102.5 The Game's "The First Quarter"
The Titans entered the new millennia this offseason by scratching checks to build depth. [Ryan] Fitzpatrick, [Andy] Levitre, [Shonn] Greene, etc. are insurance that this year goes according to schedule... for them of course. The Titans competing for a divisional title would be "fun" for the fans in 2013, but making it into the playoffs seems to be the focus this year for Mike Munchak and crew. A steal in Week 1 against the Steelers leads to confidence. That confidence carries this team through another tough road trip before getting on a roll in mid-season. If the key guys can stay healthy through November, this team has the talent to finish 9-7 and possibly slip into a wild card spot.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
After a busy offseason in the free agent market and five picks in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft, the Titans have positioned themselves to make a run at a wild card spot in 2013. While the active offseason helped to address some of the concerns, Tennessee still has huge question marks on defense, and quarterback Jake Locker has never started for a full season. Locker has plenty of talent in his supporting cast, and the offensive line was upgraded by the signing of former Buffalo guard Andy Levitre, and the team’s first-round pick in Alabama road grader Chance Warmack. It’s not quite a make-or-break year for Locker, but it’s time for the former first-round pick to take the next step in his development. After a 6-10 finish last season, Tennessee should be closer to .500. But the Titans will fall short of a playoff bid, putting coach Mike Munchak’s job in jeopardy.

Terry McCormick (@terrymc13), TitanInsider.com
The Tennessee Titans have the potential to be much improved over last season when they dipped to 6-10. The offensive line is better, which should make Chris Johnson better. Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and a healthy Kenny Britt should give QB Jake Locker some nice targets to throw to. Locker’s progress is key to the offense developing, and he must not only stay healthy but has to become a more reliable passer. Defensively, the Titans added several pieces, though there were no obvious difference-makers on the defensive line. The biggest change there might be in attitude where safety Bernard Pollard will bring some aggressiveness, which will no doubt be encouraged by Gregg Williams who come back from a year suspension to help coordinator Jerry Gray. The Titans should at least be more competitive than in 2012, but there are still a lot of things that have to break right for them to think playoffs. A tough schedule that includes seven games against playoff teams from a year ago won’t help.

Darren McFarland (@dmac_1025), co-host of 102.5 The Game's "Sports Night"
As you can tell from my predictions, the 2013 season will be streaky. Two tough road tests to start the season and then four of the next five at home to build that confidence back up. Which is precisely what they will have to do on the both sides of the ball during the course of the season. Some games will rely on the much more aggressive defensive philosophy that was installed in the off season with the hire of Gregg Williams and some games will be won by the legs of Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene behind the much improved offensive line. The NFL is a Quarterback dominated league and in the end, the Titans will have to figure out what they have in Jake Locker.

Mark Ross
I really like what the Titans did in the offseason, using free agency and the draft to address key areas of need and depth to pivotal positions. I do think that Jake Locker will put up better results in his second season as the starting quarterback, as a rebuilt offensive line provides better protection and bigger holes for Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene to run through. I also believe the defense will be better as the young guys now have more experience under their belt and veterans like Bernard Pollard and George Wilson are around to set the example.

Optimism aside, however, what I don't like about the Titans in 2013 is something they have no control over — their schedule. The Titans will face five playoff teams from last season, including Houston and Jacksonville twice, and that doesn't include road games at Pittsburgh and St. Louis, where the franchise's winnnigest head coach, Jeff Fisher, now works. If Locker continues to develop, the offensive line jells and the defense plays more physical, the Titans should stay in the hunt for a potential wild card spot all season. If the pieces don't come together, however, it could signal the end of Mike Munchak's career-long relationship with the only franchise he has ever played or coached for.

Nathan Rush
The Titans enter a make or break season for coach Mike Munchak and quarterback Jake Locker with their collective sights set on the final AFC Wild Card spot — with which the division-rival Colts staggered into the playoffs against all odds last year. A 10–6 record should get the job done. In order to do that, however, a few things must happen. Tennessee needs to avoid an 0–2 start by splitting a brutal two-game road trip — at Pittsburgh and at Houston — to open the season. The Titans need to go 4–2 in the division, most likely sweeping the Jaguars and then splitting with the Colts and Texans. Tennessee must protect LP Field in winnable non-division games against the Chargers, Jets, Chiefs and Cardinals. Expectations may be low in Nashville, but 10 wins (and a playoff berth) are within reach for the Titans in 2013.

Related Tennessee Titans Content
Tennessee Titans 2013 Schedule Analysis
Ranking the NFL's Starting Quarterbacks for 2013
Ranking the NFL's Coaching Jobs for 2013
8 NFL Head Coaches on the Hot Seat in 2013

25 NFL Players on the Hot Seat in 2013
12 NFL Quarterbacks on the Hot Seat in 2013
15 NFL Wide Receivers/Tight Ends on the Hot Seat in 2013

Teaser:
Tennessee Titans: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 12:00
Path: /nfl/oakland-raiders-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was just warming up last year when he overhauled the scouting department and made a few changes to his roster. The heavy lifting on what is clearly a complete reconstruction project in Oakland began after the Raiders capped a disheartening 4–12 season in Year 1 under McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen.

When he was hired by Raiders owner Mark Davis, McKenzie said he inherited some “out of whack” contracts that he’d have to deal with in order to bring fiscal sanity and flexibility to the Raiders. So after last season, he whacked wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, free safety Michael Huff and linebacker Rolando McClain, three players drafted in the top 10 by the late Al Davis.

McKenzie traded quarterback Carson Palmer to Arizona after the veteran declined to take a big pay cut and replaced him with the more affordable Matt Flynn, acquired in a deal with Seattle. He also cut highly paid defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and made no effort to re-sign defensive tackle Richard Seymour or punter Shane Lechler.

By next season, most of the Raiders’ massive amount of “dead money” should disappear, and they’ll have plenty of salary cap room to pursue free agents or lock up their own players. This season, they’ll try to survive with a Moneyball-like roster packed with affordable players, many of them on one-year contracts.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 15th

Related: 2013 Oakland Raiders Schedule Analysis

Offense
The Palmer era in Oakland ended after less than two full seasons, and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s second stint with the Raiders lasted only one year. Knapp’s zone blocking scheme never fit running back Darren McFadden’s downhill running style. Shortly after the season ended, Allen fired Knapp, acknowledging his own mistake of promoting a system that didn’t fit his personnel. New Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tony Sparano will rely on a power running scheme that’s suited to McFadden and a less complex offense that shouldn’t take the Raiders so long to pick up.

But the question remains: Can McFadden stay healthy? He missed the final nine games in 2011 with a Lisfranc foot injury. Last year he missed four games with a high ankle sprain. He’s missed 23 games over five seasons because of injuries, and now he’s entering the final year of his rookie contract.

Palmer passed for 4,018 yards last season but was traded to the Cardinals in a move to save money and get younger. It’s highly debatable, however, whether the Raiders passing attack will be better with the unproven Flynn. That’s assuming Flynn can win the job, something he couldn’t do last year in Seattle when third-round draft pick Russell Wilson was named the starter after a stellar preseason. The Raiders will likely have a package of plays for quarterback Terrelle Pryor designed to take advantage of his running ability, but he has one career start and has yet to prove he has enough passing accuracy or arm strength to be an NFL starter.

The Raiders haven’t had a clear-cut No. 1 receiver who puts fear into opposing defenses since Tim Brown was in his prime. That will likely be the case again this season with the wildly inconsistent Denarius Moore the top returning receiver. Tight end Brandon Myers, who led the team with 79 catches, signed with the Giants as a free agent, and returning tight ends Richard Gordon and David Ausberry have combined for 12 career catches in two seasons.

Four starters on the offensive line were set to return, but left tackle Jared Veldheer, the anchor of this group, sustained a partially torn triceps on Aug. 3 and opted for surgery. He is expected to be out at least three months, which does leave open the possibility of a late-season return. While the loss of Veldheer obviously hurts, the hope is that the line as a unit will fare better blocking in a power running scheme. The Raiders kept right guard Mike Brisiel, a former Texan who had a disastrous, injury-plagued 2012 season after signing a big free agent contract. They re-signed right tackle Khalif Barnes.

Defense
It wasn’t until late last season that the Raiders started catching on to the aggressive, multiple defense that Allen and rookie defensive coordinator Jason Tarver installed. Only three starters from that defense — strong safety Tyvon Branch, left end Lamarr Houston and weak-side linebacker Miles Burris — are still on the roster, and Burris could lose his job to former Miami Dolphin Kevin Burnett. So Allen and Tarver had better hope the newcomers are quick studies, or they could be in for another rough start.

McKenzie did most of his work in free agency on the defensive side, adding eight potential new starters: linebackers Nick Roach, Kaluka Maiava and Burnett, cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins, defensive tackles Vance Walker and Pat Sims and defensive end Jason Hunter. McKenzie also brought long-time Raider and the team's first-round pick in 1998, free safety Charles Woodson, back into the fold. Of those, only Roach, Maiava and Burnett received multi-year contracts. That trio of linebackers should help make up for the loss of talented strong-side backer Philip Wheeler to Miami as a free agent.

Last year, McKenzie signed cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, a pair of veteran free agents coming off injuries. Both were injured early in the season and barely saw the field. This year he signed Porter and Jenkins, two younger corners trying to get their careers back on track, and used his top draft pick on Houston corner D.J. Hayden, who should start as a rookie. Porter started just four games last year for Denver during a season marred by a concussion and a seizure. Jenkins has 48 career starts but started just twice last year for Dallas. Porter and Young should adapt quickly to the Raiders’ defense.

McKenzie did little to help the Raiders’ low-voltage pass rush, which is still in desperate need of a force off the edge.

Specialists
Kicker Sebastian Janikowski, one of the NFL’s most accurate long-range weapons, returns for his 14th season, but Lechler left as a free agent and signed with Houston after 13 years with the Raiders. Lechler was a seven-time Pro Bowl punter and was named first-team All-Pro six times, but he had an off year in 2012 after undergoing offseason knee surgery. Marquette King, who spent last season on injured reserve as a rookie free agent, is a more affordable option. He has a big leg but lacks consistency and NFL experience.

Explosive return man Jacoby Ford missed the entire 2012 season with a Lisfranc foot injury that required surgery. He has a franchise-record four kickoff returns for touchdowns. If he recovers fully, Ford will likely take over the punt return duties, too.

Final Analysis: 4th in AFC West
After winning only four games in 2012, the Raiders appear headed for another painful season. They’ve missed the playoffs for 10 straight seasons and will need a miracle to stop that streak this year. The defense should be a little better. How could it be worse? On offense, the Raiders will need McFadden to stay healthy and Flynn to exceed expectations to have any chance of surpassing last year’s win total.

Order your 2013 Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
Buffalo (8/14)Baltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
Miami (8/16)Cincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland
NY Jets (8/15)Pittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolina (8/14)St. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
Washington (8/16)Minnesota (8/21)Tampa Bay (8/15)Seattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Oakland Raiders 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-august-13-2013
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Aug. 13.

 

• Romance isn't dead: A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader (pictured) liked what she saw from an Oklahoma State captain during a coin toss. Social media stalking and young love ensued.

 

• Last night, I watched "The Big Lebowski" for the 43rd time, unaware that Yu Darvish was flirting with a no-no and other cool stuff was happening.

 

James Harrison has declared war on "Hard Knocks." Bad for Roger Goodell, good for TV.

 

• Didn't see this one coming: Randy Moss is headed to Fox Sports. Wonder if Joe Buck will call him out for his disgusting acts.

 

• Note to high school football coaches: Old grudges die hard.

 

• Not sports-related but beyond awesome: The future of mass transit could be the Hyperloop, a solar-powered system where capsules speed through tubes at up to 700 mph. Yes, please.

 

The Adam Jones banana-thrower has been identified. Let the public shaming commence.

 

Baseball GIF of the week: a clever, well-timed bullpen prank.

 

Photos of college football's palatial indoor practice facilities. Amateur athletics at work.

 

How the SEC's best players were rated as recruits. I'd forgotten that Johnny Football was just a 3-star.

 

• Jose Iglesias's bare-handed flip to first is truly spectacular.

 

 

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 10:36
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/auburn-narrows-qb-battle-kiehl-frazier-moves-safety
Body:

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn narrowed the competition to be the Tigers’ starting quarterback.

Four candidates – Kiehl Frazier, Jonathan Wallace, Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall –  began fall practice with a chance to secure the No. 1 spot, but Frazier and Wallace have been eliminated from the competition after the Tigers' weekend scrimmage. Marshall and Johnson are now fighting to start the season opener against Washington State. Wallace will remain at quarterback but is expected to serve as the No. 3 signal-caller in 2013.

In a surprising move, Frazier has been shifted to safety. The junior threw for 753 yards and two touchdowns last year.

Marshall and Johnson were touted recruits, but neither have a snap of FBS experience under center. Marshall started his career at Georgia as a defensive back and tossed 20 interceptions as a starting quarterback on the JUCO level last season. Johnson was rated as a four-star prospect by Rivals in the 2013 signing class.

Marshall is an excellent athlete, so Auburn needs to get his playmaking ability on the field. However, expect to see Johnson this year, especially if Marshall continues to struggle with turnovers.  

Teaser:
Auburn Narrows QB Battle; Kiehl Frazier Moves to Safety
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 10:32
Path: /college-football/tulsa-football-wins-offseason-dog-ambassador
Body:

Not only is Tulsa the favorite to win the Conference USA title in 2013, but the Golden Hurricane clearly take home the offseason title for the best addition to a program.

John Hoover of the Tulsa World runs down Tulsa's plan to implement Goldie – a five-month-old golden retriever - to be the university's athletic ambassador. Goldie will be a bigger part of the football program in 2014, as she is set to retrieve the tee after kickoffs and lead the players onto the field before the game.

Needless to say, this is pretty cool.

Check out the full story here and watch this video of Goldie in action around the team:

 

Teaser:
Tulsa Football Wins the Offseason With Dog Ambassador
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/mountain-west-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes-2013
Body:

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2013, Athlon asked coaches in the Mountain West to talk anonymously about their opponents.

Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.

Mountain West Coaches Anonymously Scout Their Conference Foes for 2013

Air Force

“May be in store for a down year. But when he’s had those kind of predictions, Troy (Calhoun’s) done pretty well.” …

“The new quarterback, Kale Pearson, is not real good right now.” …

“They are graduating a bunch of guys. May be a year when they take a step back.”…

“Matchup wise, I felt for them last year. Athletically they weren’t close. But they’re still capable of winning six to eight games each year.”…

“Calhoun outcoaches guys. He does a really good job.”…

Boise State

“Best offensive line in the league.”…

“They’ve done a good job in recruiting. They might have the best looking team in the league. It wasn’t always that way there. They can go up against BCS teams now and they don’t look much different.”…

“On the lines, they have guys that can play anywhere.”…

“The quarterback was not a great one. It’s tough to replace Kellen Moore.”…

“They are really good on defense. Losing a lot of good defensive tackles, a safety and a corner that will hurt. But they play well as a unit.”…

Colorado State

“Wasn’t real impressed with their personnel. Dave Baldwin does a good job schematically and he’ll get his guys going. I like Jim McElwain, but offensively, I didn’t think they had anybody that you felt you had to double team.”…

“You could basically run whatever you wanted to run.”…

“Probably not in the top half of the league personnel wise.”…

“Didn’t really seem to be settled on the quarterback position. They played two young guys, so maybe if they choose one and see what he can do, they can have more success.”…

Fresno State

“Derek Carr is driven to be really good. Could be the best quarterback in the league. Doesn’t play particularly well when pressured. Sometimes instead of feeling the pressure and stepping into it and keeping his eyes on the field, he’ll get whacked and kind of start to look at the rush But he can read coverage and put the ball spots.”…

“Davante Adams is a legit 4.5 kid, really smooth in and out of breaks. He’s an NFL guy.”…

“They’ve got four receivers who can play.”…

“They are solid on the D line and in the secondary. Will have linebackers to replace, and losing Phillip Thomas will hurt.”…

Hawaii

“That’s kind of an enigma. I really like Norm Chow. Their kids didn’t always play real hard.”…

“It’s a tough trip coming from Hawaii to the mainland.”…

“Defensively they had injuries. They didn’t look like the Hawaii teams from 2005-06 that had those big Polynesian kids.”…

“From the change in schemes from run-and-shoot to West Coast, it appeared kids hadn’t totally bought in to what they were trying to do.”…

“The QB is average at best. Couple of good skill kids. O-line’s not bad. Just looked disjointed.”…

Nevada

“The skill is still good.”…

“It surprised me Stefphon Johnson decided to leave early. I thought he was one of best running backs in the league but I didn’t think he was an NFL guy.”…

“Offensive line was a pretty physical group. They coach that pistol scheme pretty well.”…

“Will be interesting to see what Brian (Polian’s) going to do there. Chris Ault kind of ran the offense. Say they’ll keep running pistol stuff, but I don’t know how committed to it they really are.”…

“Their defensive line wasn’t upper echelon but overall, they are probably top three or four in the league personnel wise.”…

New Mexico

“Bob Davie did a tremendous job getting them to where they could compete again.”…

“They didn’t have a quarterback that could throw. They were running triple option stuff. It was like playing Air Force twice.”…

“They are as bad as anybody in our league personnel wise on defense.”…

“Tailback Kasey Carrier is a really good player, and the offensive line got better.”…

“Eventually they’ll get a quarterback who can throw and pass and they’ll be dangerous. Bob can coach. They are well-prepared.”…

San Diego State

“Receivers might be one of best groups in the conference. Offensive line one of the best, too.”…

“With Bob Toledo coming in, it will be interesting to see how they change.”…

“Defensively, Rocky Long does his stuff. They are going to blitz and play man coverage. Throw it all day and they won’t change.”…

“They need to replace corner Leon McFadden, who is really good.”…

“They don’t have a bunch of draftable guys but play better as a team.”…

“Adam Dingwell went to Boise and Nevada and won.”…

San Jose State

“They proved they can play. They were in a really good scheme offensively. Their first halves were really fun to watch from how well they schemed up easy touchdowns, and as a result they were a better first half team than second half team.”…

“The quarterback, David Fales, is really good. Big arm. Was accurate. Was just a good overall football player.”…

“Defensively, they did a good job but didn’t play really many good offenses. That always helps to be a good defense.”…

“Mike Macintyre is a big loss. He’s a talented coach. They played hard and physical for him.”…

UNLV

“The tailback, Tim Cornett, is a decent player. I assume they’ll be giving him the ball a lot, because I just don’t know if they have a quarterback. Maybe Nick Sherry, given another year, can get the job done. But he committed far too many turnovers (17 interceptions to 16 touchdowns).”…

“I don’t know if they have the personnel to turn it around there.”…

“It’s an uphill climb, especially in a league that’s getting better and should be solid overall next year.”…


Utah State

“They do a really good job. Matt Wells, the new coach, made a really big difference. Offense went from good to great under him. They’ll be a little bit more open than they’d been in the past.”…

“Their talent wasn’t lacking. Had lots of guys who could be successful in the NFL.”…

“It’s basically a three-man front defensively, not sure what they’ll be now. Pretty creative bunch.”…

“Biggest thing people would be surprised about is they can play with anybody. Should have beaten Wisconsin.”…

“Their corners were really good. Their whole deal on defense is being really physical. There’s an artform to holding. You can be a really good DB if you can learn to do it without getting flagged. They don’t get flagged.”…

“Was hard to find a weakness with this team.”…

Wyoming

“Interesting team. Thought a year ago they might be top three or four in the conference. Won eight games the year before. But the QB, Brett Smith, got hurt and wasn’t quite physically where he needed to be. He couldn’t move real well when pressured -- either got rid of it or took a sack. The year before he was making guys miss.”…

“At skill spots they’re about average, up front average and defensively below average.”…

“If Smith is healthy, they can be upper division team.”…

Related College Football Content

College Football Bowl Projections for 2013
Boise State Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
College Football's Top 15 Quarterback Battles to Watch in Fall Practice
Mountain West Predictions for 2013
Mountain West All-Conference Team for 2013
Which Conference Has the Best Quarterbacks in 2013?

12 Things You Should Know From College Football's Offseason

Teaser:
Mountain West Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2013
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 10:09
Path: /college-football/north-texas-wear-throwbacks-against-idaho
Body:

Throwback uniforms can be hit or miss. Sometimes, the old looks just don’t translate well into 2013.

But let’s give some credit to North Texas. The Mean Green did an excellent job with this throwback uniform, which the team will wear in the season opener against Idaho.
Here's a photo of the helmet, along with a look at the jersey, tweeted by @MeanGreenSports


Teaser:
North Texas to Wear Throwbacks Against Idaho
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/detroit-lions-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

So maybe the Detroit Lions haven’t arrived, after all. A year after making the playoffs for the first time since 1999, they found themselves back in the NFC North cellar again, wondering what happened to all the momentum they’d built in the three years since that infamous 0–16 season. Injuries and off-field distractions, including several player arrests, helped derail a team that overestimated its talent level and underestimated the effects of complacency. That, coupled with a salary-cap crunch, prompted major changes heading into 2013, with general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz — a year after signing a contract extension — both on the hot seat. The team brought in a new front office voice in former Denver Broncos GM Brian Xanders, revamped the coaching staff with a half-dozen new assistants, and made a big splash early in free agency, adding three new starters, including running back Reggie Bush. “Anytime you only win four games, you better have a sense of urgency that you better get it turned around,” Mayhew says. “You better get it going in the right direction quickly.”

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 15th

Related: 2013 Detroit Lions Schedule Analysis

Offense
Matthew Stafford signed a three-year, $53 million contract extension in July, locking up the 2009 No. 1 overall pick through 2017. With this big payday now secure, the team hopes that a bounce-back year on the field will follow. Stafford followed a record-breaking 2011 with some more eye-popping statistics in 2012. But a new NFL record for pass attempts in a season (727, surpassing Drew Bledsoe’s 1994 total of 691) only highlighted the Lions’ offensive struggles, as injuries — and insubordination, in Titus Young’s case — decimated the receiving corps, and the running game lacked any explosiveness behind an aging offensive line.

Mayhew says counting on Jahvid Best to return from his concussions was “probably my biggest mistake,” a sentiment that was cemented with the oft-injured running back's release in July. Before that, however, the GM moved quickly to address his backfield by making the Bush signing the top priority in March. The dynamic back provides a big-play threat out of the backfield, and someone who’ll have defensive coordinators “sitting there scratching their heads and wondering where he’s going to be, where he’s going to line up,” says Stafford. At the very least, he’ll give offensive coordinator Scott Linehan more flexibility in his play-calling as he tries to free up Calvin Johnson, who still somehow managed to break Jerry Rice’s receiving yardage record last season despite being double- and triple-teamed.

There should be opportunities for Mikel Leshoure, a bigger back two years removed from a torn Achilles, and Joique Bell, a pleasant surprise in his first significant NFL action last year.

Finding another wideout to replace Young, whose erratic behavior finally got him released in February, remained on Mayhew’s to-do list, particularly with Nate Burleson coming off a broken leg and Ryan Broyles rehabbing another torn ACL this offseason. And the Lions need better production and fewer drops from tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler.

The biggest question mark, though, is on the offensive line. After three years with a static starting five, the Lions must replace both tackles and the right guard. Riley Reiff, last year’s first-round choice who was used mostly in jumbo packages as a rookie, should get the nod at left tackle. Unproven backups Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox get first crack on the right side. Rookie Larry Warford could start immediately at right guard ahead of Rodney Austin and Bill Nagy. Nagy, claimed off injury waivers from Dallas last summer, also could push undersized veteran center Dominic Raiola, one of the few remaining holdovers from the Matt Millen era.

Defense
For the Lions’ defense, it’s time to bring the noise. And that’ll start up front, where rookie end Ziggy Ansah now gives the Lions three top-15 picks on the defensive line from the last four draft classes. Alongside tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, Ansah will be asked to make an immediate impact this fall, and he won’t be asked kindly. Veteran line coach Jim Washburn, one of the NFL’s more vocal and intense characters, was brought in by Schwartz to help get more out of the wide-nine technique both men swear by. Jason Jones arrives from Seattle as a free agent to help replace the departed Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch. With Jones, Ansah, fourth-round pick Devin Taylor, fourth-year pro Willie Young and 10-year veteran Israel Idonije, the Lions will have five pass rushers who stand 6'5" or taller.

Inside is where the Lions boast a pair of potential Pro Bowlers. Suh bounced back in a big way last season, and Fairley, after a pair of offseason arrests, showed more of the talent he’d flashed in an injury-plagued rookie season.

The defense as a whole simply didn’t make many big plays. Some of the blame falls on the linebackers, who had one interception all season. Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy are back, with Ashlee Palmer and Tahir Whitehead likely fighting for the other starting job outside.

But most of the breakdowns came from a secondary that again got stuck in an injury-generated revolving door. Safety Louis Delmas, plagued by knee tendinitis, played in only eight games, but he remains one of the team’s emotional leaders. For the first time in his five-year career, he’ll also have a first-rate partner, as the Lions made Houston’s Glover Quin — a versatile and durable former cornerback the Texans wanted to keep — their other top priority in free agency. Chris Houston returns to man one corner spot, while rookie second-round pick Darius Slay, the fastest cornerback in this year’s draft, should challenge Bill Bentley for the other starting job.

Specialists
There’s a new special teams coordinator (John Bonamego) and a completely new look. For the first time since 1992, the Lions will have a new kicker. Jason Hanson opted for retirement rather than a new contract for the veteran minimum, and the Lions signed a relative youngster in 38-year-old David Akers to replace him. Akers, a six-time Pro Bowler, has something prove after lingering issues from hernia surgery contributed to inconsistent results last season in San Francisco. Hanson’s longtime holder, punter Nick Harris, is gone, too, after the Lions ranked last in the NFL in net punting average in 2012. His replacement looks to be rookie Sam Martin. The return game will be in new hands, too, with several options on the roster — Mike Thomas, Bell and Bush, among others — and a likely free agent fix to come.

Final Analysis: 4th in NFC North
No more excuses. That’s the bottom line in Detroit, where the decision-makers have had plenty of time to retrofit their roster, and the premium talent has had enough time to develop. But after last year’s pratfall, and the veteran departures that followed, the big question might be whether the young stars are ready to lead, and not just perform.

Order your 2013 Detroit Lions Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
Buffalo (8/14)Baltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
Miami (8/16)Cincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland
NY Jets (8/15)Pittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolina (8/14)St. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
Washington (8/16)Minnesota (8/21)Tampa Bay (8/15)Seattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Detroit Lions 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-secs-best-freshmen-transfers-and-more-2013-14
Body:

The new faces around the SEC illustrate a major problem that could develop in the league.

Kentucky brought in its historic haul of six top-10 prospects and five of the top-10 prospects in the 247Composite rankings. Florida was no slouch, adding two elite transfers and two five-star prospects of its own.

After the Wildcats and Gators, the rest of the SEC is reaching for scraps.

Tennessee, Missouri and LSU all signed key freshmen and transfers. The Volunteers are getting one of their best players back from injury. Even then, it may be tough for the rest of the league to keep up with the conference’s top two programs.

Our look at the transfers, freshmen and players returning from injury last season continues with the SEC. Earlier, we profiled the new faces in the ACC, American, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten and the Pac-12.


Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Freshmen
The Harrison twins are the foundation of Kentucky’s record recruiting haul. Point guard won’t be the issue for Kentucky it was last season with Andrew Harrison on board. He’ll be a good fit in John Calipari’s system with his ability to score in transition. The 6-5, 210-pound guard also has great size.  Aaron Harrison is, naturally, an idea backcourt mate at shooting guard with his ability to hit jumpers.

Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida
Transfer from Virginia Tech
With his versatility and 6-9, 205-pound frame, Finney-Smith comes to Florida in the mold of ex-Gator wing Corey Brewer. Expectations are already sky high for the sophomore who averaged 6.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game as a rookie at Virginia Tech two seasons ago. The McDonald’s All-American signed with Seth Greenberg out of high school but elected to transfer after the Hokies’ coaching change.


Julius Randle, Kentucky
Freshman
An intimidating power forward at 6-9 and 225 pounds, Randle will be a high-effort cog in the frontcourt. He’ll be a force with his ability to drive to the basket from any spot on the court. Randle was the No. 2 prospect in the country after Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins in the 247Composite rankings.

James Young, Kentucky
Freshman
Another lefty in the Kentucky frontcourt along with Randle, Young is a versatile wing. He’ll be able to shoot from outside and get to the free throw line.

Kasey Hill, Florida
Freshman
Point guard Scottie Wilbekin remains suspended for a violation of team rules. If he’s not available or if he remains in Billy Donovan’s doghouse, Hill is the only other point guard on the roster. Florida kept possessions low last season, but Hill’s speed may allow the Gators to push the pace.

Jordan Clarkson, Missouri
Transfer from Tulsa
Frank Haith has taken in a handful of transfers, but at least Clarkson will be available for two seasons. The 6-4, 193-pound guard averaged 14.2 points and 2.3 assists per game at Tulsa. He’ll be the top candidate to replace Phil Pressey at point guard.

Jeronne Maymon, Tennessee
Injured last season
Maymon and Jarnell Stokes were supposed to be bash brothers up front for Tennessee last season, but Maymon missed all of last year when he struggled to return from knee surgery. Maymon averaged 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds in 2011-12, but it may take a while before he’s ready to contribute at that level again.

Damontre Harris, Florida
Transfer from South Carolina

Harris is a rare intra-conference transfer, coming to the Gators from South Carolina. Along with Finney-Smith, Harris will lead a big, physical frontcourt. Harris averaged 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds with 71 blocks in 2011-12, earning a spot on the league’s all-defensive team at South Carolina.

Jarell Martin, LSU
Freshman
Alum Johnny Jones was welcomed back to LSU as a coach who would be able to recruit the local area. That happened with the signing of five-star power forward Martin from Baton Rouge (La.) Madison Prep Academy. The Tigers expect Martin to rebound both sides of the court and form a strong frontcourt duo with Johnny O’Bryant. The 6-9, 220-pound Martin could flourish in the pick-and-pop game.

Antonio Barton, Tennessee
Transfer from Memphis
Barton steps in to replace Trae Golden at point guard after the starter transferred to Georgia Tech. Per NCAA graduate transfer rules, Barton will be immediately eligible. Barton lost out on the starting point guard job at Memphis with the return of Joe Jackson, but he’ll be a welcome addition on the other side of the state. He averaged 5.6 points and 1.1 assists in 16.7 minutes per game with the Tigers last season.

Alandise Harris, Arkansas
Transfer from Houston
Harris averaged 11.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in two seasons at Houston. The Hogs hope the 6-6, 230-pound forward from Little Rock will provide Arkansas with toughness in the frontcourt.

Eric McClellan, Vanderbilt
Transfer from Tulsa
The Commodores were put in a bind when their best player, Kedren Johnson, was suspended for the season. McClellan was expected to be a difference-maker after the combo guard averaged 8.5 minutes as a freshman at Tulsa, and more will be on his shoulders with Johnson out.

Johnathan Williams III and Wes Clark, Missouri
Freshmen
A 6-9 power forward out of Memphis, Williams was Missouri’s top recruit, but he’ll need to add to his 210-pound frame before he’s ready to contribute at a high level. The same could be said of 6-foot freshman guard Wes Clark, who weighs in at 170 pounds.

Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
Freshmen

Portis is a 6-10 McDonald’s All-American. He and the 6-9 Kingsley will lead a reformed Arkansas frontcourt after the departure of Marshawn Powell. Those are two big bodies for a team that ranked 12th in the SEC in defensive rebound percentage and 11th in offensive rebound percentage.

Other new faces to watch in the SEC:

Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, Kentucky

Freshmen
The Wildcats continue their embarrassingly good haul with two more five-star prospects who are the fifth- and sixth-ranked recruits on their own team.

Robert Hubbs, Tennessee
Freshman
The five-star rookie is a big-time scoring prospect for a Volunteers team that already returns guard Jordan McRae.

Dwight Coleby and Sebastian Saiz, Ole Miss
Freshmen

The two 6-9 forwards need to contribute immediately to replace the Rebels’ underrated frontcourt of Murphy Holloway and Reggie Buckner.

Eli Carter, Florida
Transfer from Rutgers

Another Rutgers transfer to land in Gainesville, Carter is awaiting a decision from the NCAA on his request to be eligible immediately.

Jacoby Davis and I.J. Ready, Mississippi State
Freshmen
The two newcomers will vie for Mississippi State’s point guard spot with returning starter Trivante Bloodman. Davis missed last season with a knee injury and redshirted.

Antwan Space, Texas A&M
Transfer from Florida State
The former Seminole will give the Aggies toughness and rebounding to go with Kourtney Roberson.

Sindarious Thornwell, South Carolina
Freshman
A top-50 national recruit, Thornwell will be a key building block as South Carolina attempts to remake its roster after another round of transfers.

Tim Quarterman, LSU
Freshman
The rookie can play point guard, shooting guard and the wing for the Tigers.

Teaser:
Kentucky isn't the only program adding big-time players
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/old-dominion-updates-helmets-2013
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Old Dominion is set to transition to the FBS level this year and will play a full Conference USA schedule in 2014.

Under the direction of coach Bobby Wilder, the Monarchs are 38-10 over the last four years and have back-to-back appearances in the FCS playoffs.

Check out these new helmets (which are an excellent design by the way) tweeted by Old Dominion running back coach Zak Kuhr:

Teaser:
Old Dominion Updates Helmets for 2013
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 08:45
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/auburn-football-game-game-predictions-2013
Body:

After a horrendous 3-9 record last year, change is the theme at Auburn this offseason.

Gene Chizik was fired after last season’s debacle, and former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was hired as the Tigers’ new head coach.

Malzahn is regarded as one of the nation’s top offensive minds and his one-year stint as Arkansas State’s head coach resulted in a 9-3 record.

Malzahn’s return should improve an offense that averaged just 18.7 points a game, while the addition of Ellis Johnson on defense should help a unit that has underachieved over the last few years.

Auburn plays road contests against Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee, so getting back to a bowl game won’t be easy. However, considering how well the Tigers have recruited over the last few seasons, there should be enough pieces in place for Malzahn to get Auburn to 6-6 or 7-5.

What will Auburn's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates: 

Auburn's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions

GameSteven
Lassan
Braden
Gall
SEC
Logo
Mark
Ross
Josh
Ward
8/31 Washington State
9/7 Arkansas State
9/14 Mississippi State
9/21 at LSU
10/5 Ole Miss
10/12 Western Carolina
10/19 at Texas A&M
10/26 FAU
11/2 at Arkansas
11/9 at Tennessee
11/16 Georgia
11/30 Alabama
Final Projection6-65-76-65-76-6


Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
After hitting rock bottom last season, Auburn can only go up in 2013. There’s no shortage of talent on the Plains, as the Tigers averaged a top-10 recruiting class from 2008-12, and first-year coach Gus Malzahn inked a group that ranked No. 10 in 2013. Malzahn’s return should spark an offense that was dreadful last season, finishing 14th in the SEC in yards per game (305). Finding a quarterback is the top priority this fall, but until a No. 1 option emerges, the Tigers can lean on a solid running game and an offensive line that returns four starters. New defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was one of the offseason’s top assistant hires and immediate improvement is expected. Auburn has the talent to win eight games, but with the quarterback uncertainty, I think six is more realistic. And six wins with a bowl appearance would be a welcomed sight after a disastrous 3-9 season in 2012.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Auburn can't possibly be as bad as it was a year ago despite an improving SEC around them. Both sides of the ball should be dramatically improved with Gus Malzahn and Ellis Johnson now leading the way on The Plains. The running game and offensive line — both of which were recruited extremely well under Gene Chizik — will help whoever is under center and the defense should be able to force more turnovers. The schedule is downright nasty and how Auburn plays in swing games (Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee) will determine if this team returns to the postseason or not.

SEC Logo (@SEC_Logo)
Coming off an embarrassing 3-9 season, and everyone now aboard the Gus Bus, it’s time to make a bowl game. 2012 is a season Auburn would like to erase from the record books giving up the 2nd most YPG in the SEC and gaining the least. Check out these Rivals team recruiting rankings: 2009: 19th, 2010 4th, 2011: 7th, 2012: 8th. They have the talent, and now I feel they have the coach. And to the biggest question, QB.  JUCO QB transfer Nick Marshall threw 19 TDs / 20 INTs last year and rushed for over 1,000 yards. Name to remember: Carl Lawson, DE.

Mark Ross
The good news for Auburn fans - 2013 will be better than 2012. The bad news for Auburn fans - your team is still a long ways from returning to the top of the SEC. Regardless what Gus Malzahn does in his first season back on the Plains, it's probably fair to say that War Eagle nation is just happy it's him and no longer Gene Chizik calling the shots. If anything Malzahn should definitely help turn around an offense that was woefully unproductive last season, while Ellis Johnson returns to the SEC to do the same to the Tigers' defense. The Tigers will be a better team this fall, but that doesn't mean the results will be show up in the win-loss column. A bowl invite is possible, but to get there Auburn must go undefeated in non-conference play and either protect its home turf against the Mississippi schools or steal one on the road in Fayetteville, Ark. The more wins the Tigers can claim early on the better, especially with Georgia and Alabama lined up to close out the season.

Josh Ward, (@Josh_Ward), Mr. SEC
Auburn’s schedule has a somewhat favorable setup with beatable nonconference teams sprinkled into the SEC schedule. That should help the Tigers survive in the brutal SEC Western Division. The Mississippi State game is key for Auburn. If the Tigers win, they will be setup nicely to make a bowl game. Lose to Mississippi State and Auburn will have a difficult uphill climb. I have Ole Miss winning, but Auburn could upset the Rebels at home. Road games at Arkansas and Tennessee are both winnable for Auburn. Coach Gus Malzahn’s biggest focus right now should be finding his quarterback of the future and building the program through recruiting.

Related College Football Content

SEC Predictions for 2013
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SEC Coaches Anonymously Talk About Conference Foes for 2013
South Carolina Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
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Texas A&M Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Georgia Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Getting to Know the SEC's New Coaches for 2013
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Teaser:
Auburn Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 07:16
Path: /college-football/sec-football-breakout-players-2013
Body:

Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.

The SEC is college football’s premier conference, and there’s no shortage of new talent ready to step into the spotlight. Alabama receiver Chris Black was poised to play last season, but a shoulder injury forced the Florida native to redshirt. With Black back in the lineup, the Crimson Tide should have one of the nation’s top receiving corps. Missouri’s Dorial Green-Beckham was the No. 1 overall recruit in the Athlon Consensus 100 in 2012 but failed to make a huge impact. Now that Green-Beckham should be more comfortable in Missouri’s offense, the sophomore is expected to easily surpass last year’s totals. And of course, we can’t forget about the defensive side of the ball. Georgia’s Jordan Jenkins, Alabama’s Geno Smith and Landon Collins and Florida’s Dante Fowler could be household names by the end of the year.

Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2013 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. So while some of these players on this list are known to fans of a particular team, the rest of the conference or nation might not be as familiar. 

SEC Breakout Players for 2013

Chris Black, WR, Alabama
Amari Cooper emerged as one of the SEC’s top receivers last season, and Alabama’s receiving corps is poised to get another boost in 2013 with the addition of Black. The Jacksonville native was regarded as one of the top receiver prospects in the 2012 signing class and was expected to be a factor in the Crimson Tide’s passing attack last year. However, Black suffered a shoulder injury in August, which forced him to redshirt. The redshirt freshman is now healthy, and his emergence will provide quarterback AJ McCarron with one of the nation’s deepest receiving corps.

Evan Boehm, C, Missouri
Injuries and inconsistent play plagued Missouri’s offensive line last season. The Tigers allowed 2.4 sacks a game and ranked 12th in the SEC in rushing offense. With four starters back, Missouri may have a change of fortune in the trenches in 2013. Boehm was impressive last season, starting all 12 games as a true freshman in the rugged SEC. The sophomore is expected to slide to center this season and should be the anchor for an improved line this fall.

Jonathan Bullard/Dante Fowler, DE, Florida
Even though Florida’s defensive line will miss Sharrif Floyd, there’s no shortage of talent returning in the trenches for coordinator D.J. Durkin. The Gators will get a boost from the return of end/linebacker Ronald Powell from a knee injury, but the development of Bullard and Fowler should keep Florida among the best in the SEC. Bullard recorded 27 tackles and 1.5 sacks last year, while Fowler chipped in 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Now that both players have had a full offseason in the weight room, coach Will Muschamp is counting on them to lead Florida’s pass rush in 2013.

Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
The Razorbacks ranked last in the SEC in rushing offense last season. But with Bret Bielema taking over in Fayetteville, Arkansas’ offense is expected to focus its attention on establishing the ground attack in 2013. Jonathan Williams is the team’s leading returning rusher (231 yards) and he solidified his place at the top of the depth chart with a solid spring. However, Bielema and coordinator Jim Chaney are excited to get a look at Collins this fall. The true freshman ranked as the No. 6 running back in the 2013 signing class by Athlon Sports and will see plenty of action this year. Collins may not beat out Williams for the No. 1 spot, but this freshman could force a 50-50 split of carries by midseason.

La’el Collins, OT, LSU
LSU fans are certainly familiar with Collins’ ability, but the rest of the nation needs to take notice. The SEC is stocked with talent at tackle, as Jake Matthews, Antonio Richardson and Cyrus Kouandjio are considered the frontrunners for first-team All-American recognition. And Tennessee’s Ja’Wuan James and Vanderbilt’s Wesley Johnson are solid players who shouldn’t be overlooked in 2013. Collins earned honorable mention All-SEC accolades last season after starting 13 games at left guard. The Baton Rouge native plans to move to left tackle this year, and at 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, Collins certainly has the size to move defenders in the run game or counteract edge rushers on passing downs. 

Landon Collins, S/Geno Smith, CB, Alabama
Despite the loss of cornerback Dee Milliner and safety Robert Lester, Alabama’s secondary isn’t expected to drop too far from its No. 1 rank in pass defense. The sophomore tandem of Collins and Smith is the next wave of stardom for the Crimson Tide secondary, with both players expected to see a significant increase in playing time this year. Collins played in all 14 games and registered 17 stops in 2012, while Smith recorded nine tackles in 13 contests. Smith worked his way into the starting lineup for two games last season and got better as the season progressed. Now that both players have a year of experience under their belt, look for Collins and Smith to emerge as major contributors for Alabama’s defense.

Justin Cox, CB, Mississippi State
With Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks departing, Mississippi State’s secondary will need to find two new corners this offseason. Although both players will be missed, the pass defense may not take too much of a step back. Cox had an outstanding two-year stint at East Mississippi Community College, recording 11 interceptions and 19 pass breakups. He was a four-star junior college recruit by ESPN, and at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, the junior has the size to play safety or cornerback. Adjusting to the talent level in the SEC won’t be easy, but Cox has the talent to emerge as a solid cornerback. 

Sheldon Dawson, CB/Tray Matthews, S, Georgia
The Bulldogs ranked as the No. 2 team in the SEC against the pass last season, but with the departure of cornerback Sanders Commings and safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams, coordinator Todd Grantham has some big holes to fill. Junior Damian Swann is back at corner, and Georgia is counting on the development of Dawson and Matthews to keep the pass defense near the top of the SEC. Dawson played in 13 games and recorded 12 stops last year, while Matthews enrolled early after ranking as a top-100 national recruit in the 2013 signing class. Both players will need some time to adjust to life in the SEC, but Dawson and Matthews look like future stars for Georgia.

Bud Dupree, DE, Kentucky
New coach Mark Stoops played a key role in turning around Florida State’s defense, and Big Blue Nation hopes he can develop Dupree and junior college transfer Za’Darius Smith into All-SEC ends. Dupree played last season as the rush end in Kentucky’s 3-4 scheme, but he will slide exclusively into one of the end spots in 2013. The Georgia native recorded 91 tackles and 6.5 sacks last season and should continue to develop with a defined role coming off the edge. Double-digit sacks isn’t out of the question for Dupree this year.

Trae Elston, S, Ole Miss
Obviously, all eyes in Oxford are on No. 1 recruit Robert Nkemdiche, but the Rebels have a few non-freshmen ready to emerge in 2013. Elston played extensively (12 games) as a true freshman last year, while recording 61 tackles and one sack. He also led the team with eight pass breakups. Elston started nine games last season and is expected to anchor one of the safety spots in 2013. The sophomore is known as a big hitter, but his continued development will be crucial to Ole Miss improving a pass defense that ranked 11th in the SEC last season.

Justin Garrett, LB/S, Auburn
Considering how well Auburn has recruited over the last five years, it’s surprising to note it has not finished higher than ninth in the SEC in total defense since 2008. But that could change in 2013, as veteran coordinator Ellis Johnson was the right hire for new coach Gus Malzahn, and the Tigers have enough talent to expect considerable improvement on defense. Johnson plans to implement a 4-2-5 scheme, with Garrett serving in a hybrid linebacker/safety role. The Georgia native has played sparingly over the last two years, recording just 21 tackles in his career. However, Garrett was impressive this spring, earning MVP honors on A-Day and drawing praise from the coaching staff. Garrett suffered a foot injury in a recent scrimmage and it’s uncertain how long he will be out of action.

Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
The nation’s No. 1 recruit in the 2012 signing class had a relatively quiet debut. Green-Beckham was suspended for one game and finished the year with just 28 receptions for 395 yards and five scores. However, Green-Beckham’s performance picked up late in the season, catching 21 passes over the final five games, with a touchdown catch coming in each of the last three contests. With quarterback James Franklin closer to 100 percent after shoulder surgery last year, Missouri’s passing attack is poised to improve in 2013. All signs point to Green-Beckham having a good offseason, which should translate into more production.

Josh Harvey-Clemons, LB/S, Georgia
Georgia’s defense is in rebuild mode this offseason. The Bulldogs return only three starters and suffered key losses at each level of the defense. Harvey-Clemons is expected to be one of the new leaders for Georgia, but he is suspended for the opener against Clemson. The sophomore recorded 14 tackles in 14 contests last season and is slated to fill the Bulldogs’ hybrid linebacker/safety role in 2013. Harvey-Clemons was regarded as a five-star recruit coming out of high school and at 6-foot-5, 212 pounds, he has the size and speed to run like a defensive back, yet packs a punch on hits like a linebacker. The sophomore’s development will be crucial to how well Georgia’s defense performs this year.

Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia
Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are gone, leaving a huge void in the Georgia linebacker corps for 2013. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for coordinator Todd Grantham, as Jenkins was impressive as a freshman in limited action last year and is poised to be one of the new leaders for Georgia’s defense. In 14 games last season, Jenkins recorded 31 tackles, five sacks and one forced fumble. Replacing Jones’ production on the outside won’t be easy, but Jenkins should easily push for 10 sacks this year.

Marquez North, WR, Tennessee
With Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson departing, Tennessee’s receiving corps is starting over this year. Making matters even more challenging will be a new quarterback, along with a different system under new coach Butch Jones. North is one of the top recruits in the Volunteers’ signing class, ranking as the No. 37 overall recruit by Rivals. At 6-foot-4, North has the size to be a matchup nightmare in the red zone against opposing SEC defenses. The freshman will need to quickly acclimate himself to life in the SEC, but he has all of the tools to be a go-to target for quarterback Justin Worley.

Julien Obioha, DE, Texas A&M
Damontre Moore’s decision to enter the NFL Draft was a huge blow for Texas A&M’s defense. The Aggies need to find another pass rusher to replace Moore, and all signs point to Obioha as the next star for this defense. The New Orleans native started all 12 regular-season games for Texas A&M last year and recorded 25 tackles and one sack. Now that Obioha has spent a full offseason in the weight room and has had plenty of time to learn the defense, look for the sophomore to emerge as the Aggies’ new leader in the trenches.

Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
While Jake Matthews garners all of the attention on Texas A&M’s offensive line, Ogbuehi is quietly ready to emerge as an All-SEC player. The junior has 19 starts under his belt, with 13 coming in 2012 at right guard. With Luke Joeckel leaving for the NFL, the Aggies plan to shift Ogbuehi out to right tackle, which shouldn’t be a problem for the 6-foot-5, 300-pound junior. With a big season, Ogbuehi could be the next Texas A&M lineman to declare early for the NFL Draft.

Jermauria Rasco, DE, LSU
Despite having to replace a handful of key players from last year’s defense, LSU’s defense is expected to remain near the top of the SEC once again. The line will miss Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, but Rasco and Danielle Hunter aren’t short on talent and will be a handful for opposing linemen this season. Rasco was a five-star recruit in the 2011 signing class and has played in 22 games in his first two years at LSU. Although he doesn’t have a start under his belt, Rasco has 27 tackles and two sacks during that span. The junior is expected to anchor one of the end spots for coordinator John Chavis and could earn All-SEC honors at the conclusion of 2013.

Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Tigers have an unsettled quarterback situation, which puts plenty of pressure on the rushing attack to carry the offense until the passing game gets on track. The good news for the Tigers is juniors Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne are capable of handling the workload, especially if the offensive line develops into a solid unit. Four starters are back up front for 2013, but this group allowed 3.1 sacks a game last year. Robinson’s development should help the offense, as the 6-foot-5, 320-pound sophomore is expected to anchor the line from his left tackle spot.

Dontavis Sapp, LB, Tennessee
After recording just 42 tackles in his first three seasons on Rocky Top, Sapp is poised to play a significant role in Tennessee’s linebacking corps in 2013. The Georgia native was picked as the team’s most-improved defensive player in the spring and has consistently drawn praise from coach Butch Jones. If Sapp picks up where he left off this spring in September, Tennessee should have one of the SEC’s top linebacker groups, especially with junior A.J. Johnson leading the way.

Chaz Sutton, DE, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney is likely to see plenty of double teams from opposing offensive lines, leaving Sutton with plenty of opportunities to go after the quarterback. Sutton played behind Devin Taylor and Clowney last year but still managed to record 23 tackles and five sacks. He also forced two fumbles and made seven tackles for a loss. After playing behind some talented other players the first three years of his career, 2013 is Sutton’s chance to showcase his talent and at 6-foot-5 and 263 pounds, the Georgia native certainly has All-SEC potential. 

Vince Taylor, DT, Vanderbilt
The Commodores have upgraded their talent and depth on the defensive line over the last few years, with Taylor and sophomore defensive end Caleb Azubike expected to develop into standouts for coordinator Bob Shoop. Vanderbilt enters 2013 feeling better about its current state at defensive end, while tackle is a little less certain. But that’s where Taylor’s emergence should come into play. The junior has played in 25 career games, recording 26 tackles and one fumble recovery. The Mississippi native has good agility for a 308-pound tackle and is expected to slide into a starting role this year.

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Pivotal Players to Determining a SEC Championship
SEC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2013
Florida Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Texas A&M Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Georgia Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Getting to Know the SEC's New Coaches for 2013
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Teaser:
SEC Football Breakout Players for 2013
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/critical-games-2013-key-stretches-big-ten
Body:

Every now and then, the college football schedule is a kingmaker. Or it turns conference title hopefuls into paupers.

In our series examining critical stretches across the country, we take a look at the Big Ten. Each team will have its string of make-or-break games for its season.

For Ohio State, it’s a pair of games in November. For Michigan, it’s the entire month. No one said this was fair.

*presented in Athlon’s Big Ten projected order of finish

LEADERS DIVISION

Ohio State

Nov. 23 Indiana
Nov. 30 at Michigan

It’s a telling note about the Ohio State schedule that the Buckeyes won’t have a truly grueling stretch of three consecutive tough games and one of the toughest stretches for Ohio State involves Indiana. Michigan is the most important game on the schedule, followed by a potential Big Ten title game. Here’s why Indiana might be important: It could be a look-ahead game for a team resting on its laurels. And the Hoosiers may be one of the few teams before Michigan that can test a vulnerable Ohio State secondary: Indiana led the Big Ten in pass plays of 20 yards or longer with 47.

Related: Ohio State game-by-game picks

Wisconsin
Sept. 14 at Arizona State
Sept. 21 Purdue
Sept. 28 Ohio State
Oct. 12 Northwestern

Gary Andersen will have UMass and Tennessee Tech to warm his team up for an important stretch early in the year. The Badgers visit a Pac-12 school for the second consecutive season, and this one is against Athlon’s pick to win the South Division. With two tough road trips, Andersen probably would prefer to have his QB situation settled by then. Wisconsin’s secondary also is a major concern, especially against a Sun Devils team that led the Pac-12 in yards per pass attempt. Ohio State and Northwestern return Heisman-contending quarterbacks.

Related: Wisconsin game-by-game picks

Penn State
Nov. 9 at Minnesota
Nov. 16 Purdue
Nov. 23 Nebraska
Nov. 30 at Wisconsin

Penn State faces Michigan and Ohio State in back-to-back games earlier in the season, albeit with an off week in between. We picked this late stretch because of the upset potential against a quick Minnesota defense on the road and two games against Big Ten contenders in the final two weeks. By this point of the season freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg should be settled in, but attrition also could be taking effect.

Related: Penn State game-by-game picks

Indiana
Sept. 21 Missouri
Oct. 5 Penn State
Oct. 12 at Michigan State

Optimism is high for the Hoosiers, but their bowl hopes depend on a defense that was a mess last season. During this stretch they’ll face two teams that ranked in the 90s in total offense (Mizzou and Michigan State) and a rebuilding group at home (Penn State).

Purdue
Sept. 14 Notre Dame
Sept. 21 at Wisconsin
Sept. 28 Northern Illinois
Oct. 12 Nebraska

The Boilermakers will look to salvage anything in a span of three consecutive games against teams that made BCS games last season, plus Nebraska.

Illinois
Aug. 31 Southern Illinois
Sept. 7 Cincinnati
Sept. 14 Washington (Chicago)
Sept. 29 Miami (Ohio)

Anything worse than 2-2 in this stretch could put Tim Beckman on the hot seat awfully early in his first season.

LEGENDS DIVISION

Michigan
Nov. 2 at Michigan State
Nov. 9 Nebraska
Nov. 16 at Northwestern
Nov. 23 at Iowa
Nov. 30 Ohio State

November will be the make-or-break month for Michigan with three road games and two rivalry games, all before a potential Big Ten title game. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will have his work cut out for him planning for this gauntlet. Michigan State isn’t a great offensive team, but the Spartans will try to shorten the game with physical play, then it’s Nebraska and its multifaceted run game, followed by Northwestern’s dynamic spread attack, another grinding team in Iowa and finally a potential Heisman contender in Braxton Miller.

Related: Michigan game-by-game picks

Nebraska
Nov. 2 Northwestern
Nov. 9 at Michigan
Nov. 16 Michigan State
Nov. 23 at Penn State

In the first six games, Nebraska plays only one bowl team from last season (UCLA). The November stretch will determine if the Cornhuskers return to the Big Ten championship game. The Huskers visit Ann Arbor and Happy Valley while Northwestern has been a thorn in the side of Bo Pelini since he arrived in the Big Ten. Northwestern won the last meeting in Lincoln 28-25.

Related: Nebraska game-by-game picks

Northwestern
Oct. 5 Ohio State
Oct. 12 at Wisconsin
Oct. 19 Minnesota
Oct. 26 at Iowa
Nov. 2 at Nebraska
Nov. 16 Michigan

Northwestern will need to take care of business against Minnesota and Iowa otherwise this stretch could get out of hand. This stretch includes a BCS team, an undefeated team and two New Year’s Day bowl team. The Wildcats have been good for an upset or two in recent seasons, but they also coughed up fourth quarter leads last year against Nebraska and Michigan.

Related: Northwestern game-by-game picks

Michigan State
Oct. 5 at Iowa
Oct. 12 Indiana
Oct. 19 Purdue
Oct. 26 Illinois

Michigan State gets a good draw in the schedule by avoiding Ohio State, Wisconsin an Penn State. Better take advantage in October before facing Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern.

Related: Michigan State game-by-game picks

Minnesota
Nov. 2 at Indiana
Nov. 9 Penn State
Nov. 23 Wisconsin
Nov. 30 at Michigan State

Minnesota went 1-3 in the final four games of the regular season. This stretch is just as difficult with no guaranteed win (Minnesota beat Illinois during that four-game stretch last season).

Iowa
Aug. 31 Northern Illinois
Sept. 7 Missouri State
Sept. 15 at Iowa State
Sept. 21 Western Michigan

It took Northern Illinois playing in the Orange Bowl to remind people Iowa defeated the Huskies last season. NIU will be favored this year. Kirk Ferentz needs a good showing early to avoid the hot seat watch.

Teaser:
Which three- and four-game stretches will determine the Big Ten title?
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 07:13
Path: /college-football/pac-12s-impact-freshmen-watch-2013
Body:

The Pac-12 might have the coolest awards in college football. The Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year might be the best-named trophy in sports. The Morris Trophy is given to the best offensive and defensive lineman in the league — as voted on BY THE PLAYERS (OL and DL).

But the Freshman of the Year award is the new guy on the Pac-12 awards block. The Defensive Rookie of the Year has only been given out since 2009 as Vontaze Burfict, Junior Onyeali, Dion Bailey and Leonard Williams are the only winners. The Freshman of the Year Award (1999-2009) became the Offensive Player of the Year honor that year when the split happened. LaMichael James, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, De’Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota are the offensive winners since the separation.

The 2013 season will be no different as a host of big-time playmakers enter the fray with sky-high expectations. And many of these youngsters will play pivotal rolls on championship-caliber teams.

Potential Stars:

Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon
The record-settting tailback has all of the tools to earn the starting job at Oregon as just a true freshman. Try a state-record 643 yards and 10 scores in one game on his 18th birthday last fall. He has power, speed and plenty of wiggle to fit into the Ducks' high-powered rushing attack. Expect plenty of mop-up duty early on before potentially earning workhorse status as the year goes along.

Zach Kline, QB, Cal
With a few weeks to go before games kickoff, new coach Sonny Dykes hasn’t named a starting quarterback yet. Kline is battling with Jared Goff but is the more talented option and should earn the job at some point in the new future. He has big-time ability and plenty of talented playmakers around him to make an impact as a redshirt freshman.

Ishmael Adams, Priest Willis, Tahaan Goodman, DB, UCLA
The UCLA secondary is very, very talented but very, very young. Adams was an elite recruit in 2012 and should be the best of the group as a redshirt freshman. Willis and Goodman were both top-100 prospects nationally in this class as well. All three could be starting by the season’s end — which is both good and bad news for the Bruins' pass defense.

Su’a Cravens, S, USC
The No. 1 safety prospect in the nation is looking to crack the starting lineup right out of the gate. Worst case scenario, Cravens is the top nickel back and gets plenty of chances on passing downs. He has great size and speed and, from what we learned talking with him last year, is prepared for success on the next level.

Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona
B.J. Denker and Jesse Scroggins are in the Wildcats’ quarterback scrum as well but Solomon might be the most talented and best suited to run Rich Rodriguez’ system. He needs to gain experience and likely won’t start the season as the starter, but has electric upside. The talented dual-threat is arguably the top prospect in the history of Nevada high school football after leading famed Bishop Gorman to four straight state championships.

Eddie Vanderdoes, DL, UCLA
After a back and forth with Notre Dame, Vanderdoes has landed at UCLA and can play right away. And play he should as one of the most talented defensive linemen in this year's freshman class. Coming in as the No. 2-rated D-lineman in the nation, Vanderdoes should help replace the loss of Datone Jones.

Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR, Washington
The Huskies signed a deep and talented receiving class. John Ross and Darrell Daniels should both play plenty but Stringfellow is the most gifted at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds. He will likely begin in a reserve role but should work his way into the starting lineup in short order.

Robert Lewis, WR, Washington State
Mike Leach has been very open about his appreciation of Lewis’ ability. He is lightning quick and making progress every day in his quest to lock down a starting spot. He will get plenty of run in an offense known for producing big-time numbers.

Carlos Mendoza, LB, Arizona State
His 2012 season lasted just two games before a shoulder injury forced a redshirt season. He has been moved from weakside to Spur linebacker and has the athleticism to fly around and make plays at the hybrid LB/DB “spur” position. 

Related: The Top Pac-12 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Early Contributors:

Devon and Chance Allen, WR, Oregon
A talented true and redshirt freshman (no relation) both could fight for starting time early on.

Caleb Benenoch, OL, UCLA
Is getting reps as first-team right guard. Should see plenty of snaps somewhere along the line.

Kenny Bigelow, DT, USC
Massive interior star along the defensive line will provide much needed depth up front.

Matt Cochran, OL, Cal
Could start at guard or center and appears to be first guy off the bench if he doesn’t start.

Chans Cox, LB, Arizona State
Early enrollee was one of the most highly-touted signees this year. Will play plenty.

Justin Davis and Ty Isaac, RB, USC
Someone needs to spell Silas Redd and both first-year guys could see plenty of time.

Addison Gillam, LB, Colorado
A spring surprise, Gillam should compete for playing time outside with Brady Daigh.

Trey Griffey, WR, Arizona
Injuries and defections have opened up playing time for Ken Griffey Jr.’s son.

Leon McQuay III, S, USC
Is pressing to get into the lineup and could end up a co-starter with Demetrius Wright.

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA
Will battle with a large group to replace Johnathan Franklin.

Torrodney Prevot, LB, Oregon
Should be the most talented backup on a team known for playing its reserves.

Barry Sanders, RB, Stanford
Behind an elite offensive line, fans are eager to see what Barry Sanders Jr. can do.

Justin Thomas, CB, Utah
He will battle with fellow frosh Reggie Porter to start at cornerback right away.

Related: Complete 2013 Pac-12 Football Predictions

Key Reserves:
Max Browne, QB, USC
Tyler Bruggman, QB, Washington State
Pierre Cormier, RB, Arizona
Reggie Daniels, S, Oregon
Jimmie Gilbert, DE, Colorado
Cam Hunt, OL, Oregon
Kendall Hill, S, Oregon State
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Alex Jackson, CB, Washington State
Peter Kalambayi, LB, Stanford
Kenny Lawler, WR, Cal
Sefo Liufau, QB, Colorado
Cyler Miles, QB, Washington
Cyril Noland-Lewis, S, Oregon State
Francis Owusu, WR, Stanford
Aaron Porter, LB, UCLA
Elijah Qualls, DT, Washington
Jabari Ruffin, LB, USC
Caleb Saulo, LB, Oregon State
Psalm Wooching, FB, Washington

Related: Athlon Sports' 2013 Pac-12 All-Conference Teams

Special Teams:
Sean Covington, P, UCLA
Matt Haack, P, Arizona State
Jamie Sutcliffe, K, Utah
Cameron Van Winkle, K, Washington
Matt Wogan, K, Oregon

Teaser:
Pac-12's Impact Freshmen To Watch in 2013
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 07:10
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-link-roundup-august-12
Body:

Plenty of news around the nation after a busy weekend. 

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

College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Monday, August 12th

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron suffered a foot injury in practice, but the senior shouldn't miss much time.

Saturday Down South ranks the SEC players by position. SDS also takes a look at how SEC players performed in NFL preseason games.

Arkansas receiver Mekale McKay has decided to transfer to Cincinnati.

Freshman Dontre Wilson is poised to play a significant role in Ohio State's offense this year.

The NCAA is questioning Mississippi State defensive end Chris Jones about Ole Miss recruiting. 

The SEC has announced its new postseason destinations for the 2014 bowl cycle.

Baylor's next standouts at receiver were on display in a recent scrimmage.

One of Illinois' projected starters underwent knee surgery.

Is Tyrus Thompson the next elite tackle to come out of Oklahoma?

Here's a great story on Minnesota coach Jerry Kill and the battle to gain control of his seizures.

Virginia Tech cornerback Donaldven Manning has decided to transfer.

Pittsburgh is counting on a big season from running back Isaac Bennett.

A receiver at Georgia Tech is making some noise this fall.

Duke linebacker Kelby Brown is getting more comfortable in his recovery from a knee injury.

A couple of freshmen at Rutgers are making noise in fall practice.

Receiver Raheem Mostert has moved to running back at Purdue.

One of the top receivers in Conference USA - UAB's Jackie Williams - has been dismissed from the team.

New Mexico State receiver Austin Franklin is ineligible for 2013.

LSU is working on a solution to the concussion problems.

Teaser:
College Football's Link Roundup: August 12
Post date: Monday, August 12, 2013 - 15:38
All taxonomy terms: High School, Overtime
Path: /best-fictional-high-school-football-players
Body:

It’s no surprise that high school football has made multiple appearances on both the big and small screens. The sport produces enough drama, humor, heartbreak and glory to fill a thousand multiplexes. Here are some of the fictional high school gridiron stars who made a lasting impression on us.  

Stef Djordjevic, CB, All the Right Moves

Matt Saracen, QB, Friday Night Lights

Ricky Baker, RB, Boyz n the Hood

Vince Howard, QB, Friday Night Lights

Rifleman, QB, All the Right Moves

Charles Jefferson, DL, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Jonathan Moxon, QB, Varsity Blues

Billy Bob, OL, Varsity Blues

Wendell Brown, RB, Varsity Blues

Charlie Tweeder, WR, Varsity Blues

Smash Williams, RB, Friday Night Lights

Hastings Ruckle, WR, Friday Night Lights

Dallas Tinker, OL, Friday Night Lights

Tim Riggins, FB, Friday Night Lights

A.C. Slater, ATH, Saved by the Bell

Vinnie Salvucci, RB, All the Right Moves

Ray “Voodoo” Tatum, QB, Friday Night Lights

David Green, QB, School Ties

Randall “Pink” Floyd, QB, Dazed and Confused

Landry Clarke, K, Friday Night Lights
 

Teaser:
Friday Night Lights, Varsity Blues and All the Right Moves dominate the all-time high school football team.
Post date: Monday, August 12, 2013 - 15:01

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