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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me say this.

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

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

By David Schuman
 

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

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

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

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

The 2012 Heisman Finalists:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Runners-Up:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Stiff-Armed Contenders:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long-Shots:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s the point?

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

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

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

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

Baltimore By The Numbers

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

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

Houston By The Numbers

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

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

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

 

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

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

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

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

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

So it is safe to say the Saints are rolling.

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

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

Not if Jim Harbaugh has something to say about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Orleans By The Numbers

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

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

San Francisco By The Numbers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's editors take a very early look at 2012 and who could be the favorite to win the national title next season.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - 07:37
All taxonomy terms: Funny, Tim Tebow, Overtime
Path: /overtime/tim-tebow-joke-book
Body:

Tim Tebow is a very earnest person. The thing about earnest people is that they don't often have a good sense of humor. Add in Tebow's very apparent love of God and you've got yourself a joke-killer. Here are 12 classic joke setups with a Tebow twist. Keep reading to see what it sounds like when God's All-Pro Life QB tells a joke.

Knock-knock.
Who’s there?
Jesus.
Jesus who?
Jesus Christ, your lord and savior.

How many blondes does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
I don't know, but I can't have sex with any of them unless I marry one.

What's black and white and read all over?
The Bible

A priest, a rabbi and a muslim walk into a bar.
Only the priest will go to heaven.

What's the definition of a perfect woman?
One with three holes...the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost and the Holy Scripture.

A doctor gives a man 6 months to live.
He couldn't pay his bill, so he gave him another six months. But the power of Christ gives a man a life of eternity, for free.

Champ Bailey, Von Miller and Tim Tebow are stranded on a desert island when a genie shows up and grants them each a wish. Champ wished for more money, Von wished for more fame, and Tim wished he had more time for circumcisions.

Why did the chicken cross the road?
To get to the other side, where there's a church to pray in.

Your mama's so fat...but if she works hard, maintains a positive attitude and prays every day, she can definitely lose enough weight to become the beautiful woman on the outside that she is on the inside.

Why is 6 afraid of 7?
Because John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

You might be a redneck if...you actually wear a Bible belt.

Take my wife...to church!

 

If you have any more jokes from the Tim Tebow joke book, add them to the comments or on our Facebook Page. And we'll add them here.

Teaser:
<p> We're pretty sure this is what it sounds like when Tim Tebow tells a joke</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - 03:23
Path: /nfl/tim-tebows-mile-high-miracle
Body:

Ironically, it took a Thomas to quiet the Tebow doubters.

The Denver Broncos pulled off a miraculous 29–23 overtime victory over the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers, thanks to a record-breaking 80-yard touchdown pass from Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas. The sudden-death TD is the longest scoring play in NFL playoff overtime history. The play — which consisted of an 18-yard pass from Tebow over the middle of the field to Thomas, who ran 62 yards to paydirt — took 11 seconds to cap the shortest overtime in NFL playoff history.

“It was amazing,” said Thomas. “I knew walking up to the line, I saw the safety come down. I was like, ‘This is going to be a big play.’ The middle of the field was wide open. All I had to do was beat the corner. Once I beat him there was nothing but green grass. Once I beat him I knew I was going to score.”

After catching an accurate pass from Tebow, the 6’3”, 235-pound Thomas threw a powerful stiff-arm to the facemask of Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, freeing himself for a fair footrace to the end zone. There was no catching Thomas after he broke away from Taylor. From there, the surreal scene took on a fevered pitch — on the Broncos’ sideline, in the stands at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, at sports bars around the country and on social media around the globe. The energy was palpable following the incredible, adrenaline-inducing play.

“When I saw him scoring, first of all, I just thought, ‘Thank you, Lord,’” Tebow said after the game. “Then, I was running pretty fast, chasing him — like I can catch up to D.T.! Then I just jumped into the stands, first time I’ve done that. That was fun. Then got on a knee and thanked the Lord again and tried to celebrate with my teammates and the fans.”

In the moments following the epic Tebow-to-Thomas touchdown, a new Twitter sports record was set — with 9,420 tweets per second devoted to Denver’s upset win, the unbelievable play in particular and @TimTebow in general. Television ratings were also off the charts. The final game of Wild Card Weekend drew the largest TV audience of any opening-round NFL playoff game since 1988, with a 25.9 overnight Nielson rating and a 43 share nationally. Roughly 42 million fans tuned in to see Tebow’s best game as a professional.

Tebow completed 10-of-21 passes for 316 yards, two TDs and zero INTs for a 125.6 passer rating, while rushing 10 times for 50 yards and one TD, leading the Broncos to their first playoff win since Jan. 14, 2006 — which, coincidentally, came against the Patriots in Tom Brady’s first-ever postseason loss. After beating Pittsburgh, Denver will face New England in the Divisional Round this week.

Tebow also joined elite company by “pulling the trigger” on downfield passes — advice he received from Broncos executive vice president of football operations and two-time Super Bowl champion John Elway. Tebow joined Joe Montana as the only quarterback in NFL playoff history to post 300 yards passing, two TDs and zero INTs, as well as 50 rushing yards and one TD. He also became the first quarterback with four passes of 30 or more yards in the same quarter since Warren Moon in 1990 and the first to do so in a playoff game since 1960.

The Broncos rushed for 131 yards against the Steelers’ No. 1 defense; but it was Tebow who stole the show.

“He showed he’s a quarterback in the NFL, case closed,” said Denver running back Willis McGahee. “They said he couldn’t throw. They said we wouldn’t be able to run the ball on (Pittsburgh). We did that. I wonder what they’re going to say next week.”

by Nathan Rush
 

Teaser:
<p> Denver Broncos' Tim Tebow, Demaryius Thomas combine to beat Pittsburgh Steelers in 11-second overtime that broke records in the NFL Playoffs, on Twitter and the Nielson ratings.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - 19:03
All taxonomy terms: funny gif, Philadelphia 76ers, News
Path: /news/how-you-should-act-when-you-see-sideline-reporter-gif
Body:

This is how you get yourself on camera when you see a reporter at a basketball game. Don't freak out and jum up and down and scream like some kind of jack-hole. Act like you've been there before.

This gentleman knows what's up. The reporter at this Philadelphia Sixers game has no clue what's going on, and he let's everybody know that he is the coolest person in that stadium, with a little "what up" nod of his head.

This is a lesson, people. Learn it.

Teaser:
<p> Don't freak out when you see a camera, pretend like you've been there before</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - 13:07
All taxonomy terms: Alabama Crimson Tide, College Football, SEC
Path: /college-football/alabama-football-what-expect-2012
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

After falling short in the first meeting against LSU, Alabama left no doubt in New Orleans. The Crimson Tide dominated the Tigers to win their second national title in three seasons. After winning the 2009 title, Alabama followed it up with a 10-3 record. Will the Crimson Tide follow up another championship with a three-loss record or a national title? The pieces are in place for another run, but Alabama will have some key losses to replace.

Key players coming back: QB AJ McCarron, RB Eddie Lacy, RB Dee Hart, OL Barrett Jones, OG Chance Warmack, RT D.J. Fluker, DE Damion Square, LB Nico Johnson, LB C.J. Mosley, LB Trey DePriest, CB Dee Milliner, S Vinnie Sunseri

Seniors departing: WR Marquis Maze, OG Alfred McCullough, C William Vlachos, NG Josh Chapman, LB Courtney Upshaw, CB DeQuan Menzie, S Mark Barron

Could Leave Early for NFL Draft: RB Trent Richardson, DE Jesse Williams, LB Dont’a Hightower, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, S Robert Lester

Top Incoming Recruits

DB Eddie Williams – (AC100 No. 12)
DB Landon Collins
(AC100 No. 20)
WR Chris Black
(AC100 No. 27)
DB Geno Smith (AC100 No. 42)
RB T.J. Yeldon
(AC100 No. 61)

Offense Preview for 2012

Running back Trent Richardson has likely played his last game for Alabama, but it’s not all bad news for the offense. Backup Eddie Lacy averaged 7.5 yards per touch on 84 carries this year and will take on a bigger role in the backfield if Richardson departs for the NFL. Jalston Fowler also returns, while talented freshman Dee Hart will be healthy after suffering a torn ACL last summer. Although Lacy, Fowler and Hart won’t individually match Richardson’s rushing totals, the trio should generate plenty of production at running back. 

Quarterback AJ McCarron had a solid debut season as the starter, and the experience from starting all 13 games this year should make him a better player in 2012. However, he will have a new coordinator, as Jim McElwain is leaving to be the head coach at Colorado State. McCarron will have to work with a revamped group of receivers, as Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks have finished their eligibility. Tight end Brad Smelley has also played his last down in an Alabama uniform. Expect Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White and tight end Michael Williams to emerge as the top veteran targets next year. With Richardson all but certain to turn pro, McCarron will be expected to carry more of the offensive workload next year. 

The offensive line returns three starters, including likely 2012 All-American Barrett Jones. With William Vlachos departing, Alabama may move Jones to center in spring practice. Right tackle D.J. Fluker and left guard Chance Warmack also return and both should contend for All-SEC honors.

Defense Preview for 2012

Replacing a handful of key starters from one of the top defenses in college football won’t be an easy task for coach Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart. However, with another elite recruiting class stepping onto campus, don’t expect a huge drop in production next year.

In any 3-4 defense, much of the success starts with the nose guard and with the linebacking corps. And that’s where the Crimson Tide will be breaking in new starters next year. Nose guard Jose Chapman has finished his eligibility and there’s no clear backup on the roster. End Jesse Williams saw some snaps in the middle this season, but may enter the NFL Draft.

With Dont’a Hightower expected to leave for the NFL, Alabama could be breaking in three new starters in the linebacking corps. Seniors Jerrell Harris and Courtney Upshaw have played their final game, with Upshaw the bigger loss. Nico Johnson finished fourth on the team in tackles and will be counted on to provide leadership as a senior next year. The linebacking corps isn’t short on upcoming talent, as Trey DePriest, Adrian Hubbard, C.J. Mosley, Tana Patrick and Xzavier Dickson were all highly-regarded recruits.

The secondary will also field some heavy losses, as it will likely have three new starters next year. Cornerback DeQuan Menzie and safety Mark Barron will depart, while cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is expected to enter the NFL Draft. Safety Robert Lester will be expected to anchor the secondary next season, while Dee Milliner and John Fulton step into bigger roles at cornerback. Vinnie Sunseri had a solid freshman year and will be counted upon even more in 2012.

2012 Schedule Breakdown

With the SEC moving to 14 teams next year, the conference schedule isn’t going to get any easier. Alabama kicks off SEC play at Arkansas and also has road trips against Missouri, Tennessee and LSU next year. The Crimson Tide will host Texas A&M, Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss in conference play in 2012.

With LSU and Alabama expected to be the top two teams in the SEC West, the division could be decided on Nov. 3 when they meet in Baton Rouge. The conference opener against Arkansas on Sept. 15 won’t be easy either.

Alabama opens the season with a neutral site matchup (Cowboys Stadium) against Michigan. The Wolverines are expected to be a top 15 team next season, but the Crimson Tide should be favored to win. The rest of the non-conference schedule is very manageable, with Western Kentucky, FAU and Western Carolina all visiting Tuscaloosa.

Can Alabama Play for the National Title Next Year?

Despite the key losses, the Crimson Tide will be among the top five teams and one of the preseason picks to win the national title next season. Nick Saban continues to bring in and develop elite talent in Tuscaloosa, which will ensure this team won’t slip too far. AJ McCarron’s development at quarterback should help soften the blow of Trent Richardson departing for the NFL Draft, while the offensive line remains in good shape. The defense will have a handful of new faces, but shouldn’t suffer a complete collapse.

Although the personnel losses are crucial, the schedule has some landmines that could deter another run at the national title. The Crimson Tide will have to go on the road to face two likely top 10 teams – Arkansas and LSU – and open the season with a dangerous Michigan team.

Although Alabama survived a loss to LSU to play for the national title in 2011, the loser of next year's game might not get the same opportunity.

Teaser:
<p> After claiming its second national championship under coach Nick Saban, what can we expect from Alabama in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - 11:52
All taxonomy terms: College Football, LSU Tigers, SEC
Path: /college-football/lsu-football-what-expect-2012
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The Tigers were the best team in the regular season, but couldn't deliver with the national title on the line. LSU was thoroughly dominated by Alabama 21-0 in the championship, but all is not lost for coach Les Miles. With a solid core of talent returning on both sides of the ball, LSU could begin 2012 as the No. 1 team in the preseason poll. 

Key players coming back: RB Spencer Ware, RB Michael Ford, RB Kenny Hilliard, WR Russell Shepard, WR Odell Beckham, LT Chris Faulk, RT Alex Hurst, DE Sam Montgomery, DE Barkevious Mingo, DT Bennie Logan, DT Michael Brockers, LB Kevin Minter, CB Tyrann Mathieu, CB Tharold Simon, S Eric Reid, K Drew Alleman, P Brad Wing

Seniors departing: QB Jordan Jefferson, QB Jarrett Lee, OG Will Blackwell, TE Deangelo Peterson, LB Ryan Baker, CB Ron Brooks, S Brandon Taylor

Could Leave Early for NFL Draft: WR Rueben Randle, CB Morris Claiborne

Top Incoming Recruits:

QB Gunner Kiel (AC100 No. 14)
WR Avery Johnson (AC100 No. 67)
DE Danielle Hunter
LB Lamar Louis
WR Travin Dural
OL Derek Edinburgh
DE Ronnie Fiest
DB Dwayne Thomas

Offense Preview for 2012

There will always be bumps in the road when going through a quarterback transition. However, LSU’s new signal-caller in 2012 is stepping into a good situation. Led by Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Kenny Hilliard, the Tigers own one of the top running back stables in the nation. LSU likely won’t have a 1,000-yard rusher in 2012 due to the split carries, but production won’t be an issue.

The offensive line was among the best in college football in 2011 and won’t miss a beat next year. Four starters return, including All-SEC tackle Alex Hurst. Guard Josh Dworaczyk missed all of 2011 due to a knee injury, but is expected to step back into a starting role next season.

Considering what LSU has returning in the trenches and at running back, the quarterback won’t need to do much. Zach Mettenberger is ready for his chance at the starting job, but he could be pushed by incoming freshman Gunner Kiel – the No. 2 ranked quarterback in the Athlon Consensus 100. Mettenberger has a big arm, but is largely untested, throwing only 11 passes in his career. He should be an upgrade over Jordan Jefferson in terms of overall passing ability, but the Tigers could lose No. 1 receiver Rueben Randle to the NFL Draft. If Randle departs, Odell Beckham and Russell Shepard will become a bigger factor in the passing attack.

Defense Preview for 2012

With Alabama losing several key players, LSU should own the top defense in college football next year.

Much of the success for LSU’s defense starts with the defensive line. The Tigers have a nice blend of All-American talent with promising depth. Ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo will form one of the top pass-rush combinations in college football. Bennie Logan and Michael Brockers anchor the interior of the line, but Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson will see plenty of snaps.

The linebacking corps will lose Stefoin Francois and Ryan Baker, but Kevin Minter returns to lead the way in the middle. Tahj Jones, Luke Muncie and Lamin Barrow all saw limited action in 2011, but will be pressed into a bigger role next season. Reloading the linebacking corps is arguably one of the easiest tasks for a defensive coordinator, so despite the losses, this isn’t a major issue for LSU in 2012.

Throw out a 463-yard passing performance by West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, and LSU allowed only 141.9 yards through the air during the regular season. Cornerback Morris Claiborne is expected to declare for the NFL Draft, but the Tigers’ aren’t without depth in the secondary. Tyrann Mathieu was a Heisman finalist and is one of college football’s top gamechangers on defense. Safety Eric Reid made several key plays during the 2011 season and will challenge for All-SEC honors next year. Brandon Taylor departs at strong safety, but Craig Loston was another highly-touted prospect and has been waiting for his turn. LSU will miss Claiborne’s shutdown ability at cornerback, but Tharold Simon could be one of the top breakout players in 2012.

2012 Schedule Breakdown

With Alabama and LSU expected to be neck-and-neck for the SEC West race, the division title could come down to their meeting on Nov. 3. The Tigers knocked off the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa this year, and Alabama has to visit Baton Rouge in 2012. LSU must hit the road for conference games against Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas, while in addition to Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Ole Miss visit Tiger Stadium.

The non-conference portion of the schedule is very manageable. LSU hosts North Texas, Washington, Idaho and Towson next year. The Huskies will bring a dangerous offense to Baton Rouge, but the defense needs to show major improvement to challenge LSU.

The Tigers could stumble at Auburn or Florida, but they should enter the final month of the regular season with an 8-0 record. However, LSU must play Alabama and Arkansas in November, which makes the last month of the season a make-or-break portion of the schedule.

Can LSU Play for the National Title Next Year?

Here’s a scary thought for the SEC: LSU could be even better next year. The Tigers have some losses, but nothing that should deter another run at a spot in the national title game. Getting Mettenberger or Kiel comfortable under center early will be crucial, but the schedule breaks well for the Tigers. Washington will be a good test for LSU in Week 2, but Mettenberger won’t travel on the road until Sept. 22 against a suspect Auburn defense.

Expect the Tigers to use the same formula as it has done under Les Miles once again in 2012: Defense and running the football. LSU will have one of the deepest backfields in college football next year, and a defense that will suffocate opposing offenses. A road date against Arkansas and a Nov. 3 clash against Alabama will likely make-or-break the LSU’s national title hopes. However, the early returns suggest this team will begin 2012 as the favorite to win it all.

Teaser:
<p> LSU was unable to follow up a terrific regular season with a national title win over Alabama. However, the Tigers will be back in 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - 11:49
Path: /college-football/alabama-shuts-out-lsu-take-bcs-championship
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The Alabama-LSU rematch resembled the first meeting in some ways, but not on the scoreboard. The Crimson Tide turned in a dominating 21-0 performance, earning their second national title in the last three seasons.

The Tigers squeaked by the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa in early November, but never had a chance in the rematch. Alabama’s suffocating defense held LSU to only 92 yards and just five first downs. The Tigers were never able to get their rushing game on track, which put the pressure squarely on quarterback Jordan Jefferson to win the game. Jefferson completed 11 of his 17 throws, but managed only 53 yards. He was also held to 15 yards on the ground. The LSU offensive gameplan never really tested the Alabama secondary deep, and Jefferson struggled to get comfortable in the pocket due to the pass rush. Despite Jefferson’s poor play, backup Jarrett Lee never got into the game. Lee is the better passer, but struggled in the first meeting between these two teams.

While LSU watched its offense sputter all night, the Crimson Tide had an impressive showing. With the Tigers planning to stop running back Trent Richardson, there was a lot of pressure on Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron to respond. The sophomore was fearless and poised against one of the top defenses in college football, finishing with 234 yards and no interceptions. Richardson finished with 96 yards, with 34 coming on the game’s only touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The SEC has claimed six national titles in a row, with the last three coming from the state of Alabama. The Crimson Tide claimed the national title after the 2009 and 2011 seasons, while Auburn won the championship in 2010. Alabama coach Nick Saban is the first coach in the BCS era to win three national titles. With the win over LSU on Monday night, the Crimson Tide are now tied with Florida and LSU for the most national titles in the BCS era.

Player of the Game: Alabama QB AJ McCarron

In the lengthy buildup to the national championship, not many predicted McCarron would be the most valuable player, but he certainly earned this award on Monday night. The sophomore threw for 199 yards and an interception in the first matchup between these two teams, but looked more comfortable this time around. McCarron played under control, throwing for 233 yards and completing 67.6 percent of his throws. Although LSU owns one of the top defenses in college football, McCarron never looked rattled and his performance was the difference for Alabama in the national title game.

Defensive Player of the Game: Alabama LB Courtney Upshaw

The Crimson Tide defense left no doubt that it was the best in college football after the national title game. Upshaw has been a leader for this defense over the last few years and capped his career with a strong performance against the Tigers. The senior registered seven tackles and one sack, along with wrecking havoc on LSU’s option plays.

Unfortunate Injuries for Alabama

Receiver Marquis Maze suffered an ankle injury in the first matchup between these two teams and was bitten by the injury bug once again. Maze suffered a hamstring injury in the first quarter after a 49-yard punt return and did not return to the game. Maze was expected to be a key cog in the receiving corps, but Kevin Norwood, Darius Hanks and tight end Brad Smelley stepped up in his absence.

Linebacker C.J. Mosley forced Alabama’s first turnover of the game, picking off a Jordan Jefferson pass in the third quarter. Mosley was carted off with a hip injury and did not return to the game. He is expected to be one of the top contributors in the linebacking corps next year, so his health for spring practice will be worth monitoring.

Biggest Surprise

How about Alabama’s special teams? After missing three kicks and having one blocked in the first meeting, this unit was arguably the difference in the game. Kicker Jeremy Shelley nailed five of seven attempts, including a long of 44 yards. Punter Cody Mandell punted once, but didn’t give dynamic LSU return man Tyrann Mathieu much of a chance to add anything on the return. Marquis Maze also chipped in a 49-yard punt return in the first quarter, which setup Shelley’s first field goal of the game.

Unsung Hero

With Marquis Maze sidelined with a hamstring injury, Kevin Norwood, Darius Hanks and tight end Brad Smelley emerged as key targets for quarterback AJ McCarron. Norwood led the team with 78 receiving yards (on four receptions), while Smelley and Hanks combined for 12 catches. Coming into Monday night’s game, Norwood had only seven receptions on the year. Losing Maze was a big blow to Alabama’s offense, but this unsung group of players prevented any drop in production from the receiving corps.

Turning Point

Considering how dominant Alabama was, there was no clear turning point from Monday night’s game. However, the opening possessions for both teams set the tone for the rest of the game. LSU’s offense went three and out, while Alabama drove from its seven-yard line to the 46. Although the Crimson Tide had to punt, the defense stuffed the Tigers on three plays once again, which prompted a Brad Wing punt and Maze’s 49-yard return.

The Final Nail in the Coffin

Despite controlling the tempo and a huge edge in yardage, Alabama went into halftime up only 9-0. However, the Crimson Tide began the second half with a six-play drive that ended with a Jeremy Shelley 35-yard field goal, which boosted the lead to 12-0. Both teams exchanged punts on their next two possessions, but Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley delivered the final nail in LSU’s national title hopes with eight minutes to go in the third quarter. The sophomore intercepted an awful underhand pass attempt by Jefferson, which effectively ended any momentum and hope the Tigers had of coming back.

A Touchdown!

If you like offense, both games between Alabama and LSU weren’t for you. Of the 36 points scored in the first two meetings, 29 came on field goals. The only touchdown scored came from running back Trent Richardson late in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s game. There’s no question Alabama’s defense was outstanding, but LSU didn’t help itself with an awful gameplan on Monday night.

What Now

After demolishing LSU 21-0, Alabama is clearly the No. 1 team in the nation and will take the trophy back to Tuscaloosa. There was some talk of a split national championship, but both the Associated Press and USA Today poll ranked Alabama No. 1 following Monday night’s game. The Tigers finished No. 2 in both polls, with Oklahoma State ranked No. 3.

Looking ahead to 2012, both Alabama and LSU are expected to be among the top five teams in the nation. The Crimson Tide will suffer some key losses on defense, and running back Trent Richardson is expected to declare for the NFL Draft. The Tigers return more pieces, but have to get more production from their passing attack. USC’s two-year bowl ban is over, and the Trojans will be a significant player for the national title.

One of the backdrops to the title game was chatter surrounding the BCS and upcoming changes for this system. The conference commissioners will meet over the next few months to discuss implementing a new BCS format when the current contract expires after the 2013 season. Don’t expect a 16-team playoff, but a plus-one format could be coming. No system is perfect, but it appears college football’s postseason format will see some significant changes. 

Teaser:
<p> Alabama dominated LSU to claim its second national title in three seasons.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - 09:05
Path: /college-football/path-bcs-championship-alabama-crimson-tide
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

LSU and Alabama played for the national championship last night, and congratulations are in order for the Crimson Tide on adding a sixth straight BCS title to the SEC’s trophy case.

Like any championship in any sport, it took thousands of hours of preparation, scouting, film study, weight work and recruiting to earn the Crystal Ball. It also takes a bit of luck, as was the case for this season’s BCS National Championship game.

LSU clearly earned its way into the title game with an unblemished record, but Alabama needed a little help to get there. Here is a week-by-week look at the college football season and how each Saturday shaped the national championship picture.

Week 1: (4) LSU 40, (2) Oregon 27
The Oregon Ducks entered the season as a slight favorite to defeat the Tigers in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. But the Honey Badger was having none of it, as Tyrann Mathieu and the physical LSU rushing attack (175 yards) handled the defending national runners-up with relative ease. Had the Ducks not committed four turnovers – which became 20 LSU points – who knows how the season would have played out? Instead, LSU moved to No. 2 in the polls. Runner-Up: (5) Boise State 35, (19) Georgia 21

Week 2: (3) Alabama 27, (23) Penn State 11
Other than LSU, the Nittany Lions might have been the best defense Alabama played all season long. Until a late TD by Penn State, this game was well in hand and was easily Alabama’s toughest non-conference test of the year. Trent Richardson rushed 26 times for 106 yards and two scores as the Tide controlled the game from the opening kickoff. They passed with flying colors. In the SEC East, the Gamecocks won a key road test over Georgia. However, the game actually played little role in the outcome of the East division. Runner-Up: (12) South Carolina 45, Georgia 42

Week 3: (1) Oklahoma 23, (5) Florida State 13
A second top-five team was handed its first loss and essentially eliminated from the national title race when Oklahoma’s defense beat up on E.J. Manuel in Tallahassee. The Sooners staked their claim to the BCS with a convincing road win while Manuel’s injury set a bad tone for what would turn out to be a disappointing season for the Noles. Meanwhile, after two terrible losses to start the season, Notre Dame dominated Michigan State, giving the Spartans one of two regular-season losses. LSU, behind a key fourth-quarter Jarrett Lee TD pass to Rueben Randle, squeaked past Mississippi State on the road on Thursday night. Runner-Up: Notre Dame 31, (15) Michigan State 13 / (3) LSU 19, (25) Mississippi State 6

Week 4: (3) Alabama 38, (14) Arkansas 14
This was a big weekend for the BCS national title landscape. Arkansas came into Tuscaloosa unbeaten with eyes on the big upset. But with 10:47 to go in the third, Bama was up 31-7 on the Hogs and eventually out-rushed Arkansas 197 to 17 that afternoon. Meanwhile in College Station, the No. 8-ranked Texas A&M Aggies were choking away their first second-half lead of the season to Oklahoma State. Brandon Weeden and the Pokes vaulted the Cowboys into the top five nationally. Up in Morgantown, LSU was in the process of allowing 533 total yards to West Virginia. But with the help of corners Mathieu and Morris Claiborne (and his 99-yard kickoff return), the Tigers held on for another huge non-conference win. Later that night, USC was upset by Arizona State in what would be one of only two losses for the ineligible Trojans. Runner-Up: (7) Oklahoma State 30, (7) Texas A&M 29 / (2) LSU 47, (16) West Virginia 21

Week 5: Auburn 16, (10) South Carolina 13
South Carolina will look back on Week 5 and realize that their SEC title hopes fell apart against Auburn. The unbeaten Cocks could not stop the Tigers rushing attack as since-dismissed tailback Michael Dyer carried 41 times for 141 yards and a touchdown. And there was much rejoicing in Athens, Ga. In Jerry’s World, Arkansas bounced back from the Bama loss — and a terrible first half against Texas A&M — to defeat the Aggies in a shootout to keep their own title hopes alive. Tyler Wilson threw for 510 yards. In Blacksburg, the Clemson Tigers continued their magical early season run by ending the undefeated Hokies' national title dreams in dominating fashion. The Tigers were eighth in the nation following the win and were making a serious case as a national title contender. But more on that in a second. Runner-Up: (18) Arkansas 42, (14) Texas A&M 38 / (13) Clemson 23, (11) Virginia Tech 3

Week 6: (3) Oklahoma 55, (11) Texas 17
This weekend left fans likely wanting more. Top match-ups like the Red River Shootout turned out to be completely one-sided – much like LSU’s blowout win over Florida, Arkansas’ win over Auburn, Alabama’s win over Vanderbilt, Oklahoma State’s win over Kansas. The unbeaten Sooners’ win over rival Texas made Oklahoma look, at the time, like the preseason No. 1 team in the nation. Little did we know… Runner-Up: (20) Kansas State 24, Missouri 17

Week 7: (23) Michigan State 28, (11) Michigan 14
First-year head man Brady Hoke had Michigan undefeated and knocking on the top ten when the Wolverines headed into East Lansing to take on the Spartans. Mark Dantonio’s bunch did a fantastic job on Denard Robinson, holding him to 42 yards rushing on 18 attempts and only 123 yards passing. Michigan went on to lose only one other game en route to the Sugar Bowl title, leaving Maize and Blue fans to wonder what might have been had they beaten Sparty that afternoon. Elsewhere, the Cowboys of Oklahoma State made another huge road statement with a win in Austin, and the Ducks repositioned themselves for a title run by destroying the ranked Sun Devils at home. Runner-Up: (8) Oklahoma State 38, (22) Texas 26 / (9) Oregon 41, (18) Arizona State 27

Week 8: (15) Michigan St 37, (4) Wisconsin 31 / Texas Tech 41, (3) Oklahoma 38
One that Alabama likely had to have in order to make it to New Orleans (among many others) turned out to be the top game of the 2011 regular season. The back-and-forth affair saw undefeated Wisconsin rally in the fourth-quarter to tie the game at 31 with 1:39 left in the game. At home, senior quarterback Kirk Cousins drove the Spartans to the 44 yard line with one play left on the clock. His historic tipped Hail Mary landed in Keith Nichol’s hands just before he inched across the goal-line to give the Badgers their first loss of the season. Wisconsin went on to win the Big Ten and play in the Rose Bowl, but had that pass fallen incomplete (and UW won in overtime), who knows where Big Red would have ended the year.

As the No. 3 team in the nation, the Sooners completely failed to show up on October 22. The Red Raiders eventually took a 31-7 third quarter lead in Norman before Oklahoma finally realized it was playing for its national title. It was too little, too late and OU dropped outside of the top ten. Out west in Palo Alto, Andrew Luck and Stanford passed their first real test of the season in impressive fashion over the 5-1 Huskies, pushing the Cardinal to fourth in the polls. Runner-Up: (7) Stanford 65, (22) Washington 21

Week 9: Georgia Tech 31, (6) Clemson 17 / (4) Stanford 56, (20) USC 48
The Tigers were 8-0 and staring a national title berth square in the face when they headed to Atlanta. And did what Clemson does best: completely baffle the mind. Costly turnovers, porous rush defense and the inability to get off the field on third down gave the Tigers their first loss of the season. Clemson would go on to lose four of its last six games. In the Little Apple, another undefeated team fell from the ranks of the unblemished. Oklahoma, fresh off its title-crushing defeat to Texas Tech, obliterated the over-matched Wildcats of Kansas State. Additionally, Stanford won one of the great games of the ’11 campaign when it recovered a USC fumble in triple-overtime to keep itself undefeated. Another top ten team, Michigan State, was upset on the road by Nebraska in what turned out to be an incredibly eventful weekend in college football. Runner-Up: (4) Stanford 56, (20) USC 48 / (11) Oklahoma 58, (10) Kansas State 17 / (13) Nebraska 24, (9) Michigan State 3

Week 10: (1) LSU 9, (2) Alabama 6
This one needs no explanation, although the outcome had little effect on the BCS national title game. After five straight weeks with LSU and Alabama atop the polls, the “Game of the Century” came to fruition at the Capstone. Alabama committed uncharacteristic penalties, could not convert on special teams and was on the losing end of one controversial interception call that likely decided the game’s outcome. Jordan Jefferson sparked the LSU offense just enough by giving the Bayou Bengals an option attack off the edge. The overtime win by LSU kept the Tigers unbeaten and all but locked into the BCS National Championship game. Alabama would need some help. Runner-Up: (3) Oklahoma State 52, (17) Kansas State 45

Week 11: TCU 36, (5) Boise State 35 / (6) Oregon 53, (3) Stanford 30
Another year, another kick heard round the Pacific Northwest. Boise State lined up for a 39-yard game-winning field goal with only seconds left on the clock against TCU. With the national and conference championship on the line, Dan Goodale sailed the attempt wide right as time expired. A trip to the BCS National Championship game was, for a second consecutive year, dashed by a missed field goal. In Palo Alto, a second top five team would fall, as Stanford, for a second consecutive year, could not stop the high-powered Oregon offense. Stanford has lost two regular games over the two seasons and both have come at the hands of Chip Kelly. The loss knocked Stanford out of the national title picture for good, while officially pushing a one-loss Oregon back into the mix. Runner-Up: None

Week 12: Iowa State 37, (2) Oklahoma State 31
Where to begin? Seven ranked teams, including four of the top ten, fell to lesser-ranked opponents this mid-November weekend. On Friday night, a missed 37-yard field goal by Quinn Sharp with 1:17 to go in regulation likely cost the No. 2 Oklahoma State Cowboys a chance at the national championship when Iowa State pulled off the unlikely overtime upset. Baylor’s Robert Griffin III not only beat Oklahoma with his final play touchdown pass, but he also won himself the Heisman Trophy when he topped the No. 5 Sooners for the first time in school history. Another kicker, this time it was Oregon’s Alejandro Maldonadado, also impacted the national title when No. 4 Oregon lost to USC. His 37-yard field goal went wide left as time expired. And No. 7 Clemson once again laid a giant egg, as it got housed by an unranked NC State team. The Crimson Tide merely sat back and enjoyed the charred landscape of college football. Runner-Up: (18) USC 38, (4) Oregon 35 / (25) Baylor 45, (5) Oklahoma 38 / NC State 37, (7) Clemson 13

Week 13: (1) LSU 41, (3) Arkansas 17
Entering Week 13, Razorbacks fans not only still had a chance at an SEC title, but were excited about a potential national championship berth. The Tigers quickly quashed those dreams by dominating the game 41-3 after serving up a 14-0 lead to the Hogs. The win clinched the SEC West and essentially a BCS National Championship berth for the Tigers. Alabama meanwhile, crushed rival Auburn 42-14 and basically secured its own spot in the title game. Runner-Up: None

Week 14: (1) LSU 42, (12) Georgia 10
The outcome may not have impacted the National Championship game, but Les Miles didn’t want to leave anything to question. After falling behind for the second straight week, the Tigers completely dominated the second half by outscoring the Bulldogs 35-0. Miles claimed his second SEC championship and officially earned his second career BCS National Championship game berth. Runner-Up: None

January 9: (2) Alabama 21, (1) LSU 0
It was absolute domination. The Crimson Tide walked into a hostile pseudo-road environment and completely whitewashed the No. 1 team in the nation. LSU managed five first downs, 92 total yards of offense, converted on 2-of-12 third downs and turned the ball over twice. In the first meeting, Alabama had the better offense and the better defense but were outplayed by a wide margin on special teams. Fool Nick Saban once, shame on you. Fool him twice? Never gonna happen. Special teams, with a little help from an incredibly poised A.J. McCarron and stifling defense, actually won Alabama the game as one big punt return and five made field goals were the difference. Alabama needed plenty of help to get to NOLA — see Weeks 11 and 12 of the regular season — but proved once they got there that they were clearly the better football team. The words "greatest ever" might have been just a big premature.

But what if Oklahoma State held on to beat Iowa State? What is Stanford could actually slow down Oregon? What if Wisconsin hadn't been beaten by two Hail Marys? And if Boise State could only make a clutch field goal? Saban and the Tide are deserving of the BCS Championship through hours, days, weeks and months of hard gut-wrenching sweat and tears, but it also took a little bit luck to land the 2011 BCS National Championship.

Teaser:
<p> Path To A BCS Championship: Alabama Crimson Tide</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/dorial-green-beckham-armstead-peat-head-recruiting-wish-list
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

With the BCS National Championship in the rearview, recruiting now takes center stage for the next three weeks.

And one glance at the Athlon Consensus 100 will prove that it should be an electric ride to National Signing Day 2012 on Feb. 1. Despite roughly 18 national commitments this weekend in Tampa and San Antonio, still 15 of the top 40 players in the nation are left uncommitted. In total, 23 of the AC100 are still left on the board.

Recruitniks can expect plenty of movement in the player and team rankings as well. The final release of rankings from Rivals, Scout, 247Sports and ESPN are always the most volatile and should be released in the coming weeks. Expect plenty of shifting as National Signing Day 2012 approaches.

Cal made a huge push in the team rankings this weekend as they landed three AC100 prospects at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Jeff Tedford and star recruiting Tosh Lupoi landed the nation’s No. 1 defensive back, Sacramento (Calif.) Grant Union’s Shaq Thompson, and the nation’s No. 2 defensive tackle, Monrovia (Calif.) High’s Ellis McCarthy. He also added the No. 98-rated player in the nation in Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian’s Jordan Payton. It is clear that the Golden Bears, not UCLA, are reaping the benefits of the scholarship reductions at USC.

Alabama also had a huge weekend by landing prized safety Landon Collins (AC100 No. 20) – despite his mother’s best efforts – and dynamic do-everything play-maker Cyrus Jones (AC100 No. 63). Miami landed AC100 end Tyriq McCord (No. 97) and nationally ranked safety Deon Bush. Louisville also had a big weekend by landing linebackers Keith Brown and Nick Dawson — both of whom were in contention for Athlon’s Top 100.

Notre Dame will be looking to rebound after losing AC100 defensive back from Oxon (Md.) Potomac Ronald Darby. And Friday evening, Texas lost the No. 25 player in the nation, Skyline wideout Thomas Johnson. More on them below…

Here are the Top Players left on the board (in order of AC100 ranking):

1. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR (6-5, 220)
Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest

It should come as no surprise that the nation’s No. 1 player set a U.S. Army All-American Bowl record on Saturday. On a deep fly pattern, DGB made a one-handed catch against solid coverage and scored a U.S. Army Bowl record 79-yard touchdown. Despite dropping another easy touchdown in the endzone, Green-Beckham claimed co-MVP honors of the game after two receptions, 88 yards and the long score. Expect the top prospect to trim his current list of five to a group of three very soon. Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma feel like the best bets. Texas is, however, the only official visit he has taken thus far, and Johnson’s recent defection from the Horns may open the door for DGB in Austin. Finalists: Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas

4. Arik Armstead, OL/DE (6-7, 280)
Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove

The former USC commitment has an older brother at USC and wants to play basketball full-time on the next level. It may be down to four with a pending visit to Auburn coming soon. Oregon and Cal appear to be in the lead with the surging Golden Bears offering a perfect fit with their 3-4 defensive scheme. He is planning on enrolling early so a decision could come at any point. He has officially visited Alabama, Cal, Notre Dame and Cal thus far. Finalists: Auburn, Cal, Notre Dame, Oregon

5. Andrus Peat, OL (6-6, 295)
Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol

The big blocker was excellent in the Under Armour game last week and has proven his stock is warranted. His older brother, Todd, and cousin Avery Moss either play at or will play at Nebraska. So heading for a NSD announcement, the Huksers have the edge over his other three finalists. Peat has visited Nebraska and Stanford and will be in Los Angeles this weekend. Finalists: Florida State, Nebraska, Stanford, USC

11. Stefon Diggs, ATH (6-0, 185)
Olney (Md.) Good Counsel

Along with Trey Williams, Diggs was the most electric and exciting player on the field in the U.S. Army Bowl on Saturday. And unfortunately, Diggs has hinted at the fact that he might be extending his recruitment beyond NSD on Feb. 1. It appears mom wants him at Florida but Diggs wants to visit USC post-signing day. Can Lane Kiffin afford to leave one of those precious 15 spots open after signing day? Only time will tell. Finalists: Auburn, Cal, Florida, Maryland, Ohio State, USC

13. Eddie Goldman, DT (6-4, 305)
Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate

The star defensive tackle has taken four visits thus far to Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and Miami with Cal, Clemson or Maryland getting his fifth and final official. It has appeared to be a two-team race between the Crimson Tide and Seminoles but Auburn has made a strong push. Who wins out between Alabama’s Sal Suneri and Florida State’s Mark Stoops? You can bet both are working the phones hard for Mr. Goldman. Finalists: Alabama, Auburn, Cal, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, South Carolina

15. Kyle Murphy, OL (6-6, 270)
San Clemente (Calif.)

Murphy is down to five and will likely take two more visits before eventually making his decision. He has visited Oregon and Florida thus far and supposedly will take a trip to The Farm this weekend and USC the following. And Cal seems to be the hottest team in the nation on the trail and cannot be counted out of anything at this point. Finalists: Cal, Florida, Oregon, Stanford, USC

16. Darius Hamilton, DE (6-4, 245)
Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep

The son of former NFL lineman Keith Hamilton is very comfortable at pretty much any position on the defensive line. He is down to three choices (not shockingly, Cal is in the mix) and he will make the call either on NSD or the day before (Jan. 31). He cares about early playing time, a chance for a championship and the relationship with his coaches. He has visited Cal and Florida with one coming for Rutgers (Jan. 20) and possibly Miami (Jan. 27). Florida might be the leader in the clubhouse. Finalists: Cal, Florida, Rutgers

21. Yuri Wright, DB (6-2, 185)
Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep

There was some rumor to Wright making an announcement at the U.S. Army game, but that did not come to fruition. Colorado, Michigan and Notre Dame look like his three finalists with Georgia and Rutgers still hanging in the mix. He has visited Colorado and Notre Dame thus far. Finalists: Colorado, Michigan, Notre Dame

25. Thomas Johnson, WR (6-0, 180)
Dallas (Texas) Skyline

Johnson decommitted Friday night from the Texas Longhorns the day after playing in the Under Armour game (strangely, with a big number of future teammates). After nearly one full calendar year as a Texas verbal, Johnson now looks to be picking between Cal, Oregon and TCU. He will be visiting his three finalists over the next few weeks before a NSD decision. Finalists: Cal, Oregon, TCU

26. Nelson Agholor, ATH (6-0, 180)
Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep

Agholor is a young player who wise and mature beyond his years and it shows on the field. He is dynamic and will be an immediate impact player on the next level – be it at running back, wide receiver or special teams. He has visited three of his five finalists already and will look to officially visit USC and Florida State (Jan. 13) before NSD. Matt Barkley’s decision to return to Heritage Hall may play a big role in where Agholor eventually lands. Finalists: Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, USC

28. Tracy Howard, DB (5-11, 175)
Hollywood (Fla.) Miramar

Howard proved his skills this weekend in the U.S. Army Bowl as he was matched up with the nation’s top player Green-Beckham all game long. He allowed only two receptions to the star wideout and was actually in great position on the long touchdown pass (DGB simply made a special play). LSU and Florida appear to be his finalists, but Howard has only visited Florida State and West Virginia thus far. He will be at USC this weekend and reportedly LSU on Jan. 20 with a potential trip to Florida looming. Finalists: Florida, Florida State, LSU, USC, West Virginia

31. Devin Fuller, ATH (6-0, 190)
Westwood (N.J.) N Valley Old Tappan

This two-sport dynamo wants to play quarterback and baseball — and wants to play them early. He is a perfect fit for Rich Rodriguez’ system and could start right away in the desert, so the Wildcats may have a slight edge. However, Fuller’s recruitment has been as wide open as any in the nation. He will enroll early so he will have to make his call in a timely fashion. He visited TCU back in December and Nebraska back in October with a trip to Rutgers coming on Jan. 20. Anything can happen here, though, so stay tuned. Finalists: Arizona, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Rutgers, TCU, UCLA

37. Joshua Garnett, OL (6-5, 280)
Puyallup (Wash.)

This is not your ordinary 6-5, 280-pound blocker. This a top 40 football prospect in the nation who also wants to be a bio-chemistry pre-med major in college. It should come as no shock then that Michigan, Notre Dame and Stanford are his three top choices. He has visited the Wolverines and the Irish so far and will likely get to The Farm at some point over the next few weeks. Reportedly, none of the three has a clear edge. Finalists: Michigan, Notre Dame, Stanford

38. Kwon Alexander, LB (6-2, 210)
Oxford (Ala.)

Alexander is down to three schools and the BCS Championship game could have played a large role in helping him to decide. The talented tackler has visited Auburn and LSU thus far (as well as Florida State) and will hold off until NSD to make his decision. He is currently rehabbing from a knee injury he suffered back in October. Will he visit Alabama officially after the BCS NCG? Only time will tell. Finalists: Alabama, Auburn, LSU

40. Josh Harvey-Clemons, LB (6-4, 205)
Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes

This rangy linebacker (potential defensive end) has Florida, Georgia and Florida State with the Gators and Dawgs leading the charge for his services. He has visited Florida and reportedly will be in Athens this weekend. There is no timetable set for his decision, but he could pop anytime after his official trip to Georgia. Finalists: Florida, Georgia

51. Ronald Darby, DB (5-11, 175)
Oxon Hill (Md.) Potomac

The longtime Notre Dame commitment reopened his recruitment this weekend. He has visited Maryland and Auburn and is slated be on campus at Clemson this weekend. Florida State and LSU will also figure heavily in the mix. Florida State could be making a strong push for Mr. Darby. Finalists: Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, LSU, USC

57. Aziz Shittu, DT (6-3, 275)
Atwater (Calif.) Buhach

Texas A&M and Cal have already had the privilege of entertaining the big nose guard on campus. Reports are that Shittu will look to stay in-state to play his college ball, and that would eliminate the Aggies, Auburn, Boston College, Nebraska and Washington. That leaves Cal, Stanford, USC and UCLA as his four finalists. Finalists: Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC

66. Avery Young, OL (6-5, 275)
Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Palm Beach

Young has trimmed his list from five to three, but is still largely undecided. Technically, it appears that Auburn, Florida and Georgia will be who Young chooses from. However, he has visited Alabama and could be on campus in Miami on Jan. 20. His mother is from Georgia and he will be announcing on TV in Atlanta on Signing Day. Could this be a positive omen for Mark Richt and the Dawgs? Finalists: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Miami

71. Zach Banner, OL (6-8, 310)
Lakewood (Wash.) Lakes

The son of NLF blocker Lincoln Kennedy had his list trimmed to five. He has visited Michigan, Notre Dame, Washington and Oklahoma, with USC the only one yet to get an official visit. However, news recently broke that Banner was, in fact, down to two programs as USC and Oklahoma look like his two finalists now. Finalists: Oklahoma, USC, Washington

72. Joel Caleb, ATH (6-2, 205)
Midlothian (Va.) Clover Hill

Caleb announced Friday that he would make his decision on National Signing Day and that he would pick between four programs: Georgia, Ohio State, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. The talented athlete missed some of this season with a torn meniscus and has been rehabbing hard in order to be ready for 2012. He has taken two visits to Ohio State and Virginia Tech. Finalists: Georgia, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, West Virginia

73. Davonte Neal, ATH (5-9, 175)
Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral

Neal can play anywhere on the field and could still play anywhere in the nation. His list is still long and wide with schools from most every conference still in the hunt. His only visit thus far was to Notre Dame, and he looks to be headed to Ohio State (Jan. 13) and Arkansas (Jan. 20) in the near future. Originally from Akron, Neal would be totally comfortable heading back to the Midwest. That said, the coaching changes at both in-state schools have reenergized the Grand Canyon State schools. Finalists: Arizona State, Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Northwestern, Ohio State, USC

78. Javonte Magee, DT (6-5, 260)
San Antonio (Texas) Sam Houston

The big defensive tackle is down to three former Big 12 programs. Magee has visited future SEC schools Missouri and Texas A&M officially with Baylor rounding out his list of finalists. Baylor got a big commitment from Brian Nance over the weekend, and it could be a sign of things to come as it sounds like Magee is very high on the Bears. He plans to announces well in advance of NSD, so expect a decision at any point. Finalists: Baylor, Missouri, Texas A&M

83. Jordan Diamond, OL (6-6, 290)
Chicago (Ill.) Simeon

This big blocker has it down to five schools. He has visited Ohio State and Auburn and has trips to Arkansas and Wisconsin pending over the next few weeks. Michigan rounds out his top five. He has been monitoring the coaching situations at Wisconsin and Auburn very closely as both coaching staffs have had tremendous turnover this off-season. Diamond could make a decision at any point prior to NSD. Finalists: Arkansas, Auburn, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin
 

Teaser:
<p> Who are the top uncommitted football prospects in the class of 2012? And where are they going?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - 07:30
All taxonomy terms: Apple, Apples, infographic, News
Path: /news/infographic-comparing-apple-computer-company-apples-fruit
Body:

Apple to Apples
Created by: MBA Online

Everyone knows about Apple, the giant computer company lead by the uber-genius Steve Jobs. People like to talk about how Apple changed the world and the way that we interact at work, with each other and in basically everywhere.

But what about the good old-fashioned apple. As in the fruit and not the company. Here's a quick look at how the fruit and the corportation stack up against each other. And to be honest, they're more alike than you might think (they're also very very different, so, ya know.)

Teaser:
<p> We compare Apple the computer corporation and apples the fruit</p>
Post date: Monday, January 9, 2012 - 16:42
Path: /news/god-loves-tim-tebow-doesnt-ben-roethlisberger
Body:

God is a big Tim Tebow fan. And he's not a big fan of Ben Roethlisberger. At least that's the only logical answer I can take away after the Broncos beat the Steelers 29-23 in overtime of the playoffs.

Let's break it down. After being the worst quarterback in the history of the game with more than 15 starts (that's a statistical fact, look it up) Tim Tebow, the good boy who prays really hard (and loud), eats his vegetables and probably helps little old ladies cross the street at halftime, erupted for the greatest game of his career against the Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, who happen to be lead by Ben Roethlisberger, a guy who gets called a rapist everywhere he goes for his numerous sexual assault allegations that have had caused him thousands in lawyer fees and brushes with the law, had a terrible game that cost his team a chance at the Super Bowl.

Let's look at this match-up through God's eyes and see why he may have given Tim a helpful nudge over Ben:

Good PR
Let's face it, God hasn't had this great of a PR spokesman since Moses. In the past, God's had a bit of a backlash after letting sleazebags like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker speak for him, only to later get exposed for philanderers and embezzlers. Tebow is the real deal. He's not going to get caught in bed with a Playmate or get busted for huffing crack in some Boulder back alley. God has been waiting to put his money on the right guy, someone who is not only a man of character, but puts his faith (and his circumsizing) where is mouth is. (Well, he doesn't put the circumsizing where his mouth is...you know what I mean.)

God Doesn't Like (Alleged) Rapists
So, in the first Testament there are some questionable parts that are kind of OK with rape (check Deuteronomy and Judges), but since he let us know about John 3 16 where he sent his only begotten son to save the world (Jesus, not Tebow) he's been pretty clear on the whole "I don't like rape" argument. So it would be really hard for him to let a guy who's been accused of numerous sexual assaults to go on the road and take down a guy who's basically a poster boy for Jesus. This was God's great chance to draw a pretty clear line in the sand in rapist vs non-rapist and he took it.

A Friendly Reminder Who's In Charge
God himself admits that he's a jealous God, so I'm sure he's been a little peeved at all the press the Mayans have gotten about 2012 being the end of the world. Giving Tebow the win was his little way of letting us all know exactly who's going to decide when the world will be engulfed in flames and who will fill men's hearts with fear and set the seas roaring before the Kingdom of Heaven will return to reign over it for all of eternity. God, not the silly little Mayans.

As we all knew, on paper, Roethlisberger is head and shoulders above Tebow in ability and experience. Roethlisberger, who threw one of the great Super Bowl winning passes of all time against the Cardinals (lead by an almost-but-not-quite-as-pious Kurt Warner) already has two NFL crowns notched into his belt. Tebow, on the other hand was the fourth-string quarterback for a team picked to lose more games than it won just four months ago. But when you put God on his team, we know who's going to win that game every time.

Having said all that, Tebow has no chance against Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

Teaser:
<p> After the Broncos beat the Steelers, it's clear who God likes more</p>
Post date: Monday, January 9, 2012 - 11:04
Path: /news/clemsons-orange-bowl-defeat-disappointing-season
Body:

by Josh Kipnis

Michigan players were rocking shirts that read “Pour some Sugar on me.”  After their victory in LA, the Oregon Ducks “Rose to power.”  Oklahoma State proclaimed to Stanford fans that the Fiesta Bowl was “Nacho Victory.”

West Virginia asked Clemson, “Orange you glad we won?”

On Wednesday night, the West Virginia Mountaineers crushed the Clemson Tigers, 70-33 (Trust me, it’s not a typo).  As I watched the game, I kept staring at the bottom of the screen.  “70-33” just doesn’t look normal on a scoreboard, in any sport.  Even in basketball, the average points Clemson allows per game is less than 70.

The game was expected to be an offensive shootout, but no one could have predicted a score of this magnitude.  “Never could we imagine we’d put up seventy points,” WVU quarterback Geno Smith said after the game.  Seventy is the highest total a team has ever scored in an NCAA bowl game.

The Mountaineers didn’t just put a slight tear in the record books, they threw them all in the shredder. West Virginia broke nine different bowl game records.

On a night when seventy points are scored, it is tough to pinpoint only one star.  As WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen put it, “you score seventy points by being good on all three sides of the ball.”  In the star-filled galaxy of the Orange Bowl, Geno Smith was, however, the biggest and brightest—the North Star, if you will.

Smith went 31 of 42 with 401 yards, 6 passing TDs, and 1 rushing TD (tying records for TD passes, total TDs, and points scored).  Tavon Austin was on the receiving end of four of those touchdowns, tying the record for TD catches in a bowl game.  Safety Darwin Cook also shined in the sky, returning a fumble 99 yards.

Clemson led 17-14 at the end of the first quarter, but the Tigers lost all ability to pounce on their opponents in the second.

The pivotal moment in the game was Cook’s fumble recovery.  The 99-yard play gave the Mountaineers a 28-17 lead in the 2nd quarter.  “It was a pretty big moment,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.  “They hadn’t really stopped us [before that].  That was huge.  Then it snowballed quickly.”  Clemson was outscored 35-3 in the second, breaking the previous record for number of points allowed in one quarter of a bowl game.

West Virginia scored three times in the final 2:29 of the first half.  Heading into the locker room, the score was 49-20 (most points by a team in a half and most combined points in a half). 

The halftime entertainment featured “the fat lady” singing.

Last season, the Clemson defense ranked thirteenth in the country, allowing 18.77 points per game.  To coach Swinney, it must’ve felt like ages ago.  “We’re a better team than we played tonight,” he said after the embarrassment.  “Just too many mistakes.  But we’ll be back.”

But should they even be allowed back?  ACC teams are 2-13 all-time in BCS bowl games; that is last among automatic-qualifying conferences.  This year, Virginia Tech received an at-large bid to the Sugar Bowl, falling to Michigan 23-20 in overtime.

Clemson’s loss was brutal.  At times, I honestly cringed while watching the game.  And so as the Mountaineers drenched their coach with Gatorade and put on those championship t-shirts, I only wish I could’ve been on the sidelines to hand Dabo Swinney another shirt—“Orange you glad this is over?”

Teaser:
<p> West Virginia trounced Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Another disappointing finish for the Tigers.</p>
Post date: Monday, January 9, 2012 - 10:19
Path: /news/tim-tebow-makes-absolutely-no-sense
Body:

Tim Tebow makes no sense. By all account the Broncos quarterback flat out sucks. I know the Tebow-backers don't want to believe it and point to his 7-game winning streak in the middle of the season as proof that he has that special intangible that doesn't show up in the box score and makes him a winning quarterback. Which is what really counts (they say), forgetting about the Bronco defense and kicking game that had a much larger hand in that winning streak than Tebow.

But up until the second quarter of the Broncos playoff game against the Steelers, Denver hadn't scored a touchdown in 22 drives. 22! This is a player in his second year. This is a player who is an alternate in the pro-bowl based solely on his myth than his reality. He sucks, right? Right?

Wrong, I guess. Because he destroyed the vaunted Steelers defense, which was the #1 overrall ranked defense in the NFL this year for 185 yards (in the second quarter alone) tossing one touchdown and running for another. It's not often ANY quarterback makes the Steelers defense look confused and out of sorts. But Tim Tebow managed to do that in the second quarter of this playoff game.

After Tebow launched four passes of 30 yards or more, Pittsburgh's cornerbacks and safeties were left looking at each other and pointing fingers.

So how do the pundits explain this performance by Tebow? The thing is, they can't, and they end up looking exactly like the Steelers secondary, pointing fingers at each other and shrugging their shoulders.

So which Tebow will show up in the rest of this game, playoffs and career? You can't have a quarterback score zero touchdowns in 22 straight quarters and hope for one explosive quarter in every 5 games. Even if it is a playoff.

Teaser:
<p> Is Tim Tebow a good quarterback or the worst quarterback in the NFL</p>
Post date: Sunday, January 8, 2012 - 16:38
Path: /news/houston-texans-football-gets-first-playoff-win-behind-tj-yates-and-jj-watt
Body:

The Houston Texans have had a year of football firsts. After locking up their first division title and their first playoff birth in team history, they just added first playoff win to this year's resume after beating the Cincinnati Bengals 31-10.

And it was a good day for Texans' with letters for their first names. Oh, and a guy named Arian.

After the Bengals had controlled the ball and seemingly moved it at will down the field in the first half, rookie defensive lineman J.J. Watt took the momentum back with an incredible interception at the line of scrimmage that he took 29 yards for a touchdown. See the video of J.J. Watt's interception here. And to put a cherry on top, Watt added a sack on the last play of the first half when Dalton was going back for a hail mary.

The first half ended with a Texans' 17-10 lead, but Houston had to feel pretty good to get pushed around and come out of the first 30 minutes with a lead. In reality, the Bengals should have had the lead at the end of the half.

But from that point on, the Texans controlled the game, holding the Bengals offense to very few yards in the second half. Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton looked like a seasoned veteran in the first half, but looked a little lost and out of his rhythm in the second.

And what the Bengals desperately needed was a strong first drive in the second half, but instead they looked discombulated, burning a timeout, which made furious and had him screaming at the sideline.

When T.J. Yates connected on a 40-yard touchdown to Andre Johnson to put the Texans up 24-10 with 1:08 left in the third quarter, the Bengals all but fell apart.

PacMan Jones was seen arguing on the sideline with coaches and quarterback Andy Dalton threw his helmet over the bench. 

The one lopsided stat of the game, that told a huge story was the success of Houston's running game against the vaunted Bengals rush defense. Arian Foster had a monster game on the ground and needing only the first three quarters to go over 100 yards.

And Dalton threw his third interception of the game when he hung up a ball with 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter, when the Bengals were desperate to get their offense going, Daneal Manning picked it off and set up a 42-yard touchdown run by Arian Foster where it looked like the Bengals defense wasn't very interested in tackling him. With the Texans up 31-10 with five minutes left, the Texans had all but sewn up team history with their first playoff victory behind a very loud and fired up home crowd.

Foster finished with 153 yards rushing.

And after the rash of injuries the Texans' have dealt with, Houston's head coach Gary Kubiak should be a front runner for coach of the year. No team has had to deal with injuries to more star players, Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Mario Williams, just to name a few. And for him to lead that team not not only a playoff berth, but a division title and a playoff win deserves all the honors you can give Kubiak.

And not to mention, Wade Philips' genius job with the Texans defense, taking them from one of the worst in the league last year to a top 10 defense this year is a historic turnaround. His free agent pick-up of ex-Bengal coernerback Jonathan Joseph played a huge part in shutting down the Bengals' star rookie wide receiver A.J. Green.

On the flipside, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis will have to answer questions about burning all of his coaching challenges on questionable calls in the first half. WIth the Texans running away with it, it didn't really matter, but the Bengals had no challenges in the second half if they needed them. Lewis lost both of his challenges in the first half.

Teaser:
<p> J.J. Watt and T.J. Yates get Houston their first playoff win in team history</p>
Post date: Saturday, January 7, 2012 - 19:30
Path: /news/jj-watt-makes-amazing-interception-against-bengals-houston-texans-video
Body:

J.J. Watt wasn't a household name before the Houston Texans' first playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

But he will be now after making a game-changing and unbelievably athletic interception at the line of scrimmage off of Andy Dalton to put the Texans up 17-10 at the end of the first half.

The Bengals had moved the ball all day, but didn't have much to show for it. They were trying to drive down to get at least a field goal at the end of the first half, but J.J. Watt had other plans. At the line of scrimmage, Watt, who used to be a tight end for the Wisconsin Badgers showed off some amazing hands as he snatched Dalton's seemingly point blank pass out of the air after pushing off the offensive lineman, and Watt took it to the end zone with less than a minute left in the half.

Watt needed oxygen after his 29-yard interception return for the touchdown. While Dalton was seen rolling his eyes, knowing that there was nothing he could do and that was just a top-notch play by Watt.

If the Texans go ahead to win this game, everyone will point to this play by Watt as the reason why. The Texans were getting beat in the momentum department before J.J.'s play.

To make matters worse, the Badgers, who J.J. Watt played for beat Andy Dalton's TCU Horned Frogs in their last college game against each other.

Teaser:
<p> The rookie defensive lineman makes a game-changing play at the end of the first half of Texans first playoff game</p>
Post date: Saturday, January 7, 2012 - 18:26
All taxonomy terms: Elin Nordegren, Tiger Woods, News
Path: /news/elin-nordegren-tears-down-12-million-house-spite-tiger
Body:

If you were feeling sorry for Elin Nordegren after having to go through the ordeal of Tiger Woods cheating on her with multitudes of strippers and half-prostitutes, well...

You probably don't have to feel sorry for her anymore.

I know money doesn't buy happiness, but it sure can put a nice down payment on it. Elin, who was living in a $12 million, 17,000 square foot mansion in Palm Beach, Florida decided that just a little renovation wasn't going to do the job.

So instead of adding on a nice breakfast nook, she tore the whole sucker down and has plans to build something that's being called a "dream house." 

I guess she dreams bigger than most of us. Because if I woke up in a $12 million mansion in southern Florida, I might think I was still dreaming, instead of thinking that I had to tear this nightmare down so I could finally have the house I REALLY wanted. (Yes, that's sarcasm.)

Will this brazen act of spending turn the public's feelings for her? Before, she was the beautiful, wronged wife. And Tiger was the dirty dog. But now, with the economy still struggling and unemployment at 8.5%, she looks more like a Real Wife of Palm Beach; someone who is not living in the same world as the rest of the 99%.

And while we knew she made out with mad cash, tossing away $12 million dollars just feels a little gross.

Words being thrown around the Internet are "obscene," "disgusting" and "insane."

In a time when $12 million could go to clothe the homeless or feed starving children (it was just Christmas, after all), it seems like there's something more to this than meets the eye, because by all accounts, it makes no sense financially.

But maybe she's doing it to give Tiger a little jab as he watches millions of what used to be his dollars get pushed over by a bulldozer. And really, if you could do something like that to someone who humiliated you in front of the world, well, that would be pretty awesome.

No word on where Tiger was when this house was torn down. But we're still guessing Elin wouldn't mind if he was in the house when the walls came crashing down.

Teaser:
<p> Tiger's ex wife just tore down a $12 million dollar mansion, because it wasn't good enough</p>
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2012 - 14:09
Path: /news/portland-trail-blazers-wesley-matthews-paying-fantasy-owners
Body:

Who’s the fourth-best shooting guard in NBA fantasy nine-category leagues right now? Well, of course, it’s Portland Trail Blazer Wesley Matthews.

He is certainly paying big dividends for you if you grabbed him in your 2012 NBA fantasy draft — and you likely got him at a deal — a deal that’s easily giving a nice return on your investment so far.

Matthews entered the 2011-12 season with a Yahoo ADP of 72.1 — a top-of-the-sixth-round pick — and ESPN had him ranked 14th amongst shooting guards. Matthews was selected in the middle of the sixth round — right on schedule — in this year’s Athlon Sports one-man keeper NBA fantasy draft.

Matthews is the 14th best at something currently, but its 14th-best fantasy player overall in fantasy over the last seven days.

I know it’s early, and chances of Matthews keeping pace at one of the most loaded fantasy positions in the NBA is a tough task, but he did finish as the 10th-best shooting guard in nine-category fantasy leagues last season.

It will be hard for Matthews to get past the likes of Dwyane Wade, Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Martin and James Harden at the shooting guard spot in terms of fantasy, but his ADP in Yahoo leagues made him the 17th shooting guard taken and finishing top 10 has already been proven.

Now Brandon Roy is taken out of the mix with his retirement, opening up the door wider for Matthews.

In 69 games as the starter last season, he went for 16.9 points, 3.3 boards, 2.2 assists, 2.1 3-pointers and 1.4 steals in 36 minutes per game.

So far in the 2011-12 season, Matthews is a top-four shooting guard and top-15 player with less time than last season. He is playing 34:17 minutes per game with 15.4 points, 5.2 boards, 1.2 assists, 2.4 3-pointers and 1.4 steals.

A deep bench is something of a concern for Matthews fantasy owners, but he was a proven commodity last season and has already picked up where he left off. So have faith in him and reap the rewards of your sixth-round selection.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

Teaser:
<p> The Blazer is a nice surprise for NBA fantasy owners this year</p>
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2012 - 10:40
Path: /college-football/lsu-alabama-defenses-recruits
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

Do you ever wonder how a college football coach assembles a national championship caliber roster? Thousands of hours of scouting, evaluating, recruiting and coaching is the simple answer. But it also takes a little bit of luck as well.

The most interesting pattern within the interwoven LSU-Alabama timelines comes on the recruiting trail. Just look at last night's announcement of Athlon Consensus 100 safety Landon Collins. He grew up in the shadow of Tigers Stadium but picked Alabama. And the mother of the No. 3 defensive back in the nation wasn't happy about it.

Just imagine how the BCS National Championship game would be different if Nico Johnson or Mark Barron picked LSU instead of Alabama. Or what if Bennie Logan or Barkevious Mingo picked the Crimson Tide instead of the Bayou Bengals?

Related: LSU, Alabama Starting Offenses As Recruits

Here is how Nick Saban and Les Miles put together National Championship defenses at LSU and Alabama respectively:

Alabama Crimson Tide Starting Defense:

Josh Chapman, NT (2007)
From Hoover (Ala.) High School near Birmingham, Chapman entered college as a solid three-star defensive tackle prospect. He was ranked as the No. 32 nose tackle in the nation and the No. 12 player in the state by Rivals. He picked Alabama after initially committing to Auburn as well as other offers from Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

Jesse Williams, DE (2011)
Williams came a long way to get to the Capstone and the BCS National Championship game. Originally from Cavendish Road High School in Brisbane, Australia, Williams enrolled at Western Arizona Community College in Yuma, Arizona in 2009. After two seasons as a JUCO, Williams signed with Alabama in the spring of 2011 as the No. 2-rated junior college prospect in the nation. The 6-foot-4, 330-pounder obviously made a big impact in only one year on campus.

Damion Square, DE (2008)
Square posted 26 sacks in his final two seasons at Houston (Texas) Yates, landing him a three-star ranking from Rivals. He was ranked as the No. 37 defensive tackle and No. 55 player in the state of Texas by the internet scouting service. He picked Alabama over Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Texas A&M.

Jerrell Harris, LB (2008) AC100
Harris was a member of the inaugural AC100 back in 2008 as the No. 9-ranked linebacker in the entire country. He came to Alabama from Tide pipeline Gadsden City High School from Gadsden, Ala., after 265 tackles over his final two prep seasons. Harris took all five official visits: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Tennessee and USC. He has played 37 games in his career, but it is safe to say that after 52 total career tackles, Harris failed to live up to the recruiting hype.

Dont’a Hightower, LB (2008)
From Lewisburg (Tenn.) Marshall County, Hightower has proven to be one of the top Nick Saban recruits during his time at Alabama. The battering ram of a linebacker was ranked as the No. 3 player in the Volunteeer State and the No. 15 player at his position nationally. The two-way prep star picked Bama over Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia Tech. While not a top 100-type talent, Hightower was a four-star recruit by Rivals. He led the Tide in tackles in 2011 with 81 stops.

Nico Johnson, LB (2009) AC100
Johnson was one of the top prospects in the entire nation back in 2009. He was ranked as the No. 5 linebacker in the nation and was the No. 21 player in the nation overall. He trailed only Manti Te’o, Dorian Bell, Vontaze Burfict and Jelani Jenkins in the positional rankings. He hails from Andalusia (Ala.) and picked Alabama over Auburn and LSU.

Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama (2008)
The Eufaula, Ala., native was the No. 7-rated defensive end in the nation but only the No. 9-rated player in the state of Alabama. He was nationally recruited as the No. 111 player in the nation regardless of position and helped Alabama to the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. Upshaw, who picked Alabama over Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina and Georgia, was named the Class 5A Lineman of the Year by the ASWA.

Mark Barron, S, Alabama (2008) AC100
The nation’s No. 1 class was buoyed by the presence of the Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul safety. Barron was the No. 58-rated player in the AC100 and the No. 5 player in the state of Alabama. He was the nation’s No. 6 defensive back behind Patrick Peterson, Brandon Harris, Rahim Moore, BJ Scott and Dee Finley – three of whom are playing in the NFL. He was the nation’s No. 3 safety after being named MVP of the 2007 Class 5A Alabama state title game. He picked Alabama over LSU and Auburn.

Robert Lester, S (2008)
The Foley (Ala.) native was ranked as the No. 23 safety in the nation by Rivals back in 2008. His two finalists were Oklahoma and Alabama. The four-star prospect was ranked as the No. 15 player in the state of Alabama and has 10 interceptions over the last two seasons.

Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama (2009) AC100
The Gadsden (Ala.) Gadsden City star was the No. 1 cornerback in the nation back in 2009. He was the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama. And he was the No. 10 player in the AC100. The five-star U.S. Army All-American, along with fellow AC100 stud Richardson, helped bolster an Alabama class that finished No. 3 nationally. Kirkpatrick had his choice of schools and is technically the highest-rated player on Athlon’s 2011 All-America squad. He picked Bama over Florida and Texas.

DeQuan Menzie, CB (2010)
Orginally from Columbus (Ga.) Carver, Menzie landed at Alabama after playing at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Miss. He was the No. 6-rated JUCO prospect by Scout and the No. 14-rated JUCO talent by Rivals. He selected Alabama over Ole Miss and Tennessee and beat out the highly touted DeMarcus Milliner to win a starting job this fall.

LSU Tigers Starting Defense:

Sam Montgomery, DE (2009) AC100
The star end from Greenwood (S.C.) was ranked as the No. 4 defensive end in the nation in the 2009 AC100. He was the No. 43-rated player in the entire nation regardless of position. The 6-foot-4, 245 rush end made his decision on television on National Signing Day by putting on the Purple and Gold hat over Tennessee and North Carolina. He was the No. 1 player in the Palmetto State back in the '09 cycle and may be one of the top NFL defensive ends in the nation — in either the 2012 or 2013 NFL Draft.

Bennie Logan, DT (2009)

Another member of the nation's No. 1 class, Logan came to Baton Rouge from Coushatta (La.) Red River as a three-star recruit. He was ranked as the No. 33 defensive end in the nation by Rivals and the No. 65 defensive end by Scout. Miles originally tried to offer Logan a greyshirt, but finally coughed up a scholarship during his official visit. Logan immediately picked the Tigers over Michigan, Nebraska, Texas Tech and Alabama.

Michael Brockers, DT (2009)
The four-star defenive end prospect from Houston (Texas) Chavez was ranked as the No. 19 defensive end in the nation and the No. 242 player overall in the nation. His offer sheet included Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Houston to go with his LSU scholie. 

Barkevious Mingo DE (2009)
You think Les Miles likes his 2009 defensive line class? Mingo completes the four-man '09 starting defensive line — which does not include the highest-ranked of the group, Chris Davenport, or No. 3-ranked (within the LSU class) Josh Downs. Mingo, from West Monroe (La.), was ranked as the No. 29 linebacker in the nation and the No. 196 overall prospect in the country. He entered college, after picking LSU over Alabama, UConn and Michigan, as a skinny 6-foot-5, 205-pound outside backer. He is now a 250-pound national championship defensive end.

Stefoin Francois, LB (2007)
As a safety for Reserve (La.) East St. John, Francois nearly landed at Florida State. But two days before National Signing Day, he surprisingly committed to the Bayou Bengals. The then 6-foot-1, 188-pound defensive back was ranked as the No. 5 safety in the nation and the No. 63 prospect overall. After switching to outside linebacker, he bulked up to 225 pounds and has played well two seasons in a row at his new position.

Kevin Minter, LB (2009)
A nationally rated recruit, Minter was the No. 17 linebacking prospect in the nation and the No. 148 overall recruit in the country. The Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge tackling machine posted three consecutive 100+ tackle seasons to finish his prep career. He made 404 stops over that span. In first full season as the starter as a sophomore, Minter finished fifth on the team in tackles with 56 stops. He picked LSU over offers from Oklahoma State, South Carolina, USC, West Virginia, Virginia, NC State and Kentucky.

Ryan Baker, LB (2008)
Yet another Top 100 prospect starting for this stellar LSU defense, Baker was ranked as the No. 74 overall prospect in the nation and the No. 6 outside linebacker by Rivals. He hails from Blountstown (Fla.) and picked the Tigers over the Florida State Seminoles, despite the late push by Bobby Bowden.

Brandon Taylor, S (2008)
The Franklinton (La.) prospect was initially a cornerback coming out of high school but became a speedy, undersized safety once in Baton Rouge. He was a top 100 prospect by Rivals as the No. 9-ranked cornerback and the No. 92 overall player in the nation. He picked LSU over Kansas State and Notre Dame. The smallish (6-foot, 190-pound) safety finished No. 2 on this team in tackles in 2011 (67).

Eric Reid, S (2009) AC100
The 2009 LSU Tigers recruiting class, which one the Athlon Sports National Recruiting Championship, will eventually go down in history as one of the more productive in SEC history. Reid was the No. 10-rated defensive back in the nation and was the No. 79-rated overall prospect in the AC100. He made the single most important play in the first edition of the "Game of the Century" when he ripped the ball away from Bama tight end Michael Williams. The Geismar (La.) Dutchtown prospect picked LSU over NC State, Stanford, Tennessee and Tulane.

Tyrann Mathieu, PR, LSU (2010)
The Honey Badger was the No. 44 defensive back in the nation and the No. 8 player in the state of Louisiana by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 13-rated cornerback in the nation by Rivals. The New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine dynamo was either firmly committed to Frank Wilson and LSU, or schools were scared off by his attitude, because his offer sheet was LSU, Southern Miss, SMU, Tulane, FIU, Miami (Ohio) and Hampton.

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (2008)
Was ranked as the No. 21 player in the state of LA and the No. 58-rated athlete in the nation by Rivals.com. Visited no other schools officially, but his short list included Nebraska, Texas A&M, Tulane, Arkansas State and Louisiana Tech. Three-star player from Shreveport (La.) Fair Park where he played QB. He passed for 1,009 yards and 14 TDs while rushing for 1,023 yards and 16 TDs in 2008.

Teaser:
<p> How did the BCS National Championship defenses get assembled?</p>
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2012 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Jim Rome, Rome is Burning, News
Path: /news/jim-rome-leaving-espn-join-cbs-expanded-role
Body:

Jim Rome, the outspoken radio and TV personality is leaving ESPN for CBS Sports, according to reports.

ESPN had reportedly offered Rome a multi-year deal to keep his TV show "Jim Rome is Burning" with the worldwide leader in sports, but he declined and took a deal with CBS, who offered him an "expanded role". Seeing as Rome already had a daily TV show with ESPN, what an "expanded role" means for him at CBS is still unclear.

We're guessing he's going to take his trademark speaking voice (who is imitated by impressionists everywhere, including Frank Caliendo on Fox's Sunday Morning NFL show--which happens to go up against CBS' Sunday Morning NFL show) to do more TV and possibly more reporting.

Will CBS give him a more primetime platform? He's on at 4:30 every afternoon on ESPN (he's been on the station since 2004) so he might be looking for either a later time slot, or possibly his own show on Sunday morning.

According to James Andrew Miller, who authored the ESPN tell-all "Those Guys Have All the Fun" Rome makes an estimated $30 million a year from his radio show alone.

We will update as more information becomes available, or when a replacement for Rome is announced.

via TheBigLead

Teaser:
<p> Rome is burning...a trail away from ESPN</p>
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2012 - 08:13
Path: /college-football/bcs-championship-preview-and-predictions-lsu-vs-alabama
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

BCS National Championship
Alabama (11-1) vs. LSU (13-0)

Date: Jan. 9 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.


Related: LSU, Alabama Starting Offenses As Recruits
Related: LSU, Alabama Starting Defenses As Recruits

For the first time in BCS history, two teams from the same conference will play for the national title. While there was plenty of anti-rematch chatter, Alabama and LSU are the two best teams in college football. Consider this: LSU navigated one of the nation’s most difficult schedules, and Alabama lost to the Tigers by a field goal in the first matchup in early November. So if LSU is ranked No. 1 and the Crimson Tide’s only loss came to the Tigers, it’s fair to say these teams are 1A and 1B.

There’s no question these two offenses aren’t among the best in college football, but the first meeting was controlled by the defenses. Will we see the same outcome on Jan. 9? Alabama outgained LSU 295 to 239, but four missed field goals and two costly turnovers hurt the Crimson Tide's chances at victory. While the Tigers may not have done anything overwhelmingly special in that game, they did a good job of capitalizing on Alabama’s mistakes and made timely plays on offense.

The first meeting between these two teams may not have supplied the offensive fireworks some were looking hoping to see, but the defenses are two of – if not the best – in college football. Alabama leads the nation in scoring, total, rushing and pass defense. LSU isn’t far behind, ranking second nationally in total and scoring defense.

Alabama’s only blemish on the season was the 9-6 loss to LSU, while the Tigers finished as the only undefeated team in college football. 

LSU has claimed the last two meetings in this series, including a 24-21 win in Baton Rouge last year. Alabama posted back-to-back wins in 2008 and 2009, but the Tigers have won seven out of the last nine overall meetings.

WHEN ALABAMA HAS THE BALL:

In the first matchup, LSU did a good job of holding running back Trent Richardson in check. He managed only 89 yards on 23 attempts, but did catch five passes for 80 yards. The Tigers can expect to see a lot more from Richardson this time around. Expect the junior to get around 30 overall touches, including some opportunities on special teams. When Richardson needs a rest, Eddie Lacy will step in and he averaged 7.5 yards per carry this year.

While everything in the Alabama offense flows around Richardson, don’t overlook quarterback AJ McCarron. The sophomore completed 16 of 28 throws for 199 yards in the first meeting. While McCarron’s numbers weren’t awful against LSU earlier this year, he threw a costly interception. The Crimson Tide offense needs McCarron to be efficient and take some of the pressure off of the rushing attack. McCarron doesn't have to throw for 300 yards, but he has to hit some passes early to prevent the Tigers from loading up against Richardson. 

Alabama doesn’t have a deep corps of receivers, but Marquis Maze is one of the SEC’s most underrated receivers. He caught 56 passes for 627 yards and one score this year. Tight ends Michael Williams and Brad Smelley will be important contributors for McCarron, as the two players combined for 41 receptions in the regular season. Darius Hanks and Kenny Bell will also contribute in the receiving corps, while Richardson figures to see a handful of catches out of the backfield.

The battle in the trenches will feature one of the best offensive lines in college football (Alabama), against one of the top defensive fronts (LSU). The Crimson Tide’s offensive line allowed only 15 sacks this season, while leading the way for running backs to average 5.6 yards per carry. Center William Vlachos and tackle Barrett Jones earned first-team All-SEC honors. The Tigers will counter will a deep and speedy defensive line. End Sam Montgomery collected nine sacks and first-team All-SEC honors, while fellow end Barkevious Mingo registered eight sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss this year.

Winning the battle in the trenches is going to be crucial for both team’s chances for a victory. The Crimson Tide needs to establish control to open up lanes for Richardson and keep the pressure off of McCarron. If the Tigers gain control, Richardson will have trouble finding running room. In the first matchup, Montgomery recorded two sacks and it’s crucial for Alabama to keep him away from McCarron.

Expect LSU to focus in on stopping Richardson once again, while forcing the Crimson Tide to take to the air to win the game. The Tigers own one of the top defensive backfields in the nation, led by Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. Although McCarron has been careful with the ball this year (5 INTs), one mistake in this game will be costly.

WHEN LSU HAS THE BALL:

The Tigers have a clear identity on offense, and they need to win the battle in the trenches in order to claim the national title.

LSU ranks 17th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 215.2 yards per game. In the first meeting, Alabama held the Tigers to 148 yards on 41 attempts. A handful of running backs will see time, but Michael Ford and Spencer Ware figure to get the bulk of the work. Ford led the team with 755 yards on 123 attempts, while Ware led with eight rushing scores. Alfred Blue (539 yards) and Kenny Hilliard (320) will also see touches.

A wildcard to watch on the ground will be quarterback Jordan Jefferson. He managed 43 yards in the first meeting between these two teams, and his ability to get yards on the ground when passing plays break down will be crucial for LSU’s chances at victory.

While the Tigers want to lean on the run, they have to generate something from the passing attack. Jefferson missed four games due to suspension, but only finished with 684 passing yards and six scores. Jarrett Lee also saw extensive time under center, throwing for 1,306 yards and 14 touchdowns. Lee is the better passer, but Jefferson’s rushing ability could be more valuable in this game, especially since he mustered 43 yards on the ground in the first meeting between these two teams.

The Tigers have only two players with more than 30 catches this year, with Rueben Randle leading the team with 904 receiving yards on 50 catches. Odell Beckham, Russell Shepard and tight end DeAngelo Peterson will also figure into the mix in the receiving corps, but it won’t be an easy battle against Alabama’s secondary. The Crimson Tide has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete only 48.3 percent of their throws this year. Opposing offenses have also managed only six passing scores in 2011.

Expect Alabama’s defense to load up the box and force LSU to win this game through the air. The Tigers need to keep the Crimson Tide off balance with throws on first and second down, which will help prevent third and long situations. If Alabama can hold the Tigers in check on the ground, it should be in good position to win this game. The Crimson Tide allowed the Tigers to average 3.6 yards per rush in the first meeting, and the battle in the trenches will only get tougher this time around.

Special Teams

This area was Alabama’s trouble spot in the first meeting. Cade Foster made only one of four attempts, while Jeremy Shelley connected on one of two attempts. All of the missed/blocked field goals came from at least 44 yards out, so these aren’t chip shots Alabama was missing. Shelley has been more reliable this year, nailing 16 of 20 attempts, while Foster has hit on only 2 of 9.

Punter Cody Mandell had a so-so year, averaging 38.9 yards per punt. The Crimson Tide coverage units have been solid, allowing only 50 punt return yards on 10 attempts.

Trent Richardson was used sparingly on kickoff returns this season, but could see more opportunities in this area on Jan. 9. Marquis Maze averaged 12.4 yards on punt returns and 28.5 yards per kickoff return this season. Expect him to be Alabama’s top option on special teams against LSU.

LSU had an advantage in this department in the first meeting and should have an edge in the rematch. Kicker Drew Alleman hit 16 of 18 attempts this season and earned second-team All-SEC honors. Punter Brad Wing averaged 44.1 yards per punt and placed 23 of those inside of the 20. Wing also earned second-team All-SEC honors this season.

LSU has been strong on returns all year. Tyrann Mathieu is averaging 16.2 yards per punt return and has scored twice this season. Morris Claiborne leads the way on kickoff returns, averaging 26.1 yards per return this year. Claiborne also scored on a 99-yard return against West Virginia.

Athlon’s Staff Predictions

When the clock strikes zero and the confetti falls on Jan. 9, the SEC will claim its sixth consecutive national championship.

With a tight game expected, turnovers and special teams are going to play a huge role in deciding the outcome. The turnover margin was even in the first matchup, but there was a clear edge on special teams.

After a long layoff from the last regular season game, both defenses will control the tempo early on. It will also be interesting to see what new wrinkles both teams have worked into the playbook for this game.

Surprisingly, Athlon’s editors all agree on which team will hoist the national title trophy on Jan. 9 in New Orleans – and it’s not the team that won the first meeting on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa.

Braden Gall

Alabama 20, LSU 17
MVP: AJ McCarron, QB

Charlie Miller

Alabama 17, LSU 12
MVP: Trent Richardson, RB

Steven Lassan

Alabama 20, LSU 17
MVP: Trent Richardson, RB

Mitch Light

Alabama 20, LSU 17
MVP: Trent Richardson, RB

Mark Ross

Alabama 23, LSU 17
MVP: Courtney Upshaw, LB

Patrick Snow

Alabama 17, LSU 13
MVP: Trent Richardson, RB



Related: LSU, Alabama Starting Offenses As Recruits
Related: LSU, Alabama Starting Defenses As Recruits

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<p> Athlon previews and predicts the 2012 BCS National Championship between LSU and Alabama.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2012 - 08:10

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