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Missouri coach Gary Pinkel decided to end the quarterback speculation on Thursday night, picking James Franklin as the Tigers’ No. 1 passer for the season opener against Murray State.

Franklin was one of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks in 2011 but struggled in his SEC debut. The Texas native was dealing with a shoulder injury last season and was less than full strength for 2012.

Assuming Franklin is 100 percent, he should rebound with a big season in 2013.

Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk pushed Franklin for time this offseason, and the coaching staff plans on getting him into games this season to gain experience for 2014.

It wasn’t much of a surprise, but Missouri made the right call in naming Franklin the starter for 2013.<

Teaser:
James Franklin Wins Missouri QB Battle
Post date: Friday, August 16, 2013 - 08:30
Path: /college-football/mississippi-state-football-game-game-predictions-2013
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Mississippi State started 2012 with seven consecutive victories, but the Bulldogs struggled in the second half of the season with a 1-5 mark over their final six contests.

With 11 starters back, Mississippi State should be back in the mix for a winning season in 2013. But the SEC isn’t going to get any easier. Auburn and Arkansas should show improvement under their new coaching staffs, and the addition of Texas A&M will only add another obstacle in the West Division for the Bulldogs.

Coach Dan Mullen has done a good job of elevating Mississippi State into a being a consistent bowl team, but the fanbase wants to compete for SEC West titles.

With a non-conference date against Oklahoma State and a road test at South Carolina in crossover play, Mississippi State will have a tough time replicating last year’s eight wins.

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

Mississippi State's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions

GameSteven
Lassan
Braden
Gall
Mark
Ross
David
Fox
SEC
Logo
8/31 Oklahoma State (Houston)
9/7 Alcorn State
9/14 at Auburn
9/21 Troy
10/5 LSU
10/12 Bowling Green
10/24 Kentucky
11/2 at South Carolina
11/9 at Texas A&M
11/16 Alabama
11/23 Arkansas (Little Rock)
11/28 Ole Miss
Final Projection6-67-56-66-65-7

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Dan Mullen’s overall record at Mississippi State is just 29-22, but the Bulldogs have made considerable progress under his watch. Mississippi State has three consecutive winning seasons for only the second time since 1960, and if the Bulldogs make a bowl, it will be first time in school history the program has made four straight postseason appearances. So while the wins haven’t been as plentiful has some may have wanted, Mississippi State is on the right track and has closed the gap with the rest of the SEC. Surpassing last year’s eight wins will be difficult, especially since the schedule is a little tougher than it was last year, and the Bulldogs must replace standout cornerback Johnthan Banks. Provided a few receivers emerge, the offense should average around 30 points a game. And promoting Geoff Collins to be the defense’s playcaller should pay dividends for Mullen. Mississippi State’s depth and talent has improved in recent years, but the SEC West isn’t getting easier. Auburn and Arkansas will be better than they were last season, and Ole Miss and Texas A&M aren’t expected to take a step back. Expect another bowl game and six or seven win season in Starkville this year.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Dan Mullen must replace some big-time names in his secondary, but I think this team is going to be sneaky good up front on that side of the ball. Offensively, the Bulldogs are one of only three SEC teams returning a 2,800-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher to the same backfield in Tyler Russell and LaDarius Perkins. If Russell can take the next step in his development, this team could be dangerous. More likely, however, is State fails to compete with the big boys and beats the teams it is supposed to. Another bowl game and another five losses for Mullen and Company in Starkville.

Mark Ross
Dan Mullen has averaged just over seven wins in his four seasons at Mississippi State and the Bulldogs have gone to three straight bowl games. Mullen has raised the bar in Starkville, but the schedule-makers did him no favors as he looks to keep the momentum going this fall. It's not that Mississippi State is or will be a bad team, it's just that a schedule that opens with Oklahoma State and also includes Alabama, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M, as well as the season-ending Egg Bowl with OIe Miss will be tough sledding.

The offense needs a big senior season from quarterback Tyler Russell and some unproven wide receivers to step up, while the front seven of the defense will need to lead the way to allow an inexperienced secondary the time to develop. Even if everything goes right for Mullen and his team, they still could finish no better than .500 during the regular season. The fact that such a showing would be considered a disappointment shows you how far Mullen has already brought this program. Remember this Bulldogs fans, especially when the calendar turns to November.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Give credit to Dan Mullen: His teams rarely lose games they’re supposed to win. They’ve just never won games they’re supposed to lose. Mississippi State is probably better than the 6-6 team I’ve picked here. With a veteran quarterback and a solid defensive line, the Bulldogs should be able to compete in the SEC. But the Bulldogs are going to have to prove they can beat the top teams in the league (or the top teams in the Big 12, for that matter). Getting an untested LSU team at home early in the season will be a good opportunity for Mississippi State to make a statement, plus an Egg Bowl that finally has a bit of appeal outside of the state.

SEC Logo (@SEC_Logo)
Last year Tyler Russell competed 58.6% of his passes for 2,897 yards 24 TDs / 10 INTs.  Those aren't bad numbers by any stretch, but playing this schedule, they won’t cut it this season.  State has guys who are SEC household names:  Gabe Jackson, Benardrick McKinney,  LaDarius Perkins, that’s NFL talent.  But look at this November slate: at South Carolina, at Texas A&M, Alabama, at Arkansas, Ole Miss.  Brutal... Name to remember: Chris Jones.

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Teaser:
Mississippi State Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Post date: Friday, August 16, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/critical-stretches-2013-key-games-acc
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Two ACC teams will play in the highest-profile games of the first week when Clemson hosts Georgia and Virginia Tech faces Alabama in Atlanta. The deciding conference title, though, will wait until mid-October.

 

That’s when Clemson, Florida State and Miami will all begin key stretches that could determine their division title status.

Clemson and Florida State again will duke it out for the Atlantic division title, but Miami will have an idea of what it needs to do for the Coastal after contenders Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Georgia Tech begin their key runs in September.

Our series looking at critical stretches for every team continues today with a look at the two-, three- and four-game stretches that will make or break seasons in the ACC. We're taking a look at the key series of games that will determine a division title, ability to reach a bowl game or at least avoid embarrassment. We’ve already examined the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12.

*presented in Athlon’s ACC projected order of finish

ACC ATLANTIC

Clemson

Oct. 19 Florida State
Oct. 26 at Maryland
Nov. 2 at Virginia
Nov. 14 Georgia Tech

The key game for Clemson’s national relevance is the Georgia opener. Win that, and the Tigers won’t face another Athlon top-50 team until Florida State on Oct. 19. The ACC, though, won’t be decided until this stretch in late October and early November. Clemson-Florida State may end up determining the Atlantic, but Georgia Tech has won four of the last six games against Georgia Tech. This could be a difficult stretch for the Clemson offense as the Tigers play three teams (FSU, Maryland and Virginia) who ranked in the top four in the ACC in fewest yards allowed per play. The exception, Georgia Tech, changed defensive coordinators since last season.

Related: Clemson game-by-game picks

Florida State
Oct. 19 at Clemson
Oct. 26 NC State
Nov. 2 Miami
Nov. 9 at Wake Forest

In a four-week span, Florida State draws its toughest conference games (Clemson and Miami) and two teams that have successfully spoiled FSU seasons in the past (NC State and Wake Forest). The Seminoles should have a standout secondary again, but the defensive backs will be tested against the top two passers in the ACC in Tajh Boyd and Stephen Morris. The ‘Noles have lost to either NC State or Wake in each of the last three seasons, but all of those have come on the road.

Related: Florida State game-by-game picks

Maryland
Sept. 14 at Connecticut
Sept. 21 West Virginia (Baltimore)
Oct. 5 at Florida State
Oct. 12 Virginia
Oct. 19 at Wake Forest
Oct. 26 Clemson

Maryland appears to be ready for a turnaround season after going 6-18 under Randy Edsall. A healthy quarterback situation and a dynamic offensive playmaker in Stefon Diggs could make the Terrapins a bowl team. Before ACC play begins, however, a pair of games could be a referendum on the Edsall era when he faces his old team for the second team (UConn beat Maryland 24-21 in College Park last season) then a down West Virginia team that has won seven in a row in the series. Once ACC play begins, upsetting either Florida State or Clemson would be a major statement.

NC State
Nov. 2 North Carolina
Nov. 9 at Duke
Nov. 16 at Boston College
Nov. 23 East Carolina
Nov. 30 Maryland

Homecoming against North Carolina will be a key game for first-year coach Dave Doeren. The Tar Heels ended the Wolfpack’s five-game winning streak last season. Escape that, and NC State will be hoping for a 5-0 finish to season. By missing Miami, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, NC State is set up for a good record.

Wake Forest
Aug. 29 Presbyterian
Sept. 6 at Boston College
Sept. 14 ULM
Sept. 21 at Army

Starting with four wins in a row will be mandatory if the Demon Deacons are going to head to a bowl game. A road game against a conference opponent and a non-AQ team with a dynamic quarterback (ULM’s Kolton Browning) means it won’t be easy. Wake won’t play on a Saturday until the third week of the season.

Syracuse
Nov. 23 Pittsburgh
Nov. 30 Boston College

With Penn State and Northwestern on the non-conference schedule, Syracuse may have a tough time getting to a bowl game. Home games against its former Big East brethren could be key games for Scott Shafer’s early tenure.

Boston College
Nov. 16 NC State
Nov. 23 at Maryland
Nov. 30 at Syracuse

Boston College has a brutal schedule in Steve Addazio’s first season -- at USC, Florida State, at Clemson, at North Carolina and Virginia Tech in a six-game span in September and October. If Addazio is going to instill toughness, it will be evident late in the season against second- and third-tier ACC teams NC State, Maryland, Syracuse. The game against the Orange, also under a first-year coach, could be a key game for momentum in the Northeast.

ACC COASTAL

Miami
Oct. 17 at North Carolina
Oct. 26 Wake Forest
Nov. 2 at Florida State
Nov. 9 Virginia Tech

Miami will face the top two contenders in the Coastal (Virginia Tech and North Carolina) and its biggest rival (Florida State) all in a four-week span starting with the Thursday kickoff against Carolina. The FSU and Virginia Tech games will be most intriguing as Miami, a team with little depth behind the starting backfield of Duke Johnson and Stephen Morris, face the league’s top two defenses in back-to-back games late in the season.

Related: Miami game-by-game picks

Virginia Tech
Sept. 26 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 5 North Carolina

Virginia Tech’s opener against Alabama will be the Hokies’ most high-profile game, and Miami on Nov. 9 will play a key role in the Coastal. Still, Virginia Tech’s status as ACC contenders will be answered in this two-game stretch. The development of Logan Thomas may be the key to the season, but the Hokies’ defense will be tested against Georgia Tech’s option one week and North Carolina’s spread the next.

Related: Virginia Tech game-by-game picks

Georgia Tech
Sept. 21 North Carolina
Sept. 26 Virginia Tech
Oct. 5 at Miami
Oct. 12 at BYU

The Yellow Jackets will have an idea of where they stand in the division by the first week of October after facing North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami in consecutive weeks. Ted Roof’s Georgia Tech defense, shredded last season under Al Groh, will have an early test against the Tar Heels’ skill position talent.  On a short week, Georgia Tech draws the Hokies on a Thursday night game. The Yellow Jackets have lost three in a row in a game that used to determine the Coastal division title. BYU is a rare non-conference road game in the middle of October, but it's a return trip from a year ago. The Cougars held Georgia Tech to a season-low 3.3 yards per carry last season.

North Carolina
Sept. 21 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 28 East Carolina
Oct. 5 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 17 Miami

North Carolina lost road games to Wake Forest, Louisville and Duke, three games decided by five points or less. If Carolina is going to challenge for the Coastal title, the Tar Heels will need good showings against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech away from Chapel Hill. Keep in mind: North Carolina defeated Virginia Tech and Miami in back-to-back games last season. This year, the Heels get a bye week between the two ACC Coastal contenders.

Pittsburgh
Oct. 12 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 19 Old Dominion
Oct. 26 at Navy
Nov. 2 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 9 Notre Dame

Last season, Pittsburgh lost to Youngstown State, beat Virginia Tech and nearly upset Notre Dame. This stretch has the most potential for chaos.

Virginia
Oct. 26 Georgia Tech
Nov. 2 Clemson
Nov. 9 at North Carolina
Nov. 23 at Miami
Nov. 30 Virginia Tech

Mike London may have to salvage something out of this brutal five-game stretch to avoid hot seat talk going into 2014.

Duke
Sept. 21 Pittsburgh
Sept. 28 Troy
Oct. 12 Navy
Oct. 19 at Virginia

The Blue Devils will need to win at least three of these if they are to make consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history.

Teaser:
Which three- and four-game stretches will determine the ACC title?
Post date: Friday, August 16, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/college-football-top-30-impact-freshmen-2013
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Players like LaMichael James, Marcus Lattimore, Braxton Miller and Johnny Manziel have set the bar for freshmen awfully high in recent years with elite first-year performances.

Manziel earned top frosh honors in the SEC a year ago while Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Miami's Duke Johnson, Penn State's Deion Barnes and TCU's Devonte Fields changed the landscape of their respective leagues in just one season on the field.

In the modern era of college football, the first-year player is so much more important than ever before. Key players are playing at key positions on championship-caliber teams in every conference. There are tons of freshmen not listed here that will play a big role this year but are either unknowns (ala Manziel last fall), blocked by All-Americans (looking at you Vernon Hargreaves III) or will need time to develop (looking at you Laremy Tunsil). 

So all things considered, here are the biggest impact, most important, most talented freshmen to watch in 2013:

1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Few first-year players will enter play with as much hype and expectations as the Seminoles' starting quarterback. He has been given the reins to Jimbo Fisher’s offense with eyes on a second straight ACC title. He has a huge arm, big-time intangibles, great size and has already played on a big postseason stage for the Florida State baseball team. The 'Noles will go as far as Winston can take them.

2. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State (pictured)
There is no doubt he is the most gifted quarterback on the Penn State campus, but Hackenberg needs to prove he can handle a big-time NCAA program before he takes the reins. The delicate balance between gaining experience and ruining confidence must always be considered with true freshman quarterbacks. Hackenberg looks like a huge star in the making and he is in good hands under Bill O’Brien. The question is merely when, not if, Hackenberg takes over under center for the Lions.

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

4. Dontre Wilson, AP, Ohio State
The Percy Harvin comparisons have run rampant during camp, but having filmed this kid last year, I can tell you the comparisons are warranted. Yes, he is 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds and will wear No. 1 in an Urban Meyer offense. But he also can score from anywhere on the field, is adept at catching the ball as well as running it and can be used in the return game. Yup, sounds like Harvin alright. Look for Meyer to get Wilson the ball early and often.

5. Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The last name should say it all. As the fourth Fuller brother to play at Virginia Tech, Kendall has five-star expectations to match his five-star talent. He is earning his way into the starting lineup in place of the injured Antone Exum. He has elite speed, quickness and football IQ and it could mean a huge first season in Blacksburg for what could be the best of the four Fuller brothers.

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

7. Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden, OL, Michigan
Kalis was the more high profile recruit and is extremely gifted in his own right, but Taylor Lewan says Braden is “the most physically gifted individual I’ve ever seen.” Kalis and Braden are slotted in as the starting guard tandem and this influx of talent along the line could push Michigan over the top as the Legends Division frontrunner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18. Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE, Northwestern
As one of the highest-rated recruits to ever sign with Northwestern, Odenigbo is surrounded by a lot of hype. After a redshirt season brought on by a season-ending shoulder injury, fans in Evanston are ready to see what the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder can do fully healthy. He will bring elite athleticism to an outside pass rush that ranked 50th in the nation a year ago in sacks per game.

19. Alex Figueroa, LB, Miami
A Fork Union Military Academy product, Figueroa burst onto the scene in spring ball, earning himself a starting spot at outside linebacker. He has excellent athletic ability, toughness and rarely misreads a play. This defense was atrocious last year and Figueroa should be a big part of why it should be better in 2013.

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

Related: Biggest Impact Freshmen to Watch in the SEC in 2013

21. Derrick Green, RB, Michigan
Green’s role in Brady Hoke's pro-style offense is yet to be determined. He could easily play over 230 pounds and that would make him the go-to short-yardage and goal-line back to start. However, he wants to be much more than a complementary piece, and knowing the injury history of the Wolverines' backfield, he should be ready to shoulder the load at any point. Picking up the blitz will be the key for Green’s playing time, however.

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

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

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

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

26. Riley Bullough, Delton Williams and Gerald Holmes, RB, Michigan State
There are some more experienced options on the roster (e.g., Nick Hill) but it could be a freshman committee running the ball in East Lansing this year. Riley Bullough is currently the No. 1 with Gerald Holmes and Delton Williams making a strong push for time. Bullough is 230 pounds, Holmes is 215 and Williams checks in at 220. All three are in their first season on the field and all three bring a physical style that Mark Dantonio craves from his running game.

27. Taquan Mizzell, RB, Virginia
The speedy tailback should provide a much-needed spark to the Cavaliers' ground attack. Kevin Parks is an undersized, underrated running back but “Smoke” Mizzell should complement him perfectly. The freshman can score from anywhere on the field and makes defenders look silly in the open field. Look for 100-120 touches for the star first-year back.

28. Dan Voltz, C, Wisconsin
A big-time signing in the 2012 class, Voltz nearly got into the starting lineup a year ago before Bret Bielema decided to redshirt him. The talented guard-turned-pivot is now working under his third offensive line coach in 12 months and is looking to replace a star in Travis Frederick. Gary Andersen will run the ball at Wisconsin and Voltz will be an integral piece for the Badgers O-line.

29. Jonathan McLaughlin, OL, Virginia Tech
He wasn’t a five-star prospect like some other names on this list, but McLaughlin should have a similar impact. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder should be the starter at left tackle protecting Logan Thomas in what is a critical year for all parties involved with Hokies football.

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

Related: Biggest Impact Freshmen to Watch in the ACC in 2013

Best of the Rest:

Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson
Through graduation and injury, Leggett appears poised to snag the starting tight end role in one of the nation’s elite offenses. Dwayne Allen was a Mackey Award winner for this team two years ago, and while no one should compare Leggett to Allen just yet, the system has clearly proven to be TE-friendly. Look for big things from the 6-foot-6, 240-pound frosh.

Stacy Coley, WR, Miami
The second-fastest player on the team already, Coley has a chance to make a big impact in his first year. With a stable quarterback situation, the handsy wideout appears to be the most talented pass-catcher on the roster already. There will be growing pains, but the up-tempo offense could mean big numbers for the speedy freshman.

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

Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
He has dealt with a nagging groin issue this camp, but Alexander’s overall talent and a need in the secondary should force the freshman cornerback into action early. Any missed time will hurt the ever-important first month of practice for a first-year player but Mac’s raw upside and cover skills should get him on the field plenty this fall.

Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Starter Matt Jones has missed most of camp thus far with a "serious viral infection" and it is starting to concern Will Muschamp. The good news is an true freshman with elite NFL All-Pro pedigree has already stepped in a softened the blow. Jones should still be considered the starter but Fred Taylor's son won't be kept off the field in 2013.

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

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

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

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

Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State
There might not be a team in the nation with better starting safeties than Ohio State. And that should explain just how gifted the freshman safety could be. Bell will be used in nickel back situations and will get tons of time in mop-up duty. He flies all over the field and will be the next great Buckeyes safety.

Related: Biggest Impact Freshmen to Watch in the Big Ten in 2013

Big Name Quarterbacks To Watch:

Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
Tommy Rees is and should be the Irish starter, but Zaire has to be considered a serious threat to the steal the starting job away at some point during the year. This offense could struggle early and should it lose some tough games — say, at Michigan, Oklahoma and Arizona State — Brian Kelly could make a switch mid-year. Zaire is nearly a carbon copy of Everett Golson and brings an element of athleticism to the offense that Kelly so badly craves from the position. Keep an eye on the early enrollee in South Bend.

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

Jeremy Johnson, Auburn
He is the best long-term option but will need to prove he is ready. Kiehl Frazier's move to safety helps both junior college transfer and starting front-runner Nick Marshall and Johnson. While Johnson isn't a true dual-threat and may not fit Guz Malzahn scheme perfectly, his special blend of size (6-5), arm strength and poise make force Auburn to start a true freshman under center.

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

Davis Webb, Texas Tech
The youngster has been in a battle for the starting gig with Michael Brewer for some time now. And with Brewer missing time due to a nagging back injury, Webb has been getting the reps. Playing in Kliff Kingsbury's offense is a nice play to be, even for a freshman.

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

Related: Top 15 QB Battles Watch this Fall

Related College Football Content

College Football Bowl Projections for 2013
Top 10 Darkhorses to Win the National Title
College Football's All-Name Team for 2013
SEC Breakout Players for 2013
College Football's Top 10 Underrated Quarterbacks

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, August 16, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/critical-games-2013-key-stretches-pac-12
Body:

As Oregon and Stanford have taken over the post-Pete Carroll Pac-12, so have the Ducks’ and Cardinal’s divergent styles. Facing Oregon’s track meet offense and Stanford grinding, physical attack means headaches for coordinators and strength coaches alike.

Schools like Washington and UCLA must wonder what they’ve done wrong to deserve playing both Oregon and Stanford in back-to-back games. Those will be tough two-game stretches, and they're among the key games that will determine the Pac-12 race.

Our series looking at the critical stretches for each major conference continues with the Pac-12 and a look at the two-, three- and four-game stretches that will play a role in division titles, bowl appearances or just any kind of positive development. We’ve already examined the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC.

*presented in Athlon’s Pac-12 predicted order of finish

PAC-12 NORTH

Oregon

Oct. 12 at Washington
Oct. 19 Washington State
Oct. 26 UCLA
Nov. 7 at Stanford

Oregon will face bowl teams in back-to-back weeks only once all season when the Ducks face Arizona and Oregon State in the last two games. Three bowl teams in a five-week stretch, then, is the most taxing part of the Ducks’ season. An off week to break up a matchup against UCLA and Brett Hundley before facing the physical Cardinal offense on a Thursday works helps Oregon, but Stanford has the week off as well before the Thursday showdown.

Stanford
Oct. 19 UCLA
Oct. 26 at Oregon State
Nov. 7 Oregon
Nov. 16 at USC

Stanford won’t play consecutive home games until the final two weeks of the season. This will be the toughest stretch against a pair of South Division contenders, plus Oregon. Stanford’s defense is up to the task, but the Cardinal will face a pair of dual-threat quarterbacks (Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley) and two traditional pro-style attacks with elite receivers in USC and Oregon State.

Oregon State
Oct. 26 Stanford
Nov. 1 USC
Nov. 16 at Arizona State
Nov. 23 Washington
Nov. 29 at Oregon

Oregon State traditionally plays better late in the season, but that’s going to be awful tough in the final five games of the season. The Beavers face Athlon’s division winner picks on the road (Arizona State and Oregon). If the Beavers are going to reach a bowl game of note, they’ll need to pile up wins early in the season, which includes a span of four road trips in five games.

Washington
Oct. 5 at Stanford
Oct. 12 Oregon
Oct. 19 at Arizona State

How well Washington handles the Stanford game could determine the way the remainder of the season goes. The Huskies will face the league’s most physical team on the road and then must prepare for the track meet against Oregon. Arizona State on the road won’t be easy, either.

Cal
Oct. 12 at UCLA
Oct. 19 Oregon State
Oct. 26 at Washington
Nov. 2 Arizona

Sonny Dykes won’t get a great welcome as the Bears face Northwestern, Ohio State and Oregon in three of the first four games. A key sign of progress could be when the Bears take on the second-tier of Pac-12. No one would expect Cal to win all four, but one or two would be nice.

Washington State
Nov. 16 at Arizona
Nov. 23 Utah
Nov. 29 at Washington

Expectations for Mike Leach have been tempered since everyone (including Athlon) tabbed Washington State for a quick turnaround last season. A bowl game may be too much to ask from a Wazzu team with an undermanned offensive line and defense, but Leach may need the final three games to build some kind of momentum into 2014.

PAC-12 SOUTH

Arizona State

Sept. 14 Wisconsin
Sept. 21 at Stanford
Sept. 28 USC
Oct. 5 Notre Dame (Texas)

Athlon likes Arizona State to win the Pac-12 South, but the Sun Devils may have trouble getting through the first five weeks of the season with a winning record. The most remarkable part of this stretch is that Arizona State won’t face an up-tempo team: In these four games, only Notre Dame averaged more than 70 plays per game last season, and the Irish ranked 75th nationally in that category at 71.2 plays per game.

USC
Sept. 28 at Arizona State
Oct. 10 Arizona
Oct. 19 at Notre Dame

USC had its difficulties stopping spread teams last season (including a 39-36 loss to Arizona last season), and now the Trojans will face two spread teams back-to-back, one of which happens to be a South division contender. USC hasn’t lost in South Bend since 2001, but the Irish have finally turned things around vis a vis USC.

UCLA
Oct. 19 at Stanford
Oct. 26 at Oregon

UCLA put itself on the right path last season, but the Bruins weren’t exactly ready for primetime by losing to Stanford twice and Baylor in the final three games. Here’s a chance to prove otherwise.

Arizona
Nov. 9 UCLA
Nov. 16 Washington State
Nov. 23 Oregon
Nov. 30 at Arizona State

The Wildcats may struggle to reach a bowl game, and the struggling Arizona defense will wrap up its season against three of the top four teams in the Pac-12 in yards per play last season (Oregon, UCLA and Arizona State) and two Heisman-contending quarterbacks (Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota).

Utah
Aug. 29 Utah State
Sept. 7 Weber State
Sept. 14 Oregon State
Sept. 21 at BYU

Utah has won three in a row against BYU, but ended a 12-game winning streak over Utah State last season. Meanwhile, Utah is 7-11 in the Pac-12. The Utes need to establish themselves on two fronts at the start of 2013, both in state and and in the conference.

Colorado
Sept. 1 Colorado State (Denver)
Sept. 7 Central Arkansas

It’s really tough to set the bar lower for Colorado than to hope the Buffaloes can defeat a middling Mountain West team and an FCS program, but Colorado did neither last season.

Teaser:
Which two- and three-game stretches will determine the Pac-12 title?
Post date: Friday, August 16, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12s-top-50-players-2013
Body:

The Big 12 is a league in transition in 2013. With the departure of some of the conference’s top quarterbacks, the title picture is wide open, and a case could be made for six or seven teams to be picked in the top three of the final standings.

With most teams losing some of their top talent, ranking the top 50 players is a difficult task. TCU’s Casey Pachall ranks as the No. 1 quarterback, but the senior checks in at No. 21 on the top 50 players for 2013. After sitting out most of last season due to an off-the-field incident, Pachall has a lot to prove, especially since he has not played a full year in the Big 12.

Other players such as Texas’ Jordan Hicks and Jackson Jeffcoat are difficult to rank after injuries limited both in 2012. Oklahoma State’s Jeremy Smith is due for a big season as the Cowboys’ No. 1 running back, but he has never carried a full season workload. Also, quarterbacks like Blake Bell and Bryce Petty have a lot of promise, but neither passer has started a game. Although we are projecting both players to have a good season, it’s hard to rank either above the top 40 players in the conference.

Compiling the top 50 players of any conference is never an easy task. However, Athlon established a criteria to help compile the rankings. 

Here are six factors that contributed to the criteria for the rankings:
1. Projection on 2013 Performance 
2. Importance to team
3. Who are the best overall players in terms of talent?
4. Positional importance
5. NFL Draft stock
6. Career performance 
 

Athlon's Top 50 Big 12 Players for 2013

RankPlayerPositionTeam
1Cyril RichardsonOGBaylor
2Devonte FieldsDETCU
3Lache SeastrunkRBBaylor
4Jackson JeffcoatDETexas
5Jason VerrettCBTCU
6Aaron ColvinCBOklahoma
7Trey MillardFBOklahoma
8Calvin BarnettDTOklahoma State
9Kerry HyderDTTexas Tech
10Gabe IkardOLOklahoma
11Cornelius LucasOTKansas State
12BJ FinneyCKansas State
13Eric WardWRTexas Tech
14Ty ZimmermanSKansas State
15Le'Raven ClarkOTTexas Tech
16Bryce HagerLBBaylor
17Shaun LewisLBOklahoma State
18Quandre DiggsCBTexas
19Josh StewartWROklahoma State
20Casey PachallQBTCU
21Jordan HicksLBTexas
22James SimsRBKansas
23Tevin ReeseWRBaylor
24Jalen SaundersWROklahoma
25Carrington ByndomCBTexas
26Dartwan BushDETexas Tech
27Sam CarterSTCU
28Trey HopkinsOGTexas
29Mike DavisWRTexas
30Tyler LockettWRKansas State
31Johnathan GrayRBTexas
32Charles SimsRBWest Virginia
33Clint ChelfQBOklahoma State
34Damien WilliamsRBOklahoma
35Chucky HunterDTTCU
36Ben HeeneyLBKansas
37Jace AmaroTETexas Tech
38Ahmad DixonSBaylor
39Jeremy SmithRBOklahoma State
40Spencer DrangoOTBaylor
41Mason WaltersOGTexas
42Karl JosephSWest Virginia
43Parker GrahamOGOklahoma State
44Daryl WilliamsOTOklahoma
45Cody WhitehairOTKansas State
46Justin GilbertCBOklahoma State
47Jeremiah GeorgeLBIowa State
48Jaxon ShipleyWRTexas
49Blake BellQBOklahoma
50Bryce PettyQBBaylor


Related College Football Content

Big 12 Predictions for 2013
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Big 12 Coaches Anonymously Talk About Conference Foes for 2013
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Kliff Kingsbury Returns Home to Texas Tech
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Teaser:
Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2013
Post date: Friday, August 16, 2013 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: High School
Path: /high-school/2013-virginia-high-school-football-top-10-and-preview
Body:

Virginia Preseason Top 10

1. Ocean Lakes Dolphins (Virginia Beach)
The Dolphins ended a banner 2012 season on a down note, falling in the Group AAA Division 6 championship game. That four-point loss to L.C. Bird should be plenty of motivation for starting quarterback Walter “Churchie” Harold and 1,000-yard running back Brandon Simmons, who return to bolster the offense. On defense, lineman Derrick Nnadi anchors a unit that recorded six regular-season shutouts and held 14 of 15 opponents to 15 or fewer points.

2. C.D. Hylton Bulldogs (Woodbridge)
The Bulldogs, state semifinalists last season, welcome back Travon McMillian, a dual-threat quarterback who threw for 1,313 yards, ran for 1,194 yards and accounted for 28 TDs as a junior. Lineman Brian Roberts and defensive back Lawrence Hunt also could help Hylton challenge for its first state title since 2002.

3. Oscar Smith Tigers (Chesapeake)
After the Tigers missed the state tournament for only the second time in six seasons, prized lineman Andrew Brown and 1,000-yard back DeShawn McClease hope to spearhead a return to form for a team that won state titles in 2008 and 2011.

4. Lake Taylor Titans (Norfolk)
Blue-chip recruit Jalyn Holmes, a tight end and defensive end, joins a host of returners from a Titans squad that last season finished 15–0 and won the school’s first state championship.

5. Lloyd C. Bird Skyhawks (Chesterfield)
The Skyhawks won their first Group AAA Division 6 state championship, carried by 2,000-yard rusher Paul Robertson, who graduated. But quarterback Terrance Ervin (1,549 passing yards, 23 TDs) and most of his receiving corps are back.

6. Phoebus Phantoms (Hampton)
The Phantoms’ running game got an unexpected offseason boost when running back Marshawn Williams, a Virginia Tech recruit, transferred from cross-town rival Hampton. And Phoebus has motivation after falling short of a fifth straight state title.

7. Hermitage Panthers (Richmond)
Dapper coach Patrick Kane, who sports a red tie during games, must replace Michigan-bound star running back Derrick Green. But he has stout lineman Marius Young and the motivation of a surprising loss in last year’s playoff opener.

8. Stone Bridge Bulldogs (Ashburn)
The Bulldogs rolled into the state championship game unbeaten before a heartbreaking six-point loss — the team’s fourth in a state final since 2005. Playmaker D’Ante Yarborough, a 1,000-yard receiver last season, and lineman Connor Smith are back.

9. Lake Braddock Bruins (Burke)
The dynamic pass-and-catch combo of quarterback Caleb Henderson and wide receiver Aramis Alexander have the Bruins eyeing a trip to the state tournament for the first time since a championship game appearance in 2009.

10. Briar Woods Falcons (Ashburn)
Quarterback Trace McSorley has guided the Falcons to three consecutive state titles. But McSorley’s quest for a four-peat will have to come in a more competitive division after the state’s realignment for 2013.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

9.6 – Oscar Smith at Lake Taylor
This season opener matches perennial Southeastern Virginia powers who haven’t played in years. Oscar Smith won Group AAA Division 6 state crowns in 2008 and ’11, while Lake Taylor was 15-0 and won its first Group AAA Division 5 state title last season.

9.27 – Phoebus vs. Hampton
The cross-town rivals often hook up at Darling Stadium during the regular season to decide the Peninsula District title before a trip to the state tournament. Hampton (1995-98) and Phoebus (2008-11) are the only Virginia teams to win four straight state titles.

9.27 – Gate City at Union
A name change — Powell Valley became Union in 2011 — hasn’t diminished this rivalry between two small schools tucked into the southwest corner of the state near the Tennessee border. The teams played for the first time in 1959.

10.18 – Woodbridge at C.D. Hylton
These neighborhood rivals square off in a regular-season game that features two of the state’s top recruits on the field at the same time: Woodbridge defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand and Hylton quarterback Travon McMillian.

11.9 – Woodberry Forest at Episcopal
These boarding schools played for the first time in 1901, and more than 100 years later the rivalry — referred to simply as “The Game” — is still going strong.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Caleb Henderson, QB, Lake Braddock (Burke)
Senior, 6-4, 223

Henderson has ripped defenses for more than 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, and he’s not finished. Henderson, committed to North Carolina, returns for his senior season after throwing for 2,435 yards and leading Lake Braddock to the playoffs as a junior. He threw for 240 or more yards six times in 2012, including a season-high 310, and added some versatility with 453 yards and nine touchdowns rushing. In two seasons as a starter, Henderson has thrown 46 touchdown passes. Henderson “has a howitzer for an arm,” Lake Braddock coach Jim Poythress said. “Scan the high school ranks and that is not often seen. On top of that, he can run well enough to be elusive in the pocket and to gain some yards if things break down. Then, when you consider he is a coach’s son, you get an intangible that should only help.”

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Da’Shawn Hand, DE, Woodbridge
Senior, 6-4, 255

Karibi Dede has yet to coach Hand in a game, but he’s already impressed. Dede, hired after last season, has gotten to know Hand during the offseason and has watched plenty of film on his star pupil. “The first thing about him is on the field he has a dominating presence,” Dede says. “It doesn’t matter where he lines up on the defensive front. He’s a kid who’s like a man among boys, and he’s a physical kid who delivers a punishing blow.” Hand delivered plenty of them last season despite drawing constant attention from offensive linemen. He had 78 solo tackles, including 28 for a loss, and collected 16 sacks. That followed an 84-tackle, 21-sack sophomore season. Dede can’t wait to get a first-hand look before Hand graduates and moves on to one of his college suitors. “He’s a phenomenal and unique player,” the coach says.

Order your Athlon Sports High School Football Preview today!

Teaser:
Virginia's best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 21:13
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-link-roundup-august-15
Body:

One day closer to the start of the season.

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

College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Thursday, August 15th

Two West Virginia players have left the team.

Clemson tight end Jordan Leggett is out three to four weeks with a knee injury.

Saturday Down South takes a look at assistants in the SEC that could be head coaches in the near future.

Alabama's freshmen running backs are pushing for time. 

Kansas State will be anchored by a strong offensive line. 

Good news for Oklahoma: Defensive tackle Quincy Russell has arrived on campus.

Minnesota freshman running back Berkley Edwards is making some noise in fall camp.

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is nursing a minor ankle injury.

Pittsburgh linebacker Todd Thomas is slowly working his way back.

Two Cincinnati players have quit the team this fall.

A few running backs are standing out for South Florida.

Marshall is interested in Virginia Tech transfer Donaldven Manning

Here's a good analysis of Iowa's offensive line for 2013.

Saturday Blitz lists a few breakout players for the Big 12.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 14:40
Path: /college-football/tennessee-unveils-alternate-gray-jerseys
Body:

New Tennessee coach Butch Jones hinted there may be a few jersey changes in store for the Volunteers, and the program is set to unveil on Thursday afternoon a new alternate look for 2013.
Although the black alternate jersey worn against South Carolina in 2009 wasn’t a bad look, these charcoal or “Smokey” colored uniforms are an upgrade for Tennessee's third jersey.

 

Teaser:
Tennessee Unveils Alternate Gray Jerseys
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 12:28
Path: /college-football/miami-heat-coach-erik-spoelstra-visits-tennessee-practice
Body:

Tennessee coach Butch Jones had a special visitor in practice on Wednesday. Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra made the trip from South Beach to Knoxville to visit with Jones and take in practice with the Volunteers.

The two coaches have developed a friendship, and Jones attended Miami’s game seven victory against San Antonio in the NBA Finals.

Any guesses as to what they talked about at practice in this photo? Maybe Jones was checking to see if LeBron James had any eligibility? Or was Jones asking about season tickets for the Heat?

 

Teaser:
Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra Visits Tennessee Practice
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC East, Washington Redskins, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/washington-redskins-game-game-predictions-2013
Body:

Thanks in large part to the efforts of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris, the Washington Redskins doubled their win total from the previous season (5-11 in 2011 to 10-6 in '12) as they won the NFC East. Of course, last season didn't end on a good note, as the 'Skins not only coughed up a 14-0 lead at home to Seattle, but RGIII also tore the ACL in his right knee in the 21-14 loss to the Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card game.

This marked the second time in his playing career that RGIII had to undergo reconstructive surgery on his right knee, which is why the team is understandably going to great lengths during training camp to ensure that the reigning AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is completely healthy before putting him back out on the field.

Even though the Redskins are returning 21 of 22 starters from last season, how far the 2013 team goes will more than likely hinge on RGIII's recovery and his ability to stay healthy throughout the season. With RGIII, Morris and full seasons from wide receiver Pierre Garcon and tight end Fred Davis, Washington's offense has a chance to be one of the NFL's best. The defense also should be better in 2013 with Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo and a few other key pieces back from injury.

So can RGIII play in enough games to get the Redskins back to the postseason and possibly defend their NFC East crown? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:

Washington Redskins' 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions

WKOPPKevin
Ewoldt
Braden
Gall
Steven
Lassan
Mark
Ross
1Philadelphia (Mon.)
2at Green Bay
3Detroit
4at Oakland
5BYEBYEBYEBYEBYE
6at Dallas
7Chicago
8at Denver
9San Diego
10at Minnesota (Thurs.)
11at Philadelphia
12San Francisco (Mon.)
13New York Giants
14Kansas City
15at Atlanta
16Dallas
17at New York Giants
Final Projection11-59-710-69-7
NFC East5-13-34-23-3

Kevin Ewoldt (@HogsHaven), Hogs Haven
With RGIII coming back from major knee surgery and the Redskins facing all first-place opponents in the NFC East, common logic one would think it'd be hard for the Redskins to repeat their 10-win season. However, here are some key points: Of the Redskins' 22 starters from last season, 21 are returning. The lone player that left per the Redskins' decision was free safety Madieu Williams, who could not get the job done. The Redskins drafted a lot of defenders so it's hard to imagine the defense regresses any, especially with the return of Brian Orakpo, who essentially missed all of last season. On the offensive side, Pierre Garcon is 100 percent healthy again and the Redskins were 9-1 with him in the lineup last year. Playmaker Fred Davis also returns. Finally, Kirk Cousins has looked phenomenal this year so far, so barring any setbacks with RGIII, the offense should be able to still get the job done. 11-5.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is a quality football team that is an elite football team with Robert Griffin III under center and a mediocre one with Kirk Cousins playing. I am a big fan of Cousins, but don't think he can lead this team to the playoffs should RG3 miss some time. The biggest concern with Griffin is his ability to stay healthy and he won't do that unless he tweaks the way he plays the game — which is easier said than done. A winning record in this division puts them into contention for the NFC East title and a potential wild card spot, but in a loaded NFC, odds are the Redskins take a small step back — especially, if their star quarterback misses any time at all.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The recovery of the right knee of quarterback Robert Griffin III likely holds the cards to how the NFC East will play out. If Griffin returns at full strength by the season opener and picks up where he left off, Washington could be the team to beat in the NFC East. If Griffin suffers any setback, backup Kirk Cousins is plenty capable, but the Redskins will miss Griffin’s playmaking ability. Washington’s roster has gotten deeper over the last few years and all but one starter from last season’s 10-6 team returns. Also, receiver Pierre Garcon and linebacker Brian Orakpo are back to full strength, which should provide a boost for this team. Even if Washington doesn’t win the division, coach Mike Shanahan will have his team in the mix for a wild card. Of course, this season all hinges on Griffin and avoiding any setbacks with his knee injury.

Mark Ross
Even if I knew Robert Griffin III would play all 16 games during the regular season, I still would pick Washington to win fewer games this season than the 10 they did last year. Obviously, RGIII and the health of his surgically repaired knee is the key to the Redskins' success this season, but I have other concerns as it relates to how this team is built.

Washington's defense finished near the bottom in both yards allowed and passing defense last season. Because of salary cap issues, the team did nothing during free agency to shore up this side of the ball and it has already lost one of its draft picks (safety Phillip Thomas) to a season-ending injury. Yes, linebacker Brian Orakpo will be back and, presumably, so will defensive lineman Adam Carriker, but I'm not sure how much of a difference they will make on the unit's overall performance.

While this is pretty much the same team (21 of 22 starters return) that won 10 games last season, the 2013 version has a second-year quarterback coming off of a significant injury and a schedule that includes Super Bowl contenders Atlanta, Denver, Green Bay and San Francisco, in addition to a rugged NFC East slate. RGIII was Washington's x-factor last season, but he's too much of a question mark entering this one to not expect the Redskins to take a small step back, at minimum.

Related Washington Redskins Content
Washington Redskins 2013 Schedule Analysis
Ranking the NFL's Starting Quarterbacks for 2013
Ranking the NFL's Coaching Jobs for 2013

The NFL's 25 Greatest Quarterbacks of All-Time

Teaser:
Washington Redskins: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-august-15-2013
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Aug. 15.

 

• Here's a countdown that will kick-start your Thursday: The 50 hottest women athletes on social media, including javelin thrower Leryn Franco (pictured).

 

A giant moth targeted A.J. Pierzynski with a kamikaze mission last night.

 

Yasiel Puig went all Roberto Clemente on the Mets last night.

 

• Today in Jason Dufner awesomeness: Auburn fan Dufner took acorns from Oak Hill Country Club to plant at Toomer's Corner.

 

The best Twitter comebacks by athletes.

 

A living mannequin scared the bejeezus out of some unsuspecting Michigan State players and coaches. Who knew Sparty was such a scaredy-cat?

 

Marcus Smart and Julius Randle had an epic dunk-off.

 

• Locks of love: College superfan haircuts.

 

Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy spent his vacation camping in the Peruvian jungle, eating rats. This guy needs a new travel agent.

 

• Inspirational story of the day: A one-armed basketball player has been offered a spot on Florida's team as a preferred walk-on. I smell movie.

 

• Yesterday, we brought you the indoor practice facilities of the SEC. Today, the locker rooms. I'd like to live in one of these things.

 

• A bunch of professional baseball players combined for a play that would embarass a little league team. The only thing missing is sped-up footage and Benny Hill music.

 

 

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 10:45
Path: /college-football/arizona-state-coach-todd-graham-goes-cliff-jumping
Body:

Arizona State coach Todd Graham isn’t afraid of challenges. After all, the Sun Devils’ second-year coach has installed that phrase as the team’s mantra for 2013.

To further prove his point, Graham joined Vanderbilt’s James Franklin in the ranks of coaches going cliff jumping this offseason. Graham jumped into Tonto Creek at Arizona State’s fall practice destination (Camp Tontozona) on Wednesday afternoon. Check out Graham's jump in the video below:
 

Teaser:
Arizona State Coach Todd Graham Goes Cliff Jumping
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 10:17
Path: /nfl/tampa-bay-buccaneers-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Paradise lost would be the way to describe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their first year under coach Greg Schiano. The resort atmosphere disappeared, replaced by more rules and regimentation than a boot camp.

“We had one big thing we had to do. We had to establish a culture in the building,’’ Schiano says. “Sometimes, you have to go overboard one way or another to get that culture established. But I think at this point our football team understands who I am and how our football program is going to be run. I think that happened as the season went on.”

A 6–4 start collapsed into a 1–5 finish, mostly because of a wildly inconsistent defense that was first against the run and worst against the pass.

GM Mark Dominik spent the offseason retooling the secondary by signing 49ers free agent safety Dashon Goldson, swinging a blockbuster trade for Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and drafting Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks in the second round. Revis Island may have relocated to Tampa Bay, but it’s still going to be a very inhospitable place.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 13th

Related: 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Schedule Analysis

Offense
Josh Freeman set single-season club records for passing yardage (4,065) and touchdown passes (27) last year. But 10 of his 17 interceptions came in three games, leaving the Bucs still to wonder whether to make a long-term commitment to their enigmatic quarterback, who enters the final year of his contract.

Freeman will benefit from one of the best guard tandems in the NFL. Davin Joseph returns from a season-ending knee injury he suffered in 2012, and Carl Nicks has recovered from a foot injury that limited him to seven games.

But you can bet the offense will run through Doug Martin, who ranked second among rookies with 1,454 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 49 passes for 472 yards and a score. Receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are terrific big-play targets for Freeman, but the Bucs could use a better tight end than Luke Stocker and don’t have a slot receiver.

Tampa Bay traded running back LeGarrette Blount to New England and will go with free agent Brian Leonard, who played for Schiano at Rutgers, and Miami rookie Mike James to round out the backfield. The team also added former Cleveland and Kansas City running back Peyton Hillis to the mix before the start of training camp, although the one-time 1,000-yard rusher may have a hard time making the roster.

Freeman should thrive in the second year of the system under offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. The Bucs will do more to move the pocket and change his launch sites, because he can be very accurate on the move. He also has a new quarterbacks coach in John McNulty, who had the same position with the Arizona Cardinals and coached with Schiano at Rutgers.

But Schiano still is hedging his bets a little with Freeman long-term. Perhaps that’s why NC State quarterback Mike Glennon is here.

“The reality is this is a performance-based game … to say you’re married (to a player), well, nobody is married to anyone in this game,’’ Schiano says of Freeman. “They’re not married to me. You’ve got to win or I’m not going to be the coach.”

Defense
It’s extremely unusual for a defense to play in polar-opposite ways against the run and the pass. Statistically, Tampa Bay had the best run defense in the league in 2012. Perhaps that’s because opponents preferred to travel by air. The Bucs fell just 38 yards shy of setting the NFL record for the most passing yards allowed.

With so much scorched earth in the secondary, the Bucs knew they needed an overhaul. Cornerback Aqib Talib, who was suspended for four games last year for illegal use of the stimulant Adderall, was traded at midseason to the New England Patriots. Eric Wright, who lost four games for the same reason, was forced to take a one-year, restructured contract, and then was subsequently traded to the 49ers in July for a conditional 2014 draft pick. Wright, however, failed his physical, which nullified the trade and led to his eventual outright release by the Buccaneers.

Dominik began the makeover by signing Goldson to a five-year, $41.25-million deal. A few weeks later, he persuaded the Jets to part with Revis for the 13th overall pick and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2014. Revis still is recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in Week 3 last year but is expected to be full go by training camp. If he is 90 percent as good as the old Revis, it could be scary for the NFC South. The Bucs finally will have a player to match up with the Falcons’ Julio Jones or the Saints’ Marques Colston.

The Bucs will benefit from the return of right defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who was lost for the season because of a knee injury after only a few games. Da’Quan Bowers, who battled back from a torn Achilles to play 10 games a year ago, should be a powerful bookend. Rookies William Gholston and Steven Means fortify the pass rush.

But the rush is anchored by man in the middle Gerald McCoy, the No. 3 overall choice in 2010. McCoy finally put together a full season, finishing with five sacks, and was named to his first Pro Bowl team.

Tampa Bay lost starting nose tackle Roy Miller to Jacksonville and its leading sackmaster Michael Bennett to Seattle. But the Bucs seem confident in veterans such as Derek Landri and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim as well as Illinois nose tackle Akeem Spence, a fourth-round pick.

The linebackers are solid with Mason Foster and Lavonte David, who led the team in tackles as a rookie. The Bucs have to replace Quincy Black at strong-side linebacker. He was released after suffering nerve damage following a hit on San Diego running back Ryan Mathews.

Playing in a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton means having to stop big plays in the passing game. The Bucs also face Tom Brady this year. But the first game of the season will be at MetLife Stadium against the Jets. What better place for Revis to make a statement that he is back?

Specialists
The Bucs' kicking game sustained a big blow in July when Connor Barth tore his Achilles playing in a charity basketball game. Barth, who hit on on 28-of-33 field goal attempts last season, will be replaced by veteran Lawrence Tynes. Tynes connected on 33-of-39 field goal attempts for the Giants last season, but he doesn't have near as strong a leg as Barth (six made FGs from 50+ yards in 2012). Punter Michael Koenen, who also handles all the kickoff duties, needs to pick it up after only netting 37.4 yards in 2012.

Long-snapper Andrew Economos re-signed, keeping the Bucs’ battery intact. What the team could use is some return yardage. Cowboys free agent Kevin Ogletree has a chance to bring back punts and kickoffs this year.

Final Analysis: 3rd in NFC South
If Revis is Revis again once his knee heals, and he plays the entire season, the Bucs have the main ingredient for an antidote to the Falcons’ and Saints’ passing games. Freeman, as usual, will be the key. Avoid two of the three meltdown games, and the Bucs could sneak into the postseason after a five-year hiatus.

Order your 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaeneers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

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

 

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Six starters fled the Jets in free agency, including their top running back and two safeties. Their best player, one of the great shutdown cornerbacks in football, was traded to Tampa Bay just prior to the draft. Their big free agent signing was a 35-year-old quarterback who retired in May. Owner Woody Johnson fired his general manager right after the 6–10 season but retained Rex Ryan for his final contract year, turning him into a lame-duck coach.

This has all the makings of a rebuilding season at best and a mess of a year at worst.

Despite heading into a win-or-else season with an uncertain quarterback situation, offensive backfield in flux, and an exodus that left the defense in shambles, Ryan doesn’t look at 2013 as a rebuilding season.

“I think (other teams) should be worried about us a lot more than they are,” Ryan says. “We’ll see what kind of team our opponents get to play, and I’m excited about it.”

He might as well be. A winning record seems like a daunting challenge, especially in light of a five-game stretch starting in Week 5 against Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New England, Cincinnati and New Orleans. Even without the Tim Tebow albatross, Ryan has plenty of pressure on him in 2013, not the least of which is his job security under a new GM. The quarterback position is no closer to being solved, and the rest of the offense is just as underwhelming. Meanwhile, the Jets were dealt a psychological blow with the trade of lockdown corner Darrelle Revis to the Buccaneers. This has all the makings for another long year in New York.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 13th

Related: 2013 New York Jets Schedule Analysis

Offense
Ryan’s enthusiasm could turn to despair quickly if keeping Mark Sanchez around backfires. Sanchez, to whom former GM Mike Tannenbaum handed a three-year extension with $20.5 million of guaranteed money prior to last season, took the first snap of minicamp, though second-round draft pick Geno Smith is poised to give him some competition in the summer. The Jets signed veteran David Garrard in March and had planned on giving him a legitimate chance to win the job, but he announced in mid May that he was retiring due to ongoing issues with his knees. So that leaves Sanchez as the likely Week 1 starter, but he may struggle in new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s system. Timing and touch are essential in the West Coast offense, areas in which Sanchez has shown little comfort level the past two years.

Regardless of who starts at quarterback, he won’t have many targets out there. Jeremy Kerley is good, and when healthy, Santonio Holmes is better. But Holmes is returning from season-ending foot surgery and will take a limited workload through training camp. The team did bring back former Jet wide receiver Braylon Edwards and also signed tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. to add to its pass-catching options.

The running back picture became much more interesting when the Jets traded their fourth-round pick to New Orleans for bruising veteran Chris Ivory. He can punish a defense and has a 5.1 yards-per-carry career average. But injuries and his failure to exhibit significant receiving ability out of the backfield could make him miscast in Mornhinweg’s system. The Jets might end up starting free agent pickup Mike Goodson, whose pass-catching ability complements a 4.5-yard career average. Holdover Bilal Powell is also a candidate. He caught 17 passes and rushed for 437 yards and four touchdowns as a backup last year. Whatever they do, the Jets have to improve their 3.8 yards-per-carry average, which ranked 23rd in the league. In the end, Goodson — with his ability to run and catch — may be the best option, but his May 17 arrest on weapons and gun charges have complicated things, to say the least.

The offensive line is also in transition, with underachieving Vladimir Ducasse likely to move into the right guard spot to replace Brandon Moore, who departed in free agency. Willie Colon, a seven-year veteran who started 11 games at left guard for the Steelers last year after missing all but one game the two previous seasons, signed with the Jets in the offseason. He should help improve the blind side.

Defense
After a dramatic trade-him-or-don’t-trade-him decision in the front office, the Jets eventually sent Revis to Tampa Bay for the No. 13 pick in the 2013 draft and a conditional selection in 2014. The Jets then used the ninth overall pick to draft a corner in Alabama’s Dee Milliner. The Jets only partially replaced the other key personnel losses, starting with free agent acquisition of former San Diego linebacker Antwan Barnes, who had 18.5 sacks over the last three seasons. He dropped from 11 sacks in 2011 to just three in an injury-shortened 2012. But he is familiar with Ryan, having played for him in Baltimore in 2007. That’s a plus, since Ryan will return to calling his own defensive plays. And Ryan will need Barnes to boost a pass rush that tied for 25th last year with only 30 sacks. Barnes is also fast enough to cover the tough tight ends found in the AFC East, such as the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and former Jet Dustin Keller in Miami.

Muhammad Wilkerson showed signs of becoming a defensive line stalwart in his second year, compiling five sacks, 70 tackles and three forced fumbles at end. This year, Wilkerson will have to fight through a slew of double-teams unless the Jets somehow find some inexpensive players to replace Sione Po’uha and Mike DeVito. Best case would be for last year’s No. 1 draft pick, Quinton Coples, to take over DeVito’s spot.

Right cornerback Antonio Cromartie stepped up and had a great year once Revis went down with a torn ACL, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it again. But the middle of the secondary is rife with inexperience in Josh Bush and Antonio Allen. At least free agent acquisition Dawan Landry — brother of departed safety LaRon Landry — will provide coverage skills and durability after recording 100 tackles in 16 starts for Jacksonville last year.

Specialists
Kicker Nick Folk was re-signed for his fourth season in green after going 21-of-27 on field goals. His 93 points tied him for 26th in the league. Robert Malone, the league’s 19th-ranked punter, returns after a franchise-record 45.8-yard average on 61 punts (38.5 net).

Joe McKnight likely will handle kickoff returns again after bringing back 39 for a 27.5-yard average (third-best in the league) that included a 100-yard TD against the Texans. The punt return game, handled mostly by Kerley last year, will need more yardage and fewer fair catches.

Final Analysis: 3rd in AFC East
It’s always bad medicine for an owner to change his general manager and keep his head coach. Ryan is entering the final season of his contract with a number of troublesome contracts, unfulfilled Super Bowl expectations and an unresolved quarterback quandary. The head coach may be optimistic, but the team’s roster indicates otherwise.

Order your 2013 New York Jets Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

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

 

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USC is limited on scholarships due to NCAA sanctions, but coach Lane Kiffin didn’t take any shortcuts on his receiving corps. The Trojans have the nation’s No. 1 receiver in junior Marqise Lee, while sophomore Nelson Agholor is due for a breakout year. But Alabama isn't too far behind USC, especially with the emergence of Amari Cooper last season.

Ranking the receiving corps in college football is no easy task. Having a clear No. 1 certainly helps to rank high on this list, but overall depth could be more important.

How did we come up with these rankings? A couple of factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2013 all factored into the rankings for the backfield. While some teams may have experienced a down year last season, having a different quarterback or a change of scheme can make a huge difference.

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

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

Ranking the Top 25 Wide Receiver/Tight End Units for 2013

1. USC
Whether it’s Max Wittek or Cody Kessler, USC’s new starting quarterback has plenty of weapons. Junior Marqise Lee ranked second nationally in receptions per game (9.1) and receiving yards per game (132.4) last season, winning the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s top receiver. Sophomore Nelson Agholor averaged 17.9 yards per catch in 2012 and is due for a breakout year. Victor Blackwell and Darreus Rogers were touted recruits and are ready to step into prominent roles. Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer could form the nation’s top tight end duo.


2. Alabama 
The Crimson Tide receivers may not have huge stats, but it’s hard to find a group that’s deeper than the one in Tuscaloosa. Amari Cooper is the top target for AJ McCarron after catching 59 passes as a true freshman. Kevin Norwood (29 catches in 2012), Christion Jones and Kenny Bell are back as key contributors. But the name to watch this fall is redshirt freshman Chris Black, who missed 2012 due to a shoulder injury. Freshman O.J. Howard could be Alabama’s answer at tight end.

3. Georgia 
With Malcolm Mitchell moving back to receiver on a full-time basis, along with the return of Michael Bennett from a knee injury, quarterback Aaron Murray will have one of the nation’s top receiving corps at his disposal. Chris Conley averaged 17.1 yards per catch last year, and his big-play ability will help ease the loss of Tavarres King. Tight end Arthur Lynch is a rising star after grabbing 24 receptions for 431 yards and three touchdowns in 2012. Jay Rome caught 11 passes as a true freshman and should secure the No. 2 tight end spot.

4. Oklahoma State 
The emergence of Josh Stewart, along with a healthy Tracy Moore (45 receptions in 2011) should propel Oklahoma State’s receiving corps into a spot among the top five nationally. Stewart averaged only 12 yards per catch but had 101 receptions last year. Charlie Moore is back after averaging 15.5 yards per reception in 2012, and hybrid receiver/tight end Blake Jackson could be featured more after catching 30 passes last year. Touted true freshmen Marcell Ateman and Ra’Shaad Samples add to Oklahoma State’s depth in the receiving corps.

5. Florida State 
The Seminoles have three receivers with at least 25 receptions or more returning in 2013, and tight end Nick O’Leary is back after a solid sophomore campaign (21 receptions). Rashad Greene was the go-to target for Florida State last year, catching 57 passes for 741 yards. Kelvin Benjamin caught 30 passes as a redshirt freshman, and at 6'5", has the potential to be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Freshmen Levonte Whitfield, Isaiah Jones and Bobo Wilson won’t start but are too talented to redshirt this year.

6. Clemson
The Tigers will miss DeAndre Hopkins, but there’s not much reason to panic at Clemson. Sammy Watkins had a disappointing year after a standout freshman season, but all signs point to a bounce-back campaign in 2013. Watkins should be the ACC’s top wide receiver and a candidate to earn All-American honors. Replacing Hopkins’ production will likely fall on the shoulders of Charone Peake and Adam Humphries. Peake has shown flashes of promise, while Humphries has 56 receptions in his first two years on campus. Freshmen Germone Hopper and Mike Williams, along with junior Martavis Bryant will be expected to contribute as well. Tight end is a concern, as Sam Cooper suffered a torn ACL in the spring game.


7. Louisville
Helping quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s Heisman campaign is the American Athletic Conference’s best receiving corps. DeVante Parker averaged 18.6 yards per catch last season and has 16 touchdown catches over the last two years. Senior Damian Copeland led the Cardinals with 50 receptions in 2012, while Eli Rogers returns after grabbing 46 catches. This group will be even deeper in 2013, as Louisville is gaining the services of a couple of transfers – tight end Gerald Christian and receiver Robert Clark. Freshman James Quick is expected to play some snaps at receiver and will help on returns.

8. Oklahoma
The Sooners won’t throw as much as they have in recent years due to the departure of quarterback Landry Jones, but there’s plenty of capable targets for new passer Blake Bell. Kenny Stills and Justin Brown are gone after leading Oklahoma in receptions last year. However, Jalen Saunders caught 26 passes over the final three games and is set to emerge as the No. 1 option. Sophomores Trey Metoyer and Sterling Shepard are due for breakout years, while Derrick Woods, Durron Neal and Jaz Reynolds round out the depth chart.


9. Fresno State
The Bulldogs averaged 325.6 passing yards per game last year and could be even tougher to stop in 2013. Davante Adams had a monster freshman season in 2012, recording 102 receptions for 1,312 yards and 14 scores. He is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American for 2013. Adams is joined by senior Isaiah Burse (57 catches), converted quarterback Greg Watson (nine receptions) and dependable tight end Marcel Jensen (20 catches). Josh Harper missed most of last season due to an injury and but is due for a huge season with quarterback Derek Carr leading the way.

10. Washington
Can the Huskies’ offense get back on track this year? Even though Washington has offensive line question marks, quarterback Keith Price returns, and the Huskies have a deep group of receivers. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the nation’s top tight end, but he may miss some time early in the season due to a fractured pinkie. Kasen Williams is the team’s top receiver after catching 77 passes for 878 yards and six scores last year. Sophomore Jaydon Mickens, junior DiAndre Campbell and incoming freshmen Damore’ea Stringfellow and John Ross will round out the receiving corps.


11. Texas
With eight returning starters, the Longhorns are expected to show progress on offense this year. Of course, that all depends on how quarterback David Ash develops this offseason. Senior Mike Davis and junior Jaxon Shipley headline the receiving corps, with both players expected to be in the mix for all-conference honors. Sophomores Kendall Sanders and Daje Johnson are suited for the No. 3 and No. 4 roles, with M.J. McFarland expected to start at tight end.

12. BYU
After finishing 64th nationally in scoring offense last season, coach Bronco Mendenhall decided to overhaul his offensive staff, with Robert Anae returning to Provo to call the plays. Sophomore Taysom Hill is a promising quarterback, and he will be throwing to a deep group of receivers in 2013. Senior Cody Hoffman is in the mix for All-American honors after catching 100 passes for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Junior Ross Apo and seniors Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev will round out the key contributors at receiver. Tight end Kaneakua Friel was a steady option last year, catching 30 passes for 308 yards and five touchdowns.


13. Miami
Thanks to the emergence of quarterback Stephen Morris and a solid offensive line, the Hurricanes averaged 35.4 points a game in ACC play last season. Miami should be strong on offense once again in 2013, as eight starters are back and the receiving corps is stocked with weapons for Morris. Junior Phillip Dorsett should be the No. 1 target after catching 58 passes last year. Senior Allen Hurns and junior Rashawn Scott combined for 63 receptions in 2012, while sophomore Herb Waters averaged 22.7 yards per catch last year. True freshman Stacy Coley will also factor into the rotation. Tight end should be set with Clive Walford and Beau Sandland battling for time.

14. Vanderbilt
The Commodores aren’t particularly flush with depth at receiver, but it’s hard to find a better one-two combination in the SEC. Jordan Matthews turned down a chance to enter the NFL for one more year at Vanderbilt. The senior enters 2013 with 150 career receptions, 2,282 yards and 17 touchdowns. Matthews led all SEC receivers with 94 catches in 2012. Chris Boyd is back after catching 50 passes for 774 yards and five scores last year. And Jonathan Krause is slated to fill the No. 3 role after recording nine receptions in 2012. Freshmen Jordan Cunningham and Carlos Burse will provide depth. The Commodores have question marks at tight end.


15. Oregon
The Ducks have an underrated group of receivers, and with running back Kenjon Barner out of eligibility, new coach Mark Helfrich is expected to lean more on the pass in 2013. Josh Huff caught 32 passes for 493 yards and seven scores last season and is expected to remain the go-to target for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Tight end Colt Lyerla is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, while junior Keanon Lowe, senior Daryle Hawkins and sophomore B.J. Kelley provide depth. Sophomore Bralon Addison is due for a breakout year.

16. LSU
With quarterback Zach Mettenberger under center, and Cam Cameron calling the plays, LSU coach Les Miles expects improvement from his offense. There's no shortage of skill players, as the Tigers return four receivers with at least 18 catches last year. Jarvis Landry led the team with 56 receptions in 2012, but Odell Beckham was the unit’s top playmaker, averaging 16.6 yards per catch. Seniors Kadron Boone and James Wright combined for 44 catches in 2012 and will anchor the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the receiving corps. However, redshirt freshman Travin Dural and junior college recruit Quantavius Leslie will push for snaps. LSU could feature the tight end more under Cameron, and junior college recruit Logan Stokes could step into the starting role over sophomore Dillon Gordon.


17. Ole Miss
Feed Moncrief became the mantra for the Ole Miss offense last season, which showed marked improvement from the 2011 squad. Sophomore Donte Moncrief emerged as one of the SEC’s top receivers last year, nabbing 66 receptions for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns. Junior Vince Sanders and senior Ja-Mes Logan combined for 82 receptions last season and will flank Moncrief as the No. 2 and No. 3 options. Sanders will be slowed early in the year due to a collarbone injury suffered in fall practice. The receiving corps got deeper over the offseason, as freshman Laquon Treadwell could earn some playing time this fall too. Treadwell ranked as the No. 1 receiver in the nation by Rivals.com in the 2013 signing class.

18. Texas Tech
Darrin Moore is gone, but the Red Raiders return Eric Ward (82 receptions in 2012) and tight end Jace Amaro (25 catches in seven games). Ward could be even more dangerous under the watchful eye of coach Kliff Kingsbury, while Amaro is clearly the league’s best tight end. Sophomore Jakeem Grant is only 5-foot-6, but the sophomore has outstanding speed. Junior Bradley Marquez is back after missing most of last season with an injury.


19. Indiana
After leading the Big Ten in passing offense in 2012, the pieces are in place for the Hoosiers to be even better in 2013. Quarterback Tre Roberson is back from injury, and the receiving corps returns two potential All-Big Ten selections in Shane Wynn and Cody Latimer. Latimer averaged 15.8 yards per reception last year, and Wynn led the team with 68 catches. Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson are also back after each caught more than 20 passes in 2012. Tight end Ted Bolser is an Athlon Sports third-team All-Big Ten selection for 2013.

20. Nebraska
The Cornhuskers return their top three wide receivers from last year, including second-team All-Big Ten selection Kenny Bell. He caught 50 passes for 863 yards and eight scores, while averaging 17.3 yards per reception. Quincy Enunwa is a physical 6-foot-2 option for quarterback Taylor Martinez, and junior Jamal Turner is always a threat to score with the ball in his hands. There’s not much in the way of proven depth at receiver behind Bell, Enunwa and Turner, so there’s a lot of pressure on freshmen Jordan Westerkamp and Alonzo Moore to step up this fall. The Cornhuskers are starting over at tight end with the departure of Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton.


21. Texas A&M
Mike Evans headlines Texas A&M’s receiving corps after grabbing 82 receptions for 1,105 yards and five scores in 2012. Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu are gone, but juniors LeKendrick Williams and Malcome Kennedy, along with senior Derel Walker are experienced and capable targets. Talented freshmen Ricky Seals-Jones, Sebastian Larue and LaQuvionte Gonzalez will factor into the rotation early in the year and could push for a starting job by September.

22. Baylor
Terrance Williams is gone, but Baylor still has plenty of weapons for new quarterback Bryce Petty. Speedster Tevin Reese is the team’s top returning receiver (53 receptions) and averaged 18.1 yards per catch last season. Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood are proven options, and youngsters Jay Lee, Robbie Rhodes and Corey Coleman will be a factor. Tight end Jordan Najvar is a steady option over the middle for Petty.


23. TCU
With Casey Pachall back at quarterback, TCU should be able to stretch the field more in 2013. Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson are gone at receiver, but Brandon Carter is a potential All-Big 12 player after averaging 16.4 yards per reception on 36 catches last season. LaDarius Brown and Cam White combined for 48 receptions and return for an even bigger role in the offense 2013. Transfers Ja’Juan Story (Florida) and Josh Doctson (Wyoming) are names to watch this year.

 

24. Ohio State
The Buckeyes need a few more playmakers to emerge, but the receiving corps has made considerable progress over the last two years. Senior Corey Brown led the team with 60 catches for 669 yards and three scores last year. Junior Devin Smith was the unit’s top playmaker, averaging 20.6 yards per catch and turning six of his 30 receptions into scores. Junior Evan Spencer and sophomore Michael Thomas began fall practice with an edge for the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the receiving corps, but freshmen Dontre Wilson - a potentially dangerous all-purpose threat - and Jalin Marshall will push for time. Jordan Hall played in only seven contests last year due to injury, but he is expected to play in a similar role to that of Percy Harvin under Urban Meyer at Florida and could see time at running back with Carlos Hyde suspended for the first three games.


25. Penn State
The Nittany Lions were thin on proven receivers going into last year, but this unit emerged as a strength under the watchful eye of head coach Bill O’Brien and receivers coach Stan Hixon. Allen Robinson was the only Big Ten receiver to record over 1,000 receiving yards, and he led the conference with 77 receptions through 12 games. Senior Brandon Moseby-Felder, junior Alex Kenney and redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis are expected to flank Robinson as key targets at receiver for Penn State’s quarterback. The Nittany Lions have a deep group of tight ends at their disposal, including returning first-team All-Big Ten selection Kyle Carter, along with true freshman Adam Breneman — the No. 44 recruit in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100. Carter is the headliner, but sophomore Jesse James (15 receptions) and senior Matt Lehman (24 catches) shouldn’t be overlooked.

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The ACC gets knocked for its poor BCS bowl record (3-13) and for not being able to compete with the SEC on a regular basis. While this is true, John Swofford has this league heading in the right direction with team stability and plenty of room for growth.

One thing the ACC has done extremely well of late, however, is produce elite impact freshmen. Russell Wilson, Ryan Williams, Sammy Watkins and Duke Johnson are four of the last five ACC Offensive Rookies of the Year. Luke Kuechly, Xavier Rhodes, Merrill Noel and Ronald Darby are the last four ACC Defensive Rookies of the Year. Toss in other first-year stars like Stefon Diggs and Giovani Bernard from the last two seasons and the league has loads of elite young talent to lean on.

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

Potential Stars:

Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The last name should say it all. As the fourth Fuller brother to play at Virginia Tech, Kendall has five-star expectations to match his five-star talent. He is earning his way into the starting lineup in place of the injured Antone Exum. He has elite speed, quickness and football IQ and it could mean a huge first season in Blacksburg for what could be the best of the four Fuller brothers.

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Few first-year players will enter play with as much hype and expectations as the Seminoles' starting quarterback. He has been given the reins to Jimbo Fisher’s offense with eyes on a second straight ACC title. He has a huge arm, big-time intangibles, great size and has already played on a big postseason stage for the Florida State baseball team. The 'Noles will go as far as Winston can take them.

Taquan Mizzell, RB, Virginia
The speedy tailback should provide a much-needed spark to the Cavaliers' ground attack. Kevin Parks is an undersized, underrated running back but “Smoke” Mizzell should complement him perfectly. The freshman can score from anywhere on the field and makes defenders look silly in the open field. Look for 100-120 touches for the star first-year back.

Stacy Coley, WR, Miami
The second-fastest player on the team already, Coley has a chance to make a big impact in his first year. With a stable quarterback situation, the handsy wideout appears to be the most talented pass-catcher on the roster already. There will be growing pains, but the up-tempo offense could mean big numbers for the speedy freshman.

Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
He has dealt with a nagging groin issue this camp, but Alexander’s overall talent and a need in the secondary should force the freshman cornerback into action early. Any missed time will hurt the ever-important first month of practice for a first-year player but Mac’s raw upside and cover skills should get him on the field plenty this fall.

Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson
Through graduation and injury, Leggett appears poised to snag the starting tight end role in one of the nation’s elite offenses. Dwayne Allen was a Mackey Award winner for this team two years ago, and while no one should compare Leggett to Allen just yet, the system has clearly proven to be TE-friendly. Look for big things from the 6-foot-6, 240-pound frosh. Leggett was injured in practice on Wednesday and is expected to miss a couple of weeks.

Jonathan McLaughlin, OL, Virginia Tech
He wasn’t a five-star prospect like some other names on this list, but McLaughlin should have a similar impact. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder should be the starter at left tackle protecting Logan Thomas in what is a critical year for all parties involved with Hokies football.

Alex Figueroa, LB, Miami
A Fork Union Military Academy product, Figueroa burst onto the scene in spring ball, earning himself a starting spot at outside linebacker. He has excellent athletic ability, toughness and rarely misreads a play. This defense was atrocious last year and Figueroa should be a big part of why it should be better in 2013.

Tyler Boyd, WR, Pitt
The big-play, in-state wide receiver prospect is being counted on by Pitt faithful to fill a major void opposite No. 1 wideout Devin Street. Boyd is competing for starting time but will undoubtedly see the field early and often for Paul Chryst’s high-powered scheme.

Caleb Peterson, OL, North Carolina
It is no easy job to replace an All-American and top-10 NFL Draft pick but that is what Peterson is going to try to do for the Tar Heels. A highly-touted prospect from Alabama, he is slotted into the starting lineup at guard. He will need to prove his understanding of Larry Fedora's complex system to stick.

Related: The Top 15 ACC Heisman Trophy Candidates

Early Contributors:

Johnell Barnes, WR, Duke
David Cutcliffe has praised his young wide receiver in fall camp.

Adam Bisnowaty, OL, Pitt
Not as highly-touted as Dorian Johnson but is no slouch in his own right.

Artie Burns, CB, Miami
Speedy coverman needs to step in and contribute immediately for a secondary that needs big improvements.

Joel Caleb, RB/WR, Virginia Tech
Do-everyting playmaker could bolster both the passing and running game in Blacksburg.

Chris Casher, DE, Florida State
Elite prospect is finally looking to crack the lineup on a team with ACC title hopes.

Bra’Lon Cherry, WR, NC State
Early enrollee has a leg up on fellow young pass-catchers in Dave Doeren's fast-paced offense.

Tyshon Dye, RB, Clemson
The Tigers need to find ball carriers for Chad Morris’ offense and Dye should get some looks.

Trey Edmunds, RB, Virginia Tech
Will battle with J.C. Coleman for starting carries in an offense that must improve in 2013.

Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech
Is competing with Fuller for starting time in Exum’s absence. Will play plenty either way.

Khris Francis, RB, North Carolina
Early enrollee made a quick name for himself this spring/summer in the race to replace Gio Bernard.

Mark Hall, LB, Virginia
Redshirt 250-pound linebacker could bring toughness to the middle of the Wahoos’ defense.

Dorian Johnson, OL, Pitt
Elite, five-star prospect comes to campus with sky-high expectations.

T.J. Logan, RB, North Carolina
Bernard is gone and finding a suitable replacement is atop Fedora’s to-do list.

Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE, Miami
Big-time prospect from the Northeast brings a great motor and toughness to terrible defense.

Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
Elite athlete could play all over the secondary for a team stacked with defensive talent.

Gabe Roberts, C, Pitt
Yet another first-year Panthers lineman who could see important snaps.

Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State
A hesitant marriage between player and school could result in a huge freshman season for playmaking backer.

Related: Complete 2013 ACC Football Predictions

Key Reserves:
Ben Boulware, LB, Clemson
Everett Edwards, CB, Duke
Brisly Estime, HB, Syracuse
Holland Fisher, LB, Virginia Tech
Dominique Gibson, Joshua Wilhite, Dezmond Wortham, RB, Wake Forest
Jay Guillermo, OL, Clemson
Tim Harris, CB, Virginia
Jonathan Howard, WR, North Carolina
Abner Logan, LB, Maryland
Josh Manley, DE, Syracuse
C.J. Moore, CB, Virginia
Yannick Ngakoue, LB, Maryland
Josh Stanford, WR, Virginia Tech
Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
Demarcus Walker, DE, Florida State
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Myles Willis and Tyler Brouse, RB, Boston College

Related: Athlon Sports' 2013 ACC All-Conference Teams

Special Teams:
Harrison Butker, K, Georgia Tech
Roberto Aguayo, K, Florida State
Chris Blewitt, K, Pitt

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12 Steps to Fix ACC Football
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ACC Predictions for 2013
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Teaser:
ACC's Impact Freshmen To Watch in 2013
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/texas-football-game-game-predictions-2013
Body:

Texas is one of college football’s most intriguing teams to watch in 2013. The Longhorns have not won double-digit games since 2009, and there’s no question the program has slipped over the last few years.

However, with a wide-open Big 12 title picture, Texas could rebound with a conference title in 2013. The Longhorns have the Big 12’s most-talented roster and return 17 starters.

Quarterback David Ash still has a lot to prove, but coordinator Major Applewhite has one of the nation’s deepest backfields at his disposal, along with two standout receivers in Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis.

The biggest question mark for Texas is a defense that allowed 404.2 yards per game last season and ranked eighth in the Big 12 against the run. The return of end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Jordan Hicks should help the Longhorns show some improvement on that side of the ball. However, safety Kenny Vaccaro and end Alex Okafor will be missed.

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

Texas' 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions

GameSteven
Lassan
Braden
Gall
David
Fox
Mark
Ross
Dave
Bartoo
8/31 New Mexico State
9/7 at BYU
9/14 Ole Miss
9/21 Kansas State
10/3 at Iowa State
10/12 Oklahoma (Dallas)
10/26 at TCU
11/2 Kansas
11/9 at West Virginia
11/16 Oklahoma State
11/28 Texas Tech
12/7 at Baylor
Final Projection9-310-29-39-39-3

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Since finishing with a 5-7 record in 2010, the Longhorns have rebounded to some extent with a 17-9 mark over the last two years. Of course, this is Texas and the expectation is to contend for a Big 12 title every season. Even though progress has been made, coach Mack Brown is on the hot seat, and 2013 could be a make-or-break season. The good news for Brown? The Longhorns have enough talent on both sides of the ball to win the Big 12 title. The offense has a deep stable of running backs and a solid line to lean on, and quarterback David Ash showed some progress last season. The defense was a major disappointment in 2012, but the return of linebacker Jordan Hicks and end Jackson Jeffcoat should help. The schedule sets up favorably for a run at the league title for Texas. There’s the annual matchup with Oklahoma in Dallas and road trips to TCU and Baylor, but Oklahoma State and Kansas State must travel to Austin. Although the Longhorns have the most talented roster in the Big 12, I think they fall short of winning the conference title. It’s a wide-open year in the Big 12, so nothing would come as a surprise. But the quarterback uncertainty and blowout losses to Oklahoma in back-to-back years shows this team still has a ways to go. 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is the most talented team in the league and it may not be close. The question still remains in Austin about the level of development this roster is getting from its coaching staff. The schedule isn't easy but important games with non-conference foe Ole Miss, Achilles' Heel Kansas State, Big 12 front-runner Oklahoma State will come on the 40 Acres. Watch out for upset alerts in Provo and Ames, however, as this team is prone to upsets. Should the historically bad defense improve (which it should) and David Ash continues his development (which he should), then Texas should win the league and play in the Fiesta Bowl at season's end — although, it won't be the national title conversation like some believe.

Mark Ross
Everything is bigger in Texas, including expectations for the Lone Star State's marquee college football team. Mack Brown's Longhorns have been mediocre over the last three seasons, going 22-16 overall and just 11-15 in Big 12 games. This year's team is one of the most experienced in the conference, so it's time to either put up or take a long, hard look at the state of the program.

The offense must get more production from its quarterback, who will have weapons at his disposal in both the backfield and on the outside. The defense has only way to go, up, following last year's record-setting breakdown (most yards allowed in school history), and it should be a different unit with several key players coming back from injury. The schedule isn't easy with non-conference tilts at BYU and against Ole Miss setting the stage for Big 12 action, but there's no reason for this Texas team to finish no worse than third in the conference. While a third-place showing may not exactly be a typical Texas-sized goal for the season, Longhorns fans know that it has been anything but business as usual on the gridiron in recent years.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Texas is tough team to project. The talent is there for a 10-win season or a Big 12 title, but this group has underachieved. Having Jordan Hicks back on defense and one of the few experienced quarterbacks will work in Texas’ favor. The Longhorns should benefit from teams in the Big 12 being down a bit — Kansas State, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Iowa State won’t be as good as we’ve seen in recent years. While Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will challenge for the league title, neither appear to be as good as they were two years ago. That’s a window Texas must climb through. I’ve picked the Longhorns to have mixed success with losses against Oklahoma and Baylor in the league. The BYU game is a bit of a leap on my part, but I like the Cougars’ defense and home-field advantage against Texas.
 

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Kliff Kingsbury Returns Home to Texas Tech
Big 12's Top Heisman Contenders for 2013

Teaser:
Texas Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/critical-games-2013-key-stretches-sec
Body:

A handful of SEC teams know all too well how much the schedule plays a role in the success or failure of a season. Even before the SEC expanded to 14 teams, the draw between East and West divisions played an outsized role in determining the league title.

In a league where the talent base runs deeper and the pressure on coaches is higher, who a team plays and when can change the course of the season.

At the top of the league, Alabama benefits from an advantageous schedule in 2013, perhaps making up for 2010 when the Tide played a handful of opponents off bye weeks. In the East, Georgia finally gets the tougher schedule draw compared to South Carolina. And for the lower tier, the SEC schedule can be too brutal to generate momentum.

In our series looking at the critical stretches for major-conference teams, we examine the games in the SEC that will determine division titles, bowl games or simply a successful season. We’ve already examined the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten.

*presented in Athlon’s SEC projected order of finish

SEC EAST

Georgia

Aug. 31 at Clemson
Sept. 7 South Carolina

Conventional wisdom says we’ll know a lot about Georgia’s season after the first two weeks, but the last time Georgia started 0-2, the Bulldogs won 10 in a row to win the East in 2011. Meanwhile, South Carolina won the last two matchups and Georgia won the East anyway thanks to some fortunate scheduling. Still, if Georgia wins both games, the Bulldogs will be BCS title contenders. Lose both, and Georgia’s out of the discussion.

Related: Georgia game-by-game picks

South Carolina
Aug. 29 North Carolina
Sept. 7 at Georgia
Sept. 14 Vanderbilt

For whatever reason, South Carolina hasn’t been as sharp early in the season in recent years as its been late. Steve Spurrier has the upper hand against Georgia (three in a row) and Vanderbilt (four in a row), but they haven’t always been easy. The Gamecocks finally got a gift from the schedule-makers by avoiding Alabama and LSU, but they won’t be able to ease into the season. Perhaps a good reason for some gamesmanship on the part of Spurrier earlier this week?

Related: South Carolina game-by-game picks

Florida
Oct. 12 at LSU
Oct. 19 at Missouri
Nov. 2 Georgia (Jacksonville)
Nov. 9 Vanderbilt
Nov. 16 at South Carolina

Florida’s toughest stretch of opponents includes only one game in Gainesville, and it’s worth noting Vanderbilt lost by only five points its last trip to the Swamp. Road trips to South Carolina and LSU, teams that allowed the third- and fourth-fewest yards per carry in the SEC, will be barriers to an SEC East title. But it’s worth keeping an eye on Missouri. Florida’s trip to Columbia, Mo., will be a rare 1,000-mile road trip for the Gators (only Arkansas is a further destination from Gainesville).

Related: Florida game-by-game picks

Vanderbilt
Oct. 19 Georgia
Oct. 26 at Texas A&M
Nov. 9 at Florida

OK, Vanderbilt, you have our attention. Win one of these games, and you’ll be impossible to ignore. The Commodores’ defense will have their hands full against Georgia’s run-pass balance, A&M’s spread and Florida’s power run game.

Tennessee
Nov. 2 Missouri
Nov. 9 Auburn
Nov. 23 Vanderbilt
Nov. 30 at Kentucky

The Volunteers face Oregon, Florida and Alabama on the road before November, plus South Carolina and Georgia in Neyland. The final month of the season, however, is when Butch Jones should have a chance to show real progress, especially against a run of four teams that aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts.

Related: Tennessee game-by-game picks

Missouri
Sept. 7 Toledo
Sept. 21 at Indiana
Sept. 28 Arkansas State
Oct. 5 at Vanderbilt

The Tigers aren’t about to compete for the SEC, but the early segment of the season against a MAC contender, a Big Ten upstart, the defending Sun Belt champions and Vanderbilt will be a key gauge of what a healthy Tigers team can do. Missouri is still settling a quarterback competition, so all eyes will be on James Franklin or Maty Mauk to hold onto the job.

Related: Missouri game-by-game picks

Kentucky
Aug. 31 Western Kentucky (Nashville)
Sept. 7 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 14 Louisville

Beat Bobby Petrino and Western Kentucky, take care of Miami U and put a scare into Louisville, and everyone should be happy in Lexington.

Related: Kentucky game-by-game picks

SEC WEST

Alabama

Aug. 31 Virginia Tech (Atlanta)
Sept. 14 at Texas A&M

What could we say about a critical stretch to determine Alabama’s schedule? Perhaps we should just say the SEC Championship Game and the BCS Championship Game instead of anything during the regular season. Alabama has an off week before its top two opponents (Texas A&M and LSU) and gets them nearly two months apart. The Crimson Tide draw Kentucky and Tennessee from the East. And the best individual player Alabama will see all season, Johnny Manziel, may be ineligible in Week 3. For Alabama, these schedule breaks just aren’t fair for the rest of the SEC.

Texas A&M
Nov. 9 Mississippi State
Nov. 23 at LSU
Nov. 30 at Missouri

The Alabama matchup on Sept. 14 is the game of the year, but Johnny Manziel’s eligibility remains a question. Instead, let’s skip to the end of the season when the Aggies would have to face two more standout defensive lines (Mississippi State, LSU) in back-to-back weeks to end the season. No one is expecting much out of Mizzou, but strange things have happened to title contenders on the road in the final week of the regular season.

Related: Texas A&M game-by-game picks

LSU
Sept. 28 at Georgia
Oct. 5 Mississippi State
Oct. 12 Florida
Oct. 19 at Ole Miss

LSU’s games against Alabama and Texas A&M in November may be more important, but they won’t mean much if LSU struggles to get out of this four-game stretch. The LSU offense has its questions, but the new-look defense will get a workout in a contrast of styles against Georgia’s balanced attack, Mississippi State’s veteran backfield, Florida’s grinding run game and Ole Miss’ spread. So if you’re keeping track: That’s four returning starters at quarterback and three road games before the Tigers even get to AJ McCarron and (maybe) Johnny Manziel.

Related: LSU game-by-game picks

Ole Miss
Aug. 29 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 7 Southeast Missouri State
Sept. 14 at Texas
Sept. 28 at Alabama
Oct. 5 at Auburn

No doubt, the start of Ole Miss’ schedule is brutal (the Rebels also catch Texas A&M and LSU in back-to-back weeks in mid-October). But out of this five-game stretch to start the season, Ole Miss wouldn’t shock anyone if it defeated Vanderbilt, Texas or Auburn. With a healthy Bo Wallace and shaky depth early in the year, maybe Ole Miss is lucky to catch these games earlier on the season.

Related: Ole Miss game-by-game picks

Mississippi State
Nov. 2 at South Carolina
Nov. 9 at Texas A&M
Nov. 16 Alabama

Mississippi State proved it wasn’t quite ready to compete with the SEC’s best last season, losing to Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU by a combined score of 103-37 in a three-week span. Here’s another crack at the national elite in November.

Auburn
Aug. 31 Washington State
Sept. 7 Arkansas State
Sept. 14 Mississippi State

Close calls at home with West Coast teams (Utah State) and Sun Belt teams (ULM) forced Gene Chizik out of town. Gus Malzahn opens with Washington State's Mike Leach and then his former employer in the first two weeks of the season. But the biggest statement may have to wait for Mississippi State: Auburn hasn’t scored in an SEC game since Oct. 27 in the third quarter against Texas A&M.

Related: Auburn game-by-game picks

Arkansas
Nov. 2 Auburn
Nov. 9 at Ole Miss
Nov. 23 Mississippi State

Arkansas draws three Athlon top-15 teams (Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama) during one stretch this season. That’s a potential four-game losing streak or more heading into November (the Hogs go to Rutgers on Sept. 21). If Arkansas is going to salvage something in Bret Bielema’s first season, the Hogs will have to do it against the second-tier of the SEC West in November.

Related: Arkansas game-by-game picks

Teaser:
Which three- and four-game stretches will determine the SEC title?
Post date: Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-link-roundup-august-14
Body:

One day closer to the start of the season.

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

College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Wednesday, August 14th

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is ready to open up the offense in 2013.

Saturday Down South takes a look at seven captivating BCS Championship possibilities. And how far do SEC fans have to travel to games in 2013? 

Mr. SEC takes a look at the recruiting base for the 14 teams in the SEC.

Alabama is dealing with an injury to receiver Amari Cooper and a suspension to linebacker Trey DePriest.

Brandon Mitchell appears to be pulling away in the race to win NC State's quarterback battle.

Bruce Feldman talks to David Ridpath - an expert on NCAA compliance issues - about Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel.

Pittsburgh has named Tom Savage as its starting quarterback for the season opener against Florida State.

Some good insight into Northwestern from the guys at the Big Ten Network.

Arizona has landed Texas transfer Cayleb Jones.

A South Florida receiver has decided to leave the team.

Western Kentucky and Vanderbilt have agreed to a three-game series.

Oregon running back Thomas Tyner was injured in practice on Tuesday. 

Penn State's tight ends are game changers for coach Bill O'Brien.

Examining Iowa's defensive line for 2013. Can the Hawkeyes improve in the trenches this year?

Miami defensive lineman Jalen Grimble has decided to leave the team.

Speaking of defensive lines, Penn State is searching for more depth in the trenches this fall.

Rutgers' running back stable appears to be building depth this fall.

Bucky's 5th Quarter found this awesome picture of Bret Bielema.

Teaser:
College Football's Link Roundup: August 14
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 15:59
Path: /college-football/washingtons-austin-seferian-jenkins-breaks-pinkie-out-indefinitely
Body:

The Washington-Boise State non-conference game in Week 1 is one of the most-anticipated games of the 2013 college football season. Unfortunately, the Huskies could be shorthanded for that contest.

Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins suffered a fracture in his right pinkie in practice on Monday. The junior will have to have surgery and his status for Week 1 is uncertain.

Not having Seferian-Jenkins in the lineup would be a huge setback for Washington’s offense. The Huskies still have quarterback Keith Price, running back Bishop Sankey and receiver Kasen Williams, but Seferian-Jenkins is the nation’s top tight end and would be a difficult matchup for Boise State’s defense. In the Las Vegas Bowl against the Broncos last year, Seferian-Jenkins caught six passes for 61 yards and one touchdown.

The season opener for Washington is a huge contest, especially since it will feature the rebuilt Husky Stadium and should give some insight into just how far this program has progressed under coach Steve Sarkisian. Needless to say, beating Boise State and getting off to a good start would relieve some of the pressure on this coaching staff.

 

Teaser:
Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins Breaks Pinkie; Out Indefinitely
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 14:58
Path: /college-football/usfs-willie-taggart-wants-everyone-get-bus
Body:

South Florida made one of the offseason’s top coaching moves, hiring Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart to replace Skip Holtz.

The Bulls’ first-year coach already had an interesting offseason, showing up to practice in a mechanic shirt to promote a blue-collar approach. But things got even better this week.

Check out this video of Taggart driving South Florida’s bus – with a few cameos by Jon Gruden, Dick Vitale and Joe Maddon.

Teaser:
USF's Willie Taggart Wants Everyone to Get on the Bus
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 11:31
Path: /nfl/buffalo-bills-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Doug Marrone, the former Syracuse head coach, is off to a banner start with the Buffalo Bills. Channeling some of that college spirit, Marrone ordered up two 20-feet-tall banners picturing the Vince Lombardi Trophy to hang behind the goal posts of the team’s field house.

For a team stuck in a perpetual rebuilding phase (13 seasons missing the playoffs) and working on its sixth coach since 2000, that’s probably as close as the Bills are going to come to the Super Bowl for awhile. But players appreciate Marrone’s attempt at an attitude adjustment.

“If you are not shooting for the Super Bowl, what are you shooting for?” center Eric Wood says. “That is a good message to have around.”

No doubt. Several regulars have been jettisoned from Chan Gailey’s roster that eked out six wins in the rugged AFC East, and a full-blown overhaul is underway. The offense must identify a starting quarterback, and the defense is starting from square one. The Bills simply remain years away from being relevant.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 14th

Related: 2013 Buffalo Bills Schedule Analysis

Offense
After turning the page on Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills made Florida State’s EJ Manuel the only quarterback taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. Taking Manuel at No. 16 — many critics said it was too high — anoints him as the team’s starting quarterback of the future. The only question is: When will that future be?

Marrone intended to hold an open competition in training camp between Manuel and veteran Kevin Kolb, who signed as a free agent after his release by Arizona. At 6'4", 237 with 4.55 speed, Manuel has eye-popping physical gifts that new coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, known for his creativity out of a West Coast philosophy, can’t wait to incorporate. Unfortunately, the rookie injured his knee in the second preseason game and had to undergo a surgical procedure on it. While the team considers this just a minor setback, Manuel will miss the remainder of the preseason, which all but guarantees that Kolb will at least begin the season as the starting quarterback.

Whether it's Kolb or Manuel under center, they will have at their disposal a supporting cast that features several game-breaking players. But there are also major holes to fill at left guard and tight end.

Fourth-year running back C.J. Spiller is coming off a breakout season in which he gained 1,244 yards on just 207 carries (6.0 average). Veteran Fred Jackson, 32, can punish defenses with his hard, downhill style, but injuries have taken a toll.

Wide receiver Stevie Johnson topped 1,000 yards receiving for a team-record third consecutive season. After ranking 25th in passing, Buffalo made upgrading speed and depth at receiver a major goal. Second-round pick Robert Woods (USC) and third-round pick Marquise Goodwin (Texas), an Olympic long jumper, join second-year deep threat T. J. Graham as players with a golden opportunity to make an impact.

Buffalo boasts a strong offensive line led by Wood at center, guard Kraig Urbik and tackles Cordy Glenn and Erik Pears. But the team must find a replacement for left guard Andy Levitre, who signed a lucrative deal with Tennessee as a free agent. The tight end position is in a state of flux with Scott Chandler coming off ACL surgery.

Defense
After fielding three of the franchise’s five worst defenses in terms of yards and points allowed (what else really matters?) under Gailey, the Bills had no choice but to turn the page on a long list of veteran players. Departing via retirement or outright release were Nick Barnett, Shawne Merriman, Terrence McGee, George Wilson and Chris Kelsay.

Newcomers include linebacker Manny Lawson (free agent, Cincinnati), defensive tackle Alan Branch (free agent, Seattle) and three rookie draft picks — linebacker Kiko Alonso and safeties Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks.

The Bills allowed 362.9 total yards per game (22nd in the league) and were especially bad against the run (145.8 ypg, 31st). Taking control is coordinator Mike Pettine, the architect of several strong defenses for the rival New York Jets. While Pettine uses a base 3-4, his schemes are varied — he’ll use up to seven defensive backs, and he’s not afraid to blitz frequently.

Buffalo’s front seven shouldn’t be the pushover it was a year ago. Defensive end Mario Williams, last year’s prized free agent who signed the richest NFL deal ever for a defensive player, finished with 10.5 very quiet sacks. He figures to be turned loose by Pettine, who will look to Pro Bowl tackle Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Branch to stop the run. Dareus had a down year dealing with the death of his brother but should be more mentally focused.

The Bills need more production from their linebackers, who accounted for just five of the team’s 36 sacks. Outside backers Lawson, Nigel Bradham, Arthur Moats and Jerry Hughes, a former first-round pick acquired in a trade with the Colts, will be counted on to create havoc. Alonso could start in the middle as a rookie.

The secondary is led by Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd and cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, who is coming off a strong rookie season, and Leodis McKelvin. Byrd, who tied for the AFC lead with five interceptions, was designated the club’s franchise player, and the team is hoping to get a long-term deal done. The strong safety spot is wide open with converted corner Aaron Williams, Da’Norris Searcy and Duke Williams in the mix.

Specialists
Placekicker Rian Lindell had his sights set this season on becoming the Bills’ all-time career scoring leader, as he needed just 32 points to pass Stevie Christie (1,011). Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that will happen, as the Bills cut the 13-year veteran during training camp. Lindell's release means the kicking job belongs to sixth-round pick Dustin Hopkins, who became the NCAA’s career points leader during his career at Florida State. Last year, Shawn Powell replaced all-time Bills punter Brian Moorman and established a team record for punting average by a rookie at 44.0 per attempt. McKelvin and Brad Smith are the top return specialists. McKelvin, who was retained for a four-year, $20-million deal, led the NFL in punt return average at 18.7 yards with two returns for scores.

Final Analysis: 4th in AFC East
After 13 seasons without playing in the postseason, it’s hard for even the most fervent fan to be optimistic that another coaching change will mean anything. Marrone does represent a fresh face and the promise of young ideas. The addition of Manuel as a potential franchise quarterback does make the team more interesting to follow. Pettine, a well-respected coordinator, will make the defense better. But in a rugged AFC East dominated by New England and with a schedule much more difficult than in 2012, it will take more than one offseason to undo all the mistakes of the last decade in Buffalo.

Order your 2013 Buffalo Bills Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

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

 

Teaser:
Buffalo Bills 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-august-14-2013
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Aug. 14.

 

• Leading off today: The 2014 Hot Shots calendar will feature girls in bikinis with guns. We endorse the concept.

 

Jason Dufner re-invents Dufnering while photobombing a woman. This guy's awesomeness is never-ending. Here he is snuggling with his trophy. Of course, if you've seen his wife, you know that he snuggles with a trophy every night.

 

Herbstreit pulls no punches in assessing the Manziel autograph situation. You won't like Herbie when he's angry.

 

If James Franklin pulls this off, he's created a Vandy fan for life.

 

Multi-pass pool dunk Vines are the new Harlem Shake. They're also extremely re-watchable.

 

The SEC's top 10 quarterbacks of the BCS era.

 

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Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 10:45
Path: /nascar/nascar-numbers-game-6-amazing-stats-michigan-international-speedway
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Let’s be clear: Joey Logano making the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase in 2013 should be considered a coup, not an expectation.

At 23 years old, Logano has underachieved in the eyes of many, but not under the watchful eye of Penske Racing, his new home at which he is blossoming this year. He’d be more firmly in Chase contention if not for the 25-point penalty incurred earlier this season, but 16th with a bullet probably also suffices for developing ahead of schedule.

The clean bill of prospect development and a crash course from an intelligent personnel base is, seemingly, what Logano needed to scrub away any thoughts of his underachievement at Joe Gibbs Racing. With four races left in the race to the Chase, Logano and his No. 22 team have emerged as fascinating outsiders to watch in an attempt to become an unexpected playoff participant.


7.6 Dating back to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and omitting two 40th-place finishes at Daytona and New Hampshire, Logano has averaged a 7.6-place finish in nine of the last 11 races.  

With those bad finishes included, Logano’s average drops to 13.5, but the bigger point is this: the No. 22 team is a dependable top-10 finisher barring the bizarre and that’s exactly where a team on the bubble for this year’s Chase needs to be. His finish deviation in that nine-race sample size is a staggeringly consistent 2.24 (the closer to zero, the better), meaning his fourth- to 11th-place finish range is about as bankable as any you will find in the series right now.

There is also some specific optimism heading into this weekend’s race.


5.5 Logano and the No. 22 team led the June race at Michigan in average running position, with a 5.5-place spot.

He finished ninth in the race, a disappointment of about 3.5 positions. Logano and team are in need of a worm-turning victory and Michigan might be the track to find it. Considering the team’s second-place finish by a hair at similar-sized Auto Club Speedway earlier this year, there is much reason to believe that the Todd Gordon-led bunch has a nifty two-mile track setup up their sleeves. Whether they can capitalize on the track that suits them best will be worth watching.

Of course, if the last two years at MIS have taught us anything, it is that the youngster will have to fend off a specific cast of characters that seem to thrive on the Brooklyn, Mich. track.


77.4% Greg Biffle scored the win at Michigan earlier this season, thanks in part to a high pass efficiency of 77.4 percent.  Greg Biffle

Far and away the best results-getting driver, statistically, on the current track surface, Biffle has dominated without dominating. He led 48 laps in June, but ranked third behind Logano and Matt Kenseth (5.6) in average running position (6.9). His win at MIS last season came after a certain week-to-week favorite encountered mechanical trouble (more on this below).

If he isn’t the outright speediest racer on Sunday, he’ll be forced to once again pull from his bag of tricks. If he’s near the front, expect that he’ll be able to leap frog a few competitors.


5 In June’s race at MIS, there were five drivers — Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne — who led at least seven percent of the race and failed to finish inside the top half of the field.

Some heavy hitters dropped like flies on what seemed poised to be a good afternoon of points-padding racing. Maladies aside, the poor finishes affect the track-specific production ratings now, but doesn’t mean the aforementioned drivers aren’t speedy in the Irish Hills.


14.5, 9.9 and 9.2 The average running positions for Jimmie Johnson in three races on the current Michigan track surface were 14.5, 9.9 and 9.2.

Haters of the five-time champ shouldn’t rest easy because his base result record on the new iteration of MIS isn’t easy on the eye. His 20th-place average finish over this time frame is misleading, to say the least. He finished 27th and 28th in the last two races, the former due to an engine failure while contending for the win in the race’s final laps.


4.333 Marcos Ambrose’s three-race Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) at Michigan is a 4.333, the third-best rating among 44 Cup Series drivers.

In last week’s “Numbers Game,” I wrote about the no-win situation Ambrose would inevitably face at Watkins Glen. Could Michigan provide a shot at redemption? Last year, he sat on the pole and finished ninth in the spring race and scored a top 5 in the summer event. This year, in the Gen-6 car, he started and finished 23rd in a Ford that lacked the necessary speed (it ranked 27th in average green-flag speed) to work wonders at the two-mile track. Could last year’s notes finally have been translated to this year’s No. 9 car?


For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to my glossary of terms on MotorsportsAnalytics.com.

David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projections, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidSmithMA.

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
David Smith crunches the numbers to reveal some revealing NASCAR stats for the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 10:19

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