Articles By All

All taxonomy terms: Michael Jordan engaged, Yvette Prieto, News
Path: /news/michael-jordan-engaged-cuban-model-yvette-prieto-photos
Body:

Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player who's ever lived. And now he's the greatest basketball player who's ever lived who is also engaged to Cuban model Yvette Prieto.

Jordan and Prieto have been dating since sometime in 2009. He first made their relationship known to the world at the All-Star game of that year.

Not a ton is known about her, except a few of these fun facts:

- Yvette Prieto got her start by modeling by doing bikini and fashion shoots and commercials.

- Prieto is 33 years old.

- Yvette is Cuban-American.

- Apparently just three years ago Yvette was reportedly dating Julio Iglesies Jr. and was happily in that relationship. According to Hola! Magazine's translation:

We've been dating for a year. While I can count on my fingers the girls I have dated seriously, Yvette is the third and the third time's the charm. She's a fantastic girl and I like her, apart from her beauty that's obvious, she is loving and easy-going. How good it is.

I guess if you're Julio Iglesies Jr, losing your girlfriend to Michael Jordan would hurt, but yuou'd also kind of understand. He's Michael Jordan.

Not much else is known about her, and even less is known about her relationship with Air Jordan, one of the most private men in all of sports.

The 6-time NBA champ's divorce, which was finalized in 2006 cost Jordan a reported $150 million, the details of which he kept under wraps about as well as you possibly could given this day and age of paparazzi and focus on celebrities.

There aren't a lot of photos of Prieto out there, but here's a quick gallery:

How a man who recently lost $150 million in a divorce can go back to the well so quickly (no matter how hot she is) must speak to how smitten Jordan is with the mysterious Yvette Prieto. Or maybe when you have somewhere in the vicinity of a billion dollars, losing a cool hundred and fifty million isn't that big of a deal.

We're guessing more photos of Yvette Prieto will come out as more people investigate her past, and we'll add the best ones here when they surface.

Teaser:
<p> The greatest basketball player of all time is now the greatest engaged basketball player of all time</p>
Post date: Friday, December 30, 2011 - 10:58
Path: /college-football/fiesta-bowl-preview-oklahoma-state-vs-stanford
Body:

by Nathan Rush

Fiesta Bowl
Oklahoma State (11–1) vs. Stanford (11–1)

Date: Jan. 2, 2012 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

The No. 3 and No. 4 teams in the country — Oklahoma State and Stanford — go toe-to-toe in this year’s Fiesta Bowl, which features two of the three one-loss teams remaining from BCS conferences (with Alabama being the third one-loss squad and LSU, of course, the lone undefeated).

More than that, University of Phoenix Stadium will host the nation’s top-ranked team from outside the Southeastern Conference as well as the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft.

Both the Cowboys and Cardinal fell just short of the BCS national title game. But with so many players either set to graduate or expected to bolt for the NFL following this game, expect both sides to be motivated to end their impressive seasons on a high note with a BCS Fiesta Bowl statement.

After starting the year 10–0, main “man” Mike Gundy’s Pokes lost at Iowa State, 37–31 in double-overtime, in a Friday night thriller in their penultimate game — before dominating Oklahoma, 44–10, in the Bedlam finale to end an eight-game losing streak to OU, clinch their first-ever Big 12 title and first outright conference championship since winning the three-team Missouri Valley in 1948.

On the other side, first-year Cardinal coach David Shaw was off to a 9–0 start at Stanford before a disappointing 53–30 letdown to Oregon ended any Pac-12 North division, Pac-12 Conference or BCS national title hopes on The Farm. The Cardinal bounced back, however, with a 31–28 win over Cal in the Big Game and a 28–14 victory over Notre Dame in prime time.

The boys in Vegas are expecting a shootout in this one, with a 74-point over-under, which is the second-highest on the board — trailing only the Alamo Bowl (79) between Baylor and Washington. Expect a scoreboard scorcher in the desert.

WHEN OKLAHOMA STATE HAS THE BALL:

The Cowboys have the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense (49.33 ppg), No. 2 passing offense (386.25 ypg) and No. 3 total offense (557.0 ypg).

Quarterback Brandon Weeden is a former minor league pitching prospect who was drafted by MLB’s New York Yankees in the second round of the 2002 draft, traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the 2003 Kevin Brown deal and picked up by the Kansas City Royals in the Rule 5 Draft before arriving on campus in Stillwater. The 28-year-old Oklahoma City native has been throwing strikes for O-State all season — passing for 4,328 yards, 34 TDs and 12 INTs.

Only the second-ever two-time Biletnikoff Award winner, Justin Blackmon is the nation’s top wide receiver. The 6’1”, 215-pound junior has 113 catches for 1,336 yards and 15 TDs, but will need a whale of a game in Glendale to match his 2010 stat line of 111 catches for 1,782 yards and 20 TDs, along with four carries for 77 rush yards and one score on the ground. Blackmon is joined by Tracy Moore (672 yards, 4 TDs) and Josh Cooper (660 yards, 3 TDs), but there is no doubt about who is Weeden’s top target.

The Pokes’ running game has a solid one-two punch in feature back Joseph Randle (1,193 yards, 23 TDs) and sidekick Jeremy Smith (645 yards, 9 TDs). But O-State is powered by its dominant O-line — led by first-team All-Big 12 left tackle Levy Adcock (6’6”, 322) and center Grant Garner (6’3”, 292).

Stanford’s defense struggled against the top two offenses it faced this season, allowing 53 points in a loss to Oregon and 48 points in a triple-overtime win at USC. The unit ranked a respectable 23rd nationally in scoring defense (20.33 ppg); but the Cardinal’s 78th-ranked passing defense (241.08 ypg) is cause for concern against the Cowboys. All-Pac-12 safety Delano Howell must avoid getting beat over the top; end Ben Gardner and linebacker Chase Thomas will have to bring their A-game.

WHEN STANFORD HAS THE BALL:

Andrew Luck is being touted as the greatest NFL quarterback prospect since Tennessee’s Peyton Manning in 1998 and possibly since Stanford’s own John Elway in 1983. The son of former NFL quarterback and current West Virginia athletics director Oliver Luck was coached up by former NFL quarterback and current San Francisco 49ers boss Jim Harbaugh prior to this, his fourth-year junior season. Luck has the size (6’4”, 235), arm, athleticism, leadership and “it” factor to lead any team to victory.

Plus, the quick-triggerman plays behind arguably the top offensive line in the country — with a top-10 pick candidate at left tackle in Jonathan Martin (6’6”, 304) and a mauling All-Pac-12 guard David DeCastro (6’5”, 310).

This season, Luck completed 70 percent of his passes —albeit on far fewer attempts than Weeden, who threw 522 passes in O-State’s spread attack compared to Luck’s 373 attempts in Stanford’s pro-style offense — for 3,170 yards, 35 TDs and nine INTs, while rushing for two TDs and hauling in a highlight-reel diving 13-yard catch for good measure.

Luck has a solid running back corps behind him — with Stepfan Taylor (1,153 yards, 8 TDs), Tyler Gaffney (445 yards, 7 TDs) and Jeremy Stewart (8 TDs) — but lacks speedy downfield receiving threats. Instead, the Luck’s Cardinal use a Tom Brady, New England Patriots-style tight end attack with Coby Fleener (648 yards, 10 TDs), 6’8” Levin Toilolo (325 yards, 6 TDs) and H-back Ryan Hewitt (277 yards, 5 TDs) providing most of the plays. Griff Whalen (664 yards, 4 TDs) is the top receiver, while oft-concussed Chris Owusu (376 yards, 2 TDs) is a question mark.

O-State has the nation’s 61st-ranked scoring defense (25.83 ppg) and 102nd-ranked pass defense (265.58 ypg). On first glance, those numbers seem to favor Luck and the Cardinal. But the Cowboys’ top playmakers on defense are pass rusher Jamie Blatnick, roaming safety Markelle Martin and cover corner Brodrick Brown — players who could make Luck’s last game a tougher test than expected.

Also, the Pokes faced four of the top six passing offenses this season — Arizona (third), Oklahoma (fourth), Baylor (fifth) and Texas Tech (sixth) — posting a 4–0 record and winning by a combined score of 206–54. That defense against the pass doesn’t look too bad upon further review.

Special Teams

Cowboys kicker and punter Quinn Sharp is a valuable field-position weapon, averaging 46.6 yards per punt with a long of 60. He has also been steady inside of 46 yards, connecting on 20-of-23 field goals this season. Kick returner Justin Gilbert is quicksilver with the ball, averaging 25.8 yards per return with two TDs — including a 100-yarder to paydirt.

The Cardinal kicking game has struggled lately, with Jordan Williamson (12-of-15 on FGs) and Eric Whitaker (4-of-5) combining to miss three of their last four attempts — two from long range (48 and 49 yards) and one chip-shot (33). The return game is not much better, although kick returner Ty Montgomery did score on a 96-yarder earlier this year.

Prediction

Oklahoma State is too powerful for Stanford. After all, Luck doesn’t play defense; and there’s only so much the future No. 1 overall pick can do with the limited offensive weapons at his disposal. Gundy will break out the big guns and the Pokes will have people asking why they aren’t playing for the national championship when the sand settles at the Fiesta Bowl.

Oklahoma State 48, Stanford 34

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2012 Fiesta Bowl: Stanford vs. Oklahoma State.</p>
Post date: Friday, December 30, 2011 - 08:58
Path: /college-football/rose-bowl-preview-wisconsin-vs-oregon
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

Rose Bowl
Wisconsin (11-2, 6-2) vs. Oregon (11-2, 8-1)

Date: Jan. 2 at 5:10 p.m. ET
Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

When the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions square-off in the 98th edition of the Granddaddy of Them All, there should be no shortage of pyrotechnics. The Oregon Ducks, who topped UCLA with ease in the Pac-12 title game, will play in its third consecutive BCS Bowl. Chip Kelly’s squad is still looking for its first BCS bowl win, however, after getting handled along the line of scrimmage by both Ohio State and Auburn in its last two postseason trips.

Wisconsin outlasted Michigan State in the Midwest’s version of the rematch in the inaugural Big Ten title game in Indianapolis. The second edition was just as entertaining as the first, as the 42-39 come from behind victory sent the Badgers to their second straight Rose Bowl. They, too, lost a BCS bowl last season as the TCU Horned Frogs claimed the 2011 Rose Bowl championship 21-19.

Wisconsin holds the lead in the all-time series between the two squads 3-1 with wins coming in 1977, 1978 and 2000. Oregon won the last match-up in 2001 when current Badgers’ athletic director Barry Alvarez and former Ducks’ A.D. Mike Bellotti split a home-and-home.

WHEN OREGON HAS THE BALL:

Most offensive coordinators can’t even dream about designing an offense around the Oregon Ducks skill position players. Former Doak Walker Award winner LaMichael James led the nation in rushing yards per game for the second straight season. Backup Kenjon Barner posted 1,041 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns. Freshman DeAnthony Thomas rolled-up 1,934 all-purpose yards and scored 16 total touchdowns in three different ways.

And it is quarterback Darron Thomas’, who threw 30 touchdown passes for the second straight season, responsibility to distribute the football accordingly. A knee injury and some ineffective play slowed Thomas’ season at the midway point, but the second-year starter has rallied and played his best football of late. He has accounted for eight touchdowns and 571 yards of total offense over the last two games.

The speed of the Oregon offense will challenge the Wisconsin front seven that is led by all-league linebackers Mike Taylor (137 tackles) and Chris Borland (131 tackles). Stopping the run has proven to be key in the last two non-conference losses for Oregon. LSU held Oregon to 95 yards on 28 attempts earlier this season and Auburn controlled the Ducks’ line to the tune of 75 yards rushing on 32 carries.

The last Wisconsin loss came because the Badgers could not stop the ground attack. Boom Herron rushed for 160 yards and freshman quarterback Braxton Miller torched UW for 99 yards and two big touchdowns. Stopping the four-headed rushing attack of the Ducks will be a tall order for Big Red.

WHEN WISCONSIN HAS THE BALL:

Wisconsin brings one of the nation’s most balanced attacks in to Pasadena. Quarterback Russell Wilson has a chance to finish with the most efficient passing season in NCAA history (191.60) and is only the fourth Big Ten quarterback to ever throw 30 touchdown passes in a single season. He has thrown a touchdown pass in an NCAA record 37-straight games. He will look to dependable targerts Nick Toon, Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen.

Make no mistake, however, the Badgers are still a ground and pound football team. The Big Ten’s top rushing attack was led by record-setting Heisman finalist Montee Ball. The do-everything tailback led the nation in rushing at 1,759 yards and is one touchdown away from breaking Barry Sanders’ single-season NCAA touchdown mark of 39. He has scored 17 times since the loss to the Buckeyes on Halloween weekend. His 17.5 points per game easily led the nation. Back-up James White added 683 yards and six scores of his own.

The key to defeating Oregon not only involves slowing their fast-paced rushing attack but controlling the ball on offense. The Ducks have allowed an average of 195 yards rushing and 47.8 attempts per game in their last five losses. Wisconsin will use a physical offensive line in an effort to control the line of scrimmage. The last two teams Oregon faced with this M.O., LSU and Auburn, ran for 429 yards and three touchdowns.

Special Teams

Heading into the Big Ten title game, Abbrederis was leading the nation in punt returns. His 16.1-yard average instead finished third nationally giving the Badgers a great threat in the return game. Punter Brad Nortman averaged a Big Ten third-best 42.1 yards per punt but Bret Bielema’s special teams have had trouble blocking for him — and whomever is attempting field goals.

The Ducks are even better on special teams. Oregon finished No. 2 nationally in net punting (41.7 ypp) and De. Thomas led the Pac-12 in kickoff returns. His remarkable speed makes him one of the most dynamic return men in the country.

While the return game should be exciting for both teams in a positive way, the field goal attempts could bring a much different type of excitement to the table. The Ducks’ kicker Alejandro Maldonado has made 71-of-72 extra points but has yet to attempt a field goal since missing against USC — and costing Oregon an unbeaten Pac-12 season. Wisconsin’s Kyle French and Phillip Welch have shared place-kicking duties this fall with Welch finishing the season as the starter. He made only four field goals all season.

Prediction

This game will feature two of the most dynamic, complete and exciting offense in all of college football. What makes this match-up that much more exciting is the dichotomy of styles. The Ducks will spread it out, speed up the tempo and rip off huge chunks of yards with big-play threats like James and De. Thomas. Wisconsin will line-up and physically impose their will upon opposing front sevens before hitting the secondary with picture-perfect play-action fakes and bootlegs. Whoever has the ball last wins.

Oregon 41, Wisconsin 38

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2012 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Oregon.</p>
Post date: Friday, December 30, 2011 - 08:55
Path: /college-football/capital-one-bowl-preview-south-carolina-vs-nebraska
Body:

by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)

Capital One Bowl 
Nebraska vs. South Carolina

Date: Jan. 2, 1:00 PM ET  
Location: Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, Fla.

This is one of the better bowls each postseason, matching up powers from the SEC and Big Ten. Both South Carolina and Nebraska will bring a ton of fans, and we should see a physical, “running game and defense” type of game in Orlando. The Gamecocks finished 10-2, losing only to No. 6 Arkansas and defending national champion Auburn. Nebraska went 9-3 in its inaugural season in the Big Ten. This meeting will be the first between the two schools since 1987, and the Cornhuskers have won all three games between the programs.

Bo Pelini has taken the Huskers to a bowl game in each of his four seasons in Lincoln, while Steve Spurrier has led the Gamecocks to the postseason in six of his seven years in Columbia. One interesting note with these two teams is that both defensive coordinators were hired as head coaches in December. Nebraska’s Carl Pelini is headed to Florida Atlantic in the Sun Belt, while South Carolina’s Ellis Johnson is taking over at Southern Miss in Conference USA.

Nebraska has never met South Carolina in the postseason, but NU has faced a Steve Spurrier-led team in a bowl game. At the conclusion of the 1995 season, current Nebraska athletics director Tom Osborne led the 11-0 Big Eight champions against Spurrier and the 12-0 Florida Gators in the Fiesta Bowl. The Tommie Frazier-led Cornhuskers dominated the Gators, 62-24, and won that season’s national championship.

WHEN NEBRASKA HAS THE BALL:

The Huskers rank 13th in the nation in rushing, with over 223 yards per game. Running back Rex Burkhead was one of the more productive rushers in the country, finishing the season with 1,268 yards and 15 touchdowns. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is also a huge part of the ground attack, and he ran for 837 yards and nine scores on the season. The potent rushing duo accounted for 433 of Nebraska’s 565 carries on the year.

The Nebraska passing game is limited, but Martinez did throw for 1,973 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Huskers’ leading receiver was Kenny Bell, who had 29 catches for 408 yards and two touchdowns this season. Fans know what to expect when Nebraska plays, and the running game will be the key like usual.

South Carolina defense ranks fourth in the country in total defense and second in pass defense. The Gamecocks are led by a solid defensive line, with senior defensive end Melvin Ingram earning All-America honors after a season with 13.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and three touchdowns scored. Safety Antonio Allen led the team in tackles with 81, and the Gamecocks had four different defenders with three interceptions. Despite being stellar against the pass, South Carolina ranks 44th in the country versus the run. Rushing quarterbacks for Navy and Citadel were able to give the Gamecocks some headaches, so stopping Martinez could be a challenge.

WHEN SOUTH CAROLINA HAS THE BALL:

October was a very turbulent month for the South Carolina offense. First, frequently-suspended quarterback Stephen Garcia was dismissed from the team. Second, the Gamecocks lost one of the better running backs in the nation when Marcus Lattimore suffered a knee injury in the Mississippi State game. Sophomore Connor Shaw took over at quarterback, and he has been more of a runner than typical Spurrier passer. Shaw played well late in the season and ran for seven touchdowns in South Carolina’s final five games.

Freshman runner Brandon Wilds did a solid job in replacing the heralded Lattimore. The rookie ran for over 100 yards in three of South Carolina’s final five games. Receiver Alshon Jeffery led the Gamecocks with 45 catches for 614 yards and seven scores, but his production dropped off from previous seasons with the inconsistent passing game. This Gamecocks’ team is not the old-school Spurrier passing type, instead relying on the ground attack and stellar defense.

The Nebraska defense is led by All-America linebacker Lavonte David, who topped the team in tackles with 122 while also adding 3.5 sacks and two interceptions. The Huskers did not get a ton of pressure on opposing passers this season, but defensive end Cameron Meredith was solid in leading the team with five sacks. Outstanding senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard will cover Jeffery, but the key for the Cornhuskers in this game will be controlling the South Carolina run game.

Special Teams

Nebraska definitely has the advantage in this area. Kicker and punter Brett Maher had an excellent season and was named first-team All-Big Ten at both positions. He was 19-for-22 on field goals, and his three misses were from 50+ yards. Maher also averaged 45.0 yards on 54 punts, including placing 24 of them inside the 20-yard line. The Huskers also have one of the best returners in the nation in Ameer Abdullah. The speedy freshman from Alabama averaged an excellent 30.0 yards per kick return (while taking one to the house) and a solid 7.7 yards per punt return.

South Carolina kicker Jay Wooten was 7-for-10 on field goals and only attempted two kicks of less than 40 yards. Spurrier does not like to settle for three points, and the Gamecocks went for it on fourth down 28 times this year. Punter Joey Scribner-Howard averaged 38.9 yards on 47 punts, with 10 of them inside the 20-yard line. USC does have a solid punter returner in Ace Sanders, who averaged 9.3 yards per return and scored once. Bruce Ellington, who also plays on the Gamecocks’ basketball squad, will return kickoffs.

Prediction

This will be a very physical game, where a key turnover or rare big play in the passing game could be the difference. I like South Carolina’s advantage in talent, but Steve Spurrier-led teams often struggle in the postseason. He has lost four of his five South Carolina postseason games, with the only win coming against Houston in the 2006 Liberty Bowl.

After winning their first two bowl games under Pelini, the Huskers looked bad in last season’s Holiday Bowl loss to Washington. It’s difficult to see that happening again. I’ll take the special teams edge with Nebraska winning a close, physical battle.

Nebraska 20, South Carolina 17

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2012 Capital One Bowl: South Carolina vs. Nebraska.</p>
Post date: Friday, December 30, 2011 - 08:39
Path: /college-football/chick-fil-bowl-preview-auburn-vs-virginia
Body:

by Rob Doster

Chick-fil-A Bowl
Teams: Virginia (8–4) vs. Auburn (7–5)

Date: Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.

 
The defending national champion Auburn Tigers limp into the postseason at 7–5, losing in blowout fashion to the SEC's elite teams in the season's second half. The Tigers never could muster much offensive consistency without Heisman winner Cam Newton, and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, formerly a rising superstar, was forced to slink off to the Sun Belt, taking the head coaching job at Arkansas State rather than holding out for a BCS job. Malzahn's absence simply adds an extra level of uncertainty for an Auburn team that had trouble finding any kind of rhythm this season. 

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers were a pleasant surprise in Mike London's second season, improving from four wins to eight and finishing tied for second in the ACC Coastal Division at 5–3 a year after winning only one conference game. In only his second season as a head coach at the FBS level, London has established himself as a rising star in the profession. All four of the Cavs' losses came against teams that are playing in the postseason, and UVa boasts wins over Georgia Tech and Florida State. 

Both teams are looking to erase the sour taste of uncompetitive losses to their chief rivals. The Cavs were dismantled by Virginia Tech 38–0 in their season finale, while the Tigers fell 42–14 to Alabama in the Iron Bowl. 
 
WHEN VIRGINIA HAS THE BALL:

The Cavaliers employ an effective mix of run and pass. During the four-game winning streak late in the season that clinched bowl eligibility, sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco was highly efficient, throwing seven touchdown passes and only one interception during that stretch. That level of ball security is extremely important for the Cavaliers, who turned it over 14 times in their four losses — including four turnovers in their 38–0 loss to Virginia Tech — and only 12 times in their eight wins. The Cavs do boast a nice one-two punch in the running game, as Perry Jones and Kevin Parks combined for 1,544 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. 

The Tigers were inconsistent on defense, although Corey Lemonier (9.5 sacks) maintained the recent tradition of a solid pass rush that has marked Auburn's defense of late. 

WHEN AUBURN HAS THE BALL:

Gus Malzahn is headed to Arkansas State, but he will be on the sidelines in Auburn gear one more time. The Tigers scored 17 points or less in six of their eight SEC games and rank 104th in the nation in total offense at 328.2 yards per game. Throw in the loss of the Tigers' primary offensive threat, running back Michael Dyer, to a suspension, and Auburn will be hard-pressed to score many points. It's a stark contrast to last season, when Cam Newton was at the helm of an unstoppable offensive attack.

The Tigers will need solid play from quarterback Clint Moseley, who took the job at midseason but may share some snaps with freshman Kiehl Frazier, who looks like the quarterback of the future on the Plains. They'll also need production from running back Onterio McCalebb to compensate for the loss of Dyer.

The Cavs play solid defense, as evidenced by their propensity for tackles behind the line of scrimmage — they ranked second in the ACC in that category at 6.9 per game. 
 
Special Teams

The Tigers did use special teams to their advantage at critical points this season. They led the SEC in kickoff return average (24.3), and Tre Mason ranked 19th nationally in that category. Auburn punter Steven Clark ranked only 57th in the nation in average (40.49), but the Tigers ranked 19th in net punting at 39.01. The Cavs' special teams play was unremarkable, although Robert Randolph did make 15-of-22 field goal attempts. 
 
Prediction
 
These two teams seem to be trending in slightly different directions. Their disappointing loss to Virginia Tech aside, the Cavs have to be ecstatic about Year 2 of the Mike London era, particularly the 14–13 win over Florida State in Doak Campbell Stadium in the season's penultimate game. Auburn was alarmingly uncompetitive in its biggest games this season, and without the ground threat that Dyer provides, the Tigers have a steep hill to climb. 

Virginia 23, Auburn 17

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl: Virginia vs. Auburn.</p>
Post date: Friday, December 30, 2011 - 08:12
Path: /college-football/kraft-fight-hunger-bowl-preview-illinois-vs-ucla
Body:

by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Illinois vs. UCLA 
Date: Dec. 31, 3:30 PM ET 
Location: AT&T Park, San Francisco, Calif.

The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl may have as much uncertainty as any game we will see in the postseason. Both Illinois and UCLA fired their head coaches following the season and will be led by interim bosses on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco. Bruins’ offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will take over in this contest for Rick Neuheisel, whose last game was a 49-31 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship. UCLA missed the postseason in 2008 and 2010 under Neuheisel, and the Bruins had to have a waiver for this bowl after finishing 6-7. The departed UCLA alum did coach the Bruins to an EagleBank Bowl win in 2009 (30-21 over Temple).

After the bowl game, former Seahawks and Falcons coach Jim Mora will take over at UCLA.

Illinois’ defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will coach this game for the fired Ron Zook, whose Illini club started the season 6-0 before losing the final six games on the schedule. This will be the third postseason in seven years for Illinois. Zook took the Illini to the Rose Bowl in 2007 (49-17 loss to USC) and the Texas Bowl (38-14 win over Baylor) last season. Former Toledo coach Tim Beckman has been named as the new head coach at Illinois and will take over after this game.

WHEN UCLA HAS THE BALL:

Gritty junior Kevin Prince will start at quarterback, and he will need to stay healthy with backup Richard Brehaut suspended. UCLA was inconsistent throwing the ball this season. Prince is a solid runner, and his legs should help the Bruins avoid some of the ferocious Illini pass rush. UCLA leading receiver Nelson Rosario had 61 catches for 1,106 yards and four scores this year, while 6’8” tight end Joseph Fauria (nephew of NFL veteran, Christian) was a solid red zone target with six touchdowns.

The Bruins' pistol offense is led by the solid running tandem of Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman, and they helped UCLA rank 29th in the country this season in rush yards per game. The speedy Franklin tallied 947 yards and five touchdowns, while the bruising Coleman added 726 yards and 11 scores. The Bruins should also get some yards on the ground from Prince, and mobile quarterbacks hurt Illinois late in the year.

The Illini rank seventh in the nation in total defense and fifth in tackles for loss. UCLA will have to know where defensive end Whitney Mercilus is at all times, as he led the nation in sacks with 14.5 as part of 19.5 tackles for loss. Additionally, Illinois had two other defenders with over 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Leading tackler Jonathan Brown had 102 stops to go with 19 TFLs and six sacks, while pass rusher Michael Buchanan added 12.5 TFLs and 6.5 sacks. Illinois obviously plays well against the pass, but the main focus against the Bruins will be stopping the running duo of Franklin and Coleman.

WHEN ILLINOIS HAS THE BALL:

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase can be quite the dual threat for the Illini, and he passed for 1,971 yards (12 TDs, seven INTs) this season while also adding 514 yards on the ground with six scores. However, the athletic sophomore can also be inconsistent. He threw for 10 TDs and three INTs in Illinois’ first six games, but then tossed only two touchdown passes against four picks over the final six contests.

The Illini will be missing leading rusher Jason Ford (600 yards, seven TDs) who is academically ineligible. Scheelhaase will move the ball on the ground and will also get contributions from senior Troy Pollard and freshman Donovonn Young (who could miss the game with an ankle injury). Scheelhaase’s favorite target – by far – is receiver A.J. Jenkins (84 catches for 1,196 yards and seven scores). Spencer Harris had the second-highest number of receptions, 25, on the team.

UCLA ranks 96th in scoring defense and 95th in the country against the run. Plus, the Bruins only had 13 sacks in 13 games this season (versus 14.5 for Illinois’ Mercilus). Linebacker Pat Larimore was the Bruins leading tackler with 81 stops on the year, but he will miss this game due to thumb surgery. With top safety Tony Dye also out, defensive lineman Datone Jones – who led UCLA in tackles for losses and sacks – will have to lead the way.

Special Teams

Both teams have good kicking games but do not get much at all in the return game. Illinois has a very good kicker in Derek Dimke, who was 8-of-9 on field goals and perfect on 32 extra points this season. The Illini split the punting duties between freshman Justin DuVernois and receiver Ryan Lankford. DuVernois received most of the work, and the duo combined for a 38-yard per punt average.

UCLA has an excellent punter and a great story at kicker. Punter Jeff Locke averaged a solid 44.1 yards on 56 attempts. He had 12 punts over 50 yards and put 23 (41.1 %) of them inside the 20-yard line. After two Bruins’ kickers were hurt and Locke struggled with place kicking, UCLA found a solid replacement in Tyler Gonzalez. He started the semester as student manager for the men’s soccer team, but went 7-for-10 on field-goal tries after stepping onto the gridiron.

Prediction

This one is tough to predict because of the uncertainty surrounding both programs in the month of December. UCLA finished better than Illinois, but the Bruins were wildly inconsistent throughout the season. The same applies to the Illini, and it will be interesting to see if both teams are motivated for this game.

Illinois 23, UCLA 17

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: UCLA vs. Illinois.</p>
Post date: Friday, December 30, 2011 - 07:47
Path: /college-football/liberty-bowl-preview-cincinnati-vs-vanderbilt
Body:

by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)

2011 Liberty Bowl
Cincinnati (9–3) vs. Vanderbilt (6–6)

Date: Dec. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn.

Vanderbilt is back in a bowl game for the second time in four seasons but only the fifth time in school history. First-year head coach James Franklin directed the Commodores to six wins — two more than they had the previous two seasons combined. Vanderbilt, despite its mediocre 6–6 record, played very solid football for much of the ’11 season. Four of the Commodores’ six losses came by six points or less and five of their six wins came by 23 points or more.

Cincinnati, too, was much improved in 2011. After struggling though a 4–8 mark in ’10 — Butch Jones’ first season as the head coach — the Bearcats went 9–3 in ’11 and shared the Big East championship with West Virginia and Louisville. Turnovers were a major reason for the turnaround; last season, UC ranked 119th in the nation in turnover margin (-1.25 per game). In 2011, they currently rank 11th (+0.92 per game).

WHEN VANDERBILT HAS THE BALL:

The Commodores’ defense has been stout — 19th in the nation in yards allowed — but the big story in Nashville has been the dramatic progress made on the offensive side of the ball. The Commodores improved from 16.9 points per game in 2010 to 26.9 in ’11 and from 298.3 yards per game in ’10 to 342.8 in ‘11.

The offense received a huge boost in Week 6 when Jordan Rodgers stepped in for Larry Smith as the No. 1 quarterback. In the final seven games, the Dores averaged 413.0 yards and 31.6 points. The passing game has been efficient — with wideouts Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd emerging as consistent threats — but this is a run-based attack that is led by junior tailback Zac Stacy. Snubbed by both the coaches and media for first-team All-SEC honors, Stacy rushed for 1,136 yards (a Vanderbilt single-season record) and 13 touchdowns and led the league with a 6.2 yards-per-carry average.

A key for the Commodores offense will be to protect Rodgers against a Cincinnati defense that leads the nation in sacks and tackles for a loss. Vanderbilt’s offensive line struggled earlier in the year, but made huge improvements in the latter half of the season. Rodgers’ mobility played a big role in the Dores’ reduced sack total, as well.

WHEN CINCINNATI HAS THE BALL:

The Bearcats’ offense will feature a talented tailback with an NFL future and a quarterback who can hurt you with both his legs and his arm. Isaiah Pead will be the primary ball-carrier, but we aren’t quite sure who will be taking the snaps for Cincinnati. Zach Collaros, the No. 1 quarterback, broke his ankle against West Virginia on Nov. 12. His recovery is reportedly ahead of schedule, but Jones said recently that it will be game-time decision as to whether the senior plays in the Liberty Bowl. If Collaros is unable to go, sophomore Munchie Legaux will get the nod. Legaux stepped in for Collaros in the final four games and completed 50-of-109 passes for 688 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions. Legaux has talent and is the Bearcats’ quarterback of the future, but Collaros gives this team a much better shot to win the bowl game.

Pead rushed for 1,110 yards and 11 scores, hitting the 100-yard mark against Tennessee, NC State, Louisville, Pitt and West Virginia. The senior will have to be productive for the Bearcat offense to flourish in Memphis.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Vanderbilt has been strong in all facets of special teams with the glaring exception of kicking field goals. Ryan Fowler and Carey Spear combined to hit only 7-of-13 field goals with a long of 37 yards. Cincinnati’s kicker, freshman Tony Miliano, converted 16-of-22 field goals, including 7-of-10 from 40 yards and beyond. The Bearcats are average in the return game but rank 17th in the nation in net punting (39.1-yard average).

PREDICTION

The boys in Vegas must put a lot of stock in the power of the SEC. Vanderbilt, which went 2–6 in league play, is a 2.5-point favorite over a 5–2 Big East team. Some of that has to do with Collaros’ injury, but it’s also an indication that Vanderbilt is a solid football team that very easily could have won two or three more games. The key for the Commodores will be to protect Rodgers — which they have done very well in recent weeks — and get Stacy going in the run game.

Vanderbilt 27, Cincinnati 24

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2011 Liberty Bowl matchup: Vanderbilt vs. Cincinnati.</p>
Post date: Friday, December 30, 2011 - 06:01
Path: /college-football/2012-quarterback-rankings-pac-12
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

There is no doubt this is the Era of the Quarterback.

Houston’s Case Keenum (152) and Boise State’s Kellen Moore (142) both broke Graham Harrell’s all-time NCAA record of 134 touchdown passes this season. Keenum also became the NCAA’s all-time record holder for total offense (19,572) and passing yards (18,685). Moore, meanwhile, is the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with a 50-3 record as a starter. And because Keenum still has one game left to go, he could conceivably reach 20,000 yards of total offense (think about that).

Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson both need efficient showings in bowl games to break Colt Brennan’s NCAA single-season passer efficiency record of 186.0. And Wilson broke Harrell’s record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 37.

In the unbalanced college game, there are many different ways to evaluate quarterback play. Gifted runners, crazy schemes, talent differentials, level of competition and raw NFL talent all become a part of the equation. The bottom line is the quarterback is the single most important position on the field, and having a great one under center can take a mediocre football team and elevate it to title contender (just ask Wisconsin).

So who will boast the best signal callers in college football next fall? Athlon Sports takes a very early stab at ranking quarterback play in 2012 by conference:

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

1. Pac-12

There is a serious debate, even within the Athlon Sports walls, about which conference will boast better quarterbacks in 2012, the ACC or the Pac-12. The votes were split one of two directions. While the ACC might have the best depth of any league — and potentially the most NFL talent returning — no league in the nation can match the top three of the Pac-12.

Assuming that Robert Griffin III is going to the NFL, USC’s Matt Barkley is likely the top returning quarterback in the nation. He set a USC single-season record with 39 scoring strikes in 2011. Like fellow Pac-12 passer Andrew Luck before him, Barkley will likely have to deal with a year-round Heisman Trophy campaign as he returns as the favorite to win the famed stiff-arm award.

Packaged with Barkley atop the conference is Oregon’s Darron Thomas, who enters his third season as the starter, and Washington’s Keith Price, who made his first season under center a very successful one. In the threesome, the Pac-12 boasts a trio of passers who combined for 98 touchdown passes and only 24 interceptions. The ACC’s top three is second in the nation with 82 TDs.

Arizona State returns a 4,000-yard passer in senior-to-be Brock Osweiler and has new passing game guru Todd Graham running the ship. Oregon State brings back sophomore Sean Mannion after a quality freshman campaign. Cal will have another year of Zach Maynard at the helm — for better or worse. And UCLA's Kevin Prince looked the part at the end of 2011, but with a new regime in Westwood, anything is possible.

Utah's Jon Hays needs to show serious improvement, while Colorado and Stanford are replacing experienced starters with highly touted youngsters.

The real wildcard for quarterback play in the Pac-12, and ultimately the deciding factor in ranking the West Coast league No. 1, is the addition of Rich Rodriguez (Arizona) and Mike Leach (Washington State) to the coaching ranks. Whether it's Connor Halliday or Jeff Tuel in Pullman, Wazzu will post big numbers through the air. And in the desert, whoever is under center will roll up big-time dual-threat statistics. Matt Scott looks to be the front-runner at this very early stage. Best of luck, Pac-12 defensive coordinators.

The Known Commodities:

1. Matt Barkley, USC (SR)
Passing Stats: 3,528 yards, 39 TD, 7 INT, 69.1%
Rushing Stats: 28 att., 14 yards, 2 TD

2. Darron Thomas, Oregon (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,493 yards, 30 TD, 6 INT, 61.2%
Rushing Stats: 50 att., 205 yards, 3 TD

3. Keith Price, Washington (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,625 yards, 29 TD, 11 INT, 67.4%
Rushing Stats: 51 att., minus-29 yards, 0 TD

4. Brock Osweiler, Arizona State (SR)
Passing Stats: 4,036 yards, 26 TD, 13 INT, 63.2%
Rushing Stats: 83 att., 90 yards, 3 TD

5. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (SO)
Passing Stats: 3,328 yards, 16 TD, 18 INT, 64.5%
Rushing Stats: 32 att., minus-190 yards, TD

6. Zach Maynard, Cal (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,802 yards, 17 TD, 11 INT, 57.0%
Rushing Stats: 76 att., 147 yards, 4 TD

7. Kevin Prince, UCLA (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,627 yards, 10 TD, 7 INT, 57.4% (10)
Rushing Stats: 110 att., 455 yards, TD

8. Jordan Wynn, Utah (SR)
Passing Stats: 727 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT, 56.9% 
Rushing Stats: 9 att., minus-54 yards, 0 TD

The Unknowns:

Jeff Tuel/Connor Halliday, Washington State
Matt Scott, Arizona
Brett Nottingham, Stanford
Nick Hirschman, Colorado

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

Teaser:
<p> The Pac-12 should have the best signal callers in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 14:55
Path: /college-football/2012-quarterbacks-rankings-acc
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

There is no doubt this is the era of the Quarterback.

Houston’s Case Keenum (152) and Boise State’s Kellen Moore (142) both broke Graham Harrell’s all-time NCAA touchdown record of 134 scoring strikes this season. Keenum also became the NCAA’s all-time record holder for total offense (19,572) and passing yards (18,685). Moore, meanwhile, is the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with a 50-3 record as a starter. And because Keenum still has one game left to go, he could conceivably reach 20,000 yards of total offense (think about that).

Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson both need efficient showings in bowl games to break Colt Brennan’s NCAA single-season passer efficiency record of 186.0. And Wilson broke Harrell’s record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 37.

In the unbalanced college game, there are many different ways to evaluate quarterback play. Gifted runners, crazy schemes, talent differentials, level of competition and raw NFL talent all become a part of the equation. The bottom line is the quarterback is the single most important position on the field, and having a great one under center can take a mediocre football team and elevate it to title contender (just ask Wisconsin).

So who will boast the best signal callers in college football next fall? Athlon Sports takes a very early stab at ranking quarterback play in 2012 by conference:

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

2. ACC

The ACC is second only to the Pac-12 in these rankings, and by a very slim margin. No league returns as many 2,000-yard passers as the ACC’s eight. In fact, it is possible that 11 of the conference’s 12 starters could return in 2012, making this the most stable quarterback leagues in the nation. The ACC also has at least five NFL prospects, and six different players topped the 2,700-yard mark (EJ Manuel would have if not for injuries). When it comes to pro-style passers, there is no better league in the nation.

Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas met in the ACC championship game and could do so again in 2012 as the top teams return the top two signal callers. The development of each could push either team into national title contention. Florida State’s Manuel has just as much talent, if not more, but needs to stay healthy to prove his lofty ranking is deserved. If healthy, and armed with a loaded young roster, Manuel could have the Noles playing in the ACC title game in 2012.

The state of North Carolina might be the most underrated in the entire nation when it comes to quarterbacks. NC State’s Mike Glennon finished second in the league with 28 touchdowns, and Sean Renfree of Duke and Tanner Price of Wake Forest finished No. 2 and 3 in yardage this fall. Finally, the Tar Heels' Bryn Renner leads all ACC returnees with a tidy 68.8% completion rate and boasts an NFL arm. All four completed at least 62.4% of their passes in 2011.


While they may not be the most productive and efficient passers, Georgia Tech's Tevin Washington and Virginia's Michael Rocco have proven to be solid fits for their systems and will put their teams in a position to win games. Boston College would like to see Chase Rettig take the next step in his development process, Maryland may not know if Danny O'Brien is coming back (but has C.J. Brown waiting in the wings) and Miami will likely go to battle with Stephen Morris.

The ACC may not have the established stars like Matt Barkley or Darron Thomas, but there is no league in the nation that can boast the upside and depth of the ACC’s quarterbacks.

The Known Commodities:

1. Tajh Boyd, Clemson (JR)
Passing Stats: 3,578 yards, 31 TD, 10 INT, 60.5%
Rushing Stats: 132 att., 186 yards, 5 TD

2. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,799 yards, 19 TD, 9 INT, 59.2%
Rushing Stats: 137 att., 416 yards, 10 TD

3. EJ Manuel, Florida State (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,417 yards, 16 TD, 8 INT, 65.4%
Rushing Stats: 99 att., 171 yards, 4 TD

4. Mike Glennon, NC State (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,790 yards, 28 TD, 11 INT, 62.4%
Rushing Stats: 50 att., minus-125 yards, TD

5. Bryn Renner, North Carolina (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,769 yards, 23 TD, 12 INT, 68.8%
Rushing Stats: 53 att., minus-99 yards, TD

6. Tanner Price, Wake Forest (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,803 yards, 20 TD, 6 INT, 65.0%
Rushing Stats: 79 att., minus-29 yards, TD

7. Sean Renfree, Duke (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,891 yards, 14 TD, 11 INT, 64.9%
Rushing Stats: 58 att., minus-58 yards, 4 TD

8. Tevin Washington, Georgia Tech (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,515 yards, 10 TD, 8 INT, 46.7% (12)
Rushing Stats: 222 att., 890 yards, 14 TD

9. Michael Rocco, Virginia (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,359 yards, 11 TD, 11 INT, 60.3%
Rushing Stats: 38 att., 23 yards, 2 TD

10. Chase Rettig, Boston College (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,960 yards, 12 TD, 9 INT, 53.6%
Rushing Stats: 41 att., minus-84 yards, TD

The Unknowns:

Danny O’Brien/CJ Brown, Maryland
Stephen Morris, Miami

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

Teaser:
<p> The ACC is the deepest quarterback league in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 14:54
Path: /college-football/2012-quarterbacks-rankings-big-12
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

There is no doubt this is the Era of the Quarterback.

Houston’s Case Keenum (152) and Boise State’s Kellen Moore (142) both broke Graham Harrell’s all-time NCAA touchdown record of 134 scoring strikes this season. Keenum also became the NCAA’s all-time record holder for total offense (19,572) and passing yards (18,685). Moore, meanwhile, is the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with a 50-3 record as a starter. And because Keenum still has one game left to go, he could conceivably reach 20,000 yards of total offense (think about that).

Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson both need efficient showings in bowl games to break Colt Brennan’s NCAA single-season passer efficiency record of 186.0. And Wilson broke Harrell’s record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 37.

In the unbalanced college game, there are many different ways to evaluate quarterback play. Gifted runners, crazy schemes, talent differentials, level of competition and raw NFL talent all become a part of the equation. The bottom line is the quarterback is the single most important position on the field, and having a great one under center can take a mediocre football team and elevate it to title contender (just ask Wisconsin).

So who will boast the best signal callers in college football next fall? Athlon Sports takes a very early stab at ranking quarterback play in 2012 by conference:

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

3. Big 12

If all things fall into place, this league is easily the No. 3 conference on this list. But that is a big if, as Robert Griffin III and Landry Jones each have a difficult decisions to make. Jones won’t be a first-round selection and is more likely to return than RG3 — who is a near lock for the top half of the first round. It would be a major "upset" if both were to return to school.

The good news, however, is that should both leave for the NFL, West Virginia (if allowed) and TCU will bring with them excellent quarterbacks in Geno Smith and Casey Pachall. Each tossed 25 touchdowns and only seven interceptions in 2011. Smith led his team to a conference championship and a BCS bowl this season, while Pachall finished the regular season seventh in the nation in passing efficiency after taking over for TCU legend Andy Dalton.

Kansas State’s Collin Klein is simply a winner, and his ability to take over a game on the ground can be remarkable to watch. He topped the 1,000-yard mark rushing and scored 26 times on the ground — one short of the NCAA single-season mark for a quarterback with a bowl game still to go. Texas Tech’s Seth Doege began the year with seven straight 300-yard efforts, tailed off, and then posted big games in the season’s final two contests. His numbers were very impressive, but the 2-7 conference record was not.

The rest of the league is a big unknown. David Ash played well in the Holliday Bowl win over Cal and may have the inside track on the starting job in 2012 for Texas. Inexplicably, none of the Horns’ numerous elite prep quarterbacks have panned out. A year after changing his coordinators, Mack Brown must make progress at the quarterback position if he expects to compete next fall.

Charlie Weis and Kansas are importing talent left and right and will have Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist starting next fall before BYU transfer Jake Heaps takes over in 2013. Jared Barnett played well for Iowa State down the stretch but is anything but entrenched in Ames. And it is the next man up in Stillwater, where Mike Gundy simply plugs in another productive name every year. That said, replacing Brandon Weeden won't be as easy as replacing Zac Robinson.

Should WVU be allowed to compete, and Jones and Griffin III return, this will once again be one of the best quarterbacked leagues in the nation. But should the conference "lose" all three (as well as Weeden), there will be a serious lack of depth at this position with major question marks at key programs. Is Nick Florence ready at Baylor? Blake Bell or Drew Allen in Norman? Can Clint Chelf keep the Pokes train rolling?

We will know a lot more about this league come spring practice.

The Known Commodities:

1. Robert Griffin III, Baylor (SR)*
Passing Stats: 3,998 yards, 36 TD, 6 INT, 72.4%
Rushing Stats: 161 att., 644 yards, 9 TD

2. Landry Jones, Oklahoma (SR)*
Passing Stats: 4,302 yards, 28 TD, 14 INT, 63.1%
Rushing Stats: 28 att., minus-16 yards, 2 TD

3. Geno Smith, West Virginia (SR)**
Passing Stats: 3,978 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT, 65.0%
Rushing Stats: 51 att., minus-59 yards, TD

4. Collin Klein, Kansas State (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,745 yards, 12 TD, 5 INT, 57.8%
Rushing Stats: 293 att., 1,099 yards, 26 TD

5. Casey Pachall, TCU (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,972 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT, 66.5%
Rushing Stats: 68 att., 51 yards, 2 TD

6. Seth Doege, Texas Tech (SR)
Passing Stats: 4,004 yards, 28 TD, 10 INT, 68.5%
Rushing Stats: 54 att., 46 yards, 4 TD

7. Jared Barnett, Iowa State (SO)
Passing Stats: 1,178 yards, 6 TD, 6 INT, 50.7%
Rushing Stats: 99 att., 435 yards, TD

* - could elect to enter the NFL Draft
* - may not be permitted to compete in the Big 12

The Unknowns:

David Ash/Case McCoy/Connor Brewer, Texas
Clint Chelf/Wes Lunt, Oklahoma State
Dayne Crist/Jordan Webb, Kansas
Blake Bell/Drew Allen, Oklahoma
Nick Florence, Baylor

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

Teaser:
<p> Looming decisions for Griffin III, Jones and the courts will play major role in 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 14:53
Path: /college-football/2012-quarterbacks-rankings-sec
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

There is no doubt this is the Era of the Quarterback.

Houston’s Case Keenum (152) and Boise State’s Kellen Moore (142) both broke Graham Harrell’s all-time NCAA touchdown record of 134 scoring strikes this season. Keenum also became the NCAA’s all-time record holder for total offense (19,572) and passing yards (18,685). Moore, meanwhile, is the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with a 50-3 record as a starter. And because Keenum still has one game left to go, he could conceivably reach 20,000 yards of total offense (think about that).

Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson both need efficient showings in bowl games to break Colt Brennan’s NCAA single-season passer efficiency record of 186.0. And Wilson broke Harrell’s record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 37.

In the unbalanced college game, there are many different ways to evaluate quarterback play. Gifted runners, crazy schemes, talent differentials, level of competition and raw NFL talent all become a part of the equation. The bottom line is the quarterback is the single most important position on the field, and having a great one under center can take a mediocre football team and elevate it to title contender (just ask Wisconsin).

So who will boast the best signal callers in college football next fall? Athlon Sports takes a very early stab at ranking quarterback play in 2012 by conference:

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

4. SEC

This is where the rankings start to get interesting. The ACC and Pac-12 are head and shoulders above the rest of the nation when it comes to passing talent. For now, the Big 12 gets the nod over the SEC due to a few factors. First, if all the talent falls back into place in the Big 12 — Robert Griffin III, Landry Jones and Geno Smith —  it would easily top the SEC. Second, can Mizzou's James Franklin accomplish in the SEC what he produced in the Big 12? And lastly, half of this conference will have major question marks or unproven commodities under center in 2012.

At the top, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson give the SEC a fantastic 1-2 punch. Wilson led the SEC in yards in his first season as the starter, and Murray led the conference in touchdown passes as he led the Dawgs back to the SEC title game. Georgia will once again be picked to win the East, and the Hogs have a schedule that sets up nicely to challenge LSU and Alabama.

Most important will be the influx of "new" talent. The SEC missed out on most of Tyler Bray’s 2011 season at Tennessee due to injury, and Big Orange faithful will welcome him back to campus for a full season in 2012. Bray might be the best pure passer in the entire conference and will certainly benefit from the return of injured star wideout Justin Hunter. Missouri will bring second-year dual-threat star Franklin to the East as well. The sophomore was dynamic all season long and claimed MVP honors by posting 132 yards passing and 142 yards rushing (and three touchdowns) against North Carolina's SEC-type front seven in the Independence Bowl. How good he can be in his first season facing actual SEC defenses remains to be seen.

It also appears that LSU will go with the burly, highly touted UGA transfer Zach Mettenberger. The 6-foot-5, 225 pounder saw limited action in five games this fall with LSU and will be a junior next fall. The Tigers also reeled in the nation’s No. 2 incoming freshman quarterback in Gunner Kiel.

The development of A.J. McCarron at Alabama, Jordan Rodgers at Vanderbilt and Connor Shaw at South Carolina will likely determine just how good the quarterback play in the SEC will be in 2012. McCarron led all SEC passers with a 66.8% completion rate and appears poised for stardom next fall as he becomes the focal point of the offense. Other than Bray, he might be the best pure passer and top NFL prospect in the conference. Rodgers won't have the veteran, opportunistic defense helping him next fall and will need to continue to prove himself. Shaw went 6-1 after Stephen Garcia was excommunicated, but doubts still remain about his ability to lead the Gamecocks to a championship.

While the top is very strong in this league, the bottom is full of more questions than any other conference. Mississippi State has options but none has been able to take the next step. Florida, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Auburn each have major issues at the position. The Gators, Aggies and Tigers have highly touted yet largely unproven players to choose from, while Kentucky and Ole Miss could be in for another long year.

The Known Commodities:

1. Aaron Murray, Georgia (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,861 yards, 33 TD, 12 INT, 58.8%
Rushing Stats: 79 att., 116 yards, 2 TD

2. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (SR)
Passing Stats: 3,422 yards, 22 TD, 6 INT, 63.1%
Rushing Stats: 53 att., minus-21 yards, 4 TD

3. Tyler Bray, Tennessee (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,983 yards, 17 TD, 6 INT, 59.5%
Rushing Stats: 26 att., minus-70 yards, TD

4. James Franklin, Missouri (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,733 yards, 20 TD, 10 INT, 63.2%
Rushing Stats: 199 att., 839 yards, 13 TD

5. AJ McCarron, Alabama (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,400 yards, 16 TD, 5 INT, 66.8%
Rushing Stats: 26 att., minus-33 yards, 2 TD

6. Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,498 yards, 9 TD, 9 INT, 51.2%
Rushing Stats: 108 att., 387 yards, 4 TD

7. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,218 yards, 12 TD, 6 INT, 65.5%
Rushing Stats: 116 att., 483 yards, 7 TD

The Unknowns:

Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Tyler Russell/Chris Relf, Mississippi State
Kiehl Frazier/Clint Moseley/Barrett Trotter, Auburn
Jeff Driskel/Jacoby Brissett, Florida
Jamiell Showers/Matt Davis/Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
The Kentucky Wildcats
Barry Brunetti/Randall Mackey, Ole Miss

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

Teaser:
<p> The best league in football adds Franklin, Missouri to list of quarterbacks.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 14:52
Path: /college-football/2012-quarterbacks-rankings-big-ten
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

There is no doubt this is the Era of the Quarterback.

Houston’s Case Keenum (152) and Boise State’s Kellen Moore (142) both broke Graham Harrell’s all-time NCAA touchdown record of 134 scoring strikes this season. Keenum also became the NCAA’s all-time record holder for total offense (19,572) and passing yards (18,685). Moore, meanwhile, is the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with a 50-3 record as a starter. And because Keenum still has one game left to go, he could conceivably reach 20,000 yards of total offense (think about that).

Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson both need efficient showings in bowl games to break Colt Brennan’s NCAA single-season passer efficiency record of 186.0. And Wilson broke Harrell’s record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 37.

In the unbalanced college game, there are many different ways to evaluate quarterback play. Gifted runners, crazy schemes, talent differentials, level of competition and raw NFL talent all become a part of the equation. The bottom line is the quarterback is the single most important position on the field, and having a great one under center can take a mediocre football team and elevate it to title contender (just ask Wisconsin).

So who will boast the best signal callers in college football next fall? Athlon Sports takes a very early stab at ranking quarterback play in 2012 by conference:

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

5. Big Ten

The Big Ten may struggle with the forward pass in 2012, but it certainly won’t be short on athletes. While pro-stylers Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson carried the banner for Midwest quarterbacking in 2011, the future of the Big Ten under center will have a distinctly more grounded feel. This league claims by far the most athletic and explosive collection of quarterbacks in the nation. Denard Robinson is easily the best “athlete” playing quarterback in the nation. His playmaking ability with his legs is unmatched as he has established himself as one of the most dynamic weapons to ever play the game. He is coming off back-to-back 2,000-yard/1,000-yard seasons. Meanwhile, developing names like Braxton Miller, Taylor Martinez, MarQueis Gray, Kain Colter and Tre Roberson offer acceleration and burst that few receivers and running backs even possess.

No league will match the rushing production from the QB spot that the Big Ten will offer next fall. In 2011, four of the top 11 (and six of the top 21) rushers in the Big Ten played quarterback, which included Colter, who played more wide receiver than any other position (he is certainly the only player in the nation in this series with a "receiving stats" line from 2011). Nationally, Shoelace finished second (1,163 yards), Gray fifth (966), Martinez eighth (837) and Miller was 11th (695) in rushing by quarterbacks. Seven of the top 30 rushing quarterbacks (in terms of yards) played in the Big Ten. Just wait until Gray, Roberson, Miller and Colter get a full season as the unquestioned starters under their belts.

Iowa’s James Vandenberg is the lone pro-style bright spot after a productive first year under center in Iowa City. However, he will have to watch as top target Marvin McNutt graduates and uncertainty around workhorse back Marcus Coker swirls. The Badgers and Spartans will have quality teams again in 2012 and will be built around the pro-style offenses that have made them so successful. However, niether will return to the Big Ten title game without developing a new starter. Penn State has a huge question mark at the position — for a variety of reasons.

While the Big Ten will have an extraordinarily talented group of athletes playing quarterback in 2012, the real key will be accuracy and efficiency. Whoever can develop the quickest as a passer, will likely give his team a major leg up in the conference race. If young players like Miller and Roberson can grow up quickly, this league could become one of the best quarterbacked leagues in the nation. If not, it will simply be a bunch of great athletes trying to complete passes.

One thing the Big Ten (and Pac-12) have going for it is conference stability. There are no teams being added or subtracted in 2012 and there are no rumors of movement...yet.

The Known Commodities:

1. Denard Robinson, Michigan (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,056 yards, 18 TD, 14 INT, 56.1%
Rushing Stats: 208 att., 1,163 yards, 16 TD

2. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (SO)
Passing Stats: 997 yards, 11 TD, 4 INT, 50.0%
Rushing Stats: 144 att., 695 yards, 7 TD

3. James Vandenberg, Iowa (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,806 yards, 23 TD, 6 INT, 59.4%
Rushing Stats: 72 att., 188 yards, 3 TD

4. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,973 yards, 12 TD, 7 INT, 55.9%
Rushing Stats: 172 att., 837 yards, 9 TD

5. MarQueis Gray, Minnesota (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,495 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT, 50.7%
Rushing Stats: 199 att., 966 yards, 6 TD

6. Kain Colter, Northwestern (JR)
Passing Stats: 660 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT, 67.1%
Rushing Stats: 118 att., 589 yards, 8 TD
Receiving Stats: 40 rec., 454 yards, 3 TD

7. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,971 yards, 12 TD, 7 INT, 63.6%
Rushing Stats: 169 att., 514 yards, 6 TD

8. Tre Roberson, Indiana (SO)
Passing Stats: 937 yards, 3 TD, 6 INT, 57.0%
Rushing Stats: 109 att., 426 yards, 2 TD

9. Caleb TerBush, Purdue (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,804 yards, 12 TD, 6 INT, 61.7%
Rushing Stats: 80 att., 226 yards, TD

The Unknowns:
Joe Brennan, Joel Stave, Bart Houston, Jon Budmayr, Curt Phillips, Wisconsin
Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State
Robert Bolden, Matt McGloin, Penn State

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

Teaser:
<p> The nation's most athletic quarterbacks reside in the Big Ten.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 14:52
Path: /college-football/2012-quarterbacks-rankings-big-east
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

There is no doubt this is the era of the Quarterback.

Houston’s Case Keenum (152) and Boise State’s Kellen Moore (142) both broke Graham Harrell’s all-time NCAA touchdown record of 134 scoring strikes this season. Keenum also became the NCAA’s all-time record holder for total offense (19,572) and passing yards (18,685). Moore, meanwhile, is the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with a 50-3 record as a starter. And because Keenum still has one game left to go, he could conceivably reach 20,000 yards of total offense (think about that).

Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson both need efficient showings in bowl games to break Colt Brennan’s NCAA single-season passer efficiency record of 186.0. And Wilson broke Harrell’s record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 37.

In the unbalanced college game, there are many different ways to evaluate quarterback play. Gifted runners, crazy schemes, talent differentials, level of competition and raw NFL talent all become a part of the equation. The bottom line is the quarterback is the single most important position on the field and having a great one under center can take a mediocre football team and elevate them to title contender (just ask Wisconsin).

So who will boast the best signal callers in college football next fall? Athlon Sports takes a very early stab at ranking quarterback play in 2012 by conference:

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

6. Big East

This league is just a mess — both in the court room and under center. Say goodbye to Geno Smith and Zach Collaros as this league is guaranteed only seven teams in 2012. If West Virginia can be forced to stay (which feels very unlikely), then Smith becomes the top signal caller in the league instantly.

Otherwise, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater showed loads of potential as he developed over the coarse of his freshman season and will be the league’s top quarterback heading into next year. He showed toughness and heart while getting beaten up all season long (the Cardinals finished 111th in sacks allowed).

South Florida's B.J. Daniels has tons of experience and put together his best year statistically. He set career benchmarks in completions, yards, interceptions and completion percentage. However, he has lost eight of his last nine conference games as the starter and his legacy won't be decided until after his final season in Tampa.

Ryan Nassib is entrenched as the starter at Syracuse after his best statistical season, but watched a 5-2 start to 2011 spiral out of control with five straight losses to end the year. Pitt's Tino Sunseri will have his fourth head coach in a little over one calendar year — and it shows in his performance. He rarely had time to throw (Pitt ranked dead last nationally in sacks allowed) and lost his top play-maker Ray Graham early in the year. He did play better football down the stretch and led the Panthers to three wins in their final five games. His legacy is also yet undecided.

Other than Bridgewater, Cincinnati's Munchie Legaux might have the most upside. He appears to be the next Bearcats signal caller, and luckily, got some experience this year when Collaros got hurt. This talented dual-threat has the most upward mobility of any player on this list.

Rutgers and UConn are both a complete mess at quarterback, although the Knights mess is slightly less chaotic than the Huskies. Gary Nova and Chas Dodd both attempted roughly the same number of passes (220 to 228) for roughly the same amount of yards (1,533 to 1,398) and roughly the same amount of touchdowns (11 to 9). Greg Schiano has an uneviable task ahead of him — especially if Tom Savage decides to transfer back to campus and doesn't need to sit out.

Of the BCS leagues, it should come as no surprise that the Big East ranks a distant last in quarterback play.

The Known Commodities:

1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (SO)
Passing Stats: 1,855 yards, 12 TD, 9 INT, 66.0%
Rushing Stats: 80 att., 95 yards, 3 TD

2. BJ Daniels, USF (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,604 yards, 13 TD, 11 INT, 58.9%
Rushing Stats: 132 att., 601 yards, 6 TD

3. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,685 yards, 22 TD, 9 INT, 62.4%
Rushing Stats: 65 att., 39 yards, 2 TD

4. Munchie Legaux, Cincinnati (JR)
Passing Stats: 749 yards, 5 TD, 4 INT, 47.4%
Rushing Stats: 41 att., 185 yards, 2 TD

5. Tino Sunseri, Pitt (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,433 yards, 10 TD, 10 INT, 63.8%
Rushing Stats: 141 att., 119 yards, 4 TD

The Unknowns:

Gary Nova/Chad Dodd, Rutgers
The UConn Huskies

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

Teaser:
<p> Big East quarterback uncertainty will only add to league instability in 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 14:51
Path: /nfl/nfl-picks-every-game-week-17
Body:

A quick preview of every game on the NFL schedule for Week 17, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports editors Mitchell Light, Rob Doster, Nathan Rush, Patrick Snow and Steven Lassan:

Jets (8-7) at Dolphins (5-10)
After all that boasting from Rex Ryan, the Jets must beat the Fins, plus hope for losses from the Bengals and Titans, as well as the Raiders or Broncos, just to punch their ticket to the postseason as a Wild Card berth.
Jets by 1

Bills (6-9) at Patriots (12-3)
Tom Brady is being overshadowed by Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees; but don’t forget about the Pats QB when the weather gets cold.
Patriots by 11

Titans (8-7) at Texans (10-5)
Houston has a problem following back-to-back losses to the Panthers and Colts. Tennessee is hoping for a miraculous postseason berth; the Titans must win, the Bengals must lose and the other dominoes must fall just right.
Titans by 2

Colts (2-13) at Jaguars (4-11)
Easy there, Indy. Slow down. Fool one team, shame on the NFL; fool two teams, shame on you; fool three teams and blow your chance to draft Peyton Manning’s heir apparent, Stanford signal-caller Andrew Luck, at No. 1 overall.
Jaguars by 2

Redskins (5-10) at Eagles (7-8)
An 8–8 season is not what Andy Reid had in mind, but a 4–0 “fourth quarter” of the season may just save the big man’s job.
Eagles by 8

Bears (7-8) at Vikings (3-12)
It’s a race to the bottom in the NFC North — which is the black-and-blue division again, after high-profile, season-ending injuries to Adrian Peterson, Jay Cutler and Matt Forte.
Bears by 2

Panthers (6-9) at Saints (12-3)
Cam Newton’s rookie season is not over and neither is Drew Brees’ record-breaking year. These two should put on an aerial show.
Saints by 7

49ers (12-3) at Rams (2-13)
St. Loser is still in contention for the No. 1 pick. San Fran will clinch a first-round bye with a win or a loss by New Orleans.
49ers by 9

Lions (10-5) at Packers (14-1)
Green Bay better rest its starters, because odds are Ndamukong Suh and Detroit’s dirty defense are angry following their Turkey Day meltdown.
Packers by 5

Ravens (11-4) at Bengals (9-6)
A Baltimore win earns Ray Lewis and Co. the AFC North title, while also securing a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game. Meanwhile, Cincy controls its own destiny and is in must-win mode. But the Bengals could still make the playoffs with a loss — if both the Jets plus either the Broncos or Raiders lose.
Bengals by 1

Steelers (11-4) at Browns (4-11)
The health of the battle-tested Steelers — Big Ben in particular — heading into the playoffs is more important than a win at Cleveland.
Steelers by 6

Chiefs (6-9) at Broncos (8-7)
The Broncos will stampede into the playoffs with a win over Denver’s opening day starter and Kansas City’s current leader Kyle Orton. Otherwise, Tim Tebow will need the Al Davis-inspired Raiders to lose.
Broncos by 3

Seahawks (7-8) at Cardinals (7-8)
A birdfight between two also-rans building momentum for next season. What else is on?
Cardinals by 1

Chargers (7-8) at Raiders (8-7)
Al Davis’ spirit looms large over the Black Hole as coach Hue Jackson predicts the Raiders will “find a way” to make the playoffs in honor of their owner, who passed away earlier this year. A win plus a Denver loss or tie; or a win plus a loss by both the Bengals and Titans; or a win plus a Bengals loss and Jets win will do the trick. Either way, Oakland must win.
Raiders by 2

Buccaneers (4-11) at Falcons (9-6)
The Young Bucs look to lose their 10th straight; the Dirty Birds will help them do just that.
Falcons by 12

Cowboys (8-7) at Giants (8-7)
This Sunday night fight is a winner-take-all playoff play-in for the NFC East title belt. After injuring his throwing hand in a throwaway loss to the Eagles, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo must avoid a hard-hitting Big Blue Wrecking Crew pass rush led by sack artists Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Giants by 4

Last week: 11-5 // Season: 162-78

Teaser:
<p> A look at every NFL game for Week 17 — including the Cowboys at Giants, Ravens at Bengals, Lions at Packers and Titans at Texans — with the consensus pick of Athlon Sports' editors.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 12:28
All taxonomy terms: Rachel Uchitel, Tiger Woods, News
Path: /news/rachel-uchitel-tiger-woods-ex-mistress-5-months-pregnant
Body:

Rahcel Uchitel, the first woman to come out and admit that she was Tiger Woods mistress has let the world know that she is pregnant.

But don't worry Tiger, as far as we know, you're not the baby daddy.

Uchitel was the girl who set Tiger Woods personal (and golf) life into a downard spiral that ended up costing him his wife, millions of dollars in endorsements, and the ability to win golf tournaments.

When Uchitel revealed texts that Tiger Woods had allegedly sent to her, they revelaed a guy who was trying to keep his mistress on the hook, by telling her exactly what she wanted to hear:

"I know it's brutal on you that you can't be with me all the time," he texted Rachel Uchitel in one e-mail.

"I get it. It f-----g kills me, too. I finally found someone I connect with."

In a line that had to really get to Woods' wife, Elin Nordegren, the golfer wrote Uchitel is "someone I have never found like this. Not even at home."

Uchitel later went on the Today Show with Dr. Drew, saying she suffered from a "love addiction," which probably just gave a lot of other guys the notion that they, too, had a shot with her.

There were rumors that Woods had given her $10 million in hush money, that she later returned because she wanted to go on shows like Celebrity Apprentice and thought should could make more money by building a career off being Tiger Woods' mistress instead of walking away with the ten million.

I guess that's sort of an oops.

Teaser:
<p> Tiger Woods isn't the daddy, as far as we know</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 11:19
Path: /news/who-norris-cole
Body:

by Josh Kipnis

Google his name, and a fictional soap opera character is all you will find.  Click on his bio on NBA.com and you will find they haven’t even bothered writing one.  Ever heard of Norris Benjamin Cole?  Didn’t think so.

The Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics last night, 115-107.  LeBron James and Dwayne Wade each scored over 20 points, but it was Miami’s rookie sensation, Norris Cole, who stole the show. 

The Celtics were without Paul Pierce for a second straight game and it seemed as though they would not have nearly enough offensive firepower to compete with the most elite team in the league.  Boston trailed by as much as twenty at one point. 

Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen refused to concede, catching fire early in the fourth.  They trimmed the lead down to three with one minute remaining in the game.  Doc Rivers called a timeout to discuss the ensuing Heat possession.

In a situation like this one, Rivers had to pick his poison.  Which of the Big 3 do you want taking the final shot?  James, Wade, and Bosh had already combined to score 68 points.

LeBron held the ball on the left elbow, jab stepping and looking as if he was about to throw up his signature fade away.  The shot clock struck four and in the corner of his eye was Cole at the top of the key, practically begging for the ball.  Cole caught the pass and pump faked a three, sending Rondo off balance, allowing the rookie to take a dribble inside the arc and drill the open jumper with 2.3 on the shot clock (gotta love the much-needed milliseconds on the shot clock).  Who is this guy?

Norris Cole was the 28th overall pick in this year’s draft.  The pick belonged to the Chicago Bulls, but they traded his rights to the T-Wolves who then dealt him to the Heat.  The 6 foot 2 inch, 23 year old was the Horizon League Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year his senior season at Cleveland State.

Cole was absolutely sensational in Miami’s home opener.  He was 8 of 16 in the field with 20 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals.  14 of his 20 came in the 4th quarter.  In the final three minutes, he scored 9 straight points.

“You grow up and live for moments like that,” Cole said after the game.  Cole was then asked if this would be a common theme in the future.  “It’s only my second game; I don’t know what normal is.” 

I can tell you what isn’t normal, a rookie receiving MVP chants in his second NBA game.

With 9.3 seconds left, Cole approached the free throw line.  “MVP! MVP! MVP!”  It wasn’t for James, Wade, or Bosh; it was for the rookie whose talents somehow landed in South Beach.

Teaser:
<p> Miami Heat rookie, Norris Cole, was key is sealing last night's victory against the Boston Celtics</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 07:27
Path: /college-football/alamo-bowl-preview-washington-vs-baylor
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

Alamo Bowl
Baylor Bears (9-3) vs. Washington Huskies (7-5)

Date: Dec. 29 at 9 p.m. ET
Location: The Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas

Both Washington and Baylor ended long bowl droughts in 2010 and both kept the positive momentum going in 2011. Baylor lost 38-14 to Illinois in the Texas Bowl last year after not seeing postseason play since 1994. The Huskies topped Nebraska 19-7 in the Holiday Bowl last season in its first bowl game since 2002.

Much of the credit for each turn around belongs to two rising stars in the coaching profession. In his fourth season in Waco, Art Briles, with a little help from Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, has Baylor in back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1991-1992 — which is also the last time the Bears won a bowl. He carries a five-game winning streak into the Alamodome.

Steve Sarkisian is in only his third season in Seattle, and while he doesn’t have a Heisman Trophy winner under his belt, he has restored Husky Pride to the Pacific Northwest. He capped his season with his third win in three tries over rival Washington State in the Apple Cup. With two great offensive minds on the sidelines coaching two rosters loaded with offensive skill talent, the 2011 Alamo Bowl figures to feature plenty of fireworks.

WHEN BAYLOR HAS THE BALL:

It’s all about Griffin III. Or more specifically, how does Washington stop him? The reigning Heisman winner led the nation in points responsible for at 22.7 points per game, could set an NCAA single-season record as the most efficient passer in history if he can maintain his 192.31 passer rating and finished No. 2 nationally in total offense at 386.8 yards per game. He is a nasty combination of agility, speed, poise, leadership and accuracy.

Unfortunately for a Husky defense that ranked 94th overall at 426.3 yards allowed per game and 99th in scoring at 33.3 points per game, the Bears are not simply a one-man show. Tailback Terrance Ganaway finished No. 2 in the Big 12 in rushing at over 112.0 yards per game. Wide receiver Kendall Wright caught at least six passes in every game this year and finished No. 2 nationally at 131.0 yards per game. And fellow wide receiver Terrance Williams has scored in seven straight games.

Sarkisian and his defensive staff will have their hands full trying to stop one of the nation’s most dynamic and balanced offensive attacks. Griffin might be the only one who can stop Griffin as his focus — his parents are apparently currently interviewing NFL agents — might be the only thing standing in the way of the school’s second 10-win season in program history.

WHEN WASHINGTON HAS THE BALL:

The good news for Washington is that their best defense might actually be on the other side of the ball. Quarterback Keith Price and running back Chris Polk give the Huskies a 1-2 punch on offense that should be effective enough to keep RG3 on the bench. Baylor didn’t stop anyone this fall either, ranking 114th in total defense at 477.5 yards per game and 109th in scoring defense at 35.7 points per game.

Price, a sophomore, started his first season as the starter with six consecutive games with at least three touchdown passes before an injured left knee forced him to miss some snaps in losses to USC and Oregon State late in the season. Back healthy for the Apple Cup, Price threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns — bringing his season to a school-record 29 for the year. Look for him to spread the football around to a host of elite pass-catchers in senior Jermaine Kearse (42 rec., 501 yards, 6 TD), freshman Kasen Williams (33 rec., 408 yards, 6 TD) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (36 rec., 479 yards, 6 TD).

As good as the passing game should be for Washington, it will be star tailback Polk who has the ability to slow the game down and keep RG3 on the bench. Polk rushed for his third consecutive 1,100-yard season and has scored 24 times over the last two seasons. His ability to get tough yards between the tackles, get to the edge when needed and catch passes on third downs makes him arguably the most important offensive piece in this game. Baylor allowed nearly 200 yards rushing per game this season and getting Polk rolling early and often gives the Huskies their best chance to win.

Special Teams

Give Washington the distinct advantage on special teams. Kicker Erik Folk missed four of his total 63 kicks all season and punter Kiel Rasp led the Pac-12 in punting (45.1 ypp). Meanwhile, Baylor kicker Aaron Jones missed seven of his 16 field goal attempts and three extra points this year. Baylor also finished 114th nationally in punting and has struggled in the return game.

Prediction

If the Huskies want to beat the Heisman Trophy winner, they have to win the special teams battle and keep Griffin III on the sideline. A productive and versatile Chris Polk will do just that. Both of these teams average more than 31 points per game and both defenses have struggled to stop anyone so it should be a high scoring duel on the Riverwalk. This said, it will be virtually impossible to beat Griffin III in what should be his final game in a Bears uniform and one final chance at the school’s first bowl win in 20 years.

Baylor 42, Washington 34

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2011 Alamo Bowl: Washington vs. Baylor.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 07:02
Path: /college-football/meineke-car-care-bowl-preview-texas-am-vs-northwestern
Body:

by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
Texas A&M (6–6) vs. Northwestern (6–6)

Date: Dec. 31 at 12 noon ET
Location: Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas

Texas A&M is arguably the most talented 6–6 team in the nation. A consensus top 15 team in the preseason, the Aggies went 4–5 in the Big 12 — their final year in the league — due to their inability to protect a lead. A&M held a double-digit lead in five of its six losses, including halftime leads of 20–3 vs. Oklahoma State and 34–17 vs. Arkansas in back-to-back games early in the season. Mike Sherman was dismissed after going 25–25 in his four seasons in College Station and has been replaced by former Houston coach Kevin Sumlin. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who was recently hired to be the head coach at Fresno State, will serve as the Aggies’ interim coach in the bowl game.

Northwestern suffered through a five-game losing streak — including a defeat at Army — earlier this season but bounced back to win four straight and is headed to a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season. The Wildcats only beat one team with a winning record (Nebraska, on the road), but they have some quality pieces on offense, and they improved on defense as the season progressed. 

WHEN TEXAS A&M HAS THE BALL:

The Aggies had plenty of issues this season — scoring points was not one of them. They currently rank 11th in the nation in scoring (39.6 ppg) thanks to their ability to move the ball on the ground (208.1 ypg) and through the air (287.9 ypg). Ryan Tannehill, in his first full season as the starter, has thrown for 3,415 yards with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions (12 of which came in the Aggies’ six losses). Tannehill has three receivers — Ryan Swope, Jeff Fuller and Uzoma Nwachukwu — who caught at least 45 passes.

The A&M rushing attack will not, however, be at full strength. Christine Michael, who averaged just under 100 yards rushing per game, was sidelined in early November with a season-ending knee injury. Cyrus Gray, who has five 100-yard games on his 2011 resume, is questionable with a shoulder injury. If he can’t go, sophomore Ben Malena will get the bulk of the carries.

Northwestern has struggled to stop the run and the pass for the majority of the 2011 season. The Wildcats gave up 30 points or more in six of their nine games against BCS opponents. It will be a surprise if A&M doesn’t score at least 35 points.

WHEN NORTHWESTERN HAS THE BALL:

When healthy, Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa has been among the most dynamic playmakers in the Big Ten in the past two seasons. He isn’t as much of a running threat post-Achilles injury, but Persa is still able to tuck it and run. Where he really hurts a defense is with his accuracy; he has led the nation in completion percentage in two straight seasons, 73.5 percent in ‘10 and 74.3 percent this season. The Cats don’t have a ton of big-time playmakers on offense, but they do have a solid corps of pass-catchers who can move the chains.

The leading rusher is quarterback/receiver/super back Kain Colter, who has 660 yards and five scores on 79 attempts. He saw significant action at quarterback early in the season when Persa was making his way back from his Achilles injury. 

Don’t expect to see Northwestern running the ball out of conventional alignments too often. The Wildcats’ tailbacks are average at best, and stopping the run is something the A&M defense does well. Northwestern will lean on Persa to make plays in the passing game.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Texas A&M senior kicker Randy Bullock leads the nation with 25 field goals (in 29 attempts), and he has made 10-of-12 from 40-49 yards and 1-of-2 from beyond 50 yards. He is a big weapon. Northwestern, on the other hand, has only made six field goals all season. Sophomore Jeff Budzien is 6-of-10, with a long of 47 yards.

PREDICTION

Texas A&M was arguably the nation’s biggest underachiever in 2011. You have to question this team’s motivation, but there are some key seniors who would love to go out with a win in their final game. Northwestern will be scrappy, as usual, but the Wildcats will have a tough time slowing down the Aggies’ offense.

Texas A&M 37, Northwestern 28

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2011 Meineke Car Care Bowl: Texas A&amp;M vs. Northwestern.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 06:35
Path: /college-football/insight-bowl-preview-iowa-vs-oklahoma
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

Insight Bowl
Oklahoma (9-3) vs. Iowa (7-5)

Date: Dec. 30 at 10 p.m. ET
Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

The 23rd annual Insight Bowl will feature two teams that limped into the postseason. Iowa lost three of its last five, including the season finale against new rival Nebraska. However, the Hawkeyes own a three-game bowl winning streak after a win in this game over Missouri 27-24 last season.

Oklahoma, the preseason No. 1 team in the nation, rolled through the first six weeks of the season unblemished before dropping three of its last six and two of its last three. An embarrassing 44-10 loss at the hands of rival Oklahoma State to cap the season further illustrated how far the Sooners have fallen. Like Iowa, however, the Crimson and Cream are riding a mini two-game bowl winning streak, including a dominating 48-20 Fiesta Bowl win over UConn last year.

WHEN IOWA HAS THE BALL:

Bob Stoops’ defense has struggled to stop anything in the second half of the season, and his beleaguered unit will be tested by Kirk Ferentz’ offensive triplets. Quarterback James Vandenberg played efficient football in his first season as the starter, finishing with 26 total touchdowns and only six interceptions. Wide receiver Marvin McNutt produced one of the great receiving campaigns in Iowa history and now holds nearly every major school receiving record. He caught 78 passes for 1,269 yards — which included eight 100-yard efforts — and 12 touchdowns.

Running back Marcus Coker was expected to be the focal point of the offense for this bowl, but he was suspended due to a violation of team rules. He led the Big Ten in rushing attempts (281) and finished second in the league in rushing (115.3 ypg). Unfortunately though, somehow Iowa finished last in the league in rushing as Coker accounted for 80.7% of Iowa’s rushing offense this fall. Without Coker, it's anybody's guess who the Hawkeyes will turn to at running back. Freshmen Jordan Canzeri and DeAndre Johnson figure to get a bulk of carries, but don't count out junior Jason White.

The Hawkeye offensive line will be the key to success in Tempe. They couldn’t get a consistent push in the ground game all season and finished 74th in the nation in sacks allowed (2.2 sacks per game). Protecting Vandenberg and clearing space for one of the inexperienced backs will be the only way Iowa tops Oklahoma.

The good news for Ferentz has been the play of Oklahoma on defense of late. The Sooners defensive woes started on October 22 when they inexplicably lost to Texas Tech 41-38 at home. Before that game Oklahoma was allowing 116 yards rushing per game, 201 yards passing per game and only 15.8 points per game. They were leading the Big 12 in total and scoring defense. Since the loss to the Red Raiders, Oklahoma has allowed nearly 30 points per game, 286 yards passing and 163 yards rushing per game. They finished the year 3-3 in the final six and are nowhere near the BCS national title game.

WHEN OKLAHOMA HAS THE BALL:

This was going to be a rebuilding year for Iowa on defense and it showed. They allowed 44 in a loss to Iowa State, 31 in a win over Northwestern, 37 in a loss to Michigan State and 22 in a loss to Minnesota. It certainly wasn’t a vintage Ferentz defense as Iowa finished last in the league in pass defense and no better than seventh in rushing, scoring, total and pass efficiency defense.

This means that Landry Jones and the Sooners offense — still sans Ryan Broyles — should be able to get back on track. The third-year starter at quarterback threw for 4,302 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. However, he managed only 506 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions over the final two weeks. The loss of Broyles has had a marked impact on the OU offense and it will fall to Kenny Stills, DeJuan Miller and a host of talented skill players to play better if the Sooners expect to win.

The football will certainly get passed around the offense. Aside from a receiving corps that is trying to find its stride after losing the most prolific receiver in NCAA history, running backs Roy Finch and Brennan Clay should all expect to see time in the backfield. This group has been trying to make up for the loss of Dominique Whaley — who had 627 yards and nine scores through the first six weeks of the season before being lost for the year to injury. Freshman Brandon Williams is also out, after transferring to Texas A&M.

Jones had plenty of talent to work with, both in the backfield and on the edge, so there is no reason why names like Stills and Finch cannot become dependable options in Sun Devil Stadium.

Special Teams

Oklahoma’s freshman kicker Mike Hunnicutt connected on 20-of-23 field goal attempts, including his last nine. Iowa’s Michael Meyer began the season by making 11-of-13 field goal tries before missing five of his last seven. Neither team should have a distinct advantage in the third phase of the game as both have been uninspiringly dependable in the punting game and both have struggled in the return game.

Prediction

Even without Broyles and Whaley, this Oklahoma offense possesses enough firepower to score plenty of points on the Hawks. Will Vandenberg and the Iowa offense be able to take advantage of a besieged Sooner defense remains to be seen. If so, Iowa will keep this game close and make Stoops work for his third straight bowl win. If the Black and Old Gold offensive line fails to stand up to Frank Alexander and company, it could be a long day for Iowa fans.

Oklahoma 34, Iowa 24

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2011 Insight Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Iowa.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 06:35
Path: /college-football/sun-bowl-preview-utah-vs-georgia-tech
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

Sun Bowl
Utah Utes (7-5, 4-5) vs. Georgia Tech (8-4, 5-3)

Date: Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. ET
Location: Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas

The more things change the more they stay the same for Utah fans. In year one of Pac-12 play, Kyle Whittingham was able to extend his consecutive bowl streak to nine seasons — including two BCS bowl wins. The Utes have gone 7-1 over that span, but lost its last postseason game to Boise State 26-3 in the Las Vegas Bowl last season.

The Yellow Jackets are making their even more impressive 15th straight bowl appearance. Unfortunately, however, Georgia Tech has not capped a season with a bowl win in seven tries. Their last postseason win was 51-14 Champs Sports Bowl win over Syracuse in 2004. Tech lost to Air Force 14-7 last winter in the Independence Bowl.

Despite choking against Colorado in the season finale, the Utes won four of the last five to earn itself a trip to El Paso. The Jackets, on the other hand, started hot at 6-0 before struggling to a 2-4 second half finish, including a 31-17 drubbing at the hands of rival Georgia in the season finale.

WHEN UTAH HAS THE BALL:

Tailback John White IV certainly proved he belonged in the Pac-12 in 2011. He led the league in attempts with 290 carries, finished second in the conference with 1,404 yards and his 14 touchdowns were good for third in the league. He left the Colorado game in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle. He appears to be healthy for the bowl game and will undoubtedly be the focal point of the Utes offensive attack.

It is a good thing Utah can run the ball with White, because Jordan Wynn’s replacement has struggled to complete passes. Junior college transfer Jon Hays finished 12th in Pac-12 in passer efficiency, throwing only nine touchdowns and 140.7 yards per game since taking over for Wynn. This team finished last in the league in total offense (308.7 ypg) and passing offense (171.6 ypg).

The good news is this is one of Paul Johnson’s worst defense since taking over in Atlanta. Georgia Tech finished 70th against the run (162.9 ypg) and 60th in scoring defense nationally (25.8 ppg).

WHEN GEORGIA TECH HAS THE BALL:

While Utah’s strength on offense matches-up nicely with Tech’s weakness on defense, quite the opposite will be true when the Yellow Jackets offense takes the field. The Johnson triple-option attack once again led the ACC in rushing, ranking third nationally by churning out 316.8 yards per game on the ground. Five different players topped the 400-yard mark and three went over 600. The Utes finished seventh in the nation in rushing defense (97.0 ypg), allowing the opposition to top 152 yards rushing only once (185, Washington). Georgia Tech rushed for 44 touchdowns this fall while Utah allowed a paltry six rushing scores. The unstoppable force meets the immovable object.

However, quarterback Tevin Washington is the fuel that makes the Tech engine purr. And he will need to be needed to complete passes to beat the stingy Ute defense. Over the first six games, he threw for 1,052 yards with ten touchdowns and only two interceptions. Tech was 6-0. Washington totaled 463 yards passing, never completed more than six passes in any game, topped the 100-yard mark once and posted a hideous 0:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Tech went 2-4. He will have to be better through the air if Tech expects to snap its bowl losing streak.

Special Teams

Tech kicker Justin Moore missed only four of his 66 total kicks this season (9-of-12 FG, 53-of-53 XP). Utah kicker Coleman Peterson had been equally impressive, knocking through 17 of his 21 attempts — until the final weekend of play. He went 0-for-3 in the three-point loss to Colorado and will be looking for redemption in El Paso.

Prediction

This is an extremely interesting match-up of strengths and weaknesses. Both quarterbacks have struggled to move the football in the air while both teams have excelled at pounding the football down the opposition’s throat. The biggest difference will be the Ute’s ability to slow the triple-option and force Washington to beat them with his arm. Meanwhile, Tech has allowed 99 points in its last three games and won’t have enough on defense to slow White IV. Whittingham’s bunch barely outlasts Johnson’s squad in a game that should easily feature more than 100 running plays.

Utah 24, Georgia Tech 20

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2011 Sun Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Utah.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 06:21
Path: /college-football/music-city-bowl-preview-wake-forest-vs-mississippi-state
Body:

by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)

Music City Bowl
Wake Forest (6–6) vs. Mississippi State (6–6)

Date: Dec. 30 at 6:40 p.m. ET
Location: LP Field, Nashville, Tenn.

Mississippi State is making its first trip to the Music City Bowl, leaving only Florida, South Carolina and LSU as the only SEC teams that have not spent the holidays in Nashville. The Bulldogs are saying all the right things, but this team no doubt expected to be in a bowl game in a warmer climate. Last year, MSU went 9–4 overall and capped off its season with a 52–14 victory over Michigan in the Gator Bowl. This fall, however, the Bulldogs had to win three of their final five games just to reach six wins and qualify for postseason play.

Wake Forest is back in a bowl game after a two-year hiatus, but the Demon Deacons aren’t exactly making the trip to Nashville with a ton of momentum. Wake won four of its first five games — highlighted by a 35–30 victory over Florida State — but managed only two more wins the rest of the way, at Duke and at home vs. Maryland. The season ended on a disappointing note when Vanderbilt dominated the Deacs, 41–7, in Winston-Salem. Jim Grobe’s club has a lot to prove as it prepares to play another team from the SEC. 

WHEN WAKE FOREST HAS THE BALL:

The Deacons were dramatically improved on offense in 2011, thanks in large part to the emergence of Tanner Price at quarterback. The sophomore threw for 2,803 yards with 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions (and three of those came in one game). Price has two reliable targets in wideout Chris Givens, who led the ACC with 1,276 yards receiving, and slot receiver Michael Campanaro (63 receptions). Wake was rather ordinary in the running game, ranking 96th in the nation. Josh Harris began the season as the No. 1 back, but he has missed significant time due to a hamstring injury. Brandon Pendergrass emerged as a reliable alternative and rushed for 750 yards on a 4.5-yard average.

The Deacs will have to be sharp to move the ball on Mississippi State. The Bulldogs only allowed two teams to score more than 24 points — Auburn scored 41 in September and Arkansas rolled up 44 in mid-November. Wake will do its best to move the ball on the ground, but Price will have to make some plays in the passing game.

WHEN MISSISSIPPI STATE HAS THE BALL:

Mississippi State’s struggles this year are due mostly to its poor play on offense. Chris Relf emerged as one of the better quarterbacks in the SEC last season, but he did not have a productive senior season. Tyler Russell was given an opportunity to take over on several occasions but was never able to seize control of the position.

Dan Mullen has no issues with his No. 1 tailback. Vick Ballard was terrific as a senior, rushing for 1,009 yards and eight TDs on 179 attempts. And with Wake struggling to stop the run — the Deacs gave up an average of 220.8 yards in their final five games, including 297 vs. Vanderbilt — expect to see heavy doses of Ballard and LaDarius Perkins, a nice option as a change-of-pace back.

MSU does feature some playmakers at the wide receiver position — most notably Chad Bumphis — but it was difficult for this group to be much of a factor due to the inconsistent play from the quarterbacks.

SPECIAL TEAMS

MSU kicker Derek DePasquale was solid from close range (9-of-11 from inside 40 yards) but made only 2-of-6 from beyond 40 yards. Perkins averaged 23.3 yards on his 15 kickoff returns, and both Bumphis and Johnthan Banks each returned a punt for a touchdown.

Wake Forest doesn’t pose too much of a threat in the return game, though Camanero did return a punt 50 yards for a score. As a team, the Deacs only averaged 19.9 yards on kick returns. Placekicker Jimmy Newman made 16-of-20 attempts, only one longer than 40 yards.

PREDICTION

It’s dangerous to put too much stock in one game, but it’s hard to believe that a Wake Forest team that was so thoroughly dominated at home by Vanderbilt, a team that went 2–6 in the SEC, will have too much success against another 2–6 SEC team, Mississippi State. The key for the Bulldogs is Ballard; if the senior tailback can get it going early, Wake could have a tough time slowing down the MSU offense. 

Mississippi State 27, Wake Forest 17

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2011 Music City Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 06:02
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/college-football-bowl-predictions-part-2
Body:

By Mitch Light

Champs Sports Bowl — Florida State vs. Notre Dame
These two tradition-rich programs were among the bigger disappointments in 2011. Florida State had significant injuries (most notably to quarterback E.J. Manuel), while Notre Dame’s biggest issue was its inability to protect the football. The Irish ranked 116th in the nation in turnover margin (-1.08 per game).
Notre Dame 31, Florida State 30

Alamo Bowl — Washington vs. Baylor
This figures to be one of the more entertaining games of the bowl season. Both quarterbacks — Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Washington’s Keith Price — are very talented and both defenses are suspect.
Baylor 41, Washington 34

Armed Forces Bowl — BYU vs. Tulsa
BYU won nine games but only beat one team (Utah State) that currently has a winning record. All of Tulsa’s four losses came to teams that were ranked in the top 10 at one point — Oklahoma, O-State, Boise State, Houston.
Tulsa 30, BYU 20

Pinstripe Bowl — Rutgers vs. Iowa State
Iowa State is the only team in the nation that played 11 BCS conference teams in the regular season. The Cyclones went 5–6 in those 11 games, with two of the wins coming in overtime, vs. Iowa and Oklahoma State.
Rutgers 24, Iowa State 20

Music City Bowl — Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State
It’s dangerous to put too much stock in one game, but it’s hard to believe that a Wake Forest team that was so thoroughly dominated at home by Vanderbilt, which went 2–6 in the SEC, will have too much success against another 2–6 SEC team, Mississippi State.
Mississippi State 27, Wake Forest 17

Insight Bowl — Iowa vs. Oklahoma
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops will be coaching against his alma mater for the first time. His team will be more talented; just not sure how motivated the Sooners will be after their late-season struggles.
Oklahoma 28, Iowa 24

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas — Texas A&M vs. Northwestern
Texas A&M is likely the most talented 6–6 team in the nation. The Aggies lost two games in OT and three others by three points or less. Northwestern can be dangerous on offense, but the Cats’ defense will have problems with the A&M attack.
Texas A&M 38, Northwestern 24

Sun Bowl — Georgia Tech vs. Utah
Georgia Tech is 0–3 in bowl games under Paul Johnson and has scored a total of 24 points in those three losses. There’s pressure on the ’11 Jackets to prove that the option attack can be successful when the opponent has a month to prepare.
Georgia Tech 24, Utah 23

Liberty Bowl — Vanderbilt vs. Cincinnati
This game features two of the most underrated tailbacks in the nation, Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy (1,136 yards on an SEC-best 6.2-yard average) and Cincinnati’s Isaiah Pead (1,110 yards).
Vanderbilt 27, Cincinnati 23

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl — Illinois vs. UCLA
These two teams have a combined 13 losses and both head coaches have been fired. This is why some people believe there are too many bowls.
UCLA 24, Illinois 17

Chick-fil-A Bowl — Virginia vs. Auburn
Auburn will take the field without Gus Malzahn calling the plays for the first time since 2008. Maybe it’s not as big of a loss as we think: The Tigers scored 17 points or less in six of their eight SEC games and currently rank 104th in the nation in total offense.
Virginia 21, Auburn 17

TicketCity Bowl — Houston vs. Penn State
Penn State has not played a Conference USA team since it hosted Southern Miss in November 2001. The Nittany Lions won that game, 38–20, and should win this one as well due to their outstanding play on defense.
Penn State 31, Houston 20

Capital One Bowl — Nebraska vs. South Carolina
South Carolina is flying under the national radar — pretty surprising for a Steve Spurrier team — but the Gamecocks have won 10 games and bring the nation’s fourth-ranked defense to Orlando. This should be an entertaining matchup.
South Carolina 17, Nebraska 13

Outback Bowl — Michigan State vs. Georgia
Georgia won 10 games this season, but has only defeated two teams with a winning record — Auburn (7–5) and Georgia Tech (8–4). Michigan State is known for its defense, but the Spartans averaged 38.6 points in their last five games.
Georgia 28, Michigan State 20

Gator Bowl — Florida vs. Ohio State
It’s the Urban Meyer Bowl. Florida (6–6 overall) needs to win this game to avoid its first losing season since 1979, when Charley Pell’s first Gator team went 0–10–1. Ohio State, also 6–6, hasn’t had a losing season since 1988.
Ohio State 20, Florida 16

GoDaddy.com Bowl — Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois
Times are good at Arkansas State. The Red Wolves went 8–0 in the Sun Belt Conference and somehow convinced Gus Malzahn to take over as the head coach after Hugh Freeze bolted for Ole Miss after one season.
Arkansas State 37, Northern Illinois 34

BBVA Compass Bowl — Pittsburgh vs. SMU
Times are tough at Pittsburgh. The Panthers are returning to the BBVA Compass Bowl — despite their objections — and they are doing so without a head coach. Todd Graham left after only one season to take over at Arizona State, forcing to Pitt to undergo its third coaching search in the past 12 months.
SMU 28, Pittsburgh 24

Cotton Bowl — Kansas State vs. Arkansas
Arkansas averaged 41.8 points in its 10 wins and 15.5 points in its two losses — at Alabama and at LSU, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation in total defense and scoring defense. Kansas State ranks 74th in total defense and 71st in scoring defense.
Arkansas 37, Kansas State 23

Rose Bowl — Wisconsin vs. Oregon
Two of the nation’s best and most-balanced offenses — both Wisconsin and Oregon average over 200 yards per game rushing and passing — will be on display at the Rose Bowl. This game features some serious star power, as well, with each team featuring an All-America-caliber running back (UW’s Montee Ball and UO’s LaMichael James) and dynamic playmakers at the quarterback position (Russell Wilson and Darron Thomas).
Oregon 34, Wisconsin 31

Sugar Bowl — Virginia Tech vs. Michigan
Brady Hoke did a tremendous job in his first season at Michigan. On the surface, a three-game improvement in the win column (both overall and in the league) is impressive, but when you dive into the numbers you really get an indication of how much better Michigan was in 2011. Last year, the Wolverines were outgained by an average of 1.4 yards per game in Big Ten play. In ’11, they were statistically dominant in the league, outgaining their opponents by an average of 130.7 yards per game. That is a staggering improvement in one season.
Michigan 27, Virginia Tech 21

Orange Bowl — Clemson vs. West Virginia
Clemson, which won an ACC title for the first time since 1991, averaged 39.4 points in its 10 wins and 14.3 points in its four losses. The Tigers rebounded from a late-season swoon — they lost three of the final four regular-season games — and pounded Virginia Tech, 38–10, in the ACC Championship Game. This is an explosive offensive team that can be very difficult to stop once it gets rolling.
Clemson 38, West Virginia 20

Fiesta Bowl — Oklahoma State vs. Stanford
Oklahoma State will react in one of two ways: The Cowboys, feeling snubbed by the BCS, play with a chip on their shoulder to prove that they, not Alabama, deserved a shot at LSU in the national title game. Or, the Pokes, feeling jilted by the BCS, are lethargic and fail to recapture the magic that made them one of the most entertaining teams throughout the 2011 season. My guess: The former.
Oklahoma State 34, Stanford 27

BCS National Championship — LSU vs. Alabama
The two SEC West superpowers meet in a winner-take-all rematch for the national title. LSU won the first fight, 9–6 in overtime in Tuscaloosa, but the Tigers weren’t necessarily the better team. Yes, they won the game, but the better team doesn’t always win. Alabama hasn’t faced quite as difficult of a schedule as LSU, but the Crimson Tide’s numbers on defense are scary good; they are giving up less than 200 yards per game (60 yards fewer than the No. 2 team, LSU) and only 3.4 yards per play. The offense has been more than good enough to win every game that wasn’t against LSU and did a decent job moving the ball against the Tigers (295 total yards) in its only loss.
Alabama 20, LSU 17

Teaser:
<p> Mitch Light breaks down the bowl games, starting with Notre Dame vs. Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 02:22
Path: /nfl/nfl-postseason-awards
Body:

‘Tis the season for year-end awards in the NFL. This year, there are more players deserving of recognition than trophies to hand out. These are the select few Athlon Sports believes to be award-worthy:

Most Valuable Player
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers

There’s no need for a “Discount Double-Check” on this one; Rodgers has posted historically efficient and prolific stats — completing 68.3 percent of his passes for a career-high 4,643 yards, a career-best 45 TDs and a career-low six INTs for a 122.5 passer rating, which if maintained, would break Peyton Manning’s single-season record of 121.1 in 2004. The Super Bowl XLV MVP has also led the Packers to a 14–1 record.

Offensive Player of the Year
Drew Brees, QB, Saints

The leader of the Big Easy band has been putting on a show this year. With one more gig on the regular season schedule, Brees has already broken Dan Marino’s single-season passing yards record — throwing for 5,087 yards, 41 TDs and 13 INTs.

Defensive Player of the Year
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants

In just his second season, JPP has become one of the most-feared pass-rushers and playmakers in the NFL. The 6'5", 278-pound athletic freak has 81 tackles, 15.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one safety and one block of a potential game-winning field goal.

Offensive Rookie of the Year
Cam Newton, QB, Panthers

The Heisman Trophy-winning BCS national champion out of Auburn has taken the NFL by storm since going No. 1 overall in the draft — passing for 3,893 yards, 20 TDs and 16 INTs, and rushing for 674 yards and 14 TDs.

Defensive Rookie of the Year
Patrick Peterson, CB, Cardinals

Denver edge-rusher Von Miller also deserves consideration. But Peterson takes the prize after posting 60 tackles, two INTs, one sack and an NFL record-tying four punt return TDs — including a walk-off game-winner.

Comeback Player of the Year
Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions

The oft-injured signal-caller threw for 4,518 yards, 36 TDs and 14 INTs, while leading the Lions to their first playoff berth since 1999 — starting 15 games, compared to the 13 starts he totaled over his first two seasons.

Coach of the Year
Jim Harbaugh, 49ers
Postgame handshake controversy and Thanksgiving loss to older bro, John, aside, Harbaugh’s first year with the 49ers has been solid gold. San Francisco is 12–3 this year — its first winning season since 2002.
 

Teaser:
<p> MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers, record-breaker Drew Brees and rookie Cam Newton headline this season's list of award-worthy players.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - 15:08
Path: /college-football/2012-sec-schedule-analysis
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

Athlon Sports predicted the Georgia Bulldogs would win the East in 2011, and we got absolutely hammered by South Carolina fans. We understood why. We were out on a limb. The Gamecocks were the reigning Eastern Division champs with the best running back in the nation and a stellar defensive line returning.

However, one major aspect of our Dawgs-to-Atlanta prediction was the schedule. Now, South Carolina didn’t have to play Alabama or LSU either in 2011, but Georgia didn’t have to make that trip to Fayetteville to play Arkansas. South Carolina did – and got housed, in effect, giving the SEC East to Mark Richt and Georgia in the process.

I don’t think much will change in 2012. The SEC released its first 14-team schedule in history this morning. With Missouri and Texas A&M adding more intrigue to what is already the most powerful conference in football, the announcement made for some anxious moments.

So what conclusions can we draw about the potential outcome of the 2012 season? Since the SEC will be going for its seventh straight BCS national championship, the schedules that were released today just might have a small impact on the national landscape next fall:

Related: Very Early 2012 Athlon Sports Top 25

Beasts of the…West?

As I mentioned, South Carolina and Georgia were the picks in the East in 2011 because neither had to face Alabama or LSU. With those two teams still likely atop the West once again in 2012 — and Arkansas an easy pick to be the top challenger to those two — who has the good fortune to miss all three? Georgia misses all three (again) with Auburn (Nov. 10) and Ole Miss (Nov. 3) as its crossover games. Ole Miss should be picked last, and Auburn is replacing both coordinators after a poor showing this season and should be picked no higher than fourth in the West. It will be hard to take the first-team All-SEC quarterback and his defending SEC East champion Bulldogs off the top slot in the 2012 preseason.

Vanderbilt also misses all three of the Western powers. The Dores, too, get Ole Miss (Nov. 10) and Auburn (Oct. 20) in the crossover contests, and that is why Athlon Sports preseason magazine could pick Vandy ahead of Tennessee in the East for the first time since 1976.

Can The Razorbacks Unseat the Champs?

Entering 2012, Alabama and LSU will have claimed three of the last five BCS National Championships. And the two national powers combined to defeat Arkansas by an average of 24 points in 2011. So can Tyler Wilson and Bobby Petrino wedge their way into the SEC West title race? Certainly, they will be the clear challenger to the Tigers and Tide — especially with Knile Davis returning from injury. But most importantly, the schedule sends both LSU and Alabama on the road to face Arkansas. The Hogs also get lowly Kentucky and South Carolina in their crossover games. All of their four road games are winnable considering how the Hogs played the last time they visited the Gamecocks: at Texas A&M (Sept. 29), Auburn (Oct. 6), South Carolina (Nov. 10) and Mississippi State (Nov. 17).

Where Hogs fans will be watching some of these games, however, is still yet to be determined. The LSU game has been played in Little Rock in the past, and the site of the season finale has yet to be deteremined. Arkansas will play five games in Fayetteville and two in Little Rock. Either way, the schedule sets up for 2012 to be the year Arkansas finally challenges the balance of power in the West.

South Carolina Will Not Win the East

The good news is that the Gamecocks get key divisional swing games against Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee at home. However, their  crossover opponents are possibly the toughest in the entire conference: At LSU (Oct. 3) and Arkansas at home (Nov. 10). Additionally, trips to Florida and Vanderbilt won’t be easy either. With this schedule the Gamecocks cannot be considered the favorite to win the East in 2012. A trip to Kentucky (Oct. 29) is the only guaranteed win on the ’12 Gamecock schedule — though don't forget that South Carolina lost to UK in its last trip to Lexington.

Welcome to the SEC, Texas A&M

Texas A&M averaged 39.3 points in conference play in 2011 with big wins over Iowa State, Texas Tech, Kansas and Baylor. They scored 50 in a loss to Kansas State and 31 in an overtime loss to Missouri. Anyone think Kevin Sumlin is excited about having to face Florida and Arkansas to start SEC play? Or how about three consecutive road games on three consecutive weekends against Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama with a home test against LSU as the appetizer to the road trip? This is probably the toughest SEC schedule of any of the 14 teams. Best of luck, Aggies.

Missouri’s Split Stats

The Tigers, much like the Aggies, didn’t get any favors either. But at least Mike Slive gave Truman the Tiger a chance to be competitive. At least, early on. Four of the first five SEC games in Mizzou history will be played at home, with a visit to South Carolina (Sept. 22) the only road test before November. In fact, Gary Pinkel was given a great opportunity to make an early statement and swing the balance of power in the East with division favorite Georgia coming to Missouri to start the SEC Era in Columbia. You can bet that atmosphere will be electric.

However, the Tigers’ maiden voyage through SEC play will finish with three of the toughest venues in all of college football: At Florida (Nov. 3), at Tennessee (Nov. 10) and at Texas A&M (Nov. 24). None should be picked to challenge for the league title, but all three have massive home-field advantages — unlike most stadiums the Tigers are accustomed to in the Big 12. Dealing with 100,000-seat atmospheres after slugging it out in the SEC for the first time could prove extremely difficult.

Alabama Gets No Road Favors

If you are trying to pick out the subtle difference between LSU and Alabama — and who to pick to win the West next year — look no further than the road games for the Tide. The road slate for Alabama is brutal. The SEC opener at Arkansas (Sept. 15) will seriously test a revamped Nick Saban defense. Trips to Missouri (Oct. 13) and Tennessee (Oct. 20) will also feature two of the better quarterbacks in the SEC. And then there is that little visit to the Bayou and LSU late in the year (Nov. 3). Alabama’s totally reworked defense (which is still loaded with elite talent) and a Trent Richardson-less offense will have to defeat three of the top five teams in the league on the road if it expects a return trip to the BCS title game. The only comfort is a relatively easy slate of home action. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Auburn all visit the Capstone and all will be picked fourth or worse in the West.

Colonel Reb Is Crying

How about this for a road slate in 2012 for Ole Miss: At Alabama (Sept. 29), at Arkansas (Oct. 27), at Georgia (Nov. 3) and at LSU (Nov. 17). In case you missed it, those are likely to be the best four teams in the conference in 2012. Well, at least they have never lost a party in The Grove.

Ranking the SEC Schedules (from easiest to toughest):

1. Georgia Bulldogs
Face Ole Miss and Auburn in crossover and play only three true road games in weaker East.

2. Vanderbilt Commodores
Face Ole Miss and Auburn in crossover with Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee at home.

3. Mississippi State Bulldogs
LSU and Bama are losses anyway and both on the road, but five of other six are winnable games.

4. Arkansas Razorbacks
Plays managable road slate; gets Bama and LSU at home and Kentucky in crossover.

5. Missouri Tigers
Four of first five are at home with winnable road trips to Tennessee and Texas A&M.

6. Tennessee Volunteers
No LSU or Arkansas in crossover helps with Florida and Mizzou at home.

7. Alabama Crimson Tide
Brutal road slate – at LSU, Arkansas and Missouri — with a much easier home schedule.

8. Kentucky Wildcats
At Hogs and Mississippi State at home in crossover. Trips to Mizzou, Florida and Tennessee.

9. Florida Gators
At Texas A&M and LSU at home is tough crossover. But only three true road games

10. Auburn Tigers
Toughest games at home and trip to Bama. Winnable road games at Ole Miss, Vandy and Mississippi State.

11. South Carolina Gamecocks
LSU (road) and Arkansas (home) in crossover, with trips to Florida and Vandy in division.

12. LSU Tigers
Florida (road) and South Carolina (home) is a tough crossover. Visits A&M, Auburn and Arkansas as well.

13. Ole Miss Rebels
Hmmm: At Bama, at Arkansas, at Georgia, at LSU?

14. Texas A&M Aggies
Will play five of the top seven teams in the league — and Auburn, Mississippi State.

2012 SEC Conference Schedules:

ALABAMA
Sept. 15: at Arkansas
Sept. 29: OLE MISS
Oct. 13: at Missouri
Oct. 20: at Tennessee
Oct. 27: MISSISSIPPI STATE
Nov. 3: at LSU
Nov. 10: TEXAS A&M
Nov. 24: AUBURN

ARKANSAS
Sept. 15: ALABAMA
Sept. 29: vs. Texas A&M
Oct. 6: at Auburn
Oct. 13: KENTUCKY
Oct. 27: OLE MISS
Nov. 10: at South Carolina
Nov. 17: at Mississippi State
Nov. 24: LSU

AUBURN
Sept. 8: at Mississippi State
Sept. 22: LSU
Oct. 6: ARKANSAS
Oct. 13: at Ole Miss
Oct. 20: at Vanderbilt
Oct. 27: TEXAS A&M
Nov. 10: GEORGIA
Nov. 24: at Alabama

FLORIDA
Sept. 8: at Texas A&M
Sept. 15: at Tennessee
Sept. 22: KENTUCKY
Oct. 6: LSU
Oct. 13: at Vanderbilt
Oct. 20: SOUTH CAROLINA
Oct. 27: vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)
Nov. 3: MISSOURI

GEORGIA
Sept. 8: at Missouri
Sept. 22: VANDERBILT
Sept. 29: TENNESSEE
Oct. 6: at South Carolina
Oct. 20: at Kentucky
Oct. 27: vs. Florida (Jacksonville)
Nov. 3: OLE MISS
Nov. 10: at Auburn

KENTUCKY
Sept. 22: at Florida
Sept. 29: SOUTH CAROLINA
Oct. 6: MISSISSIPPI STATE
Oct. 13: at Arkansas
Oct. 20: GEORGIA
Oct. 27: at Missouri
Nov. 3: VANDERBILT
Nov. 24: at Tennessee

LSU
Sept. 22: at Auburn
Oct. 6: at Florida
Oct. 13: SOUTH CAROLINA
Oct. 20: at Texas A&M
Nov. 3: ALABAMA
Nov. 10: MISSISSIPPI STATE
Nov. 17: OLE MISS
Nov. 24: at Arkansas

OLE MISS
Sept. 29: at Alabama
Oct. 6: TEXAS A&M
Oct. 13: AUBURN
Oct. 27: at Arkansas
Nov. 3: at Georgia
Nov. 10: VANDERBILT
Nov. 17: at LSU
Nov. 24: MISSISSIPPI STATE

MISSISSIPPI STATE
Sept. 8: AUBURN
Oct. 6: at Kentucky
Oct. 13: TENNESSEE
Oct. 27: at Alabama
Nov. 3: TEXAS A&M
Nov. 10: at LSU
Nov. 17: ARKANSAS
Nov. 24: at Ole Miss

MISSOURI
Sept. 8: GEORGIA
Sept. 22: at South Carolina
Oct. 6: VANDERBILT
Oct. 13: ALABAMA
Oct. 27: KENTUCKY
Nov. 3: at Florida
Nov. 10: at Tennessee
Nov. 24: at Texas A&M

SOUTH CAROLINA
Aug. 30: at Vanderbilt
Sept. 22: MISSOURI
Sept. 29: at Kentucky
Oct. 6: GEORGIA
Oct. 13: at LSU
Oct. 20: at Florida
Oct. 27: TENNESSEE
Nov. 10: ARKANSAS

TENNESSEE
Sept. 15: FLORIDA
Sept. 29: at Georgia
Oct. 13: at Mississippi State
Oct. 20: ALABAMA
Oct. 27: at South Carolina
Nov. 10: MISSOURI
Nov. 17: at Vanderbilt
Nov. 24: KENTUCKY

TEXAS A&M
Sept. 8: FLORIDA
Sept. 29: vs. Arkansas
Oct. 6: at Ole Miss
Oct. 20: LSU
Oct. 27: at Auburn
Nov. 3: at Mississippi State
Nov. 10: at Alabama
Nov. 24: MISSOURI

VANDERBILT
Aug. 30: SOUTH CAROLINA
Sept. 22: at Georgia
Oct. 6: at Missouri
Oct. 13: FLORIDA
Oct. 20: AUBURN
Nov. 3: at Kentucky
Nov. 10: at Ole Miss
Nov. 17: TENNESSEE

Teaser:
<p> Who are the big scheduling winners and losers in the SEC for 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - 10:19
Path: /college-football/champs-sports-bowl-preview-florida-state-vs-notre-dame
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Champs Sports Bowl
Florida State (8-4) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)

Date: Dec. 29 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Location: Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.

In terms of name value, this bowl should be one of the most-anticipated non-BCS bowl matchups this season.

Notre Dame and Florida State both began the year with preseason top 10 hopes, but both teams struggled to meet expectations.

The Seminoles opened the year 2-0, but suffered a handful of key injuries in a 23-13 loss to Oklahoma in Week 3. After losing to the Sooners, Florida State lost its next two games (Clemson and Wake Forest), before winning six out of the final seven contests.

With 16 starters returning and the second season under coach Brian Kelly, Notre Dame was expected to improve off its 8-5 record from 2009. The Irish seemed to have trouble getting out of their own way, especially early in the season. Notre Dame committed five turnovers in the season opener against South Florida and its defense collapsed in the final seconds of a 35-31 loss to Michigan. Although the Irish won eight out their next 10 games, the 0-2 start turned any BCS bowl hopes into a longshot.

These two teams have played six times, with Florida State owning a 4-2 edge in the series. The Seminoles and Irish met in the 1996 Orange Bowl, with Florida State winning 31-26.

Considering both teams return most of its core next season, this game could be a springboard for another run at a top-10 finish in 2012.

WHEN FLORIDA STATE HAS THE BALL:

Injuries have affected the Seminoles’ offense in 2011, starting with quarterback EJ Manuel. The junior missed one game and was limited in others due to a shoulder injury suffered against Oklahoma. Manuel finished the year with 2,417 yards and 16 touchdowns, but should be closer to 100 percent for the matchup against Notre Dame.

Not only has Manuel battled injuries most of the year, but his receiving corps has also been banged up. The injuries and youth prevented the Florida State passing attack from finding its rhythm most of the year. Freshman Rashad Greene leads the team with 33 receptions, while Rodney Smith ranks first with 527 receiving yards. Kenny Shaw, Bert Reed and Christian Green are all key contributors and each has at least 25 receptions this year. Tight end Nick O’Leary is another young weapon for Manuel, catching 12 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown.

Notre Dame finished the regular season ranked 34th nationally in pass defense, but much of their success on defense starts up front. The Irish averaged only 1.7 sacks a game, but there are a handful of potential gamechangers up front. Freshman Aaron Lynch finished second on the team with four sacks and also recorded one forced fumble. Linebacker Manti Te’o is one of the best in the college football and he collected 4.5 sacks and 115 tackles this year.

The Achilles’ heel for the Florida State offense this season has been the offensive line and rushing attack. The Seminoles ranked 99th nationally in rushing offense and averaged only 3.5 yards per rush. The offensive line also gave up 36 sacks – the worst total in the ACC.

Freshman Devonta Freeman leads the team with 531 yards and eight rushing scores. Jermaine Thomas ranked second on the team with 279 rushing yards, but has been ruled academically ineligible for this game. Freeman will see the bulk of the carries, but James Wilder and Ty Jones will also figure into the mix.

The Irish defense ranks 58th nationally against the run, but considering Florida State’s struggles in the trenches, they should be able to win this matchup.

Although the Seminoles don’t want to ignore their rushing game, they need to spread the field and take advantage of their speed and depth in the receiving corps.

WHEN NOTRE DAME HAS THE BALL:

Just like Florida State, the Irish have dealt with question marks on offense for most of 2011.

Inconsistency at quarterback has prevented the Irish from finding their rhythm, as three players have taken snaps under center. Tommy Rees is expected to start the bowl game, but he was benched during the regular season finale at Stanford and tossed four picks over his final four games. Andrew Hendrix has thrown only 29 passes this season, but thanks to his mobility, gives Notre Dame’s offense a different look. Don’t be surprised if both quarterbacks see time.

Despite the inconsistent quarterback play, receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Tyler Eifert have produced solid numbers this year. Floyd caught 95 yards for 1,106 yards and eight touchdowns, while Eifert chipped in 57 catches for 713 yards and five scores.

Sophomore Cierre Wood became the first Irish back since Darius Walker in 2006 to reach the 1,000-yard mark, finishing with 1,042 yards and nine touchdowns. With Jonas Gray out due to a torn ACL, receiver Theo Riddick may see more touches out of the backfield to spell Wood.

Notre Dame’s offensive line has been solid all year, but it will be tested by Florida State’s defensive front. The Seminoles recorded 36 sacks this year, led by Brandon Jenkins (seven) and Bjoern Werner (six).

Considering the Irish’s struggles with turnovers, getting pressure on Rees or Hendrix is going to be crucial for Florida State’s defense. The Seminoles rank 19th nationally in pass defense, so passing opportunities for Rees will be limited.

Although Florida State is allowing only 81.8 yards per game on the ground, Notre Dame has to try to establish its rushing attack and limit the pressure on Rees.

Special Teams

The edge in this department goes to Florida State.

Kicker Dustin Hopkins was a Groza finalist after connecting on 20 of 25 field goals. He nailed 6 of 9 attempts from 40 yards and beyond. Punter Shawn Powell was one of the best in the nation this year, averaging 47 yards per punt and placing 21 inside of the 20.

The Seminoles are in great shape on returns, as Greg Reid is averaging 11.4 yards per return and has taken one back for a touchdown. Reid, Karlos Williams and Lamarcus Joyner will see time on kickoffs, with each averaging over 24 yards per return.

Notre Dame isn’t as strong as Florida State on special teams, but this isn’t a complete weakness either.

Kicker David Ruffer has connected on 10 of 15 field goals this year, while punter Ben Turk is averaging 40.2 yards per punt.

Freshman George Atkinson III has ignited the Irish kickoff returns this season, averaging 27.4 yards per return and taking two for touchdowns. Notre Dame has struggled to get anything going on punt returns, which could open the door for Michael Floyd to see more time in this department.

Prediction

The defenses should control the tempo of this game, which should make points at a premium.

Although Florida State hasn’t been perfect in the turnover department, it has been better than Notre Dame. Expect the Seminoles’ defense to force a few turnovers, putting their offense in short-field situations.

Notre Dame’s edge in the front seven will harass EJ Manuel, but the Seminoles’ offense will do just enough to win.

Florida State 24, Notre Dame 20

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl: Florida State vs. Notre Dame.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - 07:55

Pages