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The BCS just put a bow on its 15th season of action and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late 90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?
The debates will most assuredly rage on for decades, but here is Athlon's two cents. Here are the Top 10 Big 12 teams of the BCS Era (1998-present):
Note: "First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
1. 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: 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.
2. 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: 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.
3. Oklahoma Sooners, 2004 (12-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Championships: Big 12 South, Big 12
Key Stats: No. 8 in nation in total offense (462.1 ypg), no. 6 in rushing defense (94.6 ypg), Adrian Peterson no. 6 in nation in rushing (148.1 ypg) and no. 15 in all-purpose yards (149 ypg) as a freshman
Award Winners: Jammal Brown (Outland Trophy), Jason White (Davey O’Brien Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Maxwell Award)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Jammal Brown (1st, 2005), Mark Clayton (1st, 2005), Davin Joseph (1st, 2006), Adrian Peterson (1st, 2007), Mark Bradley (2nd, 2005), Dan Cody (2nd, 2005), Brodney Pool (2nd, 2005)
This Oklahoma team lived up to its preseason ranking of No. 2, rolling through the regular season undefeated. The Sooners were led on offense by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jason White, freshman running back Adrian Peterson and an offensive line headlined by Outland winner Jammal Brown. All told, the Sooners’ roster featured five All-Americans and 10 All Big 12 selections. Oklahoma matched up with No. 1 USC in the Orange Bowl in a game that featured two Heisman Trophy winners in White and Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart, and two of the best running backs in the nation in Peterson and USC’s Reggie Bush. Unfortunately for the Sooners, the match up on paper didn’t play out on the field, as the Trojans dominated from start to finish, easily beating Oklahoma 55-19. Six years after the game, in June 2010, USC was forced to vacate two wins from its 2004 season, including the Orange Bowl game, after the NCAA ruled that it had used an ineligible player (Bush) among other violations.
4. Oklahoma Sooners, 2008 (12-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Championships: Big 12 South (shared), Big 12
Key Stats: NCAA record 716 points scored, no. 3 in nation in both total offense (349.4 ypg) and passing offense (349.4 ypg), no. 1 in passing efficiency, no. 1 in turnover margin (+1.64), Sam Bradford no. 1 in passing efficiency and no. 4 in total offense (340.5 ypg), Bradford also set school single-season records for yards (4,720), touchdown passes (50) and passing efficiency, DeMarco Murray no. 8 in all-purpose yards (167 ypg)
Award Winners: Sam Bradford (AP Player of the Year, Sammy Baugh Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Heisman Trophy), Bob Stoops (Big 12 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Sam Bradford (1st, 2010), Jermaine Gresham (1st, 2010), Phil Loadholt (1st, 2009), Gerald McCoy (1st, 2010), Trent Williams (1st, 2010)
The highest-scoring team in NCAA history, this Oklahoma team scored no less than 35 points prior to the BCS National Championship game against Florida. Quarterback Sam Bradford rewrote the Oklahoma record books on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. Oklahoma fell to No. 5 Texas, 45-35, in the Red River Rivalry, and ended up tied for first in the Big 12 South with the Longhorns and Texas Tech at 7-1. The Sooners ended up representing the Big 12 South in the Big 12 Championship thanks to a higher BCS ranking over the Longhorns and Red Raiders. After destroying Missouri in the Big 12 Championship, the No. 1 Sooners faced off against No. 2 Florida in the BCS title game. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who finished third to Bradford in the Heisman voting, threw two touchdown passes and the Gators’ defense held the potent Sooners offense to just two touchdowns to deny Oklahoma its eighth national title, defeating the Sooners 24-14.
5. Texas Longhorns, 2009 (13-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Big 12 South, Big 12
Key Stats: No. 3 in the nation in scoring offense (39.3 ppg), no. 3 in total defense (251.9 ypg) and rushing defense (72.4 ypg), tied for second in sacks (3.1 pg),
Award Winners: Mack Brown (Big 12 Coach of the Year), Colt McCoy (Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Manning Award, Maxwell Award, Sporting News College Athlete of the Year, Walter Camp Award)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Earl Thomas (1st, 2010), Lamarr Houston (2nd, 2010), Sergio Kindle (2nd, 2010), Aaron Williams (2nd, 2011)
This Texas team started the season ranked No. 2 and finished it there as the Longhorns rolled through the regular season and Big 12 undefeated. The offense, led by quarterback Colt McCoy and wide receiver Jordan Shipley, put plenty of points on the board, while the defense, led by defensive lineman Lamarr Houston, linebacker Sergio Kindle and defensive back Earl Thomas, kept the opposing team out of the end zone. Texas’ championship dreams were almost dashed by Ndamukong Suh and Nebraska as the Cornhuskers put up a fight in the Big 12 Championship game. The Longhorns escaped, 13-12, thanks to a last-second field goal and went on to face No.1 Alabama in the BCS title game. Unfortunately, for the Longhorns, McCoy went down early with an injury, forcing them to play with an inexperienced quarterback. That and the Crimson Tide’s punishing running game were too much to overcome as Texas fell to Alabama 37-21.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys, 2011 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Mike Gundy
Championships: Big 12, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Brandon Weeden set single-season Cowboys yards and TD passing records, Finished second in the nation in passing (387.2 ypg) and scoring offense (48.7 ppg), Joseph Randle was fourth in the nation in scoring (12.0 ppg), Justin Blackmon was third in the nation in receptions (9.3/game)
Award Winners: Justin Blackmon (Biletnikoff Award, Fiesta Bowl MVP), Grant Garner (Big 12 Off. Lineman of the Year), Quinn Sharp (Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year),
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Justin Blackmon (1st, 2012), Brandon Weeden (1st, 2012)
The Cowboys never experienced a season like it did in 2011 behind the leadership of quarterback Brandon Weeden. The star quarterback broke his own single-season school records for passing yards (4,727) and touchdowns (37) en route to the program's first Big 12 Championship. The remarkable Fiesta Bowl win over Stanford was the first Pokes first BCS bowl win in its first BCS bowl appearance. Blackmon set all types of records with an 8-catch, 186-yard, 3-TD performance in the Fiesta Bowl. A loss to Iowa State late in the year was the only thing that kept Mike Gundy from taking his alma mater to the promised land.
7. Oklahoma Sooners, 2003 (12-2, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Championships: Big 12 South
Key Stats: No. 3 in the nation in scoring offense (42.9 ppg), no. 5 in scoring defense (15.3 ppg), no. 3 in total defense (259.6 ypg), no. 2 in pass defense (146.4 ypg)
Award Winners: Tommie Harris (Lombardi Award), Teddy Lehman (Bednarik Award, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus Award), Derrick Strait (Thorpe Award), Bob Stoops (Big 12 Coach of the Year, Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year, Walter Camp National Coach of the Year, Woody Hayes National Coach of the Year), Jason White (AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Award, Heisman Trophy)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Jammal Brown (1st, 2005), Mark Clayton (1st, 2005), Tommie Harris (1st, 2004), Davin Joseph (1st, 2006), Mark Bradley (2nd, 2005), Dan Cody (2nd, 2005), Teddy Lehman (2nd, 2004), Brodney Pool (2nd, 2005)
Outside of a seven-point win against Alabama on the road, this Oklahoma team, which featured seven All-Americans and 11 first team All Big 12 members, was not challenged in its first 12 games of the season, winning by an average of more than 35 points per game. The offense, led by Heisman Trophy winner Jason White, scored 34 or more points in all but two games, including seven games with 52 or more points. The defense headlined by defensive lineman Tommie Harris, linebacker Teddy Lehman and defensive back Derrick Strait held every opponent to 28 points or less and gave up three or less three times. The Sooners’ train almost completely went off of the tracks after getting pummeled by No. 10 Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship 35-7. Even though the Sooners dropped to No. 3 in both of the human polls, they kept their No. 1 BCS ranking putting them in the Sugar Bowl against No. 2 LSU. For the second straight game, however, Oklahoma’s offense could not get on track as White had one of the worst games of his career. LSU’s defense held White to just 102 yards passing and picked him off twice, returning one of them for a touchdown as the Tigers defeated the Sooners 21-14 and won the national title, or at least according to the coaches’ poll.
8. Texas Longhorns, 2004 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Rose Bowl
Key Stats: No. 2 in nation in rushing offense (299.2 ypg), no. 7 in total offense (464.4 ypg), Cedric Benson no. 4 in nation in rushing (152.8 ypg), no. 7 in all-purpose yards (167.8 ypg) and scoring (20 TDs, 10.0 ppg)
Award Winners: Cedric Benson (Doak Walker Award), Derrick Johnson (Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus Award, Nagurski Trophy), Vince Young (Rose Bowl Offensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Cedric Benson (1st, 2005), Michael Griffin (1st, 2007), Michael Huff (1st, 2006), Derrick Johnson (1st, 2005), Aaron Ross (1st, 2007), Vince Young (1st, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Tim Crowder (2nd, 2007), Cedric Griffin (2nd, 2006),
Led by All-American running back Cedric Benson and young quarterback Vince Young, this Texas team dominated the ground game, rushing for almost 300 yards per game. Texas’ lone loss of the season was a big one, as the Longhorns fell to No. 2 Oklahoma 12-0 in the Red River Rivalry, which kept Texas out of the Big 12 title game. Texas still received a spot in a BCS bowl as they were sent to the Rose Bowl to face No. 12 Michigan. Down by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, Young scored twice and then led his team down the field to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired in the Longhorns’ 38-37 victory over the Wolverines. For the game, Young rushed for 192 yards and was responsible for all five (four rushing, one passing) of Texas’ touchdowns, earning what would be the first of his consecutive Rose Bowl Offensive MVP awards.
9. Texas Longhorns, 2008 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: No. 5 in nation in scoring offense (42.4 ppg), no. 2 in passing efficiency, no. 3 in rushing defense (83.5 ypg), no. 1 in sacks (3.6 pg), Colt McCoy no. 5 in total offense (340 ypg), no. 3 in passing efficiency, Brian Orakpo no. 6 in sacks
Award Winners: Colt McCoy (Archie Griffin Award, Big 12 Offensive MVP, Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP, Walter Camp Award), Roy Miller (Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP), Brian Orakpo (Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (5): Earl Thomas (1st, 2010), Lamarr Houston (2nd, 2010), Brian Orakpo (1st, 2009), Sergio Kindle (2nd, 2010), Aaron Williams (2nd, 2011)
This Texas team was firing on all cylinders out of the gate. Led by quarterback Colt McCoy, who would end up finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Sam Bradford, his counterpart from Oklahoma, the Longhorns scored 38 or more points in their first seven games. Included in this streak was a 45-35 win over No. 1 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry that not only put Texas atop the polls, but also in the driver’s seat for a spot in the Big 12 Championship and potentially, the national championship. However, Texas Tech would have something to say about that as the Red Raiders knocked off the Longhorns 39-33 in Lubbock just three weeks after the Oklahoma game. That resulted in a three-way tie atop the Big 12 South. Oklahoma got to play in the Big 12 Championship by virtue of a higher BCS ranking, while Texas was left out and had to settle for a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. While the Fiesta Bowl may not have been the postseason spot it had initially hoped for, Texas didn’t let that get in the way of its performance on the field, defeating No. 10 Ohio State 24-21 and setting the stage for its national title run the following season.
10. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 1999 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Frank Solich
Championships: Big 12 North, Big 12, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: No. 3 in nation in scoring defense (12.5 ppg), no. 4 in total defense (252.3 ypg), no. 2 in passing defense (175.2 ypg), no. 6 in rushing defense (77.1 ypg), no. 4 in rushing offense (265.9 ypg),
Award Winners: Eric Crouch (Big 12 Co-Offensive Player of the Year, Fiesta Bowl MVP), Frank Solich (Big 12 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (4): Mike Brown (2nd, 2000), Toniu Fonoti (2nd, 2002), Dominic Raiola (2nd, 2001), Kyle Vanden Bosch (2nd, 2001)
Nebraska’s Blackshirts were in fine form to start the 1999 season as the Cornhuskers’ defense gave up 14 or fewer points the first six games. Texas put 24 on the board against them in Austin as the No. 18 Longhorns upset the third-ranked Cornhuskers on Oct. 23. Nebraska would rebound from that loss to win its next four by a combined score of 135-62, setting up a rematch against No. 12 Texas in the Big 12 Championship. This time the Cornhuskers won 22-6 and then ended the season with a 31-21 victory over No. 6 Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl.
Best of the Rest:
Kansas Wildcats, 2012 (11-2, 8-1) Big 12 Champions
Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2001 (11-2, 7-1)
Texas Tech Red Raiders, 2008 (11-2, 7-1)
Kansas State Wildcats, 2003 (11-4, 6-2) Big 12 Champions
Oklahoma Sooners, 2007 (11-3, 6-2) Big 12 Champions
Missouri Tigers, 2007 (12-2, 7-1)
Kansas Jayhawks, 2007 (12-1, 7-1)
Oklahoma Sooners, 2010 (12-2, 6-2) Big 12 Champions
Oklahoma Sooners, 2006 (11-3, 7-1) Big 12 Champions
Colorado Buffaloes, 2001 (10-3, 7-1) Big 12 Champions
NFL football is the greatest reality TV program of all time. The Giants and Colts made sure of that back in 1958. Each NFL fall weekend is a completely new and original experience for every player, fan and coach alike. New stories, new personalities, new winners and new losers. And new statistics.
Here are the most important, most intriguing and most bizarre statistics from NFL's Championship Weekend:
17: Largest NFC Championship game comeback in history for the 49ers
The Atlanta Falcons, ironically, held the previous record for largest comeback in an NFC Championship game at 13 points when they came from behind to beat the Minnesota Vikings in 1998. The 49ers watched Matt Ryan and Julio Jones rip through their Pro Bowl-laden defense in the first half to take a 17-0 lead seconds into the second quarter. But both sides of the ball made major adjustments and San Francisco outscored Atlanta 28-7 over the final three quarters to earn its sixth (5-0) trip to the Super Bowl.
27.6: Vernon Davis career playoff yards per catch
His touchdown totals have dropped for four consecutive years. His yardage totals have gone down four straight seasons as well. And he posted his lowest catch total (41) since 2008. But when the bright lights of the NFL playoffs have clicked on the last two years, Vernon Davis has been virtually unstoppable. He caught five passes for 106 yards and Colin Kaepernick's lone touchdown pass in the win over Atlanta to help lead the Niners back to Super Sunday. It gives the former Maryland Terrapins star 16 receptions, 398 yards and five touchdowns in four career playoff games. It was Davis' third 100-yard receiving effort and the third game he has caught at least one touchdown in four career starts.
39-9-1: Jim Harbaugh's coaching record the last three seasons
Stanford was 1-11 the year before Jim Harbaugh took over and in just four seasons, he led Stanford to a 12-1 year and the school's first-ever BCS bowl win in the Orange Bowl over Virginia Tech. This after back-to-back 11-1 seasons and Pioneer League titles at the University of San Diego. Since moving up to the NFL, he has coached in 36 games, including four playoff games, and has won 27 times. His has won at least 12 games in each of last three seasons (12-1 at Stanford, 14-4 and 13-4-1 at San Francisco) and is making his Super Bowl debut in just his second professional campaign.
0: Combined points scored in the second half by Atlanta and New England
Baltimore and San Francisco have their defenses to thank for making it to the Super Bowl, but the last two rounds of the playoffs definitely featured the offenses. The average combined score of the last six playoff games was 61.5 points per game — or over 30 points per game per team. Only the Patriots, ironically the top scoring offense in the league (34.8 ppg), and the Falcons failed to score at least 28 points over the last two weekends. Denver and Green Bay both scored over 30 points and lost while Houston put up 28 and was sent packing as well. It puts into perspective what both the Ravens and 49ers accomplished on the road this weekend by both pitching second-half shutouts against Tom Brady and Matt Ryan with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
67-1: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady's home record when leading at halftime
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady had never lost a home game together after leading at halftime when they took a 13-7 lead into halftime over Baltimore this weekend. The Ravens, behind a huge third quarter (and one play) from Joe Flacco, outscored the Patriots 21-0 in the second half. The Pats were stymied three times in the red zone (1-for-4) while Flacco produced four scores in four trips into the money zone. Flacco is now 8-4 in 12 career postseason starts.
5,949: NFL record postseason passing yards for Tom Brady
Brett Favre had thrown for more yards in the playoffs than any quarterback in history with 5,855 yards passing after an amazing 20-year career. Tom Brady didn't end his 13th NFL campaign the way he wanted to, but after throwing for 320 yards in the loss to Baltimore, he passed Favre as the most prolific postseason passer in league history. He has thrown for 5,949 yards in 24 career postseason games. More importantly, however, he fell to 5-2 as the starter in the AFC Championship game.
249: Total career games Ray Lewis will play in the NFL
When Lewis gyrates his way onto the field in Super Bowl XLVII he will be doing so for the 249th time in his illustrious 17-year career. It will be the last time football fans will have a chance to watch what could be the greatest middle linebacker to ever play the game. It will be his 21st career playoff game and there is little doubt that his emotional leadership has been and will be a huge factor in the Ravens' 2012 playoff fate.
2: Head coaches in the Super Bowl born in Toledo, Ohio
Only once have two brothers ever coached against one another in a regular season game. When Jim and John Harbaugh got together in 2011 on Thanksgiving it marked the first and only such occasion. Now, the same two brothers born 15 months apart from each other in Toledo, Ohio, to Jack and Jackie Harbaugh will stand on opposite sidelines in the biggest sporting event in the world. Odds are it will be simultaneously the most joyous and painful evening for Mom and Dad.
The start of spring practice is still over a month away, but college football coaches have already turned the page from 2012 to 2013. With the passing of the NFL Draft deadline and new recruits coming in after Signing Day, coaches have a good idea about their roster and some of the holes facing their team.
Even though it’s January, it’s never too early to start thinking about replacements for some of college football’s top departing players.
USC had a disappointing 2012 campaign, but the Trojans still have the talent to compete for the Pac-12 South title. However, replacing quarterback Matt Barkley will be no easy task. Max Wittek made two starts late in the year and will begin spring practice as the favorite to start under center for USC.
In addition to Wittek, the spotlight will be on Oklahoma’s Blake Bell, Stanford’s Barry Sanders and Wisconsin’s James White and Melvin Gordon – just to name a few.
10 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in College Football
Max Wittek, QB, USC
Matt Barkley finished his USC career with a solid 2012 season but it certainly wasn’t the year most expected. Pegged as a heavy Heisman favorite in the preseason, Barkley finished the year with 3,273 yards and 36 touchdowns but missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. While not having Barkley certainly contributed to USC’s disappointing close to the year, his absence allowed Max Wittek to get a head start on 2013. In eight games this season, Wittek threw for 388 yards and three touchdowns but also tossed five picks and completed just 52.2 percent of his throws. With wide receiver Marqise Lee and running back Silas Redd returning next season, if Wittek quickly settles into the starting role, the Trojans will have a chance to push UCLA and Arizona State for the Pac-12 South title.
Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma
While Landry Jones never led Oklahoma to a national championship or emerged as a serious Heisman contender, the New Mexico native threw for 16,646 yards and 123 touchdowns over the last four seasons. Jones also guided the Sooners to 32 victories over the last three years, one BCS bowl appearance and an outright conference title in 2010. Bell is the frontrunner to replace Jones, although he will face competition in the spring from Drew Allen, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson. Bell has played sparingly over the last two seasons, throwing only 20 passes for 115 yards and no scores. The Kansas native has been a bigger factor on the ground, rushing for 372 yards and 24 touchdowns. There’s no question Bell will be a major factor in Oklahoma’s rushing attack. However, he has to show he can beat defenses with his arm on a consistent basis.
Mario Edwards Jr., DE, Florida State
Injuries to Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius Carradine forced Edwards into a bigger role than he anticipated in the preseason. However, stepping into significant snaps wasn’t an issue for the No. 2 rated recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. Edwards played in 11 games, recording 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks. The freshman made three stops in the Orange Bowl victory over Northern Illinois and picked up seven tackles in the ACC Championship win over Georgia Tech. Even though Florida State will have a new defensive coordinator (Jeremy Pruitt), the addition of Sal Sunseri and Charles Kelly as assistants should keep this unit among the best in the nation. If he picks up where he left off at the end of 2012, Edwards Jr. has potential to be an All-ACC selection in 2013.
Ego Ferguson/Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
No team was hit harder by the NFL Draft deadline than LSU. The Tigers lost 11 players a year early, including defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan. In addition to the early departures, Josh Downs and Lavar Edwards expired their eligibility after the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Ferguson and Johnson enter their junior season poised to emerge as standouts for LSU’s defense. Both tackles played in all 13 games this season, with Ferguson recording 14 stops, while Johnson made 30 tackles and three sacks. The Tigers need some time to let the new pieces on defense come together, but if Ferguson and Johnson emerge early in the year, LSU’s defensive line won’t miss a beat.
Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
Kelly has some of the biggest shoes to fill in college football next season. Barrett Jones departs Alabama as one of the most successful linemen of the BCS era, garnering first-team All-American honors for 2011 and 2012. Jones battled a foot injury last season, which allowed Kelly to gain valuable experience. The Ohio native played in 10 games in 2012 and is a key piece to Alabama’s offensive line next year. Kelly probably won’t match Jones’ postseason accolades next season, but he should keep the Crimson Tide line playing at a high level.
Julien Obioha, DE, Texas A&M
Obioha isn’t technically replacing Damontre Moore, but the sophomore will be counted on for a bigger role in the defense next season. Moore was one of the SEC’s top defenders in 2012, leading Texas A&M with 85 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks. Obioha started 12 games as a true freshman, making 25 tackles and one sack. With Moore no longer in College Station, it’s up to Obioha to keep the Aggies’ pass rush among the top half of the SEC. Texas A&M will need more than Obioha to replace Moore, but considering he started 12 games as a true freshman, bigger things could be in store for the Louisiana native in 2013.
Daniel Sams/Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State
Replacing Collin Klein’s production is no easy task for Kansas State in 2013. However, with Bill Snyder on the sidelines in Manhattan, the Wildcats can’t be counted out of the Big 12 title mix. Klein finished 2012 with 3,561 yards and 39 total scores and ranked third behind Johnny Manziel and Manti Te’o in Heisman voting. Sams played eight games in 2012, throwing for 55 yards on six completions and rushing for 235 yards and three scores on 32 attempts. Considering his experience last season, Sams should be the frontrunner to open 2013 as the starter. However, junior college recruit Jake Waters will compete with Sams in the preseason. Waters is regarded as one of the top junior college recruits in the nation and certainly isn’t being brought to Manhattan to hold a clipboard.
Barry Sanders, RB, Stanford
Coming off a 12-win season and a victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Stanford will be a legitimate national title contender in 2013. The Cardinal does have a few concerns to address in the offseason, starting on offense with the departure of running back Stepfan Taylor. The Texas native had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and scored 40 rushing touchdowns in his career. While Taylor is a huge loss, coach David Shaw does have capable options on the bench. Anthony Wilkerson has been a dependable backup over the last three years, while sophomore Remound Wright was a top-25 running back coming out of high school. Although Wilkerson and Wright will see a share of the carries, redshirt freshman Barry Sanders is ready for a breakout season. The Oklahoma native was regarded as one of the top 50 recruits in last year’s signing class and will have one of the Pac-12’s top offensive lines paving the way next season.
Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
The pieces are in place for Ohio State to compete for a national title in 2013. However, there’s one glaring area of concern for coach Urban Meyer. The defense is losing ends John Simon and Nathan Williams, along with tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel. If the Buckeyes quickly reload up front, Ohio State could be making a trip to Pasadena to play for the BCS title. Spence was one of the Buckeyes’ top recruits last season and recorded 12 tackles in 11 games this year. The Pennsylvania native should benefit with another offseason to work in the weight room and is a key centerpiece in Ohio State’s defense in 2013.
James White/Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Even though record-setting running back Montee Ball expired his eligibility after the Rose Bowl, there’s not too much concern about the rushing attack in Madison. And despite a coaching change, Wisconsin won’t stray too far from its usual ground and pound offense. James White rushed for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2010 and has 1,519 yards and 18 scores over the last two years. Gordon redshirted in 2011 and rushed for 621 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman in 2012. His breakout performance came against Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship, gashing the Cornhuskers for 216 yards on nine carries. White isn’t built to handle 200-250 carries a year, which makes Gordon the perfect complement back at 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds.
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Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2013
Early SEC Predictions for 2013
New helmets, alternate colors and different uniforms combinations are some of the biggest trends with nearly every team in college football over the last few years. Some of the alternate jersey and helmet combinations are done to appeal to recruits and it certainly doesn’t hurt with extra revenue coming through the program in the way of merchandise sales.
With the 2013 season months away, plenty of programs will be unveiling new looks for the next season.
Baylor got a head start on continuing this recent trend, as assistant coach Jeff Lebby tweeted a picture of the Bears’ new gold (and very shiny) helmets for 2013:
With 347 Division I teams, following college basketball can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college hoops week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriguing, most important and most interesting stats from around the sport:
60. An arbitrary stat for the Butler’s buzzer beater against Gonzaga
What kind of stat should we choose for Roosevelt Jones’ buzzer-beating floater to defeat Gonzaga 64-62? How about No. 1, for the best game of the season so far? Or 3.5 as in seconds remaining when Jones stole David Stockton’s inbound pass when Gonzaga, led by 2? Or two, as in the top-15 teams (according to kenpom.com) Butler has defeated this season (Indiana and Gonzaga)? Or five, as in total points for the Gonzaga starting backcourt of Kevin Pangos (12.1 ppg), Gary Bell Jr. (8.8 ppg), and Mike Hart (2.2 ppg)? Let’s go with 60, which is on the low end of an adult’s normal pulse rate at rest. Take a closer look at the video from the game-winning shot, find Butler coach Brad Stevens, and take his pulse:
26.8: Florida’s margin of victory in SEC games
The Gators defeated Missouri 83-52 on Saturday, giving the Gators another SEC rout. Florida is defeating conference opponents by an average of 26.8 points per game, the best scoring margin for any team in its conference this season. Only two other teams are defeating conference opponents by more than 20 points per game: Belmont by 22.1 points in the Ohio Valley and Southern by 20.4 in the SWAC.
6-to-10: Phil Pressey’s assist-to-turnover ratio against Florida
Missouri point guard Phil Pressey entered Saturday with a 2.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio this season, but he came close to flipping that against a top defensive team in Florida. Pressey had six assists and a career-high 10 turnovers agains the Gators. He also struggled from the field, going 1 of 7 with two points.
11: Points by Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams in the final 7:22 against Louisville
Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams was nearly a goat against Louisville. Through 32 minutes or so, he had eight turnovers, the last one off a Russ Smith steal to put Louisville up 62-57. Carter-Williams more than atoned for that by scoring 11 of Syracuse’s final 13 points and assisting on a Jerami Grant layup in the final 7:22. Carter-Williams had a steal of Peyton Siva and a dunk for the go-ahead basket and then a steal in a scrum under the basket to seal Syracuse’s 70-68 road win.
5.8: Points per game for Peyton Siva in his last four against Syracuse
Peyton Siva is one of the nation's top point guards, just not against Syracuse. The Cardinals senior has averaged 5.8 points per game against Syracuse in four games in the last two seasons. Louisville's 70-68 loss to Syracuse was Siva’s worst performance against the Orange since he became a full-time player. Siva scored 3 points on 1-of-9 shooting and 1-of-7 from three point range.
5-0: Oregon’s best conference start since 1973-74
Oregon, picked seventh in the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll, is off to a 5-0 start in the league, its best since 1973-74. The Ducks aren’t doing it cheaply either. They defeated UCLA 76-67 on the road Saturday more than a week after handing previously undefeated Arizona a 70-66 loss. Oregon will hope this 5-0 start is better than the one in the Pac-8 in 1973-74: The Ducks finished that season 15-11 overall and 9-5 in the conference.
17: Combined points for Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams against Oregon
UCLA was off to an inauspicious start when coach Ben Howland didn’t start Shabazz Muhammad as punishment for being late to practice. UCLA’s two star freshmen can score 17 points on their own on a given night — Muhammad averages 18.4 points per game, Jordan Adams 15.6. But against Oregon, Muhammad scored 10 points in 28 minutes. Adams struggled even more by scoring only seven points, all on free throws. He went 0 for 6 from the field.
17 and 13: Points and rebounds by Wichita State’s Carl Hall against Creighton
The return of Carl Hall from a broken thumb turned out to be the equivalent of a trade-deadline deal for Wichita State. Hall, who missed seven games from Dec. 20 to Jan. 13, scored 17 points and 13 rebounds in the 67-64 win over Creighton to give the Shockers the Missouri Valley lead. Hall is a former MVC defensive player of the year and Wichita State’s best low-post scorer.
50. Percentage of Ohio State’s scoring that came from Deshaun Thomas on Saturday
Perhaps belaboring the point, Ohio State does not have a second scorer to complement Deshaun Thomas. The 6-foot-7 matchup headache scored 28 points against the Spartans. Other Buckeyes not named Deshaun Thomas scored 28 points against the Spartans in Ohio State’s 59-56 loss. Thomas was 10 of 20 from the field against Michigan State, while seven other Buckeyes combined to go 9 of 27. On the game’s final play, Ohio State guard Shannon Scott, rather than getting the ball to Thomas, took a 3-pointer expecting to be fouled. The foul never came, and the off-balance, awkward shot hit the side of the backboard.
165: Games since Air Force scored 90 points against a Division I foe
In a huge week for statements in the Mountain West, even Air Force made news. The Falcons defeated NCAA Tournament contender Boise State 91-80, topping 90 points against a Division I opponent in 165 games. The last time was a 94-68 win over Wake Forest on Nov. 29, 2006. Air Force’s coach at the time was Jeff Bzdelik, who is now the coach at Wake Forest. At 10-6, Air Force will look to top 16 wins for the first time since 2006-07.
The top two teams in the NFC meet on Sunday to determine who will represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVII, as the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons face off in the NFC Championship game at 3 p.m. ET on FOX. The 49ers find themselves in the conference title game for the second year in a row, but this time must get the job done on the road against the Falcons, who have lost just one game in the Georgia Dome this season.
When the San Francisco 49ers have the ball:
San Francisco’s offense was clicking on all cylinders in last week’s 45-31 win over Green Bay in the NFC Divisional round, thanks to a record-setting effort from quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The second-year pro out of Nevada, who ascended to the starting job in Week 11 because Alex Smith suffered a concussion, put together one of the best postseason performances in NFL history in his first-ever playoff game. Kaepernick tormented the Packers with both his arm and his legs, as he rushed for 181 yards, the most ever by a quarterback in an NFL game, and threw for another 263, while accounting for four total touchdowns (two rushing, two passing) and just one turnover (INT). Kaepernick averaged more than 11 yards per carry, but he wasn’t alone in chewing up yards on the ground against the Packers. Running back Frank Gore added 119 rushing yards and a touchdown of his own on 23 carries (5.2 ypc), as he and Kaepernick combined for 300 of the team’s 323 yards rushing, the most ever by the 49ers in a playoff game. The team’s 579 total yards of offense also set a new franchise postseason standard and were second only to the 621 yards the 49ers had in their 45-3 win over Buffalo back in Week 5. With Kaepernick and Gore getting it done on the ground, wide receiver Michael Crabtree continued his stretch of productive games, as he led the way with nine receptions for 119 yards and caught both of Kaerpernick’s touchdown passes. Crabtree has clearly established himself as the quarterback’s favorite target, as he has caught 50 passes for 714 yards and seven touchdowns in the eight games Kaepernick has started. Although he hasn’t been near as productive as Crabtree, tight end Vernon Davis can’t be overlooked, especially considering Atlanta gave up eight receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown to Seattle’s Zach Miller last week. Davis’ lone catch against Green Bay went for 44 yards, and the Falcons will have to do their best to limit big plays by the 49ers, which have been more commonplace since Kaepernick took over. Besides the long pass to Davis, Kaepernick also had a 45-yard hook up with Gore and both of his touchdown runs were on plays of 20 or more yards, highlighted by his 56-yard gallop in the third quarter to put the 49ers ahead for good. The 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, so as long as Kaepernick can take care of the ball when he’s in the pocket and make the right decisions when he gets out of it, this offense should produce. Kaepernick also showed his mental toughness and resolve against Green Bay when he bounced right back after throwing an interception on the 49ers’ first offensive series that the Packers returned for a touchdown and early 7-0 lead. That proved to be Kaepernick’s lone mistake that night, as he marched his team right back down the field on the next possession, capping it off with a 20-yard touchdown run.
Even though Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson torched Atlanta’s defense for 385 yards passing, the Falcons rose to the occasion when they needed to and did a solid job stopping the run last week. Atlanta held Seattle scoreless for an entire half and limited running back Marshawn Lynch to just 46 yards on 16 carries (2.9 ypc) for the game. Wilson led the Seahawks with 60 yards rushing on just seven carries (8.6 ypc), and the Falcons’ run defense will need a similar, if not better, effort against the 49ers’ two-headed rushing attack of running back Frank Gore and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Limiting Kaepernick’s impact on the ground will be especially key as the Falcons’ defense has struggled with quarterbacks who can run. In addition to Wilson’s production last week, Atlanta gave up a total of 202 yards rushing and two touchdowns on just 18 carries (11.2 ypc) in two games against Carolina’s Cam Newton during the regular season. Keeping Kaepernick contained in the pocket will be key, something that was a bit of an issue against Wilson, especially in the fourth quarter. As a collective unit, the Falcons’ defense played very well through the first three quarters, but experienced a number of breakdowns in the final period. The Seahawks scored three straight touchdowns in the fourth to take a one-point lead, as Wilson had little trouble finding tight end Zach Miller (8 rec., 142 yds., TD) in the middle of the field or was able to hook up with one of his wide receivers down the field. The 49ers don’t turn the ball over that often, so a more disciplined effort from the Falcons, one that goes a full four quarters, will be needed to try and slow down Kaepernick and company.
When the Atlanta Falcons have the ball:
Similar to its defense in stopping the run, Atlanta’s rushing offense also stepped up when it was needed most in the 30-28 win over Seattle. Led by running back Michael Turner’s 98 yards, the Falcons rushed for a season-high 167 yards on 26 carries (6.4 ypc) against the Seahawks. Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers (10 att., 64 yds.) provided a nice one-two punch in the backfield, making things easier on quarterback Matt Ryan and the passing game. The Falcons will need similar production from their two backs against a 49ers defense that gave up 104 yards rushing on just 16 carries (6.5 ypc) to the Packers. With the support of the ground game, Ryan did the rest, as the fifth-year starter put together his best playoff performance yet – 24-of-35 for 250 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions — against the Seahawks. The interceptions are still a concern and probably something that he can’t afford to repeat against the 49ers, but he made the throws when he needed to, especially the two completions with less than 31 seconds left that set up Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal. Just like they did against the Seahawks’ secondary, the Falcons’ wide receivers should be able to make some plays against the 49ers’ defense, provided the offensive line gives Ryan enough time to throw. Tight end Tony Gonzalez made several key catches against the Seahawks, but the 49ers’ linebackers are more experienced, athletic, talented and productive than the Seahawks’ corps. Wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, and probably even Harry Douglas and Rodgers, will need to make the most of the opportunities thrown their way because one has to figure the 49ers are going to key in on Gonzalez. It also will be up to Ryan to make wise decisions when he does throw, and try and not force the ball down field, a situation that produced one of his interceptions last week. Besides run blocking, the offensive line didn’t allow a sack against Seattle, which is another key in attacking San Francisco’s defense. The 49ers present some different challenges when it comes to their pass rush, so the Falcons’ line will need to put together one of its strongest all-around efforts to make an impact in both the running and passing games. The Falcons did a good job on converting third downs (6-of-11) against the Seahawks and will need similar success to keep drives alive and limit the number of possessions the 49ers’ offense gets. Even if they are unable to punch it into the end zone, the Falcons should be able to score points once they get past the 49ers’ 40-yard-line because of kicker Matt Bryant, especially if it’s a late-game situation. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bryant has connected on 17 of his 18 go-ahead or game-tying field goal attempts in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime of regular-season games in his career. His 94 percent success rate in these situations is the best of anyone with at least 15 such attempts in the NFL since 1970. Add to that the 49-yard game winner Bryant knocked through with just eight seconds remaining against the Seahawks last week, and it appears that the Falcons have not one, but two “Matty Ices” who can get the job done when the game is on the line.
San Francisco’s defense finished the regular season as one of the NFL’s best, but this unit has taken some lumps recently. The 49ers were third overall in total defense (294.4 ypg) and second in scoring defense (17.1 ppg), but have allowed considerably more yards and points in three of its last four games. Besides surrendering 352 yards and 31 points (one touchdown came via INT return) in the win over Green Bay, both New England (520, 34 in Week 15) and Seattle (346, 42 in Week 16) enjoyed a fair amount of success against the 49ers’ defense. Atlanta with quarterback Matt Ryan and his receiving weapons figure to present another stiff test for this defense, especially if the Falcons have the same success running the ball as they did against the Seahawks. That’s not to say this is not a defense capable of shutting the Falcons down either, as the 49ers placed six — free safety Dashon Goldson, linebacker Aldon Smith, defensive lineman Justin Smith, strong safety Donte Whitner, linebacker Patrick Willis (starters) and linebacker NaVorro Bowman (reserve) — on the NFC’s Pro Bowl team. In fact, the 49ers’ defensive struggles can be traced back to the Patriots’ game in Week 15, when Justin Smith tore the tendon in his left triceps. Smith missed the final two regular-season games, against the Seahawks and Cardinals, but was able to return against the Packers. He contributed five tackles in the win while wearing a brace on his left arm. The key for Smith and 49ers’ defense will be to stop the Falcons’ running game to try and make their offense one-dimensional. Then it will be up to the pass rush, led by Aldon Smith, to try and at least disrupt Ryan, as the Falcons haven’t given up a lot of sacks. The 49ers did a good job of limiting big plays by the Packers and will need to do the same against the Falcons, especially through the air.
Quarterback play will probably go a long way in determining the outcome of this one. San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick may not have as much experience as Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, but he has the same number of playoff victories (one) and is coming off of a remarkable performance against Green Bay. If Kaepernick is able to duplicate what he did against the Packers, the Falcons will be hard-pressed to keep up.
However, this will be Kaepernick’s first playoff road game and you know the Georgia Dome will be rocking with the Falcons one win away from their second Super Bowl appearance. And it certainly is “Dome Sweet Dome” for Ryan, as he is 34-6 in his career, including last week’s Wild Card win, at home. Only Tom Brady has a better winning percentage at home among quarterbacks whose careers began in the Super Bowl era.
Besides playing at home, Ryan and the Falcons are still riding the wave of emotion (not too mention relief) from last week’s playoff win, and this momentum, coupled with an energetic home crowd, will allow them to stay with the 49ers for most of the game. In the end, however, San Francisco’s defense makes a few more stops and the running game wears down the Atlanta defense just enough to secure the 49ers’ sixth NFC title and a chance to claim a sixth Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans on Feb. 3.
Prediction: 49ers 31, Falcons 27
For the second year in a row the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots will face off with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line when the two teams kick things off in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game at 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS. The Ravens lost 23-20 to the Patriots in Gillette Stadium in last year’s AFC title game, as wide receiver Lee Evans couldn’t hold onto a potential game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter and kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. Both Evans and Cundiff are no longer with the Ravens, who beat the Patriots 31-30 in Baltimore back in Week 3 and have already shown they can win on the road in the playoffs in a hostile environment, as evidenced by last week’s come-from-behind 38-35 double overtime win in Denver.
When the Baltimore Ravens have the ball:
Somewhat maligned during the regular season to the point that the team made a coordinator change in December (from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell), Baltimore’s offense showed up in a big way in last week’s win. The Ravens’ 479 yards of offense sent a new franchise playoff record and were highlighted by quarterback Joe Flacco’s impressive passing performance. Sharing the field with league MVP candidate Peyton Manning, Flacco outshined his Denver counterpart, completing 18-of-34 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns, the biggest being a 70-yard bomb to wide receiver Jacoby Jones that tied the game with just 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Just as he did during the regular season, Flacco did most of his damage throwing the ball deep. Besides the 70-yarder to Jones, Flacco’s other two touchdown passes against the Broncos covered more than 20 yards, a 59-yard strike to Torrey Smith in the first quarter that put the Ravens in the scoring column and a 32-yard hook up with Smith that tied the game right before the end of the first half. During the regular season, Flacco completed 37 percent of his throws deeper than 20 yards with seven touchdowns and he had the most attempts of any quarterback without an interception. The Patriots are already aware of Flacco’s ability to beat teams deep, as he put up a season-high 382 yards passing against them in the Ravens’ 31-30 home win back on Sept. 23. The Ravens finished that game with 503 yards of offense, which has only be topped this season by the 553 they had in their Week 16 victory over the New York Giants. The Patriots’ defense has been highly susceptible against the pass, so it will need to tighten up its coverage against Jones, Smith, as well as fellow wideout Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta unless New England wants to see a repeat of what happened in Week 3. The Ravens, however, are by far anything but a pass-only team as they also picked up 155 yards rushing against the Broncos. Running back Ray Rice led the way with 131 yards on 30 carries (4.4 ypc) and he also had 101 on the ground the first time versus the Patriots. Backup Bernard Pierce has been key to the Ravens’ offensive success recently, but he sustained a knee injury against the Broncos. Even though Pierce said he will be out there on Sunday, expect him and his touches to be limited, putting more of the burden on Rice to produce on the ground. Going against an offense like New England’s, ball security will be critical as the Ravens need to make the most of their opportunities with the ball, while also not giving the Patriots many extra possessions. After losing two fumbles in the Wild Card win against Indianapolis two weeks ago, Rice held onto the ball against Denver with the Ravens’ only turnover versus the Broncos being a Flacco interception. Likewise, a Flacco pick was the lone giveaway in Baltimore’s Week 3 win over New England. The Ravens also gave up just one sack against the Broncos’ pass rush, which finished tied for the league lead in sacks, and didn’t allow a single one the first time they faced the Patriots.
After shutting Miami out in Week 17, New England’s defense returned to its regular-season form in its Divisional Playoff game against Houston. The Patriots gave up 425 yards and 28 points to the Texans, although to be fair 15 of the points came in the fourth quarter when the Patriots were nursing a 35-point lead. Still, given its statistical production during the regular season, the defense needs the offense to do its part to put the team in its best position to win. Look no further than the Week 3 meeting with Baltimore. The Ravens piled up 503 yards of offense against the Patriots, while holding New England’s offense to 396, one of the reasons why Baltimore came out on top 31-30. The Patriots’ strength on defense this season has been stopping the run, as they held the Texans’ Arian Foster to a modest 90 yards on 22 carries (4.1 ypc) last week and finished the regular season ranked ninth overall (101.9 ypg) in rush defense. Baltimore running back Ray Rice had 101 yards rushing by himself the first time against New England, and if the Patriots struggle to contain him and fellow back Bernard Pierce, it will more than likely just open up the Ravens’ passing game even more. The Patriots ranked near the bottom of the league against the pass (271.4 ypg) during the regular season, gave up 343 yards passing to Houston’s Matt Schaub last Sunday, while Baltimore’s Joe Flacco lit them up for a season-high 382 back in September. One rather significant change, the addition of former Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib, has occurred in New England’s secondary since that first matchup with the Ravens, but this hasn’t stopped teams from victimizing the Patriots’ pass defense either. For all the yards this defense has allowed, it has been able to limit the impact on the scoreboard, thanks in large part to turnovers and the fact that the offense has been able to stake them to large leads that dictate their opponents’ offensive game plan. Without the turnovers, however, this defense walks a thin line between bending and getting broken.
When the New England Patriots have the ball:
Pretty much like clockwork, New England’s offense had little trouble with Houston’s defense in last week’s win. The Patriots put up 457 yards and 41 points against the Texans, exceeding their regular-season averages of 428 yards and 35 points per game. The offense starts and ends with quarterback Tom Brady, who passed Joe Montana for most career playoff wins (17) while posting his fifth 300-yard passing game in the postseason. Brady completed 25-of-40 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns against the Texans, while he put up 335 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers against the Ravens in Week 3. However, Brady and the Patriots lost that game, and in seven career games against Baltimore, including the playoffs, he has thrown more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (seven), while completing less than 59 percent of his passes and averaging less than 244 yards passing per contest. Brady has particularly struggled in his two playoff matchups with the Ravens, including last season’s conference championship game when he tossed two interceptions and no touchdown passes. It’s no secret that the Patriots will need Brady to produce if they want to beat the Ravens, and he will have to do so without the services of Rob Gronkowski. The dynamic tight end, who missed some time during the regular season after breaking his forearm, re-injured the same arm against the Texans and will miss the remainder of the Patriots’ playoff run. New England doesn’t lack for weapons, not with wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd and tight end Aaron Hernandez among others, at Brady’s disposal, but that doesn’t mean the offense won’t miss Gronkowski’s presence either. That’s why running back Shane Vereen’s breakout game against Houston, in which he caught two touchdown passes and added a rushing score, couldn’t have come at a better time. The Patriots may need to rely on the running game a little more against the Ravens, which is where Vereen and leading rusher Stevan Ridley come into play. Ridley finished seventh in the NFL in the regular season with 1,263 yards rushing and contributed 82 yards on 15 carries (5.5 ypc) and a touchdown against the Texans last week. The first time against Baltimore, however, Ridley managed only 37 yards on the ground on 13 carries (2.8 ypc), so he will need to be more effective Sunday night. Sticking to their regular-season script, the Patriots didn’t have any turnovers versus the Texans, and are hoping for a second-straight mistake-free game against the Ravens. Pass protection is always a key for Brady’s effectiveness, and his offensive line surrendered just two sacks to the Ravens back in September.
Nowhere near as stout as in recent years, the Baltimore defense got the job done last Saturday against Denver in its Divisional Playoff showdown. While the Broncos finished with 398 yards of total offense, the Ravens forced quarterback Peyton Manning into three turnovers, returning one of his two interceptions for a touchdown, while holding the Broncos to just three yards per rushing attempt and only two offensive plays that covered more than 20 yards. In fact, if not for Broncos’ kick returner Trindon Holliday’s record-setting afternoon that featured a kickoff and punt return for touchdowns, this game may not have even gone into double overtime. But it did, and in the end it was the Ravens’ defense that made the game-changing plays, the biggest one being Corey Graham’s second interception late in the first overtime period, which set up Justin Tucker’s game-winning 47-yard field goal. Graham’s other pick also produced a score, as he returned his first-quarter interception 39 yards for a touchdown that gave Baltimore its first lead. Graham wasn’t even a starter at cornerback when the Ravens played the Patriots in Week 3, but that was before Lardarius Webb went down with a season-ending injury. Now firmly entrenched in the secondary, Graham will be called on again to put forth another big-game effort against the Patriots’ pass-catchers. Another change for the Ravens’ defense this time around will be the presence of pass-rusher and playmaker Terrell Suggs, who missed the first meeting in September while he was recovering from a partially torn Achilles tendon. And of course, the Ravens still have Ray Lewis patrolling the middle, as the Canton-bound linebacker is leaving it all on the field in his final season. Lewis followed up his 13-tackle effort in the Wild Card round with a season-high 17 stops against the Broncos. While Lewis may have lost a step and is somewhat limited by a triceps injury, his mere presence seems to elevate the defense’s play. Now it’s up to the Ravens’ defense to channel the emotion and energy the unit gets from its leader to its performance on the field. Anything but the defense’s strongest all-around effort probably won’t get the job done against the Patriots’ well-oiled, high-powered offensive machine.
Let’s see, a conference championship rematch featuring one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history versus the game’s all-time winningest playoff quarterback? What’s not to like? In fact, whether it’s Baltimore or New England playing in New Orleans come Feb. 3, the AFC’s representative in Super Bowl XLVII will come pre-packaged with a made-for-TV subplot. For the Ravens it is Ray Lewis’ chance to ride off into the sunset on top, while the Patriots’ Tom Brady hopes to cement his place in Super Bowl history by capturing a fourth championship ring.
Before the endless media coverage of either storyline (not to mention so much more) can commence, however, the game to decide the AFC’s champion must be played. And this title game offers enough historical significance of its own, as it is the first conference championship rematch since Dallas and San Francisco battled for NFC supremacy three straight seasons in the early ‘90s (1992-94), and the first in the AFC since Cleveland and Denver faced off in 1986 and ’87.
It is very easy to pick the Patriots, since Brady is 17-6 in the postseason in his career and has the highest winning percentage in all home games of any quarterback whose career began in the Super Bowl era (min. 20 career starts). That said, Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco is no slouch himself when it comes to the playoffs, as his 7-4 postseason record puts him behind only Brady (17), Ben Roethilsberger (14), Peyton Manning (9), and Eli Manning (8) for playoff victories among active quarterbacks. And everyone except Eil Manning (11 career playoff games) has played in more playoff games than Flacco to this point. On top of that, five of Flacco’s seven postseason wins have come on the road, including one on Brady’s turf, a 33-14 victory over the Patriots in the Wild Card round on Jan. 10, 2010.
Playoff-tested quarterbacks and Hall of Fame-bound linebacker aside, this game will more than likely be decided based on which defense can rise to the occasion and make that key stop or force a pivotal turnover. The Ravens have had a fair amount of success holding Brady in check recently, while the Patriots’ defense has been bailed out more than once by a turnover or its own offense. In fact, last season it could be said that the Patriots got an assist from two Ravens — wide receiver Lee Evans, who dropped a potential game-tying touchdown pass and kicker Billy Cundiff, who then shanked the game-tying field goal attempt at the end of the game — in their 23-20 victory. Evans and Cundiff are both no longer on the Ravens’ roster, and with a nod to symmetry, I think their replacements — wide receiver Jacoby Jones and kicker Justin Tucker — will prove to be the difference in this one. After all, what’s wrong with adding another media-ready storyline to this game?
Prediction: Ravens 30, Patriots 28
A betting preview (against the spread) in the NFC and AFC Championship Games of the NFL Playoffs.
Lock of the Week
The great Colin Kaepernick takes his one-man band on the road to Atlanta this weekend, after passing for 263 yards, rushing for 181 yards and scoring four total TDs in San Fran during his playoff debut. The 49ers fell just short of a trip to the Super Bowl last season but they’ll be headed to New Orleans after winning this week.
49ers (-5) at Falcons
Matt Ryan is much better at home (34–6 career record, including playoffs) than he is on the road (23–19 record). But this season, he has struggled statistically at home, throwing 13 TDs and 11 INTs at the Georgia Dome compared to 21 TDs and five INTs on the road. The Niners defense will bring too much heat for Matty Ice to handle.
Baltimore was shown no respect last week in Denver, entering the Divisional Round game as a 10-point underdog before pulling off a 38–35 double-overtime victory. Ray Lewis’ retirement tour may not shock the world this week, but it won’t go down without a fight — especially in a rematch of last year’s painful AFC title game loss.
Ravens (+10) at Patriots
Joe Flacco is 7–4 in the playoffs, with his four losses coming at New England (23–20), at Pittsburgh (31–24), at Indianapolis (20–3) and at Pittsburgh (23–14). In other words, Flacco is 10–1 as a 10-point underdog.
The last time Louisville faced Syracuse, the Cardinals weren’t in great shape. Syracuse’s 58-49 win to end the regular season handed Louisville its eighth Big East loss and fourth loss in six games on March 3. Syracuse, meanwhile, won its 30th game of the season.
Louisville didn’t lose again until the Final Four to eventual national champion Kentucky. Since the Syracuse loss last season, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith have thrived on both sides of the court as the Cardinals have gone 24-2 since then.
It was a clear turning point for Louisville, but Syracuse is doing OK, too: The Orange reached the Elite Eight and started 16-1 this season.
While Louisville returns most of the cast that defeated Syracuse at the end of the regular season, the Orange brings some personnel making its first run through the Big East -- and personnel that will be worth watching in their first major road trip of the season.
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams, one of the major surprises of the season, will face Louisville’s press for the first time. And the roster is looking for a new scorer with James Southerland ineligible.
A game against this week’s No. 1 team will be a good time to confirm Syracuse’s spot among the elite, with or without Southland.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Syracuse at Louisville
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: KFC Yum! Center
Syracuse probable starters
G Michael Carter-Williams (6-6/185, So.)
G Brandon Triche (6-4/205, Jr.)
F C.J. Fair (6-8/215, Jr.)
F Rakeem Christmas (6-9/242, So.)
C DaJuan Coleman (6-9/288, Fr.)
Louisville probable starters
G Peyton Siva (6-0/185, Sr.)
G Russ Smith (6-0/165, Jr.)
G/F Wayne Blackshear (6-5/230, So.)
F Chane Behanan (6-6/250, So.)
C Gorgui Dieng (6-11/245, Jr.)
Game-defining matchup: Michael Carter-Williams vs. Russ Smith
Louisville’s Russ Smith is one of the nation’s most frustrating defenders, and he may be charged with disrupting the nation’s top assist man. Carter-Williams has cooled a bit since his hot start (but the numbers remain pretty good at six assists per game in the last three). He’s also shooting 10 of 38 from the field in the last three games. Smith will look to bottle up Carter-Williams and limit his playmaking ability, especially with Southerland out.
Player we’re watching: C.J. Fair
The Syracuse forward has been the team MVP the last two games, topping 20 points against Villanova and Providence to help fill the void left by Southerland. Fair is also 16 of 18 from the free-throw line in the last two games. Will that continue against a better team in Louisville?
Stat that matters: 20 bench points for Syracuse against Villanova
Southerland was one of Syracuse’s best scorers even if he didn’t start. Who will fill the role of Southerland’s 13.6 points per game and 5.2 rebounds. In the 72-61 win over Villanova, Syracuse got 20 points from its bench. Jerami Grant led the way with 13. But again, Villanova is no Louisville.
How Syracuse can win: Backcourt emerges more fearless
Brandon Triche can hit the big shot. Carter-Williams, clearly, is a major catalyst. But the Syracuse backcourt will need to be at its best against Smith and Peyton Siva and their ability to force turnovers. Beyond ball handling, Syracuse will need to be much better from the perimeter after the Orange are 11 of 52 (21.2 percent) from the three-point line in the last three games.
How Louisville can win: Cardinals counter Syracuse’s size in the frontcourt
Syracuse has been great on the offensive glass this season, grabbing 42 percent of offensive rebounds to lead the Big East. Louisville hasn’t been shabby, either, as the Cardinals rank in the top four in the Big East in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Gorgui Dieng, especially, has been effective on the glass since returning from injury. He has 14.3 rebounds per game in his last four.
Louisville 72, Syracuse 67
WEEKEND ON TAP
All times Eastern
Connecticut at Pittsburgh (Saturday, noon, ESPN2)
The stats suggest Pittsburgh is a top-20 caliber team — the Panthers are ranked ninth nationally by KenPom.com — but Jamie Dixon’s club has been given us reasons to be skeptical. The Panthers opened Big East play with a 2–3 record, including home losses to Cincinnati and Marquette and a defeat at Rutgers. UConn is playing spirited ball under first-year coach Kevin Ollie, but the Huskies lack the talent up front to be a factor in the Big East title race.
Maryland at North Carolina (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
The Terrapins recovered after losing back-to-back games to Florida State and Miami by defeating NC State 51-50 on Wednesday. North Carolina also ended a two-game losing streak last weekend. One team will have momentum on its side after this game, the other will be looking for answers.
Missouri at Florida (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
This is a key game between two teams that should remain in the hunt for the SEC title. Missouri hopes to regain the services of big man Laurence Bowers, who missed the Ole Miss game with a sprained MCL. The Gators have been banged up as well with Erik Murphy, Mike Rosario and Casey Prather facing injuries. All but Prather played against Texas A&M on Thursday.
Kansas at Texas (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS regional)
Texas is off to its worst start of the Rick Barnes era. The Longhorns dropped to 8–8 overall and 0–3 in the Big 12 with a 20-point loss at Iowa State last weekend. To avoid an 0–4 start in the league — which hasn’t happened since Tom Penders’ final season in 1998 — Texas must find a way to knock off the mighty Jayhawks. Kansas, which beat Baylor on Monday night, is 15–1 and well on its way to its ninth straight Big 12 championship.
Arizona at Arizona State (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network)
After flirting with disaster several times this season, Arizona finally suffered its first defeat — by four points at Oregon. The Wildcats will be challenged by a much-improved Arizona State team that is 3–1 in the Pac-12. Redshirt freshman guard Jahii Carson has been terrific for Herb Sendek. The Arizona native is averaging 17.1 points and 5.2 assists.
Creighton at Wichita State (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2)
Creighton is 4–0 in true road games, with wins at Cal, Nebraska, Illinois State and Missouri State. Wichita State, which lost three double-digit scorers from last year’s 27-win team, is NCAA Tournament-worthy once again. Senior forward Carl Hall, the Shockers’ top rebounder (7.6 rpg) and second-leading scorer (13.9 ppg), returned Wednesday after missing seven games with a thumb injury. He scored two points in 23 minutes off the bench.
Oregon at UCLA (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
Arizona still might be the team to beat in the Pac-12, but Oregon and UCLA are playing very well as conference play heats up. The Ducks, who handed Arizona its first loss of the season, are 14–2 overall and 3–0 in the league. UCLA has bounced back from a tough start and won nine straight games. Freshman Shabazz Muhammad has scored 20-plus points in five of his last eight games.
Oklahoma at Kansas State (Saturday, 4 p.m., Big 12 syndication)
Kansas State is thriving with first-year coach Bruce Weber. The veteran Wildcats struggle to score at times, but they are solid on defense and crash the boards. Oklahoma, as expected, continues to improve under respected coach Lon Kruger. The Sooners would love to pick up a résumé-building road win.
Ohio State at Michigan State (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
Ohio State has nearly a week off to recover from its emotional win over Michigan on Sunday. The Buckeyes don’t have a ton of offensive weapons, but their No. 1 option, senior forward Deshaun Thomas, is an explosive scorer. Michigan State is 3–1 in the Big Ten, but we still don’t know too much about this team. This will be a tough test for Tom Izzo’s club.
Marquette at Cincinnati (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Cincinnati raced out to a 12–0 record this season but has struggled a bit of late, especially at home. The Bearcats have lost three straight at Fifth Third Arena, including two in league play. Marquette won its first three Big East games by the slimmest of margins. The Golden Eagles have overtime wins over UConn and Pittsburgh and beat Georgetown by one point at home.
UNLV at Colorado State (Saturday, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
UNLV hopes to flex its muscles in the Mountain West race after defeating San Diego State 82-75 on Wednesday. The Rebels shot 56.8 percent (29 of 51) from inside the three-point line against the Aztecs while outrebounding San Diego State 41-28. Colorado State is an NCAA contender with a good frontline of Colton Iverson (a Minnesota transfer) and Pierce Hornung.
Gonzaga at Butler (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
This is great matchup between two programs outside the power conferences that have found a way to win consistently. Gonzaga is an elite offensive team that can beat you from the perimeter or the paint. Butler will not be at full strength due to Rotnei Clarke’s injury. The senior sharpshooter suffered a neck injury in last week’s win at Dayton. Brad Stevens will have to be at his very best to put Butler in position to win this game — even at home.
Athlon Sports managing editor Mitch Light contributed to this report.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for January 18.
• The NFL's Final Four are set to do battle on Conference Championship Sunday. These elite teams also have elite cheerleading squads. Here's the photographic evidence.
• ESPN offers a nice deconstruction of Lance Armstrong's mea culpa with Oprah. Bottom line: Lance is still trying to control the narrative. Here's a reaction from the cycling world.
• One of the people Armstrong admitted to steamrolling is not going to go quietly. She speaks her mind to Sports Illustrated.
• The Te'o plot thickens. Seems as if the supposed mastermind of the hoax has been chasing fame for a while now. He even auditioned for The Voice. It's also pretty clear that even if he was the victim of a hoax, Te'o continued to talk about his dead girlfriend after he knew she didn't exist. Finally, to prove that the Internet was invented for stories like this, here's a compilation of the funniest Te'o photos, GIFs and Tweets.
• With athletes in confessional mode, here's a list of the most shocking mea culpas in sports history. And here's a rundown of notable sports hoaxes.
• The Nike-Rory McIlroy marriage is off to a flying start. Rory missed the cut in Abu Dhabi in his first tournament with the new gear and the new multimillion-dollar contract. His Nike cohort Tiger Woods missed the cut too after a penalty for an illegal drop.
• In case you missed it, Colts Andrew Luck and Reggie Wayne appeared on this week's episode of Parks and Rec. Not bad, although they should stick to their day jobs.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• In keeping with today's theme of fictional women, here's a countdown of the hottest Bond girls, including Teri Hatcher. They may be fictional, but the actresses are real and spectacular.
• This could be an all-Manti Te'o edition of Eleven Links, but I'll try to limit it to a few key ones. Leave it to Clay Travis to really dig his teeth into the Te'o kerfuffle. Travis gives a good rundown of what we know and throws in some blindly irresponsible speculation for good measure.
• Meanwhile, Pro Football Talk delves into what's really important about the Te'o story.
• You've heard of Tebowing, and Kaepernicking, and planking. Those are so last week, or last year. Now, there's Te'oing. Anyone can do it.
• One by-product of this bizarre episode: Deadspin is now the most trusted name in sports journalism. Tim Burke, one of the blockbuster story's authors, shares the basic investigative journalism that went into the piece — too basic, apparently, for mainstream journalists.
• Here's a Notre Dame student's take on Te'o. Worth a read.
• In reading the Te'o story, I couldn't help but be reminded of the kid who faked his own recruitment.
• While you were obsessing over Te'o, the games went on as usual. There was even a buzzer-beater.
• Continuing the theme of disgraced athletes, Tiger Woods apparently wants Elin back. Can you blame him? A guy can only eat at Perkins so many times.
• Remember boxer Kevin McBride? No? Us either. The guys at Mandatory bring us up to speed on the guy who beat Mike Tyson, then dropped out of sight.
• The other sports liar of the moment, Lance Armstrong, once filmed an anti-doping ad for Nike.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• SEC basketball is lagging behind the rest of the nation this season, but the cheerleaders still lead the pack. Here's a gallery of the SEC's finest.
• New York Post readers picked the all-time worst lying liars. There are three sports figures in the top 10.
• Last night in buzzer-beaters: Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson, a guy fans are learning to hate, broke Commodore hearts with a regulation prayer that forced overtime.
• Don't fret, Vandy fans — football season will be here before you know it. James Franklin is recruiting at an unprecedented level, thanks in part to business cards that look like they're made of metal.
• Uh-oh — Johnny Football and his WAG were sitting courtside at an NBA game. How can an amateur athlete afford courtside seats? Alert the council of elders at the NCAA.
• My last Brent Musberger post of the week: Brent gives ESPN a big FU via TMZ. Got it?
• I don't read German. Is this story implying that Tiger Woods and skier Lindsey Vonn are an item? English-speaking minds want to know.
• Shocking news — Missy Franklin is dominating her high school opponents.
• Who doesn't love those bad lip-reading videos? Finally, the NFL has joined the fun.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• There's a major tennis tournament going on. We won't bore you with the results; instead, we'll link to a slideshow of Victoria Azarenka and the other lovely ladies of the Australian Open.
• This story of Jason Taylor's private pain is a sobering reminder of the way our gladiators suffer for our entertainment.
• ESPN claims that Brent Musberger said the word "it," and that he didn't make a sexist remark about Holly Rowe. I'm having a Clinton-era flashback.
• In linking to these photos of Mike Trout reeling in a humongous grouper, I'll avoid the obvious fish puns and just wonder if there's anything the kid can't do.
• Along those same lines (no pun intended), here's an entire slideshow devoted to athletes fishing.
• Today's headline of the day. Were those heads in a duffel bag?
• This may be a brazen attempt at boosting ratings for the broadcast of her interview, but Oprah says that Lance Armstrong "didn't come clean in the manner I expected."
• Pro wrestling may be fake, but suffering and death are real. Mandatory presents 10 shocking pro wrestler deaths.
• ESPN personality Stuart Scott is battling cancer again. The guy's a frequent punching bag, but we wish him well in his struggle.
• Speaking of ESPN, Athlon has ranked the top SportsCenter anchors of all time.
• Today's video: an instant classic courtesy of the underrated comedy stylings of Key & Peele.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• The Packers' season is over, thanks to the 49ers. To console Green Bay fans, we present one last look at Laura, the hottest Packers fan on the planet.
• College football may be over, but the sports world marches on unchecked. A weekend round-up from our friends at Grantland.
• The NFL weekend in GIF form. Prepare for plenty of Manningface.
• Brendon Ayanbadejo has singlehandedly dialed up the intensity for this weekend's Ravens-Patriots AFC Championship game, 140 characters at a time.
• We knew this was coming, but it's still a pretty big deal: Nike's got Rory McIlroy. Kind of explains the Tiger-Rory bromance that blossomed last year, doesn't it?
• The two greatest quarterbacks of our era remain separated by their relative postseason success. Eleven years after Tom Brady benefited from the Tuck Rule, Peyton Manning didn't.
• Is today the day Lance Armstrong comes clean? Can genuflecting before her Oprah-ness salvage his reputation?
• Colin Kaepernick has brought the read option to the NFL. Money quote: "Kaepernick is everything Vince Young was supposed to be."
• Speaking of Kaepernick: Move over, Tebowing — make room for Kaepernicking.
• The catch of the day comes from the mysterious world of cricket. Rule one: Protect the concessions.
• An interesting post-mortem on Tim Tebow's career (if it is in fact over). Tebow has met the enemy, and it is us.
• In today's video, Tiger and Rory go mano-a-mano for Nike, Bird-Jordan style.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
A clear conscience is good for the soul. Or for some, it's good for the public reputation or book sales.
Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey was not a first in the sports world, nor was it a surprise -- he told the host he indeed used performance-enhancing drugs on the way to Tour de France titles and building the Livestrong nonprofit empire.
Some confessions are foisted upon athletes by the media, mainstream or otherwise (hello, Deadspin!), or by the athletes' peers. Other times, these confessions, simply put, help move memoirs and autobiographies.
Here are a handful of the sports world’s top confessions, ranging from admitting to recreational or performance-enhancing drug use, discussing money problems or revealing close personal secrets.
Jan. 17, 2013: Lance Armstrong
In a Monday interview with Oprah Winfrey, cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during his run of seven consecutive Tour de France titles. Armstrong had been stripped of his titles and had long been accused of doping, but his vociferous denials over the years made his confession itself a shock.
Jan. 16, 2013: Manti Te’o
In a statement in a response to a Deadspin article on the hoax of his deceased girlfriend, Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman finalist Manti Te’o states: “I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.” As more news and nuggets trickle out of the Lennay Kekua hoax story, this may not be the final confession.
May 2010: Floyd Landis
Before Armstrong revealed his PED-use, Landis did. Like Armstrong, he fought the accusation of doping on the way to a Tour de France title in 2006. After he tested positive for multiple PEDs, Landis implicated Armstrong and others in communication with anti-doping officials.
February 2012: Tiger Woods
A 2009 car accident set off a series of revelations about Tiger Woods’ personal life including infidelity. Woods admitted to widespread extramarital affairs in a public apology less than three months later. As multiple women came forward with stories of affairs with Woods, the golf superstar lost many of his endorsement deals.
January 2010: Mark McGwire
McGwire, who broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record in 1998, repeatedly said, “I’m not here to talk about the past,” during a Congressional hearing on steroids in 2005. By the time he wanted to re-enter baseball has a hitting coach in 2010 he talked about the past, admitting to taking performance enhancers at separate times throughout the 1990s, including during ’98 home run chase.
October 2009: Andre Agassi
In his autobiography Open, Agassi admitted to using crystal methamphetamine in 1997 and 1998. Originally, the tennis star claimed in a letter to the ATP that his failed drug test was due to accidentally taking the drug. Though another confession was less serious than using crystal meth, Agassi also admitted that for a time his legendary ‘do was actually a hairpiece.
October 2009: Theoren Fleury
A former star with the Calgary Flames, Fleury wrote in his autobiography he was sexually abused by a coach in junior hockey. The abuse, Fleury wrote, contributed to alcoholism.
August 2009: Rick Pitino
The Louisville basketball coach apologized in a press conference for “an indiscretion” that occurred six years prior. The indiscretion was an extramarital affair that led to extortion charges against the woman.
February 2009: Alex Rodriguez
After Sports Illustrated reported Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, Rodriguez told ESPN he used steroids with the Texas Rangers first in 2001 after he signed his record-breaking $252 million contract. Rodriguez called the era “loosey-goosey” and claimed he did not know what specific steroids he had been taking. Rodriguez had denied as recently as 2007 that he had ever taken steroids.
October 2007: Marion Jones
Marion Jones, who earned three gold medals in the 2000 Olympics, tearfully admitted to using PEDs and lying about it as part of the BALCO scandal.
May 2006: John Daly
The golfer has had his share of personal demons, but among them was a gambling problem he admitted in his autobiography in 2006. Daly wrote he lost up to $60 million during 12 years of gambling.
February 2006: Jose Canseco
In his tell-all book Juiced, Canseco wrote he used human growth hormone and steroids from beginning to end in his career, but the bigger legacy of Canseco’s book was accusations of the rampant use of PEDs through baseball during the 1990s. As he is now, Canseco was not considered to be the most reliable source of information, but the names mentioned — Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi and more — were revealed to be PED-users themselves.
January 2004: Pete Rose
In advance of his book My Prison Without Bars, baseball’s all-time hit leader admitted to what had kept him out of the Hall of Fame and baseball altogether since 1989 when he confessed to gambling on baseball and gambling on his own team to win. After his banishment from baseball, Rose first denied betting on baseball, then admitted to that but denied betting on the Reds while Cincinnati’s manager, then he finally admitted to betting on the Reds but only to win.
June 2002: Ken Caminiti
The list of denials, investigative reports and eventually confessions regarding steroids in baseball could take up the bulk of this page, but one of the first belonged to All-Star third baseman Ken Caminiti in this Sports Illustrated article. He told SI he used steroids so heavily during his 2006 National League MVP season his body had all but stopped producing natural testosterone. Caminiti died in October 2004 at age 41 of a heart attack.
November 1991: Magic Johnson
At 32, Magic Johnson retired abruptly in 1991, revealing in a news conference he tested positive for HIV. At the time, he did not reveal how he acquired the disease, but he later explained he had unprotected sex with multiple women.
August 1987: Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson
Though he battled drug problems for most of his career, Henderson admitted to one episode in his autobiography that was especially troubling. The former Dallas Cowboys linebacker wrote he used a cocaine-laced inhaler during the second half the Super Bowl XIII loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
1981: Martina Navratilova
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, at the height of her career, announced she is a lesbian. She is credited as the first major athlete — male or female — to come out while at the height of her fame. The same year, tennis star Billie Jean King was outed in a palimony suit by a female former partner.
With Alabama’s convincing victory over Notre Dame in early January, the SEC ran its streak of consecutive national champions to seven. The bad news for the competition? The SEC isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s bigger and better than ever. Texas A&M is a program on the rise after winning 11 games in its first season in the conference, while quarterback Johnny Manziel claimed the 2012 Heisman Trophy. In addition to the Aggies, Ole Miss showed big improvement last season, and Vanderbilt made consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in program history.
What does it mean for 2013? Expect much of the same from the SEC. The conference is poised for another national championship, as Alabama is a heavy favorite to win the BCS title next season. While the Crimson Tide is a clear No. 1 pick in the preseason, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M could all play their way into the national championship conversation.
After disappointing seasons at Tennessee and Auburn, both programs changed head coaches. Butch Jones joins the Volunteers after three seasons at Cincinnati, while the Tigers hired former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn away from Arkansas State. Those two aren’t the only new coaches in the SEC next season, as Kentucky hired Mark Stoops to replace Joker Phillips, and Arkansas surprisingly pulled Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin.
There’s no easy out in the SEC, and it’s possible the conference has 11 or 12 bowl teams in 2013.
Early SEC East Predictions for 2013
Key Returnees: QB Aaron Murray, RB Todd Gurley, RB Keith Marshall, WR Malcolm Mitchell, WR Michael Bennett, WR Chris Conley, TE Arthur Lynch, LT Kenarious Gates, C David Andrews, RG Chris Burnette, RT John Theus, DE Ray Drew, DE Garrison Smith, LB Jordan Jenkins, LB Amarlo Herrera, CB Damian Swann
Key Departures: WR Tavarres King, WR Marlon Brown, DE Cornelius Washington, NT Kwame Geathers, DT John Jenkins, LB Jarvis Jones, LB Alec Ogletree, CB Sanders Commings, FS Bacarri Rambo, SS Shawn Williams
The No. 1 spot in the SEC East should be a tight battle between Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in 2013. For now, the Bulldogs have a slight edge in Athlon’s very early predictions for next season. Quarterback Aaron Murray turned down the NFL for one more season in Athens, which is crucial for Georgia’s national title hopes considering the losses on defense. Linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree decided to leave early for the next level, while defensive tackle John Jenkins, cornerback Sanders Commings and safety Bacarri Rambo each expired their eligibility after the Capital One Bowl. Considering the personnel to replace on defense, the Bulldogs may need to win a lot of high-scoring games early in the season. Mark Richt’s team has a favorable home conference schedule, which features South Carolina and LSU in September. If the defense comes together early in the year, Georgia could make a run at a national championship.
2. South Carolina
Key Returnees: QB Connor Shaw, QB Dylan Thompson, RB Brandon Wilds, RB Mike Davis, WR Bruce Ellington, WR Damiere Byrd, WR Shaq Roland, LT Corey Robinson, LG A.J. Cann, RT Brandon Shell, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Chaz Sutton, DT Kelcy Quarles, DT Gerald Dixon Jr., CB Jimmy Legree, S Brison Williams
Key Departures: RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Ace Sanders, TE Justice Cunningham, C T.J. Johnson, DE Devin Taylor, DT Byron Jerideau, LB Shaq Wilson, LB Reginald Bowens, CB Akeem Auguste, S DeVonte Holloman, S D.J. Swearinger
There’s not much separating South Carolina and Georgia for the top spot in the early SEC predictions. The Gamecocks have won 22 games over the last two years and are poised to contend for a BCS bowl in 2013. Steve Spurrier isn’t shy about rotating quarterbacks, and South Carolina has two dependable options (Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson) to rely on next season. Considering there’s no clear go-to back, the offense will likely lean on Shaw and Thompson to win a huge SEC showdown in Week 2 against Georgia. The defense loses a handful of key players, but defensive end (and Heisman candidate) Jadeveon Clowney is back for one more season in Columbia. After facing a difficult conference crossover schedule over the last few years, South Carolina does not play Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M or Ole Miss – arguably the top four teams in the SEC West.
Key Returnees: QB Jeff Driskel, RB Matt Jones, FB Trey Burton, WR Quinton Dunbar, C Jonotthan Harrison, RG Jon Halapio, RT Chaz Green, DE Dominique Easley, DE Jonathan Bullard, DE Dante Fowler, LB Antonio Morrison, LB Michael Taylor, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, CB Jaylen Watkins, CB Marcus Roberson, P Kyle Christy
Key Departures: RB Mike Gillislee, TE Jordan Reed, LT Xavier Nixon, LG James Wilson, DT Sharrif Floyd, DT Omar Hunter, LB Jelani Jenkins, LB Jon Bostic, S Matt Elam, S Josh Evans, K Caleb Sturgis
Are the Gators ready to emerge as an annual top-10 team once again? Or is Florida a year or two away from reaching that mark? That’s the big question facing this team in 2013. The Gators navigated a difficult schedule to finish 11-2 last season but was destroyed by Louisville in the Sugar Bowl and still averaged only 334.4 yards per game. With running back Mike Gillislee out of eligibility, Florida needs a big year from quarterback Jeff Driskel. After throwing for 1,646 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012, the junior will be asked to shoulder more of the offensive workload. The Gators lost coordinator Dan Quinn to the NFL and must replace standouts in defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, safety Matt Elam and linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic. Even though Florida has talent on this side of the ball, it may be difficult to finish fifth in total and scoring defense once again.
Key Returnees: RB Warren Norman, RB Brian Kimbrow, RB Wesley Tate, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Chris Boyd, OT Wesley Johnson, DE Walker May, DE Caleb Azibuke, LB Chase Garnham, LB Karl Butler, LB Darreon Herring, CB Andre Hal, S Kenny Ladler, S Javon Marshall
Key Departures: QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, OT Ryan Seymour, DE Johnell Thomas, DT Rob Lohr, LB Archibald Barnes, CB Trey Wilson, P Richard Kent
The Commodores enter 2013 with a seven-game winning streak and momentum on their side. Coach James Franklin has led Vanderbilt to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history and earning No. 3 is certainly within reach. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers and running back Zac Stacy must be replaced, but the offense caught a break when receiver Jordan Matthews decided to turn down the NFL for another season in Nashville. Bob Shoop is one of the SEC’s most underrated coordinators, and Vanderbilt should rank among the top-five defenses in the conference next year.
Key Returnees: RB Rajion Neal, RB Marlin Lane, LT Antonio Richardson, C James Stone, RG Zach Fulton, RT Ja’Wuan James, NG Daniel McCullers, DE Maurice Couch, LB A.J. Johnson, LB Jacques Smith, LB Curt Maggitt, CB Justin Coleman, S Byron Moore, S LaDarrell McNeil, DB Jaron Toney
Key Departures: QB Tyler Bray, WR Justin Hunter, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, TE Mychal Rivera, OG Dallas Thomas, DE Darrington Sentimore, LB Herman Lathers, CB Prentiss Waggner
After a disappointing three-year stint under Derek Dooley, Tennessee hopes new coach Butch Jones can get the Volunteers back on track. However, Jones is going to need some time to rebuild the roster, especially after quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson declared early for the NFL Draft. Although the skill positions need to be rebuilt, running backs Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane are back, along with four starters on the offensive line. The defense was a disaster under Sal Sunseri last season, but new coordinator John Jancek has some personnel to work with, including massive nose guard Daniel McCullers and linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt.
Key Returnees: QB James Franklin, RB Henry Josey, RB Marcus Murphy, WR Marcus Lucas, WR Dorial Green-Beckham, WR L’Damian Washington, LG Evan Boehm, RT Justin Britt, DE Kony Ealy, DE Michael Sam, NG Matt Hoch, LB Donovan Bonner, LB/S Andrew Wilson, CB E.J. Gaines, CB Randy Ponder, FS Braylon Webb
Key Departures: RB Kendial Lawrence, WR T.J. Moe, WR Gahn McGaffie, OT Elvis Fisher, DE Brad Madison, DT Sheldon Richardson, LB Will Ebner, LB Zaviar Gooden, CB Kip Edwards, SS Kenronte Walker
Even though the Tigers check in No. 6 in the early SEC East predictions, they could surprise in 2013. Quarterback James Franklin was never 100 percent after offseason shoulder surgery, throwing for just 1,562 yards and 10 touchdowns. Expect the senior to regain the form from his junior year, which resulted in 3,846 total yards and 36 overall scores. The Tigers also regain the services of running back Henry Josey, who missed 2012 with a serious knee injury. Considering the departure of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and a couple of key players in the back seven, there’s more pressure on Missouri’s offense to deliver and likely win more shootouts next season.
Key Returnees: QB Jalen Whitlow, QB Patrick Towles, QB Maxwell Smith, RB Raymond Sanders, RB Jonathan George, WR Demarco Robinson, WR Daryl Collins, LT Darrian Miller, LG Zach West, RT Kevin Mitchell, DT Donte Rumph, DT Mister Cobble, DT Tristian Johnson, LB Avery Williamson, LB Alvin Dupree, LB/S Miles Simpson, CB J.D. Harmon, S Ashely Lowery
Key Departures: WR La’Rod King, WR Aaron Boyd, C Matt Smith, RG Larry Warford, DE Collins Ukwu, DE Taylor Wyndham, CB Cartier Rice, S Martavius Neloms
New coach Mark Stoops certainly has some work to do to get the Wildcats back in a bowl game. Kentucky’s offense ranked as one of the worst in college football last season, averaging just 17.9 points a game. Injuries to quarterback Patrick Towles and Maxwell Smith never allowed the offense to get on track, while freshman Jalen Whitlow was thrown into the fire too early. All three quarterbacks are back in 2013, and Kentucky’s offense should be better under new coordinator Neal Brown. Stoops’ background on defense will immediately help a unit that allowed 391 yards and 31 points a game last season. The Wildcats played a handful of young players on defense in 2012, which should give some hope that Kentucky can make considerable progress on this side of the ball in 2013.
Early SEC West Predictions for 2013
Key Returnees: QB AJ McCarron, RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper, WR Kevin Norwood, WR Christion Jones, LT Cyrus Kouandijo, OG Anthony Steen, C Ryan Kelly, DE Jeoffrey Pagan, NG Brandon Ivory, LB C.J. Mosley, LB Trey DePriest, LB Adrian Hubbard, LB Xzavier Dickson, LB Denzel Devall, CB Deion Belue, CB John Fulton, CB Geno Smith,S Vinnie Sunseri, S Nick Perry, S HaHa Clinton-Dix
Key Departures: RB Eddie Lacy, TE Michael Williams, LG Chance Warmack, C Barrett Jones, RT D.J. Fluker, DE Damion Square, NG Jesse Williams, LB Nico Johnson, CB Dee Milliner, S Robert Lester
The Crimson Tide enters 2013 as a heavy favorite to win their fourth national title in five seasons. The biggest area of concern for coach Nick Saban will be an offensive line that must replace guard Chance Warmack, center Barrett Jones and right tackle D.J. Fluker. However, quarterback AJ McCarron is back after a standout junior season, while running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper will be in the mix for All-SEC honors. Nose guard Jesse Williams, linebacker Nico Johnson, cornerback Dee Milliner and safety Robert Lester are big losses, but Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart shouldn’t have any trouble keeping the Crimson Tide’s defense ranked among the best in college football. The Sept. 14 showdown at Texas A&M could decide the SEC West title. Even though the Aggies got the best of Alabama in 2012, the guess here is the Crimson Tide gets revenge for last season’s loss.
2. Texas A&M
Key Returnees: QB Johnny Manziel, RB Ben Malena, RB Trey Williams, WR Mike Evans, WR Malcome Kennedy, OT Jake Matthews, LG Jarvis Harrison, RG Cedric Ogbuehi, DE Julien Obioha, NG Kirby Ennis, LB Steven Jenkins, LB Toney Hurd, Jr., CB Deshazor Everett, CB De’Vante Harris, S Howard Matthews, S Tramain Jacobs
Key Departures: RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, WR Uzoma Nwachukwu, LT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, DE Damontre Moore, DT Spencer Nealy, LB Jonathan Stewart, LB Sean Porter, CB Dustin Harris, S Steven Terrell
The Aggies’ debut season in the SEC was a huge success. What will coach Kevin Sumlin and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel do for an encore? How about a national championship? It’s certainly within reach for Texas A&M, as Manziel is back for his sophomore season, and the backfield is loaded with options with Ben Malena, Brandon Williams and Trey Williams. With Luke Joeckel moving to the NFL, Jake Matthews is expected to slide from right tackle to the left side. The defense is the biggest concern for Sumlin, as defensive end Damontre Moore left early for the NFL, and this unit ranked ninth in the SEC in yards allowed in 2012. The Aggies aren’t going to surprise anyone in 2013, but Sumlin has this team poised to make a run at the top five and a SEC Championship.
Key Returnees: QB Zach Mettenberger, RB Jeremy Hill, RB Kenny Hilliard, RB Alfred Blue, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Kadron Boone, WR Odell Beckham, LG La’el Collins, RG Trai Turner, RT Vadal Alexander, DT Anthony Johnson, DT Ego Ferguson, LB Lamin Barrow, LB Deion Jones, CB Jalen Mills, CB Jalen Collins, S Craig Loston, S Ronald Martin, S Micah Eugene
Key Departures: RB Michael Ford, RB Spencer Ware, LT Josh Dworaczyk, OT Chris Faulk, C P.J. Lonergan, DE Lavar Edwards, DE Barkevious Mingo, DE Sam Montgomery, DT Bennie Logan, DT Josh Downs, LB Kevin Minter, CB Tharold Simon, S Eric Reid
Although the Tigers have recruited as well as anyone in the SEC, replacing 11 early departures to the NFL won’t be easy. If LSU wants to challenge Alabama or Texas A&M for the SEC West title, quarterback Zach Mettenberger has to get better. He finished with 2,609 yards, 12 touchdown tosses and seven interceptions in 2012. Mettenberger will have plenty of help, as sophomore Jeremy Hill could be a 1,000-yard rusher, while the receiving corps is set with the return of Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Defensive coordinator John Chavis is among the best in college football, and he will certainly have his hands full in 2013. The Tigers must replace defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, defensive tackles Josh Downs and Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid. Considering all of the early departures to the NFL, LSU’s defense may struggle early but will get stronger as the year progresses. The Tigers also have a challenging schedule, which starts with a neutral site matchup against TCU, followed by road games in the SEC against Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama.
4. Ole Miss
Key Returnees: QB Bo Wallace, QB Barry Brunetti, RB Jeff Scott, WR Donte Moncrief, WR Ja-Mes Logan, WR Vince Sanders, LT Emmanuel McCray, LG Aaron Morris, C Evan Swindall, RT Pierce Burton, DE C.J. Johnson, DE Channing Ward, DT Isaac Gross, LB Denzel Nkemdiche, LB Mike Marry, CB Charles Sawyer, CB Senquez Golson, FS Cody Prewitt, S Trae Elston, DB Mike Hilton
Key Departures: TE Jamal Mosley, RG A.J. Hawkins, DT Gilbert Pena, DT Uriah Grant, LB Joel Kight
The Rebels were one of college football’s most-improved teams in 2012, going from 2-10 in 2011 to 7-6 last season. Hugh Freeze clearly has Ole Miss on the right track, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rebels begin 2013 in some preseason top 25 lists. In addition to a top-15 recruiting class coming to Oxford, Ole Miss returns nearly all of its key players for 2013. Quarterback Bo Wallace will miss spring practice due to shoulder surgery, but backup Barry Brunetti can benefit from the extra snaps. The defense made considerable progress in 2012, finishing seventh in the SEC in yards allowed and averaged 2.9 sacks a game. With more depth and experience next season, Ole Miss’ defense should take another step forward.
5. Mississippi State
Key Returnees: QB Tyler Russell, RB LaDarius Perkins, RB Josh Robinson, WR Robert Johnson, TE Malcolm Johnson, LT Blaine Clausell, LG Gabe Jackson, C Dillon Day, RT Charles Siddoway, DE Denico Autry, DE Kaleb Eulls, DE Preston Smith, DT Curtis Virges, LB Benardrick McKinney, LB Deontae Skinner, LB Matthew Wells, S Nickoe Whitley, S Jay Hughes
Key Departures: WR Chad Bumphis, WR Chris Smith, WR Arceto Clark, TE Marcus Green, RG Tobias Smith, DT Josh Boyd, LB Cameron Lawrence, CB Johnthan Banks, CB Darius Slay, SS Corey Broomfield
2012 was a tale of two seasons for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs started 7-0 but finished a disappointing 1-5 in their final six games. Why the collapse? The schedule got tougher during the second half of the season, and the defense gave up 30 or more points in five out of the last six games. Coach Dan Mullen promoted Geoff Collins to defensive coordinator, hoping a more aggressive scheme will result in improvement next season. In addition to making improvement on defense, the Bulldogs have to get more production from quarterback Tyler Russell. Mullen has elevated the program, but Mississippi State will have a hard time finishing in the top four of the SEC West next season.
Key Returnees: QB Kiehl Frazier, QB Jonathan Wallace, RB Tre Mason, WR Trovon Reed, WR Quan Bray, LT Greg Robinson, C Reese Dismukes, RG Chad Slade, DE Dee Ford, DT Angelo Blackson, DT Gabe Wright, DE Nosa Eguae, LB Cassanova McKinzy, LB Jake Holland, CB Joshua Holsey, CB Chris Davis, CB Jonathon Mincy, S Demetruce McNeal, S Jermaine Whitehead
Key Departures: RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, LG John Sullen, DE Corey Lemonier, LB Daren Bates
After a disastrous 3-9 record in 2012, Auburn has made all of the right moves to put the program back on track. New coach (and former offensive coordinator) Gus Malzahn is back after spending last season at Arkansas State, and his return is crucial for an offense that averaged just 18.7 points a game. Malzahn’s first order of business is choosing between Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace as the team’s starting quarterback. Neither player was particularly impressive but didn’t have much help from their supporting cast. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has a wealth of experience from his stops at Alabama, Mississippi State and South Carolina and should help Auburn’s defense make noticeable improvement in 2013. The Tigers aren’t going to challenge for the SEC West title but a bowl game is a reasonable expectation.
Key Returnees: RB Jonathan Williams, WR Mekale McKay, WR Javontee Herndon, WR Brandon Mitchell, WR Julian Horton, C Travis Swanson, OT David Hurd, DE Chris Smith, DE Trey Flowers, DT Byran Jones, DT Robert Thomas, LB A.J. Turner, LB Otha Peters, CB Tevin Mitchel, S Rohan Gaines, S Eric Bennett
Key Departures: QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis, RB Dennis Johnson, WR Cobi Hamilton, TE Chris Gragg, OG Alvin Bailey, OG Tyler Deacon, DT Alfred Davis, LB Ross Rasner, LB Terrell Williams, LB Alonzo Highsmith
Time and patience. That’s the key words surrounding Bret Bielema’s first season in Fayetteville. Arkansas has a lot of roster turnover to overcome next year, starting at quarterback. Tyler Wilson has expired his eligibility, leaving Brandon Allen as the team’s likely No. 1 quarterback in the spring. Another problem for Allen will be the lack of a proven running back, along with the early departure of guard Alvin Bailey to the NFL. Jim Chaney was a good hire as the team’s offensive coordinator but points could be hard to come by in 2013. While the offense will be a work in progress, the defense has enough talent to be competitive next season. The Razorbacks have a solid defensive line with the return of Chris Smith, Trey Flowers, Byran Jones and Robert Thomas. And the secondary should be improved with a full year from cornerback Tevin Mitchel and safety Eric Bennett.
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The top prospects of the 2007 signing class was a cautionary tale of sorts.
USC was the big winner on National Signing Day that year as the Trojans claiming four of the top 10 prospects in one of the final classes of Pete Carroll’s tenure. The top prospects, though, didn’t pan out. Of Everson Griffen, Joe McKnight, Chris Galippo and Marc Tyler, none of USC’s top four prospects made first-team all-conference.
But USC wasn’t alone. Defensive tackle Marvin Austin played a role in North Carolina landing on probation. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen was not the all-world quarterback he was expected to be for Notre Dame.
The best two prospects in the top 10 even came with caveats. Quarterback Ryan Mallett didn’t become a starter until he transferred from Michigan to Arkansas, where he flourished. And safety Eric Berry was an All-American safety, but he did it for Tennessee teams that struggled during his time in the spotlight.
1. Everson Griffen, DE, Avondale, Ariz. (USC)
Griffen came out of Agua Fria High School as one of the most physically gifted athletes ever to enter the collegiate ranks. Nicknamed “The Freak” after Jevon Kearse, Griffen posted 77 tackles, 16 sacks and 1,251 yards rushing with 22 touchdowns as a senior — at 6-4 and 266 pounds. In 2007, Griffen earned Freshman All-America honors. As a junior, the defensive end earned second-team All-Pac-10 selection. Following a bowl win over Boston College, Griffen announced he would skip his final season at USC. He was selected in the fourth round in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.
2. Joe McKnight, RB, River Ridge, La. (USC)
This talented tailback was no stranger to the spotlight, as he led John Curtis High School to three consecutive state titles and an unbeaten 14–0 campaign as a senior. McKnight shunned the home state LSU Tigers for the bright lights of Los Angeles. He produced his only 1,000-yard season in 2009, as a junior, before leaving early for the NFL. The No. 1 running back recruit in the nation finished his USC career with 2,213 yards rushing, ranking him 14th all-time in school history. However, his average of 6.4 yards per carry is second best at USC behind only Reggie Bush. McKnight was a fourth-round of the New York Jets in 2010.
3. Marvin Austin, DT, Washington, D.C. (North Carolina)
The Tar Heels won the National Signing Day battle for Austin over Florida State, USC and Tennessee. As a true freshman, Austin justified his lofty ranking by playing in all 12 games, starting three, and registering 26 tackles and 4.0 sacks. After a second-team All-ACC performance as a junior in 2009 (42 tackles, 4.0 sacks), Austin was poised for a huge senior season. Yet, he and 12 other Tar Heels were suspended for the start of the ’10 while under investigation for receiving improper benefits. Austin was eventually dismissed from the team in October. He was selected by the Giants in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
4. Jimmy Clausen, QB, Westlake Village, Calif. (Notre Dame)
The younger brother of two SEC quarterbacks, Casey and Rick, Jimmy entered college as the highest-profile signal-caller in the '07 class. Hailing from “Celebrity High,” Clausen did little to dispel his reputation as a showman. His polarizing commitment, in which he picked Notre Dame at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, featured an infamous stretch Hummer limo and a vow to win multiple national championships. After struggling as a freshman, Clausen began to prove the doubters wrong as he finished his collegiate career with back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons and an outstanding 28-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2009. Unfortunately for Clausen and head coach Charlie Weis, the only stat that mattered was his 13–12 starting record over his final two years. Weis was fired, and Clausen fell to Carolina in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
5. Ryan Mallett, QB, Texarkana, Texas (Michigan)
Possessing one of the strongest arms in recent history, Mallett signed with the Lloyd Carr-led Michigan Wolverines out of high school. Once spread guru Rich Rodriguez took over for the retiring Carr, Mallett was out the door. He transferred closer to home to play for Arkansas. He sat out the 2008 season before posting two of the best passing seasons in Razorback history. Mallett topped 3,600 yards and 30 touchdowns in both campaigns, finishing his two-year stint in Fayetteville with most of Arkansas’ major passing records, including most yards in a season (3,869) and most yards in a career (7,493). He set 16 school records in 2009 and capped his career with a seventh-place finish in the Heisman voting in 2010. He left Arkansas early and was drafted in the third round in 2011 by the New England Patriots.
6. Marc Tyler, RB, Yorba Linda, Calif. (USC)
From the same program as Jimmy Clausen — Oaks Christian — Tyler redshirted in 2007 after breaking his before the CIF playoffs as a senior. He played in eight games in 2008 before missing all but one game of the 2009 season with a toe injury. Tyler rebounded in 2010, starting eight games and leading the team in rushing with 913 yards. He missed two more games as a senior and regressed statistically in 2011. Tyler finished his USC career with 1,751 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns.
7. Eric Berry, ATH, Fairburn, Ga. (Tennessee)
Berry made an immediate impact, starting every game in 2006 and earning SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. He set the SEC’s all-time record for interception return yards (487) after only two seasons. A two-time consensus All-American, Berry racked up the awards as a junior, being named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and earning the Jim Thorpe Award. He was the fifth overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
8. Tray Allen, OL, Grand Prairie, Texas (Texas)
The top prep lineman in the nation finished with 44 games played in his collegiate career but made only six career starts. He appeared in nine games at tackle as a freshman and 11 games at the same position as a sophomore. He played in 11 games at guard in 2009, helping the Horns to an undefeated regular season record and BCS Championship Game berth. After missing the entire 2010 campaign with a foot injury, Allen returned to the field for the final time in 2011. He played in all 13 games last fall, including the only six starts of his career.
9. Chris Galippo, LB, Corona, Calif. (USC)
Galippo’s career got off to a rocky start when he suffered a herniated disk that abruptly ended his freshman season. He was able to redshirt and returned to the field in 2008, playing in 10 games before earning the starting middle linebacker position in 2009. Galippo lost the starting job in ‘10, finishing with only 29 tackles in seven starts. He played in all 12 games as a senior in 2011, racking up 47 total tackles.
10. Terrence Toliver, WR, Hempstead, Texas (LSU)
Toliver earned SEC All-Freshman honors in 2007 after catching 10 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns. He played but did not catch a pass in the Tigers' National Championship win over Ohio State. He broke through two years later with his best statistical season — 53 receptions, 735 yards and three touchdowns. Toliver ended his four-year career with 126 catches, 1,820 yards and 12 total touchdowns. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Houston Texans following the 2011 NFL Draft.
11. Chad Jones, S, Baton Rouge, La. (LSU)
Jones was a 13th-round pick of the Houston Astros out of high school but opted to attend LSU. While in Baton Rouge, Jones played on the 2007 LSU football national championship team and the 2009 LSU baseball national championship team, becoming one of only two college athletes to accomplish the feat (with teammate Jared Mitchell). Jones, who started 19 games in three seasons, skipped his senior year and was picked by the New York Giants in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft and the Milwaukee Brewers in the 50th round of the ’10 MLB Draft
12. Arrelious Benn, WR, Washington, D.C. (Illinois)
Benn’s freakish athletic ability was on full display from Game 1 in his Illinois career. He caught five passes for 74 yards and carried the ball three times in his first game against Missouri. He went on to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2007 and finished with an Illinois freshman-record 54 catches and 676 yards. As a sophomore, he earned team MVP honors. One year later, Benn ended his three-year career fourth all-time in all-purpose yards (3,613), fifth all-time in receptions (159), sixth all-time in receiving yards (2,221) and sixth in kick return yards (996). Benn was the 39th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
13. Ronald Johnson, ATH, Muskegon, Mich. (USC)
Johnson was listed by some recruiting services as a cornerback but he shined at USC as a wide receiver. His best season came as a senior, when he caught 64 passes for 692 yards and eight scores. He finished his career with 138 catches, 1,750 yards and 20 touchdowns. The San Francisco 49ers selected him in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
14. Curtis Brown, CB, Gilmer, Texas (Texas)
Brown was a four-year contributor down for Mack Brown. He played in all 13 games as a true freshman and finished his career by starting 24 of his last 26 games — including all 14 games in the 2009 unbeaten regular season. He finished his career with 52 games played, 28 starts, 120 total tackles and was second-team All-Big 12 as a senior. He was selected in the third round of the 2011 Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
15. Noel Devine, RB, North Fort Myers, Fla. (West Virginia)
The tiny speedster made an immediate impact at West Virginia, rushing for 627 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman. He then posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and entered his senior campaign as a Heisman candidate. Injuries, however, derailed his final year, and he finished 64 yards shy of his third straight 1,000-yard season. Devine finished his career with 4,317 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns on the ground to go with 98 receptions and 710 yards receiving. He went undrafted in the 2011 NFL Draft before being signed by the Eagles in July 2011. A month later he signed with the Omaha Nighthawks in the UFL before landing in the CFL on the Montreal Alouettes in February 2012.
16. Torrey Davis, DT, Seffner, Fla. (Florida)
The peak of Davis’ Florida career came in the 2009 BCS Championship Game when he made two goal line tackles against Oklahoma. However, his two-year stint in Gainesville was plagued with academic and disciplinary suspensions. He was on probation for knowingly driving on a suspended license when he left the Florida football team, only to be arrested shortly thereafter for the same transgression. He transferred to Jacksonville State and played one season, earning a spot on the OVC All-Newcomer team.
17. Josh Oglesby, OL, Milwaukee, Wisc. (Wisconsin)
Oglesby, one of the highest-rated recruits ever to sign with the Badgers, battled injuries throughout his career. Still, he played in 41 games, starting 28, while paving the way for record-setting tailback Montee Ball. He played a full season in 2011, starting 13 games for the Big Ten champions and earning consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors.
18. Aaron Corp, QB, Villa Park, Calif. (USC)
Corp backed up Mark Sanchez during his first two seasons at USC. Then, after Matt Barkley grabbed the reins of the USC offense as a true freshman in 2009, Corp opted to transfer to Richmond in January 2010. He started the first five games of the 2010 season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. As a senior in 2011, he started 11 games and threw for 2,682 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
19. Caleb King, RB, Norcross, Ga. (Georgia)
King posted a Georgia state record 2,768 yards rushing as a junior and built a legendary prep name for himself in the process. However, he failed to live up to the hype in Athens. He never reached the 20-carry plateau in a game and rushed for at least 100 yards only twice in his career. He was academically ineligible as a senior in 2011 and ended his disappointing career with 1,271 yards and 10 touchdowns.
20. Anthony Davis, OL, Piscataway, N.J. (Rutgers)
Davis, one of the highest-rated recruits ever to sign with Rutgers, enjoyed an outstanding three-year career with the Scarlet Knights. He was a two-time first-team All-Big East, and he earned second-team All-America honors as a junior in 2009. Davis skipped his final season of eligibility and was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the 11th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the highest ever for a Scarlet Knight.
21. Ben Martin, DE, Cincinnati (Tennessee)
Martin played in 20 games in his first two seasons as a reserve before breaking into the starting lineup as a junior in 2009. He set career highs that season with 38 tackles, five sacks and six tackles for a loss. He missed the entire 2010 season due to a torn Achilles before returning for his final campaign in 2011, when he started eight games. Martin finished his career with 81 total tackles, six sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.
22. Deonte Thompson, WR, Belle Glade, Fla. (Florida)
The in-state speedster redshirted his first season in Gainesville before playing in 52 of his possible 54 career games, making 34 starts along the way. Thompson caught 18 passes for 269 yards and three scores during the Gators’ 2008 National Championship run, but his best season came in 2010 when he posted career bests in receptions (38) and yards (570). He ended his career with 101 receptions for 1,446 and nine touchdowns.
23. Kristofer O’Dowd, OL, Tucson, Ariz. (USC)
O’Dowd became the first true freshman at USC to start at center. The following season, in 2008, he was named first-team All-Pac-10. He missed five games due to a kneecap injury in 2009 before starting all 13 games as a senior in 2010. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Arizona Cardinals but was cut just before the start of the season.
24. Donovan Warren, CB, Long Beach, Calif. (Michigan)
The godson of former USC great Mark Carrier, Warren surprised fans when he picked Michigan over the Trojans. He started 11 of 13 games in 2007 and was named Big Ten Defensive Freshman of the Year. He posted 52 total tackles in 2008 and then led the team in interceptions (four) in 2009 while recording a career-high 66 total tackles. Warren left college early for the NFL but went undrafted in 2010.
25. Eugene Clifford, S, Cincinnati (Ohio State)
Clifford played in four games as a true freshman in Columbus but was suspended prior to the BCS National Championship Game. He was charged six months later with assault for allegedly punching two men at a bar. This incident led to his departure from the team and a transfer to Tennessee State, where he was a three-year starter and a two-time All-OVC pick. Clifford went undrafted in 2011.
26. Ryan Miller, OL, Littleton, Colo. (Colorado)
The Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year picked the home-state Buffaloes over Miami, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, USC and Nebraska. His impact in Boulder was felt immediately as he started seven games as a true freshman, earning first-team Freshman All-America honors. He broke his fibula early in 2008 but was granted a medical redshirt and returned to the starting lineup in 2009. He played in all but one of Colorado’s offensive snaps that season and went on to start his final two seasons with the Buffs, as well. Miller was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
27. Tyrod Taylor, Hampton, Va. (Virginia Tech)
It took only two games for Frank Beamer to realize what he had in Taylor, who got his first start in Game 3 of his true freshman season. After earning extended playing time in 2007, Taylor was set to redshirt in 2008, but the decision was quickly reversed, and Taylor played in 12 games, claiming his first of two ACC Championship Game MVP trophies. He continued his development as a junior when he showed marked improvement in his efficiency as a passer, setting career highs in passing yards and touchdowns while leading the Hokies to a 10-win season. Taylor took his game to a championship level as a senior. He claimed ACC Player of the Year honors en route to an unbeaten ACC regular season and title game win. Taylor left campus as Virginia Tech’s career record-setter for total offense (9,213), passing yards (7,017), rushing yards by a quarterback (2,196), wins by a starting quarterback (34) and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (23).
28. Martez Wilson, DE, Chicago (Illinois)
As a true freshman, Wilson played in all 13 games at linebacker and was a Freshman All-American by several outlets. He finished 14th in the Big Ten in tackles (6.6 per game) as a sophomore before suffering a herniated disc in his neck in the 2009 season opener. He redshirted and returned to become a first-team All-Big Ten performer in 2010. The team captain finished his career with 223 total tackles and nine sacks. Wilson was selected in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints after forgoing his senior season at Illinois.
29. J’Courtney Williams, LB, Danville, Va. (Virginia)
Williams’ career at Virginia ended prematurely. He was redshirted as a freshman and underwent multiple shoulder surgeries. In February 2008, he was placed on probation on a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession and later charged with credit card theft and fraud. Virginia announced in early April 2008 that Williams would not return to the team. He intended to transfer to Hampton but never played a game for the Pirates, instead landing at El Camino (Calif.) Community College. He eventually signed with Liberty in 2010 but never played a game for the Flames.
30. Dre Jones, DT, El Paso, Texas (Texas)
Jones was a U.S. Army All-American before he ran into some legal trouble. After he was charged with aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon — he and a teammate were accused of holding up two victims at an Austin apartment complex — Jones was considered a fugitive for a short period of time. He was apprehended and spent his 18th birthday in a Travis County Jail cell. Texas coach Mack Brown suspended Jones immediately, and he never played for the Horns. He pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony, before returning home in an effort to join UTEP for the 2009 season. But a car accident forced Jones to have knee surgery in October 2008, and the Miners decided not to admit the troubled defensive tackle.
31. John Chiles, WR, Dallas (Texas)
This do-everything dual-threat dynamo began his career under center for the Longhorns. He made his debut as true freshman, carrying 36 times for 191 yards. He played one more season as the backup, change-of-pace quarterback before officially landing at wide receiver in 2009. He made 15 starts over his last two seasons, catching 63 passes for 737 yards and four touchdowns over that span. Chiles finished his Texas career with one 100-yard receiving game. He played in 41 games, 19 at quarterback and 22 at wide receiver, and totaled 543 yards of total offense with eight total touchdowns.
32. James Wilson, OL, St. Augustine, Fla. (Florida)
Wilson has played in 38 games as a Gator, but has managed only six starts due to a rash of injuries. He started one game in 2011, the Gator Bowl win vs. Ohio State. Wilson was granted a sixth season of eligibility and is projected to be a starter at guard in 2012.
33. Justin Trattou, DE, Ramsey, N.J. (Florida)
Trattou broke into the rotation as a reserve defensive linemen in 2007. He made 13 starts as a sophomore on the one-loss 2008 BCS National Championship squad that beat Oklahoma in the title game. He played in every game over the final two seasons of his college career, finishing with 31 career starts, 121 total tackles (26 for a loss) and 8.5 sacks. Trattou went undrafted in 2011 but signed with the New York Giants and appeared in six regular-season games for the eventual Super Bowl champions.
34. Carlos Dunlap, DE, North Charleston, S.C. (Florida)
One of the freakiest athletes ever to play high school football — the 6-6, 290-pounder returned kickoffs at Fort Dorchester — Dunlap was an immediate contributor for the Gators. He played in all 13 games as a freshman before earning his first career start in 2008. Dunlap recorded a team-leading 13.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks on the 2008 National Championship team, and he was named Defensive MVP of the title game. The next season, the talented end helped Florida to an undefeated regular season and berth in the SEC Championship Game with eyes on a second-straight BCS title. But Dunlap was arrested on a DUI charge just days before the SEC title game and missed only the second game of his career. Dunlap finished his career with 14 starts in 40 games played, 84 total tackles, 19.5 sacks and 26 tackles for a loss. He was selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
35. Aaron Hernandez, TE, Bristol, Conn. (Florida)
The talented tight end saw action in all 13 games as a true freshman, starting three times and catching nine passes. He vaulted into the Gators' starting lineup as a sophomore and became one of Tim Tebow’s top targets en route to the BCS National Championship. As a junior, he developed into the best tight end in the nation. After leading the team in receptions (68) and finishing second in yards (850), Hernandez became the first SEC player to win the John Mackey Award, given annually to the nation’s top tight end. He was an AP first-team All-American and finished his career with 111 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. Reports of failed tests for marijuana pushed Hernandez down draft boards and into the fourth round, where the New England Patriots got one of the steals of the 2010 NFL Draft.
36. Joseph Barksdale, DT, Detroit (LSU)
The transplant from Michigan contributed early for the 2007 BCS National Champions by playing in all 14 games as a true freshman. The following year, Barksdale took a starting spot at offensive tackle as a sophomore and never looked back, finishing with 39 consecutive starts to end his LSU career. He played in all 53 possible games and earned All-SEC second-team honors as a senior. He was a third-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in the 2011 NFL Draft.
37. Marshall Jones, S, Agoura Hills, Calif. (USC)
Jones saw limited action in his first two seasons at USC, playing in 17 games. After being moved from safety to corner in the spring of 2009, Jones lasted four games before suffering a neck injury that ended his season. He retuned to the field for his final two seasons but never became more than a special teamer. He finished his career with 54 total tackles — 35 of which came in 2010 — and only one career interception.
38. John Brown, DT, Lakeland, Fla. (Florida)
One of the nation’s most highly touted defensive tackles never played a down for Florida. He earned a medical redshirt as a freshman due to knee and back injuries and then missed the 2008 season following wrist surgery. He left Florida after one season and enrolled at Northeast Mississippi Community College. He then signed to play at Tennessee but never got his academics in order. Brown landed at Valdosta (Ga.) State in 2010 having never played a down in the SEC.
39. Chris Jacobson, OL, Pittsburgh, Pa (Pittsburgh)
After redshirting in 2007, Jacobson played in three games in 2008 and all 13 in 2009 for the Panthers. By 2010, he had earned a starting spot at left guard, leading the way for standout tailback Dion Lewis. He transitioned to center prior to his senior season in 2011 and was a big part of Ray Graham’s outstanding start to the year. However, against Iowa in the third game of the season, Jacobson injured his left knee and missed the rest of the year. He was granted a medical hardship waiver and will return in 2012 to the Panthers offensive line.
40. Lorenzo Edwards, LB, Orlando, Fla. (Florida)
This Edgewater High School prospect played four undistinguished seasons for the Gators. He played in 45 career games and was a member of the 2008 BCS National Championship squad. Edwards finished with 57 career total tackles — or just over one tackle per game — and was not selected in the 2011 NFL Draft.
The Internet is about to blow up over Manti Te'o's fake dead girlfriend. In fact, even famous people are commenting and joking about the mind-blowing revelation that the Notre Dame star never really had a girlfriend who died. (You can check out the entire story on Deadspin.)
Here are our 10 favorites Tweets...so far.
"Office" actor RAINN WILSON
I wonder if my dead grandmother ever actually existed?— RainnWilson (@rainnwilson) January 17, 2013
Model/actress Brooklyn Decker (and husband Andy Roddick)
.@andyroddick Surprise!!!! HOAX!! I don't exist.— Brooklyn Decker (@BrooklynDecker) January 17, 2013
Wide Reciever Donte' Stallworth
I better stop talking about my (imaginary) girlfriend on twitter before y'all start hating on our relationship as well.— Donte' Stallworth (@DonteStallworth) January 17, 2013
Comedian Seth Meyers
These Te'o jokes are all very funny but let's all try and remember that a person who never existed is dead.— Seth Meyers (@sethmeyers21) January 16, 2013
Comedian Michael Ian Black
Dear Te'o, please honor me by playing football instead of going to my funeral and never visiting me during my cancer treatment. Love, Lennay— Michael Ian Black (@michaelianblack) January 17, 2013
Comedian Rob Delaney
Kinda creepy to have an imaginary dead girlfriend. Anyway, I’m off to dinner with my wife, Brittany Murphy.— rob delaney (@robdelaney) January 17, 2013
"Family Guy" writer Julius Sharpe
I'm glad Manti Te'o's fake dead girlfriend isn't around to see this.— Julius Sharpe (@juliussharpe) January 17, 2013
Sports reporter Michael Smith
Here's the bottom line, guys: If you're going to create a girlfriend there's only one real way to do it. twitter.com/michaelsmith/s…— Michael Smith (@michaelsmith) January 17, 2013
Sports writer Jay Busbee
What if Te'o's girlfriend was a Looper? You ever think of that, huh?— Jay Busbee (@jaybusbee) January 16, 2013
Singer Josh Groban
"Te'o's girlfriend did not exist"....well, we've all be there right fellas? Right? Hmm?— josh groban (@joshgroban) January 17, 2013
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2013 NFL Draft was Jan. 15. The economic majors who can play ball decided to take the money and run. But not every name on the list is a can’t-miss blue-chip draft stock.
These are the 10 biggest boom or bust underclassmen in the 2013 NFL Draft:
1. Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU
Is Mingo a 6’5”, 240-pound “Freak” in the mold of Jevon Kearse or Jason Pierre-Paul? Odds are there’s a team with a top-10 pick willing to bank on that chance — especially after watching the lightning fast Mingo run and jump in neon Under Armour at the NFL Scouting Combine, where coaches and GMs will be drooling over the hybrid edge rusher like Les Miles over Bermuda grass on a Saturday afternoon. But Mingo was never able to turn that in-shorts potential into in-pads production at LSU, with just 4.5 sacks this year while playing alongside several former five-stars and future first-rounders.
2. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The big-talking big man who said the SEC, and Georgia in particular, played “old man football” has all the warning signs of a bust. All-world recruit with an ego as big as his massive frame? Check. Apparent lack of respect for authority or discipline? Check. History of shoulder injuries on a man soon to be paid to battle in the trenches? Check. Fast-rising prospect at the most bust-laden position, D-tackle? Check. Off-field issues as a cherry on top of the boom-or-bust sundae? Check yeah.
3. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
There’s no doubt about the respect Lattimore has earned from his coaches, peers and fans during his time as arguably the nation’s top high school runner at Byrnes High School in Duncan, S.C., and collegiate back at South Carolina. The football community was emotionally crushed after watching Lattimore’s knee get physically smashed. And it was Lattimore’s second devastating knee injury in as many years. But Adrian Peterson just ran for 2,000 yards on a recently reconstructed knee, Willis McGahee bounced back from a brutal blow and Frank Gore is still a beast running on a pair of repaired legs.
4. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
Classic case of a 6’6” quarterback with a million-dollar arm and a ten-cent head. It’s hard to blame the California kid who likes to chuck beer bottles at passing cars, though. After traveling cross-country to play for Lane Kiffin in Knoxville, his West Coast bro-coach bailed on him for USC. That left Bray holding the double-D-bag and playing for Derek Dooley. Well, not necessarily playing. Bray conveniently missed games against LSU (twice), Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas and Oregon during the first two years of his injury-riddled career. His last two years, he went 2–10 in the SEC, including losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky. But there’s no denying the arm; even Jeff George and Ryan Mallett are impressed by Bray.
5. Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee Tech
Once Bray’s go-to guy at Tennessee, the 6’3” jump-baller posted a 1,000-yard, nine-TD season in the SEC as a sophomore. But Rogers’ prima donna routine became expendable when Justin Hunter returned from injury and Cordarrelle Patterson arrived from JUCO to give the Volunteers more than enough NFL talent at wideout. After failed drug tests and indefinite suspensions, Rogers went to play for Mack Brown’s brother Watson Brown at Tennessee Tech, where the Georgia native had an 800-yard, 10-TD campaign against lesser FCS competition.
6. Tyrann Mathieu, CB/PR, LSU
The “Honey Badger” went from a cult hero Heisman Trophy finalist playing in the BCS national title game to the national spokesman for Spice synthetic weed. After watching this season from the couch and occasionally the stands, Mathieu hopes teams overlook his 5’9”, 175-pound frame — as well as a stack of off-field red flags at least that big — and focus on his unique playmaking ability as a nickel corner and punt returner. There was an intangible quality to Mathieu’s game in his heyday, but the tangible reality is that “Honey Badger” don’t care, and it may have cost him a lucrative NFL career.
7. William Gholston, DE, Michigan State
The 6’7”, 280-pound “Too Tall” is the cousin of Vernon Gholston, a former All-American at Ohio State who was selected No. 6 overall by the New York Jets in 2008. Vernon was an elephant man who wasn’t a freak so much as just ugly — as a player on the field and contract on the books. Unfortunately for William, he was nowhere near as productive as Vernon was in the Big Ten but he shares the last name “Gholston,” which is now synonymous with “bust” in certain draft circles.
8. Kwame Geathers, NT, Georgia
A big Dawg at 6’6”, 355-plus-pounds, Geathers is another namesake — as the brother of the Cincinnati Bengals’ Robert Geathers, brother of South Carolina’s Clifton Geathers, son of former NFL third-round pick Robert Geathers Sr., and nephew of 13-year NFL vet and two-time Super Bowl champion “Jumpy” Geathers. With that pedigree and so few nose guards to choose from for the ever-expanding list of teams running a 3-4 defense, Kwame Geathers will get over-drafted; hopefully not as bad as Kwame Brown was.
9. Greg Reid, CB/PR, Valdosta State
After getting kicked off of Florida State’s eventual Orange Bowl-winning squad, Reid suffered a season-ending knee injury before he could suit up for Valdosta State’s eventual Division II national title-winning team. If his run of bad decisions and bad luck comes to an end, Reid is the type of return man capable of breaking Deion Sanders’ FSU career record for punt return yards — which he was on pace to do before his quick-twitch exit from Tallahassee.
10. Brad Wing, P, LSU
Look out, you’ve got company, Chris Gardocki — who, by the by, was the last punter to declare early for the NFL Draft, back in 1991. The Bayou Bengal from Australia pinned himself into a coffin corner after being suspended for Honey-Badgering a drug test. So the 6’3”, 200-pounder entered the draft, where his Sebastian Janikowski attitude and success rate could make him a highly drafted, highly volatile special teams weapon. Don’t forget to watch out for the fake punt, either.
With Chip Kelly leaving Oregon for the NFL, the 2013 Pac-12 title race got a little more interesting. The Ducks return a bevy of key contributors but must replace standout running back Kenjon Barner, linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay, and defensive end/linebacker Dion Jordan. Oregon has a trip to Stanford next season, but the rest of the schedule is very favorable.
Although the Ducks get the edge in Athlon’s very early predictions for 2013, there’s not much separating Oregon and Stanford. The Cardinal is coming off a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin and claimed the Pac-12 title in 2012. The defense should be strong once again, while quarterback Kevin Hogan will be better in his second season as the starter.
The South Division isn’t as strong as the North, but UCLA, Arizona State and USC could all be preseason top-25 teams in 2013. The Bruins have won back-to-back division titles and will get a battle from a fast-improving Sun Devil team next season.
Early North Division Predictions for 2013
Key Returnees: QB Marcus Mariota, RB De’Anthony Thomas, RB Byron Marshall, WR Josh Huff, WR Daryle Hawkins, TE Colt Lyerla, LT Tyler Johnstone, C Hroniss Grasu, RT Jake Fisher, DE Taylor Hart, DE DeForest Buckner, DT Wade Keliikipi, DT Arik Armstead, LB Derrick Malone, LB Boseko Lokombo, LB Tyson Coleman, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB Terrance Mitchell, CB Avery Patterson, S Brian Jackson, S Erick Dargan
Key Departures: RB Kenjon Barner, LG Kyle Long, RG Ryan Clanton, DE/LB Dion Jordan, DT Isaac Remington, LB Kiko Alonso
Even though Chip Kelly left Oregon for the NFL, the Ducks maintain a slight edge over Stanford for the No. 1 spot in the early Pac-12 North power rankings. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is expected to replace Kelly, which will keep continuity for 2013. Expect much of the same from the Ducks next year, as quarterback Marcus Mariota leads a high-powered offense, and the defense should be in good shape despite losing Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso. Finding a running back to replace Kenjon Barner will be the top priority for Helfrich and the rest of the offensive staff in the spring. Oregon has a favorable schedule but must play at Stanford – a game that will define the Pac-12 North and could have national title implications.
Related Content: Chip Kelly's Departure Significantly Impacts 2013 Pac-12 Title Race
Key Returnees: QB Kevin Hogan, RB Anthony Wilkerson, WR Ty Montgomery, LT David Yankey, LG Khalil Wilkes, RG Kevin Danser, RT Cameron Fleming, DE Henry Anderson, DE Ben Gardner, LB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, LB A.J. Tarpley, CB Alex Carter, S Ed Reynolds, S Jordan Richards, DB Usua Amanam
Key Departures: RB Stepfan Taylor, WR Drew Terrell, WR Jamal-Rashad Patterson, TE Zach Ertz, TE Levine Toilolo, C Sam Schwartztein, LB Chase Thomas, CB Terence Brown
Oregon checks in at No. 1 in Athlon’s very early power rankings for 2013, but Stanford isn’t far behind. And with Chip Kelly’s departure, the gap between the Cardinal and Ducks has narrowed. If Stanford wants to contend for the BCS title, improving the passing attack will be a top priority for coach David Shaw. Quarterback Kevin Hogan helped spark the offense in 2012 and should be better with another offseason to work as the starter. However, the bigger problem for the Cardinal will be replacing running back Stepfan Taylor and tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Linebacker Chase Thomas will be missed, but Stanford should have one of the nation’s best defenses in 2013.
3. Oregon State
Key Returnees: QB Sean Mannion, QB Cody Vaz, RB Storm Woods, WR Brandin Cooks, HB Connor Hamlett, LT Michael Philipp, C Isaac Seumalo, RG Grant Enger, DE Scott Crichton, DE Dylan Wynn, LB Michael Doctor, LB D.J. Alexander, CB Rashaad Reynolds, CB Sean Martin, S Ryan Murphy, S Tyrequek Zimmerman
Key Departures: WR Markus Wheaton, RT Colin Kelly, DT Castro Masaniai, DT Andrew Seumalo, LB Feti Unga, CB Jordan Poyer
The No. 3 spot in the early North Division projections is a tossup between Oregon State and Washington. For now, a slight edge goes to the Beavers. The big question for coach Mike Riley and his offensive staff this spring will be deciding between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz as the team’s starting quarterback. If Oregon State can get consistent play under center, the offense should rank among the top five in the Pac-12, especially with the emergence of running back Storm Woods and the return of receiver Brandin Cooks. The defense made major improvement after a horrendous 2011 season, but coordinator Mark Banker must replace his top two defensive tackles, along with top cornerback Jordan Poyer.
Key Returnees: QB Keith Price, RB Bishop Sankey, WR Kasen Williams, WR Jaydon Mickens, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, LT Micah Hatchie, LG Dexter Charles, RT Ben Riva, DE Andrew Hudson, DE Hau’oli Jamora, DE Josh Shirley, NT Danny Shelton, LB Travis Feeney, LB John Timu, CB Marcus Peters, S Sean Parker, DB/LB Shaq Thompson
Key Departures: C Drew Schaefer, DE Semisi Tokolahi, DE Talia Crichton, CB Desmond Trufant, S Justin Glenn
The Huskies have made three consecutive bowl appearances under Steve Sarkisian, but the program is still looking to emerge as a contender in the Pac-12 North. Is this the year Washington challenges Stanford or Oregon for the top spot? Probably not. However, the Huskies could surpass last season’s win total. Quarterback Keith Price regressed last year after throwing 33 touchdowns in 2011 but didn’t have much help from his offensive line. Improving and developing consistency on the line could be the difference between Washington making a push for nine wins or just getting bowl eligible. Thanks to the arrival of coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Huskies owned one of college football’s most-improved defenses in 2012. With eight starters back, along with the return of defensive end Hau’oli Jamora from an injury, Washington’s defense could be even better in 2013.
5. Washington State
Key Returnees: QB Connor Halliday, RB Teondray Caldwell, WR Brett Bartolone, WR Gabe Marks, WR Isiah Myers, WR Dominique Williams, LG John Fullington, C Elliot Bosch, DL Xavier Cooper, DE Logan Mayes, T Ioane Gauta, LB Darryl Malone, LB Cyrus Coen, LB Justin Sagote, CB Anthony Carpenter, SS Deone Bucannon, FS Casey Locker
Key Departures: QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess Wilson, RT Wade Jacobson, DE/LB Travis Long, CB Daniel Simmons
With the arrival of Mike Leach as the Cougars’ new coach, expectations were high in Pullman in 2012. Instead of making a run at a bowl game, Washington State finished with a disappointing 3-9 mark. The second season of Leach’s tenure should bring more improvement, but a winning record may be a year away. The Cougars struggled to adapt Leach’s offense and will be looking for more consistency from quarterback Connor Halliday in 2013. Even though Leach doesn’t need a 1,000-yard rusher for his offense to work, Washington State needs to average more than 29.1 yards per game on the ground next season. The defense also has room to improve, finishing ninth in the Pac-12 in total yards allowed in 2012.
Key Returnees: RB Brendan Bigelow, WR Chris Harper, WR Bryce Treggs, WR Darius Powe, TE Richard Rodgers, LG Jordan Rigsbee, RG Chris Adcock, DE Deandre Coleman, LB Jalen Jefferson, LB Brennan Scarlett, LB Chris McCain, LB Nick Forbes, LB Chris McCain, LB Nathan Broussard, CB Kameron Jackson, S Michael Lowe, S Avery Sebastian
Key Departures: QB Zach Maynard, RB Isi Sofele, RB C.J. Anderson, WR Keenan Allen, LT Tyler Rigsbee, C Brian Schwenke, DE Kendrick Payne, NG Aaron Tipoti, LB Robert Mullins, CB Steve Williams, CB Marc Anthony, S Josh Hill
New coach Sonny Dykes is a great fit in Berkeley, but California could be looking at a finish in the North Division cellar next year. If the Golden Bears want to climb higher in the standings, Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin have to find a quarterback to run their spread attack. Allan Bridgford has the most experience, but Zach Kline, Austin Hinder and Kyle Boehm will get a chance to win the job in the spring. Even though quarterback play is a question mark, the receiving corps has plenty of talent, while running back Brendan Bigelow could be one of the Pac-12’s top breakout players next season. Fixing the defense is also another priority for Dykes, as California allowed 441.3 yards and 33.1 points a game last season.
Early South Division Predictions for 2013
Key Returnees: QB Brett Hundley, RB Damien Thigpen, WR Shaq Evans, WR Steven Manfro, WR Devin Fuller, WR Jordan Payton, LT Torian White, LG Xavier Su’a-Filo, C Jake Brendel, DE Cassius Marsh, DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE Ellis McCarthy, LB Anthony Barr, LB Eric Kendricks, LB Jordan Zumwalt, CB Randall Goforth, S Tevin McDonald
Key Departures: RB Johnathan Franklin, WR Jerry Johnson, TE Joseph Fauria, RG Jeff Baca, DE Datone Jones, LB Damien Holmes, CB Aaron Hester, CB Sheldon Price, SS Andrew Abbott
Can the Bruins make it three Pac-12 South titles in a row? The early odds suggest UCLA should be the early favorite to win the division and will be in the mix to be a top 15-20 team in most preseason polls. The Bruins ended 2012 with three consecutive defeats, but there’s no shame in losing to Stanford (twice) and to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. The offense needs to find a replacement for running back Johnathan Franklin, but quarterback Brett Hundley returns, along with standout guard Xavier Su’a Filo. The defense finished eighth in the Pac-12 in yards and points allowed, so head coach Jim Mora and coordinator Lou Spanos have some work to do this offseason. Convincing linebacker Anthony Barr to return to UCLA for his senior year was a huge break for Mora, but the secondary loses Sheldon Price, Andrew Abbott and Aaron Hester.
2. Arizona State
Key Returnees: QB Taylor Kelly, QB Michael Eubank, RB DJ Foster, RB Marion Grice, WR Kevin Ozier, WR Chris Coyle, WR Richard Smith, LT Evan Finkenberg, LG Jamil Douglas, C Kody Koebensky, DT Will Sutton, DE/LB Carl Bradford, DE Junior Onyeali, DE Davon Coleman, DT Jaxon Hood, LB Chris Young, LB Steffon Martin, CB Osahon Irabor, CB Robert Nelson, S Alden Darby
Key Departures: RB Cameron Marshall, WR Rashad Ross, WR Jamal Miles, RG Andrew Sampson, RT Brice Schwab, LB Brandon Magee, CB Deveron Carr, FS Keelan Johnson
Thanks to defensive tackle Will Sutton’s decision to return to Tempe in 2013, Arizona State was one of the Pac-12’s early offseason winners. With Sutton back in the mix, the Sun Devils should have one of the conference’s top defensive lines. And an improved defense will allow Todd Graham’s team to push UCLA for the top spot in the division. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell needs to find a couple of new receivers for quarterback Taylor Kelly, but DJ Foster and Marion Grice will be one of the conference’s top duos on the ground next year. Arizona State catches a break in scheduling, as USC and Arizona must visit Tempe, while there’s no Oregon on the slate for 2013. However, the Sun Devils must play at UCLA and Stanford.
Key Returnees: QB Max Wittek, RB Silas Redd, WR Marqise Lee, WR Nelson Agholor, TE Randall Telfer, LT Max Tuerk, RG John Martinez, RT Kevin Graf, DE Morgan Breslin, DT George Uko, DT Leonard Williams, DT Antwaun Woods, LB Dion Bailey, LB Hayes Pullard, LB Lamar Dawson, LB Anthony Sarao, CB Josh Shaw, S Jawanza Starling
Key Departures: QB Matt Barkley, RB Curtis McNeal, WR Robert Woods, C Khaled Holmes, DE Wes Horton, CB Nickell Robey, S T.J. McDonald
USC is at a crossroads. The Trojans are coming off a disappointing 7-6 season, which is magnified even more when you consider this team had a chance to make a run at the national title. Coach Lane Kiffin has recruited well, and even though there’s a handful of key players leaving, there’s no excuse for USC to win just seven games in 2013. Max Wittek will likely open the year as the starting quarterback and has the benefit of throwing to All-American receiver Marqise Lee. Assuming Wittek settles into the starting role, the Trojans have the weapons to have one of the Pac-12’s most potent offenses. The defense was a question mark entering 2012 but finished fifth in the conference in points allowed and fourth against the pass. This unit still has a lot of room to improve next year, especially when it comes to defending spread offenses. With a schedule that features a favorable road schedule and no Oregon, USC should be able to exceed its 2012 win total. If not, the Trojans will be looking for a new coach by December.
Key Returnees: RB Ka’Deem Carey, WR Austin Hill, WR David Richards, WR Johnny Jackson, LT Mickey Baucus, LG Chris Putton, RT Fabbians Ebbele, DE Reggie Gilbert, DT Dan Pettinato, NT Sione Tuihalamaka, LB Jake Fischer, LB Marquis Flowers, LB Sir Thomas Jackson, LB/DB Jared Tevis, CB Shaquille Richardson, CB Jonathan McKnight, S Tra’Mayne Bondurant, S Vince Miles
Key Departures: QB Matt Scott, WR Dan Buckner, C Kyle Quinn, RG Trace Biskin
Rich Rodriguez’s first season in Tucson was a success. The Wildcats won eight games – including a bowl victory over Nevada – and lost three contests by a touchdown or less. There’s no question Rodriguez will have Arizona contending for South Division titles in the coming seasons, but the Wildcats may not top 2012’s win total next year. Quarterback Matt Scott must be replaced, and the job could fall to former USC passer Jesse Scroggins. Running back Ka’Deem Carey is back after leading the nation with an average of 148.4 rushing yards per game, but the offensive line loses two key starters. Although the offense might not be as explosive as it was in 2012, the defense returns nearly everyone and should be one area that Arizona can show improvement next season
Key Returnees: QB Travis Wilson, RB Kelvin York, WR Dres Anderson, WR Kenneth Scott, TE Jake Murphy, RT Jeremiah Poutasi, DE Nate Fakahafua, DE/LB Trevor Reilly, LB Jason Whittingham, LB LT Filiaga, S Brian Blechen, FS Eric Rowe
Key Departures: RB John White, WR DeVonte Christopher, LT Sam Brenner, C Tevita Stevens, RG Miles Mason, DE Joe Kruger, DE Dave Kruger, DT Star Lotulelei, CB Reggie Topps, CB Ryan Lacy
Lost in USC’s disappointing season was a surprise 5-7 record by Utah. The Utes were picked by most to finish second in the South Division, yet won only three games in conference play and missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 2002. For Utah to get back in the postseason next year, both sides of the ball have significant question marks to address. The offense must replace 1,000-yard rusher John White, along with getting quarterback Travis Wilson settled into the starting role. The defense must replace three key contributors on the defensive line, including All-American Star Lotulelei. Utah’s task of getting back to a bowl game is also made difficult by the schedule, which features Oregon and Stanford in crossover games with the North.
Key Returnees: QB Jordan Webb, RB Christian Powell, WR Paul Richardson, WR Nelson Spruce, WR Tyler McCulloch, LG Alex Lewis, C Daniel Munyer, RG Jack Harris, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, NT Josh Tupou, LB Derrick Webb, CB Yuri Wright, CB Kenneth Crawley, CB Greg Henderson, SS Terrel Smith, SS Marques Mosley, S Parker Orms
Key Departures: TE Nick Kasa, LT David Bakhtiari, DE Will Pericak, LB Doug Rippy, LB Jon Major, S Ray Polk
After a failed two-year stint under Jon Embree, the Buffaloes hit a home run with the hire of former San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre. Although Colorado should be more competitive in 2013, escaping the cellar of the Pac-12 South is unlikely. The offense was one of the worst in college football last season and finding stability and production from the quarterback position will be MacIntyre and coordinator Brian Lindgren’s No. 1 priority in spring practice. Helping the passing attack in 2013 will be the return of receiver Paul Richardson, who missed all of 2012 with a knee injury. The defense was the worst in the Pac-12 last season and must replace a handful of key players, including end Will Pericak and linebacker Jon Major. Improvement will be noticeable for Colorado in 2013, but the Buffaloes are at least one more year away from contending for a bowl game.
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The phrase “SEC Speed” instantly conjures images of glory, victory and pride for one region in the country and thoughts of depression, agony and exasperation for every other part of the nation. But after claiming their seventh national championship in a row, the SEC has a right to claim the best programs, players and coaches.
But why is that?
Yes, the SEC fanbases, power boosters and administrations are more dedicated and committed to winning — from top (Alabama) to bottom (Kentucky) — than any other conference in America. It also means they will do whatever it takes to win, at times, pushing more envelopes than anywhere else as well.
Simply put, the Southeast cares more about college football than any other region of the country. However, it helps that most of the country’s best high school athletes hail from one area of the nation as well.
Over the last five seasons, the Athlon Consensus 100 has compiled the most accurate and truest representation of the best high school football players in the nation. It averages out each of the expert online scouting services — Rivals, Scout, 247 Sports and ESPN to name a few — in an effort to create a composite ranking that is the best on the web.
With the exception of the first year (2008) of the AC100 in which Athlon Sports only ranked 100 prospects, Athlon Sports has ranked over 200 players per year by combining this variety of expert rankings. With that in mind, I have counted, dissected and analyzed where all 900 of those prospects have come from and have learned the following:
The Big 3 Dominates
As expected, Texas, Florida and California are the biggest and most powerful states for high school talent. It has always been this way and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. Of the 900 counted players, more than a third (379) came from just those three states with Florida topping all states in the rankings with 153 Top 200 players. The Sunshine State might produce the rawest talent, but Texas high school football is easily the most important. The state is more committed to big-time prep football (See "Varsity Blues" or "Friday Night Lights") than anywhere else in the nation and the athletes are better prepared for college ball at the highest level. California trails both Texas and Florida in both categories.
The Peach State Has Emerged
This also is no secret, but the state of Georgia has elevated itself as the clear-cut No. 4 in the rankings. With 67 elite prospects over the last five years, The Peach State is well ahead of other solid states (Ohio, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Virginia) in terms of total numbers of top prospects. It is no wonder why so many SEC and ACC programs make a living within the state of Georgia.
The Southeast Rules the Roost
Outside of Texas and California, the Southeastern region dominates the state rankings. The traditional Southeastern states claim three of the top six, four of the top 8, five of the top 10 and seven of the top 14 nationally in terms of talent production. If you consider the new footprint states of the SEC, Texas and Missouri, the SEC now has a major program in nine of the top 20 states for talent in the nation. Only Arkansas (ranked No. 26) and Kentucky (ranked No. 29) are SEC states not ranked in the top 20 over the last five cycles.
The Big Ten Is Smarter Than We Think
Many thought adding Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten was an odd move for all parties. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Maryland/D.C. and New Jersey were Nos. 15 and 16 in terms of talent production over the last five seasons and both have historically been underrated in terms of delivering elite athletes. Those two recruiting territories would rank No. 5 and No. 6 respectively in the Big Ten footprint behind Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois in terms of prospects, and ahead of current Big Ten states Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska. For the record, 16 prospects hail from Maryland and two come from D.C. but for all intents and purposes, these two are considered one.
West Virginia, Idaho and Hawaii were the only three states that claimed just a single top 200 prospect over the last five years. Ten others were completely shutout. Alaska, Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming produced not a single top 200 player over the last five seasons. Quick, name the biggest, most successful FBS program in any of those states? Bueller? Bueller?
Here is the statistical breakdown of exactly where the best high school football players have come from over the last five years:
* - Alaska, Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming produced no Top 200 prospects in the last five years.
College football’s national title and Pac-12 championship outlook changed dramatically on Wednesday, as Oregon coach Chip Kelly decided to leave Oregon for the NFL. The timing of Kelly’s departure is especially curious, as he was believed to be staying in the college ranks after turning down the Eagles just after the Fiesta Bowl.
Kelly was one of college football’s top coaches and will be missed. Oregon is expected to promote offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to the top spot, which should provide a seamless transition. However, Helfrich has no head coaching experience and even though he was listed as the team’s offensive coordinator, Kelly called the plays.
With Kelly off to the NFL, here’s a look at some of the key questions facing Oregon, the Pac-12 and national title picture:
Who is Mark Helfrich and how does this impact Oregon for the future?
Although Helfrich didn’t call the plays under Kelly, the Oregon native has gained valuable experience serving as the team’s offensive coordinator since 2009. Before joining Kelly in Eugene, Helfrich worked as Boise State’s quarterback coach from 1998-2000 and served in the same role at Arizona State from 2001-05. He worked under Dan Hawkins as an offensive coordinator at Colorado from 2006-08 but has never served as a head coach.
Continuity is a huge part of Oregon’s decision to promote Helfrich to replace Kelly. There’s no doubt the Ducks can continue their success in 2013 and 2014, but it’s fair to question if the program can maintain its current pace for the future. Why? For now, no one has any idea what to expect out of Helfrich. He could be the next David Shaw or this transition could end up like Miami after Larry Coker was promoted to head coach after Butch Davis left for the NFL.
Until Helfrich proves the program won’t miss a beat, there will be doubts about Oregon for 2015 and beyond. However, with a foundation built for success, Helfrich should be able to keep the Ducks playing at a high level for the immediate future.
Of course, there’s one issue hanging over the program that could have a long-term effect: NCAA sanctions. With the Ducks under NCAA investigation, a bowl ban or scholarship losses could be coming in the future. While it’s a huge issue for the program, most don’t expect crippling sanctions like USC has experienced. Even if Oregon faces a postseason ban or a reduction in scholarships, this is still one of the premier programs in college football and should fall too far behind.
How does this impact Oregon in 2013?
The good news for Oregon? Most of its key players are back for 2013. Sure, running back Kenjon Barner, defensive end/linebacker Dion Jordan and linebacker Michael Clay are big losses, but the Ducks have recruited well and there’s no shortage of talent on the roster. Quarterback Marcus Mariota will be in the mix for All-American honors, and the defense should get a boost from sophomore Arik Armstead.
While the roster is in good shape, there will be a drop off from Kelly to Helfrich. Any program that has a coaching change will experience a few ups and downs, and the players have to adapt to a new leader.
Which Pac-12 teams benefit the most from Oregon’s coaching change?
This one is easy. How about Stanford? The Cardinal has been on a roll over the last three years, winning 35 games during that span. Oregon and Stanford are neck-and-neck for the top spot in the Pac-12 North next season, and Kelly’s departure could help swing the battle in favor of the Cardinal.
Outside of Stanford, Washington is the other big winner. The Huskies are coming off a disappointing 7-6 season but return most of their core on both sides of the ball. Although finishing ahead of Oregon in the Pac-12 North in 2013 is unlikely, the gap between the Ducks and Washington could close in the next few years. If Oregon declines under Helfrich, the Huskies will have a chance to push Stanford as the division’s No. 1 team.
What other factors might affect Oregon with Chip Kelly’s departure?
Will any assistant coaches follow Kelly to the NFL?
Although the Oregon coaching staff doesn’t get a lot of credit, it’s one of the best in the Pac-12 – if not the nation. Considering how quickly the Ducks’ offense scores, it’s often overlooked at the job defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti does each year. The Ducks held opponents to just 21.6 points a game this year and averaged 2.2 sacks a game. Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro and secondary coach John Neal also do a tremendous job, as Oregon never has a problem finding players to fill the void by departing starters each year.
For now, it’s uncertain if Oregon will lose any coaches to the NFL. If Helfrich can keep this staff together, it will go a long ways towards easing his transition into the head coaching role.
With Kelly leaving just weeks before Signing Day, it’s important for Oregon and Helfrich to hit the recruiting trail as quickly as possible. Although the Ducks won’t lose every one of their current commitments, opposing teams are already contacting recruits trying to pry them away from Oregon.
How the Ducks recruit under Helfrich and whether or not all of their current commitments end up in Eugene will be one of the top Pac-12 storylines to watch on Signing Day.
Bottom line...is Oregon still the Pac-12 North favorite and a national title contender?
Yes. While the long-term health of the program is a wait-and-see situation, the Ducks will be one of college football’s top-five teams in 2013. The schedule is favorable, although trips to Stanford and Washington in conference play won’t be easy. Outside of Alabama, there are no clear BCS title contenders. If Oregon can knock off the Cardinal and win the conference championship game, a matchup against the Crimson Tide in the national title is a very real possibility.
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The early entry deadline to the NFL Draft is always a nervous time for many coaches in college football. Even though most coaches have an idea of which players will be back for the next season, there’s always a few surprises. And of course, it’s never easy to replace a potential first-round pick with an unproven player.
With a record amount of underclassmen set to enter the NFL Draft, it’s time to take a look at which teams are the biggest winners and losers from the deadline. LSU is the biggest loser from the deadline, as 11 Tigers are set to leave for the next level. Although Les Miles has recruited well, there’s no question a drop off should be expected in 2013.
On the flip side, Clemson was the biggest winner of the draft deadline. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins will be missed, but the return of quarterback Tajh Boyd will keep the Tigers in the mix to win a national championship. With Chip Kelly leaving Oregon, the decision by linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy to return to Stanford will also allow the Cardinal to make a run at the BCS Championship.
College Football’s Top 10 Winners from the NFL Draft Deadline
The Tigers lost receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the NFL but the return of quarterback Tajh Boyd puts Clemson in the thick of the national title discussion for 2013. Boyd ranked seventh nationally in total offense per game and recorded 46 overall scores in 2012. With another offseason to work under coordinator Chad Morris, the senior will make a run at All-America honors, as the Tigers should have a chance to be a top-five team. Hopkins will be missed, but the receiving corps will get a boost from a healthy Sammy Watkins, while Martavis Bryant, Adam Humphries and Charone Peake are ready for bigger roles next year.
Losing tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo is a huge blow to Stanford’s offense, but the damage could have been worse for coach David Shaw. Linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, along with defensive lineman Ben Gardner decided to return to the Farm for their senior season. Skov and Murphy should be in the mix for All-America honors in 2013 and both players will be crucial to keeping Stanford’s defense among the best in the Pac-12. Gardner is another key cog in the front seven, finishing 2012 with 14.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. Ertz and Toilolo will be missed but keeping three key defenders will allow Stanford to challenge for the national title.
Make no mistake: Losing tackle D.J. Fluker, running back Eddie Lacy and cornerback Dee Milliner are huge losses for Alabama. However, the Crimson Tide bring back the most important piece to their national title hopes in 2013: quarterback AJ McCarron. He led the nation in passing efficiency in 2012 and has thrown just eight interceptions over the last two years. Although McCarron isn’t going to post the monster statistical numbers that Johnny Manziel does for Texas A&M, his leadership and efficiency has Alabama poised to win its fourth national championship in five seasons in 2013.
The Wolverines scored one of the biggest surprises of the early entry deadline when standout left tackle Taylor Lewan decided to return to Ann Arbor for his senior year. The Arizona native was picked as the Big Ten’s top offensive lineman for 2012 and was a first-team All-America selection. Lewan was regarded as one of the NFL Draft’s top-15 prospects for 2013, but his return will bolster a Michigan offensive line that returns just one other starter. And his presence will be crucial for quarterback Devin Gardner, who played well in the final stretch of 2012.
5. Notre Dame
Despite the blowout defeat to Alabama in the national championship, the offseason news wasn’t all bad for Notre Dame. Coach Brian Kelly decided to stay in South Bend after a brief flirtation with the NFL. And the Fighting Irish will regain the services of left tackle Zack Martin and nose guard Louis Nix III for another season. Martin has started all 39 games in his career and will be in the mix for All-American honors next year. Nix was a key cog in Notre Dame’s rush defense this year, plugging the lanes to allow linebacker Manti Te’o to make plays at the line of scrimmage. Although the Fighting Irish are losing a few key players, the return of Nix and Martin will help this team to compete for a BCS bowl in 2013.
6. Arizona State
In a mild surprise, defensive tackle Will Sutton decided to return to Tempe for his senior year. Sutton terrorized opposing quarterbacks in the Pac-12 last season, recording 63 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks. In addition to earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors, he was named the conference’s defensive player of the year and was an Associated Press first-team All-American. Although it’s only one player, Sutton’s return is enough for Arizona State to be one of college football’s top winners from the NFL Draft deadline. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Sun Devils win the Pac-12 South in 2013.
The Cougars won’t register on many preseason top 25 lists next season, but Bronco Mendenhall’s team will be a dangerous opponent in 2013. BYU has a challenging schedule next year, including road dates at Virginia, Utah State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame, along with home games against Texas, Utah, Georgia Tech and Boise State. The Cougars were a big winner around the draft deadline, as linebacker Kyle Van Noy and receiver Cody Hoffman decided to return to Provo for their senior years. Van Noy led the BYU defense with 13 sacks and 22 tackles for a loss and should be in the mix for first-team All-American honors next season. Hoffman caught 100 passes for 1,248 yards and 11 scores in 2012 and will be the top target once again for new quarterback Taysom Hill.
8. Virginia Tech
After throwing for 3,013 yards and 19 touchdowns in his first year as a starter, high expectations surrounded quarterback Logan Thomas for 2012. Instead of taking another step forward in his development, Thomas regressed and finished the year with 16 interceptions and completed only 51.3 percent of his throws. Despite having a bad season, Thomas gave serious thought to entering the NFL Draft, before deciding to return to Blacksburg just before the deadline. Virginia Tech isn’t going to be a national title contender next season, but thanks in part to Thomas’ return and a decision by defensive end James Gayle to come back for his senior year, the Hokies should be in the mix to finish atop the ACC's Coastal Division.
9. Fresno State
If you are looking for a BCS buster outside of Boise State next season, take a look at Fresno State. The Bulldogs finished 2012 with a 9-4 mark and their only loss in conference play came on the blue turf against the Broncos. Quarterback Derek Carr wasn’t expected to go in the first round of the draft but was pegged as one of the top 10 quarterbacks on the board. Carr’s decision to return to Fresno State is huge for a team that returns its top three wide receivers from last season, as well as faces a schedule that features BCS opponents in Rutgers and Colorado. If the Bulldogs sweep their non-conference schedule and beat Boise State, there’s a good chance Fresno State could rank inside of the top 15 of the BCS standings at season's end.
The Bruins are the early favorite to win the Pac-12 South in 2013. With quarterback Brett Hundley back, there’s no question UCLA should have no trouble scoring points. However, the defense will decide just how high the Bruins can climb in the top 25. Linebacker Anthony Barr was a revelation for Jim Mora this season, moving from tight end to linebacker in spring practice. The position switch was a huge success for the UCLA defense, as Barr recorded 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss. Although he is still developing, Barr has enormous potential and should get better with another offseason to work with the defensive staff.
College Football’s Top 10 Losers from the NFL Draft Deadline
Regardless of how well the Tigers have recruited, replacing 11 key players from the 2012 team is no easy task. Both sides of the ball were hit with departures. The offense lost running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware, along with tackle Chris Faulk. The losses were heavier on defense, as linemen Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo departed, while linebacker Kevin Minter, cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid also announced their intentions to leave LSU early. Another departure that shouldn’t be overlooked is punter Brad Wing, who averaged 44.8 yards per kick in 2012. Considering the players leaving, LSU is clearly behind Alabama and Texas A&M in the early SEC rankings for 2013.
2. Texas A&M
The NFL Draft deadline was a mixed bag of results for Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. Keeping Jake Matthews in the fold was a huge boost to the offensive line next year, but the Aggies lost two of the top players on their roster with the departure of left tackle Luke Joeckel and defensive end Damontre Moore. Matthews will slide from the right side to replace Joeckel, but the offensive line will take a step back in performance in 2013. Moore was one of the top defenders in the SEC this year, recording 85 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks and one forced fumble. There’s no clear replacement for Moore on the roster, so finding productive pass-rushers will be a top priority for defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.
3. Michigan State
Considering the Spartans were coming off an 11-win season, expectations for 2012 were high in East Lansing. Instead of building off the success from the previous year, however, Michigan State took a step in the wrong direction. The Spartans finished a disappointing 7-6 and averaged a paltry 20 points a game. Quarterback play was largely to blame for the offensive struggles, which will be magnified even more in 2013 without running back Le’Veon Bell. The junior bolted to the NFL after rushing for 1,793 yards on 382 attempts and was followed by tight end Dion Sims and defensive end William Gholston. Sims was a valuable target for quarterback Andrew Maxwell and will be missed. Gholston led the team with 13 tackles for a loss in 2012, but Michigan State has some depth at defensive end with Marcus Rush and Shilique Calhoun.
Although the Bulldogs managed to keep quarterback Aaron Murray for one more season, the defense was hit hard by early departures. Linebackers Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones and defensive tackle Kwame Geathers left for the NFL, leaving Georgia’s defense with just four returning starters. Jones was a unanimous first-team All-SEC selection and was one of college football’s top playmakers on defense. Ogletree led the team with 111 stops last season, while Geathers was a key cog in Georgia’s rush defense. Considering the losses on defense, the Bulldogs will need their offense to carry the team early in the season.
With the Volunteers coming off three underwhelming seasons under Derek Dooley, Butch Jones has a tough task ahead of him to get Tennessee back in a bowl game in 2013. And that mission got even tougher this offseason, as quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson decided to leave for the NFL. Bray threw for 3,612 yards and 34 scores in 2012, while Patterson and Hunter combined for 119 receptions, 1,861 yards and 14 touchdown catches. Vincent Dallas is Tennessee’s top returning wide receiver, recording just nine receptions for 149 yards and one score in 2012. Justin Worley is the frontrunner to replace Bray, but the new coaching staff will take a look at redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman in the spring.
After a disappointing performance in the Sugar Bowl, the bad news continued for Florida with the departure of safety Matt Elam, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Jelani Jenkins and tight end Jordan Reed to the NFL. Elam is the biggest loss out of the early departures, as he led the team with four interceptions, while earning first-team All-American honors. Floyd was the team’s top defensive lineman this season, while Jordan Reed led the team with 45 receptions. The Gators have recruited well, so talent isn’t going to be an issue in Gainesville. However, considering the losses on defense, Florida may struggle to finish fifth nationally again in scoring and total defense in 2013.
With quarterback Landry Jones out of eligibility and the defense having to replace a handful of players from the front seven, the Sooners likely won’t start 2013 as the favorite to win the Big 12. Bob Stoops’ reloading project received even more bad news when safety Tony Jefferson, linebacker Tom Wort and receiver Kenny Stills declared for the NFL. Jefferson thrived under new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, recording 119 tackles, two interceptions and 3.5 tackles for a loss. Stills didn’t have a monster season but still caught 82 passes for 959 yards and 11 scores. The Sooners are better equipped to soften the blow from Stills’ early departure, as Jalen Saunders, Sterling Shepard and Trey Metoyer will be a solid trio for new quarterback Blake Bell. Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson will be counted upon for bigger roles in the secondary with Jefferson’s departure. The news wasn’t all bad for Oklahoma, as cornerback Aaron Colvin decided to return to Norman for his senior year.
8. Florida State
Although the Seminoles haven’t climbed back into national title contender status, 2012 wasn’t a bad season in Tallahassee. Florida State claimed its first ACC title in seven years in 2012 and beat Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl to win 12 games. Matching those marks in 2013 will prove difficult, especially with the departure of end Bjoern Werner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes to the NFL Draft. Werner was the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, recording 42 tackles and 13 sacks to lead Florida State’s defense. Rhodes picked off three passes this season and was one of the top defensive backs in the ACC. Werner’s loss is the bigger obstacle for the Seminoles to overcome, as Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius Caradine expired their eligibility after the season. Keeping safety Lamarcus Joyner and linebacker Christian Jones was huge for new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but it’s hard to envision the Seminoles ranking second nationally in total defense once again in 2013.
The Trojans were one of college football’s most disappointing teams in 2012, finishing 7-6 and suffered losses in five out of their last six games. The offense managed only 20 points in the final two contests and must replace quarterback Matt Barkley next season. In addition to Barkley’s departure, the Trojans lost receiver Robert Woods to the NFL Draft. Woods caught 252 passes over the last three years, leaving sophomore Nelson Agholor to step into a larger role next season. While the Trojans have options to replace Woods, the defense suffered the bigger loss with cornerback Nickell Robey leaving Los Angeles a year early. Robey isn’t going to be selected in the first round but earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and was USC’s top cornerback. Coach Lane Kiffin enters 2013 as one of the top coaches on the hot seat and losing Robey and Woods certainly won’t help his cause.
Even before the draft deadline, Rutgers was poised to take a step back in 2013. Standout linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais expired their eligibility after the Champs Sports Bowl, and while the defensive line lost three seniors off of its two-deep. The Scarlet Knights are losing only two players early to the draft, but both had first-team All-Big East potential for 2013. Cornerback Logan Ryan finished second on the defense with 94 tackles in 2012 and recorded four interceptions. In addition to the losses on defense, running back Jawan Jamison decided to leave early for the NFL after rushing for 1,972 yards the past two seasons. Savon Huggins is a capable replacement for Jamison, but the depth in the Scarlet Knights’ backfield is certainly weaker. And with the shaky performance of quarterback Gary Nova at the end of the year, Rutgers needs to lean on the ground game to have a chance to push Louisville for the Big East title.
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One of the critiques of the 2012-13 college basketball season has been a lack of eye-popping players vying for player of the year awards. Think of Player of the Year performances and competitions in recent years by Anthony Davis, Jimmer Fredette, Kemba Walker, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Tyler Hansbrough and Michael Beasley.
Adding to the confusion, the top prospect for the NBA Draft is unsettled, too.
That’s made selecting the midseason All-America team that much tougher. Just take a look at the point guards: We have Trey Burke on the first team, Phil Pressey on the second and Michael Carter-Williams on the third. That order could be re-shuffled a week from now.
In Part Two of our midseason report, we picked our midseason All-Americans, our midseason All-Freshman team and midseason All-Breakout team. We’ve also revised our Final Four and conference championship picks for the season’s stretch run.
College Basketball Midseason Report: Part 1 - Surprises and disappointments
MIDSEASON ALL-AMERICA FIRST TEAM
G Trey Burke, Michigan (6-0/190, So.)
Sunday’s loss to Ohio State and Burke’s 4-of-13 performance from the field, the sophomore has been the nation’s top point guard this season, averaging 18 points and 7.1 assists per game. Burke has improved his shooting percentage from 43.3 percent to 52.
G Ben McLemore, Kansas (6-5/194, RFr.)
McLemore was worth the wait for Kansas. The Jayhawks knew he’d be a key player in 2012-13, but they may not have anticipated McLemore making a run at All-America and Big 12 Player of the Year honors. McLemore’s also making a bid to be Kansas’ best freshman since Danny Manning in 1988. Manning averaged 14.6 points that season. McLemore averages 16.4.
F Doug McDermott, Creighton (6-8/225, Jr.)
McDermott is tied with Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum, who is sidelined with a broken foot, for the national lead in points per minute (0.77). In his final season at Creighton, McDermott has improved his long-range shooting and free-throw shooting, all while taking more attempts of both.
F Anthony Bennett, UNLV (6-8/240, Fr.)
Bennett was a big-time recruit who raised the expectations for UNLV’s season with an announcement late in the recruiting process to join the Rebels. But few expected Bennett to be UNLV’s top player and a candidate for the top freshman in the nation. He’s averaging 19.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and he’s had a double-double in seven of the last 10 games.
F Mason Plumlee, Duke (6-10/235, Sr.)
Yet another senior who has taken a major step in his final year, Plumlee has set career highs in almost all categories. He’s averaging 17.5 points and 11.4 rebounds. But what’s most impressive is a boost in shooting (from 57 percent to 62) and free throws (from 53 percent to 65).
Related: Key stats from the week include Michigan, Duke
MIDSEASON ALL-AMERICA SECOND TEAM
G Phil Pressey, Missouri (5-11/175, Jr.)
Dazzling passer had 19 assists against UCLA, 11 against Illinois and 13 against Alabama in his last five games.
G Russ Smith, Louisville (6-0/165, Jr.)
High-risk, high-reward guard has been rewarding the Cardinals on both ends of the floor this season.
G Brandon Paul, Illinois (6-4/200, Sr.)
He’s a shooting slump now, but he’s been the focal point of Illinois’ surprise season.
F Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State (6-7/215, Jr.)
Now in the spotlight for the Buckeyes, Thomas leads the Big Ten at 20.3 points per game.
C Cody Zeller, Indiana (7-0/240, So.)
A testament to the Hoosiers’ balance, Indiana doesn’t need him to be a national player of the year. He’s still averaging 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds.
THIRD TEAM MIDSEASON ALL-AMERICANS
G Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse (6-6/185, So.)
First-year full-timer fell off his 10 assists per game pace but still leads nation by wide margin at 9.4 assists per game.
G Victor Oladipo, Indiana (6-5/214, Jr.)
He could make the case he’s Indiana’s MVP. Oladipo leads the nation in effective field goal percentage (which gives weight to made three-pointers) and is second in true shooting percentage (which measures two- and three-point field goals and free throws).
G Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State (6-5/205, Jr.)
Still topping 17 points per game, Franklin has improved from 7.9 rebounds per game to 10.3 and from 1.5 assists per game to 3.5.
F Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (6-9/246, Sr.)
Only three players have had more than Cooley’s 10 double-doubles this season.
C Jeff Withey, Kansas (7-0/235, Sr.)
His 4.8 blocks per game are impressive, but how about four blocks for every personal foul. The second best in that category averages three blocks per foul.
MIDSEASON ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM
G Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State (6-4/225)
G Jahii Carson, Arizona State (5-10/175)
G Ben McLemore, Kansas (6-5/194)
F Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA (6-6/225)
F Anthony Bennett, UNLV (6-8/240)
MIDSEASON ALL-BREAKOUT TEAM
G Quinn Cook, Duke (6-1/175, So.)
G Andre Hollins, Minnesota (6-1/200, So.)
G Tyler Haws, BYU (6-5/200, So.)
F Otto Porter, Georgetown (6-8/205, So.)
C Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga (7-0/238, Jr.)
ATHLON PRESEASON AND MIDSEASON PICKS
|Championship picks||Athlon Preseason||David Fox||Mitch Light|
|America East||Vermont||Vermont||Stony Brook|
|Big Sky||Montana||Weber State||Weber State|
|Big South||Charleston Southern||Charleston Southern||Charleston Southern|
|Big West||Long Beach State||Long Beach State||Long Beach State|
|MEAC||Savannah State||Norfolk State||NC Central|
|Mountain West||San Diego State||UNLV||UNLV|
|Ohio Valley||Murray State||Murray State||Belmont|
|Southland||Oral Roberts||Stephen F. Austin||Stephen F. Austin|
|Summit||South Dakota State||North Dakota State||South Dakota State|
|Sun Belt||Middle Tennessee||Middle Tennessee||Middle Tennessee|
|WAC||Utah State||Utah State||Utah State|
If you listen closely, you can almost hear the whispers: Bracketology, bubble watch, resumes, seeding, RPI.
The college basketball season is halfway through January and the conference races are starting to be determined. Though most conferences have only made a dent into league play, we have a pretty good idea of which leagues are going to have a ton of bids (Big Ten) and which are not (SEC).
While it’s too early to call too many teams NCAA Tournament locks, many programs have an idea of what their goals might be: A conference title, a high seed or a spot in the field.
Take this week for example: Louisville and Syracuse have one loss each and will be in contention for a No. 1 seed and the final Big East title in the league’s current incarnation. Jim Boehiem's team, though, will be shorthanded against the No. 1 Cardinals.
Elsewhere, the race in the Mountain West will become much more interesting this week with a series of four games involving the league’s six contenders.
At the same time, a team like Maryland is trying to avoid a disastrous start in ACC play after two losses. The Terrapins face NC State and North Carolina this week.
Midseason Report Part 1: Surprises and disappointments
Midseason Report Part 2: All-Americans and championship picks
Here’s our look at the rest of the week and how it could impact the postseason.
All times Eastern.
JAN. 16 BRACKET UPDATE
Athlon Sports College
Basketball Power Rankings: Jan. 16
1. Duke (15-1)
2. Louisville (16-1)
3. Michigan (16-1)
4. Kansas (15-1)
5. Syracuse (16-1)
6. Indiana (15-2)
7. Minnesota (15-2)
8. Arizona (15-1)
9. Gonzaga (16-1)
10. NC State (14-2)
11. Kansas State (13-2)
12. Florida (12-2)
13. San Diego State (14-2)
14. Butler (14-2)
15. Ohio State (13-3)
16. Missouri (12-3)
17. Creighton (17-1)
18. VCU (14-3)
19. Michigan State (14-3)
20. UCLA (14-3)
21. Marquette (12-3)
22. Oregon (14-2)
23. Connecticut (12-3)
24. New Mexico (14-2)
25. Wisconsin (13-4)
MOST IMPORTANT GAME:
Syracuse at Louisville (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
The Orange have been walking the tight rope in Big East play at times. Syracuse shot 36.5 percent from the floor at USF, went 3 of 21 from three-point range and needed to rally against Providence and played close with Villanova until the final 10 minutes. Now with James Southerland ineligible, the margin of error is a little slimmer. Louisville struggled, too, earlier this week against Connecticut but went 17 of 28 from the field in the second half while holding the Huskies to 7 of 27 from the floor after the break in the 73-58 win. This could be an important game for seeding purposes.
ALL EYES ON: The Mountain West
New Mexico at Boise State (Wednesday, 9 p.m., ROOT Sports)
UNLV at San Diego State (Wednesday, 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
UNLV at Colorado State (Saturday, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
San Diego State at Wyoming (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Time Warner Cable SportsNet)
All six of the Mountain West’s NCAA contenders will face one of the others this week. UNLV has the most to gain this week by facing two potential NCAA teams on the road (San Diego State coughed up an 18-point halftime lead Saturday but defeated Colorado State in overtime). UNLV has lost its last two road games to North Carolina and New Mexico. This would be a good time for the Rebels to show they can win outside of Vegas. Meanwhile, Wyoming may have the most to lose. The Cowboys’ 14-0 start was ended with a loss to Boise State a week ago, and now Wyoming may be without Luke Martinez (14.5 points per game) for a while.
UNDER PRESSURE: Maryland
NC State (Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN2)
at North Carolina (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
Maryland had the look of a Tournament team as of the first week of January, but the Terrapins’ postseason resume could be in peril after next week. The Terps lost back-to-back games to Florida State and Miami last week, showing that its 13-1 record may have been a mirage. This week, Maryland faces an NC State team coming off a win over Duke then a reeling North Carolina team in Chapel Hill. Maryland didn’t score many good wins in the non-conference schedule, so the Terrapins cannot afford a potential four-game ACC losing streak to NCAA Tournament contenders.
RISING: Ohio State
at Michigan State (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
Who else soured on Ohio State after the Buckeyes’ 74-55 loss to Illinois on Jan. 5? Time to rethink that. The Buckeyes have bounced back nicely by making easy work of Purdue on the road and then handing Michigan its first loss of the season. Against the Wolverines, Ohio State led by as much as 21 but needed Michigan to go cold from three-point range to prevent a collapse.
SINKING: Oklahoma State
Texas Tech (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
Here's how things have changed for the Cowboys: They defeated Tennessee 63-45 in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off when we thought that was a decent win and lost 82-71 at Virginia Tech when it didn’t look like an awful loss. At least Oklahoma State still has a win over NC State on the resume. The Cowboys have lost three of their last four (Gonzaga, Kansas State and Oklahoma). With Texas Tech on Saturday, Oklahoma State won’t have a chance to save face against a postseason contender until Monday at Baylor.
MID-MAJORS TO WATCH: Creighton and Wichita State (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2)
The top two teams in the Missouri Valley meet up Saturday in a game that could be an important resume-builder should one team need a resume boost. Wichita State is coming off a loss to Evansville, but the Shockers will have Carl Hall (13.9 points, 7.6 rebounds in 10 games) back from a broken thumb. Creighton’s Doug McDermott will have a chance to boost his Player of the Year stock in front of a national television audience as well.
Pittsburgh at Villanova (Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Is Pitt a Tournament team? The Panthers have lost three of four to Cincinnati, Rutgers and Marquette, but defeated Georgetown 73-45 on the road.
Saint Mary’s at BYU (Wednesday, 11 p.m., ESPNU)
BYU is outscoring opponents by 24 points per game during a six-game win streak, including a 4-0 start in West Coast Conference play.
Michigan at Minnesota (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
Both teams trailed by big margins early in their last games (Michigan to Ohio State, Minnesota to Indiana) only to see second-half rallies fall short. Will either team have a hangover this week?
Florida at Texas A&M (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN2)
The Aggies’ Elston Turner scored 40 points on Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Florida is holding opponents to 52 points per game.
Connecticut at Pittsburgh (Saturday, noon, ESPN2)
Don’t tell UConn it can’t play in the postseason. The Huskies have been a tough out for New Mexico, NC State, Marquette and Louisville.
Missouri at Florida (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
The SEC will feature more bubble watch games than must-see games. Make sure you catch one of the few games between Tourney locks.
Arizona at Arizona State (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network)
Thanks to freshman Jahii Carson (17.3 points per game). Arizona State is on the Tourney bubble. Defeating Arizona would go a long way for the 14-3 Sun Devils.
Oregon at UCLA (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
The two schools have started a combined 7-0 in Pac-12 play. Few would have picked this game having first-place implications for the league back in November.
Oklahoma at Kansas State (Saturday, 4 p.m., Big 12 syndication)
Lon Kruger, a former Kansas State coach, is working his rebuilding magic again. The Sooners are in the Tournament conversation after a convincing Oklahoma State win.
Marquette at Cincinnati (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
The Bearcats’ 12-0 start hit a skid with losses to New Mexico (by one), St. John’s (by one) and Notre Dame (by six). Marquette can win the close game with two wins in overtime (UConn and Pitt) and another in an ugly one-point game (Georgetown).
Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Are the Hawkeyes a Tournament team? Tough to buy a team that could fall to 1-4 in the Big Ten and 0-3 in conference home games with a loss to Wisconsin.
Gonzaga at Butler (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Butler’s chances to defeat Gonzaga look slim without Rotnei Clarke. Still, don’t underestimate Brad Stevens.
2013 is shaping up to be an interesting year in the Big 12. Kansas State claimed the conference title in 2012, but a new champion should be expected next season. Oklahoma tied the Wildcats for the Big 12’s top spot, but the Sooners must replace quarterback Landry Jones, as well as a handful of key defenders. The Wildcats face similar problems, but coach Bill Snyder will find a way for K-State to stay in the hunt.
With Oklahoma and Kansas State expected to take a step back next season, look for Oklahoma State and TCU to emerge as the conference’s top teams. The Cowboys had to replace quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon but still possessed one of college football’s top offenses. The Horned Frogs finished 7-6 in their first year in the Big 12 and return 10 starters on defense for 2013. Quarterback Casey Pachall is back after leaving the team in early October due to off-the-field issues.
Texas is the Big 12’s wildcard team for next season. The Longhorns have the talent to compete for the conference crown but need improved quarterback play to finish higher in the standings next year.
Early Big 12 Predictions for 2013
1. Oklahoma State
Key Returnees: QB Clint Chelf, QB Wes Lunt, QB J.W. Walsh, RB Jeremy Smith, RB Desmond Roland, WR Josh Stewart, WR Charlie Moore, WR Blake Jackson, LT Parker Graham, RT Daniel Koenig, DT James Castleman, DT Calvin Barnett, LB Shaun Lewis, LB Caleb Lavey, LB Lyndell Johnson, CB Justin Gilbert, CB Kevin Peterson, S Daytawion Lowe, S Shamiel Gary
Key Departures: RB Joseph Randle, C Evan Epstein, RG Lane Taylor, DE Ryan Robinson, DE Nigel Nicholas, LB Alex Elkins, CB Brodrick Brown, K/P Quinn Sharp
There’s no clear early frontrunner to win the Big 12 in 2013, but Athlon gives a slight pre-spring edge to Oklahoma State. Without Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon leading the offense, the Cowboys were expected to take a step back in the win column but lost three games by a touchdown or less. Despite losing Weeden and Blackmon and having to start three different quarterbacks, the offense still averaged 45.7 points a game. The Cowboys need to settle on a starter in spring practice, but the rest of the offense is in good shape. Joseph Randle departs after rushing for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland is a dangerous one-two combination. Defensive coordinator Bill Young was released after Oklahoma State finished 80th in total defense and 110th nationally against the pass. Glenn Spencer was promoted to replace Young and is tasked with getting the defense to create more turnovers, as well as generating better pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Key Returnees: QB Trevone Boykin, QB Casey Pachall, RB Waymon James, RB B.J. Catalon, WR Brandon Carter, WR LaDarius Brown, LT Tayo Fabuluje, DE Devonte Fields, DT Chucky Hunter, DT Davion Pierson, LB Joel Hasley, CB Jason Verrett, CB Kevin White, SS Sam Carter, FS Elisha Olabode, S Chris Hackett
Key Departures: RB Matthew Tucker, WR Josh Boyce, WR Skye Dawson, C James Fry, RG Blaize Foltz, DE Stansly Maponga, LB Kenny Cain
TCU’s 7-6 record isn’t going to wow many observers, but it’s more impressive when you consider starting quarterback Casey Pachall was forced to leave the team early in the year, and the team had to transition to a tougher conference. Pachall rejoined the team in mid-January and is expected to compete with Trevone Boykin for the starting nod. Although Boykin had an effective run as TCU’s quarterback, Pachall is a much better passer and would allow the offense to stretch the field through the air. The rushing attack struggled in 2012 but will get a boost from the return of Waymon James from a knee injury, along with the arrival of transfer Aaron Green from Nebraska. Defense has been a strength for TCU under coach Gary Patterson, and the Horned Frogs could have the best in the Big 12 next season. Nine starters are back in 2013, including standout end Devonte Fields and cornerback Jason Verrett.
Key Returnees: QB Blake Bell, RB Damien Williams, FB Trey Millard, WR Jalen Saunders, WR Sterling Shepard, LG Adam Shead, C Gabe Ikard, RT Daryl Williams, DE Chuka Ndulue, LB Corey Nelson, LB Frank Shannon, CB Aaron Colvin, DB Gabe Lynn
Key Departures: QB Landry Jones, WR Kenny Stills, WR Justin Brown, LT Lane Johnson, DE David King, DT Jamarkus McFarland, DT Casey Walker, LB Tom Wort, CB Demontre Hurst, S Tony Jefferson, S Javon Harris, P Tress Way
The Sooners may not start the year as the No. 1 team in most preseason Big 12 predictions, but Bob Stoops’ team won’t fall too far in 2013. While there are some personnel losses, it’s difficult to call next season a transition year. New quarterback Blake Bell has shown promise in limited snaps but needs to develop as a passer this spring. Helping Bell’s adjustment into the starting lineup, Oklahoma returns running back Damien Williams and one of the Big 12’s top offensive lines. The defense has more question marks than the offense, as the secondary and line each lose three starters. This unit did receive some good news just before the NFL Draft deadline with Aaron Colvin deciding to return to Norman for his senior year. Although the Sooners will have some new faces in the lineup, this team should push for double-digit victories once again.
Key Returnees: QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, RB Joe Bergeron, RB Johnathan Gray, WR Mike Davis, WR Jaxon Shipley, LG Trey Hopkins, RG Mason Walters, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, DT Desmond Jackson, LB Jordan Hicks, LB Steve Edmond, LB Kendall Thompson, LB Tevin Jackson, CB Quandre Diggs, CB Carrington Byndom, S Adrian Phillips, S Josh Turner
Key Departures: DE Alex Okafor, DT Brandon Moore, S Kenny Vaccaro
The personnel is in place for the Longhorns to contend for the Big 12 title. But is this team ready to take the next step in 2013? Much of Texas’ chances at winning the conference crown will rest on the right arm of quarterback David Ash. With one of the nation’s top backfields and a solid offensive line returning to Austin, Ash will be the difference between a nine-win season and a BCS berth. The Longhorns’ defense was a disappointment in 2012 but returns nearly everyone in 2013. End Alex Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro are huge losses, but the return of end Jackson Jeffcoat from a season-ending injury should help ease the departure of both players. Improving the run defense, along with generating more turnovers will be the top priority for coordinator Manny Diaz.
Key Returnees: RB Lache Seastrunk, RB Glasco Martin, WR Tevin Reese, WR Levi Norwood, LG Cyril Richardson, LT Spencer Drango, RT Troy Baker, DE Terrance Lloyd, DE Chris McAllister, LB Bryce Hager, LB Eddie Lackey, CB Joe Williams, S Ahmad Dixon, S Sam Holl
Key Departures: QB Nick Florence, RB Jarred Salubi, WR Terrance Williams, WR Lanear Sampson, C Ivory Wade, RG Cameron Kaufhold, DT Gary Mason Jr., CB Chance Casey, S Mike Hicks
The Bears were one of college football’s hottest teams at the end of the regular season, finishing with four consecutive victories, including a 52-24 win over Big 12 champ Kansas State. Despite losing quarterback Robert Griffin, the offense didn’t miss much of a beat. Baylor averaged 44.5 points a game behind quarterback Nick Florence and running back Lache Seastrunk, while receiver Terrance Williams led the nation with an average of 140.9 receiving yards per game. Florence departs, but the Bears have a promising passer ready to emerge as the new starter (Bryce Petty). The defense allowed 502.2 yards per game but played better at the end of 2012. If Petty keeps the offense performing at a high level, Baylor should finish in the top half of the Big 12 in 2013.
6. Kansas State
Key Returnees: RB John Hubert, WR Tyler Lockett, WR Tramaine Thompson, LT Cornelius Lucas, C B.J. Finney, LG Cody Whitehair, DE Ryan Mueller, LB Jonathan Truman, S Ty Zimmerman, CB Randall Evans, S Jarard Milo, S Dante Barnett
Key Departures: QB Collin Klein, RB Angelo Pease, WR Chris Harper, TE Travis Tannahill, DE Meshak Williams, DE Adam Davis, DT Vai Lutui, LB Arthur Brown, LB Jarell Childs, CB Allen Chapman, CB Nigel Malone
As long as Bill Snyder is on the sidelines in Manhattan, it’s difficult to rank the Wildcats in the second half of the Big 12 standings. However, Kansas State has some significant holes to fill, starting at quarterback with the departure of Collin Klein. Daniel Sams showcased potential in limited action, rushing for 235 yards and three scores on 32 attempts. He will compete with junior college transfer Jake Waters for the No. 1 job in the spring. With Klein out of eligibility, the Wildcats will likely lean on running back John Hubert and an offensive line that returns all five starters in 2013. There’s no question Klein is a huge loss, but the defense is losing most of its key contributors. Linebacker Arthur Brown was one of the Big 12’s top defenders over the last two years, while defensive end Meshak Williams was Kansas State’s best pass rusher, and cornerback Nigel Malone picked off five passes in 2012. The Wildcats remain dangerous but repeating as Big 12 champions is a tall task.
7. Texas Tech
Key Returnees: QB Michael Brewer, RB Kenny Williams, WR Eric Ward, WR Jakeem Grant, TE Jace Amaro, RG Le’Raven Clark, DE Dartwan Bush, DT Kerry Hyder, LB Will Smith, LB Sam Eguavoen, DB Tre Porter, CB Bruce Jones,
Key Departures: QB Seth Doege, RB Eric Stephens, WR Darrin Moore, WR Tyson Williams, LT LaAdrian Waddle, C Deveric Gallington, DT Leon Mackey, CB Eugene Neboh, S Cody Davis, S D.J. Johnson
Tommy Tuberville left for Cincinnati, opening the door for a Texas Tech legend to return home. Kliff Kingsbury is only 33 years old, but the former Red Raider quarterback is the perfect fit to lead Texas Tech back into Big 12 contention. However, it will take Kingsbury a year or two to replenish the roster with his recruits. Quarterback Seth Doege will be missed, but backup Michael Brewer is a promising option and was sharp in limited action. The sophomore has talent around him, including running back Kenny Williams and receiver Eric Ward. If there’s a concern on the offense, it’s a line that loses center Deveric Gallington and tackle LaAdrian Waddle. The Red Raiders showed significant improvement on defense in 2012, finishing 38th nationally in yards allowed and 15th in pass defense. This unit returns most of its core but is still a work in progress.
8. West Virginia
Key Returnees: RB Andrew Buie, WR Jordan Thompson, LT Quinton Spain, DE Will Clarke, DT Shaq Rowell, LB Isaiah Bruce, LB Doug Rigg, LB Shaq Petteway, CB Brodrick Jenkins, S Karl Joseph, S Darwin Cook
Key Departures: QB Geno Smith, RB Shawne Alston, WR Stedman Bailey, WR Tavon Austin, WR J.D. Woods, LG Josh Jenkins, C Joe Madsen, RG Jeff Braun, DE Jorge Wright, LB Josh Francis, CB Pat Miller, S Terence Garvin
After a promising 5-0 start, the Mountaineers needed wins in their final two regular season games just to get bowl eligible. The offense was one of the best in college football, but the defense was horrendous and prompted staff changes at the end of the year. With quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey departing, 2013 will be a rebuilding year for West Virginia. Regardless of whether Paul Millard or Ford Childress wins the starting quarterback job, the offense will struggle to match its average of 39.5 points a game from 2012. For the Mountaineers to make a bowl game, the defense needs to show marked improvement. If there’s any good news about the defensive performance from 2012, most of the starters were underclassmen and return next season. Another set of practices to work with the coaching staff should help, but the Mountaineers can’t feel too good about the defense going into 2013. It won’t be easy, but West Virginia should find a way to get six wins and into a bowl game next year.
9. Iowa State
Key Returnees: QB Sam Richardson, RB James White, RB Shontrelle Johnson, WR Jarvis West, TE Ernst Brun, C Tom Farniok, DE Willie Scott, LB Jeremiah George, LB Deon Broomfield, CB Jansen Watson, FS Jacques Washington, P Kirby Van Der Camp
Key Departures: WR Aaron Horne, WR Chris Young, LT Carter Bykowski, DE Roosevelt Maggitt, DE Jake McDonough, DT Cleyon Laing, LB A.J. Klein, LB Jake Knott, CB Jeremy Reeves, SS Durrell Givens
The Cyclones and West Virginia are virtually interchangeable in the early power rankings for 2013. And considering Iowa State’s history of exceeding preseason predictions, it’s dangerous to predict Paul Rhoads’ team in this spot. For the Cyclones to make their third consecutive bowl game, the offense needs quarterback Sam Richardson to settle into the starting job, while getting more production from running backs James White and Shontrelle Johnson. The defense ranked third in the Big 12 in points allowed but must replace All-Big 12 linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, along with three starters on the defensive line.
Key Returnees: QB Jake Heaps, RB James Sims, RB Tony Pierson, WR Justin McCay, WR Andrew Turzilli, DT Jordan Tavai, LB Ben Heeney, LB Huldon Tharp, LB/S Jake Love, CB Tyler Patmon
Key Departures: WR Kale Pick, WR Daymond Patterson, LT Tanner Hawkinson, LG Duane Zlatnik, C Trevor Marrongelli, DE/LB Toben Opurum, DE Josh Williams, CB Greg Brown, S Bradley McDougald, S Lubbock Smith
As expected, the Jayhawks are still a long ways away from contending in the Big 12. Kansas was more competitive in 2012 than it was in 2011 in conference play but still finished 1-11 and winless in the Big 12. Coach Charlie Weis went the transfer route to upgrade the Jayhawks’ talent level last season, landing quarterback Jake Heaps from BYU and receiver Justin McCay from Oklahoma to start in 2013. Heaps has talent but struggled in his sophomore year at BYU. Running back James Sims should threaten 1,000 yards once again in 2013, but the Jayhawks must replace three key starters on the line. Depth and talent is an issue on defense, and coordinator Dave Campo must find a replacement for end/linebacker Toben Opurum and safety Bradley McDougald.
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With 21 wins from 2011-12, Clemson is coming off the best two-year stretch in school history. The Tigers will have a chance to earn their third consecutive season of double-digit victories in 2013, as quarterback Tajh Boyd turned down a chance to enter the NFL Draft for another year in Death Valley. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins did leave for the next level, but Sammy Watkins should regain his freshman form in 2013. With a neutral site matchup against Georgia in Week 1, Clemson has an early chance to stamp its place in the national title mix.
Florida State should be the ACC’s No. 2 team next season, but the Seminoles have holes to fill. Quarterback EJ Manuel, defensive end Bjoern Werner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes are significant losses, while the defense will have a new coordinator after Mark Stoops left for Kentucky.
The Atlantic Division is home to the ACC’s top two teams, but the Coastal Division may have more depth. A case could be made for Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech or North Carolina for the No. 1 spot in the division, while Pittsburgh and Virginia won’t be easy outs.
Early Atlantic Predictions for 2013
Key Returnees: QB Tajh Boyd, RB Roderick McDowell, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Adam Humphries, LT Brandon Thomas, LG David Beasley, DE Corey Crawford, DT Josh Watson, DT DeShawn Williams, DT D.J. Reader, NG Grady Jarrett, LB Spencer Shuey, LB Stephone Anthony, CB Bashaud Breeland, DB Travis Blanks
Key Departures: RB Andre Ellington, WR DeAndre Hopkins, WR Jaron Brown, TE Brandon Ford, C Dalton Freeman, DE Malliciah Goodman, LB Jonathan Willard, CB Xavier Brewer, S Rashard Hall, S Jonathan Meeks
Thanks to quarterback Tajh Boyd’s decision to return to Clemson, the Tigers will be a heavy favorite to win the ACC in 2013. Boyd threw for 3,896 yards and 36 scores last season and despite the departure of DeAndre Hopkins, could improve on those numbers in his senior season. Clemson needs receiver Sammy Watkins to regain his freshman form, while the offense has to find a replacement for running back Andre Ellington and center Dalton Freeman. The defense showed slight improvement in the first season under coordinator Brent Venables but must replace three starters in the secondary, defensive end Malliciah Goodman (seven sacks) and linebacker Jonathan Willard (95 stops).
2. Florida State
Key Returnees: RB Devonta Freeman, RB James Wilder Jr., WR Rashad Greene, WR Kenny Shaw, WR Kelvin Benjamin, TE Nick O’Leary, LT Cameron Erving, C Bryan Stork, RG Tre’ Jackson, DE Mario Edwards Jr., DT Timmy Jernigan, DT Demonte McAllister, LB Christian Jones, LB Telvin Smith, CB Ronald Darby, SS Lamarcus Joyner, S Karlos Williams
Key Departures: QB EJ Manuel, RB Chris Thompson, WR Rodney Smith, RT Menelik Watson, DE Bjoern Werner, DE Brandon Jenkins, DE Cornellius Carradine, DT Everett Dawkins, LB Vince Williams, CB Xavier Rhodes, K Dustin Hopkins
Although Jimbo Fisher hasn’t quite elevated Florida State into an annual national title contender, the program is in much better shape than it was before his arrival. Fisher’s work on the recruiting trail has helped to improve the depth, which is why the Seminoles aren’t going to fall too far in the top 25 next season. Clint Trickett, Jameis Winston and Jacob Coker will compete to replace quarterback EJ Manuel in spring practice, but Florida State’s strong supporting cast should help ease the transition of the new signal-caller. With coordinator Mark Stoops leaving to become the head coach at Kentucky, plus the departure of standouts Bjoern Werner, Cornellius Carradine and Xavier Rhodes, the Seminoles defense will take a step back in 2013. Although Florida State could still push for 10 victories, traveling to Death Valley to play Clemson could be the deciding factor in the ACC Atlantic.
Key Returnees: QB C.J. Brown, QB Perry Hills, RB Brandon Ross, RB Wes Brown, WR Stefon Diggs, WR Marcus Leak, OG De’Onte Arnett, DE Quinton Jefferson, DT Darius Kilgo, LB Cole Farrand, LB L.A. Goree, CB Dexter McDougle, CB Jeremiah Johnson, S Anthony Nixon, S Matt Robinson
Key Departures: WR Kevin Dorsey, TE Matt Furstenberg, OG Bennett Fulper, RT Justin Gilbert, DE Joe Vellano, DE A.J. Francis, LB Kenny Tate, LB Darin Drakeford, LB Demetrius Hartsfield, S Eric Franklin
The Terrapins were hit hard by the injury bug in 2012 but managed to double their win total from the previous season. The quarterback position was decimated the most, losing C.J. Brown before the first game with a torn ACL, while Perry Hills, Caleb Rowe and Devin Burns each suffered season-ending injuries before the month of November. With the top four quarterbacks out with injuries, Maryland was forced to turn to converted linebacker Shawn Petty as the starter for the final four games. With a healthy cache of quarterbacks, the Terrapins should make strides on offense in 2013. Receiver Stefon Diggs is back after a standout freshman year, while the rushing attack will benefit from the return of promising backs Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Wes Brown. Although the offense should be improved, the defense needs a lot of work in the spring. The Terrapins lost first-team All-ACC selection in defensive end Joe Vellano, as well as four other key performers from the front seven.
Key Returnees: RB Jerome Smith, RB Prince-Tyson Gulley, WR Jarrod West, TE Beckett Wales, C Macky MacPherson, RT Sean Hickey, DE Markus Pierce-Brewster, NT Jay Bromley, LB Marquis Spruill, LB Dyshawn Davis, LB Cameron Lynch, CB Keon Lyn, CB Ri’Shard Anderson, CB Brandon Reddish, FS Jeremi Wilkes, S Durell Eskridge
Key Departures: QB Ryan Nassib, WR Marcus Sales, WR Alec Lemon, LT Justin Pugh, LG Zack Chibane, DE Brandon Sharpe, DT Deon Goggins, LB Siriki Diabate, LB Dan Vaughan, SS Shamarko Thomas
Head coach Doug Marrone departed for the NFL, but there’s no question he left Syracuse in much better shape than he found it in 2009. New coach Scott Shafer was a popular hire among the players but has no previous head coaching experience and must replace offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Quarterback Ryan Nassib finished his eligibility after the Pinstripe Bowl, leaving Charley Loeb and Terrel Hunt to battle for the job. Neither player has a start under their belt and has combined to throw just six passes in their career. In addition to finding a new quarterback, Syracuse needs to rebuild the offensive line and replace Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales at receiver. The Orange suffered some key losses on defense, headlined by end Brandon Sharpe, safety Shamarko Thomas and linebacker Siriki Diabate.
5. NC State
Key Returnees: RB Shadrach Thornton, RB Tony Creecy, WR Quintin Payton, WR Bryan Underwood, TE Asa Watson, LT Rob Crisp, DE Darryl Cato-Bishop, DE Art Norman, DT Thomas Teal, DT T.Y. McGill, LB Rickey Dowdy, LB Rodman Noel, LB Brandon Pittman, CB Dontae Johnson, CB Juston Burris
Key Departures: QB Mike Glennon, WR Tobais Palmer, TE Mario Carter, LG R.J. Mattes, C Camden Wentz, RG Andrew Wallace, DE Brian Slay, LB Sterling Lucas, CB David Amerson, S Brandan Bishop, S Earl Wolff
There’s a clear drop in the Atlantic Division after Clemson and Florida State, and the pecking order only gets more crowded after Maryland at No. 3. Even though the Wolfpack made one of the top coaching hires of 2012 (Dave Doeren), it may be a struggle for NC State just to get bowl eligible. The biggest question mark for Doeren will be replacing quarterback Mike Glennon, which will likely be a battle between sophomore Manny Stocker and Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas. The offensive line also needs to be a focal point for Doeren, as the Wolfpack lose center Camden Wentz and guards Andrew Wallace and R.J. Mattes. On defense, the secondary needs to be rebuilt, but the front seven should be solid.
6. Wake Forest
Key Returnees: QB Tanner Price, RB Josh Harris, RB Deandre Martin, WR Michael Campanaro, WR Sherman Ragland III, DE Zach Thompson, DE Kris Redding, NG Nikita Whitlock, LB Justin Jackson, LB Mike Olson, LB Zachary Allen, CB Merrill Noel, CB Kevin Johnson, FS A.J. Marshall, S Daniel Mack
Key Departures: FB Tommy Bohanon, WR Terence Davis, C Garrick Williams, DE Joey Ehrmann, LB Riley Haynes, CB Chibuikem Okoro
After snapping a two-year bowl drought in 2011, the Demon Deacons took a step back in 2012. Wake Forest opened 3-1 last season but proceeded to lose six out of its last eight games. The biggest factor in the slide was an offensive line that had four new starters in 2012, which struggled to open up holes for the running game and protect quarterback Tanner Price. The line will be under the spotlight once again, as Price and receiver Michael Campanaro could be one of the ACC’s top pass-catch combinations if the duo has enough time to attack downfield. There’s also room for the defense to improve, especially after finishing 11th in the ACC in points allowed. Wake Forest doesn’t lose many players, so the potential is there to get back to a bowl game in 2013.
7. Boston College
Key Returnees: QB Chase Rettig, RB Andre Williams, RB Rolandan Finch, WR Alex Amidon, WR Johnathan Coleman, LG Bobby Vardaro, C Andy Gallik, DE Kasim Edebali, DE Mehdi Abdesmad, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Steele Divitto, CB Sean Sylvia, CB Manual Asprilla, FS Spenser Rositano, FS Justin Simmons
Key Departures: TE Chris Pantale, LT Emmett Cleary, RT John Wetzel, LB Nick Clancy
The Eagles don’t have many personnel departures, but it’s also hard to envision this team showing major progress after finishing 2-10 in 2012. Quarterback Chase Rettig had his best season in his career last year, throwing for 3,060 yards and 17 scores. Rettig and receiver Alex Amidon formed a solid connection, but new coach Steve Addazio ran a ground-based attack at Temple and will look to establish Boston College’s ground game more next season. Andre Williams and Rolandan Finch are capable backs, but the offensive line must replace tackles Emmett Cleary and John Wetzel. Although the Eagles struggled on defense last year, Addazio’s hire of Don Brown as the team’s defensive coordinator should help this unit improve immediately.
Early Coastal Predictions for 2013
Key Returnees: QB Stephen Morris, RB Duke Johnson, WR Phillip Dorsett, WR Rashawn Scott, TE Clive Walford, LG Jonathan Feliciano, RG Brandon Linder, RT Seantrel Henderson, DE Anthony Chickillo, DE Shayon Green, DT Olsen Pierre, DT Tyriq McCord, LB Denzel Perryman, LB Eddie Johnson, LB Jimmy Gaines, CB Tracy Howard, S Kacy Rodgers II, S Deon Bush
Key Departures: RB Mike James, K Jake Wieclaw, P Dalton Botts
There’s not much separating the top four teams in the Coastal Division next season. For now, Athlon gives a slight edge to Miami. The Hurricanes were banned from postseason play, yet finished 7-5 and won three out of their last four games. Considering most of the starting lineup is back for 2013, it’s not out of the question Miami could be a top-25 team. Quarterback Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson will be a handful for opposing defenses, while the offensive line returns all five starters and could be the best in the conference. The biggest obstacle to winning a Coastal Division title rests with finding improvement for a defense that allowed 486.4 yards per game in 2012. While all signs on paper point to a big season for the Hurricanes, there’s the black cloud of a NCAA investigation hanging over the program, which could change the outlook of this division once the penalties are known.
2. North Carolina
Key Returnees: QB Bryn Renner, RB A.J. Blue, RB Romar Morris, WR Quinshad Davis, WR Sean Tapley, TE Eric Ebron, LT James Hurst, C Russell Bodine, DE Kareem Martin, LB Tommy Heffernan, CB Jabari Price, CB Tim Scott, S Tre Boston, S Darien Rankin
Key Departures: RB Giovani Bernard, WR Erik Highsmith, LG Jonathan Cooper, RT Travis Bond, DT Sylvester Williams, LB Kevin Reddick, LB Dion Guy, LB/S Gene Robinson
Larry Fedora’s first season in Chapel Hill was a success. Despite having nothing to play for due to NCAA sanctions, the Tar Heels finished 8-4 and recorded a victory over in-state rival NC State. And even though running back Giovani Bernard and guard Jonathan Cooper are huge losses, North Carolina could be the biggest threat to Miami in the Coastal Division. Quarterback Bryn Renner is back after throwing for 28 touchdowns, while Quinshad Davis is a rising star to watch at receiver. The offense isn’t the only side of the ball with personnel losses, as the defense must replace standouts Sylvester Williams (tackle) and linebacker Kevin Reddick. The good news for the Tar Heels? There’s no Clemson or Florida State on the schedule, and North Carolina hosts Miami in a game that could decide the Coastal Division.
3. Virginia Tech
Key Returnees: QB Logan Thomas, RB Michael Holmes, RB J.C. Coleman, WR Demitri Knowles, TE Ryan Malleck, LG David Wang, RG Brent Benedict, DE Corey Marshall, DE James Gayle, DT Derrick Hopkins, DT Luther Maddy, DT J.R. Collins, LB Jack Tyler, CB Antone Exum, CB Kyle Fuller, S Kyshoen Jarrett, S Detrick Bonner
Key Departures: WR Corey Fuller, WR Dyrell Roberts, WR Marcus Davis, LT Nick Becton, LB Bruce Taylor, LB Alonzo Tweedy
With 11 returning starters from a team that went 11-3 in 2011, there were high expectations surrounding Virginia Tech last season. Instead of contending for a spot in the ACC Championship, the Hokies needed wins in their last two regular season games just to get bowl eligible. Quarterback Logan Thomas decided to return to Blacksburg for his senior year and will be under the tutelage of new coordinator Scot Loeffler. Thomas didn’t have much help from his offensive line and rushing attack last season but needs to cut down on the interceptions (16). While the offense will be a work in progress early next year, the defense could be the best in the conference.
4. Georgia Tech
Key Returnees: QB Vad Lee, RB Zach Laskey, RB David Sims, RB Robert Godhigh, LT Ray Beno, C Jay Finch, RT Will Jackson, DE Emmanuel Dieke, DE Euclid Cummings, LB Jabari Hunt-Days, LB Quayshawn Nealy, LB Brandon Watts, LB Jeremiah Attaochu, LB Anthony Harrell, CB Louis Young, S Isaiah Johnson, S Jemea Thomas
Key Departures: QB Tevin Washington, RB Orwin Smith, RG Omoregie Uzzi, DE Izaan Cross, DT T.J. Barnes, CB Rod Sweeting
The Yellow Jackets check in at No. 4 in the early ACC Coastal rankings for 2013, but there’s very little separating this team from No. 1 Miami. Vad Lee steps in for Tevin Washington at quarterback, and the sophomore should give the offense a more dynamic playmaker under center. Running back Orwin Smith’s big-play ability will be missed, but David Sims, Zach Laskey and Robert Godhigh is a good trio to build the rushing attack around next season. Fixing the defense is the No. 1 priority for coach Paul Johnson, and former Duke head coach and Georgia Tech alum Ted Roof was brought in to find the right answers this offeseason.
Key Returnees: QB Phillip Sims, RB Kevin Parks, WR Darius Jennings, WR Dominique Terrell, WR E.J. Scott, WR Tim Smith, TE Jake McGee, RT Morgan Moses, DE Jake Snyder, DT Chris Brathwaite, LB Daquan Romero, LB Eli Harold, CB Demetrious Nicholson, CB Maurice Canady, FS Anthony Harris, SS Brandon Phelps
Key Departures: RB Perry Jones, LT Oday Aboushi, DT Will Hill, LB Steve Greer, LB La’Roy Reynolds
After an 8-5 record in 2011, Virginia was one of the ACC’s biggest disappointments from 2012. The Cavaliers started 2-6 but finished 2-2 in their final four games. Despite the setback, Mike London’s team could rebound into a bowl game in 2013. With Michael Rocco transferring, there’s no quarterback controversy with Phillip Sims entrenched as the No. 1 passer. Running back Kevin Parks should contend for All-ACC honors, while the receiving corps is stocked with options for Sims. The defense finished fourth in the conference in yards allowed, but coordinator Jim Reid was fired in favor of former NC State assistant Jon Tenuta. The top task for Tenuta will be helping the defense create more turnovers, as well as bolster the pass rush. Considering Virginia lost four games by a touchdown or less, it’s a reasonable expectation for London to lead this team back into the postseason in 2013.
Key Returnees: RB Rushel Shell, WR Devin Street, TE J.P. Holtz, LT Cory King, RT Matt Rotheram, DE Bryan Murphy, DE T.J. Clemmings, DT Aaron Donald, NT Tyrone Ezell, LB Eric Williams, LB Shane Gordon, LB Nicholas Grigsby, CB K’Waun Williams, CB Lafayette Pitts, S Jason Hendricks
Key Departures: QB Tino Sunseri, RB Ray Graham, WR Mike Shanahan, WR Cameron Saddler, LG Chris Jacobson, C Ryan Turnley, DE Shayne Hale, S Jared Holley, S Andrew Taglianetti
As expected, the Panthers had an up and down season under first-year coach Paul Chryst. Losing to Youngstown State in Week 1 was one of the worst defeats by a BCS team in 2012, and Pittsburgh needed a win over South Florida in the regular season finale to get bowl eligible. Chryst is a good fit in the Steel City, but the Panthers aren’t quite ready to contend for the conference title next year. Tino Sunseri must be replaced at quarterback, but Rutgers transfer Tom Savage is a capable and experienced option. Rushel Shell should be one of the ACC’s top running backs, and the defense will be solid after losing just four seniors in the two-deep. The schedule will be tougher with a move to the ACC, but Pittsburgh looks like a six or seven-win team in 2013.
Key Returnees: QB Anthony Boone, QB Brandon Connette, RB Jela Duncan, RB Josh Snead, RB Juwan Thompson, WR Jamison Crowder, TE Issac Blakeney, LG Dave Harding, RG Laken Tomlinson, RT Perry Simmons, DE Justin Foxx, DE Kenny Anunike, NG Sydney Sarmiento, LB C.J. France, LB David Helton, LB Kyler Brown, CB Ross Cockrell, S Dwayne Norman, K Ross Martin, P Will Monday
Key Departures: QB Sean Renfree, WR Conner Vernon, WR Desmond Scott, C Brian Moore, LB Austin Gamble, CB Tony Foster, S Walt Canty, S Jordon Byas
After making their first bowl appearance since 1994, the Blue Devils enter 2013 with momentum on their side. Although David Cutcliffe has significantly elevated the program since his arrival, Duke will struggle to match last season’s six victories. Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette will likely share quarterback duties, replacing Sean Renfree after he threw for 9,465 yards in his career. Losing receiver Conner Vernon is a huge blow, but the Blue Devils return three promising running backs and four starters on the offensive line. With a transition to a new quarterback likely to slow down the offense some early in the year, Duke needs its defense to cut down on the yards (469.2) and points allowed (36).
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