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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Very Early 2012 Big 12 Predictions

1. Oklahoma

Key Returnees: QB Landry Jones, RB Roy Finch, FB Trey Millard, RB Dominique Whaley, WR Kenny Stills, LG Gabe Ikard, RG Tyler Evans, LB Corey Nelson, LB Tom Wort, CB Demontre Hurst, S/LB Tony Jefferson, K Michael Hunnicutt

Key Losses: WR Ryan Broyles, LT Donald Stephenson, DE Frank Alexander, DE Ronnell Lewis, LB Travis Lewis, CB Jamell Fleming

The Sooners began 2011 as one of the favorites to win the national title, but closed with losses in two out of their final four games and instead of playing in a BCS bowl, they finished with a trip to the Insight Bowl against Iowa. Although Oklahoma was a disappointment last season, this team still looks like the favorite to win the Big 12 in 2012.

When receiver Ryan Broyles went down with a season-ending knee injury against Texas A&M, Oklahoma’s offense and quarterback Landry Jones was never the same. Jones threw only one touchdown pass in his final four games, while tossing six interceptions. With more time to prepare for life without Broyles, the Sooners should have more answers on offense. Kenny Stills will become the go-to target after catching 61 passes for 849 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. However, the Sooners need more production from Jaz Reynolds, Kameel Jackson and Trey Franks next year. Trey Metoyer did not qualify as a freshman last year, but is a name to watch in the receiving corps. The offense will benefit from a full year from running back Dominique Whaley, along with four starters returning on one of the top offensive lines in college football.

Oklahoma led the Big 12 in scoring defense, but had its share of struggles last year. Coach Bob Stoops hopes he can rectify some of the question marks in the secondaryby adding his brother Mike Stoops from Arizona to the defensive staff. In addition to shoring up some of the issues from the defensive backfield, the Sooners have to replace ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis, who combined for 14 sacks in 2011. Although the linebacker corps will miss Travis Lewis’ leadership, Corey Nelson and Tom Wort should both challenge for All-Big 12 honors in 2012.  

2. Texas

Key Returnees: QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Jaxon Shipley, RG Mason Walters, DE Alex Okafor, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, LB Jordan Hicks, CB Carrington Byndom, CB Quandre Diggs, DB Kenny Vaccaro

Key Losses: RB/RS Fozzy Whittaker, LG David Snow, DT Kheeston Randall, LB Keenan Robinson, LB Emmanuel Acho, S Blake Gideon

Are the Longhorns back? There’s enough talent to contend for the Big 12 title, but whether or not it is ready to win the conference crown is uncertain. After finishing 5-7 in 2010, Texas made steady improvement to finish 8-5 with a Holiday Bowl win over California in 2011. While the Longhorns have a ways to go, there’s enough talent to expect another one or two victory jump next season.

David Ash wrestled control of the starting quarterback spot away from Case McCoy in the Holiday Bowl, but needs to continue to improve for the Longhorns to challenge Oklahoma for the conference title. Even with better quarterback play, the offense will continue to lean on the rushing attack. Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and incoming freshman Johnathan Gray will form one of top running back trios in the Big 12 next season. The offensive line must replace only one starter, with guard Mason Walters - honorable mention All-Big 12 lineman in 2011 - anchoring the group.

In Manny Diaz’s first season as the coordinator, Texas finished No. 1 in the Big 12 in rushing, total and pass defense. And this group could be even better in 2012, especially with Jackson Jeffcoat, Jordan Hicks, Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom going through another offseason. Replacing linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho will be the biggest question mark for this unit.

3. West Virginia

Key Returnees: QB Geno Smith, RB Dustin Garrison, WR Tavon Austin, WR Stedman Bailey, C Joe Madsen, NT Jorge Wright, LB Jewone Snow, CB Pat Miller, S Terence Garvin, S Darwin Cook

Key Losses: LT Don Barclay, DE Bruce Irvin, DT Julian Miller, LB Najee Goode, CB Keith Tandy, S Eain Smith

Where will the Mountaineers play next season? That’s the big question surrounding the Big East and Big 12 early 2012 predictions. With West Virginia’s 2012 conference home up in the air, Athlon will include the team in both articles (Big 12 and Big East) until the court case is sorted out.

If the Mountaineers are in the Big East, they will be the preseason favorite once again. Quarterback Geno Smith and one of the nation’s top receiving corps will anchor a high-scoring offense. The biggest question mark facing West Virginia’s offense next year will be the offensive line, which loses tackle Don Barclay and struggled to open up rushing lanes in 2011.

West Virginia’s defense was dealt a huge blow when defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel decided to join Rich Rodriguez at Arizona. Casteel was one of the nation’s most underrated defensive minds and will be missed next year in Morgantown. Replacing defensive linemen Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller will be the top priority for coach Dana Holgorsen and the new defensive coordinator, but overall, this unit should suffer much of a drop-off next season.

4.  TCU

Key Returnees: QB Casey Pachall, RB Ed Wesley, RB Matthew Tucker, RB Waymon James, WR Josh Boyce, WR Skye Dawson, RG Blaize Foltz, DE Stansly Maponga, DT D.J. Yendrey, LB Tanner Brock, LB Kenny Cain, CB Jason Verrett

Key Losses: LT Jeff Olson, OG Kyle Dooley, LB Tank Carder, CB/KR Greg McCoy, S Tekerrein Cuba, S Johnny Fobbs, K Ross Evans

The Horned Frogs could be a rude newcomer to the Big 12 party next season. Despite having only six returning starters in 2011, TCU finished 11-2 and won the Mountain West title in its final year in the conference. Moving to the Big 12 is definitely a step up in competition, but TCU is more than ready for the challenge, and could be a surprise contender for the conference crown next year.

Quarterback Casey Pachall was terrific in his first year as the starter, finishing with 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns to only seven picks. Pachall has plenty of weapons to choose from in the passing game, and Josh Boyce or Skye Dawson could contend for All-Big 12 honors next year. Running backs Ed Wesley, Waymon James and Matthew Tucker combined for 2,303 yards in 2011 and all three will return in 2012. Losing Jeff Olson and Kyle Dooley on the left side of the offensive line is a setback, but center James Fry and guard Blaize Foltz is a good duo to build around.

Defense is coach Gary Patterson’s specialty and this unit should be stout in 2012. End Stansly Maponga recorded 8.5 sacks in 2011 and will be one of the Big 12’s top pass rushers next season. Linebacker Tank Carder will be tough to replace, but the defense gets a boost from the return of Tanner Brock, who missed nearly all of 2011 due to injury. The secondary is the biggest question mark on this unit, as three starters need to be replaced after finishing 60th nationally against the pass. 

5. Kansas State

Key Returnees: QB Collin Klein, RB John Hubert, WR Chris Harper, WR Tyler Lockett, C B.J. Finney, DE Meshak Williams, LB Arthur Brown, LB Tre Walker, CB Nigel Malone, S Ty Zimmerman

Key Losses: LT Zach Hanson, RG Colten Freeze, RT Clyde Aufner, DE Jordan Voelker, NT Ray Kibble, LB Emmanuel Lamur, CB David Garrett, S Tysyn Hartman

The Wildcats were one of college football’s biggest surprises in 2011. After being picked near the bottom of the conference in the preseason, Kansas State finished with a 10-3 record and second place in the Big 12 standings. The Wildcats won’t sneak up on anyone next season, but there’s a lot to like about this team in 2012.

Quarterback Collin Klein carried the offense, averaging 235 total yards per game, while reaching the endzone 40 times. The senior will be one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12 next season, but the rest of the offense needs to step up around him. Running back John Hubert returns after rushing for 970 yards and three scores in 2011, while the receiving corps should be a strength with the return of Chris Harper, Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson. The offensive line was one of the best in the conference in 2011, but must replace three starters, including All-Big 12 selections in Clyde Aufner and Zach Hanson.

The defense was a major question mark going into this year, but the Wildcats showed progress on this side of the ball, finishing 72nd in total defense and 68th in points allowed. Miami transfer Arthur Brown earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors after leading the team with 101 tackles and picking up two sacks and one interception. Brown will anchor the defense next season, while end Meshak Williams is back after leading the team with seven sacks. Replacing nose tackle Ray Kibble and cornerback David Garrett will be the top priority for the defensive staff in spring practice.

6. Oklahoma State

Key Returnees: RB Joseph Randle, WR Tracy Moore, WR Josh Stewart, RG Lane Taylor, DT Nigel Nicholas, LB Alex Elkins, LB Shaun Lewis, LB Caleb Lavey, CB Brodrick Brown, K/P Quinn Sharp

Key Losses: QB Brandon Weeden, WR Justin Blackmon, WR Hubert Anyiam, WR Josh Cooper, LT Levy Adcock, LG Nick Martinez, C Grant Garner, DE Jamie Blatnick, DE Richetti Jones, LB James Thomas, S Markelle Martin

With quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon departing, it’s hard to see the Cowboys replicating the 2011 win total (11) and Fiesta Bowl victory over Stanford. However, Oklahoma State isn’t going to completely fall off the map, as it should be a contender for a spot in many preseason top 25 lists.

The battle to replace Weeden is wide open, with Clint Chelf expected to have the inside track. However J.W. Walsh and incoming freshman Wes Lunt will have a shot to unseat Chelf in spring practice. With Blackmon and Cooper departing in the receiving corps, the Cowboys will need Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore to become the go-to threats in the passing game. Running backs Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith should get more work in 2012, but the offensive line must replace three starters, including All-American tackle Levy Adcock.

The Cowboys gave up a lot of yards on defense (456.8 per game), but made up for that by forcing 44 turnovers. Coordinator Bill Young will have some key holes to fill in the preseason, especially on the line where Oklahoma State must replace ends Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones. The duo combined for 12 sacks in 2011. The linebacking corps will be a strength with Alex Elkins, Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis returning. The Cowboys ranked 107th nationally in pass defense, but allowed only 15 touchdowns and picked off 24 passes. The secondary will miss safety Markelle Martin's punishing hits, but three starters return to this group in 2012.  

7. Texas Tech

Key Returnees: QB Seth Doege, RB Eric Stephens, WR Alex Torres, WR Darrin Moore, WR Eric Ward, LT LaAdrian Waddle, DT Kerry Hyder, LB Daniel Cobb, S Terrance Bullitt, S Cody Davis, S D.J. Johnson

Key Losses: WR Tramain Swindall, LG Lonnie Edwards, C Justin Keown, DE Scott Smith

After an 8-5 season and a top 25 recruiting class, all signs pointed to another big year for the Red Raiders in 2011. Not so fast. After pulling one of the top upsets of the season against Oklahoma, Texas Tech lost its final five games to finish with its first losing season (5-7) since 1992.

There’s a lot to like about the Red Raiders in 2012, starting with an offense that averaged 33.8 points a game in 2011. Quarterback Seth Doege threw for 4,004 yards and 28 scores this season and should be better with another offseason of work under his belt. The receiving corps is solid and will benefit from a full season from Darrin Moore. Running back Eric Stephens suffered a season-ending knee injury in early October and still finished as the team’s leading rusher. Assuming Stephens returns to full strength, it will be a significant boost to an offense that ranked as the worst rushing team in the Big 12.

While the offense has never been a question in Lubbock for the last decade, the defense always seems to be struggling to find the right answers. The Red Raiders didn't have many positives on defense last season, ranking last in the Big 12 in rush defense and ninth in scoring defense in 2011. Chad Glasgow was canned as the team’s coordinator after one season, allowing coach Tommy Tuberville to bring aboard Art Kaufman – an old friend from his days at Ole Miss – as the Red Raiders’ new defensive coordinator. The good news for Texas Tech? Nearly everyone is back on defense. The bad news? The defense was awful last year and may not be much better in 2012.  

8. Baylor

Key Returnees: RB Jarred Salubi, WR Terrance Williams, WR Tevin Reese, LT Cyril Richardson, LG Cameron Kaufhold, DE Tevin Elliott, LB Rodney Chadwick, LB/NB Ahmad Dixon, CB K.J. Morton, S Mike Hicks, S Sam Holl

Key Losses: QB Robert Griffin, RB Terrance Ganaway, WR Kendall Wright, C Philip Blake, RG Robert T. Griffin, NT Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, LB Elliot Coffey

Without quarterback Robert Griffin and running back Terrance Ganaway gone, there’s no question Baylor is going to take a step back next season. However, these Bears aren’t going to slip back to being a doormat in the Big 12. Coach Art Briles has recruited well, and the Bears landed a key transfer in running back Lache Seastrunk that will be able to contribute next season.

All eyes will be on the quarterback battle in the spring, with the likely frontrunner being Nick Florence. The senior isn’t short on experience, starting seven games in 2009 when Griffin was sidelined with a knee injury, but does not add much to the offense as a runner. Florence is expected to be pushed for playing time by Bryce Petty. Losing receiver Kendall Wright is a big blow for the passing game, but Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese and Lanear Sampson combined to catch 152 passes in 2011. Cyril Richardson, Cameron Kaufhold and Ivory Wade return to form a solid trio to build on the offensive line.

With the offense expected to take a step back in 2012, the defense needs to show progress. Coordinator Phil Bennett had a rough first season at Baylor, with the Bears finishing 116th nationally in total defense. Although the Bears took their lumps on this side of the ball, eight starters are back in 2012, including linebacker/defensive back Ahmad Dixon and safety Sam Holl. 

9. Iowa State

Key Returnees: QB Jared Barnett, QB Steele Jantz, RB James White, WR Josh Lenz, DT Jake McDonough, LB A.J. Klein, LB Jake Knott, CB Jeremy Reeves, FS Jacques Washington

Key Losses: LT Kelechi Osemele, RG Hayworth Hicks, DE Jake Lattimer, DE Patrick Neal, LB Matt Tau’fo’ou, CB Leonard Johnson, SS Ter’Ran Benton

No matter where you slot the Cyclones in the preseason picks, it always seems like you need to move them up a spot or two because of coach Paul Rhoads. In three years in Ames, Iowa State has recorded an 18-20 record with two bowl experiences. The Big 12 isn’t getting any easier, but the Cyclones will be a threat once again to finish with six or seven wins, along with making another bowl trip.

Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett both received playing time at quarterback for Iowa State in 2011 and will battle for the starting spot in the spring. Both players had their moments, but neither separated themselves as the clear No. 1 passer. Improved quarterback play could be the difference between a 5-7 or 7-5 season in 2012. Running back James White rushed for 743 yards and eight touchdowns, while garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in 2011. Darius Reynolds departs after leading the team with 43 receptions, but Josh Lenz, Aaron Horne and Albert Gary all caught over 20 passes this season. Left tackle Kelechi Osemele was one of the nation’s most underrated linemen the last few seasons and will be missed.

The Cyclones ranked sixth in the Big 12 in total defense and third in pass defense, and this unit figures to be solid in 2012. Jake Knott and A.J. Klein form one of the top linebacker combinations in the nation, while Jeremy Reeves and Jacques Washington are a good starting point to build in the secondary. The defensive line loses three starters, and coordinator Wally Burnham must find a replacement for cornerback Leonard Johnson.

10. Kansas

Key Returnees: RB James Sims, WR D.J. Beshears, WR JaCorey Shepherd, RG Duane Zlatnik, RT Tanner Hawkinson, DE/LB Toben Opurum, LB Darius Willis, LB Tunde Bakare, SS Bradley McDougald

Key Losses: RB Darrian Miller, TE Tim Biere, OG Jeremiah Hatch, LT Jeff Spikes, LB Steven Johnson, CB Isiah Barfield, S Keeston Terry

Turner Gill brought a lot of hope to Kansas after turning around Buffalo, but he was fired after compiling a 5-19 record in just two seasons. The Jayhawks raised plenty of eyebrows around the nation with their hire of former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis was hired as Gill's replacement. Weis is a solid offensive mind, but compiled a 35-27 record in five seasons at Notre Dame, with 19 of those victories coming in the first two years.

Weis’ offensive insight will be put to the test immediately. The Jayhawks ranked last in the Big 12 in scoring and total offense and managed just 167.4 yards per game through the air. One of Weis’ biggest recruits this year was landing Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist, who is eligible to play immediately. Crist is an upgrade over former starting quarterback Jordan Webb, but won’t be enough to turn Kansas into a Big 12 title contender. The rushing attack was a bright spot last season and James Sims is back after rushing for 727 yards and nine scores.

Struggling to move the ball through the air wasn’t Kansas’ biggest issue last season. The defense was historically bad, finishing 120th (last) nationally in scoring and total defense, while ranking 117th against the run. Weis hired longtime NFL assistant Dave Campo to coordinate his defense, but he hasn’t coached in college since 1988. The Jayhawks do have some nice pieces returning on defense, including end/linebacker Toben Opurum, safety Bradley McDougald and linebacker Darius Willis.

Related 2012 Content:

2012 Very Early Big East Predictions

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates
Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

Athlon Roundtable: Who are the BCS National Title Contenders in 2012?

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon continues its countdown to spring practice with a look at the very early Big 12 predictions for 2012.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - 07:52
Path: /nfl/nfl-playoffs-giants-49ers-ravens-and-patriots-advance
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By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)

It seems like a very counterintuitive question on the surface: Do you want a bye week in the NFL Playoffs? Logically, of course you do. Being a No. 1 or 2 seed means having a top record, one less game to play to advance to the Super Bowl and getting to start the playoffs at home. In fact, the home team won the first seven games of this postseason. Then there was the eighth game, where the suddenly-hot New York Giants went into Lambeau Field and beat up the top-seeded, yet lethargic, 15-1 Packers. The G-Men look like they could continue a trend in professional sports where getting hot late supersedes a top finish in the regular season.

A statistical look at who plays for the title in recent years shows that home field or bye weeks seem less important than arriving to the postseason playing well. In five of the last six Super Bowls, at least one participant played during the wild card round of the playoffs. Four of the last six champions — the ’05 Steelers, ’06 Colts, ’07 Giants and ’10 Packers — had to win four games to take the title, and three of those were wild cards. Over that six-year span, the 2009 Super Bowl between the Saints and Colts was the increasingly rare occurrence where two No. 1 seeds meet.

The same trend has happened across the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball. Over the last 15 World Series, 10 of the 30 participants have been wild card teams with five (’97 Marlins, ’02 Angels, ’03 Marlins, ’04 Red Sox and ’11 Cardinals) winning the crown. There have been four No. 1 seeds make the NBA Finals in the last eight years (16 teams), with three — the ’08 Celtics and the ’09 &’10 Lakers — hanging the championship banner. In the NHL, two No. 1 seeds have made the Stanley Cup Finals over the last six seasons with only the ’08 Red Wings winning it all.

Despite recent results, there is no way that you do not want your team to draw a top position in the postseason. Are professional clubs supposed to turn it off in the middle of the season and try to rally late? Of course not. Tom Brady and the top-seeded Patriots won their first postseason game since the 2007 season with the benefit of drawing a glorified scrimmage against Tim Tebow and the Broncos. The Ravens have not lost at home this season, and they needed all the good fortune in Baltimore to escape against the Texans. However John Harbaugh’s club went 4-4 in road games this year, with all four losses to non-playoff teams. Consequently, the home-field advantage should send New England to another Super Bowl.

The 49ers definitely scored a major victory by winning the regular-season tiebreaker over the Saints and drawing the No. 2 seed. It’s hard to see Jim Harbaugh’s club pulling out the same dramatic win in New Orleans that it did at home. While New York is a very dangerous team, San Francisco stands a much better chance with the Candlestick crowd than it would on the east coast.

Will Eli Manning and the G-men continue the positive postseason trend for lower seeds? It’s highly possible with their current momentum, but I’ll still take the home field any year.
 

Teaser:
<p> The Giants, 49ers, Ravens and Patriots advance in the NFL Playoffs.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - 06:13
Path: /college-football/ranking-bcs-national-champions
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-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter) and Mark Ross

The BCS just finished its 14th season of action, and has for the most part, been a major improvement on the previous bowl system. How do each of the 14 official champions stack-up against each other? Who has the most talent? Who had the best resume? Who played the toughest schedule? And who performed the best on the biggest stage?

Athlon Sports has ranked the 14 BCS National Champions — and there is a decided Sun Belt feel to the list. Just not at the very top. That distinction belongs to the Big East, Big 12 and Pac-12.

1. Miami Hurricanes, 2001 (12-0, 7-0)
Head Coach: Larry Coker
Championships: Big East, Rose Bowl, National
Key Stats: No. 3 in nation in scoring offense (42.7 ppg), no. 1 in scoring defense (9.8 ppg); average margin of victory 33.2 points per game
Award Winners: Larry Coker (Paul “Bear” Bryant Award), Ken Dorsey (co-Big East Offensive Player of the Year, Maxwell Award, Rose Bowl co-MVP), Andre Johnson (Rose Bowl co-MVP), Bryant McKinnie (Outland Trophy), Ed Reed (co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (17): Phillip Buchanon (1st, 2002), Vernon Carey (1st, 2004), Andre Johnson (1st, 2003), William Joseph (1st, 2003), Jerome McDougle (1st, 2003), Willis McGahee (1st, 2003), Bryant McKinnie (1st, 2002), Ed Reed (1st, 2002), Antrel Rolle (1st, 2005), Mike Rumph (1st, 2002), Jeremy Shockey (1st, 2002), Sean Taylor (1st, 2004), Jonathan Vilma (1st, 2004), Vince Wilfork (1st, 2004), D.J. Williams (1st, 2004), Kellen Winslow (1st, 2004), Clinton Portis (2nd, 2002)

Simply put, this team was loaded and is viewed by many as one of the best ever in college football history. With a roster featuring six first-team All-Americans and 13 first-team All-Big East selections, not to mention 32 future NFL draft picks, these Hurricanes dominated on both sides of the ball and steamrolled their competition from start to finish. They started things off by going to Happy Valley and dominating Penn State 33-7, which tied the record for the Nittany Lions’ worst home loss under Joe Paterno. Later on, the ‘Canes defeated No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington in consecutive weeks at the Orange Bowl with a combined score of 124-7, which set the NCAA record for largest margin of victory over consecutive ranked opponents. They capped things off by dismantling the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14 in the Rose Bowl, in a game where they held a 34-0 lead in the first half.

2001 Schedule:

Sept. 1: Miami (Fla.) 33, Penn State 7 (State College, PA)
Sept. 8: Miami (Fla.) 61, Rutgers 0 (Miami, FL)
Sept. 27: Miami (Fla.) 43, Pittsburgh 21 (Pittsburgh, PA)
Oct. 6: Miami (Fla.) 38, Troy 7 (Miami, FL)
Oct. 13: Miami (Fla.) 49, (#14) Florida State 27 (Tallahassee, FL)
Oct. 25: Miami (Fla.) 45, West Virginia 3 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 3: Miami (Fla.) 38, Temple 0 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 10: Miami (Fla.) 18, Boston College 7 (Chestnut Hill, MA)
Nov. 17: Miami (Fla.) 59, (#14) Syracuse 0 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 24: Miami (Fla.) 65, (#12) Washington 7 (Miami, FL)
Dec. 1: Miami (Fla.) 26, (#14) Virginia Tech 24 (Blacksburg, VA)
Jan. 3: Miami (Fla.) 37, (#4) Nebraska 14 (Rose Bowl)

2. USC Trojans, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-12, Orange Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense (79.4 ypg) and turnover margin (+1.46), led the Pac-10 in scoring (38.2 ppg) and finished No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (13.0 ppg), USC did not rank below third in the Pac-10 in any of the 14 tracked team stats.
Award Winners: Matt Leinart (Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp, Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Reggie Bush (Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Shaun Cody (Pac-10 Co-Def. Player of the Year),
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Lofa Tatupu (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2008), Keith Rivers (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2008), Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009)

The best team in the Pac-10 since the BCS began might have been the best team in any league during the BCS era. After a split national title in 2003 with LSU, the Trojans entered 2004 as the No. 1 team in the nation. An opening weekend win over ACC champ Virginia Tech in Landover started what would become a magical ride to a BCS National Championship. The Trojans went wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the nation, claimed the Heisman Trophy and put together the most impressive national championship game in the brief history of the BCS. Quarterback Matt Leinart, in his second year under center and armed with an NFL roster full of skill players, led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency (156.54) and finished with 3,322 yards and 36 total touchdowns (against only six interceptions). He capped his Heisman campaign with 332 yards and a BCS bowl record five touchdown passes in the destruction of unbeaten No. 2 Oklahoma. The two-headed rushing attack of LenDale White (1,108 yards, 15 TDs) and Reggie Bush (1,416 yards from scrimmage, 15 TDs) made it virtually impossible for anyone to stop the 2004 Trojans. Eighteen different Trojans from the 2004 BCS National Championship team were selected in the first or second rounds of the NFL Draft. This team had the stats, the resume, the undefeated title season, the NFL talent, a superstar coach and is the best Pac-10 team of the BCS era because of it.

2004 Schedule:

Aug. 28: USC 24, Virginia Tech 13 (Landover, MD)
Sept. 11: USC 49, Colorado State 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 18: USC 42, BYU 10 (Provo, UT)
Sept. 25: USC 31, Stanford 28 (Palo Alto, CA)
Oct: 9: USC 23, (#7) Cal 17 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 16: USC 45, (#15) Arizona State 7 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 23: USC 38, Washington 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 30: USC 42, Washington State 12 (Pullman, WA)
Nov. 6: USC 28, Oregon State 20 (Corvallis, OR)
Nov. 13: USC 49, Arizona 9 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 27: USC 41, Notre Dame 10 (Los Angeles, CA)
Dec. 4: USC 29, UCLA 24 (Pasadena, CA)
Jan. 4: USC 55, Oklahoma 19 (Miami Gardens, FL, Orange Bowl, BCS NCG)

3. Texas Longhorns, 2005 (13-0, 8-0*)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Big 12 South, Big 12, Rose Bowl, National
Key Stats: School record 50.2 points per game, school single-season record for total yards (6,657), touchdowns (55), total yards per game (512.1) and yards per rushing attempt (5.9), Vince Young no. 6 in total offense (314.3 ypg) and no. 3 in passing efficiency
Award Winners: Mack Brown (Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, Big 12 Coach of the Year), Michael Huff (Jim Thorpe Award, Rose Bowl Defensive MVP), Vince Young (Big 12 Male Athlete of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Award, Manning Award, Maxwell Award, Rose Bowl Offensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (9): Michael Griffin (1st, 2007), Michael Huff (1st, 2006), Brian Orakpo (1st, 2009), Aaron Ross (1st, 2007), Vince Young (1st, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Tim Crowder (2nd, 2007), Cedric Griffin (2nd, 2006), Limas Sweed (2nd, 2008)

Texas entered the season ranked No. 2 behind defending national champion USC, and that’s where the two found themselves when they met in the Rose Bowl in January 2006. To get to Pasadena, Texas steamrolled the competition, averaging more than 50 points a game and scoring 60 or more four times. In the second week of the season, Texas became the first non-conference opponent in 15 years to defeat Ohio State at home, and followed that win up about a month later by dominating Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry. The Longhorns destroyed Colorado 70-3 in the Big 12 Championship to set up the showdown with No. 1 USC. The Rose Bowl title tilt lived up to every bit of its billing as Vince Young put on the most impressive performance in BCS National Championship history, accounting for 84 percent of Texas’ total offense (467 out of 556) yards, and scored the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left to capture the Longhorns’ fourth national championship in thrilling fashion. Young was one of four consensus All-Americans on this Longhorns team, which also produced a total of 24 NFL Draft picks.

2005 Schedule:

Sept. 3: Texas 60, Louisiana-Lafayette 3 (Austin, TX)
Sept. 10: Texas 25, (#4) Ohio State 22 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 17: Texas 51, Rice 10 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 1: Texas 51, Missouri 20 (Columbia, MO)
Oct. 8: Texas 45, Oklahoma 12 (Dallas, TX)
Oct. 15: Texas 42, (#24) Colorado 17 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 22: Texas 52, (#10) Texas Tech 17 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 29: Texas 47, Oklahoma State 28 (Stillwater, OK)
Nov. 5: Texas 62, Baylor 0 (Waco, TX)
Nov. 12: Texas 66, Kansas 14 (Austin, TX)
Nov. 25: Texas 40, Texas A&M 29 (College Station, TX)
Dec. 3: Texas 70, Colorado 3 (Big 12 Championship — Houston, TX)
Jan. 4: Texas 41, (#1) USC 38 (Rose Bowl, National Championship)

4. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 (14-0, 8-0*)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Finished second in the nation in total (244.1 ypg), rushing (78.1 ypg) and scoring defense (11.7 ppg).
Award Winners: Mark Ingram (Heisman Trophy), Rolando McClain (Butkus, SEC Def. Player of the Year), Javier Arenas (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Javier Arenas (2nd, 2010), Terrence Cody (2nd, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011)

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

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

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

2009 Schedule:

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

5. Oklahoma Sooners, 2000 (13-0, 8-0*)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Championships: Big 12 South, Big 12, Orange Bowl, National
Key Stats: No. 7 in nation in both scoring offense (39 ppg) and scoring defense (16 ppg), no. 8 in total defense (278.9 ypg), no. 9 in pass defense (170.5 ypg) and no. 2 in pass efficiency defense, Josh Heupel no. 6 in nation in total offense (294.7 ypg)
Award Winners: Josh Heupel (AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Walter Camp Award), Bob Stoops (AP National Coach of the Year, Big 12 Coach of the Year, Eddie Robinson/FWAA Coach of the Year, Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, Walter Camp National Coach of the Year, Woody Hayes National Coach of the Year), J.T. Thatcher (Mosi Tatupu Award — national Special Teams Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (3): Roy Williams (1st, 2002), Andre Woolfolk (1st, 2003), Teddy Lehman (2nd, 2004)

This Sooners team entered the season ranked No. 19 in the country, but fueled by an impressive three-game stretch in October, it ended the season ranked considerably higher. Behind quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up Josh Heupel and a stingy defense, the Sooners started October by destroying No. 11 Texas in the Red River Rivalry and then out-scored No. 2 Kansas State on the road and two weeks later dominated No. 3 Nebraska at home to vault to the top of the rankings. The Sooners would defeat Kansas State a second time in the Big 12 Championship to set up a showdown with No. 3 Florida State (No. 2 in the BCS standings) in the Orange Bowl. Even though they were playing in their home state, the Seminoles’ potent offense, led by quarterback and Heisman winner Chris Weinke, was held in check and scoreless by the Sooners defense in the lowest scoring Orange Bowl in 30 years. Fittingly enough, linebacker Torrance Marshall, who had six tackles and an interception (which ranks as the no. 4 Greatest BCS National Championship Performance), took home MVP honors as Oklahoma defeated Florida State 13-2 to capture its seventh national championship and first since 1985.

2000 Schedule:

Sept. 2: Oklahoma 55, UTEP 14 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 9: Oklahoma 45, Arkansas State 7 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 23: Oklahoma 42, Rice 17 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 30: Oklahoma 34, Kansas 16 (Norman, OK)
Oct. 7: Oklahoma 63, (#11) Texas 14 (Dallas, TX)
Oct. 14: Oklahoma 41, (#2) Kansas State 31 (Manhattan, KS)
Oct. 28: Oklahoma 31, (#3) Nebraska 14 (Norman, OK)
Nov. 4: Oklahoma 56, Baylor 7 (Waco, TX)
Nov. 11: Oklahoma 35, (#23) Texas A&M 31 (College Station, TX)
Nov. 18: Oklahoma 27, Texas Tech 13 (Norman, OK)
Nov. 25: Oklahoma 12, Oklahoma State 7 (Stillwater, OK)
Dec. 2: Oklahoma 27, (#8) Kansas State 24 (Big 12 Championship – Kansas City, MO)
Jan. 3: Oklahoma 13, (#3) Florida State 2 (Orange Bowl, National Championship)

6. Florida Gators, 2008 (13-1, 7-1*)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Led the SEC in rushing (231.1 ypg), total offense (445.1 ypg), scoring (43.6 ppg), pass efficiency defense (96.76), scoring defense (12.9 ppg), punting (38.1 ypp), turnover margin (+1.57) and passing efficiency (170.6). Percy Harvin led the SEC in scoring at 10.2 ppg.
Award Winners: Tim Tebow (Maxwell, SEC Off. Player of the Year), Brandon James (SEC Special Teamer of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)

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

2008 Schedule:

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

7. Florida State Seminoles, 1999 (12-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Championships: ACC, Sugar Bowl, National
Key Stats: Janikowski led NCAA in FGM/Game (23 FGM), Led the ACC in passing 302.9 ypg and fourth in the nation in scoring at 37.5 ppg. Led the ACC in total defense (302.6 ypg).
Award Winners: Sebastian Janikowski (Lou Groza), Peter Warrick (Sugar Bowl MVP)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Peter Warrick (1st, 2000), Corey Simon (1st, 2000), Sebastian Janikowski (1st, 2000), Jamal Reynolds (1st, 2001), Derrick Gibson (1st, 2001), Tommy Polley (2nd, 2001), Anquan Boldin (2nd, 2003)

The best team of the BCS era in the ACC claimed nine first-team All-ACC performers (AP) and six second-team selections. Florida State became the first team in history to go wire-to-wire as No. 1 team in all three polls after beating five ranked opponents. It was the second-highest scoring Noles team of the BCS era and No. 7 highest-scoring team in FSU history. Chris Weinke and Peter Warrick outlasted Michael Vick and the Hokies in the memorable 1999 championship game. Warrick, after surviving some off-the-field incidents, claimed MVP honors after catching six passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns and returning a punt for a score. His 220 all-purpose yards are fourth all-time in a title game and his 20 points (3 TDs, 2-pt) are a BCS title game record. (It was the No. 11 BCS title game performance.) The win gave Bobby Bowden his second national championship.

1999 Schedule:

Aug. 28: Florida State 41, Louisiana Tech 7 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 11: Florida State 41, (#10) Georiga Tech 35 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 18: Florida State 42, (#20) NC State 11 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 25: Florida State 42, North Carolina 10 (Chapel Hill, NC)
Oct. 2: Florida State 51, Duke 23 (Jacksonville, FL)
Oct. 9: Florida State 31, (#19) Miami 21 (Tallahasse, FL)
Oct. 16: Florida State 33, Wake Forest 10 (Tallahassee, FL)
Oct. 23: Florida State 17, Clemson 10 (Clemson, SC)
Oct. 30: Florida State 35, Virginia 10 (Charlottesville, VA)
Nov. 13: Florida State 49, Maryland 10 (Tallahassee, FL)
Nov. 20: Florida State 30, (#4) Florida 20 (Gainesville, FL)
Jan. 4: Florida State 46, (#2) Virginia Tech 29 (Sugar Bowl)

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


8. Tennessee Volunteers, 1998 (13-0, 8-0*)
Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer
Championships: SEC, Fiesta Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: This team put 11 players into the first or second round of the NFL Draft; Peerless Price is second all-time in BCS bowls with 242 all-purpose yards in the Fiesta Bowl, his 49.8 yards per catch is a BCS title game record.
Award Winners: Phillip Fulmer (AP National Coach of the Year), Peerless Price (Fiesta Bowl MVP), David Cutcliffe (Broyles)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Al Wilson (1st, 1999), Peerless Price (2nd, 1999), Jamal Lewis (1st, 2000), Shaun Ellis (1st, 2000), Raynoch Thompson (2nd, 2000), Chad Clifton (2nd, 2000), Dwayne Goodrich (2nd, 2000), Casey Coleman (2nd, 2000), Deon Grant (2nd, 2000), Travis Henry (2nd, 2001), John Henderson (1st, 2002)

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

1998 Schedule:

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

9. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2011 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: National Championship
Key Stats: Set a BCS era record with 8.2 points allowed per game, led the nation in total defense (183.6 ypg), rushing defense (72.2 ypg) and passing defense (111.5 ypg). Held LSU to zero points, five first downs and 92 yards of offense in the BCS title game.
Award Winners:
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A (Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and William Vlachos could all be on this list come April.)

As Athlon Sports' preseason pick as the National Champion, Alabama rolled through its schedule — which included easy victories over three ranked opponents — until the "Game of the Century" on November 5 against LSU. The Tide outplayed the Tigers on offense and defense in that game, but was destroyed on special teams and it cost Saban a perfect season. After crushing rival Auburn, the Tide headed to New Orleans for a rematch with LSU. In a performance that would make the Bear weep openly, the Tide held Jordan Jefferson and the Bayou Bengals to five first downs, 92 yards of offense and no points. Alabama led the nation in every major defensive team NCAA statistic and it showed in the title game. This Crimson Tide team is the only BCS National Champion who failed to win its conference championship and the offense did not possess the same level of explosive talent on offense (and it lost a game) to be ranked ahead of the 2009 Alabama title squad.

2011 Schedule:

Sept. 3: Alabama 48, Kent State 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 10: Alabama 27, (#23) Penn State 11 (Happy Valley, PA)
Sept. 17: Alabama 41, North Texas 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 24: Alabama 38, (#14) Arkansas 14 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 1: Alabama 38, (#12) Florida 10 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 8: Alabama 34, Vanderbilt 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 15: Alabama 52, Ole Miss 7 (Oxford, MS)
Oct. 22: Alabama 37, Tennessee 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 5: (#1) LSU 9, Alabama 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 12: Alabama 24, Mississippi State 7 (Starkville, MS)
Nov. 19: Alabama 45, Georgia Southern 21 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 26: Alabama 42, Auburn 14 (Auburn, AL)
Jan. 9: Alabama 21, (#1) LSU 0 (New Orleans, LA, BCS NCG)

10. LSU Tigers, 2003 (13-1, 7-1*)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: Only one time did a team score more than 14 points against LSU (Arkansas, 24). Led the nation in total defense (252.0 ypg) and scoring defense (11.0 ppg), held Heisman winner Jason White to 13-of-37 passing in title game.
Award Winners: Chad Lavalais (SEC Def. Player of the Year), Nick Saban (AP National Coach of the Year), Justin Vincent (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Michael Clayton (1st, 2004), Devery Henderson (2nd, 2004), Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004), Marcus Spears (1st, 2005), Corey Webster (2nd, 2005), Joseph Addai (1st, 2006), Andrew Whitworth (2nd, 2006), LaRon Landry (1st, 2007), Dwayne Bowe (1st, 2007), Chris Davis (1st, 2007)

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

2003 Schedule:

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

11. Auburn Tigers, 2010 (14-0, 8-0*)
Head Coach: Gene Chizik
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Cam Newton's 4,327 yards of total offense fset a single-season SEC record; Tigers set a school record with 41.2 points per game, led the nation in passing efficiency 180.52, won seven games by one score or less.
Award Winners: Cam Newton (Heisman Trophy, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, SEC Off. Player of Year), Nick Fairley (Lombardi), Lee Ziemba (SEC Top Blocker)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Cam Newton (1st, 2011), Nick Fairley (1st, 2011)

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

2010 Schedule:

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

12. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2002 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
Championships: Big Ten Co-Champs, Fiesta Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: Ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense (13.1 ppg) and No. 3 nationally in rushing defense (77.7 ypg), this was the first team in NCAA history to finish 14-0
Award Winners: Maurice Clarett (Big Ten Freshman of the Year), Mike Doss (Big Ten Co-Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Mike Doss (2nd, 2003), Will Smith (1st, 2004), Chris Gamble (1st, 2004), Michael Jenkins (1st, 2004), Mike Nugent (2nd, 2005)

The team that never gave up began the season ranked No. 13 in the nation and slowing grinded their way to the No. 1 spot in the final standings. The Buckeyes beat five ranked teams, including the Big East's No. 2 team of the BCS era, en route to the 2002 National Championship. Behind gritty play from quarterback Craig Krenzel and a freshman school rushing record from Maurice Clarett (1,237 yards), the Bucks found themselves as heavy underdogs to defending national champs Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. Yet, the staunch Buckeye defense and two key touchdowns (and one great forced fumble/recovery) from Clarett gave Ohio State its sixth consensus national championship. The much-debated pass inference penalty also will go down in history as one of the more controversial plays — even if it was the right call. This Ohio State team sent an NFL record 14 players to the league in the 2004 draft (five were selected in 2003 and three in 2005). This is the only Big Ten team to have claimed a BCS National Championship making them the top Big Ten team of the BCS Era.

2002 Schedule:

Aug. 24: Ohio State 45, Texas Tech 21 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 7: Ohio State 51, Kent State 17 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 14: Ohio State 25, (#10) Washington State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 21: Ohio State 23, Cincinnati 19 (Cincinnati, OH)
Sept. 28: Ohio State 45, Indiana 17 (Columbus, OH)
Oct. 5: Ohio State 27, Northwestern 16 (Evanston, IL)
Oct. 12: Ohio State 50, San Jose State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Oct. 19: Ohio State 19, Wisconsin 14 (Madison, WI)
Oct. 26: Ohio State 13, (#17) Penn State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Nov. 2: Ohio State 34, (#19) Minnesota 3 (Columbus, OH)
Nov. 9: Ohio State 10, Purdue 6 (West Lafayette, IN)
Nov. 16: Ohio State 23, Illinois 16 (Champaign, IL)
Nov. 23: Ohio State 14, (#12) Michigan 9 (Columbus, OH)
Jan. 3: Ohio State 31, (#1) Miami 24 (Fiesta Bowl, BCS NCG)

13. Florida Gators, 2006 (13-1, 7-1*)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Florida held Heisman winner Troy Smith to four completions in the title game and the Buckeyes to 82 total yards.
Award Winners: Percy Harvin (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Reggie Nelson (1st, 2007), Jarvis Moss (1st, 2007), Derrick Harvey (1st, 2008), Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010)

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

14. LSU Tigers, 2007 (12-2, 6-2*)
Head Coach: Les Miles
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: LSU beat seven ranked teams; the only BCS champion with two losses.
Award Winners: Glenn Dorsey (Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott, SEC Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Glenn Dorsey (1st, 2008), Tyson Jackson (1st, 2009)

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

"First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
* - team won a conference championship game

Teaser:
<p> The BCS just finished its 14th season. How do the 14 champions stack-up against each other?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - 05:50
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Washington Huskies
Path: /college-football/tosh-lupoi-gives-washington-sarkisian-dream-coaching-staff
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

What a difference a weekend can make.

The Oregon Ducks entered the weekend as the clear-cut No. 1 team in the Pac-12 North and a likely preseason top five team nationally for 2012. The Washington Huskies still had holes to fill on the coaching staff and in the ’12 recruiting class.

Three days later, Steve Sarkisian’s bunch might be the pick in the Pac-12 North in 2012.

Ducks’ quarterback Darron Thomas made a peculiar decision to leave early for the NFL after back-to-back 30-touchdown seasons in Eugene. Certainly, he has been incredibly productive, but he does not have the skill-set required to play under center at the next level and will likely fall deep into draft weekend. He had a chance to be the top star on a beautiful — in all senses of the word — campus next fall and would have entered the season pointing to a November 3 meeting in Los Angeles with USC as 2012’s “Game of the Century.”

On Monday, however, Coach Sark sent shockwaves rippling down the West Coast when he hired former Cal defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi. The young, talented rising star joins a completely reworked defensive coaching staff that also includes former Boise State and Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and former Vols linebacker coach and star recruiter Peter Sirmon.

Lupoi, who was the 2010 National Recruiter of the Year (Rivals.com), will take over as the defensive line coach and defensive run game coordinator at Washington. It sounds like a lateral move, so why did Lupoi jump ship for a Pac-12 rival after 12 years in Berkeley? Especially considering that the up-and-comer was the youngest full-time coach in Cal history, was selling the hottest name brand on the recruiting trail and helped coach the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12 in 2011?

Did I mention he did all of this for his alma mater?

The newly minted 29-year-old Washington Husky was an All-Academic defensive lineman for Cal from 2000-2005 after winning a prep national title at famed De La Salle High School in California. He coached a defense that led the league in total defense, first downs allowed and passing yards per game. He had developed first-round talents Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan, making the Golden Bears only the second team in league history to place a defensive lineman into back-to-back first rounds. He is the complete package.

The two-fold answer is rather simple. First, Wilcox has been a mentor to Lupoi and likely played a huge role in pulling him to Seattle. Second, Sarkisian backed up the Brinks truck. Lupoi made $164,000 in 2011 and could make upwards of $500,000 in 2012. Sarkisian and the Huskies spent roughly $2.1 million on their coaching staff last year and will be well above that number this year, according to @BCondotta.

The program has recognized an opportunity and clearly appears dedicated to building a top-10 program.

“Coach Lupoi is a terrific young coach and a dynamic recruiter,” Sarkisian said. “He will have an immediate impact with our team both on the field and in recruiting.”

With Wilcox and Sirmon, who developed a reputation as an incredible recruiter while at Tennessee in his own right, Lupoi gives Sarkisian arguably the most talented defensive coaching staff in the league. All three are proven commodities on the sidelines and will undoubtedly improve a defense that ranked 11th in the league in total yards allowed and scoring defense. They certainly can’t get any worse than the last time U of W took the field, when the Huskies allowed 777 total yards of offense — 482 on the ground — to Baylor in the 67-56 Alamo Bowl loss.

More importantly, however, the new staff will bring an energy and passion to a Washington recruiting trail that has been largely dormant since the early '90s. With just over two weeks until National Signing Day, fans of all parties involved should have a recruiting fireworks show of monumental proportions in the Pacific Northwest.

The No. 1 defensive back in the nation, Sacramento (Calif.) Grant Union’s Shaq Thompson, recently committed to Cal at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. During his time in San Antonio, the Athlon Consensus 100 prospect proved that his lofty status as the top safety in the America was well-deserved. Thompson was very close with Lupoi as well as Wilcox — who recruited Thompson’s older brother Syd’Quan Thompson to Cal.

He is now “50-50 between Cal and Washington,” according to @TaraFOXSports. The Huskies and Bears were his two finalists, and Lupoi was given most of the credit for landing the star defensive back. I fully expect him to be suiting up in Husky Stadium over the next few years.

Arik Armstead, a two-sport star from Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove, is the nation's No. 4 overall player and Cal might have been eliminated from his list now that Lupoi is gone according to @sb_joedavidson. "Tosh was a big reason I'd go to Cal," Armstead said. "I've got more to think about." His announcement could come as early as tomorrow and it appears Notre Dame, Auburn and Cal are his finalists.

Lupoi also gets credit for landing star wideout Keenan Allen two years ago as well as the nation’s No. 2 defensive tackle in 2012, Monrovia’s (Calif.) Ellis McCarthy. McCarthy, a soft verbal to Cal, now appears destined to land in Los Angeles. Needless to say, there will be plenty of movement between now and Feb. 1.

Fellow AC100 tackle Aziz Shittu, from Atwater (Calif) Buhach, had the following to say on Twitter in response to the news. It should pretty much sum up how Cal fans feel today:

“WOWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!! The Game Just Changed,” and eight minutes later, “I want to cryyyyyy.” Shittu had narrowed his list to Cal, USC, UCLA and Stanford.

That should tell you all you need to know about the impact Lupoi will have in Seattle.

Teaser:
<p> Tosh Lupoi Gives Washington, Sarkisian Dream Coaching Staff</p>
Post date: Monday, January 16, 2012 - 08:58
Path: /college-football/very-early-2012-big-east-predictions
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

(Published January 16th, 2012)

Very Early 2012 Big East Predictions

1. West Virginia

Key Returnees: QB Geno Smith, RB Dustin Garrison, WR Tavon Austin, WR Stedman Bailey, C Joe Madsen, NT Jorge Wright, LB Jewone Snow, CB Pat Miller, S Terence Garvin, S Darwin Cook

Key Losses: LT Don Barclay, DE Bruce Irvin, DT Julian Miller, LB Najee Goode, CB Keith Tandy, S Eain Smith

Where will the Mountaineers play next season? That’s the big question surrounding the Big East and Big 12 early 2012 predictions. With West Virginia’s 2012 conference home up in the air, Athlon will include the Mountaineers in both articles (Big 12 and Big East) until the court case is sorted out.

If the Mountaineers are in the Big East, they will be the preseason favorite once again. Quarterback Geno Smith and one of the nation’s top receiving corps will anchor a high-scoring offense. The biggest question mark facing West Virginia’s offense next year will be the offensive line, which loses tackle Don Barclay and struggled to open up rushing lanes in 2011. Running back Dustin Garrison suffered a significant knee injury in Orange Bowl practices, leaving his status for spring practice as uncertain. 

West Virginia’s defense was dealt a huge blow when defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel decided to join Rich Rodriguez at Arizona. Casteel was one of the nation’s most underrated defensive minds and will be missed next year in Morgantown. Replacing defensive linemen Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller will be the top priority for coach Dana Holgorsen and the new defensive coordinator, but overall, this unit should suffer much of a drop-off next season.

2. Louisville

Key Returnees: QB Teddy Bridgewater, C Mario Benavides, DE B.J. Dubose, DT Roy Philon, LB Preston Brown, CB Adrian Bushell, S Hakeem Smith, S Calvin Pryor

Key Losses: RB Victor Anderson, WR Josh Bellamy, TE Josh Chichester, DE Greg Scruggs, LB Dexter Heyman

The Cardinals had some heavy losses to replace coming into 2011, but even with several young players stepping into key roles, they shared the Big East title with West Virginia and Cincinnati. Coach Charlie Strong is bringing in another solid recruiting class, which will only add to the talent coming back to Louisville in 2012.

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater took his lumps (12 interceptions) this season, but finished with 2,129 yards and 14 passing scores. Bridgewater will be one of the top passers in the Big East next year, especially if a young group of receivers continues to improve. The offensive line has to be better next year, but will benefit from a full year from center Mario Benavides, who missed the first three games of 2011 due to knee surgery. The rushing attack ranked 93rd nationally, and must show improvement if the Cardinals want to win the conference in 2012. 

Strong’s background on defense has helped Louisville rank 18th nationally in points allowed in each of the last two seasons. And the 2012 defense could be even better, especially with cornerback Adrian Bushell and safety Hakeem Smith returning. The Cardinals also have a handful of promising freshmen and sophomores on the depth chart that will be ready for an increased role next year.

3. Rutgers

Key Returnees: RB Jawan Jamison, WR Mark Harrison, WR Quron Pratt, RT Kaleb Johnson, DT Scott Vallone, LB Khaseem Greene, LB Steve Beauharnais, CB Logan Ryan, SS Duron Harmon

Key Losses: WR Mohamed Sanu, LG Desmond Wynn, RG Art Forst, DE Manny Abreu, DT Justin Francis, FS David Rowe

Coming off a 4-8 record, the Scarlet Knights were picked near the bottom of the Big East in most 2011 preseason polls. However, coach Greg Schiano turned things around, leading Rutgers to its fifth season of at least eight wins in the last six years. Quarterbacks Chas Dodd and Gary Nova finished 2011 with very little clarity as to who will be the starter when spring practice begins. The passing game was dealt a blow when receiver Mohamed Sanu declared for the NFL Draft. Running back Jawan Jamison had a solid freshman campaign, posting 897 yards and nine touchdowns. Jamison, Jeremy Deering and Savon Huggins will lead the rushing attack next year, which will likely be the focal point of the offense with uncertainty involving the passing attack. The offensive line showed some improvement from 2010, but still needs work going into next year.

Rutgers led the Big East in total, scoring and pass defense this season, and the defense should be near the top of the conference in 2012. Losing Manny Abreu and Justin Francis is a blow to the defensive line, but tackle Scott Vallone will be one of the top linemen in the Big East next year. Linebacker Khaseem Greene suffered an ankle injury in the Pinstripe Bowl win over Iowa State and may miss a portion of spring practice. Even if Greene is limited in the spring, it shouldn’t affect his availability for the 2012 season. All four starters are back in the secondary, including All-Big East returnees in safety Duron Harmon and cornerback Logan Ryan.

4. South Florida

Key Returnees: QB B.J. Daniels, WR Sterling Griffin, DE Ryne Giddins, LB DeDe Lattmore, LB Mike Lanaris, LB Sam Barrington, CB Kayvon Webster, S Jon Lejiste

Key Losses: RB Darrell Scott, LG Jeremiah Warren, C Chaz Hine, DT Keith McCaskill, CB Quenton Washington, S Jerrell Young

The Bulls appeared to be a contender for the Big East crown through the first month of the season, posting a 4-0 record with a win over Notre Dame in the opener. However, South Florida failed to capitalize off that early momentum, losing seven out of its last eight games to miss the postseason for the first time since 2004.

Problems on both sides of the ball contributed to the 5-7 record, but South Florida isn’t too far off contending for a Big East title. Six of the seven losses were by 10 points or less, including three that were decided by a field goal. Quarterback B.J. Daniels is back next season and threw for a career-high 2,604 yards in 2011. Running back Darrell Scott decided to bolt for the NFL, but Demetris Murray returns after rushing for 503 yards in 2011. The receiving corps will get a boost from a full year from Sterling Griffin, who missed four games due to an ankle injury in late October.

Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder departed for Texas A&M, but the defense figures to be one of the best in the Big East next year. Defensive end Ryne Giddins returns after registering 5.5 sacks and picking up second-team All-Big East honors in 2011. All three starters return in the linebacking corps, including promising sophomore DeDe Lattimore. Two starters must be replaced in the secondary, but strong safety Jon Lejiste and cornerback Kayvon Webster are solid building blocks for the new coordinator.

5. Cincinnati

Key Returnees: QB Munchie Legaux, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, WR Anthony McClung, DE Walter Stewart, DE Dan Giordano, LB Maalik Bomar, CB Cameron Cheatham, SS Drew Frey

Key Losses: QB Zach Collaros, RB Isaiah Pead, WR DJ Woods, LT Alex Hoffman, OG Randy Martinez, DT Derek Wolfe, DT John Hughes, LB JK Schaffer, FS Wesley Richardson

Cincinnati’s Butch Jones earned the Big East’s 2011 Coach of the Year honor and he will certainly have his work cut out for him in 2012. The Bearcats will be replacing several key contributors, but don’t expect this team to slip too far in the standings.

Quarterback Zach Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead have finished their eligibility, leaving a gaping hole in the backfield. Quarterback Munchie Legaux started three games this year, but needs work as a passer. George Winn, Jameel Poteat and Ralph David Abernathy IV will all likely see carries as the Bearcats attempt to replace Pead’s production. Three starters depart on the offensive line, including All-Big East selections in guard Randy Martinez and tackle Alex Hoffman. Although Cincinnati suffered some key losses on offense, if Legaux shows improvement as a passer, this offense should remain in the top half of the Big East.

A big reason for Cincinnati’s turnaround from 4-8 in 2010 to co-Big East champs was the play of the defense. The Bearcats finished second nationally with 3.5 sacks per game and forced 33 turnovers. This unit suffers some key losses, but there is enough returning to expect similar production next year. Ends Dan Giordano and Walter Stewart combined for 11 sacks this season and will anchor the line in 2012. Replacing linebacker JK Schaffer and tackle Derek Wolfe will be the toughest assignment for the defensive staff.

6. Pittsburgh

Key Returnees: QB Tino Sunseri, RB Ray Graham, WR Devin Street, WR Mike Shanahan, DE Aaron Donald, CB K’Waun Williams, S Jared Holley, S Andrew Taglianetti

Key Losses: RG Lucas Nix, DE Brandon Lindsey, DT Chas Alecxih, LB Max Gruder, CB Antwuan Reed

Todd Graham came to Pittsburgh with many promises, including the installation of a high-octane offense. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, Graham never really fulfilled the promises from his opening press conference and decided to bolt for Arizona State after one year. Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was picked as Pittsburgh’s next coach and one that the administration hopes can stick around and provide some much-needed stability.

Chryst’s specialty is on offense, which is where the Panthers need a lot of work in 2012. Quarterback Tino Sunseri had a mediocre 2011 season, throwing 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Although Sunseri’s play wasn’t great, he didn’t have a lot of help from an offensive line that allowed 64 sacks. Running back Ray Graham also suffered a season-ending knee injury in late October, which was another setback for an offense looking for playmakers. Sunseri and Graham both return for 2012, along with receivers Devin Street and Mike Shanahan. Chryst’s pro-style offense should be a better fit for Sunseri and the offensive line, but whether or not that translates to wins remains to be seen.

Pittsburgh finished 2011 ranked 35th nationally in total defense, but must replace a handful of key contributors. The Panthers lose linemen Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein, while linebacker Brandon Lindsey also departs. With three starters returning, the secondary should be improved, but this unit will have more pressure on its shoulders, especially with the defense losing some of its top pass rushers.

The Panthers aren’t short on talent, but adapting to their third coach in three seasons won’t be an easy transition. Considering what’s coming back and the coaching situation, Pittsburgh will be the toughest team to peg in the Big East preseason predictions.

7. Syracuse

Key Returnees: QB Ryan Nassib, WR Alec Lemon, OT Justin Pugh, LB Marquis Spruill, LB Dan Vaughan, LB Dyshawn Davis, SS Shamarko Thomas

Key Losses: RB Antwon Bailey, WR Van Chew, TE Nick Provo, RG Andrew Tiller, DE Chandler Jones

After posting eight wins and a Pinstripe Bowl victory over Kansas State, Syracuse seemed poised to contend for the Big East title in 2011. Instead of taking another step forward under coach Doug Marrone, the Orange slid back to the cellar of the Big East with a disappointing 5-7 record.

If Syracuse wants to get back to a bowl game in 2012, there will be several question marks to answer in preseason practices. Quarterback Ryan Nassib is a good building block on offense, but the team loses running back Antwon Bailey and All-Big East guard Andrew Tiller.

The Orange ranked last in the Big East in total and scoring defense, while finishing sixth in rush and pass defense. Although this unit will have a handful of returning starters, the departure of end Chandler Jones to the NFL Draft is a significant loss. Marquis Spruill, Dyshawn Davis and Dan Vaughan form a solid trio at linebacker, while the secondary figures to be improved with nearly everyone coming back. Developing a pass rush and shoring up the run defense is going to be critical to Syracuse’s defensive success in 2012.

8. Connecticut

Key Returnees: RB Lyle McCombs, TE Ryan Griffin, DE Jesse Joseph, DE Trevardo Williams, LB Sio Moore, LB Jory Johnson, LB Yawin Smallwood, CB Dwayne Gratz, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, S Jerome Junior, S Byron Jones

Key Losses: WR Kashif Moore, WR Isiah Moore, LT Mike Ryan, C Moe Petrus, DT Kendall Reyes, DT Twyon Martin, K Dave Teggart

After posting four consecutive seasons of at least eight wins, Connecticut suffered its first losing since 2006 last year. If the Huskies want to get back into the postseason or the top half of the Big East standings, getting improved quarterback play is a must. Johnny McEntee finished with 2,110 yards and 12 passing scores, but missed a lot of throws. Coach Paul Pasqualoni is attempting to fix this area by recruiting JUCO prospect Chandler Whitmer and freshman Casey Cochran. The rushing attack will remain strong with Lyle McCombs returning, and the receiving corps will get a boost from Clemson transfer Bryce McNeal.

Defense has been a strength in recent years for the Huskies and this group should remain solid in 2012. Replacing tackles Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin will be priority No. 1 for coordinator Don Brown, but the linebacking corps should be among the best in the Big East, while a healthy year from Blidi Wreh-Wilson at cornerback should boost the pass defense.

Considering the Huskies could struggle to score points, losing All-Big East kicker Dave Teggart is a big blow to the special teams.

Related 2012 Content:

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

Athlon Roundtable: Who are the BCS National Title Contenders in 2012?

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon releases its very early predictions for the Big East Conference for 2012.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Monday, January 16, 2012 - 07:06
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-ohio-states-defense-too-much-indiana
Body:

For a much-hyped Top 10 matchup, this one wasn’t really close. The No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes (16-3, 4-2 Big Ten) creamed the No. 8 Indiana Hoosiers (15-3, 3-3 Big Ten) 80-63 on their home court.

With both teams coming off disappointing losses, Coach Thad Matta’s Buckeyes showed a defensive intensity that they were sorely lacking at Illinois. Indiana turned the ball over 12 times in the first half alone, which was a major factor in the 35-14 halftime deficit.

All-American sophomore Jared Sullinger, who before the game took responsibility for his team’s defensive lapses, finished with 16 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. His performance, along with point guard Aaron Craft’s 8 points, 7 assists and 3 steals, gave the Columbus crowd a lot to cheer about.

But on this day, Lenzelle Smith Jr. stole the spotlight from his better known teammates.

The one starter that even serious fans probably don’t know much about, Smith finished with a career high 28 points on 10 of 12 shooting, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. Not bad for a guy who averages 5.2 points per game. His previous career high was 12.

The Hoosiers dug themselves too big of a hole in the first half and were never able to mount a serious rally. It didn’t help that their usually terrific shooting failed them. As a team, they shot 7 of 21 from deep despite leading the nation in 3-point field goal percentage coming in at just under 46%.

Freshman phenom Cody Zeller was a bright spot, however, with 16 points and 6 rebounds. He continues to impress, as he showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and muscle his way inside. With Zeller manning the middle, the Hoosiers have a bright future.

One of the best stories in college basketball this season is the job Coach Tom Crean has done in Bloomington. Restoring a blue-blood program to national prominence has been no easy task, but in his fourth season, Crean should be in the conversation for National Coach of the Year.

As for Ohio State, they definitely looked the part of a Final Four contender today. A few conference slipups on the road does not the change the fact that this team has the talent to go all the way. They lead the country in rebounding margin, and if they play defense like this more consistently, the Buckeyes will be one scary team come March.

By David Schuman
 

Teaser:
<p> The Hoosiers couldn't hang with the Buckeyes</p>
Post date: Monday, January 16, 2012 - 06:59
Path: /college-football/college-football-2011-coaching-awards
Body:

-by CoachesByTheNumbers.com

2011 is officially in the books. It was another amazing season of college football. As we enter the postseason, with already 25 new coaches set to take the reigns in 2012, let's look back over 2011 hand out our coaching awards for who we think, by the numbers, outperformed their coaching peers:

Coach of the Year - Nick Saban

With a decisive 21-0 victory over Les Miles' LSU Tigers in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, Nick Saban secured his third National Title and his place as one of the great head coaches in modern football history. For the 2011 season, Coach Saban was our highest rated CBTN Head Coach. When it comes to the numbers, there aren't many areas where Coach Saban's team didn't excel. His team averaged almost 35 points per game and gave up an astonishingly low 8.15 points per game. Coach Saban's team also had the highest positive spread between converting on 3rd Downs on offense and forcing 4th Downs on defense. However, the most impressive statistic was the fact that that all 12 of Bama's victories in 2011 were by 14 or more points. This stat is even more impressive when you consider that Alabama played the 15th toughest schedule in the country. Nick Saban is a true master of his craft and we salute him with the CBTN Head Coach of the Year Award.

Offensive Coordinator of the Year - Paul Chryst

Coach Chryst was not our number one rated offensive coordinator By The Numbers. In fact, Coach Chryst was not our second rated offensive coordinator By The Numbers. Coach Chryst ended the 2011 season as our 4th rated offensive coordinator (3rd if you consider that Randy Clements and Phillip Montgomery are Co-OC's at Baylor). So, how and why are we giving our Offensive Coordinator of the Year Award to Paul Chryst? The four coaches who rated higher than Coach Chryst according to our CBTN proprietary formula all have one thing in common: they serve as offensive coordinators under head coaches who have offensive backgrounds and are highly involved in every aspect of the offense. Coach Chryst serves as the offensive coordinator under a head coach who has a defensive background and whose involvement in the offense is certainly limited, if only relatively so. When it came to the numbers for 2011, we felt as if Paul Chryst could truly call his stats his own. Speaking of numbers, let's take a look at a few for Coach Chryst (numbers in parenthesis represent national ranking)

Avg. Scor. Off. Avg. Tot. Off. 3rd Down Eff. TOs Lost Pts. Per Play Yds Per Play Rush Yds Per Game Rush TDs Per Game
44.1 ppg
(6)
469.9 ypg
(14)
54.71%
(1)
10
(1)
0.66
(1)
7.02
(5)
235.57 ypg
(11)
3.43
(2)

And what's really amazing about Wisconsin's 44.14 points per game is the fact the next closest average scoring offense in the Big 10 was Michigan at 33.31 ppg. Coach Chryst is leaving Madison to be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Panthers, and we are pleased to send him off with the 2011 CBTN Offensive Coordinator of the Year Award.

Defensive Coordinator of the Year - John Chavis

John Chavis, aka "The Chief", has been proving his mastery of defensive football for over a decade now. John Chavis ended the 2011 season as our highest rated defensive coordinator and his numbers are just plain gawdy. Here are a few stats to consider (numbers in parenthesis represent national ranking):

Avg. Scor. Def. Avg. Tot. Def. 3rd Down Eff. Turnovers Gained Pts. Per Play Yds Per Play Rush Yds Per Game % of Games Giving Up 10 or Less Pts
11.29 ppg
(2)
261.50 ypg
(2)
33.97%
(19)
30
(16)
0.18 ppp
(2)
4.08 ypp
(2)
90.07 ypg
(5)
50.00%

What really makes The Chief's numbers even more impressive is the fact that LSU played the 7th hardest schedule in all of college football (including Alabama twice). Additionally, Chavis matched wits with four of the game's most prolific and innovative offensive minds (Chip Kelly, Dana Holgorsen, Gus Malzahn, and Bobby Petrino). These four offensive masterminds averaged just 18.75 points per game against The Chief this year. Overall for 2011, these four coaches averaged 36.54 points per game. All Hail The Chief as the 2011 CBTN Defensive Coordinator of the Year.

Overachiever of the Year Award - Bill Snyder

If you have spent any time on our site, you will know that we are huge fans of Bill Snyder. When it comes to coaching, Bill Snyder has to be considered one of the greats of all time. In fact, if he had been able to pull off another upset against Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, he would have more than likely been our Head Coach of the Year. Here is all you really need to know on this one: Over the last four years, Kansas State has had an average recruiting ranking (per Scout.com) of 80 (out of 120 teams). This season, Kansas State played the 8th toughest schedule in college football. Of their 13 games, 10 were played with inferior talent. Kansas State finished the season 10-3, with its three losses coming against two Top 5 teams and Oklahoma, who finished the season ranked 16th by the AP. Bill Snyder proved once again in 2011 that he may just be, as Barry Switzer noted, the coach of the century.

Underachiever of the Year Award - Rick Neuheisel

If you have spent any time on our site, you will also have noticed that we are not very high on Rick Neuheisel. Over the last four years, Neuheisel has had an average recruiting class ranking of 19 (out of 120). During this time, Coach Neuheisel had three top 10 recruiting classes and signed 38 players that were rated as four or five star prospects. With this in mind, let's look at a few numbers. UCLA played nine games this season with superior talent and played six teams who finished the 2011 season .500 or worse. UCLA finished the season 6-8, was 1-7 against teams finishing the year over .500, and lost six games by 14 or more points. Coach Neuheisel was rightly fired before the end of the 2011 season and it is our pleasure to close his out his reign at UCLA with the 2011 CBTN Underachiever of the Year Award.

Best New Head Coach - Hugh Freeze

Since Arkansas State joined the ranks of the big boys (FBS) in 1992, the Red Wolves had never won more than six games and had only one season in which they won more games than they lost. In his first year as head coach, Hugh Freeze led Arkansas State to a 10-3 record, an undefeated conference record, and a Sun Belt Conference Championship. The Wolves led the Sun Belt Conference in Scoring Offense and were second only to FIU in Scoring Defense. To say the very least, Coach Freeze did one heck of a coaching job in his first year with the Red Wolves. He did such a good job that Ole Miss decided to make him the next coach of the Rebels. Congratulations to Coach Freeze on a remarkable year. Good luck in Ole Miss (you will need it), and we hope the 2011 CBTN Best New Head Coach Award will make the year just a tad bit sweeter for you.

CBTN Vegas Coach of the Year - Sonny Dykes

He had a pretty solid year on the field (8-5 with a bowl loss to TCU), but he had a really great year off the field against Vegas. Overall, Sonny Dykes finished the season 11-2 ATS and was 7-0 ATS as an underdog. Vegas consistently underestimated Coach Dykes, and rewarded all bettors handsomely. Our CBTN Money Rating for Coach Dykes this year was +$880, meaning if you would have bet the standard $110 ATS on every game he coached this year, you'd be up +$880. Congratulations to Coach Dykes for winning the award that no coach (except Pete Rose) would ever care to win. The 2011 CBTN Vegas Coach of the Year Award is all yours Sonny.

Teaser:
<p> College Football 2011 Coaching Awards</p>
Post date: Monday, January 16, 2012 - 06:07
Path: /news/week-sports-history-jan14-20
Body:

Turn Back the Clock
Jan. 14, 1940
The NFL played its second all-star contest featuring the NFL champion Green Bay Packers against a team of All-Stars from nine other teams in the league. It was originally scheduled for Jan. 7, but delayed due to weather. Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles was the site as the Packers defeated the All-Stars 16-7. The highlight of the game was a 92-yard touchdown pass from Cecil Isbell to Don Hutson at the close of the first half to make the score 13-0.

Jan. 15, 1892
Triangle Magazine, a publication of the International YMCA Training School (now Springfield College), published the rules of basketball. The game, invented by James A. Naismith while teaching at the school as a graduate student, featured two peach baskets hanging from the balcony in the gymnasium, and the ball more closely resembled today’s volleyball than basketball. It wasn’t until 15 years later that the bottoms were cut out of the baskets to allow the ball to fall through freely.

Jan. 16, 1970
Baseball player Curt Flood filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, both American League and National League presidents and all 24 Major League clubs. Flood argued that baseball’s reserve clause — which ostensibly kept players under the control of their teams — violated antitrust laws and the 13th Amendment, which barred slavery and involuntary servitude. Flood, only 31 at the time at the height of his career, made $90,000 in 1969 while playing for St. Louis. He was traded in October and refused to report to the Phillies. The All-Star centerfielder’s career was pretty much over as the legal wrangling reached the Supreme Court. Although Flood had the support of Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, no active players agreed to testify on his behalf, and the high court voted against Flood, 5-3, in 1972.

Jan. 17, 1971
In Super Bowl V, Baltimore’s rookie kicker Jim O’Brien nailed a 32-yard field goal as time expired to defeat the favored Dallas Cowboys, 16-13, at Miami. Dallas linebacker Chuck Howley, who made two interceptions, was named the game’s MVP, the only player so honored from a losing team.

Jan. 18, 1983
After 70 years, the International Olympic Committee restored Jim Thorpe’s gold medal status, although it was 30 years after the athlete’s death. Thorpe won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. More than six months later it was revealed he was paid as a semi-pro baseball player in 1909-10, causing Olympic officials to strip him of his medals.

Jan. 19, 1974
The Notre Dame men’s basketball team defeated UCLA, 71-70, to end the Bruins’ 88-game winning streak. Digger Phelps coached the Irish led by John Shumate, Adrian Dantley and Gary Brokaw. But it was Dwight Clay who nailed a jumper from the right corner with 29 seconds left that provided Notre Dame with the one-point victory, after the Irish had scored the final 12 points of the game over the last three and half minutes. Incidentally, Austin Carr of Notre Dame scored 46 points to defeat UCLA on Jan. 23, 1971, the last Bruin defeat prior to this game.

Jan. 20, 1991
It was Championship Sunday in the NFL. Buffalo trounced the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship Game as the Bills intercepted six passes and amassed 502 yards on offense led by Thurman Thomas with 199 yards rushing and receiving. There was very little offense in the NFC tilt as the New York Giants dethroned the two-time defending Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers, 15-13, with a 42-yard field goal by Matt Bahr as time expired. Bahr was good on five of six field goal tries for the only points for the G-Men.

 

Previous Weeks

Jan. 7-13

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports turns back the clock and relives special moments in sports history.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 16:17
Path: /news/winners-and-loser-rams-jeff-fisher-hire
Body:

Jeff Fisher is no longer retired after accepting the head coaching position with the St. Louis Rams.

After going back and forth between the Rams and the Miami Dolphins, Fisher ended up with St. Louis due, in large part, to the structure of the deal. No details of the deal are known, but it sounds like Fisher got most of what he wanted. He'll essentially be able to pick who's in his front office, but he doesn't get full GM duties and final say.

So who wins and who loses when one of the most coveted head coaches in the NFL signs with a team.

Winners

The St. Louis Rams
The Rams get a very respected head coach who is not only good with the X's and O's, but he's a guy who brings stability to the team. He coached the Tennessee Titans for 16 years. And the only reason he had a falling out with Titans management is because their owner Bud Adams is a little bit looney. Fisher was never a guy who dabbled in TV, so you don't have to worry about him focusing on anything except football. This is a great score for the Rams. He also had the 5th best winning percentage during his time in TN, so that's not too shabby, either.

Steven Jackson
You want to run the ball? Then Fisher is your man. Sure, some of his stats are slightly skewed with the stellar Chris Johnson, but according to Matthew Berry, but during Fisher's last three years in Tennessee, the Titans had the 2nd most rush touchdowns, the 4th most rushing yards and the 8th most rushing attempts. Steven Jackson still has one or two good years left and Fisher knows how to use his running backs appropriately.

Mustaches
Aside from Magnum P.I., can anyone rock a moustache like Jeff Fisher? Didn't think so. Look for mustaches in the St. Louis stands to have a great year in 2012.

Losers

Miami Dolphins
Aside from all the reasons mentioned in the St. Louis Rams section on how great Fisher is, it looks like this was the Dolphins last chance to get a big-named head coach. By all accounts John Gruden and ex-Steelers head coach Bill Cowher are staying where they are, which means the Dolphins fans will not get a celebrity coach who will help breath some life into the South Florida football team.

Sam Bradford
Sam's not necessarily a loser in this, but he should be a little concerned. Fisher struggled to deal with his quarterbacking situation in Tennessee, and his fight with owner Bud Adams over Vince Young (Fisher was against Young, Adams was for) was his ultimate undoing with the Titans. But Fisher will be scrutinized very quickly with his news team, and he knows that with an older running back, the Rams will go as Sam Bradford goes. That added pressure may shorten the leash on Bradford.

Steven Jackson
Wait, you're probably wondering how one player can be both a winner and a loser in the same article. Well, with the St. Louis Rams very high draft pick and Trent Richardson dangling there for Fisher, a run-first coach, he may be too good for Jeff to pass up. If the Rams do everything they can to get Bradford help and go for someone like Justin Blackmon, then Jackson will be a winner. If Fisher thinks Steven's best days are behind him, he may take Richardson, spelling doom for his time under the arches.

Teaser:
<p> Who wins and who loses now that the former Titan coach is taking his talents to St. Louis</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 15:21
All taxonomy terms: Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, NFL
Path: /nfl/tebow-broncos-have-no-chance-beat-patriots
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 4 Denver (8-8) at No. 1 New England (13-3)
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, CBS

January 20, 2008.

That is the date of the New England Patriots' last playoff win. It’s actually a little hard to believe, frankly, and you can bet that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady know that date by heart.

And it’s just one reason why the Denver Broncos have no chance of pulling off the upset this weekend in Foxborough.

The second weekend of the NFL Playoffs is a different beast. The best four teams in the league, by record, are in action against the best that the Wild Card Weekend has to offer. Many fans point to this weekend as the best weekend in football each year, and Tim Tebow's presence this year only adds to the electricity.

The numbers in Tebow’s postseason debut against Pittsburgh are hard to ignore. He threw for 316 yards and threw for an NFL postseason single-game record 31.6 yards per completion. CBS’s overnight rating was a 31.6 for the final quarter-hour, and the Steelers' time of possession was 31:06. And last Sunday was the three-year anniversary (to the day) of his BCS National Championsip victory over Oklahoma during which he wore "John 3:16" — arguably the most well-known Bible verse in history — under his eyes. Oh, and Demaryius Thomas was born on Christmas.

You can’t make that stuff up. However, does any of that help the Broncos stop Brady and the Patriots? Cause the Orange Crush certainly couldn’t do it at home a month ago.

On December 18, New England went to Denver and dominated the Broncos 41-23. Tebow was held to seven second-half points, and Brady was magical. He completed 23-of-34 passes for 320 yards and scored three touchdowns (one rushing). Brady's emphatic spike following his touchdown run indicated just how much the game meant to him and his team. The win halted the Broncos six-game winning streak and sent Tebowmania spiraling into a three-game losing streak to finish the year.

Denver was 4-of-10 on third down, 0-2 on fourth down, completed 47.8% of its passes, possessed the ball for only 26:19 minutes and fumbled four times.

Adding to the intrigue of the rematch is how Tebow and Thomas landed in Denver. Former head coach Josh McDaniels traded up to snag the two talented prospects, and now McDaniels will be standing on the Patriots sideline once again. In a game that has no lack of storylines, McHoodie Jr.’s return to Boston feels like back page news.

At the end of the day, the Patriots are at home and are very hungry. Fans can bet that Belichick, who might be the best game-manager and preparer in NFL history, learned from Mike Tomlin's and Dick LeBeau’s mistakes a week ago. Don’t expect a lot of zero blitzes and 9-men-in-the-box formations from the Patriots. Remember, this is a team that one time lined up with one defensive lineman in the playoffs.

The NFL catches up with unique schemes, players and ideas awfully quickly. And there is a reason the Broncos are a two-touchdown underdog.

So barring a Tebowie spotting, this feels like the end of Tebowmania — at least, until next fall.

Denver By The Numbers

Scoring Offense: 19.3 ppg (25th)
Passing Offense: 152.1 ypg (31st)
Rushing Offense: 164.5 ypg (1st)
3rd Down Offense: 30.8% (30th)
Giveaways: 30 (25th)
Sacks Allowed: 42.0 (23rd)

Scoring Defense: 24.4 ppg (24th)
Passing Defense: 231.5 ypg (18th)
Rushing Defense: 126.3 ypg (22nd)
3rd Down Defense: 33.5% (6th)
Takeaways: 18 (29th)
Sacks: 41.0 (10th)

New England By The Numbers

Scoring Offense: 32.1 ppg (3rd)
Passing Offense: 317.8 ypg (2nd)
Rushing Offense: 110.3 ypg (20th)
3rd Down Offense: 45.9% (5th)
Giveaways: 17 (3rd)
Sacks Allowed: 32.0 (9th)

Scoring Defense: 21.4 (15th)
Passing Defense: 293.9 ypg (31st)
Rushing Defense: 117.1 ypg (17th)
3rd Down Defense: 43.1% (28th)
Takeaways: 34 (3rd)
Sacks: 40.0 (14th)
 

Teaser:
<p> Tebow, Broncos Have No Chance to Beat Patriots</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 15:07
All taxonomy terms: Turn Back the Clock, News
Path: /news/week-sports-history-jan7-13
Body:

Turn Back the Clock
Jan. 7, 1972
The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Atlanta Hawks, 134-90, to win their 33rd game in a row. The winning streak still stands as an NBA record. Led by veterans Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, the Lakers would lose at Milwaukee two nights later to end the streak, but Los Angeles finished the regular season with a 69-13 mark and defeated the Bucks in six games in the NBA Finals to win the franchise’s first title since moving to L.A. in 1960.

Jan. 8, 1962
The legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus made his professional debut at the Los Angeles Open, won by Phil Rodgers by nine shots over Bob Goalby and Fred Hawkins. The Golden Bear, who would go on to win an incredible 18 majors, finished 50th. Nicklaus, who had a distinguished amateur career, won his first professional tournament at the 1962 US Open, defeating Arnold Palmer in a playoff.

Jan. 9, 1977
In Super Bowl XI, the Oakland Raiders won their first Super Bowl, 32-14 over the Minnesota Vikings. Playing at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, Calif., in front of a record 103,438 fans, the Raiders rolled up 429 total yards against the Purple People Eaters of Minnesota. Running back Clarence Davis ran for 137 yards, and receiver Fred Biletnikoff was named MVP.

Jan. 10, 1982
In one of the coldest NFL games on record, the Cincinnati Bengals hosted the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship Game. With game time temperatures at -9 degrees and winds gusting to 35 mph, the wind chill reached a frigid 59 below. The Chargers’ high-scoring offense was held in check by the weather more than the Cincinnati defense. Committing four turnovers, San Diego never mustered much offense. Pete Johnson barreled his way for 80 yards to lead the Bengals. Ken Anderson threw for two scores in the Bengals’ 27-7 win.

Jan. 11, 1970
The AFL once again flexed its muscles in the Super Bowl as the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the favored Minnesota Vikings of the NFL, 23-7, in Super Bowl IV. Jan Stenerud opened the scoring with a 48-yard field goal, then added two more kicks for a 9-0 lead. Otis Taylor ended the scoring on a 46-yard touchdown reception from MVP Len Dawson.

Jan. 12, 1958
Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes scored the 11,770th point of his NBA career, setting a new record. Two years later, he would become the first player to top the 15,000-point mark. He spent his entire NBA career with the same franchise, the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers.

Jan. 13, 1962
NBA great Wilt Chamberlain set a new NBA record with 73 points in the Philadelphia Warriors’ 135-117 win over the expansion Chicago Packers. It was the most points scored in regulation. A month prior, Chamberlain scored 78 points in a triple-overtime game. And two months later, he tallied 100 points against the New York Knicks in a game played at Hershey, Penn., to break his own record and set a mark that still stands.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports turns back the clock and relives special moments in sports history.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 14:01
Path: /nfl/nfl-playoffs-5-ways-giants-can-upset-packers
Body:

The New York Giants already have a formula for how to beat the Green Bay Packers. Other than the Kansas City Chiefs, who actually beat them, nobody came closer to doing it than the Giants did on Dec. 4.

That game was the perfect example for them of both what to do and what not to do against the defending Super Bowl champions as they head into their much-anticipated rematch in the divisional playoffs at Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon. The Giants’ offense exposed the Packers’ defense. Meanwhile the Giants’ defense learned a tough lesson about how good Aaron Rodgers really is.

Still, the Giants pushed the Packers right to the end, losing 38-35 on Mason Crosby’s 30-yard field goal as time expired.

It left the Giants feeling like the Packers got lucky, because the Giants didn’t give them their best shot.

“We didn’t play our best game,” said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. “I think that’s encouraging to know that we hung in with the best team in the country and didn’t come close to playing our best game. Our motto is to just go out there and play our best game and see what happens.”

It will help the Giants that they’ll have defensive end Osi Umenyiora and receiver Mario Manningham, both of whom didn’t play the first time around. Linebacker Michael Boley and Tuck will also both be seemingly at full strength, too.

So the pieces are in place for a Giants upset. Here are five things they have to do, lessons they need to learn, knock off a Packers team that has won 21 of its last 22:

1. Hammer Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers is very likely the MVP of the NFL and since late last season – starting with a 45-17 hammering of the Giants the day after Christmas, 2010 – he’s played quarterback better than almost anyone in football. He also has a deep array of receivers and can throw to as many as a dozen people in any single game.

Against the Giants he threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns. The biggest reason is because the Giants’ defense gave him plenty of time to pick them apart.

“You can’t let (Rodgers) get a breath of air,” said Giants defensive end Dave Tollefson. “You’ve just got to stay on him and keep that pressure, because as soon as you give him that ability to come up from under and catch his breath he bangs you for a 45 yard gain.”

2. Hit the Packers' receivers
Just as important as the fact that the Giants gave Rodgers time is the fact that they gave his receivers’ room. In that game, the Giants spent way too much time in a soft zone and they gave the Packers’ receivers and tight ends a cushion at the line of scrimmage.

They took advantage of that, and they will if they’re given the cushion again.

“Basically you get your hands on the receivers, disrupt those routes, disrupt the timing of the rhythm of their offense, get to the quarterback, rattle him a little bit, and get him thinking about where the next sack might come from,” said linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka. “It changes the dynamic of the game.”

3. Think deep thoughts
The third play of that first game for the Giants was a 67-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to tight end Travis Beckum. They knew going in they could take advantage of a porous Packers secondary. This game should be no different considering the Green Bay defense ranks 32nd overall, 32nd against the pass and has given up 71 pass plays of 20 yards or more.

The Giants are a big-play passing team and they seem to think that’s a matchup they can exploit.

“In the secondary they like to gamble a lot,” said Giants receiver Victor Cruz. “They like to take a lot of chances or risks, which means they either win or lose big, which explains why they lead the league in interceptions and lead the league in giving up the big play. We’ve seen that on film and we’ve seen the different areas we can take advantage of.

“And if it doesn’t work the first time, but we see the opening we’re going to call that play to take advantage of it. Whether it worked the first time, we’re going to come right back to it.”

4. Keep a tight grip on the tight end
Jermichael Finley had six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown against the Giants the last time, and he could’ve had a few more. He also drew a key, late illegal contact penalty on Giants linebacker Jaquian Williams who was trying to defend him. The Giants have a history of struggling against tight ends, though in their last three games they’ve shut down the Jets’ Dustin Keller, the Cowboys’ Jason Witten and the Falcons’ Tony Gonzalez.

The difference? Boley is back, and not only can he cover tight ends but he makes this defense whole.

“We can do what we do,” said safety Deon Grant. “(In the first game), guys were just out there guessing, switching around. Some guys were getting more playing time than they expected. With Boley, we’re able to play man to man with the tight ends.”

5. Don’t do anything stupid
The flip side to the Packers’ porous secondary? Green Bay led the NFL with 31 interceptions. It’s a high-risk, high-reward team, but considering how good their offense is the rewards are extremely high. The Packers average more than 40 points per game at home and have averaged 35 points per game over their entire season.

The worst thing the Giants can do is shoot themselves in the foot with bad penalties, or give the Packers a gift with a turnover in a key spot. Because no team in the NFL is better equipped than the Packers to make a mistake-prone opponent pay.

By RALPH VACCHIANO

Teaser:
<p> The New York Giants have a formula to beat the Packers. Can they pull it off</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 12:32
Path: /college-football/dooley-tennessee-hits-home-run-sal-sunseri
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

To steal a rather simple phrase from my boss, @AthlonMitch, losing coordinators in the off-season is a double-edged sword.

It is a sign of respect when other institutions from around the nation pilfer from a coaching staff. It means that the head coach has made quality hiring decisions. However, it also means said head man has to search for new blood and convince recruits that the new coaching staff has been stabilized and is still the right fit for them.

So for Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, who has the added pressure of replacing five coaches three weeks from National Signing Day after a tumultuous 5-7 campaign, selecting the right names for the job could not be more critical.

To recap, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who was hired literally and figuratively out of the blue from Boise State, has returned to the Pacific Northwest by taking the same job at Washington under Steve Sarkisian. Linebackers coach and stud recruiter Peter Sirmon also returns to his neck of the woods — he is from Walla Walla, Wash. — by following Wilcox to Seattle. Offensive line coach Harry Heistand took a similar position at Notre Dame, and special teams coordinator and tight end coach Eric Russell reunited with new Cougars head coach Mike Leach at Washington State. Finally, wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett was not retained.

Big Orange nation has been on edge ever since the Kentucky loss, and losing coaches has only made the temperature under Dooley’s rear end escalate. Vols everywhere have been burning up message boards and talk show phones with justified uneasiness.

But Dooley has shut them up – at least, until kickoff on September 1 against NC State in the Georgia Dome.

First, he brought in running backs coach and rising recruiting star Jay Graham from South Carolina. Graham, who played running back at Tennessee, returns to his alma mater after playing an instrumental role in developing and recruiting the best running back in the nation, Marcus Lattimore. Dooley gets a solid A- for this one.

Late Thursday evening, Dooley announced the hiring of offensive line coach Sam Pittman. A college coach of some sort for the better part of 20 years, Pittman comes to Knoxville after five years as the OL coach, and eventual associate head coach, at North Carolina under Butch Davis. He brings considerable experience and was named an ESPN Top 25 recruiter in 2011. Give this one a B+.

But the most important maneuver came on Friday the 13th, no less, when he announced the Vols new defensive coordinator would be former Alabama assistant head coach and linebackers coach Sal Sunseri.

Sunseri, who won two national championships under Nick Saban, got a raise after the title game to roughly $390,000 per year. He will reportedly make somewhere between $700,000 and $800,000 per year over the three-year deal with Tennessee.

The new Tennessee defensive coordinator played linebacker at Pittsburgh (1978-1981) and has been in the coaching business ever since – mostly in the college ranks, but also with a seven-year NFL run at Carolina. He has been incredibly influential in developing talents like Courtney Upshaw, Rolando McClain, Nico Johnson and Dont’a Hightower for Bama of late. Vols’ fans can expect more of the same with youngsters like freshman linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt as well as developing sophomore line talents Jacques Smith, Daniel Hood and Corey Miller. What system he runs remains to be seen, and shifting to a 3-4 could certainly impact the roles names like Smith would play on the defense.

His coaching talent has been obvious at Alabama — Nick Saban doesn’t hire scrubs to coach his defense — but his ability to pound the recruiting trail will be felt immediately in Knoxville. Graham and Pittman are considered strong recruiters, but they pale in comparison to Sunseri’s considerable skill in luring talent to campus.

When Tennessee was competing for SEC and national titles in the late '90s and early 2000s, the roster was loaded with elite prospects from the Eastern seaboard — from the Mid-Atlantic region down through the Carolinas and into Georgia. This will now be an area of focus once again as Sunseri has a brand name that rings true up and down the coastline.

Certainly, it is easier to recruit to Alabama right now than Tennessee, but fans should expect some fireworks (aka Eddie Goldman) leading up to National Signing Day 2012. Sunseri is credited with landing Athlon Consensus 100 names like Phillip Sims (Chesapeake, Va.), Alfy Hill (Shallotte, N.C.), both Arie and Cyrus Kouandjio (Hyattsville, Md.), Trey DePriest (Springfield, Ohio), Jeoffrey Pagan (Asheville, N.C.) and Cyrus Jones (Baltimore, Md.).

Sunseri is given credit for inking six AC100 (or top 100) recruits for Alabama in the last two classes. The Tide has signed 13 total top 100 talents over that span and is leading the nation with eight AC100 verbals in 2012. By comparison, the Tennessee Vols have signed seven total AC100 recruits as a program over that span, including the recently departed DeAnthony Arnett, and have one Top-100 commitment in the '12 class.

Dooley needed the complete package at defensive coordinator. He needed to win the press conference. He needed a coach who can develop talent and motivate young athletes to play above their skill level. And he needed a coach who can burn up the recruiting trail in key states like Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

He accomplished all of the above with the A+ hiring of Sunseri.

"The chance to work with Derek Dooley, who has been around championships and knows what it takes to build an elite program, combined with the rich tradition of the University of Tennessee makes this opportunity so exciting to me," said Sunseri. "I am fired up to work with all of the young talent on the defensive side of the ball, and I can't wait to get up to Knoxville and coach them."

Does putting the right names in the right places automatically mean Dooley will win eight games in 2012 and keep his job at Tennessee? The answer is a resounding no. His evaluation as an SEC head coach is still largely incomplete. Only the 2012 season, on the field, will answer that question.

But make no mistake, he has added some serious experience and recruiting clout to his staff. And the announcements could not have come at a better time as the results of adding Sunseri, Pittman and Graham should be blatantly apparent over the next few weeks. The Vols have already received a massive verbal commitment — literally at 6-foot-5 and 360 pounds — from junior college defensive tackle Daniel McCullers just hours after the announcement.

So it starts today for Sunseri, who will lead the way when the Vols host their biggest official visit weekend of the year over the next two days.

Tennessee fans have been pouring gasoline all over themselves since the inexplicable loss to Kentucky to end the season. But Dooley has officially, if temporarily, put out the fire by landing excellent assistant coaches.

He certainly could use some positive energy and momentum heading into his crucial third season.

Teaser:
<p> Dooley, Tennessee Hit Home Run with Sal Sunseri</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 12:18
All taxonomy terms: Funny, nascar tattoos, Overtime, Overtime
Path: /overtime/20-best-and-worst-nascar-tattoos-photos
Body:

NASCAR fans are a very proud group of people. And they're also very into getting tattoos. So when you combine those two, you get a lot of people willing to put some very large and ornate NASCAR-related tattoos on their bodies. And we're the winners of that combination because we get to see the crazy, funny and insane things people have put on their skin (and most of them are about Dale Earnhardt). 

So with that, here are the 20 best and worst photos of NASCAR tattoos. We don't feel the need to tell you which ones fall in the "Best NASCAR tattoo" file and which ones fall in the "Worst NASCAR tattoo" file. You'll know them when you see them.

1. The Triple Decker
This looks like what happens when you ask M.C. Escher to design your NASCAR tattoo. Between the depth, the detail and the back skin rolls, you could get trapped staring for hours, like one of those magic eye paintings.

2. She’s Got Leg
Not sure if you can have a daughter after getting a tattoo like that. Also not sure if a woman who exists solely as a tattoo can catch an STD, but if it is possible, this one looks like a good candidate to make it happen.

3. The Devil is in the Details
That’s a proper tribute to Dale Earnhardt. Because you can’t really say good-bye to a fallen icon without Looney Tunes characters (and a little ass crack).

4 R.I.P. Dale Earnhardt
And on the flipside, it’s probably not the best idea to pay tribute to a man who died in a car crash by showing his trademark car number going up in flames.

5. Danica Patrick Arm Candy
Two things are very clear here. 1) This guy likes checking out his arms in the mirror. 2) This guy is left-handed.

6. Rev Her Up
What’s more offensive: the Confederate flag or the fact that they didn’t even bother to use an attractive chick in the tattoo-porn?

7. Face Off
In a race, the checkered flag means the event is over. In this guy’s case, it means any chance of getting health insurance is over.

8. Rock Hard Abs
We wonder how many times he’s gotten laid with the line, “Hey honey, check out my six pack.” Actually, we just wonder how many times he’s gotten laid, period.

9. Treasure Fail
No man should ever make that part of his mid-section the focus of anything. He could have the cure for cancer tattooed down there and nobody would be able to look long enough to read it.

10. Compact Tat
Nothing against the Chevy Impala, but giving it a shout out in arm ink is probably the best way to destroy the “bad-ass” factor of a tattoo. You’d probably look a little scarier with a PT Cruiser on your arm.

11. Gentlemen, Start Your Engines
Remember, it’s called a “tramp stamp” for a reason. Just because you see the checkered flag, doesn’t mean you came in first.

12. Ford, Hear Our Prayer
Nothing pleases the big man upstairs like having his message associated with the logo of a struggling car company that has to recall thousands of its products on a regular basis.

13. Is That A Muppet?
Guy walks into a tattoo parlor: “Hey, I'm a NASCAR fan, can you just doodle a little on my arm and see what you come up with?”
Tattoo artist: “I’m kinda busy, can my seven-year old son do it?”
Guy: “Sure.”
Tattoo artist: “So you want him to draw it on there with a marker before we start inking you up?”
Guy: “Nah, just give him the needle and we’ll see what we wind up with.”

14. He’s Got A Lead Foot
There goes any chance of wearing Tevas to your daughter’s wedding.

15. Back It Up
We’re still not sold on the favorite racer lower back tattoo. It’s kind of like Dale Earnhardt Jr. is quietly smirking at you any time you roll around in the sheets with your special lady.

16. In Dale We Trust
A real quality shout out to a legend that includes the three most important things for a tattoo tribute: classy art, bible verse and bacne.

17. Puttin’ on the Schlitz
You may have laughed when you first looked at this picture, but think about it for a minute. Doesn’t this guy have life figured out way better than the rest of us? He clearly knows what he wants and knows how to get it.

18. Bringing Up The Rear
Ladies and gentlemen, one NASCAR tramp stamp to rule them all! That’s none other than Danica Patrick representing both her country and her sport with a half-American flag, half-checkered flag on her lower back. God bless America.

19. King Cobra
Admit it: There was nothing cooler when you were eight years old than snakes and cars. Kudos to this guy for making sure he never stops feeling that way.

20. Get Your Head in the Game
At least he can grow hair over that now that Earnhardt changed his car number. What’s that? He’s bald? Oh dear, that’s unfortunate. Wait a minute, is that a Bucs logo on his neck? Man, this just keeps getting worse and worse.

By Saul Hutson

Teaser:
<p> NASCAR fans really like to put NASCAR ink on their bodies</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 09:44
All taxonomy terms: infographic, NBA lockout, NBA
Path: /nba/economic-impact-shortened-nba-season-infographic
Body:

The NBA Lockout and The Tax Implicationso enlarge


Source: H&R Block

The shortened NBA season will have some serious implications. And not just on the players who have to play more games crammed into a shorter amount of time. There's also a tax and income implication for a shortened NBA season that affects not only the players, but the economy around where the games are played.

Here's a look at some of the big numbers affected by the NBA Lockout (and a few other fun numbers as well.)

Teaser:
<p> What are the economic implications of the shortened NBA season?</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-non-conference-match-ups-watch
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

The ink is barely dry on the 2011 college football season and Athlon Sports is already fired up about 2012.

The Sears Crystal Ball parade still has plenty of K-Marts to visit before the defending champion Crimson Tide will open practice at the Capstone next summer in an effort to win three titles in four years. But fans can bet Nick Saban is already studying film of the nation's most electric quarterback, Michigan's Denard Robinson.

That is right, two of the most storied programs in history, two 2012 national title contenders and two of the cleanest uniforms of all-time will square off in Cowboys Stadium right out of the gate next fall. Alabama-Michigan is merely the appetizer to what should be yet another stellar college football season.

Here are the top non-conference games to look forward to in 2012:

Week 1 (Sept. 1):

Alabama vs. Michigan (Arlington, Texas)
This game is almost assured of being a top ten match-up and could be the biggest non-conference game of the year nationally. The Michigan backfield combo of Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint will put a totally revamped Bama defense to the test. Alabama isn’t hurting for talent but will have to fill holes throughout the back seven — particularly at linebacker. On offense, Bama has to replace holes at RB, OC, WR and TE but will be facing a reworked Michigan defensive line. This game could have national title implications and will likely come down to quarterback play. Can A.J. McCarron build on his BCS Championship Game MVP performance, or will Shoelace excel on the fast track at Jerry’s World?

Boise State at Michigan State (Aug. 31)
While South Carolina and Vanderbilt get the 2012 season kicked off in Nashville on Thursday night, fans will likely be looking to Friday night for the first marquee match of the season. Boise State, after losing nearly a dozen senior starters from both sides of the ball, will have to go into East Lansing and compete with a team that will be very strong along the line of scrimmage. Replacing Kirk Cousins and Jerel Worthy is not easy, but the Spartans are built from the inside out — just how Mark Dantonio wants it.

Auburn vs. Clemson (Atlanta, Ga.) and NC State vs. Tennessee (Atlanta, Ga.)
These are listed together because they will be played in the same building on the same day. Both sets of Tigers should be able to score but have major questions on defense. NC State returns after a strong finish to 2011 behind quarterback and leader Mike Glennon. The Vols and Derek Dooley are in a near-must-win situation right off the bat as the hot seat in Knoxville will be closely monitored in 2012.

Other Week 1 Match-ups to Watch:

Navy vs. Notre Dame (Dublin, Ire.)
Washington State at BYU
Arkansas State at Oregon
Toledo at Arizona
Southern Miss at Nebraska
Wyoming at Texas
SMU at Baylor

Week 2 (Sept. 8):

West Virginia at Florida State
This game may never happen due to scheduling conflicts and conference realignment. But if it does, it could feature two top-ten teams. Geno Smith and his large array of talented weapons will enter 2012 as a conference contender no matter which league they are in. The media and fans, Athlon Sports included, bought into the hype surrounding this Florida State squad in 2011, and it may be hard not to get excited once again. The Noles will feature one of the most dominant, speedy and physical front sevens in all of the nation. And they will have to be good to slow Smith and company. If E.J. Manuel can stay healthy, and Jimbo Fisher can find a consistent running game, Florida State could find itself in Miami come the New Year. However, if the offensive line (which loses its best two players) doesn’t improve, the Noles could be looking at another four-loss season.

Washington at LSU
The Bayou Bengals will likely begin the season as the No. 1 team in the nation — and should have a chip on their collective shoulder after their awful showing in the title game. Washington isn’t Oregon and likely won’t be able to push around the LSU front seven, but Keith Price is uber-talented and has plenty of pass catchers coming back to challenge those electric LSU DBs down the field.

Miami, Fla. at Kansas State
Bill Snyder returns his Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback (Collin Klein) and plenty of skill talent (John Hubert, Chris Harper). And the defense in Manhattan should also be stout. But Miami fans should expect improvement in Year 2 under Al Golden, and it may all start with this potential Top 25 match-up. Snyder can bet that Golden hasn’t forgotten what happened in 2011 when KSU visited South Beach.

Other Week 2 Match-ups to Watch:

Penn State at Virginia
Oklahoma State at Arizona
Illinois at Arizona State
Iowa State at Iowa
Nebraska at UCLA
Vanderbilt at Northwestern
Wisconsin at Oregon State
USC at Syracuse
Toledo at Wyoming
Utah at Utah State

Week 3 (Sept. 15):

Notre Dame at Michigan State
The Irish defensive front should be nasty in 2012, and they will get a huge strength-on-strength test against a powerful Spartan offensive line. Notre Dame pushed around MSU in the early 2011 meeting and Brian Kelly can bet on the Spartans being fired up about welcoming the Golden Domers to East Lansing next fall.

North Carolina at Louisville
Charlie Strong has the Cardinals in a position to return to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2007. A home date with the Tar Heels means very little to either team as far as conference play is concerned, but this should be a great barometer for two teams with rising expectations.

Other Week 3 Match-ups to Watch:

Virginia Tech at Pitt
Cal at Ohio State
Texas at Ole Miss
Arizona State at Missouri
BYU at Utah
Arkansas State at Nebraska
Texas A&M at SMU
Utah State at Wisconsin
UConn at Maryland

Week 4 (Sept. 22):

Michigan at Notre Dame
Arguably the best game of 2011 featured these two teams and one improbable comeback. Michigan will have already faced Alabama at this point and could be looking to maintain its national championship momentum. Either way, Robinson will be knocked around by a physical Irish front seven that hasn’t forgotten how it lost to the Maize and Blue in 2011. Can he withstand the beating (see E.J. Manuel in the Champs Sports Bowl) and lead Michigan to another key victory over one of its rivals?

Virginia at TCU
The Wahoos are looking to keep the positive trajectory of the program going in 2011 but will be faced with a brutal non-conference slate. Mike London welcomes Penn State to Charlottesville in Week 2 and will then have to travel to TCU two weeks later before facing potential WAC favorite Louisiana Tech in Week 5. Casey Pachall and a plethora of elite offensive skill players will have the Horned Frogs offense in good shape, and the defense is always strong under Gary Patterson, so the O-line is really the only question mark. Fans will know more about these two following this juicy non-con contest.

Other Week 4 Match-ups to Watch:

BYU at Boise State
Syracuse at Minnesota
Louisville at FIU
Louisiana Tech at Illinois

Week 5 (Sept. 29):

Florida State at USF
This weekend won’t feature a huge slate of non-con action, but if Florida State is unbeaten heading down to Tampa, all eyes will be on Raymond James Stadium. If BJ Daniels can become the player USF fans believed he was when he took the starting job three years ago, USF could be a tricky out for FSU. And the inter-Sunshine State rivalries are always intriguing.

Other Week 5 Match-ups to Watch:

Cincinnati at Virginia Tech
TCU at SMU
Louisiana Tech at Virginia

Week 6 (Oct. 6):

Notre Dame vs. Miami (Chicago, Ill.)
What is the old SNL line about a Hurricane vs. Ditka? “Who wins? A Hurricane or Ditka? Ditka – unless the Hurricane is named Hurricane Ditka.” Well, Kelly isn’t quite Mike Ditka, but his defense will do its best Bears impersonation in the Windy City when Miami comes to town. Both teams will be battle-tested at this point and, hopefully for Golden and Kelly, both will have settled on a quarterback by October 6.

Other Week 6 Match-ups to Watch:

Utah State at BYU (Oct. 5)
Boise State at Southern Miss.

Week 7 (Oct. 13:

Stanford at Notre Dame

Week 8 (Oct. 20):

Cincinnati at Toledo

Week 9 (Oct. 27):

Notre Dame at Oklahoma
The Sooners schedule is largely unsettled, but one of two contests set in stone is a visit from the Fighting Irish near Halloween. Notre Dame will have played an incredible schedule at this point and will be in one of two situations: As an unblemished top five team or a bruised, beaten and mangled program that likely lacks great quarterback play. College football fans should be rooting for the former rather than the latter.

Week 12 (Nov. 17):

Wake Forest at Notre Dame

Week 13 (Nov. 24):

Georgia Tech at Georgia
The ACC-SEC rivalries are a fantastic capper to the college football season every year. But in 2012, the stakes could be much higher for a most of the programs involved. First, Georgia is a dark horse national title contender with an “easy” schedule, the best QB in the SEC and 10 starters returning to a much-improved defense. Tech could be playing to knock its rival out of the BCS national title game.

Florida at Florida State
The Noles could also enter the final weekend of regular season action in national title contention. The Gators have been shelled two years in a row by the rival Seminoles and would love an opportunity to knock Jimbo Fisher from the ranks of the unbeaten.

South Carolina at Clemson
One of the most underrated rivalries nationally takes place in the Palmetto State every year. South Carolina and Clemson could both have a single-digit ranking next to their names when they enter the final week of the season, only adding to the palpable hatred between these two programs. Sammy Watkins and Marcus Lattimore should be on full display in this one — as it could be Lattimore’s final regular season game as a Gamecock.

Other Week 13 Match-ups to Watch:

Notre Dame at USC
South Florida at Miami
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest

Related 2012 Content:

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

Athlon Roundtable: Who are the BCS National Title Contenders in 2012?

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

Athlon Consensus 100: 2012's Top 100 Incoming Freshman

Teaser:
<p> 2012 College Football Non-Conference Match-ups to Watch</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /nfl/houston-texans-most-overlooked-3-seed-recent-memory
Body:

If I were a betting man (and I’m not because, well, it’s illegal) I might just be inclined to lay a couple dollars on the Houston Texans coming out of Baltimore this weekend with a win. I know they’re dogs by 9 points, but why not the Texans?

This is a team that nobody is paying any attention to. I understand that the country can’t take their eyes off Tebowmania but have people forgotten that at one point, Houston was 10-3 and the top seed in the AFC? Yes, it’s true that they are down to their third-string rookie quarterback T.J. Yates after losing Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart to injury. But Mark Sanchez was a rookie too. Bear with me here.

 At the risk of reminding bitter New York Jets fans of the “glory days,” the Texans are a lot like the 2009 Jets that reached the AFC Championship. Think about it. Great running game? Check. Great defense? Check. Serviceable game-managing quarterback? Check.

 Coach Gary Kubiak is in the fortunate position where his team’s biggest weakness, the quarterback, does not have to be a deciding factor in the game Sunday. Expect him to lean heavily on the two-headed monster of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. They’ve been doing it all year too, finishing second in the league in rushing at 153 yards per game.

Just the thought of Foster and Tate will rob Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano of a good night’s sleep. It also helps that the offensive line is anchored by one of the NFL’s more underrated centers in Chris Myers. He and his mates paved the way for Foster’s 153-yard day last week in the win over the Bengals.

As for the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has worked wonders with this Houston defense. Ranking near the bottom of the league in every defensive category last year, they fielded the second best defense in football this year, yielding only 285.7 yards per game.

There are great players at every level of the defense. On the line, look no further than rookie defensive end J.J. Watt, a wrecking ball who broke out against the Bengals with an incredible interception return for a touchdown and a sack. The linebacking corps boasts Brian Cushing, a 3rd-year man out of USC, who led the team with 114 tackles. Finally, the secondary got a big boost with free agent signing Johnathan Joseph. He was brought in to improve the atrocious pass defense from a year ago, and they ended up with the third-best pass defense in football.

Well, you say, Yates is still a liability since quarterback is the most important position on the field. That may be true, but all-universe wide receiver Andre Johnson is as good a safety net as any for Yates in the unfriendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium. As long as he limits his mistakes, the run game and the defense might be able to do just enough to pull an upset.

By David Schuman 
 

Teaser:
<p> Has anyone forgotten that the Texans were once 10-3 and atop the AFC.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 06:54
Path: /nfl/wes-welker-victor-cruz-and-arian-foster-prove-theres-value-undrafted-players
Body:

In 2007, Wes Welker lead the NFL in receptions with 112. In 2010, Arian Foster’s All-Pro season came out of nowhere as he led the National Football League in rushing with 1,616 yards. This year, it was the explosive Victor Cruz and his 1,536 receiving yards, good for third in the league. What do these two have in common? Not one of those players was selected by a team in the NFL draft.

 Every April, the NFL draft is a wellspring of hope for every team, be it the Super Bowl champions or the worst team in the league. Each franchise’s scouting department scours the college ranks, searching for that one player who will take them to the next level. It is well documented, however, that the draft is an inexact science.

Here Are The Remaining Undrafted Starters Still Left in this year’s playoffs:

Texans undrafted free agent starters:
Mike Brisiel, G
Arian Foster, RB

Ravens:
Vonta Leach, FB
Jameel McClain, LB

Patriots:
Wes Welker, WR
Brian Waters, G
Stephen Neal, G
Kyle Arrington, CB

Broncos:
Daniel Fells, TE

49ers:
None

Saints:
Jed Collins, FB
Remi Ayodele, DT
Jo-Lonn Dunbar, LB
Jabari Greer, CB

Giants:
Jake Ballard, TE
Victor Cruz, WR

Packers:
Ryan Grant, RB
Cullen Jenkins, DT
Tramon Williams, CB

 It seems like for every Cam Newton there is a Ryan Leaf. Despite this, the conventional thinking is that teams will find their franchise cornerstone in the first round or two. That’s what makes the stories of guys like Welker, Foster and Cruz so amazing. I’m not a general manager and probably never will be, but signing a rookie free agent who goes on to become one of the best at his position has to be an unbelievable feeling.

 Judging by the statistics from his years at Tennessee, Foster looks to be one of those guys that might have slipped under the radar because of a weak senior season. After rushing for 1,193 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior in 2007, he only managed 570 yards and 1 TD as a senior. Either way, Foster has obviously been a huge steal for the Houston Texans, who are hoping he will lead them to a divisional round playoff win over the Baltimore Ravens this weekend.

 At least Foster played for a big-time SEC program. Cruz spent his college years at UMass. Not exactly a powerhouse. He managed to garner some attention in the 2010 preseason when he caught 3 TDs against the Jets. The promising start fizzled though, as he missed the season with an injured hamstring. This year, Cruz developed into Eli Manning’s favorite target, setting a Giants single season record for receiving yards. Not too shabby.

 They may not all be Pro Bowlers like Welker, Foster and Cruz, but there are certainly a handful of undrafted players who turn out to be reliable starters. The eight remaining playoff teams average 2.25 starters who never got drafted. The Saints and Patriots tie for the most with four, while the 49ers have none.

 So Andrew Luck can get all the publicity in the world, but don’t sleep on the guys who slip through the cracks. Your team just may be the one to find that hidden gem ready to break out, leaving Mel Kiper Jr. scratching his head.

By David Schuman

Teaser:
<p> If you thought the draft was the end all be all of the NFL, think again</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 06:40
Path: /nfl/nfl-divisional-round-preview
Body:

A quick preview of all four games of the NFL Divisional Round, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports editors Mitchell Light, Rob Doster, Nathan Rush, Patrick Snow and Steven Lassan:

Saints (14-3) at 49ers (13-3)
Saturday, Jan. 14, 4:30 pm ET, FOX
A classic offense vs. defense, strength vs. strength playoff matchup pits New Orleans’ top-ranked total offense (467.1 ypg) and passing attack (334.2 ypg) against San Francisco’s No. 4 overall defense (308.2 ypg) and No. 1 run defense (77.2 ypg). The Niners were middle-of-the-pack statistically against the pass, ranking 16th overall (230.9 ypg). In fairness, the NFC West champs played with the lead in most games and obviously stuffed the run in nearly every contest, which forced opponents to move the ball through the air, which was not always a good move — San Fran ranked No. 2 in INTs (23) and No. 8 in passing TDs allowed (20) during the regular season. No matter how good coach Jim Harbaugh’s stingy stop-unit plays, Saints quarterback Drew Brees is likely to put points on the board. All eyes will be on 49ers signal-caller Alex Smith, who is making his first career playoff start after throwing for 17 TDs and five INTs this season. Brees, meanwhile, has passed for 49 TDs in 17 games (including last week’s Wild Card shootout win vs. Detroit) — nearly three times as many scoring strikes as Smith, who is unfazed by Brees’ numbers and Super Bowl pedigree. “I really don’t care,” said Smith. “I’m looking to outscore him.”
Saints by 4

Broncos (9-8) at Patriots (13-3)
Saturday, Jan. 14, 8:00 pm ET, CBS
After taking down two-time Super Bowl champ Ben Roethlisberger in the Wild Card Round, Broncos’ shotgun savior Tim Tebow will take on three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady in the Divisional Playoffs. It wasn’t pretty the last time Denver faced New England, as the Patriots stomped out a 41–23 victory at Mile High in Week 15. Tebow threw for 194 yards and rushed for 93 yards and two TDs in that contest; Brady passed for 320 yards and two scoring strikes, as well as one rushing TD, in a winning effort. The Broncos’ defeat snapped a six-game winning streak and started a three-game season-ending slide. The Patriots’ win was the sixth of eight straight, a streak that is still alive heading into this weekend. Although New England posted a 13–3 record this year, Bill Belichick’s team was 0–2 against teams (Steelers, Giants) that finished the season with a winning record. But remember, Brady has a 14–5 career postseason mark and three rings; Tebow is 1–0 in the playoffs after last week’s overtime victory over the Steelers. But Tebow threw for 316 yards and two TDs against Pittsburgh’s No. 1-ranked pass defense; the Pats ranked No. 31 overall (293.9 ypg) this year.
Patriots by 10

Texans (11-6) at Ravens (12-4)
Sunday, Jan. 15, 1:00 pm ET, CBS
The Super Bowl window of opportunity is closing for Baltimore’s future first-ballot Hall of Famers — 36-year-old middle linebacker Ray Lewis and 33-year-old safety Ed Reed. It’s not quite now or never, but it probably is now or next season for the Ravens leaders. And if they are able to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy this year, expect Lewis and Reed to ride off into the sunset. But the key to the Ravens’ success in the postseason is quarterback Joe Flacco, who will have his hands full against an aggressive Houston defense coordinated by Wade Phillips. In Baltimore’s four losses this season, Flacco threw five of his 20 TDs but six of his 12 INTs, leading an offense that managed only 12.75 points per game in those defeats compared to the 27.25 points per game the Ravens averaged in their 12 victories. On the other side, fifth-round rookie and third-string quarterback T.J. Yates will have to put together the type of mistake-free outing he did in last week’s win over the Bengals. In the end, however, both teams would be happier having their QBs hand the ball off to their Pro Bowl runners — Baltimore’s Ray Rice and Houston’s Arian Foster.
Ravens by 5

Giants (10-7) at Packers (15-1)
Sunday, Jan. 15, 4:30 pm ET, FOX
The 2011 Giants are reminiscent of the 2007 G-Men who made a Wild Card run through the playoffs, knocking off Brett Favre in his snowy overtime finale at Lambeau Field in the NFC title game before beating the 18–0 Patriots in a Super Bowl XLII upset. New York’s defense — led by pass rushers Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora — has terrorized opposing quarterbacks, much like the Michael Strahan-led group did several seasons ago. But these Giants won’t be playing against a graybeard in the twilight of his career like Favre was; they will be facing an MVP-caliber Aaron Rodgers — who receiver Greg Jennings thinks is the best Green Bay QB he’s played alongside. “Honestly, right now I definitely have to go with Aaron. His body of work at such a young age, his attention to detail, his discipline. I think it’s really second to none, it’s unparalleled,” Jennings told ESPN New York 1050. “You haven’t really found a QB that has done it the way he has done it.” Rodgers passed for 369 yards, four TDs and one INT in a 38–35 win at New York in Week 13. The Giants, however, have a 4–1 record since that defeat.
Packers by 5

Last week: 3-1 // Season: 177-83
 

Teaser:
<p> A quick preview of all four games of the NFL Divisional Round — the New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos at New England Patriots, Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants at Green Bay Packers — along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports editors.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 04:53
Path: /news/syracuse-orange-roll-villanova-wildcats-philly
Body:

There were a few minutes in the second half of Wednesday night’s game between Syracuse and Villanova where it looked like the Wildcats would make it an exciting finish. But the Syracuse Orange (18-0, 5-0 Big East) did what they’ve done against every other opponent this year: they won. The final score is closer than this one felt. The Villanova Wildcats (8-9, 1-4 Big East) looked out of sorts all night, as the Orange rode a 20-2 first half run to an easy victory.

The star for the Orange was sophomore and Philadelphia native Dion Waiters, who put up 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting in front of several family and friends in attendance.

The kid is a flat out stud, even causing Fran Fraschilla to make a comparison to Dwyane Wade during the broadcast. The amazing part is Waiters comes off the bench. That’s how talented Syracuse is. If tonight’s game is any indication, Coach Jim Boeheim has one special team on his hands.

 Villanova, on the other hand, is probably going to limp to the finish of a season that will likely end the program’s streak of seven straight NCAA tournament berths. Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek have struggled to fill the “go-to guy” void left by the departures of Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes. Wayns averages just over 17 points on the year but was held to merely 3 by the vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone.

The success of Syracuse’s zone has always been based on the length and effort of the Orange players. It is by no means a lazy zone. The movement, help defense and traps are a beauty to behold. Perhaps the key to the whole defense this year though is Fab Melo, the 7’0 sophomore from Brazil.

Rated the 14th overall prospect coming out of high school by ESPN, Melo’s freshman season was largely disappointing. Coming into 2011-2012 though, he was thinner, better conditioned and has become a force in the middle, averaging 2.9 blocks per game. He had 10 blocks in a 75-49 win over Seton Hall earlier this year.

 All of this raises a few inevitable questions: When will Syracuse lose? Can anyone in the Big East challenge them for the conference title? How far will the Orange go in March?

Let me say this.

Syracuse has the deepest team in the country. They play a true nine-man rotation and everyone is capable of contributing, as evidenced by their leading the nation in bench scoring. I haven’t even mentioned Kris Joseph or Scoop Jardine!

They just happen to be on the Preseason All-Big East First and Second Teams, respectively. Throw in experienced point guard Brandon Triche and big men CJ Fair, Baye Keita and James Southerland, and we have a bona-fide national championship contender, ladies and gentlemen. Look for the Orange to remain undefeated for a while too, as they don’t face a ranked team until February 8 when Georgetown visits the Carrier Dome.

By David Schuman
 

Teaser:
<p> The Orange rode a 20-2 first half run to win easily</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 12, 2012 - 08:54
Path: /college-football/2012-heisman-trophy-early-favorites
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

Here at Athlon Sports it is never too early to start looking ahead to the 2012 football season. With an early Top 25 from Steven Lassan to what to expect from the defending champs and the 2012 LSU Tigers to three teams on the rise and three teams on the slide to analyzing the SEC schedules, Athlon Sports is already previewing 2012 in full force. And we haven’t even reached National Signing Day 2012 yet.

The Heisman Trophy is the most coveted award in all of sports. And should the reigning award winner Robert Griffin III decide to return to Baylor, he instantly becomes the top option on this list. However, with the defection of other favorites, LaMichael James, Chris Polk, Andrew Luck and Ronnie Hillman, the front-runners for the 2012 Heisman Trophy are beginning to become more apparent.

The 2012 Heisman Finalists:

Matt Barkley, QB, USC (SR)
2011 Stats: 3,528 yards, 39 TD, 7 INT, 69.1%, 14 rush yards, 2 TD

The nation’s No. 1-rated player in the 2009 Athlon Consensus 100 has completely lived up to his recruiting hype and is now the top candidate for the 2012 bronze statue. He set a USC single-season passing record with 39 scoring strikes in 2011, including 17 in his final four games. His team will likely start in the preseason top five, if not No. 1, and will return the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the nation. Barkley will enter his fourth year under center as the Heisman Trophy front-runner.

Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (JR)
2011 Stats: 163 att., 818 yards, 10 TD, 19 rec., 182 yards, TD

With Trent Richardson moving on to the NFL, Lattimore becomes easily the most talented running back in the country. Through six games and some change before suffering a season-ending injury, Lattimore rushed for 818 and caught 182 yards (144.3 yards from scrimmage per game) and scored 11 total times. He will be the focal point of the offense once again and will likely be a first-team All-American in the preseason. He is simply the most gifted player at his position and could post SEC-record rushing numbers if all falls correctly for the Gamecocks.

Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (SR)
2011 Stats: 2,173 yards, 20 TD, 15 INT, 55.1%, 1,176 rush yards, 16 TD

The most electric player in the nation will return to Ann Arbor with championship aspirations — and possibly not just Big Ten title hopes. He has posted back-to-back 2,000-yard passing and 1,000-yard rushing seasons for unprecedented levels of production from the quarterback position. He has 2,878 yards rushing and 30 scores on the ground over the last two seasons and 4,743 yards through the air with 38 more touchdowns. With Michigan returning largely intact and the likely favorite in the Legends Division (and a BCS Bowl win under his belt already), Shoelace looks to be the top challenger to Barkley in 2012 for the Heisman.

Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (SR)
2011 Stats: 307 att., 1,923 yards, 33 TD, 24 rec., 306 yards, 6 TD

Ball will not come close to posting the numbers he did in 2011, so he is a finalist by default as the top returning vote getter. He tied Barry Sanders' single-season TD record with 39 (to quote one of the greats, "he got more 6s than first grade"), so it a virtual certainty that his scoring numbers will drop behind a revamped offensive line (that always seems to reload) and a quarterback who will be largely unproven. Ball led the nation in rushing and touchdowns and is unlikely to do so again, but his work ethic, the system in which he plays and the fact that Wisconsin could play for a Big Ten title could put Ball back in New York in 2012.

The Runners-Up:

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (SR)
2011 Stats: 4,385 yards, 31 TD, 7 INT, 65.8%, 2 rush TD

Smith was already going to be on most Heisman preseason lists, but a 407-yard, 6-TD performance in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson only solidified him as an elite passer. He can make every throw on the field and has a plethora of talented receivers coming back. Since this team will likely be playing in the Big 12, which has had the uncanny knack for inflating quarterback numbers recently, Smith and head coach Dana Holgorsen are going to leave opposing defenses charred and crippled on most Saturdays.

Robert Woods, WR, USC (JR)
2011 Stats: 111 rec., 1,292 yards, 15 TD, 511 return yards

Woods set a Pac-12 record with 111 receptions as only a sophomore in 2011. The sky is the limit for this uber-talented dynamo who is a complete player at the wide receiver position. He will have talented names like Marquis Lee helping to spread the defense’s attention and the Heisman favorite throwing him passes for the third consecutive season.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (JR)
2011 Stats: 3,149 yards, 35 TD, 14 INT, 59.1%, 103 rush yards, 2 TD

Murray is simply a winner, and the Bulldogs have a chance to win a lot of games in 2012. The Dawgs will be picked to win the SEC East and have a chance to push for a national title berth. Murray enters his third full year as the starter after back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons and an SEC-leading 35 scoring strikes. If he can correct some of his mistakes (14 INT) and improve his efficiency (59.1%), Murray has a serious chance to end up in New York.

Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska (SR)
2011 Stats: 284 att., 1,357 yards, 15 TD, 21 rec., 177 yards, 2 TD

There may not be a more complete, better all-around football player in the entire nation than Sexy Rexy. The leader, in every aspect of the word, for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Burkhead returns for his second full season as the No. 1. He is a true workhorse who can also line up at quarterback, catch the ball out of the backfield and block with a vengeance. The key to Burkhead’s success in 2012 will be the development of quarterback Taylor Martinez. If the passing game can stretch the defense and open up lanes for No. 22, he could be in for a huge year.

Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech (SR)
2011 Stats: 3,013 yards, 19 TD, 10 INT, 59.8%, 469 rush yards, 11 TD

In his first full season as the starter, Thomas started slowly but exploded into the player Hokies fans envisioned when they landed the star recruit. The Cam Newton clone is devastating as a runner and clearly showed development as a passer as the year went along. Thomas didn’t throw an interception in six of his last nine games. The only issue for Thomas is a reworked offensive line and no David Wilson to help carry the rushing game.

Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State (SR)
2011 Stats: 1,918 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT, 57.3% 1,141 rush yards, 27 TD

Klein tied an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (Ricky Dobbs, Navy) with 27 scores. He finished with 40 total touchdowns and only six interceptions en route to a 10-win season. The gritty, gutty signal caller for Kansas State will need to keep his team nationally relevant for him to finally start getting the credit he deserves.

Other Stiff-Armed Contenders:

Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon (SR)
2011 Stats: 2,761 yards, 33 TD, 7 INT, 62.2%, 206 rush yards, 3 TD

Does anyone realize that Darron Thomas has thrown back-to-back seasons of 30 touchdown passes? As a three-year starter for the Ducks, Thomas is in charge in 2012, and with Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas providing plenty of speedy big-play options, Thomas’ numbers could be the best of his career (which is scary). Also, the Ducks are likely a preseason top five team nationally and will be the favorite to meet up with USC in the Pac-12 title game.

Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (SR)
2011 Stats: 4,463 yards, 29 TD, 15 INT, 63.2%, 2 rush TD

Jones’ career numbers alone get him onto this list, but he clearly struggled without Ryan Broyles in what was his worst season as the starter. He returns with over 12,000 yards passing but also 41 career interceptions. Jones will have to take more of a leadership role and produce big numbers — and big wins on the road — to get to New York.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (SO)
2011 Stats: 82 rec., 1,219 yards, 12 TD, 231 rush yards, 826 KR yards, TD

The most electric freshman athlete of 2011 was most certainly Watkins (although, the next name on this list might take umbrage with that statement). The Clemson Tiger star wideout made plays in every facet of the game and is mature well beyond his sophomore classification. If Clemson can keep it together for a full season and the offensive line holes can be plugged, Watkins could find himself in the Big Apple.

Kenjon Barner (SR) and DeAnthony Thomas (SO), RB, Oregon
2011 Stats: 152 att., 939 yards, 11 TD, 17 rec., 184 yards, 3 TD
2011 Stats: 55 att., 595 yards, 7 TD, 46 rec., 605 yards, 9 TD, 983 KR yards, 2 TD

Barner will finally be the starter in the high-powered Oregon rushing attack. He has proven to be very capable of filling in for James and should have no problem producing huge numbers again in 2012. The key will be how Thomas gets worked into the offense. He made huge plays with his electric open-field ability as only a true freshman — and did so in the rushing, receiving and return game. How the touches are divvied up likely impacts which of these two names makes the Heisman push.

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (JR)
2011 Stats: 3,828 yards, 33 TD, 12 INT, 218 yards, 5 TD

Boyd was magical at times in 2011. Try 24 touchdown passes against only three interceptions during the 8-0 start. However, much like Clemson is apt to do, Boyd inexplicably trailed off, throwing for only nine touchdowns and nine interceptions in the final six games of the season. His talent is there and the skill talent around him is remarkable; however, a totally reworked offensive line will be the key to his upside in 2012.

Ryan Aplin, QB, Arkansas State (SR)
2011 States: 3,588 yards, 19 TD, 16 INT, 63.9%, 588 rush yards, 10 TD

Aplin has been a wildly productive player for more than two seasons. But in his third full year as the starter, for a conference champion no less, he could explode in Paul Smith fashion (look it up). Aplin’s dual-threat ability will fit perfectly with what offensive mastermind Guz Malzahn wants to do schematically.

The Long-Shots:

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (SO)
2011 Stats: 1,159 yards, 13 TD, 4 INT, 54.1%, 715 rush yards, 7 TD

The youngest member of this list was unleashed on the Big Ten during the second half of the season last fall. Miller rushed for 472 yards and all seven rushing touchdowns over the Buckeyes' final six games. He also threw eight of his 13 touchdowns over that span. The key for Miller will be continued development as a passer and how much the postseason ban will hurt him a la 2011 Matt Barkley. This team should have the best record in the Leaders Division but will not be allowed to play for a title.

Keith Price, QB, Washington (JR)
2011 Stats: 3,063 yards, 33 TD, 11 INT, 66.9%, 3 rush TD

In his first full season under center, Price made Husky fans quickly forget about Jake Locker. He won seven games and trailed only Andrew Luck as the Pac-12’s most efficient passer. Losing Chris Polk to the NFL will hurt, but there is a litany of talented skill players waiting to step up for Steve Sarkisian.

Keenen Allen, WR, Cal (JR)
2011 Stats: 98 rec., 1,343 yards, 6 TD

Arguably the most physically gifted receiver in the nation, Allen makes the acrobatic catch seem effortless. He has a great rapport with half-brother and quarterback Zach Maynard and will undoubtedly be the top Bears pass-catcher. Keep your eye on No. 21 at all times.

Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas (JR)
2011 Stats: Redshirted due to injury

The most welcome recruit this season in Fayetteville, Ark., will be the return of star tailback Knile Davis. After taking over as the starter about a third of the way through 2010, Davis rushed for at least 100 yards in six of his final seven games, scoring 12 times over that span. Bobby Petrino certainly likes to chuck it around on offense, but his best offenses have always been predicated on a power rushing attack. Davis brings that back to the Hogs offense in 2012.

Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas (SR)
2011 Stats: 3,638 yarsds, 24 TD, 6 INT, 63.2%, 4 rush TD

Anyone running Bobby-P’s offense likely deserves a mention on any early Heisman list. And Wilson is coming off his first full season as the starter in which he led the SEC in passing yards. He will be losing some talented options at wideout, but the receiving corps has plenty of depth and the offense will welcome back Davis. If Wilson can beat Alabama and/or LSU at home and get his team to the SEC title game, he could very easily find himself in Heisman discussions.

Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State (JR)
2011 Stats: 82 rec., 1,388 yards, 12 TD

As the top pass-catching option in a Mike Leach offense, Wilson could produce otherworldly numbers in 2012. He is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to start his career and has done so with three different quarterbacks throwing him the ball. Wazzu will have to win more games, however, in 2012 if this long shot expects to enter the Heisman fray.

Teaser:
<p> Who are the front-runners for the 2012 Heisman Trophy?</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 12, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, NFL
Path: /nfl/which-baltimore-ravens-shows-against-texans
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 3 Houston (10-6) at No. 2 Baltimore (12-4)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

The Ravens await the Texans on Sunday after winning six of their last seven games, including three wins over playoff teams. But whether or not they advance to the AFC Championship game largely depends on which Baltimore Ravens team shows up.

Baltimore destroyed the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 35-7. It rushed for 170 yards and 5.5 yards per carry against the vaunted Steel Curtain. Ray Lewis and company held the Steelers to 66 yards rushing and forced seven turnovers. The tone had been set for the 2011 season, right?

However, the next weekend, Baltimore fell 26-13 to the Tennessee Titans by gaining a grand total of 229 yards. They mustered only 45 yards rushing, turned the ball over three times and couldn’t stop 36-year-old Matt Hasselbeck, who threw for 358 yards and a touchdown in the win.

Two weeks later, Baltimore embarrassed Rex Ryan and the New York Jets 34-17. The Ravens forced four turnovers and held the Jets to 150 total yards of offense. In their next game, the Ravens toppled the then-healthy (aka Matt Schaub) AFC South Champion Houston Texans 29-14 with relative ease.

However, the next weekend, Baltimore fell 12-7 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Ravens mustered only 146 yards of offense, 34 of which came on the ground, and were out-possessed by the Jags 36:15 to 23:45. Maurice Jones-Drew rolled up 105 yards on 30 carries in the win. It was a lackluster performance from the Ravens to say the least.

In Week 9, Baltimore once again handled the Steelers in what was the best game of the season. On the road against the defending AFC Champions, Joe Flacco played brilliant football in the final frame and tossed a game-winning touchdown with eight seconds left. But once again, the Ravens followed a great victory with a mind-boggling defeat. In Week 10, Baltimore turned the ball over three times and allowed Marshawn Lynch to churn out 167 yards from scrimmage on 37 touches in the 22-17 loss to Seattle.

Are we seeing a trend yet? After winning four straight from Week 11-Week 14 (including wins over San Francisco and Cincinnati), the Ravens laid an inexplicable egg in San Diego. The Chargers gained 415 yards of offense in the 34-14 pounding of the eventual AFC North Champs. The loss could have cost the Ravens the division, and a first-round bye, had the Steelers not also lost that weekend to the Niners.

So what’s the point?

If the right Ravens team shows up on Sunday, Texans’ rookie quarterback T.J. Yates won’t fare much better than Matt Schaub did back in the Week 6 victory over Houston. Baltimore held Arian Foster to his third-worst rushing performance of the season (49 yards, 3.3 ypc). And the Ravens trio will produce big numbers like they did in the first meeting — Flacco threw for 305 yards, Ray Rice totaled 161 yards from scrimmage and Anquan Boldin caught 8 passes for 132 yards. If the right Ravens team shows up on Sunday, the Texans won’t have much of a chance to advance to the AFC title game.

If the wrong Ravens team shows up, the Texans will have a chance. Should this happen, the Texans will have to ride Foster and Ben Tate to victory. Houston will have to control the ball and protect their inexperienced signal caller from a veteran and hostile purple defense. And Wade Phillips will have to call a masterful game on defense in an effort to play a swarming, hard-hitting brand of football.

The Ravens' four losses were to far inferior competition (with the possible exception of the Chargers). However, one thing to note is that all four head-scratching defeats came on the road. The friendly confines of MT&T Bank Stadium have been anything but warm and hospitable to the visiting team. Don’t expect that to change much in The Charm City, where there is a 30% chance of snow and a projected high of 37 degrees.

More likely than not, the Ravens will be the ones playing the hard-hitting, swarming defense, as Yates is indoctrinated into road playoff football at its highest level.

Baltimore By The Numbers

Scoring Offense: 23.6 (12th)
Passing Offense: 213.9 ypg (19th)
Rushing Offense: 124.8 ypg (10th)
3rd Down Offense: 42.4% (7th)
Giveaways: 24 (16th)
Sacks Allowed: 33.0 (12th)

Scoring Defense: 16.6 ppg (3rd)
Passing Defense: 196.3 ypg (4th)
Rushing Defense: 92.6 ypg (2nd)
3rd Down Defense: 32.1% (2nd)
Takeaways: 26 (13th)
Sacks: 48.0 (3rd)

Houston By The Numbers

Scoring Offense: 23.8 (10th)
Passing Offense: 219.1 ypg (18th)
Rushing Offense: 153.0 (2nd)
3rd Down Offense: 41.5% (8th)
Giveaways: 20 (6th)
Sacks Allowed: 33.0 (12th)

Scoring Defense: 17.4 ppg (4th)
Passing Defense: 189.7 ypg (3rd)
Rushing Defense: 96.0 ypg (4th)
3rd Down Defense: 35.8% (14th)
Takeaways: 27 (12th)
Sacks: 44.0 (6th)

ALSO READ:
Are the Texans the most overlooked 3-Seed in NFL History?

 

Teaser:
<p> Which Baltimore Ravens Will Show Up Against the Texans?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - 15:28
All taxonomy terms: infographic, sports fans, Overtime
Path: /overtime/which-city-has-best-sports-fans-infographic
Body:
 
What's the best city for sports fans in 2011? Which team has been the best to its fans in the last 20 years? What's the biggest city in America without one of the big four sports teams? These are some of the questions we tackle in this infographic about what it's like to be a sports fan in America.
 
Do you know which 12 cities in America have all four major sports franchises? These are perfect trivia questions to bring up to your friends at the bar.
 
And we also tackle rivalries. Which have gone on the longest, which are the bloodiest and what are the top 10? It's everything you want to know about sports in American cities.
Teaser:
<p> We break down every sports city in America to find which one has the greatest sports fans</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - 14:15
Path: /nfl/new-orleans-saints-better-not-overlook-harbaugh-49ers
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 3 New Orleans (13-3) at No. 2 San Francisco (13-3)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX

There is no hotter team in the land than the New Orleans Saints. They are riding a league-high nine-game winning streak and dropped nearly half-a-hundred on the Detroit Lions last weekend. Since the bye (Week 11), Drew Brees and the Saints have won seven games by an average of 20 points per game with only one decided by less than two touchdowns (Tennessee, 22-17). Of those seven wins, four have come against playoff teams (including last weekend). Sean Payton's bunch has been in playoff mode for the better part of two months.

And Brees has been magical down the stretch. Since the bye week, he has averaged 373.8 yards per game and didn’t throw an interception in five of the seven games. He has thrown 26 touchdown passes over that span and completed more than 72.2% of his passes in five of his last six games.

So it is safe to say the Saints are rolling.

They lead the NFL in third-down offense (56.7%), finished second in the league in sacks allowed and fourth in giveaways. They protect Brees and they protect the football. New Orleans has scored at least 40 points in four straight games, has won six straight games over 2011 playoff teams (the only blemish coming in Week 1 against Green Bay) and possesses the all-time NFL single-season all-purpose yardage leader in Darren Sproles. Yup, that is right — Sproles’ 2,696 all-purpose yards in 2011 were an all-time NFL record. No wonder the Fighting Fleur De Lis opened as a 3-point favorite (for entertainment purposes only, of course).

So against a team that scored 40 points one time all season — in fact, the 49ers topped 30 points only three times all year — all signs point to an easy win for the Saints, right?

Not if Jim Harbaugh has something to say about it.

The Cult of Personality head coach has instantly changed the business culture in the Bay Area. And how this game is played will likely determine the winner. The San Francisco 49ers led the NFL not only in takeaways (38) but also in giveaways as well (10), so the Niners are all but assured of winning the turnover differential. Additionally, they lead the NFL in rushing defense and finished second in the league in scoring defense, allowing a miniscule 14.3 points per contest.

Harbaugh isn’t afraid of anyone, and his team plays with the same confidence. Offensively, the 49ers should be able to control the clock and pick up first downs by physically dominating the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Alex Smith hasn’t turned the ball over (5 INT, 0 fumbles lost) this season and will need to continue to protect the ball if the Niners expect to keep up with the Saints. Because his 17 touchdown passes this year are as exactly as many as Brees has had in his last four games.

Converting on third down and scoring touchdowns instead of field goals — two things the 49ers have struggled to do in 2011 — will be the only way San Francisco can pull the upset. New Orleans owns the best third-down offense in the league and finished sixth in the league in red zone touchdown percentage, reaching paydirt on 59.3% of its trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The 49ers, however, were nearly dead last in the NFL in both categories. They converted on only 29.4% of third downs (31st in the NFL) and scored touchdowns on only 40.7% of trips into the red zone (30th in the NFL). If the Niners can’t sustain drives and score 3s instead of 7s, it could be a long day for Harbaugh.

That said, the Niners also enter the postseason playing well, having won three straight games. They, too, were successful against the NFL’s best, going 3-1 against playoff teams this fall. This game is outdoors on a natural grass surface, which bodes very well for the home team as the Saints are 3-2 outdoors this year and 10-1 in a dome. And Harbaugh certainly wouldn’t mind a little soggy weather rolling in last minute either. But the style of the game is still going to be the deciding factor.

Harbaugh knows he has to keep the score down to win.

San Francisco finished 3-2 in games in which the opposition scored 20 points or more and was 10-1 in which they held the opponent to less than 20 points. There is nothing shocking about winning games when the defense stops the opponent from scoring, but two of the three losses this season came against a team that was able to reach that 20-point plateau. The 49ers are comfortable playing, and would prefer, a low-scoring, tightly contested affair.

The Saints, however, are 6-3 in games in which the opponent scored at least 20 points. They are just as comfortable out-dueling the other team’s offense as the Niners are at eking out victories on defense.

If the 49ers can maintain possession of the ball by converting on third down, score touchdowns instead of field goals, and lastly, pressure Brees with arguably the most dominant front seven in all of football, then the 49ers will win the game.

But if San Francisco is going three and out, settling for field goals and giving Brees time to throw, it will not keep up with the Saints.

The Over/Under total for the game (again, for entertainment purposes only) is currently 47.5. If the game goes under, San Francisco will win. If it goes over, New Orleans will move on to the NFC Championship Game.

New Orleans By The Numbers

Scoring Off: 34.2 ppg (2nd)
Passing Off: 334.2 ypg (1st)
Rushing Off: 132.9 ypg (6th)
3rd Down Off: 56.7% (1st)
Giveaways: 19 (4th)
Sacks Allowed: 24.0 (2nd)

Scoring Def: 21.2 ppg (13th)
Passing Def: 259.8 ypg (30th)
Rushing Def: 108.6 ypg (12th)
3rd Down Def: 33.2% (5th)
Takeaways: 16 (31st)
Sacks: 33.0 (19th)

San Francisco By The Numbers:

Scoring Off: 23.8 ppg (11th)
Passing Off: 183.1 ypg (29th)
Rushing Off: 127.8 ypg (8th)
3rd Down Off: 29.4% (31st)
Giveaways: 10 (1st)
Sacks Allowed: 44.0 (25th)

Scoring Def: 14.3 ppg (2nd)
Passing Def: 230.9 ypg (16th)
Rushing Def: 77.3 ypg (1st)
3rd Down Def: 35.2% (11th)
Takeaways: 38 (1st)
Sacks: 42.0 (7th)
 

Teaser:
<p> New Orleans Saints Can't Overlook Harbaugh, 49ers</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - 12:50
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, Big East
Path: /college-football/college-football-2012-who-are-early-favorites
Body:

It's never too early to start thinking about 2012. Alabama claimed its second national title in three years by dominating LSU 21-0 on Monday night, and both teams are expected to be back in the national title mix next season. 

Athlon's official preseason top 25 won't come out until May, but here's a very early top 25 for 2012.

Who are the early favorites to win college football's national title in 2012?

Braden Gall (@BradenGall
Depending on a large group of redshirt sophomore defenders for LSU returning or turning pro, it will be hard not to pick the Bayou Bengals atop the standings in the preseason. The USC Trojans will also make a strong case for the top slot with Matt Barkley, T.J. McDonald and a host of elite pass catchers returning. However the Trojans will likely have to get past another national contender and preseason top five team, Oregon, in the Pac-12 title game. The winner of the Pac-12 should land in the BCS title game.

I will put Georgia in the mix as one of my darkhorses. The Bulldogs' schedule sets up nicely without Alabama, LSU or Arkansas in SEC play and they return largely intact with another stellar incoming freshman class. Since the SEC will, of course, win its seventh straight national title, the best team in the league yet win a BCS title could sneak its way down to South Beach. It might just be the Dawgs turn in 2012. Also, keep an eye on Michigan as a sleeper as well. They should be the favorite in the Legends and will face a subpar Wisconsin, Illinois or Penn State in the Big Ten title game.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The big question going into 2012 is whether or not anyone can stop the SEC from winning its seventh national title in a row. Considering the conference’s recent run of success and what LSU has coming back next year, it’s a safe bet that one team from the SEC will make it into the national championship game. The Tigers turned in an awful performance against Alabama, but have one of the top returning cores for 2012. The offense has to settle on a quarterback, but the rushing attack and offensive line will be among the best in college football. USC figures to be the top challenger to the SEC champ, as the Trojans are off their two-year bowl ban, and quarterback Matt Barkley decided to return for his senior year. With a reduction in scholarships, depth could ban issue for USC, especially on the interior of the line. I think the Trojans and Tigers have to be considered the top two early favorites, but Oregon could sneak into the mix if it wins the Pac-12 over USC. Regardless of whether or not it is in the Big 12, I like West Virginia as a potential national title darkhorse. Also, Arkansas hosts both LSU and Alabama, which will give the Razorbacks a chance to be a player in the SEC West title mix. 

Mark Ross
My early favorites for next year’s BCS Championship match up are whoever wins the SEC and Pac-12 conferences. In the SEC, I am giving the slightest of edges to Georgia over Alabama because of the Crimson Tide’s expected losses on both sides of the ball. In the Pac-12, I think it will be a fight to the bitter end between Oregon and USC, but the Trojans get the nod here because of Matt Barkley and the motivation that comes from watching the postseason from the sidelines this season.

Other teams that will probably enter the conversation at some point, if not until the very end are Oklahoma, thanks to Landry Jones’ return, from the Big 12 and Michigan in the Big Ten. Michigan will get the chance to make an early statement as the Wolverines open the 2012 season against Alabama. LSU can’t be forgotten either, as the Tigers will get a chance to exact some revenge against Alabama next year and that could be enough to keep the Crimson Tide from getting a shot to defend their national title.

A dark horse team I like is Arkansas in a crowded SEC West. The Razorbacks should have plenty of offense to compete with the rest; they just need the defense to rise to the occasion when it counts.  I also think both teams that played in this year’s Orange Bowl – West Virginia and Clemson – could surprise. We still don’t know what conference (Big East or Big 12) the Mountaineers will be playing in next year, but regardless they have enough weapons to make plenty of noise, just ask Clemson.

The Tigers won’t lack for offensive firepower either, it’s just a matter of establishing a defensive identity and, for the first time under Dabo Swinney, finally putting it all together on a consistent basis.  Clemson also has to travel to Tallahassee to face Florida State next year in a game that could very well determine the ACC’s BCS representative. The Seminoles are similar to Clemson in that they could be in the national title hunt all season provided they are able to get the most out of the talent they have on their roster come game day.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Is it possible to have a BCS Championship Game without an SEC club? The conference with six straight national titles seems like a lock each season, but that amazing run may end in 2012. LSU, Georgia and Alabama will suffer some roster attrition, with the Tigers looking like the early favorite to repeat as league champion. Many people would tab the SEC champ and the Matt Barkley-led USC Trojans as the early favorites, but I think Oregon and Oklahoma will be right there as well. The Ducks had to rebuild the defense this season, and that unit should be much-improved in ’12. Senior signal caller Darron Thomas is back with Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas, plus UO will not face a tough non-conference opener. Oklahoma should be loaded on offense with Landry Jones throwing to Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds, and the defense will be tough despite losing Frank Alexander and Travis Lewis. The Sooners will be the favorite in the Big 12 and will have a chance to score BCS points when they host Notre Dame. While the aforementioned SEC trio and USC will be formidable, I think UO and OU will have great shots to play for a title.
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's editors take a very early look at 2012 and who could be the favorite to win the national title next season.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - 07:37

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