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All taxonomy terms: coach, Miami Dolphins, Regis Philbin, Overtime
Path: /overtime/what-everyone-thought-when-philbin-was-named-dolphins-head-coach
Body:

This is exactly what popped in my head when the Miami Dolphins announced that someone named "Philbin" was going to be their next head coach.

Now that Regis Philbin has quit his time as co-host of the long-running "Regis and Kelly" show, it seemed like maybe this could be more plausible than originally thought. Regis loves sports in general--especially Notre Dame football. So why wouldn't he be able to lead Miami onto the field on Sundays? Some coaches are more inspiration guys than Xs and Os guys. 

And who wouldn't want to go out and beat the crap out of the Jets after a pre-game speech by Regis and his trademark cadence?

Of course, it's actually some guy named Joe Philbin who was named the Dolphins coach. But who would you rather see roaming Miami's sidelines?

Teaser:
<p> Admit it, you'd rather see this Philbin in charge of the Dolphins</p>
Post date: Monday, January 23, 2012 - 12:57
Path: /college-football/struggling-joe-paternos-legacy
Body:

Joe Paterno roamed the sidelines in the first college football game that I remember watching. I was seven years old, dressed in crimson pants, an Alabama t-shirt and an Alabama cowboy hat. It was the 1979 Sugar Bowl, featuring No. 1 Penn State vs. the No. 2 Crimson Tide.

We had recently moved to New Jersey, and my parents hosted a party to watch the game that would end up settling the national title. Seemingly all of my parents’ friends were fans of Penn State, which at that time was basically the home team for college football fans in North Jersey.

We were fans of the Tide. My dad, a 1961 Alabama grad, hung a Bear Bryant poster in my room while I was still in a crib. He was eager to show his new friends in the Northeast what SEC football was all about.

Alabama, of course, won the game, delivering the Bear his sixth and final national title. It was a happy day in the Light household.

At the time, I didn’t know much about the man on the other sideline. But as a fan of the sport, I grew to respect Paterno and his team. I didn’t necessarily like Penn State during my formative years — in fact, I rooted against the Nittany Lions until I got to college — but it was a program that I admired.

It’s cliché, but Paterno did things the right away. Simply put, he is one of the greatest coaches in the history of team sports. But is that how he will be remembered? Or will we remember him for the final three months of his life and the scandal that ended his 46-run as the boss in Happy Valley? It’s a complicated question. And a personal question.

I want to remember Paterno for all of the good things he did for a sport I love. But then, as the father of a 7-year old boy, it’s hard for me to ignore what we have learned about this legendary figure in the past few months.

We will never truly know how much Paterno knew, but I find it hard to believe that he didn’t know that Jerry Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator and long-time friend, was committing these atrocities. Paterno was most powerful man in State College and the CEO of one of the top football programs in the nation. There is no way he didn’t know something was going on.

And for that, I can’t not think of Jerry Sundusky when I think of Joe Paterno. Whenever I hear his name, the first image that pops into my head is Sandusky — and it’s not a pleasant image. I don’t know if I will feel the same way in a year, or in five years.

But for now, my memory of Joe Paterno is more about grand jury testimony, child abuse and power than it is about Penn State football.

by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Editor Mitch Light looks back at Joe Paterno's career</p>
Post date: Monday, January 23, 2012 - 11:34
All taxonomy terms: Eli Manning, News
Path: /news/eli-manning-calls-tom-brady
Body:

We're pretty sure this is what happened after the Giants beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday.

Eli probably got on the phone and called up the Pats to see if they wanted to play a little football at his brother's house in Indianapolis.

Teaser:
<p> Anyone want to play football at my brother's house?</p>
Post date: Monday, January 23, 2012 - 10:33
All taxonomy terms: Eli Manning, New York Giants, NFL Playoffs, NFL
Path: /nfl/giants-fans-need-enjoy-unexpected-super-bowl-ride
Body:

Enough with the prognosticating. Giants fans should simply enjoy a ride that might be the best one yet.

Everything about the 2011 Giants has been said and said again. And again.

Eli is full of crap, how dare he put his name next to Tom Brady’s! Except, actually, he might be Elite but not quite as good as Brady or Rodgers or Jesus – but wait, hold on a second, because Eli’s playing really good right now and is approaching Elite status, so now we’re seriously starting to wonder whether or not you can spell Elite without E-L-I.

Hold on. I’ve just received a call from my source, who is telling me that, yes, we’ve just now finally decided, ONCE AND FOR ALL, that ‘Elite’ cannot be spelled without its first three letters.

What have we learned from the 2011 Giants that we didn’t know before? That Antrel Rolle likes to talk? That Brandon Jacobs does too, sometimes derisively to fat people?

That Tom Coughlin’s reputation, for at least the third time in his Giants tenure, has bobbed and weaved before capsizing, like a poorly-piloted cruise ship? That not throwing millions of dollars at a possession receiver with a shakily-reconstructed knee was a shrewd, ballsy move? That eschewing a big commitment to an oft-injured tight end who had never caught more than 42 passes was similarly awesome?

We didn’t know about Victor Cruz. And now we do. So now, every sportswriter and blogger with a minimal vested interest in New York sports, go and write 4,000 words that have been written a thousand times before.

Yuck.

Save for my ill-fated prediction in December, I haven’t written a word about the Giants in three months. Strange, for a man who lists February 3, 2008 as one of the greatest nights of his life, a diehard whose house is lined with Giants regalia, a fan whose authentic #88 jersey hasn’t been washed in almost as long – god forbid it not be dry on game day.

Why not? Sure, I’d rather not waste my time writing old words. But, even more so, I’d rather just enjoy the ride.

That’s my message to Giants fans. Enjoy the ride. A ride that may – or frankly, may not—turn out to be the ride of your life.
Most of us have already dreamt of knocking off Brady and Belichick yet again, of silencing every doubter who calls our team’s 2007 greatness a fluke. Some have gone so far as to check airfare to Indianapolis, only to shudder at the cost. We’re already debating whether we should have the championship parade in Newark or Manhattan, which is a stupid debate not just because Newark sucks and Chris Christie is fat but because, to even reach that point, the Giants, with a record of 11-7, will need to triumph over two teams with a combined record of 29-5.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves.

But guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that. In 2007, we were behind the curve. Greatness hit us by surprise. We watched an unlikely band of misfits, future St. Louis Rams and spongebob-band-aid-wearing defensive backs fight their way to a world title. We rejoiced. We tasted greatness, but by the time we had apprehended what had happened, a bullet was in Plaxico’s leg and the parade screeched to a halt. So we wanted another taste. And it hasn’t come. Until now.

On the doorstep of similar achievement, the 2011 Giants are a different beast entirely. Their greatness comes not from their unlikeliness or from a Conference Championship game appearance or their newfound dominance on both sides of the ball.

If there’s greatness in these Giants, it’s derived from the potential of watching the perfect title run. In 2007, we experienced the purest form of an underdog story: 53-scrappy Davids unseating the undefeated behemoth thanks to a great play from a receiver who would never catch another ball as long as he lives.

This year? We’re still the underdog. We’re 9-7 going against 13-3 and hopefully 14-2. Yet we still believe – nay, we expect. In 2007, we didn’t believe. Those Giants didn’t look like they belonged on the same field as the Cowboys, or the Packers, or the Patrioits. And then suddenly, before we even knew what hit us, it happened. Greatness caught us by surprise. We won’t be caught napping again.

We’ve spent the last four years yearning for that greatness and have lamented and screamed and sulked every time it hasn’t come. Few honest Giants fans would tell you that they believed in that 2007 team. They’d tell you they were converted only when that ball glued itself to Tyree’s helmet, or maybe not even until Brady’s final pass eluded Randy Moss and fell to the turf.

Today? Find me a Giants fan who doesn’t believe that his team’s destined for Disney World. Good luck.

In 2012, we are excited because we feel it coming. That may be irrational, it may be arrogant, and it may even be self-defeating. But our readiness for greatness is no less real. These Giants haven’t scraped by four of the league’s supposed contenders, like their 2007 counterparts did; they’ve annihilated them.

We’ve watched Aaron Rodgers made to look only slightly better than Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan made to look like Mark Sanchez and Eli Manning made to look like Aaron Rodgers. Everything is coming together at just the right time and in just the right way, with enough build-up and emphasis to keep us on the edge of our seats, shivering in anticipation. It’s all come together to make us believe.

We’ve dismissed the massive challenge of the Niners’ nasty defense and now we're ready for the Patriots high-flying attack. When and if our team take the Super Bowl crown in 2012, we’ll be ready to celebrate.

Or to cry when Tom Brady passes for four hundred yards. Either way, it will be bigger and better this time.

Go Giants.

Jesse Golomb is the Editor-in-Chief of TheFanManifesto. Follow him on twitter, or drop him a line via email

Teaser:
<p> Fans of the Big Blue are playing with house money right now</p>
Post date: Monday, January 23, 2012 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/joe-paternos-career-numbers
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

Joe Paterno’s legacy will cause mixed emotions and create division amongst sports fans and non-sports fans alike across the country from now until the end of time. He impacted thousands of lives in the most positive and meaningful ways possible. But he also was in charge when the worst scandal in college football history hit his university.

Either way, the facts don’t lie about how successful he was as the head coach at Penn State University. He is arguably the greatest college football to ever live and the stats back it up:

December 21, 1926: Joe Paterno was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Angelo and Florence Paterno.

1944: Joe Paterno played his final season at Brooklyn Prep High School. He lost one game his senior season – the season finale against the Vince Lombardi coached St. Cecilia’s squad.

1950: Graduated from Brown University as the star quarterback — and an English major. He accepted a position on Rip Engle's Brown coaching staff. Shortly thereafter, Engle took the Penn State head coaching job and was allowed to bring one assistant. He selected a young and completely inexperience Paterno to take with him to Happy Valley.

1962: Married Suzanne Pohland, Penn State Class of 1962.

1966: Is hired as the head coach of Penn State University.

1969: Hires Jerry Sandusky as Penn State’s defensive line coach.

1970: Multiple sources indicate had the Green Bay Packers offered the head coach/General Managing job to Joe Paterno, that he would have accepted the position after only five years of leading Penn State.

5-2: The seven-man Green Bay Packers' Board of Trustees votes to hire Missouri head coach Dan Devine over second choice Joe Paterno.

2: National Championships under Joe Paterno. In 1982, Penn State defeated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and in 1986 Penn State defeated Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.

5: Undefeated Seasons under Joe Paterno. He didn’t lose a game in 1968, 1969, 1973, 1986 and 1994. Only one of those seasons earned him a National Championship.

46: Years as head coach at Penn State University by Joe Paterno.

409: The most wins all-time by any D-1 head football coach. His final coaching record was 409-136-3.

24: The most bowl wins all-time by an D-1 head football coach. His final bowl record 24-12-1.

23: It took Joe Paterno 23 seasons to finally experience his first losing season in Happy Valley.

40: The number of winning seasons Paterno had as a head coach at Penn State. Also the initial number of counts of aggravated child sexual assault levied against Jerry Sandusky.

35: Number of Top 25 postseason rankings in 46 seasons of coaching. Also, the number of 8+ win seasons for JoePa.

21: The number of double-digit win seasons for Penn State in 46 years of coaching.

15: Number of 11-win seasons as the head coach at Penn State for Paterno.

5: Number of children with wife Sue, which eventually led to 17 grandchildren.

5: Number of major bowls Joe Paterno won. Sugar, Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Cotton.

5: Number of AFCA National Coach of the Year Awards for Joe Paterno.

5: Maxwell Trophy winners coached by JoePa: Rich Lucas (1959), Glenn Ressler (1964), John Cappelletti (1973), Chuck Fusina (1978), Larry Johnson (2002)

4: Chuck Bednarik winners coached by JoePa: Lavar Arrington (1999), Paul Posluszny (2005, 2006), Dan Connor (2007)

3: Big Ten titles won while at Penn State (PSU joined the Big Ten in 1993).

1: Heisman Trophy winner John Cappaletti, who led the 1973 Nittany Lions to an unblemished record while rushing 1,522 yards and 17 touchdowns. Also, the same number of flavors of ice cream named after Joe Paterno on campus (Peachy Paterno).

8: Number of College Football Hall of Famers coached by Joe Paterno at Penn State: Mike Reid, Ted Kwalick, Jack Ham, Dennis Onkotz, John Cappelletti, Keith Dorney, Lydell Mitchell, Curt Warner

250: Over 250 NFL players played under Joe Paterno at Penn State.

$3.5 million: Dollars Joe Paterno and wife Sue donated to the brand new Paterno Library on Penn State’s campus in 1998. He and his wife gave more than $4 million total to Penn State over his the course of his career.

9: Days between being fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees via phone and when he announces that he has a “treatable” form of lung cancer.

44: Days between being fired by Penn State on November 9 and passing away at 9:25 AM on January 22.

4: Number of weeks Bear Bryant lived after retiring as the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
 

Teaser:
<p> Joe Paterno's Penn State Career By The Numbers</p>
Post date: Monday, January 23, 2012 - 08:32
Path: /news/steven-tyler-murders-national-anthem-video
Body:

Steven Tyler isn't really known for having a good voice. Sure, he has an interesting voice, and that stuff he does at the end of "Dream On" sounds pretty cool, but let's face it, he squeals and screeches more than hits solid notes.

And that all became clear during his performance of the National Anthem before the Patriots and Ravens AFC Championship again.

The American Idol judge, who watched the game from Pats owner Robert Kraft's booth, was sort of like a watching a car wreck. He never really flubbed it or forgot the words, but his wavering voice just made viewers uncomfortable and he didn't really sound very strong. The only parts that got the crowd riled up was when he leaned on his classic screeching. 

We doubt he'll be invited back to sing anymore national anthems in the future. But if it was up to us, we'd love to see a duet between him and Christina Aguilera before the Super Bowl.

Teaser:
<p> He should stick to judging and not so much singing</p>
Post date: Sunday, January 22, 2012 - 22:51
Path: /news/joe-paterno-dies-85-lung-cancer
Body:

Joe Paterno, the recently embattled Penn State football coach, has died at the age of 85 from lung cancer complications.

The man who has won more football games than anyone else and was seen, until recently, as one of the most honored and respected men in the game wasn't able to survive his fight with the deadly disease.

His family released a statement Sunday morning to announce his death.

Paterno's son Scott announced Nov. 18 that his father was being treated for lung cancer, which was diagnosed in mid-November during a follow-up visit for a bronchial illness.

Jay Paterno, one of Paterno's sons, thanked fans for their support Saturday.

"I appreciate the support & prayers. Joe is continuing to fight," Jay Paterno wrote on his own Twitter account.

The storied career of "JoePa" included 409 wins in 46 seasons and two national championships.

Paterno died at State College's Mount Nittany Medical Center, where he had been undergoing treatment.

Paterno remained connected to a ventilator into Sunday, individuals close to Paterno's family told The Washington Post.

The newspaper reported the family had communicated to the hospital his wishes not to be kept alive through extreme artificial means.

Paterno's cancer diagnosis was revealed Nov. 18, nine days after he lost his Penn State head coaching job in the fallout of sexual abuse charges against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

But his reputation for success with honor was shattered when a former assistant was charged with molesting 10 boys during a 15-year span, including some in the Penn State athletic complex.

Critics said Paterno should have done more to stop it. He was fired Nov. 9.

How much a of a role the scandal that severely tarnished the reputation of the man whow as considered the grandfather of college football played in the speed and his ability to fight his illness will never be known. But it's probably safe to say that this whole ordeal weighed on him very, very heavily.

Joe Paterno recently told The Washington Post that he did not know how to deal with the report from Mike McQueary that his former defensive coordinator--Jerry Sandusky--was accused of abusing a boy in the showers.

"I didn't know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was," he told The Post in an extensive two-day interview at his home. "So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn't work out that way."

In all, Paterno guided five teams to unbeaten, untied seasons.

Teaser:
<p> The Penn State coach has died of lung cancer complications</p>
Post date: Sunday, January 22, 2012 - 09:14
Path: /nfl/nfl-playoffs-which-match-will-make-best-super-bowl
Body:

The Final Four has been set, and it might not have been the one you were expecting. The AFC did get its top two seeds through to the championship, but over in the NFC the two best teams – or what everyone thought were the two best teams (the Packers and Saints) are gone.

That leaves this: The Baltimore Ravens (13-4) vs. the New England Patriots (14-3) on one side, and the upstart New York Giants (11-7) vs. the San Francisco 49ers (14-3) on the other. On Feb. 5 two of them will meet in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis.

We’ll find out soon enough whom those teams will be. The question right now is: Who do you want to see? Do you want a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, one of the greatest ever played? Or a rematch of Super Bowl XXXV, which might have been one of the worst. How about a battle of franchises that have 11 Super Bowl appearances and eight championship rings between them? Or maybe the Harbaugh Brothers Bowl?

Or what about any matchup that involves a team from Baltimore playing in Indianapolis, 28 years after Indianapolis stole a football team from Baltimore?

Keep all that in mind when you’re watching the championship games on Sunday. Which of these four matchups do you want to see?

New England Patriots vs. San Francisco 49ers

There have been 45 Super Bowls and 11 have featured one of these teams, but never has there been a game that involved both. The Patriots are a dismal 3-3 in the big game, while the 49ers are a sparkling 5-0. It’s been 18 years since the 49ers – one of the dominant franchises of the ‘80s – has been to the Super Bowl, and you can bet they’re still smarting over the Steelers picking up their sixth ring two years ago.

Beyond the franchise matchup, there’s Bill Belichick, arguably the greatest coach of this generation, facing Jim Harbaugh whose 14-3 rookie year as an NFL coach has been spectacular. Alex Smith, in his long-awaited breakout year, would go a long way towards proving he’s for real by beating Tom Brady. And then there’s the age-old question: Does defense really win championships? The Patriots don’t really have one. The 49ers definitely do.

New England Patriots vs. New York Giants

This might be the most tantalizing matchup of all, considering they played four years ago in Super Bowl XLII and they put on one of the greatest NFL shows ever. The Giants won that game, of course, in spectacular, come-from-behind fashion complete with the David Tyree catch that became an iconic play.

What the Pats likely remember most is this: They were 18-0 and dreaming of the NFL’s second perfect season and its longest. They were an absolutely offensive machine that year and looked nearly unbeatable, until the Giants’ pass rush left them overwhelmed. Now the Giants’ pass rush is leading their charge again, with many people finding comparisons to their miracle run in 2007.

The Patriots would love to get in their way in the end, this time with much different results.

And if that isn’t enough, how about this: Eli Manning, months after insisting he was an “elite” quarterback in Tom Brady’s class, getting a chance to beat him in the biggest game? Or what about Brady and Eli Manning battling it out for another ring in Peyton Manning’s backyard?

Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Giants

Most of the players on these teams were mere kids when the Ravens, with their all-time defense, hammered the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, putting a stain on Jim Fassel’s pretty good coaching career in New York that he never really washed away. One guy who clearly remembers will be Jessie Armstead, now an assistant with the Giants.

In that game he had an early interception that he returned for a touchdown that was nullified by a terrible defensive holding penalty on defensive tackle Keith Hamilton. That play could’ve turned everything around. Instead the Giants fell apart and were beaten by Trent Dilfer, one of the worst quarterbacks to ever win the big game.

This game also would pit two strong defenses against each other, and linebacker Ray Lewis – arguably the greatest defensive player of his generation – against Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who might turn out to be one of the best of the next.

Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers

The headline would be Ravens coach John Harbaugh vs. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who may already be the most successful coaching brothers in any sport, ever. John has been knocking on the Super Bowl door ever since he took over the Ravens. It’s hard to imagine he wants to see Jim on the other side when he finally kicks it in.

It would be compelling TV, though, and a great storyline for the entire week. Never have two brothers faced each other with stakes this high.

And if you can get past that, this also is the matchup that probably should’ve been most likely, considering how the NFL has gone this season. It’s been the Year of the Quarterback, with three of them topping 5,000 yards and passing offenses exploding all over the league.

Wouldn’t it just figure, then, that the Super Bowl would feature two of the best defenses in the league?

By RALPH VACCHIANO

Teaser:
<p> Which of the final four NFL teams do you want to play for it all?</p>
Post date: Sunday, January 22, 2012 - 08:07
Path: /college-football/sec-very-early-predictions-2012
Body:

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Very Early 2012 SEC East Predictions

1. Georgia Bulldogs

Key Returnees: QB Aaron Murray, RB Isaiah Crowell, WR Malcolm Mitchell, WR Michael Bennett, WR Marlon Brown, WR Tavarres King, DL Arby Jones, DL John Jenkins, LB Jarvis Jones, LB Alec Ogletree LB Cornelius Washington, LB Michael Gilliard, DB Bacarri Rambo, DB Shawn Williams, DB Sanders Commings, DB Brandon Smith

Key Losses: TE Orson Charles, OL Cordy Glenn, OL Ben Jones, OL Justin Anderson, DT DeAngelo Tyson, CB/RET Brandon Boykin, K Blair Walsh, P Drew Butler

The story on offense should be pretty clear heading into 2012 for the Dawgs. Aaron Murray and a host of electric young skill players will return to a unit that has to replace its three best blockers. Can UGA establish the run better with an older, and more mature Isaiah Crowell, and new star Keith Marshall? The offensive line could be the only thing keeping Georgia from the national championship game.

If UGA does have a special season in 2012, it will be because of the defense. Todd Grantham in two short years turned the Dawgs into one of the stingiest units in the nation. And he has 10 starters back with elite level talent and depth at nearly every position. All-American candidates Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo lead the way on the backend.

Special teams will take a big hit for Mark Richt as both kickers and return dynamo Brandon Boykin have moved on. However, the schedule is powerful reason why Georgia is the early favorite to win the East. Richt’s squad misses the three best teams from the West in LSU, Alabama and Arkansas — all of whom could be preseason top-10 teams. Trips to Missouri (to start SEC play) and South Carolina will be the toughest road tests of the year.

2. South Carolina Gamecocks

Key Returnees: QB Connor Shaw, RB Marcus Lattimore, RB Brandon Wilds, WR Ace Sanders, TE Justice Cunningham, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Devin Taylor, DT Kelcy Quarles, LB Shaq Wilson, DB D.J. Swearinger, DB DeVonte Holloman

Key Losses: OL Rokevious Watkins, WR Alshon Jeffery, DE Melvin Ingram, DT Travian Robertson, LB Rodney Paulk, CB Stephon Gilmore, LB/S Antonio Allen, C.C. Whitlock

Dismissing Stephen Garcia in the middle of the season might have been the best decision Steve Spurrier has made at South Carolina. The only disappointment is that new quarterback Connor Shaw didn’t get a full year of seasoning. The dual-threat quarterback played his best football down the stretch in 2011 and will welcome back the best running back in the nation when Marcus Lattimore returns to the field in 2012. Replacing Alshon Jeffery’s talent will be virtually impossible, but replacing his underwhelming (at times) production won’t. If the pass protection can improve, this entire offense has an opportunity to be much better in 2012.

Defensively, the front line has some holes to fill with the loss of Melvin Ingram and Travian Roberston, but Devin Taylor is back and Jadeveon Clowney proved his lofty recruiting status was totally justified. Toss in Kelcy Quarles and Carolina will have another stellar D-Line. Replacing some of the key pieces in the back seven, as well as the loss of coordinator Ellis Johnson, will determine if this defense can rank in the top-10 nationally once again.

The real issue with South Carolina, despite coming off its first 11-win season in school history, will be the schedule. The cross-over slate features a trip to LSU and a visit from Arkansas – two of the preseason top-10 teams in the nation. The schedule was the reason Athlon Sports picked Georgia to win the East in 2011 and a repeat decision is likely from America’s Premier Sports Publisher.

3. Missouri Tigers

Key Returnees: QB James Franklin, RB Kendial Lawrence, RB Henry Josey (injury), WR T.J. Moe, WR Marcus Lucas, WR L’Damian Washington, DL Brad Madison, DL Sheldon Richardson, DL Brayden Burnett, LB Andrew Wilson, LB Will Ebner, LB Zaviar Gooden, DB E.J. Gaines, DB Kip Edwards, DB Matt White, DB Kenronte Walker

Key Losses: WR Wes Kemp, TE Michael Egnew, OL Elvis Fisher, DE Jacquies Smith, DT Dominique Hamilton, DT Terrell Resonno, LB Luke Lambert, DB Kenji Jackson

The SEC’s other James Franklin enters America’s best conference with the potential to be an all-conference performer at quarterback. Whether or not his style of play can be effective against the extraordinarily talented SEC front sevens still remains to be seen. The good news is Gary Pinkel has plenty of talent coming back in the backfield and out wide for Franklin to utilize. But a great offensive line is a necessity to succeed in this league and how quickly this new group can gel will have the biggest impact on the offense. 

One look at the NFC playoffs in San Francisco and fans should understand how well Pinkel has recruited the defensive line. The Aldon-Justin Smith combo has proven that Mizzou has been one of the stronger Big 12 teams in the trenches since he arrived in Columbia. Brad Madison and Sheldon Richardson return to lead what should be one of the better units in the East — or at least one that is on par with Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. Can they hold up week-in, and week-out against SEC power rushing attacks? Only time will tell, but Missouri isn’t entering a new conference empty handed.

Hosting four of its first five conference games will help to ease Missouri into SEC play. However, the maiden voyage through the southeast culminates with three straight road games in three of the most hostile stadiums in the country: At Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M. The second half of the year will likely determine if the Tigers are successful in their first SEC campaign.

4. Florida Gators

Key Returnees: QB Jacoby Brissett, QB Jeff Driskel, RB Mike Gillislee, ATH Trey Burton, WR Andre Debose, WR Quinton Dunbar, TE Jordan Reed, OL Xavier Nixon, OL Jonotthan Harrison, OL Matt Patchan, OL Jon Halapio, DL Sharrif Floyd, DL Ronald Powell, DL Dominique Easley, LB Jon Bostic, LB Jelani Jenkins, LB Michael Taylor, DB Matt Elam, DB Josh Evans, DB Jaylen Watkins, DB Cody Riggs

Key Losses: QB John Brantley, RB Chris Rainey, RB Jeff Demps, OL Dan Wenger, DT Jaye Howard

Another year, another offensive scheme. Will Muschamp hired former Boise State offensive coordinator Brent Pease as his new offensive guru. In case you are counting at home, that makes four coordinators in four seasons in Ganiesville. And Pease’s first order of business is to find a quarterback. Uber-recruits Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will likely compete for the starting job, but how do their skills fit with the new scheme? And can Pease find offensive playmakers to help out – which sounds unfathomable at a school like Florida. How quickly Pease settles into his new office will likely determine if the Gators challenge for an SEC title or lose another five games.

While the offense has huge question marks heading into 2012, the defense has all the potential to be a dominant unit. It finished eighth nationally against the run, allowed only 20.3 points per game (20th nationally) and returns NFL talent at every position. This team has a chance to be very stout in 2012.

There are few breaks, as is the case with most SEC schools, on the Gators’ schedule. Muschamp starts the year visiting a rebuilding Texas A&M team and a developing Tennessee squad. LSU also comes to The Swamp in October in cross-over play with a very tough but potentially manageable finish to the year: South Carolina at home, Georgia in Jacksonville and Missouri at home.

5. Vanderbilt Commodores

Key Returnees: QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, RB Warren Norman, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Chris Boyd, OL Wes Johnson, OL Ryan Seymour, DL Rob Lohr, DL Walker May, LB Chase Garnham, DB Kenny Ladler, DB Javon Marshall, DB Trey Wilson

Key Losses: TE Brandon Barden, OL Kyle Fischer, OL Logan Stewart, DL Tim Fugger, LB Chris Marve, CB Casey Hayward, S Sean Richardson

Other than Alabama, there might not have been a fan base more excited about its program in 2011 than Vanderbilt. Much of the credit belongs to cult of personality head coach James Franklin — and a host of experienced seniors on defense. Finding a way to replace names like Marve, Hayward, Fugger and Richardson will be key for Franklin.

Ideally, an experienced and developing offense should help mask some of the holes on defense. Jordan Rodgers returns for a full season under center (and back-up Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels is talented as well) and has all-SEC type players to work with in skill talents Zac Stacy, Warren Norman and Jordan Matthews. The offensive line won’t be a strength, but won’t be a weakness either as it is deep and beginning to develop experience.

The real reason Vandy fans are thinking bowl game for the second-straight season is the schedule. Like Georgia, the Dores miss the big three from the West (LSU, Alabama, Arkansas). However, Franklin and Rodgers will have to be ready to compete right out of the gate as South Carolina visits West End in the Thursday night primetime season kickoff in Week 1. Two non-conference road tilts with Northwestern and Wake Forest will also figure heavily into postseason play.

6. Tennessee Volunteers

Key Returnees: QB Tyler Bray, RB Marlin Lane, WR Justin Hunter, WR Da’Rick Rogers, OL Ja’Wuan James, OL Alex Bullard, OL Marcus Jackson, OL Dallas Thomas, DL Corey Miller, DL Jacques Smith, DL Daniel Hood, DL Maurice Couch, DL Willie Bohannon, LB A.J. Johnson, LB Curt Maggitt, DB Prentiss Waggner, DB Brian Randolph, DB Izauea Lanier

Key Losses: RB Tauren Poole, DE Malik Jackson, DE Ben Martin, LB Austin Johnson

There is a lot on the line for Derek Dooley in 2012. His career hangs in the balance as Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter return healthy as potentially one of the top QB-WR combos in the nation. There is loads of talent, and now experience, along the offensive line, so improving upon the 117th-ranked rushing offense will go a long way to keeping Dooley in Knoxville. Easier said than done.

Defensively, Dooley has an entirely new staff in place as he hired Sal Suneri from Alabama to run his defense. Like the offense, fans can finally point to talented, upside youngsters at key positions. Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson likely had to play too much as freshman, but went along way in accelerating the development process for the future star sophomores. The secondary has a lot of bodies and should be decent, but Sunseri’s ability to develop the front line will likely be the most important aspect of the defense. Maurice Couch and Daniel Hood showed consistency, but Corey Miller and Jacques Smith have the talent to be much better players. It falls to Sunseri, who developed stars like Rolando McClain, Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower, to turn them into the stars fans thought they would be as recruits.

Missing Arkansas and LSU helps this Tennessee team immensely in 2012, but will still have to face Florida, Georgia and Alabama in its first four SEC contests. The Vols likely have to reach seven or eight wins to save Dooley’s job and will undoubtedly need to pull one, if not two, upsets throughout the course of the season.

7. Kentucky Wildcats

Key Returnees: RB CoShik Williams, WR La’Rod King, OL Larry Warford, DL Collins Ukwu, LB Avery Williamson, LB Ridge Wilson, DB Martavius Neloms

Key Losses: WR Matt Roark, LB Danny Trevathan, LB Ronnie Sneed, S Winston Guy, DB Randall Burden

This team is in dire need of improvement in all areas. The offense failed to score more than 16 points in any SEC game in 2011 and topped 10 points in only two of eight games. Developing a quarterback will go a long way to making Joker Phillips’ group competitive once again in 2012. La’Rod King returns as the leading receiver and top offensive playmaker and blocker Larry Warford is a very talented start to building an offensive line.

Defensively, Phillips has to plug massive voids left by Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy. And with one of the toughest schedules in the league, finding defensive play-makers becomes magnified. Road trips to Florida, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee packaged with homes games against South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt does not afford many chances for wins in 2012 for Kentucky.

2012 Very Early SEC West Predictions

1. LSU

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

Key Losses: QB Jordan Jefferson, QB Jarrett Lee, WR Rueben Randle, LG Will Blackwell, DT Michael Brockers, LB Stefoin Francois, LB Ryan Baker, CB Morris Claiborne, SS Brandon Taylor

A great regular season in Baton Rouge was overshadowed by an awful performance in the national title game against Alabama. The Tigers navigated a difficult regular season slate unbeaten, but that won’t wash away the disappointment from the 21-0 loss to the Crimson Tide in New Orleans. Although the loss still stings at LSU, the Tigers have to be ecstatic about what’s returning in 2012.

Quarterback play was a huge issue in the national title game and will enter 2012 as a question mark. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee depart, leaving Zach Mettenberger as the team’s No. 1 option entering spring practice. Mettenberger saw limited action in 2011, completing 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards and one touchdown. Not helping Mettenberger’s cause was the departure of receiver Rueben Randle. With uncertainty surrounding Mettenberger, expect the Tigers to lean heavily on the rushing attack once again. Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard combined for 2,338 yards and 30 scores in 2011 and will be helped by the return of four starters on the offensive line. LSU should have one of the top rushing attacks in college football, but Mettenberger’s development will be crucial to winning a national title.

Despite the loss of a few starters, LSU isn’t going to suffer much of a drop-off on defense. The defensive line should be among the best in college football, especially with ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo returning after registering 17 sacks in 2011. Tackle Bennie Logan also returns after picking up 57 tackles last season. Two starters depart in the linebacking corps, but the backups have experience. Morris Claiborne was one of the top cover corners in the nation and may be missed more than some believe. However, the cupboard isn’t bare in the secondary, as Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon return in 2012.

2. Alabama

Key Returnees: QB AJ McCarron, RB Eddie Lacy, WR Kenny Bell, OL Barrett Jones, OG Chance Warmack, RT D.J. Fluker, DE Damion Square, DE Quinton Dial, DE Jesse Williams, LB Trey DePriest, LB Nico Johnson, LB C.J. Mosley, CB Dee Milliner, S Robert Lester, S Vinnie Sunseri

Key Losses: RB Trent Richardson, WR Marquis Maze, WR Darius Hanks, TE Brad Smelley, C William Vlachos, RG Alfred McCullough, OG Anthony Steen, LB Dont’a Hightower, LB Courtney Upshaw, NG Josh Chapman, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, CB DeQuan Menzie, S Mark Barron

The Crimson Tide will be replacing a plethora of key players, but is there really any doubt this team will be back in the mix for the SEC and national title?

Quarterback AJ McCarron was a key factor in Alabama’s national title win over LSU and he will be the focal point of the offense in 2012. McCarron threw only five picks and completed 66.8 percent of his throws in 2011. The junior will have to adapt to a new offensive coordinator (Doug Nussmeier) next year with Jim McElwain’s departure to Colorado State. With receivers Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks out of eligibility, the Crimson Tide needs Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White and Kevin Norwood to become the go-to weapons for McCarron, especially while a talented freshman class learns the ropes. Replacing Trent Richardson’s production at running back likely won’t come down to one player. Look for Eddie Lacy, Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler to share the initial workload in the backfield, while incoming freshman T.J. Yeldon will have an opportunity to work his way into the mix. The offensive line has to replace stalwart center William Vlachos, but Barrett Jones, D.J. Fluker and Anthony Steen are back.

After finishing first nationally in rush, total, scoring and pass defense, it’s nearly impossible to expect a repeat of those numbers in 2012 – especially with the loss of several key contributors. Coach Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart will have their work cut out for them this offseason, as the defense loses linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, while Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron and DeQuan Menzie all depart from the secondary. Jesse Williams and Damion Square return on the line, but the Crimson Tide needs to find a new nose guard with Josh Chapman and Nick Gentry departing. There’s no shortage of young talent, but it may take five or six games for the right pieces to fall into place for this defense.

3. Arkansas

Key Returnees: QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis, WR Cobi Hamilton, TE Chris Gragg, OG Alvin Bailey, C Travis Swanson, DE Tenarius Wright, DT Byran Jones, LB Alonzo Highsmith, CB Tevin Mitchell, CB Isaac Madison, S Eric Bennett

Key Losses: WR Joe Adams, WR Jarius Wright, OG Grant Cook, OT Grant Freeman, DE Jake Bequette, LB Jerry Franklin, LB Jerico Nelson, CB Isaac Madison, S Tramain Thomas

The Razorbacks are coming off back-to-back double-digit win seasons for the first time since 1988-1989. Now that Arkansas seems to have closed the gap on LSU and Alabama, can it win the SEC West in 2012?

There’s a mixture of good and bad news for the Razorbacks’ offense next year. Running back Knile Davis is back after missing all of 2011 due to a leg injury, which should provide a spark for the rushing attack. However, Arkansas must replace three receivers, including playmakers Jarius Wright and Joe Adams. Quarterback Tyler Wilson turned down an opportunity to enter the NFL Draft and he should contend for first or second team All-SEC honors next year. The offensive line struggled at times during the 2011 season but figures to be improved in 2012.

If the Razorbacks want to close the gap and play for the SEC Championship next season, the defense has to continue to improve. New coordinator Paul Haynes did a good job containing Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl, but he will lose some of the unit’s key performers. End Jake Bequette, linebacker Jerry Franklin and safety Tramain Thomas will be missed and won’t make Haynes’ job any easier next year. Arkansas still trails LSU and Alabama in defensive strength, but it will be interesting to see how Haynes fares with a full year on the job.

4. Auburn

Key Returnees: RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, C Reese Dismukes, DE Corey Lemonier, DE Nosa Eguae, LB Daren Bates, LB Jake Holland, CB Chris Davis, CB T’Sharvan Bell, S Demetruce McNeal, S Erique Florence

Key Losses: RB Michael Dyer, RT Brandon Mosley, LB Eltoro Freeman, S Neiko Thorpe

One year after winning the national title, the Tigers slipped back to the pack, finishing with an 8-5 record and a victory in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia. After losing so many key players from the 2010 team, there was no doubt Auburn was due to for a fall. The Tigers will enter 2012 with new coordinators on both sides of the ball and a roster that is still one of the youngest in the conference.

Gus Malzahn’s up-tempo offense (and Cam Newton) was a big reason why Auburn claimed the 2010 national championship. However, Malzahn departed to be the head coach at Arkansas State, which certainly raises the question of whether or not the Tigers will continue with a similar offensive scheme in 2012. Regardless of scheme, settling the quarterback position is going to be crucial to Auburn’s success in 2012. Clint Moseley, Kiehl Frazier and incoming freshman Zeke Pike will compete for the job in spring practice. With the quarterback position in flux, the Tigers will lean heavily on the rushing attack in 2012. Michael Dyer also departed for Arkansas State, leaving Onterio McCalebb, Florida transfer Mike Blakely and Tre Mason to battle for carries. The offensive line loses tackles A.J. Greene and Brandon Mosley, but center Reese Dismukes is coming off a solid freshman campaign.

Youth and inexperience played a huge role in Auburn’s defensive struggles last season, but this group never really seemed to show much progress throughout the year. The Tigers ranked near the bottom of the SEC in rush, pass, total and scoring defense last season. Coach Gene Chizik made a good move when he decided to hire Brian Van Gorder from the Falcons to coordinate the defense. Van Gorder has some nice talent to work with on the defensive line, as Corey Lemonier, Jeffrey Whitaker, Gabe Wright and Nosa Eguae are all returning. The secondary has been a source of criticism over the last two years, but could benefit from a better pass rush.

5. Texas A&M

Key Returnees: RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, LT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, RT Jake Matthews, DE Spencer Nealy, DT Eddie Brown, LB Jonathan Stewart, LB Sean Porter, LB Steven Jenkins, LB Damontre Moore

Key Losses: QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Cyrus Gray, WR Jeff Fuller, DE Tony Jerod-Eddie, CB Coryell Judie, CB Terrence Frederick, S Trent Hunter, K Randy Bullock

2012 represents a new era for Texas A&M athletics. The Aggies decided to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, joining the nation’s toughest conference for college football. While this is a big challenge, Texas A&M has the resources necessary to eventually compete in the SEC West. Could this move help the Aggies on the recruiting trail versus Texas? Only time will tell, but for 2012, Texas A&M has a lot of work to do in order to reach the postseason.

Along with the move to the SEC, the hire of coach Kevin Sumlin has built some positive momentum in College Station. Sumlin’s spread offenses at Houston were among the best in the nation, but the going will certainly be tougher in the SEC. Quarterback is a huge question mark entering spring practice, as Matt Joeckel, Matt Davis, Johnny Manziel and Jameill Showers will compete to replace Ryan Tannehill. With a young quarterback taking over, look for the Aggies to lean on the rushing attack and offensive line. Running back Christine Michael returns after missing the final four games due to a torn ACL. Michael will anchor the backfield, but Ben Malena will be a nice change of pace option. Whichever quarterback wins the job will have a solid group of receivers to throw to, including All-SEC candidate Ryan Swope.

It will be interesting to see how Texas A&M’s defense transitions to a 4-3 under coordinator Mark Snyder in 2012. After running the 3-4 under Tim DeRuyter, the switch may take a year or two to get the right bodies in place. Losing end Tony Jerod-Eddie is a tough blow for the line, but Spencer Nealy and Eddie Brown Jr. earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last season. The coaching staff needs to decide if Damontre Moore fits at end or linebacker, especially after he recorded 8.5 sacks in 2011. The linebacking corps should be a strength, as Jonathan Stewart, Sean Porter and Steven Jenkins return. The secondary was a weakness in 2011 and will be losing cornerbacks Terrence Frederick and Coryell Judie and safety Trent Hunter. Even though the SEC has struggled to get great quarterback play across the board, the secondary is going to be under fire early and often in 2012.

6. Mississippi State

Key Returnees: QB Tyler Russell, RB LaDarius Perkins, WR Chad Bumphis, LG Gabe Jackson, DE Kaleb Eulls, DT Josh Boyd, LB Cameron Lawrence, LB Deonte Skinner, CB Johnthan Banks, CB Corey Broomfield, S Nickoe Whitley

Key Losses: QB Chris Relf, RB Vick Ballard, LT James Carmon, RG Quentin Saulsberry, RT Addison Lawrence, DE Sean Ferguson, DT Fletcher Cox, LB Brandon Wilson, SS Charles Mitchell, FS Wade Bonner

The Bulldogs have emerged as a solid bowl team under coach Dan Mullen, but can the program take it to the next level? Mississippi State has yet to beat any SEC West team outside of Ole Miss under Mullen’s watch, which is something that has to change if the Bulldogs want to contend for a spot among the top three in the division.

While Mississippi State has made progress under Mullen, the going won’t get any easier in 2012. With Texas A&M joining the SEC West, the Bulldogs have another difficult obstacle to get bowl eligible. And there are a lot of question marks for this team going into spring practice. Quarterback play was an issue in 2011, with Chris Relf and Tyler Russell both getting significant snaps. Relf has expired his eligibility, leaving Russell as the team’s No. 1 quarterback. Running back Vick Ballard must be replaced, but LaDarius Perkins has averaged 5.3 yards per carry during his career and should be a solid replacement. Additionally, three starters must be replaced on the offensive line.

The Bulldogs allowed only 20 points a game last season, but ranked seventh in the SEC in rush defense, allowing 153.5 yards per game. The defense was dealt a blow when tackle Fletcher Cox decided to leave for the NFL, but fellow tackle Josh Boyd is back for his senior year. The Bulldogs caught a break when cornerback Johnthan Banks decided to return for his senior year, but the secondary must replace safety Charles Mitchell. This unit shouldn’t suffer too much of a drop-off, but could struggle to stop the run without one of its key defenders on the interior of the line.

7. Ole Miss

Key Returnees: RB Jeff Scott, WR Donte Moncrief, WR Nickolas Brassell, LB Mike Marry, LB D.T. Shackelford, FS Charles Sawyer, P Tyler Campbell

Key Losses: RB Brandon Bolden, LT Bradley Sowell, RT Bobby Massie, DE Kentrell Lockett, S Damien Jackson

A disastrous 2011 season brought change to Oxford. Out is Houston Nutt as the Rebels’ coach and in is former Arkansas State head coach (and Ole Miss assistant) Hugh Freeze. The new coaching staff has a lot of work to do to get the Rebels back in a bowl game and considering the returning personnel, it may be a year or two before that happens.

Three quarterbacks received snaps in 2011, but none performed well enough to claim the job entering spring practice. Randall Mackey, Zack Stoudt and Barry Brunetti all return for 2012, but will face competition from incoming JUCO Bo Wallace. Jeff Scott is the team’s top returning rusher (529 yards), but at 5-foot-7, the Rebels don’t want to give him 250-300 carries. The receiving corps has some promising youth returning, as Donte Moncrief and Nickolas Brassell – both freshmen last year – ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on the team in catches last year. The offensive line will be a concern next year, especially with Bradley Sowell out of eligibility and Bobby Massie declaring for the draft.

As if the offensive struggles weren’t enough last year, the Rebels were one of the worst in the SEC in defense. New co-defensive coordinators Dave Wommack and Wesley McGriff have to figure out ways to generate a pass rush after the Rebels averaged only one sack a game in 2011. Linebacker D.T. Shackelford missed all of 2011 due to a knee injury and his return should add some much-needed punch to the run defense. 

Related 2012 Content:

Very Early ACC 2012 Preseason Predictions
Very Early Pac-12 2012 Preseason Predictions

Very Early Big Ten 2012 Preseason Predictions

Very Early Big East 2012 Preseason Predictions

Very Early Big 12 2012 Preseason Predictions

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

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

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon releases its very early SEC predictions for 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 20, 2012 - 07:46
Path: /college-football/gunner-kiel-indiana-lsu-notre-dame-indecision
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By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

It happens every year during college football’s recruiting season. Top gridiron prospects “verbally commit” to one school, and then change their mind (multiple times in some cases) before attending another school. The infamous “verbal commitment” label that the recruiting services use has sadly become a joke for many kids. They “commit” to one program to hopefully hold a roster spot, and then are still pursued by other coaches and often are swayed to another school at the last minute. We saw a very high-profile example of this trend earlier this week when one of the top quarterback recruits in the AC100, Gunner Kiel of Columbus, Ind., reneged on his promise to attend LSU and changed to Notre Dame at the 11th hour. Of course, his LSU decision came after reneging on his commitment to Indiana back in the fall. The number of these de-commitments goes up each year, as a sadly increasing number of recruits and college coaches show that their word means little to nothing.

So who or what is to blame for all of the recruiting confusion: youthful indecision, egotistical or gullible players, bad parents and/or advisers who put their self-interest above the kid’s, shady football coaches, insistence of ravenous fans and recruiting websites to put a label on prospects or just a lack of character across society? Obviously each case is separate and should be analyzed that way. Kiel’s story will be more publicized because he is a signal caller and it involves major programs, but he is far from alone.

Most football recruits sign a letter-of-intent on National Signing Day (February 1 this year) which officially binds them to that school. Before that, it’s all just a verbal promise. In the case of Kiel and the growing number of top football prospects who graduate high school early and then enroll in college in January, their “official” decision is made when they attend the first class. Kiel was supposed to enroll at LSU this week but then switched to going to classes at Notre Dame. Many have said his mother in Indiana did not want him go far from home, which is understandable. But then why the LSU “commitment”? If the parents had that much influence over the decision, they should keep their son from basically lying (very publically) once again. In the end, LSU fans will probably think that Kiel was scared of their depth chart or SEC defenses, while Irish fans will think his indecision is just a factor of age and no big deal. That’s how these things work.

We do have to remember these are 18-year-old kids, and they have very persuasive and powerful adults — whether it’s parents, coaches from other schools, advisers, etc. — in their ear constantly. That’s not a fun or healthy reality for many of us. We want to trust people and think that their word has meaning, but the world of recruiting seems to take us in a different and sad direction. Many fans direct anger and internet vitriol towards recruits who spurn their school, as they make the argument that you’re an adult at 18 and can make independent decisions. And while the recruits aren’t totally innocent, it’s hard to get too angry at them when you see the example being set by many adults.

There was an uncomfortable story this week in the AJC regarding Alabama coach Nick Saban and running back recruit Justin Taylor from North Atlanta. While recruits often change their commitments, some prominent coaches like Saban are infamous for oversigning recruits (which the SEC has tried to address with new rules), forcing non-contributing upperclassmen out of their scholarships for medical reasons or not honoring their earlier offers. Saban reportedly told Taylor, who had been committed to the Tide since last February, that he could not sign him this year. So Taylor will just attend another school, right? Nope. Apparently Saban had convinced Taylor to not sign elsewhere, to stay at home in Georgia and that Bama would help him find a job. That’s a scary amount influence to have over a player who does not fit into your plans.

Saban is not the only coach with that type of reputation. It has been reported often that new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer will tell prospects almost anything (and the Buckeyes have shockingly spiked in the recruiting rankings since he took over). We all know about the recent scandals at USC, Ohio State, Penn State and North Carolina, and they all show that positively influencing and educating new students is a long way down the priority list for way too many of the adults involved.

Will it ever stop? Probably not. There is just so much money at stake for coaches and big-time recruits that character is going to take a back seat. Kids like Kiel and Vanderbilt’s Patton Robinette need to quit “committing” so early, when they are obviously not sure about what they want. The last-minute changes by these players harms their reputation, and that can be a painful thing to deal with in the internet/college football world. Here’s to hoping that recruits and coaches will find a way in the future to be more honest throughout the entire process. However, for that last thought, I probably need to be committed.
 

Teaser:
<p> Heralded quarterback prospect switched commitments from Indiana to LSU to Notre Dame.</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 19, 2012 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/very-early-2012-acc-predictions
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Very Early 2012 ACC Predictions

Atlantic Division

1. Florida State

Key Returnees: QB EJ Manuel, RB Devonta Freeman, WR Rashad Greene, WR Rodney Smith, DE Brandon Jenkins, DE Bjoern Werner, DT Everett Dawkins, DT Timmy Jernigan, LB Christian Jones, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Greg Reid, FS Lamarcus Joyner, K Dustin Hopkins

Key Losses: WR Bert Reed, LT Zebrie Sanders, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Mike Harris, P Shawn Powell

The question facing the Seminoles every offseason seems to the same: Is Florida State back? We won’t know until next December if the Seminoles are truly a contender for the national title, but on paper, this group has the pieces to finish among the top 5-10 teams in the nation.

Quarterback EJ Manuel had his moments in his first year as the starter, but a shoulder injury suffered in the third game of the season seemed to stall the offense’s development. Manuel has plenty of young weapons at receiver to throw to, but Florida State’s offensive outlook rests solely on its line. The Seminoles had several underclassmen see valuable playing time up front, but this will be a question mark all season long. Largely due to the struggles of the offensive line, the rushing attack never really got going in 2011. If the line play stabilizes, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder should find more running lanes in 2012.

Mark Stoops was reportedly courted by Auburn for its defensive coordinator position, but chose to stay in Tallahassee for another year. That’s great news for a Florida State defense that should be among the best in college football next year. The Seminoles bring back a plethora of talented linemen, including ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner. Nigel Bradham must be replaced at linebacker, but Christian Jones, Vince Williams and Jeff Luc are ready to step up. The secondary figures to be near the top of the ACC once again, especially with Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid returning at cornerback.

2. Clemson

Key Returnees: QB Tajh Boyd, RB Andre Ellington, WR Sammy Watkins, WR DeAndre Hopkins, C Dalton Freeman, LB Corico Hawkins, LB Jonathan Willard, S Rashard Hall, S Xavier Brewer

Key Losses: TE Dwayne Allen, LT Phillip Price, RT Landon Walker, DE Andre Branch, DT Brandon Thompson, DT Rennie Moore, CB Coty Sensabaugh

Coming off a 6-7 season, there was plenty of doubt about Clemson in 2011. The Tigers were picked by most to finish in the second tier of the ACC Atlantic, but all of the pieces fell in the right place. Hiring Chad Morris as offensive coordinator turned out to be one of the best coaching moves of the offseason, while the Tigers crushed Virginia Tech 38-10 to make their first BCS bowl appearance.

Morris’ offense was a smash hit in Death Valley last season and most of the key pieces return for 2012. Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins will be one of the top pass-catch combinations in college football, while running back Andre Ellington should rush for 1,000 yards. The biggest question mark facing Clemson’s offense will be the line, where three new starters will step in. If the Tigers successfully replace tackles Phillip Price and Landon Walker, the offense shouldn’t miss a beat in 2012.

After giving up 70 points to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was shown the door. And in his place comes former Oklahoma assistant Brent Venables - a home run hire as Clemson's new defensive coordinator. The Tigers finished the season ranked 70th or worse in rush, total and scoring defense and generated only 1.7 sacks per game. Not only will the defense have a new coordinator, but must replace three key starters on the line, including All-ACC selections in Brandon Thompson and Andre Branch. The Tigers have recruited well, but the defense may be a year away from showing much improvement in the stat column.

3. NC State

Key Returnees: QB Mike Glennon, RB Mustafa Greene, RB James Washington, WR Tobais Palmer, LT R.J. Mattes, C Camden Wentz, CB David Amerson, S Brandan Bishop, S Earl Wolff

Key Losses: WR T.J. Graham, TE George Bryan, DT J.R. Sweezy, DT Markus Kuhn, LB Audie Cole, LB Terrell Manning

Last offseason wasn’t exactly quiet in Raleigh, but after closing with wins in four out of their final five games, coach Tom O’Brien should be feeling good about his team going into 2012.

Breaking up with quarterback Russell Wilson wasn’t easy, but Mike Glennon quietly turned in a solid season. The junior threw for 3,054 yards and 31 touchdowns, while tossing 12 interceptions and adding one score on the ground. Glennon will only get better with another offseason to work with the coaching staff, but the Wolfpack has to replace key receivers T.J. Graham and Jay Smith and tight end George Bryan. Running back should be a position of strength, as James Washington returns after rushing for 897 yards and Mustafa Greene is back after missing all of 2011 due to injury. With four starters returning, the Wolfpack offensive line should be able to cut down on the amount of sacks this group allowed in 2011 (34).

Keeping Jon Tenuta on the defensive staff was a huge coup for O’Brien, especially after finishing fourth in the ACC in total defense in 2011. However, the Wolfpack suffered some key losses from this group, especially in the front seven. Tackles Markus Kuhn and J.R. Sweezy and linebackers Dwayne Maddox, Audie Cole and Terrell Manning are all gone. While the front seven will be a question mark, the secondary is a strength, especially with cornerback David Amerson returning.

4. Wake Forest

Key Returnees: QB Tanner Price, RB Josh Harris, WR Michael Campanaro, NG Nikita Whitlock, LB Mike Olson, CB Merrill Noel

Key Losses: RB Brandon Pendergrass, WR Chris Givens, LG Joe Looney, DE Tristan Dorty, LB Kyle Wilber, SS Cyhl Quarles, S Josh Bush

The Demon Deacons started 5-2, but cooled off in the second half of the year to finish with a 6-7 record. Although that tally isn’t overwhelmingly impressive to some, the record represented a solid year of improvement for coach Jim Grobe. Wake Forest won only three games in 2010 with a core composed mostly of young players, which was a valuable learning experience for the team in 2011 and once again for 2012.

Quarterback Tanner Price emerged as one of the top passers in the ACC last year, throwing for 3,017 yards, 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Price returns in 2012, but will have to find a new go-to target with receiver Chris Givens moving onto the NFL. Michael Campanaro figures to be Price’s new favorite target after catching 73 passes for 833 yards last year. Running back Josh Harris was limited due to a hamstring injury in 2011, but could threaten 1,000 yards with 150-175 carries in 2012. Expect the offensive line to get plenty of attention in the spring, as the Demon Deacons have to replace four starters, including tackle Dennis Godfrey and All-ACC guard Joe Looney.

Seven starters return on defense for Wake Forest next season, but this unit ranked eighth or worse in the ACC in rushing, total, scoring and pass defense last year. There aren’t a ton of significant losses for 2012, but replacing All-ACC safety Josh Bush won’t be easy. With the returning group of players, Wake Forest figures to make some improvement on defense in 2012. The Demon Deacons would benefit from more of a pass rush, as they finished 115th nationally in 2011.

5. Boston College

Key Returnees: QB Chase Rettig, RB Montel Harris, WR Colin Larmond, DT Kaleb Ramsey, DT Dominic Appiah, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Steele Divitto, CB Al Louis-Jean

Key Losses: C Mark Spinney, DE Max Holloway, LB Luke Kuechly, CB Donnie Fletcher

The Eagles are coming off their first losing season since 1998. After starting off 1-6, the team showed some progress, winning three of their final five games to finish with a 4-8 record. Coach Frank Spaziani enters 2012 on the hot seat and some new faces on the coaching staff. Spaziani hired former Kent State coach Doug Martin to coordinate the offense, while former Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman will work with the offensive line.

Spaziani hopes Martin can find some answers for offense that was one of the worst in the ACC last year. Quarterback Chase Rettig tossed 12 touchdowns, but completed only 53.6 percent of his throws. Rettig needs more help from his receiving corps, as the offense would benefit from more big plays in 2012. Montel Harris has rushed for 3,735 yards and 27 scores in his career and was granted an extra year of eligibility after missing most of 2011 due to a knee injury. While getting Harris back will help the ground attack, Boston College also needs more help from its offensive line.

The defense was respectable last year, as the Eagles finished 43rd nationally in scoring defense and allowed 17 or fewer points in each of their final three games. However, this group suffered some key losses, including Butkus Award winner Luke Kuechly. Look for Kevin Pierre-Louis to emerge as the leader in the linebacking corps and should challenge for all-conference honors. The defensive line gained some extra help over the winter when tackle Kaleb Ramsey was granted an additional year of eligibility.

The Eagles aren’t ready to challenge for the division title, but the pieces are in place to contend for a bowl bid. Improving the offense is priority No. 1 this offseason for Spaziani and if this unit struggles in 2012, Boston College will likely be looking for a new head coach by December.

6. Maryland

Key Returnees: QB C.J. Brown, WR Kevin Dorsey, DT Joe Vellano, LB Kenny Tate, LB Demetrius Hartsfield, CB Dexter McDougle, S Eric Franklin

Key Losses: RB Davin Meggett, WR Quintin McCree, RT R.J. Dill, CB Cameron Chism

Only one word seems to correctly summarize coach Randy Edsall’s first year at Maryland: Disaster. Coming off a 9-4 season, the Terrapins appeared to have the pieces in place to contend for a finish among the top three in the ACC Atlantic. Instead, Maryland hit rock bottom, finishing with just two victories and going winless in conference play. The 2-10 debacle prompted changes on the coaching staff, including new offensive and defensive coordinators.

After turning in a terrific freshman campaign, quarterback Danny O’Brien was one of the most disappointing players in the ACC last year. O’Brien decided to transfer, leaving C.J. Brown as Maryland's No. 1 quarterback for spring practice. Running back Davin Meggett has finished his eligibility in College Park, leaving Justus Pickett and incoming freshman Albert Reid and Wes Brown to compete for carries. Tackle R.J. Dill decided to transfer to Rutgers for his senior year, leaving a void on the right side of the line.

There were few positives for the Terrapins on defense last season, finishing last in the ACC in rushing, total and scoring defense. New coordinator Brian Stewart is moving this defense to a 3-4 look, and there is some solid returning personnel in place for this transition. Linebacker/safety Kenny Tate was injured early in the year, but should be in contention for All-ACC honors in 2012. Defensive tackle Joe Vellano is coming off a terrific season, but the Terrapins need to figure out if he can anchor the middle of the 3-4 look or if he is better suited for the outside.

There’s nowhere to go but up for Maryland next season. However, there are plenty of concerns and question marks facing this squad. 

Coastal

1. Virginia Tech

Key Returnees: QB Logan Thomas, WR Marcus Davis, WR D.J. Coles, DE James Gayle, DE J.R. Collins, DT Derrick Hopkins, LB Bruce Taylor, LB Tariq Edwards, CB Kyle Fuller, S Antone Exum

Key Losses: RB David Wilson, WR Jarrett Boykin, WR Danny Coale, LT Andrew Lanier, LG Greg Nosal, RG Jaymes Brooks, RT Blake DeChristopher, CB Jayron Hosley, FS Eddie Whitley

The Hokies have claimed back-to-back ACC Coastal titles and despite some heavy losses, will enter 2012 as the favorite once again. With the rest of the division facing a lot of uncertainty, Virginia Tech could be the only team from the Coastal to be ranked in preseason top 25 polls.

With running back David Wilson and four starters departing on the offensive line, it’s up to quarterback Logan Thomas to carry the Virginia Tech offense in 2012. The junior made big progress as a passer as the season progressed, but will be throwing to a revamped receiving corps next season. Replacing Wilson won’t be easy, especially with a cast of running backs with very little experience in place. Tony Gregory has the most carries (39) of returning running backs, but averaged only 3.3 yards per touch. Don’t be surprised if freshmen play a key role in the Hokies’ backfield next season.

While the offense will be undergoing some renovations, the defense could be among the best in college football. The line is stacked with proven commodities, including likely All-ACC selections in end James Gayle and J.R. Collins, while tackle Derrick Hopkins looks to build off his 2011 campaign (50 tackles, 3 sacks). Linebackers Bruce Taylor and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow missed time due to injuries, but will anchor a solid group in 2012. Losing cornerback Jayron Hosley and safety Eddie Whitley is a big blow, but Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller is a good starting point for the secondary for next season.

2. Georgia Tech

Key Returnees: QB Tevin Washington, RB David Sims, RB Orwin Smith, OG Omoregie Uzzi, LB Julian Burnett, LB Jeremiah Attaochu, CB Rod Sweeting, CB Louis Young, S Isaiah Johnson

Key Losses: WR Stephen Hill, DE Jason Peters, DT Logan Walls, LB Steven Sylvester, S Rashaad Reid

What a difference a year makes. Coming into 2011, Georgia Tech was coming off a disappointing 6-7 season and coach Paul Johnson’s option attack was being questioned once again. Instead of continuing to slide back to mediocrity, the Yellow Jackets responded with a 6-0 start and finished with an 8-5 record. Although Georgia Tech had a late-season slide, it is poised to be a contender for the ACC Coastal title in 2012.

Quarterback Tevin Washington led the team with 987 rushing yards and 14 scores, but will face spring competition from Synjyn Days for the No. 1 spot. Washington needs to be more consistent as a passer, but the offense suffered a tough blow when receiver Stephen Hill left early for the NFL Draft. The Yellow Jackets lack a go-to back, but David Sims and Orwin Smith combined for 1,313 yards and 18 scores in 2011. Four starters are back on the offensive line, including All-American candidate Omoregie Uzzi at right guard.

Adapting to the 3-4 scheme wasn’t an overnight process, but the Yellow Jackets are making progress. Linebackers Jeremiah Attaochu, Quayshawn Nealy and Julian Burnett will be one of the top trios in the ACC next season. Finding an anchor at defensive tackle is key for any 3-4 defense and the Yellow Jackets have to replace Logan Walls in the middle next year. T.J. Barnes has the necessary size, but has not started for a full season. The secondary finished second in the ACC in pass defense in 2011 and returns four starters for 2012. If coordinator Al Groh can sort out the defensive line in spring practice, this defense should take another step forward in 2012. 

3. Virginia

Key Returnees: QB Michael Rocco, RB Perry Jones, RB Kevin Parks, WR Tim Smith, LT Oday Aboushi, DT Will Hill, LB Steve Greer, LB LaRoy Reynolds, CB Demetrious Nicholson

Key Losses: WR Kris Burd, LG Austin Pasztor, C Anthony Mihota, DE Cam Johnson, DT Matt Conrath, CB Chase Minnifield, S Rodney McLeod, S Corey Mosley

The Cavaliers were one of the biggest surprises in the ACC, going from 4-8 in 2010 to 8-5 in 2011. Coach Mike London claimed the conference’s coach of the year honors for the turnaround and leading the Cavaliers to their first postseason trip since the 2007 season. The future is bright for Virginia and another eight-win season should be within reach in 2012.

The offense had its share of ups and downs but finished No. 4 in the ACC with an average of 399.8 yards per game. Quarterback Michael Rocco had only one touchdown pass through the first four games, but finished with 12 over his next nine. He tossed 12 interceptions, which is something London and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor want to see him cut in 2012. The bread and butter of the Virginia offense is the one-two punch of Perry Jones and Kevin Parks at running back. The duo combined for 1,624 yards and 14 scores in 2011 and will lead the offense once again in 2012. The offensive line played a key role in the rushing attack’s success and loses two key players next year – guard Austin Pasztor and center Anthony Mihota.

The Cavaliers improved statistically against the run and in overall points allowed this season, but must replace some key contributors in 2012. The defensive line loses three starters, including tackle Matt Conrath and end Cam Johnson. The linebacking corps should be a strength, as Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds could contend for all-conference honors. Losing Chase Minnifield is a huge blow for the Virginia secondary, but freshman Demetrious Nicholson started all 13 games in 2011 and is a future star. Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley will form a solid combination at safety next season.

4. North Carolina

Key Returnees: QB Bryn Renner, RB Giovani Bernard, WR Erik Highsmith, LT James Hurst, LG Jonathan Cooper, DE Kareem Martin, DT Sylvester Williams, LB Kevin Reddick, FS Tre Boston

Key Losses: WR Dwight Jones, DE Quinton Coples, DE Donte Paige-Moss, DT Tydreke Powell, LB Zach Brown, CB Charles Brown

The cupboard wasn’t left completely bare for new coach Larry Fedora. After a successful stint at Southern Miss, Fedora takes over a Tar Heel squad that finished 7-6 after starting 5-1. North Carolina has won at least seven games in each of the last four years, but has failed to contend for the Coastal title.

Fedora’s specialty is on offense and will have some talented personnel to work with next season in Chapel Hill. Quarterback Bryn Renner is back after throwing for 3,086 yards and 26 scores. Renner is more of a dropback passer, but Fedora has run a spread offense at his previous stops. Although Renner may not be a perfect fit, expect Fedora to mold his offense around his strengths. Running back Giovani Bernard is another solid building block, returning to Chapel Hill after a strong freshman season. Bernard led the team with 1,253 yards and 13 rushing scores, while catching 45 passes for 362 yards and one touchdown. All five starters on the offensive line will return in 2012, making this group one of the best in the ACC.

With a handful of key departures on defense, the offense will have to carry the Tar Heels in 2012. The Tar Heels must replace two starters on the line, including end Quinton Coples and tackle Tydreke Powell. Linebacker Zach Brown will be missed, but Kevin Reddick and Darius Lipford return. The secondary will be under the microscope next season, as the Tar Heels ranked 10th in the ACC in pass defense in 2011. Making matters worse in the defensive backfield is the departure of safety Jonathan Smith and cornerback Charles Brown. 

5. Miami

Key Returnees: WR Allen Hurns, OT Seantrel Henderson, DE Anthony Chickillo, DT Darius Smith, LB Denzel Perryman, LB Jimmy Gaines, S Vaughn Telemaque, S Ray-Ray Armstrong

Key Losses: QB Jacory Harris, RB Lamar Miller, C Tyler Horn, OG Brandon Washington, DE Olivier Vernon, DT Micanor Regis, LB Sean Spence, S JoJo Nicolas

Al Golden is the right coach for the job in Miami, but he is about to embark on a difficult road the next few seasons in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes are waiting for any penalties regarding a recent NCAA investigation, which could result in the loss of scholarships. Miami sat out the 2011 postseason hoping to avoid any future bowl ban as a result of the investigation, but it is unclear if the NCAA will prevent the Hurricanes from playing in a bowl game in 2012.

Even if you put aside the NCAA concerns, the Hurricanes enter spring practice with a handful of question marks. Quarterback Jacory Harris has finished his eligibility, leaving Stephen Morris, Memphis transfer Ryan Williams and incoming freshmen Preston Dewey and Gary Crow to compete for the job. Morris has the edge in experience, so it would be a surprise if he didn’t start the first game of the year. Losing running back Lamar Miller to the NFL was a huge blow to the offense, but the Hurricanes have some experience returning, including Mike James and Eduardo Clements. Incoming freshman Duke Johnson could also compete for playing time. Tommy Streeter and Travis Benjamin are gone in the receiving corps, which leaves Allen Hurns and tight end Clive Watford as the go-to weapons for the new quarterback. The offensive line also enters spring practice with issues, as Brandon Washington, Harland Gunn and Tyler Horn all depart.

Considering the offense will need a lot of work, the defense figures to be the strength. End Anthony Chickillo and linebacker Denzel Perryman are ready to build off strong freshmen seasons, while the secondary is a strength with safeties Vaughn Telemaque and Ray-Ray Armstrong returning. Replacing Sean Spence at middle linebacker will be one of the top priorities for defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. 

6. Duke

Key Returnees: QB Sean Renfree, RB Juwan Thompson, WR Conner Vernon, WR Brandon Braxton, LB Kelby Brown, CB Ross Cockrell, S Walt Canty

Key Losses: WR Donovan Varner, TE Cooper Helfet, LT Kyle Hill, NG Charlie Hatcher, S Matt Daniels

Progress has been slow to come by at Duke under coach David Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils won nine games in Cutcliffe’s first two years, but have claimed only six over the last two seasons. It’s not easy to win at Duke, but the team has yet to make the jump most expected to see under Cutcliffe. There’s some promising talent returning to Durham in 2012, but it’s hard to see a finish outside of the cellar in the ACC Coastal.

If Duke wants to make any improvement in the win column, the rushing attack (seemingly a problem every year) has to take a step forward in 2012. The Blue Devils averaged only 94.1 rushing yards per game in 2011, putting too much pressure on quarterback Sean Renfree to win games. The senior quarterback threw for 14 scores and 2,891 yards last year, but also tossed 11 picks. Renfree has a good group of receivers to throw to, as Conner Vernon, Brandon Braxton and Jamison Crowder return. The offensive line returns mostly intact, but has to replace valuable tackle Kyle Hill.

Just like the rushing attack, the defense has been an issue for a handful of years in Durham. The Blue Devils ranked 11th or worse in the ACC in rushing, total, scoring and pass defense last season. Unfortunately for the defensive staff, the going won’t get any easier with the departure of safety Matt Daniels and nose guard Charlie Hatcher. There’s enough returning players to expect improvement, but each level of the defense has concerns heading into 2012.

2012 ACC Championship Game: Florida State vs. Virginia Tech

The Hokies should have their offensive line question marks sorted out by December, but Florida State's defense will likely be the difference in this game. Of course, it's only January, so all predictions are subject to change when Athlon updates the picks for the 2012 preseason annuals. 

Related 2012 Content:

Very Early Big Ten 2012 Preseason Predictions
Very Early Big East 2012 Preseason Predictions

Very Early Big 12 2012 Preseason Predictions

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

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

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

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<p> Athlon releases its very early predictions for the ACC for 2012.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 19, 2012 - 06:03
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By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Very Early 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

Pac-12 North

1. Oregon Ducks (4 home, 5 road conference games)

Key Returnees:
RB Kenjon Barner, RB/WR DeAnthony Thomas, WR Josh Huff, DL Dion Jordan, DL Taylor Hart, LB Michael Clay, LB Kiko Alonso, DB John Boyett, DB Avery Patterson, K Alejandrio Maldonado, P Jackson Rice

Key Losses: QB Darron Thomas, RB LaMichael James, WR Lavasier Tuinei, TE David Paulson, OL Mark Asper, DL Terrell Turner, LB Josh Kaddu, LB Dewitt Stuckey, CB Cliff Harris, S Eddie Pleasant

Darron Thomas’ strange decision to leave school early creates a void at the most important position on the field. Most believe that Brian Bennett is capable, but until the bright lights are on, he has to be considered a relative unknown. Replacing 71 touchdowns and a 23-3 record at quarterback doesn’t happen over night. With Kenjon Barner, DeAnthony Thomas and Josh Huff to help, however, he shouldn’t have to shoulder the entire offensive load. Chip Kelly’s offense won’t be as dynamic as it has been the last two seasons, but should still be plenty potent to win the North.

Defensively this team should be better. Oregon finished 67th nationally in total defense and 52nd in scoring defense, but there is solid talent returning to all three levels of the defense as only six total players depart from the defensive two-deep.

The schedule also sets-up for a hot start for with an easy non-conference schedule and five of the first six at Autzen Stadium, including North contender Washington. The schedule gets interesting in the second half with trips to Arizona State, Cal and Oregon State for the Civil War. However, the Game of the Century in the Pac-12, and possibly nationally, will be when Oregon heads to L.A. to battle USC on November 3. If Oregon wants to win its fourth-straight Pac-12 title, it will need to beat USC at least once, if not twice next fall.

2. Washington Huskies (4 home, 5 road)

Key Returnees: QB Keith Price, RB Jesse Callier, WR Kasen Williams, WR James Johnson, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, DL Josh Shirley, DL Andrew Hudson, DL Hau’oli Jamora, LB Princton Fuimaono, LB John Timu, S Sean Parker, CB Desmond Trufant, DB Justin Glenn

Key Losses: RB Chris Polk, WR Jermaine Kearse, WR Devin Aguilar, OL Senio Kelemete, DT Alamada Ta’amu, LB Cort Dennison

Steve Sarkisian didn’t liked what he saw from his defense in 2011. Anyone who watched the 777-yard, 67-point debacle in the Alamo Bowl to Baylor understood that. So he made sweeping changes that not only improved his staff but sent ripples down the West Coast. He hired Justin Wilcox to coach the defense and gave him two rising stars to work with in linebackers coach Peter Sirmon and line coach Tosh Lupoi (from Cal) — both of whom are considered elite recruiters. There is a lot of work that has to be done on that side of the ball if the Huskies expect to remove Oregon from the top of the North Division.

Sarkisian also hired Cal’s Eric Kiesau as his new offensive coordinator and QB coach. And he will have a good one to work with as Keith Price is back under center for the second year in a row. Losing Chris Polk will hurt the ground game but there is loads of talent left for Price in the form of Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Three starters should be back along the offensive line as well.

The schedule basically begins with what could be deemed the toughest non-conference game any preseason Top 25 will play when Washington heads to LSU in Week 2. Additionally, the Huskies have to face what should be the best three teams from the South: USC and Utah at home and at Arizona. It also has to battle Oregon and Cal on the road as well. Washington is making strides and is clearly committed to becoming a top-10 program. But with a brutal schedule and defense that needed a major facelift, Washington is likely still one year away.

3. California Golden Bears (5 home, 4 road)

Key Returnees: QB Zach Maynard, RB Isi Sofele, RB C.J. Anderson, WR Keenan Allen, OL Matt Summers-Gavin, DL Aaron Tipoti, LB David Wilkerson, LB Cecil Whiteside, LB Chris McCain, DB Josh Hill

Key Losses: WR Marvin Jones, TE Anthony Miller, OL Mitchell Schwartz, OL Justin Cheadle, DE Trevor Guyton, DL Ernest Owusu, LB Mychal Kendricks, LB D.J. Holt, DB D.J. Campbell, S Sean Cattouse, K Giorgio Tavecchio, P Bryan Anger

This fall will be a huge year for Jeff Tedford in Berkeley — despite being the school’s all-time winningest coach and being responsible for eight of Cal’s 21 bowl appearances (and five of its 10 wins). His job hasn’t gotten any easier over the past week as North rival Washington has stolen two of its star coaches in Tosh Lupoi and Eric Kiesau. Filling those holes will be key heading into National Signing Day 2012.

Offensively, this team needs quarterback Zach Maynard to become more efficient and having half-brother Keenan Allen back to catch passes will go a long way to that end. Tailbacks Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson should be able to take some pressure off the inconsistent passer as well. Plugging holes along the offensive line will be the key to Tedford’s offense.

Defensively, this was the top unit in the Pac-12, but has big voids left by all-conference performers Mychal Kendricks and Trevor Guyton. Kendricks was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and other honorable mention candidates D.J. Campbell, Sean Cattouse and D.J. Holt will need to be replaced as well. There is plenty of talent in the linebacking corps and Tedford has recruited well over the last few years.

The schedule will be bittersweet for Cal fans. Trips to Ohio State, USC and Utah will be very challenging, but the Golden Bears’ top contenders from the North — Oregon, Washington and Stanford — will all have to visit Tightwad Hill.

4. Stanford Cardinal (4 road, 5 home)

Key Returnees: RB Stepfan Taylor, RB Tyler Gaffney, RB Anthony Wilkerson, WR Ty Montgomery, WR/PR Drew Terrell, TE Zach Ertz, TE Levine Toilolo, OL Cameron Fleming, OL David Yankey, DL Ben Gardner, LB Shayne Skov, LB Jarek Lancaster, LB A.J. Tarpley, LB Trent Murphy, K Jordan Williamson

Key Losses: QB Andrew Luck, WR Chris Owusu, WR Griff Whalen, TE Coby Fleener, OL Jonathan Martin, OL David DeCastro, DL Matthew Masifilo, LB Chase Thomas, S Delano Howell, DB Michael Thomas

In year one A.L. (After Luck) and year two A.H., David Shaw will have his work cut out for him. The North appears to be getting stronger and the top four players on his offense are departing, including the best player in the nation. Finding a replacement that can even attempt to fill the void left by Andrew Luck will be virtually impossible. There is a solid stable of backs and tight ends still to work with, but the offensive line will have to continue to develop young talents like Cameron Fleming and David Yankey.

The return of linebacker Shayne Skov should help ease Stanford into the post-Luck era. Skov is an absolute stud and will be the heart of this defense in 2012. In fact, this linebacking corps could be on the league’s best and will have to make up for losses along the line and in the secondary.

Stanford does have to face two of the top three from the south, but gets USC and Arizona at home. However, the those are the only favors the schedules affords as the Cardinal will have to visit Notre Dame as well as the top three North contenders Oregon, Cal and Washington.

5. Washington State Cougars (5 home, 4 road)

Key Returnees: QB Jeff Tuel, QB Connor Halliday, RB Ricky Galvin, RB Carl Winston, RB/PR Leon Brooks, WR Marquess Wilson, OL John Fullington, DL Travis Long, LB C.J. Mizell, LB Sekopi Kaufusi, DB Deone Bucannon, DB Tyree Toomer, DB Casey Locker, DB Damante Horton, K Andrew Furney

Key Losses: QB Marshall Lobbestael, WR Jared Karstetter, WR Isiah Barton, OL David Gonzalez, OL B.J. Guerra, DL Brandon Rankin, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, P Dan Wagner

Fans have to be excited about the Mike Leach era beginning in Pullman. And they won’t have to wait long for fireworks as the pieces are in place for Leach to build an incredible offense in year one. Quarterback, running back and receiver should be well-stocked for Leach’s spread attack. Facing BYU in Week 1 on the road will set the tempo for a team that is craving postseason play. If Wazzu can return from Provo with a win, it could easily start 4-0.

There is a lot of experience returning to the defense, but major improvements will have to be made to a unit that ranked 82nd nationally in total defense and 95th in scoring defense. Should this unit show growth and toughness, the Cougars could easily be bowling in 2012.

A 4-2 record is reasonable heading into the Week 7 bye week. Therefore, late season road trips to Stanford, Utah and Arizona State packaged around home games with UCLA and Washington will likely determine if the Cougs can reach a bowl for the first time in nearly a decade. Either way, with Leach in town, this team will once again be a blast to watch push for the postseason.

6. Oregon State Beavers (5 home, 4 road)

Key Returnees: QB Sean Mannion, RB Malcolm Agnew, RB Jovan Stevenson, RB Terron Ward, RB Jordan Jenkins, WR Markus Wheaton, WR Jordan Bishop, WR Brandin Cooks, DL Scott Crichton, DL Dylan Wynn, DL Rusty Fernando, LB Feti Unga, LB Michael Doctor, LB Rueben Robinson, DB Anthony Watkins, DB Jordan Poyer, K Trevor Romaine

Key Losses: WR James Rodgers, TE Joe Halahuni, OL Grant Johnson, CB Brandon Hardin, DB Cameron Collins, S Lance Mitchell, P Johnny Hekker

Mike Riley is coming off arguably his worst season in Corvallis. The good news is he found a quarterback in sophomore-to-be Sean Mannion. The freshman posted 3,328 yards last fall and will have a plethora of young, talented running backs behind him in the backfield. Wideouts Markus Wheaton, Jordan Bishop and Brandin Cooks give him plenty of depth at wideout as well. Filling holes along the line will be the key to offensive improvement.

The defense returns plenty of names with loads of playing time. However, many of those names were responsible for the Pac-12 worst rush defense and 84th total defense nationally. Riley will have to improve on his 30.1 points allowed per game if he expects to return to a bowl game.

And the schedule isn’t offering him any favors. Two non-conference games against Big Ten power Wisconsin at home and a road trip to BYU make it difficult to see a postseason trip for the Beavers. The conference road slate includes Washington, Stanford, Arizona and UCLA with Utah, Oregon, Cal, Arizona State and Wazzu visiting Corvallis.

Pac-12 South

1. USC Trojans (4 home, 5 road)

Key Returnees: QB Matt Barkley, RB Curtis McNeal, WR Robert Woods, WR Marqise Lee, TE Randall Telfer, C Khaled Holmes, DE Wes Horton, LB Dion Bailey, LB Hayes Pullard, CB Nickell Robey, S T.J. McDonald

Key Losses: LT Matt Kalil, DE Nick Perry, DT Christian Tupou, DT DaJohn Harris

2012 represents an interesting point for USC football. The Trojans are finished with their two-year postseason ban, but are about to embark on the reduction of 30 scholarships over the next three seasons. Although the scholarship losses are huge for 2013 and 2014, it won’t slow the Trojans down in 2012.

Coach Lane Kiffin got an early Christmas present when quarterback Matt Barkley decided to return for another year in Los Angeles over the NFL. The senior will be one of the frontrunners to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy and is expected to have the Trojans in the mix for the national title. Barkley has plenty of weapons to choose from on offense, as Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are two of the best receivers in college football. Sophomore tight end Randall Telfer is also an up-and-coming threat for the USC passing attack. The Trojans have to be concerned about the depth behind starting running back Curtis McNeal, particularly after Amir Carlisle’s decision to transfer to Notre Dame. The offensive line brings back four starters, but losing Matt Kalil to the NFL was a huge loss.

The Trojans struggled mightily on defense in Lane Kiffin’s first year (2010), but showed progress in 2011. The defense ranked 18th against the run and ranked third in the Pac-12 by allowing 23.6 points a game. Although this unit made some improvement last year, there are concerns heading into 2012. End Nick Perry decided to bolt for the NFL, while DaJohn Harris and Christian Tupou have finished their eligibility. Replacing three key contributors up front is going to be coordinator Monte Kiffin’s biggest task in spring practice. The freshman linebacker trio of Dion Bailey, Lamar Dawson and Hayes Pullard should be among the best in the Pac-12 next year. The secondary ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12, but returns all four starters in 2012, including All-American safety T.J. McDonald.

2. Utah Utes (4 home, 5 road)

Key Returnees: QB Jordan Wynn, RB John White, WR DeVonte Christopher, C Tevita Stevens, DT Star Lotuleiei, LB Trevor Reilly, CB Ryan Lacy, FS Eric Rowe, SS Brian Blechen

Key Losses: LT John Cullen, RT Tony Bergstrom, DE Derrick Shelby, LB Matt Martinez, LB Chaz Walker, CB Conroy Black

Despite losing quarterback Jordan Wynn to a shoulder injury early in the year, the Utes nearly won the Pac-12 South Division and a trip to Eugene to play in the conference title game. Considering Utah nearly won the South with a backup quarterback, coach Kyle Whittingham deserves a ton of credit for the 8-5 record and a Sun Bowl victory over Georgia Tech. The Utes’ coaching staff suffered a blow this offseason, as offensive coordinator Norm Chow became the head coach at Hawaii.

Wynn is expected to return for spring practice, which is good news for a Utah offense that needs a full year from him. Wynn was averaging only 181.8 passing yards per game before his injury, but he is an upgrade over backup Jon Hays. The receiving corps should be a strength for Utah next season, as DeVonte Christopher is back after catching 42 passes in 2011, while Josh Gordon is eligible after transferring from Baylor. The heart and soul of the Utes’ offense is 5-foot-8 running back and workhorse John White. The former JUCO transfer carried the offense in 2011, rushing for 1,519 yards and 15 touchdowns on 316 attempts. The offensive line returns three starters, but losing tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom is a big blow for this group.

The Utes led the Pac-12 in scoring defense in 2011, allowing only 20.2 points a game and return most of their core for 2012. Nose tackle Star Lotulelei dominated opposing offensive lines on his way to earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2011 and will anchor the defense in 2012. The Utes need to replace Derrick Shelby’s production at end, but will have one of the top defensive lines in the Pac-12. Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker depart at linebacker, but Trevor Reilly could be one of the top breakout players in the conference next year. The secondary loses cornerback Conroy Black, but returns promising safeties Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen. 

3. Arizona Wildcats (5 home, 4 road)

Key Returnees: QB Matt Scott, RB Ka’Deem Carey, WR Dan Buckner, C Kyle Quinn, LB Jake Fischer, CB Shaquille Richardson, DB Tra’Mayne Bondurant, S Adam Hall

Key Losses: QB Nick Foles, RB Keola Antolin, WR Juron Criner, WR David Douglas, LB Derek Earls, LB Paul Vassallo, CB Trevin Wade, S Robert Golden

USC and Utah seem to be the clear No. 1 and No. 2 teams returning in the conference for 2012, but ranking the rest of the division is anyone’s guess at this point. The early nod goes to the Wildcats, who scored one of the top coaching hires in former Michigan and West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez.

Moving from a pass-first offense to more of a spread-rush attack will be an interesting transition for Arizona, but the cupboard isn’t completely bare. In order for Rodriguez’s offense to click, the Wildcats a big year from quarterback Matt Scott. After redshirting in 2011, this is Scott’s team for 2012. Running back Ka’Deem Carey had a solid freshman year and will become the go-to guy in the rushing attack. All five starters are back on the offensive line, but this group will be the under the microscope with the scheme changes.

If hiring Rodriguez was a grand slam, then pulling defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel away from West Virginia was a home run. Casteel will be bringing a 3-3-5 scheme to Arizona, which should fit well with the returning personnel in 2012. The Wildcats’ secondary loses cornerback Trevin Wade and safety Robert Golden, but regain the services of Adam Hall and cornerback Jonathan McKnight, who missed all or nearly all of 2011 due to injury. Two starting linebackers depart, but Arizona landed Akron transfer Brian Wagner and Jake Fischer is back from injury, which should prevent any drop-off in play from this group.

4. UCLA Bruins (5 home, 4 road)

Key Returnees: QB Kevin Prince, RB Johnathan Franklin, WR Shaq Evans, TE Joseph Fauria, DE Datone Jones, LB Patrick Larimore, LB Eric Kendricks, CB Andrew Abbott, CB Aaron Hester, S Tevin McDonald

Key Losses: RB Derrick Coleman, WR Nelson Rosario, C Kai Maiava, LB Sean Westgate

Change is in the air at UCLA. Despite claiming the Pac-12 South crown, a 6-6 regular season record cost coach Rick Neuheisel his job. The Bruins made a run at some big names, but ultimately ended up hiring former NFL head coach Jim Mora. Although Mora hasn’t coached in college since 1984, he pieced together a terrific staff, including ace recruiter Adrian Klemm and former Arizona State offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.

The cupboard isn’t bare for Mora, but how well the Bruins adapt to the new coaching staff remains to be seen. Quarterback Kevin Prince has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career and will face competition from talented redshirt freshman Brett Hundley and senior Richard Brehaut this spring. Even if UCLA gets improved quarterback play, the rushing attack should be the strength of this team, as Johnathan Franklin and Malcolm Jones are back. Replacing receiver Nelson Rosario and developing the line will be the top priority for the offensive staff this spring.

Mora’s background is on defense, but it will be interesting to see how his NFL mentality works against the spread offenses in the Pac-12. The Bruins struggled on defense in 2011, ranking eighth or worse in the Pac-12 in scoring, rush and total defense. The good news for Mora and defensive coordinator Lou Spanos is nearly everyone returns. Expect the defensive line to get a lot of attention in spring practice, as the Bruins registered only 14 sacks in 2011.  

There’s a lot to like about UCLA next season, but there’s also a lot of uncertainty. The Bruins figure to be the biggest wild card in 2012 Pac-12 predictions this summer. 

5. Arizona State Sun Devils (4 home, 5 road)

Key Returnees: RB Cameron Marshall, WR Jamal Miles, DE Junior Onyeali, DE Davon Coleman, LB Brandon Magee, CB Osahon Irabor, CB Deveron Carr

Key Losses: QB Brock Osweiler, WR Gerell Robinson, WR Aaron Pflugrad, C Garth Gerhart, DE Jamaar Jarrett, DT Bo Moos, LB Colin Parker, LB Shelly Lyons, LB Vontaze Burfict, FS Clint Floyd, SS Eddie Elder

With a 6-2 record going into November, all signs seemed to point toward the Sun Devils clinching the Pac-12 South and earning a spot in the conference title game. What a difference a month can make. Instead of capitalizing on the opportunity, Arizona State lost its last four regular season games and was crushed 56-24 by Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. The collapse cost coach Dennis Erickson his job, with Todd Graham coming over from Pittsburgh to replace him.

Graham wants to run an up-tempo offense, but was dealt a blow when quarterback Brock Osweiler declared for the NFL Draft. Sophomores Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici and redshirt freshman Michael Eubank will battle to replace Osweiler this spring. With an untested quarterback stepping in, expect the Sun Devils to lean heavily on running back Cameron Marshall next season. The backfield will also get a boost with the return of Deantre Lewis, who missed all of 2011 due to injury. Although the Sun Devils have one of the Pac-12’s top running back combinations, the offense line returns only two starters.

Just like the offense, the defense is going to be dealing with some significant personnel losses in 2012. The defensive line must replace key contributors Jamaar Jarrett and Bo Moos, while Vontaze Burfict, Oliver Aaron, Colin Parker and Shelly Lyons all depart at linebacker. Brandon Magee missed 2011 due to injury and figures to step in as one of the leaders in the linebacking corps for 2012. The secondary was hit hard by injuries last year, but could be the strength of this unit next season.

6. Colorado Buffaloes (5 home, 4 road)

Key Returnees: WR Paul Richardson, LT David Bakhtiari, DE Will Pericak, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, LB Doug Rippy, LB Jon Major, CB Greg Henderson, S Ray Polk

Key Losses: QB Tyler Hansen, RB Rodney Stewart, WR Toney Clemons, OG Ryan Miller, OG Ethan Adkins, DL/LB Josh Hartigan

Jon Embree knew he had a lot of work to do when he took over this job and 2012 is likely to be another struggle in the win column for the Buffaloes. Colorado closed out 2011 by winning two out of its final three games, including a 17-14 victory over Utah, which knocked the Utes out of the Pac-12 title game.

Although Embree and his staff did a good job keeping the Buffaloes on track despite a 1-9 start, the bigger test will start in 2012. The offense will be replacing its best two players in quarterback Tyler Hansen and running back Rodney Stewart. Nick Hirschman was expected to push Texas transfer Connor Wood for the starting quarterback job this offseason, but he will miss spring practice due to a foot injury. Replacing Stewart looks to be a wide-open battle, as Tony Jones, Josh Ford and Malcolm Creer all received carries in 2011. Left tackle David Bakhtiari could be one of the top linemen in the Pac-12 next year, but the line has to replace guards Ethan Adkins and Ryan Miller. Paul Richardson should be one of the top receivers in the Pac-12 next year, but needs Hirschman or Wood to quickly settle into the starting role.

The Buffaloes finished 2011 ranked 100th or worse in total and scoring defense, while ranking eighth in the Pac-12 against the pass. Needless to say, this side of the ball has some work to do in 2012. There are pieces to build around, especially in the front seven, where Will Pericak and Chidera Uzo-Diribe will anchor the defensive line. Linebackers Doug Rippy and Jon Major could contend for all-conference honors next season. The secondary will return mostly intact, which includes the return of Greg Henderson, a freshman who started 12 games.

2012 Pac-12 Championship Game: USC vs. Oregon

Washington's offseason coaching staff moves have helped to close the gap on Oregon, but the Ducks are still the team to beat in the North next season. USC and Oregon will meet during the regular season in Los Angeles and should meet a second time in the Coliseum for the conference title game. Expect this to be a high-scoring affair, but the Trojans get the early edge, especially with a potential trip to the national title on the line. 

Related 2012 Content:

Very Early Big Ten 2012 Preseason Predictions
Very Early Big East 2012 Preseason Predictions

Very Early Big 12 2012 Preseason Predictions

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

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

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon releases its very early predictions for the Pac-12 for 2012.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 19, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /nfl/afc-nfc-championship-game-previews
Body:

A quick preview of both the AFC and NFC Championship Games, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports editors Mitchell Light, Rob Doster, Nathan Rush, Patrick Snow and Steven Lassan:

Ravens (13-4) at Patriots (14-3)
Sunday, Jan. 22, 3:00 pm ET, CBS

Many thought Mr. Gisele Bundchen had gone Hollywood. After all, Tom Brady hasn’t won a Super Bowl ring since after the 2004 season. But Touchdown Tom has never looked better — or more focused — than he did during his record-breaking performance in a 45–10 blowout of the Broncos. Brady completed 76.5 percent of his passes for 363 yards, six TDs and one INT.

This is Brady’s team. Athletic tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are dangerous weapons, slot receiver Wes Welker is a first-down maker and the running back by committee is effective. But the Patriots begin and end with Brady, who carries a 15–5 career record in the playoffs with a 3–1 mark on Super Sunday.

Brady has struggled against the Ravens recently, however, posting season-low passer ratings against Baltimore in each of the last two seasons — throwing one TD and two INTs for a 69.5 rating in a 23–20 Week 6 win last year, while tossing two TDs and three INTs for a 49.1 rating in a 33–14 defeat in the Divisional Round of the playoffs following the 2009 season.

On the other side, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco may have been joking when he said, “If we win, I’ll have nothing to do with why we won,” but there is some truth to that statement. The Fu Manchu mustache-wearing signal-caller rarely gets credit for wins but almost exclusively takes blame for Baltimore losses. In the Ravens’ 13 wins, Flacco has thrown 17 TDs and six INTs; in their four losses, he has five TDs and six INTs. Obviously, Flacco must play well in New England.

But the real focus will be on Baltimore’s defense, which is led by future Hall of Famers in linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, as well as current All-Pros in edge-rusher Terrell Suggs and run-stuffer Haloti Ngata. If coach John Harbaugh’s strongest side of the ball is unable to slow down New England’s potent passing attack and, namely, Brady, then the Ravens have no chance to beat the Patriots.

Running back Ray Rice is the X-factor. If the defense can force FGs and turnovers, the offense must be able to control the clock with Rice.

New England coach Bill Belichick has been putting band-aids on his defense’s secondary all season, mixing and matching personnel based on the situation. The Pats’ pass rush doesn’t have to necessarily sack Flacco, but pocket-collapsing nose tackle Vince Wilfork and Co. cannot give him time to find home run hitter Torrey Smith or physical veteran Anquan Boldin downfield.

Patriots by 7

Giants (11-7) at 49ers (14-3)
Sunday, Jan. 22, 6:30 pm ET, FOX

New York’s playoff formula has mirrored the one that the G-Men used en route to winning Super Bowl XLII just four seasons ago. The potent combination of Eli Manning on offense and a devastating Big Blue Wrecking Crew front four on defense has been the secret to success and will continue to be.

Manning has completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 607 yards, six TDs and only one INT in wins over the Falcons and Packers. His go-to guy during that stretch has been Hakeem Nicks, who has hauled in 13 catches for 280 yards (21.5 ypc) and four TDs — including a momentum-shifting jump ball as time expired on the first half in the upset at Lambeau Field. Manning-to-Nicks (or breakout wideout Victor Cruz) will need to continue their tear in San Francisco.

The No. 1 overall pick the year after Manning, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith is coming off a statement performance in a win over the Saints. Even so, Smith must avoid doing too much and continue to protect the ball.

Coach Jim Harbaugh’s club made it this far with a blue-collar approach — bludgeoning opponents with running back Frank Gore on offense and suffocating teams with a hard-hitting defense led by All-Pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis and end Justin Smith. San Fran’s stop-unit ranked No. 1 against the run (77.2 ypg), No. 2 in scoring defense (14.3 ppg) and No. 4 in total defense (308.2 ypg) during the regular season. Until giving up 32 points to the Saints in the Divisional Round, the Niners had not allowed more than 27 points this season; only four teams hit the 20-point mark against the 49ers, who are 14–3 overall and 8–1 at home under Harbaugh.

A low-scoring game favors San Francisco. But big plays — like the ones tight end Vernon Davis provided vs. New Orleans — must come from somewhere in order to keep up with the explosive Giants.

Since Week 16, New York is 4–0 with an offense averaging 30.3 points and a defense that is allowing just 12.5 points in must-win games over the Jets, Cowboys, Falcons and Packers. If terrorizing pass-rushers Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck are able to pressure Smith into making costly mistakes, Big Blue could make a big splash in the Bay.

The 49ers beat the Giants, 27–20, in Week 10. That game went down to the final seconds, as Manning’s fourth-down pass from the 10-yard-line was batted down by Smith. The rematch could be just as close.

Giants by 1

Last week: 2-2 // Season: 179-85
 

Teaser:
<p> A preview of the Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game and the New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, plus the consensus picks of Athlon Sports' editors.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - 16:03
Path: /college-football/very-early-2012-big-ten-predictions
Body:

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

Very Early 2012 Big Ten Predictions

Leaders Division

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Key Returnees: QB Braxton Miller, RB Jordan Hall, RB Jamaal Berry, RB Carlos Hyde, WR Corey Brown, TE Jake Stoneburner, OL Jack Mewhort, OL Andrew Norwell, DT John Simon, DL Jonathan Hankins, LB Storm Klein, LB Ryan Shazier, DB Christian Bryant, DB Bradley Roby, DB C.J. Barnett, K Drew Basil

Key Losses: RB Boom Herron, WR DeVier Posey,  OL J.B. Shugarts, OL Michael Brewster, OL Mike Adams, LB Andrew Sweat, DB Tyler Moeller

The Ohio State Buckeyes should not only be the class of the Leaders Division but might finish with the best overall record in the conference in 2012. Unfortunately for Scarlet and Gray faithful — and new head coach and immediate cult hero Urban Meyer — tOSU cannot play for the Big Ten Championship or in a bowl game. But that does not mean that the Bucks won't ruin a few seasons along the way.

The non-conference slate is highlighted by a visit from Cal, and Ohio State will have to visit Michigan State and host Nebraska in a tough cross-over schedule. With Michigan visiting the Horseshoe in the finale, OSU has the chance to knock off what should be the other three top teams in the league.

With the entire defense returning largely intact and Braxton Miller looking to take another big step in his already stellar development, Meyer has the makings of a championship squad in 2013. And with the way he is burning down the recruiting trail in Columbus right now, things are only getting better on the Banks of the Olentangy's.

2. Wisconsin Badgers

Key Returnees: RB Montee Ball, WR Jared Abbrederis, TE Jacob Pedersen, OL Ricky Wagner, OL Travis Frederick, DL Beau Allen, LB Chris Borland, LB Mike Taylor, DB Shelton Johnson

Key Losses: QB Russell Wilson, WR Nick Toon, OT Josh Oglesby, OG Kevin Zeitler, OC Peter Konz, FB Bradie Ewing, CB Antonio Fenelus, S Aaron Henry, K Philip Welch, P Brad Nortman,

The Badgers were two passes away from a magical season in Madison. But it wasn't to be and they lost their second straight Rose Bowl. What's worse, is losing the star quarterback-receiver duo and three-fifths of a stellar offensive line heading into 2012. Rebuilding the offense will be no easy task, however, Montee Ball, James White, Jacob Pedersen and Jared Abbrederis offer whoever the new quarterback is plenty of offensive weaponery. Replacing offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who is the head coach at Pitt now, however, might be the biggest issue facing this team.

The non-conference schedule is easy as usual with the possible exception of a trip to Corvallis, Ore., to face the Beavers. Facing Nebraska in Lincoln and hosting Michigan State won't be easy tests in cross-divisional play either. They also will get Ohio State at home in the penultimate contest of the season.

This team has a chance, by default, to land in its second straight Big Ten title game, but will have to do so with its defense. A solid front seven, led by the Big Ten's top two returning tacklers Chris Borland (143 tackles, the Original Honey Badger) and Mike Taylor (150 tackles), will be the strength of this entire team. If Bret Bilema can fill major holes on his coaching staff — Matt Canada was hired as the new OC — then UW has a chance to reach the title game once again.

3. Penn State Nittany Lions

Key Returnees: RB Silas Redd, WR Justin Brown, WR Devon Smith, DL Jordan Hill, DL Sean Stanley, LB Glenn Carson, LB Gerald Hodges, K/P Anthony Fera

Key Losses: WR Derek Moye, WR Chaz Powell, OL Johnnie Troutman, OL Quinn Barham, DL Jack Crawford, DL Devon Still, DL Chima Okoli, LB Nathan Stupar, DB Drew Astorino, DB D'Anton Lynn

Where should we begin? First, Joe Paterno will not be roaming the sidelines at Beaver Stadium for the first time since 1950. And Bill O'Brien cannot devote his full attention to recruiting until the Patriots finish up their little romp through the NFL playoffs. But at least this football team can move forward and will do so in true Nittany Lion fashion: By running the football on offense and playing stout defense.

The biggest issue facing this team is still at quarterback, but all three may be in jeopardy of missing time in 2012. Robert Bolden could transfer out, Matt McGloin was involved in a locker room fight and Paul Jones has academic issues. If this position can be solidfied under new offensive guru O'Brien, and the holes along the defensive line can be filled, this team could push the Badgers for a bid in the title game.

While reaching the Big Ten title game certainly isn't out of the question, 2012 will more than likely be a year of transition and struggles. Recruiting has obviously taken a big hit amidst the worst scandal in college football history. The schedule includes a trip to a feisty Virginia squad and crossover opponents Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern. And the holes at QB and along the D-Line make it tough to pick Penn State over Wisconsin — even with the Badgers visiting Happy Valley in the season finale.

4. Illinois Fighting Illini

Key Returnees: QB Nathan Scheelhaase, RB Donovonn Young, WR Spencer Harris, WR Ryan Lankford, OL Graham Pocic, DL Akeem Spence, DL Michael Buchanan, DL Glenn Foster, DL Justin Staples, LB Jonathan Brown, LB Houston Bates, DB Justin Green, DB Terry Hawthorne, DB Steve Hull, DB Supo Sanni, P Justin DuVernois

Key Losses: WR A.J. Jenkins, OT Jeff Allen, OL Jack Cornell, RB Jason Ford, DE Whitney Mercilus, LB Ian Thomas, S Trulon Henry, K Derek Dimke

There was a lot of positive momentum for Illinois in 2011. And six weeks into the season, the unbeaten Fighting Illini had apparently proven that the preseason hype was warranted. However, Ron Zook's squad lost six straight games to finish the season and former Toledo head coach Tim Beckman is now the head coach in Champaign-Urbana.

Beckman has some nice pieces to work with on offense despite the loss of Jason Ford and A.J. Jenkins. Nathan Scheelhaase needs to get back to 2010 form and the offensive line needs to fill holes left by Jeff Allen and Jack Cornell. But Beckman's Rockets posted big numbers in the MAC and Scheelhaase has all of the tools needed to be successful.

Losing the NCAA sack leader (Mercilus) will hurt, but the defense is young, talented and deep at nearly every position. Look for this unit to lead the team early against a brutal first half of the season. Illinois will play at Arizona State, Louisiana Tech, Penn State, at Wisconsin and at Michigan before the bye week in Week 8.

5. Purdue Boilermakers

Key Returnees: QB Caleb TerBush, RB Akeem Shavers, RB Ralph Bolden, WR Antavian Edison, WR O.J. Ross, WR, Gary Bush, WR Raheem Mostert, OL Jesse Schmitt, OL Rick Schmieg, DL Kawann Short, DL Bruce Gaston, DL Ryan Russell, LB Dwayne Beckford, LB Will Lucas, CB Ricardo Allen, DB Josh Johnson, DB Max Charlot, P Cody Webster

Key Losses: OL Ken Plue, OL Dennis Kelly, OL Nick Mondek, OL Kevin Ballinger, DL Adam Brockman, DL Gerald Gooden, LB Chris Carlino, DB Joe Holland, DB Albert Evans, DB Logan Link, K Caron Wiggs

There will be a weird vibe eminating from West Lafayette this off-season. Purdue won its first bowl game since 2007 but most fans are treading water on Danny Hope's future as the head coach. He returns Caleb TurBush at quarterback and a collection of talented offensive skill names. If the reworked offensive line can hold up, this offense as a chance to be better than it has been in years.

On defense, Ricardo Allen returns to lead a secondary that has experience but ranked 10th in the Big Ten in pass defense. The front four also needs to show improvement as they ranked 9th in the Big Ten in rushing defense and 77th nationally in getting to the opposing quarterbacks. However, the top three sack masters return to the roster and three of the top four tacklers return as well. This unit needs to show improvement across the board if it expects to sneak into the Leaders Division race that appears to be wide open at this stage.

6. Indiana Hoosiers

Key Returnees: QB Tre Roberson, RB Stephen Houston, WR Kofi Hughes, LB Mark Murphy, DB Lawrence Barnett, DB Greg Heban, KR Shane Wynn, K Mitch Ewald, P Adam Pines

Key Losses: WR Damarlo Belcher, LB Jeff Thomas, LB Leon Beckum

No one named Kiel will be under center as Kevin Wilson missed out on Gunner and has watched Dusty transfer. However, Tre Roberson added a spark to the Hoosiers offense in the second half of 2011. He rushed for 72.8 yards per game over the last five contests and took one of the worst rushing offenses in the league (118.8 ypg) to a team rolling up over 160 yards per game. With Stephen Houston back at tailback, expect Wilson to lean on his running game all season long.

On defense, two of the top four tacklers are gone as the linebacking corp will need to be reworked. The secondary returns plenty of talent but the bottom line, the worst rushing, total, scoring and pass efficiency defense needs to improve in all facets if the Hoosiers are going to return to the postseason since 2007 — its only bowl trip since 1993.

Legends Division

1. Michigan Wolverines

Key Returnees: QB Denard Robinson, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR Jeremy Gallon, OL Taylor Lewan, DL Craig Roh, LB Kenny Demens, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Jake Ryan, DB Thomas Gordon, S Jordan Kovacs, DB J.T. Floyd, K Brendan Gibbons

Key Losses: WR Junior Hemingway, OC David Molk, DT Mike Martin, DL Ryan Van Bergen, CB Troy Woolfolk,

All signs are go in Ann Arbor in 2012. This team will likely be the preseason favorite to win the conference as Brady Hoke returns the most electric and atheltic quarterback in the nation in Denard Robinson. And he will have plenty to work with as emerging star Fitzgerald Toussaint also returns to carry the load. The offensive line and receiving corps should be plenty capable of leading this team to a Big Ten title.

The only issues will come along the defensive line, where the Wolverines must replace three starters including all-everything Mike Martin. With the back-seven returning largely intact and still relatively young, Greg Mattison's defense should maintain status quo in 2012.

If all things fall into place, the Maize and Blue should be thinking not only Big Ten title but National Championship heading into next fall. However, those dreams could be shattered right out of the gate as Week 1 features a huge test against the defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. If they somehow get past Bama, a trip to Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State still loom with home tests against rivals Michigan State and Iowa sprinkled in. Make no mistake, however, Shoelace has this team thinking South Beach.

2. Michigan State Spartans

Key Returnees: RB Le'Veon Bell, RB Larry Caper, OL Chris McDonald, DE Williams Gholston, DL Marcus Rush, LB Max Bullough, LB Chris Norman, LB Denicos Allen, DB Isaiah Lewis, DB Darqueze Dennard, DB Johnny Adams, K Dan Conroy, P Mike Sadler

Key Losses: QB Kirk Cousins, RB Edwin Baker, WR B.J. Cunningham, WR Keshawn Martin, OL Joel Foreman, DT Jerel Worthy, DL Kevin Pickelman, S Trenton Robinson

The biggest question heading into 2011 for Michigan State was its offensive line. There will be no such problem for the Spartans heading into 2012 as the front line on offense should be the strength of the team. This time, however, it has to find a replacement for the school's all-time touchdown king and unquestioned leader in quarterback Kirk Cousins as well as the school's all-time leading receiver B.J. Cunningham. With a talented backfield and strong front line, it should be easier for Mark Dantonio to break in a new quarterback.

On defense, losing Jerel Worthy hurts but William Gholston and a stacked group of front seven defenders give this team a chance to contend for the third year in a row. The defense, as is the case under most Dantonio teams, will be stellar, but will be tested early.  The season opener features Boise State and Week 3 provides a visit from Notre Dame. While neither are expected to be elite squads, the non-conference slate will clearly set the tone for Sparty in 2012.

Michigan State also gets no favors in its cross-over schedule. It has to face Ohio State at home and travels to Madison to take on Bucky.

3. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Key Returnees: QB Taylor Martinez, RB Rex Burkhead, WR Kenny Bell, TE Ben Cotton, OL Spencer Long, DL Cameron Meredith, DL Baker Steinkuhler, LB Will Compton,  DB Daimion Stafford, K/P Brett Maher,

Key Losses: OL Marcel Jones, OL Mike Caputo, OL Marcel Jones, DE Jared Crick, LB LaVonte David, CB Alfonzo Dennard, DB Austin Cassidy

Once again the Nebraska Cornhuskers' upside will hang on quarterback Taylor Martinez's shoulders. With superstar tailback Rex Burkhead back to take the pressure off Martinez, the third-year starter's ability to develop into an efficient passer will determine if Nebraska loses four games for the fourth straight year under Bo Pelini or if the Big Red can challenge the state of Michigan for Big Ten supremacy.

The defense loses its three biggest stars from each level of the unit but will return with plenty of depth and a new face calling the plays. Longtime Pelini understudy John Papuchis will be charged with improving a run defense that ranked eighth in the Big Ten a year ago. If the front seven can return to its 2009 form, Nebraska could contend for a conference title.

Magnifying all of the question marks for the Huskers is a brutal cross-over schedule that includes a visit from Wisconsin and a trip to Ohio State in the first two conference games of the year. Later, Penn State will visit Lincoln, meaning NU will face the top three teams in the Leaders once again in 2012.

4. Iowa Hawkeyes

Key Returnees: QB James Vanderberg, WR Keenan Davis, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, OL James Ferentz, LB James Morris, LB Christian Kirksey, DB Tanner Allen, DB Micah Hyde, K Mike Meyer

Key Losses: WR Marvin McNutt, RB Marcus Coker, OL Riley Reiff, OL Markus Zusevics, DL Mike Daniels, DL Broderick Binns LB, Tyler Nielsen, CB Shaun Prater

In a league loaded with elite level dual-threat quarterbacks, James Vandenberg is easily the top returning pure passer in the Big Ten. Keenan Davis, Kevonte Martin-Manley and C.J. Fiedorowicz will have to replace the loss of record-setting wideout Marvin McNutt and troubled tailback Marcus Coker. Even with those losses, this offense has a chance to be solid if the offensive line can develop. The Hawkeyes struggled mightily to run the football or protect the quarterback in 2011, so improvement in this area will be imperative for head coach Kirk and starting center James Ferentz.

On the defensive side of the ball, Ferentz has no trouble developing linebackers and this should be the strength of the unit again. Filling holes along the defensive line in the a league that features more power rushing attacks than any other league will be key. The Hawkeyes will also have a new defensive coordinator, as veteran Norm Parker decided to retire following the 2011 season.

The rivalry game against Iowa State is always tight and has the added motivation of revenge in 2012. The cross-over schedule gives reason for optimism, however, as Iowa misses both Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Hawks face Purdue, Indiana and Penn State from the Leaders.

5. Northwestern Wildcats

Key Returnees: QB Kain Colter, RB Treyvon Green, WR Demetrius Fields, OL Brian Mulroe, LB Damien Proby, LB David Nwabuisi, DB Ibraheim Campbell, K Jeff Budzien, P Brandon Williams

Key Losses: QB Dan Persa, WR Jeremy Ebert, TE Drake Dunsmore, OL Al Netter, DE Vince Browne, DB Jordan Mabin, DB Brian Peters

The Dan Persa era is officially over and the Kain Colter era has officially begun — at least, under center. Colter, who has excelled as a receiver will be given the reins to one of the more quarterback-friendly offenses in the nation. Not having Jeremy Ebert or Drake Dunsmore to throw to will be an issue Pat Fitzgerald will need to address in spring ball, but the offense should once again over achieve in 2012.

As a former linebacker, Coach Fitz always seems to find quality talent to play his former position and Damien Proby, David Nwabuisi and Ibraheim Campbell have as much potential as any group on the league. Filling a few holes in the secondary will be important.

The non-conference schedule offers some intriuging tests as the Wildcats will face three BCS conference teams in Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College. But missing Wisconsin and Ohio State in cross-over play helps as Northwestern gets Indiana, Illinois and Penn State from the Leaders.

6. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Key Returnees: QB MarQueis Gray, RB Donnell Kirkwood, DL D.L. Wilhite, DL Ra'Shede Hageman, LB Mike Rallis, LB Keanon Cooper, DB Brock Vereen, DB Kyle Henderson

Key Losses: RB Duane Bennett, WR Da'Jon McKnight, WR Brandon Green, TE Eric Lair, OL Chris Bunders, LB Gary Tinsley, S Kim Royston, DB Christyn Lewis

After years of longing for his superb physical talent to bubble to the surface — and changing positions — quarterback MarQueis Gray is poised for a huge season. He rushed for 966 yards and six scores and capped his junior season with back-to-back 160+ yards games — including a second Big Ten win over Illinois. Jerry Kill needs to fill some holes on the offense but has his leader at quarterback and appears to have put his stamp on the program by the way his team competed at the end of 2011.

Defensively, this team will return plenty of experience throughout the defense as three of the top four sack masters and four of the top six tacklers return to action. If this group can build on its stellar defensive finale against Illinois, in which it allowed a season-low 78 yards passing and seven total points, the Gophers might be able the pull the upset. It also posted its best defensive conference performance against the run as Illinois rushed 32 times for 82 yards.

2012 Big Ten Championship Game: Michigan vs. Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Badgers return to the Big Ten title game, but do so by default. Ohio State will finish with the best record in the Leaders but the nod will go to a slightly better than average UW team. Michigan, meanwhile, will ride its senior quarterback to the big game and handle the overmatched Badgers with relative ease.

Related 2012 Content:

Very Early Big East 2012 Preseason Predictions
Very Early Big 12 2012 Preseason Predictions

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

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

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon releases its very early predictions for the Big Ten Conference for 2012.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Indianapolis Colts, News
Path: /news/11-candidates-replace-jim-caldwell-colts-coach
Body:

by Mark Ross

Regardless of whether either Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck or both will be on the Indianapolis Colts’ roster next season, this much is clear — the head coach won’t be Jim Caldwell. Caldwell was fired earlier today, joining former Colts vice chairman Bill Polian and his son, Chris, who was general manager, as a casualty of a disastrous 2-14 season.

Overall, Caldwell was 26-22 in three seasons as the Colts’ head coach, taking over the reigns when Tony Dungy retired in January 2009, but a winning record and 10 years with the team wasn’t enough to save his job. Owner Jim Irsay hired Ryan Grigson to be the new general manager last week, and just as may be the case at quarterback, the Colts will be under new leadership next season.

So just who will be calling the shots for the Colts next year? Here are some names to consider:

Pete Carmichael, New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator — long-time assistant coach with offensive pedigree, Carmichael’s spent the last six seasons working with Drew Brees. That alone makes him a solid candidate to either direct Manning’s comeback attempt or tutor the Colts’ next franchise quarterback, presumably Luck.

Clyde Christensen, Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator — with the departure of Caldwell, who began his tenure with the Colts as quarterbacks coach in 2002, Christensen is one of the longest tenured coaches remaining on staff and the one who knows the offense the best. With the questions surrounding the quarterback position, Irsay could turn to Christensen for continuity, or he could be looking to wipe the slate clean and go in a completely different direction.

Tom Clements, Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach — like Carmichael, Clements has spent the past six seasons working with two elite quarterbacks of his own, first Brett Favre and currently, Aaron Rodgers. Clements also spent two seasons (2004-05) as the Bills’ offensive coordinator, so the “jump” to head coach wouldn’t be that much of a stretch.

Bill Cowher, current CBS Sports commentator — Cowher’s name has been mentioned with other openings and every time he has publicly stated he’s content in his current working situation. Still, until he shuts the door completely, you have to at least throw his name out there, don’t you?

Jack Del Rio, former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach — Del Rio is certainly familiar with the division and the Colts’ roster, and if anything, he would bring a lot more “personality” to the sideline than Caldwell ever displayed.

Tony Dungy, current NBC Sports commentator — I know, I know – been there, done that. But if you’re Irsay, don’t you at least have to reach out to Dungy to see if there’s any interest in a second tour of duty? I don’t think Colts fans would mind if he did.

Jon Gruden, ESPN “Monday Night Football” analyst — like Cowher, Gruden has expressed in the past he’s happy in his current situation. However, “Chucky” also has professed in the past his respect and admiration for Manning, and to a degree, Luck, so would this be the opportunity to lure him back to the sidelines?

Hue Jackson, former Oakland Raiders head coach — offensive-minded and highly respected, many think Jackson got a raw deal in Oakland. Would Irsay be willing to give him a second chance?

Mike McCoy, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator — one of the hot names in the NFL coaching search circles these days thanks to his work with Tim Tebow. How curious is Irsay in seeing what McCoy could do with Manning and/or Luck, both of which are more “polished” passers.

Marty Mornhinweg, offensive coordinator Philadelphia Eagles — former Lions head coach, Mornhinweg also has ties to new Colts GM Grigson, who came from the Eagles organization. Could second time be the charm?

Jim Tressel, Indianapolis Colts consultant — Tressel may seem like the longest shot on the list, but with Irsay calling the shots, I don’t think you can rule it out. He has head coaching experience, albeit on the college level, but really it comes down to one thing. Who doesn’t want to see the sweater vest (Ditka anyone?) return to the NFL? 

Teaser:
<p> Regardless of whether either Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck or both will be on the Indianapolis Colts’ roster next season, this much is clear — the head coach won’t be Jim Caldwell. Caldwell was fired earlier today, joining former Colts vice chairman Bill Polian and his son, Chris, who was general manager, as a casualty of a disastrous 2-14 season</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - 14:37
Path: /news/tattoo-tim-tebow-tebowing-teberrible
Body:

So, it's happened. Someone finally got a tattoo of Tim Tebow Tebowing. With an oversized Bronco riding over a Denver sky to boot. 

Aside from the minor issue that the Tim in this tattoo isn't properly Tebowing--his fist should be on his forehead--can we just say that it's probably not a very good idea to get a tattoo of a trend or fad.

I have a hard enough time buying a jersey of a relatively young player I like, for fear that his next season will be a dud and I will have blown $150 on someone I will hate in a year (I'm looking at you Curtis Enis). But to go full tattoo on a player who is pretty close to statistically the worst quarterback in history is a level of either stupidity or faith that is unprecedented.

What happens if Tebow plays like he plays this year, but his defense and kicker doesn't bail him out of games. What happens if Tebow goes 3-13? What good is a tattoo of a quarterback if he's benched mid-season? I can take off that Curtis Enis jersey. But you can't really take off a tattoo that covers 30% of your back.

Let this be a lesson, kids. If you're going to go through with getting a tattoo, make sure it's of a guy who's already reached legend status.

Teaser:
<p> This tattoo is probably going to be a bad idea a year from now</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - 10:28
Path: /college-football/very-early-2012-big-12-predictions
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Very Early 2012 Big 12 Predictions

1. Oklahoma

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

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

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

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

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

2. Texas

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

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

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

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

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

3. West Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

4.  TCU

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

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

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

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

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

5. Kansas State

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

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

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

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

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

6. Oklahoma State

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

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

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

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

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

7. Texas Tech

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

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

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

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

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

8. Baylor

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

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

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

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

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

9. Iowa State

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

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

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

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

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

10. Kansas

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

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

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

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

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

Related 2012 Content:

2012 Very Early Big East Predictions

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

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

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

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

By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaser:
<p> The Giants, 49ers, Ravens and Patriots advance in the NFL Playoffs.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - 06:13
Path: /college-football/ranking-bcs-national-champions
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter) and Mark Ross

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

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

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

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

2001 Schedule:

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

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

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

2004 Schedule:

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

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

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

2005 Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

2009 Schedule:

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

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

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

2000 Schedule:

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

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

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

2008 Schedule:

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

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

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

1999 Schedule:

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

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


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

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

1998 Schedule:

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

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

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

2011 Schedule:

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

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

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

2003 Schedule:

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

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

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

2010 Schedule:

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

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

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

2002 Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

What a difference a weekend can make.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

(Published January 16th, 2012)

Very Early 2012 Big East Predictions

1. West Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

2. Louisville

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

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

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

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

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

3. Rutgers

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

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

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

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

4. South Florida

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

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

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

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

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

5. Cincinnati

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

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

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

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

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

6. Pittsburgh

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Syracuse

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

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

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

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

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

8. Connecticut

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

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

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

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

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

Related 2012 Content:

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

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

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By David Schuman
 

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

-by CoachesByTheNumbers.com

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

Coach of the Year - Nick Saban

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

Offensive Coordinator of the Year - Paul Chryst

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

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

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

Defensive Coordinator of the Year - John Chavis

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

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

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

Overachiever of the Year Award - Bill Snyder

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

Underachiever of the Year Award - Rick Neuheisel

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

Best New Head Coach - Hugh Freeze

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

CBTN Vegas Coach of the Year - Sonny Dykes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Previous Weeks

Jan. 7-13

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

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

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

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

Winners

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

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

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

Losers

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

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Who wins and who loses now that the former Titan coach is taking his talents to St. Louis</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 15:21

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