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Path: /mlb/very-early-baseball-predictions-2013
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Just as I did a few weeks ago, I once again examine the pennant races as they’re shaping up for 2013. Sure, it’s early, but what else are you going to read about? Bowl games between a bunch of non-BCS .500 teams? Now that some major free agent dominoes have fallen, and some major trades have changed the MLB landscape, here are my early 2013 MLB picks.

AMERICAN LEAGUE
East
1. Tampa Bay Rays

Even after the trade of James Shields, no AL East team can match the Rays’ pitching. Manager Joe Maddon will prevent newcomer Wil Myers from absorbing too much offensive pressure.

2. New York Yankees
The decline of the pinstripes is happening before our eyes, but the roster still includes some of the best players on the planet.

3. Toronto Blue Jays
Will the All-Star rotation and lineup the Jays collected over the past two months equate to a division title? It quite possibly could. The AL East is much more winnable than anytime this century.

4. Baltimore Orioles
Just about every bounce went the Orioles’ way in 2012. There’s been too little work done to bolster the pitching staff to expect any kind of a repeat from Buck’s troops.

5. Boston Red Sox
Now the Red Sox have overpaid two Drew brothers.

Central
1. Detroit Tigers

Keeping Anibal Sanchez, signing Torii Hunter and the return of Victor Martinez are three reasons to believe in the Tigers in 2013.

2. Kansas City Royals
The trade with Tampa Bay for James Shields and Wade Davis will be the difference between finishing second and fourth. Shields is a big-game workhorse.

3. Cleveland Indians
A change of scenery will probably be good for both Shin-Soo Choo (traded to Cincinnati) and Drew Stubbs (received in return). But Terry Francona is the second-most (behind Shields) important acquisition in the division.

4. Chicago White Sox
We were oh so wrong about this team this past summer. Can they surprise us again?

5. Minnesota Twins
Still not enough pitching. Still not enough hitting.

West
1. Los Angeles Angels

So, the Angels once again make a huge splash in free agency. Now the belief is that the Halos can avoid a terrible start and take control of the division early. Now about that bullpen…

2. Texas Rangers
The window is closing. No more Josh Hamilton. No more Michael Young. No more Mike Napoli. The newest wave of rising stars in Texas should carry the mantel well, but not well enough to top the Angels.

3. Oakland A’s
If they could win it with the 2012 roster, they can certainly win this division with the 2013 group. But they probably won’t.

4. Seattle Mariners
So happy to see the Astros join the AL West.

5. Houston Astros
It is possible that the Astros will spend less than $30 million on payroll this year. The dividends better pay off down the road.



NATIONAL LEAGUE
East
1. Washington Nationals

In a close call with the Braves, the Nats get the edge with Dan Haren as a No. 5 starter. But they must find a replacement for Adam LaRoche’s RBIs.

2. Atlanta Braves
B.J. Upton is no leadoff hitter. And who will protect Jason Heyward in the lineup until Brian McCann returns?

3. Philadelphia Phillies
The core group that won five consecutive division titles prior to last season is not ready to fold its tents yet. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee comprise one of the best pitching trios in the bigs.

4. New York Mets
Trading R. A. Dickey was the right thing to do and the return was nice. But it doesn’t help 2013 when you lose a Cy Young winner.

5. Miami Marlins
True to their name, this franchise now has the appearance of a minor league team in the old International League.

Central
1. St. Louis Cardinals

In this tight division, one major injury, one major trade, one major breakout season can tip the scales. Could the trade be Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to St. Louis? Could the breakout season belong to pitcher Trevor Rosenthal?

2. Cincinnati Reds
Shin-Soo Choo should stabilize the lineup at the leadoff spot, but will his defense in center field be too big of a weakness? If Aroldis Chapman succeeds as a starter, the Reds could run away with this mediocre division.

3. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers were remarkably restrained during this winter’s free agency frenzy. Congrats to them for not overpaying for overhyped players. But there’s not enough firepower here to overcome both red teams.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates
Could this finally be the year when the losing streak is broken?

5. Chicago Cubs
Next year. No really, next year.

West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers

What’s not to like about this roster? Oh, the fact that it didn’t challenge the Giants last season. Oh yeah. But give Don Mattingly a chance to have all the stars in the clubhouse from the beginning of spring training and we’ll see how well he learned from his former boss Joe Torre about managing a roster full of superstars.

2. San Francisco Giants
Go ahead and pencil this team in as the host of the wild card play-in game.

3. San Diego Padres
Moving the fences in may propel Chase Headley headlong into the MVP discussion.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks
The pitching should be sound, but where’s the punch in the lineup to protect Justin Upton? Paul Goldschmidt? Jason Kubel?

5. Colorado Rockies
Another winter, another futile search for pitching.

-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)


 

Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now! 

Teaser:
<p> Early MLB Predictions for 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - 05:00
Path: /college-football/top-5-sugar-bowl-performances-bcs-era
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With the 15th season of BCS bowl action about to take place, Athlon reviewed the tapes of the four (now five) biggest bowl games in college football. Since 1998, teams have been fighting to land a spot in the BCS and here are the players who made the most of their opportunities.

Here are the Top Sugar Bowl Performances of the BCS Era:

5. Brian Johnson, QB, Utah, 2009
In one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Sugar Bowl, Utah rolled past Alabama, 31–17, with surprising ease. Johnson, a senior quarterback, completed 27-of-41 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns as the Utes completed a season with a perfect record for the second time in five years. Utah finished 2008 with an undefeated 13-0 record.



4. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia, 2006
West Virginia, from the lightly regarded Big East, surprised favored Georgia with its speed as the Mountaineers outlasted the Bulldogs, 38–35, in Sugar Bowl that was moved to Atlanta in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Slaton, WVU’s diminutive tailback, led the way with 201 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 26 carries. The Mountaineers finished 11-1 after the win.



Or his second touchdown run...

3. Josh Reed, WR, LSU, 2002
Reed set Sugar Bowl records with 14 receptions and 239 yards receiving to lead LSU past Illinois, 47–34, in the highest-scoring Sugar Bowl in history. Reed also added two touchdown catches from quarterback Rohan Davey, who set a Sugar Bowl record with 444 passing yards. LSU, the SEC Champions, finished the season 10-3.

2. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida, 2010
Tebow was nearly flawless in his final game in a Florida uniform. The dual-threat quarterback completed 31-of-35 passes for 482 yards and added 51 yards rushing and another score in the Gators’ 51–24 victory over Big East champ Cincinnati. “They couldn't stop Superman,” Gators guard Carl Johnson said. “They needed some kryptonite.” After losing the SEC title game to Alabama, Florida uncorked its venegnce upon the poor Bearcats to finish the season 13-1.


1. Chris Weinke, QB, Florida State, 2000
Weinke outdueled Virginia Tech redshirt freshman Michael Vick by passing for 329 yards and four touchdowns as the Seminoles topped the Hokies, 46–29, in the first Sugar Bowl of the new millennium. With the win, Florida State completed the first perfect season of Bobby Bowden’s career as a head coach and secured the Noles’ second national championship.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports ranks the best Sugar Bowl performances of the BCS Era.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - 08:50
Path: /mlb/10-greatest-indivdual-games-mlb-2012
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In a season that will be remembered for perfect games, no-hitters and near misses, there were lots of options for this list. Here goes my top 10. Send me yours.

More Year in Review for 2012:
College Football
NFL
College Basketball

Golf

2012 Year in review: Baseball's top 10 individual performances

1. Panda becomes a World Series home run hero
Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols and Pablo Sandoval. Those are the four players who have hit three home runs in a World Series game. The Kung Fu Panda struck in Game 1 last October on his way to earning the World Series MVP award. Sandoval performed large on the biggest stage of the season.

2. Josh Hamilton assaults Baltimore pitching
Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers sandwiched a double between four home runs in his assault on Baltimore pitching on May 8. Hamilton hit two homers and the double off Orioles starter Jake Arrieta. He then victimized Zach Phillips and Darren O’Day. Hamilton raised his AL-leading batting average to .406 with his five hits and ended the day with 14 homers and 36 RBIs, both tops in the American League, making him the early favorite for AL MVP.
 

3. Justin Verlander dominates the Pirates
Justin Verlander was honored with two nominations on this list. The most notable was his four-hit, one-walk shutout against the Oakland A’s in the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS. However, his most dominating effort came in May with a one-hit shutout of the Pirates. Josh Harrison bounced a hit up the middle in the ninth inning to break up the no-hitter. Verlander walked two and just two runners reached second base in the 6-0 Tigers win.

4. Raul Ibanez takes over for A-Rod

It took guts for New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi to pinch-hit for star Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning with the game on the line in Game 3 of the ALDS. But Raul Ibanez was called off the bench to hit for A-Rod with the Yankees down 2-1 with one out and facing Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, who had been lights out all season. Ibanez rewarded his manager not once but twice. He took Johnson deep to tie the game, sending it to extra innings. Ibanez struck again in the 12th inning with a bomb to win it, giving the Yankees an edge in the series.

5. Humber, Cain and Hernandez pitch perfect games

As mentioned above, it seemed as if some pitcher was flirting with a no-hitter every couple of nights. So, to honor the perfect games, I present them as a three-way tie for No. 5.

Phil Humber of the White Sox entered the season with a modest 11-10 lifetime record with just 214.1 innings in his 6-year career. But in his second start of 2012, the journeyman righthander tossed a perfect game at Seattle, striking out nine in the White Sox 4-0 win.

Matt Cain, the ace of the Giants, was at his best in a 10-0 whitewashing of the Astros. Cain struck out 14 in his perfect game. He had a three-ball count on just four hitters, striking out three of them in his masterpiece.

Just 11 days after a masterful performance at Yankee Stadium in which Felix Hernandez needed just 101 pitches in a two-hit 1-0 win over the Yankees, he threw a perfect game at home against the Rays. Once again, there was very little run support for King Felix as the Mariners won 1-0. Hernandez whiffed 12 Rays in the 113-pitch effort.

6. R.A. Dickey strikes out the Orioles
The National League Cy Young winner also had two stellar performances seriously considered for our greatest list. After winning three consecutive starts without allowing a run, R.A. Dickey won back-to-back one-hitters over Tampa Bay and Baltimore. He didn’t walk a batter in the win over the Rays, but allowed an unearned run. So, the performance that is officially No. 6 came when Dickey walked just two and struck out 13 in the win over the Orioles.

7. Ryan Braun blows up San Diego

Ryan Braun, the reigning NL MVP, had four of the Brewers’ seven hits and drove home six of their eight runs in Milwaukee’s 8-5 win at San Diego. After hitting home runs in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings, Braun came to the plate in the ninth inning with an opportunity for a rare four-home run game. He tripled in a couple of runs with a shot to deep right-center.

8. Mike Napoli's 6 RBIs against the Angels

With the Rangers struggling to stay on top of the AL West as the Oakland A’s surged, Texas fell behind the Angels 4-0 in the first inning. It was Mike Napoli to the rescue as he homered in the second and third innings before adding a double in the fifth. His six RBIs helped the Rangers take an 8-4 lead in a game they would eventually win 8-7.

9. Curtis Granderson's 5-hit game

Curtis Granderson joined Josh Hamilton as the only players with a five-hit game in 2012 that included as many as three round-trippers. The Twins led 4-0 after the top of the first, but after two-run homers by the Yankees’ center fielder in the first and second innings, the Yankees led 6-4. He added his third home run of the day in the fourth, then singled in his last two at-bats in search of a fourth dinger.

10. Aaron Cook uses 81 pitches of awesomeness to beat Seattle

This game didn’t get much attention in a season when no-hitters were relatively common, but Aaron Cook’s effort in a 5-0 win over Seattle was among the best all season. Needing just 81 pitches — the fewest for any complete game in 2012 — Boston’s Cook didn’t allow any Mariners to reach second base. He faced just one batter over the minimum as he allowed two singles with both runners erased on double plays. Another batter reached on an error and was stranded at first. Cook had a two-ball count on just three batters the entire game.
 

- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie or email him at [email protected])

Teaser:
<p> Pablo Sandoval's amazing World Series game makes our list&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - 08:00
Path: /MtRushmore
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Every MLB team should have its own Mt. Rushmore — four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization. Here is one man’s opinion for all 30 Mt. Rushmores from Aaron Cook for Colorado to Babe Ruth for New York. Depending on the organization and how long the franchise has existed, some teams were difficult to find four worthy players. Most teams provided ardent debate.

Below, you’ll find links to all 30 Mt. Rushmores.

 

American LeagueNational League
Baltimore OriolesArizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red SoxAtlanta Braves
Chicago White SoxChicago Cubs
Cleveland IndiansCincinnati Reds
Detroit TigersColorado Rockies
Houston AstrosMiami Marlins
Kansas City RoyalsLos Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles AngelsMilwaukee Brewers
Minnesota TwinsNew York Mets
New York YankeesPhiladelphia Phillies
Oakland A'sPittsburgh Pirates
Seattle MarinersSan Diego Padres
Tampa Bay RaysSan Francisco Giants
Texas RangersSt. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue JaysWashington Nationals
 

 


Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him [email protected]

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, San Diego Chargers, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/10-coaches-replace-fired-norv-turner-san-diego-chargers
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After an up-and-down tenure in San Diego, the Chargers have finally decided to pull the plug on Norv Turner. The embattled coach was nearly fired at the end of last season but finished with a 4-1 record in the final five games to save his job. Turner led San Diego to the AFC Championship in 2007 but missed the playoffs in each of his last three seasons. The Chargers were one of the league’s most inconsistent teams under his watch, often starting slow before finishing as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Who might replace Turner? Athlon takes a look at 10 names to watch in the coaching search.

10 Coaches to Replace Norv Turner at San Diego
 

Bruce Arians, offensive coordinator, Indianapolis Colts – Arians is highly regarded for his work as an offensive coordinator but had his first taste of head coaching experience on the NFL level in 2012. With Chuck Pagano stepping away from the team due to leukemia, Arians became the interim coach and led the Colts to an 8-3 record under his watch. The New Jersey native has done a tremendous job of helping rookie quarterback Andrew Luck quickly adapt to the NFL, and Indianapolis ranked as one of the league's top passing teams. Arians went 21-45 as Temple’s head coach from 1983-88 but as the interim stint with the Colts showcased, he can be a successful leader in the NFL. 
 

Jay Gruden, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals – Gruden is considered a rising star in the assistant ranks and is due for a chance to be a head coach in the next few years. The brother of former NFL head coach Jon Gruden, Jay worked his way through the Arena Football ranks, before coming to the NFL in 2011. His coaching has been instrumental in the development of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, which also helped to lead the Bengals to the playoffs in 2011.
 

Mike Holmgren, former Cleveland Browns team president – Holmgren stepped off the field after the 2008 season. He served as Green Bay’s head coach from 1992-98 and worked in Seattle from 1999-2008. After taking a year off (2009), Holmgren was hired to serve as Cleveland’s team president and held that role for three years. However, with new ownership coming in, Holmgren was essentially let go and is interested in getting back in the coaching ranks. The California native would be a good fit for a veteran team like the Chargers, but he may also want control over personnel decisions. 


Chip Kelly, head coach, Oregon – Kelly nearly left for Tampa Bay last offseason and with NCAA sanctions likely coming at Oregon, he is ready to jump to the NFL in 2012. The New Hampshire native is regarded as one of college football’s top offensive minds, helping the Ducks record an average of 50.8 points per game during the 2012 regular season. Kelly’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense has been used to some extent in the NFL, as he visited with the Patriots in previous offseasons to swap ideas with Bill Belichick.  Kelly is not particularly fond of the media, injury reports or open practices and has no NFL coaching experience, so it will be interesting to see how he adapts to life away from the college game.
 

Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons – Considering the success of Atlanta’s offense this year, expect Koetter’s name to be in the mix for any head coach openings. The Idaho native has no experience as a head coach in the NFL but went 26-10 in three years at Boise State and 40-34 in six seasons with Arizona State. After he was fired in Tempe, Koetter was named Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator in 2007 and worked with the Jaguars until joining the Falcons this season.
 

Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots – McDaniels had a failed two-year stint as a head coach in Denver, recording a disappointing 11-17 mark. Despite his lack of success with the Broncos, he will get another opportunity to be a head coach in the future. McDaniels is regarded as one of the NFL’s top offensive minds and is back with the Patriots after spending one year with the Rams in 2011.
 

Andy Reid, head coach, Philadelphia Eagles – If Reid is let go in Philadelphia, he won’t be out of work for very long. Although Reid’s tenure with the Eagles went south over the last two years, he still led the team to nine playoff appearances in 14 seasons. Reid had only three losing seasons with Philadelphia and took the Eagles to a Super Bowl in 2004. Considering he is a California native, Reid could be enticed to return to the West Coast and work for a team that should be a factor in the playoff mix next year.


Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Roman’s name has been mentioned with college openings, but he should also get a look for NFL jobs. The New Jersey native has worked in the NFL with the Panthers, Texans, Ravens and 49ers and was a key member of Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Stanford. Roman doesn’t have any head coaching experience but his work with the 49ers' offense and quarterback Colin Kaepernick has showcased why he is one of the NFL’s top assistant coaches.
 

Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Washington Redskins -Mike Shanahan's son may only be 33 years old, but his football IQ is advanced beyond his years. In 2008, a 28-year-old Shanahan became the youngest coordinator in history when Mike Shanahan's former right-hand man Gary Kubiak hired him to run the show for the Texans. The younger Shanahan may want to coach star quarterback Robert Griffin III for a few more seasons, and possibly even take over the reins when his father retires. But after the success he's had, Shanahan's meteoric rise will continue with head coaching interest from teams around the league this offseason.


Mike Zimmer, defensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals – Zimmer has no head coaching experience but has been one of the NFL’s top defensive coordinators since coming to Cincinnati. The Bengals have ranked inside of the top 15 in total defense in every season since Zimmer arrived, and he has a wealth of experience from stops as an assistant with the Cowboys and the Falcons. 

Teaser:
<p> 10 Coaches to Replace Fired Norv Turner with the San Diego Chargers</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 13:58
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC East, Philadelphia Eagles, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/10-coaches-replace-andy-reid-philadelphia-eagles
Body:

Andy Reid’s 14-year run as the Eagles’ head coach has ended. Philadelphia’s front office decided to go in another direction after the Eagles’ first losing season since 2005. Philadelphia also missed out on the playoffs the last two years and has not won a postseason game since 2008. Reid had a solid career with the Eagles and will land another head coaching job in the near future. However, Philadelphia has a big decision to make for its next coach, especially since Washington made big strides this year, and the Giants should be better in 2013. There’s a lot of promising pieces for the next Eagles’ head coach to work with, and a run at the playoffs next year wouldn’t be unexpected. 

10 Coaches to Replace Andy Reid in Philadelphia

Bruce Arians, offensive coordinator, Indianapolis Colts – Arians is highly regarded for his work as an offensive coordinator but had his first taste of head coaching experience on the NFL level in 2012. With Chuck Pagano stepping away from the team due to leukemia, Arians became the interim coach and led the Colts to an 8-3 record under his watch. The New Jersey native has done a tremendous job of helping rookie quarterback Andrew Luck quickly adapt to the NFL, and Indianapolis ranked as one of the league's top passing teams. Arians went 21-45 as Temple’s head coach from 1983-88 but as the interim stint with the Colts showcased, he can be a successful leader in the NFL. 
 

Perry Fewell, defensive coordinator, New York Giants – Fewell has been a NFL assistant since 1998 and served as Buffalo’s interim head coach for seven games in 2009. The North Carolina native helped to lead the Giants to a ranking inside of the top 10 in total defense in 2010, along with developing one of the NFL’s top defensive lines. Fewell’s defenses have given up a lot of yards over the last two years, but the Giants have also had bad luck with injuries.
 

Jay Gruden, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals – Gruden is considered a rising star in the assistant ranks and is due for a chance to be a head coach in the next few years. The brother of former NFL head coach Jon Gruden, Jay worked his way through the Arena Football ranks, before coming to the NFL in 2011. His coaching has been instrumental in the development of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, which also helped to lead the Bengals to the playoffs in 2011. Considering his development of Dalton, Gruden could be a perfect choice to help mold Nick Foles over the next couple of seasons. 
 

Jon Gruden, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach – Gruden is expected to be one of the top targets for any NFL team looking for a head coach this offseason. But will he return to coaching? After being fired by Tampa Bay in 2008, Gruden has been away from the sidelines and worked in the broadcast booth with ESPN. Although Gruden has insisted he is happy working as analyst, most believe he could be lured back to the sidelines. The Ohio native is 95-81 in his NFL career and led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title in the 2002 season. Gruden may say no, but it can’t hurt the Eagles to ask.
 

Mike Holmgren, former Cleveland Browns team president – Holmgren stepped off the field after the 2008 season. He served as Green Bay’s head coach from 1992-98 and worked in Seattle from 1999-2008. After taking a year off (2009), Holmgren was hired to serve as Cleveland’s team president and held that role for three years. However, with new ownership coming in, Holmgren was essentially let go and is interested in getting back in the coaching ranks. The California native could be a good fit for a team like the Eagles, especially considering the talent on offense. However, he may want control over personnel decisions. 
 

Ray Horton, defensive coordinator, Arizona – If Ken Whisenhunt is let go with Arizona, Horton is expected to be one of the top candidates to lead the Cardinals in 2013. However, the veteran assistant could choose to look at the other openings. With Arizona struggling to generate anything on offense, the defense has a lot of pressure on its shoulders every week. The Cardinals rank in the top 15 of the NFL in total defense in 2012, which is a slight improvement after finishing 18th in the league last season. Horton has done a good job of developing defensive backs in his career and gained valuable experience working with Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh. Horton does not have any head coaching experience.
 

Chip Kelly, head coach, Oregon – Kelly nearly left for Tampa Bay last offseason and with NCAA sanctions likely coming at Oregon, he is ready to jump to the NFL in 2012. The New Hampshire native is regarded as one of college football’s top offensive minds, helping the Ducks record an average of 50.8 points per game during the 2012 regular season. Kelly’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense has been used to some extent in the NFL, as he visited with the Patriots in previous offseasons to swap ideas with Bill Belichick.  Kelly is not particularly fond of the media, injury reports or open practices and has no NFL coaching experience, so it will be interesting to see how he adapts to life away from the college game.
 

Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator, Denver Broncos – McCoy is considered one of the NFL’s rising stars in the coordinator ranks, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets a chance to be a head coach. The California native worked with the Panthers from 2000-08, before joining the Broncos as the team’s offensive coordinator in 2009. McCoy did a good job of molding Denver’s offense around Tim Tebow last season and revamped the attack for Peyton Manning in 2012. 
 

Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots – McDaniels had a failed two-year stint as a head coach in Denver, recording a disappointing 11-17 mark. Despite his lack of success with the Broncos, he will get another opportunity to be a head coach in the future. McDaniels is regarded as one of the NFL’s top offensive minds and is back with the Patriots after spending one year with the Rams in 2011.
 

Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Roman’s name has been mentioned with college openings, but he should also get a look for NFL jobs. The New Jersey native has worked in the NFL with the Panthers, Texans, Ravens and 49ers and was a key member of Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Stanford. Roman doesn’t have any head coaching experience but his work with the 49ers' offense and quarterback Colin Kaepernick has showcased why he is one of the NFL’s top assistant coaches.

Teaser:
<p> 10 Coaches to Replace Andy Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 09:47
Path: /college-football/rose-bowl-preview-and-prediction-wisconsin-vs-stanford
Body:

The Grand Daddy of Them All will feature two of the most powerful rushing attacks in the nation when Wisconsin and Stanford meet in the 99th annual Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin earned its third consecutive trip to the Pasadena after upsetting Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. The Badgers will be making their ninth (3-5) Rose Bowl appearance with a familiar face on the sidelines. After Bret Bielema left for Arkansas, athletic director Barry Alvarez announced he would coach the team in the bowl game. It will be his fourth Rose Bowl as head coach at Wisconsin.

Stanford, which is also in its third straight BCS bowl, is playing in its 14th Rose Bowl appearance — good for third all-time tying Washington and Ohio State. However, its last victory in the game came in back-to-back years in 1971 and 1972 over Ohio State and Michigan. The Cardinal are looking for just their second bowl win since 1996 and coach David Shaw is looking for his first as a head coach.

These two historic programs have played five times previously with the Badgers owning a commanding 4-0-1 record against the Cardinal. The last time these two met was the 17-9 Wisconsin win in the 2000 Rose Bowl game, in which Ron Dayne rushed for 200 yards on 34 carries.

Rose Bowl: Wisconsin (8-5) vs. Stanford  (11-2)

Date and Time: Tues., Jan. 1, 5:10 p.m. ET
Network: ESPN
Location: Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.)

When Wisconsin has the ball

With or without Bielema or offensive coordinator Matt Canada on the sidelines, the Wisconsin offense will be predicated around the running game. Record-setting tailback Montee Ball has scored more touchdowns than anyone in the history of the sport and will have to be at his best against the mighty Cardinal front seven. He isn’t the only weapon in the backfield for the Badgers, as UW brings one of the deepest and most talented tailback corps in the nation. James White (802 yards, 12 TD) and Melvin Gordon (570 yards, 3 TD) give Ball plenty of time to catch his breath — which he will need.

Stanford led the Pac-12 in rushing defense, sacks, tackles for loss, total defense and scoring defense. In a three game stretch, it allowed three (Cal), minus-18 (Washington State and minus-21 (Colorado) total rushing yards. The veteran Wisconsin offensive line will try to pound the equally talented and experienced Cardinal defensive front. The Badgers O-line is likely the best Stanford has faced all season, and the lawfirm of Skov, Murphy, Thomas, Stephens and Gardner is the best UW will have faced all year. One thing is certain, both sides will need hours in the ice tubs after the game is long over.

The difference for UW will be the play of its quarterback. Redshirt freshman Joel Stave had stabilized the shaky position midway through the season but was lost for the year with a broken collarbone. He is reportedly ahead of schedule and there is an outside chance he could play against Stanford. He gives this offense a second dimension that backup Curt Phillips cannot. Although, Phillips did lead a last second overtime-forcing touchdown drives against both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions to end the season.

When Stanford has the ball

Stanford’s game plan isn’t all that different from Wisconsin’s. David Shaw also switched quarterbacks this fall, moving his own redshirt freshman into the starting lineup just past the season’s halfway mark. Kevin Hogan flourished under center and proved to be much more effective than Josh Nunes, leading the Cardinal to wins over four consecutive ranked opponents to end the year.

Much like Stave or Phillips for Wisconsin, Hogan will lean heavily on his running game. Stepfan Taylor is one of the most complete backs in the nation, touching the ball 340 times for 1,712 yards from scrimmage this year. He scored in all but three games this fall and has carried the ball at least 17 times in 15 of his last 18 games. He has 10 100-yard efforts in his last 15 games.

Hogan will utilize All-America tight end Zach Ertz as his primary target in an effort to loosen-up an underrated Wisconsin defense. Led by Mike Taylor and Chris Borland at linebacker, this unit finished 13th nationally in total defense (320.9 ypg) and 19th in scoring defense at under just under 20 points per game. The Badgers defense is non-descript but plays fundamentally sound football every time out. 

Final Analysis

These two teams are near mirror images of each other. The Badgers simply lack the overall star power and talent of year’s past while Stanford has half-a-dozen quality NFL defenders. This will be a no-frills, physical slobber-knocker of a game that will be a test of wills. Whoever flinches first, which will be Wisconsin if it cannot find a second dimension in the passing game, will be the loser.

Prediction: Stanford 23, Wisconsin 14


Related College Football Content

A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2013
Top 5 Performances in the Rose Bowl of the BCS Era

Orange Bowl Preview and Prediction: Florida State vs. Northern Illinois

Teaser:
<p> Rose Bowl Preview and Prediction: Wisconsin vs. Stanford</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:55
Path: /college-football/orange-bowl-preview-and-prediction-northern-illinois-vs-florida-state
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In terms of intrigue, the Florida State-Northern Illinois matchup in the Orange Bowl has to be one of the must-see games of the postseason. After cracking the top 16 of the BCS standings, the Huskies became a polarizing case study and a lightning rod for criticism. Northern Illinois has plenty of doubters and there’s no shortage of bulletin board material for this team to rally around. The Huskies will be under the direction of a new coach, as Dave Doeren departed to NC State after the MAC Championship win over Kent State. Rod Carey was promoted from co-offensive coordinator to head coach and has a huge stage for debut on the Northern Illinois’ sideline.

While this is the first BCS bowl appearance for Northern Illinois, Florida State is back in a BCS bowl for the first time since losing 26-23 to Penn State in 2006. The Seminoles are slowly working their way back into a national power, winning 30 games over the last three years. Despite the success under Jimbo Fisher, there’s also a feeling of disappointment surrounding the program. Florida State was handled by rival Florida in Tallahassee and suffered a surprising defeat to NC State on Oct. 6. The Seminoles had the talent to compete for a national championship, yet finished 11-2 and could have some motivation issues playing Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.

This will be the first meeting between these two teams. Florida State is 3-0 against teams from the MAC, and Northern Illinois is 2-6 against teams currently in the ACC.

Orange Bowl – Northern Illinois vs. Florida State

Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Network: ESPN
Location: Miami, Fla. (Sun Life Stadium)

When the Northern Illinois Huskies have the ball:

The mission for Florida State’s defense is simple: Stop Jordan Lynch. Of course, that’s easier said than done. The junior was one of the nation’s top quarterbacks this year, rushing for 1,771 yards and 19 touchdowns and throwing for 2,962 yards and 24 scores. Lynch tossed only five picks and was held under 100 rushing yards only one time in 2012.

Lynch clearly carries the offense for Northern Illinois, but he is far from a one-man show. Running backs Leighton Settle, Akeem Daniels and Keith Harris each had more than 200 rushing yards, with Daniels recording nine touchdowns on the ground. However, the Huskies will be without the services of Settle and Harris for the Orange Bowl, which means Daniels needs to have a big performance. 

The receiving corps is loaded with solid targets, including first-team All-MAC receiver Martel Moore. The senior caught 71 passes for 1,054 yards and 12 scores this year, which included six 100-yard performances. Lynch needs a big game from Moore, but Florida State’s secondary ranked third nationally against the pass. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Lamarcus Joyner were first-team All-ACC selections and were a key reason why opposing quarterbacks completed just 50 percent of their passes against the Seminoles.

Helping to keep opposing passing attacks grounded for Florida State is one of the nation's top defensive lines. Considering the Seminoles can generate a consistent pass rush with their front four, opposing quarterbacks don't have a lot of time to wait for their receivers to come open. This line held opponents to under 100 rushing yards per game (93) and averaged 2.5 sacks a game. If there is a concern about the defensive line, depth has become an issue this year. Ends Tank Carradine and Brandon Jenkins were lost for the year, which forced top recruit Mario Edwards, Jr. into more snaps than the coaching staff expected to give him this season. Although Carradine and Jenkins were big losses, Bjoern Werner had a standout season (18 TFL, 13 sacks) and is tasked with generating a pass rush against a Northern Illinois’ offensive line that averaged just one sack allowed a game this year. 

After averaging 40.7 points and nearly 500 yards a game (485.7) in the regular season, the Orange Bowl will be the toughest defensive test Northern Illinois has faced this year. The Huskies faced only two BCS opponents in 2012, recording 17 points against Iowa and 30 against Kansas. Florida State’s defense is much better than the Hawkeyes and Jayhawks but is also dealing with the loss of coordinator Mark Stoops. Defensive line coach D.J. Eliot will call the plays for the Seminoles in this game and will join Stoops at Kentucky at the conclusion of the Orange Bowl.

Stopping Lynch will be the top priority for Florida State’s defense. Expect the Seminoles to load up the box to prevent Lynch from getting over 100 yards on the ground and allow their cornerbacks to play man against Northern Illinois’ wide receivers. Lynch doesn’t have to generate huge gains on each play to be a factor. If the junior can generate three or four yards a carry, the Huskies can keep the chains moving, which should allow them a chance to hang around in this game. 

When the Florida State Seminoles have the ball:

For the fifth consecutive season, Florida State averaged over 30 points a game. The Seminoles were relatively balanced on offense, recording 203.4 yards per game on the ground and 263.3 passing yards a contest.

Despite those numbers, the Seminoles' offense bogged down at times. Quarterback EJ Manuel finished 10th nationally in pass efficiency but can be a streaky passer. Manuel threw for 3,106 yards and 22 touchdowns, while tossing 10 picks on 349 attempts. The senior has struggled at times in the early portion of games, so it’s important for Fisher to get Manuel comfortable in the first quarter.

Florida State boasts a deep collection of targets at receiver, along with an emerging weapon at tight end. Sophomore Rashad Greene led the team with 52 receptions for 696 yards and five touchdowns. Rodney Smith, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw each recorded over 400 receiving yards, while Greg Dent chipped in 24 catches for 313 yards. Tight end Nick O’Leary became a bigger factor in the offense late in the season, catching six passes (with two going for scores) over the final three contests.

The Seminoles’ rushing attack suffered an early blow this year, losing Chris Thompson to a torn ACL against Miami. After coming back from a serious back injury, Thompson was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season. Sophomores Devonta Freeman and James Wilder have been steady in Thompson’s absence, combining for 1,218 yards and 19 rushing scores. Expect both players to find running room against a Northern Illinois defense allowing 139 rushing yards per game. 

As mentioned above with Northern Illinois’ offense, this is its toughest test of the season. While the MAC is known for offense, Florida State has more depth, speed and talent than any team the Huskies have played this year. Northern Illinois' defense was one of the best in the MAC this year, allowing only 19 points a game and recording 2.9 sacks per contest.

Forcing turnovers will be a huge component of Northern Illinois’ upset bid, especially considering Florida State ranks 96th nationally in turnover margin. The Huskies need a few breaks to go their way to pull the upset, and it may take a touchdown on defense or special teams to knock off the Seminoles.

Final Analysis

The Huskies will have their moments in this game but it won’t be enough to beat Florida State. Even without Stoops coordinating the defense, the Seminoles’ front seven will hold Lynch in check, while the secondary will prevent many big plays. Northern Illinois should be able to hold its own early on the defensive side, but Florida State’s depth and speed will eventually take control in the second half. Motivation is an issue for the Seminoles, and they cannot afford to take Northern Illinois’ lightly. The Huskies will hang around for three quarters, while the Seminoles pull away in the fourth quarter to earn their fifth consecutive bowl victory.

Prediction: Florida State 38, Northern Illinois 20


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<p> Orange Bowl Preview and Prediction: Northern Illinois vs. Florida State</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:48
Path: /college-football/chick-fil-bowl-preview-and-prediction-clemson-vs-lsu
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Considering the success of Clemson and LSU this year, the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl could easily be a BCS matchup and should be one of the postseason’s must-see bowl games. Clemson’s two losses came at the hands of South Carolina and Florida State, a combined 21-4. LSU suffered two close defeats to Florida and Alabama – both teams in BCS bowls.

Although Clemson fell short of repeating as ACC champions, coach Dabo Swinney has the program on the right track. Swinney has assembled a solid coaching staff, which is a key reason why the program has back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 1989-90. Clemson went 1-1 against the SEC this season, losing 27-17 to South Carolina in the regular season finale, while beating Auburn in Atlanta 26-19 to open the year. Taking on LSU will be an even tougher challenge for Clemson, especially with the matchup in the trenches.

LSU had preseason expectations of playing for the national championship once again but narrow losses to Alabama and Florida relegated Les Miles’ team to a bowl game outside of the BCS. However, LSU has been on an incredible run over the last three years, recording a 34-5 mark during that span.

These two teams have met only twice, with LSU winning both games. Interestingly enough, the two meetings between Clemson and LSU occurred in bowl games.

Chick-fil-A Bowl – Clemson (10-2) vs. LSU (10-2)

Date/Time: Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Location: Atlanta, Ga.

When the Clemson Tigers have the ball:

Since the arrival of Chad Morris as coordinator, Clemson has emerged as one of the top offenses in the ACC. The Tigers averaged 33.6 points per game last season but increased that number to 42.3 per contest in 2012. Morris’ scheme has been a major factor in Clemson’s offensive improvement but a ton of credit also goes to quarterback Tajh Boyd.

The junior passer has thrived under Morris, throwing for 67 scores and 7,378 yards over the last two seasons. Boyd has 25 picks over the last two years but showed improved mobility in 2012, which allowed him to record 492 yards and nine scores on the ground this season.

Although Boyd has been one of college football’s top-10 quarterbacks the last two seasons, he has struggled against SEC defenses. Take out his 386-yard performance against Auburn in 2011 and Boyd has thrown for 474 yards, three touchdowns and four picks in three previous contests against SEC opponents.

With Boyd and receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins capable of scoring 30 points, the offensive line will be under the microscope on New Year’s Eve. This unit allowed 2.2 sacks a game this season and faces it’s toughest test of the year in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. LSU has one of the best defensive lines in the nation, filled with depth, speed, talent and experience. Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo combined for 11 sacks this season, while tackles Bennie Logan, Anthony Johnson and Josh Downs are active around the line of scrimmage. 

Pass protection is a huge question mark for Clemson’s offensive line in this matchup, but it also has to be concerned about clearing the way for running back Andre Ellington. LSU ranks ninth nationally against the run and allowed only one player – Florida’s Mike Gillislee – to reach the 100-yard mark. Ellington rushed for 228 yards in the opener against Auburn but had only two 100-yard performances the rest of the year.

It may seem simple and perhaps too obvious, but the Chick-fil-A Bowl is going to be won or lost in the trenches. Clemson’s offensive line has to play better than it did against South Carolina. If LSU’s defensive line wins the battle up front, Boyd won’t have opportunities to stretch the field. If Boyd has time to throw, there’s no shortage of weapons with Watkins and Hopkins outside at receiver, along with tight end Brandon Ford working the middle of the field.

When the LSU Tigers have the ball:

There’s quite a contrast in style of play between Clemson and LSU. While Clemson prefers a no-huddle spread offense, LSU has old school, run-first mentality. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with running an old-school offense, especially when it has worked to win 34 games over the last three years.

LSU leans with the run but is fairly balanced on offense. The rushing attack is generating 179.9 yards per game, while the passing offense ranks 90th nationally at 207.3 yards per contest.

Quarterback Zach Mettenberger was under heavy pressure to perform in his first season as the starter and didn’t get comfortable until late in the year. Mettenberger recorded only two games of more than 200 passing yards through the first eight weeks but finished with at least 217 yards in each of his final four games. Mettenberger seemed in control and showed more poise than he did at the start of the season, which allowed LSU’s passing attack to take a few more chances.

LSU has an underrated group of receivers, headlined by Odell Beckham (40 catches), Jarvis Landry (52 catches), Kadron Boone (24 catches) and Russell Shepard. This group is capable of stretching the field against Clemson’s secondary, which ranked eighth in the ACC and allowed 250.3 yards per game.

Even though Mettenberger showed improvement at the end of the regular season, LSU isn’t going to go away from its bread and butter. Les Miles’ team has an embarrassment of riches in the backfield, as five players could start for a handful of SEC teams. Freshman Jeremy Hill led the team with 631 rushing yards and 10 scores, but Kenny Hilliard (456 yards), Michael Ford (393 yards), Spencer Ware (358 yards) and Alfred Blue (270 yards) will all see touches. Ware was a key contributor out of the backfield for Mettenberger, catching 15 passes for 212 yards and one score.

LSU’s offensive line suffered some key injuries this season, including the loss of potential All-America tackle Chris Faulk early in the year. Despite the new faces in the lineup, LSU averaged 4.3 yards per rush. Clemson’s defensive line averaged 2.3 sacks a game during the regular season, which could create some problems for LSU’s passing attack. However, the bigger problem for Clemson is a rush defense allowing 160.7 yards per game.

Final Analysis

Although Clemson can put up points in a hurry, LSU’s edge in the trenches will control the tempo of this game. Boyd should be able to hit on a few big plays but the time off between the regular season finale and bowl game could create some early rust for Clemson. LSU won’t need too much from its passing attack, as Jeremy Hill and Spencer Ware should be able to grind out plenty of yards against Clemson’s defensive line.

Prediction: LSU 34, Clemson 24


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<p> Chick-fil-A Bowl Preview and Prediction: Clemson vs. LSU</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:46
Path: /college-football/capital-one-bowl-preview-and-prediction-georgia-vs-nebraska
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The 67th annual Capital One Bowl — which has gone by many names — is one of the oldest running non-BCS bowls in the country. Both Georgia, which is making its sixth appearance in the game, and Nebraska, which is making its third showing in the bowl, are familiar with the Orlando, Fla., based contest.

The Cornhuskers will be making their second consecutive trip to the Citrus Bowl after losing to South Carolina 30-13 on New Year’s Day last season. The Big Red is 24-24 in 48 total bowl games and is looking for its first bowl win since 2009 (Holiday Bowl). Head coach Bo Pelini is 3-2 in bowl games.

Mark Richt at Georgia is 7-4 all-time in bowl games with his Bulldogs and is also looking for his first postseason win since 2009. The Dawgs were outlasted in a memorable Outback Bowl loss to Michigan State last winter.

Both of these teams won their division and then lost in their respective conference championship game. Both teams have double-digit wins and both teams should be disappointed (possibly, for different reasons) for not landing in a BCS bowl. The Dawgs were five yards away from a trip to the National Championship game.

These two historic programs have met just once before in history. Tom Osborne was in his first season as the offensive coordinator when his Huskers pounded Georgia 45-6 in the 1969 Sun Bowl.

Capital One Bowl: Nebraska (10-3) vs. Georgia (11-2)

Date and Time: Tues., Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET
Network: ABC
Location: Citrus Bowl (Orlando, Fla.)

When Nebraska has the ball

Taylor Martinez matured into one of the nation’s best quarterbacks this fall. He led the Big Ten in both passing efficiency (142.32) and total offense (280.0 ypg). He led high-profile comebacks with both his legs and arm in key situations all season long for the Big Red. Rex Burkhead is back healthy for the final game of his career and the speedy Ameer Abdullah give Pelini three outstanding options in the ground game.

All of Nebraska’s weapons will be needed if it expects to move the ball on the Dawgs' nasty defense. Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree lead a stacked linebacking corps that perfectly fits Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme. Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo are as hard-hitting and talented a safety duo as there is in the nation. Georgia's defensive line suffered a huge (literally) loss when nose tackle John Jenkins was ruled ineligible in late December. With Jenkins out, Georgia will need a big game from Kwame Geathers.

As usual with Nebraska, Martinez will have to make big play with his improvisation skills, as well as throw on time and in rhythm. This will be a huge test for the Big Ten’s top offense.

When Georgia has the ball

Just like the Big Red, Georgia has its own three-headed monster in the backfield. Aaron Murray is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and is approaching career SEC passing records. He will turn to a pair of freshman tailbacks to loosen up the defense. Todd Gurley finished second in the SEC in rushing (96.9 ypg) and scored 16 times on the ground, while Keith Marshall posted 723 yards and eight touchdowns on his own this year. With the injuries at wide receiver Georgia has dealt with, fans can bet the running game will be the focal point of Richt’s offense. Especially, considering what Wisconsin did to the Blackshirts defense in the Big Ten championship game

Nebraska entered the regular season finale with the No. 15-rated total defense in the nation by allowing just 318.3 yards per game. It was giving up 22.9 points per game. But the defense was abused to the tune of 539 yards rushing and 70 points in the biggest game of the season. Safety Daimion Stafford, end Eric Martin and middle linebacker Will Compton give Pelini experience and talent on all three levels. But if this group doesn’t play its best, the Georgia running game will dominate the game.

Final Analysis

Nebraska was poised for its first conference championship since 1999 before the complete letdown in Indianapolis. A loss to Georgia would give every Pelini team in Lincoln exactly four losses. Richt lost in the SEC championship for the second straight season, but this one stung much worse with the clock running out inside the Alabama 10-yard line. The Dawgs are the more talented team, so if it can re-motivate itself after exerting so much energy in the loss to the Crimson Tide, it will win. If not, Nebraska has the offensive firepower to pull the upset.

Prediction: Georgia 35, Nebraska 21


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Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:45
Path: /college-football/outback-bowl-preview-and-prediction-south-carolina-vs-michigan
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It’s always fresh in the Outback is a steakhouse slogan that doubles for the bloomin’ bowl game. The SEC vs. Big Ten matchup has been one of the best non-BCS bowls in recent years. Since 2000, three games have gone to overtime — including last year’s triple-overtime classic between Michigan State and Georgia — and eight have been contests decided by one-score margins.

In this year’s game, Michigan will be wearing alternate uniforms — the eighth jersey color scheme combination since Brady Hoke took over college football’s winningest program last season. Luckily for traditionalists who “Hail to the Victors,” the Wolverines will still be wearing their classic winged helmets.

Outback Bowl — South Carolina (10–2) vs. Michigan (8–4)

Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Network: ESPN
Location: Tampa, Fla.

When the South Carolina Gamecocks have the ball:

Ol’ ball coach Steve Spurrier has been pitching-and-catching less at South Carolina than he did during his Fun n’ Gun days at Florida. That was easier before star junior tailback Marcus Lattimore suffered a devastating knee injury against Tennessee on Oct. 27.

Without Lattimore, South Carolina has turned to playmakers like receivers Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington — who have a combined to haul in 27 catches for 367 yards and five TDs in the three games since Lattimore went down.

A less serious injury, to dual-threat starting quarterback Connor Shaw’s left foot, forced the Gamecocks to take to the air with backup Dylan Thompson, who attempted 41 passes and threw three TDs during a 27–17 win over rival Clemson. Although Shaw is expected to start, Spurrier will return to his Gator-armed days of keeping a short leash on his passers by implementing a two-quarterback gameplan that also features Thompson.

Michigan will be playing without several defenders, having senior cornerback J.T. Floyd and senior linebacker Brandin Hawthorne, along with Big Ten punter of the year Will Hagerup, all to suspension. The U-M’s No. 57-ranked rush defense (156.0 ypg) will be tested, but defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s No. 16 scoring defense (18.3 ppg) has been bending without breaking all season, allowing over 21 points just four times.

When the Michigan Wolverines have the ball:

By far the best individual matchup of the entire bowl season will take place between a pair of AP first-team All-Americans in the trenches. Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan (6’8”, 310) and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (6’6”, 255) will have NFL scouts packing Raymond James Stadium for a peek at two elite first-round prospects. Clowney led the nation with 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss as a sophomore and is hoping to enter 2013 as a Heisman Trophy candidate. 

“I believe a defensive player can win the Heisman next year. … That’s my next thing, New York,” said Clowney, who could kick start his campaign with a big game against Lewan.

Michigan will be without running back Fitz Toussaint due to a broken leg, but the dynamic quarterback duo of Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson should be able to pick up the slack. Gardner took over the starting quarterback job after an arm injury suffered by Robinson. In just four games, Gardner has thrown for 1,005 yards, eight TDs and four INTs, while scrambling for 77 yards and another seven TDs on the ground and posting a 3–1 record.

But since this is the last game in Maize-and-Blue for “Shoelace” as well as a Florida homecoming for the Deerfield Beach native, don’t be surprised if Michigan opens up the playbook for the school’s all-time leader in total yards (10,669) and total TDs (91). Robinson has thrown for 1,319 yards, rushed for 1,166 yards and accounted for 16 total TDs. Used exclusively as a runner in the last two games, Denard X posted 23 carries for 220 yards, on 9.6 yards per carry, and one TD.

Final Analysis

South Carolina lost only twice this season, in a 23–21 tight fight in Death Valley at LSU and a 44–11 blowout in The Swamp at Florida the following week. Meanwhile, Michigan lost twice as many games, but against elite competition — Alabama (41–14), at Notre Dame (13–6), at Nebraska (23–9) and at Ohio State (26–21).  Together, the Gamecocks and Wolverines lost to six teams with a combined 67–7 record.

These are two of the more competitive, battle-tested teams in the country. Expect another close call in this year’s Outback Bowl, with the Clowney and the Gamecocks defense doing just enough to tangle Shoelace and the Wolverines offense.

Prediction: South Carolina 27, Michigan 24


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Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:41
Path: /college-football/gator-bowl-preview-and-prediction-mississippi-state-vs-northwestern
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It’s the one blemish on an otherwise stellar résumé for Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald: The Wildcats are 0–4 in bowl games in his six-plus seasons as the boss at his alma mater. The former All-America linebacker, named to the top job at Northwestern in 2006 after Randy Walker passed away, is 49–39 overall and a more-than-respectable 26–30 in Big Ten games. But he has yet to break through in the postseason, losing to Missouri in the 2008 Alamo Bowl, Auburn in the 2009 Outback Bowl, Texas Tech in the 2010 TicketCity Bowl and Texas A&M in the 2011 Texas Bowl. To be fair, Northwestern’s bowl struggles pre-date Fitzgerald’s tenure as the head coach. The Wildcats are 1–9 all-time in bowl games, with their lone win coming over California in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day in 1949.

The Cats have a great opportunity to snap that streak in the Gator Bowl against a Mississippi State team that limps to Jacksonville having lost four of its last five games. The Bulldogs went 8–4 overall, but none of their eight wins came against teams that are playing in a bowl game. Northwestern, on the other hand, defeated four bowl teams.

Gator Bowl — Northwestern (9–3) vs. Mississippi State (8–4)

Date and Time: Jan. 1 at Noon EST
Network: ESPN
Location: Jacksonville, Fla.

When Northwestern has the ball:

Northwestern is one of the few teams nationally that won at a high level while playing two quarterbacks on a consistent basis. Both Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian played in all 12 games (though Colter did not attempt a pass in the loss at Penn State), with Colter serving as a true dual-threat and Siemian operating as a pro-style quarterback. Colter, who completed just under 70 percent of his passes and rushed for 820 yards and 12 touchdowns, was the primary quarterback down the stretch and figures to get the bulk of the snaps in the bowl game. The strong-armed Siemian, however, will be more than ready in relief if Colter struggles.

For the first time since Tyrell Sutton graduated in 2008, Northwestern featured a legitimate Big Ten-caliber threat at the tailback position. Venric Mark, who carried the ball 15 times in his first two seasons on campus, emerged as one of the most dangerous offensive weapons — both as a running back and return specialist — in the nation. Mark, a 5-8, 175-pound Texas native, ranked third in the league in rushing with 1,310 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. He broke through with 123 yards in a key Week 2 win over Vanderbilt and topped the 100-yard mark seven more times the rest of the season.

Mississippi State struggled to stop the run for most of the season. The Bulldogs rank 58th in the nation in rushing defense and gave up 200 yards or more four times in 2012 — 230 to Troy, 213 to Tennessee, 361 to Texas A&M and 248 to Ole Miss. This is not a good matchup for the Dogs.

When Mississippi State has the ball:

Mississippi State changed its identity in 2012, morphing from a run-based attack in the first three years in the Dan Mullen era into an offense that was better — at least statistically — throwing the ball (50th in the nation) than running (85th). The reason for the new-look was the emergence of junior Tyler Russell as a quality drop-back quarterback. Russell, one of Mullen’s key early recruits, threw for 2,791 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. One of the benefactors of State’s newfound passing attack was senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis, who set career highs in catches (55), yards (904) and touchdowns (12).

Junior LaDarius Perkins stepped into the role as primary tailback that was handled quite well the previous two seasons by current Indianapolis Colt Vick Ballard. Perkins, considered by some to be too small to be an every down back, carried the ball 186 times for 940 yard and eight touchdowns. He had 100 yards or more in four of the first seven games, but wasn’t quite as effective down the stretch as the schedule became more difficult.

The Bulldogs’ offense feasted on a soft early schedule, averaging 416.9 yards en route to a 7–0 start. State however, was held to under 360 yards in four of the final five games, including 333 in a season-ending 41–24 loss to rival Ole Miss.

Final Analysis:

Northwestern won nine games and held double-digit second-half leads in all three of its losses yet finds itself as a two-point underdog to a Mississippi State team whose best win was either against Middle Tennessee or Tennessee — both at home. Yes, the SEC is better than the Big Ten, but the Wildcats aren’t getting enough credit for what they accomplished in 2012. Northwestern should have plenty of success running the ball and will do a better job than most expect of slowing down the Mississippi State offense. Only four teams scored more than 20 points against the Cats in 2012.

Prediction: Northwestern 28, Mississippi State 17  


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Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:10
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/new-years-resolutions-nfl-2013
Body:

The last day of the year is always an appropriate time to look back at what has taken place over the past 364 days. As it applies to the NFL, however, one must remember that there is still plenty of seasonal business to take care of, with the playoffs in January and Super Bowl XLVII set for Feb. 3 in New Orleans.

That said, even though the 2012 NFL season isn’t officially over, it’s not too soon to start looking ahead to next season. Many changes will take place between now and next fall, whether these are in the form of coaching or franchise leadership changes, roster moves or additions made through the draft, in addition to other league-related business that will occur.

While it is anyone’s guess as to what the end result will be for all 32 teams and the league as a whole, here are a few things at the top of this football fan’s wish list for America’s favorite sport as we look towards 2013.

A “quiet” offseason for the NFL
Anyone who follows the NFL can remember all too well what took place less than two years ago, when the offseason was dominated by the lockout. Even though the labor stoppage officially lasted about four and a half months, the all-too-public labor dispute was without a doubt THE leading NFL storyline, which meant the focus was taken off of what was happening on the field even before the lockout materialized.

Fast forward to this past offseason, which was first “tainted,” if you will, by the BountyGate scandal involving the New Orleans Saints, and then by the second labor dispute to impact the NFL in as many seasons. After suffering through three weeks of replacement referees, culminated by one of the most confusing and logic-defying game endings in NFL history, the league and the zebras finally agreed to a new labor deal in late September.

Needless to say it’s been a pretty rough past two years for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Because of his position and his unmistakable presence and participation in all league matters, Goodell has borne the brunt of the criticism that has been lobbied towards the NFL over the past two years. Regardless of whether all of this has been warranted or not, no one can deny that Goodell, and the league as a whole, could use a “quiet” offseason, one in which the only thing that generates headlines and extensive media coverage is the “normal” business that takes place, like the draft in April.

There’s a saying there’s no such thing as bad pr. I am pretty sure the NFL would disagree with this, and would like nothing more than to not have to worry about it in the first place in 2013.

Leave the playoff format and kickoff alone
Speaking of Commissioner Goodell, I would like to offer some unsolicited advice to him in regards to some potential rules changes that have been reportedly discussed: don’t mess with the current playoff set up and leave the kickoff alone.

The commissioner and owners have reportedly raised the possibility of looking into expanding the playoff field from its current 12 teams to either 14 or 16. Why? I don’t know and honestly, I don’t really care, although the cynic in me immediately thinks it has to do with money. More playoff games means more games on television, which means more revenue through broadcasting rights and advertising, correct?

Regardless of the economics, I see no reason to expand the playoff field. As it stands right now, six of 16 teams in each conference earn their way into the postseason. Do we really want or need to see it get to a point where potentially half of each conference gets in?

Also, unlike the BCS or the NCAA Tournament or even major league baseball, which recently expanded its own postseason field, do you ever really hear about that NFL team that got “snubbed” because they didn’t get into the playoffs? No because with the field set at 12 teams, everyone knows there aren’t any snubs, just 12 teams that earned the right to keep playing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

As far as the kickoff goes, I personally didn’t think the league needed to move it up from the 30- to the 35-yard line in the first place. Now apparently the powers that be are mulling eliminating the play altogether.

Look, I’m all for player safety, but last time I checked football was a contact sport. From what I can tell, moving the kickoff up five yards has already helped in this respect because the number of touchbacks has risen considerably. There still have been a decent number of returned kicks, though, and if anything, the difference of five yards has resulted in even more exciting returns, along the lines of those that cover more than 100 yards.

In my mind, eliminating the kickoff would not only remove a fairly significant aspect of the game itself, it would serve as the latest, and arguably the loudest, signal that the league is headed towards the equivalent of two-hand touch football. Is that what we really want?

For Ndamukong Suh to finally get his act together
I can still vividly remember Suh almost single-handedly ruin Texas’ season when Nebraska nearly beat the Longhorns in the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game. Suh had seven tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks and was named MVP in that game, which Texas won 13-12 on a last-second field goal, otherwise the Longhorns wouldn’t have played in the BCS National Championship Game a little more than a month later.

No one was surprised that Detroit drafted Suh with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, and everyone was expecting big things out of the athletic defensive tackle who dominated as a senior at Nebraska. Suh got off to a great start in the NFL, earning AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, but since then he has gained far more attention for the plays he made that don’t show up in the box score.

The first notable one was the stomping of Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith’s head during the nationally televised Thanksgiving Day game in 2011, which resulted in a two-game suspension. That was preceded by several other instances of discipline, mainly fines, for on-field conduct, not to mention the numerous personal foul penalties he was flagged for.

Sadly, not to be outdone, Suh was in the Thanksgiving spotlight for the wrong reason again this season for what appeared to be an attempted kick to Houston quarterback Matt Schaub’s groin area while trying to bring him down. While that play didn’t result in any discipline from the league, Schaub and other Texan players made their feelings known about Suh’s questionable tactics.

It’s no surprise that Suh has been tagged the NFL’s dirtiest player in numerous forums, including surveys of his own peers, but it’s gotten to the point where even his own team and teammates are growing tired of his act. For one, the production hasn’t matched up with the other stuff related to his playing style, if you will, and then there’s the matter of his seemingly persistent off-the-field issues.

Since joining the NFL, Suh has been cited or involved in numerous driving-related incidents, including speeding and wrecking his car. While these may not seem serious, Suh’s pattern for getting into trouble, both on and off of the field, made enough of an impression on Commissioner Goodell to warrant a face-to-face meeting in November 2011.

There’s no denying Suh’s natural talent and ability, along with his other marketable skills. There’s a reason he has secured endorsement deals with the likes of Dick’s Sporting Goods, Nike and Subway. Besides being a freak of an athlete, Suh is educated (graduated with a degree in Construction Management from Nebraska), articulate and fairly personable. He’s also done his share of good deeds and charitable efforts in both the Detroit area and for his alma mater.

That’s why is there is absolutely no reason, Suh should have the reputation he has right now as one of the most despised players in the league. However, that’s where he’s at right now, a mere three years into his career, and it’s a label he has quite frankly earned. It’s not too late for him to change this perception, but time is running out. If he doesn’t figure things out soon, he unfortunately will add his name to the growing list of talented, potential-filled college players who were high draft picks and then turn out to be nothing but disappointments once they get to the NFL.

A second chance for Andy Reid
It’s highly likely that Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles will be severing their long-term working relationship. In fact, the end could come as soon as this week, if not today, after the Eagles stumbled their way to a 4-12 record this season. Should that happen, I sincerely hope Reid gets another chance to be head coach in the NFL, provided he wants it.

Despite how this season went, Reid will leave the Eagles as the franchise’s all-time winningest coach with a career 130-93-1 (.583) record. He is tied for 22nd in wins on the all-time list and he also posted a winning record in postseason (10-9) play. In his 14 years as the Eagles’ head coach, Reid had only three losing seasons (1999, 2005 and ’12), won seven division titles, went to the playoffs nine times and led his team to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIX.

While he may not have been able to bring a world championship back to the City of Brotherly Love, he did produce a consistent winner in a city that’s not easy to win in, and it’s even tougher when you lose. Love him or loathe him, you have to give Reid the credit he deserves for what he accomplished during his tenure as the Eagles’ head coach.

Besides everything he had to put up with the on the field, Reid has had to deal with this share of trouble and pain off of it as well. In 2007, it was the added attention paid to the legal troubles of his oldest sons, Garrett and Britt, because of his position as an NFL head coach. Sadly, his two worlds collided again more recently when on Aug. 5, Garrett died during Eagles training camp at Lehigh University from an accidental heroin overdose. There’s no question this has been Reid’s most difficult season yet, and it has nothing to do with what’s taken place on the football field.

The list of NFL head coaches who have gotten a second shot somewhere else is ridiculously long. Look no further than this: of the 32 head coaches this season, 10 of them are on at least their second team. Whether he takes a year or two off or decides to jump right back in, I certainly hope some team decides to add Reid to this list. If anyone deserves a second chance, it’s him.

A quarterback for Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald, the No. 3 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2004 NFL Draft has been an All-Pro and made six trips to the Pro Bowl. From his rookie season until 2011, Fitzgerald posted the following per-season averages: 87 receptions, 1,201 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

This season, however, those numbers plummeted to 69 catches for 785 yards and just four touchdowns. Not surprisingly, Arizona finished with a 5-11 record in a season that saw the team use four different quarterbacks. Injuries played a big part in the revolving door at the position, but the Cardinals’ disappointing season was largely due to the overall lack of production and consistency the team got from its quarterbacks.

Collectively, Arizona’s four quarterbacks this season – Kerry Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer – combined to complete less than 56 percent of their passes for 3,158 yards, 10 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Pass protection (league-worst 56 sacks allowed) was certainly an issue, but the Cardinals’ aerial attack, even with Fitzgerald on the field for all 16 games, was pathetic to put it mildly.

Fitzgerald’s best seasons came when Kurt Warner was pulling the trigger, a combination that helped the Cardinals earn a trip to Super Bowl XLIII, the franchise’s first-ever. Since Warner retired following the 2009 season, Fitzgerald’s numbers have declined in each of the following seasons, as the Cardinals have struggled to identify their next franchise quarterback.

Kolb was supposed to be that guy when the Cardinals acquired him from the Philadelphia Eagles in a trade prior to the start of the 2011 season and then signed him to a lucrative contract extension. Things have not worked out so far, however, as Kolb is just 6-8 as the starter in his two seasons out in the desert and has missed more games (17) than he’s played in (15) because of different injuries.

What Arizona decides to do at quarterback is the most critical decision facing the team this offseason. Even if they decide to take a quarterback in April’s draft (highly likely), this year’s crop of college signal callers is nowhere near the caliber of last year’s draft that saw Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III go first and second overall, and also featured Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden picked in the first round and Russell Wilson taken in the third. All five are starting for their respective teams and, to some degree or another, have shown signs that they either are the long-term solution for their team or could develop into that in time.

Depending on how Arizona feels about the likes of a Matt Barkley or Geno Smith, chances are an immediate solution is not available in this year’s draft, meaning the coaching staff and front office will have to decide whether they stick with Kolb for another season or look elsewhere for a new option. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that this decision impacts the coaching staff as much as it does the players. Another season like they had in 2011, and head coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff are probably looking for employment elsewhere.

Fitzgerald, however, is going nowhere as he is the indisputable face of the Arizona franchise and by far its most popular player. Besides being one of the most talented wide receivers to ever play in the NFL, he’s also one of the real good guys in the league, a true role model that you want your child, aspiring football player or not, to look up to.

Fitzgerald won’t even turn 30 until right before the beginning of the 2013 regular season. He should be enjoying the prime of his career and everyone should be able to enjoy watching him do his thing on the field. But neither will happen unless Arizona can find a quarterback that can get the ball to him on a consistent basis.

Fitzgerald will never throw his team or his teammates under the bus or pull a Keyshawn Johnson and go public with his discontent, but for the sake of NFL fans everywhere, let me be the one to ask the Arizona Cardinals this: Can you please find someone who can throw him the darn ball?

More understanding and cooperation on concussions
My stance on leaving the kickoff alone (see above) aside, I am fully on board with the league’s desire to improve and focus on player safety. There’s no disputing that a concussion is the injury in the spotlight right now. All you need to do is read a team’s injury report to see how this issue has impacted every single team this year.

The list of players who have missed time this season because of a concussion reads like a Pro Bowl roster – Jay Cutler, Fred Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Michael Vick, among many others – and there’s also the matter of the numerous lawsuits that have been filed by both the players association and former players against the NFL.

The concussion problem isn’t going away, on the field or in the courts, anytime soon, but the only way any progress will be made on attempting to solve it is if all involved parties work together. The NFL is investing a lot of money and resources into the medical study of concussions, their occurrence, and effects, both short- and long-term, while simultaneously addressing the ongoing litigation.

The NFL will have its day in court, and I fully expect them to end up paying substantial amounts of money in the form of settlements and/or damages. That said, at some point the finger-pointing needs to stop and the cooperation needs to start if all sides – the NFL, the current players, the players association, the retired players, the medical community, etc. – truly want to do something about this obvious problem.

As an example of what I mean by cooperation, the players themselves need to stop trying to hide a concussion just so they can stay on the field. No one’s denying that football isn’t a violent sport, but it’s past time to drop the so-called gladiator mentality. Just look at where that mindset has left those who came before this current generation of players.

Less off-the-field tragedies
In reality, one incident alone is far too many, but this season the NFL has gone through two tragic, life-changing events in which players were responsible for the death of someone else. NFL players are human beings just like everyone else, and humans make mistakes. However, both of these tragedies were preventable and the result of extremely poor judgment, and I don’t think anyone can argue with me for wishing that we as a society won’t have to endure in 2013 what the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys have had to this season, and especially the families of Jerry Brown and Kasandra Perkins, as well as those of Jovan Belcher and Josh Brent.

Another competitive Super Bowl
Super Bowl Sunday is, for all intents and purposes, as close as you can get to a national holiday without being an official holiday. Typically the most-watched event of the year, no other game draws as many eyes and as much attention and prestige as the matchup between the AFC and NFC champions. Why do companies pony up exorbitant amounts of money for 30-second commercial spots during the Super Bowl? Because they know everyone will be watching this game, whether they are die-hard football fans or not.

To that point, the past two Super Bowls have broken the record for the most-watched television program in American history. Last year’s game between the New England Patriots and New York Giants was watched by an estimated average audience of 111.3 million US viewers and an estimated total audience of 166.8 million, according to Nielsen.

So why has the Super Bowl set viewing records two years in a row? I strongly believe it’s because the game was competitive and exciting. Two years ago, the Green Bay Packers held off a furious fourth-quarter comeback by the Pittsburgh Steelers to win Super Bowl XLV 31-25. Last year, it was the Giants coming from eight points down in the third quarter to score 12 unanswered and hold off the Patriots, 21-17.

Over the past five Super Bowls, the average margin of victory has been just 6.2 points and that’s largely because of one game, Super Bowl XLIV in 2010. In that game, the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17. In the other four, the margin of victory was six points or fewer. And don’t forget that even the 2010 title game was a close game, as the Saints had just a seven-point lead with less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter. It was a Terry Porter interception of a Peyton Manning pass with 3:12 remaining that resulted in the final score of the game and produced the 14-point margin.

The bottom line is this, the past five Super Bowls have been intriguing and exciting games whose outcomes were in doubt until some point in the fourth quarter. Each of these games provided fitting conclusions to that season and I can only hope for another instant classic on Feb. 3 in New Orleans. Everyone will be tuned it, so it may as well be a game worth watching, right?

Teaser:
<p> New Year's Resolutions for the NFL in 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:10
Path: /nfl/top-10-internet-memes-sports-2012
Body:

This year, countless Internet memes went viral. But the world of sports saw some of the best. Here is a rundown of the top 10 best Internet memes in sports in 2012.


1. McKayla Is Not Impressed
Arguably the No. 1 meme of 2012, regardless of genre. "McKayla Is Not Impressed" was the gold medal meme of the London Olympics, after McKayla Maroney was disappointed with her silver medal in the individual vault — after already taking home gold with Team USA's "Fierce Five."


2. Smokin’ Jay Cutler
Chicago Bears gunslinger Jay Cutler's bad body language and disgusted looks of frustration have been great for the internet. Look out, Marlboro Man and Joe Camel, "Smokin' Jay Cutler" has become the new face of big tobacco.


3. Eli Manning Looking At Things
New York Giants two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Eli Manning is known for his laid back attitude. No matter how big the stage or how bright the lights, Peyton's little bro keeps his cool. "Eli Manning Looking At Things" shows just how slow his pulse can be sometimes.


4. Mo Farah Running Away From Things
The gold medalist in the 5,000- and 10,000-meters at the London Olympics, the Somali-born British track star is a veteran of distancing himself from the pack. So, "Mo Farah Running Away From Things" was a natural fit, just ask Pamela Anderson and the cast of Baywatch.


5. Manny Pacquiao KO’d
Pacman lost to Mexico's Juan Manuel Marquez by sixth-round KO in early December, costing the Filipino prize fighter the fifth loss of his amazing career. It also prompted internet shadow boxers to speed-bag a few memes of Manny hitting the mat.



6. Good Job, Good Effort
After a Miami Heat loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, nine-year-old superfan Jack Meyer took it upon himself to cheer up LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Co. by rapid-firing "Good job, good effort!" as the team went to the locker room. Miami rallied from the 3-2 deficit to beat Boston and ultimately win the NBA championship, but by then the "Good job, good effort" kid was already internet famous.


7. Queen Elizabeth at Olympic Opening Ceremonies
Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, was in the stands at the London Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Of course she was. And, of course, people quickly started taking screen shots and mocking her royal highness. God meme the queen.


8. Derrick Rose's ACL Injury
When Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose heard his ACL pop in the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers, the entire city of Chicago, along with Bulls fans from coast-to-coast felt like Simba did when his father Mufasa died in Disney's The Lion King.


9. Fat Derek Jeter
One of the prices paid by Derek Jeter is constantly having his picture taken — whether he has his arm around the waist of a supermodel, actress or pop star, or is carrying a few extra pounds around his waist while strolling in a walking boot poolside in South Beach a month after ankle surgery.


10. Anthony Davis’ Unibrow
It doesn't take much web surfing to find out that Kentucky phenom Anthony Davis was named National Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Final Four MOP, leading John Calipari to his first-ever national championship before being the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft — and he also has a unibrow.
 

Teaser:
<p> Top 10 Internet Memes in Sports in 2012, including McKayla is not impressed, Smokin' Jay Cutler, Eli Manning looking at things, Mo Farah running away from things, Manny Pacquiao knocked out, Queen Elizabeth at the London Olympic Opening Ceremonies, the "Good Job, Good Effort" kid, fat Derek Jeter and Anthony Davis' unibrow.</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:05
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-new-years-resolutions-2013
Body:

The end of every year is always a good time for reflection and examining what improvements could be made for the following 12 months. And that’s the case with college football, especially as the sport gets ready to close the books on a crazy 2012 season and move on to 2013 with another interesting race for the national title ready to unfold. There are still plenty of big events coming to college football in the next few days, including the anticipated Notre Dame-Alabama BCS championship game on Jan. 7. With the 2012 season nearly over, it’s time to start thinking about how college football could be better in 2013. With that in mind, here are six resolutions for fans to consider for next season:

Six College Football New Year's Resolutions for 2013

A quiet year for realignment
Nebraska to the Big Ten. Texas A&M to the SEC. Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC. Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten. Will the realignment carousel ever stop? Unfortunately for college football fans, realignment will probably continue into 2013, 2014 and 2015. With the uncertainty surrounding the Big East, along with rumors about the Big Ten wanting to poach a few more teams from the ACC, it’s likely there will be a few more programs changing addresses in 2013. However, all fans should hope for less realignment and more news devoted to the on-field product in 2013. Speaking of realignment and affecting games…

Resuming defunct rivalries
Although conference realignment will create new rivalries, some historical matchups like Texas-Texas A&M, Pittsburgh-West Virginia and Kansas-Missouri should be played every year. Although schools don’t want to overload their non-conference schedules, there’s really no excuse for Texas to be unwilling to schedule Texas A&M because it changed conferences. Programs that won't schedule a rivalry game are only hurting their fans and pocketbook, especially as they will likely fill the void on the schedule with an easy non-conference win. Let’s hope 2013 brings some changes at those schools, which gets the defunct rivalries back on the schedule for 2014 and beyond.

An increased emphasis on non-conference scheduling
With a four-team playoff coming in 2014, some schools are ramping up their future non-conference schedules to become more attractive for the selection committee. Can some of that scheduling happen for 2013? It’s understandable why most of the SEC was playing FCS or non-BCS opponents the week before playing their rival. However, it’s also embarrassing for a conference to have no marquee matchup for an entire week. LSU-TCU, Georgia-Clemson, Virginia Tech-Alabama and Notre Dame-Oklahoma are some of the more enticing non-conference matchups for 2013, but college football needs more marquee non-conference games - and less of Alabama-Western Carolina, Auburn-Alabama A&M and Oklahoma State-Savannah State.

A defensive player to get more consideration for the Heisman
Considering college football has become a very offense-heavy sport, it’s no surprise quarterbacks and running backs get the most attention in Heisman races. While high-scoring games and spread offenses are the talk of college football, let’s see defensive players get more attention for the Heisman. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o finished second to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel in 2012, and South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney has already been tabbed one of the frontrunners for 2013. Although defensive players may not have the highlight reel plays or big stats like quarterbacks, their impact is just as crucial to the outcome of any game or success of their team.

Less complaining about the BCS
Frankly, the constant whining and complaining about the BCS is nauseating. And it’s even worse when fans complain about where their team ranks on Oct. 10. With the playoff coming in 2014, college football fans (at least most of them) got what they wanted. Instead of spending the next year complaining about the system and rankings until it matters in late November, let’s try to enjoy the on-field action more in the 2013 season, while engaging in more healthy debates like the Heisman, non-conference scheduling for the future and how to fix off-the-field scandals. And please, no debates about expanding the playoff to eight teams. 

No more off-the-field scandals
For the past couple of years, it seems college football has had one ongoing scandal after another. Whether it is Miami, North Carolina, Oregon or Penn State, the off-the-field news is getting ridiculous. How about a year where there are no NCAA investigations or letters of inquiry sent to schools? Miami and Oregon could be hearing from the NCAA this spring, but college football fans should hope no new scandals will break in 2013. 


Related College Football Content

A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2013
College Football's Coordinator Carousel for 2012-13

Top 10 Freshmen in College Football History

Teaser:
<p> College Football's New Year's Resolutions for 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:05
Path: /college-football/college-football-betting-against-spread-2012-bowl-games
Body:

For entertainment purposes only, Athlon brings you the top college football picks against the spread. It does not condone, approve or encourage gambling on sports in any way. But if you are a fan of football — college or pro — and you don't think gambling has played a huge role in the growth and popularity of the sport, then you are simply being ignorant. And behind closed doors, the powers that be understand the impact betting has had on the game of football. So just for fun, here are some of the more intriguing lines of the 2012 bowl season.

2012 Record Against The Spread: 54-34

Note: All lines are as of date of publication

Louisville (+13.5) at Florida (Sugar Bowl) Jan. 2
Charlie Strong's personal goals against his former team can only carry this team so far before this showcase becomes an 11-1 SEC team and one that lost to UConn. As many as half of a dozen Gators could be auditioning for the pro scouts as well. The talent differential between these two is nearly as great as the Orange Bowl. Will Muschamp knows a great showing in this game springboards his offense into a critical offseason. Prediction: Florida -13.5

Alabama (-10) at Notre Dame (BCS National Championship) Jan. 7
The last three BCS National Championship games that featured point-spreads of at least seven were outright upsets. Ohio State defeated Miami as a 12.5-point underdog in 2002, Texas beat USC as a 7-point dog and Florida upset Ohio State after the Buckeyes opened as a 9.5-point favorite. I am not calling for the outright win, but Notre Dame matches-up perfectly with Alabama and has all the talent to play the Tide tight. Look for a close, low-scoring game in which AJ McCarron and Amari Cooper will have to make one big play late in the fourth to win. Prediction: Notre Dame +10

Wisconsin (+6.5) at Stanford (Rose Bowl) Jan. 1
These two teams are carbon copies of each other a few small yet significant differences. Both teams run the ball effectively with powerful offensive lines and a heavy dose of the tight end position. And both teams play solid defense against the run and force inefficient play from the quarterback. That said, the Cardinal have a huge advantage at the quarterback position (Kevin Hogan over Curt Phillips) and in the front seven. While the Badgers are fundamentally sound and have solid toughness, it has little star power and big-play potential. The Cardinal could have upwards of four or five NFL players near the line of scrimmage and it leads the nation in big plays (sacks and TFLs per game). Prediction: Stanford -6.5

Mississippi State (-2) at Northwestern (Gator Bowl) Jan. 1
Pat Fitzgerald has his best rushing attack of his seven-year tenure in Evanston. Kain Colter and Venric Mark were virtually unstoppable this season at churning out yards. He has led his alma mater to unprecedented levels of success, reaching the postseason for the fifth time — but has yet to break through with a win. Look for the Bulldogs defense that allowed 203.6 yards rushing per game over its final five. Prediction: Northwestern +2

NC State (+7) at Vanderbilt (Music City Bowl) Dec. 31
Bowl games are virtually impossible to gauge in terms of motivation and focus. But this moment seems bigger than just one game for James Franklin and the Vanderbilt Commodores. And everyone in Nashville knows it. This game in this town in Year 2 of an exciting new program on West End will be too much for a team going through a regime change and a quarterback looking to impress NFL scouts. Take the Dores to get a monumental win for its program in its home town. Prediction: Vanderbilt -7

Teaser:
<p> College Football Betting Against the Spread: 2012 Bowl Games</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:05
Path: /college-football/heart-dallas-bowl-preview-and-prediction-oklahoma-state-vs-purdue
Body:

Purdue won three straight Big Ten games to get bowl eligible for the second season in row. Despite accomplishing at least six wins in back-to-back years for the first time since 2006-2007, the Boilermakers sent their head coach, Danny Hope, packing in favor of former Kent State head man Darrell Hazell. Former wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins will act as the interim leader for the bowl trip.

While the Boilermakers are in a state of transition, Oklahoma State is extremely stable on the sidelines. Despite five losses this year, Mike Gundy has the Cowboys achieving at unprecedented levels. The Pokes are heading to their program record seventh straight bowl game (4-2) and haven’t missed the postseason since Gundy’s first season in Stillwater.

The only meeting in the history of two programs took place in the 1997 Alamo Bowl. Joe Tiller’s Purdue squad handled Bob Simmons’ Oklahoma State team 33-20 in San Antonio behind 325 yards passing from quarterback Billy Dicken.

Heart of Dallas Bowl: Oklahoma State (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)

Date and Time: Jan. 1, at Noon ET
Network: ESPNU
Location: Cotton Bowl (Dallas, Texas)           

When the Oklahoma State Cowboys have the ball

Despite losing superstars at quarterback and wide receiver, the 2012 Cowboys featured their typical high-powered offense. Whether J.W. Walsh, Wes Lunt or Clint Chelf is under center, the Pokes are going to move the ball. At 44.7 points per game, Oklahoma State paced the offensive-minded Big 12 again this year. In fact, Gundy had three different players throw for at least 1,000 yards with Chelf getting the majority of the snaps in the final five games. 

Tailback Joseph Randle (1,351 yards, 14 TD) is the go-to talent on offense this year and will likely get his two-dozen touches (23.8) in this game. Josh Stewart is the top target in the passing game, catching nearly 100 passes for 1,154 yards and seven scores. The Boilermakers struggled to get stops all season, finishing 11th in the Big Ten in total defense and 10th in rushing defense, so look for Gundy to put the pedal down early and often.

When the Purdue Boilermakers have the ball

The revolving door at quarterback for Oklahoma State is nothing like what Purdue has dealt with the last few seasons. Caleb TerBush was lost for the year with three games to play and Robert Marve, who missed all of 2010 as well as three games early in both 2011 and 2012, took over the reins of the offense. He struggled in wins over Iowa and Illinois but had arguably the best game of his career in the season finale, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns.

Oklahoma State didn’t finish the year on a high note defensively, as it allowed 92 points in losses to Oklahoma and Baylor. But the Cowboys entered the final two weeks ranked fifth in the Big 12 in total defense at 388.2 yards per game and fifth in scoring defense at 26.1 points per game — which is more than acceptable with their offense. So the final numbers got skewed by two of the better offenses in the nation.

That said, this team led the nation in turnovers forced a year ago (44) but is 90th this year with just 17 takeaways. Against a revolving door at quarterback, Gundy has to view this bowl game as an opportunity for his sagging defense to make plays.

Final Analysis

Six different quarterbacks have played for these two programs this season. But one team has three quality options while the other may have none. One program has arguably the most successful coach in school history and a scheme that appears infallible on offense. Purdue has an interim head coach who handled the wide receivers this year. The Boilermakers will find it tough to keep pace with Gundy’s high-flying offense. Which is likely why the 16-point spread is one of the largest of the bowl season.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 42, Purdue 20
 

Related College Football Content

A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2013
Outback Bowl Preview and Prediction: South Carolina vs. Michigan

Capital One Bowl Preview and Prediction: Nebraska vs. Georgia

Rose Bowl Preview and Prediction: Stanford vs. Wisconsin

Orange Bowl Preview and Prediction: Florida State vs. Northern Illinois

Teaser:
<p> Heart of Dallas Bowl Preview and Prediction: Oklahoma State vs. Purdue</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:01
Path: /college-football/top-10-worst-bcs-bowl-performances
Body:

With the 15th season of BCS bowl action just about ready to kickoff, Athlon reviewed the tapes of the four (now five) biggest bowl games in college football. Since 1998, teams have been fighting to land a spot in the BCS and here are those teams whose performances didn’t live up to the spotlight and prestige attached to the bowl they played in.

Related: The Greatest BCS Offenses of the BCS Era
Related: The Greatest Non-BCS Offenses of the BCS Era

Here are the 10 Worst BCS Bowl Performances (year is the date of the game):

Also receiving votes: Hawaii Warriors, 2008 Sugar Bowl (lost to Georgia 41-10); Illinois Fighting Illini, 2008 Rose Bowl (lost to USC 49-17); Cincinnati Bearcats, 2010 Sugar Bowl; Connecticut Huskies, 2011 Fiesta Bowl (lost to Oklahoma 48-20)

10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 2007 Sugar Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 10-2, No. 11 in AP, Coaches Polls and BCS standings
BCS Bowl result: Lost 41-14 to No. 4 LSU
Notre Dame was around an eight-point underdog headed into this game, but after LSU had jumped out to a 14-0 lead, the Fighting Irish were able to pull even late in the second quarter and at that point it looked like this game would be a close-knit affair.

That wouldn’t be the case, however, as the Tigers scored the final 27 points and the Brady Quinn-led Notre Dame offense managed just one first down and less than 30 yards of offense in the second half of the 41-14 loss. LSU overwhelmed the Irish defense to the tune of 577 total yards, including 245 on the ground alone. Notre Dame finished with less than 300 yards of offense and posted a second-straight disappointing bowl loss under Charlie Weis.

9. Pittsburgh Panthers, 2005 Fiesta Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 8-3, No. 19 in AP Poll, No. 20 in Coaches Poll and No. 21 in BCS standings, Big East Champion
BCS Bowl result: Lost 35-7 to No. 6 Utah
Utah was undefeated, the champion from the Mountain West Conference and a team that had put together an impressive regular season. The Utes earned the right and privilege of becoming the first team from a non-BCS conference in a BCS bowl. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, was a team that “earned” a BCS bid by virtue of a tiebreaker between four two-loss teams within the Big East. You get the picture.

Utah then went out and made it clear which team deserved to be in a BCS bowl and which didn’t by thumping Pittsburgh 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl. The Utes were a 16-point favorite headed into the game and looked every bit of the part, scoring 28 points before the Panthers made it into the end zone. Utah put up 467 yards of offense on Pittsburgh, while the Panthers had just 17 yards rushing and 268 yards of total offense. You can argue all you want if you think the Utes should have gotten more consideration for at least a shot at the national title, but one thing’s clear – they definitely deserved a better opponent than Pittsburgh.

8. Virginia Tech Hokies, 2011 Orange Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 11-2, No. 12 in AP Poll, No. 11 in Coaches Poll, No. 13 in BCS, ACC Champion
BCS Bowl result: Lost 40-12 to No. 4 Stanford
If this list was based on worst halves in a BCS bowl, then Virginia Tech may have been at the top. The Hokies trailed Stanford by just one point, 13-12, at halftime of the 2011 Orange Bowl. Considering that the Cardinal were a three-point favorite headed into this game, indications were that this would be a close game throughout. And then the second half started.

Stanford would score four touchdowns while Virginia Tech would enter the red zone just once in the final two quarters as the Cardinal would post a convincing 40-12 win. Led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck’s four touchdown passes, Stanford would pile up 534 yards of total offense on the Hokies, while Virginia Tech, who came into this game with no fewer than 106 rushing yards in any game, could only manage 66 yards on the ground. This was the second-worst loss in 18 bowl games for the Hokies under Frank Beamer.

7. Maryland Terrapins, 2002 Orange Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 10-1, No. 6 in AP and Coaches Polls, No. 10 in BCS standings, ACC Champion
BCS Bowl result: Lost 56-23 to No. 5 Florida
Maryland, under first-year head coach Ralph Friedgen, was looking for the storybook ending to its 2001 season. Having already posted the most wins in a season since 1976, winning the ACC and earning their first trip to the Orange Bowl since 1956, the Terrapins were looking to cap it all off with a win over the Florida Gators, one of college football’s premiere programs. The Terps’ hopes for a happy ending ended up turning into a nightmare.

In the first half alone, Maryland surrendered 28 points and 360 yards to Florida and just weren’t able to keep up with the stronger and faster Gators. To make matters worse, Florida played most of the first half with a backup quarterback as Brock Berlin took Heisman runner-up Rex Grossman’s place in the starting line up after Grossman was benched for missing curfew. Berlin threw for one touchdown, but also tossed two interceptions helping keep Maryland in the game, trailing just 14-10. Grossman replaced Berlin with 6:03 remaining the second quarter and promptly led the Gators to six straight touchdowns, including 35 unanswered points. As a team that Gators piled up an Orange Bowl-record 659 yards of total offense. Up until that point, the most Maryland had surrendered in any game was 497.

6. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2002 Rose Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 11-1, No. 4 in AP and Coaches Polls, No. 2 in BCS standings
BCS Bowl result: Lost 37-14 to No. 1 Miami (Fla.)
Nebraska, even though it was coming off of a 62-36 thrashing by Colorado which meant the Cornhuskers didn't even play in the Big 12 Championship, finished No. 2 in the BCS standings thanks in large part to its strength of schedule component of the calculations. As a result, a one-loss, non-conference-championship-winning Nebraska team was given the opportunity to play No. 1 and undefeated Miami (Fla.) in the Rose Bowl for a chance at another national title.

The Hurricanes quickly erased any and all thoughts regarding that, however, as they jumped out to a 34-0 halftime lead and coasted to a convincing 37-14 victory. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Eric Crouch had one of the worst games of his career as the Miami defense held him to just 176 total yards.

As a team, the Cornhuskers only managed 259 yards of offense, nearly 200 less than they were averaging as a team prior to this game. On top of that, Hurricanes quarterback Ken Dorsey, who had finished third in the Heisman voting, threw for 362 yards and three touchdowns versus the vaunted Nebraska Blackshirts defense.

5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 2001 Fiesta Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 9-2, No. 10 in AP Poll, No. 11 in BCS standings
BCS Bowl result: Lost 41-9 to No. 5 Oregon State
The Irish were anything but Fighting as Oregon State thoroughly outplayed Notre Dame in the 41-9 Fiesta Bowl debacle. At that time, this represented the sixth-worst loss for Notre Dame since 1946 and its worst bowl loss since a 40-6 defeat to Nebraska in the 1973 Orange Bowl.

Had it not been for Oregon State’s 18 penalties for 174 yards, it might have been much worse as the Irish didn’t score a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter against the Beaver reserves. Notre Dame came into this game averaging nearly 350 yards per game on offense, including more than 200 on the ground, but could only muster a total of 155 against Oregon State, including a meager 17 yards on the ground.

4. LSU Tigers, 2012 BCS National Championship Game
Record headed into BCS bowl: 13-0, No. 1 in BCS standings, SEC Champion
BCS Bowl result: Lost 21-0 to No. 2 Alabama
LSU had already beaten Alabama once, a 9-6 overtime win in Tuscaloosa, Ala., during the regular season. That lone win was why the Tigers played in the SEC title game, which they won convincingly over Georgia 42-10, and not the Crimson Tide, who still ended up in the coveted No. 2 slot in the BCS standings. This set the stage for what many expected to be a classic national championship tilt, as Alabama entered the game, which took place in New Orleans, LSU's home turf,  a slim 1.5-point favorite.

Unfortunately, the encore to the so-called "Game of the Century" turned out to be a laugher, as Alabama dominated the proceedings in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome from the coin toss (which the Crimson Tide won, electing to receive the ball in the second half) and thoroughly outplayed LSU on both sides of the ball. Even though the Crimson Tide offense only managed three field goals in the first half, it was by far more productive than LSU's, which gained one first down and never crossed the 50-yard line in the first two quarters.

The second half didn't go much better for LSU, as the Tigers ended the game with five total first downs and crossed midfield once. Alabama kicked two more field goals in the third quarter and running back Trent Richardson scored the only touchdown of the game, a 34-yard run, in the fourth quarter (the PAT was missed) to make the final score 21-0. The Crimson Tide dominated the Tigers throughout the box score, posting the first shutout in BCS history and the first in a national championship game since 1992 (Orange Bowl, Miami 22, Nebraska 0). Not surprisingly, this matchup, which turned out to be must-not-see television, produced the third-lowest lowest TV rating in the 14-year history of the BCS.

3. Oklahoma Sooners, 2005 Orange Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 12-0, No. 2 in BCS standings, Big 12 Champion
BCS Bowl result: Lost 55-19 to No. 1 USC
Oklahoma rolled through the regular season pretty much unchallenged and was coming off of a 42-3 dismantling of Colorado in the Big 12 title game. All that remained was the much-anticipated match up with undefeated USC for the national title in the Orange Bowl.

Unfortunately, the No. 1 vs. No. 2 billing didn’t live up to the hype as the Trojans jumped out to a 38-10 halftime lead and added to it in the second half, cruising to a 55-19 win. Matt Leinart shredded the Sooners’ defense to the tune of 332 yards and five touchdowns, putting up the second-most impressive BCS National Championship performance in the process.

The Sooners couldn’t even get out of their own way as they turned the ball over five times, including three interceptions thrown by 2003 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White. This was the second straight loss by Oklahoma in the national championship game and the Sooners also would go on to lose in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game to Florida. Of the three losses, however, nothing compares to how poorly Oklahoma played against USC, as this 36-point loss represents the largest margin of defeat in BCS history to date. It’s probably little to no consolation to Sooner fans that USC ended up vacating this win in June 2010 as part of its punishment for committing numerous NCAA violations.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 Sugar Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 12-1, No. 4 in BCS standings
BCS Bowl result: Lost 31-17 to No. 6 Utah
Maybe Alabama was still smarting over its 31-20 loss to Florida in the SEC title game less than a month ago, a first loss that cost the Crimson Tide a shot at the national title. Or perhaps they just didn’t take the undefeated Mountain West Conference champion Utah Utes seriously, as the Crimson Tide was a 10-point favorite headed into their match up. But one thing’s for sure, Utah clearly showed who the better team was in New Orleans on Jan. 2, 2009.

Utah jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and then withstood an Alabama comeback to earn a 31-17 victory and cap off a perfect 13-0 season. Alabama was on its heels from the start and could never quite recover, as the Crimson Tide allowed 336 yards passing, had just 31 yards rushing on offense, and turned the ball over three times. Alabama would rebound from this loss and go on to capture the national title the following season, but that doesn’t erase how the Tide ended their 2008 season.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2007 BCS National Championship Game
Record headed into BCS bowl: 12-0, No. 1 in BCS standings, Big Ten Champion
BCS Bowl result: Lost 41-14 to No. 2 Florida
Going into the 2007 BCS National Championship Game everything seemed to be in No. 1 Ohio State’s favor. Not only were the mighty Buckeyes a touchdown-favorite, many of the so-called experts weren’t even sure the second-ranked Florida Gators could stay that close. After all this Ohio State team had Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith at quarterback and boasted one of the top defenses in the country.

When they finally kicked things off in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 8, 2007, Ohio State wasted no time in showing why it was the No. 1 team in the nation, as Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kick off 93 yards for the score. After that, however, it was all Florida as the Gators scored the next 21 points and in total out-scored Ohio State 41-7 following Ginn’s fireworks. The Gator defense dominated the line of scrimmage and, led by Derrick Harvey’s dominating performance (No. 12 among Greatest BCS National Championship Performances), held the Buckeyes to just 82 yards of offense. Smith fared even worse as he was just 4-of-14 for 35 yards passing with an interception, had minus-29 yards rushing and was sacked five times. The Gators’ offense gashed the vaunted Buckeyes defense for 370 total yards, didn’t turn the ball over once and had possession of the football for more than 40 minutes.

For Ohio State, this would be the first of consecutive losses as the No. 1 team in the BCS National Championship Game, while Florida would return to the title game two years later and beat another No. 1 to win its second national title in three seasons.

Athlon Sports Ranks the Best Teams in Every BCS League:

The Top 10 Big East Teams of the BCS Era

The Top 10 ACC Teams of the BCS Era

The Top 10 Big Ten Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 Pac-12 Teams of the BSC Era
The Top 10 Big 12 Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 SEC Teams of the BCS Era

Athlon Sports Ranks the Top Performances from each BCS Bowl:

Top 15 BCS National Championship Performances
Top 5 Rose Bowl Performances
Top 5 Orange Bowl Performances
Top 5 Sugar Bowl Performances
Top 5 Fiesta Bowl Performances

Other BCS-related content:

The BCS' Greatest Offenses
The Greatest Non-BCS Offenses

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports ranks the teams who didn't do too well in the BCS spotlight</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:00
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With 347 Division I teams, following college basketball can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college hoops week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriguing, most important and most interesting stats from around the sport:

47.8: Kentucky's free throw percentage against Louisville
The Wildcats used a furious 28-14 run late in the second half to cut a Louisville lead to 65-62 in the waning moments of the Bluegrass showdown. But Russ Smith (21 points, 7 rebounds), Chane Behanan (20 pts, 7 rebs) and the Cardinals held on for a intrastate win over rival Kentucky. A big reason John Calapari's team couldn't pull off the win was its performance from the free throw line: The Cats went 11-of-23 (47.8 percent) from the  line and it likely cost Big Blue Nation the win. Louisville wasn't tremendous from the line either — 17-of-25 for 68 percent — but was good enough to get a bragging rights win over a ranked Kentucky team. Rick Pitino got a big piece of his national championship puzzle back as well, as center Gorgui Dieng returned from wrist surgery. He was 3-of-4 from the floor for six points to go with seven rebounds and a pair of blocks.

17: UNLV turnovers against North Carolina
Without second-leading scorer Reggie Bullock (13.1 ppg), who sat out after suffering a concussion in practice Thursday, the Tar Heels earned a signature non-conference win. And it came at just the right time as North Carolina enters ACC play against Virginia on Jan. 6. Roy Williams' team has played inefficient basketball of late, especially on the defensive end (see the second half of the East Carolina game). But against the ranked Rebels, the Tar Heels forced 17 turnovers and shot better than 50 percent from the floor to avoid their fourth loss in nine games. After poor showings against potential NCAA Tournament foes Indiana, Butler and Texas, Williams' squad will enter conference play with some much needed confidence — and its first signature win of the season.

42: Tyler Haws points scored against Virginia Tech
BYU entered the weekend with four losses, all against quality power conference teams (Florida State, Notre Dame, Iowa State and Baylor). BYU's final non-conference game against Virginia Tech gave the Cougars a chance at an NCAA resume-building win, and Haws, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, took full advantage of the situation. He scored a career-high 42 points on 14-of-25 shooting, including six of his eight 3-point attempts. Haws was also 8-of-9 from the free throw line and turned the ball over once. The 28-point rout of the Hokies (9-4) gives BYU (10-4) its best win of the season as it enters West Coast play. Hokies star Erick Green was held to 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting.

Plus-11: Turnover margin for UCLA over Missouri
Star point guard Phil Pressey set an SEC record with 19 assists in the Friday night overtime affair in Pauley Pavilion against UCLA. But in the final four minutes of regulation and overtime, Pressey was 0-of-3 from the floor and turned the ball over four times. After his 3-of-19 shooting performance in the win over Illinois last weekend, the Mizzou floor leader missed another 14 shots (8-of-22), this time in a loss. UCLA has struggled all season and coach Ben Howland desperately needed the win and it was likely the turnover margin that was the difference for his squad over the Tigers. Both teams scored 47 points in the first half and 41 in the second and both teams dished out 21 assists. Mizzou attempted 80 shots and committed 17 fouls while UCLA took 79 shots and committed 16 fouls. It was an evenly played game with one glaring exception: UCLA turned the ball over six times in 45 minutes while the Tigers gave the ball up 17 times, including Pressey's four giveaways in the final nine minutes.

20-20: Jerrelle Benimon became the first member of 20-20 club this season
Towson's 6-foot-8 junior became the first player this season to score at least 20 points and grab at least 20 rebounds in a single game. Benimon (20 points, 21 rebounds) was 8-of-16 from the floor and helped defeat Oregon State 67-66 in overtime in Corvallis. The Tigers, who were 1-31 last season, overcame a 19-point second-half deficit to give Oregon State coach Craig Robinson a crushing home defeat when junior Marcus Damas knocked down a game-winning 18-footer with eight-tenths of a second remaining on the clock. The Beavers are 27-45 in conference play overall and have lost at least 10 league games in each of Robinson's four seasons. At 9-3, another one of those Pac-12 season's would not only seal OSU's postseason fate but possibly the head coach's as well.

Teaser:
<p> 5 Amazing College Basketball Stats of the Week: Dec. 24-Dec. 31</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:00
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NFL football is the greatest reality TV program of all time. The Giants and Colts made sure of that back in 1958. Each NFL fall weekend is a completely new and original experience for every player, fan and coach alike. New stories, new personalities, new winners and new losers. And new statistics.

Here are the most important, most intriguing and most bizarre statistics from Week 17 of NFL play:

0-11: Texans record all-time in Indianapolis
The Colts welcomed back head coach Chuck Pagano in style with a physical 28-16 win over the Texans. Houston has now played 11 games in the Midwestern city and has lost every time. This one, however, might be the most costly, as the Texans dropped from the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home field advantage throughout the playoffs to the No. 3 seed and a first round rematch from last year with the Cincinnati Bengals. After starting the year 11-1, Houston enters the postseason having lost three of its last four games — all to playoff teams (New England, Minnesota, Indianapolis). Andrew Luck threw for 191 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers in the win. He finished his rookie NFL season with a rookie record 4,374 yards, 23 passing touchdowns, 255 yards rushing (second in the AFC by a QB) and five more touchdowns on the ground. Most importantly, the Colts went from 2-14 to 11-5 in one season and will now face the Ravens in the first round of the AFC playoffs. Baltimore has lost four of its last five games and Luck is only beginning his legacy in Indy. 

2,097: Adrian Peterson's No. 2 all-time rushing total
Adrian Peterson simply ran out of time. And that is okay by him and the rest of the Purple People Eaters in the Twin Cities. All-Day Peterson became just the seventh player to rush for 2,000 yards as he fell just nine yards shy of the all-time NFL record set nearly 30 years ago by Eric Dickerson (2,105). But his 199-yard performance carried the Vikings into the postseason in thrilling fashion. In the final seconds, A.D. showed why he is the best running back of this generation as he rumbled 27 yards on his career-high 34th carry of the game one year to the day after his reconstructive knee surgery to set-up the game winning and postseason clinching field goal. I don't care what took place in Green Bay, Denver or New England this season, Adrian Peterson is the Most Valuable Player in the NFL.

6: First- or second-year QBs in the playoffs this year
Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder and Colin Kaepernick are in their second seasons in the NFL and all three have led their team to the postseason. Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson — who finished with a franchise single-season QB rating record of 100.0 — are rookies and have led their teams to the postseason. A lot has been made of this rookie class as no postseason tournament has seen this many rookies, but the second-year guys need to be given just as much credit. Certainly, Ponder had All-Day running the ball for him and Kaepernick didn't even start until midway through the year, but this is already Dalton's second trip to the playoffs, and the 2011 QB class gets overlooked. The last two quarterback classes have been special — and Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Brandon Weeden, Nick Foles and Ryan Tannehill all look like starters next season as well. 

1,613: Alfred Morris franchise single-season rushing record
The Redskins will make the playoffs on the back of its stellar rookie quarterbacks — yes, Kirk Cousins gets plenty of credit for helping Griffin III get Washington back to the postseason. But the star of the NFC East clinching victory over Dallas was the sixth round rookie from FAU Alfred Morris. The first-year back rushed 33 times for 200 yards and three touchdowns to not only clinch a playoff spot but also pass Clinton Portis' single-season Redskins' rushing record. Morris' 1,613 yards rank third all-time by a rookie (Dickerson owns that one too: 1,808 yards in 1983) and he continues Mike Shanahan's legacy of finding workhorse backs late in the draft. He was the 12th running back taken in the 2012 NFL Draft and was the 173rd overall pick.

5: Teams to have made the playoffs after starting 3-6
Speaking of Shanahan, the Skins lost to Carolina at home in ugly fashion in Week 9. Washington was heading into the bye week and the head coach let his feelings fly in the post-game press conference, verbally eliminating his team from postseason play. Since Shanahan's rant, Washington hasn't lost a game and improbably won the NFC East title. Jacksonville (1996), Detroit (1995), New England (1994) and Cincinnati (1970) are the only other teams in NFL history to have started the season with six losses in their first nine games and then gone on to make the playoffs. Griffin III is a transcendent talent whose leadership and maturity is quickly growing into legendary proportions in the greater D.C. area. But this was a team effort all the way and Shanahan — a two-time Super Bowl Champion — deserves a lot of credit for pulling the right strings.

12: Straight combined wins for Seattle and Washington
Two of the three hottest teams in the league will meet in Washington D.C. next weekend when the Seahawks visit the Redskins. Both have coaches who have won multiple championships (in college or the NFL). Both have rookie starting quarterbacks and big, physical running backs. And both are riding winning streaks of at least five games. Seattle has the third longest active streak at five wins in a row after its victory over the pesky Rams. The Redskins have the second-longest active streak with seven straight wins. So something has to give next weekend. And who has the longest active winning streak in the league? That would belong to the AFC's top seeded Denver Broncos as they quietly won their 11th straight game on Sunday. 

727: Matthew Stafford NFL record for passing attempts in a season
In the modern era of the NFL, it's almost shocking that Matthew Stafford became the first player in NFL history to attempt at least 700 passes in a season. He flew past the previous record set by Drew Bledsoe in 1994 of 691 early in the season-ending loss to the Bears. Stafford also sits at No. 4 in the record books with his 663 attempts last season. The huge difference between last year and this for the Lions signal caller? Detroit lost its last eight games to finish 4-12 after what appeared to be a breakthrough 10-win postseason appearance last year. Calvin Johnson, the lone bright spot, finished with five catches for 72 yards to come up just shy of becoming the first player to post 2,000-yards receiving in a single year. He finished his record setting season with an league-leading 122 catches and all-time single-season record 1,964 yards.

4: Titans NFL record return touchdowns against the Jaguars
Neither the Titans of Jaguars fans have had much to cheer about this season. In a bizarre season finale, these two teams combined for eight total touchdowns, only three of which came on offense. Tennessee tied an NFL record with four return touchdowns as Zach Brown returned two interceptions for scores (79 yards, 30 yards) and Darius Reynaud returned two punts for touchdowns (69 yards, 81 yards). No team in the history of the NFL scored four straight touchdowns via the return as the Titans did and only the Seattle Seahawks in 1984 against Kansas City had scored four return touchdowns in a single game. To top it all off, the Jags also scored on a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. The Titans scored 38 points with just 221 yards of total offense.

Teaser:
<p> Amazing Stats from NFL Sunday: Week 17</p>
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Preseason No. 1 USC started the year chasing the school’s 12th national championship, to take care of what senior quarterback Matt Barkley called “unfinished business.” But following a two-year postseason ban, the Trojans are not playing for the BCS crystal in Miami — which, ironically, is the city where the man whose transgressions the Men of Troy paid for, Reggie Bush, is currently paid to play football.

Instead, USC is off to the West Texas border town of El Paso to face Georgia Tech, a program with a losing record in 2012 and in the midst of a seven-bowl losing streak. But with so much NFL talent on the field and a chip on their shoulder — not to mention a 0–2 record of their own in the Sun Bowl — the Trojans still have plenty to play for.

USC should want to go out with a bang not a whimper, to show the sarcastic skeptics exactly why the Trojans were once considered the top team in the land.

Sun Bowl — USC (7–5) vs. Georgia Tech (6–7)

Date and Time: Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. ET
Network: CBS
Location: El Paso, Texas

When the USC Trojans have the ball:

Barkley began the season as the Heisman Trophy favorite and projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. After throwing for a career-worst 15 INTs, Barkley suffered a sprained AC joint in his right throwing arm in a loss against UCLA and was forced to sit out his final home game at the L.A. Coliseum against No. 1 Notre Dame. And USC’s all-time leading passer was not cleared to play in the Sun Bowl, which means Max Wittek will get his second start. Wittek completed 14 of 23 throws for 186 yards and one touchdown against Notre Dame in the regular season finale.

Although Wittek is short on experience, he will have the nation’s top receiving corps at his disposal. Unanimous All-American and Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee has 112 catches for 1,680 yards and 14 TDs this season, while Robert Woods added another 73 catches for 813 yards and 11 TDs.

Georgia Tech arrives with the nation’s No. 77 scoring defense (29.9 ppg), No. 67 passing defense and No. 47 run defense, having allowed 3,110 yards and 22 pass TDs along with 1,921 yards and 27 rush TDs in 13 games.

When the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets have the ball:

For all the success Paul Johnson has had with his triple-option offense during the season, the Yellow Jackets have struggled in bowl games when teams have weeks — as opposed to days — to prepare for the unique attack. Johnson’s Jackets are 0–4 in bowls since he took over in 2008, including a 30–27 loss to Utah in last year’s Sun Bowl.

Quarterback Tevin Washington is the engine that powers the Ramblin’ Wreck — with 1,173 yards and seven TDs through the air, and 638 yards and 19 TDs on the ground. Running back Orwin Smith was Tech’s leading rusher and second-leading receiver, but was forced to sit out of the season’s final two games with an ankle injury.

USC’s star-studded secondary, led by safety T.J. McDonald and corner Nickell Robey, will be neutralized somewhat against GT’s ground-and-pound offense. But the Trojans’ strong linebacker corps, including big play Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard and No. 55 Lamar Dawson will be prominently on display in Monte Kiffin’s last game calling the defense.

Final Analysis

Barkley, McDonald and a loaded senior class won’t go out in the style they envisioned, but they will go out waving the “V” for victory. Expect the Trojans to ride off into the sunset following a decisive Sun Bowl win.

Prediction: USC 42, Georgia Tech 24


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Music City Bowl Preview and Prediction: NC State vs. Vanderbilt

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Teaser:
<p> Sun Bowl Preview and Prediction: Georgia Tech vs. USC</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 30, 2012 - 08:01
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Vanderbilt enters postseason play riding a six-game winning streak — the longest at the school since 1955. The Commodores are also playing in a bowl game in consecutive seasons for the first time ever. It’s safe to say that James Franklin is getting things done in Nashville.

Tom O’Brien, on the other hand, didn’t do enough in Raleigh — in the opinion of NC State athletic director Debbie Yow — to save his job. O’Brien was fired after leading the Pack to a 7–5 record during the regular season. He had a winning record at State (40–35) but went 22–26 in the ACC and only had a winning league record once (5–3 in 2010). Offensive coordinator Dana Bible will coach the Pack on an interim basis before former Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren takes over on a full-time basis.

Music City Bowl — Vanderbilt (8–4) vs. NC State (7–5)

Date and Time: Dec. 31 at noon EST
Location: Nashville, Tenn.
Network: ESPN

When Vanderbilt has the ball:

After struggling to score points in the first half of the season, Vanderbilt averaged 42.4 points over its final five games. The Commodores feature a balanced attack and have a 1,000-yard rusher (Zac Stacy) and receiver (Jordan Matthews) in the same season for the first time ever.

Matthews, lightly recruited out of Madison, Ala., has emerged as one of the elite wide receivers in the nation over the last year-and-half. He had 100-plus yards in seven games this fall, and closed the season with 153 yards at Ole Miss, 115 against Tennessee and 144 at Wake Forest. Matthews, a junior, teams with sophomore Chris Boyd, to form the most productive one-two punch in the SEC. Boyd has caught 46 passes for 756 yards and four touchdowns. Stacy leads a rushing attack that ranked sixth in the SEC with 170.4 yards per game. The senior rushed for 1,058 yards, becoming the first Vanderbilt player to top 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.

When NC State has the ball:

NC State quarterback Mike Glennon is getting some buzz as a potential first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. The senior threw for 3,648 yards with 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions (four of which came in Week 1). He has good size, at 6-6, 232, and can make all of the throws. Glennon spreads the ball around to three veteran receivers — Quintin Payton, Tobias Palmer and Bryan Underwood each have more than 40 receptions and 600 yards. State will test a Vanderbilt secondary that ranks among the finest in the nation. The Commodores rank 10th in the nation in pass defense (175.8 ypg), fifth in pass efficiency defense and allowed only six passing touchdowns in 12 games.

The NC State running game is led by Shadrach Thornton, a true freshman who rushed for 100-plus yards in each of the last three games. The Pack, as a team, rank 106th in the nation in rushing (116.9 ypg) and only had two running plays of at least 30 yards for the entire season.

Final Analysis

Vanderbilt was hoping for an invite from the either the Gator Bowl or Chick Fil-A Bowl but will be forced to spend the holidays at home in Nashville. But don’t think the Commodores aren’t happy to be playing in the Music City Bowl. To paraphrase Franklin, there are “no bad bowls” when you are a program that has struggled historically like Vanderbilt.

Motivation has to be an issue for NC State. Yes, the players are saying the right things, but this is a program in transition that is playing with an interim coach. Nashville is a great city, but the goal for college football players is to spend the holidays in a warmer climate. NC State might not be the most motivated team on New Year’s Eve.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 30, NC State 17 

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College Football's Very Early Top 25 for 2013
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Post date: Sunday, December 30, 2012 - 08:00
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The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins will write the latest chapter in their historic rivalry when the two face off at 8:20 p.m. ET tonight on NBC. The winner of this game, the 106th overall meeting between the two, will lay claim to the NFC East division title, which would be the Cowboys’ (8-7) first since 2009 and the Redskins’ (9-6) first since 1999. The Cowboys must win to get into the playoffs, while the Redskins have a chance of securing their first postseason berth since 2007 even if they lose, provided Minnesota and Chicago both lose their regular-season finales today.

When the Dallas Cowboys have the ball:
Dallas’ offense has been plagued by a mostly non-existent running game all season. Even though the Cowboys are sixth in the NFL in total offense with nearly 380 yards per game, they are second-to-last in rushing offense at less than 78 yards per game. Much of this can be attributed to a foot injury sustained by running back DeMarco Murray, which caused him to miss six games. Since his return in Week 13, Murray is averaging less than 65 yards rushing per game. He has scored three rushing touchdowns in four games, however, and could be a difference-maker tonight since he didn’t play in the Cowboys’ Week 12 loss to the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day. With Murray sidelined for a significant part of the season, the Dallas offense has mainly been courtesy of Tony Romo, who is third in the league in passing yards with 4,685 and tied for sixth in touchdown passes with 26. Wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten have been Romo’s most productive targets this season, especially Bryant lately. Bryant has scored a touchdown in seven straight games and leads the league with 12 touchdown receptions. Witten is fourth in the league with 103 receptions and is just 17 yards away from the fourth 1,000-yard season in his 10-year career. The Cowboys are ranked in the middle of the pack when it comes to scoring (23.9 ppg, 14th), but they have been hurt by turnovers throughout the season. They have turned the ball over 26 times, which is the fourth-most giveaways in the NFC, including 16 interceptions thrown by Romo.

Washington’s defense has been solid against the run, but extremely susceptible to the pass. Overall, the Redskins are 28th in total defense, giving up more than 383 yards per game, and 21st in scoring at 24.7 points per game. They are fifth in rushing defense (95.5 ypg), but 30th in passing (287.7 ypg). The Redskins have allowed 29 touchdown passes this season, which ties them for the second-most in the league, but have been able to mitigate the damage somewhat thanks to 28 turnovers forced, including 18 interceptions. They haven’t been able to produce consistent pressure on the quarterback, as evidenced by their 30 sacks, which places them in the middle of the league in that category.

When the Washington Redskins have the ball:
Washington’s offense has been one of the NFL’s most productive this season, despite the fact that it’s led by a rookie quarterback and running back. The Redskins are fifth in the NFL in total offense at 384.7 yards per game and fourth in scoring at 27.2 points per game. The Redskins have the top rushing attack in the league at 162.3 yards per game, as rookie Alfred Morris is fourth in rushing with 1,413 yards. The ‘Skins’ “other” rookie phenom, quarterback Robert Griffin III, ranks 21st in the league in rushing (752 yards) and he and Morris have combined for 13 of the team’s 18 rushing touchdowns. The Redskins are 18th in passing offense at 222.3 yards per game, but have 24 passing touchdowns, so while the aerial attack may not be prolific, it has certainly been productive. One of the reasons for the ‘Skins offensive production is that they have taken care of the football. For example, Griffin has just five interceptions to go along with his 20 touchdown passes. As a team, the Redskins have turned it over just 14 times, including only six fumbles, and their +14 turnover differential is the second-best mark in the NFC.

Dallas’ defense has played fairly well this season, but it has had its struggles more recently. On the season, the Cowboys rank 19th in the league in total defense at 355.1 yards per game and 23rd in scoring at 24.8 points per contest. However, they have given up 388 or more yards in four of their past five games, including a season-worst 562 in last week’s home overtime loss to New Orleans. The Cowboys are 17th against the run (117.3 ypg) and 21st versus the pass (239.8 ypg). What has really hurt the defense this season is the lack of sacks (33, tied for 17th) and turnovers. The Cowboys have generated a total of 16 turnovers, including just seven interceptions, which is the second-fewest among NFC teams.

Key Factor:
Even though Dallas holds a commanding 62-41-2 overall lead in its series against Washington, the Redskins are 1-0 with Robert Griffin III at quarterback. The rookie signal caller threw four touchdown passes and tossed just one interception in Washington’s 38-31 win in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, and has shown incredible poise and overall presence in his first season on the NFL stage. Overall, the Redskins enter tonight’s matchup on a six-game winning streak, while the Cowboys are coming off of last week’s gut-wrenching 34-31 overtime loss at home to the Saints. Even with Griffin under center, the Redskins have demonstrated they are more than a one-man show, as Alfred Morris has been just as impressive, if not more so, in his rookie campaign. Morris piled up 113 yards rushing against the Cowboys the first time around, and I think he and Griffin’s mobility will prove to be the difference against their hated NFC East rivals once again. Together the two rookies, along with a late key turnover produced by the defense, will lead the Redskins back to the playoffs by winning the franchise’s first division crown in more than 20 years.

Prediction:
Redskins 30, Cowboys 27

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<p> Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins Preview and Prediction</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 30, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /nfl/green-bay-packers-vs-minnesota-vikings-preview-and-prediction
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The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings each have something to play for when the long-time NFC North rivals meet up at 4:25 p.m. ET this afternoon on FOX. For the Vikings (9-6) it’s win and they are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, while the Packers (11-4) can earn a coveted first-round bye with a second win over their divisional foe this month. If the Vikings fall to the Packers for a sixth straight time, they will need Chicago, Dallas and the New York Giants to all lose to extend their season by at least one more game.

When the Green Bay Packers have the ball:
Green Bay’s offense has been solid, but not as productive or explosive as last season. The Packers are 13th in total offense at 356.4 yards per game and seventh in scoring at nearly 27 points per contest. Even though his numbers aren’t as lofty as last season’s statistics, reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers has put together another award-worthy season. He is the league’s top-rated passer (106.2), is second in touchdowns passes (35), and needs just 70 more yards passing to reach the 4,000-yard mark. If that wasn’t enough, Rodgers is the team’s second-leading rusher (259 yards), as injuries and inconsistent production have been the team’s story out of the backfield in 2012. The Packers as a team have nine rushing touchdowns, which is four fewer than wide receiver James Jones has caught (13). Fellow wideouts Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings have made their contributions as well, but their overall impact has been limited by injuries, as they have combined for 74 receptions, 904 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s why the emergence of second-year all-purpose threat Randall Cobb has been so critical to the Packers’ success this season. Cobb by himself (80-954-8) has topped the combined production of Nelson and Jennings, and last week broke the franchise single-season record for all-purpose yards. He also sustained an ankle injury in last week’s win over Tennessee, but it’s not believed to be serious. However, should Cobb be limited against the Vikings, the Packers have shown all season that they have plenty of other weapons capable of stepping up when needed. Another reason for the Packers’ offensive success is that they don’t beat themselves. The Packers have turned the ball over 15 times, which is the second-fewest turnovers in the NFC. Rodgers has thrown just eight interceptions, an even more impressive number considering he’s been sacked 46 times so far, the second-most of any quarterback in the league.

Minnesota’s defense has done its part to help out the offense, as the Vikings are 16th in the league in total defense (346.3 ypg) and 11th in scoring (20.9 ppg). The Vikings are giving up 108 yards per game on the ground (13th) and less than 240 through the air (20th). Minnesota has been able to get to the opposing quarterback with some regularity, ranking eighth in the league with 39 sacks. All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen leads this category with 10 quarterback takedowns, and the pressure has helped produce 21 turnovers, including 11 fumbles.

When the Minnesota Vikings have the ball:
Minnesota’s offense has largely been a one-man show this season, and oh what a show it’s been. The Vikings are led by running back Adrian Peterson, who’s not only the leading contender for Comeback Player of the Year, but also should receive serious MVP consideration. Peterson, who is just over a year removed from a devastating knee injury, is leading the NFL in rushing with 1,898 yards and is second with 11 rushing touchdowns. Not only is Peterson leading the league by more than 400 yards, he is averaging six yards per carry, and is only 102 yards away from becoming just the seventh player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. On top of that, he is 208 yards away from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105 yards, which he set back in 1984. Keep in mind that Peterson racked up 210 yards against Green Bay back in Week 13. Peterson is dealing with some abdominal soreness, but there’s no reason to not expect him to take his shot at one of the NFL’s most-revered records this afternoon. And if the Vikings have any hopes of beating the Packers, they will need all they can get from the man known as “All Day.” The Vikings are 23rd in the league in total offense at 329.4 yards per game, but more than half of that is courtesy of Peterson and the ground game. They are dead last in passing offense (168.3 ypg), as second-year quarterback Christian Ponder has struggled after getting off to a solid start to the season. Ponder has just 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and is the league’s 26h-rated passer (78.8). He has one 300-yard game all season and hasn’t surpassed 175 yards passing in each of his last five contests. Some of the lack of production from the passing game can be attributed to the loss of wide receiver Percy Harvin, who went on injured reserve in early November after suffering a ligament tear in his ankle. Ponder’s favorite target since Harvin’s injury has been tight end Kyle Rudolph, who is second only to Harvin in receptions and yards, and leads the team with nine touchdown catches. In addition to the passing game, turnovers also have somewhat stymied the Vikings’ offensive attack, as they are 17th in the league in scoring at 22.8 points per game. The Vikings have turned it over 23 times, including 11 lost fumbles.

Green Bay’s defense is 10th in the league in yards allowed at 329.6 per game, and seventh in scoring defense at 19.9 points per game. The Packers are ranked similarly when it comes to rushing (111.9 ypg, 14th) and passing (217.7 ypg, 12th) defense, but have been very productive in the sack department. The Packers have collected 46 sacks already, tying them for third-most in the league, led by linebacker Clay Matthews’ 12. The defense also has forced 23 turnovers, including 18 interceptions, six of them belonging to rookie cornerback Casey Heyward.

Key Factor:
Minnesota needs this game more than Green Bay does, but that doesn’t mean the Packers don’t have anything to play for. The Vikings can wrap up a wild-card berth with a win in Green Bay, but they also can watch their playoff ticket get punched before this game even kicks off should Chicago, Dallas and the New York Giants all lose their games. Should this series of events occur, it’s possible the Vikings could choose to rest Adrian Peterson, but that’s not likely considering his pursuit of 2,000 yards and Eric Dickerson’s single-season record in front of the home crowd. The Packers’ already have won the NFC North crown, but a win would give them a first-round playoff bye, just the sort of thing a veteran team could greatly benefit from. The Packers have won their last five matchups with the Vikings, including a 23-14 victory at Lambeau Field on Dec. 2. Green Bay won despite surrendering 210 yards rushing to Peterson and not getting huge numbers (286-1-1) from Aaron Rodgers. The key to victory was limiting the Vikings’ passing game, which they did as Christian Ponder threw for just 119 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The Packers are healthier for this game than they were back in Week 13, and nothing has really changed for the Vikings’ offense as their best wide receiver, Percy Harvin, is done for the season. All Minnesota needs to do is win this one, but Green Bay would like nothing more than to possibly keep their long-time division rival out of the playoffs, and earn them a much-needed bye in the process. The Vikings may be the home team and have the league’s best running back, but they don’t have the reigning MVP as their quarterback.

Prediction:
Packers 30, Vikings 23

Teaser:
<p> Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings Preview and Prediction</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 30, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/liberty-bowl-preview-and-prediction-tulsa-vs-iowa-state
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Two teams that opened the season against each other will meet up once more to close out their respective campaigns when Iowa State and Tulsa get together on New Year’s Eve in Memphis, Tenn. The Cyclones won the first meeting over the Golden Hurricane, 38-23 back in September, but they enter this game having dropped five of their last seven games. Despite the 2-5 finish, head coach Paul Rhoads has his team in the postseason for the second straight time. It’s also his third bowl game in his four seasons at the helm in Ames.

The Golden Hurricane come into the rematch with the Cyclones having claimed their first Conference USA championship since 2005. Head coach Bill Blankenship led his team to the C-USA West Division crown thanks to a 7-1 conference record and the Hurricane then finished the job with a 33-27 overtime victory over UCF in the conference title game on Dec. 1. The Hurricane are playing in their fifth straight bowl game and a win would tie the school record for victories in a season (11, 2008).

Besides this season’s opener, Iowa State also defeated Tulsa back in 1961, the only other time these teams have met. This matchup also represents the second Liberty Bowl appearance for both of these teams. The Cyclones last played in the Liberty Bowl in 1972, when they lost 31-30 to Georgia Tech, while the Golden Hurricane defeated Fresno State 31-24 in their first appearance in 2005.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl – Iowa State (6-6) vs. Tulsa (10-3)

Date and Time: Dec. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Network: ESPN
Location: Memphis, Tenn.

When the Iowa State Cyclones have the ball:

The Cyclones’ offense is averaging more than 372 yards and 25 points per game, production that ranks them 88th and 82nd in the nation, respectively. They are generating 154.2 yards rushing (69th) and 217.8 yards passing (78th) per contest, but they are coming off of two of their most productive offensive performances of the season. In Iowa State’s last two games, a win over Kansas and a loss to West Virginia, the offense averaged nearly 250 yards rushing and 472 total yards.

The Cyclones are on their third starting quarterback of the season, as redshirt freshman Sam Richardson started the past two games and is expected to be under center against the Golden Hurricane. Richardson has completed 62 percent of his passes thus far with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Senior Steele Jantz has seen the most playing time at quarterback, and he will get the call should Richardson get hurt.

Quarterbacks in the Cyclones’ offense also get plenty of opportunities to run the ball, as Jantz and Richardson are the third- and fourth-leading rushers on the team respectively. Richardson’s carries may increase, however, as the team will be without leading ground-gainer Shontrelle Johnson in this game. Johnson, a junior, who is leading the team in both carries (115) and rushing yards (504), suffered a knee injury in practice leading up to the bowl game and won’t be on the field against Tulsa. Lead back duties now fall to fellow junior James White, who is averaging 5.3 yards per carry as the team’s second-leading rusher. Jeff Woody, another junior, will likely see a fair number of carries as well.

Sophomore wide receiver Josh Lentz is the Cyclones’ most dangerous receiving threat, as he leads the team with six touchdown catches and 430 yards. Senior wideouts Aaron Horne and Chris Young are first and second on the team in receptions respectively, and have combined for five touchdown receptions. That’s the same number of touchdown catches that junior tight end Ernst Brun Jr. has, as he is one of 10 different Cyclones to haul in a scoring strike this season.

Tulsa’s defense has put together a solid season, ranking 17th in the nation in rushing defense (121.2 ypg) and 34th in total defense (353.9 ypg). The Golden Hurricane are giving up 24.2 points per game (42nd), and are top five in both sacks (3.7 per game, third) and tackles for loss (8 per game, fourth). Three Tulsa defenders, all seniors, were named first-team All-Conference USA – linebacker DeAundre Brown, defensive end Cory Dorris and defensive back Dexter McCoil. Brown and Dorris combined for 15 sacks, while Brown and McCoil are the team’s top two tacklers.

When the Tulsa Golden Hurricane have the ball:

The Golden Hurricane’s offense features one of the nation’s most productive running games, led by three players with at least 700 rushing yards. Tulsa is averaging more than 240 yards on the ground per game, which ranks them 11th in the nation in that category, and overall they are generating more than 460 yards of offense (26th) per game. The Hurricane are averaging 35 points per contest, and have topped that mark on five separate occasions.

Tulsa is led on the ground by junior Trey Watts, who leads the team with 959 rushing yards. Fellow junior Ja’Terian Douglas is second on the team in both yards (857) and rushing touchdowns (seven). The last of the 700-yard rushers is senior Alex Singleton with 765. While he may just be third in rushing yards, Singleton is tops on both his team and Conference USA and tied for fifth nationally with 22 touchdowns, 21 of those coming on the ground.

Nebraska transfer Cody Green took over as Tulsa’s starting quarterback this season and he has posted respectable numbers. He’s thrown for 2,499 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and has rushed for 225 yards with three scores.

Sophomore wide receiver Keyarris Garrett has emerged as Tulsa’s top pass-catcher this season with a team-high 64 catches, 826 yards and nine touchdowns. Senior running back Willie Carter has been a productive weapon out of the backfield, catching 48 passes for 363 yards and three scores. Junior wideout Jordan James and Watts are the only other Golden Hurricane players with 30 or more receptions. Besides Garrett, Carter and James, sophomore receiver Thomas Roberson and Singleton are the only Tulsa players to record a touchdown catch this season.

Iowa State’s defense has fared pretty well against the run, holding teams to 165 yards rushing per game, which ranks 68th in the nation. However, they are No. 109 out 120 FBS schools in passing defense (279.7 ypg), which is why they are allowing nearly 445 yards per game (98th). Opponents are averaging less than 24 points per game, but they have allowed more than their season average in three of their past four games. Iowa State lost one of its senior leaders, linebacker Jake Knott, to injury earlier in the season, but still has fellow senior A.J. Klein, the team’s leading tackler the past two seasons, as the linchpin of its defense.

Final Analysis

Even though Iowa State won the first matchup with Tulsa rather handily, 38-23, that was back in September. The Cyclones won just five more games after their season opener, while the Golden Hurricane doubled that with 10 victories and won their conference championship. It is safe to say that these are considerably different teams now than they were three months ago, with the Golden Hurricane entering this contest with all of the momentum. To make matters worse, the Cyclones are already without one of their best and most experienced defensive players and will also be missing its leading rusher on an offense that’s on its third starting quarterback. Tulsa’s offense features one of the nation’s best rushing attacks, and I think the Hurricane have too many weapons for the Cyclones to contend with. Also look for Tulsa’s pass rush advantage – both in generating sacks (third in the nation) and preventing them (sixth) – to play an important role in this one. Iowa State and Tulsa have similar nicknames inspired by the weather prevalent in their respective locations. So what happens when a cyclone goes up against a hurricane? Scientifically speaking, I have no idea, but as it relates to the gridiron, I’ll take the Golden Hurricane to win this round.

Prediction: Tulsa 31, Iowa State 24


Related College Football Content

A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2013
Sun Bowl Preview and Prediction: USC vs. Georgia Tech

Music City Bowl Preview and Prediction: Vanderbilt vs. NC State

Teaser:
<p> Liberty Bowl Preview and Prediction: Tulsa vs. Iowa State</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 30, 2012 - 05:50

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