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Path: /nfl/nfl-playoffs-picks-against-spread-wild-card-weekend

A betting preview of each of every game (against the spread) on Wild Card Weekend in the NFL Playoffs.

Lock of the Week
Win or lose, this is Ray Lewis' last dance in front of the home crowd in Baltimore, expect the city's new team to soar past its former franchise.

Ravens (-6.5) vs. Colts
For all the flak Joe Flacco has taken over the years, he has a 5–4 record in the playoffs with at least one postseason win in each of his four years in the NFL. Andrew Luck is trying to join Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Mark Sanchez and Shaun King as only the fifth rookie quarterback to ever win a playoff game.

Straight Up Upset
A rookie starting quarterback is guaranteed a win in this game, as league posterboy Robert Griffin III takes on everyone's underdog Russell Wilson.

Redskins (+3) vs. Seahawks
Seattle was an impressive 8–0 at home this season, but carried a 3–5 mark on the road. Historically, the Seahawks have lost eight consecutive postseason games on the road and have not won a road playoff game since Dec. 31, 1983. Only nine players on the current 53-man roster were even alive then.

Backdoor Cover
These NFC North division rivals are playing for the second consecutive week and for the third time in the past six weeks. These teams are familiar foes.

Vikings (+9) at Packers
In Week 17, Minnesota knocked off Green Bay, 37–34; in Week 13, the Packers beat the Vikings, 23–14. Over the past three seasons, Minnesota has a 4–2 record vs. Green Bay against a similar spread. Plus, Adrian Peterson has run wild for 409 yards and three total TDs against the Packers this season.

Sucker Bet
Stay away completely, unless you are a hometown homer or a degenerate who has to have action on every game in the playoffs no matter what.

Texans (-5) vs. Bengals
Sure, this is a rematch of last year's AFC Wild Card, which Houston won 31–10 over Cincinnati. But the Texans have lost three of its last four contests and quarterback Matt Schaub — who has thrown one TD and three INTs during the 1–3 stretch run — will be making the first playoff start of his career.

<p> A betting preview of each of every game (against the spread) on Wild Card Weekend in the NFL Playoffs, including the Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 4, 2013 - 12:56
Path: /nfl/nfc-wild-card-preview-and-prediction-minnesota-vikings-vs-green-bay-packers

The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers will face off for the second time in less than a week when their NFC Wild Card showdown kicks off on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. The Vikings (10-6) beat the Packers (11-5) last Sunday 37-34 in Minneapolis to secure their playoff berth, while costing the NFC North champions a first-round bye in the process. Even though these teams have played each other 104 times, this marks just the second postseason matchup. Minnesota beat Green Bay 31-17 in an NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field on Jan. 9, 2005. In that game, Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper threw four touchdown passes (two to Randy Moss), while future Hall of Famer Brett Favre tossed four interceptions in what was, at the time, just the Packers’ second home playoff loss in franchise history.

When the Minnesota Vikings have the ball:
Minnesota’s offense can be summed up in two words: Adrian Peterson. All the running back did this season is become just the seventh player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards, as he ended his spectacular campaign just nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season record. Peterson, who is just over a year removed from a devastating knee injury, posted a career-best 2,097 yards rushing, including 199 in last Sunday’s playoff-clinching win against Green Bay. In two games against the Packers, Peterson has piled up 409 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns. Peterson’s record-setting season is the main reason why the Vikings finished 20th in the league in total offense with 336.6 yards per game. They ended up second-to-last in passing offense (171.9 ypg), although second-year starting quarterback Christian Ponder did post some of his best numbers in last week’s win over Green Bay. Ponder completed 16-of-28 passes for 234 yards and a season-high three touchdowns in the Vikings’ 37-34 victory. It marked the first time since Week 8 that Ponder threw for more than 221 yards in a game. Ponder’s development has been hurt by 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 finished second to Harvin in receptions and yards, and leads the team with nine touchdown catches. Even with a lack of production from the passing game, the Vikings finished 14th in the league in scoring at 23.7 points per game, thanks in large part to the leg of Blair Walsh. The rookie kicker connected on all 10 of his field goal attempts from 50 yards and out and missed just three of 38 tries overall, earning him a Pro Bowl invite. If not for the 23 turnovers committed by the Vikings, including 12 interceptions thrown by Ponder, Walsh probably would own instead of share the record for most field goals made by a rookie kicker.

Green Bay’s defense finished 11th in the league in both yards (336.8) and points (21.0) allowed. The Packers were 17th against the run (118.5 ypg) and 11th against the pass (218.3 ypg). To be fair, the Packers did face five of the league’s top rushers in Peterson (twice), Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster, Chris Johnson and Frank Gore. Of this quintet, Peterson by far (409 yards in two games) did the most damage with Gore being the only other one to rush for more than 100 yards. The Packers produced the fourth-most sacks of any team with 47 and the defense picked off 18 passes. The unit also should get a boost with the return of All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson, who has missed the team’s past nine games after breaking his collarbone in Week 7.

When the Green Bay Packers have the ball:
Green Bay’s offense finished 13th in the league in total offense, which is more impressive when you take into consideration the ineffectiveness of its running game. The Packers averaged 359.4 yards per game in the regular season, with more than 70 percent of that courtesy of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the passing game (253.1 ypg, ninth). The Packers averaged 27.1 points per game, good for fifth overall, as Rodgers tossed 39 touchdown passes, which were second only to Drew Brees’ 43. The reigning MVP finished as the league’s top-rated passer (108.0) and threw just eight interceptions despite being sacked a league-high 51 times. Rodgers also is the team’s second-leading rusher with just 259 yards, which says all you need to know about the Packers’ inconsistent ground game. As a team, the Packers averaged 106.4 yards rushing (20th in NFL) and had a total of nine rushing touchdowns during the regular season, two of those by Rodgers. Contrast that to wide receiver James Jones, who led the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions. Rodgers has other targets to throw to, including wideouts Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, and tight end Jermichael Finley. Jennings and Nelson both missed time during the regular season due to injuries and Cobb was held out of last week’s loss to Minnesota because of an ankle injury, but all three should be in there tonight with Nelson (knee) appearing to be the biggest question mark. Even though he missed the regular-season finale, Cobb has already broken the Packers’ single-season record for all-purpose yards, while Jennings and Nelson combined for 11 catches, 207 yards and three touchdowns against the Vikings last Sunday. The Packers turned the ball over just 16 times in 16 games during the regular season, tying them for the second-fewest turnovers in the NFC.

Minnesota’s defense finished in the middle of the league in both total (350.0 ypg, 16th) and scoring (21.8 ppg, tied for 14th) defense. The Vikings were 11th against the run (105.8 ypg), compared to 24th (244.3 ypg) against the pass. Then again, facing Aaron Rodgers (twice), Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will do that to your pass defense statistics. The Vikings ended up right behind the Packers in sacks with 44 (tied with Houston for fifth in NFL), led by Pro Bowl reserve Jared Allen’s 12. The defense also has produced 22 turnovers, including 12 fumbles.

Key Factor:
Believe it or not, even though Minnesota and Green Bay have played each other 104 times, this will be just the second time they will have met in the postseason. While this may technically serve as the rubber match of this season’s meetings, the stakes are completely different than they were for last week’s regular-season finale. The Vikings needed that victory more than the Packers, who had already secured a playoff berth by winning the NFC North. Green Bay did have a chance to earn a coveted first-round bye, but this is a veteran team with plenty of postseason experience under its belt. The same can’t be said for the Vikings, who were last in the playoffs in 2009. Even though the Vikings have Comeback Player of the Year and MVP contender Adrian Peterson in their backfield, there is no comparison when it comes to the quarterback position. The Packers have the reigning MVP leading their offense, while the Vikings will look to the league’s 21st-rated passer during the regular season, who will be starting his first career NFL playoff game. And it will take place on the road, on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. On top of that, the Packers also will welcome the return of defensive leader Charles Woodson to the secondary and should have its full complement of offensive weapons as well. It’s been a good run for the Vikings, but the Packers are still the class of the NFC North.

Prediction: Packers 34, Vikings 23


AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans

<p> NFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers</p>
Post date: Friday, January 4, 2013 - 06:12
Path: /nfl/afc-wild-card-preview-and-prediction-cincinnati-bengals-vs-houston-texans

The Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans will face off in the postseason for the second straight season when they get together on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The Bengals (10-6) enter this game having won three in a row and seven of their last eight, while the AFC South champion Texans (12-4), stumbled late, dropping three of their last four games. Houston defeated Cincinnati 31-10 in last season’s Wild Card round, earning the Texans their first playoff victory in franchise history.

When the Cincinnati Bengals have the ball:
On offense, Cincinnati finished the regular season ranked 22nd in the NFL in yards with 332.7 per game and 12th in points with 24.4 per contest. The Bengals are 18th in rushing offense (109.1 ypg) and 17th in passing (223.6 ypg). Cincinnati’s offense has struggled somewhat recently, as the Bengals have averaged just 235 yards of total offense over their past three games. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has already set a career high in rushing yards with 1,094, but he had just 14 against Pittsburgh two weeks ago and missed the regular-season finale against Baltimore after injuring his hamstring during pregame warmups. Without him, the Bengals had just 47 yards on the ground versus the Ravens. Green-Ellis was back at practice on Wednesday, so it looks like he will be able to suit up for this one. If for some reason he’s unable to go or ends up being limited, the Bengals will most likely turn to Cedric Peerman (258 yards, 7.2 ypc). Quarterback Andy Dalton has already surpassed his passing yard (3,669) and touchdown (27) totals from his rookie season, but he’s thrown three more interceptions (16 to 13) this season too. He also tossed three picks in last season’s Wild Card loss to the Texans, and may be called on to make more plays depending on Green-Ellis’ health. Wide receiver A.J. Green is Dalton’s primary target, having finished in the top 10 in the league in both receptions (97) and yards (1,350), earning him a starting spot on the AFC’s Pro Bowl roster. Green tied for fourth in the league with 11 touchdown receptions, while tight end Jermaine Gresham had five scores among his 64 catches for 737 yards. Besides Dalton’s 16 interceptions, he has been sacked 46 times, the third-most of any quarterback in the league, and the Bengals as a team have lost 10 fumbles.

After getting off to a strong start, Houston’s defense has struggled at times during the second half of its schedule. The Texans finished the regular season seventh in the league in total defense at 323.3 yards per game, but gave up more than that in five of its last seven games, a stretch in which they went just 4-3. They are tied for ninth in points allowed at 20.7 per game, but surrendered 42 to both Green Bay and New England (both losses) and 37 in an overtime win against Jacksonville. Statistically speaking, the Texans have fared better against the run (97.5 ypg, seventh) compared to the pass (225.8 ypg, 16th), but they also lead the league in batted or tipped passes with 37. Houston’s defense suffered a significant loss when linebacker Brian Cushing tore his ACL in Week 5, but defensive end J.J. Watt has picked up the slack and then some. The AFC Pro Bowl starter at defensive end and Defensive Player of the Year contender led the league with 20.5 sacks and also forced four fumbles. Watt’s presence is a big reason why the Texans finished tied for fifth with 44 sacks. Watt made the most of his first career playoff game last season when he picked off a Dalton pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown right before halftime in the Texans’ Wild Card win over the Bengals.

When the Houston Texans have the ball:
More known for its running attack, Houston’s offense is fairly balanced. The Texans finished the regular season seventh in total offense with 372.1 yards per game and eighth in scoring at 26 per game. The Texans had the NFL’s eighth-ranked rushing offense (132.7 ypg), led by running back Arian Foster’s 1,424 yards and league-leading 17 touchdowns, 15 of those coming on the ground. The Texans’ passing attack finished 11th, as quarterback Matt Schaub posted the third 4,000-yard campaign of his career and had 22 touchdown passes. Wide receiver Andre Johnson posted another Pro Bowl-caliber season, finishing fourth in the league with 112 receptions and second in yards with a career-high 1,598. Tight end Owen Daniels led the team with six touchdown catches. The Texans’ offensive line, which features Pro Bowlers in tackle Duane Brown (starter), guard Wade Smith and center Chris Myers (reserves), has given up only 28 sacks to this point and the team has turned it over just 17 times, including an AFC-low four fumbles.

Cincinnati’s defense has been the team’s strength this season, as the Bengals finished sixth in the league in total defense (319.7 ypg) and eighth in scoring at 20 points per game. The Bengals are seventh in passing defense (212.5 ypg) and are 12th against the run (107.2 ypg). The defense has given up 300 yards of total offense only once in its past seven games, a big reason why the team went 6-1 during this stretch. The Bengals have been even more successful than the Texans in the sack department, finishing third in the NFL with 51. They also are second only to New England in the AFC in takeaways, as the defense has generated 16 fumbles and 14 interceptions. The heart of this unit is defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who leads the team with 12.5 sacks, has forced four fumbles and was voted in as a starter for next month’s Pro Bowl.

Key Factor:
Houston is hosting and won its division, but there’s little question that it’s Cincinnati who enters this game with more momentum. The Bengals have won three in a row and seven of their last eight, while the Texans lost their last two and three out of their final four games. However, this also is a veteran Texans team that’s in the playoffs for the second straight season and finished last season in similar fashion before thumping the Bengals 31-10 in their Wild Card matchup. And don’t forget, Houston’s quarterback in that game was T.J. Yates, who was starting for an injured Matt Schaub. Even though Houston seems to be headed in the wrong direction at the worst time possible, I think the Texans’ balance on offense and pass rush on defense will be enough to hand the Bengals a second straight playoff defeat in Reliant Stadium.

Prediction: Texans 30, Bengals 23


NFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers

<p> AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans</p>
Post date: Friday, January 4, 2013 - 06:10
Path: /college-football/top-15-bcs-national-championship-performances

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 BCS National Championship Performances (year is the date of the game):

Also receiving votes: Ali Highsmith, LB, LSU (2008), Percy Harvin, WR, Florida (2009), Kellen Winslow, TE, Miami (2003), Javier Arenas, CB, Alabama (2010), Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon (2011), Cam Newton, QB, Auburn (2011), James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State (2008)

15. Maurice Clarett, RB, Ohio State, 2003 (Fiesta Bowl)
The true freshman didn't gash the Hurricanes defense, but he made his touches count. No one touched the ball on either team more than Clarett (23), including two touchdowns. His 5-yard scoring run in double overtime turned out to be the game-winning score. Clarett also played a key roll on "defense" as he forced and recovered a fumble following a Sean Taylor interception in the Miami redzone. (Of course, line judge Terry Porter might also get some votes for this list as well.) The 11.5-point underdog Buckeyes finished the year 14-0.

14. Reggie Bush/LenDale White, RBs, USC, 2006 (Rose Bowl)
Bush holds the BCS title game record for all-purpose yards with 279 in the 2006 Rose Bowl loss to Texas. He carried 13 times for 82 yards and a touchdown, caught six passes for 95 yards and returned five kicks for 102 yards. White's 124 yards are the fourth-best total in title game history and his 18 points (three touchdowns) rank third all-time. Unfortunately, Vince Young played for the other team in Texas' 41-38 win over USC.

13. Matt Leinart, QB, USC, 2006 (Rose Bowl)
If it weren't for Vince Young's heroics, this game by Leinart might have gone down as the best title game passing performance. He threw for a BCS championship game record 365 yards while his 29 completions and 72.5% completion rate would have been title game records if not for Young's numbers in the same game. His touchdown pass to Dwayne Jarrett came with just under seven minutes to play and gave USC a 12-point lead — before Young took his rightful place in history.

12. Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida, 2007 (BCS National Title)
In the dominating 41-14 win over No. 1 Ohio State, Harvey was a force off the edge. He finished with four solo tackles, a BCS championship game record three sacks and a forced fumble. Harvey and company held Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith to four completions, 35 yards and no touchdowns.

11. Peter Warrick, WR, Florida State, 2000 (Sugar Bowl)
The Sugar Bowl MVP caught six passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns to go with 57 punt return yards and another touchdown. He also scored a two-point conversion for a BCS title game record 20 points. His 220 all-purpose yards are fourth all-time in a title game. His specatular catch in the endzone is still one of the most electric plays in BCS title game history.

10. Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn, 2011 (BCS National Title)
Cam Newton was the unquestioned leader for the surprising Auburn Tigers, but true freshman tailback Michael Dyer was the star of the 22–19 win over Oregon in Glendale, Ariz. Dyer rushed carried the ball 22 times for 143 yards, including 57 on the final drive that set up the Tigers’ game-winning field goal. His 143 yards and 22 attempts are third all-time in a BCS title game history.

9. Ken Dorsey, QB, Miami, 2002 (Rose Bowl)
Dorsey led an offensive explosion with 362 yards passing and three touchdowns in Miami’s 37–14 win over Nebraska at the Rose Bowl. The victory capped a perfect 12–0 season for the Hurricanes, who delivered a national title to first-year coach Larry Coker. His 362 yards are third all-time in a BCS national title game.

8. Peerless Price, WR, Tennessee, 1999 (Fiesta Bowl)
Price made the most of his four receptions, totaling 199 yards in Tennessee’s 23–16 win over Florida State in the first-ever BCS National Championship Game. Price set up one UT touchdown with a 76-yard catch and then scored the Vols’ final TD of the game on a 79-yard strike from quarterback Tee Martin in the fourth quarter. His BCS record 199 yards, combined with his 42 punt return yards, were the second highest all-purpose yardage total (242) in BCS championship game history (behind Reggie Bush's 279). His 49.8 yards per catch is still a BCS championship game record as well.

7. Andre Johnson, Miami (Fla.), 2002 (ROSE BOWL)
Johnson hooked up with quarterback Ken Dorsey seven times for 199 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Hurricanes past overmatched Nebraska, 37–14, in the first Rose Bowl that served as the BCS National Championship game. His 199 yards tied Price for the single-game BCS title game record and his 226 all-purpose yards are the third-best total in title game history.

6. Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, RBs, Alabama, 2010 (BCS National Title)
Alabama’s two-headed monster at tailback combined for 215 yards and four touchdowns on 41 carries to lead the Crimson Tide to a 37–21 win over Texas. Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner, rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns while his understudy, Richardson, added 109 yards and two scores.

5. Chris Weinke, QB, Florida State, 2000 (SUGAR BOWL)
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.

4. Torrance Marshall, LB, Oklahoma, 2001 (ORANGE BOWL)
It was only fitting that a defensive player was named the MVP of the lowest-scoring Orange Bowl in 30 years. Marshall, a senior linebacker, recorded six tackles and intercepted a pass to lead Oklahoma to a 13–2 win over Florida State to secure the first national title for the Sooners since 1985.

3. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida, 2009 (BCS National Title)
Tebow capped off one of the greatest single seasons in college football history with a superb performance on the biggest stage. The junior quarterback threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns and added 109 yards rushing to lead the Gators to a 24–14 win over Oklahoma at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

2. Matt Leinart, QB, USC, 2006 (ORANGE BOWL)
The Trojans staked a claim to their second straight national title with a surprisingly easy 55–19 win over No. 2 Oklahoma. Leinart completed 18-of-35 passes for 332 yards and tossed an Orange Bowl record five touchdowns without throwing an interception. Steve Smith was on the receiving end of three of Leinart’s TDs. Leinart is still the only player in BCS history to throw five touchowns in one game.


1. Vince Young, Texas, 2006 (ROSE BOWL)
Young was brilliant in the final game of his career, setting a Rose Bowl record with 467 yards of total offense to lead Texas to a 41–38 victory over favored USC to claim the school’s first national title since 1970. Young completed 30 of 40 passes for 267 yards but is remembered more for his work on the ground. He carried the ball 19 times for 200 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by a nine-yard run on 4th down to give Texas the lead with 19 seconds remaining. His 20 total points scored (three rushing touchdowns, 2-point conversion), 30 completions and 75% completion rate are both national championship game records.

<p> Athlon Sports ranks the best BCS National Championship performances.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 4, 2013 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/cotton-bowl-preview-and-prediction-texas-am-vs-oklahoma

The matchup in Dallas will be a familiar one, but the Cotton Bowl will provide the first look at how a freshman Heisman winner will react to the burden of the award.

Only Florida’s Tim Tebow spent more time in college with the phrase Heisman-winner preceded his name. Like Tebow, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Alabama’s Mark Ingram both won the Heisman as sophomores, but both left school after their junior seasons.

Instead, Texas A&M’s 20-year-old redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel will be the marked man for the next three years.

“First and foremost, there’s the Cotton Bowl,” Manziel told USA Today’s George Schroeder. “From there, I have to be the guy that starts the motor for a run at the national title next year. That’s our goal. If more awards come, they come.”

At least for the bowl game, the trend is in the favor of the Heisman winner. The last three winners -- Ingram, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III -- all won their bowl games. Before that, Heisman winners had been snakebit in the postseason.

While Heisman winners have broken their bowl futility streak, so has Oklahoma under Bob Stoops. The Sooners have won three consecutive bowl games after they went through a 1-5 swoon from 2003-08.

The hot streaks will be put to a test in the Cotton Bowl where former conference foes will meet. In one of the oddities of conference realignment, the Aggies will face the Sooners 14 months since their last meeting, as Big 12 foes on Nov. 5, 2011. Oklahoma had won eight of the last nine meetings in the Big 12.

Cotton Bowl - Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)

Date and time: Jan. 4, 7 p.m. Eastern
Network: FOX
Location: Dallas

When Oklahoma has the ball:

Landry Jones is capable of the bonehead turnover from time to time, but the Sooners relied on his arm during the five-game winning streak to end the season. Jones passed for 1,980 yards with 17 touchdowns and six picks in the final five wins, including four consecutive one-score games. Where the Sooners relied on Ryan Broyles in the past, Oklahoma has been balanced in the receiving corps with four receivers topping 500 yards including transfers Justin Brown (Penn State) and Jalen Saunders (Fresno State). Oklahoma’s offensive line was beat up near the end of the season, so the long layoff could benefit the Sooners and Jones against the Texas A&M pass rush.

Lost in the Manziel storyline, defensive end Damontre Moore had a breakout season with 12.5 sacks this season. If Oklahoma relies on the run game, the Sooners have a capable duo of tailbacks. Damien Williams is a big-play back, and Brennan Clay has been a supersub late in the season. With 24 rushing touchdowns on 102 career carries, Blake Bell is a short-yardage specialist who is the heir apparent at quarterback after Jones leaves. Texas A&M’s defense performed well enough during the course of the season, but the Aggies have not played passing offense this effective since a win over Louisiana Tech on Oct. 13. The Bulldogs scored 57 points and amassed a season-high 615 yards that night.

When Texas A&M has the ball:

It starts with Johnny Manziel -- Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Manziel’s play-making ability is well-established as he’s been able to turn broken plays into big gains and touchdowns. He finished the season with 4,600 yards of total offense and 43 total touchdowns. But Manziel isn’t invincible. He threw three interceptions in a home loss to LSU and threw eight overall this season. His run game has been spotty with senior Christine Michael having an inconsistent final season, though he finished with 12 touchdowns. Mike Evans led A&M in receiving (1,022 yards), but veteran Ryan Swope was no stranger to the big catch.

Outland winner Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews lead one of the nation’s best offensive line. Oklahoma led the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense. The Sooners held the final eight opponents to fewer than 60 percent passing, including three teams to less than 50 percent passing.

Final analysis:

If the matchup between the Heisman winner against Oklahoma and two former conference foes isn’t enough, the Cotton Bowl will pit two familiar coaches. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was an assistant at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops from 2003-07. That’s an intriguing subplot in a game in which the matchup, but Manziel enters the game with new pressure. This is the last college game for Landry Jones, so the quarterback intangibles may favor the Sooners senior.

Prediction: Oklahoma 42, Texas A&M 35

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<p> Cotton Bowl Preview and Prediction: Texas A&amp;M vs. Oklahoma</p>
Post date: Friday, January 4, 2013 - 05:55
Path: /college-football/bbva-compass-bowl-preview-and-prediction-pittsburgh-vs-ole-miss

If Ole Miss players need a tour guide around Birmingham, they could ask their opponents.

Making their third consecutive trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl, Pittsburgh players should know the hot spots around town by now. While Ole Miss may be happy to play in a bowl anywhere, the Panthers are happy to make a bowl trip with a full-time coach in tow.

The Panthers’ last two trips to Birmingham -- a loss to SMU last season and a win over Kentucky two seasons ago -- have been with interim coaches. But Paul Chryst, despite a coaching change at his previous employer Wisconsin, appears to be staying with Pitt, which had become a weigh station for head coaches since since firing Dave Wannstedt in 2010.

A year removed from a coaching change itself, Ole Miss was one of the most improved teams in the SEC under first-year coach Hugh Freeze. The Rebels won as many games last (six) as they did last two seasons under Houston Nutt combined.

BBVA Compass Bowl - Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Ole Miss (6-6)

Date and time: Jan. 5, 1 p.m. Eastern
Network: ESPN
Location: Birmingham, Ala.

When Pittsburgh has the ball:

Pitt is at its best when it can control the ground game, which shouldn’t be a shock with a former Wisconsin offensive coordinator running the show. Ray Graham, who missed the second half of 2011 with a torn ACL, didn’t look fully confident on his knee until late in the season. Graham averaged 139.2 yards from scrimmage per game and 4.9 yards per carry over his final five games. He’s spelled by Rushel Shell, who was a touted recruit out of Aliquippa, Pa. At quarterback, Tino Sunseri had been a liability, but he quietly had a career year s a senior. He threw 19 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, none after Sept. 15.

The Rebels defense is led by freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss’ only All-SEC selection. Nkemdiche finished with 12 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and three interceptions. Ole Miss installed a defense run primarily out of the 4-2-5, enabling the Rebels to finish second in the SEC in sacks and tackles for a loss.

When Ole Miss has the ball:

The Rebels are still working out the details in Hugh Freeze’s spread offense, but finishing in the top half of the SEC in scoring and total yards was a major leap forward. The offense finished with a flurry after a 37-10 loss to Georgia on Nov. 3. The Rebels rolled up at least 450 yards on the final three opponents, including 527 against Mississippi State. Quarterback Bo Wallace was able to move the ball against Vanderbilt, LSU and the Bulldogs, but he was still prone to turnovers (five interceptions in the last two games). Donte Moncrief is a reliable primary target with 13 receptions for 234 yards and five touchdowns in the final two games.

The main challenge for the Ole Miss offense will be to contain Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who had 18.5 tackles for a loss this season and nine in his last three games. Despite a solid run game led by Jeff Scott, Randall Mackey and the mobility of Wallace, teams were able to stop the Rebels behind the line of scrimmage with regularity.

Final analysis:

Who knows which Pittsburgh team will show up? The Panthers outscored Rutgers and USF 54-9 in the final two games of the season, but that came on the heels of a loss to Connecticut, which came after an overtime loss with No. 1 Notre Dame. On the one hand, Pitt could be disappointed to play in the same bowl for the third consecutive year. But on the other, Pitt finally has a stable coaching situation. Still, Ole Miss is playing in its own region of the country and should be boosted by a rare bowl game appearance, even if it’s after New Year’s Day. The Rebels may have the best passing game Pittsburgh has seen since a 45-35 loss to Louisville on Oct. 13.

Prediction: Ole Miss 28, Pittsburgh 23

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<p> BBVA Compass Bowl Preview and Prediction: Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss</p>
Post date: Friday, January 4, 2013 - 05:54
Path: /college-football/godaddycom-bowl-preview-and-prediction-kent-state-vs-arkansas-state

Two mid-major programs whose success this year cost each of them their head coaches will meet up in the second-to-last bowl game of the season. The matchup between Kent State from the Mid-American Conference (MAC) and Arkansas State from the Sun Belt Conference also represents the first game between the two schools, although it’s the Red Wolves’ second straight appearance in the Bowl. Last season, Arkansas State fell 38-20 to Northern Illinois, which beat Kent State in the MAC Championship Game on Nov. 30 to earn a trip to the Orange Bowl. The Huskies came up short in their first-ever BCS appearance, losing 31-10 to ACC champ Florida State.

Even though Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell has accepted the job at Purdue, he will lead the Golden Flashes in Mobile, Ala., against Arkansas State. Hazell was named MAC Coach of the Year after breaking the school record for most wins in a single season. The previous high was nine back in 1973. This is just the second bowl appearance in the program’s history, the other coming back in 1972, a 21-18 loss to Temple in the Tangerine Bowl.

Arkansas State will be led by defensive coordinator John Thompson, who is serving as interim head coach after Gus Malzahn took the head coaching position at Auburn. Thompson will look to lead the Red Wolves to a second-straight 10-win season. Hugh Freeze led the team to 10 wins and a spot in the Bowl last season, but didn’t coach in Mobile after being named the head coach at Ole Miss. Thompson will try to do what fellow interim head coach David Gunn couldn’t last season – post Arkansas State’s first-ever bowl victory. The Red Wolves are 0-2 in bowls since they became FBS members in 1992. Besides last year’s Bowl, the Wolves were beaten 31-19 by Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl in 2005. Bowl – Kent State (11-2) vs. Arkansas State (9-3)

Date and Time: Jan. 6 at 9:00 p.m. ET
Network: ESPN
Location: Mobile, Ala.

When the Kent State Golden Flashes have the ball:

The Golden Flashes saw their school-record 10-game winning streak end with a 44-37 double overtime loss to Northern Illinois in the MAC title game on Nov. 30. The Flashes love to run the ball, as they are ranked 16th in the nation in rushing offense (228.3 ypg).

Running backs Dri Archer and Trayion Durham from a productive and dangerous combo, as the duo have combined for 2,600 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns. Archer, who was named first-team All-MAC, is averaging nine yards per carry, while Durham leads the team in carries (256) and is gaining nearly five yards per rushing attempt.

Senior quarterback Spencer Keith has five rushing touchdowns of his own, along with 1,864 yards passing and 12 touchdown passes. Archer also is the team’s leading receiver with 35 receptions for 539 yards and four scores, while wide receivers Eric Adeyemi and Josh Boyle have three touchdown receptions apiece.

Besides his exploits at running back and as a receiver, Archer also was honored as the MAC’s Special Teams Player of the Year. The junior is fifth in the nation with 189.2 all-purpose yards per game. As a kickoff returner alone, Archer averaged 38.2 yards per return and led the nation with three returns for touchdowns. Besides the threat of making a big play on special teams, the Golden Flashes have done a good job of protecting the football this season. They have turned it over just 17 times so far, including only seven fumbles.

Even though the unit benefits from a potent offense, Arkansas State’s defense has held its own. Overall, the Red Wolves are allowing 386.5 yards and 36.4 points per game. They have given up more than 29 points only three times and two of these games were against Oregon (57) and Nebraska (42). The Red Wolves are ranked 51st in the nation in total, scoring and rushing (153.3 ypg) defense, and are No. 58 against the pass (233.2 ypg). The defense hasn’t generated a consistent pass rush (1.5 sacks per game, 96th), and has forced a total of 22 turnovers to this point. Arkansas State does rank among the top 30 teams in terms of kickoff and punt return yardage defense, which could be key considering Archer’s presence for Kent State.

When the Arkansas State Red Wolves have the ball:

After starting the season 2-3, the Red Wolves have since rattled off seven straight wins, scoring 34 or more points in each game. For the season, Arkansas State is 16th in the nation in total offense with more than 481 yards and 22nd in scoring offense with more than 36 points per game.

The Red Wolves are led by senior dual-threat quarterback Ryan Aplin, who took home Sun Belt Player of the Year honors for the second straight season. Aplin, who is on track to finish his career as the conference’s all-time leading passer, has thrown for 3,129 yards and 23 scores this season with just four interceptions.

Aplin also has 443 yards rushing and six scores on the ground, one of four Red Wolves with at least 300 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns. As a team, the Red Wolves are averaging 217.4 yards rushing per game, which places them 21st in the nation. Junior running back David Oku, a transfer from Tennessee, leads the team with 1,024 yards rushing and a conference-high 15 rushing touchdowns. Oku was second in the Sun Belt in rushing and earned first-team all-conference honors.

Aplin’s leading target is Sun Belt Freshman of the Year J.D. McKissic. The first-year wide receiver made an immediate impact, posting a conference freshman record 92 receptions for 909 yards and four touchdowns. Fellow wideout Julian Jones leads the team with seven touchdown receptions (on just 13 catches), while seniors Josh Jarboe and Taylor Stockemer combined for 76 catches, 1,013 yards and seven scores.

Kent State’s defense has given up its share of yards, but has been able to mitigate the damage done thanks in large part to turnovers. The Golden Flashes are allowing nearly 420 yards per game (78th), but a respectable 25.1 points (49th) per game. Kent State is 40th against the run (143.4 ypg), but ranks near the bottom (106th), when it comes to defending the pass (276.5 ypg). However, the Golden Flashes have picked off 23 passes and have forced a total of 38 turnovers, tying them with Oregon for the most in the nation. The defense has returned five of these takeaways for scores of its own and also ranks 26th in the nation in sacks with 2.5 per contest.

Final Analysis

Both programs are looking to end successful seasons with one more win before heading into an offseason characterized by change with new head coaches waiting in the wings. This game also serves as a curtain call for Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin, who has already led the Red Wolves to 19 wins in the last two seasons. The only thing missing from the record-setting senior’s resume is a bowl victory. Having played for an interim head coach in last season’s Bowl game, this scenario is nothing new to Aplin or the rest of the Red Wolves for that matter. As explosive as Kent State is on the ground and on special teams, with all-purpose dynamo Dri Archer leading the way, the defense has been very reliant on getting pressure on the quarterback and forcing turnovers. The Golden Flashes won’t get much help in these areas in this contest, however, as the seasoned Aplin caps off his Arkansas State career with one more win, the program’s first-ever in a bowl game.

Prediction: Arkansas State 34, Kent State 30

Related College Football Content

Cotton Bowl Preview: Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
BBVA Compass Bowl Preview: Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss

A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2013

<p> Bowl Preview and Prediction: Kent State vs. Arkansas State</p>
Post date: Friday, January 4, 2013 - 05:46
All taxonomy terms: AC00, College Football, high school, Recruiting, News
Path: /college-football/2013-us-army-all-american-bowl-preview

The nation’s best prospects are competing in two major cities this weekend. San Antonio hosts the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and Tampa-St. Petersburg welcomes the Under Armour All-American Game.

The Under Armour game will take place Friday at 5 p.m. Eastern at Tropicana Field, while the Army Bowl will be played in the Alamodome at 1 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.

These two games offer a unique glimpse into the future of college football for fans and scouts alike. Fans get to see their future stars in action while scouts get to evaluate the nation’s best going head-to-head in both practice and the game. The majority of the Athlon Consensus 100 will be on full display this weekend under the bright lights and national TV audience.

And, of course, who could forget the live announcements. (See Landon Collins 2012)

Editor's Note: Rankings will be updated for the final time following both events this weekend.

Top Rated Prospects to Watch:

Laremy Tunsil, OL (AC100 No. 3)
The massive Lake City (Fla.) Columbia offensive tackle is currently the top lineman in the nation and will have a chance to prove himself against elite level defensive lineman — at both guard and tackle — on Saturday. The 6-foot-6, 295-pound Tunsil will visit his three finalists during the next month — Alabama, Florida State and Georgia — and likely will be one of the most watched players in the Alamodome this weekend.

Jaylon Smith, LB (AC100 No. 4)
With Reuben Foster competing in the Under Armour event and slipping slightly in the recruiting rankings lately, Smith could finish the cycle as the nation’s No. 1 linebacker with a good showing in San Antonio. The speedy 6-3, 215-pound tackler should be all over the field this week in Texas, and Notre Dame fans will be plenty attentive as Smith has been tabbed as a potential replacement for Manti Te’o.

Max Browne, QB (AC100 No. 6)
There is a chance Browne, the nation’s No. 1 quarterback from Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline, could finish the year as the No. 1 overall prospect in the nation regardless of position. The 6-5, 210-pound pro-style passer is the best pure pocket quarterback in this class, and the gap widened after a standout showing in US Army practice this week. Look for big things from the future USC Trojan on Saturday.

Su’a Cravens, DB (AC100 No. 8)
The Murrieta (Calif.) Vista prospect is in a battle with Under Armour All-American Vernon Hargreaves III and fellow US Army participant Kendall Fuller to finish as the No. 1 defensive back in the nation. Cravens is a monster at 6-2 and 210 pounds and has a chance to show why he is the nation’s best against two rosters  stacked with secondary talent.

Kendall Fuller, DB (AC100 No. 11)
The defensive backs have been the story in San Antonio and Fuller has been a big reason why. The Olney (Md.) Good Counsel prospect is committed to Virginia Tech and has played well all week against a host of elite pass-catchers. The fluid coverman could leapfrog both Cravens and Hargreaves III with a great showing in the US Army Bowl.

Ricky Seals-Jean, ATH (AC100 No. 12)
The massive athlete has loads of upside at a variety of positions but has been catching passes all week in Texas. The Sealy (Texas) High prospect checked in at 6-5 and 220 pounds and is showing little effects of a severe knee injury he suffered early in September. The star excelled running the ball and playing quarterback and defense, so his overall athletic ability is tough to miss. Texas A&M is getting a good one in Seals-Jean.

Jalen Ramsey, DB (AC100 No. 25)
The Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy prospect is committed to USC and has added to the depth in the defensive backfield in San Antonio. A high school cornerback, he has wide shoulders and the frame to grow into a safety should he move to that position in college. Keep an eye on a savvy youngster as who is rarely out of position.

Video: See Athlon Sports sit down with AC100 prospect Jalen Ramsey

Derrick Green, RB (AC100 No. 45)
The burly running back from Richmond (Va.) Hermitage wants to carry the ball full-time in college and is using this week to prove those intentions. The 6-0, 220-pounder has provided excellence in all he has done on the field, playing physically in the trenches as well as showing off big-play explosiveness. He holds upwards of 50 scholarship offers and has taken three official visits (Auburn, Michigan, Tennessee). Oregon, Ole Miss, Miami and Florida State are in the mix as well.

Mike Mitchell, LB (AC100 No. 62)
The star linebacker from Plano (Texas) Prestonwood Christian has been a monster all week in practice. The 6-3, 220-pounder has played sideline-to-sideline football and has been strong against both the pass and run. He rarely misses a tackle and has excellent read-and-react skills. Mitchell could end up being the best player on the field this weekend. Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas A&M are his finalists, and the talented linebacker is slated to announce during the game.

Related: 2013 Under Armour All-American Game Players to Watch

Sleepers To Watch:

Tre’Davious White, DB (AC100 No. 99)
It is tough to be a sleeper as a top 100 player, but since the defensive backfields are so loaded with talent in San Antonio, White should have had a tougher time standing out. However, he has been all over the field using electric speed and big-play ability on both defense and special teams. Expect a big game from the future LSU Tiger from Shreveport, La.

Frank Herron, DE (unranked)
One of the surprises of the week has been the play of the defensive end prospect from Memphis Central. Scouts have been impressed with his growth during the last year, and he should continue to get bigger as heads to LSU. He has improved his form and technique throughout his prep career, and his development should be obvious come gametime.

DeSean Smith, TE (unranked)
Les Miles has to be ecstatic with the prospects he has in the Alamodome this weekend. Smith is another future Bayou Bengal who hails from Lake Charles (La.) Barbe. His football IQ has been on full display all week, and his ball skills are advanced for his age.

Live Announcements:

Mike Mitchell, LB (AC100 No. 62) Plano, Texas
Choices: Texas A&M, Oregon, Ohio State, Oklahoma

James Quick, WR (AC100 No. 69) Louisville, Ky.
Choices: Louisville, Ohio State, Oregon

Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE (No. 101) Ramsey, N.J.
Choices: Alabama, Notre Dame, Miami

Demarcus Robinson, WR (No. 113) Fort Valley, Ga
Choices: Clemson, Florida

Tyler Boyd, WR (No. 146) Clairton, Pa.
Choices: Pitt, West Virginia, Michigan State

Joe Mathis, DE (No. 201) Upland, Calif.
Choices: Alabama, USC, UCLA, Washington

Reeve Koehler, OL (unranked) Honolulu
Choices: Tennessee, Kansas, Arkansas, Cal

Tony Stevens, WR (unranked) Orlando
Choices: Texas A&M, Florida State, Ohio State

<p> 2013 US Army All-American Bowl Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, January 4, 2013 - 05:45
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-game-week-ohio-state-illinois
Ohio State coach Thad Matta

John Groce can win a tournament game or two. The Illinois coach proved that in the Maui Invitational this season and in two NCAA Tournaments at Ohio.

His first foray into the Big Ten regular season, though, is not off to a great start with a 68-61 loss to Purdue, one of a handful of teams in the league that will struggle for a postseason berth.

With two losses in the last three games, Groce will try to coax his team into regaining its early season from, but he’ll have to defeat a mentor to do it.

Groce served as an assistant for Ohio State coach Thad Matta from 2001-08 at Butler, Xavier and Ohio State, where he was recruited Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook to Columbus.

The Oden-Conley Ohio State team with Matta and Groce on the same bench reached the Final Four in 2007. When the two face off Saturday in Champaign, the game will be a key early matchup for momentum in a grueling Big Ten.

After the losses to Missouri and Purdue in the last three games, Illinois is looking to prove it has the staying power that eluded former coach Bruce Weber in his latter seasons in Champaign.

Ohio State’s situation isn’t as pressing, but the Buckeyes are looking to show they’re an upper-echelon Big Ten team. Ohio State saw a lead evaporate against Duke in a 73-68 loss on Nov. 28. Similarly, Kansas pulled away from Ohio State in a 74-66 victory on Dec. 22. A road win at Illinois could end up a key resume-builder for the postseason.

Game of the week
Ohio State (11-2, 1-0 Big Ten) at
Illinois (13-2, 0-1)
When: Saturday, 2:15 p.m. Eastern
Where: Assembly Hall, Champaign, Ill.
TV: Big Ten Network
Ohio State probable starters
G Aaron Craft (6-2/190, Jr.)
G Lenzelle Smith Jr. (6-4/205, Jr.)
F Sam Thompson (6-7/190, So.)
F Deshaun Thomas (6-7/225, Jr.)
F Evan Ravenel (6-8/260, Sr.)
Illinois probable starters
G Tracy Abrams (6-1/185, So.)
G D.J. Richardson (6-3/195, Sr.)
G Brandon Paul (6-4/200, Sr.)
F Tyler Griffey (6-9/220, Sr.)
F/C Nnanna Egwu (6-11/235, So.)


Illinois guard Brandon Paul

Brandon Paul has been the centerpiece to Illinois’ hot start the season, but as the 6-4 senior goes, so does Illinois. Paul takes his share of shots from the floor -- nearly 13 per game -- so when he’s not efficient, Illinois can struggle. Paul scored 15 points on 10 attempts and seven attempts from 3-point range in the loss to Purdue, which at least was a step up from recent games. Paul was 8 of 30 from the field and 2 of 13 from beyond the arc against Auburn and Missouri before the Purdue loss. He’ll be defended by one of the best defenders in the country in Aaron Craft. In his last game against Nebraska, Craft didn’t score, but he had eight assists and six rebounds while playing relentless defense. But that was against Nebraska, and Ohio State isn’t that far removed from another big guard, Kansas’ Ben McLemore, taking over a game. To stop Illinois, Ohio State will need to guard the 3-point line: Illinois is dependent on the 3-pointer to win. Paul and D.J. Richardson have attempted more than 100 shots from beyond the arc this season as Illinois gains 37.3 percent of its overall scoring from 3-point land.

Related: New Year's resolutions for Illinois, Ohio State and more


With fellow 2010 signee Jared Sullinger gone to the NBA, Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas continues to enjoy the scoring breakthrough he expected to have. Thomas is averaging 19.9 points per game on 15.3 shots from the floor. The 6-7 lefty who can step out to shoot for 3s could be a matchup problem for the Illinois frontcourt. Thomas also averages seven rebounds per game for a team that should have the advantage on the glass. Outside of Tyler Griffey’s 9.1 points per game, Illinois doesn’t bring much scoring on the front line. The 6-11 Nnanna Egwu could be a defensive troublemaker for the Buckeyes after picking up five blocks against Purdue. After Thomas, Ohio State’s best offensive threat from inside is the 6-7 LaQuinton Ross off the bench, but he hasn’t been a consistent option.


Illinois depends on guard Joseph Bertrand and forward Sam McLaurin on the bench, though Illinois is better off with Bertrand delivering in smaller doses. Ohio State is deeper than it’s been in recent years with eight players averaging 15 minutes per game. Ross leads the way with 9.5 points in 19.1 minutes per game. Guard Shannon Scott and center Amir Williams are also key players off the bench for Ohio State.


Both teams are a work in progress. Illinois needs to find away to balance its 3-point shooting with attacking the basket. Ohio State is looking for a secondary scorer beyond Thomas. Guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., forward Sam Thompson and Ross have not proven to be consistent enough to take the heat off Thomas. These will be X-Factors for both teams as they try to navigate the Big Ten.


Despite Illinois’ 12-0 start, John Groce’s team garnered skepticism. In recent weeks, that’s turned out to be warranted. Illinois may finish in the top half of the Big Ten, but the Illini aren’t the most balanced or efficient team in the Big Ten. Ohio State has its flaws, but Deshaun Thomas’ scoring and Aaron Craft’s defense may be too much for a bruised Illinois to handle, even at home.

Ohio State 75, Illinois 67

<p> Illinois was one of the biggest surprises to start the season, but the Illini have struggled of late with two losses in the last three games. Ohio State also looking to make a statement in its Big Ten road opener.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 4, 2013 - 05:40
Path: /nfl/peyton-manning-adrian-peterson-battle-mvp-comeback-player-year

With the 2012 NFL regular season in the books, it’s time to hand out awards to the league’s top talent. This year, there are more players deserving recognition than there are trophies to hand out. However, these are the select few Athlon Sports believes to be award-worthy:

Most Valuable Player
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
After missing the entire 2011 season following four neck surgeries, Manning returned to his four-time MVP form in 2012. In his 15th year in the league, but first as a member of the Broncos, the 36-year-old future Hall of Famer had the second-best statistical season of his storied career — passing for 4,659 yards (42 yards shy of his single-season best), 37 TDs (second-most of his career) and only 11 INTs (third-fewest of his career) for a 105.8 passer rating (second-highest of his career).

Offensive Player of the Year
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
Against all odds, Peterson stormed back from a brutal knee injury suffered on Christmas Eve last season. Peterson became the seventh player in history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season — with 348 carries for 2,097 yards, on a league-leading 6.0 yards per carry, and 12 TDs, while also hauling in 40 catches for 217 yards and one TD through the air.

Defensive Player of the Year
J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
With respect to Denver’s Von Miller and San Francisco’s Aldon Smith, Houston’s second-year behemoth out of Wisconsin was the most dominant all-around defender in the NFL this year. Commanding constant double-teams, Watt tallied 81 total tackles, including 69 solo stops, with 20.5 sacks, a record 16 pass deflections and four forced fumbles.

Offensive Rookie of the Year
Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins
RG3 headlines a crowded category that also includes Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Redskins running back Alfred Morris and Buccaneers running back Doug Martin. But the Heisman Trophy winner deserves to take home the hardware — with 3,200 passing yards, 20 TDs and five INTs for a 102.4 passer rating, along with 815 rushing yards and seven TDs.

Defensive Rookie of the Year
Bobby Wagner, LB, Seahawks
Seattle’s second-round pick (No. 47 overall) was a relatively obscure middle linebacker out of Utah State who has developed into one of the leaders of the ball-Hawks from the Pacific Northwest. A playmaking threat from sideline-to-sideline, Wagner has notched 140 total tackles, three INTs and two sacks while starting 15 games for the Seahawks.

Co-Comeback Players of the Year
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings

Manning and Peterson both had seemingly super-human MVP-worthy comeback campaigns. In fact, they might be the best two injury bounce-backs in NFL history. Break out the scalpel and cut this award in half.

Coach of the Year
Bruce Arians, Colts
The former Steelers playcaller was charged with taking over the top spot in Indy on an interim basis after the leukemia diagnosis of first-year coach Chuck Pagano. Arians responded with a 9–3 record and playoff berth.

Executive of the Year
John Elway, Broncos
The Broncos’ boss man lassoed Peyton Manning in the offseason — one year after drafting Defensive Player of the Year candidate Von Miller. This one’s for John.

<p> Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson Battle For MVP and Comeback Player of the Year, while Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Alfred Morris fight for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and J.J. Watt, Von Miller and Aldon Smith vie for Defensive Player of the Year.</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 06:26
Path: /college-football/fiesta-bowl-preview-and-prediction-oregon-vs-kansas-state

Kansas State and Oregon have proven that it is possible to change your standing on the college football food chain. Consider the following: These two programs have a combined 11 appearances in the final AP top 10 since 1995; they combined for one (Oregon in 1948) prior to ’95. Kansas State, in particular, was viewed by most as the worst major college program in the nation for several decades.

How things have changed. Both teams were one game away from playing for the BCS National Championship this season. Oregon lost by three points at home to Stanford on the same night that K-State lost at Baylor 52–24.

Fiesta Bowl — Kansas State (11–1) vs. Oregon (11–1)

Date and Time: Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. EST
Channel: ESPN
Location: Glendale, Ariz.

When Oregon has the ball:

Four the third time in the past three seasons, the Ducks rank in the top six in the nation in total offense (550.1 ypg) and top three in scoring offense (50.8 ppg). Oregon scored 42 points or more in all 11 of its wins but was held to 14 points and 405 total yards in the overtime loss to Stanford.  

The triggerman for the 2012 version of Chip Kelly’s attack is Marcus Mariota, a redshirt freshman from Hawaii who didn’t earn the starting nod until just a few weeks before the season began. Mariota led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency — thanks in large part to a 30-to-6 touchdown-to-INT ratio — and ran for 690 yards and four touchdowns.  He was at his best in the Ducks’ 62–51 win at USC, throwing for 304 yards and four touchdowns while adding 96 yards rushing on 15 attempts.

The Oregon offense is far from a one-man show. The Ducks are blessed with a host of playmakers to complement Mariota, most notably tailback Kenjon Barner and all-purpose threat De’Anthony Thomas. Barner ranks fifth nationally in rushing (135.3 ypg) despite averaging only 20.7 carries per game. He could have been a serious Heisman candidate with a bigger workload. Thomas, considered to be among the fastest players in college football, averages 7.6 yards per carry (second nationally among players with at least 90 attempts) and also leads the Ducks with 41 receptions.

Oregon ranks third nationally in rushing yards per game (323.3) — ahead of option teams Georgia Tech and New Mexico — and first in yards per attempt (6.06). The Ducks have rushed for over 250 yards in all but three games.

Junior Josh Huff was the only wide receiver with more than 22 receptions. The 5’11 Houston native missed significant action with a knee injury but still caught 29 passes for 467 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. Huff combined to catch 11 passes for 234 yards and five scores in consecutive weeks in early November.

Kansas State was solid for much of he season defensively but had trouble with both Oklahoma State (504 yards) and Baylor (580) in the final month. Baylor rushed for 342 yards and passes for 238 in its 52–24 win over the Cats. Baylor has good speed. Oregon has great speed.  

When Kansas State has the ball:

Kansas State translates rather ordinary yardage totals into a high volume of points because it does several things very well — win the turnover battle (first in the nation at plus-1.75 per game), convert in the red zone and excel on special teams (first in the nation in both kick and punt returns).

Quarterback Collin Klein is the heavy lifter on the Wildcats’ offense. The fifth-year senior has throwns for 2,490 yards with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions and added 890 yards rushing and 22 scores on the ground. Klein had over 250 yards passing and 100 yards rushing three times in 2012 — in wins over Kansas, Iowa Stat and Texas.

Tailback John Hubert has emerged as a productive sidekick for Klein in the Wildcats’ backfield in the past two seasons. Lightly recruited out of Waco, Texas — he had no other BCS conference offers — Hubert has rushed for 892 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior after netting 970 yards as a sophomore in 2011.

K-State isn’t known for its playmakers on the outside, but the Cats feature three quality wide receivers who are capable of making big plays down the field. Chris Harper, who began his career as a quarterback at Oregon, leads the way with 50 catches and 786 yards. Tyler Lockett, a multi-purpose threat, is next with 40 receptions for 657, and Tramaine Thompson has 36 catches for 514 yards. All three have at least one 100-yard receiving game this season.

Statistically, this is the best Oregon defense of the Kelly era. The Ducks overall numbers aren’t great — they rank 47th in total yards allowed — but this is a defense that is on the field quite a bit because the Oregon offense scores so quickly. Broken down by yards allowed per play, the Ducks rank a respectable 27th in the nation at 5.06. Only two teams have scored more than 26 points against Oregon — Arkansas State had 34 (31 of which came after Oregon led 50–3) and USC scored 51.

Final Analysis

Despite the fact that Oregon is favored by nearly 10 points, this is considered by most to be the most attractive of the non-title BCS bowls. Both teams hovered near the top of the polls for most of the season and — as stated above — both teams were one win away from playing in the title game.

Kansas State has made a habit out of proving its doubters wrong over the past two seasons, but Oregon has the superior roster. The Ducks’ prowess on offense is well known, but this is also a very strong defensive team that will be as healthy — especially on the front seven — as it’s been since the beginning of the season. Kansas State will score some points, but not enough to beat the high-flying Ducks.

Prediction: Oregon 38, Kansas State 21

Related College Football Content

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

<p> Fiesta Bowl Preview and Prediction: Oregon vs. Kansas State</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 06:20
Path: /nfl/nfl-mvp-comparison-brady-manning-peterson-and-rodgers

The 2012 NFL MVP race was a four-horse dead heat to the finish. All four candidates are deserving and worthy of being named the most valuable player in the league. And all four are going to be historic players who likely will land in Canton.

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are elder statesmen who have nothing left to prove on the football field. They are two of the greatest to ever play the game and both produced championship seasons for their teams. Aaron Rodgers is the reigning MVP and somehow willed his team to a division title with a beaten and bruised supporting cast. And Adrian "All-Day" Peterson produced one of the game's most remarkable single-season performances... ever.

Below is the case for each candidate and how my ballot will look, but first a statistical breakdown of the three elite quarterbacks:

Name W/L Yards Rank TD Rank % Rank QB Rat Rank INT Comp. Att. Rush Yd TD
Tom Brady 12-4 4827 4th 34 4th 63.0 11th 98.7 6th 8 401 637 32 4
Peyton Manning 13-3 4659 6th 37 3rd 68.6 2nd 105.8 2nd 11 400 583 6 0
Aaron Rodgers 11-5 4295 8th 39 2nd 67.2 3rd 108.0 1st 8 371 552 259 2

And a look at the Minnesota Vikings' running back:

  W/L Rush Yds Rank Att. Rank TD Rank YPC Rank Rec. Yards TD
Adrian Peterson 10-6 2,097 1st 348 2nd 12 3rd 6.0 1st 40 217 1

Tom Brady, QB, New England

Brady threw more passes, completed more passes and threw for more yards than both Manning and Rodgers en route to his NFL-record 10th divisional championship. His 4,827 yards is the second-best mark of his career — better than the perfect 16-0 season of 2007. His 34 touchdowns were the fourth-highest total in his career and the Pats earned a first-round bye. His eight interceptions were tied for the second fewest in his career. He beat Peyton Manning head-to-head this season, finished 3-3 against playoff teams and had one fourth-quarter comeback. Finally, Brady and the Pats had easily the best running game behind Stevan Ridley of the three quarterbacks. Also consider, mastermind Bill Belichick was still pulling all the strings on the sideline and both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez missed time this fall.

Peyton Manning, QB, Denver

The future Hall of Famer returned from missing an entire season with four neck surgeries and didn't miss a single beat. He had a higher completion percentage than both Rodgers and Brady, while also winning more games than both, including an AFC West crown. He also led his MVP brethren with three fourth-quarter comebacks. His 4,659 yards and 37 scoring strikes were both the second-best totals in his career. That said, Manning's supporting cast was likely the best of the three quarterbacks as his defense ranked No. 2 in the NFL in yards allowed and No. 4 in points allowed. His offensive line is likely the best of the three as well. He was 2-3 against playoff teams this fall.

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay

From a statistical standpoint, Rodgers was better than both Brady and Manning. He was the most efficient passer in the NFL and accounted for more touchdowns (41) than his peers — and he did so on dramatically fewer passing attempts. His team was also the most affected by injury as stars Desmond Bishop, Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews missed most of the season while Cedric Benson, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson missed significant time on offense. All three of the Packers' most-recent first-round picks ended up on IR this fall (Nick Perry, Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod). He had two fourth-quarter comebacks and his running game was easily the worst of the trio, as no player on the team rushed for more than 500 yards. The Packers ranked 20th in rushing offense and 26th in rushing touchdowns. New England ranked 7th in rushing and led the league in rushing TDs while Denver was 16th in the NFL in rushing and 15th in rushing TDs. He was 2-4 against playoff teams, but everyone knows the Seattle loss doesn't really count and he was 2-0 against the 10-6 Chicago Bears.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota

All-Day was unbelievable in 2012. Less than one calendar year removed from major reconstructive knee surgery, Peterson was nine yards shy of breaking the all-time single-season rushing record. He played on easily the worst team of the four MVP candidates but literally carried a 3-13 team to a 10-win season and a playoff berth. He rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of the last 10 games and topped 150 yards in seven times over that span as well. He capped his remarkable season with a career-high 34 carries — including the game-winning, playoff-clinching 27-yard run — and 199 yards against Green Bay in the regular-season finale. His supporting cast is easily the weakest of the bunch as quarterback Christian Ponder was 25th in the NFL in passing yards (2,935), 23rd in passing touchdowns (18) and 21st in QB rating (81.2). No receiver on the team ranked in the top 60 in yards or the top 40 in receptions. This team was supposed to be one of the worst in the NFL this year according to preseason polls and, because of A.D., is visiting Lambeau Field for its first postseason game since 2009.

My 2012 MVP Ballot:

1. Adrian Peterson: The most talented runner on the planet carried a bad team to the postseason.
2. Aaron Rodgers: Did more with less than anyone in the league — and won the division.
3. Peyton Manning: One of his best years on a complete team after injury. Unlucky year to do it.
4. Tom Brady: Clearly the fourth option of the bunch, but no less impressive.

<p> NFL MVP Comparison: Brady, Manning, Peterson and Rodgers</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 06:20
Path: /college-football/how-alabamas-2012-championship-team-rank-high-school-recruits

The merits of recruiting rankings are debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. Athlon continues its look back at recruiting rankings by comparing the starting line-ups in the BCS National Championship Game as recruits.

Related: College Football's 2012 All-American Team as Recruits

2012 Alabama's Starting Offenses as Recruits

A.J. McCarron, QB (2009) AC100
Alabama landed one of the nation’s top signal-callers when it inked McCarron back in 2009, and it showed in his SEC leading 66.7% completion rate in his first year under center. The lanky passer was the No. 8-rated QB prospect in the nation and was the No. 97 overall player in the '09 Athlon Consensus 100. Bad chest tattoo aside, Bama landed a good one when it beat out Miami, Ole Miss and Oklahoma for the Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul’s passer.

Eddie Lacy, RB (2009) AC100
The burly runner from Geismar (La.) Dutchtown was the No. 5-rated player in The Pelican State. Lacy was the No. 93-rated overall player in the AC100 and was the No. 11-rated running back behind names like Trent Richardson, Cierre Wood, Lamar Miller and Christine Michael. He picked Alabama over Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Mississippi State. Interestingly enough, LSU didn’t offer the in-state prospect. He was a four-star prospect by

Christian Jones, WR (2011) National Recruit
A safety prospect from Adamsville (Ala.) Minor High School, Jones was a four-star prospect by rivals. He was the No. 18-rated safety in the nation and the No. 8-rated player in the state — a year in which Auburn signed four of the top six players in the state. Jones picked Bama over other elite offers like Auburn, Florida, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Texas A&M and UCLA.

Kevin Norwood, WR (2009) National Recruit
The D’Iberville (Miss.) High prospect had four offers coming out of high school. Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Miss were Norwood’s finalists. Rivals ranked the wideout a four-star player as the No. 147-rated player in the nation regardless of position. He was listed as the No. 5 player in The Magnolia State and the No. 22 wide receiver in the nation.

Amari Cooper, WR (2012) AC100
The big-play four-star freshman was an elite recruit who every school wanted. Alabama beat-out Miami, Florida, Florida State, West Virginia and dozens more for the Miami (Fla.) Northwestern prospect. Cooper was the No. 10-rated player in the state, the No. 8-rated wide receiver in the nation and was the No. 58-rated overall prospect in the nation (AC100). He isn’t the Freshman of the Year, but no first-year player will impact the national title more than this young pass-catcher. That includes T.J. Yeldon. 

Chance Warmack, OG (2009)
This big blocker from Atlanta (Ga.) Westlake picked Alabama over Auburn, South Carolina and Rutgers. Warmack was ranked as the No. 29 player in the state of Georgia and the No. 20 offensive guard in the nation by He was a three-star recruit.

Barrett Jones, C (2008) National Recruit
This Memphis (Tenn.) Evangelical Christian stud was the No. 1 prospect in the state of Tennessee (which included Dont’a Hightower), the No. 17 offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 146-rated player nationally regardless of position. He possessed offers from nearly everyone in the southeast but visited only Alabama, Florida and North Carolina. Jones helped Nick Saban sign the nation’s No. 1 class in 2008.

D.J. Fluker, OT (2009) AC100
This monster of a recruit actually moved from Biloxi, Miss., to Foley, Ala., for his final season of prep play. And everybody wanted him. He was the No. 2-rated offensive lineman in the nation and was ranked No. 19 overall in the 2009 AC100. He was the No. 10-rated player to enter the SEC and was second only to Dre Kirkpatrick in the Bama recruiting rankings. Fluker, who was committed to Alabama for over a year, was listed as big as 6-foot-7 as a recruit and upwards of 350 pounds by (he was listed officially at a modest 6-foot-5, 340 as an incoming freshman). He was a five-star talent.

Cyrus Kouandjio, OL (2011) AC100
The massive sophomore trailed only South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney in the 2011 Athlon Consensus 100 rankings. He was the No. 2-rated player in the nation and obviously was the No. 1-rated offensive lineman in the nation. The Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha followed his older brother from Maryland (as the No. 1 player in the state) South to Tuscaloosa. The younger Kouandjio actually announced on National Signing Day that he was headed to Auburn only to sign papers with Alabama later that day.

Anthony Steen, OL (2009)
The guard from Clarksdale (Miss.) Lee Academy was a three-star prospect back in 2009. He was the No. 26-rated offensive guard in the nation and the No. 16-rated player in the state. Even Nick Saban’s three-star signees are highly-touted as Steen also had offers from Florida State, Miami and Southern Miss.

Michael Williams, TE (2008) National Recruit
Williams was an all-state talent and the 2A Lineman of the Year from Reform (Ala.) Pickens County. Williams was a highly touted prospect who picked Alabama over Clemson and Georgia Tech — he just wasn’t a tight end. Williams was evaluated as the No. 17 defensive end in the nation by Scout and the No. 4 weakside defensive end in the nation by Rivals after 24 sacks over his final two prep seasons. His blocking and pass-catching skills proved to be too much, however, as he will start at tight end in the national championship game.

Honorable Mention: T.J. Yeldon, RB (2012) AC100
The future superstar (if he's not already) is more of a co-starter than a back-up. The Daphne (Ala.) High prospect was an AC100 talent who ranked as the No. 32 overall prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 3-rated player in the state (behind Jameis Winston and Chris Casher) and the No. 4-rated running back in the nation (behind Johnathan Gray, Keith Marshall and Trey Williams). Any coach in the nation would have taken Yeldon as Rivals gave him the rare fifth star.

Related: How the Notre Dame Starting Line-up Ranked as Recruits

Star ranking breakdown of Alabama's starting line-up (by, not counting Yeldon):

Star Ranking No. of Players

2012 Alabama's Starting Defense as Recruits

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

Damion Square, DL (2008)
One of the unsung heroes of the Alabama team is one of the elder statesman. A 2008 three-star prospect from Houston (Texas) Yates, Square was the No. 55-rated player in the state of Texas and was the No. 37-rated defensive tackle in the nation by Rivals. He signed with the Crimson Tide over offers from Michigan, Nebraska, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Tennessee.

Ed Stinson, DL (2009) National Recruit
Rivals rated the Homestead (Fla.) South Dade prospect as a four-star weakside defensive end. He was ranked the No. 48 player in The Sunshine State and the No. 15-best weakside defensive end in the nation. He had offers from Auburn, Florida State, LSU and Miami along with the Crimson Tide.

C.J. Mosley, LB (2010) National Recruit
Much like Joeckel, Mosley just missed landing in the AC100 as a linebacker from Theodore (Ala.) High. He was the No. 113-rated overall prospect in the nation. Mosley finished as the No. 9-rated linebacker in the nation and the No. 3-rated player in the state of Alabama. Every program in the Southeast as well as a few from the Big 12 (Oklahoma) and the West Coast (Stanford) wanted to ink the star tackler.

Trey DePriest, LB (2011) AC100
The only player ranked ahead of the Springfield (Ohio) High prospect in the state was Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller. The linebacker was the No. 32-rated overall player in the Athlon Consensus 100 and was the No. 6-rated linebacker in the nation by Athlon Sports. Rivals gave him four-stars and DePriest had his pick of any school in the nation. Alabama defeated elite programs from coast-to-coast (Ohio State, LSU, Stanford, Florida, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech to name a few) to land the steady player.

Nico Johnson, LB (2009) AC100
A five-star prospect by Rivals, the Andalusia (Ala.) High outside linebacker was highly coveted by every Southeastern power. LSU, Auburn and Alabama were his eventual finalists and he ended the ’09 recruiting cycle as the No. 21-rated player in the nation by the AC100. He trailed only Dre Kirkpatrick and D.J. Fluker inside The Yellowhammer State rankings and was the No. 5-rated linebacker in the nation behind only Manti Te’o, Vontaze Burfict, Jelani Jenkins and Dorian Bell.

Adrian Hubbard, LB (2010) National Recruit
The Norcross (Ga.) High prospect barely missed landing in the AC100 as the No. 145-rated player in the country in the Class of 2010. Athlon Sports ranked him the No. 12-best linebacker prospect in the nation behind names like Jordan Hicks, Alec Ogletree, Corey Nelson, CJ Mosley and Christian Jones. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound prospect picked the Tide over Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia and South Carolina (among others). He was a four-star recruit by Rivals.

Dee Milliner, CB (2010) AC100
Only two players were ranked ahead of Mosley in the state of Alabama in 2010 and Milliner was one of them. The Millbrook (Ala.) Stanhope Elmore cornerback was the No. 1-rated player in the state and the No. 3-rated defensive back in the nation. He finished as the No. 15-rated overall prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports. His offers sheet included every major program from the Southeast.

Deion Belue, CB (2012) JUCO
Originally from Tuscumbia (Ala.) Deshler, Belue committed to Alabama over Auburn, Southern Miss and UAB back in 2010. The three-star instead landed in junior college at Booneville (Miss.) Northeast Mississippi C.C. Two years later, Belue finally got to Tuscaloosa after signing with Alabama for the second time as a three-star prospect (Rivals).

Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, S (2011) AC100
Few players were more highly-touted in the deep Alabama class of 2011 than Clinton-Dix. In a group that included DePreist, Xzavier Dickson and more, only Kouandjio ranked higher than the Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips product. He was the No. 10-rated player in the nation by the Athlon Consensus 100 and was given the prestigious fifth star by Rivals. Athlon ranked him the No. 1 player in the state of Florida and the No. 1 defensive back in the nation. USC, Florida, Florida State, Ohio State, South Carolina and Notre Dame are just a few programs Saban beat for the signature of HaSean “Ha-Ha” Clinton-Dix.

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

Related Content:

Athlon Consensus 100: The Top 100 Recruits in the Nation
The 2012 All-America Team as Recruits

The 2012 All-Big 12 Team as Recruits

The 2012 All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-ACC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-SEC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big East Team as Recruits

<p> How did Alabama's Championship Team Rank as High School Recruits?</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 06:05
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/recruiting-under-armour-all-american-2013-preview

The nation’s best prospects are competing in two major cities this weekend. San Antonio hosts the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and Tampa-St. Pete welcomes the Under Armour All-American Game.

The Under Armour game will take place Friday, Jan. 4 at 5 p.m. ET at Tropicana Field, while the Army Bowl will be played in the Alamodome at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday Jan. 5.

These two games offer a unique glimpse into the future of college football for fans and scouts alike. Fans get to see their future stars in action, while scouts get to evaluate the nation’s best going head-to-head in both practice and the game. The majority of the Athlon Consensus 100 will be on full display this weekend under the bright lights and national TV audience.

And, of course, who could forget the live announcements. (See Landon Collins 2012)

Editor's Note: Rankings will be updated for the final time following both events this weekend.

Follow @UnderArmourGame on twitter for updates and information.

Top Rated Prospects to Watch:

Robert Nkemdiche, DE (AC100 No. 1)
The Loganville (Ga.) Grayson prospect has had a roller coaster recruitment. He originally committed to Clemson before recently decommitting and announced this week that LSU and Ole Miss (where is older brother plays) are his two finalists. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound prospect is the unanimous No. 1 overall player by all four recruiting services and he should be on full display at The Trop.

Reuben Foster, ILB (AC100 No. 2)
Much like Nkemdiche, Foster has had a tumultuous recruitment process. He first committed to Alabama before his highly-publicized switch to in-state Auburn. And he got a Tigers tattoo to prove his dedication. That was short-lived as well after Foster decommited from yet another Yellowhammer Program. His five finalists are now Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Washington. The 6-foot-1, 250-pound tackler is a monster on the field and despite a small drop in the expert’s ranking of late, the Auburn (Ala.) High product should still standout on Friday night.

Vernon Hargeaves III, CB (AC100 No. 5)
The future Florida Gators star is the No. 1 defensive back in the nation and should have plenty of chances to shine against elite pass catchers all week long. He should also have plenty of family and friends in attendance as he hails from Tampa (Fla.) Wharton High School.

Montravius Adams, DT (AC100 No. 7)
The massive 6-foot-4, 310-pound defensive lineman is dealing with a sore ankle but is hard to miss out there on the field. The Vienna (Ga.) Dooly County star could push Nkemdiche for top billing in the nation should he show well in Tampa this weekend. He will waste little time over the next month taking four official visits over the next four weekends to Florida, Clemson, Alabama and Georgia in that order.

Matthew Thomas, OLB (AC100 No. 10)
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound tackler has a chance to finish the recruiting cycle as the No. 1 linebacker in the nation. He led Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington to a 4A state title Much like Adams, Thomas has a busy month ahead of him, as he has four official visits over a four-week span have been set. He will head to Alabama on Jan. 11 before visiting USC, Florida State and Georgia leading up to NSD. Local program Miami should also get a visit from the local star.

Carl Lawson, DE (AC100 No. 16)
The electric pass-rusher is slowly moving up the recruiting rankings and could easily finish in the top five following this week’s activities. The Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton prospect is a 6-foot-2, 250-pound dynamo off the edge who Auburn fans have to be excited to watch this weekend.

Kelvin Taylor, RB (AC100 No. 21)
The son of NFL great and former Florida Gators running back Fred Taylor has been a prep star in the state of Florida since he played high school ball as a middle schooler. He has only gotten bigger, stronger and better as the years have gone on. The Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Day product is committed to his father’s alma mater and is looking to begin his own legacy beginning this weekend. He is listed at the perfect running back size of 5-foot-10 and 218 pounds.

Christian Hackenberg, QB (AC100 No. 22)
Some have the Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy ranked as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the nation. Where he finishes in the ranking remains to be seen, but Penn State fans will be eagerly eyeing the big 6-foot-4, 210-pound signal caller this weekend. He has publicly expressed his concern about Bill O’Brien potentially leaving for the NFL so this is nervous time for Nittany Lions fans.

Sleepers To Watch:

Cooper Bateman, QB (AC100 No. 59)
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound quarterback hails from Salt Lake City (Utah) Cottonwood. Anyone ranked in the AC100 can’t really be considered a sleeper, but the future Alabama star has already had a great week of practice and could move up the rankings. Certainly, Crimson Tide fans will be tuning in to see how their future signal caller stacks up against the best the nation has to offer.

Chris Jones, DE (unranked)
The massive 6-foot-7, 260-pound defensive end has made a big name for himself this week with stellar work in practice. The Houston (Miss.) High product is committed to Dan Mullen and the Mississippi State Bulldogs and fans in Starkville should be ecstatic with the way he should perform on Friday night.

Grant Hill, OL (AC100 No. 93)
The massive blocker from Huntsville (Ala.) High School has also had a great week of practice, locking down some of the nation’s top defensive linemen. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive tackle prospect is currently committed to Alabama.

Live Announcements:

Leon McQuay III, DB (AC100 No. 31, Armwood, FL)
Choices: USC, Florida State, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Michigan

Trey Johnson, LB (unranked, Lawrenceville, GA)
Choices: Ohio State, Penn State, Florida, Tennessee

Priest Willis, DB (AC100 No. 36, Tempe, AZ)
Choices: LSU, Florida State, Virginia, Nebraska, Arizona State

<p> Recruiting: Under Armour All-American 2013 Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 06:02
Path: /nfl/top-25-best-nfl-stats-2012

Another stellar NFL season is in the books. And unlike any year in the past, rookie quarterbacks, single-season records, franchise records and all-time greats produced at unprecedented levels. The NFL record books were completely rewritten this fall and Athlon Sports has compiled all the important numbers the fans need to know about 2012:

10: Combined wins in 2011 for Colts, Vikings and Redskins
Minnesota (3-13), Washington (5-11) and Indianapolis (2-14) won a total of 10 games a year ago and all three picked in the top four of the 2012 NFL Draft. Those picks netted Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Matt Kalil. This year, those three teams combined for 31 wins and all three made the playoffs. Additionally, Seattle was 7-9 last year before inserting a rookie QB of their own to win 11 games this year.

1: Times the top two teams in the draft made the playoffs
Certainly trades could skew this number if a great team acquires a high pick years in advance, however, never in NFL history have the top two teams selecting in the NFL Draft go on to make the playoffs that same season. That is, before the Colts and Redskins did so this fall with Luck and Griffin III. Seven times has a team made the playoffs after picking first overall and only the Colts have done so with a rookie starter under center.

2,097: Adrian Peterson's No. 2 all-time rushing total
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). He also tied Earl Campbell's NFL record with seven games of at least 150 yards rushing this season.

1,964 and 727: Single-season receiving and pass attempts records by Lions
Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s all-time single-season NFL receiving record by catching a league-leading 122 passes for 1,964 yards this fall. He also set the NFL record with eight straight 100-yard games and tied Michael Irvin’s all-time record with 11 100-yard games this season. Matthew Stafford became the first player in NFL history to attempt at least 700 passes in a season. breaking Drew Bledsoe’s (691) record with 727 attempts this year. However, Detroit lost its final eight games of the year to finish a disappointing 4-12 after what appeared to be a breakthrough 10-win season and playoff appearance last year.

4,374: Andrew Luck's rookie record for passing yards
Few players have played as well as Luck did in their first year in the league. After Cam Newton set the single-season rookie passing record with 4,051 yards last season, Luck set the bar even higher with 4,374 yards this fall. His 23 passing touchdowns trails only Peyton Manning (26) and Russell Wilson (26) for the top spot among rookies and he also rushed for five touchdowns and 255 yards as well. Luck is the first QB taken No. 1 overall in the NFL draft to start a postseason game in his rookie year. Wideout T.Y. Hilton (1 att.) was the only other player on the team to attempt a pass this season.

13: Carolina Panthers lost the first 13 coin tosses of the year
The Panthers started the season 3-9 on the field but 0-for-13 on coin tosses (including one overtime flip). The laws of probability makes this accomplishment possibly the most unlikely in this pretty impressive year of stats. The odds of losing 13 straight coin flips is 1-in-8,192. The Panthers won their first coin toss before the kickoff of their 13th game.

100.0: Russell Wilson's franchise-record single-season QB rating
Matt Hasselbeck posted the “best” or most-efficient season by a Seattle quarterback with a 98.2 QB rating in 2005. Russell Wilson broke that mark in just his first season in the NFL by posting an elite 100.0 QB rating this season, which was good for fourth in the league. He also tied Peyton Manning’s rookie record for passing touchdowns with 26. Manning, however, threw 28 interceptions in 1998 while Wilson threw just 10 picks. In fact, his 100.0 rating would have been an NFL rookie record as well if not for…

102.4: Robert Griffin III's NFL-record rookie QB rating
He didn’t set passing yards records like Luck or touchdown records like Wilson but Griffin III posted the most efficient rookie season in NFL history with a 102.4 QB rating. The mark was the 39th-best overall season by a quarterback in history and at 22 years old, RG3 is the youngest player to ever have a season rated 100.0 or better. Despite not playing one game, Griffin’s line is unreal: 3,200 yards, 20 TD, 5 INT, 65.6-precent completions, the NFL rookie record for rushing yards by a QB with 815 yards and seven rushing TDs.

4: Career playoff wins by six starting NFC playoff QBs
The six starting quarterbacks in the NFC have nine career starts and four total wins — all four by Aaron Rodgers. The Packers' signal caller has six of the nine career postseason starts with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan claiming the other three (0-3). By comparison, the starting six quarterbacks in the AFC have 52 combined postseason starts and 30 career playoff victories.

5: Teams to have made the playoffs after starting 3-6
The Washington Redskins became the just fifth team in history to start the year 3-6 and still make the playoffs. The Skins won seven straight after their slow start to capture 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.

0: Teams that have won a wild-card playoff rematch after the losing the year before
This one needs some explaining. Cincinnati and Houston will play for the second straight season in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs. Three times have teams met in the wild-card round in consecutive seasons and all three times the loser of the first meeting went on to lose the second meeting. This is bad news for the Bengals, who lost 31-10 last year to the Texans.

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 teams to the postseason. Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson 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. The last two quarterback classes have been special — as Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Brandon Weeden, Nick Foles and Ryan Tannehill all look like starters next season as well.

8: Consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons by Steven Jackson
One of the most underrated players in the last decade reached 1,000 yards for the eighth consecutive year with 1,042 yards on 257 carries. Jackson has carried the ball at least 237 times in each of the last eight years and has done so on a team that hasn’t had one winning record over that span. The best team he ever played on was the 8-8 2006 squad. Jackson tied LaDanian Tomlinson and Thurman Thomas with eight straight seasons and only Emmitt Smith (11), Barry Sanders (10) and Curtis Martin (10) have longer such streaks.

0-11: Texans' record all-time in Indianapolis
Houston has now played 11 games in the Midwestern city and has lost every time. The latest one coming in the regular-season finale this fall, however, might be the most costly. 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).

17-1: Atlanta’s record when Matt Ryan throws at least 3 TDs
When Matt Ryan throws at least three touchdowns the Falcons win. Seven of those games took place this season as Ryan set career highs in completions (422), attempts (615), yards (4,719, breaking his own franchise record), touchdowns (32) and QB rating (99.1). Ironically, his lone loss with at least three scoring strikes came this season in a loss to New Orleans in which he posted his only career 400-yard passing game (411).

12 and 72: Peyton Manning's NFL records for 4,000-yard seasons and 300-yard games
109 times has a quarterback passed for at least 4,000 yards in a single-season and Manning claims 12 of those. He posted his second-best yardage total this fall with 4,659 yards and was just 41 yards shy of his personal best. This after four neck surgeries and sitting out the entire 2011 season. Drew Brees is second all-time with seven seasons of at least 4,000 yards passing. Additionally, Manning moved into second place behind Brett Favre in touchdown passes (436), completions (5,082) and wins (154).

10: NFL-record division titles for Tom Brady
Brady and the Patriots won the AFC East with relative ease this season with a 12-4 mark and a first round bye in the playoffs. In his 13th NFL season, Brady became the first player in NFL history to win 10 division championships. He passed Joe Montana’s previous record of nine division titles. Peyton Manning also won his ninth, tying Montana for second all-time.

33.5: NFL-record sacks in Aldon Smith’s first two seasons
After an excellent 14.0 quarterback sacks in his rookie year, Smith made a run at the single-season NFL record (Michael Strahan, 22.5) with 19.5 QB takedowns this season. The former first-round pick has blossomed into one of the most dynamic pass-rushers in history and his 33.5 sacks are an NFL record for sacks in the first two seasons of a career. Reggie White posted 30.0 sacks in his first two seasons in 1985 and '86.

54: Drew Brees' streak of consecutive games with a TD pass
Brees passed Johnny Unitas’ half-a-century old record for consecutive games with a TD pass (47) and then some in 2012. Atlanta snapped his streak in Week 12 at 54 straight games with at least one TD. Tom Brady, who sits at 48 consecutive games, also passed Unitas and could pass Brees in the Patriots' seventh game of the 2013 season. 

110: Jason Witten's single-season NFL record for catches by a tight end
The Cowboys came up just short of making the playoffs this season but it wasn’t Witten’s fault. He surpassed Tony Gonzalez’ single-season record (102) set back in 2004 with 110 catches for Dallas.

18: NFL record for 10-catch games by Andre Johnson and Wes Welker
Both Wes Welker and Andre Johnson finished this season with 18 career games with at least 10 catches. Both players passed Jerry Rice’s all-time NFL record with 17 such performances. 

45-51: Ken Whisenhunt win-loss record as head coach at Arizona
The Cardinals began the year 4-0 and were one of the early season surprises in 2012. Then Arizona lost 11 of its last 12 games. Six games under .500 isn’t going to get Whisenhunt to Canton anytime soon, but his 45 wins are the most by any head coach in Cardinals history. He also led this team to its lone Super Bowl appearance and came up one Santonio Holmes big toe away from winning the Lombardi Trophy. So is he the best coach in Cardinals' franchise history?

7: Coaches fired on Black Monday 2012
Whisenhunt, Lovie Smith (81-63), Andy Reid (130-93-1), Norv Turner (56-40), Chan Gailey (16-32), Pat Shurmur (9-23) and Romeo Crennel (4-15) were all fired on the 2012 edition of Black Monday. Three of those seven took their respective teams to the Super Bowl (Whisenhunt, Smith, Reid) and two of the grouo (Turner and Reid) have more than 100 wins in their careers.

9-of-14: Years Andy Reid led the Eagles to the postseason
It was time for Reid and the Eagles to part ways. Both are likely going to be better off and the former Philadelphia coach shouldn’t have to wait long before he gets another shot on the sidelines again. He posted eight seasons of at least 10 wins and averaged 9.3 wins per season over a 14-year career in the City of (not-so) Brotherly Love. The most important number, however, are his nine postseason trips. He was 10-9 in the playoffs and led his team to the Super Bowl in 2004. The bad in Philly won’t outweigh the good, so Reid will be back coaching in short order.

135: Eli Manning's longest active consecutive starts streak
Since Week 10 of his rookie season in 2004, Eli Manning hasn’t missed a start in 135 chances. His older brother, Peyton, watched his streak of 208 end last year when he missed the entire 2011 season. Eli, who just finished his ninth NFL season, would need to play more than 10 additional seasons (10 seasons and 2 weeks) without missing a start to reach Brett Favre’s all-time record of 297 straight starts.

There were plenty of other milestones and records that were set this year, including:

- Frank Gore passed Joe Perry as the 49ers' all-time leading rusher (8,839).
- Gore also passed Joe Perry as the 49ers' all-time rushing TD leader (51).
- Eli Manning passed Phil Simms as the Giants' all-time passing TD leader (211).
- Alfred Morris passed Clinton Portis as Redskins' single-season rushing leader (1,613).
- Marques Colston passed Joe Horn on the Saints' all-time TD receptions list (58).
- Jason Witten passed Michael Irvin as the Cowboys' all-time leading receiver (806).
- Josh Freeman passed Vinny Testaverde as Bucs' all-time passing TD leader (78).
- Ed Reed passed Rod Woodson for the most INT return yards in NFL history (1,541).
- Randy Moss passed Tim Brown and Isaac Bruce for 3rd all-time in receiving yards (15,292).
- Blair Walsh set the NFL record for 50-plus-yard field goals made in a season (10).
- Chris Johnson added to his own NFL record for rushing TDs of at least 80 yards (6).

<p> Top 25 Best NFL Stats of 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 06:01
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/new-years-resolutions-college-basketball-2013

Admit it: Most New Year’s resolutions don’t last.

All those promises to eat healthier and exercise more go by the wayside after only a few months.

Lucky for the following college basketball teams, New Year’s resolutions only have to last until early April at the latest.

As the New Year has begun and teams are beginning to focus on conference play, Athlon has a few suggestions of what teams, players and coaches need to resolve to accomplish in order to thrive in the 2013 portion of the season.

Some coaches must resolve to find the best lineup or locate the right personnel for the right time. Some leagues need to keep the momentum going or just stay interesting. Some teams need to improve a stat here or there (Kentucky, cough cough, free throws, cough cough).

No team is perfect this season, so any team's resolution could go a long way to success into March.


ACC: Establish a quality No. 2 team.
Duke is a clear-cut top team in the ACC, but does the league have a worthy challenger for the Blue Devils? Duke is ranked second in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. The only other ACC teams in Pomeroy’s top 30 are No. 25 Virginia (10-3) and No. 27 Miami (9-3). Meanwhile, top-ranked Duke and No. 23 NC State are the only teams ranked in the AP poll this week. The Wolfpack has shown signs of pulling its roster together since a 20-point loss to Oklahoma State in Puerto Rico. A 79-73 win over UNLV on Saturday showed North Carolina can’t be counted out. And Maryland has an intriguing roster, if not quality wins. All may be NCAA Tournament teams, but their ability to stand with the Blue Devils at the end of the season remains in question.

Arizona: Keep the momentum from the San Diego State victory.
Two of the Wildcats’ biggest weaknesses -- turnovers and 3-point defense -- weren’t a concern in a 68-67 win over San Diego State on Christmas. Against the Aztecs, Arizona had its fewest turnovers (eight) since the opener and held San Diego State to 4 of 17 from the 3-point line. The Wildcats already are the favorites in the Pac-12, but if they can keep up the trend from the Diamond Head Classic, Arizona will be that much more dangerous in March.

Atlantic 10: Be the most interesting conference race.
A handful of other leagues have established clear pecking orders, but who knows what will come of the Atlantic 10, which may have the most compelling conference race aside from the Big Ten. With wins over Indiana and Syracuse, respectively, Butler and Temple are better than anyone projected this season. VCU may be the best of the bunch after winning seven in a row by an average of 25 points. Eight of the league’s 16 teams have at least nine wins.

Baylor: Get its act together.
This is a recurring resolution: Baylor has one of the top rosters in the country but the results of a middling Big 12 team. Beyond Kansas, the Big 12 is a crapshoot, so a team with Baylor’s talent should be able to cruise into the NCAA Tournament. But then again, the Bears enter conference play at 8-4.

Catholic 7: Assemble a great pure basketball league.
Any calls for a break in conference realignment seem futile. The biggest victory, at least for basketball, would be for the Big East’s Catholic school defectors to assemble a quality league that makes sense geographically and philosophically, a throwback to the original Big East, in essence. Here’s hoping Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, Marquette, et al., learned from the mistakes of their former football colleagues and make logical moves in expansion.

Cincinnati: Relocate the scoring touch.
Cincinnati is one of the best rebounding teams in the Big East, but the Bearcats are going to need to break the 70-point mark at a more regular pace if they’re going to deliver as a top Big East team. In its lone loss of the season to New Mexico, Cincinnati shot 31.3 percent from the field and reached the free throw line four times in the 55-54 defeat.

Creighton’s Doug McDermott: Lock up national player of the year honors.
Who else is in the running for national player of the year? Trey Burke? Russ Smith? Mason Plumlee? McDermott may still be the top candidate out there, though he’s not going to have much room for error in the Missouri Valley. McDermott is averaging 22.9 points per game, but he’s diversified his game with career bests both in efficiency and overall attempts from 3-point range and the free throw line.

Duke: Stay healthy.
All of Duke’s starters are averaging at least 10 points per game. Four are averaging at least 30 minutes per game. That’s nice, but no other Blue Devil is averaging more than 3.9 points per game. Given the way the season derailed after Ryan Kelly was hurt last season, culminating in the loss to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament, Duke can ill afford any prolonged absences.

Florida: Figure out the go-to option in the backcourt.
For two years in a row, Florida has faded late in the Elite Eight. A go-to scorer in the backcourt has to be a priority for another Gators team with the potential to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Kenny Boynton struggled against Arizona and is 7 of 32 from 3-point range in the last six games. The Gators may want to put more on the shoulders of Mike Rosario and/or Scottie Wilbekin, but they’ve been cold from long range in recent games, too.

Georgetown: Don’t fool us again.
The Hoyas may not be a Big East frontrunner or a threat to reach the Final Four, but the 10-1 start with the only loss coming in overtime to Indiana is better than most expected for Georgetown. But then again, this is when things tend to go awry for the Hoyas. The young Georgetown team will start the Big East season with four road trips in the first six games, so we’ll find out by the end of the month of the Hoyas are a contender or fool’s gold again.

Gonzaga: Go on an NCAA Tournament run.
Mark Few may have his best team at Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs likely will be judged by their ability to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga has played in the Tournament every season under Few but has reached the Sweet 16 as many times in the last 11 seasons (twice) as he did in his first two. What might help is drawing a Big 12 team in the field: Gonzaga is 5-0 against the Big 12 this season.

Illinois: Become less dependent on 3-pointers.
Illinois is scoring 37.3 percent of its points from 3-pointers this season, an awfully high ratio for a team contending in a major conference. A cold shooting day could mean disaster for Illinois, and a team anchored by the streaky Brandon Paul could be doubly problematic if he's the one who loses he scoring touch from beyond the arc. Finding balance is going to be a key for Illinois if its going to remain among the top teams in the Big Ten.

Indiana: Give Victor Oladipo his due.
Though Cody Zeller appeared on magazine covers and remains Indiana’s top awards contender, it’s time for Oladipo to carve out a niche as the Hoosiers’ folk hero. The one-time defensive specialist is on his way to career highs in scoring (13.6 points per game), rebounding (5.9) and shooting (67.3 percent from the field).

Kansas: Don’t let point guard become a liability.
The Jayhawks seem to have all the pieces to dominate the Big 12 and to make a deep postseason run. The one glaring question is point guard, where Elijah Johnson has struggled. Freshman Naadir Tharpe has shown signs of become a quality option at that spot with 12 assists against American on Saturday and no turnovers in backup duty in the last four games.

Kentucky: Don’t let free throws sink the season.
This isn’t one of John Calipari’s best teams. That’s clear, but it can be better than it has been. The Wildcats are shooting only 64.2 percent from the line, including an 11-of-23 performance that helped sink UK against Louisville. In Kentucky’s four losses, the Wildcats are shooting 55.3 percent from the line.

Louisville’s Russ Smith: Play at this level all season.
Russ Smith is in the national player of the year conversation by averaging 20 points per game and playing great defense in the Cardinals’ press. But Smith can make risky decisions from time to time. When he’s on, he’s electrifying. And if he stays that way all season, he’ll be an All-American.

Related: Key college basketball stats from last week

Michigan: Stay humble.
At 13-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country, Michigan is in a spot it hasn’t seen since the Fab Five days. Trey Burke has been hailed as the nation’s best point guard, and the freshman class has helped transform the Wolverines into a title contender. But Michigan isn’t that far removed from losing in the NCAA Tournament to Ohio (whose former coach, John Groce, will face Michigan twice this season at Illinois). In less than a month (Jan. 13-Feb. 12), Michigan will make road trips to Ohio State, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State.

Minnesota: Hold on to a spot in the top tier of the Big Ten.
Monday’s 76-63 win over Michigan State showed the Gophers have some staying power, but how much? The potential is there for a standout season in the Big Ten, but we haven’t seen Andre Hollins play consistently. Before scoring 22 against Michigan State, he scored five against Lafayette, and after scoring 41 on Memphis, he was 1 of 8 against Stanford. Same goes for Trevor Mbakwe, an Athlon preseason All-American, who is still working his way to full strength after last season's knee injury.

Missouri’s Phil Pressey: Avoid shooting slumps.
Pressey can be the best player on the floor even if he’s not shooting well, but imagine if Pressey knocked down more of his shots? He had 19 assists in the overtime loss to UCLA and 11 assists against Illinois, but he was also a combined 11 of 41 from the floor in those games.

Memphis: Dominate Conference USA.
Don’t let records fool you: Despite four teams with at least 10 wins, Conference USA is not in good shape. Memphis is the league’s only team in Ken Pomeroy’s top 50 and one of four in the top 100. With three standout recruiting classes, Memphis has the ability to rule the league, especially with key players hurting/ineligible at Marshall, the most likely foil for the Tigers this season. But Memphis can’t seem to get out of a season without drama. If Memphis can’t win the C-USA tournament, it may be sweating an NCAA Tournament bid.

Mountain West: Land five teams in the NCAA Tournament.
The Mountain West has never had more than four teams in the Tournament field, but this may be the season to change that. UNLV (11-2) and San Diego State (12-2) seem safe for bids, as does New Mexico (13-2). But Wyoming (13-0) remains undefeated with a stingy defense and a signature win over Colorado. Colorado State (12-2) is a veteran team that defeated Washington on the road and pounded Virginia Tech 88-52 on Dec. 23. And although Boise State (11-2) has a loss to Utah, it has a 13-point win at Creighton on its resume. Perhaps most important, the league won’t have a glut of teams dragging down the conference RPI other than perhaps Fresno State.

NC State: Make the most of its time out of the spotlight.
Remember, no one was on the NC State bandwagon until March last season. Maybe NC State will thrive again as a late bloomer. The Wolfpack are a long way removed from the 20-point loss to Oklahoma State but a long way from challenging Duke in the ACC. Now that no one’s talking about NC State as the ACC favorite anymore, the Wolfpack have been working on finding the right chemistry between its veterans and freshmen. The Pack will find out if the soul-searching has paid off when it faces Georgia Tech, Duke and Maryland in a three-game ACC swing.

Related: Top 50 individual sports performances for 2012

North Carolina: Find a lineup that works.
With few proven full-timers returning to North Carolina, perhaps it’s not a total surprise Roy Williams hasn’t found the right starting five. In filling in for Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston scored 15 points with four rebounds and four steals against UNLV in his first start of the season. When Bullock returns from a concussion, Williams will have to return Hairston to his bench role or play a smaller lineup. Either way, the key to the season may still be North Carolina’s ability to get the most out of James Michael McAdoo.

Ohio State: Find a second scorer.
Deshaun Thomas is scoring like Ohio State expected of him at 19.8 points per game, but who else is going to deliver? Lenzelle Smith Jr. was 3 of 13 against Kansas, including 0 for 7 from 3-point range. LaQuinton Ross has regressed since the start of the season. Aaron Craft isn’t scoring much either, but his best role is as a floor general. The lack of a secondary option was plainly obvious against Kansas and could continue to be that way through the Big Ten season.

Pac-12: Don’t embarrass yourself.
Let’s say this first: The Pac-12 is much better than it’s been. Arizona is a top-flight team. UCLA is getting better. Colorado and Oregon are in NCAA Tournament contention. In short, the Pac-12’s resolution should be to not screw it up. Four Tournament bids, after having eight total the last three seasons, would be a good place to start. Arizona advancing to the Sweet 16 or further would be better. And Tournament wins by the league’s second tier would be a nice touch.

Rivalries: Keep playing ‘em.
No longer conference rivals, Kansas and Missouri aren’t playing each other. Neither are West Virginia and Pittsburgh. Indiana and Kentucky couldn’t agree on where to play its series, so the matchup ended altogether. And Memphis and Tennessee will go on hiatus after this season. Ever wonder why college basketball’s regular season is fading? Maybe this is why.

Syracuse: Develop a Plan B after Michael Carter-Williams.
In Syracuse’s only loss of the season, Temple found a way to contain Carter-Williams to six assists (he averages 10.1) and 3 of 17 shooting. With Carter-Williams out of the picture some of the supporting cast failed to pick up the slack in the 83-79 loss. A backup plan needs to be in the works.

Tennessee: Become the SEC’s No. 4 team.
The top teams in the SEC are pretty clear with Florida, Kentucky and Missouri in NCAA Tournament contention. The bottom of the league, however, is a mess. In recent weeks, SEC teams have lost to Alabama A&M (Mississippi State), Southern (Texas A&M), Winthrop (Auburn), Iona (Georgia), Tulane and Mercer (Alabama). Where Tennessee fits in the equation is a mystery. The Volunteers guard with the best of them, but they’re challenged offensively. If Tennessee can figure things out in the offensive end, it could be the SEC’s No. 4 team.

Texas: Prove Myck Kabongo was the difference maker.
Kabongo’s NCAA-mandated suspension will end Feb. 13 against Iowa State, more than enough time for the sophomore guard to prove that he could have made a difference in the Longhorns’ stumbling start to the season. When Kabongo returns, he’ll be in the lineup against NCAA Tournament contenders Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor, plus the Big 12 tournament. If Texas finds itself on the bubble, Kabongo (9.6 ppg, 5.2 apg last season) could have a hand in putting the Longhorns into the field.

UCLA: Maintain the up-tempo offense.
Ben Howland strayed again from what helped UCLA reach three consecutive Final Fours early in his tenure. In recent games, he’s put more focus on running the court, a development that helped the Bruins defeat Missouri 97-94 in overtime on Dec. 29. His lineup is suited to the change, though Howland can’t be elated about the tradeoffs in the defensive end. Will he see this through to the end of the season?

UNLV: Develop chemistry among the glut of scorers.
Dave Rice doesn’t have the worst dilemma a basketball coach can have, but it is a dilemma nonetheless. UNLV has plenty of qualified scorers, especially in the frontcourt with Mike Moser and Khem Birch in the lineup. He has six players averaging at least nine points per game, though superb freshman Anthony Bennett (19.2 ppg) is the only one averaging more than 11. Making sure everyone is happy and involved may be an interesting challenge for the second-year coach.

<p> New Year's Resolutions in College Basketball for 2013</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/how-notre-dames-2012-championship-team-rank-high-school-recruits

The merits of recruiting rankings are debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. Athlon continues its look back at recruiting rankings by comparing the starting line-ups in the BCS National Championship Game as recruits.

Related: College Football's 2012 All-American Team as Recruits

2012 Notre Dame's Starting Offenses as Recruits

Everett Golson, QB (2011)
This deep South prospect was no ordinary three-star recruit. The Myrtle Beach (S.C.) High prospect had offers to play at Florida, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia Tech among many others. Rivals rated him as the No. 13 player in the state and the No. 16-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation.

Theo Riddick, RB (2009) National Recruit
The runner-turned-receiver-turned-runner was highly coveted coming out of Manville (N.J.) Immaculata. Athlon Sports ranked him the No. 185-overall player in the nation and the No. 24-rated running back in America. Rivals gave him four stars as he picked the Irish over offers from Penn State, West Virginia, Rutgers, Pitt, Maryland and Virginia. Riddick took the place of former start Cierre Wood — who was ranked as the No. 2 running back recruit in the nation back in 2009.

T.J. Jones, WR (2010) National Recruit
The Gainesville (Ga.) High native just missed landing in the Athlon Consensus 100 in 2010. He was the No. 116-rated overall prospect in the nation and was the No. 19-rated wide receiver nationally. The Peach State prospect held scholarships from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio State, Stanford, UCLA and Cal to go with Notre Dame. He was a four-star recruit according to Rivals.

DeVaris Daniels, WR (2011) National Recruit
Just like Jones, Daniels barely missed landing in the AC100 as he was rated the No. 105 overall player in the nation by Athlon Sports. The Vernon Hills (Ill.) High wide receiver was the No. 16-rated player at his position nationally and Rivals gave him a four-star ranking. Major college powers from all over the nation offered the talented Midwestern prospect: Oklahoma, Oregon, Arkansas, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Michigan State and Wisconsin to name a few.

John Goodman, WR (2008)
Both Goodman and receiver Robby Toma were three-star prospects coming out of high school. Goodman hails from Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger and was rated as the No. 3 player in the state and No. 51 player at his position by Rivals. He picked the Irish over Michigan, Iowa, Kentucky, Indiana and Purdue.

Tyler Eifert, TE (2009)
A high school teammate of Goodman’s at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger, Eifert was also a three-star pass catcher by Rivals one year later. Eifert was the No. 24-rated tight end in the nation and was the No. 10-rated player in the state by the online scouting service. He picked Notre Dame over Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Minnesota, Purdue, Cincinnati, Indiana and Wake Forest.

Christian Lombard, OL (2010) National Recruit
A big-time recruit from Palatine (Ill.) Fremd, Lombard was ranked in the Top 150 nationally (No. 146). The four-star prospect was the No. 20-rated offensive lineman in the nation by Athlon Sports and he picked Notre Dame over other big-time offers from Michigan, Nebraska, Stanford, North Carolina and Wisconsin (among many others).

Zack Martin, OL (2009) National Recruit
Michigan, Stanford, UCLA, Illinois, Virginia and Northwestern also offered Martin a chance to play college football. The four-star recruit from Indianapolis (Ind.) Bishop Chatard was the No. 26-rated offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 214-rated overall player in the country by Athlon Sports. Rivals listed Martin as the No. 2-rated player in the state behind only Montez Robinson.

Chris Watt, OL (2009) AC100
This top-100 prospect was the No. 8-rated offensive lineman in the nation back in 2009, trailing names like DJ Fluker, Xavier Nixon, Mason Walters and Marcus Hall. Athlon Sports ranked him the No. 49 overall player in the country. He was a four-star prospect from Glen Ellyn (Ill.) Glenbard West who picked Notre Dame over Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, Virginia, Northwestern, Illinois and Boston College.

Mike Golic Jr., OL (2008)
From West Hartford (Conn.) Northwest Catholic, Golic Jr., was headed to one campus and one campus only. The Notre Dame legacy — and son of famous ESPN personality Mike Golic Sr. — was a three-star recruit by Rivals who was ranked as the No. 8 center in the country. He was the No. 4-rated player in the state

Braxston Cave, OL (2008) National Recruit
Michigan, Notre Dame and Indiana offered the Mishawaka (Ind.) Penn prospect in 2008. He was the No. 4-rated center in the nation and the No. 2-rated player in the state by He was given four-star status and ranked as the No. 192-rated overall recruit in the nation.  

Related: How Alabama's Starting Line-up Ranked as Recruits

Star ranking breakdown of Notre Dame's starting line-up (by

Star Ranking No. of Players

2012 Notre Dame's Starting Defense as Recruits

Kapron Lewis-Moore, DL (2008) National Recruit
The star defensive end signed with the Irish from Weatherford (Texas) High and was ranked as a coveted four-star prospect by Rivals. He was the No. 13-rated strongside defensive end in the nation and was the No. 33-rated player in The Lone Star State. He held offers from Texas, Michigan, Louisville, Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Colorado and Kansas.

Louis Nix, DL (2010) National Recruit
The big fella from Jacksonville (Fla.) Raines barely missed landing in the Athlon Consensus 100 as the No. 102-rated player in the nation regardless of position. He was the no. 9-rated defensive tackle in a loaded year for the position and was a four-star recruit by Rivals. He had offers from Florida, Florida State, Clemson, Miami, Ole Miss and both North and South Carolina.

Stephon Tuitt, DL (2011) AC100
Athlon Sports ranked the Monroe (Ga.) Area High School prospect as the No. 44 overall player in the nation. He was the No. 4-rated player in the state behind Isaiah Crowell, Ray Drew and Jay Rome and was the No. 8-rated defensive lineman. Every school in the nation wanted the massive D-Lineman as he held seven SEC offers (Florida, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, Tennessee, Auburn, Vanderbilt) to go with Clemson, UCLA, North Carolina, Louisville and Notre Dame scholarships.

Prince Shembo, DL (2010) National Recruit
Hailing from Charlotte (N.C.) Ardrey Kell, Shembo signed with Notre Dame after Virginia Tech, Tennessee, North Carolina and West Virginia among others. He was a four-star prospect by Rivals and was the No. 7-rated inside linebacker in the nation. He was the No. 238-rated overall player in the nation and the No. 7-rated player in the state.

Manti Te’o, LB (2009) AC100
The Irish middle linebacker from Laie (Hawaii) Punahou is no stranger to the spotlight. He was the No. 1-rated linebacker in the nation and No. 3 overall player in the country, trailing only Matt Barkley (USC) and Russell Shepard (LSU) in Athlon Sports' 2009 recruiting rankings. Obviously, the No. 1 player in the state, Te’o held offers from every college program in the nation and was able to write his own ticket.

Dan Fox, LB (2009) National Recruit
The outside linebacker from Rocky River (Ohio) St. Ignatius was a four-star prospect by He was the No. 13-rated outside backer in the nation and was the No. 15-rated player in the state of Ohio. He held offers from Stanford, Michigan State, Iowa, Pitt, Virginia and Boston College as well as Notre Dame.

Danny Spond, LB (2010) National Recruit
The Littleton (Colo.) Columbine prospect was listed as a four-star “athlete” by Rivals. He was the No. 2-rated player in the state and the No. 27-rated player at his position nationally. Colorado, Stanford, TCU, Duke, Colorado offered and Arkansas had interest as well.

Kei'Varae Russell, CB (2012) National Recruit
An early contributor, Russell signed with Notre Dame out of Everett (Wash.) Mariner last February. He had an offer from every school in the Pac-12 except USC as well as Vanderbilt, Purdue and Boise State. Athlon Sports ranked him as the No. 18-rated running back prospect in the nation and he was the No. 167-rated overall player in the nation. Rivals gave him four stars.

Bennett Jackson, CB (2010)
The Hazlet (N.J.) Raritan native was a three-star recruit with an impressive offer sheet. Michigan State, West Virginia, Iowa, Maryland, Pitt, Rutgers and others offered the Garden State prospect. Rivals rated him the No. 61-best wide receiver in the nation and the ninth-best recruit in the state.

Matthias Farley, S (2011)
Another Southeastern prospect, Farley hails from Charlotte (N.C.) Christian High School. He had offers from local programs (North Carolina, NC State, Duke) as well as teams from across the nation (UCLA, Wisconsin, Maryland, Notre Dame) and was given a three-star rating from Rivals.

Zeke Motta, S (2009) National Recruit
The undersized linebacker prospect was an elite talent coming out of Vero Beach (Fla.) High School. Athlon Sports ranked him as the No. 174-rated player in the nation and the No. 24-rated linebacker in America. Rivals thought higher of him and ranked him as the No. 54-overall player in the nation, nearly giving him a fifth star. The Irish safety could have accepted scholarships to play at Florida, Florida State, Clemson, Auburn, North Carolina, West Virginia, UCLA or Stanford. 

Related Content:

Athlon Consensus 100: The Top 100 Recruits in the Nation
The 2012 All-America Team as Recruits

The 2012 All-Big 12 Team as Recruits

The 2012 All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-ACC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-SEC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big East Team as Recruits

<p> How Notre Dame's Championship Team Rank as High School Recruits</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 05:30
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-playoff-picks-wild-card-weekend

NFL Playoffs previews and predictions for Wild Card Weekend:

Byes: Broncos, Patriots

Bengals (10-6) at Texans (12-4)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Houston defensive end J.J. Watt had a coming out party in last year’s 31–10 Wild Card win over Cincinnati. Then a rookie, Watt had one sack, one INT returned 29 yards for a TD and one of his now famous J.J. swats to bat a ball down at the line of scrimmage. Watt followed that effort with a 12-tackle, 2.5-sack performance against in a Divisional Round defeat at Baltimore. But after 3.5 sacks and a pick-six in his first two playoff games, it’s safe to say that Watt likes the bright lights of the postseason.

Offensively, the Texans’ two-headed monster of running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson have been nearly impossible to stop this season. Foster has 1,641 total yards and 17 total TDs, while Johnson recently joined Marvin Harrison as the only players in history with four seasons with at least 100 catches and 1,500 yards.

The Bengals’ second-year pitch-and-catch duo of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green is also a tough tandem. Green has been particularly difficult to cover this season, with at least 100 yards or one TD in 12 games.

Texans by 6

Colts (11-5) at Ravens (10-6)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

The Colts return to Baltimore, where the team played from 1953-83 before packing up the Mayflower moving trucks and heading for Indy in 1984. Football returned to Baltimore in 1996, when the Browns moved from Cleveland and became the Ravens.

This will be the third playoff meeting between the Colts and Ravens since 2007. The Colts won both games, with a 20–3 win in Indianapolis in 2010 and a 15–6 victory at Baltimore in 2007. The last time these two squared off, Colts coach Chuck Pagano was the Ravens defensive coordinator, while Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell was the coach in Indianapolis.

This will be the first postseason start for Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and possibly the last game for Ravens veteran middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who has announced his intentions to retire following this season’s playoffs. Luck will need to keep his eyes on Baltimore ball-hawk Ed Reed, who has eight INTs for 162 return yards and one TD in 11 career playoff games.

Colts by 1

Byes: Falcons, 49ers

Vikings (10-6) at Packers (11-5)
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC

This AFC North division rivalry is between two familiar opponents who squared off in Week 17 — with Minnesota taking a 37–34 victory over Green Bay on a 29-yard game-winning FG by rookie Blair Walsh as time expired. In Week 13, the Packers defended Lambeau Field with a 23–14 win over the Vikings.

The season series was split, but there was one common thread in both contests. Adrian Peterson rushed for 210 yards and one TD outdoors in Green Bay and then had 199 rush yards and two total TDs in the dome at Minnesota. Peterson giving the Packers defense fits “All Day” isn’t a new trend, either. Last year, A.D. rushed for 175 yards and one TD in a loss; in 2010, he had 171 total yards and one TD in defeat.

But Green Bay will reluctantly allow Peterson to keep posting eye-popping numbers if quarterback Aaron Rodgers can continue a trend of his own. The discount double-checker is 5–1 against the Vikings over the last three seasons. More impressive, Rodgers has not lost back-to-back games since December 2010.

Packers by 5

Seahawks (11-5) at Redskins (10-6)
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX

The battle of rookie starting quarterbacks pits everyone’s favorite television spokesman and nicknamed hyperbole machine Robert Griffin III — known as RG3 to the hip fans who made his No. 10 jersey the all-time single-season record holder in sales — against the ultimate underdog Russell Wilson, a two-sport star who played for two schools (NC State, Wisconsin) before landing in Seattle.

Although their draft positions may be different (RG3 went No. 2, Wilson went No. 75 overall), both signal-callers have relied on similar dual-threat athleticism and mistake-free maturity to succeed. And as a result, both the Skins and Hawks are playing their best ball when it matters most. Washington has won seven consecutive games since its Week 10 bye, while Seattle has won five straight and seven of its last eight.

But history is not on the side of the Seahawks, who have lost eight straight playoff road games dating back to Dec. 31, 1983. Only nine Hawks on the current 53-man roster were even alive then.

Seahawks by 2

Last week: 12–4 // Season: 172-84

<p> 2013 NFL Playoff Picks: Wild Card Weekend, including the Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - 19:48
Path: /nfl/nfl-power-rankings-going-wild-card-weekend

Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams. The Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos head into the playoffs as the No. 1 seeds in the NFC and AFC, respectively. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs have locked up the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.

Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 17 of the season:

1. Falcons (13-3) John Abraham injures ankle in meaningless defeat.

2. Broncos (13-3) Eleventh straight win clinches No. 1 seed in playoffs.

3. Patriots (12-4) Rob Gronkowski scores in return from forearm injury.

4. 49ers (11-4-1) Clinch first-round bye with win plus Packers’ loss.

5. Texans (12-4) J.J. Watt falls two sacks shy of single-season record.

6. Packers (11-5) Lose at Minnesota, set to host rematch at Lambeau.

7. Seahawks (11-5) Russell Wilson ties rookie TD pass record (26) in win.

8. Redskins (10-6) RG3 plays through pain, leads Skins to playoffs.

9. Ravens (10-6) Ray Lewis returns for “last ride” before retirement.

10. Colts (11-5) Chuck Pagano victorious in first game back in Indy.

11. Bengals (10-6) Hope playoff rematch in Houston has happy ending.

12. Vikings (10-6) Adrian Peterson makes history, playoffs in victory.

13. Bears (10-6) Lovie Smith fired, Mike Ditka calls the move “stupid.”

14. Giants (9-7) Too little, too late for reigning Super Bowl champs.

15. Cowboys (8-8) Tony Romo throws season-ending INT vs. Redskins.

16. Steelers (8-8) Mike Tomlin avoids first losing season with victory.

17. Rams (7-8-1) One win away from first winning season since 2003.

18. Panthers (7-9) Win four straight, five of last six, to finish season.

19. Saints (7-9) Drew Brees first ever with three 5,000-yard years.

20. Dolphins (7-9) Fourth straight losing season ends in shutout loss.

21. Chargers (7-9) Pull the plug on coach Norv Turner, GM A.J. Smith.

22. Buccaneers (7-9) Muscle Hamster finishes with 1,454 yards, 11 TDs.

23. Titans (6-10) First ever with two players to score two return TDs.

24. Bills (6-10) Fire Chan Gailey; establishing analytics department.

25. Jets (6-10) Rex Ryan leaves town with job intact — for now.

26. Cardinals (5-11) Ken Whisenhunt fired after losing 11 of last 12 games.

27. Browns (5-11) Ready to hire sixth coach since 1999 return to NFL.

28. Lions (4-12) Calvin Johnson falls 36 yards short of 2K campaign.

29. Eagles (4-12) Andy Reid fired after 130–93–1 record in 14 seasons.

30. Raiders (4-12) Dennis Allen fires OC Greg Knapp after down year.

31. Jaguars (2-14) Is it Tim Tebow time now that season is finally over?

32. Chiefs (2-14) Fire Romeo Crennel, status of Scott Pioli uncertain.

<p> NFL Power Rankings Going Into Wild Card Weekend, including the Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - 19:20
Path: /nfl/nfl-wild-card-teams-most-likely-win-super-bowl

The easiest path to the Super Bowl has always been through a division championship. That fact is indisputable. There have been 46 Super Bowls and 92 Super Bowl teams and through all that time only 10 wild-cards have ever played for a championship.

And only six have run the wild-card gauntlet to be crowned Super Bowl champions.

Maybe that’s gotten easier over time. In the last seven seasons, three teams – the 2005 Steelers, the 2007 Giants, the 2010 Packers – have won the title as wild-card teams. And in the last 15 years – including the 1997 Broncos, the 1999 Titans and 2000 Ravens – seven wild-card teams have gotten to the Super Bowl and six have won it all.

So there is, if nothing else, a decent chance for the four wild-card teams of 2012. Maybe the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks aren’t the favorite to win a title. But they can’t be counted out. So here, in order of their chances for making a run all the way to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, is a look at this postseason’s wild-card teams.

1. Seattle Seahawks If the Seahawks (11-5) had won one more game and finished as the 2 seed, people would be picking them to go the Super Bowl. Never mind their rookie quarterback (Russell Wilson), just look at what they’ve done the last five weeks. They’ve gone 5-0, averaged 38.6 points and given up an average of just 12 points.

And for all the attention Wilson gets, this team has a championship defense. They’ve given up 20 or more points just five times this season. They’ve given up more than 24 points once. Once.

Yes, they are buoyed by an 8-0 home record, which won’t help them in the playoffs. Their 3-5 road record is something to watch. But they play defense as well as anyone, have the third-best rushing attack in the NFL (161.2 yards per game), and a quarterback who has a hot hand.

What else do you need to make a run?


Andy Dalton2. Cincinnati Bengals Of the four wild-card teams, the best—and most trustworthy—quarterback resides in Cincinnati, where Andy Dalton has become a force for the Bengals (10-6) and he has an incredibly dangerous target in receiver A.J. Green (97 catches, 1,350 yards, 11 touchdowns). Dalton has just five interceptions in his last eight games.

And what’s happened in those games? Quietly, the Bengals have gone 7-1, with only a one-point loss to Dallas tarnishing their record. They’re not an overpowering offense and they’re more likely to win a slugfest. But they get a break going to the fading Houston Texans first, where Dalton could give them a chance to survive.


Andrew Luck3. Indianapolis Colts It’s kind of hard to figure the Colts (11-5) this season. They have a low-rated defense, a low-rated running game and they’ve given up 30 more points than they’ve scored this season. That’s not usually a formula that results in 11 wins, especially with a rookie quarterback at the helm.

But Andrew Luck has proven to be no ordinary rookie (4,374 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, despite being sacked 41 times), and the Colts have clearly been inspired by the heart-warming story of coach Chuck Pagano and his interim replacement, Bruce Arians. They play as hard as anyone, Luck has a magic touch, and they’ve got seven come-from-behind wins.

They head to Baltimore first, and that’s not exactly the hard landing spot it’s been in recent seasons. Their biggest problem is the top-heavy nature of the AFC. Luck is good, but beating Tom Brady or Peyton Manning in the second round of the playoffs isn’t easy for anyone – especially a rookie.


Adrian Peterson4. Minnesota Vikings The way Adrian Peterson has run the ball this season (2,097 yards), it’s hard to rule the Vikings (10-6) out of anything – especially after they ended the season with four straight wins, including back-to-back wins over Houston and Green Bay.

The problem is the quarterback. Christian Ponder is a game-manager and the Vikings’ passing offense is ranked 31st in the NFL. Worse, their top receiver (Percy Harvin) is on injured reserve. They don’t have a dominant defense either, so all their hopes rest on one player. And as good as Peterson is, you can’t win a Super Bowl by being a completely one-dimensional team.



<p> NFL Wild-Cards Most Likely to Win the Super Bowl&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, NBA, MLB, Overtime
Path: /overtime/20-worst-sports-teammates-all-time

There are many different ways for a locker room to implode, splinter and almost assuredly fail to accomplish much of anything. Injuries, poor leadership and handsy owners are just a few ways the delicate pursuit of a championship can be derailed. But sometimes the locker room can be infested with teammates who clearly aren't committed to winning championships. It can rub off on others, can be a distraction in the media and is obviously a terrible way to represent yourself in your community to so many who admire them. Sometimes — most times — these athletes have so much talent that they continually are given chances to succeed. It generally leaves fans wondering what if?

Our worst teammates of all-time:

Ryan Leaf, Quarterback, NFL
The torrid and tawdry tale of the San Diego Chargers first-round pick in the 1998 NFL Draft is well documented. His off-the-field drug issues as a coach alone make him one of the most tragic members of any locker room in all of sports. Yet, simply as an NFL quarterback, Leaf failed to live up to his 6-foot-5 frame. He was in yelling matches that nearly developed into physical altercations with teammates, general managers, fans during practice and one famous reporter who should have "knock(ed) it off." The list of bizarre and ignorant decision-making is shocking. He skipped the final day of the rookie symposium. He complained to the front office about a standard rookie credit card prank. He constantly blamed teammates publicly for his poor play. He missed practice with an injury to play golf. He refused to have surgery when doctors told him he should. There is a reason he won only four of his 21 career starts.

Tonya Harding, Figure Skater
Aside from never being able to get to the arena or onto the ice on time, I'm not sure it gets any worse than physically assaulting your teammate with the direct intent of ending their career. On Jan. 6, 1994, Harding conspired with ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, to break teammate and competitor Nancy Kerrigan's right leg. They hired a man named Shane Stant to assault Kerrigan at Cobo Arena in Detroit, causing Kerrigan to withdraw from the 1994 US Championships. The attack didn't keep Kerrigan from competing in the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer where she won the Silver Medal. Harding would end up pleading guilty to conspiracy.

Barry Bonds, Outfielder, MLB
Possibly the most talented and most high profile player on this list, it seems awfully appropriate that Bonds has never won anything. The stories from teammates, fans and reporters stretch out longer than one of his bombs into the Bay. Not showing up for team photos, blaming teammates for failed drug tests, berating journalists, distracting the team and constantly distancing himself from his team. There is a report from Rob Dibble that Pirates players would offer steak dinners and cash to opposing pitchers if they would hit Bonds. He was hit 106 times in his career and, for the most part, his home run record is sneered at for a reason.

Delonte West, Guard, NBA
This one isn't too hard. Over a three-year period of time West was traded three times and eventually waived by the Minnesota Timberwolves. His career began unceremoniously when officers found a concealed handgun in his pocket and, I can't make this up, a shotgun in a guitar case on his back during a speedy stop — while on a motorcycle. In 2010, he got into a locker room fight with Von Wafer, one that witnesses say West instigated. In 2012, he wasn't allowed to attend the Mavericks trip to the White House and he reacted with an intense Twitter rant. Finally, and even I will admit, the most far-fetched tale of Mr. West are his alleged indiscretions with The Chosen One's Mom. No, I am not kidding. He never averaged more than 12.2 points per game in any season and averaged in double figures only three times in eight years in the NBA.

Bill Romanowski, Linebacker, NFL
The burly and physical tackler was a menace on the field as one of the nastiest hitters in the game and off the field as one of the worst teammates. During his playing days, he was long-linked to potential steroid use that likely led somewhat to his insane practice habits. No less than six major violent incidents with teammates dot Romanowski's resume. He shattered Marcus Williams' eye-socket, ending his career, broke Kerry Collins' jaw and attacked Tony Gonzalez. He kicked another teammate in the head, spit in another's face and was known to aim for an extra-sensitive area of the body with the football from time to time. The linebacker has since toned down his antics dramatically and has been slowly working to rebuild his image off of the field.

Manny Ramirez, Outfielder, MLB
No one makes you shake your head quite like Man-Ram. Yes, he has had physical altercations with teammates and even apparently knocked over an elderly secretary. He was an extraordinary hitter and one of the most bizarre outfielders in the history of the game. Cutting off throws, disappearing into the Monster and landing on the baseball only scratch the surface. He was also suspended for using steroids while playing for the Dodgers late in his career. But Manny is also guilty of the worst crime in all of sports: intentionally not playing hard. Manny Being Manny was great for a laugh — if you didn't play with him.

Terrell Owens, Wide Receiver, NFL
Constantly throwing teammates under the bus, Owens' selfish attitude on and off the field cost his locker room any cohesion and, at times, cost his team yards on the field. Effort was never his issue like some other prima donna wideouts in the NFL, but to blame quarterbacks and coaches for his own failures is absurd. And to infer certain things about Jeff Garcia in a negative way is unacceptable, distasteful and classless. Especially, coming from a guy as vain as T.O.

Gilbert Arenas, Guard, NBA
He has long been known to berate and verbally abuse teammates. He has also been connected with some of the more vicious rookie hazings. However, being suspended for nearly an entire season because you brought a handgun into the locker room takes the cake. Which is unacceptable, especially if you are a career 42.1 percent shooter.

Steve Smith, Wide Receiver, NFL (Carolina Panthers)
Multiple fights with multiple teammates have made Smith a constant headline in training camp. He has been sued, fined, suspended and sent to anger management training for the better part of a decade. It’s not working. He has long been one of the most talkative — and generally not using pleasantries — players in all of the NFL.

Carlos Zambrano, Starting Pitcher, MLB
He was suspended for arguing with teammate Derrek Lee. He got in a fight between innings with catcher Michael Barrett. His temper and childish behaviors were caught on film numerous times on the North Side of Chicago. Why do you think new management was willing to pay millions for him NOT to be in their clubhouse?

John Terry, Centre Back, English Premier Soccer
One of the most decorated English soccer plays of all-time, Terry won "Dad of the Year" in 2009. The voters must not have known about his bar fights, airport altercations, handicap parking tendencies and general sleaziness. He has been investigated for racial abuse and was busted for having an extramarital affair with a teammate’s significant other. Well done, sire.

Jeff Kent, Second Base, MLB
Few players have ever been as abrasive as Mr. Kent. Stories of Barry Bonds — yes, Barry Bonds — having to play the role of peacekeeper in the Giants clubhouse should tell you all you need to know about Kent. Teammates, media, coaches and fans can't stand to be around him. Neither could the people on "Survivor" apparently.

Latrell Sprewell, Guard, NBA
Few players have wasted more talent on nonsense than Sprewell. Not many players can say they have literally choked their head coach. His excuse? "It's not like he was losing air or anything." Spree's laundry list of locker room dust-ups is too long to comb through. But choking your coach and publicly wondering how he was going to feed his family on a $21 million contract is enough to make this list.

The "Worst" of the Rest:

Albert Haynesworth, Defensive Lineman, NFL
A paycheck player who refused to play certain positions and never stayed in shape following his payday.

Keyshawn Johnson, Wide Receiver, NFL
Was always wondering why the Jets were throwing the ball "to that little white guy." Hmmm...

Stephon Marbury, Guard, NBA
Constantly battling with teammates and even his GM, he single-handedly derailed the Knicks.

Allen Iverson, Guard, NBA
Game effort was never the issue. His Diva persona and attitude towards practice was.

Joe Horn, Wide Receiver, NFL
On the field antics and sleeping with a teammate's wife qualifies Horn for this list.

JaMarcus Russell, Quarterback, NFL
Lazy, out of shape and unfocused on anything that had to do with winning games.

Milton Bradley, Outfielder, MLB
Eight teams in 12 years for the short-tempered maniac. Has had multiple domestic abuse issues.

<p> 20 Worst Sports Teammates of All-Time</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-vs-alabama-historical-position

There are few programs in the history of college football that have experienced as much success as Alabama and Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are fourth all-time with 865 wins and no team in the nation can claim more Heisman trophies than the Irish's seven. The Crimson Tide are ninth all-time with 826 wins and have won two of the last three BCS National Championships. Officially, the Tide lead all FBS programs with 14 national titles and Notre Dame is tied for second with 11. 'Bama claims 24 NCAA Hall of Famers while the Irish boast 50.

Arguably, the two most powerful brands in college football history will be on the field deciding a championship on Monday, Jan. 7. Dedicated fans, legendary coaches, historic moments and most importantly, transcendent players have made these two football Goliaths what they are today.

So which program has had the better history of great athletes? To be fair, the evolution of the athlete makes it extremely difficult to compare players who passed beneath Touchdown Jesus or through the Capstone 60 years apart. Players today are bigger, faster, stronger and more prepared for elite competition than ever before. How could you ever compare Barrett Jones to Aaron Taylor to John Hannah? What about Manti Te'o, Cornelius Bennett or Jim Lynch? How about George Gipp or Trent Richardson?

It's virtually impossible, but Athlon Sports has given it the ol' college try:


Alabama's Best: Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, AJ McCarron
Notre Dame's Best: Johnny Lujack, Joe Montana, Paul Hornung

With AJ McCarron pushing for his second national championship ring, Alabama has a strong trio at the most important position on the field. The Tide also has title winners in Jay Barker, Greg McElroy and Pat Trammell. 'Bama also claims Green Bay Packers hero Bart Starr. However, Notre Dame gets the nod under center with a deep and talented history at the quarterback position. Lujack, Hornung, John Huarte and Angelo Bartelli all won Heisman trophies and many believe Montana is the best to ever play the position. Throw in Terry Hanratty, Joe Theismann, Rick Mirer, Brady Quinn and Tony Rice, and the Irish have the clear edge under center.

Edge: Notre Dame

Running Back:

Alabama's Best: Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram, Bobby Humphrey
Notre Dame's Best: George Gipp, Johnny Lattner, Jerome Bettis

If the game was being played 50 years ago, Notre Dame's best would likely trump 'Bama. However, the modern athlete gives the Crimson Tide the edge at running back. Richardson is one of the most physically gifted players to ever carry a football on any campus. Ingram won Alabama's lone Heisman Trophy, and old-school names like Humphrey, Johnny Musso, Shaun Alexander and Johnny Mack Brown give the Tide plenty of history of their own. The Gipper is the gold standard in South Bend for all players regardless of position, as Gipp excelled at much more than just running. Bettis is arguably the most gifted Irish runner, but is the only modern "all-time" tailback at Notre Dame. Lattner, Gipp, Elmer Layden and Emil Sitko played during a different era and even the best of the rest — Vagas Ferguson, Autry Denson, Reggie Brooks — are nearly 20 years removed from action. This position battle is extremely close but Alabama gets the slight edge based on raw athletic ability.

Edge: Alabama

Wide Receiver:

Alabama's Best: Don Hutson, Julio Jones, David Palmer
Notre Dame's Best: Tim Brown, Rocket Ismail, Michael Floyd

'Bama's best can hang with anyone's top three, especially considering what Hutson and Jones have gone on to do in the NFL. But the position isn't extremely deep with All-Americans. Notre Dame, however, has a deep history of elite pass catchers. Brown won the program's seventh Heisman Trophy, Ismail was virtually unstoppable in the open field, and Floyd was as productive as any wideout at any school. But Jim Seymour, Jeff Samardzija, Golden Tate, Wayne Milner and Derrick Mays, to name a few, give the Irish the nod over the Crimson Tide. Although, it would have been interesting to see what type of legacy Tyrone Prothro would have left at Alabama had he stayed healthy.

Edge: Notre Dame

Tight End:

Alabama's Best: Ozzie Newsome, Howard Cross, Rod Rutledge
Notre Dame's Best: Ken McAfee, Dave Casper, Kyle Rudolph

This one isn't even close despite Newsome being the best overall player at this position on either team. McAfee and Casper are two of the greatest college tight ends in history, while Rudolph's freakish athletic ability made him a special player. Toss in Jim Mutscheller, John Carlson, Tyler Eifert, Irv Smith and Mark Bavaro and the Irish can boast one of the best tight end traditions in the nation.

Edge: Notre Dame

Offensive Line:

Alabama's Best: John Hannah, Chris Samuels, Barrett Jones
Notre Dame's Best: George Connor, Bill Fischer, Aaron Taylor

Much like the tight end position, this battle isn't really close. This time, however, it's Alabama that has the distinct advantage. The fact that Dwight Stephenson, Andre Smith, Antoine Caldwell, Billy Neighbors and Chance Warmack aren't one of the best three linemen to play at a school indicates just how elite 'Bama's blocking heritage has been. Strangely enough — and relatively speaking, of course — the Irish have little history of elite offensive linemen. Mirko Jurkovic, Andy Heck and John Scully might not even stack up with even the Mike Johnsons and D.J. Flukers of the Crimson Tide world.

Edge: Alabama 

Defensive Line:

Alabama's Best: Leroy Cook, Marty Lyons, Terrance Cody
Notre Dame's Best: Ross Browner, Leon Hart, Justin Tuck

Surprisingly, Alabama's tradition and history along the defensive line is similar to that of Notre Dame's offensive line in that a small number of D-Liners are named amongst the program's all-time best. For example, it is likely that Jesse Williams is one of the top 10 defensive linemen in Capstone history. Lyons and Cook were truly great, and Cody was a monster. Beyond them it is hard to find comparable names. Eric Curry, John Copeland, Marcell Dareus and Mike Pitts were all great players but not Heisman Trophy-type talents. Browner was one of the game's greatest at his position, Hart is still one of just two linemen to win the Heisman Trophy, and Tuck is a physical freak. Toss in Bryant Young, Chris Zorich, Alan Page and Bob Dove, and the Irish get the nod along the defensive frontline. Walt Patulski, Frank Stams, Steve Niehaus and Louis Nix III could also be mentioned among the ND's best — and Stephon Tuitt may only need one more season to prove he belongs as well.

Edge: Notre Dame


Alabama's Best: Derrick Thomas, Cornelius Bennett, Lee Roy Jordan
Notre Dame's Best: Manti Te'o, Jim Lynch, Bob Crable

Alabama's tradition of churning out elite linebackers is downright absurd. DeMeco Ryans, C.J. Mosley, Keith McCants and Dwayne Rudd aren't even in the top 10. Woodrow Lowe, Dont'a Hightower, Rolando McClain and Courtney Upshaw aren't in the top three. Along with offensive line, this position is the strongest historically of the Crimson Tide program. Considering the history at this position, it's no wonder Nick Saban has made a killing recruiting elite tackling prospects. Te'o speaks for himself as one of the better all-around college athletes to ever the play the game. Lynch and Crable are elite in their own right as well. And Bob Golic, Jerry Groom, Michael Stonebreaker and Nick Buoniconti are good players but Notre Dame can't match the rich heritage of Alabama's linebackers.

Edge: Alabama


Alabama's Best: Antonio Langham, Javier Arenas, Jeremiah Castille
Notre Dame's Best: Todd Lyght, Bobby Taylor, Luther Bradley

Langham won the Thorpe Award and led his team to a national title, while Arenas impacted the game in so many different ways. That said, Dee Milliner might be the most complete and talented corner to ever play at Alabama. Dre Kirkpatrick, Kareem Jackson and Don McNeal add quality depth to the cover corner position as well. Notre Dame has had some quality players at cornerback over the years but none are considered amongst the school's all-time greatest players.

Edge: Alabama


Alabama's Best: Mark Barron, Tommy Wilcox, George Teague
Notre Dame's Best: Mike Townsend, Tom Zbikowski, Dave Duerson

There was talk around the SEC that Barron was the best player in the conference last season — in a year that had nine first-round picks from the SEC. Wilcox is widely regarded as the only other truly great Alabama safety, while others like George Teague and Rashad Johnson were big winners. However, Notre Dame's recent run at safety — Zbikowski and Harrison Smith — give the Irish a very slight edge at the backend of the defense. Dick Lynch and Dave Duerson add quality depth to a position that has been comparatively thin for both programs. Although, both programs have produced some NFL stars in the last few seasons.

Edge: Notre Dame


Notre Dame's John Carney vs. Alabama's Leigh Tiffin

Both names dominate their respective record books. Alabama has had a slightly better run of kickers overall (Phillip Doyle, Michael Proctor) than Notre Dame, but Carney went on to become one of the NFL's best for more than two decades. 

Edge: Notre Dame


Head Coach:

Alabama's Best: Bear Bryant, Nick Saban, Frank Thomas
Notre Dame's Best: Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian

This is one of the more interesting debates in a historical perspective for both teams. It's tough to argue that Bryant isn't the game's greatest general, however, nearly one third of his 323 wins (91) came during his 13-year coaching tenure prior to getting to Tuscaloosa. And the Notre Dame coaching history has been slightly deeper and more balanced as seven different men won a national title at Notre Dame, while only five did so at Alabama. How do Lou Holtz, Dan Devine and Elmer Layden compare to Wallace Wade and Gene Stallings? Brian Kelly has won titles on every level of his coaching career and has a chance to defeat Saban head-to-head and make it eight coaches to win titles for the Irish. That said, The Bear is the trump card. But this is about as dead even a position battle for these two historic programs. One could also argue that these are the two best collections of head coaches in the nation — which should come as no shock considering these are two of college football's most prestigious programs.

Edge: Alabama

<p> Alabama and Notre Dame: A position-by-position historic comparison</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/sugar-bowl-preview-and-prediction-florida-vs-louisville

Florida and Louisville haven’t played each other during the lifetime of many of the players on the field in New Orleans, but familiar faces will be all over the place.

The Gators and Cardinals, who last met in a 31-17 Florida win in 1992, are full of Sunshine State-born players. Florida’s roster, of course, is awash with home-state players (66 total). Under former Gators assistant Charlie Strong, though, Louisville ramped up its strategy of aggressively recruiting Florida with 34 players from the state on its roster, including the Cardinals top player in Miami native Teddy Bridgewater.

Though this isn’t necessarily a recruiting battle by proxy -- the Cardinals rarely compete for the same prospects as Florida and tend to delve more into the Miami area -- this could be an important statement for Louisville.

“If you just break down that state, you can go get 25 players within that state,” Strong said. “What’s different for us here [in Kentucky] is you don’t have the state where you can go and get 25 players. You would like to go find those types of players, but you have to go outside of this state.”

And the familiarity with the former Florida high school stars is just the start: Strong was an assistant at Florida for three stints under four coaches, including a defensive coordinator/co-coordinator for the 2006 and ’08 title teams. He also recruited or coached many of Florida’s upperclassmen and took with him to Louisville two former Gators assistants (running backs coach Kenny Carter and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford).

While the shared background of the rosters and coaching staffs is an intriguing storyline, Louisville will have to try to find a way to crack a stout Florida defense.

Bridgewater may be a Heisman-contending quarterback in 2013, but he’ll open the calendar year against the nation’s No. 1 pass efficiency defense. Through the season, the Gators were able to neutralize Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Texas A&M’s Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel.

Sugar Bowl - Florida (11-1) vs. Louisville (10-2)

Date and time: Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. Eastern
Network: ESPN
Location: New Orleans, La.

When Florida has the ball:

The Gators’ primary strength is a power run game led by Mike Gillislee. When Florida gets its run game and blocking going, watch out. Against Tennessee, LSU and Florida State this season, Gillislee and the line took charge in the second half with long, methodical drives. This could be a problem for a Louisville defense that finished seventh in the Big East in stopping the run. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel has showed potential as a run-pass threat, but the Gators offense has struggled for two years in the pass game. Driskel threw for fewer than 100 yards in a game four times this season, but Florida won all four of those games. Many of the problems in the pass game can be traced to a lackluster receiving corps and break downs in pass protection. Florida allowed three sacks per game.

Louisville, however, is coming off one of its best defensive performances of the season, and it came against a Rutgers team similarly built around a stout run game but with a shaky quarterback. In the regular season finale, Louisville held Rutgers to 54 rushing yards and forced three turnovers. Florida also has one of the best special teams units in the country with a Groza finalist (Caleb Sturgis) and Ray Guy finalist (Kyle Christy).

When Louisville has the ball:

Bridgewater can be one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, and as he proved late in the season, one of the toughest. Bridgewater battled through wrist and ankle injuries to pass for 263 yards against Rutgers, displaying pinpoint accuracy late despite being hobbled. Bridgewater threw 16 touchdown passes to four interceptions in the final six games of the season. DeVante Parker emerged as his go-to receiver downfield, but five Cardinals topped 30 catches. The problem for the Louisville offense, though, has been putting too much on Bridgewater’s shoulders, especially after a season-ending injury to running back Senorise Perry.

The Cardinals struggled when they couldn’t find balance. Achieving that goal will be tough against Florida, which ranked in the top 10 nationally in rush defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense. Safety Matt Elam (four interceptions, 10 tackles for a loss) can cause problems all over the field. If there’s a weakness in the bowl game for the Gators defense it will be the absence of starting linebacker Jelani Jenkins with a broken foot. As with many of the SEC’s top defenses, the Gators have a stout defensive line that will present problems for a Louisville line that starts three sophomores.

Final analysis:

Louisville lost two of its last three, including a defeat to bowl no-show Connecticut. Bridgewater limped to the finish line with injuries, so the layoff may do the Cardinals quarterback good. Florida had its flaws, but the Gators still managed to go 11-1. The Florida defense may be overwhelming even for a healthy Bridgewater. The Gators’ offense isn’t all that great, but neither is the Cardinals’ defense. The edge goes to Florida on both sides of the ball and in special teams.

Prediction: Florida 28, Louisville 14

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<p> Sugar Bowl Preview and Prediction: Florida vs. Louisville</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - 06:40
Path: /college-football/top-5-fiesta-bowl-performances-bcs-era

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 Fiesta Bowl Performances of the BCS Era:

5. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State, 2011
Blackmon capped off a terrific three-year career at Oklahoma State with a brilliant performance in the Cowboys’ 41–38 overtime win over Stanford. The senior caught eight passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns to lead a receiving corps that torched the Stanford secondary for 399 yards. Blackmon’s first two scores went for 43 and 67 yards, respectively, and helped the Pokes recover from an early 14–0 deficit. His final touchdown, a 17-yard pass from Brandon Weeden, tied the game at 31–21, early in the fourth quarter.


4. Alex Smith, QB, Utah, 2005
Running Urban Meyer’s spread option offense to near perfection, Smith led Utah to a 35–7 win over Pittsburgh that completed a perfect 12–0 season. The future No. 1 pick of the San Francisco 49ers completed 29-of-37 passes for 328 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions and added 68 yards on the ground. The Utes were the first team from a non-BCS conference to earn a spot in a BCS bowl.

3. Joey Harrington, QB, Oregon, 2002
Oregon was ranked No. 2 in the nation in both major polls but got squeezed out of the BCS National Championship Game in favor of Nebraska. Harrington and the Ducks’ offense took their frustrations out on Colorado, ranked No. 3 in both polls, in a surprisingly lopsided 38–16 win. Harrington completed 38-of-42 passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns, including a 79-yard strike to Samie Parker that tied the record for longest pass reception in Fiesta Bowl history.

2. Pat White, QB, West Virginia, 2008
A true dual-threat quarterback, White abused the Oklahoma defense with 150 yards rushing on 25 carries and 176 yards passing as the Mountaineers rolled up 525 total yards en route to a 48–28 win over the Big 12 champs. West Virginia was coached by Bill Stewart, who stepped in for Rich Rodriguez, who bolted for the top job at Michigan after the regular season.

1. Jared Zabransky, QB, Boise State, 2007
In what will always be remembered as one of the most exciting bowl games in history, Zabransky and the upstart Broncos stunned heavily favored Oklahoma, 43–42 in overtime, after converting a Statue of Liberty play into a two-point conversion on their first possession of the extra session. Zabransky finished the game with 262 yards passing and three touchdowns.

<p> Athlon Sports ranks the best Fiesta Bowl performances of the BCS Era.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - 06:30
Path: /mlb/very-early-baseball-predictions-2013

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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! 

<p> Early MLB Predictions for 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - 05:00