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The NFL season is finally here. It kicks off tonight when the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers play host to the 2009 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. Athlon Sports' editorial staff made its predictions in the Athlon Sports Pro Football 2011 Preview magazine, and here they are.
AFC Playoff Seeding
Ravens (5) over Texans (4)
Jets (6) over Chargers (3)
Patriots (1) over Jets (6)
Steelers (2) over Ravens (5)
Patriots (1) over Steelers (2)
NFC Playoff Seeding
Falcons (5) over Rams (4)
Saints (3) over Giants (6)
Packers (1) over Falcons (5)
Eagles (2) over Saints (3)
Packers (1) over Eagles (2)
SUPER BOWL XVLI
Packers over Patriots
1. New England Patriots
Belichick and Brady marching toward fifth Super Bowl berth.
2. New York Jets
Ryan still hungry after back-to-back trips to the AFC title game.
3. Miami Dolphins
Need more All-Pros to “take their talents to South Beach.”
4. Buffalo Bills
Gailey unveiling “hybrid” defense anchored by versatile Dareus.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
Hits-burgh gunning for record ninth Super Bowl appearance.
2. Baltimore Ravens
Fans hoping this year isn’t farewell tour for Lewis and Reed.
3. Cleveland Browns
Just what curse of Cleveland sports needed, a Madden cover.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Bungles are back; Dalton era starts now.
1. Houston Texans
Phillips bringing his 3-4 scheme south from Big D to Houston. It's all setup for Kubiak to win now.
2. Tennessee Titans
Munchak and Locker replacing Fisher and Young in Music City.
3. Indianapolis Colts
No Manning for 2-3 months means few wins for 2-3 months.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
Garrard cut just days before the season begins, MJD coming off a bum knee, it's not looking good.
1. San Diego Chargers
Possible move to L.A. a black cloud hanging over sunny San Diego.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Will offense remain as potent without Weis calling plays?
3. Oakland Raiders
Climbing out of the Black Hole after many years of obscurity.
4. Denver Broncos
New regime of Elway and Fox has a Mile High mountain to scale.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
Super Bowl expectations for “Dream Team” assembled in Philly.
2. New York Giants
G-Men eager to put last season’s collapse and this preseason behind them.
3. Dallas Cowboys
New sheriff Garrett and healthy gunslinger Romo ready to ride.
4. Washington Redskins
Snyder and Shanahan most stubborn men in nation’s capital.
1. Green Bay Packers
Reigning champ Rodgers eyeing back-to-back title belts.
2. Detroit Lions
Motor City revving engines, eager for breakout season.
3. Chicago Bears
Egos bruised and flaws exposed by Packers in NFC title game.
4. Minnesota Vikings
Metrodome implosion symbolic of collapse as contenders.
1. New Orleans Saints
What lockout? Brees’ OTAs have Big Easy locked and loaded.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Bold draft-day moves prove Dirty Birds playing to win now.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Young Bucs older and wiser after playoff-less 10-win ’10.
4. Carolina Panthers
Newton bringing Cammy-Cam Juice and Midas touch to Charlotte.
1. St. Louis Rams
McDaniels joining Bradford for new-look Greatest Show on Turf.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Harbaugh hoping to follow Bill Walsh from Stanford to Super Bowl(s).
3. Arizona Cardinals
Paid king’s ransom in trade and contract extension for Kolb.
4. Seattle Seahawks
Hasselbeck and Tatupu leave leadership void on both sides of ball.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
The end of the world is not upon us. The sky isn’t falling.
And the gates of hell are not opening to swallow conference commissioners, university presidents or TV executives anytime soon.
And the most dreaded 15-letter word in the college football vernacular isn’t going to ruin the greatest sport on the planet either. Writers, fans and talking heads everywhere are generating just as much hysteria about conference expansion as the puppet masters themselves.
To quote a national NCAA writer who I have worked with and respect greatly, “The game will lose all semblance of its unique and special place in the sports world. It will be just another sport fueled by another mega television network; another sport rolled into a homogenized, hyperbolized ball of bland.”
Hyperbolized? An ironic choice of words, I would say.
How will college football lose all semblance of its unique and special place? How is college football not already fueled by mega TV contracts? How are $120 million athletic departments not already dichotomizing college football into two distinct factions? How will simply placing a tangible dividing line between those two factions change anything about the sport we know and love?
There will still be bowl games aplenty. Regional rivalries will not evaporate. Players will always maintain amateur status and will still be "required" to go to class. Pep bands, cheerleaders and Saturday morning games of corn hole aren’t going anywhere. Auburn and Alabama aren’t going to hate each other any less if Texas Tech joins the Pac-12 or if Notre Dame joins the Big Ten.
At the end of the day, there will be more money to go around, the fans get to see the playoff they have been craving for decades and maybe – just maybe – a governing body could be created that would actually have some semblance of control over its participating programs.
And how will eliminating the NCAA from the college football championship cause the football world to implode upon itself?
The NCAA reminds us all the time that there are “over 400,000 student athletes going pro in something other than sports” or that the money is used to “fund 88 different championships and support 1,055 member colleges and universities.”
What they conveniently fail to mention is that the college football BCS Championship isn’t one of those 88 sanctioned titles. The BCS is a seperate entity that makes trucksloads of cash and apparently spends it on political contributions and strip clubs (looking at you John). And who honestly cares if the NCAA has slightly fewer than 1,000 member institutes instead of 1,055?
LSU fans lose sleep over the play of Jarrett Lee, not the acronym attached to their national title.
The fans are what matter, and the fans are the ones who need to sit back, relax and dream about the positives this conference upheaval could have on college football (as if anyone has a choice anyway).
So just in case you are having trouble slowing your breathing, here is what it might look like in a perfectly merged world of profit and play:
-- Four 16-team conferences - the SEC, the B1G Ten, the Pac-16 and the East Coast Conference - each with two eight-team divisions will break from the NCAA.
-- Each division offers an automatic bid into a 12-team NFL-style playoff with four teams earning "byes."
-- A selection committee of experts whose sole purpose in life is to evaluate college football teams will be formed with the intent on selecting the aforementioned "byes" (should they not be obvious). This committee will also seed the 12 teams, with each divisional winner guaranteed at least one home playoff game. This committee will also select four "wild card" or "at-large" bids who will play on the road in the first round.
-- This committee will completely eliminate any need for any human or computer poll...ever...again.
-- There will be no more conference championship games - which are blatant money grabs to begin with - and every playoff game will be played in home stadiums. Oregon and Auburn waited 37 days to play for the 2010 title, so please spare me the "kids need to study" routine.
-- The National Championship game will be played at a pre-determined neutral site.
-- Unfortunately, in order to land that Texas-Alabama national semifinal or Ohio State-Florida quarterfinal, my plan for college football has to have some victims too. Baylor, Kansas State, Iowa State, Boise State and BYU will all find themselves on the outside looking in.
It has the equality and raw excitement of the NFL postseason mixed with the regional passion of college football. Look at the future match-ups this system would potentially offer and tell me your regional amatuer pigskin blood is boiling with anticipation for a Florida State-Oklahoma quarterfinal or an Oregon-Michigan first round contest? It makes the Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl - which would still be played by the way - look like Pop Warner Wednesdays in the burbs.
The world is in a constant state of progression. What makes college football any different?
Other Expansion Content:
What the birth of the Big 12 tells us about future expansion?
Baylor Threatens to Control Texas A&M
There are eight new head coaches in the NFL this year. Some of them have inherited great teams with a chance to win, while others, have not. Here we break down the pros and cons for each new head coach.
San Francisco 49ers: Jim Harbaugh
Previous Job: Head coach, Stanford
Pros: Like predecessor Mike Singletary, Harbaugh had a long NFL career, and that should remind his players that he knows what he’s talking about on the field. Also like Singletary, he prefers a physical, tough team. Harbaugh knows that his offense has to diversify, though, which is a lesson Singletary never seemed to learn during his time as the boss.
Cons: Singletary’s fiery personality finally resulted in him losing large pockets of the 49ers’ locker room, and Harbaugh’s not exactly a shrinking violet himself. The hope is that Harbaugh will keep the disputes out of the media better than Singletary was able to do. Harbaugh will also battle the usual concern about college coaches transitioning to the NFL game.
Final Analysis: Harbaugh took a once-solid Stanford program and brought it back to the top of college football, so he’s not unfamiliar with tradition. The Cardinal’s tradition, however, is nothing compared to the five-time Super Bowl champion franchise that now signs his checks. His West Coast offense could make quarterback Alex Smith and wide receiver Michael Crabtree breakout performers, and it helps that he’s stepped into a weak NFC West. In this division, a title is not out of the question, even for a team that may consider 8–8 a good year.
Tennessee Titans: Mike Munchak
Previous Job: Offensive line coach, Tennessee Titans
Pros: Munchak has been with the Oilers/Titans since 1982 as player and coach, impressive longevity for any job, let alone the revolving door that is the NFL. Based on early comments, Munchak may be savvy enough to be a CEO and let his coordinators do their jobs.
Cons: Yes, Munchak’s a fixture in the organization, but he’s been an offensive line coach for 14 years. He doesn’t have even a day of coordinator experience. Linemen aren’t often in the headlines for the wrong reasons, so a situation like Kenny Britt’s recurring legal problems or Chris Johnson’s contract chirping will test Munchak’s tolerance early. How he handles those issues could win or lose him the locker room quickly.
Final Analysis: Munchak may have the best job security of any coach in the NFL, given his lengthy tenure with the Titans and Bud Adams’ reluctance to part with members of the “family.” He’ll need it as the Titans try to retool around Johnson, new quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and a defense whose production fell off tremendously last year. Last place in the AFC South still seems a virtual certainty barring strange developments in Jacksonville, Houston, or even Indianapolis.
Carolina Panthers: Ron Rivera
Previous Job: Defensive coordinator, San Diego Chargers
Pros: Rivera has a superb track record as a defensive coordinator, building top-5 units in both Chicago and San Diego. The surprising part is that he ran a 4-3 with the Bears and a 3-4 while with the Chargers (No. 1 in the NFL in 2010). His work with star middle linebackers Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Urlacher suggests that he could be the perfect teacher for Carolina Pro Bowler Jon Beason.
Cons: Rivera has gone through a reported 10 head coaching interviews since 2005 and is just now receiving his first top job. While some of his opportunities may have been mere pandering to the Rooney Rule, it raises questions of what the teams who passed on him were seeing — or not seeing — in the interviews.
Final Analysis: The Panthers experienced a steep drop defensively last season, but the impotent offense bears some of the blame. Still, there were precious few playmakers on either side of the ball. Rivera brought in ex-Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott for his staff, and if anyone can get the defense performing on a high level, it’s those two.
Cleveland Browns: Pat Shurmur
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator, St. Louis Rams
Pros: Shurmur is not likely to panic upon seeing the understocked cupboard of offensive talent in Cleveland. After all, his 2010 Rams offense had a similar look to it, with a young quarterback, patchwork receiving corps and a strong running back who could find few openings. He has the complete trust of team president Mike Holmgren, who wanted a coach who could call his own offensive plays, much like Holmgren did in Seattle and Green Bay.
Cons: Shurmur is not only adjusting to the pressure faced by every rookie head coach, but he also has the eyes of a proven winner like Holmgren looking down on him from the front office. Holmgren has essentially hitched the fate of his entire executive tenure to Shurmur as well. Shurmur had only two years as a coordinator in St. Louis, and while the Rams improved slightly, they were still only 26th in the NFL in yards and points.
Final Analysis: Shurmur received credit for some of the success that Donovan McNabb achieved in Philadelphia, and that could bode well for young Colt McCoy. Unfortunately, McCoy doesn’t have McNabb’s physical gifts or receivers of much renown. Shurmur’s success will be built on how productive his offense can be, and it may need a few more tools to become a high-powered machine.
Dallas Cowboys: Jason Garrett
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator, Dallas Cowboys
Pros: Garrett’s audition as interim coach was a smashing success. His 5–3 record in the second half of 2010 is even more impressive considering that the three losses were by a total of seven points. He’s gained the trust of the entire team, not just the quarterbacks or the offense. Having a few years in the organization, he’s better equipped to handle Jerry Jones’ persistent meddling than a newcomer would be.
Cons: Garrett must be able to keep players like Martellus Bennett and Tashard Choice from popping off about playing time and other assorted issues. A divided locker room is much more difficult to rally.
Final Analysis: The Cowboys won four games with the aged Jon Kitna under center and another one with third-stringer Stephen McGee as the starter. That reflects impressively on the staff’s gameplanning abilities, and if Garrett can keep the team’s varied egos and personalities in check, the Cowboys could return to contention in the NFC East.
Denver Broncos: John Fox
Previous Job: Head coach, Carolina Panthers
Pros: Where many analysts would look at Fox and see “retread,” Broncos VP John Elway saw experience. Before last season’s disastrous 2–14 mark, Fox’s Carolina teams had never finished worse than 7–9, and of course, he’s the only new coach this season who’s been a head coach in the Super Bowl.
Cons: Fox has never been known as a coach who can develop and improve quarterbacks. This could be a problem for Denver’s passers, Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. Another issue is one shared by all new coaches, that being the lockout. Installing new systems takes time, especially when a newcomer’s system differs so radically from his successor’s. Digging out from under the Josh McDaniels era may take time, and Fox doesn’t have as much of that as he’d like.
Final Analysis: Denver’s defense destroyed any chances they had to contend last season. The addition of Von Miller, the return of Elvis Dumervil, and Fox’s own ability to scheme will certainly help the team improve on that side. Fox may not be able to rely as much as he would like on the running game, though, with the seemingly brittle Knowshon Moreno as his main option. There’s still work to do before the Broncos challenge the Chargers and Chiefs in the West.
Minnesota Vikings: Leslie Frazier
Previous Job: Defensive coordinator, Minnesota Vikings
Pros: Frazier’s not afraid to shake up his roster. He and the team appear more than ready to get out from under the endless Brett Favre soap opera. His Vikings defenses have been in the NFL’s top 10 for the past three seasons. Last year’s defense allowed 21 points or more in Brad Childress’ final six games as the head coach, then stiffened up with Frazier in charge and allowed 21-plus points only twice in six games.
Cons: Frazier’s not afraid to shake up his roster. The Vikings are taking a chance on losing starters like Ray Edwards, Husain Abdullah, and Sidney Rice to free agency. New quarterback Donovan McNabb doesn't exactly have anybody at the wide receiver position who strikes fear in the opposition.
Final Analysis: With the Packers expecting better health, the Bears still stocking their offense, and the Lions improving fast, the Vikings appear to be bicycling on the freeway. Frazier will need instant results out of his young quarterbacks, and his stout defensive line could take some hits. Making the playoffs would be a masterful achievement with the Vikings’ transitioning roster.
Oakland Raiders: Hue Jackson
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator, Oakland Raiders
Pros: Jackson proved that he knew how to maximize this group of offensive players when he took the team from 31st to 10th in total yardage and 31st to sixth in scoring in his first season as offensive coordinator. He’s helped develop players like Joe Flacco and Chad Ochocinco, so a true breakout could soon await players like Jason Campbell and Jacoby Ford.
Cons: Jackson’s lack of head coaching experience is obvious, but even his other two stints as an offensive coordinator were in name only. The 2003 Redskins (under Steve Spurrier) and 2007 Falcons (under Bobby Petrino) fizzled offensively, to boot.
Final Analysis: The Raiders’ young offensive talent appears primed to keep on producing, especially if rookie linemen Stefen Wisniewski and Joseph Barksdale grow up fast. The defense may have some issues, though, without all-world cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and possibly without safety Michael Huff. The Raiders owned the AFC West last year (6–0), yet still failed to make the playoffs. The schedule does them no favors (Oakland plays teams from the AFC East and NFC North), but a few out-of-division wins could get the Silver and Black into the hunt for a playoff spot.
By Mitch Light
Notre Dame (-3.5) at Michigan
Brian Kelly’s second season at Notre Dame didn’t exactly begin as planned, with a 23–20 loss at home to South Florida. But please be advised: Don’t jump off the Irish bandwagon just yet. Notre Dame outgained USF 508 to 254 and was the victim of some bad luck (Jonas Gray was stripped at the 1-yard line and USF brought it back 96 yards for a touchdown) and some questionable officiating (borderline pass interference call in the end zone on third down early in the fourth quarter). The Irish were far from perfect — they did lose the turnover battle 5-to-0 — but this is still a very good team that will win a lot of games. Michigan took care of business in the first game of the Brady Hoke era, rolling past Western Michigan, 34–10, in a weather-shortened game in Ann Arbor.
Notre Dame 31, Michigan 24
Arizona (+14.5) at Oklahoma State (Thu)
It was only one game — and the opponent was not very good (Louisiana-Lafayette) — but the high-powered Oklahoma State offense was as good as advertised in Week 1. The Cowboys rolled up 666 yards of total offense under first-year coordinator Todd Monken en route to a 61–34 win in Stillwater. The test will be more difficult this Thursday night when Arizona comes calling. The Wildcats struggled a bit in the first half against FCS Northern Arizona before flexing their muscles in the second half of a 41–10 victory. Their brand new offensive line paved the way for 487 total yards. We’ll find out this week if this group can get it done against Bill Young’s O-State defense. A player to watch for Arizona is Ka’Deem Carey. The gem of the Cats’ recruiting class rushed for 59 yards on nine carries in the opener.
Oklahoma State 37, Arizona 24
Missouri (+7.5) at Arizona State (Fri)
Arizona State, a popular pick to play in the first-ever Pac-12 title game, has a huge non-conference test on a national stage Friday night. The Sun Devils are 15–21 overall in the last three seasons and need to make a statement that the ’11 club is, as many expect, good enough to be relevant on the national scene. Missouri was a bit lethargic in its 17–6 win over Miami (Ohio) last weekend. James Franklin, making his first career start, completed 17-of-26 for 129 yards and added 67 yards on the ground. He is a dynamic playmaker who can put pressure on the Arizona State defense with both his arm and his legs. It’s dangerous to put too much emphasis on one game, but we will find out a lot about both teams Friday night in Tempe.
Arizona State 21, Missouri 17
Alabama (-10) at Penn State
This was one of the great intersectional rivalries of the 1980s, with the Tide and the Lions meeting every year in the regular season from 1981-90. Last year, Alabama handled Penn State with relative ease, cruising to a 24–3 in Tuscaloosa. The venue will be different this time around — Beaver Stadium in State College — but the result should be similar. Alabama, our pick at Athlon Sports to win the 2011 national title, boasts a dominant defense and a devastating running attack. We still aren’t sure about the quarterback position — it looks like AJ McCarron will get the start over Phillip Sims — but Alabama has proven it doesn’t need outstanding quarterback play to be an elite team. Penn State is solid, but not good enough to beat Alabama.
Alabama 27, Penn State 10
South Carolina (-3) at Georgia
It’s the biggest game in the history of Georgia football. Well, that’s what many Bulldogs fans will tell you after their team was outclassed at the Georgia Dome by Boise State last Saturday night. It’s imperative that the Dawgs show marked improved in Week 2. Against Boise, the offensive line was suspect and none of the veteran wide receivers stepped up and made big plays. South Carolina fell behind East Carolina 17–0 in Charlotte before rallying for a 56–37 win in a game that was marred by nine turnovers. Stephen Garcia came off the bench for an ineffective Connor Shaw and led the comeback with his arm (one touchdown) and legs (two TDs). It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this game for both teams. Georgia didn’t do much in Week 1 to give us reason to believe they can beat a good team, but it’s a bit too early to give up on Mark Richt and his Bulldogs.
Georgia 24, South Carolina 21
BYU (+7) at Texas
Right now, one of these teams is an Independent and the other is in the Big 12. Next year? Who knows? Both teams could be in the Big 12 or the Pac-16, or possibly both could be in the Independent ranks. BYU has to be feeling pretty good after stealing a win in Oxford, rallying from a 13–0 deficit to beat Ole Miss 14–13. But the Cougars have to be a bit concerned after totaling only 316 yards and scoring just one offensive touchdown against a Rebel defense that was among the worst in the nation last season. Texas struggled in the first half with Rice before putting the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter. The best news for the Longhorns was the play of true freshman tailback Malcom Brown, who rushed for 85 yards on 16 carries in his debut. UT will need consistent production from Brown this season.
Texas 24, BYU 16
Mississippi State (-6.5) at Auburn
Auburn deserves credit for keeping its focus and rallying for 14 points in the final three minutes of its 42–38 win over Utah State, but there were far more negatives than positives. Led by a true freshman at quarterback, Utah State rolled up 448 yards of offense and did not turn the ball over once. And on the other side of the ball, Auburn managed only 364 yards against an Aggie defense that allowed 428.8 yards per game in 2010. It’s not necessarily time to panic, but it’s clear — as we all knew heading into the season — that the ’11 Tigers are a work in progress. Mississippi State, on the other hand, looks like a pretty complete football team. Yes, Memphis is one of the worst teams in the nation, but MSU was dominant in its 59–14 Week 1 win. Go with the Dogs over the Tigers, even at Jordan-Hare.
Mississippi State 37, Auburn 24
Iowa (-6.5) at Iowa State
The Hawkeyes have won six of the past eight in this series, including the past three by an average score of 29–5. Iowa is a solid favorite to win its fourth straight over the Cyclones, but Kirk Ferentz’s club will need a better effort from tailback Marcus Coker. The hero of Iowa’s Insight Bowl win over Missouri last year with 219 yards on 33 carries, Coker was benched in the opener against Tennessee Tech after fumbling twice in the first half. He is back atop the depth chart this week, and he is a guy that will have to produce for this Iowa team to be successful. Iowa State, which edged Northern Iowa 20–19, will need new quarterback Steele Jantz to be more efficient in the passing game. The junior college transfer rushed for 75 yards and two scores but completed only 18-of-40 for 187 yards with three interceptions.
Iowa 24, Iowa State 10
Cincinnati (+6) at Tennessee
Cincinnati rolled up 72 points in its Week 1 win over Austin Peay. Eight different Bearcats scored a touchdown and 10 different UC players rushed for at least 10 yards. Now, Butch Jones’ club must see what it can do against another, far more talented, team from the state of Tennessee. The Vols are also fresh off of a win over an FCS school, but a 42–16 win over Montana is a bit more impressive than a 72–0 victory over Austin Peay. The key for Cincinnati will be taking care of the ball. Two years ago, when the Bearcats won the Big East, they ranked 13th in the nation in turnover margin (+0.69). Last year, when they slumped to 4–8 overall and 2–5 in the Big East (and also lost coach Brian Kelly), they were 119th in the nation in turnover margin (-1.25). This team still has a ton of firepower on offense, led by quarterback Zach Collaros and tailback Isaiah Pead. Tennessee is in for a stiff test
Tennessee 30, Cincinnati 27
Nevada (+27) at Oregon
The Ducks return home after a humbling 40–27 loss to LSU in Dallas. Oregon’s rushing attack, which churned out 286.2 yards per game in 2010, was held to 95 yards on 28 carries. Quarterback Darron Thomas did throw for 240 yards but was held to 4.4 yards per attempt — a number that Chip Kelly can’t be happy with. Nevada was one of only two FBS teams that didn’t play in Week 1 (UAB was the other). The Wolf Pack will be without Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, but Chris Ault still has some solid talent on both sides of the ball. The boys in Vegas don’t seem to think Nevada can keep this game close. I disagree.
Oregon 40, Nevada 27
Last week — 7–3 overall (7–3 against the spread)
By Tom Blaz of the Recruiting Eagle
Much has been made of the major losses from the championship roster of the 2010 Auburn Tigers. With several dozen seniors and a half dozen more lost through attrition, approximately forty percent of the players that brought home the crystal ball from Arizona are gone.
Make no mistake, the Auburn staff is focused and is expecting to win every Saturday this fall. With a brutal road schedule that includes Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia, LSU, Arkansas and home games against Florida and Alabama, a repeat of the unbeaten ’11 effort is certainly a long shot.
With consensus Top-5 recruiting classes in both 2010 and 2011, the future is indeed bright in Auburn. Many of the freshman and sophomore have already made their way into the two deep depth charts. Auburn projects six seniors in its two deep and a dozen juniors, the remaining 28 either first or second year players.
Auburn has already filled more than half its 2012 recruiting class and has begun on ’13 as well. With so few upperclassman and so many blue chip recruits, don’t be surprised if the Tigers return to the BCS national championship game as early as the 2012 season.
Junior Barrett Trotter will be an important chip in 2011, leading such a young group. Trotter’s starting job may be limited to a single season as true freshman Kiehl Frazier is already knocking on the door and Elite-11 signal caller Zeke Pike arrives next season.
The 2011 Tigers are loaded with quality, but lacking on quantity. Sophomore Michael Dyer broke Bo Jackson’s freshman records a season ago and teams with speedy Junior Onterrio McCalebb. Freshman Tre Mason is the only key backup, but that will change a year from now with two blue chip recruits and transfers Mike Blakely and Corey Grant.
Emory Blake is the only link among pass catchers to the crew that was part of “Air Newton” a season ago. Redshirt freshman Trovon Reed is special and will begin to make his mark this season. A pair of true freshman, Sammie Coates and Jaylon Denson are big, fast and along with several blue chip ’12 recruits, represent the future, sooner than later.
Philip Lutzenkirchen returns as one of the top red zone threats in the nation. The versatile junior can also line up as a fullback or in the slot creating matchup nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators. Freshmen Brandon Fulse and C.J. Uzomah bring potential and intriguing size. In what is an embarrassment of riches, a pair of very talented recruits, Ricky Parks and Darrion Hutcherson join a year from now.
Four starters from a year ago are now pushing and shoving at the next level. The Tigers have cobbled together a mix of veterans and newcomers to fill their spots. A pair of seniors, returning starter Brandon Mosley and guard Jared Cooper provide veteran leadership along with junior guard John Sullen. Redshirt freshman Chad Slade managed to beat out returning senior starter A.J Greene, while true freshman Reese Dismukes showed why he was the nation’s top high school center. Five more underclassman, led by elite freshman Christian Westerman and Greg Robinson are part of the two deep.
Anytime you lose a disruptive interior force like Nick Fairley it will be hard felt. The Tigers also lost a pair off senior tackles and ends that had been part of the two deep for three seasons. Sophomore’s Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter start on the inside; backed up by three freshmen, including blue chip tackle Gabe Wright. Auburn is also young at end with All-SEC freshman Corey Lemonier along with fellow sophomore and returning starter Nosa Equae. Watch out for #13 Craig Sanders who excelled on special teams a season ago and figures to contributed all along the line in ’12.
Like most positions on the ’12 team, Auburn with some giant shoes to fill in departed three year starters Craig Stevens and Josh Bynes. Jake Holland is the clear leader in the middle, the high school tackling machine earned invaluable experience a season ago. Converted safety Daren Bates starts on the outside, the junior is the small fast type that Chizik loves. Look for a breakout season from senior Eltoro Freeman, who for now, backs up all three spots.
Cornerback and all-conference kick returner Demond Washington is now with the Kansas City Chiefs and the top three safeties have departed. Cornerback Neiko Thorpe returns to start for a third season, but he now lines up at safety. Special teams demon Demetruce McNeal provides big play potential at the other safety spot. Iron Bowl hero T’Sharvan Bell is now the top cover corner with eight underclassman also listed on the depth chart. Keep an eye on #31 Trent Fisher, the walk-on safety is the son of former Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher.
A new punter and kicker for Auburn, Wes Byrum is now with the Seattle Seahawks after four seasons of clutch kicking on the Plains. Jumbo punter (6’5” 230) Steven Clark is highly regarded, as is the new kicker in the hotly recruited Cody Parkey.
For everything you want on Auburn Tigers, check out The Recruiting Eagle.
The 2011 NFL season kicks off with a Thursday night showdown between the last two Super Bowl champions, as Super Bowl XLIV MVP quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints march to Lambeau Field to take on Super Bowl XLV MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers — in the first of 256 regular season games that span from Sept. 8 until Jan. 1, 2012.
Before a snap has been taken, Athlon Sports looks into our crystal ball in an attempt to predict who will be award-worthy after the dust settles this season.
Most Valuable Player
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Rodgers has already matched Brett Favre’s Super Bowl ring tally, but the leader in Titletown is three down to his predecessor in league MVP trophies. If the 27-year-old with the title belt can match his average stats as a starter — 4,131 yards, 29 TDs and 10 INTs; 293 rush yards and four scores per year since taking over for Favre three seasons ago — he will add a regular season MVP to the Super Bowl MVP he earned after knocking off the Steelers at Cowboys Stadium in February.
Offensive Player of the Year
Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
Vick posted 3,018 yards, 21 TDs and only six INTs for a 100.2 passer rating, along with 676 rushing yards and nine TDs on the ground in only 12 games last season. As a result, the Eagles traded Kevin Kolb to the Cardinals and signed Vick to a six-year, $100 million contract. If the dual-threat lefty passer can stay healthy this season, he could put up his best numbers to date. Andy Reid and the Philly front office are banking on it.
Defensive Player of the Year
Patrick Willis, LB, 49ers
Willis has taken over for Ray Lewis as the new standard for middle linebackers. New coach Jim Harbaugh will have the luxury of having a coach on the field. The 2007 Defensive Rookie of the Year has been named All-Pro in each of his four seasons. The next logical step is to receive the league’s top defensive honors.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama should see plenty of scoring opportunities as a featured weapon in the Saints’ high-octane attack. The namesake of the Giants’ Super Bowl-winning receiver, young Ingram’s physical running style will also be useful late in games where the Big Easy looks to run out the clock.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Von Miller, LB, Broncos
John Elway’s first draft choice since becoming Denver’s Executive VP of Football Operations, the No. 2 overall pick out of Texas A&M will be counted on to rush the passer early and often. Teaming with edge-rusher Elvis Dumervil (17 sacks in ’09) to form the soon-to-be feared “Von Doom” duo, Miller has the best chance to put up the numbers necessary to take home the Defensive R.O.Y. hardware.
Comeback Player of the Year
Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
After suffering a fractured clavicle six games — and a 1–5 record — into the 2010 season, Romo was forced to watch as the Cowboys struggled to a 5–11 finish. Now, the pressure is on the three-time Pro Bowl signal-caller to deliver his fourth playoff berth as the starter in Big D. If Romo does that, Jerry Jones won’t call it a comeback — those are the results he expects — but the voters sure will.
Coach of the Year
Jim Schwartz, Lions
Detroit has not had a winning record since 2000 and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1999. If Schwartz can end either of those losing droughts — and it will take a healthy Matthew Stafford and dominant Ndamukong Suh — it will certainly be award-worthy.
Executive of the Year
Ted Thompson, Packers
A little retroactive respect may be in order for the man who bit the bullet and sent Brett Favre packing — so to speak — in favor of Aaron Rodgers four years ago. Although Thompson did not make a major splash in free agency, his team will “acquire” several playmakers returning from injury — Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley.
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Jimmie Johnson Two runner-up finishes in the last three races but no wins since Talladega in April. It’s almost Chase time, though, and Johnson finds himself leading the pack (albeit in a controlled four-wheel drift) as September begins. Surprise, surprise.
2. Jeff Gordon Win No. 85 was a hard-fought victory for Gordon, and possibly one of the best finishes this season. The 24 team is going to be hard to handle in the playoffs. (Sorry folks, no ‘stache and mullet jokes. There’s plenty of those hack jobs on every other power ranking post this week.)
3. Kyle Busch The handle on Kyle’s car went away prior to halfway at Atlanta and never came back. After three consecutive top-3 runs at Pocono, the Glen and Bristol, the 18 team has showings of 14th and 23rd. Will rebound at RIR.
4. Brad Keselowski The “Top 3 Streak” came to an end, but Keselowski still stood strong, notching a sixth at Atlanta. His average finish over the last six races is 2.8.
5. Carl Edwards It’s hard not to figure the 99 team has been in R&D mode. That may be over, though, after Carl turned up the heat at AMS, duking it out with the leaders all day and finishing fifth.
6. Matt Kenseth Kenseth makes for a popular sleeper Chase pick but he’s straight faded in the closing laps the last two weeks and that can’t happen in the Chase.
7. Ryan Newman Newman was more or less out to lunch at Atlanta after seven pretty nice looking performances. We’ll chalk it up to not being able to have a good day every day.
8. Denny Hamlin Denny would have to choke harder at Richmond than he did in last year’s Chase to miss the playoffs. Yeah, that’s harsh but it’s the truth.
In an attempt to save the Big 12 from crumbling, Baylor is considering legal options against Texas A&M and the SEC. This twist is just the latest in a bizarre saga involving the Big 12, especially after Nebraska and Colorado left the conference after the 2010 season.
While this could be nothing more than a temporary holdup for Texas A&M’s entrance into the SEC, Baylor’s desire to keep the Big 12 together has created a legal hurdle that must be cleared.
However, the latest developments in Waco have put any conference realignment on hold – at least temporarily.
The SEC does not want to be sued or be viewed as a conference killer, which is why Texas A&M has taken the slow, but necessary steps to withdraw from the conference.
Before Baylor’s threat to pursue legal action, the Aggies were accepted as the 13th member of the SEC on Tuesday night and are slated to join in time for the 2012 season.
What is behind this decision? When you take a look at the landscape of college football and the Big 12, the situation could get scary for Baylor.
The Bears want to keep the Big 12 together and by preventing the Aggies from leaving, hope to get a shot at reconciling the differences in the conference.
Texas A&M isn’t the only team eyeing a possible move to another conference. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are reportedly very interested in joining the Pac-12. Texas and Texas Tech have also been rumored to head west if Oklahoma and Oklahoma State also make the transition. Also, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri are believed to be targets of any potential Big East expansion.
Considering the potential dominoes that could fall in conference realignment if Texas A&M joins the SEC, Baylor is simply trying to protect its own interests.
Think about it this way, if the Big 12 falls apart, the Bears could end up in Conference, USA or the Mountain West. Going from a BCS conference to a Non-AQ setup is not what Baylor has in mind.
When taking a look at the situation unfolding in the Big 12 and the potential for 16-team super conferences to form, it’s hard to blame Baylor’s stance. Sure, this is a nuisance or a messy situation for Texas A&M and the rest of the schools in the Big 12, but the Bears – just like the Aggies with their interest in the SEC and Texas with the creation of the Longhorn Network – is looking out for its future.
Texas A&M can’t be blamed for choosing the SEC if it feels its best for the long-term future of the program. On that same path, Baylor can’t be blamed for at least trying to reconcile the Big 12.
What happens next?
Texas A&M was all set to have an announcement for its acceptance into the SEC on Wednesday. However, those plans are on hold until this can be sorted out.
Even though Baylor’s hail mary attempt has worked for now, there’s no guarantee this prevents any switch in conferences.
Texas A&M still wants out of the Big 12. And the SEC still wants Texas A&M.
Sure, the Big 12 could be fixed, but there’s been a lot of damage sustained over the last month. Texas A&M is set on making its own path from Texas, especially with the Longhorn Network remaining a point of contention.
Assuming Texas A&M joins – the conference is expected to eventually add a 14th team. West Virginia, Missouri, North Carolina, NC State and Virginia Tech are believed to be on the SEC’s wish list.
For college football fans against the formation of super conferences and more realignment, the developments with Baylor was a victory.
Whether or not a threat of legal action will keep Texas A&M from leaving for the SEC remains to be seen.
Either way, the next couple of weeks are going to be very interesting in the Big 12, SEC, College Station and Waco.
Yes, this is video of Rafael Nadal having a minor gas problem at a US Open Press Conference is juvenile. But yes, it also makes us laugh. Overdubbing fart noises will always make us chuckle.
Georgia fans were not ready to see their Bulldogs manhandled by Boise State in Atlanta. UCLA fans are looking for any positive after the last few seasons, but the Bruins fell at Houston on Saturday. Both Mark Richt and Rick Neuheisel entered the college football season on the proverbial hot seat, and neither coach's team got it done against non-AQ competition in Week 1. Georgia hosts South Carolina this week, while UCLA gets a breather against San Jose State before facing Texas and Stanford in two of the three following weeks.
Hotter Seat: Rick Neuheisel or Mark Richt?
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think it has to be Rick Neuheisel. His record is 15-23 at his alma mater, and UCLA has finished eighth, eighth and ninth in league play during his tenure. That’s just plain old not getting it done. Many will argue that there is much more pressure at a passionate SEC school like Georgia, but the Bruins have quite the winning tradition as well. From “Red” Sanders to Tommy Prothro to Terry Donahue to Bob Toledo, UCLA has a long history of being a successful program. It’s an easy place to recruit talented kids, and Neuheisel seems to have quality players on the roster. However, the wins have not followed. Last year’s UCLA squad ranked 100th in total offense and 94th in total defense - that’s shockingly bad for a BCS school. Mark Richt is definitely feeling pressure at Georgia, but he is struggling against his own high standard. The likeable coach had 82 wins in his first eight seasons in Athens, including two SEC titles. He still has a chance to turn things around, but I believe Neuheisel must get to six wins and the postseason to remain at UCLA.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Both coaches will have a chance to save their job over the next couple of months, but after Saturday night's disappointment, I think Mark Richt's seat is hotter. Georgia had a lot of preseason hype, but looked flat and was thoroughly outplayed by Boise State. There's no shame in losing to the Broncos. However, the manner in which the Bulldogs lost has to be the biggest concern for Georgia fans. Losing a primetime, national audience opener is never a good thing for a coach on the hot seat. Neuheisel entered the year with low expectations, but still needs to show some improvement to return next year. After the disappointing showing against Boise State, it will be interesting to see how Georgia responds against South Carolina. All is not lost in the SEC East race, as the Bulldogs have an opportunity to win the division crown and make a trip to Atlanta for the conference title game. However, there's a lot of pressure on Richt to inject some much-needed energy and victories for Georgia - right now. A loss to the Gamecocks wouldn't seal Richt's fate, but it would take a dramatic turnaround over the next 10 games to return in Athens next season.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
The pressure is much heavier at Georgia. The schedule is much tougher at Georgia. But the winning has been much better at Georgia - Richt is four wins away from 100 and has one of the better winning percentages for a UGA and SEC coach in history. No team has a tougher start to its season than the Bulldogs and while an 0-2 record isn't what any fan base wants, Georgia could (and should) easily get to eight wins if not nine. The seat at UCLA was warmer to begin the season, and they lost to a Houston team that is, while good, not in the same category as Boise State. I see Rick Neuheisel’s seat as hotter at the current time.
Never bench your studs. Yeah, right. Just because you drafted a running back in the first round, don't think you can just set him in the starting lineup and not have to worry about him falling on his face.
Case in point is Week 1 and Baltimore's Ray Rice. If you're in a non-PPR sit him. If you're in a league without a flex position, sit him. And if you're in a PPR league with a flex position, really consider going somewhere else this week if you have better options/matchups.
Ray Rice gets Pittsburgh to open the season — he will also have to face the Steelers and their No. 1 run defense in the NFL and No. 1 in points per game allowed to RBs in fantasy last season at just 12.9 in Week 9. Yes, we love Ray Rice. But maybe we love him too much considering he has to face the Steelers twice this season and the Jets in Week 4 (No. 2 in PPG to RBs at 14). But back to Week 1. In two games against the Steelers last year, Rice ran for 52 yards total, caught three balls for 27 yards total and failed to reach the end zone. In two starts that's 10.9 points in a full PPR league and 7.7 in a standard league — in TWO starts.
In five regular-season games against the Steelers in his career, Rice has a total of 281 yards rushing, nine catches for 108 yards and NO touchdowns. That's 77.8 total yards and 1.8 catches per game. So his career fantasy average vs. the Steelers in a full-PPR league is 9.5 points and 7.7 in non-PPR.
You need look no further than what Chris Johnson, coming off a 2,000-yard rushing season, did in the opener against Pittsburgh last year: 34 yards rushing and five catches for 19 yards — 5.3 in a non-PPR and 10.3 in a full-PPR.
Rice was the ninth-best back in PPG last year at 15.3. Seeing Pittsburgh twice a year, along with the Jets, all before the fantasy postseason, is not a confidence builder for his 2011 prospects if you just assume he is not going to come close to reaching his average in those three games.
No other top-12 back faces Pittsburgh twice, but there are three that face Pittsburgh and the Jets: Rice, Jamaal Charles and Maurice Jones-Drew.
We know Rice's numbers vs. the Steelers. He has played the Jets once (last year's season opener) and went for 43 yards rushing, 19 yards receiving on two catches and no scores. That's 6.2 points in a non-PPR and 8.2 in a full-PPR.
Charles has faced the Steeler and Jets once each — 58 yards rushing, two catches for eight yards and one score against the Steelers in 2009 and 45 yards rushing, one catch for four yards and no scores against the Jets in his rookie season of 2008.
MJD has faced the Steelers three times, rushing for 80 yards and one score and adding 13 catches for 59 yards and no scores. He has faced the Jets twice, rushing for 182 yards and three scores and catching two balls for 22 yards and no scores. Clearly, MJD is the best against these two teams, but now with the release of QB David Garrard and teams knowing it's stack the box time, having success against these two teams in the first six weeks of the season is a tall order.
Here are the top five fantasy defenses against RBs last season, and which RBs have to face them this year.
Pittsburgh — 12.9
New York Jets — 14.0
Green Bay — 15.7
Atlanta & Baltimore — 16
No. 1 Arian Foster — Pittsburgh (Week 4), Baltimore (Week 6), Atlanta (Week 13)
No. 2 Adrian Peterson — Green Bay (Week 7), Green Bay (Week 10), Atlanta (Week 12)
No. 3 Ray Rice — Pittsburgh (Week 1), N.Y. Jets (Week 4), Pittsburgh (Week 9)
No. 4 LeSean McCoy — Atlanta (Week 2), New York Jets (Week 15)
No. 5 Jamaal Charles — Pittsburgh (Week 12), New York Jets (Week 14), Green Bay (Week 15)
No. 6 Chris Johnson — Baltimore (Week 2), Pittsburgh (Week 5), Atlanta (Week 11)
No. 7 Rashard Mendenhall — Baltimore (Week 1), Baltimore (Week 9)
No. 8 Maurice Jones-Drew — New York Jets (Week 2), Pittsburgh (Week 6), Baltimore (Week 7), Atlanta (Week 15)
No. 9 Darren McFadden — New York Jets (Week 3), Green Bay (Week 14)
No. 10 Steven Jackson — Baltimore (Week 3), Green Bay (Week 6), Pittsburgh (Week 16)
No. 11 Matt Forte — Atlanta (Week 1), Green Bay (Week 3), Green Bay (Week 16)
No. 12 Frank Gore — Baltimore (Week 12), Pittsburgh (Week 15)
Of course you can't run from all of the top-12 backs in fantasy football, but this is just meant to inform you of when to beware. And maybe with eight of the first 12 backs each facing a top-five fantasy run defense at least three times, perhaps their value is not as great as once thought.
Bottom line: Sit em vs. the Steelers and Jets and cross your fingers for the rest.
On to Ask Athlon for Week 1...
Kevin Kolb or Jay Cutler Week 1?
— Mike Crowther from Athlon Sports on Facebook
Wow, that's a tough one. Cutler was sacked a league-high 56 times last season, but Kolb's opponent, Carolina, wasn't far behind with 50 sacks allowed. Cutler faces an Atlanta team that allowed the fifth-most points to fantasy WRs last year (30.5 PPG), while Carolina was much better at fifth-best (22.8 PPG). Arizona has Larry Fitzgerald and Todd Heap and a new QB in Kolb and the Cardinals are on the road against a coach In Ron Rivera hired for his defensive mind. The Bears are at home, with more weapons and Cutler in his second year in Mike Martz's offense. It's a close call, but I'd go Cutler.
Julio Jones, Jonathan Stewart or Marshawn Lynch at the flex spot, non-PPR
— Chris Kaschok from Athlon Sports on Facebook
All I see when I think of the Falcons, Week 1 and a receiver is Michael Jenkins streaking down the field to catch Matt Ryan's first-ever pro pass for a 62-yard touchdown in 2008. One play and Jenkins had 12.2 points in non-PPR leagues, add a point in PPR. Chicago's Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are no bums when it comes to covering receivers but the Bears' rush defense was second in the league last season. So expect the Falcons to come out showing off their new weapon in the rookie receiver from Alabama. I feel better about his opportunities to get you the 12 points you want from your flex spot than the other two options.
Stewart ran for 137 yards and no scores against Arizona last season when he was the primary back. But DeAngelo Williams is back, rookie QB Cam Newton can't throw and expect the Cardinals to key on the run. With Stewart playing second fiddle and the Cardinals focused on one thing — stopping the run — hard to expect much from JStew in this one.
Lynch is in Seattle. Enough said. Get the great playoff run he had against the Saints out of your mind. I am not touching a single Seahawk this season until they get a new QB — and that QB is not currently on the roster.
Who do you like more this week. Big Ben at the Ravens or Tony Romo at the Jets?
— @AthlonBraden on Twitter (because even Athlon editors need help setting their lineups)
Both teams are in similar situations. The Steelers and Cowboys go up against top-notch run defenses and will probably have to go to the air to have success. I give the edge to Roethlisberger for three reasons: familiarity, health and the other team's defensive backfield.
Roethlisberger has not lost in his last seven tries against his AFC North rivals, and averages 21.6 points per game over the last 12 meetings. The Steelers are healthy, minus Emmanuel Sanders being banged up with his foot injury, although Antonio Brown filled in nicely in the preseason. Jets shutdown corner Darrelle Revis is not on the other side of the field for Big Ben to face.
Romo has only faced the Jets once — 195 yards, two scores and an interception in 2007. Romo does have to face Revis. He does so with a hamstring injury to his No. 1 receiver, Miles Austin, who would be lined up against Revis. His No. 2, Dez Bryant, is unproven with Romo at the helm so far. Add all that with the fact the Cowboys' No. 16 run offense from a year ago, now minus Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode who they released, goes up against the No. 3 ranked rushing defense.
— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter
This article about the death of the Southwestern Conference and subsequent birth of the Big 12 originally appeared in the 1995 edition of Athlon's Big Eight magazine. As Texas A&M prepares to move to the SEC, leaving the future of the Big 12 up in the air, we feel this piece is worth revisiting as history seems to be repeating itself.
By Ivan Maisel
For decades, it was difficult to determine the biggest commodity in Texas. Some said oil, others pride. Anything made in Texas, grown in Texas and, heaven knows, born in Texas, was bigger, better or prettier. That was just a fact of life.
Texas may have been one of 50 states but it had once been its own republic. That sense of self-reliance, of the belief that Texans didn't join the union so much as merge with it, lasted for most of this century. A Texan's biscuits always came out of the oven fluffy.
An old joke:
Q: Do you think the recession will have political repercussions in Texas?
A: Son, we don't have a recession in Texas. I'll admit, however, that our boom is worse than it's been in a good while.
That air of superiority could be seen in the state's institutions, one after the other built from nothing. Neiman-Marcus transformed from a small storefront to retailer to the nation's wealthy. The King Ranch and others like it, immortalized in the novel and film Giant, existed almost like their own principalities.
Oilmen who struck it rich had so much money their lives had no limits. J.R. Ewing didn't live in Chicago.
You could tell a Texan, the saying went, but you couldn't tell him much, especially when it came to Southwest conference football.
"There's no question in my mind," former Texas coach Darrell Royal said in 1963, the year the Longhorns won the first of three national championships under him, "that everybody shoots for the University of Texas."
The Southwest conference churned out good players, great teams and national heroes. Slingin' Sammy Baugh and Davey O'Brien took TCU to the fore in the 1930s. Doak Walker of SMU won national Player of the Year awards in two postwar seasons and adorned the cover of Life magazine, the ancient equivalent of having your own Nike campaign.
Royal's Longhorns became perennial championship contenders in the 1960s. The decade ended with the entire nation focused on Fayetteville, Ark., where Texas and Arkansas, ranked 1-2, played for the Southwest Conference and national championship.
But now we are in the 1990s, and it seems redundant to say times have changed. Texas isn't really Texas anymore. It's just another state. part of that change came from without. Technological marvels made this country smaller.
First television, then computers, took the same message into homes from Boston to San Antonio, Seattle to Houston, Miami to Dallas. The oil and real-estate bust of the 1980s weakened Texans as if an epidemic had raged through the state. Economies of scale pushed companies to widen their markets to encompass the entire nation.
Being the best in your region, even in one as large as Texas, no longer guaranteed survival. Neiman-Marcus is owned by a New York conglomerate. Dr. Pepper, born in Dallas, is a British property. The King Ranch no longer exists. And neither, after this season will the Southwest Conference.
Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor will merge with the Big Eight to form the Big 12. Rice, SMU and TCU will join an expanded Western Athletic Conference. Houston will become part of a new league called Conference USA with 12 members, mostly city schools. Houston and five other institutions will compete for the college football championship starting in 1996. The homogenization of Texas is complete.
The reasons for the Southwest Conference's death are manifold. The 19902 began with Arkansas announcing its departure for the Southeastern Conference. In an era of college sports where the root of survival is TV, no one state, not even Texas, can generate the ratings that would provide rights fees large enough for a league to survive. When the NCAA monopolized TV rights, before 1984, the Southwest Conference and other leagues didn't have to worry about selling themselves. Everyone received the same amount of money. When a federal court opened the marketplace in 1984, the Southwest Conference survived for only 10 years.
Expansion became paramount, for leagues either had to eat or be eaten. The TV market demanded it. Yet the conference had become vulnerable, weakened by sundry ailments: the advent of professional sports, the widening chasm between small, private universities (SMU, TCU, Rice, Baylor) and large state institutions (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Houston), the pervasive cheating that peaked int he 1980s and the members' own intransigence. Perhaps the saddest element of the conference's demise is that the league had a window of opportunity to modernize and didn't climb through it.
"I failed," says Fred Jacoby, commissioner from 1982-93. "I spent more time trying to hold it together and trying to make changes." Jacoby should order enough hair shirts to go around. In order for him to lead, someone had to be willing to follow. Rather than take an aggressive course ofaction such as expansion, the league's members allowed themselves to be picked apart. Aggressive action takes conviction, a commonality of purpose by partners willing to take a risk. Conference members had enough trouble agreeing that Christmas came in December.
"Someone told me Texas had more undergraduates than Rice had living alumni," says Rick Chryst, Atlantic Coast Conference assistant commissioner, who went to the ACC from the Southwest Conference office in 1991. "You begin to see the differences in resources and philosophies. The public/private distinction is pretty big anywhere. We face it here (in the ACC) with Duke and Wake Forest. The day-to-day decisions are animated by the character of institutions. Tuition costs translate into scholoarship exposure. How many private schools compete (well) in football?"
These are tough issues for privates. Three of the four private schools in the Southwest Conference were based in Texas' two largest metropolitan areas. Rice, TCU and SMU all had thrived prior to 1960.
"There's a reason why Rice has a 70,000 seat stadium," Jacoby says. All of Houston once made the Owls their own. TCU and SMU staged a showdown for national supremacy in 1935 that remains one of the sports legendary games. The Mustangs won it 20-14 despite the efforts of Baugh.
Thousands of Texans followed SMU to the Rose Bowl, where they lost to Stanford 7-0.
A quarter of a century later, the National Football League came to Dallas. The Cowboys, thanks to Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt, began as the darlings of the state and peaked as America's Team.
"Pro sports usurped newspaper space," Jacoby says. "We all have time and money. How do we allocate them? That has had irreparable damage. Where are colleges flourishing in attention? Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nebraska, Alabama, Tennessee. Where are colleges flourishing in pro markets? You have to have a real strong winner. Miami's support is four miles wide and an inch deep. If they drop off, that will plummet."
Dallas, Fort Worth or Houston hasn't had a consistent winner in years. Even when the University of Houston went 10-1 in 1990 the Cougars drew an average crowd of 29,934. By 1993, when Houston won one game, that average dropped by one-third. Fans deserted SMU, TCU and Rice as well. The Owls may have a large stadium but they haven't filled it since 1970. In fact, the most recent attendance record set by those three schools occurred in 1984, when TCU-Texas attracted 47,280 to Amon Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.
Even that achievement highlighted another problem. Texas and Texas A&M couldn't sell their own tickets to alumni in Houston and Dallas. Those fans didn't have to make donations to their respective alma maters in order to buy season tickets for games three hours away. They could drive over to TCU--or SMU or Rice--on the day of the game and buy tickets. The lack of interest in the pro-dominated cities manifested iteself in TV ratings, too.
"You didn't have the support in the two biggest markets, Dallas and Houston, to keep it going," says Ken Haines, vice president of Raycom, which holds the conference's syndication rights. With Arkansas, he added, the Southwest Conference "wasn't the Big Ten. It was viable. When Arkansas left, it made it difficult for us to break even financially."
Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles has been in charge of the Razorbacks' program for more than a generation. Unike most schools, where athletic directors only made suggestions to the president or the board of trustees, Broyles could make decisions unilaterally. He could see the future and, in his mind, it didn't bode well for Arkansas. So he took the Razorbacks to the Southeastersn Conference. It's difficult to tell what hurt the Southwest Conference more: Arkansas departure or the perception of the conference it left behind.
Broyles has often said he felt compelled to make the switch because the realities of the marketplace. Arkansas abandoned its lifelong partners to save its own existence. The move has worked out well. The Southweastern Conference is an integral part of the culture in the South. That and the ever-increasing population, i.e. TV market, made the league attractive to the networks.
Arkansas, toughened by SEC basketball, has climbed to the national elite. However, the equally tough competition in football has taken a toll on the Razorbakcs, clearly a level or two below the Alabamas and Auburns.
The departure made it more clear than ever that the league needed to change its configuration. In defecting, however, Arkansas left the SWC in a weak position to negotiate the future. Though Arkansas may be a small state, its university had been a strong partner.
"The ratings were so high (in Arkansas)," Haines says, "that it was bringing a population base to advertisers at half of what that base would cost in the SWC."
When Arkansas announced its decision in 1990 to bolt to the SEC, the conventional wisdom held that Texas and Texas A&M would soon follow. Grant Teaff, then head coach at Baylor and now the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, compared the renegades to Iraq, which days earlier had invaded Kuwait. Texas and Texas A&M never came out and said they wanted to leave. As it turns out, Arkansas provided the two flagships with a dress rehearsal of what they would need to do. Both schools would have to sell the move to legislators at the capital in Austin.
Alumni of Texas Tech and Baylor help power in Texas state government well out of proportion to the power held by those schools in the SWC. When Arkansas bolted, the phones started to ring at the capital. Soon, hearings would be scheduled. The legislators threatened to restrict access to the oilfield royalty checks that Texas and Texas A&M had used to become two of the best-regarded academic institutions in the nation.
Texas and Texas A&M wrested concessions from their conference brethren. Rather than equitably split gate receipts, the two schools forced the others to agree to what DeLoss Dodds, Texas athletic director, described as "You keeps yours and I'll keep mine." That didn't do anything to solve the basic problem--getting people through the gate. The lack of interest affected the SWC in many veins, all of which lead to the beating heart of TV. A network is looking for marquee games: Alabama-Auburn, USC-Notre Dame, Michigan-Ohio State. Arkansas-Texas, a rivalry that once decided the national championship, would be no longer. That left the conference with only two perennials: Texas-Texas A&M and Texas-Oklahoma.
"As a league," Chryst says, "you went in trying to create three packages: national, syndicated, plus they (the members) wanted to hold something on their own. The conference wasn't deep enough to support it. TV brings issues into sharper focus."
In the days when the NCAA controlled the TV rights of its members, issues such as inventory control did not exist. The NCAA controlled the inventory and all the members received a check. But in 1984, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Georgia sued the NAA for control of their TV rights. U.S. District Court Judge Juan Burciaga ruled in favor of the universities. College football began appearing on four to six channels every fall Saturday.
The timing couldn't have been worse for the SWC. When SMU arrived among the national polls in the early 1980s, the route it took changed the face of college sports forever. SMU cheated and received two years of NCAA probation in June 1981. In 1985, SMU got three more years. Then came the revelation that ended all revelations: Not only had SMU been paying its players, but the school's highest officials had approved the payments. Bill Clements, SMU chairman of the board of trustees, gave his approval while serving as governor of the state of Texas. When asked why he had lied about his actions, Clements said, "There weren't any Bibles in the room."
Shortly before Clements' role became public, he had dinner in his home with Bum Bright, former Cowboys' owner and a devout Texas A&M Aggie. About that time, Clements had promised Bright that if SMU went down, everyone would go down. Before the 1980s ended, seven of the nine conference schools received NCAA probation, the worst punishment, of course, being the "death penalty" meted out to SMU in March 1987. The athletic program hasyet to recover.
Although the level of cheating may have been unprecedented, neither could it be labeled a phenomenon. "I wasn't here two weeks before I knew we had a problem," Jacoby says. "When you have violations, you have a lack of trust."
The price the conference schools paid for dealing in scandal and the resultant NCAA probation grew exponentially. The NCAA demanded a heavy toll in scholarships and TV exposure.
The effects of losing those two essentials, the meat and potatoes of a revenue-producing program, have been well-documented at school from Florida to California. Yet in Texas, given the state's ability to produce the finest high school football players in the nation, an extra tariff was paid. The stain on the conference's name drove those top players away from home. By the late 1980s, the retention rate by the SWC of the state's Top 100 Prospects, as identified by The Dallas Morning News, dwindled to 60 percent. The better the player, the more likely he would leave.
From 1980 to 1984, of the 18 All-Americans who listed Texas cities or town as their homes, 12 (66.7 percent) attended SWC schools. In the next five-year-period, 1985-89, 17 Texas residents won All-America recognition. Only five (29.4 percent) played in the SWC.
Two cases illustrate the mess the conference wrought. One is Tim Brown, the Notre Dame wide receiver who won the 1987 Heisman Trophy. Brown grew up in Dallas and attended Woodrow Wilson High, which makes it one of the two high schools that has produced two Heisman winners. Davey O'Brien, the 1938 winner from TCU, also went to Woodrow, as the locals call it.
Brown narrowed his choice to SMU and Notre Dame. On the fay before the signing date, Brown claimed, SMU recruiters made promises that would have broken NCAA ruled. He went to Notre Dame, where he spearheaded the Fighting Irish's resurgence under head coach Lou Holtz.
Other Texans who achieved greatness elsewhere included quarterback Ty Detmer of Brigham Young, tailback Thurman Thomas of Oklahoma State, linebackers Brian Bosworth of Oklahoma and Alfred Williams of Colorado, and center Jake Young of Nebraska. Detmer was the Heisman winner in 1990. For the last five seasons, the trend has returned to normal. Ten of the 13 All-Americans from Texas went to Texas schools. Bu the barn door had been left open too long.
Ever since Arkansas left, there has been an air of inevitability wafting about the league. Immediately after the announcement in 1990, Jacoby began beseeching the Big Eight to consider, if not merger, then a pooling of resources. The Big Eight never showed much interest. Jacoby remembered an early meeting at an airport hotel in Oklahoma City.
"I went over scheduling, marketing, negotiations of TV," Jacoby says. "When I got through, they looked at me like, 'What the hell are you talking about?"
There had been a meeting over dinner at the 1991 NCAA Convention in Nashville and at the College Football Association conventions in 1991 and 1993. Little had come of them.
"I was convinced," says Jacoby, "that the only way the Big Eight would be interested was if it got a slap across the face."
Jacoby pushed his own presidents not to sit back and get picked over. He wanted to expand. "The presidents said, 'Don't talk to anyone already in a football conference,'" Jacoby recalls.
Tulane made a pitch, but Dodds and others didn't believe the small, private school could deliver the New Orleans TV market. Jacoby believed it could have.
"The ACC expanded to get Georgia Tech, and all of a sudden Georgia Tech went 0-17 (in ACC football games)," he says. "Then Tech started to grow and ended up winnings the (1990) national championship."
Jacoby campaigned to bring Memphis and Louisville, which would have strengthened the league's basketball presence. But no one wanted to make a move only for basketball.
"We were in the driver's seat in 1991 and 1992," Jacoby says. "Once it got tot he spring of 1994, the contracts had been negotiated."
The CFA TV alliance long had been an uneasy one. In 1990, after the CFA had negotiated a five-year, $350 million contract with ABC and ESPN, but before it had signed, Notre Dame bolted to make its own five year, $37 million deal with NBC. Once one member left, others lost their reticence. The SEC negotiated with CBS up to 45 minutes before agreeing to remain part of the CFA's revised $300 million, Irish-less deals. The SEC made the agreement by wrenching more appearances out of the CFA, which left other conferences, chiefly the Big East, disgruntled.
The cntract turned out well for all parties. Rather than show one or two games per Saturday as CBS had, ABC adoted a regional schedule, televising as many as five games simultaneously. The strategy proved to be ideal for the Southwest Conference. Texas, with two of the top 10 TV markets in Dallas and Houston, could guarantee a good rating for a regional telecast featuring Texas or Texas A&M.
During the 1993 and 1994 seasons, ABC televised Texas to the Southwest region six times. The Longhorns earned an 8.5 rating. Texas A&M, which could not appear on TV in 1994 because of the NCAA probation, earned a 7.2 rating in three games in 1993. SWC games featuring the other six schools earned a 6.3 rating. In other words, Texas was watched by 35% more viewers than the others.
Even more interesting, Big Eight games earned an average 7.7 rating in those two seasons, a rating 22% higher than the others. The Big Eight held substantially more appeal to the Southwest fan than the SWC have-nots.
The TV-rights marketplace, which had been soft throughout the early 1990s, changed abruptly at the end of 1993, when the Fox network outbid CBS for the rights to the National Football Conference games in the NFL. Suddenly CBS had a lot of money and nothing to buy with it. The network, partly by design and partly by consequence, had been left with few marquee events. However CBS had a long-standing relationship with the NCAA. Televising the men's basketball tournament meant CBS Sports executives, chiefly programming vice president Len DeLuca, had kept open avenues of communication even though CBS televised no I-A football.
In the fall of 1993, the CFA began negotiating a renewal contract with ABC. The network felt the deal had worked for both sides. So, too, did the CFA hierarchy. CFA executive Chuck Neinas and the group's television consultant, Mike Trager, operated under the assumption that the market remained soft. They negotiated a small increase in rights fees. What they failed to realize, however, is that Fox had changed the playing field.
The contract came before the CFA membership in January 1994 in San Antonio, where all of the college athletics had congregated for the annual NCAA Convention. Approval was expected. It did not come. SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, in particular, raised questions about whether all avenues had been explored. When the meting ended, ABC executives walked in expecting good news. They didn't get it. That meeting would be the first step down the slippery slope of change.
CBS struck immediately, going hard after the SEC. Super Bowl XXVIII was held in Atlanta in January 1994. Kramer went as the guest of CBS Sports, which had a Skybox in the Georgia Dome that shared a glass wall with ABC's box. When Kramer walked in, he turned and saw ABC Sports president Dennis Swanson looking at him. The next week, CBS and the SEC made a deal. That move effectively ended the CFA package. ABC quickly reached agreement witht he ACC. CBS then signed the Big East.
"For a long time in there," Dodds says, "and I can't define it--two or three years--ut was obvious (the SWC) was going to have to break up. But politicaly, it couldn't. The SEC leaving the CFA package was the impetus to make it happen."
That left the Big Eight and the SWC. When the CFA coalition broke up, the two leagues agreed to negotiate as a unit. CBS, after acquiring the rights to the SEC and the Big East, said it had room for no one else. That left ABC, which within a week made a $60 million offer to the two leagues.
On Friday, February 11, 1994, the presidents of the 16 Southwest Conference and Big Eight institutions met at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport Hyatt to discuss the deal. Dr. Robert Berdahl, University of Texas president left no doubt that Texas had no qualms about dissolving the SWC.
Berdahl told them that the university had had discussions with the PAC-10 Conference and that Texas leaned toward going west. Texas A&M's most recent probation--several Aggies football players had been paid for no-show or no-work jobs--convinced him that the league still couldn't police its own. Furthermore, the Big Eight schools accepted Prop 48 students, freshmen who failed to meet the NCAA minimum academic standards for athletic eligibility.
Berdahl's speech rocked both leagues. Big Eight officials began to explore what the league's worth would be to ABC without the SWC. But they also realized that they would have to make some sort of agreement or else Texas and Texas A&M would walk.
"There was a concern among the CEOs," Kansas State president Jon Wefald told The Dallas Morning News, "who were then realizing that the Big Eight Conference had value and might have more value with several other members of the Southwest Conference."
Berdahl did no engage in bluffing. He almost literally had the cards in hand. One senior university official told the Morning News that Texas would have an offer to join the PAC-10 "as fast as a fax machine works." Teas A&M, on the other hand, actively began pursuing leads to join the SEC.
Yet both Texas and Texas A&M faced the same hurdle in 1994 they had failed to leap four years earlier: Texas Tech and Baylor still had substantial power in state government. With Texas leaving its commitment to the SWC and the Big Eight in question, Texas Tech president Robert Lawless called his legislators on Wednesday, Feb 16. "The dogs are loose in Austin," he said.
By the end of the week, according to one Texas state legislator, Univerisity of Texas chancellor William Cunningham "had a religious experience." An SWC official said Lt Gov. Bob Bullock, a Baylor graduate, gave Cunningham a "come to Jesus" speech. Cunningham laughed at the religious overtones and denied both premises.
Whatever the truth, it soon became clear where Texas' future lay. The PAC-10 let Cunningham and Berdahl know that it had an interest in Texas and Texas A&M. But that was it. Baylor and Texas A&M would not receive an invitation. The Big Eight would take those two schools but had no interest in a 16-team merger. ABC had said the value of its offer for 12 schools would be the same amount of money as if the Big Eight and the SWC merged. By leaving Houston, Rice, SMU and TCU behind, the 12 schools received one-thrid more money.
"By going along to the Big Eight," Cunnongham says, "we were able to take care fo four schools."
And so it happened. On Monday, Feb. 21, the news leaked. By the end of the week, the invitations had been formally made and formally accepted. The Southwest Conference would remain together through the 1995-1996 school year. Hatchell, a lame-duck commissioner, albeit with a contract that lasted until 1998, engineered getting Rice, TCU and SMU into a newly-expanded WAC. A year later, he was appointed commissioner of the newly organized Big 12. Houston decided to join, for football, a conference of former independents.
So the Southwestern Conference will die next year at age 81. Some tradition will live on. Texas A&M students will stand for the entire game, representative of the 12th man, ready to play. Texas Exes will continue to wear burnt-orange sport coats and be dissatisfied with fewer than eight wins.
But some tradition will expire with the league. The Cotton Bowl, once a Jan. 1 showcase, has fallen to the second tier. As hospitable as the hosts were, they wouldn't put a smile and a handshale on an icy, 35-degree day in Dallas. Bowls are about playing golf and getting sunburned. Rivalries such as Texas-SMU and Baylor-TCU will be filed away with ads for Sakowitz stores. Texas-Oklahoma will be a press-conference game.
And, just maybe, the Texas boom that has been down for so long will rise again.
by Charlie Miller
Last night the capital was abuzz with excitement not seen in a few years. And it had nothing to do with job creation, bond ratings or tax relief.
Mr. Strasburg was in the house.
Yes, Stephen Strasburg made the second most anticipated start of his career last night. The first came on June 8, 2010.
Amidst all the anticipation, speculation and exhilaration the media mustered pregame, there stood a calm, relaxed, tall righthander, seemingly taking it all in stride.
And in all the chatter about pitch count, first-pitch strikes, velocity, command and all the other buzz words, no one talked about the maturity of Strasburg. As a pitcher or as an athlete.
But last night Strasburg performed like a polished pitcher, a vast improvement from the flame-thrower he was last June. And that’s taking nothing away from just how good he was last season.
In his first major league start, he threw 94 pitches, many of them clocking triple digits on radar guns, and he whiffed 14 batters in seven innings. Batters swung and missed 17 times.
Last night, he threw just 56 pitches, 40 for strikes and there were only four swings from Dodgers that came up empty. He was intentional and efficient with an assortment of pitches. He threw not so much like a young buck with all the talent in the world, but like an experienced veteran understanding just how to use his immense talent.
Whether it was soul-searching expected from a pitcher rehabbing from Tommy John surgery or just a matter of time, Stephen Strasburg has matured into an elite pitcher and what a future he will have in Washington. A brighter future than anyone else working in that town.
The number 56 is iconic in the baseball world. You know it refers Yankees great Joe DiMaggio’s MLB-record hitting streak from 1941. Other than Pete Rose getting to 44 games in 1978, no player since that magical ’41 season has put together a 40-game streak. It seems like someone usually gets to about 30 games each season (including Dan Uggla’s 33-gamer this season), and the media lauds and lauds the long-standing record of DiMaggio.
But are hitting streaks overhyped? Most hitters are obviously productive when they have a long streak, but the reality is that you only need to one-for-four each game to keep it going. Many times, there is another player who is more productive than a batter on a long hit streak. However, we all know which hitter will get more attention.
Now back to 1941 and DiMaggio’s 56-game streak. During that season, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox hit .406 to become the first player since 1930 to reach that incredible milestone. DiMaggio batted an admirable .357 in ‘41, but that was 49 points below Williams. The Splendid Splinter scored more runs, hit more homers, had only five fewer RBIs than DiMaggio and had a higher on-base and slugging percentage.
Yet, DiMaggio outdistanced Williams for MVP getting 15 first-place votes to Williams’ eight. Presumably, the reasoning was that writers around the league liked DiMaggio and had no patience for Williams. But the magical streak didn’t hurt.
Certainly the streak was magical for DiMaggio. But examining the numbers a little deeper shows that even during that streak, Williams was better. Better than a 56-game hitting streak?
In DiMaggio’s 56 games, he batted .408 with 15 home runs, 55 RBIs and scored 56 runs. He walked 21 times and whiffed just five times. He reached base via hit or walk 112 times. Now that’s impressive. However…
His rival to the north in Boston was even more impressive. During those same 56 games, Williams played in 55 games and batted .412 and scored 61 runs. He hit 12 homers and drove in 50, but reached base 127 times, 50 times via a walk. Williams had a higher average, on-base and slugging percentage than DiMaggio during the famous Yankee’s famous streak.
Nothing against the amazing consistency that the Yankee Clipper showed during those two months in 1941, but fans should note that there was a better hitter during the iconic 56-game streak.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly had a bad first weekend of college football. Not only did the Notre Dame-USF game get delayed a few hours due to lightning, but his team lost, despite outgaining South Florida by 300 yards (but they turned the ball over five times). Which really seemed to tick off the Notre Dame coach, because he kept screaming til his face nearly exploded on the sideline. Here are a few of our favorite Brian Kelly yelling photos.
Team of the Week – Northwestern
Wisconsin made a strong case for this honor, but beating Boston College without starting quarterback Dan Persa is enough for Northwestern to earn the nod for Week 1. Persa is still recovering from a torn Achilles suffered late last season, which forced Kain Colter into the lineup. The sophomore responded well in his first start, completing 17 of 24 passes for 197 yards and one score. The Wildcats gave up 479 yards on defense, but made a few key plays late in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory. After struggling to win without Persa last year, the Wildcats found a way to get it done in the opener.
Disappointment of the Week – Indiana
New coach Kevin Wilson seemed to spark the Indiana program during the offseason, but that momentum didn’t carry over into the season opener. The Hoosiers dropped a 27-20 decision to Ball State, which was no doubt a disappointment for Wilson and the Indiana fanbase. Even though the Hoosiers were only 5-7 last year, Ball State was projected to finish fifth in the MAC West. Defense has been an issue for years in Bloomington and will be an area of concern once again, especially after allowing 210 rushing yards and 27 points to the Cardinals.
Player of the Week – Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
Wilson’s debut in Madison couldn’t have gone any better. The NC State transfer led a 51-17 blowout win over UNLV, completing 10 of 13 passes for 255 yards and two scores. He also added 62 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The Rebels weren’t the most difficult opener, but this should give Wilson and the Wisconsin offense a lot of confidence when Nebraska visits Madison on Oct. 1.
Freshman of the Week – Max Shortell, QB, Minnesota
It was a relatively quiet weekend in the Big Ten for freshmen performers, with Shortell, Illinois linebacker Houston Bates and Nebraska tackle Tyler Moore making key contributions in Week 1. Shortell was instrumental in Minnesota’s second-half rally against USC. The true freshman completed 7 of 13 passes for 98 yards and one score. Even though the Gophers fell short, Shortell’s performance was promising for coach Jerry Kill. MarQueis Gray will remain the starter in Week 2, but the Minnesota coaching staff should has confidence in Shortell should he be needed off the bench this year.
Around the Big Ten
• Purdue’s Caleb TerBush made his first start at quarterback against MTSU. TerBush completed 19 of 33 passes for 220 yards and two scores. TerBush was Purdue’s fourth different starting quarterback for a season opener over the last four years.
• Minnesota struggled to establish its rushing attack in the opener against USC, as starting running back Duane Bennett managed only 53 yards on 15 attempts. The Golden Gophers’ last 100-yard rusher came on Oct. 23, 2010 against Penn State, when DeLeon Eskridge earned 111 yards on 26 attempts.
• Nathan Scheelhaase completed 16 of 23 throws in Saturday’s win over Arkansas State, yet only three receivers caught passes. A.J. Jenkins was the primary weapon, catching 11 balls for 148 yards and one score.
• With DeVier Posey sidelined, Ohio State will have a young group of receivers for the first couple of weeks of 2011. Of the 20 completed passes, 12 went to receivers with at least three or four years of eligibility remaining. No wide receiver with junior or senior eligibility caught a pass against the Zips.
• Iowa held Tennessee Tech to seven points in Saturday’s opener. From 2002-2010, the Hawkeyes allowed only more than seven points once in a season opener (2009 to Northern Iowa).
• Nebraska’s debut as a Big Ten member was a success, defeating Chattanooga 40-7. Penn State was the last team to join the Big Ten in 1993, posting a 38-20 win over Minnesota.
• Only three players rushed for more than 100 yards in Week 1. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez leads the Big Ten in rushing with 135 yards, while Purdue running back Ralph Bolden is second with 120 yards. Penn State’s Silas Redd ranks third with 104 yards.
As the NBA and its players resume labor negotiations today, intriguing possibilities on one minor issue have begun to trickle into view.
The third round of the NBA Draft, which was removed after 1988, may be making a return, according to former ESPN basketball insider Chris Sheridan.
Owners have proposed reinstating the third round, which could be seen as a job-creating concession toward the players. Players, for their part, have responded with multiple ideas to enhance the draft and address owners' concerns about competitive balance.
Some of the players' proposals, according to Sheridan:
- Half-rounds: The 15 teams with the worst records would hold the first 15 picks, but would then make the 16th through 30th selections, as well. The 15 best teams would choose 31st through 45th, then cycle through again from 46th through 60th. Having the league's worst team theoretically choose 1st and 16th could allow for the drafting of two immediate contributors and a quick rally to respectability.
- Bonus first-rounders: The teams with the eight worst records would receive a second first-round pick between the 23rd and 30th selections. The eight best teams would have no first-round pick, but they would drop back to the first eight picks of the second round (31st through 38th) and also maintain their choices at the end of the second.
The last time the draft featured a third round, only one player chosen went on to a lengthy NBA career: Anthony Mason, drafted 53rd by Portland. Argentinian center Jorge Gonzalez, chosen one pick later by Atlanta, would gain some notoriety as the Sasquatch-suited WWF wrestler Giant Gonzalez, but never saw an NBA court.
Other notable third-round selections include longtime Nuggets guard Michael Adams, Laker veteran Kurt Rambis, and infamous Detroit Piston Bill Laimbeer.
by Matt Taliaferro
It’s been almost 19 years since a 20-year-old Jeff Gordon made his first NASCAR Sprint Cup start. The day was November 15, 1992; the race the Hooter’s 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. And it would go down as the most notable of the sport’s modern era.
Gordon making his first start, Richard Petty his last; six drivers entered the season finale with a mathematical shot at the title; the underfunded, single-car outfit of Alan Kulwicki edged Junior Johnson’s powerhouse team headed by Bill Elliott for the championship by outsmarting it. It’s a race talked about to this day and revered for its significance.
Fast forward to a 40-year-old Gordon, now a four-time champion and elder statesman of the sport. He may never catch Richard Petty’s unattainable 200 wins, but win No. 85 placed him alone in third on NASCAR’s all-time wins list — and the sight of the achievement came at a track that will always be linked to Gordon: Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“I’ve always enjoyed this racetrack,” Gordon said. “Running my first race here, winning some big races here, celebrating championships here — this place has always been a place I’ve enjoyed going to.”
Gordon fought protégé teammate and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson in a thrilling dogfight over the final 11 laps at AMS to win the AdvoCare 500.
“To me (this race) is going to stand out in my mind because it’s a great victory,” Gordon said. “And certainly when you’re battling with a guy as talented as Jimmie and a team as good as they are, it’s definitely going to be one (a win) that’s significant.”
The race was delayed nearly two days after heavy rains from what was Tropical Depression Lee saturated the Atlanta area, postponing Sunday’s Labor Day weekend race to Tuesday morning. Gordon, who started fifth, found the race lead by lap 46 and led 100 of the next 156 laps. On lap 202, the race went into a rain-induced caution and red-flag period. Another yellow for rain followed just one lap after the field had gone back to green.
Matt Kenseth, who led 64 laps, had taken control of the race by then, followed closely by Gordon, Johnson and Carl Edwards.
An accident involving Mark Martin and Regan Smith on lap 251 brought out the event’s final caution. Johnson, Edwards, Kenseth and Gordon occupied the first two rows when the race went green, and Johnson sprinted out to a decisive lead.
Gordon picked off the contenders one-by-one, though, passing Kenseth for third with 64 laps to go and Edwards for second with 60 remaining. Eleven laps later, he squeezed by Johnson and led for eight laps.
Green flag pit stops for fresh tires and gas found Gordon with a shrunken advantage over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate as the field’s stops cycled through. And although the duo sparred, slid and roared door-to-door through the race’s final dozen laps, Gordon never relinquished the lead.
“I just didn’t have enough to get by (Gordon),” Johnson said of the final duel. “I got inside of him a couple times, got to the outside once, and just didn’t have enough regroup to kind of get there and stay there. The time I got to the outside of him, I felt I was going to be in good shape. But I think we had a lap car get in the way there and use me as a pick a little bit, couldn’t complete the pass.”
Tony Stewart charged through the top 10 over the final 70 laps to finish third. Kurt Busch and Edwards rounded out the top 5.
Brad Keselowski finished sixth, but more importantly, secured one of the two wild card spots in the Chase. Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman also clinched Chase berths based on points earned.
The first week of college football action is complete in the Big 12. Here is our look at the week that was.
Team of the Week — Baylor
All 10 Big 12 teams won on the opening weekend, but no team made a statement quite like Baylor. On a national stage, the Bears outlasted TCU, 50–48, in what will likely be one of the most entertaining games of the 2011 season. Led by the dynamic Robert Griffin III, Baylor rolled up 564 yards of total offense against a TCU club that has led the nation in total defense in each of the past three seasons. Baylor, which jumped out to a 7–2 record last season before fading down the stretch, has a chance to be 5–0 when it visits Texas A&M on Oct. 15.
Disappointment of the Week — Kansas State
The Wildcats needed a Collin Klein to Chris Harper 33-yard touchdown with 1:45 remaining in the game to beat FCS foe Eastern Kentucky, 10–7, in Manhattan. The Wildcats were strong on defense (EKU managed only 129 total yards) but struggled to move the ball with consistency all night long. They had 303 total yards and only one of their drives went for more than 50 yards.
Player of the Week — Robert Griffin III, Baylor
Griffin was nearly flawless in the Bears’ memorable win over TCU. The junior completed 21-of-27 passes for 359 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 38 yards and caught one pass — on a crucial third down — for 15 yards. He did commit one costly turnover, a fumble late in the game with Baylor clinging to a two-point lead, but he more than made up for it by leading his team on a seven-play, 46-yard drive that set up the game-winning field goal.
Freshman of the Week — Malcolm Brown, Texas
The nation’s No. 1 running back recruit, according to Athlon Sports, enjoyed a solid debut, rushing for 85 yards on 16 carries in the Longhorns’ 34–9 win over Rice.
Around the Big 12
• Steele Jantz, a junior college transfer, got the start at quarterback in his first game at Iowa State. He was productive on the ground (75 yards and two scores) but struggled throwing the ball. He completed only 18-of–40 for 187 yards with one touchdown and three INTs. Jerome Tiller, who came into the season with three career starts at quarterback, is academically ineligible this season.
• Oklahoma ran an astounding 100 plays from scrimmage — by far the most in the nation — in its 47–14 win over Tulsa. Oklahoma State was next at 87. Dominique Whaley, a walk-on transfer, led the way for OU with 130 yards and four touchdowns on only 18 carries.
• Texas A&M’s running game could be among the best in the nation this season if both Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael remain healthy. In the Aggies’ impressive 46–14 win over SMU Sunday night, Gray led the way with 131 yards on 21 carries while Michael added 85 yards on 14 attempts.
• Missouri scored only 17 points in its Week 1 win over Miami (Ohio). It was the Tigers’ lowest output against a non-conference opponent in the regular season since a 24–14 loss at Troy in September 2004.
• Texas Tech fell behind Texas State 10–0 late in the first quarter but responded by scoring the final 50 points of the game. Seth Doege was efficient in his first start since 2009, completing 23-of-33 for 326 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
• One year after dropping a 6–3 decision to North Dakota State in its season-opener, Kansas rolled up 42 points in an 18-point win over McNeese State. The Jayhawks rushed for 301 yards, their highest total since gaining 334 in a 2008 win over Northern Colorado.
• Texas beat Rice for the 12th straight time. The Longhorns have scored at least 34 points in all but one of the 12 wins, the exception being an 18–13 win over the Owls in 1999.
There is nothing like making a positive first gridiron impression on your fan base, and many new coaches around college football did that over the weekend. Michigan’s Brady Hoke, Florida’s Will Muschamp, Stanford’s David Shaw and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen were among those new bosses who had expected wins in Week 1. Minnesota’s Jerry Kill and Miami’s Al Golden had impressive first games despite losing, while Indiana’s Kevin Wilson and Colorado’s Jon Embree had a rough Saturday.
Which new coach had the most impressive debut?
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
I’ll go with Randy Edsall of Maryland. The Terrapins’ offense looked crisper than I have seen it since the early 2000's, and they are one of only three teams in the nation with a conference win under their belt. The game plan was sound, Danny O'Brien looked comfortable and the skill talent looked explosive on Monday night against Miami. The hard-fought field-goal win, in fact, should have been a blowout as the Terps stalled numerous times in the red zone. Good things are in store for Maryland and Edsall. I will also give a quick nod to Luke Fickell of Ohio State. The Buckeyes were a heavy favorite over Akron, but his team looked downright perfect on Saturday afternoon.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Many Michigan fans may not be overly thrilled with a 34-10 win over Western Michigan, but I believe Brady Hoke already has the Wolverines regaining their old identity. Rich Rodriguez had talent on the roster and his spread offense was exciting, but the UM defense was a sieve last year and there was no running game outside of quarterback Denard Robinson. Enter Hoke and new offensive coordinator Al Borges, and the running back tandem of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Michael Shaw had 130 yards rushing on just 15 carries. Also enter new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who saw his group score two touchdowns while only giving up one score on the first drive of the game. Additionally, Michigan only committed one penalty for five yards on the day. While some Michigan fans may be worried about Robinson’s passing stats in the short term, the improvement of the running game and defense under Hoke makes his debut the most impressive.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
There were some big-name coaches who recorded some nice wins on the opening weekend of college football, but it’s hard to argue that any of them had a more successful debut than Pete Lembo at Ball State. The former boss at Elon and Lehigh in the FCS ranks led the Cardinals to a 27–20 win over in-state rival Indiana in Indianapolis. Ball State struggled mightily on offense en route to a 3–9 record last season. In Lembo’s first game, the Cards rolled up 383 yards of total offense (about 75 more than last year’s average) against a Big Ten opponent. Over the summer, we ranked the 21 new coaches in FBS and had Lembo No. 5 on the list.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I know a loss is never the way you want to begin the season, but I was impressed by the coaching debuts of Al Golden at Miami and Jerry Kill at Minnesota. There were a lot of positives to take away from Saturday’s defeats and both coaches should be able to continue to build off that going forward. The Golden Gophers were big underdogs for Saturday’s game against USC, but rallied from an early deficit to have a chance to win in the fourth quarter. The Hurricanes were without a handful of key players for Monday night’s matchup against Maryland, but also nearly pulled off the victory. With a full roster, Miami will be a dangerous team in the ACC. Although both coaches debuted with a loss, I think Week 1 confirmed they were the right hire for each school and should have a lot of success in the coming years.
Today marks the 16th anniversary of when Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played streak to become baseball's all-time "Iron Man." In the NFL, the longest current consecutive games played streak belongs to Peyton Manning, who has never missed a start in his 13-year career.
However, with the news over the weekend that lingering back soreness following offseason neck surgery will prevent the four-time MVP from practicing, it seems doubtful that no. 18 will be under center for the Indianapolis Colts when they open their season on Sunday against the Texans in Houston.
The last time the Colts had someone other than Manning under center at the start of a regular-season game was December 21, 1997. That day, Jim Harbaugh, who is now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, was under center as the Colts fell to the Minnesota Vikings to cap a 3-13 season. That of course led to them drafting Manning with the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft and the rest as they say, is history.
Manning started Week 1 of the 1998 season and he hasn't looked back since. Including the playoffs, Manning has started in 227 consecutive games. His regular-season streak of 208 consecutive games played by a quarterback is second only to Brett Favre's all-time mark of 297. As impressive as that is, we must not lose track of the bigger picture, which is what the Colts as a team have done with Manning running the offense.
In Manning's 13 years under center, the Colts have won a total of 150 games (including playoffs), eight divisional titles, two AFC titles and one Super Bowl. The Colts hold the NFL record for consecutive seasons with 12 or more wins with seven (2003-09), and have won 10 or more games and made the playoffs the past nine seasons.
For now, the Colts will have Kerry Collins directing their offense. Collins is certainly no rookie, with 177 career starts for five different teams under his belt, but he's no spring chicken either, as he'll turn 39 in December. More importantly, while Manning has 13 years' worth of experience and time spent learning and working with the Colts' offense, Collins will have less than three weeks' worth when he takes his first snap in Houston.
So needless to say, Week 1 is going to look and feel a lot different for both Colts' fans and players alike if no. 18 isn't going to be on the field. And while his absence will put an end to his consecutive games played streak, one has to wonder what impact this could have on the Colts' season as a whole, especially if Manning starts a new streak - consecutive games NOT played. If that's the case, then it may be the only streak the Colts will be able to lay claim to once the season ends.
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-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Each week, the Athlon editors will vote on the most prestigious award in all of college football. A nine-man conglomerate of college football gurus from Athlon Sports will vote for their top ten Heisman Trophy candidates. The votes will be tallied and the result will be posted as the Athlon Sports Heisman Watch List every Wednesday of the regular season.
Note: The scoring system is as follows: A first place vote earns a player 10 points. A second place votes earns nine points - so on and so forth until the 10th place player receives one point.
After one week of play, one signal-caller still stands above all. However, two other gunslingers led their teams to arguably the biggest victories of the weekend while simultaneously closing the gap in the Heisman conversation. The initial Heisman voting included 17 different names, and six players landed on all nine ballots. The Week Two edition features 22 different players, while only two individuals (Kellen Moore and Robert Griffin III) received votes from all nine Athlon editors.
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (78/90 total points, 7/9 first place votes)
The game's best player completed 17 of his 26 passes — to seven different receivers — for 171 yards and scored the Cardinal's first touchdown of 2011 when he scrambled around the right end and dove for the pylon. Luck tossed two more first-half touchdowns, and Stanford finished week one with a 57-3 win over San Jose State. Luck's two scoring strikes were his 46th and 47th of his career, placing him fourth all-time in school history. Week 2: At Duke
|Name||Pos||Team||Tot Pts||1st||2nd||3rd||4th||5th||Left Off|
|2.||Kellen Moore||QB||Boise St||75||1||3||4||-||1||0|
|3.||Robert Griffin III||QB||Baylor||68||-||5||-||1||1||0|
|4t.||Marcus Lattimore||RB||S. Carolina||53||-||1||1||3||2||1|
|7.||Justin Blackmon||WR||Oklahoma St||23||-||-||-||-||1||1|
|17.||David Wilson||RB||Virginia Tech||5||-||-||-||-||-||7|
|18.||Michael Floyd||WR||Notre Dame||4||-||-||-||-||-||8|
|20.||Chris Givens||WR||Wake Forest||2||-||-||-||-||-||8|
2. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (28-34, 261 yds, 3 TD, INT)
After a bit of a slow start against Georgia's 3-4 defense, Moore found his rhythm and calmly dissected one of the SEC's top teams. The win over the Dawgs marked the first time in school history Boise State had bested an SEC opponent, and Moore inched closer to becoming the NCAA's all-time winningest quarterback (he now needs seven wins). Week 2: Bye
3. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (21-27, 359 yds, 5 TD, 10 att., 38 rush yds)
No one jumped more in the Athlon Heisman voting than Griffin. The uber-talented Bears' quarterback moved from 8th to 3rd this week after pulling off what was probably the weekend's biggest upset. RG3 did everything he could to best in-state rival TCU, including catching a key fourth-quarter third down double-pass from Kendall Wright. Week 2: Bye
4. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (23 att., 112 yds, 3 TD, 3 rec., 33 yds)
With four minutes to go in the third quarter, South Carolina held a measly four-point lead over East Carolina. Lattimore scored back-to-back touchdowns to ice the game and give the Gamecocks a 56-37 win over the in-state Pirates. The most gifted back in the nation was needed for only four carries in the fourth quarter and didn't touch the ball after his final touchdown made the score 49-31. Week 2: At Georgia
5. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (35-47, 375 yds, TD)
The leader of the nation's No. 1 team needed just over three quarters to get his game in order. Jones barely played into the fourth quarter but still threw the ball 47 times as the Sooners dominated in-state rival Tulsa 47-17. Business as usual for Mr. Jones and the Sooners. Week 2: Bye
6. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (13 att., 37 yds, 3 TD, 1 rec., 16 yds)
Wasn't needed but got the job done around the goal-line. Big Week 2 test against Penn State.
7. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (8 rec., 144 yds)
Solid but underwhelming outing from Cowboys star receiver.
8. Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma (14 rec., 158 yds, TD)
Picking right up where he left off last season as one of the nation's best receivers.
9. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (18 att., 54 yds, TD, 6 rec., 61 yds)
Produced decent numbers on plenty of touches, but the Ducks were stymied by LSU.
10. Robert Woods, WR, USC (17 rec., 177 yds, 3 TD)
Talented dynamo enters the Heisman mix after record-setting week one.
The first week of college football action is complete in the SEC. Here is our look at the week that was.
Team of the Week — LSU
The Tigers outclassed Oregon in the marquee game of the opening week of the college football season. The LSU run defense was dominant, holding Oregon to 95 yards on 28 carries. The Ducks did pass for 240 yards, but Darron Thomas averaged only 4.4 yards on his 54 attempts — a number that LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis would take every single week. LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee didn’t do much — 98 yards passing with one TD — but he didn’t make many mistakes, either. The Tigers’ offense was powered by tailbacks Spencer Ware (99 yards on 26 carries) and Michael Ford (96 yards on 14 carries).
Disappointment of the Week — Auburn
Auburn deserves credit for keeping its focus and rallying for 14 points in the final three minutes of its 42–38 win over Utah State, but there were far more negatives than positives. Led by a true freshman at quarterback, Utah State rolled up 448 yards of offense and did not turn the ball over once. And on the other side of the ball, Auburn managed only 364 yards against an Aggie defense that allowed 428.8 yards per game in 2010. It’s not necessarily time to panic, but it’s clear — as we all knew heading into the season — that the ’11 Tigers are a work in progress.
Player of the Week — Vick Ballard, Mississippi State
All he does is score touchdowns. After leading SEC running backs with 19 rushing scores last season, Ballard reached the end zone three times on only 10 carries in Mississippi State’s 59–14 win at Memphis. The senior leads the league in rushing after one week, with 166 yards on a gaudy 16.6-yard average.
Freshman of the Week — Trey Depriest, Alabama
It was a relatively quiet week for freshmen in the SEC, but Alabama’s Trey Depriest played very well in his collegiate debut. The true freshman from Springfield, Ohio, led the Tide with 10 total tackles and added one quarterback hurry.
Around the SEC
• Nine of the league’s 12 teams played more than one quarterback in the opening week. Some were by design (Alabama, South Carolina and Ole Miss) while most the of the others were due to the lopsided scores. Some of the notable relievers were Arkansas’ Brandon Mitchell, who completed 10-of-11 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, and Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers, who threw a 30-yard touchdown on his first pass attempt of his FBS career.
• Kentucky had only 190 yards of total offense in its 14–3 win over Western Kentucky, with 58 coming on a late scramble by quarterback Morgan Newton.
• Ole Miss’ defensive effort against BYU looks pretty good on paper — the Cougars scored only one offensive touchdown and had a total of 316 yards — but the Rebels struggled to get off the field in the second half. BYU’s two drives in the third quarter went for 67 yards and 59 yards and the first drive of the fourth quarter went for 72 yards and a touchdown.
• Utah State had five drives of 65 yards or longer against Auburn. Four of Auburn’s six second-half drives went for 43 yards or more.
• Alabama’s defensive effort against Kent State — 90 yards allowed — is even more impressive if you consider that the Golden Flashes ran 70 plays from scrimmage. The Crimson Tide allowed an average 1.29 yards per play, by far the best in the nation in the opening week.
• There were a couple positives for Georgia in its 35–21 loss to Boise State. Tight end Orson Charles caught six passes for 109 yards, and true freshman wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell caught three passes for 64 yards and had one carry for 18 yards.
• Bruce Ellington, the starting point guard for South Carolina’s basketball team, had the first two carries of his Gamecock career, running for a total of 18 yards in USC’s 56–37 win over East Carolina. Ellington did not play football for South Carolina last fall.
• Vanderbilt redshirt freshman wide receiver Chris Boyd became the first Commodore to catch two touchdown passes in the same game since D.J. Moore scored twice against Kentucky in November 2008. Moore, an All-SEC cornerback, played sparingly as a wide receiver late in the ’08 season.
• LSU did not play a game against a Pac-10 opponent from 1982-2003 but has played five since. The Tigers have defeated Oregon State (2004), Arizona State (’05), Arizona (’06), Washington (’09) and Oregon (’11) over the past seven-plus seasons.
1. Florida State – The Seminoles weren’t flashy in their 34-0 win over UL Monroe in Week 1. With a huge non-conference showdown against Oklahoma upcoming, the Florida State offense was very basic, with quarterback EJ Manuel leading the way with 274 passing yards. The Seminoles have another tune-up on the schedule this Saturday, hosting FCS opponent Charleston Southern.
2. Virginia Tech – The Hokies' revamped backfield of quarterback Logan Thomas and David Wilson got high marks for Saturday’s performance against Appalachian State. Sure, the competition will get tougher, but it was a good start for both players. Virginia Tech has a favorable non-conference schedule in September, continuing with Saturday’s game at East Carolina.
3. Maryland – Randy Edsall had a solid debut as Maryland’s new head coach, beating Miami 32-24 on Monday night. The Terrapins got a key performance from quarterback Danny O’Brien, who completed 31 of 44 passes for 348 yards and one score. Maryland has Week 2 off, before hosting West Virginia in Week 3.
4. Miami – You never want to begin your coaching tenure at a new school with a loss, but considering the circumstances at Miami, it wasn’t all bad for Al Golden. The Hurricanes were without a handful of key players, yet nearly found a way to beat Maryland. With reinforcements like linebacker Sean Spence, safety Ray-Ray Armstrong and quarterback Jacory Harris rejoining the lineup in the coming weeks, the Hurricanes will be a threat to win the ACC Coastal.
5. NC State – All eyes were on Mike Glennon on Saturday night and NC State’s new quarterback turned in a so-so performance. The junior completed 18 of 31 passes for 156 yards and one score. Glennon will get better with more snaps, but the Wolfpack will have a challenge from what appears to be a much-improved Wake Forest team this Saturday.
6. North Carolina – Everett Withers’ debut as North Carolina’s head coach was a success. The Tar Heels handled James Madison, led by quarterback Bryn Renner, who completed 22 of 23 passes for 277 yards and two scores. The Tar Heels will get a better test in Week 2, as they host Rutgers.
7. Clemson – The Tigers needed a second-half rally to knock off Troy, eventually pulling away for a 43-19 victory. Quarterback Tajh Boyd struggled to find his rhythm early, but finished with 264 yards and three scores. The Tigers will get another game to work out the offensive kinks, as they take on Wofford this Saturday.
8. Georgia Tech – After last season’s disappointment, the Yellow Jackets needed a good start to 2011. So far, so good. Quarterback Tevin Washington threw for 271 yards and three scores, while running back Orwin Smith rushed for 84 yards and two scores. Georgia Tech should be one of the top rushing teams in the ACC, so it’s a good sign the passing attack came to life.
9. Boston College – If there was one positive for coach Frank Spaziani to take away from Saturday’s loss to Northwestern, it was the play of quarterback Chase Rettig. The sophomore completed 24 of 44 passes for 351 yards. However, the passing attack suffered a blow with the loss of receiver Ifeanyi Momah, who will miss the rest of the year with a torn ACL. The Eagles won’t have a breather in Week 2, as they will travel to Florida to take on UCF.
10. Wake Forest – Even though Thursday night’s game against Syracuse didn’t produce the outcome coach Jim Grobe wanted, there were positive signs for the Demon Deacons. The offense looked better, led by a solid performance from sophomore quarterback Tanner Price. It’s important for the momentum gained in the opener to carry into Week 2, as the Demon Deacons will host NC State.
11. Virginia – The Cavaliers were on upset watch going into Week 1, but easily handled William & Mary. A bright spot for the offense had to be the play of quarterback Michael Rocco, who completed 21 of 29 passes for 174 yards. Redshirt freshman back Kevin Parks also posted a strong performance, rushing for 114 yards and three scores.
12. Duke – The goal to get to a bowl game just became tougher for the Blue Devils. Losing to Richmond was a setback for coach David Cutcliffe and the hopes to get to six wins in 2011. The going won’t get any easier for Duke this week, as Stanford visits Durham.
Your NFL fantasy football drafts are nearing. Check back throughout the preseason for updated rankings to get you prepared for your draft.
Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
Athlon's NFL Fantasy Positional Rankings and Cheat Sheets for 2011
Athlon's NFL Fantasy Top 280 Ranks for 2011
|101||Green Bay DST||GB||DST||8|
|105||New England DST||NE||DST||7|
|106||New York Jets DST||NYJ||DST||8|
|161||Tampa Bay DST||TB||DST||8|
|165||New York Giants DST||NYG||DST||7|
|183||Kansas City DST||KC||DST||6|
|191||New Orleans DST||NO||DST||11|
|243||San Diego DST||SD||DST||6|
|277||San Francisco DST||SF||DST||7|
*If Arian Foster's hamstring injury turns out to be a tear and he misses the first three-four games, he would drop to 27 in the rankings.
**If Manning's neck injury keeps him out four-five games, he would drop to 100 in the rankings, Reggie Wayne drops to 67th, Austin Collie to 109th, Pierre Garcon to 141st.