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Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-defensive-backs-2012

Interception totals can be fluky, but even when you take away his 13 picks from last season, NC State's David Amerson is one of college football's top defenders. At 6-foot-3 Amerson has the size to match up against any receiver in the ACC or across the nation. Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks has quietly emerged as one of the top corners in college football and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2012. USC's T.J. McDonald leads the way at safety but LSU's Eric Reid, Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson and Oregon's John Boyett will push him for the No. 1 ranking this season.

When compiling the rankings, Athlon considered how each player will perform in 2012, some past performance, personnel losses around the quarterback, conference difficulty and pro potential. 

College Football's Top 20 Cornerbacks for 2012

1. David Amerson, NC State
At 6-foot-3, 194 pounds, Amerson has uncommon size for a cornerback. He also put up uncommon results last season. His 13 interceptions last season were an ACC record and one short of the FBS record held by Washington’s Al Worley. Amerson had four multi-interception games last season and returned two picks for touchdowns. Hard to believe, but Amerson did not have any interceptions in his first season in 2010.

2. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
While LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu will grab headlines for being one of the nation’s top playmakers at cornerbacks, Banks is quietly the SEC’s No. 1 coverman. He started all 13 games last season and earned first-team All-SEC honors, while recording 71 tackles and three forced fumbles. Banks is already drawing significant interest from the NFL, especially with his 6-foot-2 frame. The Mississippi native is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2012.

3. Nickell Robey, USC
An All-State second-team baseball player and district long jump champion, Robey faced no mystery of where he’d fit at USC. The junior has started every game in the secondary since he arrived on campus. Robey will make a bid at All-America status after recording 63 tackles, nine pass breakups and two interceptions last season (including one returned for a touchdown in the triple-overtime loss to Stanford).

4. Quandre Diggs, Texas
Just a freshman, Diggs stepped into one of the best defensive backfields in the country last season and fit right in. The younger brother of former Longhorn and San Diego Charger Quentin Jammer, Diggs had four interceptions last season. With Diggs a year older, the Texas secondary could be even better than the one that finished 10th nationally in pass efficiency defense.

5. Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
The Astoria, Ore., cornerback is one of the most underrated players in the entire country. As a lockdown cover corner, few in the league can match the Oregon State Beaver who has returned an interception for a touchdown in two straight seasons. He also took a punt back for a score against UCLA last fall. His special teams prowess make Poyer one of the biggest impact players in all of the Pac-12.

6. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
While Greg Reid will be missed, Rhodes was Florida State’s top cover corner and should keep the Seminoles ranked among the top 25 in pass defense in 2012. Rhodes had a strong freshman year, recording 58 stops and four interceptions and earning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. His play in 2011 dropped off a bit, but at 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, Rhodes should easily bounce back into All-American contention.

7. Johnny Adams, Michigan State
A third-year starter, Adams leads the top secondary in the Big Ten. NFL scouts will watch Adams closely in his final season on campus, a year after the Spartans ranked 18th nationally in pass efficiency defense. He doesn’t have the gaudy interception numbers (though he had three in each of the last two seasons), but he’s an elite cover corner and stands out in run support.

8. Tharold Simon, LSU 
When is comes to NFL upside and potential, few nickelbacks have as much talent as the sophomore from Eunice, La. He finished third in the SEC with 10 pass break-ups in only two starts. He has a huge frame for a corner at 6-foot-3 and 193 pounds and many believe he is the best coverman on the LSU roster. In fact, much like Morris Claiborne did last fall, Simon will likely be locked-up with the opposition’s top wide receiver. It won’t take long for Simon to become a household name nationally in 2012.

9. Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State
It’s never easy being a cornerback in the Big 12, especially when you have to face offenses at Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and now West Virginia. Brown has been one of the league’s top corners over the last two years, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2011. The senior isn’t the biggest corner (5-foot-8), but he broke up 15 passes and is a physical presence on the outside.

10. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
A second-team All-ACC selection last season, Fuller established himself as the next great Virginia Tech defensive back in 2011. After playing primarily in the Hokies’ nickel package in 2010, Fuller started all 14 games last season – half of those at nickel back/whip linebacker and the other seven at cornerback. Fuller led the team with 14.5 tackles for a loss and also added 4.5 sacks and two interceptions.

11. Carrington Byndom, Texas
The Lufkin, Texas native has appeared in 25 games during his two-year career. He started every game last fall and recorded 57 tackles, 8.0 tackles for a loss and two interceptions.

12. Dee Milliner, Alabama
The Tide lose three starters in the secondary, including two first-round draft picks, but Milliner has experience with 16 starts in the last two seasons. Like many on the Alabama roster, he’s a one-time stud recruit taking his turn in the spotlight. Three interceptions last season indicate he might be ready.

13. Ricardo Allen, Purdue
Since stepping onto campus in 2010, Allen has been an impact player for the Boilermakers’ defense. He earned freshman All-American accolades in 2010 by starting 12 games and returning two interceptions for a touchdown. Allen followed up his standout freshman year with a solid sophomore season, recording 81 tackles and three interceptions. Allen has been picked to the Thorpe Award watch list (the nation’s top defensive back) and is an Athlon first-team All-Big Ten selection for 2012. 

14. Logan Ryan, Rutgers
As a Thorpe and Benarik Award watch lister, Ryan might be the top pure coverman in the Big East. The in-state product (New Berlin, N.J.) posted 67 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 14 pass break ups and three interceptions as only a sophomore on what was easily the league’s top defense. Ryan is getting plenty of NFL attention and could be tempted to leave for the next level with another stellar year of play in Piscataway.

15. Micah Hyde, Iowa
Hyde has been a mainstay in the Hawkeyes’ secondary over the past two seasons, with 25 starts at cornerback and two at safety. Last season, he tied for first in the Big Ten in passes defended (11) and added three interceptions. He is a 2012 preseason second-team All-Big Ten pick by Athlon Sports.

16. Nigel Malone, Kansas State
The senior from Manteca, Calif., didn’t take long to prove to be another JUCO gem for Bill Snyder. The first-year player led the Big 12 in interceptions a year ago with seven and is the leading returnee in what is a depleted secondary. Expect quarterbacks to avoid Malone’s side of the field this time around.

17. Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma
Improving the pass defense is one of the top priorities for new coordinator Mike Stoops. The Sooners allowed 241.5 yards per game through the air last season, including 485 in the loss to Baylor. Hurst was a second-team All-Big 12 selection last season and has started 27 games over the last two years. The senior should be Oklahoma’s top corner, but this unit will have an uphill battle to earn first-team all-conference honors with Quandre Diggs, Brodrick Brown, Nigel Malone and Carrington Byndom all returning.

18. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Gilbert’s ability to cover wide receivers on the edge isn't the only thing he does extremely well. He is one of the league's fastest players and can be a dangerous return specialist as well — as indicated by his OSU record four kick return touchdowns.

19. Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Roby was a consensus three-star recruit out of Suwanee, Ga., but he must have learned something in his redshirt season in Columbus. The sophomore stepped right into the starting cornerback job last season. After finishing with 47 tackles and three interceptions in 2011, the new staff hopes to take advantage of Roby’s playmaking ability in his second season on the field.

20. Merrill Noel, Wake Forest
Jim Grobe’s penchant for redshirting freshmen paid off again as Noel was widely recognized as a freshman All-American last season. The ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year had an astonishing 19 pass breakouts to go with 66 tackles and two picks.

College Football's Top 20 Safeties for 2012

1. T.J. McDonald, USC
The USC legacy — his father Tim was a two-time All-American at USC from 1983-1986 — is a powerful hitter at the back end of the No. 1 team in the nation. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior has 23 career starts, 163 career tackles and six career interceptions. The Fresno (Calif.) Edison product is an Athlon Sports All-American and Thorpe Award candidate heading into his final season.

2. Eric Reid, LSU
The hard-hitting safety became a force during his sophomore season, tying for the team lead in tackles (76) with cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. Reid also forced two fumbles, had two interceptions and recovered a fumble last season for John Chavis’ stellar defense. Reid was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week after an excellent performance in LSU’s 9-6 victory at Alabama during the regular season. His critical fourth-quarter interception in that game was a top play of the 2011 campaign.

3. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
Few players exhibit as much raw athletic ability as the 5-foot-11, 200-pound safety. After playing a hybrid safety position which required much more time in the box, Jefferson has moved to his natural position of free safety. He will be allowed to flow all over the field and make plays now that Mike Stoops and Tim Kish are calling the plays. Jefferson has loads of talent supporting him, so the Sooners should be vastly improved in the secondary this fall.

4. John Boyett, Oregon
Playing for an underrated defense, Boyett’s status as one of the nation’s best safeties does not get much attention. Entering his fourth-season as a starter, Boyett has 276 career tackles. He fell one tackle short in 2010 of leading the Ducks in tackles in each of his three seasons on campus. Boyett is a touchdown-saving safety who also has nine career interceptions.

5. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
A stable force at the back end of Mack Brown’s defense since 2009, Vaccarro has played in 38 games in three seasons. The Brownwood, Texas safety nearly claimed the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award (honorable mention POY). He did a little bit of everything for Manny Diaz last fall as he set career highs in tackles (82) but also proved to be able to get into the opponent’s backfield with 8.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks. With loads of starting experience, and plenty of talent around him, the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder is easily one of the best safeties in the nation.

6. Matt Elam, Florida
Elam is the key player in a secondary that could be one of the SEC’s best. Elam was one of only five Gators to start every game last season, recording 78 tackles with 11 for a loss and seven pass break ups.

7. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
After playing in all 14 games at cornerback as a true freshman in 2010, Joyner moved back to safety in time for 2011 and emerged as one of the ACC’s top defensive backs. He recorded 54 stops and four interceptions, while earning first-team All-ACC honors. At 5-foot-8 and 195 pounds, Joyner is a tad undersized for safety, but his physical presence, speed and range make up for any concerns about his height.

8. Robert Lester, Alabama
With Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick off to the NFL, the secondary needs a big year from Lester. The Alabama native been a starter over the last two years, earned second-team All-SEC honors in 2010 and has picked off 10 passes in his career. With inexperience at cornerback, Lester’s leadership will be valuable to a unit that could be under attack early in the year with games against Michigan and Arkansas. The senior is an Athlon Sports second-team All-SEC selection for 2012.

9. Bacarri Rambo, Georgia
Rambo may be absent for the start of the season due to a suspension, which would be a major blow to the Georgia defense. Rambo was an AP first-team All-American last season after recording 55 tackles with a team-leading eight interceptions. Rambo was the key playmaker for a secondary that helped Georgia finish fourth nationally in pass efficiency defense.

10. C.J. Barnett, Ohio State
Barnett missed all but two games of 2010 but didn’t miss a beat when he returned to the Buckeyes last season. He led Ohio State with 75 tackles and provided his share of thundering hits in the secondary. He also had interceptions against Miami and Michigan State.

11. Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State
Lewis quietly earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season, recording 74 tackles and four interceptions in his first year as a starter. The junior is regarded as one of the biggest hitters in the Big Ten and will have to assume more of a leadership role in 2012 with the departure of Trenton Robinson. 

12. Hakeem Smith, Louisville
After a Big East Rookie of the Year award back in 2010, Smith turned in a first-team All-Big East season as only a sophomore last fall. The Jonesboro, Ga., native has quickly supplanted himself as one of the most versatile safeties in the country. The junior has posted back-to-back 80-tackle seasons and has a chance to enter the NFL Draft in 2013 with another great campaign this year. Especially, if he can lead the Cardinals defense to a Big East Championship.

13. Shaq Thompson, Washington
This special freshman is a once in a decade type of prospect and it won't take long for wide receivers and running backs to take note of the massive safety. He should start right away and will be a force in run support as well as a head hunter in the passing game.

14. Jarred Holley, Pittsburgh
Holley is entering his fourth season as a starter for his third head coach with the Panthers. Holley set a career high in tackles last season with 67, but he’s also proven to be a ball hawk with five interceptions as a sophomore and three as a redshirt freshman. 

15. Terence Garvin, West Virginia
Garvin has been a steady performer for West Virginia over the last three years and will play a key role in the new 3-4 scheme in 2012. The Baltimore native has 158 tackles in his career and recorded two picks last season. With the Mountaineers moving to the Big 12, the defense will be facing more pass-first offenses in 2012. Sliding Garvin from safety to linebacker should help West Virginia counter some of those passing attacks, while also allowing him to roam around the line of the scrimmage a little more.

16. Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
Dixon was a huge catch for Baylor on the recruiting trail and the former top 100 recruit is poised for his best season in Waco. He made 89 stops and recorded one interception last year, while earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Dixon will man Baylor’s hybrid linebacker/defensive back position and should make a push for first or second-team all-conference honors.

17. Earl Wolff, NC State 
In one of the nation’s top secondaries, Wolff locks down the back end. He is a physical player at 6-foot-0 and 207 pounds and it showed with his 105 tackles last year — good for second on the team. He intercepted three passes while playing for a defense that led the ACC in turnover margin (+1.08/game). The senior from Raeford, N.C., returns for his final season with eyes on a conference championship.

18. Duron Harmon, Rutgers
After spending his first two years as a backup, Harmon emerged as one of the leaders in the secondary in 2011. He made 49 tackles and picked off five passes, en route to earning first-team All-Big East honors. With another offseason to work as the starter, Harmon build upon last year's success with another All-Big East campaign in 2012.

19. Isaiah Johnson, Georgia Tech
Johnson is a player on the rise after starting all 13 games as a sophomore last season. The Georgia native recorded 78 stops and three interceptions last year and is an Athlon Sports second-team All-ACC selection for 2012. Expect Johnson to be active around the line of scrimmage, as well as contributing significantly to Georgia Tech's pass defense.

20. Brian Blechen, Utah
Blechen improved upon his standout freshman season as a sophomore, recording 78 tackles with two sacks, nine tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and three interceptions.


Writeups compiled by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Mark Ross and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

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<p> College Football's Top Defensive Backs for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, August 24, 2012 - 05:54
Path: /nfl/top-20-fantasy-football-injury-risks

As every fantasy football player knows there's a lot of risk that goes into drafting certain players. If the players make it on the field, your fantasy team will thrive. If they're hit with an injury, you're in trouble. Here's a look at 20 NFL players who offer varying degrees of risk with potentially big rewards.

Stay away completely; you’re wasting a roster spot on a future disappointment.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars
Keep in mind Mojo’s 2011 knee issues when debating whether a back who wants a new contract, would be fine with a trade, and plays for arguably the worst franchise in football is worth drafting.

Mike Vick, QB, Eagles
Unless you’re playing in a Madden 13 video game fantasy football league, avoid the oft-injured Vick — who has already taken a beating in limited time this preseason.

Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
Witten reportedly will not need surgery on his injured spleen. But there are too many other tight ends out there to risk drafting a guy with such a potentially serious internal problem.

Reggie Bush, RB, Dolphins
Don’t let the perfect storm of 1,000-yard 2011 season and "Hard Knocks" hype fool you. No matter how many USC visions dance in your head, this injury-prone runner's best days are behind him.

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos
A broken pinky finger and a torn Achilles have limited Thomas to just 21 games over his first two seasons. Plus, Thomas’ raw route running is more suited to Tim Tebow’s heave-ho go-route game than it is Peyton Manning’s precision passing attack.


Too much downside; don’t rely on any of these guys for more than a bench spot.

Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
Expectations for the four-time MVP are unfair. Manning is 36 years old, fresh off at least four neck surgeries and playing for a new team. He also missed a full season and may not be able to make all the throws in the route tree yet.

Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders
Sure, when he’s healthy DMC looks like the second coming of Adrian Peterson or Eric Dickerson. And McFadden teased fantasy owners with 1,664 total yards and 10 total TDs in 2010. But his other three years have produced a combined 1,470 rush yards and nine rush TDs.

Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers
The heir to L.T. fractured his collarbone and is expected to be out until at least Week 3. Even if healthy, however, Mathews has been an over-drafted fantasy bust his entire career. What’s to like?

Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs
A brutal blow was dealt to fantasy owners across the globe last year when Charles — a consensus 2011 first-round pick — was lost for the season with a left knee injury in Week 2. The speed demon may or may not have lost a step, and he may or may not lose a few carries to Peyton Hillis this year.

Kenny Britt, WR, Titans
Multiple knee surgeries and problems between the ears have made Britt one of the worst headaches in fantasy football. Britt is just as likely to be suspended (or arrested) as he is to be a dominant fantasy receiver this year.


It’s a risk, for sure. But the reward should ultimately be worth the gamble.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
Despite suffering a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee in Week 16 last December, Peterson appears to be on track to return to the field early on in 2012. Remember Peterson’s rookie year, when he was the RB2 on nearly every fantasy championship team? That could be the case again in 2012.

Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions
A china doll who played a total of 13 games over his first two seasons, Stafford played all 16 last year and threw for 5,038 yards and 41 TDs. With Megatron in his prime, Stafford’s 2011 numbers are repeatable.

Trent Richardson, RB, Browns
The curse of the new Browns continues to plague Cleveland. Richardson had his sore left knee scoped in early August. But 21-year-olds heal fast and T-Rich has the power, speed, patience and explosiveness to be one of the premier backs in the game.

Matt Forte, RB, Bears
A sprained MCL ended Forte’s season after 12 games last year. Prior to that, however, the versatile Forte 48-of-48 games over his first three seasons. Plus, he’ll be eager to prove his worth after signing a long-awaited contract extension.

Greg Jennings, WR, Packers
An early August concussion, coupled with a sprained MCL late last season make Jennings reasonably risky. But with Aaron Rodgers pitching, a healthy Jennings could put up Jordy Nelson numbers.


Don’t worry too much about injury issues, draft these guys and feel good doing so.

Arian Foster, RB, Texans
A nagging hamstring issue caused Foster to miss two of the first three games of 2011. He also played through a torn meniscus in 2010. But after posting 2,177 total yards and 15 total TDs in 15 games (including playoffs) last year, Foster has earned his status as the consensus No. 1 overall pick in fantasy football.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
After injuring his ankle in the AFC title game, “The Gronk” hobbled his way through the Super Bowl. But the 6’6”, 265-pounder has had seven months to heal and is coming off a 90-catch, 1,327-yard, 17-TD season. The Patriots may want Bibi Jones’ favorite player to tone it down, but no one should tone down the fantasy love for Gronkowski.

Andre Johnson, WR, Texans
A groin injury slowed Johnson in late July and he only played seven games in 2011 due to multiple hamstring issues. Although Johnson has an injury-risk reputation, he has a solid track record. In nine seasons, he has played all 16 games five times, in 13 games twice and missed significant time only twice — playing nine games in 2007 and seven games last year.

Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
Tight hamstrings dogged Jones as a rookie, causing him to miss three games and limiting his availability in several others. But when the 6’3”, 220-pounder was on the field, he was a beast — with 959 yards (17.8 ypc) and eight TDs. With Roddy White lined up on the other side, Jones is poised for a breakout sophomore season.

Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers
Plantar fasciitis — which affects the connective tissue on the sole of the foot — has been a lingering issue for Gates, who missed a combined three games from 2003-09 before missing nine total games the last two seasons. With Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham going early, the fantasy legend that is Gates could be one of this year’s best values.

<p> Fantasy football injury report weighing the risk vs. reward of big names like Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, Rob Gronkowski, Andre Johnson and Julio Jones.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 13:51
Path: /nfl/10-nfl-coaches-hot-seat

The 2012 NFL season kicks off in less than two weeks, which means teams will start finalizing their 53-man rosters very soon. Once Week 1 rolls around, however, the focus on job security switches from the players to the head coaches. As is typically the case, several enter the upcoming season on the proverbial "hot seat."

Below is a look at the coaches who really need to win in 2012 or otherwise they may want to start polishing up their resume.

2012 NFL Head Coaches Hot Seat Rankings

1. Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers
After missing the playoffs for a second straight season with a team that many expected to contend for a Super Bowl title, some were surprised that Turner got a reprieve for this season. There’s little doubt that this is Turner’s last stand with the Chargers, who should be able to compete with the now Peyton Manning-led Broncos for AFC West supremacy in 2012. For his career, Turner has a sub-.500 record (107-113-1) in 14 seasons and has only been to the playoffs four times. Two of those appearances have come in his five seasons with the Chargers, but if Turner has any hopes of keeping his job, just making the playoffs may not be enough this season.

2. Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles
Reid is the most tenured coach in all of the NFL as he enters his 14th season leading the Eagles. The franchise’s all-time leader in wins (126), Reid has taken the team to the playoffs nine times, won six division titles, one NFC Championship, and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIX following the 2004 season. However, after signing several marquee free agents, the Eagles’ so-called “Dream Team” stumbled out of the gates in 2011, starting the season 1-4. They never really got any momentum going until the end, when they won four in a row against non-playoff teams, and finished the season a disappointing 8-8. Owner Jeffrey Lurie has not come out and said so publicly, but it’s pretty clear that Reid and the Eagles need to not only make the playoffs this season, but get beyond the first round. Otherwise there will probably be significant changes, starting at the top.

3. Rex Ryan, New York Jets
Last season was the first in three that Ryan did not lead his Jets to the playoffs, although he did get them to just a win away from the Super Bowl in his first two. However, when the team you share the city with has two world championships in the past five seasons, it’s pretty clear that you need to do more than just talk a good game. Ryan seems to have moved on from his annual Super Bowl guarantees, which is a wise move on his part. Besides, if he and the Jets don’t fare better than 8-8 this season, the only guarantee he will need to worry about is one coming from owner Woody Johnson about his job security.

4. Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Garrett may be entering just his second full season as a head coach, but let’s not kid ourselves here, the Dallas Cowboys aren’t your typical NFL franchise. Garrett has posted a winning record (15-13) in his tenure, but the ‘Boys went 8-8 in 2011, missing the playoffs for the second straight season. Jerry Jones isn’t known for being a patient man and with a potential coaching free agency pool that could include the likes of Super Bowl winners Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, Brian Billick and Jon Gruden, Garrett can ill afford a slow start or losing season.

5. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings
Just like Garrett, Frazier has been in charge of the Vikings for only one full season. However, that’s where the similarities end between the two coaches as the Vikings and Cowboys are in two entirely different situations. The Vikings are in complete rebuild mode and no one is expecting them to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. That said, if Frazier isn't even able to improve on last year’s 3-13 dismal showing then no one would be surprised if owner Zygi Wilf goes with someone else to oversee the rebuild in Minnesota.

6. Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears
After starting the 2011 season 7-3, the Bears stumbled miserably down the stretch finishing 1-5 and missing the playoffs. Season-ending injuries to both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte played a significant role behind the team’s collapse. That’s why new general manager Phil Emery addressed the depth at both quarterback and running back as well as added wide receiver Brandon Marshall during the offseason. With these moves and others, Smith and the Bears really have no excuses should they miss the playoffs for the fifth time in the last six seasons. If that happens, Smith’s run in the Windy City could come to an end.

7. Chan Gailey, Buffalo Bills
Like the Bears, the Bills got off to a great start (5-2) last season, before watching it all come apart and finishing a disappointing 6-10. The Bills focused their offseason efforts on upgrading the defense, highlighted by the signing of marquee free agent Mario Williams. If the team doesn’t show signs of taking that next step in 2012 and posts an eighth straight losing season, the first casualty will more than likely be the 60-year-old Gailey.

8. Pat Shurmur, Cleveland Browns
The Browns haven’t been in the playoffs since 2002 and have had two winning seasons in the past 10. No one is expecting them to contend for a playoff spot in 2012, especially since they are in the same division as Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but there’s no reason they can’t win more than four games this season either. The Browns have put together several solid drafts recently, highlighted by this year’s first-round picks Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden. If Shurmur and his team doesn’t start showing some results on the field, chances are someone else will get the chance to coach the young pups in 2013.

9. Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs
Injuries devastated the Chiefs early and often last season, but that still wasn’t enough of an excuse for Todd Haley to save his job. Crennel took over, went 2-1 in the final three games, and should get a healthy Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and other key players back this season. Now it’s up to Crennel to show he’s the right man to lead the Chiefs back to the playoffs. Even though he and general manager Scott Pioli have a relationship that goes back to their days with the Patriots, Crennel’s track record as a head coach (24-40 with Cleveland from 2005-08) isn’t exactly the strongest.

10. Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals
Whisenhunt has won two division titles and led the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII in his five seasons so far in the desert. The problem is, both playoff appearances and the NFC Championship came with Kurt Warner leading the offense. Since Warner’s retirement, the Cardinals have gone 13-21 and missed the playoffs the last two seasons. To make matters worse for Whisenhunt, Arizona's quarterback situation has been the story of Cardinals' traning camp, mainly how poorly Kevin Kolb, whom the Cardinals invested more than $62 million after trading for him in 2011, has performed. Whether Kolb, backup John Skelton or rookie Ryan Lindley ends up with the starting job remains to be seen, but it's clear that the position could play a significant role in Whisenhunt’s future with the team.

Three More Names to Watch

Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans
Kubiak led the Texans to their first-ever 10-win season, division title, playoff appearance and playoff victory in 2011 and then signed a two-year contract extension that takes him through the 2014 season in June. So why is he even mentioned here, you ask? Because for the first time in franchise history, the Texans are not only expected to make the playoffs, but compete for a spot in the Super Bowl. Kubiak’s never had to coach a team with such high expectations, so what happens if the Texans don’t meet said expectations?

Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Yes Payton won’t be coaching this season, so he can’t do anything to “hurt” his resume, if you will. However, given the damage done, not only to Peyton’s reputation and wallet, but also to the Saints’ franchise itself, because of the bounty scandal, you can’t help but wonder if perhaps Payton has already coached his last game for the Saints. He is under contract through the 2015 season, but I have to think should he want out of the Big Easy or vice versa, something can be worked out. Did I mention Payton has a house in Dallas?

Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins
What’s a coach with 157 career wins (14th all-time) and two Super Bowl titles have to worry about? Perhaps nothing, but Shanahan has gone just 11-21 in his first two seasons in Washington. His contract runs through 2014 and it pays him $7 million a year, but money has never been an issue for Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Shanahan's best seasons came when he had a quarterback named John Elway on his roster. Will he be able to revisit that success with his new field general, No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III? More importantly, will he get enough time to even find out?

— By Mark Ross, published on August 23, 2012

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2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs

Oakland Raiders

San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

St. Louis Rams

Click here to order your Athlon Sports Pro Football 2012 Preview magazine

<p> 10 NFL Coaches on the Hot Seat</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 13:16
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC North, Baltimore Ravens, NFL
Path: /nfl/baltimore-ravens-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 Baltimore Ravens check in at No. 7.

Convinced that the Ravens are on the verge of reaching the Super Bowl, owner Steve Bisciotti issued a quick reply when asked what the AFC North champions needed to do to make it to the big game: “Hold on to a ball.” Bisciotti was referring to Lee Evans dropping a potential game-winning touchdown in a bitter AFC title game loss also remembered for kicker Billy Cundiff misfiring on a short field goal.

Although middle linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed are a year older, the Ravens are still contenders on the heels of a 12–4 campaign in which they went undefeated at home and swept the division.

“Teams like the Patriots and Steelers are older than we are,” Bisciotti says. “I don’t see age being a window-closer.”

Getting back to within one game of the Super Bowl will be an arduous challenge. The Ravens face the fourth-most difficult schedule in the NFL. They face 11 quarterbacks who’ve been named to the Pro Bowl — including consecutive games against Peyton Manning and Eli Manning — and eight games against playoff teams from a year ago. “It’s a tough schedule, but it’s a schedule for the Baltimore Ravens,” cornerback Lardarius Webb says. “It makes us work a little harder.”


Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice remains the centerpiece of an offense built around a punishing running game. One of the most productive all-purpose threats in the game, Rice piled up a league-high 2,068 yards from scrimmage last season and scored a franchise-record 15 touchdowns. Rice’s trademark elusiveness and versatility spearhead the offense. And the franchise player has the advantage of bruising fullback Vonta Leach creating holes.

Rookie Bernard Pierce and Anthony Allen are vying to be the primary backup to Rice after Ricky Williams’ abrupt retirement. Pierce is regarded as the favorite to win the job.

Quarterback Joe Flacco is known for his stoic personality, his strong right arm, and his durability. The franchise’s all-time leading passer with 13,816 yards and 80 touchdowns has made it to four consecutive playoff appearances and two AFC title games, going 44–20 under center and never missing a start. The Ravens are interested in a long-term contract extension with Flacco, who’s entering the final year of his rookie deal.

Flacco’s top avenues downfield are veteran Anquan Boldin and speedster Torrey Smith. Boldin lacks deep speed but uses muscle, savvy and sure hands to get the job done. Smith overcame a rough start to set a franchise rookie record with eight receiving scores (including one in the AFC title game). With better consistency, he could emerge as a 1,000-yard receiver.

The Ravens signed former Texans receiver Jacoby Jones to a $7 million contract hoping that he’s the answer for a third wide receiver.

Their other candidates include Tandon Doss, David Reed, LaQuan Williams and rookie Tommy Streeter. At 6'5", 220 pounds, Streeter is adept at the fade route.

Tight end Todd Heap wasn’t missed — Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta combined for 94 catches, 933 yards and eight touchdowns.

The offensive line is in flux at left guard after the departure of Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs. Jah Reid and Kelechi Osemele are fighting to replace him in what shapes up as the key camp battle. Gritty Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda is one tough farm boy, utilizing leverage and strength to muscle defenders. Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk is up in years but is still a viable blocker whose strong suits are intelligence and experience. The Ravens are banking on left tackle Bryant McKinnie following through on his promise to report in better shape. Michael Oher provides a solid blocking presence at right tackle.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s biggest challenges are getting better play from his tackles and improving in the red zone.


Promoted to defensive coordinator after Chuck Pagano went to the Colts, Dean Pees already faces a crisis. The third-ranked defense in the NFL suffered a damaging blow when NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs partially tore his Achilles tendon in April. Suggs (14 sacks, seven forced fumbles) could miss much of the season, if not all of it. Rookie Courtney Upshaw is the frontrunner to be plugged in at Suggs’ rush linebacker spot. Paul Kruger is slated to take over at strong-side outside linebacker with Jarret Johnson gone. Pernell McPhee, a fifth-round steal with six sacks as a rookie, and Sergio Kindle will need to contribute more as pass-rushers.

The Ravens will rely heavily upon Lewis, the emotional leader of a tradition-rich defense. His range and coverage skills have declined, but he’s still one of the best middle linebackers. Inside linebacker Jameel McClain is so highly regarded he was retained with a $10.5 million contract.

Webb has become a true shutdown corner and was rewarded with a $50 million contract. Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith make corner one of the top positions on the team. Reed is an instinctive, capable centerfielder but has durability and tackling issues caused by neck and shoulder injuries. Strong safety Bernard Pollard is an intimidating hitter.

The defensive line is anchored by disruptive tackle Haloti Ngata. Terrence Cody is a beefy nose guard who commands double-teams inside. McPhee and Arthur Jones are competing for Cory Redding’s vacated left end spot.


Flubbing a rushed field goal try against the Patriots carries consequences for Cundiff, a 2010 Pro Bowl kicker. The Ravens are expected to acquire a veteran to challenge him in camp, and they’ve already signed undrafted former Texas kicker Justin Tucker.

While punter Sam Koch averaged a career-high 46.5 yards last season, kick coverage was shoddy. The Ravens surrendered a total of three touchdowns on returns, ranking 31st in kickoff return average and 24th in punt returns. To (hopefully) fix the problem, the Ravens signed Pro Bowl special teams ace Corey Graham and brought back Brendon Ayanbadejo.

By signing Jones, an accomplished punt returner, the Ravens are optimistic that they’ve upgraded their return game. Webb is indispensable on defense, so adding Jones was a necessity.

Final Analysis: 2nd in the AFC North

Super Bowl prospects dimmed a bit due to Suggs’ injury, but the Ravens are still capable of making a serious run. The offense will need another huge year from Rice and clutch performances from Flacco to generate more points. The defense might need to blitz more, and Lewis and Reed need to stay healthy. The special teams have nowhere to go but up.

At the worst, the Ravens have the talent, leadership and coaching to get back to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.

Related: 2012 Baltimore Ravens Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Sticking With It
Although cornerback Lardarius Webb is extremely valuable to the defense after signing a $50 million contract, he still wants to remain the big-play threat at punt returner. Last year, Webb returned one punt for a touchdown and averaged 10 yards per return. He wants to stay involved even if he’s not the primary punt returner since the Ravens signed Jacoby Jones. “Yes, I would love to be a returner,” Webb says. “That’s what made Deion Sanders so great, because he was returning kicks and returning punts and returning interceptions to the house. That’s what made him Deion Sanders. So, that might make me Lardarius Webb.”

Promoting From Within
Led by general manager Ozzie Newsome, director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, director of pro personnel Vince Newsome and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz, the Ravens’ scouting department is regarded as one of the best in the NFL. The Ravens groom personnel employees from a young age through a so-called 20-20 club, referring to hiring 20-year-olds for a $20,000 salary. Added Newsome: “The guys actually started when they were a little older than 20 and for more than $20,000, but that’s what we call them.”

Proving Himself
Jah Reid knows he’ll have to earn the left guard job vacated when Pro Bowl blocker Ben Grubbs signed a $36 million contract with the Saints. The 6'7", 335-pounder currently ranks first on the depth chart, but faces competition from rookie Kelechi Osemele. “I certainly have to go in and expect to play,” Reid says. “I want this position, and it’s mine to lose.”

Curtis Painter had an edge of familiarity when he auditioned for the team this spring, beating out Kyle Boller and Dennis Dixon at a tryout. Painter played for Ravens quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell with the Colts before Caldwell was fired last season. He’s expected to be the third quarterback.

Home-field Advantage
The Ravens went undefeated at home and were one of only three teams to accomplish that feat last season (along with the Packers and Saints). Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have won 18 of their last 19 regular-season games at home and are 27–5 in Baltimore overall since he took over four years ago.

Hold That Line
The Ravens are stout on defense. They ranked first in red zone defense last season, allowing only 16 touchdowns for a 38.1 TD percentage.

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: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Cincinnati Bengals
No. 14: Philadelphia Eagles
No. 13: New Orleans Saints
No. 12: Dallas Cowboys
No. 11: Denver Broncos
No. 10: Detroit Lions
No. 9: Chicago Bears
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons
No. 7: Baltimore Ravens
No. 6: Fri., August 24

Order your 2012 Baltimore Ravens Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Baltimore Ravens Schedule Analysis

<p> Baltimore Ravens 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 12:45
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-bristol

The Race for the Chase is heating up and after two weeks of late-race drama the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Thunder Valley for the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

When the series hits the high-banks, it will be on a much different racing surface than the drivers have been accustomed to over the past few seasons. After the 2007 reconfiguration of the track, progressive banking was added in the corners, allowing for multiple grooves and two- and three-wide racing.

The racing on the new configuration was exciting and competitive, however many fans bemoaned the changes and called for a return to the Bristol of old. While it may have been the changes to the track, a lagging economy, or a host of other reasons, attendance fell from 160,000 in August 2007 to 102,000 earlier this year.

Listening to the fans, Speedway Motorsports, Inc.'s Bruton Smith took measures into his own hands and altered the track layout for the second time in six years. By grinding down the top racing groove, Smith hopes to create the style of racing Bristol was synonymous with when the grandstands were full and there was a waiting list for tickets.

Yet for many of the drivers, the change to Bristol is an unwelcome sight. Making changes based solely off the opinion of fans, Smith did not consult the competitors before taking away the top groove, boasting, "I do not consult race drivers when I am building a speedway."

After a painstaking process of removing embanked concrete intended to last “15 to 18 years,” according to track general manager Jerry Caldwell, Goodyear brought in Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer for a two-day tire test of the new configuration.

Each of the drivers confirmed the field would be unable to race around the top groove, forcing drivers to fight for space on the bottom of the track.

“The drivers aren’t going to be happy, but the spectators probably will be because it is going to put more cars in a closer space,” Burton said following the June tire test. “By taking away that groove, it is going to change your mind about going up there. I think it is going to be two grooves, unless Goodyear brings a tire with a lot of grip. If that is the case, you’ll want to run around the bottom. Making the groove smaller is a good thing, it is going to put the action back to the bottom and middle of the track.”

So, now that the track has changed, what can you expect for your fantasy outlook?

Well, I wouldn’t stray far from the statistics — new Bristol or old. While the groove may have changed, the drivers that excel at Bristol will continue to do so this weekend under the lights.

To find the hottest driver at BMS the past two events, look no further than the man that has finished second the last two weeks: Brad Keselowski. The Penske Racing driver is the defending race winner, went to Victory Lane in dominant fashion here in March and is looking for his fourth win of the 2012 season.

Currently fifth in the Sprint Cup standings, Keselowski is tied with former champions Stewart and Jimmie Johnson with the most wins on the season. A win Saturday night would not only mean a sweep of the year's Bristol races, but would also move Keselowski into the top seed heading into the Chase.

In March, Keselowski dominated the final race on the multi-groove surface, leading 232 of the 500 laps. In the past two weeks, the No. 2 car has been in contention for the win, losing out by only a slight margin to Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen and Greg Biffle at Michigan.

Since his victory in Kentucky seven races ago, Keselowski has five top 5s and seven top 10s. So obviously, this team has been on a roll as of late — and that roll should continue right through the mountains of East Tennessee. With confidence on his side and the team gunning for another win or two before the Chase, it is hard to bet against Keselowski Saturday night under the lights.

Much like last weekend, if Keselowski wants to end up in Victory Lane, he will have to beat Johnson. Looking as if he was on his way to his fourth victory of the season last week at Michigan, a blown motor in the final laps resulted in a frustrating 27th-place finish.

A former winner at Bristol, Johnson is always a threat on the high-speed short track. In his last seven races at BMS, the five-time champion has one win, four top 5s and six top 10s.

While Keselowski took advantage of Johnson's issues last Sunday, it was Kyle Busch who lost the win late in the race two weeks ago in Watkins Glen. Currently 14th in the standings, Busch is third in the Chase wild card hunt behind Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman. While the past few months have been more than frustrating for the driver of the No. 18 Toyota (only three top 10s in the last 11 races), there could be no better track for Busch than Bristol to get back into contention.

With the second-best average finish (10.6), Busch has five wins at Bristol, including four of the last seven races. With time running out before the Chase cut-off, Busch will need to get up on the wheel and get the job done.

Admittedly off at Bristol since his March 2011 win, he and crew chief Dave Rogers will have to dial the car in to the new configuration without over-thinking the setup, as they have done in the past.

Also consider last week's winner (and current points leader) Biffle, as well as fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. for your lineup Saturday night. Both have been extremely strong as of late and have run well at Bristol in the past.

Five Favorites: Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle 

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Saturday's Bristol Night Race NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Bristol Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 12:21
Path: /news/tennessees-offense-suffers-huge-loss-darick-rogers-suspension

No matter how talented a player is, there comes a point where you just have to let them go. Tennessee may have reached that point with receiver Da’Rick Rogers. The junior has been suspended indefinitely from the team, putting his status for SEC play and the entire 2012 season in doubt.

Making matters worse for Tennessee is this isn’t Rogers’ first incident. The junior missed a portion of spring practice and there was some thought he may be transferring out of the program. However, Rogers came back to the team and was expected to be the Volunteers’ No. 1 receiver early in the year.

Rogers was one of the top receivers in the SEC last season, catching 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns. He recorded six 100-yard efforts in 2011, including 116 yards and two scores in the 27-21 win over Vanderbilt. Rogers earned first-team All-SEC honors last year and was ranked as one of Athlon’s top 15 receivers for 2012.

Without Rogers, Tennessee will have to rely even more on Justin Hunter and junior college recruit Cordarrelle Patterson. Hunter is returning from an ACL tear but if healthy, should be one of the top receivers in the SEC. Patterson was one of the top junior college recruits but it will take him some time to adjust to the FBS level.

Losing Rogers will be felt immediately in the season opener, as the Volunteers take on NC State. The Wolfpack own one of the nation’s top defensive backfields, led by All-American cornerback David Amerson. With Rogers suspended, NC State can leave Amerson on Hunter, forcing Patterson or one of the other Volunteer receivers to become the No. 1 target for quarterback Tyler Bray.

Rogers’ suspension is just another distraction for Tennessee going into 2012. The Volunteers are coming off a disappointing 5-7 season, and coach Derek Dooley is squarely on the hot seat with a 11-14 record over the last two years. Tennessee still has plenty of firepower on offense to make some noise in the SEC, but Rogers was expected to be a key part of the passing game.

Considering Rogers’ incident in the spring and his fall suspension, Dooley and the coaching staff has to wonder whether he is worth the trouble anymore. Although Rogers is one of the best receivers in the SEC, dealing with a constant distraction just isn’t worth it – especially for a coaching staff that needs a big year to save their jobs.

Even if Rogers returns during the year, there’s no telling how rusty he will be. It will take some time for Bray and Rogers to develop a connection once again, which could slow down Tennessee’s offense. Considering the Volunteers’ schedule, there’s no time for the offense to jell. After the opener against NC State, Tennessee takes on Florida in Week 3 and Georgia in Week 5.

Eliminating Rogers as a distraction would be the best move for Dooley and the Tennessee staff. However, considering what Rogers brings to the field, it’s a tough decision facing the Volunteers, especially in a make-or-break season.


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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<p> Tennessee's Offense Suffers Huge Loss With Da'Rick Rogers Suspension</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/10-first-year-starting-qbs-who-could-win-college-footballs-national-title

When predicting college football’s national champion, experience at quarterback is usually one of the most important factors to consider. However, is it time to reconsider how important experience is under center? Three of the last four teams to play in the title game had a first-year starter at quarterback. Alabama’s Greg McElroy took home the title in 2009, while Auburn’s Cam Newton won the Heisman and national championship in 2011.

Since the BCS was created in 1998, nine quarterbacks have played for the national title in their first season:

1998: Tee Martin, Tennessee - W
1999: Michael Vick, Virginia Tech - L
2002: Craig Krenzel, Ohio State - W
2007: Matt Flynn, LSU - W; Todd Boeckman, Ohio State
2009: Greg McElroy, Alabama - W
2010: Cam Newton, Auburn - W; Darron Thomas, Oregon
2011: AJ McCarron, Alabama – W

Is the emergence of first-year quarterbacks as national champs a new trend in college football? Considering the unpredictability from year-to-year, it’s probably too early to make any judgments. The success of McElroy, Newton and McCarron show different options can lift a team to the title. Newton carried Auburn, while McElroy and McCarron were steady for Alabama team’s that boasted one of the nation’s best rushing attacks and defenses.

Although it’s too early to make any long-term predictions about this recent trend, there is a good possibility a first-year starter at quarterback will make it to the national title game in 2012. Which teams are the most likely to have a first-year starter at quarterback and play for the national championship?

Top 5 Contenders to Win the National Title With a First-Year Starting Quarterback

1. LSU (Zach Mettenberger)
After struggling to generate a consistent passing attack last season, LSU hopes Mettenberger is the missing piece to another run at the national title. Mettenberger spent one year at Georgia and transferred to Butler Community College to play in 2010. In his one season in the junior college ranks, Mettenberger threw for 2,678 yards and 32 touchdowns. He played in five games last season for the Tigers, completing 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards and one touchdown. With one of the best defenses in the nation and a punishing rushing attack, LSU won’t need Mettenberger to throw for 3,500 yards. However, in order for the Tigers to win (not just play) the national championship, he needs to be a difference maker.

2. Oregon (Marcus Mariota or Bryan Bennett)
Whether it’s Mariota or Bennett taking the first snap for the Ducks this season, Oregon will be a national title contender. Oregon returns 10 starters and has a capable duo (Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas) to pickup where LaMichael James left off at running back. Bennett made one start in relief of Darron Thomas last season, throwing for 156 yards and two touchdowns against Colorado, while rushing for 69 yards. Mariota redshirted last season and made quite an impression in the spring game, throwing for 202 yards and adding 99 more on the ground. Mariota brings more athleticism to the offense, but Bennett has plenty of mobility to thrive in this offense. Coach Chip Kelly shouldn’t be too worried about starting a new quarterback, as Mariota or Bennett should keep Oregon’s offense among the best in the nation.

3. Texas (David Ash or Case McCoy)
Quarterback play is really the only obstacle standing in the way of Texas competing for a Big 12 title. Oklahoma is the preseason favorite but lost two offensive line starters and is still searching for the right mix at receiver. The Longhorns return the conference’s best defense, along with a deep stable of running backs and an improving offensive line. David Ash finished 2011 with an edge over Case McCoy, but the battle continued into the fall, with Ash earning the No. 1 role for the season opener. Although Ash earned the right to start, McCoy will see some playing time. Playing two quarterbacks isn’t necessarily bad, but it doesn’t sound like Ash put any distance on McCoy for the No. 1 spot. After improving its win total by three games from 2010 and 2011, Texas could be in for a similar jump in 2012. However, finishing the regular season unbeaten and knocking off Oklahoma for the Big 12 title will depend on how much Ash or McCoy progresses and clearly assumes the No. 1 spot.

4. Michigan State (Andrew Maxwell)
The battle between Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska to win the Big Ten Legends Division should be one of the most competitive races in college football. The Spartans are the defending division champs, but must replace quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. Cousins finished his Michigan State career with 9,131 yards and 66 touchdowns, along with serving as one of the team’s leaders during his three-year run as the starter. Maxwell was a highly-regarded prospect coming out of high school but has played sparingly over the last two seasons. He has thrown for 294 yards and one touchdown in his short career in East Lansing, while completing 56.9 percent of his passes. With one of the Big Ten’s top defenses, offensive lines and running backs (Le’Veon Bell), Maxwell won’t have to win games on his own. However, early tests against Boise State, Notre Dame and Ohio State could decide if the Spartans challenge for another 11-win season or finish behind the Wolverines and Cornhuskers in the division.

5. Oklahoma State (Wes Lunt)
The Cowboys nearly made the national title last season, coming within one field goal of beating Iowa State and finishing unbeaten. Getting to No. 1 or No. 2 in the polls will be a little more challenging in 2012, especially with the departure of quarterback Brandon Weeden, receiver Justin Blackmon and center Grant Garner. Lunt (a true freshman) enrolled in time to compete in spring practice, which enabled him to get a head start on learning the offense. He played well in the spring game, throwing for 215 yards and two touchdowns on 15 completions. Lunt’s spring performance was enough to vault him into the No. 1 spot, and he appeared to widen the gap in the fall. The Cowboys have a cupcake opener against Savannah State and take on Arizona and Louisiana-Lafayette before playing Texas to open Big 12 play. Mike Gundy has done a good job of developing quarterbacks throughout his tenure, and Lunt looks like the next superstar to lead Oklahoma State’s offense.

Five Longshots/First-Year QBs to Watch

Auburn (Kiehl Frazier or Clint Moseley)
Unfortunately for Auburn, there’s no Cam Newton on the roster once again. The Tigers ranked 100th nationally in total offense last season and may not be much better in 2012, especially with uncertainty under center and the departure of running back Michael Dyer. Sophomore Kiehl Frazier is expected to start at quarterback, but he has only thrown 12 passes in his career and was recruited to run Gus Malzahn's spread offense. New coordinator Scot Loeffler plans to implement a pro-style attack, which will require an adjustment period for Frazier. Clint Moseley is also in the mix to start but has been dealing with shoulder trouble in fall camp. Although the offense is an issue, Auburn’s defense should be solid, especially under new coordinator Brian VanGorder and one of the SEC’s top defensive lines. Another reason to consider Auburn a longshot for cracking the top 10 is a difficult schedule, which features road trips to Mississippi State, Alabama and Vanderbilt, along with a neutral site game against Clemson. Although the Tigers should be strong in the trenches, the offense needs another year of development to threaten for another national championship.

Boise State (Joe Southwick)
It will be impossible to replace Kellen Moore, but Boise State is still a threat to make a BCS bowl. Southwick has played in 16 games, throwing for 400 yards on 40 completions. He also has two touchdowns and completed 74.1 percent of his throws. Southwick was pushed by true freshman Nick Patti for time in the spring, but pulled away in the fall. Reloading on offense hasn’t been an issue for coach Chris Petersen, but the Broncos return only one starter on defense. The schedule is favorable, but trips to Michigan State, Nevada and Wyoming won’t be easy. Considering Boise State’s penchant for reloading, the Broncos won’t slip too far in the top 25. However, contending for a national title is probably a year away. 

Florida (Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel)
Considering the offenses Florida had under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, it has been a surprise to see just how much this offense has struggled over the last couple of years. With John Brantley finishing his eligibility, Florida will turn to sophomores Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel under center. Both players received some playing time last season and have been in a virtual dead heat for the starting job in preseason workouts. Brissett is the better passer, while Driskel brings more athleticism to the position. In addition to the question marks at quarterback, Florida needs to find playmakers at running back and receiver and shore up a questionable offensive line. The defense should be salty, which should keep Florida in the hunt for the SEC East crown. However, a national title is an extreme longshot with the concerns on offense.

Notre Dame (Everett Golson, Andrew Hendrix or Gunner Kiel)
If the Irish want to play in a BCS bowl this year, they have to find an answer at quarterback. Dayne Crist started the opener against South Florida last season but was pulled in favor of Tommy Rees. Although Rees finished with 20 touchdowns and 2,871 yards, he threw 14 picks and struggled against Notre Dame’s toughest opponents last year – Florida State, Stanford and USC. An off-the-field incident will keep Rees from playing in the opener against Navy, which opens the door for Everett Golson. The redshirt freshman brings a different dimension to the offense with his mobility and could help spark an offense that scored less than 20 points in each of the last three games in 2011. If Golson fails to impress in the opener, coach Brian Kelly could turn to Hendrix (sophomore) or Kiel (true freshman). Another obstacle to Notre Dame making a run at a national title is a schedule that features games against Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, USC and Oklahoma. Ouch. Even if the Irish show improvement, it’s a longshot they can navigate those five games without a loss.

Stanford (Josh Nunes or Brett Nottingham)
In a mild surprise, coach David Shaw declared Nunes the starter for the season opener against San Jose State. Nottingham held a slight edge over Nunes at the conclusion of spring practice, but was unable to win the job in the fall. It’s possible both quarterbacks will play significant snaps in 2012, however, there’s no question Stanford will miss Andrew Luck. Nunes has thrown only two passes in his career, while Nottingham tossed eight last year. Expect the Cardinal to lean on the rushing attack and a defense that returns seven starters. Stanford’s schedule will present some challenges, especially with road games against Washington, Notre Dame, California and Oregon. Although the Cardinal is due for a fall, this program still has enough talent to be a top 15 team.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)


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<p> 10 First-Year Starting QBs Who Could Win College Football's National Title</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 05:20
Path: /college-football/secs-top-impact-freshmen-2012

With college football's fall practice in full swing around the nation, it's really the first time names made famous on recruiting websites are showing up in actual practice reports. When it comes to picking which freshmen will make an impact in their first season on campus, it's really all about who can pick up the playbook the fastest and who fits a need. The SEC featured two huge stars as freshman a year ago in South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney — who might already be the best DE in the nation — and Georgia tailback Isaiah Crowell. Of course, after Crowell was dismissed from the team, the Dawgs could have another true freshman runner push for SEC Offensive Freshman of the Year. This season will feature another class of stellar prospects who will mold the landscape in the SEC (listed alphabetically): 

The SEC's Top Impact Freshmen for 2012

Evan Boehm, OL, Missouri
The coaching staff in Columbia has been full of praise for their star prospect at guard. He has been battling for the starting spot and Gary Pinkel has stated the Lee’s Summit, Mo, native has the size and maturity to play right away. He would be the only the third true freshman offensive lineman to ever play under the Mizzou coach.

Landon Collins, S, Alabama
The secondary under Nick Saban will always be an area of strength and the nation’s No. 2 safety only makes it better. With Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick leaving, there should be room for the massive Collins to get onto the field alongside Robert Lester. 

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
The 'Bama offense should be more explosive and more dynamic in 2012 and this is due in part to the boost in talent Nick Saban is getting at wide receiver. Cooper was a star in the Under Armour All-American event and has done nothing to disprove that in camp thus far. Look for Cooper to work his way into the starting line-up.

Quay Evans, DT, Mississippi State
Along with fellow tackle Nick James, Evans should expect to be one of a handful of Bulldog freshmen to see action early. The Morton, Miss., prospect was a Top 100 recruit and fills a need following the departure of NFL first-rounder Fletcher Cox.

Dorial Green-Beckam, WR, Missouri
The most prolific high school receiver in American prep history will suit up for Mizzou this fall. The nation’s No. 1 overall prospect can expect to see a lot of passes throw his way. His 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame creates match-up issues all over the field and will be impossible to cover, both vertically and in the slot. DGB will be a big star in the SEC.

Darreon Herring, LB, Vanderbilt
James Franklin announced last weekend that three true freshmen will be playing right away and Herring is one of them. The speedy tackler from Stone Mountain, Ga., is listed as the No. 2 outside backer but could very easily slide into the starting line-up once the season gets underway.

Linebackers, LSU
Kwon Alexander, Ronnie Feist, Deion Jones, Lamar Louis and Lorenzo Phillips could all see playing time this fall. It is anybody’s guess as to who will get the most playing time, but look for Alexander and the two spring enrollees, Louis and Feist, to get the first crack at contributing.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Despite an immature physical dust-up that resulted in an arrest this summer, the talented dual-threat beat out Jameil Showers to earn the starting job for the Aggies. He posted huge numbers, both through the air and on the ground, as a high school senior two years ago, and in Kevin Sumlin’s system, fans can bet on big numbers from the redshirt freshman.

Mekale McKay, WR, Arkansas
The massive 6-foot-6 hoops star has made an immediate impact on the Hogs offense as he could very well start opposite Cobi Hamilton. With the very talented Tyler Wilson at quarterback, McKay has a chance to do his best DGB impersonation this fall. Few veteran cornerbacks will be able to match up with his raw leaping and overall athletic ability that earn him Mr. Basketball in the state of Kentucky last year.

Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
The massive (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) linebacker has been battling Ferlando Bohanna for the starting middle linebacker job that may not get decided until well into the fall. McKinney has proven to be a leader even as a freshman and could easily earn the starting spot at MLB for Dan Mullen.

Otha Peters, LB, Arkansas
The linebacking corps at Arkansas has dealt with some injuries this summer and that has opened the door for players like Peters to step in and contribute. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder from Covington, La., is in a heated battle for a starting spot. Either way, expect the true frosh to play big minutes this fall.

Shaq Roland, WR, South Carolina
Alshon Jeffery is gone and Steve Spurrier is hoping his new toy from Lexington, S.C., will help fill the void. The speedy pass-catcher was the No. 5 wideout prospect in the nation, the top prospect in the state, and has wowed the coaching staff since stepping on campus.

Jay Rome, TE, Georgia
The only thing standing in the way of the 6-foot-6, 250-pound freak of nature and certain stardom is himself. Mark Richt loves the athleticism and raw play-making ability Rome brings to the table, especially with Orson Charles now in the NFL. But the head Dawg wants to see consistent effort and some added toughness.

Running Backs, Georgia
Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have the chance to be a special freshman tandem this fall. These two are going to get tons of carries and Gurley has been the early star of camp for the Dawgs. Along with massive fullback Quayvon Hicks, Mark Richt has a more than enough talent to offset the loss of the aforementioned Crowell. Look for the burley Gurley and the speedy Marshall to compliment each other perfectly.

John Theus, OL, Georgia
This big blocker from Jacksonville, Fla., could be the starter at left tackle from the second Georgia kicks off the 2012 season. He was the No. 2 offensive line prospect in the nation and the Dawgs are in big need of depth along the offensive front. Along with Zach DeBell, Theus will help stabilize the UGA front.

Zach West, OL, Kentucky
The hometown kid from Lexington Christian Academy is locked into a starting guard spot opposite Larry Warford. The 6-foot-4, 312-pounder could have played a year ago but Joker Phillips allowed the big blocker to develop. Now, he has four years of eligibility and a starting spot along the line.

Trey Williams, RB, Texas A&M
Christine Michael and Ben Malena are perfectly capable SEC tailbacks. But Michael has been injury prone throughout his career and Malena isn’t a scat back. Williams, on the other hand, brings a dynamic, speedy skillset to the offense and will complement both of the bigger backs perfectly.

TJ Yeldon, RB, Alabama
The twisting, turning, gyrating, impossible-to-tackle running back from Daphne, Ala., will have a shot to play early and often this fall. Eddie Lacy has a toe issue and Dee Hart is returning from a torn ACL, so the door is open for the big powerback.

Freshman Position Battles To Watch:

Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills, CB, LSU
These two shold battle for the starting spot vacated by the Honey Badger. 

Kris Frost, Javier Mitchell and Cassanova McKinzy, LB, Auburn
There isn't a ton of depth for Auburn at LB, so fans should expect a lot of new faces making tackles this fall.

Beniquez Brown and Richie Brown, LB, Mississippi State
Expect to see plenty of youth in the defensive front seven for Dan Mullen this fall.

Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers, RB, Ole Miss
Jeff Scott has been banged-up and these two youngsters have been impressive in camp thus far.

Raphael Andrades and LaTroy Pittman, WR, Florida
The offense is in desperate need of play makers, so expect both to get a long look in camp.

Greg Robinson, Christian Westerman, Alex Kozan and Avery Young, OL, Auburn
The Tigers OL is stacked with young talent and these two could step in and play very quickly.

Other Names To Watch:

Caleb Azubike, DL, Vanderbilt
Jonathan Bullard, DL, Florida
James DeLoach, LB, Georgia
Travin Dural, WR, LSU
Dante Fowler Jr., DE/OLB, Florida
Reid Ferguson, LS, LSU
Kris Frost, LB, Auburn
De’Vante Harris, CB, Texas A&M
Dee Hart, RB, Alabama
Joshua Hosley, CB, Auburn
DJ Humphries, OL, Florida
Danielle Hunter, DE, LSU
Jordan Jenkins, DL, Georgia
Brian Kimbrow, RB, Vanderbilt
Justin King, AP, Tennessee
Dillon Lee, LB, Alabama
Ricardo Louis, WR, Auburn
LaDarrell McNeil, DB, Tennessee
Antonio Morrison, LB, Florida
Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Sheldon Royster, S, South Carolina
Justin Scott-Wesley, WR, Georgia
Justin Taylor, RB, Kentucky
Dwayne Thomas, DB, LSU
Eddie Williams, DB/WR, Alabama

- by Braden Gall


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<p> The SEC's Top Impact Freshmen of 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 05:17
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-defensive-linemen-2012

Winning the battle in the trenches is crucial to claiming college football's national championship. The SEC has claimed six consecutive national titles, so it should come as no surprise this conference has some of the top defensive linemen. South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney is in for a monster sophomore season, while LSU's Sam Montgomery will make a run at first-team All-American honors. The SEC is represented in the defensive tackles, as four of the top 10 reside from the conference.

When compiling the rankings, Athlon considered how each player will perform in 2012, some past performance, personnel losses around the quarterback, conference difficulty and pro potential. 

College Football's Top Defensive Linemen for 2012

Top 20 Defensive Ends for 2012

1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina 
It is hard to argue that any one player in the nation has more upside than this 6-foot-6, 260-pound freak of nature. As only a freshman, Clowney posted 8.0 sacks and forced five fumbles. He earned Defensive Freshman of the Year honors in the SEC and claimed a spot on the Freshman All-American team after his 36-tackle, 11.5-tackles for a loss debut season. The only thing keeping the star defensive end from being the top player in the league is his mental grasp of the game. He is still an underclassmen and still has some maturing to do before he becomes the most dominate defensive player in the nation. It may not take too long, however.

2. Sam Montgomery, LSU
The powerful defensive end was named first-team All-SEC last season, and the junior will be one of the top players in the country this year. Montgomery made 49 tackles (with 13.5 for loss) in 2011 and led the Tigers with nine sacks. The South Carolina native is the latest in a long line of stellar LSU defensive lineman. He will combine with fellow pass rusher Barkevious Mingo to form one of the best defensive end tandems in the country in 2012.

3. John Simon, Ohio State
Simon is the key player on a veteran Ohio State defensive line, ranked by Athlon as the best in the Big Ten. This wrecking ball is as difficult as anyone in the country to block from the outside. He’s improved each year, topping out at 16 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and three pass deflections last season. Urban Meyer’s background is on offense, but he has a knack for utilizing great pass rushers like Carlos Dunlap, Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss at Florida.

4. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Few players ever enter the college ranks ready to play like Jeffcoat was. Obviously, his long-standing NFL legacy helps, as his fundamental understanding of the game is superior to most players his age. His 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame helps too. Jeffcoat started all 13 games as a sophomore, earning second-team All-Big 12 honors after recording 54 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. With another stellar season on the 40 Acres, JJ-44 will likely take his talents to the next level.

5. William Gholston, Michigan State
Entering his junior season, Gholston appears to be only scratching the surface of his potential. The Michigan State coaching staff wasted no time in getting the Detroit native involved as a freshman, as Gholston played in 10 games and recorded 13 stops. In his first year as a starter in 2011, he recorded 70 tackles, five sacks and 16 tackles for a loss last season. Gholston earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season and should be in the mix to earn All-American honors in 2012. Without Jerel Worthy plugging the middle, opposing offensive lines will devote more attention to Gholston’s side. Despite a few more double teams coming in his direction, the junior is poised to have his best overall season, which could be his last in East Lansing with NFL scouts already raving about his potential.

6. Corey Lemonier, Auburn
As only a sophomore, the former top 100 recruit realized his potential by leading the Tigers with 9.5 sacks. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound rush end finished his second season on The Plains with 47 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss and 15 QB hurries. He was the lone star on a defense that struggled mightily a year ago, but could emerge as an All-American superstar now that new coordinator Brian VanGorder is running the ship. Look for him to build around the future NFL draftee from Hialeah, Fla.

7. Barkevious Mingo, LSU 
As a sophomore on an undefeated team, Mingo finished second on the team in sacks (8.0) and led the team in tackles for a loss (15.0). While he may not be as complete a player as his defensive end counterpart Montgomery, Mingo might possess more explosiveness off the edge. He is long at 6-foot-5 and 240 pound and can get up the field with great quickness. He has first-round NFL potential and should only build upon his second-team All-SEC performance of 2011.

8. Alex Okafor, Texas
Jackson Jeffcoat’s partner in crime hails from an Austin suburb called Pflugerville. “Big Oak” has played in 39 games in his Longhorn career and is coming off his best season. The 6-foot-4, 265 pound end set career highs in tackles (56), tackles for a loss (14.0) and sacks (7.0) to go with 14 quarterback hurries. He earned AFCA All-American honors and was a unanimous first-team All-Big 12 selection. Okafor and Jeffcoat might form the best defensive end duo in the nation this fall.

9. Brandon Jenkins, Florida State
Jenkins’ numbers dropped last year, but he still remains one of the nation’s top pass rushers. He recorded 13.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2010 but with defenses paying more attention to his side of the line, Jenkins finished with eight sacks and 12 tackles for a loss in 2011. The Tallahassee native has earned All-ACC honors each of the last two years and is on the preseason watchlists for the Bednarik, Nagurski and Lott Impact Trophy. With Bjoern Werner emerging as one of the ACC’s top ends on the other side, Jenkins and Florida State's defensive line should rank among the nation's best.

10. Bjoern Werner, Florida State
Werner is one of the most interesting stories in college football. As a German exchange student, he played only two seasons of high school football in the United States and quickly emerged as a key member of Florida State’s rotation in the trenches. Werner recorded 37 stops, seven sacks and 11 tackles for a loss last year and is an Athlon Sports second-team All-ACC selection for 2012. With Brandon Jenkins back on the other side for his senior year, Florida State should have one of the top defensive end combinations in college football.

11. Devin Taylor, South Carolina
Taylor’s profile slipped a bit playing alongside All-American Melvin Ingram and freshman sensation Jadeveon Clowney, but he was an AP first-team All-SEC selection just two seasons ago. He finished 2010 with 7.5 sacks and 46 tackles. Last season, Taylor was third on the team with six. He’ll be a veteran leader for Clowney.

12. Dion Jordan, DE/LB, Oregon
Athleticism and speed are two hallmarks of Oregon’s defense, so it was really no surprise when Jordan shifted from tight end to defensive end before the 2010 season. And after spending one year as a reserve, Jordan shined in his first full season as a starter in 2011, recording 42 tackles, 13 TFL and 7.5 sacks. He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors and was named to the watchlists for the Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski and Hendricks Award for 2012. Jordan is Oregon’s top rush end and should only get better with another offseason to refine his skills on defense.

13. James Gayle, Virginia Tech
A second-team All-ACC selection last season, Gayle tied for sixth in the conference and led Virginia Tech in sacks with seven. He also had 38 total tackles and was second on the team with 12.5 tackles for a loss. He was named the ACC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week on two different occasions in 2011 and started every game he played in (13), missing one due to injury.

14. Stansly Maponga, TCU
Even before last season, Maponga was tabbed as the next defensive star for the Horned Frogs. He delivered in his second season as a starter and looks to continue his improvement as a junior. Maponga had nine sacks and five forced fumbles last season. In one season, he jumped from three tackles for a loss to 13.5. The Big 12 awaits.

15. Michael Buchanan, Illinois
At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, Buchanan has intriguing size and ability for the pro ranks, but he elected to stay at Illinois rather than follow linemate Whitney Mercilus to the NFL Draft. Back for his senior season, Buchanan will try to show he can be a team’s top pass rusher after working aside Mercilus last season. Buchanan’s 7.5 sacks were less than half of Mercilus’ total (16) but still ranked fourth in the Big Ten.

16. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
With Aaron Lynch’s decision to transfer, Tuitt will have to take on a bigger role on the defensive line in 2012. As a freshman in 2011, Tuitt played in nine games and recorded 30 tackles and two sacks. He needed some time to transition from high school to college, but Tuitt was one of the defensive line’s top players at the end of the year, registering 26 of his 30 tackles over the final six games. The sophomore will is expected to start on the outside in 2012 and will be one of the team’s top pass-rush threats on the line. Notre Dame will miss Lynch, but Tuitt’s development could help the Irish own one of the nation’s top 10 defensive lines. 

17. Jamie Collins, Southern Miss
Collins has played at each level of the defense over the last three years but has settled at end after a standout 2011 season. The Mississippi native started all 14 games and recorded 98 tackles and 6.5 sacks last year. New coach Ellis Johnson was one of the top defensive coordinators in the SEC in recent years and should maximize Collins' talent for a monster 2012 season.

18. Trevardo Williams, Connecticut
The undersized defensive end from Bridgeport, Conn. has yet to miss a game in his three-year Husky career. He set career highs with 43 total tackles, 15.0 tackles for a loss and led the Big East with 12.5 sacks last fall.

19. Walter Stewart, Cincinnati
The Ashville, Ohio native has never missed a game in his Bearcat career and could be in for a breakout final season. He posted 44 total tackles, 11.0 tackles for a loss and 6.0 sacks, while helping Cincinnati's defense show big improvement last year.

20. Ben Gardner, Stanford
The big defensive lineman was named Stanford's most outstanding sophomore last fall after starting 12 games and registering 35 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Hailing from Mequon, Wisc., Gardner will be asked to rush the passer and keep offensive linemen off of the very talented Cardinal linebackers this fall.

Top 20 Defensive Tackles for 2012

1. Star Lotulelei, Utah
When the guys who are trying to block you officially vote you as the best defensive lineman in the league, it’s pretty hard to argue. Lotulelei earned such an honor last year when he was given the Morris Trophy, the award given to the best D-Lineman in the Pac-12 as voted on by starting offensive linemen. His 6-foot-4, 320-pound frame has NFL written all over it, as Utah hopes its Star in the middle can lead what was the league’s top scoring defense last year. The senior from South Jordan, Utah is a first-team All-American and looks to build on his 9.0 tackles for a loss and 44 total tackles.

2. Kawann Short, Purdue
With his combination of size and athleticism, Short is drawing attention from NFL scouts and is expected to be a first-round pick in 2013. The East Chicago native has started all three seasons at Purdue and is coming off his best year, recording 54 stops, 17 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks. Improving the run defense is one of the top priorities for coach Danny Hope this season, but Short’s return to West Lafayette should help the Boilermakers improve on last year’s statistics (9th in the Big Ten in rushing defense). Short was named Purdue’s team defensive MVP last season and is an Athlon second-team All-American for 2012. 

3. Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
Hankins is developing into the next great defensive lineman to come out of the Ohio State program. In his first year as a starter last fall, the Michigan native recorded 67 total tackles, including 14 for a loss and three sacks. The large but nimble Hankins has slimmed down to 317 pounds for his junior season. “Hank is now a little less of an immovable object and more of an unstoppable force,” says Ohio State center Corey Linsley. 

4. Joe Vellano, DE/DT, Maryland 
The 6-foot-1, 285-pound defensive end from Rexford, N.Y., is the star of the Maryland roster. He led the nation in tackles per game (7.8) by a lineman last year. He has started all 25 games the last two years with 157 tackles, 18.0 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. While he doesn’t possess true down lineman size that the scouts on Sundays look for, his motor is unmatched by most of the nation and allows him to achieve at an All-American level. It is why he is ranked as the ACC’s top defensive lineman by Athlon Sports for the 2012 season.

5. Bennie Logan, LSU 
The powerful defensive tackle will lead the interior of an excellent LSU defensive line in 2012. As a sophomore, Logan totaled 57 tackles and three sacks. He was named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week against Mississippi State last season after making five tackles, with three behind the line of scrimmage, in the 19-6 victory.

6. Sharrif Floyd, Florida
After starting 11 games at defensive end last season, Floyd moves back into the interior this year. The Philadelphia native made 46 tackles last season. He’ll look to use his big body (6-3, 303) to open up the Gators’ pass rush.

7. Jesse Williams, Alabama
The big fella has had an interesting career path to BCS national champion. He is from Brisbane, Australia and attended Western Arizona C.C. before Nick Saban found him last fall. All he did was lock down the D-Line for the stingiest defense in modern college football history.

8. Jordan Hill, Penn State
With Devon Still moving on to the NFL, it’s up to Hill to become Penn State’s leader in the trenches. He recorded 59 stops and 3.5 sacks last year, while earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Hill will likely see more double teams without Still, but the 6-foot-1 senior should be able to finish his career by pushing for All-American honors in 2012.

9. John Jenkins, Georgia
As expected, Jenkins was an instant impact player for Georgia's defense last season. After spending two years at Gulf Coast Community College, the Connecticut native was a perfect fit in the Bulldogs' 3-4 scheme, recording 28 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble. Jenkins should be better in his second year of SEC play, which is a scary thought for opposing linemen. 

10. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh 
A local product out of Pittsburgh Penn Hills, Donald was second in the Big East with 11 sacks and tied for second with 16 tackles for a loss in his first season as a starter. He will have to adjust to a 4-3 defense after playing every lineman position in the 3-4 last season. He started the final five games at end last season, but he’ll be a tackle in 2012.

11. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
If ACC fans weren’t familiar with Jernigan after his standout freshman season, it might be time to get acquainted. He quickly emerged as Florida State’s top defensive tackle, recording 30 stops and six tackles for a loss. Jernigan is already garnering plenty of attention this preseason, as he was named to the Outland Trophy watchlist and is an Athlon Sports third-team All-ACC selection. With another offseason to work in the weight room and with coordinator Mark Stoops, look for Jernigan to build off his impressive debut season.  

12. Akeem Spence, Illinois
One of three returning starters and two starting tackles on the Illinois defensive line, Spence started at defensive tackle since Day One of his redshirt freshman season in Champaign. The 6-1, 300-pounder recorded 69 sacks last season, a high number for an interior lineman, and helped anchor a defense that ranked seventh nationally.

13. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
After transferring from junior college, Williams made his presence known immediately as he was one of four North Carolina defensive players to start all 13 games in 2011. Williams finished his junior season with 54 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, three pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

14. Taylor Hart, Oregon
Hart was impressive in his first year as a starter, recording 44 stops, three tackles for a loss and two sacks. The Ducks like to rotate a lot of players on the line, but the junior should be one of the stalwarts in 2012. Hart earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last year but should be in the mix for first or second-team accolades this season.

15. Josh Boyd, Mississippi State
With Fletcher Cox departing to the NFL, Boyd will see more attention from opposing defenses in 2012. There’s no question he’s capable of handling the extra defender, as his 6-foot-3 frame allows him to provide plenty of push on the interior against opposing offensive lines. Boyd is an Athlon Sports second-team All-SEC selection for 2012 and should pickup where he left off in 2011.

16. Nitkita Whitlock, Wake Forest
The self-proclaimed 5-foot-9 and ¾ defensive tackle (don’t forget those three-quarters by the way) has come a long way from Texas prep outside linebacker with no offers to play Division I football. Heading into 2012, Whitlock has become one of the peskiest defensive lineman in the nation after a second-team All-ACC, 64-tackle, 14.0-TFL season in 2011. 

17. Abry Jones, Georgia
Jones is the second Georgia defensive tackle to make this list. Teammate John Jenkins ranks among the top 10 defensive tackles in college football, but Jones shouldn't be overlooked after three solid seasons at Georgia. He started all 14 games and recorded 47 tackles and four sacks last year. Jones will team with Jenkins to form one of the nation's top defensive tackle combinations. 

18. Everett Dawkins, Florida State
The Seminoles are overflowing with depth on the defensive line. Ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner are two of the best in the ACC, while sophomore Timmy Jernigan is a rising star in the middle. In his first full year as the starter last season, Dawkins recorded 25 tackles and earned honorable mention All-ACC honors.

19. Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
Playing nose guard isn’t a glamorous statistical position, but it’s crucial to the success of any 3-4 scheme. At 6-foot-3 and 326 pounds, Nix is the perfect anchor for the interior of the line. In his redshirt freshman campaign last year, he recorded 45 stops and four tackles for a loss. Inserting Nix into the starting lineup paid immediate dividends, as Notre Dame’s defense allowed only eight rushing scores last year. With Aaron Lynch leaving the team in the spring, opposing defenses could devote more attention to Nix, but he should be a consistent performer in 2012. 

20. Anthony Johnson, LSU
Despite losing Michael Brockers to the NFL Draft, LSU isn’t too concerned about its defensive line. Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are back to wreck havoc against opposing quarterbacks off the edge, while the interior is solid with Bennie Logan, Johnson and Ego Ferguson in the rotation. Johnson ranked as the No. 7 overall prospect in the 2011 Athlon Consensus 100 and played in all 14 games last year, recording 12 tackles and one sack. The sophomore is primed for a monster year and could challenge for All-SEC honors.

Writeups compiled by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Mark Ross and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

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<p> College Football's Top Defensive Linemen for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 05:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-pivotal-players-six-acc

On Monday, teams around the nation will move from preseason camp mode and into game-week preparation.

We’re starting to see coaches name starting quarterbacks and settle on position battles.

Although questions are still out there before the season, some weigh more heavily than others. As the preseason winds down, we’re picking who we believe to be “pivotal players,” or in other words, key players who need to step up where their teams need them most.

Athlon Sports’ characteristics of a “pivotal player:”
• He plays for a conference or division contender.
• He plays at a position of weakness for his team.
• He’s an unestablished player with potential to solidify his team’s position of weakness.

We begin our look at pivotal players with the ACC with other conferences to follow.

Nick Becton, OT,
Virginia Tech

Running back seems to be the most obvious void for Virginia Tech, but the Hokies have had little trouble filling that spot over the years. The bigger concern may be offensive line, where the Hokies lost Blake DeChristopher among others. Becton had been projected as a starter at times in his career, but he’s been limited to part-time duty due to injury. Virginia Tech needs him to stay healthy to protect Logan Thomas’ blind side. Right tackle Vinston Painter was a major in-state recruit in 2008, but he has yet to start a game for the Hokies.
Related: Logan Thomas is a rising star in the ACC

Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson
Clemson’s defensive shortcomings are well-documented, but what are the Tigers going to do about it? First, they hired Brent Venables. Now, they need a handful of defensive players to emerge. The defensive line lacks depth, but we’re going to focus on the secondary in a league full of quality veteran quarterbacks. Without their top cover corner (Coty Sensabaugh), the Tigers need Breeland to take the next step. As a redshirt freshman last season, he had a critical interception to spark Clemson’s rally to defeat Maryland and added another pick in the ACC Championship Game.
Related: Clemson S Blanks among top freshmen to watch in ACC

Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
At West Virginia, offensive line coach Rick Trickett earned a reputation of developing unlikely all-conference and All-American offensive linemen. Erving may be in that mold. He was an unheralded defensive line recruit and then an unheralded defensive line backup. He moved to left tackle last season, his first time playing on the offensive line. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has raved about the 6-foot-6, 309 sophomore since the spring. The Seminoles now need him to keep E.J. Manuel healthy. That was tough to do as Florida State quarterbacks were sacked 41 times last season.
Related: Clemson at Florida State tops list of ACC’s must-see games

Jeff Greene, WR, Georgia Tech
Don’t get too wrapped up in Georgia Tech’s option offense to believe receivers are irrelevant for the Yellow Jackets. Demaryius Thomas and Stephen Hill have taken advantage of defenses creeping up to stop the run by averaging more than 20 yards per catch -- Thomas led the NCAA with 29.3 yards per catch. The Yellow Jackets don’t return a wide receiver who caught a pass last season. The 6-4, 200-pound sophomore Greene may have the most potential of the Yellow Jackets’ receiving corps. Georgia Tech may only need one good receiver, if Greene can deliver, that at least gives defenses more threats to ponder.
Related: “Georgia Tech can run, but they can’t hide an inconsistent passing game,” says opposing coach in Athlon’s ACC anonymous scouting reports

Sterling Lucas, LB, NC State
NC State lost every starting linebacker, most notably Audie Cole. If there was any consolation, the fifth-year senior Lucas spent last season redshirting during his recovery from a knee injury. He’ll bring leadership to a position that needs stability. The only returning linebacker with experience, Lucas was named defensive captain before the start of preseason practice. He had 86 career tackles from 2008-10.
Related: Wolfpack’s Amerson checks in at No. 2 in top 50 ACC players

Tim Smith, WR, Virginia
Productive wide receivers haven’t been a strong suit for Virginia in recent years. Kris Burd’s 913 receiving yards last season were the most for the Cavaliers in a decade -- and even that came with only three touchdowns and 13.8 yards per catch. The junior Tim Smith could be a deep threat after averaging 17.1 yards per catch last season. That is, if the Cavs settle on a quarterback.
Related: ACC storylines: Will Cavs’ QB Michael Rocco hold off pressure from Phillip Sims?

-David Fox 


<p> College Football's Pivotal Players: Six from the ACC</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 05:05
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-10-biggest-injury-concerns-wide-receiver

Injuries are certainly a part of football, and fantasy football, for that matter, but when it comes to the latter that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't be prepared.

Here are the top injury concerns when it comes to wide receiver. These premier pass-catchers also have a history of catching plenty of time on the bench because of injuries.

1. Kenny Britt, Tennessee
After leading the AFC in receiving through two weeks with 271 yards, Britt tore his ACL against the Broncos in Week 3. He needed a second procedure to “clean up” the knee at the end of May. There's also the matter of pending discipline, most likely a suspension of some sort, from the NFL for his most recent off-field transgressions.

2. Andre Johnson, Houston
Missed six games after a Week 4 hamstring injury and then missed three more games after tweaking his other hamstring in Week 13. He also had his knee scoped in May and gave the team and potential fantasy owners a scare early in training camp when he injured his groin.

3. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
Coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but he might be not be ready for the start of the ’12 campaign after breaking a bone in his foot in May.

4. Miles Austin, Dallas
Austin missed two games with a left hamstring issue early and four games later on with a right hamstring problem. And wouldn't you know it, he hurt his hamstring, again, in traning camp. According to the team, the next time you will see Austin on the field is in Week 1 against the New York Giants, hopefully.

5. Sidney Rice, Seattle
Since his breakout 2009 season, he has missed 17 games over the last two years with shoulder and concussion issues.

6. Percy Harvin, Minnesota
Has dealt with durability issues dating back to his days at Florida, but surprisingly has missed only three games in his NFL career. Can he handle increased workload on the ground?

7. Marques Colston, New Orleans
Constantly seems to be dealing with nagging issues. Has missed eight games over the last four years, playing all 16 games only twice.

8. Dez Bryant, Dallas
Bryant has yet to play a full season in his two-year career. He was slowed by a bruised quad last season and left practice earlier this week with a knee injury. An MRI revealed patellar tendinitis in his right knee. He will miss the remaining preseason games, but is expected to be ready to go in Week 1.

9. Malcom Floyd, San Diego
Floyd has played 16 games only once in his seven-year career (2009). He has averaged 9.7 games played in the other six years.

10. Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia
He missed three games with shoulder and hamstring issues in the middle of last season after suffering significant weight loss from a mysterious preseason illness.

Five More to Watch

Vincent Brown, San Diego
Broke his left ankle in Aug. 18 preseason game, underwent surgery and is expected to be out at least eight weeks. He has not been ruled out for the season, however, and could make a return at some point in the second half.

Austin Collie, Indianapolis
Collie appears to have suffered yet another concussion after taking a hard hit in the Colts' preseason game against Pittsburgh on Aug. 19. It would represent the third concussion for the four-year pro since November 2010. Collie was limited to just nine games in 2010 because of concussions, but he did play in all 16 last season.

Jacoby Ford, Oakland
After playing in all 16 games as a rookie in 2010, Ford missed eight games with a serious foot injury in ’11, and suffered a left foot sprain in the Raiders' second preseason game. It doesn't help that he's only 5-9, 185 pounds.

Denarius Moore, Oakland
Moore was one of the surprise rookies of the 2011 season but did miss three games with a foot and ankle issues.

Demaryius Thomas, Denver
The big fella missed six games as a rookie due to injury and then ruptured his Achilles in February 2011. He recovered quickly enough to play 11 games last season.

— Published on August 23, 2012

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

<p> Fantasy Football: 10 Biggest Injury Concerns at Wide Receiver</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 05:04
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-oakland-raiders

What can the Oakland Raiders do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Eric Gilmore, Freelance Writer

Will Darren McFadden ever be able to carry the load for a full season?
The next time McFadden carries the load for a full season will be the first time. In his four NFL seasons, he has never carried more than 223 times. He has missed 19 games in his NFL career with assorted toe, foot and knee injuries. Although ­McFadden has recovered from last year’s Lisfranc injury, it’s hard to believe he’ll be able to stay healthy for an entire season. It’s up to him to prove us wrong.

Carson Palmer was more productive in 10 games last year than any season in Cincinnati. Will he keep up that pace for a full season?
Palmer basically came off the couch to play the final 10 games and start the final nine last season. With the benefit of a full offseason program and training camp, Palmer should be able to put up big numbers again. He will have to learn a new offense that new coordinator Greg Knapp brought with him from Houston — a form of the West Coast scheme with zone blocking. But compared to last year, he’ll have tons of time to master this playbook and become more familiar with his receivers.

Denarius Moore or Darrius Heyward-Bey?
Heyward-Bey had by far the better numbers last year, but Moore has better hands, runs better routes and produces more big plays. Quarterback Carson Palmer has raved about Moore, but he wants him to start catching more short- to mid-range passes to go with his work on deep throws. This is a tough call, especially with a new coaching staff and new offense in place, but Moore gets the nod.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Denarius Moore, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Mike Goodson, RB
Overvalued: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR
Top Rookie: Juron Criner, WR
Bounce-Back: Jacoby Ford, WR
Top IDP: Tyvon Branch, S

2012 Draft Class

3. Tony Bergstrom G 6/5 313 Utah
4. Miles Burris OLB 6/2 246 San Diego State
5. Jack Crawford DE 6/5 274 Penn State
5. Juron Criner WR 6/3 224 Arizona
6. Christo Bilukidi DT 6/5 290 Georgia State
7. Nathan Stupar LB 6/2 241 Penn State

Fantasy Impact: There’s a new front office and coaching staff taking over in Oakland, but their ability to add impact players on draft day was limited by having just one pick in the first three rounds. Tony Bergstrom could play guard or tackle and should upgrade the depth if he does not start in 2012. Juron Criner had a solid career at Arizona and surprisingly slipped to the fifth round. Although Criner could make an impact, playing time at receiver won’t be easy to come by with Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford returning.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (DEN, KC, at CAR)

There are plenty of weapons on the Oakland roster. And if they can all stay healthy, a fantasy title game in Carolina is very appealing. Facing two division opponents — Denver and Kansas City, both in Oakland — also isn’t a bad way to start the fantasy postseason. All three opponents allowed at least 21 points per game last season.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the Oakland Raiders</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 05:01
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/college-fantasy-football-sleepers-2012

It is very common for players to emerge at various times during the season and become viable options for fantasy owners.  The following players listed are unlikely to land on draft-day rosters, but owners would be wise to add them to their watch lists because of their fantasy potential. 

Tre Roberson, QB-Indiana
The dual-threat sophomore quarterback has taken control of the offense, and the Hoosiers’ early-season schedule should yield fantasy success.

Trey Miller, QB-Navy
Oft-injured Kriss Proctor made fantasy owners forget about Ricky Dobbs’ production under center for the Midshipmen in 2010, but the quarterback position is tailor-made for fantasy success running the triple-option.

Robert Williams, RB-Miami (OH)
The sophomore walk-on running back has been making a name for himself in fall camp and the Redhawks need to compliment their passing game.

Akeem Daniels, RB-Northern Illinois
Last year, Daniels averaged 5.4 yards per carry and 16.8 yards per catch and scored five touchdowns.  His versatility may be the deciding factor in landing the starting running back spot.

Tim Cornett, RB-UNLV
Cornett will try to become the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Rebels in eight years and the fact that five starters return on the offensive line will certainly help.

James Gillum, RB-Minnesota
Even though the junior college transfer hasn’t locked down the starting job, Gillum has the greater upside of the backs on the roster and the offensive line returns four starters.

Josh Ferguson, RB-Illinois
The shifty running back has excellent hands and seems to be a better fit in Tim Beckman’s spread attack than bruising Donovonn Young.

Stefon Diggs, WR-Maryland
Diggs is the best thing going in the Terps’ fall camp, but the lack of talent around him will keep his numbers in check.  However, his big-play potential is too great to ignore and he will keep fantasy owners excited on a week-to-week basis.

Keon Hatcher and Mekale McKay, WRs-Arkansas
One of these freshmen, if not both, will compliment Cobi Hamilton in the Hogs’ offense. 

Tre’ Parmalee, WR-Kansas
Charlie Weis may have found something in this freshman receiver, who hauled in two touchdown passes and returned a kick in one of the Jayhawks’ fall scrimmages.  

Cody Latimer, WR-Indiana
Roberson made our list at the quarterback position and we believe Latimer’s athleticism makes him a dangerous compliment, especially if defenses focus on running back Stephen Houston.


Others to watch:

Chris Coyer, QB-Temple

Munchie Legaux, QB-Cincinnati

Venric Mark, RB-Northwestern

Nick Hale, RB-Nevada

Terrence Franks, RB-Texas St.

DeLeon Eskridge, RB-San Jose St.

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon St.

Shaq Roland, WR-South Carolina

Darius Millines, WR-Illinois

Ty MacArthur, WR-Air Force

Jordan Leslie, WR-UTEP


by Joe DiSalvo -

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<p> College Fantasy Football Sleepers for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 04:47
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-biggest-preseason-questions-17-west-region

With Midnight Madness less than two months away, our look at some of the biggest questions in college basketball for 2012-13 continues into its second week.

Like the NCAA Tournament, we’re taking on 17 questions in each of our four regions of the country (South, East, Midwest and West) for our Great 68 Questions. We’ve “seeded” our questions, too, ranking the biggest questions in each region.
Last week we looked at the South Region (SEC, Big 12, Conference USA, Ohio Valley and Sun Belt) and the East Region (ACC, Big East, the CAA and the Ivy League). On Tuesday, we looked at the Midwest Region (Big Ten, Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley).
Today, we examine the top 17 questions in the West Region. Our final region includes the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast Conference and the WAC.

West Region No. 1 seed: Will the nation’s top recruiting class right the ship at UCLA?
A subpar signing class or two can be the difference between national prominence and the NIT. After three seasons of barely clinging the college basketball map, UCLA hopes the reverse is true. After going 56-43 in the last thee seasons, the Bruins signed two of the nation’s top five recruits in guard Shabazz Muhammad and forward Kyle Anderson, plus center Tony Parker. UCLA’s makeover is far less certain than the one that took place in Kentucky when the Wildcats signed John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Muhammad remains in eligibility limbo. The non-freshman core isn’t a sure bet, either: Josh Smith continues to battle weight issues. Larry Drew II is a one-year transfer at point guard, but will he be the same player who lost his job to Kendall Marshall and bolted North Carolina soon after. The Bruins should have the talent to win the Pac-12 and more, but this group also could have the potential to fall flat as other recent Bruins teams.

No. 2: Or will Arizona’s newcomers return the Wildcats to glory?
Like UCLA, Arizona has been in its own funk, though the Wildcats reached the Elite Eight two seasons ago with Derrick Williams leading the way. Like the Bruins, Arizona has brought in a highly ranked signing class to help turn the tide. Coach Sean Miller signed two McDonald’s All-Americans (Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley) plus top-10 prospect Kaleb Tarczewski. The Wildcats also solidified their point guard position with the addition of Xavier transfer Mark Lyons, whom Miller recruited to the Musketeers. With veteran forward Solomon Hill (12.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) holding the mix together, Arizona also has designs of returning to past prominence.
Related: Miller, Howland rank among top coaches in nation

No. 3: Should we be all in with Dave Rice at UNLV?
On paper, Rice’s first season at UNLV wasn’t all that different than the last two under Lon Kruger. The Rebels went 26-9 overall and 9-5 in the Mountain West and finished with a one-and-done appearance in the NCAA Tournament. But hopes are higher for Rice’s second season. UNLV returns All-America contender Mike Moser (14 ppg, 10.5 rpg) and second-team all-conference guard Anthony Marshall. That alone would be enough for UNLV to contend in the Mountain West, but the Rebels add freshmen Anthony Bennett, who was pried away from Kentucky, and Katin Reinhardt, plus transfers Khem Birch (Pittsburgh) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (USC). The newcomers must fit in with the established veterans, but the ceiling is much higher in Vegas.

No. 4: Or will another star freshman at San Diego State keep the Rebels at bay?
After tying for the MWC regular season title, the Aztecs’ top four scorers from a season ago return as juniors and seniors, including Jamaal Franklin (17.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg). Like UNLV, San Diego State will set its sights higher in 2012-13. The Aztecs add versatile wing Winston Shepard, who surpassed NBA first-round draft pick Kawhi Leonard as the highest ranked recruit in school history. Transfers Dwayne Polee II (St. John’s), James Johnson (Virginia) and JJ O’Brien (Utah) also add to San Diego State’s depth. The Aztecs could go out on top in their final season in the MWC before leaving for a traditional one-bid league, the Big West.

No. 5: Does Gonzaga finally have the right mix to advance in the NCAA Tournament?
Even as the West Coast Conference has become more competitive in recent seasons, Gonzaga hasn’t slipped out of the NCAA Tournament picture, earning a bid in 14 consecutive seasons. Advancing, though, has been an issue. After reaching the Sweet 16 in Mark Few’s first two seasons, the Bulldogs have failed to reach the second weekend of the Tourney in nine of the last 11 seasons. In 2012-13, Few has a team that can make shots all over the floor, even from veteran forwards Elias Harris and Sam Dower. The Zags’ freshman backcourt of Kevin Pangos, the team’s leading scorer, and Gary Bell Jr., are a year older, too. With depth, talent and experience, Few has as balanced a team as he’s had in recent years at Gonzaga.
Related: Few tops list of “best of the rest” coaches

No. 6: How much will Cal miss Jorge Gutierrez?
If the Pac-12 has had one positive storyline in these recent lean years, it’s been the improvement at Cal. The Bears have reached the Tournament three times in the last four seasons under Mike Montgomery. Now, they’ll try to keep pace with UCLA and Arizona programs on the rebound. The biggest departure in Berkeley is Jorge Gutierrez, who was the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Cal will look to Allen Crabbe (15.2 ppg) to be the team’s top scorer again, but point guard Justin Cobbs (12.6 ppg) may be the most likely candidate to step into the leadership void left by Gutierrez, while Missouri transfer Ricky Kreklow may bring toughness.
Related: Montgomery leads rankings of Pac-12 coaches

No. 7: Is the heat on Johnny Dawkins at Stanford?
The Cardinal reached the NCAA Tournament in 13 of 14 seasons under Montgomery and his successor, Trent Johnson. That came to halt in four years under Dawkins. Stanford appears to be on the rebound after Dawkins best season in Palo Alto as the Cardinal went 26-11 and won the NIT. The Cardinal was inconsistent last season, starting 5-1 in the Pac-12 and going 5-7 thereafter, but Stanford returns a veteran nucleus of Anthony Brown, Aaron Bright and Dwight Powell in addition to sophomore Chasson Randle, who averaged 17.5 points over the final 10 games of the season. In other words, the pieces are in place for Stanford to end its NCAA drought. If not, Dawkins will feel the pressure.

No. 8: Can Colorado continue to play over its head?
Perhaps Colorado’s season was more of a reflection of the Pac-12 compared to the Big 12, but the Buffaloes will take it. Despite losing Alex Burks and Cory Higgins, Colorado improved from 8-8 in the Big 12 to 11-7 in the Pac-12 a year later. Then, Colorado shocked the league by winning the conference tournament. Coach Tad Boyle loses two seniors, but returns the nation’s third-leading rebounder Andre Roberson, plus two freshmen (Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker) who averaged at least nine points per game last season. Boyle is a proven program-builder, so Colorado should be optimistic for a third consecutive postseason trip.

No. 9: Can Larry Eustachy keep the momentum going at Colorado State?
Tim Miles took Colorado State from 7-25 in his first season to 20-12 and an NCAA Tournament appearance in his fifth before leaving for Nebraska. The Rams have little reason to be heart-broken with his departure, though. First, they hired Larry Eustachy, who similarly took from Southern Miss from the Conference USA cellar to the NCAA Tournament. Second, Eustachy isn’t the only new face. Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson will give the Rams much-needed size to a team that returns four starters. If Colorado State can solve its road woes (3-9 last season), the Rams should be a thorn in the side for UNLV and San Diego State.
Related: Eustachy, Miles among top hires for 2012-13

No. 10: Which big man steps up for Washington?
Washington was an enigma last season, with the talent to produce two NBA draft picks (Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten) and win a Pac-12 regular season title. But the same team stalled in the NIT. In 2012-13, coach Lorenzo Romar likes his backcourt, as usual. C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs, who is back after missing last season with a broken foot, should be two of the Pac-12’s best shooters. Abdul Gaddy hasn’t lived up to his lofty status as a recruit, but he’s a senior pass-first point guard who should be able to set up Wilcox and Suggs. The frontcourt, led by defensive stalwart Aziz N’Diaye, is unproven on the offensive end. Washington may be able to compete with a perimeter-oriented team, but if the Huskies are going to contend in the Pac-12, they likely will need balance.

No. 11: Does Matthew Dellavedova have the supporting cast to keep Gonzaga on its toes?
Saint Mary’s has become Gonzaga’s top challenger in the WCC, winning the league’s regular season and tournament titles in 2011-12. Australian point guard Matthew Dellavedova will return to defend his conference player of the year award. The Gaels have four starters back, but they’ll miss Rob Jones, who averaged 15 points and 10.8 rebounds last season. Jones will be replaced by Southern Utah transfer Matt Hodgson, who continues Saint Mary’s Australian pipeline.

No. 12: Will BYU rediscover its 3-point shooting touch?
Without Jimmer Fredette, BYU had its worst 3-point shooting season in seven season under Dave Rose, converting only 34.3 percent its shots beyond the arc. BYU added junior college transfer Raul Delgado, who shot 43.3 percent a year ago, and point guard Matt Carlino is also working to improve his shot. Establishing a perimeter threat to go with Brandon Davies’ production at center could help BYU contend for its first WCC title.

No. 13: Is Brock Motum the best big man you’ve never heard of?
Sure, Motum plays for Washington State, but former Cougars guard Klay Thompson managed to earn some notoriety outside of Pullman. Motum led the Pac-12 at 18 points per game and may be an NBA Draft pick when he leaves school. The 6-10 Australian has an inside-out game that should give Pac-12 opponents trouble for a second consecutive season.

No. 14: Can Oregon State be better without Jared Cunningham?
Jared Cunningham was a rare NBA Draft pick for Oregon State, but his departure doesn’t mean doom for the Beavers. The other four starters are back to a team that won 21 games and led the Pac-12 in scoring. Coach Craig Robinson, who has taken Oregon State to three College Basketball Invitationals, likes his team’s depth in the absence of Cunningham. Will that be enough to lift the Beavers into a better postseason tournament?

No. 15: Has Kevin O’Neill’s bad luck run out?
O’Neill knew taking over at NCAA sanction-limited USC would be difficult, but he’s also run into more setbacks than just a lack of scholarships and no postseason. Two of USC’s top two players -- guard Jio Fontan and forward Aaron Fuller -- suffered season-ending injuries last season, causing USC to fall to 6-25. The Trojans may not finish in the top half of the Pac-12, but improved depth thanks to transfers could at least keep USC more competitive.

No. 16: Is there any hope for Herb Sendek at Arizona State?
A new athletic director and a 10-26 record in the Pac-12 the last two seasons doesn’t spell good news for Sendek. Neither does the transfer of leading scorer Trent Lockett to Marquette. Arizona State’s best hope is dynamic freshman point guard Jahii Carson, but he sat out last season as an academic nonqualifier.

No. 17: OK, who is in the WAC again?
WAC football is done, but this remains a basketball league -- albeit not a strong one. Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii are out. Denver, Seattle, Texas State, UT-Arlington and UTSA are in. Expect Utah State to return to its familiar spot near the top of the standings while Denver tries to make the most of a more geographically logical conference since leaving the Sun Belt. We'll ask this question again next season when Utah State and San Jose State leave for the Mountain West, Louisiana Tech and UTSA for Conference USA, and UT-Arlington and Texas State for the Sun Belt.

-David Fox 


<p> College Basketball's Biggest Preseason Questions: 17 for the West Region</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 04:18
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-new-york-giants

What can the New York Giants do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Ralph Vacchiano, New York Daily News

What will the timeshare look like between David Wilson and Ahmad Bradshaw?
Giants GM Jerry Reese said that Bradshaw is still the “lead dog,” but how much he leads depends on his health. He’s got chronic ankle and foot issues and had yet another offseason procedure on his foot, so they have to limit his load. The best guess is Bradshaw will get about two-thirds of the carries and Wilson will get one-third.

Martellus Bennett is dripping with athletic ability, but can he turn into a fantasy weapon for Eli Manning?
Bennett does have tantalizing skills that he’s never quite been able to put together. He should blossom with the pass-happy Giants; just don’t expect him to suddenly be a top-flight tight end. That position is just not a major weapon in Kevin Gilbride’s offense. Judging by past use of tight ends, it would seem a 50-to-55-catch season might be the ceiling. The Giants like their tight ends to block, and they prefer to target their top three wide receivers.

Victor Cruz: One-hit wonder, or can he repeat his breakout season?
All Cruz did was have the greatest single season for a receiver in Giants history (82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine TDs), so it’s hard to imagine he’ll match that his second time around. He had an abnormal number of breaks last year — fumbles that he recovered or were overturned by replays, short catches where he broke a tackle (or the tackler missed) that he turned into a huge gain. If that was luck, then expect a big regression. But if it was skill that caused him to break all those big plays, he might repeat his magical season.

Can Hakeem Nicks parlay his stellar postseason run into consistent fantasy greatness this season?
I’m not sure why anyone would think he’s been inconsistent. He had 76 catches for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns last season — and that was a down year from the one before (79-1,052-11 in 13 games). He’s one of the most underrated receivers in the game, is on the verge of a Pro Bowl, and has shown both possession and big-play skills. If he stays healthy — which sometimes has been a mild issue — he could easily jump to the next level, which is Calvin Johnson/Larry Fitgerald territory.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Martellus Bennett, TE
Deep-Sleeper: Rueben Randle, WR
Overvalued: Ahmad Bradshaw, RB
Top Rookie: David Wilson, RB
Bounce-Back: Jerrel Jernigan, WR
Top IDP: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE

2012 Draft Class

1. David Wilson RB 5-10 206 Virginia Tech
2. Rueben Randle WR 6-4 210 LSU
3. Jayron Hosley CB 5-10 178 Virginia Tech
4. Adrien Robinson TE 6-4 264 Cincinnati
4. Brandon Mosley OL 6-5 314 Auburn
6. Matt McCants OL 6-5 308 UAB
7. Markus Kuhn DT 6-5 299 NC State

Fantasy Impact: With Brandon Jacobs departing for San Francisco, the Giants needed to address the depth behind running back Ahmad Bradshaw. David Wilson likely won’t start, but he will see a handful of carries per game. He should be a handcuff to Bradshaw and one of the top rookie picks in keeper formats. Rueben Randle was a solid pickup in Round 2. He will be the No. 3 receiver in 2012. Tight end Adrien Robinson is a sleeper to watch, especially with Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum sidelined with injuries.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (NO, at ATL, at BAL)

The Saints were in the bottom 13 against QBs, RBs and WRs last season. This figures to be a favorable matchup for the Giants in the first week of the fantasy playoffs. Games at Atlanta and at Baltimore certainly should be a bit more troublesome. The Giants closed strong last season, so you can expect them to put some points on the board down the stretch.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New York Giants</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 04:03
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2012-breaking-down-new-york-jets

What can the New York Jets do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Ernie Palladino, Freelance Writer

Will Shonn Greene ever develop into a feature back?
Greene could certainly be a feature back — if he can stay healthy. Rib and ankle injuries led to a subpar performance last year, with just two 100-yard efforts. But if he can stay healthy, Greene has the body and strength to overpower linebackers and run through defensive backs, a la Brandon Jacobs.

What sort of role and how many touches per game will Tim Tebow get in the Jets’ offense?
Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano says he expects backup Tebow to get between 15 and 20 touches per game, but he refuses to say in what capacity. It’s no secret, however, that Sparano wants to return to a ground-based offense, and the Wildcat would be a major part of that. Tebow could be a master in that formation, given his natural bulk, speed, and running ability.

Mark Sanchez set career highs in completions, yards and TDs last year, but the Jets still acquired Tebow. Can Sanchez develop into a 4,000-yard passer?
Don’t expect Sanchez to hit the 4,000-yard mark in passing. His statistics would not have been nearly as high last year had former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer not decided to throw the ball so much early in the season. With Sparano now calling the plays, the emphasis will now revert to Sanchez managing games, and the increase of run plays will naturally cut down his passing yards. His confidence is also a problem. Unless he turns the mental game around, Sanchez will never become a great passer.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Mark Sanchez, QB
Deep-Sleeper: Joe McKnight, RB
Overvalued: Tim Tebow, QB
Top Rookie: Stephen Hill, WR
Bounce-Back: Jeremy Kerley, WR
Top IDP: LaRon Landry, S

2012 Draft Class

1. Quinton Coples DE 6-6 286 North Carolina
2. Stephen Hill WR 6-4 215 Georgia Tech
3. Demario Davis OLB 6-2 235 Arkansas State
6. Josh Bush S 5-11 208 Wake Forest
6. Terrance Ganaway RB 6-0 239 Baylor
6. Robert T. Griffin G 6-6 335 Baylor
7. Antonio Allen S 6-1 210 South Carolina
7. Jordan White WR 6-0 208 Western Michigan

Fantasy Impact: Outside of Santonio Holmes, the Jets do not have any proven threats at receiver. Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill may not start, but he will see plenty of snaps this season. Hill was a big-play threat in college but played in an option offense, so his route-running and mastery of passing schemes will need work. Terrance Ganaway is a powerful runner and could help the Jets in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (at JAC, at TEN, SD)

Will it be Tim Tebow or Mark Sanchez under center when the Jets travel to Jacksonville and Nashville? Sanchez was a top-10 fantasy QB last season — the only Jets player in the top 10 in any position. There are some winnable matchups for the Jets in the postseason, but the consistency of all other positions certainly depends on who’s at QB.

Dominate Your Fantasy Football League! Click here for the ultimate online resource for mock drafts, positional rankings, Athlon's Top 250 and more.

You can order your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New York Jets</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 04:02
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-23

Since starting the Backseat Drivers Fan Council last season, there have been some questions that members were nearly split on but perhaps not as close as one of the questions in this week’s survey. And another question, which had three possible answers, was nearly as close in the final results.

Members said they had some tough choices on some issues. Check out how they answered them:

Iowa or Montreal?
Fan Council members were asked if they could choose adding a Cup race at either Iowa or Montreal, which track would they select:

50.3 percent chose Montreal
49.7 percent chose Iowa

What Fan Council members said:
• This was tough since I love road course racing but the calendar lacks short tracks and I haven’t watched a boring Iowa race yet.

• After seeing the last Cup race at Watkins Glen and the Nationwide race at Montreal, Montreal needs to be on the schedule and possibly even a Chase race … mix up the Chase with some different tracks other than the cookie cutters that some guys are always good at. Give the boys a challenge!!

• Iowa, hands down. The NNS races that have been there have been outstanding. Can you imagine how much better it will be with all the Cup drivers?

• Montreal, for numerous reasons: 1. Brings Sprint Cup into Canadian market. 2. The racing is phenomenal there! 3. The Chase needs a road course!

• I attended the very first Nationwide race at Iowa. It's a fantastic track with great racing. It's a great place for those of us in the true Midwest whose only other track is Kansas. Would love to see Iowa get a Cup race some day.

• Let's make NASCAR Sprint Cup a bit more international ... even if it's only baby steps. I also think you will have a larger crowd in Montreal than in Iowa.

• NASCAR is a USA origination — let’s not put it in another country. Enough stuff has been sent to other countries, keep the money and jobs in the USA!

• This was a really tough decision as I think either race would be great. My love of Canada won me over. I also think Canada is starved for NASCAR (if my Twitter followers are any indication!) and adding a Cup race there would bring in tons of fans.

• While the racing at Montreal and the road courses is excellent, it has gotten to the point where the races are almost as random as a restrictor-plate race. NASCAR is in desperate need of more short tracks, so Iowa is a much better choice.

• Tough one because I live a half hour from the Iowa Speedway, but I honestly think NASCAR needs a road course in the Chase before Iowa needs a Sprint Cup race.

• Iowa has been a great venue for the Trucks and Nationwide. As I learned last week, (Iowa) has the most race tracks of any state! And the fans have packed the place. Time to reward the loyal fans in the seats, not behind the TVs.

• The sport needs more road courses!! I'd love it if NASCAR could move away from the oval image it has had for YEARS. Montreal would be PERFECT. The race fans are very excited every time the Nationwide Series comes, there's a great crowd, and it's a great market that is unserved. Plus Montreal produces great racing. It works out on both sides for sure.

<p> Dustin Long's Backseat Drivers Fan Council weighs in on racing at the "new" Bristol, whether the Cup Series should consider awarding a date to Montreal or Iowa and grades last weekend's race at Michigan.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 19:50
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/ask-athlon-cleveland-browns

Q: I have a Cleveland Browns cap. The front of the hat says Browns and has a picture of a little man. Sort of looks like a leprechaun. What is the significance of the little man? Was that once their logo? I’ve never seen a little man on any of their team helmets/hats going back to 1957.

— Thomas Pichl, Matawan, N.J.

A: That little elfin creature is a brownie, a legendary creature from British folklore, and yes, he’s part of Browns folklore as well. Fans who referred to their team as the Brownies led the club to adopt the little fella as an emblem dating back to the dawn of Paul Brown’s franchise in 1946. Former owner Art Modell phased out the brownie emblem during the mid-1960s, but he’s made a bit of a comeback of late, appearing on some of the team’s sideline accessories.

Rob Doster, Senior Editor

Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at [email protected]
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.

Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 16:59
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/ask-athlon-baseball-hall-fame

Q: Has William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy (1862-1961), the great deaf Major League baseball player, ever been nominated for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame?

— Sandra Hoy, New Berlin, Pa.

A: Sandra, I sense from your name that there’s a family connection between you and the 19th-century speedster. Hoy was a productive pre-1900 player for seven different teams over a 14-year career, amassing 2,048 hits, 1,424 runs and 596 stolen bases, a number that still ranks 18th all time, one spot ahead of Maury Wills. A skilled defender, Hoy retired among baseball’s leaders in putouts and double plays. His Hall of Fame candidacy has gained some momentum in recent years, and there’s always the chance that the Veterans Committee could enshrine him some day.

As his nickname clearly indicates, Hoy played in an era that was far less concerned with sensitivity and political correctness, although his moniker referred to his deafness rather than his lack of intelligence. In fact, Hoy is credited as being one of the more intelligent players of his day. Some even credit Hoy for the adoption of hand signals by umpires to denote safe and out calls, although this is far from certain.

Charlie Miller, Editorial Director

Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at [email protected]
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.

Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 16:57
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/ask-athlon-nfl

Q: What’s the farthest an NFL quarterback has ever thrown a football in practice?

— Al Gabel, Rockford, Ill.

A: Al, it’s tough to provide a definitive answer to your question. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that strong-armed gunners like Steve Bartkowski, Randall Cunningham and JaMarcus Russell could heave it close to 100 yards in the air, but no video evidence exists that we’ve been able to uncover. (Russell was touted for being able to throw it 75 yards from his knees, as though that were a useful skill.)

As for a game? We can at least cite a contender for longest pass. In 1966, Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith (left) and receiver Bob Hayes hooked up on a 95-yard touchdown, and reports have Dandy Don launching the ball 83 yards in the air, before Bullet Bob took it the rest of the way for the score. We’ll give the nod to Dandy Don, unless readers can provide definitive evidence to the contrary.

Rob Doster, Senior Editor

Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at [email protected]
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.

Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 16:55
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, News
Path: /news/oregon-football-redesigns-uniformsagain

New uniforms and alternate colors are one of the biggest crazes in college football. Oregon, largely thanks to Nike co-founder Phil Knight, always has some of college football's most innovative and flashy uniforms each year. The Ducks have dramatically changed their look since the 1990s and 2012's uniforms are another in the latest line of impressive designs.

Although some don't like Oregon's uniforms, these are pretty sharp. The yellow isn't the greatest uniform color, but it's not a bad look. The Ducks will also wear green, black and white jerseys during the year. And as usual, Nike and Oregon try to make the lightest possible uniform.

Coach Chip Kelly's motto is "Win the Day." Needless to say, the Ducks "Win the Day" with these impressive uniforms. 

<p> Oregon Football Redesigns Uniforms...Again</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 15:33
Path: /monthly/nba-offseason-summer-blockbuster-moves

Highlights from the action-packed NBA offseason that included the Nets moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn, Dwight Howard being traded to the Lakers, Jeremy Lin re-signing with the Rockets and Ray Allen joining the enemy Heat.


Brooklyn Nets: Ball So Hard
Luxury tax? What luxury tax? Brooklyn re-signed Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace for a combined nine years and nearly $139 million, then traded for Joe Johnson, who is owed $89 million over the next four years. Owners Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z don’t care about the luxury tax. The new-look Nets are moving into the $1 billion Barclays Center in Brooklyn and need to bring a team with them. These are the “Core Four” the Nets are advertising:

“Hello Brooklyn, I’m #8, Deron Williams, three-time NBA All-Star and father of four.”

“Hello Brooklyn, I’m #7, Joe Johnson, six-time NBA All-Star and lifelong Razorback.”

“Hello Brooklyn, I’m #11, Brook Lopez, 20-point scorer and Batman’s biggest fan.”

“Hello Brooklyn, I’m #45, Gerald Wallace, All-NBA Defender and offseason fisherman.”



L.A. Lakers: Superman Returns
This isn’t the first time the Lakers have brought in a larger-than-life center whose nickname was “Superman” and whose greatest team accomplishment was losing in the NBA Finals as a member of the Orlando Magic. First, there was Shaquille O’Neal — who won three straight NBA titles after joining the Lakers. This time around, Dwight Howard is heading to Hollywood to team with Kobe Bryant. After months of well-known secrets and thinly veiled lies, Howard was finally traded in a four-team blockbuster that sent Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson to the 76ers, Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets, and Moe Harkless, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic and three protected first-round picks to the Magic.


L.A. Lakers: Rated PG
The old got older when the Lakers acquired 38-year-old two-time MVP Steve Nash to play alongside 33-year-old two-time Finals MVP Kobe Bryant. As usual, trade speculation continued to swirl around 7-foot All-Stars Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. In the end, Bynum was shipped across the country to Philadelphia, while Gasol remained in L.A. — capping a strange year that started with him being traded, then un-traded in the Commissioner-vetoed Chris Paul deal.


Houston Rockets: Lin-sanity Redux
Jeremy Lin-sanity will continue in Houston, which is a huge relief for general manager Daryl Morey — who took the blame for cutting the phenom and will take the credit (or blame) for signing him to a three-year, $25.1 million deal.

“We should have kept @JLin7” – Daryl Morey tweet on Feb. 9

“Welcome to Houston @JLin7! We plan to hang on this time. You will love #RedNation” – Daryl Morey tweet on July 17


Miami Heat: Jesus to Judas
Ray Allen, the actor who played Spike Lee’s Jesus Shuttlesworth — Denzel Washington’s son, loosely based on Stephon Marbury — in the movie "He Got Game," left the Celtics for the defending champion Miami Heat. The move caused many Boston fans to label Allen a traitor, and added fuel to the fire in one of the NBA’s hottest rivalries.


Boston Celtics: Jet Fuel
Without Ray Allen standing in the corner or coming off screens late in games, the C’s needed another clutch 3-point shooter for their last hoorah with old timers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Enter the “Jet,” Jason Terry, who was the Sixth Man of the Year in 2009, an NBA champion with the Mavericks in 2011 and an NCAA champion with Arizona in 1997.

<p> Highlights from the action-packed NBA offseason that included the Nets moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn, Dwight Howard being traded to the Lakers, Jeremy Lin re-signing with the Rockets and Ray Allen joining the enemy Heat.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 15:19
All taxonomy terms: Monthly
Path: /monthly/top-10-high-school-football-teams-2012

A quick overview of the high school football teams around the country with the brightest futures under the lights on Friday nights:

1. Trinity (Louisville, Ky.)
The Shamrocks split last year’s mythical national title with Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.) in most major polls. After going 14–0 to clinch the 6A state title, the Rocks return a loaded senior class — including appropriately named wideout James Quick (right), USC commit defensive end Jason Hatcher and running back Dalyn Dawkins (nephew of former Eagles All-Pro Brian).


2. Grayson (Loganville, Ga.)
The No. 1 player in the nation, 6’5”, 260-pound defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, leads a wave of Clemson commits — including running back Wayne Gallman and defensive back David Kamara — for a Rams squad that went 15–0 and won the 5A state title last season.


3. Carroll (Southlake, Texas)
Dual-threat quarterback Kenny Hill, a Texas A&M commit, and the Dragons are riding a wave of momentum into this season after shocking Dallas Skyline in an epic playoff comeback en route to a 16–0 season and 5A-I state title.


4. Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.)
Size in the trenches and dynamic quarterback play from Mississippi State commit Cord Sandberg will make the Hurricanes tough to take down.


5. Santa Margarita Catholic (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.)
With Elite 11 quarterback and Nebraska commit Johnny Stanton (a.k.a. “Johnny Tebow”) running the show, the Eagles could be the best in the West this season.


6. Skyline (Dallas, Texas)
The Raiders — powered by the explosive duo of quarterback DeVante Kincade and receiver Ra’Shaad Samples — should be motivated for redemption after a controversial playoff loss to Southlake Carroll abruptly ended a 14–1 season in 2011.


7. Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nevada)
The Las Vegas powerhouse will go all-in to open the season on ESPN in a nationally televised contest against fellow football factory Our Lady of Good Counsel (Olney, Md.). A win will vault the Gaels into the national title picture.


8. Booker T. Washington (Miami, Fla.)
The Tornadoes play a brutal schedule — with Miami Northwestern, Miami Central and a Texas road trip to Cedar Hill as three of their first four games.


9. De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
Coach Bob Ladouceur enters his 34th season with a 384–25-3 career record, 16 California state championships and five USA Today national titles.


10. Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.)
Junior quarterback Shuler Bentley, son of former Byrnes coach and current play-caller Bobby Bentley, leads a young Rebel squad ready to make noise nationally.

<p> The Top 10 high school football teams for 2012 include Trinity (Louisville, Ky.), Grayson (Loganville, Ga.), Carroll (Southlake, Texas), Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.), Skyline (Dallas, Texas), Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.), De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) and Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.).</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 11:04
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, Miami Dolphins, NFL
Path: /nfl/does-hbos-hard-knocks-help-hurt-miami-dolphins

Athlon Sports will preview the upcoming 2012 NFL season with in-depth roundtable debates with our editors and other experts from around the world of football.

Q: Does being on HBO's "Hard Knocks" help the Miami Dolphins in anyway this fall?

Brian Miller, (@Txmedic5)
HBO's "Hard Knocks" has not done Miami Dolphins' players any favors. From Chad Johnson being cut to showcasing the lack of production in Miami's wide receivers and tight ends, the HK episodes thus far have only further added tension to a team trying to rebuild its identity. On the outside, where the fans are the ones peering in, the decision to be on "Hard Knocks" has given Miami fans something to be excited about. 

The competition at quarterback alone has provided fans an opportunity to believe the future of the team is in good hands with Ryan Tannehill, while the exposure of new coach Joe Philbin is giving fans an opportunity to judge for themselves what normally is tasked by the opinion of a local media journalist. There is no right or wrong decision on joining "Hard Knocks," but it's clear that the show isn't giving anything away concretely to opposing teams. Aside from the embarrassing moments being played out for the players, I think the fans having something to hold onto may be the long term solution to turning around the image of the Miami Dolphins franchise. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I do not think it does. The Dolphins need a ton of work under rookie coach Joe Philbin as they try to avoid a sixth losing campaign out of their last seven. The HBO thing is cool, but it is also a distraction for a 6-10 club who traded its top receiver (by far), cut its top tackler (Yeremiah Bell) and will start a rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. NFL teams barely need publicity; people have heard of you in this league. It’s pretty simple: if the Dolphins win, fans in South Florida will show up in droves. I see "Hard Knocks" hurting that process more than it will help.

Mark Ross,
Although I have never seen a single second of "Hard Knocks," I am not sure I see any way in which the Dolphins can benefit on the field from being featured on the series. If anything, I would think the team, with a new head coach, new coaching staff and a rookie quarterback running the offense, would not want to deal with the distractions and related issues that come with being on the series. It may be great television, help increase the Dolphins' PR exposure, give the team some extra attention and perhaps help sell some tickets and/or team merchandise, but come Week 1, no one's going to care about what they saw on HBO, only what they see the team do on the field. After all, isn't there a reason all 32 NFL teams passed on being featured on it last season?

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Certainly, the casual fan who doesn't follow every injury report or read coaching bios will benefit from the inside look at an NFL franchise. These fans may develop some sort of connection with interesting storylines (Joe Philbin's tragedy) and intriguing personalities (Lauren Tannehill). And the diehard NFL fan, like myself, loves the behind the curtain peek at how an NFL training camp is conducted. But there may not be such a thing as extra publicity for a league that already exists entirely in a fishbowl. Ticket sales only increase if you win games. The negatives of this type of exposure, like an assault and battery arrest or a first-year head coach adapting to the league, don't seem to outweigh the slight bump in interest fans may or may not develop with your roster. The Dolphins need a spark and so I understand why they said yes to HBO, but the headaches it appears to be creating won't be worth it. There is a reason most teams have turned down the opporunity.

Nathan Rush,
There is a reason nearly every team in the NFL turned down HBO's offer to be the featured team on "Hard Knocks" this season. As entertaining as the show is for fans, it's almost always a disaster for the team actually involved. With a rookie coach and rookie quarterback, Miami needed to avoid all distractions, not invite cameras into the facilities. The only member of the Dolphins who benefited was Ryan Tannehill, who earned instant respect thanks to his lovely wife Lauren — the real star of the show.

Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster)
Yes. The Dolphins lack buzz and identity, and their "Hard Knocks" experience is helping to provide both. The greater benefit may arrive later when high-profile free agents start considering their options and remember what they saw from Miami — specifically, Lauren Tannehill — but this is a more focused and together team than it’s been in the recent past. Will it translate into wins on the field? That is unlikely, but the Dolphins were in desperate need of attention and HBO has given them more than their fair share.

<p> Does Being on HBO's Hard Knocks Help the Miami Dolphins in 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/sec-footballs-breakout-players-2012

Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task. 

Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2012 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season.

Predicting the SEC's Breakout Players for 2012

Denico Autry, DE, Mississippi State Despite Fletcher Cox leaving early for the NFL Draft, Mississippi State should still have a productive defensive line. Josh Boyd is a standout on the interior, while sophomore Kaleb Eulls had a solid freshman campaign last year. Autry earned first-team NJCAA All-American honors last season and was rated as one of the top junior college recruits in the nation. The Bulldogs would like to upgrade their pass rush, and a key part of that equation is Autry and his performance in 2012.

Trey DePriest/Adrian Hubbard/Xzavier Dickson, LB, Alabama Rather than single out one of these three sophomores, we are highlighting the entire trio as breakout candidates. DePriest, Hubbard and Dickson will be part of Alabama’s rebuilding effort on defense, as the Crimson Tide must replace Donta Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and Jerrell Harris at linebacker. DePriest had the best statistical season last year, recording 25 tackles in 13 games. If Alabama’s defense wants to finish No. 1 in the nation once again, it needs a big year from this sophomore linebacking trio.

Alvin Dupree, LB, KentuckyWith Danny Trevathan moving onto the NFL, the Wildcats are searching for a new leader in the linebacking corps. As a true freshman last year, Dupree played in all 12 games and recorded 21 stops. At 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds, the sophomore has the size and strength to hold up against the run, while remaining a threat to get after the passer. Dupree is slated to play in Kentucky’s hybrid end/linebacker role, which should allow him to thrive in only his second season of college ball.

Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri It’s hard to be a breakout candidate if you rank as the No. 1 player in the 2012 signing class. However, it will be a major surprise if Green-Beckham isn’t a household name by the end of this year. The freshman has been as good as advertised in fall camp, leading the Tigers with six catches for 68 yards during the team’s second fall scrimmage. As long as quarterback James Franklin’s shoulder isn’t an issue, Green-Beckham should finish as college football’s most decorated freshman receiver for 2012.

Todd Gurley/Keith Marshall, RB, GeorgiaKen Malcome is expected to enter the season as the starter, but Mark Richt will find it difficult to keep Gurley and Marshall off the field. Both backs were ranked among the top 15 running backs in the 2012 signing class by Athlon Sports and will be counted upon to see a handful of carries each game. All signs point to a committee approach, but Gurley and Marshall should make plenty of noise in 2012.

Anthony Johnson, DT, LSUDespite losing Michael Brockers to the NFL Draft, LSU isn’t too concerned about its defensive line. Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are back to wreck havoc against opposing quarterbacks off the edge, while the interior is solid with Bennie Logan, Johnson and Ego Ferguson in the rotation. Johnson ranked as the No. 7 overall prospect in the 2011 Athlon Consensus 100 and played in all 14 games last year, recording 12 tackles and one sack. The sophomore is primed for a monster year and could challenge for All-SEC honors.

Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt The SEC is loaded with talent on the offensive line this season, but Johnson shouldn’t be overlooked when discussing some of the top tackles in the conference. The Nashville native has started every game on the line for the Commodores over the last two years and was named the team’s Offensive Lineman of the Year for 2011. Johnson played at left tackle, center and guard last season but is expected to stay at left tackle for 2012. The Commodores have a few holes to plug on the offensive line, but there’s no question Johnson should be a reliable presence on the left side.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M Manziel finished spring practice just behind Jameill Showers for the starting quarterback spot. However, the redshirt freshman staked his claim for the job in the fall and was picked as Texas A&M’s starting quarterback for the season opener against Louisiana Tech. New coach Kevin Sumlin and coordinator Kliff Kingsbury produced some of the nation’s top offenses while at Houston, but will likely seek more balance as the Aggies’ transition to the SEC. Manziel is a slightly different quarterback than the ones Sumlin tutored at Houston, as the freshman brings more of a dual-threat approach to the lineup. There’s no question Manziel has the talent – he was ranked among the top quarterbacks in the 2011 signing class - however, having no game experience and learning a new offense will be a challenge.

Mekale McKay, WR, Arkansas With Jarius Wright and Joe Adams catching passes in the NFL, the Razorbacks are searching for a new group of receivers for quarterback Tyler Wilson. Cobi Hamilton is slated to be the No. 1 option, and the Razorbacks have tight end Chris Gragg, but there’s no clear No. 2 target at receiver. McKay was ranked among the top 50 receivers in the 2012 recruiting class and has been one of the standouts of fall practice. At 6-foot-6, the freshman has potential to be a valuable weapon inside of the redzone and instant impact player for Arkansas.

Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU After finishing 10th in the SEC in passing yards per game last season and watching Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee struggle at times, LSU fans are excited for Mettenberger’s potential under center. He only threw 11 passes last year, but is expected to be the missing piece for LSU’s offense. Mettenberger began his career at Georgia but was dismissed from school and spent one season at Butler Community College. There will be growing pains with the junior quarterback, especially since 2012 will be his first year as a starter on the FBS level. There’s little doubt Mettenberger should be an upgrade at over Lee and Jefferson, but it may take a couple of games for him to get comfortable as the team's No. 1 quarterback.

LaDarius Perkins, RB, Mississippi State Vick Ballard wasn’t the flashiest running back, but he amassed 2,157 yards and 29 rushing scores during his tenure in Starkville. Replacing Ballard is no easy task, but the Bulldogs have two capable options. Perkins is expected to ascend to No. 1 on the depth chart after rushing for 988 yards and five scores over the last two years. At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Perkins doesn’t have Ballard’s size or power, but he should be a big-play threat for Mississippi State. Sophomore Nick Griffin will also figure into the battle for carries. 

Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida Purifoy was thrown right into the mix as a true freshman last season, playing in all 13 games and recording 27 tackles. He also forced one fumble during his limited action. At 6-foot-1 and 189 pounds, Purifoy has the size and athleticism to go up against the top receivers in the SEC and should be ready for a breakout year after spending much of 2011 in a reserve role.

Antonio Richardson, OT, TennesseeIf Tennessee wants to have any shot at finishing among the top three in the SEC East , the offensive line and rushing attack has to perform much better than it did in 2011. The Volunteers finished 12th in the SEC in rushing offense last season and recorded just 332.7 yards per game. The coaching staff shuffled the line in the spring, sliding Dallas Thomas from tackle to guard and promoting Richardson to the starting group. Richardson was ranked by most as a top-100 recruit coming out of high school and played in 12 contests last year. If Richardson can stabilize the offensive line, Tennessee should have no trouble improving on last season’s paltry rushing totals.

Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri Richardson’s path to Missouri took a slight detour, as he spent two years at the College of the Sequoias, before making his first appearance at Missouri last season. Richardson made a huge impact in his first year in Columbia, recording 37 stops, three sacks, eight tackles for a loss and one forced fumble. A shoulder injury sidelined him in the spring but all signs point to a return to full strength in the fall. With another offseason under his belt, look for Richardson to pickup his performance even more in 2012.

Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn With only one returning starter on the offensive line last season, the Tigers were a work in progress most of 2011. The line allowed 2.5 sacks per game but led the way for Auburn to average 182.3 yards per game on the ground. This unit should be one of the most improved in the SEC this season, especially with the emergence of Robinson and sophomore center Reese Dismukes. Robinson was one of the top linemen in the 2011 signing class but redshirted his freshman year. With a full offseason to build strength, look for the Louisiana native to excel in his first season as Auburn’s starting left tackle.

Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina Alshon Jeffery is gone, meaning South Carolina needs a new No. 1 receiver to emerge. Sanders doesn’t have Jeffery’s size, but the Florida native developed a nice rapport with quarterback Connor Shaw over the second half of last year, finishing with 29 receptions for 383 yards and three touchdowns. The junior is also a valuable contributor on special teams, averaging 9.3 yards on 16 punt returns last year. Even though Sanders doesn’t have Jeffery’s skill set, look for the junior to push for 50 receptions in 2012.

Jeff Scott, RB, Ole MissThe Rebels were one of the worst offenses in the SEC last season, averaging only 16.1 points per contest and ranking 114th nationally in total offense. New coach Hugh Freeze should help improve the offense, especially after leading Arkansas State to the No. 1 rank in the Sun Belt for total offense, scoring and passing in 2011. Scott is one of the few proven playmakers for Ole Miss and should be a bigger part of the offense after recording only 116 attempts last year. At 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds, Scott probably won’t handle 275 carries, but he should finish with over 1,000 all-around yards in 2012.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related SEC Content

SEC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes
SEC's Top 25 Games for 2012

Projecting College Football's 2012 Win Totals

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 Running Backs for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 Wide Receivers for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Top 75 Players for 2012

<p> SEC Football's Breakout Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 06:14