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Path: /college-football/derek-dooleys-future-tennessee-head-coach

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

Tennessee Volunteers fans are going to win in 2012 – no matter where they fall on the Derek Dooley love-hate spectrum.

So why is Big Orange nation working itself into a ravenous frenzy on Jan. 3?

Relax, Dooley is going to be the head coach of the Tennessee football team in 2012, so the fans need to get used to it. But make no mistake, he will have to win football games, at least seven (if not eight), to see another New Year’s in Knoxville. Either way, fans screaming for Dooley’s head to roll down Kingston Pike should get what they want in 2012.

If Tennessee fails to reach a bowl game for the second consecutive year, Dooley will be fired and those blood-thirsty fans should be happy. If Tennessee develops its young talent, wins more than it loses and plays in the postseason, well, isn’t that what all Vols’ fans should want? Isn’t that simply the next step in one of the most embattled and unique coaching tenures in the history of SEC football?

Dooley has certainly had his chances to make a statement in his young head-coaching career — the defensive gaffe in the closing seconds in Baton Rouge comes to mind. Yet, the task Dooley faced when he stepped into the spotlight in 2010 might have been the most tumultuous coaching situation in the SEC since the advent of divisional play 20 years ago.

After a lackluster defeat at the hands of rival Kentucky that crushed the Vols' bowl hopes, it doesn’t appear things are getting any easier for the tormented head coach. Dooley had to address the media Tuesday morning for the first time in over a month after defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach, and top recruiter, Peter Sirmon accepted similar positions under Steve Sarkisian at the University of Washington. Do not get worked up over whether Tennessee is a "better job" than Washington. The Pacific Northwest will always be considered an upgrade to two coaches who are from the area. So Sirmon and Wilcox leaving are not signs of a sinking ship.

That said, who Dooley tabs as his new defensive coordinator could end up being one of the most important decisions of his career — both in terms of developing and acquiring talent.

"The program is significantly better than it was 22 months ago, when we all got here," Dooley said Tuesday. While it’s hard to convince many Vols fans to be optimistic, Dooley isn’t too far off. He continued, “We’re on our way. The worst is behind us.”

He also announced the release of freshman receiver DeAnthony Arnett. Arnett, from Saginaw, Mich., had been asking for the release in order to move closer to his father, who is sick. Arnett caught 24 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns in 2011.

Here are some facts to consider:

  • Tennessee has lost 14 games over a two-year period of time for the first time in school history.
  • Four of those 14 losses came at the hands of the two teams playing in the BCS national title game.
  • It’s the most pre-Kiffin losses in a two-year span since 1976-77, when Tennessee lost 12 games between the Bill Battle and Johnny Majors coaching change.
  • Johnny Majors lost 23 games in his first four seasons.
  • In 2011, Tennessee ranked 116th in the nation in rushing and 12th in the SEC at 90.1 ypg.
  • Tennessee ranked 106th in the nation in scoring at 20.3 ppg.
  • The Vols scored a total of six third-quarter points in SEC play. They were outscored 84-6 in the third frame of SEC play and were outscored 132-35 in the second half of SEC action. In conference, Tennessee was shutout four times in the second half.
  • Lane Kiffin signed 22 players in the 2009 class. Eleven lettered, nine played in a game and three played in all 12 games this fall. Those 22 signees played an average of 3.1 games this season.
  • According to Athlon Sports 2009 preseason football magazine recruiting rankings, not one of the top seven-rated players in the ‘09 class played a single game in 2011 (In order: Bryce Brown, David Oku, Janzen Jackson, NuKeese Richardson, Darren Myles, Jared Askew and James Green). All seven nationally rated recruits in that class failed to play in a game in 2011.
  • Justin Hunter, Tyler Bray and Janzen Jackson, arguably the best three players on the roster in the spring, combined to play 10 total games this season.
  • The 2012 Vols could potentially return 19 of 22 starters.
  • Tennessee finished No. 2 in the SEC in passing offense — with Matt Simms and Justin Worley attempting a combined 149 passes.
  • According to official stats page, 82 of 114 eligible Vols were underclassmen and only 13 were seniors.
  • Derek Dooley has to produce wins in 2012 or he will not be retained as the Tennessee head coach.

Most Tennessee fans would have to agree, it certainly looks like “the worst” has already taken place.

The bottom line is “Just win, baby.” The 14 losses mean nothing. The bare Philip Fulmer cupboard means nothing. The horrific third quarter stats mean nothing. What matters is wins and losses in 2012 — and that there are no more excuses for Dooley. Once he fills the voids on his defensive staff, and assuming he can keep a top 20 recruiting class intact, he will have all the pieces in place to win in 2012.

The schedule appears to have given Dooley a chance to keep his swan song at bay as well. There are no Oregons on the slate in the non-conference — or LSU on the SEC line-up. The toughest non-conference test will be the Kickoff Classic battle with a five-loss NC State team in Atlanta. Otherwise, Georgia State, Akron and Troy should all be wins. Florida, Missouri, Alabama and Kentucky each visit Knoxville while the Vols have to travel to Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. At first look, it’s the sixth most difficult SEC schedule next season and appears relatively manageable.

The biggest impact Dooley can have on his own legacy as Tennessee’s head coach is his developing leadership. It starts with making intelligent, savvy hires in the face of the most recent defections of Wilcox and Sirmon (like new running back coach and rising star recruiter Jay Graham). Uniting a locker room divide should also be atop the list. Building cohesion in the face of adversity is one of the few tangible impacts a coach can have on a locker room. Finally, in-game adjustments are signatures of a quality field general who has quality platoon leaders.

Dooley needs to create a distinct identity that Vols’ players and coaches can rally around and be proud to represent. This will build a foundation for success on the field, in the locker room and on the recruiting trail. It’s also where a portion of the responsibility falls to the players, like Tyler Bray. The maturation process has to continue for the players just like it has to for Dooley.

Tennessee Volunteers fans have every right be disturbed with what has taken place in Knoxville over the last two seasons. However, burning down the twittersphere and talk show phone lines serves no purpose other than elevating your own blood pressure. Because right now, Big Orange Nation is actually in worse shape that the football program itself.

The talent and schedule are set-up for Dooley to win in 2012. If he wins, be happy and relish the fact that Tennessee is a winning football program once again. If he does not, you won’t have to see those orange pants on the sideline ever again.

In which case, Dooley would have been very right about one thing at least: the new head coach will be stepping into a program that is in dramatically better shape than it was 22 months ago.

<p> After losing two coaches to UW, Dooley has even more questions to answer at Tennessee.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 - 11:03
All taxonomy terms: Montee Ball, Wisconsin Badgers, News
Path: /news/wisconsins-montee-ball-takes-helmet-groin-rose-bowl-video

Wisconsin's Montee Ball is one of the best running backs in the nation. So it's no surprise that he can leap defenders who are attempting to tackle him.

Usually, he has no problem pulling off athletic feats like that. Usually.

On this particular play, Ball tries to jump an Oregon Duck player in the Rose Bowl and comes up just a little bit short. As you can see in the video, the Ducks' helmet drill Ball right in his namesake. No cup or padding is going to make this hit OK. It's a surprise Ball even stayed in the game after this.

<p> Montee Ball takes one where the sun the don't shine</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 - 08:12
Path: /college-football/orange-bowl-preview-clemson-vs-west-virginia

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Orange Bowl
Clemson (10-3) vs. West Virginia (9-3)
Date: Jan. 4 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Fla.

The ACC and Big East are often criticized for being the two worst BCS conferences, but the 2012 Orange Bowl should be a showcase for two of the top offenses in college football.

It’s been an up and down year for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. Coming off a 6-7 record in 2010, not much was expected from the Tigers in 2011, especially with a new offensive scheme implemented. However, all of the new pieces seemed to fit and the Tigers began the year 8-0 and emerged as a threat to play for the national title. Despite the hot start, Clemson dropped three of their next four games, before rebounding to dismantle Virginia Tech 38-10 in the ACC Championship.

Although Swinney has led Clemson to two ACC title game appearances under his watch, offensive coordinator Chad Morris deserves much of the credit for the success of this team in 2011. The offense finished 10th in the ACC in scoring last season, but showed dramatic improvement this year, averaging 33.6 points a game and ranking 29th nationally by averaging 440.6 yards per game.

This is Clemson’s first appearance in a BCS bowl since this system’s inception in 1998. The Tigers have three previous trips to the Orange Bowl, with the last coming in 1982 against Nebraska.

West Virginia had some offseason turmoil, as Bill Stewart was forced out in early June, prompting Dana Holgorsen to become head coach a year earlier than expected. Although the coaching transition resulted in a few uneasy moments while the situation was sorted out, most expected this would have little impact on the 2011 season. And that’s exactly how it played out. Holgorsen’s arrival helped to ignite a struggling offense, while defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel navigated some key departures to keep this defense among the best in the Big East.

Although there’s a battle in the courtroom still to play out, this appears to be West Virginia’s last season in the Big East. And if this is indeed its finale in the conference, the Mountaineers will be going out on top. After losing to Syracuse and Louisville, West Virginia’s Big East title hopes looked bleak in early November. However, a win over Cincinnati on Nov. 12 and a loss by Louisville on that same weekend vaulted the Mountaineers back into conference title contention.

The Mountaineers have claimed a share of the Big East title in three out of the last five seasons. This is West Virginia’s first appearance in the Orange Bowl and its first BCS bowl trip since the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.

These two teams have met only once, with Clemson claiming a 27-7 victory in the 1989 Gator Bowl.


In addition to hiring Morris, the emergence of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins has helped to ignite this offense. The Tigers scored 30 or more points in nine games this season and led the ACC with 284.8 passing yards per game.

In his first season as the starter, Boyd threw for 3,578 yards and 31 touchdowns, which prompted his selection as the ACC’s first-team all-conference quarterback. He finished with 186 yards and five scores on the ground, but Morris would like to get a little more production from him in that department.

Watkins has emerged as one of the top receivers in college football, catching 77 passes for 1,153 yards and 11 scores. He has chipped in 229 yards on the ground, while also averaging 26.3 yards per kickoff return. Watkins is one of the nation’s most dangerous players with the ball in his hand, and Clemson will look to get him 10-15 touches in this game.

There’s no shortage of weapons outside of Watkins, as DeAndre Hopkins caught 62 passes and tight end Dwayne Allen also chipped in 48 catches, with eight going for scores. Running back Andre Ellington is another dangerous weapon, rushing for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Mike Bellamy is the team’s top backup rusher, but he is suspended for this game, leaving Clemson with very little depth behind Ellington.

West Virginia’s defense had to break in seven new starters coming into this season, but finished 27th nationally in total defense and 31st in pass defense. The Mountaineers struggled to stop the run, finishing 51st nationally with 140.8 yards per game allowed.

West Virginia’ secondary was already under fire with Boyd and Watkins, but was dealt another blow when safety Terence Garvin was ruled out of this game due to knee surgery. He finished third on the team with 72 tackles, while adding two interceptions and recording 3.5 sacks. The Mountaineers allowed only 199.6 passing yards a game during the regular season, but that will be tested without Garvin as they try to stop Clemson’s offense. 

Coordinator Jeff Casteel did a good job keeping West Virginia’s defense among the best in the Big East this year, but it will be put to the test with the question marks in the secondary. The Mountaineers have to get pressure on Boyd and not allow him to hit big plays to Watkins, Allen or Hopkins. West Virginia’s defense allowed 2.3 sacks per game, and Clemson’s offensive line allowed 2.3 a contest. Considering the Tigers’ have struggled to protect Boyd at times, the Mountaineers need to get pressure and disrupt the timing of Clemson’s offense. If West Virginia struggles to get after Boyd, it could be a long evening for the defense with the playmakers on the other sideline.


The transition to Holgorsen’s offense hasn’t been a smooth one for the Mountaineers – but it hasn’t been a debacle either. West Virginia finished seventh nationally in passing offense, but ranked 100th in rushing offense.

Quarterback Geno Smith makes West Virginia’s offense go, throwing for 3,978 yards and 25 touchdowns this year. The junior attempted 483 passes and tossed only seven picks. Smith does not like to run, but can make a few plays with his legs if needed.

Smith has no shortage of talented receivers, starting with Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Bailey led the team with 1,197 yards and 11 receiving scores, while Austin paced the team with 89 receptions. Ivan McCartney, Devon Brown and Tyler Urban are also solid options in the receiving corps.

Clemson’s secondary ranks 38th nationally in pass defense and has allowed 20 passing scores this year. However, the Tigers rank 56th nationally in pass efficiency defense. There’s no question Smith and his receivers are going to get their yards. However, Clemson cannot afford to let West Virginia’s passing offense consistently hit big plays downfield.

Perhaps the biggest key to slowing down West Virginia for the Tigers is winning the battle in the trenches. Clemson end Andre Branch collected 10.5 sacks in the regular season and will be one of the players to watch in this game. The Mountaineers allowed 2.2 sacks per game and if they cannot protect Smith, Clemson’s defense will take the upper hand.

In addition to struggling to protect Smith, West Virginia’s offensive line had its share of troubles opening up holes for the rushing attack. The Mountaineers shook up the front five late in the year and it’s uncertain who will start in the Orange Bowl. Regardless of which players get the call to start, this group will be under fire.

Although it isn’t crucial for this team to rush for 200 yards every game, the Mountaineers have to get some production on the ground. Dustin Garrison led the way with 742 yards, and Shawne Alston chipped in 339 yards and 10 touchdowns. Garrison suffered a knee injury in practice and won't be able to play against Clemson. Look for Alston and freshman Andrew Buie to shoulder the workload at running back.

Special Teams

This unit has been an adventure at times for West Virginia. Mike Molinari and Corey Smith have traded the punting job throughout the year, with Smith gaining the upper hand at the end of the season. Kicker Tyler Bitancurt has connected on 16 of 22 attempts, including 3 of 4 from beyond 40 yards.

Austin is one of the top return men in college football, averaging 26.5 yards per kick return and 14.1 on punt returns. He has scored twice on kickoffs this season.

Clemson can match West Virginia on returns, as Watkins averaged 26.3 yards per kickoff return.

Kicker Chandler Catanzaro connected on 20 of 25 attempts for Clemson, while punter Dawson Zimmerman averaged 38.2 yards per punt.


With two high-flying offenses, this matchup has the potential to be one of the highest-scoring games of the 2011-2012 bowl season. However, with the long layoff, it may take a quarter for both offenses to find their rhythm.

Both teams will have their moment, but Clemson’s defensive line will be able to disrupt West Virginia’s offensive timing and get after Smith in all four quarters. The Tigers also have more balance on offense, which is eventually the deciding factor.

Clemson 34, West Virginia 27

<p> Athlon previews the 2012 Orange Bowl: West Virginia vs. Clemson.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 - 07:34
Path: /college-football/college-football-2012-three-teams-rise

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

It's never too early to start thinking about next season, and Athlon kicked off our lookahead to 2012 with a very, very early top 25. Of course, a lot is going to change between now and when our official preseason poll is released in May, but we are taking an early glimpse of how things could look.

What teams will surpass its 2011 win total in 2012? Here are three candidates:

Ohio StateAfter a disappointing 6-6 regular season record in 2011, expect the Buckeyes to jump back into 10-win territory in 2012. Most importantly, Ohio State is not expected to have any suspensions impact the offense like it did this season. However, the Buckeyes were hit with a one-year bowl ban, so this team will be ineligible to compete for the Big Ten title. Quarterback Braxton Miller should shine in new coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense, especially with a group of young receivers getting better next year. The Buckeyes will have three key losses on the offensive line – tackles Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts, along with center Mike Brewster – but Miller’s mobility should help ease the concerns about this group. Ohio State had an uncharacteristic season on defense, finishing sixth in total and scoring in the Big Ten. Defensive lineman John Simon could enter the NFL Draft, and the secondary will lose Tyler Moeller, but the rest of the defense is expected to return intact. With a lot of new faces seeing time this year, Ohio State’s defense should finish near the top of the Big Ten in 2012. Meyer is a proven winner and is putting together a terrific recruiting class in a short amount of time. With Wisconsin losing quarterback Russell Wilson and the ongoing uncertainty at Penn State, expect Ohio State to begin the year as the favorites in the Big Ten Leaders Division - without a chance to play in the conference title game. 

TexasThere’s been much speculation about coach Mack Brown’s future in Austin, but all indications point to his return on the sidelines in Austin for 2012. And there’s a lot of reasons for Texas to be optimistic next season. The Longhorns made a two-win improvement from 2010 this season and a similar jump isn’t out of the question. Coordinator Bryan Harsin was brought in from Boise to jumpstart the offense, but the Longhorns finished eighth in the Big 12 in scoring. Quarterback play was an issue all year, but Case McCoy and David Ash should be better with another offseason to work with the offense. However, Texas would probably be better off by settling on one quarterback and developing the scheme around him. Expect the Longhorns to focus on the run next season, especially with four starters coming back on the offensive line, along with running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. The backfield will also get a boost with incoming freshman Jonathan Gray – ranked as the No. 7 prospect in the Athlon Consensus 100. The defense loses tackle Kheeston Randall and linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho, but should remain one of the best units in the Big 12. There’s a lot of pressure on Mack Brown to win next season and the pieces are in place to expect nine wins.

Washington The Huskies have made steady progress under coach Steve Sarkisian, posting back-to-back seven-win seasons. And the future looks bright for 2012. Quarterback Keith Price was solid in his first year as the starter, throwing for 2,625 yards and 29 scores, while tossing 11 picks. Price battled injuries most of the year and a full offseason to heal should allow him to be 100 percent next season. He should have no shortage of weapons in the receiving corps, as Kasen Williams and James Johnson are proven targets, and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins could contend for All-American honors next season. Running back Chris Polk declared for the NFL Draft, which leaves Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey to battle for the No. 1 role in the backfield. The Huskies also have to replace the left side of their offensive line. The defense has been a sore spot under Sarkisian, and coordinator Nick Holt was canned following an after the Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor. If Washington wants to push Oregon for the Pac-12 North title next year, the defense has to improve. The line will lose end Everrette Thompson and tackle Alameda Ta’amu, while linebacker Cort Dennison and cornerback Quinton Richardson also depart. Even with Polk departing, the Huskies should be picked second in the Pac-12 North and could start the year in many preseason top 25 lists. 

<p> Athlon takes a look at three teams that could surpass its 2011 win total in 2012.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 - 07:22
Path: /news/stanford-player-decks-teammate-end-zone-fiesta-bowl-gif

During the Fiesta Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma State, this little gem occurred after a kickoff. Jeremy Stewart doesn't think that Ty Montgomery should take the kickoff out of the end zone.

Ty Montgomery thinks he should. Then, as he's running out Stewart says "No, you will not" and decks him before he makes his way out of the end zone. If you watch the tape, it doesn't look like Montgomery would have made it past the 5 yard line, so Stewart essentially saved Stanford 15 yards on his heads up play.

Oklahoma State went on to win the Fiesta Bowl 41-38 in overtime (after Jordan Williamson, the freshman Stanford kicker missed a game-winning field goal, and then another in overtime). But this play may be the one that stands out when people talk about this game.

<p> This was one of the more memorable plays of Bowl season</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 - 02:44
Path: /nfl/matt-flynn-throws-six-touchdowns

Matt Flynn, QB, Packers
Step aside Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre and Bart Starr, there’s a new record-breaking quarterback in Titletown. A pending free agent, Flynn completed 31-of-44 passes for a team-record 480 yards, a club-record six TDs and one INT in what was likely his last regular season game with the Packers, a 45–41 shootout victory over the NFC North rival Lions. “It’s very humbling,” said Flynn, following his breakout performance at Lambeau Field. “Just think of all the great quarterbacks that have come through here.”

Ray Rice, RB, Ravens
Needing a win to secure the AFC North crown, as well as the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the AFC Playoffs — as opposed to the No. 5 seed and a Wild Card matchup with a loss — Baltimore rode Rice to a 24–16 win at Cincinnati. The 5'8", 212-pounder showed off both power and speed, with 24 carries for 191 yards (8.0 ypc) and two TDs — a 70-yard sprint to start the scoreboard festivities and a 51-yard fourth-quarter scamper to seal the victory.

Victor Cruz, WR, Giants
The G-Men were on Cruz control during their 31–14 must-win over the Cowboys, in a playoff play-in game for the NFC East division title. The second-year Minuteman out of UMass capped off the most unlikely of years with a six-catch, 178-yard effort highlighted by a 74-yard TD. After entering the season with zero career receptions, Cruz has 82 grabs for 1,536 yards (18.7 ypc) and nine TDs this season, becoming Eli Manning’s go-to receiver along the way.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints
Someone has to catch all those Drew Brees bombs; and during a 45–17 win over Carolina, it was Graham, who hauled in eight receptions for 97 yards and one TD, and partner in crime Marques Colston, who had seven catches for 145 yards and two TDs. The 6'6", 260-pound Graham, who played basketball at Miami (Fla.), finished the season with 99 catches for a team tight end record 1,310 yards and 11 TDs.

Jared Allen, DE, Vikings
Minnesota’s hardest hustler didn’t slow down in a meaningless 17–13 loss to Chicago in the season finale. Allen posted a season-high 3.5 sacks — his sixth multi-sack game of the year — giving him 22 sacks this season, 0.5-sack shy of the NFL single-season record set by Michael Strahan in 2001. In eight seasons, Allen has recorded 105 sacks and 26 forced fumbles, earning four trips to the Pro Bowl.

<p> Backup Matt Flynn breaks Green Bay Packers' passing records with 480 yards and six TDs starting in place of Aaron Rodgers in a Week 17 win over the Detroit Lions.</p>
Post date: Monday, January 2, 2012 - 20:17
All taxonomy terms: engaged, LeBron James, Savannah Brinson, News
Path: /news/lebron-james-engaged-savannah-brinson-days-after-michael-jordan-gets-engaged-photos

Lebron James continues to follow in his idol's footsteps. Just days after Michael Jordan announced his engagement to Yvette Prieto, Miami Heat Star Lebron James announced he was engaged to his longtime girlfriend Savannah Brinson.

James popped the question on New Year's Eve with teammates and friends looking on. It was also James' 27th birthday.

Chris Paul and Heat Owner Mickey Arison tweeted their congratulations. 

Lebron and Savannah have two sons. Savannah and James have been dating since high school. James, who struggled last year after he was turned from one of the most well-loved players in the NBA to one of the most hated after leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to go to the Miami Heat didn't respond well to playing the role of league villain. Something he recently admitted. 

Maybe his new engagement will help soften his image, especially among women, who will see a guy who stayed with his high school sweetheart, despite being one of the most famous and wealthy athletes on the planet.

Here's a photo gallery of the Brinson and James:

There's no way to know if Michael Jordan's engagement prompted James to follow suit (James used to wear #23 in homage to his on-court idol), but we'll see if Lebron's first marriage fares better than Jordan's (MJ lost a reported $150 million after his first marriage dissolved in 2006.)

Heat fans are hoping this is the year Lebron finally does for the first time what his idol was able six times, and that's win an NBA championship.

<p> The Miami Heat star popped the question to his high school sweetheart</p>
Post date: Monday, January 2, 2012 - 11:52
Path: /college-football/sugar-bowl-preview-virginia-tech-vs-michigan

by Mark Ross

Allstate Sugar Bowl
Michigan (10-2) vs. Virginia Tech (11-2)
Date: Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.

Michigan and Virginia Tech seem to have a lot in common. Not only do they have similar statistics when it comes to offensive and defensive production, both teams have dual-threat quarterbacks, 1,000-yard running backs, didn’t win their respective conferences and don’t deserve to be in a BCS bowl.

While the first four claims are fact, it’s the last one that’s purely opinion, and it’s an opinion that seems to be shared by the majority of college football fans and pundits alike.

Surprise is probably the best word to use in describing the reaction after Sugar Bowl officials picked No. 13 Michigan and No. 11 Virginia Tech for its Jan. 3 match up. In the process, these same officials not only bypassed two teams — No. 7 Boise State and No. 8 Kansas State — that were ranked higher in the BCS standings, but also a Michigan State team that defeated the Wolverines earlier this season and was the runner-up to Rose Bowl-bound Wisconsin in the Big Ten.

Regardless of your opinion of the BCS system and its flaws, this much is clear — Sugar Bowl officials wanted Michigan and Virginia Tech and that’s what they got. Now it’s up to both of these teams to seize the chance on the big stage and prove to the fans and pundits that the Sugar Bowl made the right choice.

For one, Michigan is more than happy to return to a BCS bowl for the first time since the 2007 Rose Bowl. The program is enjoying a revival under first-year head coach Brady Hoke, who led the Wolverines to double-digit wins for the first time since 2006.

That may not seem like a big deal to most programs, but this is Michigan we are talking about, who has the most wins (894) in college football history and had made a bowl game 33 straight years before going 3-9 in 2008 under Rich Rodriguez.

Michigan did get back to a bowl last year, its first in three seasons, but got thoroughly outplayed and embarrassed by Mississippi State in a 52-14 Gator Bowl debacle. So besides showing the nation that the football program is back among the elite, the Wolverines also want nothing more than to make last year’s poor bowl performance a distant memory.

Virginia Tech may have more than 200 less wins than Michigan, but as far as recent history goes, the Hokies arguably have more claim as one of the sport’s elite programs than the Wolverines. Virginia Tech currently has the third-longest bowl steak in the nation at 19 straight postseason appearances and has won 10 or more games eight straight seasons.

Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer has the most wins among FBS active head coaches with 250. He’s just 8-10 in bowl games, however, with a 1-4 record in BCS bowls, including last year’s 40-12 disappointing showing against Stanford in the Orange Bowl.

Virginia Tech made it to the ACC Championship Game once again this year, but fell to Clemson, 38-10, to deny the Hokies a fourth ACC title in five seasons. Clemson is the only team to defeat Virginia Tech this season, as the Tigers also beat the Hokies 23-3 in Blacksburg, Va., back on Oct. 1.

This will be the first-ever meeting between these two schools.


The little engine that makes Michigan’s offense go is dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson. The junior, affectionately known as “Shoelace,” has kept opposing defenses in knots the past two seasons with both his legs and arm.

Robinson is averaging nearly 100 yards rushing a game, which ranks him 28th in the nation. His total rushing yards are down (1,163 to 1,702) compared to last year as is his yards per carry average (5.6 to 6.6), but he’s had fewer attempts (208 to 256) and scored more rushing touchdowns (16 to 14).

Robinson also has attempted fewer passes (237 to 291) to this point than last season, while throwing for 2,056 yards with 18 touchdowns. He’s not the most accurate passer, completing 56.1 percent of his attempts thus far, and has tossed 18 interceptions.

Even though his overall numbers are down compared to last season when he finished sixth in the Heisman voting, he is still an extremely dangerous weapon as he ranks 29th in the nation in total offense with 268.3 yards per game.

Part of the reason Robinson’s rushing attempts are down is because of the emergence of running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. A sophomore, Toussaint established himself as Michigan’s lead back in the second half of the season. The first Wolverine not named Robinson to rush for 1,000 yards or more in a season since Mike Hart in 2007, Toussaint has 112 carries for 678 yards (6.1 ypc) in the past five games alone.

Robinson and Toussaint have combined to rush for 2,174 yards and 25 touchdowns. They are the main reason the Wolverines have the nation’s 12th-ranked rushing attack, averaging more than 235 yards on the ground alone.

Four different Wolverines have caught at least 18 passes this season led by Junior Hemmingway’s 32 receptions for 636 yards. Senior tight end Kevin Koger is the team leader in touchdown receptions with four.

Michigan’s offensive line has done a good job all season opening up running lanes and protecting Robinson when he stays in the pocket. The line is a veteran group led by senior center David Molk, who was awarded this year’s Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center. Molk also was named the Big Ten’s top offensive lineman and has started 41 games in his career.

Michigan is averaging more 420 yards of total offense and 34 points per game. By comparison, Virginia Tech’s defense has allowed that many yards and points in a game twice. Once to Miami (Fla.) in a 38-35 win and to Clemson in the ACC title game loss. The Hokies will look to continue their defensive consistency against the Wolverines.

Virginia Tech has already faced several dual-threat quarterbacks similar to Robinson, most notably Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (twice) and Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington, so Robinson won’t necessarily be a new challenge. However, the Hokies will need to limit Michigan’s entire rushing attack if they want to force the Wolverines to throw more, which is not Robinson’s strong suit.

The Hokies are one of the more solid defenses in the nation, performing well against both the run (107.8 yards per game allowed, 17th in the country) and pass (206.2 ypg allowed, 40th). They also are giving up less than 18 points per game and are 11th in sacks per game with nearly three a contest. It will be interesting to see how much pressure they can get on Robinson, and if they will be able to bring him down before he gets out of the pocket.

Two Hokies to watch for on the defensive side are Jayron Hosley and Kyle Fuller. Not only are the two defensive backs good in pass coverage, combining for four interceptions, but they also are capable of rushing the passer. Fuller is fourth on the team with 4.5 sacks and it will be interesting to see if Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster uses him or Hosley as a “spy” on Robinson or blitzes with them often to try and pressure the Wolverine’s signal-caller.

As long as they can contain Robinson, the Hokies should be able to force a mistake or two out of him, as they have already picked off 15 passes this season.


Virginia Tech has its own dual-threat quarterback in Logan Thomas, but it also has David Wilson, the ACC Offensive Player and Player of the Year, in its backfield. Wilson is fifth in the country with 1,627 rushing yards (125.2 per game), is averaging more than six yards per carry, and has scored 10 total touchdowns.

The junior has rushed for 100 yards or more in 10 of 13 games and has a chance to break Virginia running back Thomas Jones’ ACC single-season record of 1,798 yards, which he set in 1999 in 11 games.

Wilson is a fast and explosive runner who is deceptively strong for his size (5-10, 205) and does not go down easily. He’s dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield and, when given the chance, as a returner. Josh Oglesby serves as the Hokies’ change-of-pace back for Wilson and has 336 rushing yards and six touchdowns this season.

While Michigan’s Robinson and Tech’s Thomas may both be dual-threat quarterbacks, they do it in different ways. Thomas is 6-6, 254, which has brought out comparisons to 2010 Heisman Trophy winner and current Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

At times this season, Thomas has played like Newton, using his size and strength to bowl over defenders on quarterback draws and sneaks, or shaking off pass rushers long enough to prolong the play and come up with big yards. The sophomore is the latest in a line of successful dual-threat Virginia Tech quarterbacks, most notably Michael Vick and last season’s starter, Tyrod Taylor.

Thomas doesn’t rush nearly as often as Robinson, mostly due to Wilson’s presence in the backfield, but he does have more than 400 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. He has completed close to 60 percent of his passes for 2,799 yards and 19 touchdowns with just nine interceptions.

Thomas has spread the ball out to his receivers with six different Hokies catching at least 14 passes. Jarrett Boykin leads the team with 57 catches, while Danny Coale has the most receiving yards (787) and Boykin and Marcus Davis are tied with five touchdowns each. Those three and D.J. Coles have combined for 172 catches, 2,466 yards and 16 touchdowns. 

The starting offensive line consists of four seniors and one sophomore and has done a good job of keeping Thomas upright, allowing just over a sack a game. Michigan’s defense comes into this game 27th in the nation in sacks with 2.3 per game and will try and get to Thomas and slow down Wilson with a trio of defensive linemen in Mike Martin, Craig Roh and Ryan Van Bergen.

The Wolverines are surrendering less than 130 yards rushing per game, so one of the key battles to watch is their run defense against Wilson and Ogelsby. If Virginia Tech can find success on the ground, it should open up things downfield for Thomas and the receivers to make some noise.

Michigan’s defense has been solid all year, one of the biggest reasons for its turnaround this season. Last year the Wolverines gave up nearly 450 yards and 34 points per game, which ranked them in the bottom 20 of the nation in both categories. This season, the Wolverines are currently 18th in the nation in total defense, surrendering less than 320 yards per game, and are giving up less than 18 points per game, which ranks them seventh overall.

With improvement like that, it’s easy to see why the Wolverines went from 7-5 last year to 10-2 this season. Now they get to see if they can maintain this level of performance against the Hokies.

Special Teams

Both Michigan and Virginia Tech rank near the bottom when it comes to net punting and kickoff returns. Virginia Tech is the only team with either a kickoff or punt return for a touchdown this season. Virginia Tech’s Hosley can be dangerous as a returner and has two punt return touchdowns in his career.

Virginia Tech has a reputation for its special teams play, most notably its propensity to block kicks, but the Hokies have just one punt block to this point. Michigan also has one blocked kick this season.

Michigan’s Brendan Gibbons has connected on all but one of his 53 PAT attempts. The sophomore has made 10 of 14 field goal attempts, but just two of those makes were between 40-49 yards.

Cody Journell, like Gibbons, is a sophomore and has missed just one PAT (43-of-44) this season. The Virginia Tech placekicker also hasn’t attempted a field goal from beyond 50 yards, but he has made 14 of his 17 field goal tries overall, including three of four from 40-49 yards.


As noted above there are a lot of similarities between these two teams, but let’s concentrate on the ones that matter to the game itself. Both Michigan and Virginia Tech feature strong defenses that don’t give up a lot of yards or points. Both also have offenses led by dual-threat quarterbacks and 1,000-yard running backs. So either something has to give or this is going to be a low-scoring affair.

I’ll lean towards the former as while I see neither team exploding offensively, I do think Virginia Tech has a slight edge on Michigan when it comes to overall offensive makeup. Robinson is by far a better and more dangerous runner, especially in the open field, than Thomas, but Thomas has the edge as a passer and also has a better receiving corps. Toussaint has been extremely productive as the Wolverines’ lead back recently; while Wilson has been doing it all season for the Hokies.

Both teams are on a mission to prove to everyone that they belong in a BCS bowl, but as everyone knows, only one can win. Both teams are no stranger to a BCS bowl, but Virginia Tech was here just last year, and while the Hokies may not have the best record in the BCS spotlight, they are more familiar with it than the Wolverines, who haven’t been in a BCS bowl since 2007.

In the end, I think Virginia Tech’s experience, coupled with its offensive balance and special teams prowess, will be enough to slow down this “young” and hungry Michigan squad.

Virginia Tech 27, Michigan 24

<p> Athlon previews the 2012 Sugar Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Michigan.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Monday, January 2, 2012 - 10:03
Path: /news/raheem-morris-fired-after-tampa-bays-10-game-losing-streak

At the beginning of the 2011 NFL season Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris was one of the most promising coaches in the NFL. One of the few coaches who seemed to be farthest from the hot seat.

And on the second day of 2012, he's now been fired. An almost unthinkable scenario just four months ago.

But that's what a 10-game losing streak to finish a season will do a head coach in these win-now times.

In a statement from the Bucs brass, they thanked him for his service: "We want to thank Coach Morris for all his hard work and dedication as head coach of the Buccaneers," Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer said in a statement.

The Bucs, who are one of the younger teams in the league, hadn't won a game since beating the Saints on October 16th. One of the main reasons they lost their next 10 was the regression of quarterback Josh Freeman. 

Freeman, who was a fan favorite last year, was expected to make the jump to elite quarterback in 2011, but failed to do so, throwing a whopping 22 interceptions, after only tossing 6 to the wrong team last year.

The 2011 Bucs were expected to compete for an NFC South title. But when that faded, it seems Tampa Bay felt they needed to make a change at head coach. What this means for the future of Josh Freeman will come to light at the NFL draft. With a high draft pick and a lot of high-quality quarterbacks in this year's draft,t he BUcs may look to go in another direction. Or they may stick with Freeman.

No replacement has been announced.

<p> Tampa's head coach couldn't survive a 10-game losing streak</p>
Post date: Monday, January 2, 2012 - 05:00
Path: /nfl/are-tony-romo-and-tom-coughlin-playing-their-jobs-sunday

The stakes are high enough as it is. In fact, they couldn't be higher during a regular-season game. Rarely are there games where a division title and a playoff berth is on the line and the loser will be eliminated entirely.

That's what's on the line on Sunday night in what might just be the Game of the Year in the NFL between the Giants (8-7) and the Cowboys (8-7) at the Meadowlands. The winner wins the NFC East and locks in the fourth seed in the NFC playoffs. The loser's season is immediately over and there's a chance they could slip all the way to third place.

And hard as it is to believe, that's not all. The ramifications for the loser goes way beyond wins and losses. The Giants are at a crossroads with their 65-year-old coach, Tom Coughlin, who could be facing an uncertain future. Ditto for their once-heralded defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. And in Dallas, they all work for a reactionary owner in Jerry Jones. Who will he blame for failure? Jason Garrett? Tony Romo? Both?

Maybe the loser will realize how close they came and they'll decide to stay the course and take their chances with the same key players in 2012. Change, though, tends to be inevitable in the NFL especially in big markets. So both teams might really be playing for a lot more than a playoff berth and a division championship.

Both teams could be playing for a lot of people's jobs.

What if the Cowboys lose?
Is there anyone who thinks Jerry Jones will quietly accept failure, considering the Cowboys have just one playoff victory in the last 15 years?

The brash owner has voiced mostly support for his sometimes embattled quarterback, Tony Romo, but how many times is he really going to watch him come close and fail? And considering the rash of rookie quarterbacks who have had stellar debuts this year, it's a pretty good bet that Jones will at least eye Romo's successor at some point – likely early – in the NFL draft. If he doesn't replace him immediately in the event of a loss, he will very likely make sure the replacement is on the roster looking over his shoulder.

And what about Garrett, who just a few years ago was considered one of the brightest offensive minds in the NFL and the next great up-and-coming coach? Jones thought enough of him to pay him millions when he was just Wade Phillips' offensive coordinator. But Garrett's fate could have been decided the moment he iced his own kicker in a loss at Arizona. If the Cowboys had won that game they could've clinched the NFC East last week against the Eagles, instead of having to rest their starters and set up one final, do-or-die game.

Jones may like Garrett, but he's a showman at heart. If they fail to make the playoffs, can he really resist the urge to bring in one of the bigger names on the market. Can he just sit quietly while Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher and Jon Gruden all get away?

There will be other decisions, too. Felix Jones was supposed to be the next great Cowboys running back and they even jettisoned Marion Barber to give him his chance. But the best Cowboys running back this season was DeMarco Murray. Jones still has one year left on his contract, but as much as he's a favorite of Jerry Jones, the emergence of Murray makes it seem unlikely he'd get a big offseason contract extension. And if he doesn't, could he be trade bait to a team that needs a running back so the Cowboys can bolster their depth?

What if the Giants lose?
The Giants are a franchise that craves stability, and they have a coach that ownership absolutely loves. But the cold, hard truth is that they haven't been to the playoffs since 2008 and in Coughlin's eight-year tenure their only postseason wins came during their Super Bowl championship run in 2007. That has given Coughlin a lot of milage, but the honeymoon can't last forever.

It will be a painfully hard decision for the owners and one the Giants don't want to make, but can they really ignore what would be a 2-6 second half, the latest in a string of second-half collapses on Coughlin’s watch? Can they ignore no playoffs in the last three years and no playoff wins in seven of eight seasons? Maybe they can be seduced by all the big names standing on the sideline, too. And there's also the question of whether any change they make will include GM Jerry Reese, because a good argument could be made that any failure by this team had more to do with the makeup of the roster and the depth than anything a coach did or didn't do.

They won't have any Romo-like decisions to make at quarterback, where Eli Manning will be coming off his finest season, but there could be other parts of the team that need a makeover -- their defense in particular. That will bring up the status of Fewell. Coughlin rarely fires his assistants, unless he does so under pressure. And if he fires Fewell, the Giants will end up with their fourth defensive coordinator in five seasons. That's usually a bad sign.

What would make ownership make Coughlin make a change? Well, what if the Rams fire Steve Spagnuolo, who was the Giants' defensive coordinator in Super Bowl XLII? That might make them think about it, at least.

One thing is certain, though: The prize for losing this game isn’t just an early vacation and a second- or third-place schedule in 2012. The prize could be a long, painful offseason and plenty of changes along the way.


<p> The fallout from the Cowboys and Giants game will be big</p>
Post date: Saturday, December 31, 2011 - 12:32
Path: /news/video-skycam-falling-insight-bowl

The Skycam fell onto the field during the Insight Bowl between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Oklahoma Sooners. No one was hurt, but one of the Iowa players barely missed being knocked on the head by it and became tangled up in its wires.

It's surprising that this doesn't happen more often, with Skycam cameras zooming around almost every stadium in the country. These high wire cameras are attached at the very tops of the corners of each sports stadium, and while they provide very awesome views of on-field action, they are only help up by not-so-thick wires.

And these wires have to hold the strain of camera putting wear and tear on them as they follow the action on the field and fly from one end of the stadium to the other.

It will be interesting to see if more precautions are put into place to have other Skycam's around the country get checked more rigorously. Imagine if this happened in the middle of the last play of the Super Bowl and a Skycam "tackled" a player going into the end zone. Actually, that would be kind of awesome.

<p> It's surprising that Skycams don't fall more often</p>
Post date: Saturday, December 31, 2011 - 08:46
Path: /college-football/gator-bowl-preview-florida-vs-ohio-state

by Nathan Rush

Gator Bowl
Ohio State (6–6) vs. Florida (6–6)

Date: Jan. 2, 2012 at 1 p.m. ET
Location: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.

Coined the “Urban Meyer Bowl” this year’s Gator Bowl pits the two-time BCS national title-winning coach’s former team, Florida, where he coached from 2005-10, against his new team, Ohio State, where he will coach beginning in 2012.

The Buckeyes had national championship aspirations for 2011. After all, coach Jim Tressel had proven capable of winning it all and quarterback Terrell Pryor was returning for his senior season.

But those expectations vanished faster than TP2’s black-on-black Nissan 350Z, after NCAA investigation led to Tressel being fired, Pryor entering the NFL supplemental draft and OSU’s top playmakers — running back Daniel Herron and receiver DeVier Posey — being suspended indefinitely. Interim coach Luke Fickell took over a program backpedaling in shambles, but was still able to lead the Buckeyes to a bowl.

Gator Nation was sad to see Meyer “retire” after the 2010 season, but excited about the arrival of Will Muschamp — an energetic then-39-year-old defensive coordinator who had won a BCS title at LSU under Nick Saban and been the head coach in-waiting at Texas under Mack Brown before arriving in Gainesville. Muschamp also brought three-time Super Bowl winning offensive coordinator and former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis with him to the Swamp.

Many expected the Gators to contend for the SEC East title and possibly a BCS berth. But those illusions of grandeur were quickly squashed, as UF lost six of its last eight games. The Gators only notched one win against a team in a bowl this year — a 26–21 nail-biter over Vanderbilt.

Both traditional football powers have fallen on hard times, with identical 6–6 records, and will need to win this rematch of the BCS national title game following the 2006 season — when the Gators upset the Buckeyes, 41–14 — in order to avoid a losing mark. Florida has not finished below .500 since 1979, while Ohio State’s last losing season was in 1988.


After being suspended for the first six games of the season, “Boom” Herron exploded onto the scene to rush for 596 yards and three TDs over the last six contests — including a 160-yard workhorse effort against Wisconsin, OSU’s best win of the year. Last season, Herron totaled 1,155 yards and 16 TDs on the ground. This will be the 5’10”, 205-pounder’s final game in scarlet and gray, expect him to see plenty of action running behind a quality O-line led by center Mike Brewster and tackle Mike Adams.

Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller has been Pryor-lite this year, passing for 997 yards, 11 TDs and four INTs, while scrambling for another 695 yards and seven TDs on the ground. The stage is set for a coming out party of sorts for the 6’3”, 210-pound Huber Heights, Ohio, native. The Buckeyes have no receivers of note, with only three players catching over 10 passes this year.

Florida’s defense ranks ninth in the nation (299.58 ypg) and 25th in scoring (20.58 ppg), but has been susceptible to the run, ranking 40th (132.33 ypg). With so many four- and five-star recruits, more “splash” plays were expected from the Gators stop-unit, which had only eight INTs and four fumble recoveries this season. Linebacker Jon Bostic and safety Matt Elam have been the best of the bunch.


Following Weis’ departure for Kansas, interim offensive coordinator Brian White will call the shots in the Gator Bowl, which will be quarterback John Brantley’s last stand. The one-time Texas commit and longtime Tim Tebow backup was never able to put it all together at Florida — passing for 1,912 yards, 10 TDs and six INTs in his final campaign. True freshmen Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are waiting in the wings if the oft-fragile Brantley goes down again.

There is plenty of speed in the backfield, with 2010 NCAA Indoor Track 60-meter champ (6.56 seconds) Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey combining to rush for 1,329 yards and eight TDs this season. Both runners are a threat to take it the distance at any time. Receiver Andre Debose is also a big-play threat, with 423 yards and four TDs on just 15 catches (28.2 ypc).

Ohio State has struggled against the run, allowing 142.42 yards per game. However, the Buckeyes did limit Wisconsin’s Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball to just 85 yards. End John Simon has been disruptive, with seven sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. In a down year for the Buckeyes, Simon, safety C.J. Barnett and linebacker Andrew Sweat were the only defenders to be named either first- or second-team All-Big Ten.

Special Teams

Gators kicker Caleb Sturgis was one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, after connecting on 21-of-25 field goals — including three from beyond 50 yards — and all 28 extra points this year. Demps (25.0 ypr, 99-yard TD vs. Georgia) is a dangerous kick returner, as are Rainey and Solomon Patton. Rainey has a punt return TD as well.

Ohio State’s Jordan Hall gives the Bucks solid starting field position on kick returns (28.1 ypr), and kicker Drew Basil is adequate (15-of-18 FGs). But there are no Joey Galloways or Mike Nugents on special teams for OSU.


Meyer’s new team will ground-and-pound his old squad, as Muschamp’s first season train wreck ends in a Gator Bowl loss. After a bitter start to the season, Ohio State’s year will end with a sweet win over Florida, its most-hated intersectional rival.

Ohio State 27, Florida 20

<p> Athlon previews the 2012 Gator Bowl: Ohio State vs. Florida.</p>
Post date: Saturday, December 31, 2011 - 07:57
Path: /college-football/outback-bowl-preview-michigan-state-vs-georgia

by Rob Doster

Outback Bowl
Teams: Michigan State (10–3) vs. Georgia (10-3)

Date: Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. ET
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

This game, one of the most intriguing matchups of bowl season, is a rematch of the 2009 Capital One Bowl, won by Georgia 24–12, and also another chance for the Spartans to redeem themselves against an SEC foe after losing in embarrassing fashion to Alabama 49–7 in last year's Capital One Bowl. In fact, Spartans coach Mark Dantonio is still looking for his first bowl win as the boss in East Lansing (0–4). Similarly, the Bulldogs are seeking redemption after an embarrassing 10–6 Liberty Bowl loss to UCF last season.

Raymond James Stadium will play host to two 10-win teams who lost conference championship games and still have something left to prove. The Bulldogs overcame an 0–2 start to race to the SEC East title but squandered early opportunities in the SEC Championship Game and were ultimately pounded by LSU, 42–10. Meanwhile, the Spartans squandered an eight-point fourth quarter lead against Wisconsin and lost the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game 42–39. 

Still, both teams seem to be headed in a positive direction, and the winner will get an extra boost of momentum heading into the stretch drive of recruiting season. Mark Richt has kept the wolves at bay and fashioned a 10-win team that boasts an elite defense, while Dantonio has led a Spartan surge on the strength of a balanced offensive attack that has averaged 38.6 ppg over MSU's last five games. The key could be the ability of the Spartans defense to contain record-setting Georgia signal-caller Aaron Murray, who set a new standard in Athens with 33 touchdown passes this season. 

Watching Spartans senior quarterback Kirk Cousins try to find the weak spots in Todd Grantham's 3-4 defense will be one of the highlights of bowl season. The Bulldogs are third nationally in total defense, allowing only 268.5 yards per game, but they'll have their hands full against Cousins and his complement of weapons. The Spartans turned a corner offensively after a 24–3 loss to Nebraska, scoring no fewer than 31 points over their next five games, a stretch during which Cousins has thrown 13 touchdowns with only two interceptions, including a 281-yard, three-touchdown performance against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. For the season, Cousins ranked 16th nationally in pass efficiency (151.37). Providing balance is sophomore running back Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for 900 yards and 11 scores and posted 100-yard rushing games against Iowa and Wisconsin. The Spartans were effective in protecting the football, committing only 15 turnovers all season. Leading the charge for the Dawgs defense will be explosive sophomore linebacker Jarvis Jones, who ranked third nationally in sacks with 1.04 per game and forced two fumbles. 

The Dawgs will be tested by a Spartans defense that finished just a couple of notches behind Georgia in total defense (5th) and allowed only 17.5 ppg. Georgia showed nice balance on offense this season, rushing for 172.7 yards per game while throwing for 255.4. Murray shared the wealth, throwing touchdown passes to 10 different receivers this season, and he was at his best down the stretch in rivalry games against Auburn (four touchdown passes) and Georgia Tech (252 yards, four TDs) — Georgia's only two victims who posted winning records on the season. Running back Isaiah Crowell has been something of a disappointment to some Dawg fans despite leading SEC freshmen in rushing with 847 yards. The Georgia offense will try to use Crowell to loosen the Spartans defense and make things easier for Murray and top targets Malcolm Mitchell, Orson Charles and Tavarres King. 
Special Teams

Both teams boast experienced kickers, although Georgia's Blair Walsh was uncharacteristically inconsistent this season, missing 12 field goals after missing only 13 in his first three seasons in Athens. Bulldogs punter Drew Butler is a weapon, ranking 12th nationally at 44.3 yards per boot. For Michigan State, Keshawn Martin is a effective punt returner, averaging 11.78 yards per return and taking one back for a score against Northwestern.
This matchup has everything a college football fan could want — namely, two superb quarterbacks with weapons and two imposing defenses. So which team can overcome the heartbreak of a championship game loss and find redemption in Tampa? Both squads have shown resiliency and toughness this season, but the Spartans' lack of success against SEC foes has to be a bit of a red flag. Look for the Dawgs to do just enough to win, as they have so often during the Mark Richt regime. 

Georgia 24, Michigan State 21

<p> Athlon previews the 2012 Outback Bowl: Michigan State vs. Georgia.</p>
Post date: Saturday, December 31, 2011 - 07:30
Path: /college-football/ticketcity-bowl-preview-houston-vs-penn-state

by Nathan Rush

TicketCity Bowl
Houston (12-1) vs. Penn State (9-3)

Date: Jan. 2, 2012 at 12:00 p.m. ET
Location: Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas, Texas

The first-ever Big Ten vs. Conference USA postseason matchup is a surreal pairing of two teams in the middle of downward spirals — albeit of decidedly different natures — led by interim head coaches.

Houston is hung over after having its BCS bowl dreams dashed and undefeated season ruined by Southern Miss during a 49–28 loss in the Conference USA title game. Then, Cougars coach Kevin Sumlin, who was 35–17 in four seasons at UH, left to take the Texas A&M job. Special teams coordinator, inside-receivers and tight ends coach Tony Levine will take over the top spot for the TicketCity Bowl. But make no mistake, the Coogs will rely heavily on the leadership of record-breaking sixth-year senior quarterback Case Keenum, who will be making the final start of an historic career.

On the other side, no one is smiling in Happy Valley these days, following the disgraceful exit of iconic coach Joe Paterno and disgusting criminal charges of child abuse filed against JoePa’s longtime defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky. In the wake of the shocking scandal, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley took over as interim coach, posting a 1–2 record — losing to Nebraska (17–14), winning at Ohio State (20–14) and getting blown out at Wisconsin (45–7) in the regular season finale.


The Cougars’ high-octane attack ranks No. 1 in total offense (599.0 ypg), passing (443.8 ypg) and scoring (50.8 ppg).

Keenum orchestrates Houston’s scoreboard fireworks display; but the signal-caller has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Receivers Patrick Edwards (1,524 yards, 18 TDs), Justin Johnson (1,081 yards, 11 TDs) and Tyron Carrier (914 yards, 5 TDs), and running backs Charles Sims (782 yards, 9 TDs) and Michael Hayes (707 yards, 11 TDs) give UH a variety of playmakers capable of putting up big numbers in any given game.

Speaking of numbers, Keenum has taken the video game-gaudy statistical tradition of former Houston passing legends Andre Ware and David Klingler to another level. The 6’2”, 210-pounder from Abilene, Texas, owns the all-time FBS records for total offense (19,572 yards), passing yards (18,685) and passing TDs (152). This season, the 23-year-old — who was granted a medical redshirt after suffering a knee injury last season — led the nation in both passing yards (5,099) and passing TDs (45), while completing 71.7 percent of his passes and throwing just five INTs.

On paper, the Nittany Lions appear to have a formidable defense, ranking fifth nationally in points allowed (15.7 ppg) and 10th in total defense (300.9 ypg). But Penn State played only two offenses ranked in the top 40 nationally in scoring — Wisconsin (4th) and Alabama (16th). PSU went 0–2, losing by a combined score of 72–18 in those contests.


If Coach Bradley has his way, the Nittany Lions will play ball-control football, squeeze the air out of the pigskin, dominate time-of-possession and keep Keenum and Co. off the field. That is Penn State’s only realistic formula for victory; PSU will not be able to win a shootout against Houston.

This season, Penn State’s season-high was 41 points, scored against lowly Indiana State in the opener. The Nittany Lions topped 30 points two other times, against Eastern Michigan and at Northwestern. Houston, however, scored over 40 points in 10 games this year and failed to score 30 points only once — scoring 28 in its lone loss to Southern Miss.

Stud sophomore running back Silas Redd (1,188 yards on 5.2 ypc, 7 TDs) will have to dominate a Cougars run defense that ranked 77th nationally, allowing 171.8 yards per game and 12 rushing TDs in 13 games this season.

Special Teams

If Houston scores often that just means more kick return chances for Penn State ace Chaz Powell, who averages 28.3 yards per return and has a 95-yard TD on his resume. Kicker and punter Anthony Fera is also a weapon, having connected on 14-of-17 field goals while averaging 42.0 yards per punt. But Fera will need to be careful punting to Cougars returners Patrick Edwards and Damian Payne, who combined to score two TDs and average 17.3 yards per return. Tyron Carrier is a force on kickoff returns, with a 24.8-yard average and a 100-yard TD. Houston hasn’t punted much or kicked many field goals (10-of-12).


Houston sends Keenum out in style, while Penn State ends an ugly season with an embarrassing loss. The Cougars’ offense will run past a Nittany Lion defense — and program — that is licking their wounds after the JoePa, Sandusky disaster.

Houston 42, Penn State 20

<p> Athlon previews the 2012 TicketCity Bowl: Houston vs. Penn State.</p>
Post date: Saturday, December 31, 2011 - 06:11
Path: /columns/nascar-news-notes/kasey-kahne-apolopgizes


NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne has apologized for comments he made on Twitter after seeing a mother breastfeeding in a supermarket.

Kahne’s initial tweet stated, "Just walking though supermarket. See a mom breast feeding little kid. Took second look because obviously I was seeing things. I wasn't!"

He then went on to tweet that, “I don’t feel like shopping anymore or eating,” using the hashtag “nasty.”

One upset mother, who goes by the Twitter name of @KnittingRad, responded, “Wow, you’re kind of a douchebag, where would you propose that baby eat, the restroom? Would you eat in the restroom?”

Kahne tweeted back, calling her a “dumb bitch.”

The tweets, which he deleted, were followed by an apology made on his Facebook page, where Kahne said, "I understand that my comments regarding breastfeeding posted on Twitter were offensive to some people. For that, I apologize. It was in no way my intention to offend any mother who chooses to breastfeed her child, or, for that matter, anyone who supports breastfeeding children. I want to make that clear.

"In all honestly, I was surprised by what I saw in a grocery store," Kahne said in his apology. "I shared that reaction with my fans on Twitter. It obviously wasn't the correct approach, and, after reading your feedback, I now have a better understanding of why my posts upset some of you.

"My comments were not directed at the mother's right to breastfeed. They were just a reaction to the location of that choice, and the fashion in which it was executed on that occasion. I respect the mother's right to feed her child whenever and wherever she pleases."

He also posted an apology via Twitter to the offended party, saying, “I wanted to apologize for saying what I said to you yesterday. It was out of line."

Kahne’s NASCAR team, Hendrick Motorsports, made a brief statement, saying, “We appreciate that he chose to follow up with his fans and others who were upset by the comments.”

NASCAR did not comment on the situation.

<p> <span>NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne has apologized for comments he made on Twitter after seeing a mother breastfeeding in a supermarket.</span></p> <p> <span>Kahne’s initial tweet stated, "Just walking though supermarket. See a mom breast feeding little kid. Took second look because obviously I was seeing things. I wasn't!"</span></p> <p> <span>He then went on to tweet that, “I don’t feel like shopping anymore or eating,” using the hashtag “nasty.”</span></p> <p> <span>One upset mother, who goes by the Twitter name of @KnittingRad, responded, “Wow, you’re kind of a douchebag, where would you propose that baby eat, the restroom? Would you eat in the restroom?”</span></p> <p> <span>Kahne tweeted back, calling her a “dumb bitch.”</span></p> <p> <span>The tweets, which he deleted, were followed by an apology made on his Facebook page, where Kahne said, "I understand that my comments regarding breastfeeding posted on Twitter were offensive to some people. For that, I apologize. It was in no way my intention to offend any mother who chooses to breastfeed her child, or, for that matter, anyone who supports breastfeeding children. I want to make that clear.</span></p> <p> <span>"In all honestly, I was surprised by what I saw in a grocery store," Kahne said in his apology. "I shared that reaction with my fans on Twitter. It obviously wasn't the correct approach, and, after reading your feedback, I now have a better understanding of why my posts upset some of you.</span></p> <p> <span>"My comments were not directed at the mother's right to breastfeed. They were just a reaction to the location of that choice, and the fashion in which it was executed on that occasion. I respect the mother's right to feed her child whenever and wherever she pleases."</span></p> <p> <span>He also posted an apology via Twitter to the offended party, saying, “I wanted to apologize for saying what I said to you yesterday. It was out of line."</span></p> <p> <span>Kahne’s NASCAR team, Hendrick Motorsports, made a brief statement, saying, “We appreciate that he chose to follow up with his fans and others who were upset by the comments.”</span></p> <p> <span>NASCAR did not comment on the situation.</span></p>
Post date: Friday, December 30, 2011 - 13:26
All taxonomy terms: breastfeeding, Kasey Kahne, News
Path: /news/kasey-kahne-apologizes-insulting-breastfeeding-tweets

Kasey Kahn apparently isn't a breast man. The Hendricks Motorsports NASCAR driver angered mom's everywhere when he was disgusted by seeing a woman breastfeeding while he was at the grocery store.

Kahne tweeted to his 100,000 followers "One boob put away one boob hanging!! #nasty"

As if the hashtag nasty wasn't bad enough, he went even further by insulting the mom's who were furious at his tweet and even calling one of them a "dumb bitch".

What Kahne is about to learn, if he hasn't already, is that breastfeeding is one of the most sacred elements of motherhood. And mom's feel REALLY strongly about it.

It's one thing for it to be a topic of discussion about when and where it's appropriate to breastfeed, but to take his strong stance and call is nasty and disgusting will surely infuriate the not only the hardcore element of breastfeeding mom's who think it should be done anywhere and everywhere, but also the other mothers who are in the middle when it comes to breastfeeding in public.

After feeling the wrath of the insulted moms, Kahne later tweeted that he was sorry in what sounded like a bit of damage control:

“My comments were not directed at the mother’s right to breastfeed. They were just a reaction to the location of that choice, and the fashion in which it was executed on that occasion. I respect the mother’s right to feed her child whenever and wherever she pleases.”

Kasey Kahne then added: “In all honestly, I was surprised by what I saw in a grocery store. I shared that reaction with my fans on Twitter. It obviously wasn’t the correct approach, and, after reading your feedback, I now have a better understanding of why my posts upset some of you.” 

But is that really damage control? He didn't really say he was sorry, or that his views that breastfeeding in public were misguided. Or that he even learned anything. Which is what the mom's are going to want to hear. They will want him to ackowledge that his views are archaic and sexist. But his response was more along the lines of "Hey, I couldn't believe what I saw so I tweeted it. I'm sorry it made you mad. Deal with it."

It will be interesting to see Kasey Kahne drink the traditional glass of milk if he were to win the NASCAR race at Indianapolis Speedway this year. 

<p> The NASCAR driver tweeted that he was disgusted by a breastfeeding mom, sparking controversy</p>
Post date: Friday, December 30, 2011 - 12:02
All taxonomy terms: Michael Jordan engaged, Yvette Prieto, News
Path: /news/michael-jordan-engaged-cuban-model-yvette-prieto-photos

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.

<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

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.


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.


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.


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

<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

-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.


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.


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.


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

<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

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.


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.


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.


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

<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

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. 

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. 


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. 
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

<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

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.


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.


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.


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

<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

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).


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.


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.


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).


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

<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

-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

<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

-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

<p> The ACC is the deepest quarterback league in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 14:54