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Path: /college-football/5-reasons-why-ohio-state-alabamas-biggest-threat-2013

Can the rest of college football stop the SEC from its eighth straight national championship? That’s the big question facing coaching staffs in the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and at Notre Dame this offseason. Alabama is a heavy favorite to win its fourth BCS title in five years in 2013, but the No. 2 spot in most preseason polls is expected to be a tossup between Oregon and Ohio State. The Buckeyes are coming off an undefeated regular season but was unable to play in a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions. The Ducks finished 2012 with 12 victories but a 17-14 loss to Stanford ended their hopes of playing for the national title.

Even though the 2013 season is still months away, it’s never too early to take an early look at how Oregon and Ohio State might stack up next year.

Although the Ducks are picked by most to be the No. 2 team next year, Athlon’s early top 25 has the Buckeyes ranked just behind Alabama.

5 Reasons Why Ohio State (Not Oregon) Is Alabama’s Biggest Threat in 2013

1. Coaching
Urban Meyer versus Mark Helfrich? No offense to the Oregon first-year head coach but this intangible is heavily favored in Ohio State’s direction. Helfrich was promoted to keep continuity from the Chip Kelly era but has no previous head coaching experience. Although Helfrich knows the Ducks’ culture and has played a role in developing their offense, there will be a drop-off from Kelly.

Meyer has been one of college football’s most successful coaches of the BCS era, recording a 39-8 record from stops at Bowling Green and Utah and a 65-15 mark at Florida. Meyer won two national championships during his tenure in Gainesville and is 12-0 in his only season with the Buckeyes.

2. Schedule
Neither team has a difficult schedule, but Ohio State’s slate is slightly easier than what Oregon will face. The Buckeyes face Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M in the non-conference portion, and Oregon will play Nicholls State, Nevada and Tennessee.

While the non-conference portion is essentially even, Ohio State has an easier path to a national championship in the Big Ten. Outside of the Buckeyes, the Big Ten isn’t expected to have another team inside of most preseason top-15 lists. Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern will be ranked outside of the top 15 but will still present a challenge for the Buckeyes. Ohio State has four conference road games, with the toughest being a matchup against Michigan.

Oregon’s road to an unbeaten record is more difficult, especially with a date at Stanford on Nov. 7. The Ducks also face Washington in Seattle, and the Huskies could be one of the Pac-12’s most-improved teams next season. Oregon also plays UCLA – the preseason favorite in the South Division – but misses USC and Arizona State.

There will always be a game that is tougher than most expect once the season kicks off, however, Ohio State has a favorable path to another 12-0 mark in the regular season.

3. Improving playmakers
Even though quarterback Braxton Miller started all 12 games in 2012, Ohio State can’t rely on the junior passer to survive another season with 227 carries. Miller is a perfect fit for coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense, and with another offseason to work with the coaching staff, he is expected to be one of the top Heisman contenders in 2013.

Taking some of the pressure off Miller will be essential to a national championship run. The good news for Ohio State is nearly all of its skill players from last season return, and running back Jordan Hall is back after missing nearly all of 2012 due to injury. Hall has potential to play in a Percy Harvin role for the Buckeyes, along with serving as a complement back to starter Carlos Hyde. Although Hyde finished the year with less than 1,000 yards, he had two 100-yard efforts in the final three games and scored 16 touchdowns in 10 games.

Hyde and Hall will be one of the Big Ten’s top running back duos next season, and the receiving corps returns four out of its top five statistical receivers from 2012. Corey Brown is back after catching 60 passes for 669 yards and three scores, and Devin Smith heads into his junior year with 10 career touchdown receptions.

There’s no shortage of playmakers in Eugene, starting with running back De’Anthony Thomas. Receiver Josh Huff averaged 15.4 yards per reception, and tight end Colt Lyerla is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. However, with the departure of running back Kenjon Barner, the Ducks lack a proven running back that can handle 20-25 carries a game.

Oregon may have more overall playmakers, but Ohio State’s supporting cast next season is in better shape than it was in 2012.

4. Defensive improvement in Columbus?
The Buckeyes’ defense started off Big Ten play on a bad note last season. Ohio State allowed 38 points to Nebraska and 49 against Indiana. Although both games resulted in a victory for the Buckeyes, it wasn’t a vintage defensive effort most in Columbus were used to seeing. Ohio State’s defense was better in the second half of the season, allowing 20.4 points over the final five contests and generating four sacks in three out of the final four games.

Even though the defense loses linemen John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Garrett Goebel and Nathan Williams, this unit has potential to show improvement in 2013. Co-coordinators Everett Withers and Luke Fickell have a full offseason to get the players acquainted with the scheme, while Meyer has brought in two of the nation’s best recruiting classes in 2012 and 2013. The back seven of the defense should be the strength for Ohio State, especially thanks to the decision of cornerback Bradley Roby to return for another year in Columbus.

Due to the success of its offense, Oregon’s defense often gets overlooked. The Ducks allow 374.2 yards per game but held opponents to 21.6 points per contest and forced 40 turnovers. Oregon’s defense was also hit hard by personnel departures, losing standouts Dion Jordan (defensive end) and linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay to graduation. Even though the Ducks have a few holes to fill, this unit shouldn’t suffer too much of a drop-off.

The edge in defense should slightly favor Oregon, but the Buckeyes have plenty of time to let their new starters get acquainted with the lineup. With Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M in the first four games of the season, Ohio State should work out the kinks by the time it plays Wisconsin and Northwestern to open Big Ten play.

5. Braxton Miller’s development as a passer
Although Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller had an outstanding sophomore campaign, he still has room to grow in Meyer’s offense. Miller completed 54.1 percent of his throws as a freshman and improved that number to 58.3 percent in 2012. With another offseason to work with Meyer and coordinator Tom Herman, Miller could push that total to over 60 percent. The Ohio native averaged 169.9 passing yards per game in 2012 and that total could easily be over 200 next year.

In addition to Miller’s development in Ohio State’s spread attack, his surrounding cast is improving, and the receiving corps has emerging weapons like Corey Brown and Devin Smith. And with the Buckeyes likely to take some carries off his shoulders, Miller will have an opportunity to focus more of his attention on attacking defenses with his arm. 

Related College Football Content

College Football's Early Top 25 for 2013
Early Big Ten Predictions for 2013

Early SEC Predictions for 2013

Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2013

<p> 5 Reasons Why Ohio State Is Alabama's Biggest Threat in 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 10:25
Path: /college-basketball/nc-state-player-rips-head-coach-mark-gottfried

Thomas De Thaey played 22 career games for the NC State Wolfpack. He averaged 1.7 points per game before transferring out of Raleigh in November of 2012.

He was obviously watching the Wolfpack get upset by a mediocre Wake Forest team on Tuesday night because this is what he thought of the performance by his former team and head coach Mark Gottfried the next morning:


<p> NC State Player Rips Head Coach Mark Gottfried</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/ac100-finalized-top-25-recruits-2013

After over a year of evaluation that includes underclassman combines, spring and summer camps, the fall high school season and winter All-Star events, the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 is finalized.

Names like Mississippi State’s Chris Jones, Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Oregon’s Thomas Tyner saw their stock sky-rocket in the final rankings while others like Michigan’s Shane Morris watched their names fall precipitously in the AC100.

Every prospect in the AC100 is an elite talent who is highly coveted by essentially every program in the nation. But only the best of the best earn “five-star” status by landing in the Top 25.

1. Robert Nkemdiche, DE (6-4, 285)
Loganville (Ga.) Grayson
Finalists: LSU, Ole Miss

From start to finish, the big defensive end from Georgia was the consensus No. 1 overall player in the nation by all four recruiting websites — Rivals, Scout, ESPN and 247Sports. He has an elite combination of size and speed to go with a motor that rarely slows down. He has offers from every major school in the nation and had previously been committed to Clemson. However, his older brother, Denzel, was a redshirt freshman at Ole Miss in 2012 and the Rebels have been arguably the hottest team in recruiting the last few months. It should come down to LSU and Ole Miss for Nkemdiche (pronounced Kem-dee-chee).

2. Jaylon Smith, LB (6-3, 220)
Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers
Committed: Notre Dame

After a great showing in the US Army Bowl, Smith jumped to the No. 2 slot in the nation. He has an elite hybrid frame to play outside linebacker and defensive end on the next level. He led his team to four consecutive state championships for Luers High School playing both offense (150 yards rushing and 3 TDs in the title game) and defense. He is a hard worker, an excellent leader and a perfect fit at Notre Dame.

3. Vernon Hargreaves III, DB (5-11, 185)
Tampa (Fla.) Wharton
Committed: Florida

Much like Smith, Hargreaves III performed at an elite level in a national all-star event this winter. He posted five tackles, two pass breakups and an interception to earn MVP honors of the Under Armour All-America Game. He is the top coverman in the nation and is headed to Florida to continue the recent trend of outstanding young cornerbacks (Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins, etc.). He is strong, fast, savvy and a near lock to contribute right away in 2013.

4. Laremy Tunsil, OL (6-6, 295)
Lake City (Fla.) Columbia
Finalists: Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia, Florida State

The No. 1 offensive lineman in the nation is a highly coveted youngster from The Sunshine State. The massive Tunsil has all the necessary tools — size, power, strength, agility, killer instinct — to be a bookend left tackle at the next level. He will spend the final two months of the recruiting process visiting his finalists: Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia and Florida State.

5. Su’a Cravens, DB (6-1, 205)
Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta
Committed: USC

If fans are looking for the next great USC safety, Cravens is the guy. In the T.J. McDonald-Taylor Mays mold, Cravens has a big frame and speed to match. He can play all over the secondary giving him the chance to contribute early in nickel and dime situations. He is a hard worker and has been well coached by Vista head man and former star Trojans linebacker Chris Claiborne.

Related: Watch Athlon's interview with Su'a Cravens

6. Eddie Vanderdoes, DT (6-3, 300)
Placer (Calif.) High
Finalists: USC, Notre Dame, Washington, UCLA, Alabama

A long-time USC commitment, Vanderdoes reopened his recruitment late in December. The massive defensive tackle is the best player at his position nationally and has the ability to be a three-down interior lineman. He wanted to revisit some of his other options and it appears Notre Dame, Alabama, Washington and UCLA are now all in the mix for the D-lineman. Rumors are swirling that USC is still the team to beat when Vanderdoes makes his official announcement on National Signing Day (Feb. 6) at Placer High School.

7. Reuben Foster, LB (6-1, 250)
Auburn (Ala.) High
Finalists: Alabama, Auburn, Washington, Georgia

A burly linebacker, Foster is physically prepared to contribute right away on the college level. There is no doubting his rare athletic talents as a true interior thumper at middle linebacker. And following his recruitment has been equally as compelling as his tackling ability. He first committed to Alabama before switching to Auburn (and getting an AU tattoo to prove it). He then decommitted a second time from the Tigers and the race to the finish should be exciting. Both the Tide and the Tigers are still in the mix as Washington and Georgia will figure prominently as well. Stay tuned!

8. Matthew Thomas, LB (6-3, 210)
Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington
Finalists: Miami, Florida State, Georgia, Alabama, USC

A Miami area Defensive Player of the Year as a junior, Thomas developed into one of the best tacklers in the nation this fall. With added bulk and power, he should be a versatile weapon in any defensive front. It appears five schools will be in the mix for Thomas’ services: Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, Miami and USC. It may be hard to beat the state of Florida in this one.

9. Kenny Bigelow, DT (6-3, 300)
Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian
Committed: USC

Despite his excellent frame and overall size, Bigelow was athletic enough to excel at linebacker and tight end at Eastern Christian. This gives him the feet and quickness to be a disruptive force against the heart of the offensive line. He should be able to play all three downs at tackle and will be joined at USC by high school teammate and fellow AC100 prospect Khaliel Rodgers.

10. Montravius Adams, DT (6-4, 300)
Vienna (Ga.) Dooly County
Finalists: Georgia, Clemson, Alabama, Florida, Auburn

The No. 2 Peach State prospect is the third defensive tackle in the 2013 Top 10 making this a deep class at the nose guard position. Adams appears like an intense battle between Georgia and Clemson that will go down to the wire but Alabama, Auburn and Florida might be in the mix as well. He is an explosive player who posted 25 sacks over a two-year span at Dooly County (2010-11).

11. Max Browne, QB (6-5, 210)
Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline
Committed: USC

The No. 1 quarterback in the nation hails from the same high school as the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the 2010 class, Jake Heaps. USC fans are hoping Browne pans out better than Heaps did for BYU. Browne is a poised, polished, mature leader and appears ready to challenge for early playing time in SoCal. He capped his high school career with an unbeaten 4A state championship by throwing for 4,526 yards, 49 touchdowns and just five interceptions on 73.5-percent passing. He finished with an Evergreen State record 12,947 yards passing and 882 completions. His performance earned him the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year award.

12. Derrick Henry, RB (6-3, 245)
Yulee (Fla.) High
Committed: Alabama

A late riser in the recruiting rankings, Henry jumped Kelvin Taylor as the No. 1 running back recruit in the nation. The massive talent might not end his Alabama Crimson Tide career at running back, but he will go down as one of the best prep runners in history. He set the 59-year-old national high school rushing record with 11,610 yards in his YHS career (Ken Hall, 11,232 yards). Henry excelled in San Antonio at the US Army Bowl as a running back, but as his size, Nick Saban has to consider him an option at a variety of positions.

13. Christian Hackenberg, QB (6-4, 210)
Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy
Committed: Penn State

The race to be recognized as the nation’s No. 1 quarterback prospect ended up being much closer than anticipated. Hackenberg was clearly the best passer at the Under Armour Game and might have more upside than Browne. He has a big frame with room to grow, a powerful arm and is accurate with the football. His skill set is exactly what head coach Bill O’Brien is looking for at Penn State and having a talent like Hackenberg poised to step on campus had to be a big part of why the head coach stayed in Happy Valley.

14. Laquon Treadwell, WR (6-3, 195)
Crete (Ill.) Crete-Monee
Committed: Ole Miss

The No. 1 wide receiver in the nation is heading into the deep South to play his college football. The Chicago area talent recently committed to Ole Miss over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The surging Rebels are getting an electric prospect who is widely considered one of the most physically advanced and college-ready players in the class. Many also believe Treadwell is the best receiver to come out of the Chicagoland area in the modern recruiting era — which includes Kyle Prater, the No. 1 WR in the 2010 class.

15. Jalen Ramsey, DB (6-0, 190)
Nashville (Tenn.) Brentwood Academy
Committed: USC

A unique and interesting personality, Ramsey has the size, speed, intelligence and work ethic to play all over the field in college. He projects as a cornerback currently but has the length and frame to grow into an elite safety should his coaching staff decide that is where he fits best. He is committed to USC but the Trojans will have to fight Vanderbilt, Alabama, Florida and others to keep the talented defensive back in the fold down the stretch.

Related: Watch Athlon's interview with Jalen Ramsey

16. Kendall Fuller, DB (6-0, 175)
Olney (Md.) Good Counsel
Committed: Virginia Tech

There was little doubt where this elite talent would be playing his college football. With three older brothers, Kyle, Corey and Vincent, making names for themselves in Blacksburg, Va., it came as no surprise that Kendall picked Virginia Tech over Clemson. The youngest Fuller is similar to current Hokie star Kyle in his ability to lock down receivers and play a physical brand of football.

17. Jonathan Allen, LB (6-3, 255)
Ashburn (Va.) Stone Bridge
Committed: Alabama

If SEC fans are looking for the next Jarvis Jones, Allen might be the guy. He is an explosive up the field player who will terrorize opposing quarterbacks as well as ball carriers. He is one of the most decorated players in Virginia prep football and will undoubtedly be a star in Nick Saban’s linebacker-friendly system in Tuscaloosa.

18. Chris Jones, DE (6-5, 250)
Houston (Miss.) High
Committed: Mississippi State

The fastest riser in the nation this cycle is the big defensive end from The Magnolia State. He committed to Mississippi State back in the summer when he was listed as a three-star recruit by most services. After a stellar senior year and strong showing in the Under Armour Game, he has sky-rocketed to five-star status. He posted 160 tackles, 45 tackles for loss and 14 sacks as a senior and made it all the way to No. 2 in the nation by Either way, the talent evaluators are smitten with Mr. Jones.

19. O.J. Howard, TE (6-5, 220)
Prattville (Ala.) Autauga
Committed: Alabama

The No. 1 tight end in the nation is headed to Alabama with an impressive resume. He was named AISA Lineman of the Year in The Yellowhammer State this fall after finishing with 12 touchdowns on offense and 57 tackles on defense. All of this while missing four games. He is already enrolled in classes at Alabama, and, with his impressive athletic frame, should provide instant help for Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron.

20. Thomas Tyner, RB (6-0, 205)
Beaverton (Ore.) Aloha
Committed: Oregon

The big-time running back is a two-time 6A Offensive Player of the Year in the state of Oregon and set the single-season state rushing record with 3,415 yards this fall. He set two other state records by rushing for 643 yards and 10 scores in one game this season as well. To top it all off, Tyner holds the state 100m track record as well. He is currently committed to Oregon where he would have a chance to play in arguably the best offensive system in the nation — with or without Chip Kelly. His skills are a perfect fit for Mark Helfrich’s speed-based rushing attack.

Related: The Top 10 Best Two-Star Recruits of the Modern Era

21. Carl Lawson, DE (6-3, 245)
Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton
Committed: Auburn

The big-time defensive lineman is currently committed to Auburn, although the coaching change on the Plains has created rumors that a host of other programs are making a charge. Ole Miss, Tennessee, North Carolina and Clemson could find themselves in the mix for Lawson should he look elsewhere. No matter where he signs, he brings prototypical size and skills to the defensive end position and should help a defense right away.

22. Kelvin Taylor, RB (5-10, 215)
Bell Glade (Fla.) Glades Day
Committed: Florida

If the last name is familiar for Gators fans, it should be. The son of Florida legend Fred Taylor, Kelvin has been a Sunshine State prep star for years. He rushed for 103 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries in his first high school game — as an 8th grader. He has prototypical running back size, power and speed and will try to follow in his father’s footsteps in Gainesville. He finished his career with 10,688 yards and won two 2A state championships.

23. Robert Foster, WR (6-3, 190)
Monaca (Pa.) Central Valley
Committed: Alabama

Nick Saban continues to recruit the Northeast heavily and with success. Foster is the No. 2 wide receiver in the nation and the No. 1 player in the state of Pennsylvania and he is headed to the two-time defending champs. A mature athlete, academics and competing for championships were atop Foster’s wish list. He has a big frame, can play inside or outside on offense and will be an option in the return game as well.

24. Keith Ford, RB (5-11, 203)
Cypress (Texas) Cypress Ranch
Committed: Oklahoma

In a game filled with miscues and defensive dominance, Ford might have been the most productive offensive player in the Under Armour game. An electric kickoff return provided one of the few big plays of the game. It displayed all that Ford will be for the Oklahoma Sooners. He has wiggle in the open field, the speed to get to the edge and will develop plenty of power and strength to move the chains inside. The top player in the state of Texas totaled 2,368 yards from scrimmage and scored 28 total touchdowns as a senior.

25. Ricky Seals-Jean, ATH (6-5, 230)
Sealy (Texas) High
Committed: Texas A&M

Versatility is the name of the game for RSJ. The jumbo athlete projects as a wide receiver, tight end or at a variety of spots on defense. That said, his recent verbal commitment to Texas A&M has to indicate his desire to play offense. The former Texas Longhorn commitment tore up his knee early in his senior season, resulting in Mack Brown backing off. However, Seals-Jean recovered nicely to play well in the US Army Bowl and will now be a dangerous down the field target for reigning Heisman Trophy recipient Johnny Manziel.

View the complete 2013 Athlon Consensus 100

More Recruiting Videos:

AC100 On Campus: Ethan Pocic
AC100 On Campus: Robbie Rhodes

AC100 On Campus: Jalin Marshall

AC100 On Campus: Jake Raulerson

AC100 On Campus: Cameron Burrows

AC100 On Campus: Dontre Wilson

AC100 On Campus: Taco Charlton

AC100 On Campus: Torii Hunter Jr., Part I

AC100 On Campus: Torii Hunter Jr., Part II

AC100 On Campus: Josh Banderas, Part I

AC100 On Campus: Josh Banderas, Part II

<p> AC100 Finalized: The Top 25 Recruits of 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 06:50
Path: /nfl/25-greatest-tight-ends-nfl-history

Few positions in football have evolved as much as the tight end — which has morphed from that of old school glorified sixth offensive lineman to modern giant slot receiver. Keeping that role reversal in mind, we rank the 25 greatest tight ends in NFL history.

1. Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs (1997-2008), Falcons (’09-12)
6-time first-team All-Pro
13-time Pro Bowler
1,242 catches for 14,268 yards (11.5 ypc) and 103 TDs

The No. 13 overall pick out of Cal played basketball for the Golden Bears and then used his 6’5”, 250-pound frame to ball about as hard as any pass-catcher this side of Jerry Rice during a sure-fire Hall of Fame career. Gonzalez currently ranks second in all-time receptions, sixth in all-time receiving TDs and seventh in all-time receiving yards — all of which rank first among tight ends.

Regardless of whether the soon-to-be 37-year-old retires following a painful loss in the NFC Championship Game, Gonzalez has already established himself as the greatest to ever play the tight end position.

2. Kellen Winslow, Chargers (1979-87)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1995
3-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
541 catches for 6,741 yards (12.5 ypc) and 45 TDs

Winslow teamed with fellow Hall of Famers Dan Fouts and Charlie Joiner to form the nucleus of the dynamic “Air Coryell” passing attack. One of the original downfield threats from the tight end spot, the 6’5”, 250-pounder led the entire NFL in receptions in 1980 and ’81.

The No. 13 pick out of Missouri posted three of the more impressive seasons ever — with 89 catches for 1,290 yards (14.5 ypc) and nine TDs in 1980, 88 catches for 1,075 yards and 10 TDs in 1981, and 88 catches for 1,172 yards and eight TDs in 1983. Plus, Winslow sired Kellen Winslow II, a full-time “soldier” and part-time tight end who was drafted No. 6 overall in 2004.

3. Mike Ditka, Bears (1961-66), Eagles (’67-68), Cowboys (’69-72)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1988
2-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl VI champion (Cowboys)
427 catches for 5,812 yards (13.6 ypc) and 43 TDs

The No. 5 overall pick out of Pitt exploded onto the scene like only Hurricane Ditka can, posting 56 catches for 1,076 yards (19.2 ypc) and 12 TDs as a rookie. The first tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame also caught a TD from Roger Staubach in Super Bowl VI.

4. John Mackey, Colts (1963-71), Chargers (’72)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1992
3-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
331 catches for 5,236 yards (15.8 ypc) and 38 TDs
19 rushes for 127 yards (6.7 ypc)

Many on this list were winners of the John Mackey Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top collegiate tight end. A big-play threat who revolutionized the position, Mackey supporters can make a strong case that he is the best ever.

5. Shannon Sharpe, Broncos (1990-99, 2002-03), Ravens (’00-01)
Hall of Fame, Class of 2011
4-time first-team All-Pro
8-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXXII champion (Broncos)
Super Bowl XXXIII champion (Broncos)
Super Bowl XXXV champion (Ravens)
815 catches for 10,060 yards (12.3 ypc) and 62 TDs

Sterling Sharpe’s lesser-known little brother was a seventh-round pick (No. 192 overall) out of Savannah State who worked his way to the top of the tight end mountain — and now he won’t stop talking about it.

But there’s plenty for Shannon to brag about after a career that included back-to-back Super Bowl wins playing with the Broncos’ John Elway and a third Super Bowl ring in four seasons as the Ravens’ go-to guy — a role that led to the longest TD reception in playoff history, a 96-yard score in the 2000 AFC title game.

6. Antonio Gates, Chargers (2003-12)
3-time first-team All-Pro
8-time Pro Bowler
642 catches for 8,321 yards (13.0 ypc) and 83 TDs

Another former basketball player, Gates went undrafted out of Kent State before posting up overmatched defenders with a rare blend of size (6’4”, 255), power and agility. A series of foot injuries have stunted Gates’ career, but not before he was to redefine the parameters within which the position is played.

7. Ozzie Newsome, Browns (1978-90)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1999
1-time first-team All-Pro
3-time Pro Bowler
662 catches for 7,980 yards (12.1 ypc) and 47 TDs

Before becoming the front office architect of the Baltimore Ravens, Newsome was one of the greatest Cleveland Browns and most impressive tight ends in history.

8. Dave Casper, Raiders (1974-80, ’84), Oilers (’81-83), Vikings (’83)
Hall of Fame, Class of 2002
4-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XI champion (Raiders)
Super Bowl XV champion (Raiders)
378 catches for 5,216 yards (13.8 ypc) and 52 TDs

After recording just nine combined catches in his first two seasons, Casper became one of Kenny Stabler’s favorite targets on the classic Raiders dynasty that defined the franchise.

9. Jason Witten, Cowboys (2003-12)
2-time first-team All-Pro
8-time Pro Bowler
806 catches for 8,948 yards (11.1 ypc) and 44 TDs

Four 1,000-yard seasons have put Witten in rarified air among tight ends. And the star on the helmet won’t hurt when it comes time to voting for the Hall of Fame.

10. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots (2010-12)
1-time first-team All-Pro
2-time Pro Bowler
187 catches for 2,663 yards (14.2 ypc) and 38 TDs

The “Gronk” posted the single greatest season ever by a tight end, with 90 catches for 1,327 yards (14.7 ypc) and 17 TDs in 2011. A 6’6”, 265-pound freak show on and off the field, the 23-year-old is the new Frankenstein monster prototype for NFL tight ends.

11. Jackie Smith, Cardinals (1963-77), Cowboys (’78)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1994
5-time Pro Bowler
480 catches for 7,918 yards (16.5 ypc) and 40 TDs
38 carries for 327 yards (8.6 ypc) and three TDs

12. Charlie Sanders, Lions (1968-77)
Hall of Fame, Class of 2007
3-time first-team All-Pro
7-time Pro Bowler
336 catches for 4,817 yards (14.3 ypc) and 31 TDs

13. Jerry Smith, Redskins (1965-77)
1-time first-team All-Pro
2-time Pro Bowler
421 catches for 5,496 yards (13.1 ypc) and 60 TDs

14. Ben Coates, Patriots (1991-99), Ravens (2000)
2-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
499 catches for 5,555 yards (11.1 ypc) and 50 TDs

15. Todd Christensen, Giants (1979), Raiders (’80-88)
2-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
461 catches for 5,872 yards (12.7 ypc) and 41 TDs

16. Keith Jackson, Eagles (1988-91), Dolphins (’92-94), Packers (’95-96)
3-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
441 catches for 5,283 yards (12.0 ypc) and 49 TDs

17. Jay Novacek, Cardinals (1985-89), Cowboys (’90-95)
1-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXVII champion (Cowboys)
Super Bowl XXVIII champion (Cowboys)
Super Bowl XXX champion (Cowboys)
422 catches for 4,630 yards (11.0 ypc) and 30 TDs

18. Brent Jones, 49ers (1987-97)
4-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXIII champion (49ers)
Super Bowl XXIV champion (49ers)
Super Bowl XXIX champion (49ers)
417 catches for 5,195 yards (12.5 ypc) and 33 TDs

19. Mark Bavaro, Giants (1985-90), Browns (’92), Eagles (’93-94)
2-time first-team All-Pro
2-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXI champion (Giants)
Super Bowl XXV champion (Giants)
351 catches for 4,733 yards (13.5 ypc) and 39 TDs

20. Riley Odoms, Broncos (1972-83)
2-time first-team All-Pro
4-time Pro Bowler
396 catches for 5,755 yards (14.5 ypc) and 41 TDs
25 carries for 211 yards (8.4 ypc) and two TDs

21. Raymond Chester, Raiders (1970-72, ’78-81), Colts (’73-77)
4-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XV champion (Raiders)
364 catches for 5,013 yards (13.8 ypc) and 48 TDs

22. Dallas Clark, Colts (2003-11), Buccaneers (’12)
1-time first-team All-Pro
1-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XLI champion (Colts)
474 catches for 5,322 yards (11.2 ypc) and 50 TDs

23. Steve Jordan, Vikings (1982-94)
3-time first-team All-Pro
6-time Pro Bowler
498 catches for 6,307 yards (12.7 ypc) and 28 TDs

24. Billy Joe Dupree, Cowboys (1973-83)
3-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XII champion (Cowboys)
267 catches for 3,656 yards (13.4 ypc) and 41 TDs
26 rushes for 178 yards and one TD

25. Heath Miller, Steelers (2005-12)
2-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XL champion (Steelers)
Super Bowl XLIII champion (Steelers)
408 catches for 4,680 yards (11.5 ypc) and 39 TDs

<p> The 25 Greatest Tight Ends in NFL History, including Tony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow, Mike Ditka, John Mackey, Shannon Sharpe, Antonio Gates, Ozzie Newsome, Dave Casper, Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski, Jackie Smith, Charlie Sanders, Jerry Smith, Ben Coates, Todd Christiensen, Keith Jackson, Jay Novacek, Brent Jones, Mark Bavaro, Riley Odoms, Raymond Chester, Dallas Clark, Steve Jordan, Billy Joe Dupree and Heath Miller.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 06:40
Path: /college-football/top-10-pac-12-teams-bcs-era

The BCS just put a bow on its 15th season of action and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late '90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?

The debates will rage on for decades, but here is Athlon's two cents. Here are the Top 10 Pac-12 teams of the BCS Era (1998-present):

Note: "First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks

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

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

2. USC Trojans, 2005 (12-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10
Key Stats: Led the nation in total offense (579.8 ypg) and second in the country in scoring (49.1 ppg), Reggie Bush led the nation in all-purpose yards (222.3), allowed 467 yards of total offense to Vince Young in the BCS NCG
Award Winners: Reggie Bush (Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker, Walter Camp, Pac-10 Player of the Year), Pete Carroll (Pac-10 Co-Coach of the Year), Matt Leinart (Johnny Unitas)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2008), Keith Rivers (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2008), Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010)

The defending BCS National Champs returned largely intact for 2005 and began the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. After beating five ranked teams — three of which came on the road — the Men of Troy claimed their fourth straight Pac-10 championship. Do-everything tailback Reggie Bush led the nation in all-purpose yards at 222.3 yards per game and claimed the Heisman Trophy — the second straight for USC (Leinart, 2004). A 513-yard performance and this touchdown run in a shootout win over a ranked Fresno State team likely clinched the stiff-arm trophy for the dynamic running back. After crushing rival UCLA, the Trojans finished the 2005 season having never left the No. 1 line in the polls. They carried a 34-game winning streak into the BCS National Championship game against Texas in what became the first time two Heisman winners ever played in the same backfield. Leinart threw for a title game record 365 yards, but the Trojans defense could not stop Vince Young in what is the greatest game ever played according to this college football writer. This team had 20 first or second round draft picks on the roster and were 19 seconds away from claiming their third straight national title.

3. USC Trojans, 2003 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl, AP National Championship
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense (60.2 ypg) and punting (43.7 ypp) and finished second nationally in turnover margin (+1.54), finished first or second in the league in 10 of 14 tracked team stats
Award Winners: Matt Leinart (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year), Pete Carroll (Home Depot Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Kenechi Udeze (1st, 2004), Jacob Rogers (2nd, 2004), Keary Colbert (2nd, 2004), Mike Williams (1st, 2005), Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Lofa Tatupu (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2007), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2007), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2007)

After starting the year by crushing No. 6 Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium, USC reached No. 3 in the polls before a thrilling triple-overtime loss to Cal 34-31. USC dropped to 10th in the polls and never lost again. Led by first-year starter Matt Leinart, USC crushed Arizona State, Notre Dame, Washington and Arizona on the road and destroyed No. 6 Washington State at home by 27 points. The Trojans finished No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches' Poll at the end of the regular season, but was left out of the BCS championship game for Oklahoma (who got crushed by Kansas State 35-7 in the Big 12 title game). LSU went on to beat the Sooners and USC handled Michigan in the Rose Bowl with relative ease. The AP awarded the Men of Troy the National Championship while the BCS title went to the Bayou Bengals. It was the last split National Championship in college football. This team featured two Heisman Trophy winners and 16 "First Day" draft picks.

4. Oregon Ducks, 2010 (12-1, 9-0)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Championships: Pac-10
Key Stats: LaMichael James led the nation in yards rushing per game (144.3) and scoring (12.0 ppg); team led the nation in scoring offense (47.0 ppg) and total offense (530.7 ypg), Darron Thomas threw two key interceptions and the Ducks rushed for 75 yards in the BCS NCG.
Award Winners: LaMichael James (Doak Walker), Chip Kelly (Eddie Robinson, Pac-10 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: N/A

One of the most powerful, explosive and fast-paced offenses in league history led the nation in scoring and total offense at 530.7 yards per game and 47.0 points per game. The Ducks' run at their first BCS title game began with a 35-point second half in Neyland Stadium against the Tennessee Vols. They scored at least 50 points in the next seven games until Chip Kelly led his team into Berkeley. The only test of the regular season came in the form of a sloppy 15-13 win over Cal that featured a defensive and special teams touchdown. After easy wins over Arizona and Oregon State, the Ducks squared off with Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers. The highest-scoring, most powerful team in school history (school-record 611 points) was held to 75 yards rushing on 32 carries while Auburn rolled up 254 yards on 50 attempts. Kelly came up three points short as the Tigers kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired.

5. USC Trojans, 2008 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring defense at 9.0 points allowed per game, also led the nation in pass defense (134.4 ypg) and pass efficiency defense as well. Finished No. 2 in total defense nationally (221.7 ypg).
Award Winners: Rey Maualuga (Bednarik, Pac-10 Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010), Taylor Mays (2nd, 2010), Tyron Smith (1st, 2011)

After starting the season 2-0 and reaching No. 1 status, first-year starter Mark Sanchez and the Men of Troy got upset on a Thursday night in primetime by true freshman dynamo Jacquizz Rodgers and the Oregon State Beaver. Rodgers ran for 186 yards and the Trojans dropped to No. 9 in the polls. They wouldn't lose again. USC punished ranked opponents Oregon and Cal and crushed rivals Notre Dame and UCLA en route to yet another Rose Bowl appearance. Penn State was no match for USC, losing 38-24. The offense was outstanding with Sanchez utilizing names like Damian Williams, Ronald Johnson, Joe McKnight and Patrick Turner. But the defense was downright unbeatable. One of the greatest linebacking corps in NCAA history — Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing — helped USC lead the nation in scoring defense. Eight teams failed to score more than seven points on the trio in 2008.

6. Oregon Ducks, 2012 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Championships: Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Marcus Mariota led the nation in road passing efficiency
Award Winners: Marcus Mariota (Pac-12 Off. Freshman of the Year), 
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A

Like many teams of late — Oklahoma State in 2011 or Boise State in 2010 — the 2012 Ducks were one field goal away from playing for the BCS National Championship. One overtime home loss to an elite Stanford team cost Chip Kelly another shot at the Crystal Ball. This was likely the best defense in Eugene since at least Haloti Ngata's tenure and the backfield was downright unstoppable. Marcus Mariota was the best road passer in the nation, Kenjon Barner shredded defenses and De'Anthony Thomas continues to prove he may be the most explosive player in the country. This team's resume is better than many think as it posted blowout wins over bowls teams Kansas State, Oregon State, Arizona, Washington, Arizona State and USC. 

7. Washington Huskies, 2000 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Rick Neuheisel
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-10 in rushing (211.7 ypg), topped an 11-1 Miami team 34-29
Award Winners: Marques Tuiasosopo (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year, Rose Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Marques Tuiasosopo (2nd, 2001), Jerramy Stevens (1st, 2002), Larry Tripplett (2nd, 2002), Tank Johnson (2nd, 2004)

In what might have been the most exciting and competitive season in modern Pac-10 football, a three way round robin tie between a 7-1 Oregon (who beat Washington 23-16 in Autzen Stadium) and a 7-1 Oregon State led to the Huskies earning the trip to Pasadena. Marques Tuiasosopo led Washington past a brutal non-conference slate that included one-loss Miami and head coach Rick Neuheisel's former employer Colorado. A 33-30 win over Oregon State — and an Oregon loss to the Beavers in the Civil War due to five Joey Harrington interceptions — helped U of W return to its first Rose Bowl since 1993. This embattled team and program was willing to do whatever it took to win — and win it did. Capped by a 34-24 win over Drew Brees' Purdue in the Rose Bowl, the Huskies won 11 games for the first time since Don James' national title team of 1991, and they haven't come close to touching 10 wins ever since.

8. Oregon State Beavers, 2000 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Dennis Erickson
Championships: Pac-10, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Ken Simonton led the Pac-10 in rushing (134.0 ypg), OSU led the conference in total defense (314.4 ypg) and scoring defense (18.5 ppg).
Award Winners: Dennis Erickson (Pac-10 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Chad Johnson (2nd, 2001), Nick Barnett (1st, 2003), Dwan Edwards (2nd, 2004)

In what has to be considered the best Beavers team in program history, Dennis Erickson used a plethora of junior college talent to lead Oregon State to its first 10+ win season ever. The 11 wins are still a school record, and the conference co-championship was the first league title for the school since 1964. While the defense, led by NFL future star Nick Barnett, was the Pac-10's best, it was the offense that impressed the most. Quarterback Jonathan Smith was the league's No. 2 passer. Running back Ken Simonton led the league in rushing at 134 yards per game. And a pair of future NFL stars, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, keep defenses honest on the outside. The team's only loss came at the hands of eventual Rose Bowl champion Washington in Husky Stadium 33-30. Erickson's bunch wrapped up the magical year by crushing Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl.

9. Stanford Cardinal, 2011 (11-2, 8-1)
Head Coach: David Shaw
Championships: None
Key Stats: Led the Pac-12 and was third nationally in rushing defense, Andrew Luck led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency
Award Winners: Andrew Luck (Pac-12 Off. Player of the Year), David Shaw (Pac-12 Coach of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Andrew Luck (1st, 2012), David DeCastro (1st, 2012), Coby Fleener (2nd, 2011), Jonathan Martin (2011)

It is extremely difficult to separate the last three Cardinal teams and decide which one was the best. All three played in BCS bowls with two wins in the Orange Bowl (2010) and Rose Bowl (2012). The 2011 team lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl and it didn't win the Pac-12 crown, however, it was likely the most talented and complete roster of the group. The foursome that was drafted in the first two rounds are as talented a group as any school ever has watched depart in one offseason. Add to the entire collection of defensive stars that made the 2012 team so talented and Cardinal fans will likely look back on their 2011 team as the best of the BCS era.

10. USC Trojans, 2002 (11-2, 7-1) 
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Orange Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-10 in total offense (449.2 ypg), scoring offense (35.7 ppg), rushing defense (83.2 ypg), total defense (284.9 ypg), scoring defense (18.5 ppg) and passing efficiency (149.21).
Award Winners: Carson Palmer (Heisman Trophy, Johnny Unitas), Mike Williams (Pac-10 Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Carson Palmer (1st, 2003), Troy Polamalu (1st, 2003), Kenechi Udeze (1st, 2004), Jacob Rogers (2nd, 2004), Keary Colbert (2nd, 2004), Mike Williams (1st, 2005), Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006)

The beginning of the Trojan-Pete Carroll reign over the West Coast could be marked by the 2002 Men of Troy. Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer finally lived up to his recruiting hype with 3,942 yards and 37 total touchdowns. And he did it against nine different ranked opponents. Early season losses on the road against a ranked Kansas State team by seven and a ranked Washington State team by three cost the Trojans a shot at the national title game. The Cougars actually played in the Rose Bowl (a 34-14 loss to Oklahoma), but USC finished as the highest-rated team in the league (#5) after a convincing 38-17 win over No. 3 Iowa in the Orange Bowl. This team sent 46 different players into the NFL and was obviously led on defense by huge names like Polamalu, Cody, Patterson and Udeze. Carroll won a share of his first national title the following season, but this '02 edition of Fight On started it all.

Best of the Rest:

Stanford Cardinal, 2012 (12-2, 9-0) Pac-12 Champions
Stanford Cardinal, 2010 (12-1, 8-1)
Oregon Ducks, 2001 (11-1, 7-1) Pac-10 Champions
UCLA Bruins, 1998 (10-2, 8-0) Pac-10 Champions
Oregon Ducks, 2011 (12-2, 9-1) Pac-12 Champions
USC Trojans, 2006 (11-2, 7-2) Pac-10 Champions
Oregon Ducks, 2009 (10-3, 8-1) Pac-10 Champions
USC Trojans, 2007 (11-2, 7-2) Pac-10 Champions
Cal Golden Bears, 2006 (10-3, 7-2) Pac-10 Champions

<p> Top 10 Pac-12 Teams of the BCS Era</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 06:40
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-power-rankings-jan-22

The discussion for the top spot in college basketball continues to be a contentious one, but we’re sticking with the same No. 1 team we’ve had for several weeks — Duke.

Two weeks ago, the last four undefeated teams lost. A week ago, two other contenders for the top spot, Indiana and Louisville, also lost. Granted, Duke faced Georgia Tech last week while Indiana visited Wisconsin and Louisville lost to Syracuse. The Blue Devils had a much more manageable week against Georgia Tech, who is winless in the ACC.

While Duke remained No. 1, other teams saw major gains as Oregon defeated UCLA on Saturday, moving to 2-0 against the top two teams in the preseason in the Pac-12. The Ducks moved from No. 22 to No. 16. Butler, by defeating Gonzaga on a buzzer beater late Saturday, moved into the top 10.

Related: Key stats from Jan. 14-20


1. Duke (16-1, 3-1 ACC)
Last week’s rank: 1
Last week’s results: Defeated Georgia Tech 73-57
This week: at Miami, Maryland
Buzz: Devils hold on to No. 1 ranking in rout of Georgia Tech.

2. Michigan (17-1, 4-1 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 3
Last week’s results: Defeated Minnesota 83-75
This week: Purdue, at Illinois
Buzz: Michigan might be nation’s best offensive team.

3. Kansas (16-1, 4-0 Big 12)
Last week’s rank: 4
Last week’s results: Defeated Texas 64-59
This week: at Kansas State, Oklahoma
Buzz: Ben McLemore is getting Freshman of the Year buzz.

4. Syracuse (18-1, 6-0 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 5
Last week’s results: Defeated Louisville 70-68, defeated Cincinnati 57-55
This week: at Villanova
Buzz: Orange squeeze out wins vs. Louisville, Cincinnati.

5. Louisville (16-2, 4-1 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 2
Last week’s results: Defeated Connecticut 73-58, lost to Syracuse 70-68
This week: at Villanova, at Georgetown
Buzz: Peyton Siva struggles as Cards lose late lead vs. Syracuse.

6. Indiana (16-2, 4-1 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 5
Last week’s results: Lost to Wisconsin 64-59, defeated Northwestern 67-59
This week: Penn State, Michigan State
Buzz: Hoosiers have lost 11 straight games to Wisconsin.

7. Arizona (16-1, 4-1 Pac-12)
Last week’s rank: 7
Last week’s results: Defeated Arizona State 71-54
This week: UCLA, USC
Buzz: Mark Lyons is averaging 19.4 points per game in Pac-12 play.

8. Florida (14-2, 4-0 SEC)
Last week’s rank: 12
Last week’s results: Defeated Texas A&M 68-47, defeated Missouri 83-52
This week: at Georgia, at Mississippi State
Buzz: Gators playing as well as any team in the nation.

9. Minnesota (15-3, 3-2 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 7
Last week’s results: Lost to Indiana 83-75
This week: at Northwestern, at Wisconsin
Buzz: The Gophers’ three losses have come to Duke, Michigan, Indiana.

10. Butler (16-2, 3-0 Atlantic 10)
Last week’s rank: 14
Last week’s results: Defeated Richmond 62-47, defeated Gonzaga 64-63
This week: at La Salle, Temple
Buzz: Bulldogs use some Hinkle Magic to top Gonzaga.

11. Kansas State (15-2, 4-0 Big 12)
Last week’s rank: 11
Last week’s results: Defeated TCU 67-54, defeated Oklahoma 69-60
This week: Kansas, at Iowa State
Buzz: Rodney McGruder (15.2 ppg) only Wildcat scoring in double figures.

12. Gonzaga (17-2, 4-0 West Coast Conference)
Last week’s rank: 9
Last week’s results: Defeated Portland 71-49, lost to Butler 64-63
This week: BYU, San Francisco
Buzz: Late-game execution dooms Zags at Butler.

13. NC State (15-3, 4-1 ACC)
Last week’s rank: 10
Last week’s results: Lost to Maryland 51-50, defeated Clemson 66-62
This week: at Wake Forest, North Carolina
Buzz: Pack yet to show consistency needed to contend.

14. Michigan State (16-3, 5-1 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 19
Last week’s results: Defeated Penn State 81-72, defeated Ohio State 59-56
This week: at Wisconsin, at Indiana
Buzz: Sparty has feasted on relatively soft Big Ten slate.

15. Ohio State (13-4, 3-2 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 15
Last week’s results: Lost to Michigan State 59-56
This week: Iowa, at Penn State
Buzz: Buckeyes’ D among nation’s best at forcing turnovers.

16. Oregon (16-2, 5-0 Pac-12)
Last week’s rank: 22
Last week’s results: Defeated USC 76-74, defeated UCLA 76-67
This week: Washington State, Washington
Buzz: Ducks now own wins over Arizona and at UCLA.

17. VCU (16-3, 4-0 Atlantic 10)
Last week’s rank: 18
Last week’s results: Defeated St. Joseph’s 92-86 (OT), defeated Duquesne 90-63
This week: at Richmond, La Salle
Buzz: Rams rout Duquesne after OT scare vs. Saint Joe’s

18. New Mexico (16-2, 3-0 Mountain West)
Last week’s rank: 24
Last week’s results: Defeated Bose State 79-74 (OT)
This week: Colorado State, at San Diego State
Buzz: Lobos the only unbeaten remaining in wild MWC.

19. Wichita State (17-2, 6-1 Missouri Valley)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated Illinois State 74-62, defeated Creighton 67-64
This week: at Missouri State, Bradley
Buzz: Shockers knock off Creighton in key Valley duel.

20. Creighton (17-2, 6-1 Missouri Valley)
Last week’s rank: 17
Last week’s results: Defeated Northern Iowa 79-68, Lost to Wichita State 67-64
This week: at Drake, at Southern Illinois
Buzz: Bluejays lead nation in three-point shooting (45.2 percent).

21. Miami (13-3, 4-0 ACC)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated Boston College 60-59
This week: Duke, Florida State
Buzz: Duke visits Coral Gables for a huge ACC showdown.

22. Ole Miss (15-2, 4-0 ACC)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated Vanderbilt 89-79 (OT), defeated Arkansas 76-64
This week: Tennessee, at Auburn
Buzz: Ole Miss is 4–0 in the SEC for first time in 76 years.

23. Cincinnati (16-4, 4-3 Big East)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated DePaul 75-70, defeated Marquette 71-69 (OT), lost to Syracuse 57-55
This week: Rutgers, at Seton Hall
Buzz: Late lead slips away in Monday matinee at Syracuse.

24. Marquette (13-4, 5-1 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 21
Last week’s results: Defeated Seton Hall 69-62, lost to Cincinnati 71-69 (OT)
This week: Providence
Buzz: Three of four losses have been by two points or less.

25. Wisconsin (13-5, 4-1 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 25
Last week’s results: Defeated Indiana 64-59, lost to Iowa 70-66
This week: Michigan State, Minnesota
Buzz: Badgers shock IU in Bloomington then lose at Iowa.

Out: No. 13 San Diego State, No. 16 Missouri, No. 20 UCLA, No. 23 Connecticut

<p> Duke remained the No. 1 team in our power rankings while Oregon and Butler used signature wins this week to make major gains</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 14:14
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/senior-bowl-2013-mike-glennon-jordan-poyer-and-marquise-goodwin-rise

NFL scouts, coaches, administrators and support staff have converged on Mobile for the Senior Bowl. The draft is still a few months away, but this week’s events in Mobile are a huge opportunity for teams to get acquainted with the prospects, along with evaluation of their skills against top competition.

Senior Bowl News and Notes

Roster Notes

The Senior Bowl is under new management this year. Phil Savage spoke to the crowd before weigh-ins began and pointed out several interesting roster-affecting items.

First, seven players flatly turned down a Senior Bowl invitation. Among them, Alabama’s Chance Warmack (OG), West Virginia’s Geno Smith (QB), Wisconsin’s Montee Ball (RB) and the now infamous Manti Te’o of Notre Dame (LB).

Twelve players were extended invitations but could not attend due to injuries which have not healed to the point that they could safely or effectively participate.

Of greater interest is the fact that five players had to pull out within the past 72 hours because of new injuries which occurred (ideally) because of preparatory workouts.  Included in this group is West Virginia’s Tavon Austin (RB/WR), Florida’s Jonathan Bostic (LB), Southern Cal’s Khaled Holmes (OC) and South Carolina’s DJ Swearinger (FS).

Of the players who reported, here is a list of the outliers:

Lightest player:  Onterio McCalebb (RB/RS), Auburn - 164 pounds (5’ 10 1/8” tall).

Shortest player: Robbie Rouse (RB), Fresno State – 5’5 7/8” (186 pounds)

Heaviest player: D.J. Fluker (OT), Alabama – 355 pounds (6’4 7/8” tall)

Tallest Player: Margus Hunt (DL), SMU – 6’8 1/4”  (277 pounds)

Dynamic Duo: Rutgers placed two linebackers on the North’s roster (Steve Beauharnais and Khaseem Greene) and they weighed exactly the same (236 pounds).

Harvard has not been a recent pipeline of talent into the NFL. However, it did register a player on this year’s roster. The Crimson supplied the North’s only fullback – Kyle Juszczyk (6’ 1 3/8” 248).

Crimson Tide Well Represented

The reigning National Champions have five players on this year’s South roster: D.J. Fluker, OT (6’ 4 7/8” 355); Nico Johnson, LB (6’ 1 7/8”, 249); Robert Lester, S (6’ 1 1/4” 212); Carson Tinker, LS (6’ 0 1/8”, 231); and Michael Williams, TE (6’ 5 3/4 “, 269).

Small Schools

Every year, the Senior Bowl gives players from smaller schools a chance to shine against the best of the best from the BCS schools. This year’s small school participants include: Robert Alford (DB), Southeastern La. (5’ 9 7/8” 186); Garrett Gilkey (OL), Chadron State (6’ 5 7/8” 314); Montori Hughes (DL), Tennessee-Martin (late addition – did not attend weigh in); Aaron Mellette (WR), Elon (6’ 2 1/2 “ 216); Ty Powell (LB), Harding U. (late addition – did not attend weigh in); B.W. Webb (DB), William & Mary (5’ 10 1/4”, 183); and Brandon Williams (DL), Missouri Southern (6’ 1 7/8” 341).


North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon, Miami (Ohio)’s Zac Dysert and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib are the signal-callers for the North. They have been taking equal reps at practice. Yesterday’s rotations in 11 on 11’s started with Nassib and ended with Dysert. Dysert’s last rep may have been the most impressive as he hit Kansas State’s Chris Harper on a deep route to end the session.

On Tuesday, Glennon was given the first reps in 11 on 11’s and, unfortunately, the very first snap was a dropped exchange under center. It is too early to read anything into the rotations but it is noteworthy that all of the quarterbacks pushed for routes downfield rather than settle with check-down receivers as was their cautious pattern on Monday.

Oregon State Representing!

Oregon State put unexpected stress on the outcome of the Pac 12 standings with a stout performance in 2012. Their success can be assigned, in part, to the mighty contributions of two players who occupy positions on the North squad – cornerback Jordan Poyer and wide receiver, Markus Wheaton.  The ability for them to battle each other in practice every snap sharpened their respective units into top-20 groups (OSU ranked #20, nationally, in both passing offense and pass-efficiency defense).

Wheaton has been one of the more impressive receivers the past two days for the North. He is slippery and has caught nearly every ball thrown to him. He has been able to slip behind coverage on several occasions. He catches the ball with his hands away from his body and soaks it in.

Poyer’s name was mentioned by colleague and adversary alike during media night. Texas’ Marquise Goodwin identified Poyer as someone with whom he was familiar from their bowl game and as somebody whose great skills was only raising Goodwin’s own game.

Poyer is sticky.  He is quick with his direction changes and neither flustered nor displaced with hand replacements and physical play from the receivers.

Keep an eye on the Oregon State guys.  They will impact not only this game but should leave a mark on the next level.

Goodwin Continues to Impress

Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (two-time NCAA champion long-jumper) clearly demonstrated that he had an extra gear on the field yesterday. He caught the balls he should have caught and did it with his hands. He was quick to switch from catch to progressing upfield and he was not afraid to scrap with a very physical group of corners.

Goodwin continued to catch balls today and get past defenders in drills.

With his elite speed and explosiveness in a small package, he is one of the more intriguing players this week.

Random Notes

UConn has a pair of cornerbacks at the Senior Bowl and both are having a good week, so far. Dwayne Gratz was one of the stickier cornerbacks in one-on-one drills with the receivers yesterday and continued that trend today. Meanwhile, UConn teammate Blidi Wreh-Wilson has quietly put in a solid two practices.

Michigan’s Denard Robinson is being worked at receiver but is in a yellow jersey like the quarterbacks.  He showed some good moves on Tuesday and continues to get work as a punt returner.  He was kept out of Monday’s drills but was allowed to mix it up a little on Tuesday.  In his first contested snap, he caught the ball in a crossing pattern off of a good separation move but he was stripped of the ball.  He was not included in the more intense 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills. So, it is hard to tell whether and to what extent he can progress against actual opposition.

The North’s defensive backs are physical.  Very physical.  Perhaps the most physical is Washington’s cornerback, Desmond Trufant.  Having two brothers in the NFL does not hurt but, whatever the reason, he seems utterly at home in this environment. He is among the most physical of his unit and has even hammed it up with the NFL Network staff on the sidelines following a few plays.


Brock Murphy is a freelance sports writer and college football analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]

<p> Senior Bowl 2013: Mike Glennon, Jordan Poyer and Marquise Goodwin On the Rise</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 12:36
Path: /college-football/recruiting-top-15-two-star-recruits-modern-era

Recruiting rankings are an inexact science, and even the experts will admit that. It is virtually impossible to measure heart, work ethic, mental focus and self-awareness in 17- and 18-year-old kids. Especially, in the face of the most important decision they will ever make.

Athlon Sports will finalize the Athlon Consensus 100 for the Class of 2013 this week. It's the sixth annual conglomerate recruiting top 100 for Athlon Sports, and even as the truest, most accurate recruiting ranking, there are still plenty of names that fall through the cracks.

The "modern recruiting era," aka the internet recruiting service era, dates back just more than a decade of time. There have been countless contributors who have blossomed into All-Americans despite being much-lesser known commodities than the likes of Matt Barkley.

Here are the best two-star prospects of the modern recruiting era (signing class):

1. Case Keenum, QB, Houston
Abilene (Texas) Wylie (2006)

The NCAA’s all-time record-holder for passing yards (19,217), total offense (20,114), 300-yard games (38), 4,000-yard seasons (3), completions (1,546), passing touchdowns (155) and touchdown responsibility (178) had a single offer coming out of high school. After Keenum had won the state title as a junior at Wylie, Art Briles was the only head coach to offer the slender passer a chance to play FBS football. Over 20,000 yards later, Keenum has not only reinvigorated Cougars football but has also helped elevate his program to the Big East Conference.

2. Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State
Rialto (Calif.) Eisenhower (2004)

The big offensive tackle was passed over by local schools USC and UCLA, but Dan Hawkins at Boise State saw something he loved right away. Clady redshirted in his first season in Idaho but started every game for the next three seasons. He was a major part of the 2006 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma before landing on several All-America teams in 2007. After his redshirt junior season, Clady left for the NFL and was selected with the 12th overall pick by the Denver Broncos. He has blossomed into one of the NFL’s top left tackles.

3. B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College
Washington Township (N.J.) Westwood (2004)

The big nose guard had three offers coming out of high school: Boston College, Rutgers and Wisconsin. While the offer sheet was certainly more prestigious than the average two-star prospect’s, it took until October of his final prep season to land the BC scholarship ( During his final season at Chestnut Hill, Raji helped lead a unit that ranked No. 1 in the ACC in rushing defense, total defense and pass efficiency defense. The big nose guard was taken with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and played a major role in the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl Championship in 2010.

4. J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Pewaukee (Wisc.) High (2007)

Originally committed to Minnesota and signed with Central Michigan, Watt needed two schools and multiple positions to finally land with the Houston Texans. Watt played tight end upon entering college before transferring and walking-on at Wisconsin, where he earned a scholarship with his work ethic and intensity. His switch to the defensive line paid off in droves as he racked up 106 tackles, 36.5 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks in two seasons. He was the No. 11 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and became the first rookie defensive lineman in NFL history to record a sack and an interception for a touchdown in a playoff game. Watt started all 16 games as a rookie, led Houston in tackles for a loss (13) and helped the Texans to their first postseason berth in franchise history.

5. Mike Iupati, OG, Idaho
Anaheim (Calif.) Western (2005)

Hailing from American Samoa originally, Iupati moved to Southern California and excelled as a defensive tackle at Western High School. He was shown interest from other larger programs — Colorado, Oregon State, Arizona — but due to insufficient academic performance, Iupati was not eligibile to receive a scholarship. So the family of this powerful blocker took out a loan to pay for tuition, room and board at Idaho. Under Robb Akey and behind the leadership of Iupati, Idaho went to only its second bowl in school history in 2009 when the Vandals defeated Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl. Iupati was selected with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the 49ers and was a huge part of the NFC Championship run by San Francisco in 2011.

6. Eric Weddle, SS, Utah
Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Alta Loma (2003)

The California native’s offer sheet included New Mexico State, Wyoming, UNLV and Utah back in 2003. It didn’t take long to realize that the Utes had found a great player in Weddle, as the versatile defensive back started the last nine games as a freshman, garning freshman All-America honors. He was a standout strong safety and return man his second year in Salt Lake City. He was named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 and claimed Emerald Bowl MVP honors. In 2006, he claimed his second straight MWC Defensive POY award. He started 45 of his 48 career games (21 at corner, 18 at safety and six at nickelback) while finishing with 277 tackles, 10 sacks and an MWC-record 18 interceptions. He also ran the ball 52 times for 259 yards and six touchdowns on offense, completed 2-of-6 passes, punted twice and was a holder on field goals. The do-everything athlete was selected by the San Diego Chargers with the 62nd (second round) pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

7. Jerry Hughes, DE, TCU
Sugar Land (Texas) Austin (2006)

TCU, Iowa State and North Texas were the offers Hughes had to choose from coming out of high school. Gary Patterson knew he had a special player as Hughes was one of only four freshman to see the field in 2006. As a senior in 2009, Hughes led the Mountain West with 11.5 sacks and helped lead a defense that ranked No. 1 in the nation in total yards allowed (239.7 ypg). He was a two-time All-America selection and finished with 142 career tackles, 40.5 tackles for a loss and 28.5 sacks. The Frogs went 42-10 during Hughes’ time, and the defensive end was selected in the first round by the Colts in the 2010 NFL Draft.

8. Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri
Jasper (Texas) High (2006)

Coming out of high school, Weatherspoon was listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. He is now a star 6-foot-2, 244-pound outside linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons. His offer sheet included Missouri, Houston, Iowa State, TCU and Tulane. He claimed Special Teamer of the Year honors as a freshman for the Tigers and in only two full seasons as a starter, Westherspoon registered 266 total tackles, nine sacks, four interceptions and 33.5 tackles for a loss. He was a part of the winningest two-year span in Mizzou history (2006-2007) and was drafted by the Falcons with the 19th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

9. Owen Marecic, LB/FB, Stanford
Portland (Ore.) Jesuit (2007)

The Marecic family moved all over the country — from New Jersey to Boston to Los Angeles to Oregon — before Owen was recruited by Yale, Army and Stanford. Only the Cardinal and Portland State officially offered the two-way star. In his junior season, Marecic was the lead blocker for the Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart. He was also used in short yardage situations on defense as an inside linebacker. Jim Harbaugh then made him a true two-way star as a senior as Marecic was the only FBS player to start on both offense and defense. In a game against Notre Dame, he scored two touchdowns and intercepted a pass in a 26-second span. Marecic was a fourth-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2011 NFL Draft.

10. Jordan Todman, RB, UConn 
Dartmouth (Mass.) High (2008)

With offers from only UConn, Purdue and Northeastern, Todman quickly overachieved in Storrs, Conn. As a freshman, Todman rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown in his first career game. As a sophomore, his first season as the starter, he rushed for 1,188 yards and 14 touchdowns. In Todman’s final season as a Husky he finished second in the nation in rushing at 141.3 yards per game. His 1,695 yards led the Big East and he scored another 14 times as a junior. He skipped his final season in college to test the NFL waters and landed with the San Diego Chargers in the sixth round of the 2011 Draft.

11. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy (2007)

Castonzo was the first true freshman to start along the offensive line at BC since 1998, blocked for Matt Ryan and claimed freshman All-America honors in 2007. Became a two-time All-ACC performer and was the 22nd overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Colts.

12. Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest
Fayetteville (N.C.) E.E. Smith (2004)

A freshman All-American, Curry eventually earned the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. He was drafted with the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks.

13. Amobi Okoye, DT, Louisville
Huntsville (Ala.) Lee (2003)

How many 15-year-olds decide to play football at Louisville instead of Harvard? But a year later Okoye, at 16 years old, became the youngest player in the NCAA. He finished his college career with 55 tackles and eight sacks as a senior. The All-Big East and All-America selection was the youngest senior in the nation (19) before being selected by the Texans with the 10th overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

14. Alex Mack, OC, Cal
Santa Barbara (Calif.) San Marcos (2004)

Mack made 39 consecutive starts for the Golden Bears and was a Rimington Trophy finalist for the nation’s top center. He is now a Pro Bowl center for the Cleveland Browns after getting drafted with the 21st overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

15. Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas
Richardson (Texas) Berkner (2004)

Offered by Arizona, Kansas, Baylor, Tulsa and Kansas State. Talib’s risky play paid off in college as his highlight reel play at corner earned him the Jack Tatum Trophy and the Orange Bowl MVP in his final season. He was a consensus All-American and the 20th overall pick by the Tampa Bay Bucs in the 2008 NFL Draft.

Other Top Two-Stars To Consider:

Danario Alexander, WR, Missouri (2006) Martin (Texas) High
Dennis Pitta, TE, BYU (2003) Moorpark (Calif.) High
Tank Carder, LB, TCU (2007) Sweeney (Texas) High
Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State (2005) Piscataway (N.J.) High
Mardy Gilyard, RS, Cincinnati (2005) Palm Coast (Fla.) Flagler Palm Coast
Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State (2009) Astoria (Ore.) High

<p> Top 15 Two-Star Recruits of the Modern Recruiting Era</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 06:16
Path: /college-football/top-10-acc-teams-bcs-era

The BCS just put a bow on its 15th season of action and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late '90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?

The debates will rage on for decades, but here is Athlon's two cents. Here are the Top 10 ACC teams of the BCS Era (1998-present):

Note: "First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks

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

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

2. Florida State Seminoles, 2000 (11-2, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Championships: ACC
Key Stats: Led the nation in passing (384 ypg) and total offense (549 ypg). Finished No. 2 in the nation in rushing defense (73.9 ypg) and scoring defense (10.3 ppg).
Award Winners: Chris Weinke (Heisman, Davey O'Brien, Johnny Unitas, ACC Player of the Year), Jamal Reynolds (Lombardi)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Jamal Reynolds (1st, 2001), Derrick Gibson (1st, 2001), Tommy Polley (2nd, 2001), Javon Walker (1st, 2002), Anquan Boldin (2nd, 2003), Alonzo Jackson (2nd, 2003)

After starting 5-0 — for their 17th straight win — the Noles fell to rival Miami by three points in Week 6. Florida State won six straight to land in their third straight BCS national title game. Chris Weinke won the Heisman Trophy by leading the nation in passing with 4,167 yards and finished his career as the school's all-time leading passer. This team featured three first-team All-Americans with Weinke, wideout Snoop Minnis (63 rec., 1,340 yards, 11 TD) and Lombardi winner Jamal Reynolds. Unfortunately, the third-highest scoring team in school history (511 points) was held to zero points in the BCS title game loss to Oklahoma — scoring their only two points on a safety. This defense held the opponent to less than 10 points in seven games of 13 games.

3. Virginia Tech Hokies, 2004 (10-3, 7-1)
Head Coach: Frank Beamer
Championships: ACC
Key Stats: No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense (12.8 ppg) and No. 4 in total defense (268 ypg)
Award Winners: Bryan Randall (ACC Player of the Year), Frank Beamer (ACC Coach of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Jimmy Williams (2nd, 2006), Darryl Tapp (2nd, 2006)

The Hokies played four top ten teams and won twice. Those two losses came against the two best teams in the nation — USC and Auburn — by a total of 14 points. Quarterback Bryan Randall took over full-time for Marcus Vick and threw for 2,264 yards while rushing for 511 with 24 total touchdowns en route to his ACC POY Award. This team sent 15 players over three years into the NFL Draft, despite none being selected in the first round.

4. Florida State Seminoles, 1998 (11-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Championships: ACC Co-Champs
Key Stats: Beat five ranked teams.
Award Winners: N/A
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Tony Bryant (2nd, 1999), Larry Smith (2nd, 1999), Peter Warrick (1st, 2000), Corey Simon (1st, 2000), Sebastian Janikowski (1st, 2000), Jamal Reynolds (1st, 2001), Derrick Gibson (1st, 2001), Tommy Polley (2nd, 2001)

The first year of the BCS began with a Florida State win over a ranked Texas A&M team before the Noles got shocked by NC State 24-7 in Week 2. The Noles then rattled off 10 straight wins, including victories over ranked USC, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Florida teams, to clinch a trip to the first-ever BCS title game. The Noles actually were co-champs with Georgia Tech, but won the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Tennessee Vols claimed the first BCS National Championship by way of a 23-16 Fiesta Bowl win over Florida State.

5. Virginia Tech Hokies, 2010 (11-3, 8-0)
Head Coach: Frank Beamer
Championships: ACC
Key Stats: Taylor set single-season school passing TD record (24) and all-time career passing yards school record (7,017 yards). Jayron Hosley led the nation in INT (0.69 pg). Tech led the nation in turnover margin (+1.36).
Award Winners: Tyrod Taylor (ACC Player of the Year, Off. POY, ACCCG MVP)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Ryan Williams (2nd, 2011)

Virginia Tech lost in heartbreaking fashion to Boise State on a final minute touchdown in Week 1, and clearly the hangover effect was out in full force the next weekend against James Madison. However, the Hokies never lost again in the regular season and became the first undefeated ACC team since 2000 Florida State. This team featured the program's all-time leading passer and receiver (Jarrett Boykin, 180 rec.) with a three-headed backfield of Ryan Williams, David Wilson and Darren Evans. Taylor led the ACC in passing efficiency as the Hokies led the league in scoring (35.5 ppg).

6. Florida State Seminoles, 2003 (10-3, 7-1)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Championships: ACC Co-Champs
Key Stats: No. 10 nationally in scoring defense (16.7 ppg). Went 0-2 against Miami.
Award Winners: Darnell Dockett (ACC Def. Player of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Michael Boulware (2nd, 2004), Greg Jones (2nd, 2004), Alex Barron (1st, 2005), Travis Johnson (1st, 2005), Braynt McFadden (2nd, 2005), Ernie Sims (1st, 2006), Antonio Cromartie (1st, 2006), Kamerion Wimbley (1st, 2006), Brodrick Bunkley (1st, 2006)

7. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 2009 (11-3, 7-1)
Head Coach: Paul Johnson
Championships: ACC
Key Stats: Led the ACC in rushing, total offense and scoring. No. 2 nationally in rushing at 295.4 yards per game. Went 2-0 against Clemson.
Award Winners: Derrick Morgan (ACC Def. Player of the Year), Paul Johnson (ACC Coach of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Derrick Morgan (1st, 2010), Demaryius Thomas (1st, 2010)

8. Florida State Seminoles, 2012 (12-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher
Championships: ACC, Orange Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in pass and pass efficiency defense. Finished No. 2 nationally in total defense. Scored 39.3 points per game on offense (10th nationally)
Award Winners: Bjoern Werner (ACC Defensive Player of the Year), Ronald Darby (ACC Def. Rookie of the Year), Chris Thompson (Co-Brian Piccolo Award)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A

9. Virginia Tech Hokies, 2007 (11-3, 7-1)
Head Coach: Frank Beamer
Championships: ACC
Key Stats: Finished No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (16.1 ppg) and No. 4 in total defense (296.9). Both led the ACC.
Award Winners: N/A
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Duane Brown (1st, 2008), Eddie Royal (2nd, 2008), Brandon Flowers (2nd, 2008), Jason Worilds (2nd, 2010)

10. Maryland Terrapins, 2001 (10-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Ralph Freidgen
Championships: ACC
Key Stats: Led the ACC in scoring offense (35.5 ppg) and scoring defense (19.1 ppg). Led ACC in total offense (439.7 ypg) and rushing defense (90.6 ypg). Was the first ACC team to win outright conference title other than Florida State since 1991.
Award Winners: Ralph Friedgen (Home Depot National Coach of the Year, ACC COY), EJ Henderson (ACC Player of the Year, Def. POY), Bruce Perry (ACC Off. Player of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: EJ Henderson (2nd, 2003), Madieu Williams (2nd, 2004)


Best of the Rest:

Clemson Tigers, 2012 (11-2, 7-1)
Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 2006 (11-3, 6-2) ACC Champions
Clemson Tigers, 2011 (10-4, 6-2) ACC Champions
Virginia Tech Hokies, 2011 (11-3, 7-1)
Virginia Tech Hokies, 2009 (10-3, 6-2)

<p> Top 10 ACC Teams of the BCS Era</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 06:11
Path: /college-football/top-10-big-12-teams-bcs-era

The BCS just put a bow on its 15th season of action and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late 90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?

The debates will most assuredly rage on for decades, but here is Athlon's two cents. Here are the Top 10 Big 12 teams of the BCS Era (1998-present):

Note: "First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks

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

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

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

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

3. Oklahoma Sooners, 2004 (12-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Championships: Big 12 South, Big 12
Key Stats: No. 8 in nation in total offense (462.1 ypg), no. 6 in rushing defense (94.6 ypg), Adrian Peterson no. 6 in nation in rushing (148.1 ypg) and no. 15 in all-purpose yards (149 ypg) as a freshman
Award Winners: Jammal Brown (Outland Trophy), Jason White (Davey O’Brien Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Maxwell Award)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Jammal Brown (1st, 2005), Mark Clayton (1st, 2005), Davin Joseph (1st, 2006), Adrian Peterson (1st, 2007), Mark Bradley (2nd, 2005), Dan Cody (2nd, 2005), Brodney Pool (2nd, 2005)

This Oklahoma team lived up to its preseason ranking of No. 2, rolling through the regular season undefeated. The Sooners were led on offense by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jason White, freshman running back Adrian Peterson and an offensive line headlined by Outland winner Jammal Brown. All told, the Sooners’ roster featured five All-Americans and 10 All Big 12 selections. Oklahoma matched up with No. 1 USC in the Orange Bowl in a game that featured two Heisman Trophy winners in White and Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart, and two of the best running backs in the nation in Peterson and USC’s Reggie Bush. Unfortunately for the Sooners, the match up on paper didn’t play out on the field, as the Trojans dominated from start to finish, easily beating Oklahoma 55-19. Six years after the game, in June 2010, USC was forced to vacate two wins from its 2004 season, including the Orange Bowl game, after the NCAA ruled that it had used an ineligible player (Bush) among other violations.

4. Oklahoma Sooners, 2008 (12-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Championships: Big 12 South (shared), Big 12
Key Stats: NCAA record 716 points scored, no. 3 in nation in both total offense (349.4 ypg) and passing offense (349.4 ypg), no. 1 in passing efficiency, no. 1 in turnover margin (+1.64), Sam Bradford no. 1 in passing efficiency and no. 4 in total offense (340.5 ypg), Bradford also set school single-season records for yards (4,720), touchdown passes (50) and passing efficiency, DeMarco Murray no. 8 in all-purpose yards (167 ypg)
Award Winners: Sam Bradford (AP Player of the Year, Sammy Baugh Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Heisman Trophy), Bob Stoops (Big 12 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Sam Bradford (1st, 2010), Jermaine Gresham (1st, 2010), Phil Loadholt (1st, 2009), Gerald McCoy (1st, 2010), Trent Williams (1st, 2010)

The highest-scoring team in NCAA history, this Oklahoma team scored no less than 35 points prior to the BCS National Championship game against Florida. Quarterback Sam Bradford rewrote the Oklahoma record books on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. Oklahoma fell to No. 5 Texas, 45-35, in the Red River Rivalry, and ended up tied for first in the Big 12 South with the Longhorns and Texas Tech at 7-1. The Sooners ended up representing the Big 12 South in the Big 12 Championship thanks to a higher BCS ranking over the Longhorns and Red Raiders. After destroying Missouri in the Big 12 Championship, the No. 1 Sooners faced off against No. 2 Florida in the BCS title game. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who finished third to Bradford in the Heisman voting, threw two touchdown passes and the Gators’ defense held the potent Sooners offense to just two touchdowns to deny Oklahoma its eighth national title, defeating the Sooners 24-14.

5. Texas Longhorns, 2009 (13-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Big 12 South, Big 12
Key Stats: No. 3 in the nation in scoring offense (39.3 ppg), no. 3 in total defense (251.9 ypg) and rushing defense (72.4 ypg), tied for second in sacks (3.1 pg),
Award Winners: Mack Brown (Big 12 Coach of the Year), Colt McCoy (Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Manning Award, Maxwell Award, Sporting News College Athlete of the Year, Walter Camp Award)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Earl Thomas (1st, 2010), Lamarr Houston (2nd, 2010), Sergio Kindle (2nd, 2010), Aaron Williams (2nd, 2011)

This Texas team started the season ranked No. 2 and finished it there as the Longhorns rolled through the regular season and Big 12 undefeated. The offense, led by quarterback Colt McCoy and wide receiver Jordan Shipley, put plenty of points on the board, while the defense, led by defensive lineman Lamarr Houston, linebacker Sergio Kindle and defensive back Earl Thomas, kept the opposing team out of the end zone. Texas’ championship dreams were almost dashed by Ndamukong Suh and Nebraska as the Cornhuskers put up a fight in the Big 12 Championship game. The Longhorns escaped, 13-12, thanks to a last-second field goal and went on to face No.1 Alabama in the BCS title game. Unfortunately, for the Longhorns, McCoy went down early with an injury, forcing them to play with an inexperienced quarterback. That and the Crimson Tide’s punishing running game were too much to overcome as Texas fell to Alabama 37-21.

6. Oklahoma State Cowboys, 2011 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Mike Gundy
Championships: Big 12, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Brandon Weeden set single-season Cowboys yards and TD passing records, Finished second in the nation in passing (387.2 ypg) and scoring offense (48.7 ppg), Joseph Randle was fourth in the nation in scoring (12.0 ppg), Justin Blackmon was third in the nation in receptions (9.3/game)
Award Winners: Justin Blackmon (Biletnikoff Award, Fiesta Bowl MVP), Grant Garner (Big 12 Off. Lineman of the Year), Quinn Sharp (Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year), 
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Justin Blackmon (1st, 2012), Brandon Weeden (1st, 2012)

The Cowboys never experienced a season like it did in 2011 behind the leadership of quarterback Brandon Weeden. The star quarterback broke his own single-season school records for passing yards (4,727) and touchdowns (37) en route to the program's first Big 12 Championship. The remarkable Fiesta Bowl win over Stanford was the first Pokes first BCS bowl win in its first BCS bowl appearance. Blackmon set all types of records with an 8-catch, 186-yard, 3-TD performance in the Fiesta Bowl. A loss to Iowa State late in the year was the only thing that kept Mike Gundy from taking his alma mater to the promised land.

7. Oklahoma Sooners, 2003 (12-2, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Championships: Big 12 South
Key Stats: No. 3 in the nation in scoring offense (42.9 ppg), no. 5 in scoring defense (15.3 ppg), no. 3 in total defense (259.6 ypg), no. 2 in pass defense (146.4 ypg)
Award Winners: Tommie Harris (Lombardi Award), Teddy Lehman (Bednarik Award, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus Award), Derrick Strait (Thorpe Award), Bob Stoops (Big 12 Coach of the Year, Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year, Walter Camp National Coach of the Year, Woody Hayes National Coach of the Year), Jason White (AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Award, Heisman Trophy)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Jammal Brown (1st, 2005), Mark Clayton (1st, 2005), Tommie Harris (1st, 2004), Davin Joseph (1st, 2006), Mark Bradley (2nd, 2005), Dan Cody (2nd, 2005), Teddy Lehman (2nd, 2004), Brodney Pool (2nd, 2005)

Outside of a seven-point win against Alabama on the road, this Oklahoma team, which featured seven All-Americans and 11 first team All Big 12 members, was not challenged in its first 12 games of the season, winning by an average of more than 35 points per game. The offense, led by Heisman Trophy winner Jason White, scored 34 or more points in all but two games, including seven games with 52 or more points. The defense headlined by defensive lineman Tommie Harris, linebacker Teddy Lehman and defensive back Derrick Strait held every opponent to 28 points or less and gave up three or less three times. The Sooners’ train almost completely went off of the tracks after getting pummeled by No. 10 Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship 35-7. Even though the Sooners dropped to No. 3 in both of the human polls, they kept their No. 1 BCS ranking putting them in the Sugar Bowl against No. 2 LSU. For the second straight game, however, Oklahoma’s offense could not get on track as White had one of the worst games of his career. LSU’s defense held White to just 102 yards passing and picked him off twice, returning one of them for a touchdown as the Tigers defeated the Sooners 21-14 and won the national title, or at least according to the coaches’ poll.

8. Texas Longhorns, 2004 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Rose Bowl
Key Stats: No. 2 in nation in rushing offense (299.2 ypg), no. 7 in total offense (464.4 ypg), Cedric Benson no. 4 in nation in rushing (152.8 ypg), no. 7 in all-purpose yards (167.8 ypg) and scoring (20 TDs, 10.0 ppg)
Award Winners: Cedric Benson (Doak Walker Award), Derrick Johnson (Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus Award, Nagurski Trophy), Vince Young (Rose Bowl Offensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Cedric Benson (1st, 2005), Michael Griffin (1st, 2007), Michael Huff (1st, 2006), Derrick Johnson (1st, 2005), Aaron Ross (1st, 2007), Vince Young (1st, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Tim Crowder (2nd, 2007), Cedric Griffin (2nd, 2006),

Led by All-American running back Cedric Benson and young quarterback Vince Young, this Texas team dominated the ground game, rushing for almost 300 yards per game. Texas’ lone loss of the season was a big one, as the Longhorns fell to No. 2 Oklahoma 12-0 in the Red River Rivalry, which kept Texas out of the Big 12 title game. Texas still received a spot in a BCS bowl as they were sent to the Rose Bowl to face No. 12 Michigan. Down by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, Young scored twice and then led his team down the field to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired in the Longhorns’ 38-37 victory over the Wolverines. For the game, Young rushed for 192 yards and was responsible for all five (four rushing, one passing) of Texas’ touchdowns, earning what would be the first of his consecutive Rose Bowl Offensive MVP awards.

9. Texas Longhorns, 2008 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: No. 5 in nation in scoring offense (42.4 ppg), no. 2 in passing efficiency, no. 3 in rushing defense (83.5 ypg), no. 1 in sacks (3.6 pg), Colt McCoy no. 5 in total offense (340 ypg), no. 3 in passing efficiency, Brian Orakpo no. 6 in sacks
Award Winners: Colt McCoy (Archie Griffin Award, Big 12 Offensive MVP, Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP, Walter Camp Award), Roy Miller (Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP), Brian Orakpo (Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (5): Earl Thomas (1st, 2010), Lamarr Houston (2nd, 2010), Brian Orakpo (1st, 2009), Sergio Kindle (2nd, 2010), Aaron Williams (2nd, 2011)

This Texas team was firing on all cylinders out of the gate. Led by quarterback Colt McCoy, who would end up finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Sam Bradford, his counterpart from Oklahoma, the Longhorns scored 38 or more points in their first seven games. Included in this streak was a 45-35 win over No. 1 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry that not only put Texas atop the polls, but also in the driver’s seat for a spot in the Big 12 Championship and potentially, the national championship. However, Texas Tech would have something to say about that as the Red Raiders knocked off the Longhorns 39-33 in Lubbock just three weeks after the Oklahoma game. That resulted in a three-way tie atop the Big 12 South. Oklahoma got to play in the Big 12 Championship by virtue of a higher BCS ranking, while Texas was left out and had to settle for a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. While the Fiesta Bowl may not have been the postseason spot it had initially hoped for, Texas didn’t let that get in the way of its performance on the field, defeating No. 10 Ohio State 24-21 and setting the stage for its national title run the following season.

10. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 1999 (12-1, 7-1) 
Head Coach: Frank Solich
Championships: Big 12 North, Big 12, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: No. 3 in nation in scoring defense (12.5 ppg), no. 4 in total defense (252.3 ypg), no. 2 in passing defense (175.2 ypg), no. 6 in rushing defense (77.1 ypg), no. 4 in rushing offense (265.9 ypg),
Award Winners: Eric Crouch (Big 12 Co-Offensive Player of the Year, Fiesta Bowl MVP), Frank Solich (Big 12 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (4): Mike Brown (2nd, 2000), Toniu Fonoti (2nd, 2002), Dominic Raiola (2nd, 2001), Kyle Vanden Bosch (2nd, 2001)

Nebraska’s Blackshirts were in fine form to start the 1999 season as the Cornhuskers’ defense gave up 14 or fewer points the first six games. Texas put 24 on the board against them in Austin as the No. 18 Longhorns upset the third-ranked Cornhuskers on Oct. 23. Nebraska would rebound from that loss to win its next four by a combined score of 135-62, setting up a rematch against No. 12 Texas in the Big 12 Championship. This time the Cornhuskers won 22-6 and then ended the season with a 31-21 victory over No. 6 Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl.

Best of the Rest:

Kansas Wildcats, 2012 (11-2, 8-1) Big 12 Champions
Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2001 (11-2, 7-1)
Texas Tech Red Raiders, 2008 (11-2, 7-1)
Kansas State Wildcats, 2003 (11-4, 6-2) Big 12 Champions
Oklahoma Sooners, 2007 (11-3, 6-2) Big 12 Champions
Missouri Tigers, 2007 (12-2, 7-1)
Kansas Jayhawks, 2007 (12-1, 7-1)
Oklahoma Sooners, 2010 (12-2, 6-2) Big 12 Champions
Oklahoma Sooners, 2006 (11-3, 7-1) Big 12 Champions
Colorado Buffaloes, 2001 (10-3, 7-1) Big 12 Champions

<p> Top 10 Big 12 Teams of the BCS Era</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 06:10
Path: /nfl/amazing-stats-nfl-championship-weekend

NFL football is the greatest reality TV program of all time. The Giants and Colts made sure of that back in 1958. Each NFL fall weekend is a completely new and original experience for every player, fan and coach alike. New stories, new personalities, new winners and new losers. And new statistics.

Here are the most important, most intriguing and most bizarre statistics from NFL's Championship Weekend:

17: Largest NFC Championship game comeback in history for the 49ers
The Atlanta Falcons, ironically, held the previous record for largest comeback in an NFC Championship game at 13 points when they came from behind to beat the Minnesota Vikings in 1998. The 49ers watched Matt Ryan and Julio Jones rip through their Pro Bowl-laden defense in the first half to take a 17-0 lead seconds into the second quarter. But both sides of the ball made major adjustments and San Francisco outscored Atlanta 28-7 over the final three quarters to earn its sixth (5-0) trip to the Super Bowl.

27.6: Vernon Davis career playoff yards per catch
His touchdown totals have dropped for four consecutive years. His yardage totals have gone down four straight seasons as well. And he posted his lowest catch total (41) since 2008. But when the bright lights of the NFL playoffs have clicked on the last two years, Vernon Davis has been virtually unstoppable. He caught five passes for 106 yards and Colin Kaepernick's lone touchdown pass in the win over Atlanta to help lead the Niners back to Super Sunday. It gives the former Maryland Terrapins star 16 receptions, 398 yards and five touchdowns in four career playoff games. It was Davis' third 100-yard receiving effort and the third game he has caught at least one touchdown in four career starts.

39-9-1: Jim Harbaugh's coaching record the last three seasons
Stanford was 1-11 the year before Jim Harbaugh took over and in just four seasons, he led Stanford to a 12-1 year and the school's first-ever BCS bowl win in the Orange Bowl over Virginia Tech. This after back-to-back 11-1 seasons and Pioneer League titles at the University of San Diego. Since moving up to the NFL, he has coached in 36 games, including four playoff games, and has won 27 times. His has won at least 12 games in each of last three seasons (12-1 at Stanford, 14-4 and 13-4-1 at San Francisco) and is making his Super Bowl debut in just his second professional campaign.

0: Combined points scored in the second half by Atlanta and New England
Baltimore and San Francisco have their defenses to thank for making it to the Super Bowl, but the last two rounds of the playoffs definitely featured the offenses. The average combined score of the last six playoff games was 61.5 points per game — or over 30 points per game per team. Only the Patriots, ironically the top scoring offense in the league (34.8 ppg), and the Falcons failed to score at least 28 points over the last two weekends. Denver and Green Bay both scored over 30 points and lost while Houston put up 28 and was sent packing as well. It puts into perspective what both the Ravens and 49ers accomplished on the road this weekend by both pitching second-half shutouts against Tom Brady and Matt Ryan with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

67-1: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady's home record when leading at halftime
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady had never lost a home game together after leading at halftime when they took a 13-7 lead into halftime over Baltimore this weekend. The Ravens, behind a huge third quarter (and one play) from Joe Flacco, outscored the Patriots 21-0 in the second half. The Pats were stymied three times in the red zone (1-for-4) while Flacco produced four scores in four trips into the money zone. Flacco is now 8-4 in 12 career postseason starts.

5,949: NFL record postseason passing yards for Tom Brady
Brett Favre had thrown for more yards in the playoffs than any quarterback in history with 5,855 yards passing after an amazing 20-year career. Tom Brady didn't end his 13th NFL campaign the way he wanted to, but after throwing for 320 yards in the loss to Baltimore, he passed Favre as the most prolific postseason passer in league history. He has thrown for 5,949 yards in 24 career postseason games. More importantly, however, he fell to 5-2 as the starter in the AFC Championship game.

249: Total career games Ray Lewis will play in the NFL
When Lewis gyrates his way onto the field in Super Bowl XLVII he will be doing so for the 249th time in his illustrious 17-year career. It will be the last time football fans will have a chance to watch what could be the greatest middle linebacker to ever play the game. It will be his 21st career playoff game and there is little doubt that his emotional leadership has been and will be a huge factor in the Ravens' 2012 playoff fate.

2: Head coaches in the Super Bowl born in Toledo, Ohio
Only once have two brothers ever coached against one another in a regular season game. When Jim and John Harbaugh got together in 2011 on Thanksgiving it marked the first and only such occasion. Now, the same two brothers born 15 months apart from each other in Toledo, Ohio, to Jack and Jackie Harbaugh will stand on opposite sidelines in the biggest sporting event in the world. Odds are it will be simultaneously the most joyous and painful evening for Mom and Dad.

<p> Amazing Stats from NFL Championship Weekend</p>
Post date: Monday, January 21, 2013 - 06:45
Path: /college-football/10-players-replacing-biggest-names-college-football-2013

The start of spring practice is still over a month away, but college football coaches have already turned the page from 2012 to 2013. With the passing of the NFL Draft deadline and new recruits coming in after Signing Day, coaches have a good idea about their roster and some of the holes facing their team.

Even though it’s January, it’s never too early to start thinking about replacements for some of college football’s top departing players.

USC had a disappointing 2012 campaign, but the Trojans still have the talent to compete for the Pac-12 South title. However, replacing quarterback Matt Barkley will be no easy task. Max Wittek made two starts late in the year and will begin spring practice as the favorite to start under center for USC.

In addition to Wittek, the spotlight will be on Oklahoma’s Blake Bell, Stanford’s Barry Sanders and Wisconsin’s James White and Melvin Gordon – just to name a few.

10 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in College Football

Max Wittek, QB, USC 
Matt Barkley finished his USC career with a solid 2012 season but it certainly wasn’t the year most expected. Pegged as a heavy Heisman favorite in the preseason, Barkley finished the year with 3,273 yards and 36 touchdowns but missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. While not having Barkley certainly contributed to USC’s disappointing close to the year, his absence allowed Max Wittek to get a head start on 2013. In eight games this season, Wittek threw for 388 yards and three touchdowns but also tossed five picks and completed just 52.2 percent of his throws. With wide receiver Marqise Lee and running back Silas Redd returning next season, if Wittek quickly settles into the starting role, the Trojans will have a chance to push UCLA and Arizona State for the Pac-12 South title. 

Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma 
While Landry Jones never led Oklahoma to a national championship or emerged as a serious Heisman contender, the New Mexico native threw for 16,646 yards and 123 touchdowns over the last four seasons. Jones also guided the Sooners to 32 victories over the last three years, one BCS bowl appearance and an outright conference title in 2010. Bell is the frontrunner to replace Jones, although he will face competition in the spring from Drew Allen, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson. Bell has played sparingly over the last two seasons, throwing only 20 passes for 115 yards and no scores. The Kansas native has been a bigger factor on the ground, rushing for 372 yards and 24 touchdowns. There’s no question Bell will be a major factor in Oklahoma’s rushing attack. However, he has to show he can beat defenses with his arm on a consistent basis. 

Mario Edwards Jr., DE, Florida State 
Injuries to Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius Carradine forced Edwards into a bigger role than he anticipated in the preseason. However, stepping into significant snaps wasn’t an issue for the No. 2 rated recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. Edwards played in 11 games, recording 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks. The freshman made three stops in the Orange Bowl victory over Northern Illinois and picked up seven tackles in the ACC Championship win over Georgia Tech. Even though Florida State will have a new defensive coordinator (Jeremy Pruitt), the addition of Sal Sunseri and Charles Kelly as assistants should keep this unit among the best in the nation. If he picks up where he left off at the end of 2012, Edwards Jr. has potential to be an All-ACC selection in 2013.

Ego Ferguson/Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
No team was hit harder by the NFL Draft deadline than LSU. The Tigers lost 11 players a year early, including defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan. In addition to the early departures, Josh Downs and Lavar Edwards expired their eligibility after the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Ferguson and Johnson enter their junior season poised to emerge as standouts for LSU’s defense. Both tackles played in all 13 games this season, with Ferguson recording 14 stops, while Johnson made 30 tackles and three sacks. The Tigers need some time to let the new pieces on defense come together, but if Ferguson and Johnson emerge early in the year, LSU’s defensive line won’t miss a beat.

Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
Kelly has some of the biggest shoes to fill in college football next season. Barrett Jones departs Alabama as one of the most successful linemen of the BCS era, garnering first-team All-American honors for 2011 and 2012. Jones battled a foot injury last season, which allowed Kelly to gain valuable experience. The Ohio native played in 10 games in 2012 and is a key piece to Alabama’s offensive line next year. Kelly probably won’t match Jones’ postseason accolades next season, but he should keep the Crimson Tide line playing at a high level. 

Julien Obioha, DE, Texas A&M
Obioha isn’t technically replacing Damontre Moore, but the sophomore will be counted on for a bigger role in the defense next season. Moore was one of the SEC’s top defenders in 2012, leading Texas A&M with 85 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks. Obioha started 12 games as a true freshman, making 25 tackles and one sack. With Moore no longer in College Station, it’s up to Obioha to keep the Aggies’ pass rush among the top half of the SEC. Texas A&M will need more than Obioha to replace Moore, but considering he started 12 games as a true freshman, bigger things could be in store for the Louisiana native in 2013. 

Daniel Sams/Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State
Replacing Collin Klein’s production is no easy task for Kansas State in 2013. However, with Bill Snyder on the sidelines in Manhattan, the Wildcats can’t be counted out of the Big 12 title mix. Klein finished 2012 with 3,561 yards and 39 total scores and ranked third behind Johnny Manziel and Manti Te’o in Heisman voting. Sams played eight games in 2012, throwing for 55 yards on six completions and rushing for 235 yards and three scores on 32 attempts. Considering his experience last season, Sams should be the frontrunner to open 2013 as the starter. However, junior college recruit Jake Waters will compete with Sams in the preseason. Waters is regarded as one of the top junior college recruits in the nation and certainly isn’t being brought to Manhattan to hold a clipboard.

Barry Sanders, RB, Stanford
Coming off a 12-win season and a victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Stanford will be a legitimate national title contender in 2013. The Cardinal does have a few concerns to address in the offseason, starting on offense with the departure of running back Stepfan Taylor. The Texas native had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and scored 40 rushing touchdowns in his career. While Taylor is a huge loss, coach David Shaw does have capable options on the bench. Anthony Wilkerson has been a dependable backup over the last three years, while sophomore Remound Wright was a top-25 running back coming out of high school. Although Wilkerson and Wright will see a share of the carries, redshirt freshman Barry Sanders is ready for a breakout season. The Oklahoma native was regarded as one of the top 50 recruits in last year’s signing class and will have one of the Pac-12’s top offensive lines paving the way next season. 

Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
The pieces are in place for Ohio State to compete for a national title in 2013. However, there’s one glaring area of concern for coach Urban Meyer. The defense is losing ends John Simon and Nathan Williams, along with tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel. If the Buckeyes quickly reload up front, Ohio State could be making a trip to Pasadena to play for the BCS title. Spence was one of the Buckeyes’ top recruits last season and recorded 12 tackles in 11 games this year. The Pennsylvania native should benefit with another offseason to work in the weight room and is a key centerpiece in Ohio State’s defense in 2013.

James White/Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Even though record-setting running back Montee Ball expired his eligibility after the Rose Bowl, there’s not too much concern about the rushing attack in Madison. And despite a coaching change, Wisconsin won’t stray too far from its usual ground and pound offense. James White rushed for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2010 and has 1,519 yards and 18 scores over the last two years. Gordon redshirted in 2011 and rushed for 621 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman in 2012. His breakout performance came against Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship, gashing the Cornhuskers for 216 yards on nine carries. White isn’t built to handle 200-250 carries a year, which makes Gordon the perfect complement back at 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds.

Related College Football Content

College Football's Early Top 25 for 2013
Early ACC Predictions for 2013

Early Big East Predictions for 2013

Early Big Ten Predictions for 2013

Early Big 12 Predictions for 2013

Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2013

Early SEC Predictions for 2013

<p> 10 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in College Football in 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, January 21, 2013 - 06:31
All taxonomy terms: Baylor Bears, College Football, Big 12, News
Path: /news/baylor-football-unveils-gold-helmets-2013

New helmets, alternate colors and different uniforms combinations are some of the biggest trends with nearly every team in college football over the last few years. Some of the alternate jersey and helmet combinations are done to appeal to recruits and it certainly doesn’t hurt with extra revenue coming through the program in the way of merchandise sales.

With the 2013 season months away, plenty of programs will be unveiling new looks for the next season.

Baylor got a head start on continuing this recent trend, as assistant coach Jeff Lebby tweeted a picture of the Bears’ new gold (and very shiny) helmets for 2013:

<p> Baylor Football Unveils Gold Helmets for 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, January 21, 2013 - 06:20
Path: /college-basketball/amazing-college-basketball-stats-week-jan-14-20

With 347 Division I teams, following college basketball can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college hoops week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriguing, most important and most interesting stats from around the sport:

60. An arbitrary stat for the Butler’s buzzer beater against Gonzaga
What kind of stat should we choose for Roosevelt Jones’ buzzer-beating floater to defeat Gonzaga 64-62? How about No. 1, for the best game of the season so far? Or 3.5 as in seconds remaining when Jones stole David Stockton’s inbound pass when Gonzaga, led by 2? Or two, as in the top-15 teams (according to Butler has defeated this season (Indiana and Gonzaga)? Or five, as in total points for the Gonzaga starting backcourt of Kevin Pangos (12.1 ppg), Gary Bell Jr. (8.8 ppg), and Mike Hart (2.2 ppg)? Let’s go with 60, which is on the low end of an adult’s normal pulse rate at rest. Take a closer look at the video from the game-winning shot, find Butler coach Brad Stevens, and take his pulse:

26.8: Florida’s margin of victory in SEC games
The Gators defeated Missouri 83-52 on Saturday, giving the Gators another SEC rout. Florida is defeating conference opponents by an average of 26.8 points per game, the best scoring margin for any team in its conference this season. Only two other teams are defeating conference opponents by more than 20 points per game: Belmont by 22.1 points in the Ohio Valley and Southern by 20.4 in the SWAC.

6-to-10: Phil Pressey’s assist-to-turnover ratio against Florida
Missouri point guard Phil Pressey entered Saturday with a 2.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio this season, but he came close to flipping that against a top defensive team in Florida. Pressey had six assists and a career-high 10 turnovers agains the Gators. He also struggled from the field, going 1 of 7 with two points.

11: Points by Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams in the final 7:22 against Louisville
Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams was nearly a goat against Louisville. Through 32 minutes or so, he had eight turnovers, the last one off a Russ Smith steal to put Louisville up 62-57. Carter-Williams more than atoned for that by scoring 11 of Syracuse’s final 13 points and assisting on a Jerami Grant layup in the final 7:22. Carter-Williams had a steal of Peyton Siva and a dunk for the go-ahead basket and then a steal in a scrum under the basket to seal Syracuse’s 70-68 road win.

5.8: Points per game for Peyton Siva in his last four against Syracuse
Peyton Siva is one of the nation's top point guards, just not against Syracuse. The Cardinals senior has averaged 5.8 points per game against Syracuse in four games in the last two seasons. Louisville's 70-68 loss to Syracuse was Siva’s worst performance against the Orange since he became a full-time player. Siva scored 3 points on 1-of-9 shooting and 1-of-7 from three point range.

5-0: Oregon’s best conference start since 1973-74
Oregon, picked seventh in the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll, is off to a 5-0 start in the league, its best since 1973-74. The Ducks aren’t doing it cheaply either. They defeated UCLA 76-67 on the road Saturday more than a week after handing previously undefeated Arizona a 70-66 loss. Oregon will hope this 5-0 start is better than the one in the Pac-8 in 1973-74: The Ducks finished that season 15-11 overall and 9-5 in the conference.

17: Combined points for Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams against Oregon
UCLA was off to an inauspicious start when coach Ben Howland didn’t start Shabazz Muhammad as punishment for being late to practice. UCLA’s two star freshmen can score 17 points on their own on a given night — Muhammad averages 18.4 points per game, Jordan Adams 15.6. But against Oregon, Muhammad scored 10 points in 28 minutes. Adams struggled even more by scoring only seven points, all on free throws. He went 0 for 6 from the field.

17 and 13: Points and rebounds by Wichita State’s Carl Hall against Creighton
The return of Carl Hall from a broken thumb turned out to be the equivalent of a trade-deadline deal for Wichita State. Hall, who missed seven games from Dec. 20 to Jan. 13, scored 17 points and 13 rebounds in the 67-64 win over Creighton to give the Shockers the Missouri Valley lead. Hall is a former MVC defensive player of the year and Wichita State’s best low-post scorer.

50. Percentage of Ohio State’s scoring that came from Deshaun Thomas on Saturday
Perhaps belaboring the point, Ohio State does not have a second scorer to complement Deshaun Thomas. The 6-foot-7 matchup headache scored 28 points against the Spartans. Other Buckeyes not named Deshaun Thomas scored 28 points against the Spartans in Ohio State’s 59-56 loss. Thomas was 10 of 20 from the field against Michigan State, while seven other Buckeyes combined to go 9 of 27. On the game’s final play, Ohio State guard Shannon Scott, rather than getting the ball to Thomas, took a 3-pointer expecting to be fouled. The foul never came, and the off-balance, awkward shot hit the side of the backboard.

165: Games since Air Force scored 90 points against a Division I foe
In a huge week for statements in the Mountain West, even Air Force made news. The Falcons defeated NCAA Tournament contender Boise State 91-80, topping 90 points against a Division I opponent in 165 games. The last time was a 94-68 win over Wake Forest on Nov. 29, 2006. Air Force’s coach at the time was Jeff Bzdelik, who is now the coach at Wake Forest. At 10-6, Air Force will look to top 16 wins for the first time since 2006-07.

<p> Butler's buzzer-beating finish over Gonzaga headlines this week's top stats, also Florida's dominance, struggles for point guards at Louisville and Missouri, and a clutch point guard performance from Syracuse.</p>
Post date: Monday, January 21, 2013 - 06:00
Path: /nfl/nfc-championship-preview-and-prediction-san-francisco-49ers-vs-atlanta-falcons

The top two teams in the NFC meet on Sunday to determine who will represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVII, as the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons face off in the NFC Championship game at 3 p.m. ET on FOX. The 49ers find themselves in the conference title game for the second year in a row, but this time must get the job done on the road against the Falcons, who have lost just one game in the Georgia Dome this season.

When the San Francisco 49ers have the ball:
San Francisco’s offense was clicking on all cylinders in last week’s 45-31 win over Green Bay in the NFC Divisional round, thanks to a record-setting effort from quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The second-year pro out of Nevada, who ascended to the starting job in Week 11 because Alex Smith suffered a concussion, put together one of the best postseason performances in NFL history in his first-ever playoff game. Kaepernick tormented the Packers with both his arm and his legs, as he rushed for 181 yards, the most ever by a quarterback in an NFL game, and threw for another 263, while accounting for four total touchdowns (two rushing, two passing) and just one turnover (INT). Kaepernick averaged more than 11 yards per carry, but he wasn’t alone in chewing up yards on the ground against the Packers. Running back Frank Gore added 119 rushing yards and a touchdown of his own on 23 carries (5.2 ypc), as he and Kaepernick combined for 300 of the team’s 323 yards rushing, the most ever by the 49ers in a playoff game. The team’s 579 total yards of offense also set a new franchise postseason standard and were second only to the 621 yards the 49ers had in their 45-3 win over Buffalo back in Week 5. With Kaepernick and Gore getting it done on the ground, wide receiver Michael Crabtree continued his stretch of productive games, as he led the way with nine receptions for 119 yards and caught both of Kaerpernick’s touchdown passes. Crabtree has clearly established himself as the quarterback’s favorite target, as he has caught 50 passes for 714 yards and seven touchdowns in the eight games Kaepernick has started. Although he hasn’t been near as productive as Crabtree, tight end Vernon Davis can’t be overlooked, especially considering Atlanta gave up eight receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown to Seattle’s Zach Miller last week. Davis’ lone catch against Green Bay went for 44 yards, and the Falcons will have to do their best to limit big plays by the 49ers, which have been more commonplace since Kaepernick took over. Besides the long pass to Davis, Kaepernick also had a 45-yard hook up with Gore and both of his touchdown runs were on plays of 20 or more yards, highlighted by his 56-yard gallop in the third quarter to put the 49ers ahead for good. The 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, so as long as Kaepernick can take care of the ball when he’s in the pocket and make the right decisions when he gets out of it, this offense should produce. Kaepernick also showed his mental toughness and resolve against Green Bay when he bounced right back after throwing an interception on the 49ers’ first offensive series that the Packers returned for a touchdown and early 7-0 lead. That proved to be Kaepernick’s lone mistake that night, as he marched his team right back down the field on the next possession, capping it off with a 20-yard touchdown run.

Even though Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson torched Atlanta’s defense for 385 yards passing, the Falcons rose to the occasion when they needed to and did a solid job stopping the run last week. Atlanta held Seattle scoreless for an entire half and limited running back Marshawn Lynch to just 46 yards on 16 carries (2.9 ypc) for the game. Wilson led the Seahawks with 60 yards rushing on just seven carries (8.6 ypc), and the Falcons’ run defense will need a similar, if not better, effort against the 49ers’ two-headed rushing attack of running back Frank Gore and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Limiting Kaepernick’s impact on the ground will be especially key as the Falcons’ defense has struggled with quarterbacks who can run. In addition to Wilson’s production last week, Atlanta gave up a total of 202 yards rushing and two touchdowns on just 18 carries (11.2 ypc) in two games against Carolina’s Cam Newton during the regular season. Keeping Kaepernick contained in the pocket will be key, something that was a bit of an issue against Wilson, especially in the fourth quarter. As a collective unit, the Falcons’ defense played very well through the first three quarters, but experienced a number of breakdowns in the final period. The Seahawks scored three straight touchdowns in the fourth to take a one-point lead, as Wilson had little trouble finding tight end Zach Miller (8 rec., 142 yds., TD) in the middle of the field or was able to hook up with one of his wide receivers down the field. The 49ers don’t turn the ball over that often, so a more disciplined effort from the Falcons, one that goes a full four quarters, will be needed to try and slow down Kaepernick and company.

When the Atlanta Falcons have the ball:
Similar to its defense in stopping the run, Atlanta’s rushing offense also stepped up when it was needed most in the 30-28 win over Seattle. Led by running back Michael Turner’s 98 yards, the Falcons rushed for a season-high 167 yards on 26 carries (6.4 ypc) against the Seahawks. Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers (10 att., 64 yds.) provided a nice one-two punch in the backfield, making things easier on quarterback Matt Ryan and the passing game. The Falcons will need similar production from their two backs against a 49ers defense that gave up 104 yards rushing on just 16 carries (6.5 ypc) to the Packers. With the support of the ground game, Ryan did the rest, as the fifth-year starter put together his best playoff performance yet – 24-of-35 for 250 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions — against the Seahawks. The interceptions are still a concern and probably something that he can’t afford to repeat against the 49ers, but he made the throws when he needed to, especially the two completions with less than 31 seconds left that set up Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal. Just like they did against the Seahawks’ secondary, the Falcons’ wide receivers should be able to make some plays against the 49ers’ defense, provided the offensive line gives Ryan enough time to throw. Tight end Tony Gonzalez made several key catches against the Seahawks, but the 49ers’ linebackers are more experienced, athletic, talented and productive than the Seahawks’ corps. Wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, and probably even Harry Douglas and Rodgers, will need to make the most of the opportunities thrown their way because one has to figure the 49ers are going to key in on Gonzalez. It also will be up to Ryan to make wise decisions when he does throw, and try and not force the ball down field, a situation that produced one of his interceptions last week. Besides run blocking, the offensive line didn’t allow a sack against Seattle, which is another key in attacking San Francisco’s defense. The 49ers present some different challenges when it comes to their pass rush, so the Falcons’ line will need to put together one of its strongest all-around efforts to make an impact in both the running and passing games. The Falcons did a good job on converting third downs (6-of-11) against the Seahawks and will need similar success to keep drives alive and limit the number of possessions the 49ers’ offense gets. Even if they are unable to punch it into the end zone, the Falcons should be able to score points once they get past the 49ers’ 40-yard-line because of kicker Matt Bryant, especially if it’s a late-game situation. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bryant has connected on 17 of his 18 go-ahead or game-tying field goal attempts in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime of regular-season games in his career. His 94 percent success rate in these situations is the best of anyone with at least 15 such attempts in the NFL since 1970. Add to that the 49-yard game winner Bryant knocked through with just eight seconds remaining against the Seahawks last week, and it appears that the Falcons have not one, but two “Matty Ices” who can get the job done when the game is on the line.

San Francisco’s defense finished the regular season as one of the NFL’s best, but this unit has taken some lumps recently. The 49ers were third overall in total defense (294.4 ypg) and second in scoring defense (17.1 ppg), but have allowed considerably more yards and points in three of its last four games. Besides surrendering 352 yards and 31 points (one touchdown came via INT return) in the win over Green Bay, both New England (520, 34 in Week 15) and Seattle (346, 42 in Week 16) enjoyed a fair amount of success against the 49ers’ defense. Atlanta with quarterback Matt Ryan and his receiving weapons figure to present another stiff test for this defense, especially if the Falcons have the same success running the ball as they did against the Seahawks. That’s not to say this is not a defense capable of shutting the Falcons down either, as the 49ers placed six — free safety Dashon Goldson, linebacker Aldon Smith, defensive lineman Justin Smith, strong safety Donte Whitner, linebacker Patrick Willis (starters) and linebacker NaVorro Bowman (reserve) — on the NFC’s Pro Bowl team. In fact, the 49ers’ defensive struggles can be traced back to the Patriots’ game in Week 15, when Justin Smith tore the tendon in his left triceps. Smith missed the final two regular-season games, against the Seahawks and Cardinals, but was able to return against the Packers. He contributed five tackles in the win while wearing a brace on his left arm. The key for Smith and 49ers’ defense will be to stop the Falcons’ running game to try and make their offense one-dimensional. Then it will be up to the pass rush, led by Aldon Smith, to try and at least disrupt Ryan, as the Falcons haven’t given up a lot of sacks. The 49ers did a good job of limiting big plays by the Packers and will need to do the same against the Falcons, especially through the air.

Key Factor:
Quarterback play will probably go a long way in determining the outcome of this one. San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick may not have as much experience as Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, but he has the same number of playoff victories (one) and is coming off of a remarkable performance against Green Bay. If Kaepernick is able to duplicate what he did against the Packers, the Falcons will be hard-pressed to keep up.

However, this will be Kaepernick’s first playoff road game and you know the Georgia Dome will be rocking with the Falcons one win away from their second Super Bowl appearance. And it certainly is “Dome Sweet Dome” for Ryan, as he is 34-6 in his career, including last week’s Wild Card win, at home. Only Tom Brady has a better winning percentage at home among quarterbacks whose careers began in the Super Bowl era.

Besides playing at home, Ryan and the Falcons are still riding the wave of emotion (not too mention relief) from last week’s playoff win, and this momentum, coupled with an energetic home crowd, will allow them to stay with the 49ers for most of the game. In the end, however, San Francisco’s defense makes a few more stops and the running game wears down the Atlanta defense just enough to secure the 49ers’ sixth NFC title and a chance to claim a sixth Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans on Feb. 3.

Prediction: 49ers 31, Falcons 27


AFC Championship Preview and Prediction: Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots

<p> NFC Championship Preview and Prediction: San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons</p>
Post date: Saturday, January 19, 2013 - 13:31
Path: /nfl/afc-championship-preview-and-prediction-baltimore-ravens-vs-new-england-patriots

For the second year in a row the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots will face off with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line when the two teams kick things off in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game at 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS. The Ravens lost 23-20 to the Patriots in Gillette Stadium in last year’s AFC title game, as wide receiver Lee Evans couldn’t hold onto a potential game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter and kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. Both Evans and Cundiff are no longer with the Ravens, who beat the Patriots 31-30 in Baltimore back in Week 3 and have already shown they can win on the road in the playoffs in a hostile environment, as evidenced by last week’s come-from-behind 38-35 double overtime win in Denver.

When the Baltimore Ravens have the ball:
Somewhat maligned during the regular season to the point that the team made a coordinator change in December (from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell), Baltimore’s offense showed up in a big way in last week’s win. The Ravens’ 479 yards of offense sent a new franchise playoff record and were highlighted by quarterback Joe Flacco’s impressive passing performance. Sharing the field with league MVP candidate Peyton Manning, Flacco outshined his Denver counterpart, completing 18-of-34 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns, the biggest being a 70-yard bomb to wide receiver Jacoby Jones that tied the game with just 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Just as he did during the regular season, Flacco did most of his damage throwing the ball deep. Besides the 70-yarder to Jones, Flacco’s other two touchdown passes against the Broncos covered more than 20 yards, a 59-yard strike to Torrey Smith in the first quarter that put the Ravens in the scoring column and a 32-yard hook up with Smith that tied the game right before the end of the first half. During the regular season, Flacco completed 37 percent of his throws deeper than 20 yards with seven touchdowns and he had the most attempts of any quarterback without an interception. The Patriots are already aware of Flacco’s ability to beat teams deep, as he put up a season-high 382 yards passing against them in the Ravens’ 31-30 home win back on Sept. 23. The Ravens finished that game with 503 yards of offense, which has only be topped this season by the 553 they had in their Week 16 victory over the New York Giants. The Patriots’ defense has been highly susceptible against the pass, so it will need to tighten up its coverage against Jones, Smith, as well as fellow wideout Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta unless New England wants to see a repeat of what happened in Week 3. The Ravens, however, are by far anything but a pass-only team as they also picked up 155 yards rushing against the Broncos. Running back Ray Rice led the way with 131 yards on 30 carries (4.4 ypc) and he also had 101 on the ground the first time versus the Patriots. Backup Bernard Pierce has been key to the Ravens’ offensive success recently, but he sustained a knee injury against the Broncos. Even though Pierce said he will be out there on Sunday, expect him and his touches to be limited, putting more of the burden on Rice to produce on the ground. Going against an offense like New England’s, ball security will be critical as the Ravens need to make the most of their opportunities with the ball, while also not giving the Patriots many extra possessions. After losing two fumbles in the Wild Card win against Indianapolis two weeks ago, Rice held onto the ball against Denver with the Ravens’ only turnover versus the Broncos being a Flacco interception. Likewise, a Flacco pick was the lone giveaway in Baltimore’s Week 3 win over New England. The Ravens also gave up just one sack against the Broncos’ pass rush, which finished tied for the league lead in sacks, and didn’t allow a single one the first time they faced the Patriots.

After shutting Miami out in Week 17, New England’s defense returned to its regular-season form in its Divisional Playoff game against Houston. The Patriots gave up 425 yards and 28 points to the Texans, although to be fair 15 of the points came in the fourth quarter when the Patriots were nursing a 35-point lead. Still, given its statistical production during the regular season, the defense needs the offense to do its part to put the team in its best position to win. Look no further than the Week 3 meeting with Baltimore. The Ravens piled up 503 yards of offense against the Patriots, while holding New England’s offense to 396, one of the reasons why Baltimore came out on top 31-30. The Patriots’ strength on defense this season has been stopping the run, as they held the Texans’ Arian Foster to a modest 90 yards on 22 carries (4.1 ypc) last week and finished the regular season ranked ninth overall (101.9 ypg) in rush defense. Baltimore running back Ray Rice had 101 yards rushing by himself the first time against New England, and if the Patriots struggle to contain him and fellow back Bernard Pierce, it will more than likely just open up the Ravens’ passing game even more. The Patriots ranked near the bottom of the league against the pass (271.4 ypg) during the regular season, gave up 343 yards passing to Houston’s Matt Schaub last Sunday, while Baltimore’s Joe Flacco lit them up for a season-high 382 back in September. One rather significant change, the addition of former Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib, has occurred in New England’s secondary since that first matchup with the Ravens, but this hasn’t stopped teams from victimizing the Patriots’ pass defense either. For all the yards this defense has allowed, it has been able to limit the impact on the scoreboard, thanks in large part to turnovers and the fact that the offense has been able to stake them to large leads that dictate their opponents’ offensive game plan. Without the turnovers, however, this defense walks a thin line between bending and getting broken.

When the New England Patriots have the ball:
Pretty much like clockwork, New England’s offense had little trouble with Houston’s defense in last week’s win. The Patriots put up 457 yards and 41 points against the Texans, exceeding their regular-season averages of 428 yards and 35 points per game. The offense starts and ends with quarterback Tom Brady, who passed Joe Montana for most career playoff wins (17) while posting his fifth 300-yard passing game in the postseason. Brady completed 25-of-40 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns against the Texans, while he put up 335 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers against the Ravens in Week 3. However, Brady and the Patriots lost that game, and in seven career games against Baltimore, including the playoffs, he has thrown more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (seven), while completing less than 59 percent of his passes and averaging less than 244 yards passing per contest. Brady has particularly struggled in his two playoff matchups with the Ravens, including last season’s conference championship game when he tossed two interceptions and no touchdown passes. It’s no secret that the Patriots will need Brady to produce if they want to beat the Ravens, and he will have to do so without the services of Rob Gronkowski. The dynamic tight end, who missed some time during the regular season after breaking his forearm, re-injured the same arm against the Texans and will miss the remainder of the Patriots’ playoff run. New England doesn’t lack for weapons, not with wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd and tight end Aaron Hernandez among others, at Brady’s disposal, but that doesn’t mean the offense won’t miss Gronkowski’s presence either. That’s why running back Shane Vereen’s breakout game against Houston, in which he caught two touchdown passes and added a rushing score, couldn’t have come at a better time. The Patriots may need to rely on the running game a little more against the Ravens, which is where Vereen and leading rusher Stevan Ridley come into play. Ridley finished seventh in the NFL in the regular season with 1,263 yards rushing and contributed 82 yards on 15 carries (5.5 ypc) and a touchdown against the Texans last week. The first time against Baltimore, however, Ridley managed only 37 yards on the ground on 13 carries (2.8 ypc), so he will need to be more effective Sunday night. Sticking to their regular-season script, the Patriots didn’t have any turnovers versus the Texans, and are hoping for a second-straight mistake-free game against the Ravens. Pass protection is always a key for Brady’s effectiveness, and his offensive line surrendered just two sacks to the Ravens back in September.

Nowhere near as stout as in recent years, the Baltimore defense got the job done last Saturday against Denver in its Divisional Playoff showdown. While the Broncos finished with 398 yards of total offense, the Ravens forced quarterback Peyton Manning into three turnovers, returning one of his two interceptions for a touchdown, while holding the Broncos to just three yards per rushing attempt and only two offensive plays that covered more than 20 yards. In fact, if not for Broncos’ kick returner Trindon Holliday’s record-setting afternoon that featured a kickoff and punt return for touchdowns, this game may not have even gone into double overtime. But it did, and in the end it was the Ravens’ defense that made the game-changing plays, the biggest one being Corey Graham’s second interception late in the first overtime period, which set up Justin Tucker’s game-winning 47-yard field goal. Graham’s other pick also produced a score, as he returned his first-quarter interception 39 yards for a touchdown that gave Baltimore its first lead. Graham wasn’t even a starter at cornerback when the Ravens played the Patriots in Week 3, but that was before Lardarius Webb went down with a season-ending injury. Now firmly entrenched in the secondary, Graham will be called on again to put forth another big-game effort against the Patriots’ pass-catchers. Another change for the Ravens’ defense this time around will be the presence of pass-rusher and playmaker Terrell Suggs, who missed the first meeting in September while he was recovering from a partially torn Achilles tendon. And of course, the Ravens still have Ray Lewis patrolling the middle, as the Canton-bound linebacker is leaving it all on the field in his final season. Lewis followed up his 13-tackle effort in the Wild Card round with a season-high 17 stops against the Broncos. While Lewis may have lost a step and is somewhat limited by a triceps injury, his mere presence seems to elevate the defense’s play. Now it’s up to the Ravens’ defense to channel the emotion and energy the unit gets from its leader to its performance on the field. Anything but the defense’s strongest all-around effort probably won’t get the job done against the Patriots’ well-oiled, high-powered offensive machine.

Key Factor:
Let’s see, a conference championship rematch featuring one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history versus the game’s all-time winningest playoff quarterback? What’s not to like? In fact, whether it’s Baltimore or New England playing in New Orleans come Feb. 3, the AFC’s representative in Super Bowl XLVII will come pre-packaged with a made-for-TV subplot. For the Ravens it is Ray Lewis’ chance to ride off into the sunset on top, while the Patriots’ Tom Brady hopes to cement his place in Super Bowl history by capturing a fourth championship ring.

Before the endless media coverage of either storyline (not to mention so much more) can commence, however, the game to decide the AFC’s champion must be played. And this title game offers enough historical significance of its own, as it is the first conference championship rematch since Dallas and San Francisco battled for NFC supremacy three straight seasons in the early ‘90s (1992-94), and the first in the AFC since Cleveland and Denver faced off in 1986 and ’87.

It is very easy to pick the Patriots, since Brady is 17-6 in the postseason in his career and has the highest winning percentage in all home games of any quarterback whose career began in the Super Bowl era (min. 20 career starts). That said, Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco is no slouch himself when it comes to the playoffs, as his 7-4 postseason record puts him behind only Brady (17), Ben Roethilsberger (14), Peyton Manning (9), and Eli Manning (8) for playoff victories among active quarterbacks. And everyone except Eil Manning (11 career playoff games) has played in more playoff games than Flacco to this point. On top of that, five of Flacco’s seven postseason wins have come on the road, including one on Brady’s turf, a 33-14 victory over the Patriots in the Wild Card round on Jan. 10, 2010.

Playoff-tested quarterbacks and Hall of Fame-bound linebacker aside, this game will more than likely be decided based on which defense can rise to the occasion and make that key stop or force a pivotal turnover. The Ravens have had a fair amount of success holding Brady in check recently, while the Patriots’ defense has been bailed out more than once by a turnover or its own offense. In fact, last season it could be said that the Patriots got an assist from two Ravens — wide receiver Lee Evans, who dropped a potential game-tying touchdown pass and kicker Billy Cundiff, who then shanked the game-tying field goal attempt at the end of the game — in their 23-20 victory. Evans and Cundiff are both no longer on the Ravens’ roster, and with a nod to symmetry, I think their replacements — wide receiver Jacoby Jones and kicker Justin Tucker — will prove to be the difference in this one. After all, what’s wrong with adding another media-ready storyline to this game?

Prediction: Ravens 30, Patriots 28


NFC Championship Preview and Prediction: San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons

<p> AFC Championship Preview and Prediction: Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots</p>
Post date: Saturday, January 19, 2013 - 13:30
Path: /nfl/nfl-playoffs-picks-against-spread-nfc-afc-championship-games

A betting preview (against the spread) in the NFC and AFC Championship Games of the NFL Playoffs.

Lock of the Week
The great Colin Kaepernick takes his one-man band on the road to Atlanta this weekend, after passing for 263 yards, rushing for 181 yards and scoring four total TDs in San Fran during his playoff debut. The 49ers fell just short of a trip to the Super Bowl last season but they’ll be headed to New Orleans after winning this week.

49ers (-5) at Falcons
Matt Ryan is much better at home (34–6 career record, including playoffs) than he is on the road (23–19 record). But this season, he has struggled statistically at home, throwing 13 TDs and 11 INTs at the Georgia Dome compared to 21 TDs and five INTs on the road. The Niners defense will bring too much heat for Matty Ice to handle.

Backdoor Cover
Baltimore was shown no respect last week in Denver, entering the Divisional Round game as a 10-point underdog before pulling off a 38–35 double-overtime victory. Ray Lewis’ retirement tour may not shock the world this week, but it won’t go down without a fight — especially in a rematch of last year’s painful AFC title game loss.

Ravens (+10) at Patriots
Joe Flacco is 7–4 in the playoffs, with his four losses coming at New England (23–20), at Pittsburgh (31–24), at Indianapolis (20–3) and at Pittsburgh (23–14). In other words, Flacco is 10–1 as a 10-point underdog.

<p> NFL Playoffs Picks Against the Spread: NFC, AFC Championship Games, featuring the San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 18, 2013 - 12:19
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-weekend-preview-jan-19

The last time Louisville faced Syracuse, the Cardinals weren’t in great shape. Syracuse’s 58-49 win to end the regular season handed Louisville its eighth Big East loss and fourth loss in six games on March 3. Syracuse, meanwhile, won its 30th game of the season.

Louisville didn’t lose again until the Final Four to eventual national champion Kentucky. Since the Syracuse loss last season, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith have thrived on both sides of the court as the Cardinals have gone 24-2 since then.

It was a clear turning point for Louisville, but Syracuse is doing OK, too: The Orange reached the Elite Eight and started 16-1 this season.

While Louisville returns most of the cast that defeated Syracuse at the end of the regular season, the Orange brings some personnel making its first run through the Big East -- and personnel that will be worth watching in their first major road trip of the season.

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams, one of the major surprises of the season, will face Louisville’s press for the first time. And the roster is looking for a new scorer with James Southerland ineligible.

A game against this week’s No. 1 team will be a good time to confirm Syracuse’s spot among the elite, with or without Southland.

Syracuse at Louisville
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: KFC Yum! Center
(cap. 20,000)
Syracuse probable starters
G Michael Carter-Williams (6-6/185, So.)
G Brandon Triche (6-4/205, Jr.)
F C.J. Fair (6-8/215, Jr.)
F Rakeem Christmas (6-9/242, So.)
C DaJuan Coleman (6-9/288, Fr.)
Louisville probable starters
G Peyton Siva (6-0/185, Sr.)
G Russ Smith (6-0/165, Jr.)
G/F Wayne Blackshear (6-5/230, So.)
F Chane Behanan (6-6/250, So.)
C Gorgui Dieng (6-11/245, Jr.)

Game-defining matchup: Michael Carter-Williams vs. Russ Smith
Louisville’s Russ Smith is one of the nation’s most frustrating defenders, and he may be charged with disrupting the nation’s top assist man. Carter-Williams has cooled a bit since his hot start (but the numbers remain pretty good at six assists per game in the last three). He’s also shooting 10 of 38 from the field in the last three games. Smith will look to bottle up Carter-Williams and limit his playmaking ability, especially with Southerland out.

Player we’re watching: C.J. Fair
The Syracuse forward has been the team MVP the last two games, topping 20 points against Villanova and Providence to help fill the void left by Southerland. Fair is also 16 of 18 from the free-throw line in the last two games. Will that continue against a better team in Louisville?

Stat that matters: 20 bench points for Syracuse against Villanova
Southerland was one of Syracuse’s best scorers even if he didn’t start. Who will fill the role of Southerland’s 13.6 points per game and 5.2 rebounds. In the 72-61 win over Villanova, Syracuse got 20 points from its bench. Jerami Grant led the way with 13. But again, Villanova is no Louisville.

How Syracuse can win: Backcourt emerges more fearless
Brandon Triche can hit the big shot. Carter-Williams, clearly, is a major catalyst. But the Syracuse backcourt will need to be at its best against Smith and Peyton Siva and their ability to force turnovers. Beyond ball handling, Syracuse will need to be much better from the perimeter after the Orange are 11 of 52 (21.2 percent) from the three-point line in the last three games.

How Louisville can win: Cardinals counter Syracuse’s size in the frontcourt
Syracuse has been great on the offensive glass this season, grabbing 42 percent of offensive rebounds to lead the Big East. Louisville hasn’t been shabby, either, as the Cardinals rank in the top four in the Big East in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Gorgui Dieng, especially, has been effective on the glass since returning from injury. He has 14.3 rebounds per game in his last four.

Louisville 72, Syracuse 67

All times Eastern

Connecticut at Pittsburgh (Saturday, noon, ESPN2)
The stats suggest Pittsburgh is a top-20 caliber team — the Panthers are ranked ninth nationally by — but Jamie Dixon’s club has been given us reasons to be skeptical. The Panthers opened Big East play with a 2–3 record, including home losses to Cincinnati and Marquette and a defeat at Rutgers. UConn is playing spirited ball under first-year coach Kevin Ollie, but the Huskies lack the talent up front to be a factor in the Big East title race.

Maryland at North Carolina (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
The Terrapins recovered after losing back-to-back games to Florida State and Miami by defeating NC State 51-50 on Wednesday. North Carolina also ended a two-game losing streak last weekend. One team will have momentum on its side after this game, the other will be looking for answers.

Missouri at Florida (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
This is a key game between two teams that should remain in the hunt for the SEC title. Missouri hopes to regain the services of big man Laurence Bowers, who missed the Ole Miss game with a sprained MCL. The Gators have been banged up as well with Erik Murphy, Mike Rosario and Casey Prather facing injuries. All but Prather played against Texas A&M on Thursday.

Kansas at Texas (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS regional)
Texas is off to its worst start of the Rick Barnes era. The Longhorns dropped to 8–8 overall and 0–3 in the Big 12 with a 20-point loss at Iowa State last weekend. To avoid an 0–4 start in the league — which hasn’t happened since Tom Penders’ final season in 1998 — Texas must find a way to knock off the mighty Jayhawks. Kansas, which beat Baylor on Monday night, is 15–1 and well on its way to its ninth straight Big 12 championship.

Arizona at Arizona State (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network)
After flirting with disaster several times this season, Arizona finally suffered its first defeat  — by four points at Oregon. The Wildcats will be challenged by a much-improved Arizona State team that is 3­–1 in the Pac-12. Redshirt freshman guard Jahii Carson has been terrific for Herb Sendek. The Arizona native is averaging 17.1 points and 5.2 assists.

Creighton at Wichita State (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2)
Creighton is 4–0 in true road games, with wins at Cal, Nebraska, Illinois State and Missouri State. Wichita State, which lost three double-digit scorers from last year’s 27-win team, is NCAA Tournament-worthy once again. Senior forward Carl Hall, the Shockers’ top rebounder (7.6 rpg) and second-leading scorer (13.9 ppg), returned Wednesday after missing seven games with a thumb injury. He scored two points in 23 minutes off the bench.  

Oregon at UCLA (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
Arizona still might be the team to beat in the Pac-12, but Oregon and UCLA are playing very well as conference play heats up. The Ducks, who handed Arizona its first loss of the season, are 14–2 overall and 3–0 in the league. UCLA has bounced back from a tough start and won nine straight games. Freshman Shabazz Muhammad has scored 20-plus points in five of his last eight games.

Oklahoma at Kansas State (Saturday, 4 p.m., Big 12 syndication)
Kansas State is thriving with first-year coach Bruce Weber. The veteran Wildcats struggle to score at times, but they are solid on defense and crash the boards. Oklahoma, as expected, continues to improve under respected coach Lon Kruger. The Sooners would love to pick up a résumé-building road win.

Ohio State at Michigan State (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
Ohio State has nearly a week off to recover from its emotional win over Michigan on Sunday. The Buckeyes don’t have a ton of offensive weapons, but their No. 1 option, senior forward Deshaun Thomas, is an explosive scorer. Michigan State is 3–1 in the Big Ten, but we still don’t know too much about this team. This will be a tough test for Tom Izzo’s club.

Marquette at Cincinnati (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Cincinnati raced out to a 12–0 record this season but has struggled a bit of late, especially at home. The Bearcats have lost three straight at Fifth Third Arena, including two in league play. Marquette won its first three Big East games by the slimmest of margins. The Golden Eagles have overtime wins over UConn and Pittsburgh and beat Georgetown by one point at home.

UNLV at Colorado State (Saturday, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
UNLV hopes to flex its muscles in the Mountain West race after defeating San Diego State 82-75 on Wednesday. The Rebels shot 56.8 percent (29 of 51) from inside the three-point line against the Aztecs while outrebounding San Diego State 41-28. Colorado State is an NCAA contender with a good frontline of Colton Iverson (a Minnesota transfer) and Pierce Hornung.

Gonzaga at Butler (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
This is great matchup between two programs outside the power conferences that have found a way to win consistently. Gonzaga is an elite offensive team that can beat you from the perimeter or the paint. Butler will not be at full strength due to Rotnei Clarke’s injury. The senior sharpshooter suffered a neck injury in last week’s win at Dayton. Brad Stevens will have to be at his very best to put Butler in position to win this game — even at home.

Athlon Sports managing editor Mitch Light contributed to this report.

<p> Louisville's loss to Syracuse at the end of the 2011-12 regular season was a turning point for the Cardinals. Rick Pitino's team has been at the top of its game since then, but Syracuse remains a Big East leader. Missouri-Florida, Oregon-UCLA and Creighton-Wichita State are among other key games this week.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 18, 2013 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL, Golf
Path: /college-football/athlons-essential-11-links-day-4

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for January 18.

• The NFL's Final Four are set to do battle on Conference Championship Sunday. These elite teams also have elite cheerleading squads. Here's the photographic evidence.

ESPN offers a nice deconstruction of Lance Armstrong's mea culpa with Oprah. Bottom line: Lance is still trying to control the narrative. Here's a reaction from the cycling world.

• One of the people Armstrong admitted to steamrolling is not going to go quietly. She speaks her mind to Sports Illustrated.

• The Te'o plot thickens. Seems as if the supposed mastermind of the hoax has been chasing fame for a while now. He even auditioned for The Voice. It's also pretty clear that even if he was the victim of a hoax, Te'o continued to talk about his dead girlfriend after he knew she didn't exist. Finally, to prove that the Internet was invented for stories like this, here's a compilation of the funniest Te'o photos, GIFs and Tweets.

• With athletes in confessional mode, here's a list of the most shocking mea culpas in sports history. And here's a rundown of notable sports hoaxes.

• The Nike-Rory McIlroy marriage is off to a flying start. Rory missed the cut in Abu Dhabi in his first tournament with the new gear and the new multimillion-dollar contract. His Nike cohort Tiger Woods missed the cut too after a penalty for an illegal drop.

• In case you missed it, Colts Andrew Luck and Reggie Wayne appeared on this week's episode of Parks and Rec. Not bad, although they should stick to their day jobs.


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

January 17

• In keeping with today's theme of fictional women, here's a countdown of the hottest Bond girls, including Teri Hatcher. They may be fictional, but the actresses are real and spectacular.

• This could be an all-Manti Te'o edition of Eleven Links, but I'll try to limit it to a few key ones. Leave it to Clay Travis to really dig his teeth into the Te'o kerfuffle. Travis gives a good rundown of what we know and throws in some blindly irresponsible speculation for good measure.

• Meanwhile, Pro Football Talk delves into what's really important about the Te'o story.

• You've heard of Tebowing, and Kaepernicking, and planking. Those are so last week, or last year. Now, there's Te'oing. Anyone can do it.

• One by-product of this bizarre episode: Deadspin is now the most trusted name in sports journalism. Tim Burke, one of the blockbuster story's authors, shares the basic investigative journalism that went into the piece — too basic, apparently, for mainstream journalists.

Here's a Notre Dame student's take on Te'o. Worth a read.

• In reading the Te'o story, I couldn't help but be reminded of the kid who faked his own recruitment.

• While you were obsessing over Te'o, the games went on as usual. There was even a buzzer-beater.

• Continuing the theme of disgraced athletes, Tiger Woods apparently wants Elin back. Can you blame him? A guy can only eat at Perkins so many times.

• Remember boxer Kevin McBride? No? Us either. The guys at Mandatory bring us up to speed on the guy who beat Mike Tyson, then dropped out of sight.

• The other sports liar of the moment, Lance Armstrong, once filmed an anti-doping ad for Nike.

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

January 16

• SEC basketball is lagging behind the rest of the nation this season, but the cheerleaders still lead the pack. Here's a gallery of the SEC's finest.

The Bears finally have a coach. Marc Trestman is either a home run, or a swing and a miss. Just like every other coaching hire, in other words. For what it's worth, Brandon Marshall approves.

New York Post readers picked the all-time worst lying liars. There are three sports figures in the top 10.

• Last night in buzzer-beaters: Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson, a guy fans are learning to hate, broke Commodore hearts with a regulation prayer that forced overtime.

• Don't fret, Vandy fans — football season will be here before you know it. James Franklin is recruiting at an unprecedented level, thanks in part to business cards that look like they're made of metal.

• Uh-oh — Johnny Football and his WAG were sitting courtside at an NBA game. How can an amateur athlete afford courtside seats? Alert the council of elders at the NCAA.

• My last Brent Musberger post of the week: Brent gives ESPN a big FU via TMZ. Got it?

• I don't read German. Is this story implying that Tiger Woods and skier Lindsey Vonn are an item? English-speaking minds want to know.

• Shocking news — Missy Franklin is dominating her high school opponents.

• This is cool — Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 14 allows you to play Augusta National as it was in 1934.

• Who doesn't love those bad lip-reading videos? Finally, the NFL has joined the fun.

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

January 15

• There's a major tennis tournament going on. We won't bore you with the results; instead, we'll link to a slideshow of Victoria Azarenka and the other lovely ladies of the Australian Open.

This story of Jason Taylor's private pain is a sobering reminder of the way our gladiators suffer for our entertainment.

ESPN claims that Brent Musberger said the word "it," and that he didn't make a sexist remark about Holly Rowe. I'm having a Clinton-era flashback.

• In linking to these photos of Mike Trout reeling in a humongous grouper, I'll avoid the obvious fish puns and just wonder if there's anything the kid can't do.

• Along those same lines (no pun intended), here's an entire slideshow devoted to athletes fishing.

Nyjer Morgan either confessed to the world via Twitter that he cheated on his girlfriend, or he was the victim of an elaborate prank.

Today's headline of the day. Were those heads in a duffel bag?

• This may be a brazen attempt at boosting ratings for the broadcast of her interview, but Oprah says that Lance Armstrong "didn't come clean in the manner I expected."

• Pro wrestling may be fake, but suffering and death are real. Mandatory presents 10 shocking pro wrestler deaths.

ESPN personality Stuart Scott is battling cancer again. The guy's a frequent punching bag, but we wish him well in his struggle.

• Speaking of ESPN, Athlon has ranked the top SportsCenter anchors of all time.

• Today's video: an instant classic courtesy of the underrated comedy stylings of Key & Peele.

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

January 14

• The Packers' season is over, thanks to the 49ers. To console Green Bay fans, we present one last look at Laura, the hottest Packers fan on the planet.

• College football may be over, but the sports world marches on unchecked. A weekend round-up from our friends at Grantland.

The NFL weekend in GIF form. Prepare for plenty of Manningface.

Brendon Ayanbadejo has singlehandedly dialed up the intensity for this weekend's Ravens-Patriots AFC Championship game, 140 characters at a time.

• We knew this was coming, but it's still a pretty big deal: Nike's got Rory McIlroy. Kind of explains the Tiger-Rory bromance that blossomed last year, doesn't it?

• The two greatest quarterbacks of our era remain separated by their relative postseason success. Eleven years after Tom Brady benefited from the Tuck Rule, Peyton Manning didn't.

Is today the day Lance Armstrong comes clean? Can genuflecting before her Oprah-ness salvage his reputation?

Colin Kaepernick has brought the read option to the NFL. Money quote: "Kaepernick is everything Vince Young was supposed to be."

• Speaking of Kaepernick: Move over, Tebowing — make room for Kaepernicking.

The catch of the day comes from the mysterious world of cricket. Rule one: Protect the concessions.

An interesting post-mortem on Tim Tebow's career (if it is in fact over). Tebow has met the enemy, and it is us.

• In today's video, Tiger and Rory go mano-a-mano for Nike, Bird-Jordan style.

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

<p> The best sports links from the NFL, college football and basketball, MLB, the NBA, NASCAR and the world of entertainment.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 18, 2013 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, College Basketball, NFL, NBA, MLB, Golf
Path: /college-football/most-important-sports-confessions

A clear conscience is good for the soul. Or for some, it's good for the public reputation or book sales.

Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey was not a first in the sports world, nor was it a surprise -- he told the host he indeed used performance-enhancing drugs on the way to Tour de France titles and building the Livestrong nonprofit empire.

Some confessions are foisted upon athletes by the media, mainstream or otherwise (hello, Deadspin!), or by the athletes' peers. Other times, these confessions, simply put, help move memoirs and autobiographies.

Here are a handful of the sports world’s top confessions, ranging from admitting to recreational or performance-enhancing drug use, discussing money problems or revealing close personal secrets.

Jan. 17, 2013: Lance Armstrong
In a Monday interview with Oprah Winfrey, cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during his run of seven consecutive Tour de France titles. Armstrong had been stripped of his titles and had long been accused of doping, but his vociferous denials over the years made his confession itself a shock.

Jan. 16, 2013: Manti Te’o
In a statement in a response to a Deadspin article on the hoax of his deceased girlfriend, Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman finalist Manti Te’o states: “I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.” As more news and nuggets trickle out of the Lennay Kekua hoax story, this may not be the final confession.

May 2010: Floyd Landis
Before Armstrong revealed his PED-use, Landis did. Like Armstrong, he fought the accusation of doping on the way to a Tour de France title in 2006. After he tested positive for multiple PEDs, Landis implicated Armstrong and others in communication with anti-doping officials.

February 2012: Tiger Woods
A 2009 car accident set off a series of revelations about Tiger Woods’ personal life including infidelity. Woods admitted to widespread extramarital affairs in a public apology less than three months later. As multiple women came forward with stories of affairs with Woods, the golf superstar lost many of his endorsement deals.

January 2010: Mark McGwire
McGwire, who broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record in 1998, repeatedly said, “I’m not here to talk about the past,” during a Congressional hearing on steroids in 2005. By the time he wanted to re-enter baseball has a hitting coach in 2010 he talked about the past, admitting to taking performance enhancers at separate times throughout the 1990s, including during ’98 home run chase.

October 2009: Andre Agassi
In his autobiography Open, Agassi admitted to using crystal methamphetamine in 1997 and 1998. Originally, the tennis star claimed in a letter to the ATP that his failed drug test was due to accidentally taking the drug. Though another confession was less serious than using crystal meth, Agassi also admitted that for a time his legendary ‘do was actually a hairpiece.

October 2009: Theoren Fleury
A former star with the Calgary Flames, Fleury wrote in his autobiography he was sexually abused by a coach in junior hockey. The abuse, Fleury wrote, contributed to alcoholism.

August 2009: Rick Pitino
The Louisville basketball coach apologized in a press conference for “an indiscretion” that occurred six years prior. The indiscretion was an extramarital affair that led to extortion charges against the woman.

February 2009: Alex Rodriguez
After Sports Illustrated reported Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, Rodriguez told ESPN he used steroids with the Texas Rangers first in 2001 after he signed his record-breaking $252 million contract. Rodriguez called the era “loosey-goosey” and claimed he did not know what specific steroids he had been taking. Rodriguez had denied as recently as 2007 that he had ever taken steroids.

October 2007: Marion Jones
Marion Jones, who earned three gold medals in the 2000 Olympics, tearfully admitted to using PEDs and lying about it as part of the BALCO scandal.

May 2006: John Daly
The golfer has had his share of personal demons, but among them was a gambling problem he admitted in his autobiography in 2006. Daly wrote he lost up to $60 million during 12 years of gambling.

February 2006: Jose Canseco
In his tell-all book Juiced, Canseco wrote he used human growth hormone and steroids from beginning to end in his career, but the bigger legacy of Canseco’s book was accusations of the rampant use of PEDs through baseball during the 1990s. As he is now, Canseco was not considered to be the most reliable source of information, but the names mentioned — Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi and more — were revealed to be PED-users themselves.

January 2004: Pete Rose
In advance of his book My Prison Without Bars, baseball’s all-time hit leader admitted to what had kept him out of the Hall of Fame and baseball altogether since 1989 when he confessed to gambling on baseball and gambling on his own team to win. After his banishment from baseball, Rose first denied betting on baseball, then admitted to that but denied betting on the Reds while Cincinnati’s manager, then he finally admitted to betting on the Reds but only to win.

June 2002: Ken Caminiti
The list of denials, investigative reports and eventually confessions regarding steroids in baseball could take up the bulk of this page, but one of the first belonged to All-Star third baseman Ken Caminiti in this Sports Illustrated article. He told SI he used steroids so heavily during his 2006 National League MVP season his body had all but stopped producing natural testosterone. Caminiti died in October 2004 at age 41 of a heart attack.

November 1991: Magic Johnson
At 32, Magic Johnson retired abruptly in 1991, revealing in a news conference he tested positive for HIV. At the time, he did not reveal how he acquired the disease, but he later explained he had unprotected sex with multiple women.

August 1987: Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson
Though he battled drug problems for most of his career, Henderson admitted to one episode in his autobiography that was especially troubling. The former Dallas Cowboys linebacker wrote he used a cocaine-laced inhaler during the second half the Super Bowl XIII loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

1981: Martina Navratilova
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, at the height of her career, announced she is a lesbian. She is credited as the first major athlete — male or female — to come out while at the height of her fame. The same year, tennis star Billie Jean King was outed in a palimony suit by a female former partner.

<p> Lance Armstrong is only the latest in a long line of sports figures to confess a personal failing, joining Tiger Woods, Pete Rose, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and others who have broken their silence on controversies surrounding their careers.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 18, 2013 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/early-sec-football-predictions-2013

With Alabama’s convincing victory over Notre Dame in early January, the SEC ran its streak of consecutive national champions to seven. The bad news for the competition? The SEC isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s bigger and better than ever. Texas A&M is a program on the rise after winning 11 games in its first season in the conference, while quarterback Johnny Manziel claimed the 2012 Heisman Trophy. In addition to the Aggies, Ole Miss showed big improvement last season, and Vanderbilt made consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in program history.

What does it mean for 2013? Expect much of the same from the SEC. The conference is poised for another national championship, as Alabama is a heavy favorite to win the BCS title next season. While the Crimson Tide is a clear No. 1 pick in the preseason, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M could all play their way into the national championship conversation.

After disappointing seasons at Tennessee and Auburn, both programs changed head coaches. Butch Jones joins the Volunteers after three seasons at Cincinnati, while the Tigers hired former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn away from Arkansas State. Those two aren’t the only new coaches in the SEC next season, as Kentucky hired Mark Stoops to replace Joker Phillips, and Arkansas surprisingly pulled Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin.

There’s no easy out in the SEC, and it’s possible the conference has 11 or 12 bowl teams in 2013. 

Early SEC East Predictions for 2013

1. Georgia

Key Returnees: QB Aaron Murray, RB Todd Gurley, RB Keith Marshall, WR Malcolm Mitchell, WR Michael Bennett, WR Chris Conley, TE Arthur Lynch, LT Kenarious Gates, C David Andrews, RG Chris Burnette, RT John Theus, DE Ray Drew, DE Garrison Smith, LB Jordan Jenkins, LB Amarlo Herrera, CB Damian Swann

Key Departures: WR Tavarres King, WR Marlon Brown, DE Cornelius Washington, NT Kwame Geathers, DT John Jenkins, LB Jarvis Jones, LB Alec Ogletree, CB Sanders Commings, FS Bacarri Rambo, SS Shawn Williams

The No. 1 spot in the SEC East should be a tight battle between Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in 2013. For now, the Bulldogs have a slight edge in Athlon’s very early predictions for next season. Quarterback Aaron Murray turned down the NFL for one more season in Athens, which is crucial for Georgia’s national title hopes considering the losses on defense. Linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree decided to leave early for the next level, while defensive tackle John Jenkins, cornerback Sanders Commings and safety Bacarri Rambo each expired their eligibility after the Capital One Bowl. Considering the personnel to replace on defense, the Bulldogs may need to win a lot of high-scoring games early in the season. Mark Richt’s team has a favorable home conference schedule, which features South Carolina and LSU in September. If the defense comes together early in the year, Georgia could make a run at a national championship.

2. South Carolina

Key Returnees: QB Connor Shaw, QB Dylan Thompson, RB Brandon Wilds, RB Mike Davis, WR Bruce Ellington, WR Damiere Byrd, WR Shaq Roland, LT Corey Robinson, LG A.J. Cann, RT Brandon Shell, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Chaz Sutton, DT Kelcy Quarles, DT Gerald Dixon Jr., CB Jimmy Legree, S Brison Williams

Key Departures: RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Ace Sanders, TE Justice Cunningham, C T.J. Johnson, DE Devin Taylor, DT Byron Jerideau, LB Shaq Wilson, LB Reginald Bowens, CB Akeem Auguste, S DeVonte Holloman, S D.J. Swearinger

There’s not much separating South Carolina and Georgia for the top spot in the early SEC predictions. The Gamecocks have won 22 games over the last two years and are poised to contend for a BCS bowl in 2013. Steve Spurrier isn’t shy about rotating quarterbacks, and South Carolina has two dependable options (Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson) to rely on next season. Considering there’s no clear go-to back, the offense will likely lean on Shaw and Thompson to win a huge SEC showdown in Week 2 against Georgia. The defense loses a handful of key players, but defensive end (and Heisman candidate) Jadeveon Clowney is back for one more season in Columbia. After facing a difficult conference crossover schedule over the last few years, South Carolina does not play Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M or Ole Miss – arguably the top four teams in the SEC West.

3. Florida

Key Returnees: QB Jeff Driskel, RB Matt Jones, FB Trey Burton, WR Quinton Dunbar, C Jonotthan Harrison, RG Jon Halapio, RT Chaz Green, DE Dominique Easley, DE Jonathan Bullard, DE Dante Fowler, LB Antonio Morrison, LB Michael Taylor, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, CB Jaylen Watkins, CB Marcus Roberson, P Kyle Christy

Key Departures: RB Mike Gillislee, TE Jordan Reed, LT Xavier Nixon, LG James Wilson, DT Sharrif Floyd, DT Omar Hunter, LB Jelani Jenkins, LB Jon Bostic, S Matt Elam, S Josh Evans, K Caleb Sturgis

Are the Gators ready to emerge as an annual top-10 team once again? Or is Florida a year or two away from reaching that mark? That’s the big question facing this team in 2013. The Gators navigated a difficult schedule to finish 11-2 last season but was destroyed by Louisville in the Sugar Bowl and still averaged only 334.4 yards per game. With running back Mike Gillislee out of eligibility, Florida needs a big year from quarterback Jeff Driskel. After throwing for 1,646 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012, the junior will be asked to shoulder more of the offensive workload. The Gators lost coordinator Dan Quinn to the NFL and must replace standouts in defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, safety Matt Elam and linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic. Even though Florida has talent on this side of the ball, it may be difficult to finish fifth in total and scoring defense once again.

4. Vanderbilt

Key Returnees: RB Warren Norman, RB Brian Kimbrow, RB Wesley Tate, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Chris Boyd, OT Wesley Johnson, DE Walker May, DE Caleb Azibuke, LB Chase Garnham, LB Karl Butler, LB Darreon Herring, CB Andre Hal, S Kenny Ladler, S Javon Marshall

Key Departures: QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, OT Ryan Seymour, DE Johnell Thomas, DT Rob Lohr, LB Archibald Barnes, CB Trey Wilson, P Richard Kent

The Commodores enter 2013 with a seven-game winning streak and momentum on their side. Coach James Franklin has led Vanderbilt to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history and earning No. 3 is certainly within reach. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers and running back Zac Stacy must be replaced, but the offense caught a break when receiver Jordan Matthews decided to turn down the NFL for another season in Nashville. Bob Shoop is one of the SEC’s most underrated coordinators, and Vanderbilt should rank among the top-five defenses in the conference next year.

5. Tennessee

Key Returnees: RB Rajion Neal, RB Marlin Lane, LT Antonio Richardson, C James Stone, RG Zach Fulton, RT Ja’Wuan James, NG Daniel McCullers, DE Maurice Couch, LB A.J. Johnson, LB Jacques Smith, LB Curt Maggitt, CB Justin Coleman, S Byron Moore, S LaDarrell McNeil, DB Jaron Toney

Key Departures: QB Tyler Bray, WR Justin Hunter, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, TE Mychal Rivera, OG Dallas Thomas, DE Darrington Sentimore, LB Herman Lathers, CB Prentiss Waggner

After a disappointing three-year stint under Derek Dooley, Tennessee hopes new coach Butch Jones can get the Volunteers back on track. However, Jones is going to need some time to rebuild the roster, especially after quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson declared early for the NFL Draft. Although the skill positions need to be rebuilt, running backs Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane are back, along with four starters on the offensive line. The defense was a disaster under Sal Sunseri last season, but new coordinator John Jancek has some personnel to work with, including massive nose guard Daniel McCullers and linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt.

6. Missouri

Key Returnees: QB James Franklin, RB Henry Josey, RB Marcus Murphy, WR Marcus Lucas, WR Dorial Green-Beckham, WR L’Damian Washington, LG Evan Boehm, RT Justin Britt, DE Kony Ealy, DE Michael Sam, NG Matt Hoch, LB Donovan Bonner, LB/S Andrew Wilson, CB E.J. Gaines, CB Randy Ponder, FS Braylon Webb

Key Departures: RB Kendial Lawrence, WR T.J. Moe, WR Gahn McGaffie, OT Elvis Fisher, DE Brad Madison, DT Sheldon Richardson, LB Will Ebner, LB Zaviar Gooden, CB Kip Edwards, SS Kenronte Walker

Even though the Tigers check in No. 6 in the early SEC East predictions, they could surprise in 2013. Quarterback James Franklin was never 100 percent after offseason shoulder surgery, throwing for just 1,562 yards and 10 touchdowns. Expect the senior to regain the form from his junior year, which resulted in 3,846 total yards and 36 overall scores. The Tigers also regain the services of running back Henry Josey, who missed 2012 with a serious knee injury. Considering the departure of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and a couple of key players in the back seven, there’s more pressure on Missouri’s offense to deliver and likely win more shootouts next season.

7. Kentucky

Key Returnees: QB Jalen Whitlow, QB Patrick Towles, QB Maxwell Smith, RB Raymond Sanders, RB Jonathan George, WR Demarco Robinson, WR Daryl Collins, LT Darrian Miller, LG Zach West, RT Kevin Mitchell, DT Donte Rumph, DT Mister Cobble, DT Tristian Johnson, LB Avery Williamson, LB Alvin Dupree, LB/S Miles Simpson, CB J.D. Harmon, S Ashely Lowery

Key Departures: WR La’Rod King, WR Aaron Boyd, C Matt Smith, RG Larry Warford, DE Collins Ukwu, DE Taylor Wyndham, CB Cartier Rice, S Martavius Neloms

New coach Mark Stoops certainly has some work to do to get the Wildcats back in a bowl game. Kentucky’s offense ranked as one of the worst in college football last season, averaging just 17.9 points a game. Injuries to quarterback Patrick Towles and Maxwell Smith never allowed the offense to get on track, while freshman Jalen Whitlow was thrown into the fire too early. All three quarterbacks are back in 2013, and Kentucky’s offense should be better under new coordinator Neal Brown. Stoops’ background on defense will immediately help a unit that allowed 391 yards and 31 points a game last season. The Wildcats played a handful of young players on defense in 2012, which should give some hope that Kentucky can make considerable progress on this side of the ball in 2013.

Early SEC West Predictions for 2013

1. Alabama

Key Returnees: QB AJ McCarron, RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper, WR Kevin Norwood, WR Christion Jones, LT Cyrus Kouandijo, OG Anthony Steen, C Ryan Kelly, DE Jeoffrey Pagan, NG Brandon Ivory, LB C.J. Mosley, LB Trey DePriest, LB Adrian Hubbard, LB Xzavier Dickson, LB Denzel Devall, CB Deion Belue, CB John Fulton, CB Geno Smith,S Vinnie Sunseri, S Nick Perry, S HaHa Clinton-Dix

Key Departures: RB Eddie Lacy, TE Michael Williams, LG Chance Warmack, C Barrett Jones, RT D.J. Fluker, DE Damion Square, NG Jesse Williams, LB Nico Johnson, CB Dee Milliner, S Robert Lester

The Crimson Tide enters 2013 as a heavy favorite to win their fourth national title in five seasons. The biggest area of concern for coach Nick Saban will be an offensive line that must replace guard Chance Warmack, center Barrett Jones and right tackle D.J. Fluker. However, quarterback AJ McCarron is back after a standout junior season, while running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper will be in the mix for All-SEC honors. Nose guard Jesse Williams, linebacker Nico Johnson, cornerback Dee Milliner and safety Robert Lester are big losses, but Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart shouldn’t have any trouble keeping the Crimson Tide’s defense ranked among the best in college football. The Sept. 14 showdown at Texas A&M could decide the SEC West title. Even though the Aggies got the best of Alabama in 2012, the guess here is the Crimson Tide gets revenge for last season’s loss.  

2. Texas A&M

Key Returnees: QB Johnny Manziel, RB Ben Malena, RB Trey Williams, WR Mike Evans, WR Malcome Kennedy, OT Jake Matthews, LG Jarvis Harrison, RG Cedric Ogbuehi, DE Julien Obioha, NG Kirby Ennis, LB Steven Jenkins, LB Toney Hurd, Jr., CB Deshazor Everett, CB De’Vante Harris, S Howard Matthews, S Tramain Jacobs

Key Departures: RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, WR Uzoma Nwachukwu, LT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, DE Damontre Moore, DT Spencer Nealy, LB Jonathan Stewart, LB Sean Porter, CB Dustin Harris, S Steven Terrell

The Aggies’ debut season in the SEC was a huge success. What will coach Kevin Sumlin and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel do for an encore? How about a national championship? It’s certainly within reach for Texas A&M, as Manziel is back for his sophomore season, and the backfield is loaded with options with Ben Malena, Brandon Williams and Trey Williams. With Luke Joeckel moving to the NFL, Jake Matthews is expected to slide from right tackle to the left side. The defense is the biggest concern for Sumlin, as defensive end Damontre Moore left early for the NFL, and this unit ranked ninth in the SEC in yards allowed in 2012. The Aggies aren’t going to surprise anyone in 2013, but Sumlin has this team poised to make a run at the top five and a SEC Championship. 

3. LSU

Key Returnees: QB Zach Mettenberger, RB Jeremy Hill, RB Kenny Hilliard, RB Alfred Blue, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Kadron Boone, WR Odell Beckham, LG La’el Collins, RG Trai Turner, RT Vadal Alexander, DT Anthony Johnson, DT Ego Ferguson, LB Lamin Barrow, LB Deion Jones, CB Jalen Mills, CB Jalen Collins, S Craig Loston, S Ronald Martin, S Micah Eugene

Key Departures: RB Michael Ford, RB Spencer Ware, LT Josh Dworaczyk, OT Chris Faulk, C P.J. Lonergan, DE Lavar Edwards, DE Barkevious Mingo, DE Sam Montgomery, DT Bennie Logan, DT Josh Downs, LB Kevin Minter, CB Tharold Simon, S Eric Reid

Although the Tigers have recruited as well as anyone in the SEC, replacing 11 early departures to the NFL won’t be easy. If LSU wants to challenge Alabama or Texas A&M for the SEC West title, quarterback Zach Mettenberger has to get better. He finished with 2,609 yards, 12 touchdown tosses and seven interceptions in 2012. Mettenberger will have plenty of help, as sophomore Jeremy Hill could be a 1,000-yard rusher, while the receiving corps is set with the return of Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Defensive coordinator John Chavis is among the best in college football, and he will certainly have his hands full in 2013. The Tigers must replace defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, defensive tackles Josh Downs and Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid. Considering all of the early departures to the NFL, LSU’s defense may struggle early but will get stronger as the year progresses. The Tigers also have a challenging schedule, which starts with a neutral site matchup against TCU, followed by road games in the SEC against Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama. 

4. Ole Miss

Key Returnees: QB Bo Wallace, QB Barry Brunetti, RB Jeff Scott, WR Donte Moncrief, WR Ja-Mes Logan, WR Vince Sanders, LT Emmanuel McCray, LG Aaron Morris, C Evan Swindall, RT Pierce Burton, DE C.J. Johnson, DE Channing Ward, DT Isaac Gross, LB Denzel Nkemdiche, LB Mike Marry, CB Charles Sawyer, CB Senquez Golson, FS Cody Prewitt, S Trae Elston, DB Mike Hilton

Key Departures: TE Jamal Mosley, RG A.J. Hawkins, DT Gilbert Pena, DT Uriah Grant, LB Joel Kight

The Rebels were one of college football’s most-improved teams in 2012, going from 2-10 in 2011 to 7-6 last season. Hugh Freeze clearly has Ole Miss on the right track, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rebels begin 2013 in some preseason top 25 lists. In addition to a top-15 recruiting class coming to Oxford, Ole Miss returns nearly all of its key players for 2013. Quarterback Bo Wallace will miss spring practice due to shoulder surgery, but backup Barry Brunetti can benefit from the extra snaps. The defense made considerable progress in 2012, finishing seventh in the SEC in yards allowed and averaged 2.9 sacks a game. With more depth and experience next season, Ole Miss’ defense should take another step forward.

5. Mississippi State

Key Returnees: QB Tyler Russell, RB LaDarius Perkins, RB Josh Robinson, WR Robert Johnson, TE Malcolm Johnson, LT Blaine Clausell, LG Gabe Jackson, C Dillon Day, RT Charles Siddoway, DE Denico Autry, DE Kaleb Eulls, DE Preston Smith, DT Curtis Virges, LB Benardrick McKinney, LB Deontae Skinner, LB Matthew Wells, S Nickoe Whitley, S Jay Hughes

Key Departures: WR Chad Bumphis, WR Chris Smith, WR Arceto Clark, TE Marcus Green, RG Tobias Smith, DT Josh Boyd, LB Cameron Lawrence, CB Johnthan Banks, CB Darius Slay, SS Corey Broomfield

2012 was a tale of two seasons for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs started 7-0 but finished a disappointing 1-5 in their final six games. Why the collapse? The schedule got tougher during the second half of the season, and the defense gave up 30 or more points in five out of the last six games. Coach Dan Mullen promoted Geoff Collins to defensive coordinator, hoping a more aggressive scheme will result in improvement next season. In addition to making improvement on defense, the Bulldogs have to get more production from quarterback Tyler Russell. Mullen has elevated the program, but Mississippi State will have a hard time finishing in the top four of the SEC West next season.

6. Auburn

Key Returnees: QB Kiehl Frazier, QB Jonathan Wallace, RB Tre Mason, WR Trovon Reed, WR Quan Bray, LT Greg Robinson, C Reese Dismukes, RG Chad Slade, DE Dee Ford, DT Angelo Blackson, DT Gabe Wright, DE Nosa Eguae, LB Cassanova McKinzy, LB Jake Holland, CB Joshua Holsey, CB Chris Davis, CB Jonathon Mincy, S Demetruce McNeal, S Jermaine Whitehead

Key Departures: RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, LG John Sullen, DE Corey Lemonier, LB Daren Bates

After a disastrous 3-9 record in 2012, Auburn has made all of the right moves to put the program back on track. New coach (and former offensive coordinator) Gus Malzahn is back after spending last season at Arkansas State, and his return is crucial for an offense that averaged just 18.7 points a game. Malzahn’s first order of business is choosing between Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace as the team’s starting quarterback. Neither player was particularly impressive but didn’t have much help from their supporting cast. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has a wealth of experience from his stops at Alabama, Mississippi State and South Carolina and should help Auburn’s defense make noticeable improvement in 2013. The Tigers aren’t going to challenge for the SEC West title but a bowl game is a reasonable expectation.

7. Arkansas

Key Returnees: RB Jonathan Williams, WR Mekale McKay, WR Javontee Herndon, WR Brandon Mitchell, WR Julian Horton, C Travis Swanson, OT David Hurd, DE Chris Smith, DE Trey Flowers, DT Byran Jones, DT Robert Thomas, LB A.J. Turner, LB Otha Peters, CB Tevin Mitchel, S Rohan Gaines, S Eric Bennett

Key Departures: QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis, RB Dennis Johnson, WR Cobi Hamilton, TE Chris Gragg, OG Alvin Bailey, OG Tyler Deacon, DT Alfred Davis, LB Ross Rasner, LB Terrell Williams, LB Alonzo Highsmith

Time and patience. That’s the key words surrounding Bret Bielema’s first season in Fayetteville. Arkansas has a lot of roster turnover to overcome next year, starting at quarterback. Tyler Wilson has expired his eligibility, leaving Brandon Allen as the team’s likely No. 1 quarterback in the spring. Another problem for Allen will be the lack of a proven running back, along with the early departure of guard Alvin Bailey to the NFL. Jim Chaney was a good hire as the team’s offensive coordinator but points could be hard to come by in 2013. While the offense will be a work in progress, the defense has enough talent to be competitive next season. The Razorbacks have a solid defensive line with the return of Chris Smith, Trey Flowers, Byran Jones and Robert Thomas. And the secondary should be improved with a full year from cornerback Tevin Mitchel and safety Eric Bennett. 

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<p> Early SEC Football Predictions for 2013</p>
Post date: Friday, January 18, 2013 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/looking-back-top-recruits-2007

The top prospects of the 2007 signing class was a cautionary tale of sorts.

USC was the big winner on National Signing Day that year as the Trojans claiming four of the top 10 prospects in one of the final classes of Pete Carroll’s tenure. The top prospects, though, didn’t pan out. Of Everson Griffen, Joe McKnight, Chris Galippo and Marc Tyler, none of USC’s top four prospects made first-team all-conference.

But USC wasn’t alone. Defensive tackle Marvin Austin played a role in North Carolina landing on probation. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen was not the all-world quarterback he was expected to be for Notre Dame.

The best two prospects in the top 10 even came with caveats. Quarterback Ryan Mallett didn’t become a starter until he transferred from Michigan to Arkansas, where he flourished. And safety Eric Berry was an All-American safety, but he did it for Tennessee teams that struggled during his time in the spotlight.

1. Everson Griffen, DE, Avondale, Ariz. (USC)
Griffen came out of Agua Fria High School as one of the most physically gifted athletes ever to enter the collegiate ranks. Nicknamed “The Freak” after Jevon Kearse, Griffen posted 77 tackles, 16 sacks and 1,251 yards rushing with 22 touchdowns as a senior — at 6-4 and 266 pounds. In 2007, Griffen earned Freshman All-America honors. As a junior, the defensive end earned second-team All-Pac-10 selection. Following a bowl win over Boston College, Griffen announced he would skip his final season at USC. He was selected in the fourth round in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.

2. Joe McKnight, RB, River Ridge, La. (USC)
This talented tailback was no stranger to the spotlight, as he led John Curtis High School to three consecutive state titles and an unbeaten 14–0 campaign as a senior. McKnight shunned the home state LSU Tigers for the bright lights of Los Angeles. He produced his only 1,000-yard season in 2009, as a junior, before leaving early for the NFL. The No. 1 running back recruit in the nation finished his USC career with 2,213 yards rushing, ranking him 14th all-time in school history. However, his average of 6.4 yards per carry is second best at USC behind only Reggie Bush. McKnight was a fourth-round of the New York Jets in 2010.

3. Marvin Austin, DT, Washington, D.C. (North Carolina)
The Tar Heels won the National Signing Day battle for Austin over Florida State, USC and Tennessee. As a true freshman, Austin justified his lofty ranking by playing in all 12 games, starting three, and registering 26 tackles and 4.0 sacks. After a second-team All-ACC performance as a junior in 2009 (42 tackles, 4.0 sacks), Austin was poised for a huge senior season. Yet, he and 12 other Tar Heels were suspended for the start of the ’10 while under investigation for receiving improper benefits. Austin was eventually dismissed from the team in October. He was selected by the Giants in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

4. Jimmy Clausen, QB, Westlake Village, Calif. (Notre Dame)
The younger brother of two SEC quarterbacks, Casey and Rick, Jimmy entered college as the highest-profile signal-caller in the '07 class. Hailing from “Celebrity High,” Clausen did little to dispel his reputation as a showman. His polarizing commitment, in which he picked Notre Dame at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, featured an infamous stretch Hummer limo and a vow to win multiple national championships. After struggling as a freshman, Clausen began to prove the doubters wrong as he finished his collegiate career with back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons and an outstanding 28-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2009. Unfortunately for Clausen and head coach Charlie Weis, the only stat that mattered was his 13–12 starting record over his final two years. Weis was fired, and Clausen fell to Carolina in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

5. Ryan Mallett, QB, Texarkana, Texas (Michigan)
Possessing one of the strongest arms in recent history, Mallett signed with the Lloyd Carr-led Michigan Wolverines out of high school. Once spread guru Rich Rodriguez took over for the retiring Carr, Mallett was out the door. He transferred closer to home to play for Arkansas. He sat out the 2008 season before posting two of the best passing seasons in Razorback history. Mallett topped 3,600 yards and 30 touchdowns in both campaigns, finishing his two-year stint in Fayetteville with most of Arkansas’ major passing records, including most yards in a season (3,869) and most yards in a career (7,493). He set 16 school records in 2009 and capped his career with a seventh-place finish in the Heisman voting in 2010. He left Arkansas early and was drafted in the third round in 2011 by the New England Patriots.

6. Marc Tyler, RB, Yorba Linda, Calif. (USC)
From the same program as Jimmy Clausen — Oaks Christian — Tyler redshirted in 2007 after breaking his before the CIF playoffs as a senior. He played in eight games in 2008 before missing all but one game of the 2009 season with a toe injury. Tyler rebounded in 2010, starting eight games and leading the team in rushing with 913 yards. He missed two more games as a senior and regressed statistically in 2011. Tyler finished his USC career with 1,751 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns.

7. Eric Berry, ATH, Fairburn, Ga. (Tennessee)
Berry made an immediate impact, starting every game in 2006 and earning SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. He set the SEC’s all-time record for interception return yards (487) after only two seasons. A two-time consensus All-American, Berry racked up the awards as a junior, being named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and earning the Jim Thorpe Award. He was the fifth overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

8. Tray Allen, OL, Grand Prairie, Texas (Texas)
The top prep lineman in the nation finished with 44 games played in his collegiate career but made only six career starts. He appeared in nine games at tackle as a freshman and 11 games at the same position as a sophomore. He played in 11 games at guard in 2009, helping the Horns to an undefeated regular season record and BCS Championship Game berth. After missing the entire 2010 campaign with a foot injury, Allen returned to the field for the final time in 2011. He played in all 13 games last fall, including the only six starts of his career.

9. Chris Galippo, LB, Corona, Calif. (USC)
Galippo’s career got off to a rocky start when he suffered a herniated disk that abruptly ended his freshman season. He was able to redshirt and returned to the field in 2008, playing in 10 games before earning the starting middle linebacker position in 2009. Galippo lost the starting job in ‘10, finishing with only 29 tackles in seven starts. He played in all 12 games as a senior in 2011, racking up 47 total tackles.

10. Terrence Toliver, WR, Hempstead, Texas (LSU)
Toliver earned SEC All-Freshman honors in 2007 after catching 10 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns. He played but did not catch a pass in the Tigers' National Championship win over Ohio State. He broke through two years later with his best statistical season — 53 receptions, 735 yards and three touchdowns. Toliver ended his four-year career with 126 catches, 1,820 yards and 12 total touchdowns. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Houston Texans following the 2011 NFL Draft.

11. Chad Jones, S, Baton Rouge, La. (LSU)
Jones was a 13th-round pick of the Houston Astros out of high school but opted to attend LSU. While in Baton Rouge, Jones played on the 2007 LSU football national championship team and the 2009 LSU baseball national championship team, becoming one of only two college athletes to accomplish the feat (with teammate Jared Mitchell). Jones, who started 19 games in three seasons, skipped his senior year and was picked by the New York Giants in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft and the Milwaukee Brewers in the 50th round of the ’10 MLB Draft

12. Arrelious Benn, WR, Washington, D.C. (Illinois)
Benn’s freakish athletic ability was on full display from Game 1 in his Illinois career. He caught five passes for 74 yards and carried the ball three times in his first game against Missouri. He went on to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2007 and finished with an Illinois freshman-record 54 catches and 676 yards. As a sophomore, he earned team MVP honors. One year later, Benn ended his three-year career fourth all-time in all-purpose yards (3,613), fifth all-time in receptions (159), sixth all-time in receiving yards (2,221) and sixth in kick return yards (996). Benn was the 39th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
13. Ronald Johnson, ATH, Muskegon, Mich. (USC)
Johnson was listed by some recruiting services as a cornerback but he shined at USC as a wide receiver. His best season came as a senior, when he caught 64 passes for 692 yards and eight scores. He finished his career with 138 catches, 1,750 yards and 20 touchdowns. The San Francisco 49ers selected him in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

14. Curtis Brown, CB, Gilmer, Texas (Texas)
Brown was a four-year contributor down for Mack Brown. He played in all 13 games as a true freshman and finished his career by starting 24 of his last 26 games — including all 14 games in the 2009 unbeaten regular season. He finished his career with 52 games played, 28 starts, 120 total tackles and was second-team All-Big 12 as a senior. He was selected in the third round of the 2011 Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

15. Noel Devine, RB, North Fort Myers, Fla. (West Virginia)
The tiny speedster made an immediate impact at West Virginia, rushing for 627 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman. He then posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and entered his senior campaign as a Heisman candidate. Injuries, however, derailed his final year, and he finished 64 yards shy of his third straight 1,000-yard season. Devine finished his career with 4,317 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns on the ground to go with 98 receptions and 710 yards receiving. He went undrafted in the 2011 NFL Draft before being signed by the Eagles in July 2011. A month later he signed with the Omaha Nighthawks in the UFL before landing in the CFL on the Montreal Alouettes in February 2012.

16. Torrey Davis, DT, Seffner, Fla. (Florida)
The peak of Davis’ Florida career came in the 2009 BCS Championship Game when he made two goal line tackles against Oklahoma. However, his two-year stint in Gainesville was plagued with academic and disciplinary suspensions. He was on probation for knowingly driving on a suspended license when he left the Florida football team, only to be arrested shortly thereafter for the same transgression. He transferred to Jacksonville State and played one season, earning a spot on the OVC All-Newcomer team.

17. Josh Oglesby, OL, Milwaukee, Wisc. (Wisconsin)
Oglesby, one of the highest-rated recruits ever to sign with the Badgers, battled injuries throughout his career. Still, he played in 41 games, starting 28, while paving the way for record-setting tailback Montee Ball. He played a full season in 2011, starting 13 games for the Big Ten champions and earning consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors.

18. Aaron Corp, QB, Villa Park, Calif. (USC)
Corp backed up Mark Sanchez during his first two seasons at USC. Then, after Matt Barkley grabbed the reins of the USC offense as a true freshman in 2009, Corp opted to transfer to Richmond in January 2010. He started the first five games of the 2010 season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. As a senior in 2011, he started 11 games and threw for 2,682 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

19. Caleb King, RB, Norcross, Ga. (Georgia)
King posted a Georgia state record 2,768 yards rushing as a junior and built a legendary prep name for himself in the process. However, he failed to live up to the hype in Athens. He never reached the 20-carry plateau in a game and rushed for at least 100 yards only twice in his career. He was academically ineligible as a senior in 2011 and ended his disappointing career with 1,271 yards and 10 touchdowns.

20. Anthony Davis, OL, Piscataway, N.J. (Rutgers)
Davis, one of the highest-rated recruits ever to sign with Rutgers, enjoyed an outstanding three-year career with the Scarlet Knights. He was a two-time first-team All-Big East, and he earned second-team All-America honors as a junior in 2009. Davis skipped his final season of eligibility and was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the 11th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the highest ever for a Scarlet Knight.

21. Ben Martin, DE, Cincinnati (Tennessee)
Martin played in 20 games in his first two seasons as a reserve before breaking into the starting lineup as a junior in 2009. He set career highs that season with 38 tackles, five sacks and six tackles for a loss. He missed the entire 2010 season due to a torn Achilles before returning for his final campaign in 2011, when he started eight games. Martin finished his career with 81 total tackles, six sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.

22. Deonte Thompson, WR, Belle Glade, Fla. (Florida)
The in-state speedster redshirted his first season in Gainesville before playing in 52 of his possible 54 career games, making 34 starts along the way. Thompson caught 18 passes for 269 yards and three scores during the Gators’ 2008 National Championship run, but his best season came in 2010 when he posted career bests in receptions (38) and yards (570). He ended his career with 101 receptions for 1,446 and nine touchdowns.

23. Kristofer O’Dowd, OL, Tucson, Ariz. (USC)
O’Dowd became the first true freshman at USC to start at center. The following season, in 2008, he was named first-team All-Pac-10. He missed five games due to a kneecap injury in 2009 before starting all 13 games as a senior in 2010. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Arizona Cardinals but was cut just before the start of the season.

24. Donovan Warren, CB, Long Beach, Calif. (Michigan)
The godson of former USC great Mark Carrier, Warren surprised fans when he picked Michigan over the Trojans. He started 11 of 13 games in 2007 and was named Big Ten Defensive Freshman of the Year. He posted 52 total tackles in 2008 and then led the team in interceptions (four) in 2009 while recording a career-high 66 total tackles. Warren left college early for the NFL but went undrafted in 2010.

25. Eugene Clifford, S, Cincinnati (Ohio State)
Clifford played in four games as a true freshman in Columbus but was suspended prior to the BCS National Championship Game. He was charged six months later with assault for allegedly punching two men at a bar. This incident led to his departure from the team and a transfer to Tennessee State, where he was a three-year starter and a two-time All-OVC pick. Clifford went undrafted in 2011.

26. Ryan Miller, OL, Littleton, Colo. (Colorado)
The Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year picked the home-state Buffaloes over Miami, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, USC and Nebraska. His impact in Boulder was felt immediately as he started seven games as a true freshman, earning first-team Freshman All-America honors. He broke his fibula early in 2008 but was granted a medical redshirt and returned to the starting lineup in 2009. He played in all but one of Colorado’s offensive snaps that season and went on to start his final two seasons with the Buffs, as well. Miller was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

27. Tyrod Taylor, Hampton, Va. (Virginia Tech)
It took only two games for Frank Beamer to realize what he had in Taylor, who got his first start in Game 3 of his true freshman season. After earning extended playing time in 2007, Taylor was set to redshirt in 2008, but the decision was quickly reversed, and Taylor played in 12 games, claiming his first of two ACC Championship Game MVP trophies. He continued his development as a junior when he showed marked improvement in his efficiency as a passer, setting career highs in passing yards and touchdowns while leading the Hokies to a 10-win season. Taylor took his game to a championship level as a senior. He claimed ACC Player of the Year honors en route to an unbeaten ACC regular season and title game win. Taylor left campus as Virginia Tech’s career record-setter for total offense (9,213), passing yards (7,017), rushing yards by a quarterback (2,196), wins by a starting quarterback (34) and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (23).

28. Martez Wilson, DE, Chicago (Illinois)
As a true freshman, Wilson played in all 13 games at linebacker and was a Freshman All-American by several outlets. He finished 14th in the Big Ten in tackles (6.6 per game) as a sophomore before suffering a herniated disc in his neck in the 2009 season opener. He redshirted and returned to become a first-team All-Big Ten performer in 2010. The team captain finished his career with 223 total tackles and nine sacks. Wilson was selected in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints after forgoing his senior season at Illinois.

29. J’Courtney Williams, LB, Danville, Va. (Virginia)
Williams’ career at Virginia ended prematurely. He was redshirted as a freshman and underwent multiple shoulder surgeries. In February 2008, he was placed on probation on a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession and later charged with credit card theft and fraud. Virginia announced in early April 2008 that Williams would not return to the team. He intended to transfer to Hampton but never played a game for the Pirates, instead landing at El Camino (Calif.) Community College. He eventually signed with Liberty in 2010 but never played a game for the Flames.

30. Dre Jones, DT, El Paso, Texas (Texas)
Jones was a U.S. Army All-American before he ran into some legal trouble. After he was charged with aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon — he and a teammate were accused of holding up two victims at an Austin apartment complex — Jones was considered a fugitive for a short period of time. He was apprehended and spent his 18th birthday in a Travis County Jail cell. Texas coach Mack Brown suspended Jones immediately, and he never played for the Horns. He pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony, before returning home in an effort to join UTEP for the 2009 season. But a car accident forced Jones to have knee surgery in October 2008, and the Miners decided not to admit the troubled defensive tackle.

31. John Chiles, WR, Dallas (Texas)
This do-everything dual-threat dynamo began his career under center for the Longhorns. He made his debut as true freshman, carrying 36 times for 191 yards. He played one more season as the backup, change-of-pace quarterback before officially landing at wide receiver in 2009. He made 15 starts over his last two seasons, catching 63 passes for 737 yards and four touchdowns over that span. Chiles finished his Texas career with one 100-yard receiving game. He played in 41 games, 19 at quarterback and 22 at wide receiver, and totaled 543 yards of total offense with eight total touchdowns.
32. James Wilson, OL, St. Augustine, Fla. (Florida)
Wilson has played in 38 games as a Gator, but has managed only six starts due to a rash of injuries. He started one game in 2011, the Gator Bowl win vs. Ohio State. Wilson was granted a sixth season of eligibility and is projected to be a starter at guard in 2012.  

33. Justin Trattou, DE, Ramsey, N.J. (Florida)
Trattou broke into the rotation as a reserve defensive linemen in 2007. He made 13 starts as a sophomore on the one-loss 2008 BCS National Championship squad that beat Oklahoma in the title game. He played in every game over the final two seasons of his college career, finishing with 31 career starts, 121 total tackles (26 for a loss) and 8.5 sacks. Trattou went undrafted in 2011 but signed with the New York Giants and appeared in six regular-season games for the eventual Super Bowl champions.

34. Carlos Dunlap, DE, North Charleston, S.C. (Florida)
One of the freakiest athletes ever to play high school football — the 6-6, 290-pounder returned kickoffs at Fort Dorchester — Dunlap was an immediate contributor for the Gators. He played in all 13 games as a freshman before earning his first career start in 2008. Dunlap recorded a team-leading 13.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks on the 2008 National Championship team, and he was named Defensive MVP of the title game. The next season, the talented end helped Florida to an undefeated regular season and berth in the SEC Championship Game with eyes on a second-straight BCS title. But Dunlap was arrested on a DUI charge just days before the SEC title game and missed only the second game of his career. Dunlap finished his career with 14 starts in 40 games played, 84 total tackles, 19.5 sacks and 26 tackles for a loss. He was selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.

35. Aaron Hernandez, TE, Bristol, Conn. (Florida)
The talented tight end saw action in all 13 games as a true freshman, starting three times and catching nine passes. He vaulted into the Gators' starting lineup as a sophomore and became one of Tim Tebow’s top targets en route to the BCS National Championship. As a junior, he developed into the best tight end in the nation. After leading the team in receptions (68) and finishing second in yards (850), Hernandez became the first SEC player to win the John Mackey Award, given annually to the nation’s top tight end. He was an AP first-team All-American and finished his career with 111 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. Reports of failed tests for marijuana pushed Hernandez down draft boards and into the fourth round, where the New England Patriots got one of the steals of the 2010 NFL Draft.

36. Joseph Barksdale, DT, Detroit (LSU)
The transplant from Michigan contributed early for the 2007 BCS National Champions by playing in all 14 games as a true freshman. The following year, Barksdale took a starting spot at offensive tackle as a sophomore and never looked back, finishing with 39 consecutive starts to end his LSU career. He played in all 53 possible games and earned All-SEC second-team honors as a senior. He was a third-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in the 2011 NFL Draft.

37. Marshall Jones, S, Agoura Hills, Calif. (USC)
Jones saw limited action in his first two seasons at USC, playing in 17 games. After being moved from safety to corner in the spring of 2009, Jones lasted four games before suffering a neck injury that ended his season. He retuned to the field for his final two seasons but never became more than a special teamer. He finished his career with 54 total tackles — 35 of which came in 2010 — and only one career interception.

38. John Brown, DT, Lakeland, Fla. (Florida)
One of the nation’s most highly touted defensive tackles never played a down for Florida. He earned a medical redshirt as a freshman due to knee and back injuries and then missed the 2008 season following wrist surgery. He left Florida after one season and enrolled at Northeast Mississippi Community College. He then signed to play at Tennessee but never got his academics in order. Brown landed at Valdosta (Ga.) State in 2010 having never played a down in the SEC.

39. Chris Jacobson, OL, Pittsburgh, Pa (Pittsburgh)
After redshirting in 2007, Jacobson played in three games in 2008 and all 13 in 2009 for the Panthers. By 2010, he had earned a starting spot at left guard, leading the way for standout tailback Dion Lewis. He transitioned to center prior to his senior season in 2011 and was a big part of Ray Graham’s outstanding start to the year. However, against Iowa in the third game of the season, Jacobson injured his left knee and missed the rest of the year. He was granted a medical hardship waiver and will return in 2012 to the Panthers offensive line.

40. Lorenzo Edwards, LB, Orlando, Fla. (Florida)
This Edgewater High School prospect played four undistinguished seasons for the Gators. He played in 45 career games and was a member of the 2008 BCS National Championship squad. Edwards finished with 57 career total tackles — or just over one tackle per game — and was not selected in the 2011 NFL Draft.

<p> Looking back at the top recruits of 2007</p>
Post date: Friday, January 18, 2013 - 06:40
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/10-funniest-celeb-tweets-about-manti-teos-fake-girlfriend

The Internet is about to blow up over Manti Te'o's fake dead girlfriend. In fact, even famous people are commenting and joking about the mind-blowing revelation that the Notre Dame star never really had a girlfriend who died. (You can check out the entire story on Deadspin.)

Here are our 10 favorites far. 

"Office" actor RAINN WILSON 


Model/actress Brooklyn Decker (and husband Andy Roddick)


Wide Reciever Donte' Stallworth


Comedian Seth Meyers


Comedian Michael Ian Black


Comedian Rob Delaney


"Family Guy" writer Julius Sharpe


Sports reporter Michael Smith


Sports writer Jay Busbee


Singer Josh Groban

<p> 10 Funny Celeb Tweets About Manti Te'o's Fake Girlfriend</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 17, 2013 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/10-biggest-boom-or-bust-underclassmen-2013-nfl-draft

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2013 NFL Draft was Jan. 15. The economic majors who can play ball decided to take the money and run. But not every name on the list is a can’t-miss blue-chip draft stock.

These are the 10 biggest boom or bust underclassmen in the 2013 NFL Draft:

1. Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU
Is Mingo a 6’5”, 240-pound “Freak” in the mold of Jevon Kearse or Jason Pierre-Paul? Odds are there’s a team with a top-10 pick willing to bank on that chance — especially after watching the lightning fast Mingo run and jump in neon Under Armour at the NFL Scouting Combine, where coaches and GMs will be drooling over the hybrid edge rusher like Les Miles over Bermuda grass on a Saturday afternoon. But Mingo was never able to turn that in-shorts potential into in-pads production at LSU, with just 4.5 sacks this year while playing alongside several former five-stars and future first-rounders.

2. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The big-talking big man who said the SEC, and Georgia in particular, played “old man football” has all the warning signs of a bust. All-world recruit with an ego as big as his massive frame? Check. Apparent lack of respect for authority or discipline? Check. History of shoulder injuries on a man soon to be paid to battle in the trenches? Check. Fast-rising prospect at the most bust-laden position, D-tackle? Check. Off-field issues as a cherry on top of the boom-or-bust sundae? Check yeah.

3. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
There’s no doubt about the respect Lattimore has earned from his coaches, peers and fans during his time as arguably the nation’s top high school runner at Byrnes High School in Duncan, S.C., and collegiate back at South Carolina. The football community was emotionally crushed after watching Lattimore’s knee get physically smashed. And it was Lattimore’s second devastating knee injury in as many years. But Adrian Peterson just ran for 2,000 yards on a recently reconstructed knee, Willis McGahee bounced back from a brutal blow and Frank Gore is still a beast running on a pair of repaired legs.

4. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
Classic case of a 6’6” quarterback with a million-dollar arm and a ten-cent head. It’s hard to blame the California kid who likes to chuck beer bottles at passing cars, though. After traveling cross-country to play for Lane Kiffin in Knoxville, his West Coast bro-coach bailed on him for USC. That left Bray holding the double-D-bag and playing for Derek Dooley. Well, not necessarily playing. Bray conveniently missed games against LSU (twice), Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas and Oregon during the first two years of his injury-riddled career. His last two years, he went 2–10 in the SEC, including losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky. But there’s no denying the arm; even Jeff George and Ryan Mallett are impressed by Bray.

5. Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee Tech
Once Bray’s go-to guy at Tennessee, the 6’3” jump-baller posted a 1,000-yard, nine-TD season in the SEC as a sophomore. But Rogers’ prima donna routine became expendable when Justin Hunter returned from injury and Cordarrelle Patterson arrived from JUCO to give the Volunteers more than enough NFL talent at wideout. After failed drug tests and indefinite suspensions, Rogers went to play for Mack Brown’s brother Watson Brown at Tennessee Tech, where the Georgia native had an 800-yard, 10-TD campaign against lesser FCS competition.

6. Tyrann Mathieu, CB/PR, LSU
The “Honey Badger” went from a cult hero Heisman Trophy finalist playing in the BCS national title game to the national spokesman for Spice synthetic weed. After watching this season from the couch and occasionally the stands, Mathieu hopes teams overlook his 5’9”, 175-pound frame — as well as a stack of off-field red flags at least that big — and focus on his unique playmaking ability as a nickel corner and punt returner. There was an intangible quality to Mathieu’s game in his heyday, but the tangible reality is that “Honey Badger” don’t care, and it may have cost him a lucrative NFL career.


7. William Gholston, DE, Michigan State
The 6’7”, 280-pound “Too Tall” is the cousin of Vernon Gholston, a former All-American at Ohio State who was selected No. 6 overall by the New York Jets in 2008. Vernon was an elephant man who wasn’t a freak so much as just ugly — as a player on the field and contract on the books. Unfortunately for William, he was nowhere near as productive as Vernon was in the Big Ten but he shares the last name “Gholston,” which is now synonymous with “bust” in certain draft circles.

8. Kwame Geathers, NT, Georgia
A big Dawg at 6’6”, 355-plus-pounds, Geathers is another namesake — as the brother of the Cincinnati Bengals’ Robert Geathers, brother of South Carolina’s Clifton Geathers, son of former NFL third-round pick Robert Geathers Sr., and nephew of 13-year NFL vet and two-time Super Bowl champion “Jumpy” Geathers. With that pedigree and so few nose guards to choose from for the ever-expanding list of teams running a 3-4 defense, Kwame Geathers will get over-drafted; hopefully not as bad as Kwame Brown was.

9. Greg Reid, CB/PR, Valdosta State
After getting kicked off of Florida State’s eventual Orange Bowl-winning squad, Reid suffered a season-ending knee injury before he could suit up for Valdosta State’s eventual Division II national title-winning team. If his run of bad decisions and bad luck comes to an end, Reid is the type of return man capable of breaking Deion Sanders’ FSU career record for punt return yards — which he was on pace to do before his quick-twitch exit from Tallahassee.

10. Brad Wing, P, LSU
Look out, you’ve got company, Chris Gardocki — who, by the by, was the last punter to declare early for the NFL Draft, back in 1991. The Bayou Bengal from Australia pinned himself into a coffin corner after being suspended for Honey-Badgering a drug test. So the 6’3”, 200-pounder entered the draft, where his Sebastian Janikowski attitude and success rate could make him a highly drafted, highly volatile special teams weapon. Don’t forget to watch out for the fake punt, either.

<p> 10 Biggest Boom or Bust Underclassmen in 2013 NFL Draft, including LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo, Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, Tennessee Tech receiver Da'Rick Rogers, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, Michigan State defensive end William Gholston, Georgia nose tackle Kwame Geathers, LSU punter Brad Wing and Valdosta State cornerback Greg Reid.</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 17, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/early-pac-12-football-predictions-2013

With Chip Kelly leaving Oregon for the NFL, the 2013 Pac-12 title race got a little more interesting. The Ducks return a bevy of key contributors but must replace standout running back Kenjon Barner, linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay, and defensive end/linebacker Dion Jordan. Oregon has a trip to Stanford next season, but the rest of the schedule is very favorable.

Although the Ducks get the edge in Athlon’s very early predictions for 2013, there’s not much separating Oregon and Stanford. The Cardinal is coming off a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin and claimed the Pac-12 title in 2012. The defense should be strong once again, while quarterback Kevin Hogan will be better in his second season as the starter.

The South Division isn’t as strong as the North, but UCLA, Arizona State and USC could all be preseason top-25 teams in 2013. The Bruins have won back-to-back division titles and will get a battle from a fast-improving Sun Devil team next season. 

Early North Division Predictions for 2013

1. Oregon

Key Returnees: QB Marcus Mariota, RB De’Anthony Thomas, RB Byron Marshall, WR Josh Huff, WR Daryle Hawkins, TE Colt Lyerla, LT Tyler Johnstone, C Hroniss Grasu, RT Jake Fisher, DE Taylor Hart, DE DeForest Buckner, DT Wade Keliikipi, DT Arik Armstead, LB Derrick Malone, LB Boseko Lokombo, LB Tyson Coleman, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB Terrance Mitchell, CB Avery Patterson, S Brian Jackson, S Erick Dargan

Key Departures: RB Kenjon Barner, LG Kyle Long, RG Ryan Clanton, DE/LB Dion Jordan, DT Isaac Remington, LB Kiko Alonso

Even though Chip Kelly left Oregon for the NFL, the Ducks maintain a slight edge over Stanford for the No. 1 spot in the early Pac-12 North power rankings. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is expected to replace Kelly, which will keep continuity for 2013. Expect much of the same from the Ducks next year, as quarterback Marcus Mariota leads a high-powered offense, and the defense should be in good shape despite losing Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso. Finding a running back to replace Kenjon Barner will be the top priority for Helfrich and the rest of the offensive staff in the spring. Oregon has a favorable schedule but must play at Stanford – a game that will define the Pac-12 North and could have national title implications.

Related Content: Chip Kelly's Departure Significantly Impacts 2013 Pac-12 Title Race

2. Stanford

Key Returnees: QB Kevin Hogan, RB Anthony Wilkerson, WR Ty Montgomery, LT David Yankey, LG Khalil Wilkes, RG Kevin Danser, RT Cameron Fleming, DE Henry Anderson, DE Ben Gardner, LB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, LB A.J. Tarpley, CB Alex Carter, S Ed Reynolds, S Jordan Richards, DB Usua Amanam

Key Departures: RB Stepfan Taylor, WR Drew Terrell, WR Jamal-Rashad Patterson, TE Zach Ertz, TE Levine Toilolo, C Sam Schwartztein, LB Chase Thomas, CB Terence Brown

Oregon checks in at No. 1 in Athlon’s very early power rankings for 2013, but Stanford isn’t far behind. And with Chip Kelly’s departure, the gap between the Cardinal and Ducks has narrowed. If Stanford wants to contend for the BCS title, improving the passing attack will be a top priority for coach David Shaw. Quarterback Kevin Hogan helped spark the offense in 2012 and should be better with another offseason to work as the starter. However, the bigger problem for the Cardinal will be replacing running back Stepfan Taylor and tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Linebacker Chase Thomas will be missed, but Stanford should have one of the nation’s best defenses in 2013.

3. Oregon State

Key Returnees: QB Sean Mannion, QB Cody Vaz, RB Storm Woods, WR Brandin Cooks, HB Connor Hamlett, LT Michael Philipp, C Isaac Seumalo, RG Grant Enger, DE Scott Crichton, DE Dylan Wynn, LB Michael Doctor, LB D.J. Alexander, CB Rashaad Reynolds, CB Sean Martin, S Ryan Murphy, S Tyrequek Zimmerman

Key Departures: WR Markus Wheaton, RT Colin Kelly, DT Castro Masaniai, DT Andrew Seumalo, LB Feti Unga, CB Jordan Poyer

The No. 3 spot in the early North Division projections is a tossup between Oregon State and Washington. For now, a slight edge goes to the Beavers. The big question for coach Mike Riley and his offensive staff this spring will be deciding between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz as the team’s starting quarterback. If Oregon State can get consistent play under center, the offense should rank among the top five in the Pac-12, especially with the emergence of running back Storm Woods and the return of receiver Brandin Cooks. The defense made major improvement after a horrendous 2011 season, but coordinator Mark Banker must replace his top two defensive tackles, along with top cornerback Jordan Poyer.

4. Washington

Key Returnees: QB Keith Price, RB Bishop Sankey, WR Kasen Williams, WR Jaydon Mickens, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, LT Micah Hatchie, LG Dexter Charles, RT Ben Riva, DE Andrew Hudson, DE Hau’oli Jamora, DE Josh Shirley, NT Danny Shelton, LB Travis Feeney, LB John Timu, CB Marcus Peters, S Sean Parker, DB/LB Shaq Thompson

Key Departures: C Drew Schaefer, DE Semisi Tokolahi, DE Talia Crichton, CB Desmond Trufant, S Justin Glenn

The Huskies have made three consecutive bowl appearances under Steve Sarkisian, but the program is still looking to emerge as a contender in the Pac-12 North. Is this the year Washington challenges Stanford or Oregon for the top spot? Probably not. However, the Huskies could surpass last season’s win total. Quarterback Keith Price regressed last year after throwing 33 touchdowns in 2011 but didn’t have much help from his offensive line. Improving and developing consistency on the line could be the difference between Washington making a push for nine wins or just getting bowl eligible. Thanks to the arrival of coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Huskies owned one of college football’s most-improved defenses in 2012. With eight starters back, along with the return of defensive end Hau’oli Jamora from an injury, Washington’s defense could be even better in 2013. 

5. Washington State

Key Returnees: QB Connor Halliday, RB Teondray Caldwell, WR Brett Bartolone, WR Gabe Marks, WR Isiah Myers, WR Dominique Williams, LG John Fullington, C Elliot Bosch, DL Xavier Cooper, DE Logan Mayes, T Ioane Gauta, LB Darryl Malone, LB Cyrus Coen, LB Justin Sagote, CB Anthony Carpenter, SS Deone Bucannon, FS Casey Locker

Key Departures: QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess Wilson, RT Wade Jacobson, DE/LB Travis Long, CB Daniel Simmons

With the arrival of Mike Leach as the Cougars’ new coach, expectations were high in Pullman in 2012. Instead of making a run at a bowl game, Washington State finished with a disappointing 3-9 mark. The second season of Leach’s tenure should bring more improvement, but a winning record may be a year away. The Cougars struggled to adapt Leach’s offense and will be looking for more consistency from quarterback Connor Halliday in 2013. Even though Leach doesn’t need a 1,000-yard rusher for his offense to work, Washington State needs to average more than 29.1 yards per game on the ground next season. The defense also has room to improve, finishing ninth in the Pac-12 in total yards allowed in 2012.

6. California

Key Returnees: RB Brendan Bigelow, WR Chris Harper, WR Bryce Treggs, WR Darius Powe, TE Richard Rodgers, LG Jordan Rigsbee, RG Chris Adcock, DE Deandre Coleman, LB Jalen Jefferson, LB Brennan Scarlett, LB Chris McCain, LB Nick Forbes, LB Chris McCain, LB Nathan Broussard, CB Kameron Jackson, S Michael Lowe, S Avery Sebastian

Key Departures: QB Zach Maynard, RB Isi Sofele, RB C.J. Anderson, WR Keenan Allen, LT Tyler Rigsbee, C Brian Schwenke, DE Kendrick Payne, NG Aaron Tipoti, LB Robert Mullins, CB Steve Williams, CB Marc Anthony, S Josh Hill

New coach Sonny Dykes is a great fit in Berkeley, but California could be looking at a finish in the North Division cellar next year. If the Golden Bears want to climb higher in the standings, Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin have to find a quarterback to run their spread attack. Allan Bridgford has the most experience, but Zach Kline, Austin Hinder and Kyle Boehm will get a chance to win the job in the spring. Even though quarterback play is a question mark, the receiving corps has plenty of talent, while running back Brendan Bigelow could be one of the Pac-12’s top breakout players next season. Fixing the defense is also another priority for Dykes, as California allowed 441.3 yards and 33.1 points a game last season. 

Early South Division Predictions for 2013


Key Returnees: QB Brett Hundley, RB Damien Thigpen, WR Shaq Evans, WR Steven Manfro, WR Devin Fuller, WR Jordan Payton, LT Torian White, LG Xavier Su’a-Filo, C Jake Brendel, DE Cassius Marsh, DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE Ellis McCarthy, LB Anthony Barr, LB Eric Kendricks, LB Jordan Zumwalt, CB Randall Goforth, S Tevin McDonald

Key Departures: RB Johnathan Franklin, WR Jerry Johnson, TE Joseph Fauria, RG Jeff Baca, DE Datone Jones, LB Damien Holmes, CB Aaron Hester, CB Sheldon Price, SS Andrew Abbott

Can the Bruins make it three Pac-12 South titles in a row? The early odds suggest UCLA should be the early favorite to win the division and will be in the mix to be a top 15-20 team in most preseason polls. The Bruins ended 2012 with three consecutive defeats, but there’s no shame in losing to Stanford (twice) and to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. The offense needs to find a replacement for running back Johnathan Franklin, but quarterback Brett Hundley returns, along with standout guard Xavier Su’a Filo. The defense finished eighth in the Pac-12 in yards and points allowed, so head coach Jim Mora and coordinator Lou Spanos have some work to do this offseason. Convincing linebacker Anthony Barr to return to UCLA for his senior year was a huge break for Mora, but the secondary loses Sheldon Price, Andrew Abbott and Aaron Hester.

2. Arizona State

Key Returnees: QB Taylor Kelly, QB Michael Eubank, RB DJ Foster, RB Marion Grice, WR Kevin Ozier, WR Chris Coyle, WR Richard Smith, LT Evan Finkenberg, LG Jamil Douglas, C Kody Koebensky, DT Will Sutton, DE/LB Carl Bradford, DE Junior Onyeali, DE Davon Coleman, DT Jaxon Hood, LB Chris Young, LB Steffon Martin, CB Osahon Irabor, CB Robert Nelson, S Alden Darby

Key Departures: RB Cameron Marshall, WR Rashad Ross, WR Jamal Miles, RG Andrew Sampson, RT Brice Schwab, LB Brandon Magee, CB Deveron Carr, FS Keelan Johnson

Thanks to defensive tackle Will Sutton’s decision to return to Tempe in 2013, Arizona State was one of the Pac-12’s early offseason winners. With Sutton back in the mix, the Sun Devils should have one of the conference’s top defensive lines. And an improved defense will allow Todd Graham’s team to push UCLA for the top spot in the division. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell needs to find a couple of new receivers for quarterback Taylor Kelly, but DJ Foster and Marion Grice will be one of the conference’s top duos on the ground next year. Arizona State catches a break in scheduling, as USC and Arizona must visit Tempe, while there’s no Oregon on the slate for 2013. However, the Sun Devils must play at UCLA and Stanford.

3. USC

Key Returnees: QB Max Wittek, RB Silas Redd, WR Marqise Lee, WR Nelson Agholor, TE Randall Telfer, LT Max Tuerk, RG John Martinez, RT Kevin Graf, DE Morgan Breslin, DT George Uko, DT Leonard Williams, DT Antwaun Woods, LB Dion Bailey, LB Hayes Pullard, LB Lamar Dawson, LB Anthony Sarao, CB Josh Shaw, S Jawanza Starling

Key Departures: QB Matt Barkley, RB Curtis McNeal, WR Robert Woods, C Khaled Holmes, DE Wes Horton, CB Nickell Robey, S T.J. McDonald

USC is at a crossroads. The Trojans are coming off a disappointing 7-6 season, which is magnified even more when you consider this team had a chance to make a run at the national title. Coach Lane Kiffin has recruited well, and even though there’s a handful of key players leaving, there’s no excuse for USC to win just seven games in 2013. Max Wittek will likely open the year as the starting quarterback and has the benefit of throwing to All-American receiver Marqise Lee. Assuming Wittek settles into the starting role, the Trojans have the weapons to have one of the Pac-12’s most potent offenses. The defense was a question mark entering 2012 but finished fifth in the conference in points allowed and fourth against the pass. This unit still has a lot of room to improve next year, especially when it comes to defending spread offenses. With a schedule that features a favorable road schedule and no Oregon, USC should be able to exceed its 2012 win total. If not, the Trojans will be looking for a new coach by December.

4. Arizona

Key Returnees: RB Ka’Deem Carey, WR Austin Hill, WR David Richards, WR Johnny Jackson, LT Mickey Baucus, LG Chris Putton, RT Fabbians Ebbele, DE Reggie Gilbert, DT Dan Pettinato, NT Sione Tuihalamaka, LB Jake Fischer, LB Marquis Flowers, LB Sir Thomas Jackson, LB/DB Jared Tevis, CB Shaquille Richardson, CB Jonathan McKnight, S Tra’Mayne Bondurant, S Vince Miles

Key Departures: QB Matt Scott, WR Dan Buckner, C Kyle Quinn, RG Trace Biskin

Rich Rodriguez’s first season in Tucson was a success. The Wildcats won eight games – including a bowl victory over Nevada – and lost three contests by a touchdown or less. There’s no question Rodriguez will have Arizona contending for South Division titles in the coming seasons, but the Wildcats may not top 2012’s win total next year. Quarterback Matt Scott must be replaced, and the job could fall to former USC passer Jesse Scroggins. Running back Ka’Deem Carey is back after leading the nation with an average of 148.4 rushing yards per game, but the offensive line loses two key starters. Although the offense might not be as explosive as it was in 2012, the defense returns nearly everyone and should be one area that Arizona can show improvement next season

5. Utah

Key Returnees: QB Travis Wilson, RB Kelvin York, WR Dres Anderson, WR Kenneth Scott, TE Jake Murphy, RT Jeremiah Poutasi, DE Nate Fakahafua, DE/LB Trevor Reilly, LB Jason Whittingham, LB LT Filiaga, S Brian Blechen, FS Eric Rowe

Key Departures: RB John White, WR DeVonte Christopher, LT Sam Brenner, C Tevita Stevens, RG Miles Mason, DE Joe Kruger, DE Dave Kruger, DT Star Lotulelei, CB Reggie Topps, CB Ryan Lacy

Lost in USC’s disappointing season was a surprise 5-7 record by Utah. The Utes were picked by most to finish second in the South Division, yet won only three games in conference play and missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 2002. For Utah to get back in the postseason next year, both sides of the ball have significant question marks to address. The offense must replace 1,000-yard rusher John White, along with getting quarterback Travis Wilson settled into the starting role. The defense must replace three key contributors on the defensive line, including All-American Star Lotulelei. Utah’s task of getting back to a bowl game is also made difficult by the schedule, which features Oregon and Stanford in crossover games with the North.

6. Colorado

Key Returnees: QB Jordan Webb, RB Christian Powell, WR Paul Richardson, WR Nelson Spruce, WR Tyler McCulloch, LG Alex Lewis, C Daniel Munyer, RG Jack Harris, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, NT Josh Tupou, LB Derrick Webb, CB Yuri Wright, CB Kenneth Crawley, CB Greg Henderson, SS Terrel Smith, SS Marques Mosley, S Parker Orms

Key Departures: TE Nick Kasa, LT David Bakhtiari, DE Will Pericak, LB Doug Rippy, LB Jon Major, S Ray Polk

After a failed two-year stint under Jon Embree, the Buffaloes hit a home run with the hire of former San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre. Although Colorado should be more competitive in 2013, escaping the cellar of the Pac-12 South is unlikely. The offense was one of the worst in college football last season and finding stability and production from the quarterback position will be MacIntyre and coordinator Brian Lindgren’s No. 1 priority in spring practice. Helping the passing attack in 2013 will be the return of receiver Paul Richardson, who missed all of 2012 with a knee injury. The defense was the worst in the Pac-12 last season and must replace a handful of key players, including end Will Pericak and linebacker Jon Major. Improvement will be noticeable for Colorado in 2013, but the Buffaloes are at least one more year away from contending for a bowl game. 

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<p> Early Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2013</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 17, 2013 - 06:30