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All taxonomy terms: Ryan Mathews, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/chargers-ryan-mathews-breaks-collarbone-out-4-6-weeks

San Diego running back Ryan Mathews broke his collarbone on his first carry in Thursday night’s preseason game against Green Bay and is expected to be out between 4-6 weeks. With that diagnosis, the hope is that Mathews will be able to play at the latest by Week 3.

Mathews, who rushed for 1,091 yards with six touchdowns in 2011, appeared to be poised for an even bigger year in 2012 with the Chargers losing backup running back Mike Tolbert to the Carolina Panthers in free agency. Now, the coaching staff’s attention will turn to who will get the carries in Mathews’ absence, while fantasy owners figure out what to do regarding his draft status.

Fantasy-wise, all signs were pointing to a breakout year for the third-year pro, especially with Tolbert no longer around to vulture touchdowns. Tolbert scored 19 touchdowns combined the last two seasons, while Mathews had a total of 13 during that same span.

For all intents and purposes, it appeared that Mathews was going to become the league’s next workhorse back, a rarity these days, which had his fantasy value at an all-time high. Preseason fantasy rankings have Mathews as high as sixth among running backs and certainly among the top 10 overall.

This latest injury, however, also highlights one of the biggest criticisms when it comes to Mathews – durability. Mathews has missed time in each of his first two seasons, two games last year and four in 2001, because of different injuries. While this latest, a broken collarbone, doesn’t necessarily cement a “brittle” reputation for him, the fact that he’s looking at missing the first two weeks of the season, if not longer, certainly needs to be addressed when it comes to his draft value.

That said, I for one, am taking the optimistic approach with Mathews thinking that he will be out no more than the reported 4-6 weeks, meaning you will hopefully get more than enough games out of him (depending on the set up of your league’s playoffs) to maintain his current draft value.

For my money there are four clear-cut top-tier options when it comes to running backs this season – Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and Chris Johnson. These four are secured as the starters on their teams and are virtually guaranteed of touching the ball, provided they stay healthy, no less than 300 times this season.

After that there’s no shortage of appealing options certainly, but there’s no shortage of questions associated with each option. For example, Maurice Jones-Drew has yet to report to Jaguars’ training camp because he’s holding out for a new contract. Will this holdout carry over into the regular season? No one knows right now, but depending on when your league holds its draft, isn’t this enough reason to give you pause on calling his name out?

Matt Forte got his new contract, so he’ll be toting the rock for the Bears starting in Week 1. However, remember he missed the final four games of last season with an MCL sprain and the Bears signed Michael Bush in the offseason. Considering Bush rushed for 977 yards with the Raiders last season, you can’t help but wonder if Forte’s workload will be decreased this season as the Bears look to protect their latest long-term investment.

Speaking of injuries, what about Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles? Two dynamic, explosive running backs for sure, but they also are both coming back from severe keen injuries that ended their 2011 campaigns at different times. Charles got hurt in Week 1 of last season, while Peterson went down in Week 16. The difference in recovery time alone for the two would lead you to believe that Charles is the “safer” option, but the reports on Peterson’s recovery have been so positive. Which one do you take and when?

And we haven’t even gotten to Darren McFadden (injury risk), Marshawn Lynch (facing potential suspension due to legal troubles), DeMarco Murray (injury risk) or Trent Richardson, who just went under the knife to remove loose particles from a knee that has already been surgically repaired.

The point is this – once you get past the first four running backs, there are really no sure things. While Jones-Drew, Forte and, to a degree, Lynch, appear to be among the safest of the next best available options, I still think you can include Mathews in there as well.

For one, while Mathews did break a bone, he didn’t shred his knee like Charles or Peterson did. As long as the bone heals properly, which is why the initial prognosis is he will be out 4-6 weeks, it shouldn’t take him that long to get back into the flow of things with San Diego’s offense.

Also, even though all three have already had their share of injuries in their NFL careers, I would rather take my chances with Mathews than McFadden or Murray. McFadden has played no more than 13 games in any of his first four seasons, including just seven last year. Murray’s injury history goes back to his college days at Oklahoma and he is coming off a broken ankle he suffered last December. Mathews’ latest injury doesn’t affect his ankle or legs, while both McFadden and Murray have histories with such.

And far as Richardson goes, while I’m not expecting the knee surgery to keep him out an extended period of time it does cut into the rookie’s preparation time as he gets ready for his first NFL season. Combine that with the reports that this knee issue could “linger” as the season progresses, the questions I have related to Cleveland’s offensive line and the fact that rookie Brandon Weeden will be starting at quarterback, that’s enough reasons for me to think twice before drafting Richardson early, especially in a redraft league.

Provided Mathews is back in the lineup by Week 3, he still should be I line for a very productive season. The clear-cut No. 1 back, Mathews is also a viable weapon catching passes out of the backfield as he had 50 receptions for 455 yards last season. Even though he had a down year in 2011, Philip Rivers is still one of the top quarterbacks in the league, which increases Mathews’ value and potential to have a big season as the Chargers’ passing game should help open up rushing lanes but also present big-play opportunities for him.

Before he got hurt, I viewed Mathews as a solid top-10 fantasy running back option this season. My view hasn’t changed, even if it means Mathews won’t play until Week 3. I would put him clearly behind Foster, Rice, McCoy, Johnson, Forte and probably still Jones-Drew, but after that he’s definitely among the next-best available options and right now the only one I would consider taking ahead of him would possibly be Lynch.

Now as far as the San Diego backfield options go without Mathews, this screams running back-by-committee so I wouldn’t go looking for any sleepers here. The Chargers don’t lack for options as Jackie Battle, Curtis Brinkley and Ronnie Brown are all on the roster.

Last season, Brinkley was third on the Chargers in carries with 30, putting him considerably behind Mathews (222) and the now-departed Tolbert (121). Brinkley finished the season with 101 yards rushing (3.4 ypc) and a touchdown.

After losing Tolbert in free agency, the Chargers signed veterans Brown and Battle. Brown is a 1,000-yard rusher, but that came back in 2006 as injuries have taken their toll on the former Auburn Tiger who has taken with the second overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Last season with the Eagles, the now 30-year-old Brown rushed for only 136 yards on 42 carries (3.2 ypc) as the primary backup to McCoy.

For the second straight season, Battle could get an opportunity to establish himself because of an injury to the incumbent starter. Last season, Battle got four starts in Kansas City after Charles went down with season-ending ACL injury in Week 1. Although Battle’s opportunities decreased as the season went along, the sixth-year pro out of Houston finished 2011 with a career-high 597 yards on 149 carries (4.0 ypc) and two touchdowns.

It’s entirely possible that one of these could do enough in training camp and preseason action to lay claim to the starting position. Even if that happens, however, I don’t see enough reason to seriously invest in any of them, except in deeper leagues. Brown is nowhere near the dynamic player he once was and I just don’t think his body can sustain a heavy workload. Battle is one-dimensional, which really doesn’t fit how the Chargers were planning on using Mathews. The opportunity is there for Brinkley, but there’s no history of production to really cling to.

There’s also Le’Ron McClain, the All-Pro fullback the Chargers signed as a free agent in the offseason. Brought in to help clear the way for Mathews, McClain now may get a few more chances to carry the ball instead. That alone should tell you all you need to know about the Chargers’ backfield without Mathews – stay away.

In fact, the biggest beneficiary of Mathews’ absence could be Rivers and wide receivers Vincent Brown, Malcom Floyd and Robert Meachem and tight end Antonio Gates. Chances are without Mathews, the Chargers may be inclined to throw the ball even more than they usually do.

— By Mark Ross, published on August 10, 2012

<p> <font>Chargers' Ryan Mathews Breaks Collarbone, Out 4-6 Weeks</font></p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 12:19
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympic-photo-day-rhythmic-gymnastics

Germany's Jana Berezko-Marggrander with the ball during the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around competition.

<p> Germany's Jana Berezko-Marggrander with the ball during the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around competition.</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 11:07
All taxonomy terms: LeBron James, Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-aug-10

Here's the Fab Five for Aug. 10, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:

1. Women's 4x100m Finals
Allyson Felix and Carmelita Jeter will try to lead the U.S. to the medal stand and past those pesky, dominant sprinters from Jamaica. The U.S. women posted the second-fastest time in history in the semis, so they have to be considered a slight favorite in what will be a start-studded event.

2. Men's 4x400m Finals
I don't know about you, but the guy I'm rooting for won't even be running today. American Manteo Mitchell helped the U.S. team make it through the preliminaries despite suffering a broke fibula midway through his leg of the race. After letting out an audible scream, Mitchell gutted out a respectable 46.1 lap as the Americans tied for first in the heat. Mitchell will be watching the finals but will still get whatever medal his teammates earn. The team from the Bahamas looks like a medal threat as well.

3. Basketball Semifinals: Team USA vs. Argentina
Things are getting real for Team USA as they face a talented, determined Argentine team in the semifinals. There's lingering bitterness over Argentina's win against the Americans in the semifinals in Athens in 2004, and the Argentines ramped up the intensity with some dirty play in the two teams' previous encounter in these Games, won by the U.S. 126-97.

4. BMX Cycling
The men's and women's finals in this thrilling niche sport are both on Friday. Dutch rider Raymon van der Biezen has become the story of this event, battling a series of injuries to lead his team into gold medal contention.

5. Men's 10m Platform Diving
The remarkable elegance of the Chinese divers will again be on display as China's Qui Bo is one of the favorites for gold. Britain's Tom Daley and American David Boudia are also medal contenders, as is defending gold medalist Matthew Mitcham of Australia.

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

<p> LeBron James and Team USA take on Argentina in the men's basketball semifinals, plus women's 4x100 relay, men's 4x400 relay, BMX cycling and platform diving at the London Olympics.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 10:59
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/pga-championship-photo-day

Note to the players at this year's PGA Championship at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course: If your ball veers toward the water, it's best just to let it go.

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Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, San Diego Chargers, NFL
Path: /nfl/san-diego-chargers-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 San Diego Chargers check in at No. 16.

In a move unpopular with many fans, team president Dean Spanos decided to keep coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith after the Chargers finished 8–8 and out of the playoffs for the second straight year. Now it’s time for Turner and Smith to fire up the Chargers — or get fired.

Smith was more active than usual in free agency. Forced to replace star wide receiver Vincent Jackson, he signed Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal in a flurry of deals that should bolster the offense. Smith then used the draft to improve a defense that was the worst in the NFL on third down. With the first three picks, he took outside linebacker Melvin Ingram of South Carolina, defensive end Kendall Reyes of Connecticut and safety Brandon Taylor of LSU. 

The Chargers no longer have the luxury of playing in one of the weakest divisions in football. Oakland continues to improve. The Chiefs regain the services of standout tailback Jamaal Charles. And the Broncos, the defending division champs, now have Peyton Manning running the show.


No one will be as eager to bounce back as Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers, who has to hope that his mysterious struggles are behind him. Rivers committed a stunning number of turnovers, including the memorable fumbled snap at Kansas City. Rivers finished with 20 interceptions and five lost fumbles. Many fans wondered if he was hurt after taking a few hard shots to the chest early in the season. But his name never appeared on the injury report, and he insisted he was healthy.

The offensive line took a hit when four-time Pro Bowler Kris Dielman, a fixture at left guard, was forced to retire after a concussion. Dielman was as tough and nasty as they come, leaving the Chargers to replace an attitude as well as a player. Tyronne Green will give it a shot. The Chargers re-signed center Nick Hardwick and left tackle Jared Gaither. Gaither helped stabilize the left side of the line during the final five games of the 2011 season after being signed off waivers following a neck injury to Marcus McNeill, a 2006 second-round pick who was released in the offseason. Hardwick has been a starter since his rookie season of 2004. He made it known that he wanted to remain in San Diego and did not test the free agency market.

The team allowed Jackson to leave for Tampa Bay even though he caught 60 passes for a team-high 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns. San Diego felt it would be unable to address other needs if it they gave Jackson a deal in the range of the $55 million he signed with the Bucs. Meachem will start opposite injury-prone Malcom Floyd, while Royal — who often burned the Chargers during his time with Denver — will battle exciting second-year pro Vincent Brown for the No. 3 receiving spot.

Running back Ryan Mathews had a solid second NFL season, showing a nice burst en route to 1,091 yards and a spot in the Pro Bowl. Mathews will have a new escort this season, as Le’Ron McClain has replaced Mike Tolbert at fullback.

Tight end Antonio Gates returned to health after missing time early in the season with painful plantar fasciitis. He continues to draw double-teams and led the Chargers with 64 catches for 778 yards and seven scores.
If the Chargers can stay relatively healthy and avoid the turnover issues that plagued them last season, the offense has the ability to be among the best in the league. 

Related: Top San Diego Chargers Twitter Accounts to Follow


A glaring lack of impact players on defense hurt the Chargers to the point that they led the NFL by allowing opponents to convert 49.2 percent on third downs. The scapegoat was defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who was fired shortly after the 2011 season. He was replaced by linebackers coach John Pagano, brother of new Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano. John Pagano was beaming during the draft as the front office selected Ingram, Reyes and Taylor with the first three picks, giving him a player on each level of the defense. All three rookies are expected to provide an immediate impact, particularly in third down packages.

Reyes will be an upgrade in the defensive line rotation. Ingram will be inserted into the rotation at outside linebacker, joining Shaun Phillips, Antwan Barnes, and the newly acquired Jarret Johnson. A starter for the Ravens for the past five years, Johnson is strong against the run. Barnes had 11 sacks last season, while Phillips, who missed four games at midseason, had only 3.5. Larry English hasn’t lived up to his billing as a first-round pick out of Northern Illinois in 2009, largely because of foot injuries. He has only seven sacks in three NFL seasons.

Taylor will compete with Atari Bigby for the starting job at strong safety. The Chargers hope Taylor can give them the kind of hard-hitting play they haven’t had at strong safety since Rodney Harrison left for New England 10 years ago.

Free safety Eric Weddle was one of the bright spots on a disappointing defense. The veteran from Utah was named first-team All-Pro after recording 66 tackles and tying for the NFL lead with seven interceptions. He’s also developed into a leader in the locker room.  


Nate Kaeding, the most accurate kicker in NFL history coming into the 2011 season, broke his leg on the season’s opening kickoff — which was returned for a touchdown by Minnesota’s Percy Harvin — and missed the rest of the year. Nick Novak stepped in and converted 27-of-34 attempts, but Kaeding is expected to get his job back. Mike Scifres continues to boom punts; he ranked sixth in the NFL with a 47.5-yard average. Royal will step in and take over punt returning duties. Richard Goodman, a reserve wide receiver, is in the mix to be the primary kickoff return specialist. 

Final Analysis: 2nd in the AFC West

Interestingly enough, the Chargers had their best start under Turner last season — they were 4–1 after five games — yet still missed the playoffs for the second straight year. They were undone by a six-game losing streak in the middle of the season. They did, however, close with a 4–1 run, which gives them some confidence heading into 2012.

Spanos has made it clear that Turner and Smith have to win in order to save their jobs. He didn’t specifically mention a deep playoff run, but it was implied.

The offense, a team strength for so many years, must become more efficient after a down year. That starts with Rivers at quarterback, but the new additions to the receiving corps will be under the microscope as well. The team addressed some glaring needs on defense in the draft. If the rookies make an immediate impact and Pagano, the new defensive coordinator, can solve the third down woes, the Chargers should be in the hunt for the AFC West title. 

Related: 2012 San Diego Chargers Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Remembering Junior
The Chargers were among the hardest hit emotionally when former linebacker Junior Seau died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in May. “We all lost a friend today,” team president Dean Spanos said. “This is just such a tragic loss. One of the worst things I could ever imagine.” The Chargers held a celebration of life service on May 11 at Qualcomm Stadium, where Seau starred for his first 13 NFL seasons.

Look Who’s Coming to Town
The Chargers will see several high-profile former teammates and coaches thanks to their matchup with the NFC South this season. In home games, they’ll face running back Michael Turner of the Falcons, and running back Mike Tolbert and former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera of the Panthers. In road games, they’ll face quarterback Drew Brees of the Saints and Vincent Jackson of the Buccaneers.

Royal Addition
Eddie Royal has a chance to make highlights with the Chargers rather than against them. While with Denver in 2009, Royal returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in a 34–23 Monday night victory at San Diego. In September 2008, after referee Ed Hochuli’s infamous blown call in Denver, Royal caught a fourth down touchdown pass from Jay Cutler and then ran the same route to catch the winning two-point conversion.

Party In The Parking Lot
There were plenty of emotional moments when left guard Kris Dielman announced his retirement in the offseason due to a concussion. The mood lightened somewhat when Dielman was asked if he’s going to still be around. “I’m excited to tailgate,” he said.
Whitehurst is back Charlie Whitehurst is back as Philip Rivers’ backup after a two-year sojourn to Seattle in which he threw his first NFL pass. Whitehurst was San Diego’s third-string quarterback behind Rivers and Billy Volek from 2006-09 and never attempted a pass in the regular season. After being traded to Seattle, he played in nine games in two seasons, throwing for 805 yards and three touchdowns, with four interceptions. He helped get the Seahawks into the playoffs in 2010. Hours after signing Whitehurst, the Chargers released Volek.

Turning Green
It might take San Diego State fans a while to warm up to rookie tight end Ladarius Green. In his final game at Louisiana-Lafayette, he caught five passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in a 32–30 victory over the Aztecs in the New Orleans Bowl. 

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: Mon., Aug. 13

Order your 2012 San Diego Chargers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top San Deigo Chargers Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 San Diego Chargrs Schedule Analysis

<p> San Diego Chargers 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-football-2012-schedule-analysis

Few teams inspire equal parts repulsion and adoration like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Yet, one thing any fan of any team must admit is that Notre Dame plays arguably the toughest schedule each and every season. This fall won’t be any different as the Irish will face 10 teams that got to bowl eligibility in 2011. Boston College and Navy are the only two teams on this schedule that were not bowl eligible last season. Additionally, Brian Kelly’s bunch will face six teams that won at least 10 games last year.

Week 1 (Sept. 1): Navy (9:00 AM ET, CBS) Dublin, Ire.
Overall Record: 72-12-1, Last Meeting: W, 56-14 (2011)

Week 2 (Sept. 8): Purdue (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 55-26-2, Last Meeting: W, 38-10 (2011)

Week 3 (Sept. 15): At Michigan State (8:00 PM ET, ABC)
Overall Record: 46-28-1, Last Meeting: W, 31-13 (2011)

Week 4 (Sept. 22): Michigan (7:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 15-23-1, Last Meeting: L, 35-31 (2011)

Week 5 (Sept. 29): Bye Week

Week 6 (Oct. 6): Miami, Fla. (7:30 PM ET, NBC) Chicago, Ill.
Overall Record: 16-7-1, Last Meeting: W, 33-17 (2010, Sun Bowl)

Week 7 (Oct. 13): Stanford (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 17-9, Last Meeting: L, 28-14 (2011)

Week 8 (Oct. 20): BYU (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 4-2, Last Meeting: W, 49-23 (2005)

Week 9 (Oct. 27): At Oklahoma (TBA)
Overall Record: 8-1, Last Meeting: W, 34-30 (1999)

Week 10 (Nov. 3): Pitt (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 46-20-1, Last Meeting: W, 15-12 (2011)

Week 11 (Nov. 10): At Boston College (TBA)
Overall Record: 12-9, Last Meeting: W, 16-14 (2011)

Week 12 (Nov. 17): Wake Forest (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 1-0, Last Meeting: W, 24-17 (2011)

Week 13 (Nov. 24): At USC (TBA, ABC/ESPN)
Overall Record: 43-35-5, Last Meeting: W, 31-17 (2011)

Week 14 (Nov. 31): Bye Week

Related: 2012 Notre Dame Team Preview

— After a four-decade win streak over the fine Naval Academy, the Middies claimed three of four from the Irish from 2007 to 2010. Kelly’s bunch got back on the winning side last fall in a one-sided 56-14 domination. This game has a decidedly different feel to it as it will take place across the pond in Dublin. While the fans love the 10 AM ET kickoff, the coaches will have to get their teams adjusted during a strange week of travel. Especially, considering that the Irish do not have a bye week following a long trip back to the States.

— From Week 2 to Week 4, the Irish will face three straight regional rivals from the Big Ten. These games will not only feature two 10-win teams from Michigan with BCS bowl aspirations, but recruiting battles hang in the balance as well. All four schools compete directly for recruits in the Midwest and winning on the field means more than just a single W or L in the standings. And, of course, revenge will be heavy on Irish minds after last year’s soul-crushing fourth quarter collapse against the biggest rival of the group Michigan. The first month will indicate what Notre Dame will be in 2012 and will likely feature the toughest two-week stretch of the year. Kelly is 0-2 against Michigan at Notre Dame.

Related: ND Predictions: Most Important Game, Key Position Battles and Top Newcomers

— After facing four straight bowl teams, the bye week will come at a welcome time for Kelly’s bunch. Ideally, the quarterback situation will have been sorted out long before Week 5 (I have been calling for Everett Golson to be the starter all summer), but this layoff should give the Irish offensive staff time to regroup and reevaluate its quarterback play — should something still be left to be determined.

— A trip around Lake Michigan to Soldier Field should be fun for the Windy City faithful. It just doesn’t appear to be promising for the Miami fans. Should the Irish be 4-0, they will have a chance to make a big statement in Chicago against a former national power.

— Week’s 7-9 should be the toughest stretch of games for the Irish in 2012. Stanford appears to be a carbon copy of Notre Dame this fall — questions at quarterback but a talented running game to go with a nasty front seven on defense — and matches-up very well with the Irish. The Cardinal have won three straight in the series. BYU has a big offense that will test the ND secondary. Luckily, both games will come in South Bend, but they lead up to a trip to Norman to battle the Sooners. Landry Jones and Co. will be able to handle the Irish defense, so it will fall to the Irish offense to produce if Kelly expects to compete with Oklahoma. These two historic powers haven’t played since 1999.

— The good news for Irish fans is that the easiest section of the schedule will come directly after the trip to Oklahoma. Pitt, Boston College and Wake Forest might be the three easiest opponents on the ’12 slate and all three will be played consecutively. The bad news? The Irish beat these three by a total of 12 points last year. Again, this stretch being defined as the “easiest” three games is another indicator of just how tough the Irish slate is every year.

— The season finale will be the team’s toughest single test of the year. Notre Dame has beaten USC once time since 2001 and could be facing an undefeated 11-0 Heisman Trophy-led offensive juggernaut on the road in Los Angeles. Yes, the last time Kelly took a team to The Coliseum, the Irish came away victorious, but that was the worst Trojan team since Peter Carroll’s first year — also, in 2001.

Official Season Prediction: 8-4, Pinstripe Bowl

Related: Athlon Sports 2012 Bowl Projections

- by Braden Gall


Athlon Sports 2012 Notre Dame Content:

2012 Notre Dame Team Preview
Debate: Can Brian Kelly Lead the Irish to a BCS Bowl?

Who are the Top 10 Notre Dame Players in 2012?

Team Predictions: Who Starts at QB, What is the Most Important Game and More

The 10 Greatest Fighting Irish Player of All-Time

Notre Dame Cheerleader Gallery

<p> Notre Dame Football: 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-linebacker-units-2012

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.

Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.

It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards.

Athlon's Top 20 Linebacking Corps for 2012

1. Georgia – Thanks to the arrival of Jarvis Jones, the Bulldogs emerged as one of the top defenses in the SEC last year. After sitting out 2010 as a transfer from USC, Jones turned in a monster 2011 season, recording 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss. Ramik Wilson is expected to start at the other outside linebacker spot, while Mike Gilliard and Alec Ogletree anchor the middle. Ogletree recorded 52 tackles last year and is one of the SEC’s rising stars on defense.

2. Stanford – Even with Shayne Skov sidelined for nearly all of 2011 with a knee injury, the Cardinal still finished third nationally in rush defense. Chase Thomas has been a standout performer throughout his career with Stanford, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors last year. Skov is expected to return at full strength early in the season and leads a deep group of linebackers that includes experienced options in Jarek Lancaster, AJ Tarpley, Trent Murphy and James Vaughters.

3. Michigan State – Thanks to the return of all three starters from last season, the Spartans own the Big Ten’s top linebacking corps for 2012. Max Bullough is a prototypical middle linebacker and should be better in his second year as a starter. Denicos Allen led the team with 11 sacks and also registered 83 stops. Chris Norman rounds out the starting trio, and he recorded honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season.

4. Iowa State – A.J. Klein and Jake Knott are quietly two of the best linebackers in the nation. Klein earned Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year honors last season after registering 116 tackles and two sacks. Knott picked up second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2011 and has posted more than 100 tackles in each of the last two seasons. The third starting spot will likely go to sophomore C.J. Morgan.

5. Wisconsin – The Badgers finished 60th nationally against the run last year, but that number should improve in 2012 with two standouts returning in the linebacking corps. Chris Borland ranked second on the team with 143 tackles last year and picked up 19 tackles for a loss. Mike Taylor registered 150 stops and forced three fumbles in 2011. The unit must replace Kevin Claxton, but Ethan Armstrong and Conor O’Neill are experienced candidates.

6. Alabama – Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower will be missed, but the cupboard is far from bare for coordinator Kirby Smart. Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley should be in the mix for All-SEC honors, while sophomores Trey DePriest, Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson are on the cusp of a breakout season. Expect a small drop-off in performance early in the year, but this unit should rank as one of the SEC’s best by the end of 2012.

7. Florida – If the Gators want to challenge for the SEC East title, the defense will have to carry this team in the early part of the year. Will Muschamp and Dan Quinn have plenty of talent to work with, including senior Jon Bostic and junior Jelani Jenkins in the linebacking corps. Bostic recorded 94 tackles last season, while Jenkins made 75 stops. Freshman Antonio Morrison could break into the rotation as a backup on the outside this year.

8. Penn State – With the transfers of Silas Redd and Justin Brown, scoring points will be a challenge for the Nittany Lions’ offense this season. The good news for Penn State? The defense should be strong, especially at linebacker with senior Gerald Hodges and junior Glenn Carson back as starters. Hodges earned second-team All-Big Ten honors after recording 106 stops and 4.5 sacks last year. This unit could rank even higher at the end of the year if senior Michael Mauti can stay healthy. The depth took a hit with Khairi Fortt’s decision to transfer to California.

9. Notre Dame – Manti Te’o turned down a spot in the first round of the NFL Draft for one more year in South Bend. The senior led the team with 128 stops and 13.5 tackles for a loss last season and is a first-team Athlon Sports All-American for 2012. Joining Te’o as likely starters in the linebacking corps should be Prince Shembo, Dan Fox and Danny Spond. Sophomore Ishaq Williams will see plenty of snaps on the outside, and he will be counted upon to help ease the loss of Aaron Lynch. Having Te’o back boosts Notre Dame’s ranking in this list, but the rest of the unit needs to pickup their performance in 2012.  

10. Oregon – The Ducks must replace two key contributors from last season’s linebacking corps but don’t expect this unit to miss a beat in 2012. Senior Michael Clay is an underrated defender in the Pac-12 and he recorded 102 tackles and three sacks last year. Kiko Alonso had a breakout performance in the Rose Bowl (five tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1.5 sacks) and will help Clay anchor the interior. Boseko Lokombo will man one outside spot, while end/linebacker Dion Jordan will start at the hybrid rush position.

11. USC – With three sophomores likely to start, the Trojans could have the nation’s youngest starting trio at linebacker. Dion Bailey excelled after switching from safety last year, recording 81 tackles and Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. Hayes Pullard also had a standout freshman year, tying Bailey for the team lead in stops and recording four sacks and two forced fumbles. Lamar Dawson (25 tackles) is expected to start in the middle this season.

12. Rutgers – Three starters – including All-American candidate Khaseem Greene – are back to lead the Scarlet Knights’ linebacking corps in 2012. Greene led the team with 141 stops last season, while recording 3.5 sacks and 14 TFL. Steve Beauharnais anchors the interior, while making plenty of plays behind the scrimmage (16 TFL, 5 sacks). The third spot is expected to go to Jamal Merrell (44 tackles last year).

13. Oklahoma State – While the Cowboys’ offense garnered most of the attention last year, the defense led the nation in takeaways. A key reason for last season’s success was due to the trio at linebacker. Shaun Lewis picked up honorable mention All-Big 12 honors after recording 61 stops and 9.5 TFL last year. Alex Elkins didn’t play high school football, but excelled on the junior college level and finished second on the team with 90 stops last year. He should be better in his second year as a starter on the FBS level. Junior Caleb Lavey is expected to start at middle linebacker. With a few losses on the defensive line, the Cowboys need the linebacking corps to be active against the run.

14. Oklahoma – Travis Lewis was the heart and soul of the Sooners’ defense and there’s no question he will be missed. However, new linebacker coach Tim Kish will have plenty to work with. Juniors Tom Wort and Corey Nelson have played in Lewis’ shadow over the last two years and should be ready to push for All-Big 12 honors. The third spot is expected to be a hybrid linebacker/safety position, which could go to senior Joseph Ibiloye. 

15. Ohio State – Improvement. That’s the key word surrounding the Buckeyes after a disappointing 6-7 season. Even with three new starters taking over at linebacker, this unit should be one of the best in the Big Ten. Senior Etienne Sabino is due for a solid senior year, while sophomores Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier are primed for breakout seasons. Shazier recorded 57 tackles in 13 appearances last year. The biggest question mark about this unit will be depth, as there is very little in the way of experience after the starting trio.

16. Virginia Tech – Injuries wrecked havoc on the Hokies’ linebacking corps last season, and there’s plenty of concerns about this group going into 2012. Bruce Taylor was off to a solid start in 2011 - 53 tackles and five sacks through the first eight games - but a foot injury ended his season prematurely. Tariq Edwards played in all 14 contests last year but a shin injury limited his availability for preseason workouts. Senior Jeron Gouveia-Winslow was sidelined for most of the year with a foot injury but is expected to regain a starting spot this fall. Alonzo Tweedy and Jack Tyler will be the top reserves and could play major snaps early in the season with Taylor and Edwards working their way back to full strength.

17. Kansas State – Arthur Brown was one of the nation’s top linebacker prospects in the class of 2008 but failed to make an impact during his two years with Miami. However, the light switch flipped on for the Wichita native last season, recording first-team All-Big 12 honors and 101 tackles. Brown should be one of the Big 12’s top 25 players in 2012 and an All-American candidate. Junior Tre Walker will return at one of the outside spots, while converted quarterback Justin Tuggle will likely man the other.

18. Texas – Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were two of the Big 12’s top defenders over the last couple of years and won’t be easy to replace. However, the Longhorns aren’t short on talent in this area. Jordan Hicks is primed for a breakout year after making 65 stops last season. Sophomore Steve Edmond is another breakout candidate to watch at middle linebacker, while the coaching staff is high on junior Demarco Cobbs on the weakside.

19. Texas A&M – The Aggies are shifting from a 3-4 to a 4-3 attack, so the returning personnel will have an adjustment period. Sean Porter should be the headliner and the Aggies’ top playmaker on defense after recording 17 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks last year. Senior Jonathan Stewart returns after leading the team with 98 tackles in 2011, while Steven Jenkins is expected to win the third spot (61 tackles last year).

20. Michigan – This unit still has a ways to go before Brady Hoke or coordinator Greg Mattison consider it a strength, but it’s definitely on the right track. Senior Kenny Demens is back after leading the team with 94 tackles last year, while Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan are promising sophomores on the outside. Freshman Joe Bolden was one of the nation’s top linebacker recruits and will be tough to keep on the sidelines.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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<p> College Football's Top 20 Linebacker Units for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 05:52
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-defensive-back-units-2012

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.

Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.

It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards.

Athlon's Top 20 Defensive Backfields for 2012

1. Texas – The Longhorns allowed just over 200 passing yards per game last season, but opponents managed to score only 13 times through the air. Quandre Diggs broke up 13 passes and recorded four interceptions last season to earn Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. Cornerback Carrington Byndom earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in his first season as a starter in 2011. Blake Gideon departs at safety, but Kenny Vaccaro and Adrian Phillips should be a standout duo in 2012.

2. LSU – The Tigers will miss shutdown corner Morris Claiborne but should still rank among the best in the nation in pass defense. Tyrann Mathieu can’t match Claiborne’s cover ability, but he is one of the team’s top defensive playmakers. Tharold Simon will start on the other side, while Jalen Collins will be the third corner. Eric Reid is coming off a standout season and will join Craig Loston as a starter at safety.

3. Michigan State – The Spartans allowed 20 touchdown passes last year but ranked 11th nationally in passing yards allowed per game. Three starters are back for 2012, including cornerback Johnny Adams. The senior emerged as a shutdown corner last season and could contend for All-America honors. Darqueze Dennard will start at the other corner spot. Isaiah Lewis is one of the Big Ten’s top safeties, while Kurtis Drummond and RJ Williamson will vie to replace Trenton Robinson at free safety.

4. Ohio State – Last season was considered a down year for defense in Columbus, but the Buckeyes still finished 14th nationally in pass defense. Four starters return for co-coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers, giving Ohio State one of the top defensive backfields in the nation. Cornerback Bradley Roby is an emerging star, while Travis Howard is expected to start at the other corner spot after recording 41 tackles and two interceptions last year. Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett could be the Big Ten’s top tandem at safety in 2012.

5. USC – The numbers weren’t particularly pretty for the Trojans last season. The secondary allowed 263.3 yards per game through the air, which ranked 102nd nationally and ninth in the Pac-12. While this unit gave up some yardage, it allowed only 17 passing scores. Expect USC to have the Pac-12’s top secondary in 2012, as all four starters return, including All-American safety T.J. McDonald. Cornerback Nickell Robey is an underrated player on the national level, while senior Isiah Wiley and Jawanza Starling look to build off their 2011 seasons.

6. Oklahoma State – Numbers don’t always paint a true picture of the effectiveness of any secondary. The Cowboys ranked 107th nationally in passing yards allowed last season but ranked 20th in pass efficiency defense. This group should improve upon those numbers in 2012, especially with three starters coming back to Stillwater. The cornerback duo of Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert is quietly among the nation’s best, while safety Daytawion Lowe is back after leading the team with 97 tackles last season.

7. Florida State – This unit suffered a setback with the dismissal of cornerback Greg Reid, but the Seminoles still rank No. 1 in the ACC and in the top 10 nationally of defensive backfields. Xavier Rhodes is a shutdown corner and could leave early for the NFL with a big 2012 season. Replacing Reid at the other corner spot will likely be sophomore Nick Waisome. Safety Lamarcus Joyner was a second-team All-ACC selection last year and will be joined by Terrence Brooks and Karlos Williams at free safety.

8. Florida – Here’s a scary thought for the rest of the SEC: The Gators ranked seventh in pass defense last year and could be even better in 2012. Junior Matt Elam is on the verge of becoming an All-American at strong safety, while sophomores Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy are coming off solid debut seasons. There’s plenty of proven depth in this unit, as Cody Riggs, Jaylen Watkins and De’Ante Saunders all have experience.

9. Oklahoma – The Sooners took a lot of criticism for their play in the secondary last season, but there is hope for a quick turnaround in 2012. New coordinator Mike Stoops is an excellent secondary coach, and this unit also has four starters from last year back in the mix. The only key departure from the defensive backfield is cornerback Jamell Fleming, but Demontre Hurst, Gabe Lynn and Aaron Colvin is a good trio to shut down opposing passing attacks. Tony Jefferson should be this unit’s best player, while senior Javon Harris is expected to get the nod at strong safety.

10. Virginia Tech – As long as the Hokies stay healthy, the secondary is one of the best in the ACC. Any injury could be a major issue, especially with very little proven depth in the defensive backfield. Kyle Fuller earned second-team All-ACC honors last season and will be joined by converted safety Antone Exum at cornerback. Sophomore safeties Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner have talent but lack experience.

11. NC State – With 14 returning starters from a team that closed out 2011 with wins in four out of their final five games, the Wolfpack are a popular sleeper pick in 2012. The defense should be one of the best in the ACC this year, especially with the return of cornerback David Amerson, who led the NCAA with 13 picks last year. Three seniors round out the starting jobs around Amerson, including Athlon Sports 2012 first-team All-ACC safety Earl Wolff.

12. Georgia – Suspensions have clouded the Bulldogs’ secondary in uncertainty early in the year, but this unit should rank among the best in the SEC at the end of 2012. Cornerback Sanders Commings is suspended for the first two games (including the SEC opener against Missouri), while safety Bacarri Rambo could miss the first four contests. Senior Branden Smith and safety Shawn Williams will anchor the other two starting spots in the secondary, and this group is expected to get a boost with receiver Malcolm Mitchell playing on both sides of the ball early in the year.

13. Alabama – There are some big shoes to fill this fall as the Crimson Tide look to find replacements for cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Mark Barron. There’s a solid foundation to build around with senior Robert Lester back at free safety and junior cornerback Dee Milliner returning with 17 career starts. John Fulton and junior college recruits Travell Dixon and Deion Belue will battle to replace Kirkpatrick. Sophomores Vinnie Sunseri and HaHa Clinton-Dix are locked into a tight battle to fill Barron’s strong safety spot.

14. Rutgers – The Scarlet Knights were quietly one of the nation’s stingiest pass defenses last season. This unit allowed only eight touchdown passes, while holding quarterbacks to a 51.8 completion percentage. David Rowe must be replaced at strong safety, but three other starters are back, including 2011 second-team All-Big East selection Logan Ryan. Strong safety Duron Harmon earned first-team honors last year after recording 49 tackles and five interceptions.

15. Oregon – Like the other units on Oregon’s defense, the secondary suffered a few losses, but there are few concerns about this group going into 2012. Coordinator Nick Aliotti does a good job of rotating players in and out of the lineup, which allows the reserves to gain plenty of valuable experience. The headliner for this group will be senior John Boyett. Sophomore cornerback Terrance Mitchell is a rising star to watch this season.

16. Mississippi State – The Bulldogs numbers against the pass were a little deceiving last year. Although they finished 11th in the SEC in pass defense, that placed them 27th overall in the nation. Cornerback Johnthan Banks is the SEC’s top cover corner and should be an All-American candidate in 2012. Senior Corey Broomfield doesn’t have the all-conference recognition that Banks gets but is a steady performer on the other side. Safety is a slight concern, especially with Nickoe Whitley recovering from a torn Achilles.

17. Utah – The Utes ranked 74th nationally against the pass last season but allowed only 18 passing scores and recorded 19 interceptions. Expect this unit to be solid once again in 2012 with three returning starters, including likely All-Pac-12 safety Brian Blechen. Fellow safety Eric Rowe started all 13 games as a freshman last year and should be even better as a sophomore. Seniors Mo Lee and Ryan Lacy should be steady options at cornerback.

18. Michigan – Much like the rest of the Wolverines’ defense in 2011, the secondary made significant improvement in the stat column. After allowing 261.9 passing yards per game in 2010, Michigan cut that number to 190.5 in 2011. Three starters are back for 2012, including promising sophomore Blake Countess at cornerback and senior Jordan Kovacs at safety.

19. Nebraska – Replacing Alfonzo Dennard (the Big Ten’s top defensive back in 2011) will be the top priority for new secondary coach Terry Joseph. The good news for the Cornhuskers is three starters are back, including senior safety Daimion Stafford and promising junior college transfer Mohammed Seisay.

20. Georgia Tech – The Yellow Jackets boast an underrated secondary, which returns three All-ACC candidates for 2012. Georgia Tech ranked second in the ACC in pass defense last year, and quarterbacks completed less than 56 percent of throws against this secondary. Cornerback Rod Sweeting and safety Isaiah Johnson should be the headliners for this unit in 2012.


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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<p> College Football's Top 20 Defensive Back Units for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 05:42
Path: /college-football/pac-12-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the Pac-12 to talk anonymously about their opponents. 


Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats: 

“It wasn’t a shock to me that (Mike) Stoops was fired last season, but I was surprised they pulled the plug on him midway through the year especially with the schedule they had last season. With Stoops gone, I don’t think they could have found a more perfect hire than Rich Rodriguez. I hate to say this, but I think he will be an absolute hit. It may not happen this season, but it’s inevitable. Rodriguez’s offensive attack will thrive in the Pac-12. He’s reunited again with former Michigan assistants Calvin Magee and Rod Smith, who will be his co-offensive coordinators. Of course, they won’t have the luxury of working with a talent such as Denard Robinson.  

This first year will be trying for Rodriguez offensively since the Wildcats lost quarterback Nick Foles and wide receiver Juron Criner. Senior Matt Scott is expected to run the offense. And they do have a great deal of talent on defense.  

I think the Week 2 visit by Oklahoma State could set the tone for the season if the Wildcats can pull off a victory. The biggest test will come two weeks later when Rodriguez makes his Pac-12 debut at Oregon.”

Arizona State

Opposing coaches size up the Sun Devils:

“I think one play that summed up how dysfunctional Arizona State’s program had become was during the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. (Dennis) Erickson had decided to punt on fourth down, but when the punt team started onto the field, Brock Osweiler turned and waved them back to the sideline. The quarterback, not the coach, was in charge of the team. That was just one of many issues with the Sun Devils. The handling of Vontaze Burfict was another. Now they bring in a nomad like Todd Graham, who seemingly floats from job to job every year or two. First he has to gain the trust of the team and the community that he won’t be bolting for another job after next season. That’s easier said than done. Plus he needs to improve from last year’s 6–7 season that ended with the embarrassing blowout loss to Boise State. Graham does not have an easy task. Osweiler is gone along with most of the offensive playmakers such as wide receivers Gerell Robinson and Aaron Pflugrad. 

They need to find a quarterback. The running backs are good, especially Cameron Marshall, but Graham needs the right quarterback to run his offense. He sure didn’t have one at Pitt last year.”


Opposing coaches size up the Golden Bears: 

“Last season wasn’t easy for Cal. They had no true home games, playing at a baseball park, while their home stadium was renovated. They managed another winning record under (Jeff) Tedford, but the offense was inconsistent. This year I expect more of the same. A game around .500. That’s sort of what Cal football has become — 5–7 two years ago, 7–6 last year. This year has 7–5 or 6–6 written all over it.  

They have some decent talent back. Quarterback Zach Maynard put up some numbers last year, and he gets wide receiver Keenan Allen, who I think is a big-time talent, and tailback Isi Sofele back this fall. Those three should give Cal three of the league’s top offensive skill players. Will they be able to score enough? The defense also has been inconsistent. It had some good moments — limiting Washington State and Oregon State to a TD or less. But it was no match against Oregon, UCLA and Washington. Three starters are back in the secondary while Aaron Tipoti is good on the defensive line.

Cal gets to play in its home stadium again this year, but I think we’ll get a better read on their season in their first two road games when they visit Ohio State and USC in back-to-back weeks. That is about as tough as it will get for any team in the nation next season.”


Opposing coaches size up the Buffaloes: 

“Jon Embree’s first season was about what I expected — a lot more losses than wins. He was put in a very tough situation. First-time head coach taking over a program that had underachieved and playing their first season in a new league. Embree’s first season was set up to fail. There wasn’t a lot he could do. I was impressed, though, how they managed to win two of their last three, including an upset at Utah. That’s not an easy place to play. That showed me that Embree has the Buffaloes on the right track. It’s just going to take some time. 

The roster is still thin on talent. Quarterback Tyler Hansen and running back Rodney Stewart are both gone. They don’t return much at the skill positions. (Wide receiver) Paul Richardson’s injury (torn ACL) is a killer. They don’t have many really good players to begin with. He was one of them. 

Defensively they’ll be a little better after last year’s team allowed more than 40 points six times. Embree also didn’t catch any breaks with the schedule. He must play at Washington State in (Mike) Leach’s first Pac-12 game and also has consecutive road games against USC and Oregon and also visits Arizona. That’s tough.”


Opposing coaches size up the Ducks:

“I was very surprised that Chip Kelly nearly bolted to the NFL. He has a great situation at Oregon, and for him to nearly leave that for the uncertainty of the Tampa Bay Bucs tells me one of two things: He was trying to get out of Dodge before the NCAA came calling, or he really has a strong desire to prove he could coach in the NFL. I’m honestly still not sure which one I believe. 

Now that Kelly finally decided to stay, he has to find a way to fill some serious holes. Quarterback Darron Thomas left early to the NFL, and running back LaMichael James also is gone. Those are two huge key cogs in Oregon’s offense. I think James can easily be replaced. They’ve got Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas to plug in at running back. How well they replace (Darron) Thomas I think will determine if they win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title. They like the guys they have there, but Thomas knew what he was doing in that offense.

Defensively, I think Nick Aliotti is vastly, vastly underrated. Oregon’s defense is better than most people give them credit for. He’s got a good nucleus back with six regulars returning. They will be good on that side of the ball.”

Oregon State

Opposing coaches size up the Beavers:

“Mike Riley made it look easy for a few years in Corvallis. But these past two seasons, they’ve slipped a little bit with the back-to-back losing seasons. It certainly made Riley’s job easier when he had the Rodgers brothers, but they’re finally out of eligibility. 

Last year was a tough one for Oregon State. I know they had a ton of injuries to several starters and that contributed to the 3–9 season. Because of that they were forced to play a lot of freshmen and their inexperience showed, especially on defense in blowout losses to Wisconsin, Stanford and Oregon.

I think Oregon State will be one of the league’s surprises this season. All of those younger players are back with a year of experience and combined with getting their injured players back, that should dramatically help their depth situation. The biggest beneficiary should be quarterback Sean Mannion, who replaced Ryan Katz early in the year and started the final 10 games as a freshman. He’s got a lot of potential and getting him so much experience should pay dividends this year. There will be no more drama at the position; he is the guy.

They are in a tough division. Oregon and Stanford have been really good. Washington is getting better, and Cal is solid. And now, Washington State has Mike Leach. Tough, tough division.”


Opposing coaches size up the Cardinal:

“I have to admit I was wrong about David Shaw. I thought with him replacing Jim Harbaugh, the Cardinal would lose their toughness and personality and would flounder last season. Even with Andrew Luck at quarterback, I just didn’t think they could be as good as they were with Harbaugh. Well, I’m officially an idiot. Shaw did a tremendous job leading Stanford to an 11-win season and it should have been 12. There’s no way they should have lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. This year, though, I’m afraid Stanford will take a little dip. Of course, it’s got nothing to do with Shaw, but having to replace Andrew Luck will not be easy. There isn’t a clear cut favorite to replace him, and that’s something they certainly must get settled sooner than later.

Besides Luck, they also lost some hosses up front. They had some great offensive linemen.

I expect running back Stepfan Taylor to have to carry the offense with an unproven quarterback and some new starters on the offensive line. The question is, how effective can he be without an Andrew Luck-type at quarterback?

Defensively, I think they’ll be just fine with linebacker Chase Thomas back. He’s one of the nation’s best. Ben Gardner is one of the league’s top defensive ends. They’ve got some players on that side of the ball.”


Opposing coaches size up the Bruins:

“Slick Rick has left the building. Neuheisel is no longer coaching his alma mater. I know some didn’t think that highly of him, but I actually thought he was an underrated coach. He may have been too cool for some, I guess. 

Jim Mora Jr. is an interesting, interesting hire. The guy has been out of coaching for a while and now comes to UCLA. I’m not sure what to make of this hire. Bottom line, like everyone else in our business — win and it’s a successful hire and if he doesn’t win enough, he’ll be gone in a few years.

Kevin Prince returns for his senior year. He’s had his share of ups and downs under Neuheisel. How will he fare under Mora or specifically under new coordinator Noel Mazzone? Or do they opt for another option, such as Richard Brehaut or Brett Hundley? Whoever they settle on will have the luxury of having Johnathan Franklin back at running back. He’s a really good player, a guy a lot of people don’t know about nationally because UCLA hasn’t been very good.

Overall, the Bruins do return a good core from last year. Can Mora get them all headed in the same direction? That’s something Neuheisel, unfortunately, didn’t do enough of during his time.”


Opposing coaches size up the Trojans: 

“I don’t know how many people I talked to that laughed, yes laughed, when Lane Kiffin got the USC job. Then they got a two-year bowl ban and it was only a matter of time before the program imploded on itself. Well, Kiffin proved everyone wrong. The Trojans made drastic improvement last season, posting 10 victories, probably should have been 11. They let the Stanford game get away. The only stinker was at Arizona State. And now here comes this year. Watch out. The Trojans are loaded. They are the clear-cut favorites in the Pac-12, and if anyone has a chance to dethrone the SEC as national champions, I’m going with the Trojans.

Call it East Coast bias, but (quarterback) Matt Barkley should have received more Heisman consideration last season. That won’t be a problem this year. He’s got Robert Woods and Marqise Lee back at receiver along with tailback Curtis McNeal. They are absolutely loaded at wide receiver. Those guys are really, really good.

Safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Nickell Robey give the Trojans one of the nation’s top secondaries. It all will come down to Nov. 3 when Oregon visits USC. At this point I wouldn’t bet against Kiffin.”


Opposing coaches size up the Utes:

“While some might question the thinking of Kyle Whittingham replacing offensive coordinator Norm Chow with 25-year-old Brian Johnson, I think it’s a great idea. It’s something different. The players are sure to be receptive to him; Johnson played the (quarterback) position so he has their respect in that aspect as well. Now can he call plays worth a darn? We’re certainly going to find out, but I think the kid will surprise some people. It doesn’t hurt that he has some good tools to work with in Jordan Wynn at quarterback and John White at running back. White was a big surprise last year. He was good.

The Utes return nearly their entire offense from a year ago and having some new young blood should help bolster last year’s numbers when they were held to 14 points or less five times, all losses.

(Defensive tackle) Star Lotulelei anchors the defense and might be the nation’s best at his position.

Last year, the Utes fared better than I thought in their first year in the Pac-12, finishing with eight victories. This year, I think they should be able to match that or exceed that many wins. This is a solid program. Just keeps on winning.”


Opposing coaches size up the Huskies: 

“What a way for Nick Holt to go out. That Alamo Bowl loss (67–56 defeat vs. Baylor) gave me whiplash. It reminded me of six-man football. That was possibly the worst defensive game I’ve seen so it’s not surprising that (Steve) Sarkisian fired the defensive coordinator after laying a major egg. They also looked defenseless against Stanford (allowing 65 points) and Nebraska (allowing 51 points). Sarkisian got a good one to replace Holt, bringing in Justin Wilcox from Tennessee. That’s a nice hire. I think Wilcox will do well out West. He also brought in Peter Sirmon to coach linebackers; he’s been at Tennessee with Wilcox. He’s a good recruiter and he played in the NFL.

Running back Chris Polk is off to the NFL. He carried the Huskies at times last season. They’ll experience a drop-off at running back but have a number of capable replacements in Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey.

Keith Price is a good quarterback, and he will be even better this year if he can stay healthy. He was banged up a lot last year. If they keep him upright, he will have a monster season.”

Washington State

Opposing coaches size up the Cougars: 

“I knew Mike Leach would eventually get back in coaching. I never thought it would be in Pullman, Washington. With that being said, I think Leach will do what Leach does best — provide tremendous sound bites and quotes for the media, and his offense will score a lot of points.

Paul Wulff doubled his win total last year, winning four games after two wins in 2010, but it wasn’t enough to save his job.

Quarterback Jeff Tuel and wide receiver Marquess Wilson should put up big numbers under Leach’s system. The Cougars won’t have trouble scoring points. That’s a certainty. Can they stop anyone? They couldn’t the past couple of years. That will be Leach’s biggest challenge. The talent level was getting better, but they still don’t have the players on defense to stop many teams in this league.

Ultimately I think Leach will be a huge success. Even if they don’t have an immediate turnaround, Leach will have enough quips and one-liners to keep everyone entertained at least for this season. He will be a breath of fresh air up there.”


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<p> Pac-12 Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 05:23
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, San Diego Chargers, NFL
Path: /nfl/san-diego-chargers-top-twitter-accounts-follow

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

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

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

@chargers (Followers: 146,200)

Top Chargers To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, August 10, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Shaun Phillips LB @ShaunPhillips95 434,112
2. Takeo Spikes LB @TakeoSpikes51 390,435
3. Richard Goodman WR @2_Good2BTrue 87,333
4. Eddie Royal WR @EddieRoyalWR 63,657
5. Antonio Gates TE @AntonioGates85 46,281
6. Ryan Mathews RB @mathews24 35,522
7. Le:Ron McClain FB @LeRon_McClain33 34,849
8. Curtis Brinkley RB @boonah920 29,563
9. Jacob Hester FB @JacobHester22 24,588
10. Atari Bigby S @20ataribigby 22,978
11. Melvin Ingram LB @MelvinIngram 21,581
12. Marcus McNeill OT @MarcusMcNeill73 17,505
13. Luis Castillo DT @LuisCastillo93 14,423
14. Roscoe Parrish WR @scoe11 12,744
15. Larry Englsih LB @LarryEnglish52 8,665
16. Nick Hardwick C @hardwina 8,551
17. Jordan Todman RB @JordanTodman 5,739
18. Edwin Baker RB @E_Baker4 5,046
19. Marcus Gilchrist CB @mgilchr 4,989
20. David Molk C @dmolk 4,490
21. Randy McMichael TE @randymac81 4,457
22. Cam Thomas DT @Baby_Zilla76 4,447
23. Corey Liuget DE @CoreyLiuget 3,519
24. Kendall Reyes DL @Kendall_Reyes 3,430
25. Antwan Barnes LB @vikes42 3,360

The Chargers Beat:

Kevin Acee, covers Chargers and columnist for San Diego Union-Tribune: @UTKevinAcee (20,180)

Michael Gehlken, Chargers beat writer for San Diego Union-Tribune: @UTgehlken (4,558)

Scott Bair, covers Chargers for North County Times: @NCTchargers (2,073)

Chargers Blog Roll:

Bolts From The Blue is SB Nation's Chargers blog.

Bolt Hype presents itself as "The San Diego Chargers Blog."

Bolt Beat and Chargers Gab are some others out there.

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

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: 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: Monday, August 13

Order your 2012 San Diego Chargers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 San Diego Chargers Season Preview
Related: 2012 San Diego Chargers Schedule Analysis

- By Braden Gall and Mark Ross, published on August 10, 2012


<p> San Diego Chargers Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 04:20
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-watkins-glen

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the Northeast this weekend as it hits Watkins Glen International for the Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen. The second of two road course races this season, teams will have to adjust to turning both left and right, carrying high speeds and preparing for heavy braking with multiple elevation changes and opposite-side pit stops.

Always a challenge, some in the garage have excelled at the road course events while others have struggled mightily. While road racing experience and an open-wheel background may have made a significant difference in years past, the level of competition has evened out of late.

Track position, however, has always been a major factor in deciding a winner at Watkins Glen. Starting up front and staying there is one of the biggest keys to a successful day at the Glen. In the 29 Cup races here, 19 have been won from the top-5 starting spots — so pay attention Saturday’s qualifying.

Last year, race winner Marcos Ambrose used both road course experience and a solid starting spot to earn his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. Always one of the strongest drivers at Watkins Glen, Ambrose leads the field in terms of average finish, with an impressive 2.3.

In fact, in his four starts at the Glen, Ambrose has failed to finish worse than third. In addition, the Australian-native has won three of the four Nationwide Series races he has run.

Given his prior success at Watkins Glen, Ambrose is definitely among the top 5 favorites in this week's fantasy outlook, but he is not the favorite. That belongs to a determined, hard-nosed, skilled road course driver known as “Rowdy.”

While Ambrose scored the victory in last year's event, it was Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch that led the most laps (49 of 92). Although he led the field to the green flag on a final green-white-checker finish, Busch was muscled out of the way by Ambrose and Brad Keselowski, eventually settling in at the third spot. With one of the best cars that day, the third-place finish was a tough pill to swallow for the 2008 Watkins Glen winner.

Heading into this weekend's race, Busch is in need of not only a solid finish, but a win. After a disappointing 33rd-place finish last weekend at Pocono, the driver of the No. 18 Toyota is currently fourth in the wild card standings behind Kasey Kahne (2 wins), Jeff Gordon (1) and Ryan Newman (1).

Following the wreck at Pocono, Busch and his Dave Rogers-led team know if they want to be a part of the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup they have to win their way in. One of the most dangerous teams when it comes to recording a string of wins, the JGR driver admits their season struggles give them little hope. Despite having one win, six top 5s and nine top 10s, Busch also has eight finishes of 23rd or worse, including three DNFs.

Yet, if there was one driver and team that could turn their luck around in the final five regular-season races, it’s this one. Already a former winner at the Glen, Busch has an average finish of 9.3 (fourth best) at Watkins Glen and has finished in the top 10 in six of his seven Cup starts.

With playoff implications on the line and one of his best tracks in front of him, look for Busch and the No. 18 team to employ the right strategy and have a strong enough car to best the rest.

Among those Busch will have to beat is last week's winner at Pocono, Jeff Gordon.

Now in the thick of the Chase wild card battle after winning the rain-shortened race Sunday afternoon, Gordon has momentum on his side and is eager to celebrate his 20th year in the Sprint Cup Series by making the Chase. Although he admits the No. 24 team has struggled to find speed over the past decade at the Glen, that momentum and confidence can go a long way for a driver that could use another win in the next five races.

Five Favorites: Kyle Busch, Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell gives his weekly fantasy NASCAR tips for Sunday's running of the Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen International.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 13:37
Path: /college-basketball/kentucky%E2%80%99s-big-blue-nation-olympic-basketball-team-0

Kentucky Wildcats basketball fans are known as the “Big Blue Nation.” But what if the Big Blue Nation were an actual sovereign nation eligible to compete in the 2012 London Olympics? How would an Olympic team comprised solely of Kentucky alums fare against the medal favorites like the USA, Spain and Argentina?

Here’s a hypothetical rundown of what UK in the UK would look like.


Managing Director – Pat Riley
Head Coach – John Calipari
Assistant Coach – Dan Issel
Assistant Coach – Travis Ford
Student Assistant – Enes Kanter

Riley and Calipari would serve as the unquestioned leaders of the Cats. Riles would oversee the Big Blue Nation basketball program, in a czar role similar to Team USA’s Jerry Colangelo. Coach Cal would pace the sidelines a la Coach K for the USA.


Flag Bearer – Ashley Judd
Anthem – “My Old Kentucky Home”

The lovely Miss Judd would serve as the beautiful face of the Commonwealth during the Opening Ceremonies, with the classic Kentucky Derby standard, “My Old Kentucky Home” as the anthem to be played should Kentucky win gold.


C – DeMarcus Cousins
Age: 21 (Aug. 13, 1990)
Height/Weight: 6-11, 270
Drafted: 2010, Sacramento Kings, No. 5 overall
2011-12 Stats: 18.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.4 spg, 1.2 bpg (NBA)

DMC was one of the final cuts made by Team USA. Boogie would bring the type of interior toughness that Spain has in the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, and that the USA lacks outside of Tyson Chandler.

F – Anthony Davis
Age: 19 (March 11, 1993)
Height/Weight: 6-10, 220
Drafted: 2012, New Orleans Hornets, No. 1 overall
2011-12 Stats: 14.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 4.7 bpg, 1.4 spg (NCAA)

Much like Kentucky early in the Civil War, the reigning NCAA Player of the Year, Final Four MOP and No. 1 overall NBA draft pick might be on the fencepost deciding whether to play for the USA or UK. But the unibrow-ed Uni-blocker would be a perfect running mate for the brutish Cousins down low.

F – Tayshaun Prince
Age: 32 (Feb. 28, 1980)
Height/Weight: 6-9, 215
Drafted: 2002, Detroit Pistons, No. 23 overall
2011-12 Stats: 12.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, 35.6 3P% (NBA)

A gold medal winner with the Redeem Team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2004 NBA champion, Prince provides valuable length defensively, veteran leadership and a history of making clutch 3-pointers in pressure situations.

G – John Wall
Age: 21 (Sept. 6, 1990)
Height/Weight: 6-4, 195
Drafted: 2010, Washington Wizards, No. 1 overall
2011-12 Stats: 16.3 ppg, 8.0 apg, 4.5 rpg, 1.4 spg (NBA)

Playing off the ball while Rondo runs the point, Wall would be charged with going toe-to-toe with the USA’s Kobe Bryant and Argentina’s Manu Ginobili. Turning defense into fast break offense would be a likely strength of the lightning quick backcourt of Wall and Rondo.

G – Rajon Rondo
Age: 26 (Feb. 22, 1986)
Height/Weight: 6-1, 185
Drafted: 2006, Phoenix Suns, No. 21 overall
2011-12 Stats: 11.9 ppg, 11.7 apg, 4.8 rpg, 1.8 spg (NBA)

The 2008 NBA champion was the assists leader in 2012 and steals leader in 2010. A defensive menace and one-of-a-kind playmaker, Rondo would play with a massive chip on his shoulder against Team USA and Heat rival LeBron James.


F – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Age: 18 (Sept. 26, 1993)
Height/Weight: 6-8, 230
Drafted: 2012, Charlotte Bobcats, No. 2 overall
2011-12 Stats: 11.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.0 spg (NCAA)

The defensive specialist would get an early taste of tangling with LeBron, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.

G – Jodie Meeks
Age: 24 (Aug. 21, 1987)
Height/Weight: 6-4, 210
Drafted: 2009, Milwaukee Bucks, No. 41 overall
2011-12 Stats: 8.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 90.6 FT%, 36.5 3P% (NBA)

A designated shooter and spark off the bench, Meeks’ free-throw shooting would also be a valuable asset on a team that might struggle at the line.

F – Terrence Jones
Age: 20 (Jan. 9, 1992)
Height/Weight: 6-9, 250
Drafted: 2012, Houston Rockets, No. 18 overall
2011-12 Stats: 12.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 1.3 spg (NCAA)

The enigmatic talent would likely run hot and cold on the international stage. But Coach Cal would have the luxury of only playing Jones when he had a hot hand.

G – Brandon Knight
Age: 20 (Dec. 2, 1991)
Height/Weight: 6-3, 190
Drafted: 2011, Detroit Pistons, No. 8 overall
2011-12 Stats: 12.8 ppg, 3.8 apg, 3.2 rpg, 38.0 3P% (NBA)

Another ball-handler and shooter, Knight would see limited floor time behind Wall and Rondo but would be a nice option off the bench.

G – Doron Lamb
Age: 20 (Nov. 6, 1991)
Height/Weight: 6-5, 210
Drafted: 2012, Milwaukee Bucks, No. 42 overall
2011-12 Stats: 13.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 46.6 3P%, 82.6 FT% (NCAA)

Lamb would be a better option than even Knight. The sharpshooter with a savant’s basketball IQ would play essentially the same role with this team that he did with the 2012 NCAA champions.

F – Chuck Hayes
Age: 29 (June 11, 1983)
Height/Weight: 6-6, 250
Drafted: Undrafted
2011-12 Stats: 3.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.4 apg (NBA)

A mauler down low, Hayes would provide muscle and hustle, providing the most value banging with the USA’s LeBron, Melo and Kevin Love, as well as Argentina’s Luis Scola.

C – Josh Harrellson
Age: 23 (Feb. 12, 1989)
Height/Weight: 6-10, 275
Drafted: 2011, New Orleans Hornets, No. 45 overall
2011-12 Stats: 4.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 33.9 3P% (NBA)

“Jorts” would be the token white guy, the chief cheerleader and a valuable stretch-4 whose game might be better suited for international rules than for those of the NBA or NCAA.


G – Eric Bledsoe
Age: 22 (Dec. 9, 1989)
Height/Weight: 6-1, 195

F – Patrick Patterson
Age: 23 (March 14, 1989)
Height/Weight: 6-9, 235

C – Nerlens Noel
Age: 18 (April 10, 1994)
Height/Weight: 6-11, 215

The depth at point guard bumped Bledsoe, who shined playing alongside Chris Paul during the playoffs. Patterson isn’t as athletic as Jones, as tough as Hayes or as energetic as Harrellson. Incoming freshman Noel would have provided the best hair of the tournament — with his signature high top fade — but the young buck is still too green to run with the “national team” from the Bluegrass State.


If Kentucky fielded a team in the 2012 London Olympics, it would not have the depth to match Team USA. But the Wildcats’ length, speed and defense would be too much for the likes of Spain and Argentina. The Big Blue Nation would bring the silver medal back to Lexington.

by Nathan Rush

<p> If Kentucky basketball fielded a team of alums in the 2012 London Olympics, it would be a medal contender thanks to Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Rajon Rondo, Tayshaun Prince, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Co.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 12:59
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympic-photo-day-misty-may-treanor-and-kerri-walsh-jennings-win-gold

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings won their third straight gold medal in beach volleyball on Wednesday night in London, defeating fellow Americans April Ross and Jennifer Kessy in straight sets, 21–16, 21–16.

The two best friends won gold in Athens and Beijing before defending their crown in London — which is scheduled to be the duo’s final Olympic appearance.

“We played the toughest competition in the world and we’ve withstood every challenge to be hanging out on top,” Walsh Jennings told the Today Show, on the morning after their historic victory.

The 35-year-old May-Treanor is married to Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Matt Treanor and plans to start a family following her third gold. Meanwhile, the 33-year-old Walsh Jennings already has two sons — born in 2009 and 2010, following the Beijing Games.

The “Turtle” and “Six Feet of Sunshine” dug in to win and are now riding off into the sunset. The sport of women’s beach volleyball will never be the same.

<p> Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings won their third straight gold medal in beach volleyball.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 10:54
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-aug-9

Here's the Fab Five for Aug. 9, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:

1. Men's 200m Finals
This 19-second thrill ride offers Usain Bolt another occasion to state his case as history's greatest sprinter. After practically cartwheeling to the finish line in the preliminaries, Bolt should maintain focus through the entire race this time in an attempt to stave off countryman and sidekick Yohan Blake and become the first sprinter to defend his gold medal in the 200. Wallace Spearmon is the only American in the race and will be among those battling for bronze.

2. Men's Decathlon
Ashton Eaton of the United States set a world record in the U.S. trials, and he holds a 220-point lead over countryman Trey Hardee heading into the final five events of this grueling two-day test — 110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1500m run.

3. Women's Soccer Finals: U.S. vs. Japan
The largest crowd ever to watch a women's match in the soccer-mad nation of Great Britain will gather to watch the U.S. and Japan battle for gold. The theme for the Americans is redemption after losing to Japan in last year's World Cup final.

4. Women's Water Polo Finals: U.S. vs. Spain
After surviving a coaching blunder and beating Australia — he called a timeout with one second left when the U.S. didn't have the ball, allowing Australia to tie with a penalty shot — the U.S. women will try to earn a first-ever gold medal in this event as they battle unbeaten Spain.

5. Women's Volleyball
The U.S. indoor women will try to follow the lead of their bikini-clad sisters on the beach as they face South Korea in a semifinal match. Surprisingly, the Americans have never won gold in this event. In the other semifinal, Brazil faces Japan.

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

<p> Jamaica's Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake are the favorites in the 200-meter dash in London on August 9.</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 10:51
Path: /college-football/sec-player-rankings-top-75-players-2012-0

With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, the SEC is bigger and better than ever. While the Tigers and Aggies probably won't win the conference in 2012, the addition of both teams only adds to the depth in the legaue. The last six national champions have come from the SEC and the conference should have a good chance to add No. 7 in 2012. 

Simply put, there's no shortage of talent in the SEC. Athlon ranked 75 players for this list but could easily rank 100 with the amount of returning talent in the league for 2012. 

Compiling the top 75 players of any conference is never an easy task. However, Athlon established a criteria to help compile the rankings. 

Here are five factors that contributed to the criteria for the rankings:
1. Projection on 2012 Performance 
2. Importance to team
3. Positional importance
4. NFL Draft stock
5. Career performance 

(Published August 9, 2012)

Athlon's Top 75 SEC Players for 2012

1. Barrett Jones, C, Alabama
Three years, three different positions. That’s how valuable Jones has been to Alabama’s offensive line during his career in Tuscaloosa. The Tennessee native started the first 25 games of his career at right guard and shifted to left tackle last season. He earned first-team All-SEC honors in each of the last two years and will slide inside to man the center spot with the departure of William Vlachos. Jones is the nation’s most versatile offensive lineman and the defending Outland Trophy winner should be one of college football’s top performers in 2012.

2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, 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.

3. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Before his season ending knee injury on Oct. 15, Lattimore was a Heisman frontrunner. The week before the injury, Lattimore was sixth in the nation in rushing with 129.8 yards per game. Lattimore’s health will be one of the major storylines in the SEC. If he’s fully healthy, the Gamecocks could make a run at their first SEC championship.

4. Sam Montgomery, DE, 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.

5. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
This pass-rushing outside linebacker was sensational in his first season with the Bulldogs. He led the SEC with 13.5 sacks on his way to consensus All-American honors. Jones totaled 70 tackles last season, with a conference-leading 19.5 of them behind the line of scrimmage. He also added two forced fumbles and two pass breakups for a Georgia defense that ranked No. 5 in the country a year ago. Look for Jones and the Bulldogs defense to wreak more havoc on opponents in 2012.

6. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
It’s a close call for the No. 1 quarterback spot in the SEC. Murray and Tyler Wilson are both deserving, but with Arkansas losing coach Bobby Petrino and receivers Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, the edge goes to the Bulldogs’ signal-caller. Through Murray’s first two years in Athens, he has thrown for 6,198 yards and 59 touchdowns. His interception total increased last year (8 as a freshman, 14 as a sophomore), which will be one area the coaching staff wants to see him improve in 2012. The Bulldogs have to replace a couple of key offensive line starters, and receiver Malcolm Mitchell may spend the majority of the first part of the year at cornerback. There are concerns about Murray, but we think he will end up with first-team All-SEC honors at the end of 2012.

7. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Wilson successfully stepped into Ryan Mallett’s shoes as Arkansas’ starting quarterback last season, carrying on the Razorbacks’ best run of passers in program history. Wilson’s 3,638 yards was the second-highest total in school history as he became the program’s first All-SEC first-team quarterback. After the sudden coaching change, Wilson also was a stabilizing presence on the roster. He and Mallett are the only two quarterbacks to pass for 3,000 yards in school history.

8. Johnthan Banks, CB, 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.

9. Barkevious Mingo, DE, 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.

10. Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
Expectations are high for Davis to return to the lineup at full speed after missing the 2011 season with a broken ankle. In 2010, Davis emerged over the final seven games of the season to rush for 1,028 yards and 12 touchdowns during that span. The Hogs’ will look forward to his power, speed and vision to return to the lineup after Arkansas ranked ninth in the SEC in rushing last season.

11. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Not too many players step into a BCS conference and start all 13 games as a true freshman. Joeckel did just that back in 2010 before earning first-team All-Big 12 honors last fall. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound bookend has played in all 26 possible career games and helped lead an O-Line that finished fourth nationally in sacks allowed per game last fall (0.69). The Aggies will experience growing pains shifting into the SEC, but the Joeckel-led offensive line shouldn’t be an issue.

12. Alex Hurst, OT, LSU
The 6-foot-6, 340-pound senior right tackle was a force last season in paving the way for the powerful LSU running game. Three different Tigers running backs reached the 500-yard mark last season, and LSU compiled 35 touchdowns on the ground. Hurst was recognized as first-team All-SEC by the league’s coaches in 2011, and he will be a top All-America candidate this season. Hurst and Chris Faulk should form the best tackle duo in the country in 2012.

13. Chris Faulk, OT, LSU
After redshirting in 2009, the big left tackle from Slidell, La., worked his way into a starting spot by the end of his freshman season. Despite dealing with a severe ankle sprain against Mississippi State, Faulk still started 13 of the 14 games en route to the BCS national championship game. He earned second-team All-SEC honors while protecting the blindside of both Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. Behind Faulk and company, LSU finished second in the run-heavy SEC in rushing offense at 202.6 yards per game.

14. Corey Lemonier, DE, 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.

15. Eric Reid, S, 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.

16. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
The 6-foot-6 quarterback has shown a ton of promise over his first two seasons in Knoxville, compiling 3,832 yards and 35 touchdown passes in 16 games. However, Bray must find a way to stay healthy for an entire season. He threw for 17 scores against six interceptions in seven games last year and has an elite receiving crew coming back. If a Vols rushing attack that ranked 116th nationally last year improves, Bray could have a monster 2012 campaign.

17. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
McCarron finished the 2011 season by playing some of his best football, throwing for 234 yards on 23 completions in the 21-0 victory over LSU in the national championship. He also threw for 184 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn and has not thrown a pick since the Nov. 12 victory over Mississippi State. With Trent Richardson moving onto the NFL, Alabama will put more on McCarron’s shoulders this season. New coordinator Doug Nussmeier should open up the offense a little more, which will allow McCarron to easily surpass last season’s totals and challenge for All-SEC honors.

18. Tharold Simon, CB, 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.

19. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU
Note: Mathieu was dismissed after this article was published.
The LSU defensive back is a really, really, really good player with a tenacious attitude. But his Heisman candidacy was built more on a popular YouTube video, creative nickname, two punt returns in blowout wins and the support of the best defensive back in the nation more than anything else. Mathieu can be a game-changer on special teams and finds himself around the ball constantly. He is a welcome addition to any secondary, but he is not an elite coverman (see BCS title game) and does not have an NFL frame at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds. The evidence? He never checks the other team’s top receiver.

20. Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
The talented receiver caught seven touchdown passes as a freshman in 2010 while averaging a staggering 25.9 yards on 16 receptions. The expectations for Hunter were sky-high last season before he suffered a torn ACL in the third game of the year at Florida. Hunter did total 302 yards and two scores in the first two games before his injury. If he returns to his former elite athlete level, Hunter will be one of the most explosive weapons in the SEC.

21. Bacarri Rambo, S, 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.

22. Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky
Warford is probably one of the nation’s most underrated players. He enters 2012 with 25 consecutive starts and has earned All-SEC honors in each of the last two seasons. At 6-foot-3 and 343 pounds, Warford has the size and strength to be a road grader on the ground, while helping to keep opposing linemen off the quarterback. The senior is an Athlon Sports first-team All-SEC selection for 2012.

23. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Barrett Jones is clearly the No. 1 offensive lineman for Alabama, but don’t overlook Warmack. The steady senior has started 25 straight contests and earned second-team All-SEC honors last season. The Georgia native is regarded as one of the top offensive guards for the 2013 NFL Draft and should increase his stock with another outstanding year.

24. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Fluker has started 21 games in his first two years in Tuscaloosa but is on the verge of a breakout year. The Alabama native was a key cog in the Crimson Tide’s rushing attack, allowing backs to average 5.5 yards per carry and record 34 scores on the ground. At 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds, Fluker has the strength to dominate on the right side of the line and continues to improve as a pass blocker. Look for the junior tackle to push for first-team All-SEC honors this season.

25. Devin Taylor, DE, 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.

26. Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee
Few players are a bigger anomaly than Mr. Rogers. He has NFL size, speed, explosiveness and upside. He is a nightmare match-up for any NCAA defensive back and will make huge plays after the catch. But the knucklehead factor is strong with the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Calhoun, Ga., native. He has had multiple issues off the field and his dedication/commitment to his team and craft remain a large question mark. He also has a tendency to drop the easy pass. Should things fall right and Rogers stays focused, he could be the best WR in the SEC. If not, he might be the third-best WR on his own team.

27. Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas
There’s no question Bailey has the talent to be one of the top offensive linemen in the nation. However, he didn’t have the best spring, and the coaching staff isn’t guaranteeing him a starting spot for the opener. Bailey has started the first 26 games in his career and was selected as a second-team All-SEC selection last year. If the Oklahoma native plays up to his ability, he should finish higher on this list at the end of 2012.

28. Matt Elam, S, 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.

29. Sharrif Floyd, DT, 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.

30. James Franklin, QB, Missouri
The biggest unknown surrounding Franklin is the status of his throwing shoulder. He was injured during spring practice but had successful surgery and returned in time to participate in the fall. Will Franklin have the same arm strength? How will the timing be with his receivers? Those are two key questions to watch for Missouri in fall practice. If healthy, Franklin should be one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks. He rushed for 981 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, while throwing for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns.

31. Jon Bostic, LB, Florida 
The Wellington, Fla., prospect is now the elder statesman leader of the Gators defense. He led the team in tackles a year ago with 94 total stops and finished tied with second 10.0 tackles for a loss. He has played in 38 total games and made 19 career starts. His 6-foot-1, 250-pound frame makes him the most physical tackler on the Florida defense — a unit that will have to lead the team should it expect to compete in the East.

32. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews helped pave the way for an Aggies offense that ranked No. 7 in the country and scored over 39 points per game last season. Texas A&M might not be able to equal that type of production in the physical SEC, but the transition will be much easier because of the quality of the A&M offensive line led by left tackle Luke Joeckel, center Patrick Lewis and a powerful right tackle in Matthews.

33. Dee Milliner, CB, 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.

34. Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt
Stacy set a school record for rushing yards (1,193) thanks to a burst over the second half of the season. Stacy rushed for 809 yards and 13 touchdowns in the final eight games of the season to earn second-team All-SEC honors.

35. 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.

36. Robert Lester, S, 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.

37. Jesse Williams, DL, 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.

38. Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas
The 6-foot-3 wide receiver should be quarterback Tyler Wilson’s favorite target this season. Hamilton had 34 catches for 542 yards and four touchdowns a year ago, averaging 15.9 yards per reception. He has the size and speed combination to be one of the top wideouts in the SEC and a star for the Razorbacks in 2012.

39. Chris Gragg, TE, Arkansas
The veteran tight end had an excellent season in 2011, ranking third on the team in receptions. Gragg totaled 41 catches for 518 yards and two scores, and he was a star (8 catches, 119 yards, 1 TD) in the Mississippi State game. Arkansas will look for more of the same in 2012.

40. Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M
Swope was one of the Big 12’s top receivers last season, catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 scores. His six 100-yard games and 89 catches were a school record. Matching those numbers could be difficult in 2012, especially with Texas A&M breaking in a new quarterback and offensive scheme. New coach Kevin Sumlin’s spread offense should allow for Swope to have plenty of looks in the open field, but he needs the new quarterback to quickly settle into the starting role. Even if Swope’s numbers drop a bit, expect the senior to challenge for first-team All-SEC honors. 

41. Philip Lutzenkirchen, TE, Auburn
Lutzenkirchen has 14 career touchdowns on 44 catches combined, while CBS broadcast team ensures we’ll never forget how to pronounce his name.

42. Malcolm Mitchell, WR/CB, Georgia
There were plenty of other big-name freshman in the SEC last fall, but none were as explosive or versatile as the Valdosta, Ga., product. After leading the team in receptions per game last fall, Mark Richt decided the speedy Mitchell will provide his best Champ Bailey impersonation. Expect to see Mitchell in the defensive backfield and in open space on offense. He is certain to be explosive no matter where he lines-up.

43. Josh Boyd, DT, 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.

44. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Lacy steps into the top running back role after rushing for 674 yards (7.1 yards per carry) last season. He’ll be a big-play back even if Bama drifts to a committee approach.

45. Nico Johnson, LB, Alabama
The forgotten man of the 2011 Alabama linebacking corps, Johnson finished fourth on the team in tackles. This on a defense that allowed an astonishing 183.6 total yards per game and 8.2 points per game. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder from Andalusia, Ala., will be the veteran presence on the reworked Bama defense in 2012.

46. Brad Wing, P, LSU
The Australia native was amazing during his All-America season as a freshman in 2011. He averaged 44.4 yards on 59 punts, with 20 of them over 50 yards. Wing also placed 27 punts inside the 20-yard line and earned SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors twice last season.

47. Alonzo Highsmith, LB, Arkansas
A junior college transfer and the son of the former Miami running back of the same name, Highsmith had 91 tackles and a team-leading 12.5 tackles for a loss in his first season in Fayetteville.

48. Jelani Jenkins, LB, Florida
The Northeastern prospect was an elite recruit and has proven to have athleticism to match. The only thing left for Jenkins to develop is a physical, nasty streak. Should he develop this aspect of his game, he has All-American potential – especially, with 23 career starts in two seasons under his belt.

49. Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
The hard-hitting linebacker only played in eight games last season but still had a major impact. Ogletree compiled with 52 tackles (7.5 for loss), three sacks and two forced fumbles. He led the Bulldogs in tackles in each of the last five games, including 13 in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State.

50. Sean Porter, LB, Texas A&M
Porter was Texas A&M’s top defender last season, recording 79 stops, 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss. He earned first-team All-Big 12 honors and is expected to be the leader on the Aggies’ defense in 2012. Porter will have to adjust to a new scheme, as Texas A&M is shifting from a 3-4 to a 4-3 attack. New coordinator Mark Snyder still needs to find ways to let Porter attack off the edge, but the new scheme may prevent him from recording 17 tackles for a loss once again.

51. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
52. Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
53. John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
54. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
55. Trey Wilson, CB, Vanderbilt
56. Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M
57. Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt
58. Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina
59. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
60. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M           
61. Spencer Ware, RB, LSU
62. T.J. Johnson, C, South Carolina
63. Abry Jones, DE, Georgia
64. Shawn Williams, S, Georgia
65. Damion Square, DE, Alabama
66. Rob Lohr, DT, Vanderbilt
67. Prentiss Waggner, DB, Tennessee
68. Xavier Nixon, OL, Florida
69. Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
70. P.J. Lonergan, C, LSU
71. Cameron Lawrence, LB, Mississippi State
72. Caleb Sturgis, K, Florida
73. A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
74. Brad Madison, DE, Missouri
75. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri

Note: Florida's Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell were not rated due to injury.

Team Breakdown of Athlon's Top 75 Players in the SEC for 2012

Alabama - 11
Arkansas - 7
Auburn - 2
Florida - 6
Georgia - 8
Kentucky - 1
LSU - 12
Mississippi State - 4
Missouri - 4
Ole Miss - 0
South Carolina - 5
Tennessee - 5
Texas A&M - 6
Vanderbilt - 4

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


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<p> SEC Player Rankings: The Top 75 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:45
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Tennessee Titans, NFL
Path: /nfl/tennessee-titans-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 Tennessee Titans check in at No. 17.

Peyton Manning’s Tennessee homecoming parade has been cancelled, and Vince Young is on his second team since being booed off the stage in Music City following the 2010 season. It is up to either Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker to win the Super Bowl that has eluded 89-year-old owner Bud Adams, who founded the Houston Oilers (and co-founded the AFL) in 1960.

Second-year coach Mike Munchak will have an open competition to determine the Titans’ starting quarterback. Entering his 14th season, the 36-year-old Hasselbeck is an above-average passer who can beat bad teams and keep it close against superior competition — which, in a mediocre AFC South, may be all Tennessee needs to do to sneak into the playoffs with a wild card berth. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Locker heads into his second season with the type of big league arm (MLB’s Angels own his rights until 2015), mobility and moxie not seen in Nashville since Steve ­McNair’s co-MVP, Super Bowl runner-up heyday.

With the Colts starting No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck (a Pac-10 rival of Locker) and the Jaguars turning their team over to Blaine Gabbert (a 2011 draft classmate of Locker), now is a perfect time to go with the young gun — who threw for 542 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 99.4 rating, along with a highlight-reel diving score on the ground, in limited action (66 pass attempts) as a rookie. The loser of the Locker-Hasselbeck showdown will be arguably the best backup in the league.


Whoever plays quarterback will have the luxury of a loaded arsenal of weapons at his disposal. Chris Johnson follows in the footsteps of former franchise workhorse runners Eddie George and Earl Campbell. But not since the days of Haywood Jeffires, Ernest Givins and Drew Hill have the Oilers-Titans had a fleet of receivers like 6'3", 215-pound athletic freak Kenny Britt, 1,000-yard wideout Nate Washington, first-round pick Kendall Wright and 6'5" rising star tight end Jared Cook. That doesn’t mean Warren Moon’s Run ‘n’ Shoot offense is making a comeback, but second-year coordinator Chris Palmer will have options.

Still, the Titans are coached by a Hall of Fame O-lineman in Munchak — whose right-hand man, O-line coach Bruce Matthews, is a fellow Hall of Famer and former Oiler-Titan — and will remain a ball-control offense. Johnson is the straw that stirs the drink. The Tennessee faithful are eager to see the track star formerly known as CJ2K return to his All-Pro form and earn the $53 million deal he signed last offseason. The perfect storm of NFL lockout, contract holdout and new coach-coordinator-QB slowed Johnson out of the gate. But the interior of the offensive line was arguably the biggest problem with the running game last season. The signing of 11-year veteran guard Steve Hutchinson will help solidify the line — which boasts strong bookend tackles Michael Roos, a dancing bear on the blindside, and David Stewart, a nasty mauler on the right side as well as the team’s resident enforcer. The line did suffer a significant loss at the start of training camp, however, when center Eugene Amano suffered a season-ending triceps injury. Right guard Fernando Velasco has slid over and it appears the job is his to lose.

The return of a reliable ground game will open up the play-action passing attack, which could be especially dangerous depending on the health and behavior of Britt, who tore his ACL and MCL in Week 3 last season after posting 14 catches for 271 yards and three TDs the first two weeks. Although Britt required multiple surgeries this offseason, including two different procedures since May alone, his continued off-the-field trangressions may end up being the biggest hurdle to overcome. After being arrested and charged with another DUI in July, Britt could be subject to punishment from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, which could delay his return to the lineup further. Between questions about his health and his behavior, it's becoming clearer why the Titans drafted Wright in the first round.

Related: Top Tennessee Titans Twitter Accounts to Follow


The losses of scrappy corner Cortland Finnegan and versatile lineman Jason Jones will hurt, but maybe not as much as many believe. The secondary is led by safety Michael Griffin — who signed a new five-year contract in June after getting the franchise tag — and talented young corners Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty (twin brother of the Patriots’ Devin McCourty). Second-year coordinator Jerry Gray mixed and matched his base 4-3 with a slew of nickel packages last year, which will mean plenty of playing time for veteran safety Jordan Babineaux as well as rookies Coty Sensabaugh and Markelle Martin.

Up front, tackle Jurrell Casey enters his second season riding a wave of positive momentum. The 22-year-old 300-pounder flashed signs of stardom as a rookie and is being counted on to anchor the D-line, a unit that lacks the luxuries of proven depth or a dominant Albert Haynesworth or Jevon Kearse-caliber playmaker. Free agent Kamerion Wimbley and high-intensity hustler Dave Ball are both predictably solid pros at end. The spotlight is on 2010 first-round pick Derrick Morgan, a high-profile underachiever who has compiled nearly as many injuries as sacks (four) over his first two years. Karl Klug, Sen’Derrick Marks and rookie Mike Martin headline the rotation of big bodies set to line up next to Casey inside.

Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy wears No. 52 and thinks he’s Ray Lewis. As long as no one tells him otherwise, expect the young tackling machine out of Miami to continue to run through brick walls in search of the football. McCarthy’s toughness is contagious, but his wrecking ball style of play may impact his long-term durability. On the outside, Akeem Ayers looks the part and runs well but had a knack for missed tackles and poorly timed mental mistakes as a rookie. Fans are concerned that second-round pick Zach Brown may be a less physical version of Ayers. The fastest linebacker in the draft (4.50 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine), Brown was accused of being “allergic to contact” by NFL Network’s Mike Mayock.

The creative Gray may also implement a few 3-4 hybrid looks with Wimbley — who was an outside backer in Oakland — standing up to rush the passer. 


A fan favorite, kicker Rob Bironas is one of the best in the business, hitting 29-of-32 field goals, including 6-of-7 from over 50 yards out. Punter Brett Kern had a career year in 2011, with a 43.6-yard average and 31 kicks downed inside the 20. Return specialist Marc Mariani was hurt by kickoff rule changes but had a 79-yard punt return to the house.

Final Analysis: 2nd in the AFC South

The Titans were the only team with a winning record (9–7) to miss the postseason in 2011. A Week 15 loss at Indy — which was the Colts’ first win of the season — was essentially a playoff-elimination game. Munchak’s second campaign should run much more smoothly, at least after the dust has settled on the quarterback competition in camp.

Houston is the overwhelming favorite in the AFC South, while Indianapolis and Jacksonville appear to be two of the least talented teams in the league. Tennessee is flying under the radar but has a chance to win its way into the playoffs. A front-loaded schedule includes four 2011 playoff teams in the first six weeks. If the Titans can survive early on, they could thrive once the season heats up — especially if CJ-barely-1K plays closer to the CJ2K level he’s proven capable of.

Related: 2012 Tennessee Titans Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Big Orange vs. Orange Crush
The Titans came painfully close to signing Peyton Manning, a former All-American at the University of Tennessee and Titans owner Bud Adams’ top offseason priority. “He is the man I want. Period,” said Adams. “I will be disappointed if it doesn’t happen.” It ­didn’t happen, but the state’s hopes were high after Manning was seen wearing a UT-orange shirt on his visit to Nashville. But Manning picked the Rocky Mountains over Rocky Top.

Emerald City South
New GM Ruston Webster is the latest in a growing line of key Titans who have roots in the Seahawks’ organization. The list includes Webster’s predecessor, new senior executive VP and COO Mike Reinfeldt; quarterback Matt Hasselbeck; guard Steve Hutchinson; and safety Jordan Babineaux. Even quarterback Jake Locker hails from Ferndale, Wash., which is about 100 miles north of Seattle.

Gotta Be the Shoes
@ChrisJohnson28 teased his Twitter followers in late May, tweeting: “I wish I can post these new CJ2K cleats for this year but I can’t yet y’all gonna see the fye.” Along with building suspense for the unveiling of his new shoes, Johnson also let his Tweeps know he bowled a 177, made a YouTube video stir-frying Ramen noodles with Orlando rapper Pressure Dommer and told USA track star Tyson Gay that he wanted to be on the 4x100 relay team at the London Olympics. Who knows? Maybe the gold-grilled runner would have worn Michael Johnson-style gold cleats?

Comeback Kid
Jake Locker nearly pulled off a pair of come-from-behind wins after coming off the bench to replace an injured Matt Hasselbeck at Atlanta and against New Orleans. The Locker-led Titans scored 14 unanswered points in the Georgia Dome and were a late-fourth quarter third down stop away from getting the ball back with a chance to win before ultimately losing 23–17. Locker was one play away from upsetting the Saints but failed to pull the trigger on 3rd-and-goal as time expired on a 22–17 defeat. Overall, the Titans were plus-12 on the scoreboard with Locker in the game in 2011.

Locker vs. Luck
Jake Locker and Andrew Luck played against each other twice in college, with Luck’s Stanford Cardinal owning a 2–0 edge — winning 41–0 in 2010 and 34–14 in 2009 — over Locker’s Washington Huskies. Locker and Luck have yet to make their first NFL starts, but the duo already has a history in what could be a long AFC South rivalry.

Doctor Bud
Owner Bud Adams received an Honorary Doctorate of Business from his alma mater Menlo College on May 5. Adams graduated from the small Atherton, Calif., private school in 1942 and established the K.S. Bud Adams Jr. Endowed Scholarship, which “provides assistance for nearly 20 Menlo students each year.”

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: Fri., Aug. 10

Order your 2012 Tennessee Titans Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Tennessee Titans Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Tennessee Titans Schedule Analysis

<p> Tennessee Titans 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:39
Path: /college-football/big-12-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the Big 12 to talk anonymously about their opponents. 


Opposing coaches size up the Bears:

“Of course the main focal point will be on having to replace Robert Griffin III, as it should be, but the Bears also lost a lot of other key players such as wide receiver Kendall Wright and running back Terrance Ganaway. Those guys were big-time threats on that offense. 

Senior Nick Florence has the difficult task of having to replace Griffin. He’ll still have a few viable targets like Lanear Sampson, Tevin Reese and Terrance Williams. 

They do such a great job at spreading out that offense and taking advantage of mismatches. Art Briles deserves a lot of credit for getting that thing going. While losing Griffin will be difficult to overcome, and it’s doubtful the offense can match last year’s numbers, the defense has eight returning starters and should be much better. They surrendered a lot of points and yards last season, but it didn’t matter because they could usually just outscore everyone. 

Baylor should have plenty of time getting adjusted to having Florence at quarterback since their first three games are against SMU, Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe.”

Iowa State

Opposing coaches size up the Cyclones:

“I love Paul Rhoads. He gets the absolute best out of every player and gives Iowa State the chance to win more games than they have any business winning. They got back to a bowl game last year, and this year I think they’ll be even better. First, they have to settle on a starting quarterback between senior Steele Jantz and sophomore Jared Barnett. Both bring different intangibles. I really think they can be effective with either one. Also, running back James White is part of a large group of returning starters on offense. They’ll work with new offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham. 

The defense features two of the best linebackers in the country in A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. Those guys should have monster seasons playing under Wally Burnham, who I think is one of the nation’s most underrated defensive coordinators.

With enough returning talent and seven home games, I think the Cyclones will have no problem getting back to a bowl game and believe they’ll be a surprise team in the Big 12.”


Opposing coaches size up the Jayhawks: 

“There were a lot of interesting head coaching hires in the offseason. This one, though, had to rate near the top. I am dying to see if Charlie Weis can win at Kansas after not being able to win consistently with much better resources and tradition at Notre Dame. Whatever does happen it can’t be near the train wreck that they had with Turner Gill. They were at best a very, very average team talent-wise under Gill, yet they ran a spread offense. They just didn’t have the personnel to do that.

By bringing Weis on board and subsequently Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist, the Jayhawks will have an immediate upgrade at quarterback. Is there enough talent around Crist to give him a chance to do any damage? That’s doubtful and it certainly doesn’t help that running back James Sims was suspended for the first three games against South Dakota State, Rice and TCU.

Crist’s exploits on offense likely won’t matter much if the Jayhawks can’t shore up a porous defense. Last year, they were torched for at least 40 points in eight of 12 games. That is not easy to do. 

It will be a surprise if Kansas does not finish in last place in the league. They need more talent. It’s that simple.”

Kansas State

Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats:

“Here’s the bottom line: Bill Snyder’s teams will excel on special teams, be physical, won’t make mistakes and run some sort of option attack. The toughest thing about defending against them is they keep you honest at all times. That’s a compliment to the job offensive coordinator Dana Dimel does. As the talent continues to get better, Kansas State will continue to improve. 

One of the most impressive things about them is all their players buy in to Snyder’s way. He’s a no-nonsense guy, and quite frankly that’s not a quality that a lot of recruits are looking for. But he’s got guys that want to play for him, will run his system to perfection and they win because of it. Collin Klein is a perfect example. He is probably the most valuable, most underrated quarterback in the country. The guy just wins and he’s tough as nails. Got hit a lot last year, but just got up and kept playing. 

Winning 10 games last year was an overachievement. I think they’ve got the pieces in place to match that again this season.

Collin Klein was terrific last year. They were looking at moving the kid to wide receiver and he ends up being one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Isn’t a great thrower, but he really can hurt you with his legs. Tough kid, too. He took a pounding last year. They have to keep him healthy.”


Opposing coaches size up the Sooners: 

“Landry Jones decided to return for his senior year, and Mike Stoops is back in Norman. Good times indeed. Last year I thought Jones was the league’s best quarterback. (Oklahoma State’s) Brandon Weeden proved me wrong. I think Jones decision to come back will pay huge dividends for the Sooners. 

Last year was a major disappointment in Norman. I know that. Everyone knows that. The preseason No. 1 team ending up in the Insight Bowl is not good. Ryan Broyles won’t be back, but Jones will be just fine. The Sooners offense will continue clicking. They’ve got some really good young receivers that will be a big part of the offense.

The biggest question marks are on the defense, but that’s where Mike Stoops comes into play. The Sooners lost some studs on that side of the ball. Guys like Travis Lewis, Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis. I still think Oklahoma is the most skilled team and most physical team in our conference. And I have a strong feeling after the bad taste in their mouth from last year, they’re going to prove it this year.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this team this year. They should be very, very hungry after what happened late last year. Their performance against Oklahoma State was not good. In a rivalry game? That surprised me.”

Oklahoma State

Opposing coaches size up the Cowboys: 

“Hats off — make that Cowboy hats off — to the job done by Mike Gundy. What he accomplished last year was remarkable. Just look at Oklahoma State’s history. You simply do not win like he did last year, winning the league title and nearly getting a shot at the national title. Obviously the money Boone Pickens has poured into facilities has made Gundy’s job a little easier, but still you can’t minimize the job Gundy has done in building a program.  

Now the fun starts for Gundy: How can he follow up last year’s record-breaking season without the duo of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon? One thing is for sure, you don’t have to worry about how Todd Monken will be as the offensive coordinator after replacing Dana Holgorsen. So who replaces Weeden? I don’t think it matters: Clint Chelf, Wes Lunt or J.W. Walsh. They won’t measure up to Weeden, but the offense will still scare you. They still have running back Joseph Randle. He’s big time. Will have a very good year for them.  

The defense sometimes is hit or miss, but it didn’t miss much last season. Bill Young’s group takes a lot of chances, but they pay off big-time. They also have eight starters back.

I think most people expect a huge drop-off for Oklahoma State. I don’t think it will be that drastic.”


Opposing coaches size up the Horned Frogs: 

“I think everybody is interested to see how they do in the Big 12 this season. I think they will be fine, but you never know. It’s a lot different when you’ve got to play three or four tough games in a row. They’ve beaten some good teams over the years, but they have not played a schedule like the one they will be playing this season.  

It was shocking to see their defense early last season. That Baylor game (TCU gave up 564 total yards) was very interesting. We all just assumed they could plug guys in. Didn’t happen. They got better late in the year, but that was clearly not what we were used to seeing from a Gary Patterson defense. 

They’ve got really good talent at the skill positions. They are loaded at running back. I like (Matthew) Tucker a lot. Their wide receivers aren’t as well known, but they have some guys who can play. We will find out this year.  

I thought (Casey) Pachall was pretty good last year. Taking over for Andy Dalton was not going to be easy, but the kid did a nice job. He will be even better this season.

Losing Tanner Brock (in the drug scandal) is big. That kid was good. And he was going to have a big season for them. … They’ve got some good players coming in. (Devonte) Fields, the defensive end, can really play. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him get on the field early. The quarterback, Tyler Matthews, is a good get, as well.”


Opposing coaches size up the Longhorns: 

“You see all that talent, all those resources, all that money and wonder why in the hell they aren’t winning big every year? The past two years Texas has been basically a .500 team. They haven’t been that physical, which surprises you, and they have some issues trying to find a quarterback.  

Last year (Mack) Brown figured he had to shake things up, bringing in Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz as his new coordinators. Texas was a little bit improved last year with those guys, but I don’t think the natives are going to settle for 7–5 regular seasons for any extended amount of time. While they had so much talent, a lot of it has been green.  

I think they could make a big jump this season if a quarterback can take control and command of the team. David Ash and Case McCoy will battle it out. They both have their bright spots and limitations. … Running back Malcolm Brown is going to be a good one. He’s scary. He had a super freshman season.  

For the most part the defense played well last year. They were fairly consistent, but were on the field a lot because of the inconsistency of the offense.”

Texas Tech

Opposing coaches size up the Red Raiders: 

“Tommy Tuberville really needs a big year this year. He managed eight wins and they won a bowl after replacing Mike Leach two years ago. Last year was a disaster. Five wins after they started out 4–0. Then they upset Oklahoma, I still don’t know how that happened. They got to 5–2, and only needed one more win to get to a bowl game only to lose their last five games; four of those they were run off the field.

This is a huge year for Tubs. He has a bunch of personnel back, so he needs to show some drastic improvement. What’s ironic is when he came on board, he stressed how much he wanted to run the ball and all they do is fling it around all the time. 

Quarterback Seth Doege is certainly a strength of the team. He can throw for a lot of yards and does a very good job spreading it around. The offense isn’t what’s been the problem in West Texas. It’s been the defense. Tuberville changes defensive coordinators more than he changes his socks. He’s got Art Kaufman as this year’s defensive coordinator, replacing Chad Glasgow, who replaced James Willis. They’ll also put in a new alignment, changing to the 4-3. 

I like Tuberville. Hopefully this new defensive system works better than the last one.”

West Virginia

Opposing coaches size up the Mountaineers: 

“Well, I guess that head coach-in-waiting arrangement worked out after all for (Dana) Holgorsen. He was thrown into the head coaching position a year early after West Virginia fired Bill Stewart. For a guy who had never been a head coach and didn’t have the year-long transition that he expected, I thought he did an exceptional job. Everyone knows he can run an offense, but taking control of an entire team is another matter.  

Bad news for Big 12 defensive coordinators is that the Mountaineers return plenty of talent from last season in quarterback Geno Smith and wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. They’ve also had a year to experience Holgorsen’s system so they’re only going to be that much more efficient. 

The biggest thing I’m interested to see is how the Mountaineers adjust to life in the Big 12 instead of the Big East. It will be a big difference facing teams like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas each week as opposed to the Big East teams. I think what will help Holgorsen is his time in the league as Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator. That will help with his familiarity with the league, but it’s still going to be a big adjustment making the upgrade in leagues and playing a much more difficult schedule. It will be a matter of will the Big 12 adjust to West Virginia or will West Virginia have to adjust to the Big 12.”

Related Big 12 Content

The Big 12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice
Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Big 12 Defensive Line Rankings for 2012

College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big 12 Offensive Line Rankings for 2012

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

Athlon's 2012 All-Big 12 Team

Big 12 Heisman Contenders for 2012
College Football Realignment Winners and Losers
The History of Big 12 Realignment
Introducing West Virginia to the Big 12
TCU Comes Home to the Big 12

<p> Big 12 Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:35
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-defensive-lines-2012

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.

Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.

It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards.

Athlon's Top 20 Defensive Lines for 2012

1. LSU Even when the Tigers lose a standout up front, this unit never seems to miss a beat. Tackle Michael Brockers is gone, but Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are ready to emerge as key performers. Bennie Logan will be the anchor in the middle and should contend for All-SEC honors in 2012. The Tigers might have the top defensive end combination in college football, as Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are back after combining for 17 sacks last year.

2. Florida StateEven though the Seminoles finished second nationally in rush defense and averaged 3.1 sacks per game last year, this unit could be better in 2012. Ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner quietly accumulated 15 sacks last season, and that duo will be spelled by top recruit Mario Edwards Jr. The interior of the line is overflowing with depth, and sophomore Timmy Jernigan could be one of the breakout players in the ACC this season. Seniors Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud, along with junior Demonte McAllister will provide Jernigan with plenty of help at tackle.

3. Texas The Longhorns finished sixth nationally in rush defense last year, and two starters return for 2012. Ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat combined for 14.5 sacks last season and should challenge for All-America honors in 2012. With Kheeston Randall and Calvin Howell departing, the interior will have some new faces stepping into the rotation. Ashton Dorsey recorded five tackles for a loss in 2011 and will start at one interior spot. The other spot is expected to go to sophomore Desmond Jackson, but junior college transfer Brandon Moore will push for playing time.

4. Virginia Tech Standout defenses have been a hallmark of Frank Beamer, and the Hokies are loaded on this side of the ball for 2012. End James Gayle had a breakout season last year, recording 38 tackles and seven sacks in 14 contests. J.R. Collins was disruptive from the other end spot, collecting 57 tackles and six sacks. The Hopkins brothers, Derrick and Antoine, will start at the tackle spots, but expect to see plenty of Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall in the rotation.

5. South Carolina Melvin Ingram won’t be easy to replace, but the Gamecocks should still have one of the SEC’s top defensive lines in 2012. Jadeveon Clowney terrorized opposing quarterbacks as a freshman last year, recording 36 tackles and eight sacks. Devin Taylor had a relatively quiet 2011 season but will join Clowney as a starter at end. The interior will be anchored by promising sophomore Kelcy Quarles and senior Byron Jerideau.

6. Ohio State - 2011 was a disappointing all-around year for the Buckeyes. However, expect a quick turnaround in Columbus. New coach Urban Meyer is one of the best in college football and even with a bowl ban, should have Ohio State pushing for 10 or 11 victories. The defense was solid last season but wasn’t as dominant as we have seen in recent years. With three returning starters, the line should be one of the nation’s best in 2012. End John Simon and tackle Johnathan Hankins will contend for All-American honors, while senior Garrett Goebel is a steady performer at nose guard. This group will get an infusion of depth with a stellar freshman class, namely Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. 

7. Georgia – The Bulldogs are tough to evaluate on the defensive line, as their 3-4 alignment isn’t a conventional attacking unit like South Carolina or LSU. However, this group is one of the best in the SEC. Senior John Jenkins is a 358-pound immovable object on the interior. And the coaching staff can keep him fresh by rotating fellow senior Kwame Geathers into the interior. The end spots should go to seniors Cornelius Washington and Abry Jones.

8. Michigan State – Jerel Worthy’s departure is a huge blow for the Spartans’ defensive line. This unit led the Big Ten in rushing defense and recorded 44 sacks last year. Although Worthy will be missed, Michigan State returns ends William Gholston and Marcus Rush (combined for 9 sacks last season). The interior of the line will be watched closely early in the year, but Anthony Rashad White has experience, while Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge finished spring with the edge at the other tackle spot.

9. Oregon – The Ducks have quietly transitioned into a 3-4 scheme and there’s no shortage of talent or depth returning in 2012. End/linebacker Dion Jordan is an athletic force off the edge, recording 42 stops, 13 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks last year. Taylor Hart is also coming off a strong season, picking up 44 tackles and honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. The interior of the line should be anchored by Wade Keliikipi and senior Isaac Remington but look for Jared Ebert and Ricky Heimuli to see plenty of snaps. True freshman Arik Armstead is expected to push for playing time at end this year.

10. Alabama – Just like Georgia, it’s not easy to evaluate Alabama’s 3-4 alignment against 4-3 teams like Florida State, LSU and South Carolina. The linebackers play a key role in the rush defense, but the front trio also deserves credit for finishing No. 1 overall last season. Seniors Damion Square and Jesse Williams are back as returning starters and both should be in the mix for All-SEC honors. Ed Stinson and Quinton Dial will likely battle for the third spot on the line. Finishing No. 1 overall again in rush defense seems unlikely. However, don’t expect the Crimson Tide to drop too far in the defensive statistics this year. 

11. Florida – If not for two injured knees, the Gators could rank much higher on this list. Ronald Powell was poised for a huge season but suffered a torn ACL in the spring game. Dominique Easley’s status for the opener is also up in the air, as he is also recovering from a knee injury suffered late in the 2011 season. Even with Easley and Powell questionable for the first game, Will Muschamp still has plenty to work with. Sharrif Floyd is a third-team Athlon Sports All-American for 2012, while senior Omar Hunter will man the other tackle spot. Look for true freshman Jonathan Bullard and junior college transfer Damien Jacobs to factor into the rotation.

12. Auburn – The Tigers should have one of the nation’s most improved defensive lines in 2012. All four starters are back from a unit that allowed 189.2 rushing yards per game last season, including All-American candidate Corey Lemonier. Joining Lemonier at the end spot will be junior Nosa Eguae. Juniors Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter should start in the middle, but talented sophomores Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright will be tough to keep off the field.

13. Utah – The nation’s No. 1 defensive tackle resides in Salt Lake City. Senior Star Lotulelei is back to anchor Utah’s defensive line, and this unit gave Pac-12 offensive fronts all it could handle last year. Lotulelei will continue to take up two blockers, opening up senior Dave Kruger to wreck havoc from the other tackle spot. Joe Kruger and Nate Fakahafua will likely start at the end spots, but there’s very little in the way of proven depth after the top four.

14. Notre Dame – Aaron Lynch is gone, but the Fighting Irish still have plenty left in the tank to boast one of the nation’s top defensive lines. Nose guard Louis Nix III will be a difficult matchup for opposing offensive lines, while Kapron Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt man the end spots. Depth is an issue, but the coaches are excited about the potential of Chase Hounshell and Sheldon Day.

15. Oklahoma – Potential is the key word surrounding the Sooners’ defensive line. Three starters are gone, but the newcomers are experienced and certainly aren’t short on talent. Ends David King and R.J. Washington combined for seven sacks in limited work last year. Stacy McGee, Casey Walker and Jamarkus McFarland should be a solid trio in the middle. McFarland has yet to live up to the hype that had him ranked among the nation’s best coming out of high school.  

16. Illinois – Replacing Whitney Mercilus won’t be easy, but the Fighting Illini return three starters. End Michael Buchanan recorded 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles last season. He will be joined on the other side by senior Justin Staples (16 tackles in 2011). The interior is in good shape, largely due to the return of Akeem Spence (69 stops last year) and senior Glenn Foster.

17. South Florida – The Bulls allowed only 107.3 rushing yards per game last season and accumulated 39 sacks. This unit should be strong once again in 2012, led by junior Ryne Giddins. He recorded 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles on his way to earning second-team All-Big East honors. Tackle Cory Grissom suffered an ankle injury in spring practice but is on schedule to return in time for the season opener. Two spots on the line are up for grabs, but junior college recruit Tevin Mims and sophomore Elkino Watson are capable starters. 

18. Nebraska – After allowing 158.5 rushing yards per game last season, Bo Pelini knows this unit has to get better if Nebraska wants to win the Big Ten. Contributing to some of the problems last season was tackle Jared Crick suffering a season-ending injury early in the year. The Cornhuskers are counting on senior Baker Steinkuhler and Chase Rome to lead the way on the interior. Steinkuhler has a lot of talent, but needs to take his game up a notch. Senior Cameron Meredith and Jason Ankrah should be steady on the outside.

19. Penn State – With the departures on offense, the Nittany Lions could be winning a lot of ugly 13-10 games this season. Tackle Devon Still will be hard to replace, but the line returns Jordan Hill to man the interior, while ends Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley should be steady. Getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks will be crucial with four new starters in the secondary.

20. NC State – The Wolfpack are a sneaky defensive line to watch in 2012. Markus Kuhn and J.R. Sweezy must be replaced in the middle, but sophomores Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill gained valuable experienced last year. NC State has plenty of depth at end, headlined by sophomore Art Norman and junior Darryl Cato-Bishop.


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related College Football Content

College Football's Top 20 Offensive Lines for 2012
College Football's Top 20 WR/TE Corps for 2012

College Football's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2012

College Football's Top 20 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Athlon's College Football Rankings for 2012

Athlon's All-American Team for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012

<p> College Football's Top 20 Defensive Lines for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:31
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Tennessee Titans, NFL
Path: /nfl/tennessee-titans-top-twitter-accounts-follow

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

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

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

@TennesseeTitans (Followers: 88,662)

Top Titans To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, August 9, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Chris Johnson RB @ChrisJohnson28 711,470
2. Will Witherspoon LB @willwitherspoon 134,788
3. Matt Hasselbeck QB @Hasselbeck 128,400
4. Jason McCourty* CB @McCourtyTwins 38,450
5. Michael Griffin S @MikeGriff33 24,458
6. Rob Bironas K @RobBironas 18,342
7. Shaun Smith DT @autumnsjs90 15,407
8. Mike Martin DT @GoMikeMartin 14,811
9. Marc Mariani WR @MarcMariani83 12,498
10. Kenny Britt WR @KennyBritt_18 12,205
11. Damian Williams WR @DwillOne7 11,474
12. Jared Cook TE @JaredCook89 11,152
13. Akeem Ayers LB @Akeem_Ayers 10,523
14. Kameiron Wimbley DE @Mr_Wimbley96 10,477
15. Alterraun Verner CB @Alvern_1 10,360
16. Colin McCarthy LB @COLINMcCARTHY52 9,714
17. Derrick Morgan DE @dmorg91 7,500
18. Jordan Babineaux DB @jordanbabineaux 7,271
19. Robert Johnson S @Robertjohnson32 6,595
20. Brett Kern P @brettkern6 5,668
21. Gerald McRath LB @4everUSM24 5,523
22. Javon Ringer RB @JavonRinger23 5,230
23. Tim Shaw LB @TShawsTruth 4,538
24. Jamie Harper RB @Newbreed23 4,228
25. Michael Roos OT @MichaelRoos 3,693

*Jason McCourty shares a Twitter account with his twin brother, Devin, who plays strong safety for New England.

Eddie George (@EddieGeorge27), the franchise's all-time leading rusher, and recently retired Titan, Keith Bulluck (@kbull53) are two franchise greats that Titans fans can follow if they wish to.

The Titans Beat:

Jim Wyatt, Titans beat writer for The Tennessean: @jwyattsports (16,158)

John Glennon, Titans beat writer for The Tennessean: @glennonsports (4,917)

Terry McCormick, co-owner of blogger for the National Football Post: @terrymc13 (3,131)

Teresa Walker, covers Titans for the Associated Press: @TeresaMWalker (2,241)

Titans Blog Roll:

Titans Insider is The Tennessean's blog for Music City's home team.

Music City Miracles is SB Nation's Titans blog. is part of 247Sports' network of sites.

Titan Sized, Total Titans and Titans Gab are some others out there.

The ESPN AFC South blog is run by Paul Kuharsky and you can follow him @espn_afcsouth.

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: Fri., Aug. 10

Order your 2012 Tennessee Titans Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Tennessee Titans Season Preview
Related: 2012 Tennessee Titans Schedule Analysis

- By Braden Gall and Mark Ross, published on August 9, 2012


<p> Tennessee Titans Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:29
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-offensive-lines-2012

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.

Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.

It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards.

Athlon's Top 20 Offensive Lines for 2012

1. Alabama The offensive line was one of the key pieces to Alabama’s national title last season, and this unit will be strong once again in 2012. Barrett Jones (right) is regarded as college football’s best returning offensive lineman and will move from left tackle to center to replace William Vlachos. Left guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker should challenge for All-SEC honors this year. Anthony Steen (right guard) and highly regarded Cyrus Kouandjio (left tackle) round out the starting lineup.

2. LSU Leading the way for college football’s top running back corps will be a veteran offensive line that returns four starters. Tackles Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst started all 14 games last year and are drawing significant interest from the NFL as first-round picks next year. Center P.J. Lonergan has 26 career starts, while Josh Williford is back at guard after starting nine games last year. Josh Dworaczyk missed all of 2011 with an injury but has All-SEC potential when healthy.

3. USCMatt Kalil will be missed, but USC is in good shape up front. Four starters are back, led by Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-America center Khaled Holmes. Right tackle Kevin Graf was solid in his first year as a starter last season and will be flanked on the left side by promising sophomore Aundrey Walker. John Martinez and Marcus Martin are dependable guards. Depth is a concern, but that problem could be alleviated when incoming freshmen Zach Banner and Jordan Simmons arrive.

4. Texas A&MThe Aggies will have a tough time contending in the difficult SEC West in 2012, but the line should be a building block on offense for new coach Kevin Sumlin. Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel form one of the best tackle combinations in the nation, and both should be All-SEC performers in 2012. The interior of the line will be manned by veteran center Patrick Lewis (35 career starts), while Jarvis Harrison, Shep Klinke and Cedric Ogbuehi will fight for playing time at the guard spots.

5. Oklahoma Three starters are back from last season’s unit, which allowed only 11 sacks and led the way for rushers to average 4.5 yards per carry. Guard Gabe Ikard has started 25 games over the last two years and is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American for 2012. Ikard may slide to center this year, especially with Ben Habern’s decision to give up football before fall practice. Lane Johnson will bring senior leadership to the lineup, while Adam Shead will likely take Ikard’s place at guard. This unit suffered another tough loss when Tyler Evans was ruled out for the year with a torn ACL.

6. WisconsinEven with the departure of first-team All-Big Ten selections Peter Konz (center), Josh Oglesby (tackle) and Kevin Zeitler (guard), the Badgers remain one of the top offensive lines in college football. Anchoring the line will be senior Ricky Wagner and center Travis Frederick – both Athlon All-Americans for 2012. This unit will be under the direction of a new coach (Mike Markuson), but Wisconsin always seems to produce standout offensive lines.

7. North CarolinaSwitching from a pro-style offense to a spread attack will require an adjustment period from this group, but the Tar Heels remain the No. 1 line in the ACC. Left tackle James Hurst and guard Jonathan Cooper are two of the ACC’s top players and could be in the mix for All-American honors. The only question mark will be finding a replacement for Cam Holland at center.

8. Oregon Two starters are gone from last season’s line but don’t expect that to slow down the Ducks’ offense in 2012. Guard Carson York is recovering from a knee injury suffered in the Rose Bowl and could be sidelined or limited for the first few games of 2012. Sophomore Jake Fisher and center Hroniss Grasu are in for big seasons, while seniors Ryan Clanton and Nick Cody anchor the right side of the line.

9. Notre Dame Lost in the quarterback issues from last season was a solid offensive line in South Bend. This unit allowed only 17 sacks last year and returns three starters for 2012. Left tackle Zack Martin is the unit’s top performer after starting 26 consecutive games in his first two years on campus. Guard Chris Watt and senior Braxston Cave are back as returning starters, while the unit will look to Mike Golic Jr. and Christian Lombard to replace Taylor Dever and Trevor Robinson on the right side.

10. MichiganIt’s not a particularly strong year for offensive lines across the nation, so even with the departure of David Molk, the Wolverines should rank among the top 10-15. Left tackle Taylor Lewan has All-American potential, while senior Patrick Omameh and junior Michael Schofield are back as returning starters. Ricky Barnum will likely replace Molk at center.

11. Michigan StateThis unit went into 2011 as a question mark but emerged as a strength by season’s end. The Spartans finished 19th nationally with just 16 sacks allowed, and the line led the way for rushers to average four yards a carry. Four starters are back for 2012, including Athlon Sports first-team All-Big Ten guard Chris McDonald. With Andrew Maxwell taking over for Kirk Cousins at quarterback, Michigan State will likely lean on its rushing attack early in the year.

12. Texas With concerns about the quarterback play, look for the Longhorns to rely heavily on their rushing attack in 2012. Although Texas has one of the top backfields in the nation, the offensive line’s improvement has also made a big difference in the ground game. Guard Mason Walters should be in the mix for all-conference honors, while the coaching staff is high on sophomore tackle Josh Cochran. Junior college transfer Donald Hawkins is expected to win the left tackle spot.

13. Stanford Replacing All-Pac-12 performers David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin won’t be easy, but the Cardinal at least has a solid foundation to start the rebuilding process. David Yankey started all 13 games as a freshman last season and should be the unit’s top performer in 2012. Cameron Fleming and Sam Schwartzstein are back as key contributors for a unit that allowed only 11 sacks last year.

14. Arkansas This unit struggled at times last year, but the pieces are in place to rank among the top five offensive lines in the SEC. Alvin Bailey is one of the top guards in college football, while center Travis Swanson has started all 26 games in his career. The tackle spots are in good hands with Jason Peacock and Brey Cook.

15. South Carolina Line coach Shawn Elliott has some work to do this fall, as the Gamecocks return only two starters on the line. However, the cupboard isn’t bare. Guard A.J. Cann is an emerging force on the left side, while center T.J. Johnson enters his senior year with 40 consecutive starts. Redshirt freshman Brandon Shell will take over for Rokevious Watkins at left tackle.

16. NC StateThere’s plenty of room for this unit to improve after allowing 34 sacks year. However, with four starters back, the Wolfpack should have one of the nation’s most-improved offensive lines. Four seniors could anchor the starting lineup, including center Cam Wentz and left tackle R.J. Mattes. Rob Crisp has big-time talent and will be counted upon to win the job at right tackle.

17. Georgia Tech It’s always tough to judge an offensive line that does very little pass blocking, but the Yellow Jackets should rank among the best in the ACC this year. Guard Omoregie Uzzi is an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2012 and enters his third season as a starter. Jay Finch is one of the top centers in the ACC, while Will Jackson and Ray Beno are back as returning starters.

18. VirginiaThe Cavaliers will miss Austin Pasztor and Anthony Mihota, but three starters are back, including Athlon Sports third-team All-American Oday Aboushi. Morgan Moses will start at right tackle and is a rising star to watch in the ACC. Luke Bowanko returns after starting all 13 games at right guard last year. 

19. South Florida Chaz Hine and Jeremiah Warren must be replaced, but the Bulls should be the Big East’s No. 1 line with the return of three starters. Senior left tackle Mark Popek is the headliner, while sophomore Quinterrius Eatmon is a rising star on the right side.

20. Louisiana Tech The Bulldogs are a heavy favorite to win the WAC title and should have no trouble scoring points with four starters coming back on the line. Seniors Kevin Saia, Stephen Warner and Jordan Mills should all be in the mix for all-conference honors.


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related College Football Content

College Football's Top 20 WR/TE Corps for 2012
College Football's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2012

College Football's Top 20 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Athlon's College Football Rankings for 2012

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Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012

<p> College Football's Top 20 Offensive Lines for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:22
All taxonomy terms: crossword, Monthly
Path: /monthly/august-2012-crossword-solution

Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 17:57
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/top-10-london-olympic-momentsso-far

1.  Phelps Becomes Most Decorated Olympic Athlete in History

Even with all the question marks surrounding Michael Phelps and his purported laziness in training heading into the London Olympics, it was still a foregone conclusion that the swimming great would pass gymnast Larissa Latynina to become the most decorated Olympian of all time. Phelps' 19th medal would come during the 4x200m freestyle relay, which Phelps uncharacteristically anchored.  Ending his Olympic career with 22 medals (18 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze), Phelps will likely go down as the greatest swimmer ever. 










2.  Usain Bolt sets Olympic Record in Men’s 100m Final

Questions surfaced about the speed of the 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist after his disqualification at the 2011 World Championships and more recently, his loss to countryman Yohan Blake at the Jamaican Olympic Trials. However, Bolt once again proved that he is the world’s fastest man, running an Olympic Record 9.63s in the finals that left the rest of field in the dust. He joins the venerable Carl Lewis as only the second person in history to successfully defend their gold medal in the 100m dash. (UPDATE: Bolt has become the first man to win the Olympic 100-200m double twice.)












McKayla Maroney’s Near-Perfect Vault 

McKayla Maroney’s performance on the vault during the team gymnastics competition was pivotal in lifting the United States to its first Olympic gold medal in the event since the 1996 Atlanta Games. The 2011 World Champion in the vault made her two-and-a-half twisting laid-out Yurchenko vault, colloquially known as an Amanor, look easy. She scored a 16.233 that experts agree should have been even higher as the judges inexplicably deducted 0.267 points from Maroney. Of all the highlights from Team USA’s gold medal performance, none will be remembered more than this amazing vault. 









Gabby Douglas Becomes the First

Equally as memorable is the amazing achievement of Gabby Douglas, the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion, and the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. Her winning smile and athletic achievement has made her a household name.


4.  Murray Defeats Federer in Men’s Singles Final

Playing on home turf, Murray avenged his loss to Federer in the Wimbledon Championship to bring home a gold medal for Great Britain. Murray won emphatically, defeating No. 1 Federer in straight sets. His victory marked the first time Great Britain has taken gold in tennis since the sports’ reintroduction to the Olympics in 1988. No sport means more to the host nation Great Britain than tennis, whose roots lie in Birmingham, England, making Murray’s victory especially sweet.   










5.  Missy Franklin Sweeps Backstroke Events in Olympic Debut

No athlete making their Olympic debut has ever been subjected to as much pressure as 17-year-old Missy Franklin was coming into the London Games. She lived up to the hype, however, earning four gold medals and one bronze, and setting two world record times. Franklin emerges out of these games as one of the most prominent female athletes in the world and figures to an even greater threat four years from now in Rio. 










6.  South African Double-Amputee Reaches 400m Semi-Finals

Oscar Pistorius didn’t even have to make an Olympic final to make history.  Named one of Forbes Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, Pistorius made history as the first double-amputee runner to compete at the Olympic games.  Overcoming his disability to run with some of the world’s fastest men, the South African native reached the semi-final of the men’s 400m. His participation should mark a watershed moment in parathlete history, since it proved to the world that a disabled athlete can and should be taken seriously.










7.  China’s 16-Year-Old Phenom Ye Shiwen Shocks the World

You may not have heard of Ye Shiwen before the London Olympics, but the entire world is familiar with the swimmer following her extraordinary performance in the 400m IM. Her world-record time of 4:28.43 was nearly 3 seconds faster than the silver medalist and even more shocking, the last 50m of her race was faster than Ryan Lochte’s split in the same event. The performance was so extraordinary that it immediately drew suspicion from pundits who claimed that such dramatic improvement in personal best times could only be the result of doping. However, the much more likely scenario is that the athlete’s still-growing body accounted for the dramatic reduction in her personal best time since competing in the 2010 Asian Championships. 










8.  Kayla Harrison Wins Gold Medal in Judo

Kayla Harrison’s career-defining performance in the Women’s 78kg Judo Final completed the athlete’s story of individual perseverance as well as lifted the hopes of USA Judo as Harrison’s 2-0 victory over Britain’s Gemma Gibbons finally gave the United States the gold medal that had eluded them for so long. 













9.  Women’s Soccer Semifinal (USA vs. Canada)

We couldn’t pick just one moment from this epic match between these North American powerhouses in what was arguably the best team match of these Olympics so far. Christine Sinclair’s determined performance kept the underdog Canadian team in the game scoring all three goals for her squad. The United States’ Megan Rapinoe went toe-to-toe with Sinclair, scoring two goals of her own in the match and setting up the indirect penalty kick in the 79th minute that ultimately sent the game into extra time. 

The most iconic moment would come in the third and final minute of injury time that had been added on to extra time, as U.S. striker Alex Morgan converted a 6-yard header on a long cross from Heather O’Reilly to give the U.S. a 4-3 win and a trip to the finals against Japan. With this victory, the U.S. will meet Japan in a highly-anticipated rematch of the 2011 World Cup Final. (UPDATE: The U.S. beat Japan in the Olympic women's soccer final Thursday 2-1, avenging their 2011 World Cup loss and bringing home the gold for the third straight time.)    










10.  Kimberly Rhode Becomes First Athlete to Win Medals for an Individual Event in Five Consecutive Olympics

This is the top moment from the London Games that you’ve probably never heard of. Kimberly Rhode equaled a world record, shooting 99 out of 100 clays en route to a gold medal in skeet shooting. Her victory marks the first time that any athlete has ever won individual medals in five separate Olympics. 









-by Eric Chalifour

<p> The most amazing moments of the 2012 Summer Games</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 12:18
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympic-photo-day-lolo-jones-finishes-fourth

America's sweetheart, Lolo Jones, failed to medal in the 100-meter hurdles, finishing fourth as the rain fell in London. The result was especially painful for Jones, who was seeking redemption after tripping over the ninth of ten hurdles with the lead in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Unfortunately, rather than experiencing the thrill of victory, Twitter's favorite track star suffered the agony of defeat.

<p> America's sweetheart, Lolo Jones, failed to medal in the 100-meter hurdles, finishing fourth as the rain fell in London.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 11:08
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-olympics-5-cant-miss-events-aug-8

Here's the Fab Five for Aug. 8, which will highlight NBC's prime-time schedule starting at 8 pm Eastern:

1. Women's 200m Finals
The U.S. Big Three in the women's sprints — Carmelita Jeter, who won silver in the 100m; Sanya Richards-Ross, gold medalist in the 400m; and Allyson Felix, a two-time silver medalist in the 200 — have made their way through qualifying and will vie for a U.S. medals sweep in this thrilling event.

2. Women's Beach Volleyball Finals
It's an all-American final match, as Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings don the bikinis for what could be the last time in Olympic competition to take on April Ross and Jennifer Kessy. The veteran duo will have their hands full, but look for May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings to add to their legend with another gold.

3. Men's Decathlon
The unofficial title of World's Greatest Athlete is up for grabs, and Americans Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee will have a say, especially considering that Eaton set the world record in the U.S. Olympic trials. On tap today: 100 meters, the long jump, the shot put, the high jump and 400 meters

4. Men's Water Polo: U.S. vs. Croatia
The American men have their backs against the wall, having lost their last two matches and facing the tournament's top team, the Croatians, who have yet to lose a match in these games. The U.S. hasn't claimed gold in this event since 1904.

5. Men's Basketball: U.S. vs. Australia
The Aussies figure to offer little resistance to Team USA, although the Yanks have run hot and cold during these games. The best player Oz can muster is likely Patty Mills, a backup for the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers.

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.

Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

<p> Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings go for their third straight gold in today's beach volleyball final.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 10:37
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-21

Throughout the Olympics one often hears about a “Dream Team’’ in one sport or another. So what about NASCAR?

Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council were asked if they were an owner with four teams and could pick any Cup driver in any era, who would be the four for their Dream Team? Their picks proved quite interesting.

They also debated Jeff Gordon’s chances of making the Chase and Sunday’s Pocono race. Here’s what Fan Council members had to say:

Who is on your NASCAR Dream Team?

74.3 percent selected Dale Earnhardt Sr.
58.9 percent selected Jimmie Johnson
43.2 percent selected Tony Stewart
38.7 percent selected Richard Petty

33.2 percent selected Jeff Gordon
23.6 percent selected David Pearson
18.8 percent selected Kyle Busch
15.1 percent selected Cale Yarborough
10.6 percent selected Tim Richmond
10.3 percent selected Dale Earnhardt Jr.
9.6 percent selected Darrell Waltrip
7.5 percent selected Davey Allison
6.8 percent selected Junior Johnson
6.5 percent selected Matt Kenseth
No other drivers received more than 5 percent of the vote

What Fan Council members said:
• Dale Earnhardt for sheer tenacity and stubborn will. Jeff Gordon because he’s won championships with multiple crew chiefs. Cale Yarborough because he is the only driver who has REALLY won three championships back-to-back-to-back (sorry, I'm not counting Chase trophies — that is over 10 races not a full season.) David Pearson because he has an amazing winning record while rarely running a full schedule.

• I would want a team deep with knowledge, and someone to groom. That is why I picked Kyle Busch. Could you imagine Busch with the tutelage of Petty, Earnhardt and Jaws?

• Tony, Kyle, Dale (Sr.), and David Pearson. That's a winning team for certain! Four guys who could win in anything they stepped foot in. And can you imagine what the conversations and fights in the hauler would be like? Woohooo!

• The King: Because he is The King with wins that would guarantee me sponsors and TV “face time.” But also because he cares about the fans to a legendary level and would bring me a very loyal fan base. Smoke: Because if it has wheels and I need it to cross the finish line first, I want his butt in that seat. Curtis Turner: If he couldn't swing deals to get sponsorship money for me, he'd come up with some scheme to get someone else to give me the money. And he had no fear when it came to racing. Bill Elliott: Another great racer who took care of his cars more than the other three! Popular, a great back story, media friendly and sponsor sensitive.

• I picked DW, Tim Richmond, Kyle Busch and Smoke. All four can wheel anything with tires, and do it well. I went with an old-school/new-school theme. I see all four of these guys sort of being one in the same in their respective periods. There is enough talent there to fill Lake Lloyd but the egos and attitudes would be the only problem!

• Big E, Smoke, Busch and Junior Johnson. Give 'em a big slice of badass!

• Had to go with Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty, just because they are the best drivers this sport has seen. Then I went with two darkhorse choices: First, Terry Labonte just because he is one of the most consistent and level-headed drivers the sport has seen, and can definitely be a true asset on a Dream Team. Then I went with Buddy Baker because he has driven so many types of vehicles, not just NASCAR, and has a true need for speed and aggressive style that could help win in a style like in an Olympic-like format.

• I tried to go with some from a different era. So I went with Davey Allison, who let's face it, if he were still alive, would have been a great champion and made some great stats. Jimmie Johnson — five championships all in a row, people think he's vanilla, but he'll blow your socks off. Enough said. Dale Earnhardt — people feared him on the track and he’s a seven-time champion. Enough said. And Cale, first driver to win three championships (consecutively) and one hell of a driver.

• I chose The Intimidator because he knew what he needed from a car at all times and could rattle the best out there. He always gave 100 percent and hated losing. Seven titles and 76 wins along with a strong fan base (helps sales) would give my team a strong boost. Smoke has won in multiple forms of racing and is one of the best stock car drivers in recent memory. I would take Smoke in a one-race, winner-take-all battle over anyone. Pearson is a confident driver, but he will sneak up on you. Anyone that can be as dominant at Darlington and the big tracks like the Silver Fox will be on my team. Ned Jarrett is humble, well-spoken and drove as hard as he needed to. He would save the equipment and drive intelligently. I like the balance of my team and feel as though it could stand up against any team.

• Obviously, the best three drivers ever: Dale Sr., the King, and Five-Time. For my fourth driver, I went with Tim Richmond. Had he not be taken from us far too early, Dale Sr. would not have seven titles.

• This was one of the toughest questions ever! To put together my Dream Team I not only took into consideration talent but drivers who would complement each other and help each other be better than their raw talent alone. In my opinion, the all-time, all-around leadership of Richard Petty, the take-no-prisoners attitude of Dale Earnhardt Sr., the steadying even-keel resolve of Jeff Gordon and the feisty drive-the-wheels-off-anything-with-superb-car-control of Kyle Busch would blend perfectly, creating an unbeatable team.

• Most importantly, I would want Chad Knaus, Ray Evernham, Smokey Yunick and Dale Inman as my Dream Team’s crew chiefs.

<p> In the spirit of the Olympics, Dustin Long's Backseat Drivers Fan Council discuss NASCAR's Dream Team, grade Pocono and talk about Jeff Gordon's Chase chances.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 10:29