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All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Oakland Raiders, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/oakland-raiders-top-twitter-accounts-follow

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Oakland Raiders official Twitter account:

@RAIDERS (Followers: 173,448)

Top Raiders To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, August 1, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Terrelle Pryor QB @TerrellePryor 92,950
2. Darren McFadden RB @dmcfadden20 90,474
3. Jacoby Ford WR @JacobyFord12 52,692
4. Matt Leinart QB @MattLeinartQB 43,430
5. Michael Huff FS @Huffy247 34,932
6. Aaron Curry LB @AaronCurry51 33,349
7. Tyvon Branch SS @tyvonbranch 25,669
8. Darrius Heyward-Bey WR @theDHB85 21,026
9. Marcel Reece RB @CelReece45 18,512
10. Taiwan Jones RB @TaiwanJonesNFL 18,144
11. Chimdi Chekwa CB @ChimChek 16,589
12. Mike Mitchell SS @MikeMitchell34 14,722
13. Lamarr Houston DE @solo_dolo_9s 14,216
14. Mike Goodson RB @GoodNplenty33 9,008
15. Bryan McCann DB @bmac929 7,806
16. Nathan Stupar LB @thenastynate54 7,412
17. Joseph Barksdale OT @BazookaJoe72 6,875
18. Jack Crawford DE @Sack_Religious 6,278
19. Juron Criner WR @JbamaCriner82 5,163
20. Miles Burris LB @MilesBurris 4,164

Richard Seymour would have made the list as he has nearly nearly 5,500 followers. However, he has yet to Tweet from @BigSey92. Does anyone else find this strange?

If you want to follow some former Raider greats in the Twitterverse, you can choose from Marcus Allen (@MarcusAllenHOF), Tim Brown (@81TimBrown), Bo Jackson (@BoJackson) or Rich Gannon (@RichGannon12), to name a few.

The Raiders Beat:

Tim Kawakami, Mercury News sports columnist: @timkawakami (24,142)

Paul Gutierrez, Raiders Insider for Comcast SportsNet California, @PGutierrezCSN (10,453)

Steve Corkman, Raiders blogger for Contra Costa Times/Bay Area News Group: @CorkOnTheNFL (10,001)

Vic Tafur, covers Raiders for San Francisco Chronicle: @VicTafur (8,658)

Jason Jones, helps cover Raiders for Sacramento Bee: @mr_jasonjones (5,717)

Eric Gilmore, Raiders RapidReports correspondent: @CBSSportsNFLOAK (1,395)

Raiders Blog Roll:

Silver And Black Pride is SB Nation's Raiders blog, featuring work by lead writer @LeviDamien.

Comcast SportsNet California has its own Raiders page and Raiders' news feed on Twitter, @CSNRaiders.

Silver & Black is the San Francisco Chronicle's Raiders blog, featuring posts by the aforementioned Vic Tafur. is "The Largest Oakland Raider Fan Community on the Net," and it also has a good-sized following on Twitter (@raiderfans). is run by Chris Hansen (@RaidersBlog, 5,213), whose work can also be read on Bleacher Report as he is the site's lead AFC West blogger.

Inside the Oakland Raiders, Just Blog Baby, Raiders Gab are some others to check out.

The ESPN AFC West blog is run by Bill Williamson and you can follow him @espn_afcwest.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Thurs., Aug. 2

Order your 2012 Oakland Raiders Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Oakland Raiders Season Preview
Related: 2012 Oakland Raiders Schedule Analysis

- By Braden Gall and Mark Ross, published on August 1, 2012


<p> Oakland Raiders Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 04:59
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, News, Big East
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-awards-sack-masters

History, and most every rational brain in sports, indicates that the quarterback position is easily the most important and valuable on any football roster. In order to protect the most valued member of the team, the NFL has proven that the left tackle is the second most important position on the field.

Therefore, any player who can neutralize and defeat said bookend tackle immediately becomes the third most important player, correct? Just ask the New England Patriots and Tom Brady about whether or not a truly elite defensive line can stop a historic passing attack? In 2007 or 2011?

The ability to pressure the quarterback and disrupt the offense by only using the defensive line can be the difference between victory and defeat. A dynamic pass rusher must be accounted for on every play, because if he is not, the entire offensive rhythm can be shattered.

So after watching third-down specialist Bruce Irvin get drafted in the first round this spring, Athlon thought it would rank the top sack masters in college football for 2012:

1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (SO)
There is no player in the nation with more raw upside than Clowney. He posted 8.0 sacks and five forced fumbles as only a true freshman who, frankly, didn't even know where to lineup at times. An advanced understanding of the game is the only thing left for this freak of nature to accomplish in his journey towards the NFL. Should he continue to develop his pass-rush repertoire and fine tune his skills, Clowney will find himself as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. And it might not even be close. He could easily turn into the most dominate defensive player in the game by the end of the year. Or maybe by Week 1 against Vanderbilt.

2. Jarvis Jones, Georgia (JR)
The 3-4 scheme is designed with players like Jones in mind. Todd Grantham has done a masterful job with the Georgia front seven and the biggest beneficiary has been Jones. A Butkus finalist, the in-state product led the SEC in sacks with 13.5 sacks and also posted 19.5 tackles for a loss. The only thing keeping this speedy edge rusher off the top slot is his lack of overall size. He isn't a traditional pass rusher and his scheme helps him more than most on this list.

3. Sam Montgomery, LSU (JR)
As only a sophomore, Monty landed on the All-American team after leading LSU in sacks. He may not be as quick as the much smaller Jarvis Jones and he may not have the eventual upside of a Jadeveon Clowney, but Montgomery might be the most complete defensive end in the nation. He is being projected as a top ten pick by NFL scouts for next year's draft and has proven to be one of the nation's most disruptive players. His 9.0 sacks were fourth-best in LSU history last fall and his 13.5 tackles for a loss further indicate his talent. And he was only a sophomore.  

4. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (JR)
There isn't a more prepared and fundamentally sound player in the game today. His NFL pedigree and up-brining shines through on every play and helped him lead his team in sacks (8.0) and tackles for a loss (16.5). Of course, his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame doesn't hurt much either. The Longhorns were — and will be again this fall — easily the most dominate defense in the Big 12 thanks in large part to Jeffcoat's ability to get into the backfield.

5. Denicos Allen, Michigan State (JR)
The Big Ten's version of Jones doesn't have the benefit of playing in a 3-4 scheme where he is allowed to blitz on a regular basis. That said, his quickness and explosiveness allowed him to get to the quarterback 11.0 times last fall, good for second in the Big Ten. His 18.5 tackles for a loss also led the team and placed him fourth in the conference. He is undersized at 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds, but he gets every ounce of energy out of his frame. 

6. Barkevious Mingo, LSU (JR)
Mingo is a near carbon copy of his end counterpart Montgomery. He might be a bit quicker and a bit more explosive than Montgomery, so if he can refine his craft to the fullest, he could end up much higher on this list. As only a sophomore, he finished with 8.0 sacks, 11 hurries and 15.0 tackles for a loss on a defense that led LSU to an unbeaten regular season record.

7. Corey Lemonier, Auburn (JR)
As only a sophomore with little help around him, Lemonier finished with 9.5 sacks, 15 quarterback hurries and 13.5 tackles for a loss. Much like the rest of the SEC names on this list, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound rush end has first-round NFL potential and won't be around much longer should his success continue. His role in Brian VanGorder's system might be slightly different and it is unsure as to how it will effect his statistical production. But make no mistake, he is the best Tiger defender on the roster.

8. Alex Okafor, Texas (SR)
Certainly, both Texas ends benefit from each other, but Okafor is not slouch on his own. Like Jeffcoat, he is a projected first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and his stats nearly mirror his counterparts. The local product finished just behind Jeffcoat in sacks (7.0) and tackles for a loss (12.0) last fall. Again, this is the best unit in the Big 12 and Okafor is a huge reason why.

9. Trevardo Williams, UConn (SR)
Williams is undersized for the true defensive end position, but he certainly makes it work. His 6-foot-2, 235-pound frame isn't ideal but he still managed to lead the Big East in sacks. In fact, his 1.04 sacks per game was good for second nationally and his 12.5 total QB takedowns finished fifth nationally. He also posted 15.0 tackles for a loss and helped the Huskies finish No. 1 against the run in the Big East.

10. Aaron Donald, Pitt (JR)
As only a sophomore, Donald registered 11.0 sacks to finish second in the Big East. His 16.0 tackles for a loss were tied for fourth in the league. He isn't as tall as most traditional ends (6-0), but uses excellent leverage and a powerful, 275-pound frame to get the edge.

The Best of the Rest:

11. Sean Porter, Texas A&M (SR)
Posted 9.5 sacks a year ago but change in scheme could limit his totals this fall.

12. Josh Shirley, Washington (SO)
Looking for the next Bruce Irvin? This former linebacker could easily be the guy.

15. John Simon, Ohio State (SR)
Works harder, is stronger and tougher than maybe anyone in the nation. A terror in 2012.

14. Michael Buchanan, Illinois (SR)
Learned from nation's top sack artist last year (Whitney Merclius), had 7.5 of his own too.

15. Brandon Jenkins, Florida State (SR)
Stepped back last fall due to double-teams, so All-American needs to prove it once again.

16. Dion Jordan, Oregon (SR)
Freakish size and ability for the hybrid role. Needs to add consistency to his game.

17. Devin Taylor, South Carolina (SR)
Huge prospect (6-7, 265) could explode with Clowney on opposite side.

18. Bjoern Werner, Florida State (SR)
More consistent and dependable than Jenkins but also not as physically gifted.

19. Stansly Maponga, TCU (JR)
Registered 9.0 sacks and 13.5 TFL, but can he handle step up in competition?

20. James Gayle, Virginia Tech (JR)
Landed 7.0 sacks last fall as only a sophomore and could be on the nation's best defense.

Others to consider:

21. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
22. Travis Johnson, San Jose State
23. Margus Hunt, SMU
24. Wes Horton, USC
25. Art Laurel, Hawaii

-by Braden Gall


2012 College Football Awards:

Top 25 Heisman Candidates

The Nation's Top Pure Lockdown Cover Corners

The Nation's Top Dual-Threat Quarterbacks

Ranking the Nation's Top Pass Rushers for 2012

<p> 2012 College Football Awards: Sack Masters</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 04:00
Path: /nascar/keselowski-could-different-tires-improve-racing-nascar

Brad Keselowski isn’t afraid to question why something is or isn’t done in NASCAR. He’s inquisitive, reflective and thoughtful. Some ideas lead to fruitful discussions and some don’t.

Either way, Keselowski looks ahead, never satisfied with what is happening. It doesn’t mean he has the right answers for every issue or that every idea is wrong. What he does is make others ponder issues he raises.

Keselowski looks at the racing in NASCAR and knows it can be better. Certainly many fans say the same thing. But how? Aerodynamics dictate so much about the sport. So what then?

How about the tires? Keselowski wonders if it would be better for NASCAR to consider a soft and hard compound similar to what is done in Formula 1 and the Izod IndyCar Series, which uses two different tire compounds at road and street course events

Here’s how Keselowski explains his notion:

“I think our sport has evolved to where aerodynamics are generating the majority of the grip in the racecars, which naturally creates an issue when we’re in a pack to where the guy that’s in the front has a supreme advantage over the guys that are in the back — and that goes against I think what we all consider quality racing.

“As a sport we have a decision to make, we can either step backwards and remove aerodynamics from racing — and I think we all know that it’s impossible to really move backwards because we’ll keep pushing and we’ll find it back as we did with this new car.”

Keslowski notes that when the current Cup car was introduced in 2007 it produced about 1,700 pounds of downforce. Teams have refined the car to where it produces about 2,200 pounds now, an increase of more than 20 percent he notes.

“The teams persevered and we will with the money and resources that we dedicate,’’ Keselowski said. “So as you look forward to the issue of how to make the racing better, you can try to take a step backwards and remove aerodynamics or we can try to take a step forward and include new ideas that improve the quality of the racing.

“One of the easiest is to look over at what F1 has with their soft and hard (tire) options that create the possibility for coming in (pitting) at the end of the race and changing compounds and overcoming the aerodynamic deficiencies of the cars that run toward the back of the pack, and I think that will improve quality of the racing for us all.”

Interesting concept. Can it work in NASCAR since nearly all of its races are on ovals as opposed to Formula 1 and IndyCar?

Not everyone is convinced.

Mark Martin calls Keselowski’s idea “brilliant” but he also notes it’s flawed. Martin says this reminds him too much about what happened with the tires when Goodyear and Hoosier were competing in Cup.

“You can’t fuss with the tires,” Martin says. “You’ve got the fastest tire that you can put on now. If you make them any faster, they’re dangerous.

“Brad Keselowski didn’t live the tire war. He isn’t permanently injured from that. Many of us drivers carry permanent injuries for life from that. I know the cars are better now. I know the walls are better now. We don’t need that.

“They bring the best tire they can bring and have but if you made one that was worse ... put him out on them and let’s see if he still wants them. Let’s see how he likes them.”

Jeff Burton admits that “it’s always healthy that we’re looking to improve our sport,” but he’s not convinced this is the right idea.

“I’m not a proponent nor an opponent of talking about different ways to come up with better racing,” Burton says. “I think there’s been a general consensus that Goodyear has done a really, really good job on the tire, maybe too good. Maybe the tire needs to fall off a little more so that we lose speed as the run goes on.

“Things that we can do in the sport that don’t jeopardize the integrity of the sport to make the competition better, then we always need to be looking at that. Whether the tires will do that or not, I just don’t know.”

Stu Grant, Goodyear’s general manager of global race tires, said there hasn’t been any work on such a plan.

Grant notes that tire usage in NASCAR is greater than in IndyCar and Formula 1 because there are so many more teams and that would create among many issues.

“From a logistical standpoint, there is a lot of cost associated with that for everybody in the sport, for us as well the competitors as you pass on ... all that inventory on a second set of tires,” he says.

Grant says there’s no way Goodyear could provide a softer tire than what it has.

“If I did it, they would fail,” he notes. “They would blister. They would wear out. They would lose air and we would crash. Nobody wants that.

“The only option would be to make a harder tire. In the end it’s NASCAR’s call. We’re the tire supplier. We have not had any discussion with NASCAR about that. We have not looked at that.

“We would have to make a worse tire that they would have to run. Is that something the sport wants? I’m not so sure.”

by Dustin Long
Follow Dustin on Twitter:


<p> Could NASCAR take a page from Formula 1 and IndyCar's playbook and institute hard- and soft-compound tires? Brad Keselowski thinks it could work while others, including Mark Martin and Jeff Burton, aren't so sure.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 19:09
Path: /nascar/nascar-horsepower-rankings-8

1. Jimmie Johnson (—)  Johnson has had two crashes in 2012, resulting in 42nd- and 36th-place finishes and one engine failure, leading to a 35th-place run. Otherwise, he’s been 12th or better every week.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (—)  Junior has been nearly as good as his Hendrick teammate through 20 races, with 17th- and 23rd-place runs the only blemishes outside of the top 15.

3. Matt Kenseth (—)  Even before a crash ended his day in Indy, Kenseth wasn’t having a banner performance. How will this team handle its driver’s lame duck status down the stretch?

4. Denny Hamlin (+1)  Hamlin is certainly back to his contender status, with two wins on the season and three finishes of sixth or better in the last four races (including a near-miss in Loudon).

5. Tony Stewart (-1)  Stewart somehow snuck into the top 10 by day’s end at Indy despite being a non-factor throughout the race. In fact, it was his worst showing (10th) at IMS since forming his own team — or a team being handed to him. Whatever.

6. Brad Keselowski (—)  Along with Hamlin, Keselowski seemed the only driver with anything for Johnson on Sunday. A slow pit stop doomed his chances and the three-time winner in 2012 settled for ninth.

7. Kasey Kahne (—)  Front-end damage to Kahne’s Chevy forced the team to play catch-up all day in Indy. A popular pre-race pick, Kasey persevered to a 12th-place showing.

8. Greg Biffle (—)  After a quiet three-race stretch where Biffle was all but invisible, he burst back onto the scene at the Brickyard with a confidence-building third-place finish. Keep an eye on him at Pocono.

9. Jeff Gordon (+1)  Time is running out for Gordon, who finds himself a distant 15th in the point standings with zero wins. Try as they might, the 24 team has been a fifth- to sixth-place car the last six weeks. Still, if he can cash in just once...

10. Clint Bowyer (-1)  Rebounded from what appeared to be some ugly sheet metal damage prior to the halfway mark at Indy to post a respectable 15th. It could’ve been worse.

<p> Jimmie Johnson tightens his grip of the top spot in Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings after his win at the Brickyard.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 17:59
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/5-cant-miss-olympic-finals-predictions-working-title

Some of the top Olympic finals will be held over the next week, starting with Thursday's 200m backstroke and concluding on August 9th when the men's decathlon. All eyes will be on Usain Bolt on August 5th as he goes for gold in the 100m dash. Can the American duo of Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin knock him off?

Athlon previews and predicts five of the Olympics top upcoming events.

August 2nd: Team USA Men’s Swimming returns with a vengeance in the 200m Backstroke

The men of Team USA swimming have been the subject of tremendous criticism from fans who expected the team - led by the duo of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte - to continue the absolute dominance exhibited in Beijing.  Fresh off a disappointing showing in the 200m freestyle, Lochte will be hungry for another gold medal in the 200m backstroke which he won back in 2008 and more recently, the 2011 World Championships.  At the Olympic Trials, Lochte won with a 1:54.54 time, followed by Tyler Clary in 1:54.88 who should also contend for a medal in this event.  Standing in their way is Ryosuke Irie (JPN) who has been the model of consistency, posting 4 of the best 6 times in the world this year.

Team USA has already seen a one-two finish in the backstroke in London Olympic Games coming from Grevers and Thoman in the 100m.  We expect USA's streak of backstroke dominance to continue with another 1-2 finish from Lochte and Clary. 

August 3rd: US Men’s Shot Put Win First Gold Medal Since 1996

The United States has a storied history in men’s shot put, with competitors reaching the podium in all but 2 Olympic Games (1976, 1980).  In London, Team USA has qualified three men who all possess a legitimate shot at the gold medal.  Christian Cantwell, who came in third at the Olympic Trials, won the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Games. Newcomer Ryan Whiting, age 25, has recently emerged as a medal contender after a first place finish in the 2012 indoor championship and a 2nd place finish at the Olympic Trials.  Rounding out the team is Reese Hoffa who came in first at the Olympic Trials.  His 22.00m throw at the Trials is the longest recorded throw this season. 

With the bitter aftertaste of the 2011 Worlds still in their mouths, the U.S. contingent should come out with a vengeance and reassert their dominance in this event by winning a gold medal.  While a sweep is not out of the question, a strong group of international competitors including Canadian Dylan Armstrong - the 2011 World Championship gold medalist - will likely prevent this dream from materializing. 

August 5th: Usain Bolt defeated in the 100m dash

While Bolt may be the overwhelming favorite in the 100m dash after his Olympic record 9.69 in Beijing (further improved to 9.58 in the 2009 World Championships in Berlin), the field is stacked this year and could spell an upset if Bolt doesn’t show up with his A-game.  Countrymen Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell in addition to the American duo of Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin all come into the London Olympics with realistic hopes of reaching the podium. 

Tyson Gay, whose personal best of 9.69 ranks second in history, will have to overcome his hip surgery from last July that took him out of competition for the majority of the 2011 season.  Despite this setback, Gay is a proven competitor and is only one of two sprinters to have beaten Bolt in the 100m since his record-breaking performance at the Beijing Olympics.  Gay appears to be regaining his old form, running a 10.00 into a 1.5 m/s headwind at the Adidas Grand Prix on June 9th, which converts to a windless 9.90s. Gay should be in peak form as he steps onto the blocks in London and could once again challenge Usain Bolt for gold. 

One of the most intriguing storylines for the upcoming Olympic Games has to be the emergence of Usain Bolt’s training partner Yohan Blake.  Blake is the reigning world champion in the 100m (albeit in a race where Bolt was disqualified for a false start) and wants to prove that last year’s performance was no fluke.  He has already posted a 9.84s 100m this season, which is only .08 seconds off of Usain’s fastest 2012 time.  Nicknamed “The Beast”, Blake has trained tirelessly for these upcoming Olympics in hopes of finally emerging out of Bolt's shadow.


August 5th: Federer Finally Brings Home the Elusive Individual Gold Medal

Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player of all-time, has accomplished every possibly feat in the sport other than an individual gold medal at the Olympic Games.  Fresh off of his victory over Murray at Wimbledon, Federer is back to playing at his highest level after a two-year drought without a Grand Slam victory.  Playing on the grass courts at Wimbledon and with the notable absence of 2008 gold medalist Rafael Nadal, the tournament is Federer’s to lose. 

Federer knows that this Olympics marks the last chance for him to take home the individual gold medal that has eluded him for so many years and will rise to the occasion in what would be the capstone of his storied career.  


August 9th: Led by Ashton Eaton, Team USA Sweeps Gold and Silver in the Men’s Decathlon

The decathlon, perhaps the most grueling Olympic event, should receive greater attention this time around in London with a talented American duo that should continue the United States’ historical dominance in the event.  The recent emergence of Ashton Eaton, a five-time NCAA champion at the University of Oregon who set a world record enroute to the top qualifying spot at the 2012 Olympic Trials, should provide additional drama to the event.  Eaton is joined by two-time world champion Trey Hardee, who should push Eaton at the London Games and also contend for the Gold Medal.  One of the biggest stories coming out of the Olympic Trials was 2008 Gold Medalist Bryan Clay’s failure to qualify for the Olympic Team, putting a dagger in any hopes of a repeat of 1952 when an American trio swept the podium. 

For 24-year-old Ashton Eaton, anything less than a gold medal around his neck and perhaps even an improvement on his world record score will be a disappointment.  Be sure to watch coverage of the Decathlon to see the birth of the next great American track star, Ashton Eaton. 

Related Olympics Content

Top 10 Favorites for Women's Gymnastics Individual All-Around
Best Olympic Headshots for 2012

Ranking Every USA Men's Olympic Basketball Team

<p> 2012 Olympics: 5 Can't Miss Finals and Predictions</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 16:37
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/golden-girl-missy-franklin-sweetheart-these-olympics

Call her The Natural. In her first Olympic Games, Missy Franklin, a giggly 17-year-old high schooler from Colorado, has already shown an uncanny ability to flip the switch when the lights come on and transition into steely veteran with a killer instinct. Only minutes after completing a semifinal heat in the 200m freestyle, Franklin hopped back in the pool and swam to gold in the 100m backstroke, perhaps her signature event.

"Indescribable," she said. "I still can't believe that happened. I don't even know what to think. I saw my parents' reaction on the screen and I just started bawling. I can't even think right now."

She had better get used to the feeling. Franklin has five more events and the potential to emerge from these Games as America's breakout star.

Franklin's male counterpart, Matt Grevers, was also up to the challenge in the 100m backstroke, setting an Olympic record to earn the gold medal.

The American exploits in the pool overshadowed a disappointing performance from the American male gymnasts, who slipped to fifth after entering the All Around finals as medal favorites. Princes William and Harry were on hand to watch the Great Britain men earn Bronze, after a successful Japanese inquiry vaulted the Japanese men from fourth to second and knocked the Ukrainians off the medal stand.

Samuel L. Jackson Tweet of the Night
One of the delightful discoveries of these Olympic Games has been the Twitter feed of actor Samuel L. Jackson, who offers real-time insights during the NBC prime-time broadcasts. They're exactly what you would expect from the guy who played Jules in Pulp Fiction: profanity-laced observations that are steeped in pro-America jingoism. Well worth a follow @SamuelLJackson if want to watch right along with him (and if you're not easily offended by liberal use of expletives).

Last night, Jackson signed off with this shout-out to Michael Phelps (slightly censored for family reading): "Just so ya know,looking forward to MIKE P going knee deep in ALL THAT A-- in the 200 FLY!!!! Go USA!

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

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Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 11:06
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympics-photo-day-us-beach-volleyball-players-misty-may-treanor-and-kerri-walsh

Misty May-Treanor, right, of the U.S. looks on as  teammate Kerri Walsh digs out a ball during the beach volleyball match against Czech Republic at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 31, 2012, in London. The beach volleyball matches, held in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, have been among the most popular events of these Olympics.

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Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 10:39
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-july-31

Today's Fab Five, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:

1. Men's 200m Butterfly
Another night, another shot at history for Phelps, who will be going for his third straight gold medal in this event. No Ryan Lochte in this one, so all eyes will be on Phelps as he chases career gold medal No. 15 and attempts to tie Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina's record of 18 career Olympic medals.

2. Men's 800m Freestyle Relay
Provided Phelps is able to medal in the 200m butterfly, this race takes on added significance, as it represents Phelps' chance to become the most decorated Olympian of all time. A medal in the 200 and 800 relay would give the Olympic legend a staggering 19 career medals.

3. Women's Gymnastics Team Finals
The men fell flat, so it's up to the American women to salvage U.S. pride and find their way to the medal stand. Jordyn Wieber will have to shake off the crushing disappointment of failing to make the individual all around finals and the American women to their first all-around gold since the Magnificent 7 in 1996. That's a heavy weight for a 5-2, 117-pounder to carry, but she's up to the task.

4. Men's and Women's Tennis
Novak Djokovic will face American Andy Roddick, and Maria Sharapova takes on Laura Robson of Great Britain to highlight the tennis slate.

5. Men's Basketball
The 2012 edition of the Dream Team should barely break a sweat against Tunisia, giving coach Mike Krzyzewski a chance to experiment with different lineup combinations.

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

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Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 10:26
Path: /college-football/big-12s-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The Big 12's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Can Texas Improve Its Passing Attack?
The Longhorns have the rushing attack and defense to win the Big 12. However, in a league known for offense, Texas still has to find a way to generate more from its quarterbacks. The Longhorns finished eighth in the conference in passing offense last year, and quarterbacks combined to throw 15 picks on 357 attempts. David Ash took control of the No. 1 spot late last season but injured a hamstring in summer workouts and could be limited for fall camp. Case McCoy and true freshman Conner Brewer will get every opportunity to win the job, but Ash is expected to finish atop the depth chart. Texas doesn’t need Ash to be Colt McCoy, but the passing attack has to be better than it was in 2011. With one of the nation’s deepest backfields and the Big 12’s best defense, Texas should be one of college football’s top 15 teams. However, winning the conference title and making a BCS bowl will come down to how quickly Ash, McCoy or Brewer can jumpstart the passing game.

2. Will unproven commodities at wide receiver and defensive line derail title hopes at Oklahoma?
A prolific veteran quarterback, the best offensive line in the Big 12 and the return of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator was enough to push Oklahoma in to the top five of the Athlon national rankings, but the Sooners have plenty of questions to answer if they’re going to compete for a national title. At receiver, the passing game struggled when Ryan Broyles was hurt. Now he’s gone permanently. That puts more pressure on Kenny Stills to be the No. 1 option. Meanwhile the suspension to Jaz Reynolds puts pressure on newcomers Trey Metoyer and Lacoltan Bester to perform right away. On the defensive line, seniors R.J. Washington, David King and Jamarkus McFarland have been around for a while, but they have yet to emerge as consistent factors on the defensive front. That needs to change if Oklahoma is going to be a factor in the national race.

3. Can Oklahoma State Repeat as Big 12 Champs With a Freshman QB?
There’s always pressure when you have to replace a quarterback like Brandon Weeden, but Lunt is under extra scrutiny in 2012, as the Cowboys hope to repeat as Big 12 champs. The freshman was one of three candidates vying for time in the spring and edged out J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf for the No. 1 spot. Walsh is expected to see time as a change of pace quarterback, but barring a setback in the fall, Lunt will be Oklahoma State’s starter in the opener against Savannah State. The Cowboys haven’t had much trouble producing good quarterback play under Mike Gundy, but it’s a lot to ask a true freshman quarterback to win a Big 12 title. Expect Oklahoma State to lean on running back Joseph Randle and a defense that led the nation in takeaways last season early in the year. However, for the Cowboys to win the Big 12, Lunt needs to be ready to deliver in the Big 12 opener on Sept. 29 against Texas. The freshman doesn’t have to be Brandon Weeden – but he needs to play beyond his years for Oklahoma State to repeat as Big 12 champs.

4. Will TCU have secondary to keep pace with the Big 12?
The Horned Frogs ranked an uncharacteristically low 32nd nationally in total defense last season, a stat that was not helped by allowing Baylor to pass for 414 yards and six touchdowns and SMU to pass for 349 yards and four touchdowns in TCU’s losses. The Horned Frogs must replace every full-time starter in the secondary, and the returning cast had only five starts last season, spread among three players. The pass defense may determine the course of TCU’s first season in the Big 12 as the Horned Frogs face SMU (again), Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma.

5. Will West Virginia find any sense of balance on offense?
With Geno Smith at quarterback, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey at receiver and Dana Holgorsen calling the shots, West Virginia is going to throw the ball a ton, but will West Virginia have the ability to run when necessary? A 360-yard rushing performance against Bowling Green last year skewed the Mountaineers’ statistics a bit. The Mountaineers averaged 3.5 yards per carry in Big East games, ranking sixth in the league. Moreover, Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s top rusher who accounted for 291 yards in that Bowling Green game, suffered a torn ACL during the spring. The Mountaineers’ inability to find balance bit them at times in the Big East last season. Could the same happen in the Big 12?

6. Can Baylor’s new backfield pickup where Robert Griffin/Terrance Ganaway left off?
There’s no question Baylor will miss Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin and running back Terrance Ganaway. The Bears ranked second in the nation in total offense and averaged 45.3 points a game in 2011. While the offense will probably struggle to reach those totals in 2012, don’t expect this unit to fall too much in terms of production. New quarterback Nick Florence started seven games when Griffin was sidelined with a torn ACL in 2009, throwing for 1,786 yards and six touchdowns. The Bears will miss Griffin’s ability to make plays outside of the pocket, but Florence has the experience and talent to keep this team among the best in the conference in passing offense. Terrance Ganaway was one of the Big 12’s biggest surprises last year, rushing for 1,547 yards and 21 touchdowns. Stepping into the backfield will be Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk and Jarred Salubi. Seastrunk was one of the top recruits in the 2010 recruiting class and should add some big-play ability to the backfield. Although Baylor won’t match last year’s offensive totals, this unit should still perform at a high level.

7. Where’s the defense in Lubbock?
An average to below-average defense at Texas Tech wasn’t strange under Mike Leach. But it is a change of pace for Tommy Tuberville, former a defensive coordinator who fielded quality defenses at Auburn. Tuberville brought in Art Kaufman, his DC at Ole Miss, for his third coordinator in three years. He also brought in six junior college transfers on defense to improve a unit that ranked last in the nation against the run.

8. Will Kansas State Develop Other Weapons Outside Collin Klein?
Collin Klein was Mr. Everything for the Wildcats in 2011. He led the team with 1,141 rushing yards and 27 scores, while throwing for 1,918 yards and 13 touchdowns. Although Klein carried the offense last season, it’s probably too much to ask for him to repeat that task in 2012. The senior dealt with various injuries last year – likely a direct result from the 317 carries he accumulated. Kansas State doesn’t have to stray too far from Klein, but the offense needs more playmakers to emerge. Running back John Hubert is coming off a solid 2011 campaign – rushing for 970 yards and three scores – but the Wildcats would like to have more big-play ability on the ground. Another area that could lessen the wear and tear on Klein is his development as a passer. If the senior can lean more on his arm, it should help keep him fresh for the final weeks of the season.

9. Is there any hope at Kansas?
There’s hope, but change will be neither easy nor quick. After fielding one of the worst statistical teams on either side of the ball the last two seasons, Kansas is trying to plug holes with transfers. Quarterback Dayne Crist from Notre Dame is the most notable, but the defense adds defensive lineman Josh Williams (Nebraska) and linebacker Anthony McDonald (also Notre Dame) plus a handful of junior college linemen. Returning defensive end Toben Opurum is about the only sure thing on for defensive coordinator Dave Campo, who is continuing to figure out his personnel in fall practice.

10. Steele Jantz or Jared Barnett: Who Will Start at Iowa State?
The good news for Iowa State? The Cyclones have two experienced candidates ready to lead the team in the fall. The bad news? There wasn’t much separation in the spring, and the battle will resume in fall practice. Steele Jantz led the Cyclones to a 3-0 start but suffered an injury in the win over Connecticut and struggled in the next three games. Jared Barnett played well in Iowa State’s biggest win last season (Oklahoma State), throwing for 376 yards and three scores. Both players are good runners, but need to be better about managing turnovers (17 interceptions last year). Don’t be surprised if both quarterbacks see time, but Barnett should finish the year with the best stats and most starts. 

by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big 12 Offensive Line Rankings for 2012

Big 12 Wide Receiver Rankings for 2012
Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big 12 Team

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<p> Big 12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 05:18
Path: /college-football/big-tens-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The Big Ten's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Who’s leaving, who’s staying at Penn State?
Quarterback Rob Bolden is already gone, possibly to LSU. Meanwhile, coach Bill O’Brien says about 50 players have pledged to stay with the Nittany Lions despite ample opportunities to transfer immediately and without penalty. The biggest domino, though, could fall soon, as standout running back Silas Redd may transfer to USC. Even if Penn State starts the season without a mass exodus, players can leave any time before the start of the 2013 season without having to sit out a year. If Redd leaves, Penn State loses one of its only offensive threats. O’Brien also has to be concerned if one or two key players leave, others will follow.

2. Can Ohio State Execute Urban Meyer’s Spread Offense?
After finishing last in the Big Ten in passing offense last season, plenty of doubts remain about quarterback Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes’ passing attack. Those concerns are amplified even more due to an offensive line that returns only two starters and a receiving corps that lacks a proven No. 1 option. Freshman Mike Thomas opened some eyes in the spring game, catching 12 passes for 131 yards. With Thomas’ emergence and the return of tight end Jake Stoneburner, the Buckeyes should have two solid targets for Miller. However, the receiving corps needs a big year from junior Philly Brown and sophomore Devin Smith. The potential is there for Ohio State’s offense to seamlessly pickup Meyer’s spread attack and emerge as one of the best in the conference. However, fall practice will be a good indicator of just how far the offensive line has come, which could hold the key to Ohio State’s season.

3. How much will Michigan State miss Jerel Worthy?
The defensive tackle anchored a defense that ranked ninth in run defense (100.1 yards per game) and seventh in yards allowed per carry (2.8). For certain, losing Worthy is a setback, but Sparty has the talent to replace him on the defensive line. End William Gholston is on his way to becoming a superstar after recording 16 tackles for a loss last season. On the other side of the line, Marcus Rush’s production tailed off near the end of his freshman season, but the end still finished with 12 tackles for a loss. The bigger questions are at tackle. Senior Anthony Rashad White’s performance in the bowl win over Georgia (seven tackles, three for a loss) hinted at his potential. At the other spot, senior Tyler Hoover and one-time Vanderbilt center James Kittredge will compete for playing time in two a days.

4. Can Michigan find the right answers in the trenches?
Even with quarterback Denard Robinson returning, Michigan could find it difficult to repeat last season’s 11 wins. The Wolverines have a tough schedule and must replace two stalwarts from the trenches in center David Molk and defensive tackle Mike Martin. The Wolverines will likely turn to senior Ricky Barnum at center, while freshman Ondre Pipkins could play a key role on the defensive line. Considering Barnum’s experience and Taylor Lewan’s return at left tackle, the Wolverines should feel confident that the line can still perform at a high level. The defensive line is a bigger question mark, especially with run-first teams like Alabama, Michigan State and Nebraska on the schedule. It’s unreasonable to expect both units to match their production from 2011, but too much of a drop could cost Michigan a chance to win the Legends Division. 

5. How will Danny O’Brien take the reins at Wisconsin?
Though O’Brien and Russell Wilson arrived under similar circumstances as graduate student transfers from the ACC, the Badgers shouldn’t necessarily expect similar results. Wilson had the best single-season for a Big Ten quarterback. Ill-suited as he may have been with the Terrapins under Randy Edsall, O’Brien did lose his starting job for a 2-10 Maryland team last season. Wilson was as accurate and efficient as any quarterback in the country, but he also took an active leadership role when he arrived on campus. O’Brien may have less on his shoulders thanks to Montee Ball, but how well he takes to his new team and new role may determine the course of the Badgers’ season.

6. Will Iowa find answers at running back, offensive line and on the defensive line?
Three areas where the Hawkeyes are usually strong – offensive line, defensive line and running back – are a question mark entering fall practice. The offensive line returns just two starters and must replace standout Riley Reiff. The defensive front loses three starters and finished seventh in the Big Ten against the run last year. Marcus Coker was expected to be one of the top running backs in the conference, but he left the team in January. Iowa’s back luck with running backs didn’t stop with Coker, as Mika’il McCall left the team, Jordan Canzeri suffered a knee injury in spring practice, and De’Andre Johnson was dismissed from the team in early August. Sophomore Damon Bullock and freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill will compete to be the No. 1 back in fall practice. With issues on both sides of the ball, quarterback James Vandenberg will have more pressure on his shoulders. There’s no question the senior is one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, but he needs some help if Iowa wants to improve off of last year’s 7-6 record.

7. Is Purdue healthy ... finally?
The Boilermakers enter fall camp with three quarterbacks with starting experience, who are finally healthy at the same time. Caleb TerBush started every game last season as the Boilermakers ended a four-year bowl drought. TerBush likely remains the starter in 2012, but the injury bug has a nose for the Purdue backfield. Fellow quarterback Rob Henry (seven starts in 2010) and Robert Marve (four starts in 2010) are both healthy. Both perhaps have higher ceilings than TerBush, but Henry has the speed to contribute at other positions. At running back, Ralph Bolden’s season is in doubt as he recovers from a knee injury sustained in the regular season finale against Indiana. If Purdue can stay healthy, it will be a welcome change of pace for coach Danny Hope.

8. Will Nebraska’s Defense Improve in 2012?
The Cornhuskers weren’t awful on defense last year, but they certainly weren’t as effective as they were in 2011. Nebraska ranked 42nd nationally in points allowed and 64th nationally against the run. Some fresh faces have joined the defensive staff, as Rick Kaczenski was hire to coach the line and Terry Joseph will man the secondary. Carl Pelini left to become the head coach at FAU, which allowed John Papuchis to be promoted to coordinator. The changes should bring some energy to the defense, but this unit must replace linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, while fixing the run defense. The interior of the line was an issue after Jared Crick’s season-ending injury last year and could be a work in progress once again. Nebraska’s defense should be more prepared for life in the Big Ten in 2012, but this unit still has a ways to go before returning to its 2009 or 2010 level.  

9. Will Minnesota's MarQueis Gray pickup where he left off last season?
With a non-conference schedule that features matchups against UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Syracuse, the Golden Gophers should have a shot at reaching a bowl in 2012. Quarterback MarQueis Gray closed 2011 by playing some of his best football in his career, rushing for 160 yards against Northwestern and adding 167 yards and two scores on the ground in the 27-7 victory over Illinois. The senior is a work in progress as a passer, but his dual-threat ability will give defenses plenty of fits in 2012. With another offseason to work under coach Jerry Kill and coordinator Matt Limegrover, Gray should only get better and will have a chance to total 3,000 overall yards in 2012. 

10. Can Northwestern field a competitive defense?
The Wildcats’ offense, which has finished in the top half of the Big Ten in four of the last five seasons and as high as second last year, appears to be in good hands with quarterback Kain Colter. The question is if the defense can keep up. The Wildcats also had the fewest sacks (17) in the league and allowed opponents to convert half of their third-down opportunities. Northwestern (6.1) and Indiana (6.4) were the only teams in the Big Ten to allow more than six yards per play. The Wildcats’ defense will be anchored by three returning starters at linebacker in David Nwabuisi, Damien Proby and Collin Ellis, plus safety Ibraheim Campbell. An inexperienced defensive line and secondary will determine of Northwestern’s defense is good enough to get the Wildcats back to a bowl game.

by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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<p> Big Ten's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 05:14
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Kansas City Chiefs, NFL
Path: /nfl/kansas-city-chiefs-2012-nfl-team-preview

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Kansas City Chiefs check in at No. 24.

The chaos calmed finally, and when it did, the Chiefs were eager to return to football — with one of the NFL’s more talent-rich rosters. The 2011 season was stained by injuries to key players, disagreements between former coach Todd Haley and general manager Scott Pioli, and ultimately the replacement of Haley with defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel late in the season. The Chiefs hope 2012 will be a calmer time, a period that finally sees permanent results from four years of rebuilding.

Quarterback Matt Cassel is seen in Kansas City as one of the few unproven pieces, and the grousing was highlighted when the Broncos signed former Colts star Peyton Manning — and likely shot to the top of preseason AFC West predictions. 

In the meantime, the Chiefs spent their offseason building around Cassel. They fortified a weak offensive line, brought in veteran running back Peyton Hillis, and gave Cassel one more vote of confidence that, if all goes right, he can be the quarterback to lead the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl in more than four decades. Even with better days seemingly on the horizon, this could be Cassel’s last chance. 


After missing on Manning, the team signed veteran Brady Quinn, an assertion that Cassel was still the Chiefs’ man. Cassel is an average NFL quarterback under most circumstances, but the Chiefs seemed to realize that his best chance at being something more — like he was in 2010, when he led the team to a division title and earned a Pro Bowl nod — was by surrounding him with solid pieces. The free agent acquisitions of right tackle Eric Winston, tight end Kevin Boss and running back Hillis give Cassel more talent to work with.

Still, there remains uncertainty even beyond quarterback. Running back Jamaal Charles, one of the NFL’s most electric rushers, and tight end Tony Moeaki suffered torn knee ligaments early last season, and it’s unclear if they’ll return with the same explosion and quickness. Charles is still seen as one of the league’s most talented rushers, but there will be no relief in Kansas City until he breaks his first long run, like those reminiscent of the 2009 and ’10 seasons. Charles estimated in April that he was “80 percent” healthy, admitting that the assessment was partly a motivational ploy. Hillis will be used in power running situations, making occasional appearances at fullback. Dexter McCluster and rookie Cyrus Gray also could get carries.

Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe also could be a mystery entering his sixth season. The Chiefs made him their franchise player, but he refused to sign his tender, skipped offseason practices and didn't report at the start of training camp. The Chiefs are in a pickle: Do they hand Bowe, an occasionally immature but supremely talented wideout, a huge contract and hope he handles it well, or simply hope that he signs his franchise tender, risking the absence of a player who had more than 1,100 receiving yards in each of the last two years?

The Chiefs spent two of their eight draft picks on receivers Devon Wylie and Junior Hemingway, possibly as a backup plan if things don’t work out with Bowe. Steve Breaston is a solid second receiver, and second-year wideout Jon Baldwin will need to show growth from a rookie season plagued with injuries and poor decision-making.

Cassel will work behind a line with two new faces: Winston and second-year center Rodney Hudson, who’s expected to take over for Casey Wiegmann.

If Cassel plays close to his 2010 form, the Chiefs should be able to return fire against a division that’s suddenly full of star power. It won’t hurt if Charles and Moeaki are healthy.

Related: Top Kansas City Chiefs Twitter Accounts to Follow


Crennel was giddy after the first round of the draft, when his team gambled and took nose tackle Dontari Poe with the No. 11 overall pick. Poe has a high ceiling but a low floor, and some fans booed the pick at a team-hosted draft party, simply because Poe was seen as a college underachiever who excelled at the NFL combine. Crennel is confident that Poe, a 346-pounder with uncanny quickness, will be a perfect fit in the center of his three-man front.

If Crennel’s vision comes true, the Chiefs will have a solid line that opens playmaking opportunities for a terrific group of linebackers. Outside backer Tamba Hali has emerged as one of the league’s best pass-rushers, and inside backer Derrick Johnson, strong against the run and the pass, made his first Pro Bowl last season. The team has high hopes for second-year pro Justin Houston. The former third-round pick was a liability against the run last year, and he’ll have to improve in that area in order to realize his potential.

The strong play from the linebacking corps helped mask the troubles at safety last season. Eric Berry, one of the game’s top young defensive backs, tore his ACL in Week 1. Berry is terrific against the run but will need to improve in coverage to become an elite safety. Brandon Flowers, a terrific cover corner, is back for his fifth year as a starter. He will joined by Stanford Routt, signed to a three-year contract in the offseason after spending seven years with the Raiders. Third-year free safety Kendrick Lewis rounds out what should be a strong secondary.

That leaves the defensive line, and Poe won’t be the only question. His neighbors, ends Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, were both high draft picks who have yet to live up expectations. Jackson, the No. 3 overall pick in 2009, has shown a slow reaction time and an inability to absorb blockers. Dorsey has improved each year, if slightly, but at 6'1" and 297 pounds, he’s still an uncomfortable fit as a 3-4 end. 

Crennel will continue coordinating the defense.


Kicker Ryan Succop will return in his role a season after making 24-of-30 field goals, including three from 50-plus yards. He’s strong, cool and reliable enough to someday join Jan Stenerud and Nick Lowery as the most accomplished kickers in team history. Dustin Colquitt will remain the Chiefs’ punter.

The Chiefs have plenty of options for kick returners, but none has scored a touchdown since McCluster reached the end zone in the 2010 regular-season opener. Javier Arenas is the team’s primary punt returner, and Breaston, Wylie and rookie safety DeQuan Menzie also could get chances in the return game. McCluster remains a big threat, but the team is hesitant to use him on special teams when he is needed to contribute on offense. 

Final Analysis: 4th in the AFC West

The Chiefs have a favorable schedule and improved depth at key positions. The barometer for the 2012 season should be a winning record; anything better will be a bonus and anything less will be a disappointment. But with Kansas City’s top playmakers on both sides of the ball coming off season-ending injuries, the dark cloud of doubt hangs over this year’s club.

Related: 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Berry Suspects Bounty
Safety Eric Berry, one of the team’s more talented and intense players, tweeted in March that he suspected the Buffalo Bills might have a bounty on him on the day Berry suffered a season-ending ACL tear on a low block from the Bills’ Stevie Johnson. After the Saints bounty scandal broke, Berry took to Twitter: “Sometimes I sit n wonder if they had a bounty out on me ... oh well ... who cares. Either way u can’t hold me down.” Berry later backed off his assertion, saying it was “pretty much a joke,” before encouraging others to watch video of the play and develop their own opinions.

More Focus
Dexter McCluster, the Chiefs’ multipurpose player, spent his offseason making music and opening a sports bar in his native Florida. But his most important offseason goal was to improve his focus and cut down on fumbles, a continual problem in 2011. He said he re-evaluated how he finished the “last three inches” of each play, protecting the ball on his way to the turf.

The Switch
Rookie offensive lineman Jeff Allen is expected to move to guard after playing tackle throughout his high school and college career. It’s the opposite move made by Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert, who played guard before arriving in Kansas City. Allen said he would lean on his former teammate at Illinois, Jon Asamoah, for advice through the transition. Asamoah is the Chiefs’ starting right guard.

Coordinator Carousel
Brian Daboll became the Chiefs’ sixth offensive coordinator in as many years when he joined the team during the offseason. Daboll replaces Bill Muir, whose unit ranked 27th in the NFL in total offense with 310.8 yards per game. The constant changes have been most difficult on Cassel, who hasn’t had the same coordinator in two consecutive seasons since becoming a starter in 2008, at the time for the Patriots. The good thing for Cassel, though, is that Daboll was a Patriots assistant in the quarterback’s first two seasons.

Not A Spy
Running back Peyton Hillis, who signed a free agent deal with the Chiefs, has said a report that he considered retirement to pursue a job with the CIA was false — and meant to devalue his market price. Hillis, who rushed for 1,177 yards in 2010, is eager to bounce back after a tumultuous final season with the Browns. He rushed for only 587 yards in 10 games last season. 

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Wed., Aug. 1

Order your 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Kansas City Chiefs Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Schedule Analysis

<p> Kansas City Chiefs 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 05:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Kansas City Chiefs, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/kansas-city-chiefs-top-twitter-accounts-follow

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Kansas City Chiefs official Twitter account:

@kcchiefs (Followers: 97,094)

Top Chiefs To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 31, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Jamaal Charles RB @jcharles25 967,598
2. Jon Baldwin WR @Jon__Baldwin 288,492
3. Eric Berry S @Stuntman1429 67,593
4. Peyton Hillis RB @thepeytonhillis 49,739
5. Dexter McCluster RB @dextermccluster 45,380
6. Steve Breaston WR @SBreaston15 41,952
7. Brady Quinn QB @BQ9 37,075
8. Kevin Boss TE @KevinBossman 35,397
9. Brandon Flowers CB @BFlowers24 34,474
10. Eric Winston OT @ericwinston 28,924
11. Javier Arenas CB @JavierArenas21 28,183
12. Tamba Hali LB @TambaHali91 24,159
13. Derrick Johnson LB @superdj56 22,790
14. Dwayne Bowe WR @DwayneBowe82 12,807
15. Stanford Routt CB @SRoutt26 10,808
16. Kendrick Lewis S @klewis23 10,680
17. Andy Studebaker LB @studie32 10,227
18. Dontari Poe DT @PoeMans_dream 9,868
19. Tony Moeaki TE @TonyMoeaki81 8,565
20. Branden Albert OG @B_albert76 6,040

If you want the latest Chiefs' news and information, you need to follow @ChiefsPR (8,153 followers) and Chiefs Insider @JoshLooney (16,040).

Mitch Holthus, the Voice of the Chiefs, can be found in the Twitterverse at @mitchholthus (12,298).

To help you get in the spirit for the upcoming season, you can follow the Chiefs' cheerleaders at @ChiefsCheer (4,471).

The Chiefs Beat:

Kent Babb, Columnist for the Kansas City Star: @kentbabb (12,239)

Adam Teicher, Writer for Kansas City Star: @adamteicher (6,402)

Randy Covitz, Writer for Kansas City Star: @randycovitz (1,484)

Chiefs Blog Roll:

Red Zone is the Kansas City Star's Chiefs blog.

Arrowhead Pride is SB Nation's Chiefs blog, which also can be found on Twitter at @ArrowheadPride.

Warpaint Illustrated offers independent coverage of the Chiefs in print, online and via the Out of Bounds podcast. It's Twitter handle, @ChiefsInsider should not be confused with that of @JoshLooney, who is the official Chiefs Insider.

Arrowhead Addict, Chiefs Command, Chiefs Gab, and the appropriately named KC Chiefs Blog are some others to check out.

The ESPN AFC West blog is run by Bill Williamson and you can follow him @espn_afcwest.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Wed., Aug. 1

Order your 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Season Preview
Related: 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Schedule Analysis

- By Braden Gall and Mark Ross, published on July 31, 2012


<p> Kansas City Chiefs Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 04:59
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-awards-dual-threat-quarterbacks

Dual-Threat feels like a relatively modern term used to define college quarterbacks. Certainly, the proliferation of zone read options and Mike Leach spreads has created greater dychotomy within the offensive playbook than ever before. 

This trend of electric athletes who really aren't quarterbacks in the truest NFL sense of the word excelling in college is nothing new. Charlie Ward and Tommie Frazier made the quarterback position incredibly dynamic 20 years ago. And the triple option, wing-T offense has been churning across the college landscape for nearly a century.

However, when Michael Vick burst onto the scene with a rocket right arm packaged with an initial burst that would make Usain Bolt jealous, the game changed forever. The ability to be an efficient, consistent, down the field passer as well as an explosive running back has stretched the defense both vertically and horizontally. Since Vick, names like Vince Young and Tim Tebow have led teams to championships based on the ability to throw and run with equal effectiveness.

So who are the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation for 2012:

1. Denard Robinson, Michigan (SR)
Certainly, Shoelace has some holes in his throwing game — and has missed some key snaps in key games. Yet, there is no better pass-run combination in the game today than Mr. Robinson. And as he proved at Big Ten Media Days, he is a true leader and role model for us all. The numbers very plainly speak for themselves: 4,931 yards passing, 3,229 yards rushing and 75 total touchdowns. He is the only player in history to be a part of the 2,500/1,500-yard club and returned Michigan to a BCS bowl last year. If he can stay healthy in 2012, he should be in New York come December.

2. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech (JR)
From an NFL perspective, there is no better dual-threat talent in the nation than Thomas. At 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, few defensive ends are as big as Thomas, much less guys under center. He may be the most powerful QB sneak-er in history (did you see the Georgia Tech game last year?). In his first season as a starter, he set a Virginia Tech single-season total yards record with his 3,482 yards of offense. This at a school with an incredible track record with dual-threats — Michael Vick, Marcus Vick, Bryan Randall, Tyrod Taylor. With question marks at offensive line and running back, Thomas will be called upon to carry even more of the offensive load in 2012.

3.  Braxton Miller, Ohio State (SO)
Urban Meyer isn't mixing words about his sophomore signal caller. He referred to Miller as the best athlete he has ever coached at quarterback, and this, obviously, includes names like Tim Tebow and Alex Smith. The game slowed down for Miller in the second half of 2011 and he nearly pulled-off a huge upset of Michigan in the Big House. As a true freshman, he threw only four interceptions (1,159 yards, 13 TD) and led the Buckeyes in rushing (715 yards, 7 TD). He has an electric first step and down the field potential that will remind people of Robert Griffin III.

4. Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State (SR)
Gus Malzahn couldn't not have asked for a better quarterback to be ready and waiting when he arrived in Jonesboro. And Aplin couldn't have asked for a better scheme for his dual skillset. En route to a Sun Belt championship, Aplin threw for 3,588 yards and 19 scores while leading his team in rushing (588 yards, 10 TD). Now, the power speed spread will only futher enhance Aplin's ability to punish defenses both on the ground and through the air.

5. Collin Klein, Kansas State (SR)
Klein clearly lacks the true pocket passing ability to be any higher on this list. That said, he might be the best running back on this list. His gritty, toughness and hard-nosed style is a pleasure to watch each Saturday. And it led to an NCAA record-tying 27 rushing touchdowns (by a quarterback) and Cotton Bowl berth last season. He completed only 57.3% of his passes for 1,918 yards, 13 TD and six INTs. Should he improve his ability to stretch the field with his arm, he could end up as the nation's top dual-threat QB. 

6. James Franklin, Missouri (JR)
In his first season under center, Franklin didn't disappoint. From a yardage standpoint, few players posted bigger numbers than his 2,865 yards passing and 981 yards rushing. He scored 15 times on the ground and 21 times through the air. The key, as Mizzou transitions into the SEC, will be his health. His throwing shoulder was badly injured in the spring, and while he is healthy now, will be facing some of the top defensive fronts in the nation this fall.

7. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (JR)
Martinez needed to show mental toughness and maturity last season and it appears that he has finally mastered the huddle. The final step in his development will be the ability to complete passes accurately and consistently down the field in key situations. Otherwise, the raw talent is obvious. His first 10 yards go by as quickly as any runner in the nation as his 874 yards and 9 TD indicate. He managed 2,089 yards through the air, and with what could be the best receiving corps in the Big Ten, Martinez needs to show improvement in efficiency — i.e., a 13:8 TD:INT ratio and 56.3% passing clip. The upside is painfully obvious for Huskers fans.

8. Tyler Tettleton, Ohio (JR)
Fantasy players know all about the Bobcats quarterback, but the rest of the nation is only just now catching on. As only a sophomore, Tettleton threw 3,306 yards and 28 scores against only 10 interceptions while adding 10 more scores on the ground and 666 yards rushing. On a team that could be the MAC frontrunner in 2012, Tettleton is the star.

9. Kain Colter, Northwestern (JR)
Few players have ever had the statistical season that Colter produced last fall. No one number stands out, but his diversity and versatitlity were extremely rare. He led the Wildcats in rushing with 654 yards and nine touchdowns, finished with 43 receptions for 466 yards and three more scores as a receiver and completed over 67% of his passes for 673 yards, six touchdowns and only one interception. In an offense known for overachieving signal callers, Colter has a chance to be the most talented and productive of the bunch.

10. Brett Smith, Wyoming (SO)
Dave Christensen has been known for his work with quarterbacks both at Missouri and Wyoming. And Smith could be his best pupil yet. As only a freshman, Smith lit-up boxscores to the tune of 2,622 yards passing and 710 yards rushing. He added 30 total touchdowns (20 pass, 10 rush) as he led the Cowboys to an eight-win season and bowl bid. He works hard and should only be that much better in his second season.

The Best of the Rest:

11. Cody Fajardo, Nevada (SO)
The WAC Freshman of the Year posted 694 yards rushing and 1,707 passing and 17 total TDs.

12. Bryan Bennett/Marcus Mariota, Oregon (SO/FR)
Mariota has drawn Dennis Dixon comparisons and Bennett averaged over 10 yards per carry with six passing TDs and no INTs in spot duty last year. Both have electric dual-threat skills in a system perfectly suited for both.

13. B.J. Daniels, USF (SR)
Four years of starting should produce best season yet. 2011 featured 2,604/601 yardage splits.

14. Matt Scott, Arizona (SR)
Rich Rodriguez' zone-read scheme is a perfect fit for 6-3, 200-pounder.

15. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (JR)
Posted 1,448/525 yardage split to go with 22 TDs — and that was with Stephen Garcia hanging around.

16. Blaine Gautier, UL Lafayette (SR)
Awesome 2,958-23-6 passing line to go with 486 yards and three more scores on the ground.

17. Alex Gillett, Eastern Michigan (SR)
Led the improved Eagles in rushing (736) while adding 1,504 yards and 14 TDs through the air.

18. Riley Nelson, BYU (SR)
Threw 19 TDs and got 88 rushing attempts in first year as the starter. Forced Jake Heaps to Kansas. 

19. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois (JR)
Takes over for Chandler Harnish in elite dual-threat scheme. Rushed for 246-3 in back-up duty last fall.

20. MarQueis Gray, Minnesota (SR)
Elite athlete (966 yards rushing last year) who is finally starting to develop as a passer.

Others to consider:

21. Nathan Scheehaase, Illinois (JR)
22. C.J. Brown, Maryland (JR)
23. Tevin Washington, Georgia Tech (SR)
24. Tre Roberson, Indiana (SO)
25. Kolton Browning, UL Monroe (JR)

- by Braden Gall


2012 College Football Awards:

Top 25 Heisman Candidates

The Nation's Top Pure Lockdown Cover Corners
The Nation's Top Dual-Threat Quarterbacks

<p> 2012 College Football Awards: Dual-Threat Quarterbacks</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 04:00
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-top-10-favorites-women%E2%80%99s-gymnastics-individual-all-around

Jordyn Wieber did not qualify for the women’s gymnastics individual all-around competition at the 2012 London Olympics. Despite finishing with the fourth-highest score during qualifying, the reigning World Champion and favorite to win Olympic gold failed to make the cut due to a rule that limits the number of bids to two per country — known stateside as the “Wieber Rule” until further notice.

Without Wieber, the individual all-around competition — which consists of all four apparatus (vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise) — is any girl’s game. The following is a rundown of the top 10 contenders heading into the meet on Thursday, August 2.

1. Gabby Douglas, USA

Age: 16 (Dec. 31, 1995)
Hometown: Virginia Beach, Va.
Height: 4’11”
Weight: 90 pounds
Best event: Uneven Bars
Worst event: Floor Exercise

The “Flying Squirrel” is an uneven bars ace and a live wire with the upside to win it all. Douglas claimed uneven bar gold at the 2012 Visa Championships in St. Louis, where she earned silver in the all-around — behind gold medal winner Jordyn Wieber.

Having already graced the covers of TIME Magazine and Sports Illustrated, respectively, Gabby is no stranger to the Olympic spotlight. And her commitment is unquestioned after moving from Virginia Beach to West Des Moines, Iowa, in 2004 to train with Liang Chow — who also coached 2008 Beijing Olympics all-around silver medalist Shawn Johnson.

If Gabby can stay poised under pressure, she has the raw talent to join Nastia Liukin (2008), Carly Patterson (2004) and Mary Lou Retton (1984) as the only American women to win Olympic gold in the individual all-around.

2. Viktoria Komova, Russia

Age: 17 (Jan. 30, 1995)
Hometown: Voronezh, Russia
Height: 5’1”
Weight: 76 pounds
Best event: Uneven Bars
Worst event: Floor Exercise

“Vika” was the top qualifier at the Olympic preliminaries. Winner of the individual all-around silver medal at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo — behind USA gold medalist Jordyn Wieber — Komova is another uneven bars whiz, taking gold at both the 2012 European Championships and 2011 Worlds.

3. Aliya Mustafina, Russia

Age: 17 (Sept. 30, 1994)
Hometown: Moscow, Russia
Height: 5’4”
Weight: 112 pounds
Best event: Uneven Bars
Worst event: Balance Beam

NBC labeled her the latest Russian diva, and "Musty" does have the attitude, style and talent to win gold. Mustafina won the individual all-around gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in Rotterdam, while also taking silver in the vault, uneven bars and floor exercise. However, a knee injury at the 2011 European Championships raised serious questions heading into the 2012 London Olympics. But Musty appears fit, which means she will be fierce competition.

4. Aly Raisman, USA

Age: 18 (May 25, 1994)
Hometown: Needham, Mass.
Height: 5’2”
Weight: 115 pounds
Best event: Floor Exercise
Worst event: Uneven Bars

Aly — a.k.a. “Alexandra” — has gotten a raw deal. After Raisman clinched one of the USA’s two spots in the individual all-around, not only did NBC’s cameras focus more on Wieber crying but the producers also gave her Polo-wearing parents (Ricky and Lynn) nearly as much air time as their daughter.

Make no mistake, Aly could go from underdog to the medal stand. She won individual all-around bronze medal, along with gold medals on floor and balance beam, at the 2012 Visa Championships in St. Louis, and also earned bronze medal on floor at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo.

The oldest member of Team USA, the captain has already proven clutch on the floor exercise — where she nailed her routine to clinch her spot in the individual all-around competition.

5. Larisa Iordache, Romania

Age: 16 (June 19, 1996)
Hometown: Bucharest, Romania
Height: 4’11”
Weight: 82 pounds
Best event: Floor Exercise
Worst event: Uneven Bars

Romania faked out the gymnastics world by announcing that Iordache had had plantar fasciitis — a painful inflammation of the connective tissue on the sole of the foot — just days before preliminary qualifying. But their young star looked just fine in London, and is a threat to make a name for herself in the Games of the XXX Olympiad.

6. Linlin Deng, China

Age: 20 (April 21, 1992)
Hometown: Fuyang, Anhui, China
Height: 4’6”
Weight: 79 pounds
Best event: Balance Beam
Worst event: Uneven Bars

A member of China’s gold medal winning team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Deng was also a gymnast whose age has been debated. In order to compete in the Olympics, gymnasts must turn 16 years old during the year of the games. Deng was either an illegal 14 years old or 16 years old in Beijing; making her either 18 or 20 this time around. No matter how old she is, Deng is still a tiny 4’6”, 79 pounds and brilliant on the balance beam.

7. Qiushuang Huang, China

Age: 20 (May 28, 1992)
Hometown: Xiangfan, Hubei, China
Height: 5’1”
Weight: 95 pounds
Best event: Uneven Bars
Worst event: Floor Exercise

Huang was not a member of the Chinese national team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but she was part of the bronze medal winning squad at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo. In a down year for China, Huang joins Deng as the top threats.

8. Vanessa Ferrari, Italy

Age: 21 (Nov. 10, 1990)
Hometown: Genivolta, Cremona, Italy
Height: 4’9”
Weight: 97 pounds
Best event: Floor Exercise
Worst event: Uneven Bars

The name of the games, the compact Italian Ferrari is a ball of energy with the ability to dominate on the floor and on the beam. The 21-year-old veteran will put on a show but may not have the individual all-around game to medal.

9. Asuka Teramoto, Japan

Age: 16 (Nov. 19, 1995)
Hometown: Komaki, Japan
Height: 4’6”
Weight: 66 pounds
Best event: Vault
Worst event: Floor Exercise

One of the surprises in qualifying, Teramoto was more steady than spectacular. In fact, the miniature Japanese gymnast was the highest qualifier (eighth) who posted no score higher than a 14.600.

10. Rebecca Tunney, Great Britain

Age: 15 (Oct. 26, 1996)
Hometown: Manchester, United Kingdom
Height: 4’10”
Weight: 77 pounds
Best event: Uneven Bars
Worst event: Balance Beam

The local legend will have the crowd behind her. Tunney is the brightest star on Great Britain’s roster and she’s too young to know just what an opportunity she has at the 2012 London Olympics. If she medals, Tunney could be next in line to jump out of a plane with James Bond and the Queen. Of course, she’d stick her landing.

Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Schedule

Tuesday, July 31 – Team Competition
Thursday, Aug. 2 – Individual All-Around
Sunday, Aug. 5 – Vault
Monday, Aug. 6 – Uneven Bars
Tuesday, Aug. 7 – Floor Exercise
Tuesday, Aug. 7 – Balance Beam

The qualifying results from the preliminary competition held Sunday, July 29.

Team Qualifying Scores

1. USA (181.863)

2. Russia (180.429)

3. China (176.637)

4. Romania (176.264)

5. Great Britain (170.656)

6. Japan (170.196)

7. Italy (168.397)

8. Canada (167.696)

All-Around Qualifying Rank. Gymnast, Nation (Score)

1. Viktoria Komova, Russia (60.632)

2. Aly Raisman, USA (60.391)

3. Gabby Douglas, USA (60.265)

4. Jordyn Wieber, USA (60.232) *

5. Aliya Mustafina, Russia (59.966)

6. Linlin Deng, China (57.998)

7. Vanessa Ferrari, Italy (57.932)

8. Asuka Teramoto, Japan (57.865)

9. Larisa Andreea Iordache, Romania (57.800)

10. Qiushuang Huang, China (57.707)

11. Sandra Raluca Izbasa, Romania (57.532)

12. Anastasia Grishina, Russia (57.332) *

13. Jessica Lopez, Venezuela (56.665)

14. Elisabeth Seitz, Germany (56.466)

15. Rebecca Tunney, Great Britain (56.391)

16. Ana Sofia Gomez Porras, Guatemala (56.132)

17. Hannah Whelan, Great Britain (55.699)

18. Dominique Pegg, Canada (55.657)

19. Celine van Gerner, Netherlands (55.632)

20. Carlotta Ferlito, Italy (55.500)

21. Jennifer Pinches, Great Britain (55.266) *

22. Jinnan Yao, China (54.798) *

23. Giulia Steingruber, Switzerland (54.715)

24. Emily Little, Australia (54.498)

25. Aurelie Malaussena, France (54.399)

26. Marta Pihan-Kulesza, Poland (54.365)

27. Rie Tanaka, Japan (54.333)

28. Ashleigh Brennan, Australia (54.232)

* Did Not Qualify Due to “Wieber Rule”

Vault – Qualifying Rank. Gymnast, Nation (Score)

1. McKayla Maroney, USA (15.800)

2. Sandra Izbasa, Romania (15.316)

3. Maria Paseka, Russia (15.049)

4. Oksana Chusovitina, Germany (14.808)

5. Yamilet Pena Abreu, Dominican Republic (14.699)

6. Janine Berger, Germany (14.483)

7. Brittany Rogers, Canada (14.483)

8. Elsabeth Black, Canada (14.366)

Uneven Bars – Qualifying Rank. Gymnast, Nation (Score)

1. Elizabeth Tweddle, England (16.133)

2. Kexin He, China (15.966)

3. Viktoria Komova, Russia (15.833)

4. Jinnan Yao, China (15.766)

5. Aliya Mustafina, Russia (15.700)

6. Gabby Douglas, USA (15.333)

7. Qiushuang Huang, China (15.266) *

8. Elisabeth Seitz, Germany (15.166)

9. Koko Tsurumi, Japan (15.033)

* Did Not Qualify Due to “Wieber Rule”

Balance Beam – Qualifying Rank. Gymnast, Nation (Score)

1. Lu Sui, China (15.400)

2. Viktoria Komova, Russia (15.266)

3. Gabby Douglas, USA (15.266)

4. Linlin Deng, China (15.166)

5. Aly Raisman, USA (15.100)

6. Kyla Ross, USA (15.075) *

7. Kseniia Afanaseva, Russia (15.066)

8. Catalina Ponor, Romania (15.033)

9. Anastasia Grishina, Russia (14.900) *

10. Diana Laura Bulimar, Romania (14.866)

* Did Not Qualify Due to “Wieber Rule”

Floor – Qualifying Rank. Gymnast, Nation (Score)

1. Aly Raisman, USA (15.325)

2. Sandra Izbasa, Romania (15.066)

3. Vanessa Ferrari, Italy (14.900)

4. Kseniia Afanaseva, Russia (14.833)

5. Lauren Mitchell, Australia (14.833)

6. Jordyn Wieber, USA (14.666)

7. Catalina Ponor, Romania (14.600)

8. Aliya Mustafina, Russia (14.433)

<p> Jordyn Wieber did not qualify for the women’s gymnastics individual all-around competition at the 2012 London Olympics. But the USA still has Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, while Russia will contend with Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina.</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 20:34
Path: /mlb/2012-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-july-30

Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week for July 30, 2012.

  1. Reds—Everything falling into place in Cincinnati.

 2. Nationals—Will Stephen Strasburg be available down the stretch?

 3. Yankees—Followed a 2-5 West Coast trip by losing two of three to Boston.

 4. Rangers—Need to get Josh Hamilton back on track soon.

 5. Pirates—Playing well, but can’t keep pace with ultra hot Reds.

 6. Dodgers—Sweep at San Francisco has Dodgers and Giants virtually tied.

 7. Braves—Stingy pitching allowed just five runs over last four games.

 8. Angels—Former Angel Fernando Rodney saves Sat. and Sun. games.

 9. Giants—Nothing more painful than getting swept at home by Dodgers.

10. A’s—Green and Gold is red hot in Oakland.

11. Cardinals—Let weekend slip away in Chicago.

12. Tigers—Made huge splash with trades and filled big hole at second.

13. White Sox—Young Sox are not going away.

14. Orioles—Buck Showalter has so much to build on for the future.

15. Rays—With Evan Longoria coming back soon, you never know.

16. Blue Jays—Jays have been within two games of .500 since June 25.

17. Diamondbacks—Arizona has Giants and Dodgers looking over their shoulders.

18. Mariners—11-6 since All-Star break; brighter days ahead.

19. Red Sox—Felix Doubront is latest Red Sox ace.

20. Mets—Wheels are coming off and team is breaking down.

21. Indians—7-2 vs. Tigers this season, but ended weekend two under .500.

22. Marlins—Contenders in the offseason, sellers at the trade deadline.

23. Twins—Winning records vs. Cleveland and Kansas City this season.

24. Padres—3.16 ERA at home, 4.47 on the road.

25. Brewers—Bullpen has been absolutely terrible all season.

26. Phillies—Doesn’t look like a spark will happen.

27. Cubs—Totally different team on the road than at home.

28. Royals—Same sad story of struggle in K.C this summer.

29. Rockies—Won just four of 15 since the break; season getting bleaker.

30. Astros—Tough to find a silver lining right now.



AL Player of the Week

Paul Konerko, Chicago— Teammate Alex Rios led the AL in RBIs and Adam Dunn scored the most runs, but it was Konerko who was the most consistent man in the middle of the lineup for Chicago last week. He batted .435 and drove home seven runs. His power stroke had been missing since a minor wrist injury earlier this month, but he hit three home runs and added a double.


AL Pitcher of the Week

Scott Feldman, Texas—The Rangers have been scuffling terribly of late, but Feldman was terrific in two starts last week. He allowed just one run to the Red Sox last Monday and tossed eight shutout innings in a 2-0 win over the AL Central-leading White Sox Sunday night. Two of the Rangers’ last three wins are courtesy of Feldman, who did not walk a batter and struck out 10 in his two outings.


NL Player of the Week

Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee—The Brewers have not been very good of late, losing nine of their last 10 games. But the bullpen deserves most of the blame, certainly not the offense. Ramirez has done his part. Last week he batted .417 with four doubles and a pair of home runs while nursing a wrist injury that caused him to miss Sunday’s game.


NL Pitcher of the Week

Mike Minor, Atlanta—The young lefthander seems to be coming into his own after several false starts over the past two seasons. He logged 15 innings for the Braves last week without walking a batter. He gave up just 10 hits and whiffed 13. He allowed just two runs against Miami, but lost 2-1 before pitching eight innings and defeating the Phillies, 2-1.

<p> A look at the best and worst baseball teams in the league.</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 18:26
Path: /nascar/johnson-wins-brickyard

It took Jimmie Johnson only 29 laps to steer his No. 48 Chevrolet to the front of the field in Sunday’s Brickyard 400. Once there, he rarely looked back, leading 99 of the final 131 laps to score his fourth Sprint Cup Series win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Johnson, who qualified sixth, also gave Chevrolet its 10th straight win at the famed auto racing venue, while team owner Rick Hendrick scored his eighth win at IMS in NASCAR’s 19 visits.

“I knew (the) second or third lap yesterday on the track that we were going to have an awfully good chance at winning,” Johnson said of Saturday’s first practice session. “That confidence that I had helped us through practice yesterday. There were a couple moments where maybe an adjustment didn’t work and we lost a little pace, but I just had a feeling, and I just knew we were going to be fine.

“We qualified well and then went out there today and put it on them, so ... solid performance.”

Johnson beat Kyle Busch to the line by a race-record 4.758 seconds. Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top 5. Johnson’s only real competition — Denny Hamlin (sixth) and Brad Keselowski (ninth) — led a total of 49 laps but faded late.

Johnson’s third win of the season ties him with Keselowski and Tony Stewart for most on the circuit.

Johnson’s previous three Brickyard wins also coincided with three of his four Cup titles (2006, ’08 and ’09).

“I feel that from a performance standpoint, we’re as strong as we’ve ever been,” Johnson said. “We’ve had issues late in a race that’s cost us track position for a variety of reasons, and that’s the part that we need to make sure is buttoned up before the Chase starts and carry that through the Chase.

“But from a performance standpoint, these are amazing racecars. We’ve made a lot of progress through the off-season and then getting started this year. I feel really good about the Chase — I’m ready for it to start.”

Johnson’s shop mate at Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr., ascended to the top of the Sprint Cup championship standings thanks to a fourth-place showing. Previous points leader, Matt Kenseth, was swept up in a wreck on lap 134 of 160 and finished 35th.

“You can't win the championship until you lead the points,” Earnhardt’s crew chief, Steve Letarte, said. “To lead at any time in the season, especially this late in the season, proves this team is capable of winning a championship.

“We definitely haven’t hit our stride yet. There’s still room for improvement.”

“We need to win more races,” Earnhardt added. “If we want to win the championship, we have to. I imagine we can win a couple races in the Chase. I don't know if finishing fourth or fifth (each week) is going to do it.”

by Matt Taliaferro
NASCAR Editor, Athlon Sports

<p> Jimmie Johnson dominated NASCAR's Brickyard 400, scoring his fourth career Sprint Cup win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 16:05
All taxonomy terms: Jordyn Wieber, Michael Phelps, Olympics
Path: /olympics/heartbreak-early-story-london-olympics

The most poignant image of the London Games thus far: NBC's interviews with U.S. gymnasts Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas while team linchpin and gold medal favorite Jordyn Wieber sobbed in the background, her dream of individual all-around gold shattered. Despite ranking fourth in the all-around standings following the preliminary rounds, Wieber fell victim to the cruel, capricious rule limiting each nation to two candidates for all-around medals.

Gymnastics icon Bela Karolyi voiced his displeasure from the NBC studio. "To eliminate somebody because a teammate beat her," he fumed. "Still among the first four gymnasts in the world, and still you're eliminated?"

Wieber's ability to bounce back from crushing disappointment and lead the U.S. team in its Tuesday night attempt at gold will be one of the compelling storylines of the Olympic fortnight.

Meanwhile, Beijing's golden boy continued his fall from Olympic favor. Michael Phelps suffered his second heartbreaking loss of these Olympics when flavor-of-the-moment Ryan Lochte was unable to hold a lead over France in the 4x100 freestyle, leaving the U.S. with silver. Lochte will have plenty of chances for redemption, but one wonders whether Phelps will end up regretting his decision to return for these Games and possibly tarnish his amazing legacy, even if only slightly.

Ah, heartbreak. It's what make sports so compelling, never more so than at the Olympics.

<p> Gold-Medal Hopefuls Suffer Bitter Disappointment</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 12:55
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-july-30

Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday.

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (7/23-7/29):

  Name Team Pos. R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Carlos Gomez* MIL OF 10 4 10 3 .346 1.264
2. Drew Stubbs* CIN OF 9 3 10 3 .370 1.197
3. Adam Dunn CWS 1B/OF 9 3 8 1 .375 1.256
4. Jose Reyes MIA SS 6 2 5 3 .409 1.344
5. Ike Davis* NYM 1B 6 6 6 0 .276 1.173
6. Anthony Rizzo* CHC 1B 5 3 7 1 .348 1.139
7. Josh Willingham MIN OF 6 4 10 0 .208 1.004
8. Corey Hart MIL 1B/OF 5 2 5 2 .379 1.040
9. Yoenis Cespedes OAK OF 6 1 9 1 .360 1.047
10. Michael Morse WAS 1B/OF 5 3 9 0 .321 1.066
11. Paul Konerko CWS 1B 4 3 7 0 .435 1.310
12. Ryan Braun MIL OF 6 2 5 2 .310 .961
13. Denard Span* MIN OF 8 0 2 2 .458 1.161
14. Shane Victorino PHI OF 6 1 2 3 .400 1.105
15. Adam LaRoche OAK OF 4 2 3 1 .455 1.293
16. Alex Rios CWS OF 6 2 8 1 .250 .894
17. Aramis Ramirez MIL 3B 5 2 6 0 .417 1.256
18. Ryan Ludwick* CIN OF 6 2 5 0 .444 1.444
19. Torii Hunter* LAA OF 6 1 3 1 .385 1.029
20. Hanley Ramirez LAD 3B/SS 5 1 8 1 .320 .953
21. Coco Crisp* OAK OF 6 2 5 1 .304 1.056
22. Chase Utley PHI 2B 5 2 5 2 .250 1.073
23. Ben Revere* MIN OF 4 0 5 3 .364 .872
24. Chris Johnson ARI 3B 4 2 4 0 .458 1.394
25. Miguel Montero ARI C 3 2 5 0 .529 1.608

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Opportunity Knocks

The non-waiver trade deadline is 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday and while the majority of the attention is paid to the "name" players who change uniforms, such as Hanley Ramirez going from Miami to the Dodgers or Ichiro Suzuki moving from Seattle to the Yankees, what shouldn't get overlooked is those players who receive more playing time as a result of said moves. For example, while Ramirez has settled in nicely with the Dodgers (.333, 1 HR, 7 RBI in first five games), the beneficiary of the trade on the Marlin is Donovan Solano. The new Marlins' third baseman, the 24-year-old Salano has been somewhat productive (.282, 6 RBI, 4 SB in 71 at-bats) when given the opportunity and now he should get an extended look at third base with Ramirez elsewhere.

In Suzuki's case, the main beneficiary in Seattle appears to be Michael Saunders, who has been moved into the No. 3 spot in the Mariners' lineup. Saunders was already offering valuable production in both the power (10 HR) and speed categories (15 SB), and now should have more opportunities to drive in more runs. Suzuki's absence also presents an opportunity for someone to seize the starting right field job, whether that be Mike Carp, Carlos Peguero or Trayvon Robinson.

A trade isn't the only avenue to increased playing time as an injury could open the door and allow some unknown the opportunity to make a name for themselves. Look no further than Justin Ruggiano. A bench player for the Marlins at the start of the season, Ruggiano made the most of the playing time he got filling in for injured outfielders Emilio Bonifacio, Logan Morrison and Giancarlo Stanton and has since became a mainstay for manager Ozzie Guillen. As a starter, Ruggiano has posted a respectable .350-7-21 line to go along with eight stolen bases in just 33 games so far. With Stanton still on the disabled list and Morrison going back on it late last week and facing the prospect of season-ending knee surgery, it doesn't look like Ruggiano will be returning to the Marlins' bench anytime soon.

Washington recently lost shortstop Ian Desmond to an oblique injury, which resulted in them moving Danny Espniosa over from second base. Steve Lombardozzi was given the first chance at replacing Espinosa at second and so far he has made the most of his opportunity. The versatile Lombardozzi, who has played second, short, third and left field this season, is hitting .292 in July with one home run, 12 RBIs and three stolen bases. His numbers may not blow you away, but any sort of consistent production from a middle infield spot is worth mentioning, especially in deeper leagues. Keep in mind that besides the aforementioned Desmond, other middle infielders currently on the DL include the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Jed Lowrie, Dee Gordon, Erick Aybar and one of this year's fantasy revelations, Trevor Plouffe.

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Hiroki Kuroda NYY 22.0 2 18 1.23 0.73
2. Ian Kennedy ARI 22.1 3 23 2.42 0.94
3. Paul Maholm* CHC 22.2 2 16 1.19 0.84
4. Jordan Zimmerman WAS 18.0 2 16 1.00 0.78
5. Mike Minor* ATL 21.0 1 20 1.71 0.71
6. David Price TB 14.0 2 17 0.64 0.86
7. Doug Fister* DET 23.0 2 23 1.96 1.00
8. Jeremy Hellickson TB 18.1 2 11 1.96 0.60
9. Blake Beavan* SEA 20.2 3 14 3.05 0.77
10. Edinson Volquez* SD 16.0 1 13 1.13 0.63
11. Mike Fiers* MIL 19.1 1 17 0.47 1.03
12. Matt Moore TB 19.1 2 16 1.86 0.98
13. Scott Feldman* TEX 15.0 2 10 0.60 0.93
14. Jeff Samardzija* CHC 19.0 1 21 1.42 1.05
15. Homer Bailey* CIN 15.0 1 17 0.60 1.00
16. Max Scherzer DET 14.0 2 17 1.93 1.00
17. Adam Wainwright STL 20.1 1 21 2.21 0.93
18. Joe Blanton* PHI 23.0 1 20 2.74 0.83
19. Wei-Yin Chen* BAL 19.1 2 22 2.79 1.09
20. A.J. Griffin* OAK 12.0 2 15 1.50 1.00

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Mon. - Sun.):

1. Homer Bailey, CIN: San Diego (Tues.)
Has posted five straight starts of 6 2/3 innings or more in which he has given up two earned runs or less in each. Since the All-Star break he has gone 2-0 with a 0.78 ERA, 19 strikeouts and seven walks in three starts (23 IP).

2. Mike Fiers, MIL: Houston (Wed.)
Has been a revelation for Brewers since entering starting rotation in late May. Has posted eight quality starts out of 10 total, including seven in a row. Gave up a total of three earned runs and struck out 26 in 26 2/3 innings in July (four starts).

3. Ben Sheets, ATL: Miami (Wed.)
Has given up one earned run (0.50) and posted three consecutive quality starts (18 IP) since joining Braves' rotation on July 15.

4. Doug Fister, DET: Cleveland (Sat.)
After struggling with injuries in the first half, right-hander has been at his best since the All-Star break. He has posted four consecutive quality starts, going 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA, 31 strikeouts and just five walks during that span. Only loss during this stretch was last Tuesday when he surrendered three runs on nine hits in seven innings in a 3-2 loss at Cleveland.

5. Tommy Milone, OAK: Tampa Bay (Tues.), Toronto (Sun.)
Has gone 5-1 with a 0.91 ERA (6 ER in 59 2/3 IP) in eight home starts. Also gets another shot at Blue Jays, who roughed him up for six runs (5 ER) on eight hits, including two home runs, in seven innings in his last start.

Other Pitchers to Watch

Oakland's A.J. Griffin and Boston's Clay Buchholz are each scheduled for two starts this week. The rookie Griffin (TB, Mon.; TOR, Sat.) has put together six quality starts witn a 2.25 ERA and 0.97 WHIP since joining the starting rotation in late June. Buchholz (DET, Mon.; MIN, Sat.) has posted consecutive solid outings in which he's given up a combined two earned runs in 15 innnings. Everyone will be watching Mets' rookie Matt Harvey on Tuesday in San Francisco after the right-hander set a franchise record with 11 strikeouts in his first major league start last Thursday. Harvey shut out the Diamondbacks on just three hits over 5 1/3 innings, walking just three, and will make his second career start in pitcher-friendly AT&T Park. A pair of lefties also have been doing good work lately as Atlanta's Mike Minor (MIA, Thurs.) has given up just six earned runs over his 27 1/3 innings and is coming off of a gem (8 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K) against Philadelphia, while Washington's Ross Detwiler, who had posted a 2.35 ERA in his previous five starts before getting roughed up (4 ER in 4 2/3 IP) by the Brewerst last time out, will look to rebound against those same Phillies, who are hitting just. 232 as a team against southpaws.

Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of last month:

1. Aroldis Chapman CIN 13.1 0 12 30 0 0.00 0.60
2. Craig Kimbrel ATL 11.0 0 8 19 0 0.82 0.27
3. Huston Street SD 10.2 1 6 15 0 0.00 0.47
4. Jason Motte STL 10.1 1 7 13 0 0.00 0.68
5. Rafael Soriano NYY 13.1 0 9 17 0 2.03 0.83
6. Joel Hanrahan PIT 11.1 1 11 12 0 2.38 1.15
7. Kenley Jansen LAD 13.1 0 8 18 0 0.68 0.98
8. Fernando Rodney TB 12.0 0 8 11 0 0.00 0.83
9. David Phelps* NYY 11.2 1 0 20 0 0.77 0.51
10. Carlos Torres* COL 12.0 1 0 12 0 0.00 0.42
11. Tom Wilhelmsen* SEA 14.2 0 8 16 0 1.84 1.23
12. Jerry Blevins* OAK 10.0 3 0 12 3 1.80 0.80
13. Alfredo Aceves BOS 15.1 2 4 8 0 1.76 1.11
14. Steve Cishek* MIA 11.1 0 3 11 4 0.00 0.71
15. Kevin Jepsen* LAA 9.1 1 1 9 4 0.00 0.54
16. Ryan Cook* OAK 8.2 2 4 7 0 3.12 0.92
17. Casey Janssen* TOR 9.0 0 4 10 0 1.00 0.67
18. Vinnie Pestano* CLE 13.0 0 0 17 11 0.00 0.77
19. J.J. Putz ARI 8.0 0 5 8 0 0.00 0.88
20. Fernando Salas* STL 12.2 1 0 13 1 0.71 0.79

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Keep up to date all season long with Athlon Sports' Fantasy Baseball Closer Grid

- by Braden Gall


<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: July 30</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 12:30
All taxonomy terms: News, Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-whats-tap-july-30

Okay, NBC. We'll play along. All during the Olympics, we'll be presenting a rundown of the essential, can't-miss events — according to when they'll be broadcast on NBC. (We don't sanction watching the Olympics at work, but there are streaming options for those who choose to do so.)

Today's Fab Five, with broadcast times (all times Eastern):

1. Women's Volleyball - USA vs. Brazil, 11:30 am
No, this isn't the beach version, so no bikinis. But still worth watching.

2. Women's Basketball - USA vs. Angola, 5:15 pm
There's no Charles Barkley on hand to deliver forearm shivers to defenseless Angolans, but the US will still be heavy favorites. Expect Geno Auriemma to have scared this team straight after some opening jitters vs. Croatia.

3. Men's 200m Freestyle Finals, 8 pm
The ongoing Ryan Lochte-Michael Phelps subplot to these Games takes a breather — the event is Phelps-free — but the field is loaded as Lochte goes for gold.

4. Men's Gymnastics Team Finals, 8 pm
Led by 2008 individual silver medalist Jonathon Horton, the U.S. men are gunning for their first team gold medal since the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

5. Women's 100m Backstroke, 8 pm
Missy "The Missile" Franklin will attempt to back up the hype in this eagerly anticipated event, which is likely Franklin's best shot at gold.


See more 2012 Olympics coverage.

<p> Today's biggest events to watch at London 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 11:16
All taxonomy terms: Gabrielle Douglas, News, Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympics-photo-day-us-gymnast-gabrielle-douglas

London Olympics 2012 Photo of the Day

American gymnast Gabrielle Douglas eyes perfection on the uneven bars during the team portion of the women's gymnastics competition. Her stellar performance ultimately earned her a spot on the gymnastics all-around for Team USA. 

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.

<p> Athlon Presents the Most Striking Images from London 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 10:49
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-awards-best-lockdown-cornerbacks

Darrelle Revis was a superstar do-everything athlete at Pitt. He was an electric punt returner and team leader. But what got him paid in the NFL is his ability to smother the opposition's best receiving weapon.

A truly great lockdown corner can completely change the complexion of a defensive scheme. Safeties only need to worry about half of the field. Linebackers play with more freedom. And quarterbacks have less fewer options. The bottom line, a pure coverman not only negates one of the top offensive playmakers for the other team, but he opens up the rest of his defense to make things happen. 

Here are college football's best pure lockdown cover corners in 2012:

1. David Amerson, NC State (JR)
Few corners have the 6-foot-3, 194-pound frame that Amerson brings to the outside. His range and size allowed him to shatter an NC State single-season record for interceptions last fall. In fact, his 13 picks also set an ACC single-season record. He claimed the Jack Tatum Award and was a finalist for the Thorpe Award as well as landing on multiple first-team All-Amercan squads. He is projected by many as the top defensive back for the 2013 NFL Draft. The Greensboro, N.C. product has never missed a game in his 26-game career and is the nation's best — and fans can bet quarterbacks will stay away Amerson Island in 2012.

2. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State (SR)
From Maben, Miss., Banks enters his final season as a preseason first-team All-American. He is one of the best tacklers at his position in the nation, as his 71 stops a year ago indicate. Banks also plays in the opposition's backfield with 8.0 tackles for a loss and 3.0 sacks a year ago. Like Amerson, his size, and physical style of play, is what makes him special at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds. And like Amerson, has been tabbed by prognosticators as a first-round NFL talent. He led the Dawgs with five interceptions a year ago, bringing his career total to 12, and also returned 16 punts (166 yards). His three INT TD returns are tied for the NCAA's active career lead — two shy of the NCAA mark.

3. Nickell Robey, USC (JR)
In only two seasons at USC, Robey has quickly established himself as one of the nation's best. He has six career picks and has returned at least one for a touchdown in each of his two seasons. The track star from Frostproof, Fla., also returns punts and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors a year ago. He enters his third year with 111 career tackles and hasn't missed a start (24 games). He is a preseason second-team All-American this fall.

4. Quandre Diggs, Texas (SO)
As only a true freshman, the younger brother of former Longhorn star corner and NFL defensive back Quentin Jammer earned 11 starts in 2011. He posted 51 total tackles, four interceptions and averaged 19.5 yards per kick return en route to freshman All-American honors. At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, Diggs had size, the pedigree and the production needed to be a star for the next two seasons before moving onto Sundays. Diggs turned heads the second he stepped onto campus and could be a national star before 2012 is over.

5. Carrington Byndom, Texas (JR)
While Diggs may have more upside and raw talent, a case could be made that the 6-foot-0, 180-pound Byndom is the top shutdown corner in the Big 12. The Lufkin, Texas prospect earned first-team All-Big 12 honors after 58 total tackles, 8.0 tackles for a loss and two picks. It will be interesting to see how Manny Diaz deploys his two elite covermen in 2012. 

6. Johnny Adams, Michigan State (SR)
The veteran of this list, the fifth-year senior enters his third season as the top coverman for Michigan State. The Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart named him the top defensive back in the Big Ten and the league's "Best Cover Corner" for 2012. From Akron, Ohio, the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder has a knack for making big plays (3.0 sacks, three INTs for 141 yards) and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last fall.

7. Jordan Poyer, Oregon State (SR)
The big-play corner from Astoria, Ore., has proven to be one of the nation's best without much acclaim. He has scored three times in his career, twice on interception returns and once on a punt return. At 6-foot-0 and 190 pounds, Poyer has is beginning to get plenty of NFL draft buzz. His 16 total passes defensed (4 INT, 12 PBU) placed him eighth nationally. His special teams skills are amongst the nation's best as well — he ranked second on the team in all-purpose yards in 2010 and 2011.

8. Bradley Roby, Ohio State (SO)
Like Diggs, Roby has elite level upside. From Suwanee, Ga., the 5-foot-11, 190-pound corner played in all 13 games as a freshman, registering 47 total tackles and three interceptions last year. The Buckeye coaching staff is touting Roby as the most talented player in the defensive backfield and his emergence as a lockdown corner has allowed names like C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant to make big plays. 

9. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (JR)
The most noticeable attribute NFL scouts first mention with the Miami, Fla., prospect is his superior size. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, few players possess the speed, agility and quickness needed to play true cornerback. At first, Rhodes was overshadowed by the more hyped Greg Reid, but opposing quarterbacks learned quickly that throwing at No. 27 was much more difficult.

10. Dee Milliner, Alabama (JR)
NFL scouts drool when they watch Milliner on film. His 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame is a rarity at his position and with another great year could easily himself in the first round of the draft next spring. He made six starts last year on what many believe is the greatest modern defense ever assembled. He led the national champions in interceptions with three, including one in which he returned one for a touchdown.

The Best of the Rest:

11. Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State (SR)
Preseason third-team All-American, Brown lacks the NFL upside to land in the top 10.

12. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (JR)
Makes his biggest impact on special teams. His size hinders his ability to lockdown bigger wideouts.

13. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (JR)
Could be the best player on the ACC's best defense after All-ACC sophomore season.

14. Logan Ryan, Rutgers (JR)
Big East's top coverman posted 67 tackles and three interceptions on the league's best defense last fall.

15. Ricardo Allen, Purdue (JR)
Has started all 25 games in his career and led the team with three interceptions last year.

16. Nigel Malone, Kansas State (SR)
A junior college transfer, Malone made a instant impact in his first year with seven interceptions in 2011.

17. Micah Hyde, Iowa (SR)
Versatile prospect has played multiple positions and earned All-Big Ten honors last year.

18. Greg Reid, Florida State (SR)
Undersized return man is very similar in skillset to that of Mathieu. Including, minor off the field issues.

19. Desmond Trufant, Washington (SR)
Younger brother of Marcus, Desmond has started the every game (26) over last two seasons.

20. Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma (SR)
Rebuilt Sooners coaching staff will allow veteran DB to achieve up to his potential in 2012.

- by Braden Gall


2012 College Football Awards:

Top 25 Heisman Candidates

The Nation's Top Pure Lockdown Cover Corners

<p> 2012 College Football Awards: Best Lockdown Cornerbacks</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC South, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL
Path: /nfl/tampa-bay-buccaneers-2012-nfl-team-preview

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers check in at No. 25.

The mutiny that nearly occurred last season when the Buccaneers lost their final 10 games resulted in a 26-day head coaching search and the hiring of Rutgers boss Greg Schiano, who definitely runs a tight ship.

In the first voluntary veteran minicamp, Schiano barked orders at his new players during the first series of drills. “Football is a game of details,” Schiano shouted. “Toes on the edge!”

How well the Bucs toe the line under Schiano will determine whether he can avoid becoming just another college head coach who struggles making the transition to the NFL. To that end, he hired Butch Davis as special assistant to the head coach. Davis, the former North Carolina and University of Miami head coach, knows the trap doors to avoid, having coached the Cleveland Browns from 2001-04.

“I think a lot is made about college coaches that haven’t done well,” Schiano says. “But if you look at it, there are a lot of coaches who haven’t done well. It’s a pretty high turnover rate in this business. Throw the pro coaches in there as well.”

The changes didn’t stop with the coaching staff. The Bucs committed $140.5 million in free agent contracts, adding players such as Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson and Saints guard Carl Nicks. The draft netted three more projected starters. Now Schiano needs to get them all rowing in the same direction.


Quarterback Josh Freeman has re-dedicated himself this offseason, losing 15-20 pounds. Along with the shrinking waistline, Freeman hopes to reduce the number of interceptions he threw last season — 22, with only 16 touchdowns.

Freeman will have new weapons and a new voice in his helmet. Former New York Giants quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan, who did a pretty good job with Eli Manning, takes over as the Bucs’ offensive coordinator. Both Sullivan and Schiano are proponents of a ground-and-pound offensive attack that sets up big plays on play-action.

The Bucs added some weapons that should make Freeman’s job a little easier. Jackson, who signed a five-year, $55.555-million deal (the fives are a nod to Freeman’s jersey number), will help stretch the field and give the Bucs a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Mike Williams, who was among the league leaders with seven dropped passes a year ago and saw his TDs fall from 11 to three, should thrive with the defense rolling coverage toward Jackson. The Bucs parted ways with tight end Kellen Winslow for a seventh-round pick in 2013. Dallas Cark, who missed 15 games in his final two years with the Colts, is the new starter.

Schiano prefers a ‘bell cow’ running back who can play all three downs. That’s why the Bucs traded back up in the first round to take Boise State running back Doug Martin 31st overall. The 5'9", 223-pounder is a good route-runner, can pass-protect and should emerge as a starter. LeGarrette Blount, who has been mostly a one-dimensional, inside runner, will still have a big role with the offense. But he has to eliminate turnovers, having fumbled nine times in two seasons, losing six.

Nicks is a road-grader who will team inside with another Pro Bowl guard, Davin Joseph. Jeremy Zuttah moves from center to guard.

Freeman improved in some areas last season, posting career highs in completions (346), completion percentage (62.8) and passing yards (3,592). But he admits he made bad decisions with the football. “Really, it was just pressing too hard,” Freeman says. “Sometimes you just try to force things.” Remember, Freeman is only a year removed from leading a much less talented offense to a 10–6 record with 25 TDs and only six INTs.

Related: Top Tampa Bay Buccaneers Twitter Accounts to Follow


Under fired coach Raheem Morris, who doubled as defensive coordinator, the Bucs allowed a franchise-worst 494 points, ranked last in rush defense and allowed 30 touchdown passes. The collapse after a 4–2 start can partially be explained by injuries. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the No. 3 overall pick in 2010, has played a total of 19 games in two seasons while producing four sacks. He tore his right biceps last season (after tearing the left biceps a year earlier) after six games and finished the season on injured reserve.

Rookie defensive end Adrian Clayborn led the Bucs with 7.5 sacks, but his draft classmate, end Da’Quan Bowers, tore his Achilles tendon in May. He could be lost for the season.

Among the Bucs’ worst decisions was to go with rookie Mason Foster at middle linebacker, coming off the NFL lockout without the benefit of an offseason. Tampa Bay wasn’t much better in the secondary.

Obviously, an overhaul was in order. Schiano hired Dolphins linebackers coach Bill Sheridan as defensive coordinator. Sheridan’s first shot at that job, as the Giants defensive coordinator in 2009, was a mess. The Giants gave up the second-most points in club history.

The Bucs have added talent. They traded down two spots to take Alabama safety Mark Barron with the seventh overall pick in the draft. In the second round, they netted Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David, who should start at weak-side linebacker.

The Bucs signed Lions free agent cornerback Eric Wright and coaxed 37-year-old Ronde Barber to return for a 16th season. Barber may be ticketed for a position change at free safety.


The Bucs can play the field position game with the best. Michael Koenen averaged 45.1 yards per punt and pinned 24 inside the 20-yard line (35.8 percent). He also is among the league’s best on kickoffs.

Placekicker Connor Barth set club records by connecting on 26-of-28 field goal attempts (92.9 percent), with half coming from 40-49 yards. No wonder the Bucs made Barth their franchise player, although he is hoping for a long-term contract and has not signed the tender.

The Bucs’ return game could be much better. Sammie Stroughter averaged 27 yards on kickoff returns while Preston Parker averaged 9.1 yards per punt return. The Bucs failed to produce a special teams touchdown.

Final Analysis: 4th in the NFC South

The Bucs were the youngest team in the NFL the past two seasons and needed discipline and direction. They will get that from Schiano and his staff. More important, the Glazer family decided to re-invest in their product, as witnessed by the large free agent spending spree. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay plays NFC East teams in three of their first four games, so a fast start will be needed. But if Freeman can return to his 2010 form, and the defense rises to the middle of the pack, a .500 or better record is not out of the question.

Related: 2012 Tampa Bay Bucs Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Grand Signing
Eric LeGrand watched the NFL Draft from his motorized wheelchair at his home in New Jersey. The former Rutgers defensive tackle, paralyzed trying to make a stop on special teams against Army in 2010, was excited to see his Scarlet Knights teammate, receiver Mohamed Sanu, selected in the third round by the Cincinnati Bengals. “This was his class; he would’ve been in this draft,” said his mother, Karen LeGrand. “He watched the draft. He didn’t let it get to him. But he said to me at one time, ‘That could’ve been me.’” More than 1,100 miles away to the south, Bucs coach Greg Schiano was thinking the same thing. That’s why the former Rutgers coach telephoned LeGrand and offered him a contract with the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent. “This small gesture is the least we could do to recognize his character, spirit, and perseverance,’’ Schiano said in a release by the team. LeGrand announced his retirement on July 26 at the start of Tamapa Bay's training camp.

If You Can’t Beat ’em…
The Bucs spend thousands on their scouting department, scouring the nation in a search for talent. But this year, they found two of their draft picks in the same apartment. West Virginia linebacker Najee Goode and cornerback Keith Tandy, who are roommates in Morgantown, were the fifth- and sixth-round picks of the Bucs, respectively. Schiano never beat the Mountaineers in 11 seasons at Rutgers. “Obviously, I know a lot about both the West Virginia kids playing against them for four years,” Schiano says. “They were both a royal pain in the rear.”

Slippery Fingers
Running back LeGarrette Blount will have a hard time holding onto his starting job, especially if he doesn’t get a handle on the football. Blount has fumbled nine times, losing six in his two pro seasons, something Schiano won’t tolerate. “No one who touches the football will get touches if they don’t protect the football,” Schiano says. “That is one of our core covenants — the ball. It’s so important, they named the game after it.” 

Cheap Shots
Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman says he wasn’t surprised to learn about the NFL’s investigation into the Saints’ bounty system administered by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in which players were paid for hits that forced opponents off the field or out of the game, along with fumble recoveries and interceptions. “We just knew every time we played the Saints, they were going to take some cheap shots,” Freeman says. “I mean, it was always something we acknowledged. We knew Gregg Williams’ defenses were physical and they were going to get after you. Knowing what we know now, it’s not surprising that was the system that was set up for them.”

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Tues., July 31

Order your 2012 Tampa Bay Bucs Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Tampa Bay Bucs Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Tampa Bay Bucs Schedule Analysis

<p> Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 07:35
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC South, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL
Path: /nfl/tampa-bay-buccaneers-top-twitter-accounts-follow

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Tampa Bay Bucs official twitter account:

@TBBuccaneers (Followers: 71,675)

Top Bucs To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 30, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Arrelious Benn WR @ArreliousBenn 34,460
2. Gerald McCoy DT @Geraldini93 29,751
3. Ahmad Black S @AhmadBlack35 28,388
4. Vincent Jackson WR @VincentTJackson 25,048
5. Adrian Clayborn DE @AJaClay 23,632
6. Lavonte David LB @Braska_4 13,846
7. Amobi Okoye DT @AO_Fasho 7,564
8. Davin Joseph OL @DavinJoseph75 6,690
9. Doug Martin RB @DougMartin22 6,614
10. Preston Parker WR @PrestonParker87 6,577
11. Keith Tandy DB @kytandy 3,540
12. Jeremy Trueblood OL @JeremyTRUEblood 2,891
13. Najee Goode LB @All_Goode 2,735
14. Dan Orlovsky QB @DanOrlovsky7 929
15. Drake Dunsmore TE @D_Duns9 576

Keep up with the New Sombrero, Raymond James Stadium, @RJStadium (1,904)

The Buccaneers Beat:

Rick Stroud, Writer for Tampa Bay Times: @NFLSTROUD (8,037)

Stephen Holder, Writer for Tampa Bay Times: @HolderStephen (5,122)

Ira Kaufman, Tampa Tribune, also covers Bucs: @IKaufmanTrib (4,752)

Jenna Laine, Sports Xchange/Reuters: @JennaLaineBucs (3,043)

Roy Cummings, Tampa Tribune: @RCummingsTrib (2,306)

Buccaneers Blog Roll:

The Tampa Bay Times has its own beat blog here, the Lakeland Ledger's beat here and SB Nation's blog at has a large following @PewterReport (7,404).

Follow the cleverly named What the Buc? blog, home of passionate, honest and direct fan-based Tampa Bay Buccaneers coverage.

There are plenty of of Bucs blogs to track: as well as the @BucsBuzztap account as well.

The ESPN NFC South blog is run by Pat Yasinskas and you can follow him @ESPN_NFCSouth

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Tues., July 31

Order your 2012 Tampa Bay Bucs Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

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- by Braden Gall and Mark Ross


<p> Tampa Bay Buccaneers Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 07:30
Path: /college-football/big-easts-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The Big East's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Will this finally be the year USF’s quarterback gets some help?
Since 2006, the Bulls’ offense has rested almost solely on the shoulders of dual-threat quarterbacks B.J. Daniels and Matt Grothe. The Bulls haven’t had a 1,000-yard running back since 2005 and has never had a 1,000-yard receiver. Darrell Scott’s 814 rushing yards was a step in the right direction last season in taking some of the weight off Daniels, who quietly had the best season of his career in 2011. Scott left early for the NFL Draft, so USF is back to looking for a second playmaker on offense. Demetris Murray is back after rushing for 1,036 yards the last two seasons, and Lindsey Lamar has bulked up to try to translate his dynamic special teams ability to running back. The biggest room for improvement, however, could be at wide receiver. Sterling Griffin missed four games with a broken foot, but he still led the Bulls with 530 receiving yards and 43 catches.

2. Is Pittsburgh’s Ray Graham 100 percent?
Before suffering a torn ACL in the 35-20 win over Connecticut, Graham was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season and was one of the top running backs in the nation. Without him in the lineup, the Panthers managed to score over 25 points only once over the last five games. New coach Paul Chryst developed some of the top rushing attacks in the nation at Wisconsin and should continue that trend at Pittsburgh, provided the offensive line improves in 2012. Graham did not participate in spring practice, allowing sophomore Isaac Bennett to impress the coaching staff. The competition will only increase in the fall with the arrival of top recruit Rushel Shell. All signs point to Graham returning for fall camp, but with Bennett and Shell capable options, Chryst and coordinator Joe Rudolph can afford to bring him along slowly. Even if Graham is limited early in the year, expect the senior to rank among the Big East leaders in rushing yards.

3. Can Kyle Flood Keep Rutgers On Track for a Big East Title?
Losing Greg Schiano to the NFL was a huge blow to a program that emerged as a consistent bowl team in the Big East. Rutgers went 12-43 in the five years prior to his arrival, but Schiano led the Scarlet Knights to five seasons of at least eight victories in the last six years. New coach Kyle Flood has been with Rutgers since 2006, so he’s certainly familiar with the ins and outs of the program. However, there’s no guarantee this will be a smooth coaching transition. Flood has no head coaching experience and also has a handful of new assistants. Rutgers finished 2011 by winning four out of its last five games and is picked by most to finish in the top four of the conference. If Flood can build off what Schiano started, the Scarlet Knights have a chance to win the Big East title in 2012. However, there’s plenty of skepticism surrounding the program, especially with a first-year coach and a team with quarterback question marks. It’s important for Flood to put his stamp on the program this fall and keep Rutgers in the mix for a Big East title.

4. Can Cincinnati continue its momentum on defense despite a change in leadership?
A year after Cincinnati finished seventh in the Big East in total defense and eighth in scoring defense, the Bearcats were in the top-10 nationally in rush defense, sacks and tackles for a loss in 2011. Meanwhile, the Bearcats improved from 14 takeaways, a Big East-low, to 33 takeaways in 2012. Illinois gobbled up co-defensive coordinator Tim Banks, leaving John Jancek in charge. Jancek won’t have defensive stalwarts like JK Schaffer and Derek Wolfe, so senior pass rushers Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano and an experienced secondary will need to be the foundation of the D. Depth is a bit of a question, and the defense will have less of a margin of error with the offense rebuilding around a new quarterback.

5. How will Teddy Bridgewater play out the entire season as Louisville’s starting quarterback?
The sophomore quarterback from Miami is so symbolic of Louisville’s future, it’s easy to forget he didn’t make his first start until the fourth game of the season and then lost his first three starts to Marshall, North Carolina and Cincinnati. Through the final six games of the regular season, Bridgewater led the Cards to a 5-1 finish, completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 1,146 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions during that span. That all unraveled in the bowl loss to NC State when Bridgwater threw three interceptions and took five sacks. Leading the Big East favorites means Bridgewater -- plus his sophomore receivers DeVante Parker, Michaelee Harris and Eli Rogers -- will need to take the next step to be a consistent, conference championship-caliber performer.

6. Was last season a hiccup in the rebuilding process at Syracuse or a return to the bad old days?
The optimism around Doug Marrone’s first two seasons is a little more cautious. A year after Syracuse found its way back to a bowl game in 2010, the Orange slid back into its losing ways, going 5-7 in 2011 with a five-game losing streak to end the season.  The question is if Syracuse will pick up where it left off at the end of 2011 or if that was minor speed bump on the way back to respectability. Syracuse still has a talent gap with the top of its conference and especially against non-conference opponents USC and Missouri. But last season included some bad luck including injuries to key players and suspensions. It’s been a quieter offseason for Marrone, so the Orange should be more focused on improving a defense that ranked last in the Big East and an offense that ranked 90th nationally.

7. How Will Montel Harris Fit in at Temple?
If he’s healthy, Harris will be a huge addition to Temple’s offense. Bernard Pierce was the Owls’ workhorse over the last three seasons, accumulating 663 carries and 3,570 yards. His decision to enter the NFL Draft was a setback to the offense, as expected starter Matt Brown lacks ideal size to be an every down back. However, Harris should be a perfect complement rusher. He is the NCAA’s active career rushing leader with 3,735 yards on 787 carries in 40 games with Boston College. Harris has battled knee issues since late in the 2010 season and was dismissed from the Eagles after spring practice. If healthy, the senior should finish near the top of the Big East in rushing. Temple isn’t the most prolific passing team, so Harris and Brown will have to carry the offense. However, the lack of a proven passing attack and offensive line question marks could prevent the Owls from matching last season’s 30.6 points a game average.

8. Who Will Win the Quarterback Battles at Cincinnati, Connecticut and Rutgers?
Cincinnati, Connecticut and Rutgers each finished spring practice with an uncertain situation under center. The Bearcats are leaning with junior Munchie Legaux, but senior Brendon Kay is pushing for time. Legaux started the final three regular season games in relief of Zach Collaros and finished with 749 passing yards and five touchdowns. However, Legaux’s 47.4 completion percentage shows he still needs a lot of work as a passer. Connecticut’s passing offense was the worst in the Big East last season and desperately needs a jumpstart in 2012. Junior college recruit Chandler Whitmer had an impressive showing in the spring game and is expected to edge Johnny McEntee for the No. 1 spot. Although Whitmer should upgrade the passing attack, he has no experience on the FBS level. Rutgers should be the best team out of this trio and returns two experienced quarterbacks: Chas Dodd and Gary Nova. Dodd started more games last year (eight), but Nova threw for more touchdowns (11). Both quarterbacks could see time in 2012, but Nova should have the inside track at the No. 1 spot. 

9. Who’s in and who’s out on the Connecticut defense?
Connecticut has talent on defense. We feel safe in saying that (Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012). However, we have some questions about the Huskies’ personnel on D. First, what kind of improvement can the Connecticut pass defense expect from a healthy Blidi Wreh-Wilson, one of the Big East’s best cornerbacks? With Wreh-Wilson out for part of last season last season, three opponents passed for at least 430 yards agains the Huskies (Western Michigan, West Virginia and Pittsburgh). The pass defense -- which includes three returning starters in the secondary plus Wreh-Wilson -- should be better, but now Connecticut might be more worried about the rush defense. First-team defensive tackle Kendall Reyes is gone, as is fellow starter Twyon Martin. Veterans Shamar Stephen, an eight-game starter in 2010, and Ryan Wirth will try to anchor a front seven that ranked fourth nationally against the run.

10. Can Pittsburgh’s Offensive Line and Tino Sunseri jell in 2012?
After allowing 64 sacks last season, Pittsburgh’s offensive line can only get better. It’s unfair to blame just the line, as quarterback Tino Sunseri often held the ball too long, and former coach Todd Graham’s high-octane offense was a bad fit with the personnel. New coach Paul Chryst was one of the nation’s top offensive coordinators during his time with Wisconsin and should bring immediate improvement to this unit in 2012. The line returns three starters and should get a boost with the return of guard Chris Jacobson from injury. Sunseri should benefit the most from Chryst’s arrival, and there’s no shortage of playmakers around him with Devin Street, Mike Shanahan and tight end Hubie Graham returning. The Panthers should have a strong rushing attack, but contending for a Big East title will depend heavily on how quick the line and Sunseri can pickup the new scheme and improve from last year. Fall practice will be critical for Chryst, as he looks to find the right mix in 2012.

by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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<p> Big East's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 06:19
Path: /college-basketball/ranking-nations-top-college-basketball-coaches

Through the last two weeks, Athlon Sports ranked each coach in the ACC, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC along with the top 20 coaches from outside those seven conferences.


The rankings presented a difficult task. The job of a college coach is multi-faceted. The best coaches in college basketball excel in a handful of areas -- recruiting, talent development, teaching and preparation, game-day tactics and motivation. The best coaches tend to be well-rounded, able to do handle all with equal skill. 


Those were the factors we weighed in our conference-by-conference rankings, and that continues in our national rankings. We also examined each coach’s success in the regular season and the postseason. In many cases, we took into account what the coach has done with his current program in addition to previous stops in his career.


In addition to a coach’s track record, we asked ourselves: Which coaches would their peers prefer not to face.  We’re also keeping an eye on the future. In short, can we expect these coaches to continue to produce similar or better results over the next five seasons or so?


All those factors led us to name Michigan State’s Tom Izzo the top coach in the country, as the best mix of all the aforementioned characteristics of a college basketball coach -- sustained success during the regular season against a high level of competition, advancing in the NCAA Tournament, recruiting players to fit his system, ability to teach and develop his roster.


Izzo does not struggle to find talented players to play in East Lansing, but he rarely grabs the elite NBA-ready talent that goes to Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas or even Ohio State in his own conference. Just look at the rate of Spartans leaving early to the Draft, listed below. Despite this strategy, Michigan State often puts up equal or better results compared to programs churning through NBA lottery picks on a yearly basis


It’s a tough call to rank the best of the best, but here’s our best attempt:


Note: Coaches are ranked on a mix of past accomplishments with consideration for career trajectory over the next five seasons or so. Rankings take Xs and Os acumen and recruiting prowess into account along with success in the regular season and postseason.


1. Tom Izzo, Michigan State

Overall record: 412-169 (37-14 in the NCAA Tournament) 

Record at Michigan State: 412-169 (196-90 in the Big Ten)

Although the NBA has been interested in Izzo, it’s tough to imagine him coaching anywhere else. Izzo has his system at Michigan State down to a science. While we can’t say Michigan State overachieves -- the Spartans get their share of McDonald’s All-Americans and sends players to the NBA -- Izzo has a way of getting the most from his players. Only two Spartans have declared early for the NBA Draft in the last decade and none since 2006. Michigan State has continued a run of 15 consecutive NCAA Tournaments despite producing only one lottery pick since 2001 and no first round picks since 2006. Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams are the only active coaches with more trips to the Final Four than Izzo’s six.


2. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke

Overall record: 927-291 (79-24 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Duke: 854-232 (336-149 ACC)

In 2011-12, Krzyzewski continued to add to his long list of achievements, surpassing mentor Bob Knight’s record of 902 Division I wins. The 65-year-old remains one of the game’s elite coaches despite changing times: He is 152-30 over the last five seasons, including 63-17 in the ACC. In the NCAA Tournament, he’s proven he can still win titles, as Duke did in 2010. Meanwhile, he continues to be the coach a handful of fans like to watch lose, as Duke did to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the 2012 Tournament. As always, Krzyzewski will continue to win his share of games. He remains in striking distance of the men’s collegiate wins record, held by Philadelphia University’s Herb Magee (941 wins and counting) and the all-time collegiate record, held by Tennessee’s Pat Summitt (1,098).


3. John Calipari, Kentucky

Overall record: 547-154 (38-13 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Kentucky: 102-14 (40-8 SEC)

Kentucky and John Calipari was the perfect marriage even before the 2012 national championship. Before then, the question was if Calipari would win a title at Kentucky with cycling through a roster of one-and-done players. With a team featuring six NBA draft picks, including the top two selections, Calipari answered. Now, the question seems to be how many titles Calipari could win at Kentucky -- provided he doesn’t dip is toe into the NBA again. Senior Night may be a bygone tradition for Calipari teams, but he’s suffered minimal drop-off from year to year. His 173 wins over the last five seasons at Kentucky and Memphis are more than any other coach in the country. Kansas’ Bill Self is No. 2 at 154.


4. Bill Self, Kansas

Overall record: 476-158 (33-13 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Kansas: 269-53 (124-24 Big 12)

Great players come and go in Lawrence, but Self is leading one of the most consistent winners in the country. Thomas Robinson replaces the Morris twins, the Morris twins replaced Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, Collins and Aldrich replaced Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers. Despite the turnover, Kansas has won a share of the Big 12 in eight consecutive seasons, four consecutive outright titles and five of the last seven Big 12 Tournament titles. Self once had the stigma of losing early in March, but Kansas is 17-4 in the NCAA Tournament, including the 2008 title, in the last five seasons.


5. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

Overall record: 890-304 (48-28 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Syracuse: 890-304 (355-185 Big East)

At the start of the 2011-12 season, Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski were the only coaches with 900 Division I wins. Boeheim should join them early in 2012-13. Like Krzyzewski, Boeheim is winning at as good a rate as he did earlier in his career. Syracuse’s 34 wins last season was a record for Boeheim, topping 31 wins in 1986-87. The Orange’s 17-1 mark in the Big East was also his career best. Meanwhile, Syracuse has reached the Sweet 16 or better in three of the last four NCAA Tournaments. Still, Boeheim is seven seasons removed from his last Big East Tournament title and a decade removed since his last Final Four (and national championship). Even with Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters, Fab Melo and Scoop Jardine gone, Boeheim has plenty of talent on the roster in his final season the Big East, the only conference in which he’s coached.


6. Rick Pitino, Louisville

Overall record: 627-230 (42-16 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Louisville: 275-106 (81-41 Big East)

Similar to the other active Hall of Fame coaches, Pitino keeps winning and keeps adding to his list of accomplishments. He and rival John Calipari remain the only coaches to take three teams to the Final Four. Last season, he joined Roy Williams as the only coaches to take two teams to multiple Final Fours. He’s accomplished this at Louisville without a consensus All-American in his tenure (he had three at Kentucky). Of course, there’s plenty of talent at Louisville. The 2012-13 season won’t be an exception as the Cardinals are likely to start the season in the top five.


7. Roy Williams, North Carolina

Overall record: 675-169 (61-20 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at North Carolina: 257-68 (105-39 ACC)

Tobacco Road rival Krzyzewski has the overall series lead (15-11 and 12-10 since Williams landed in Chapel Hill), but Williams claimed four the last five outright ACC titles. Already an elite coach at Kansas from 1988-2003, Williams became a champion when he returned to North Carolina by winning the 2005 and 2009 titles. Williams-coached teams have missed the NCAA Tournament only twice in his career, his first year at Kansas and 2010 at North Carolina when the bulk of his title-winning roster went to the NBA. After back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, Williams again must restock after losing Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and John Henson to the NBA.


8. Billy Donovan, Florida

Overall record: 421-178 (28-10 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Florida: 386-158 (160-96 SEC)

Donovan may not lead back-to-back teams to the national championship again, but he’s built a power at Florida that will outlast Al Horford, Joakim Noah, et al. The Gators returned to the Elite Eight the last two seasons, but both times Florida was denied a trip to the Final Four due to late-game collapses. With Patric Young and Kenny Boynton returning, Florida appears to be back among the most consistent programs in the SEC. Once Billy the Kid, Donovan is now the dean of SEC coaches and the most logical consistent foil for Calipari and Kentucky in the conference.


9. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

Overall record: 298-128 (16-11 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Wisconsin: 268-101 (132-54 Big Ten)

First, we should note the above record does not include Ryan’s 353 wins and four national championships at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville. Before Ryan arrived in Madison, Wisconsin already started to build itself into a respectable program under Dick Bennett. With his swing offense, Ryan took the next step. Under Ryan, the Badgers have never missed the NCAA Tournament and never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten in 11 seasons. Ryan (71.0) and Bob Knight (70.0) are the only coaches to spend 10 seasons in the Big Ten and win 70 percent of their conference games.


10. Brad Stevens, Butler

Overall record: 139-40 (11-4 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Butler: 139-40 (73-17 Horizon)

By reaching two national championship games, Stevens elevated Butler from plucky mid-major to a national brand. Beyond the NCAA Tournament, no coach has won more games in his first five seasons. The 35-year-old Stevens spurned an opportunity to coach Illinois to bring Butler from the Horizon the tougher Atlantic 10.


11. Mike Montgomery, Cal

Overall record: 634-292 (17-15 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Cal: 88-47 (47-25 Pac-10/12)

Montgomery and Cal may be the only ones looking rosy in this era of futility for Pac-10/12 basketball. No, the Bears haven’t had any great teams in Montgomery’s four seasons, never topping 24 wins or 13 conference wins. Still, relative to its recent history, Cal is doing just fine. Predecessor Ben Braun took Cal to the Tournament five times in 12 seasons. Montgomery has been three times in four seasons in Berkeley. Even when the Pac-10 was held in higher regard, Montgomery was on top of his game. In his final eight season at Stanford from 1996-2004, the Cardinal went 117-28 in the Pac-10 and never finished lower than second in the league. Cal has good reason to hope some of those results are on the way.


12. Shaka Smart, VCU

Overall record: 84-28 (6-2 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at VCU: 84-28 (38-16 Colonial)

Beyond moving into the A-10 at the same time, Stevens and Smart have a handful of parallels in their careers. Both took over at mid-majors accustomed to success and elevated their profiles in short order -- Stevens took Butler to the Final Four in his third season, Smart did the same for VCU in his second, losing to Stevens’ Bulldogs. Smart has only five fewer wins through his first three seasons (84) than Stevens did in his first three (89).


13. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh

Overall record: 238-77 (11-8 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Pittsburgh: 238-77 (103-51 Big East)

Dixon’s teams often have been lauded as overachievers, but he finally had a season where nothing seemed to go right in 2012-13. The Panthers went 5-13 in the Big East as Dixon missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his nine-year head coaching career. Still, one bad season in nine (or 11, going back to the end of the Ben Howland tenure) is something Pitt will take after long stretches of irrelevance.


14. Thad Matta, Ohio State

Overall record: 323-96 (20-10 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Ohio State: 221-65 (98-40 Big Ten)

A national title is the only achievement missing from Matta’s resume. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time. Under Matta, Ohio State has won at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title in five of the last seven seasons. He’s won 76.5 percent of his games in the Big Ten Tournament (16-5, three titles), the highest in conference history. And while the Big Ten has been lackluster compared to the other major conference in the NBA Draft in recent years, that hasn’t been the case at Ohio State. The Buckeyes are responsible for seven of the Big Ten’s 12 first-round picks since 2007. Unfortunately for Matta, this has led to a handful of one-and-dones (Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Kosta Koufos,B.J. Mullens) and a two-and-done (Jared Sullinger).


15. Sean Miller, Arizona

Overall record: 189-82 (9-5 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Arizona: 69-35 (36-18 Pac-10/12)

Miller’s coaching pedigree is unquestioned. He’s the son of a legendary Pennsylvania high school basketball coach. And once Miller became a coach himself, he followed in a successful tradition of Xavier coaches, succeeding Thad Matta, Skip Prosser and Pete Gillen. After the tumultuous end of Lute Olson’s tenure, which included two seasons of interim coaches, Miller has Arizona back on course. Sure, Arizona missed the Tournament last season, but the Wildcats’ 53 wins over the last two seasons (including the 2011 Elite Eight) is the most in Tucson since 1999-2000 and 2000-01. Reaching the Final Four, as the Wildcats did in 2001, will be a tall task, but a top-five signing class means a return to the national elite is on the horizon.


16. Bob Huggins, West Virginia

Overall record: 638-242 (27-20 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at West Virginia: 120-56 (52-29 Big East)

Huggins’ 2011-12 season was a good lesson in perspective. The Mountaineers went 19-14, including 9-9 in the Big East and reached the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive season. For some programs, that’s a success. For Huggins, it was one of the worst seasons of his career. The .500 conference record was the first time Huggins failed to post a winning conference record since his first season at Akron in 1984-85. It was only the fourth time in his 27 years in Division I he failed to win 20 games. His 710 career wins, including 71 in the NAIA, are the most among active coaches without a national championship.


17. Tom Crean, Indiana

Overall record: 245-171 (7-6 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Indiana: 55-74 (19-53 Big Ten)

The former Tom Izzo assistant assumed one of the toughest rebuilding projects at a top-10 program perhaps since Rick Pitino landed at Kentucky. Crean took over an IU program reeling from sanctions and a roster reconstruction left over from the Kelvin Sampson era. The results came to fruition in 2011-12. In Crean’s first three seasons in Bloomington, Indiana won 28 overall games and eight Big Ten games. Last season alone, the Hoosiers won 27 games and 11 in conference. Crean already led Marquette to a Final Four, which might be the next step for an Indiana program likely to open the season near the top of the polls.


18. John Beilein, Michigan

Overall record: 384-252 (8-7 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Michigan: 91-77 (43-47 Big Ten)

Beilein factoid No. 1: He’s the only active coach with a 20-win season in junior college, NAIA, Division II and Division I. Beilein factoid No. 2: He’s never been an assistant coach. Beilein factoid No. 3: He’s one of eight coaches and four active coaches to take four teams to the NCAA Tournament (Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia, Michigan). At each of those stops, Beilein pulled the program out of an extended rough patch. While he doesn’t have a national championship like Izzo, an extended track Big Ten track record like Ryan, and Final Fours like Matta and Crean, an argument could be made he deserves to be at or near the top of any Big Ten coach rankings.


19. Mark Few, Gonzaga

Overall record: 342-90 (14-13 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Gonzaga: 342-90 (162-22 West Coast Conference)

The gap between Gonzaga and the rest of the WCC has narrowed in recent seasons, but Few still has Gonzaga as one of the nation’s consistent programs. Last season was the first time under Few the Bulldogs failed to win at least a share of the regular-season WCC title or a tournament title. Gonzaga still went 26-7 and reached the NCAA Tournament.


20. Buzz Williams, Marquette

Overall record: 110-62 (5-4 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Marquette: 96-45 (46-26 Big East)

How could Williams be ranked ahead of more accomplished coaches Jim Calhoun, Jay Wright, John Thompson III and Steve Lavin? We expect the 39-year-old Williams to be headed for a standout career. There’s good reason Oklahoma and Arkansas pursued him for recent vacancies. Williams is a little quirky -- his skill for producing numbers, statistics and minute details on demand is well-established. Also consider this: Marquette is the only Big East team to reach the NCAA Tournament every year since the league reorganized in 2005-06 -- Williams is responsible for four of those trips, predecessor Tom Crean for three. Williams has done this without some of the inherent advantages of other Big East programs.


21. Mike Brey, Notre Dame

Overall record: 359-184 (6-10 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Notre Dame: 260-132 (124-75 Big East)

Another overachiever in a powerhouse basketball league, Brey has won three of the last six Big East Coach of the Year awards (2007, 2008 and 2011). He had a compelling case to pick up a fourth last season when the Irish, picked ninth in the league, finished 13-5 and in third place without top player Tim Abromaitis. Brey has led Notre Dame to the NCAA Tournament in five of the last six seasons and to 20 wins every year since 2006-07.


22. Jim Calhoun, Connecticut

Overall record: 873-380 (51-20 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Connecticut: 625-243 (276-163 BIg East)

Calhoun’s achievements are enviable -- the three national titles, four Final Fours, the sixth-most all-time wins, six Big East tournament titles -- but questions are creeping into his program. Due to Academic Progress Rate sanctions, UConn is the only major program ineligible for the NCAA Tournament in 2012-13. The Huskies also are three seasons removed from their last winning record in the Big East, albeit UConn won the national championship and Big East tournament in 2010-11. Last season, Calhoun missed 11 games due to NCAA and health issues. Questions about his retirement, perhaps as early as this season, abound, though he says he will be back for 2012-13.


22. Ben Howland, UCLA

Overall record: 374-198 (19-9 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at UCLA: 208-97 (106-54 Pac-10/12)

Third in the Pac-12 may be unthinkable for a coach who reached three consecutive Final Fours and put Pittsburgh basketball on the map all in a seven-year span. But the Bruins have fallen apart in the last three seasons, going 32-22 in a lackluster Pac-10/12 and losing non-conference games to the likes of Cal State Fullerton, Portland, Montana, Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee in a three-year span. The culprit has been an exodus of early entries (Jrue Holiday), transfers (Mike Moser, Drew Gordon, J’Mison Morgan) and dismissals (Reeves Nelson) that all but wiped out two recruiting classes. With freshmen Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker arriving on campus, Howland needs to rediscover the magic from earlier in his tenure.


24. Matt Painter, Purdue

Overall record: 185-82 (8-7 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Purdue: 160-77 (76-46 Big Ten)

Purdue fans will play the game of hypotheticals over the health of Robbie Hummel, who missed the 2010 postseason and all of 2010-11. Painter may be forgiven to wonder what may could have been if the trio of Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore would have remained intact for a full four seasons. Despite a dose of bad luck, Purdue managed to win at least 25 games each season from 2007-11, went 78-26 in the Big Ten the last five seasons and reached the Sweet 16 in 2009 and 2010. Remember, Purdue won nine games overall in his first season and seven the season before he arrived.


25. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt

Overall record: 384-222 (6-8 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Vanderbilt: 261-159 (103-105 SEC)

Stallings’ losing record in the SEC may come as something of a surprise, but most of the losing took place early in his tenure in Nashville. Since 2006-07, the Commodores are 59-37 in the conference. Wins in March have been lacking during that timespan -- the ‘Dores have three wins in the last five NCAA trips and have been upset by Richmond (2011), Murray State (2010) and Siena (2008). Still, Vanderbilt’s not an easy basketball job, especially when programs like Kentucky and Florida are performing at an elite level. But Stallings has been able to develop veterans like Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins, both of whom were major recruits, while unearthing difference-makers like Festus Ezeli.


26. Frank Martin, South Carolina

Overall record: 117-54 (6-4 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at South Carolina: first season

He has a fiery demeanor. He’s prone to shouting and staredowns on the sidelines. And cynics might say he got his first head coaching job only to hold together a Michael Beasley-led recruiting class at Kansas State. All may be true, but Martin can coach. Kansas State hadn’t had a five-year run in both the regular season and postseason since the late 1970s. Martin led Kansas State to at least 10 wins in the Big 12 in four out of five seasons and has never failed to advance in the NCAA Tournament. He inherits a dreadful team at South Carolina, so his record is going to suffer. Considering the results at Kansas State, Martin should have the Gamecocks competing for the postseason in a matter of years.


27. Rick Barnes, Texas

Overall record: 544-271 (20-20 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Texas: 342-137 (158-63 Big 12)

The Barnes’ era can be confounding, but it’s at least consistent. Since 2004-05, Texas has had eight players drafted in the first round, including four lottery picks. But the Longhorns reached the Sweet 16 only twice in eight years. In addition, Texas hasn’t won an outright Big 12 title since 1998-99 and has never won the Big 12 Tournament. That said, Texas never struggles to bring in talent nor struggles to get to the NCAA Tournament. Barnes’ 17 consecutive Tournament appearances is tied with Mike Krzyzewski for the longest active streak and is six short of the all-time record held by Dean Smith.


28. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma

Overall record: 494-320 (14-13 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Oklahoma: 15-16 (5-13 BIg 12)

After facing NCAA sanctions under two coaching staffs, Oklahoma made the astute hire in Kruger. Although he’s rarely mentioned as one of the game’s elite coaches, he’s one of the nation’s best rebuilders. He revived troubled programs at Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV before landing at Oklahoma. If Kruger can navigate recruiting sanctions at Oklahoma, he could be the first coach to lead five different teams to the NCAA Tournament.


29. Rick Majerus, Saint Louis

Overall record: 517-216 (19-13 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Saint Louis: 96-69 (44-36 A-10)

The longtime Utah coach returned to the bench at Saint Louis in 2007-08 after three seasons out of coaching. Despite injuries and suspensions at Saint Louis, Majerus has proven he hasn’t lost his touch, leading the Billikens to their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2000.


30. Leonard Hamilton, Florida State

Overall record: 401-337 (6-7 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Florida State: 201-127 (80-80 ACC)

Leading one of the stingiest defensive teams in the country, Hamilton has coached Florida State to one of the best four-year runs at Florida State. For the first time in program history, the Seminoles won at least 20 games and at least 10 ACC games in four consecutive seasons. A one-point loss in overtime to VCU in 2011 prevented the Seminoles from reaching the Elite Eight. Although Florida State failed to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament last year, the Seminoles became only the second team not named Duke or North Carolina to win the ACC Tournament since 1996. Hamilton has proven himself capable of building consistent basketball programs at football schools by leading Miami to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances to wrap up his 10-season tenure with the Hurricanes in 2000.


-David Fox 


Other coach rankings:

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Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 06:02