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Path: /college-football/noah-spence-tj-yeldon-make-big-recruiting-news

-by Braden Gall (follow on @AthlonBraden)

Urban Meyer’s impact has already sent shockwaves through the recruiting world. His biggest coup yet came this weekend when the No. 3-rated player in the Athlon Consensus 100 committed to the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Harrisburg (Pa.) Bishop McDevitt defensive end Noah Spence visited Columbus this weekend for the first time and announced he would be heading to Ohio State. Penn State had been rumored to be his top school, but the hiring of Meyer and the child-sex abuse scandal in Happy Valley pushed the 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end to the rival Buckeyes.

Spence had planned to announce his college of choice at the Under Armour All-American game in January. And Ohio State was not even supposed to be in the mix.

Meyer has changed all of that.

On the heels of Cincinnati (Ohio) Taft defensive end Adolphus Washington crediting Meyer directly in his announcement speech, Spence pulled a total shocker by verballing to OSU. Spence and Washington, combined with AC100 talents Canton (Ohio) McKinley end Se’Von Pittman and Glen Ellyn (Ill.) Glenbard West tackle Tommy Schutt, give Ohio State one of the best defensive line hauls in the nation. Schutt was previously committed to Penn State and switched his pledge about a week ago, while Pittman had been committed to Michigan State until last weekend.

Meyer, and Meyer alone, has to be given direct credit for Ohio State's massive surge on the recruiting trail.

Where Spence Ranks:

Rivals: No. 9 player in the nation
Scout: No. 6
ESPN: No. 4
247Sports: No. 15
O-D: No. 5
NCSA: No. 11

Speed, quickness and burst, for a player of his size, is where Spence’s advantage lies currently. He gets up the field with great burst and can get to the quarterback in a hurry. He displays tremendous closing speed and will deliver the big hit when he arrives. Spence may be the best pure pass rusher in this class. He is ideally suited for an outside rush backer in a 3-4 scheme or, with some added bulk, could succeed as a pure end in a 4-3. He has great range, lateral movements and pursuit skills for a player of his size and position. He has a solid collection of pass-rushing skills, but needs to work on refining them.

While his technique should develop, he will need to focus on maintaining his fundamentals at the point of attack against the run. He can be so quick and explosive, that he has a tendency to work around blockers instead of through them. Playing with a consistency is something most young athletes need to focus on and Spence needs to work on delivering more consistent play.

Spence's father, Gregory Spence, played college football at NC State.

T.J. Yeldon Pulls A Yellowhammer Flip-Flop

Star Daphne (Ala.) running back T.J. Yeldon has made the mother of all recruiting flip-flops. The nation’s No. 9-rated running back, and the state of Alabama’s No. 4-rated player in the Athlon Consensus 100 committed to the Auburn Tigers back in June. This weekend, Yeldon announced that he would be enrolling at the University of Alabama in January.

It was yet another huge statement for Nick Saban on the recruiting trail.

Yeldon is an elite recruit with the ability to contribute as a freshman in 2012 — a major factor considering that both Trent Richardson and possibly Michael Dyer won’t be playing in the SEC next year, leaving a large void on both rosters. Landing a star tailback is one thing, but taking him directly off the roster of your biggest rival is a totally different story all together. Next fall will be a very important season for Gene Chizik, and losing Yeldon certainly doesn’t help.

Yeldon, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound tailback, is one of the more complete overall athletes in this class. He possesses solid top end speed and adequate acceleration. He has a tall frame that has plenty of length and room to grow — particularly to add bulk/power to his lower body. He shows good vision and balance as his slashing running style allows him to slice through small creases in the defense. He has excellent hands and is such an above average receiver that he could easily end up at wideout — considering his tallish, lean frame.

His stock has been consistently rising over the last five months. Mostly due to his monster senior season in which he carried 231 times for 2,196 yards and 32 touchdowns this fall. thinks the most of Yeldon, offering up the coveted fifth star for the future Crimson Tider. 247Sports seems to agree. But Offense-Defense does not have the talented tailback ranked in their Top 150.

Where Yeldon ranks:

Rivals: No. 24
Scout: No. 76
ESPN: No. 91
247Sports: No. 26
O-D: unranked
NCSA: No. 117

<p> Noah Spence, T.J. Yeldon Make Big Recruiting News</p>
Post date: Monday, December 19, 2011 - 10:08
All taxonomy terms: Funny, Kim Jong-Il, North Korea, Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/kim-jong-ils-notable-sports-achievements

North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il died over the weekend, due to complications of a stroke he suffered back in 2008. And while he was a ruthless dictator who murdered untold numbers of people (most of whom were his own), he was also one of the greatest athletes to ever walk the face of this earth.

According to his own biography, he was such a great golfer, that he managed to get 11 holes-in-ones on his way to carding a 38-under par on the VERY FIRST round of golf he ever played. Could Tiger Woods do that? I don't think so. (His biography also said he didn't defecate, but we'll leave that tidbit of info for a later piece.) Also, he managed to bowl a perfect 300 in his very first attempt at bowling. The man was an artist in any sport he tried.

And while other news outlets can debate what his death means to North Korea, whether his son Kim Jong-Un will succeed him and whether the North Korean people can rise up and take their country back, we're going to focus on his sporting life.

So, to remember this skilled superjock, here are a few of Kim Jong Il's other notable sports feats:

--Won every gold, silver and bronze in every event of North Korean Summer and Winter Olympics (still a North Korean record.) 

--The Supreme Leader's Announcement that he was "Taking his talents to Pyongyang" still most watched show in history ot ESPNK.

--During his first-ever game of H-O-R-S-E, he dunked a basketball so hard it scared the AIDS out of Magic Johnson.

--Once hit a bunt walk-off grand slam...when he wasn't even playing baseball.

--Currently in possession of every hat in North Korea because of the one time he played hockey.

--Once gave Derek Jeter an autographed baseball after a one-night stand.

--Outdid Evel Knievel by jumping the Grand Canyon. With his legs.

--Wrote "One Shining Moment." Also with his legs.

--Scored World Cup-winning goal with an epic bicycle kick. Without his legs.

--First man to ever run the 4-second mile.

--Was the guy who drilled Santa Claus with the battery at that Eagles game a few years ago.

--Has never had to attempt a second serve.

--Body-slammed Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and King Kong Body simultaneously to win WrestleMania IV.

--The "NBA Jams" video game is a digital documentary of King Jon-Il's real life basketball skills.

--Was inspiration for Sylvester Stallone's character in "Over the Top"

--Taught Tim Tebow everything he knows

<p> North Korea's Supreme leader died over the weekend, and we lost one of the greatest athletes of all time</p>
Post date: Monday, December 19, 2011 - 09:16
Path: /college-football/beef-o-bradys-st-petersburg-preview-marshall-vs-fiu

by Mark Ross

Beef O’Brady’s Bowl
Florida International (8-4) vs. Marshall (6-6)
Date: Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. ET
Location: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.

So what happens when a Golden Panther meets up with a Thundering Herd? That’s what we will find out come Dec. 20 when Florida International (FIU) and Marshall meet for the first time ever on the football field in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl. This is the second straight bowl appearance for Florida International, whose football program started in 2002, while it represents Marshall’s first bowl since 2009.

Fifth-year head coach Mario Cristobal has already led this Panthers team to a school-record eight wins and is looking for second straight bowl win to cap the season. On the other side, second-year head coach Doc Holliday had to rally his Herd to win their last two games just to become bowl eligible, including the crucial sixth win in overtime against East Carolina.

Both teams went 5-3 in their respective conferences, FIU in the Sun Belt and Marshall in Conference USA, so the difference in their overall record comes down to non-conference games.

FIU defeated Louisville, who is playing in the Belk Bowl, with its other non-conference opponents being UCF (win), Duke (loss) and Akron (win). Those last three combined for an overall record of 9-27.

Marshall’s non-conference slate featured four bowl teams, including two headed to BCS bowls. The Herd, like the Golden Panthers defeated Louisville, but lost to Virginia Tech (Sugar Bowl), West Virginia (Orange) and Ohio (Idaho Potato).

Taking a closer look at their games against Louisville, Marshall had more total yards of offense against the Cardinals (353 to 293) compared to the Golden Panthers and the Herd surrendered considerably less on defense (281 to 363).

The difference in FIU’s 24-17 win over Louisville was a first-quarter interception returned for a touchdown and two long touchdown passes, while Marshall scored a touchdown with less than two minutes left in the game to earn a 17-13 victory over the Cardinals. Will the Louisville game serve as a sign of what to expect on Dec. 20?


The Golden Panthers’ offense enters the bowl game on a roll, averaging 33.3 points per game during their current three-game winning streak. Prior to that, they were averaging 23.8 points per game.

FIU runs a balanced offensive attack that’s directed by senior quarterback Wesley Carroll. Carroll has 14 touchdown passes and just four interceptions this season. He has done a much better job of taking care of the ball this season, compared to his junior year when he threw 16 interceptions.

FIU’s primary playmaker is wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Hilton is the school’s all-time leader in receptions (221), receiving yards (3,443), touchdowns (24) and total touchdowns (36), as the senior is also a dangerous return specialist. Hilton finished second in the Sun Belt in both receiving yards (950) and all-purpose yards (145.8 ypg) this season.

On the ground, the Panthers have turned to Kedrick Rhodes as their main ball carrier. Rhodes rushed for more than 1,100 yards this season and his 93.4 yards per game ranked him third in the Sun Belt. He and Hilton were tied for the team lead with eight touchdowns.

FIU should be able to move the ball against Marshall’s defense, but needs to be wary of standout defensive lineman Vinny Curry, Conference USA’s Defensive Player of the Year. Curry was second in the nation in tackles for loss (1.8 per game) and sixth in sacks (11 in 12 games). The Panthers’ offensive line has done a good job of protecting the quarterback this season, ranking 17th in the nation in sacks allowed (1.1 per game).

Marshall, coming from Conference USA, is no stranger to defending potent offensives, having already faced the likes of Houston, Southern Miss and Tulsa, all ranked in the top 25 in the country in total offense, this season. FIU’s offensive capability simply doesn’t match up with these teams, so it will be interesting to see if the Golden Panthers can take advantage of a defense that has allowed more than 400 yards and 30 points per game on the season.


Unlike FIU, Marshall is considerably less experienced under center with freshman quarterback Rakeem Cato running the offense. Cato has started a total of eight games this season, including the last two that Marshall won to become bowl eligible.

Cato resumed the starting role after sophomore A.J. Graham went down with a season-ending shoulder injury. On top of that, current back up freshman Blake Frohnapfel underwent a procedure on his shoulder in late November, putting his status for this game up in the air. With Graham done for the season and Frohnhapfel questionable, Marshall’s quarterback depth pretty much starts and ends with Cato.

Cato is coming off his best game of the season, completing 23 of 29 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns in the overtime win over East Carolina. For the season, Cato has completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,833 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Marshall’s top rushers, Tron Martinez and Travon Van, are also young, with Martinez a sophomore and Van a redshirt freshman. The duo has basically split the carries and combined have rushed for 1,120 yards on 276 carries (4.1 ypc) with six touchdowns.

As a team, Marshall gained an average of 123.1 yards per game on the ground, whereas FIU surrendered 120.9, which ranked them 23rd in the nation in rushing defense. If the Herd can’t run the ball against the Panthers defense, it will put even more pressure on Cato and the passing game. 

Marshall’s top threat in the passing game is junior wide receiver Aaron Dobson, whose 10 touchdown receptions put him third in Conference USA. In order for Dobson to have a chance to add to his touchdown total Marshall’s offensive line will need to protect Cato from FIU’s pass rush, which ranks 14th in the nation in sacks with 34 (2.8 per game) coming into the bowl game.

Special Teams

The Golden Panthers have a significant advantage when it comes to special teams thanks to the aforementioned Hilton, who is third in the nation in kickoff returns with 32.0 yard per return average. He’s also returned a punt for a touchdown and as team, FIU ranks first in the nation in punt returns (15.9 yards per return) and sixth in kickoff returns (26.3 ypr). Contrast that to Marshall, which comes into this game ranked 64 in the nation in punt return yardage defense and 82nd in kickoff returns.

Both kickers are fairly accurate with FIU’s Jack Griffin having almost twice as many field goal attempts (21 of 25) compared to his counterpart, Marshall’s Tyler Warner (10 of 13).


Although they are from the Sun Belt, FIU should not be taken lightly. The Golden Panthers’ three losses in conference were all to winning teams, two of which earned bowl bids, and outside of an 18-point loss to Sun Belt champion Arkansas State, their other three total losses were by a combined nine points.

FIU’s defense comes into the game ranked 33rd in the nation in total defense, giving up 347.6 yards and allowing less than 20 points per game, and also does a good job of getting pressure on the quarterback. The Panthers’ offense is balanced and their return units are among the best in nation.

Marshall’s offense is among the least productive in the nation, averaging 335.3 yards per game and 22 points per game. The defense is steady against the run, but susceptible to the pass and needs the offense to sustain drives so it can stay fresh.

Marshall needs to keep this game close, as that has been its winning formula this season. Five of its six wins have been by seven points or less, while the Herd’s average margin of defeat in their six losses has been 27.5 points per game.

On paper, it looks like Marshall will have trouble moving the ball against FIU’s defense and the Panthers’ offense should be able to chip away and at some point take advantage of a defensive breakdown by the Herd. The Panthers’ special teams prowess will put even more pressure on the Herd and a big kick return will help FIU pull away in the second half.

Florida International 27, Marshall 17

<p> Athlon previews the 2011 St. Petersburg Bowl: Marshall vs. FIU</p>
Post date: Monday, December 19, 2011 - 06:40
Path: /news/jonathan-joseph-means-bad-news-panthers-steve-smith-week-15

It’s the semifinals of most fantasy football leagues and you have a dynamic receiver in the Carolina Panthers’ Steve Smith going against the Houston Texans in Week 15. But he and you could not have drawn a worse matchup.

Smith will likely draw Johnathan Joseph in coverage. One of the league’s top corners, Joseph hasn’t allowed a TD since Week 9 and has allowed just two all year, according to Pro Football Focus. He has only given up 34 yards or more once since Week 6 and that came last week against the Bengals and 6-4 rookie A.J. Green who had five catches for 59 yards— 36 yards coming on one play. The 36-yarder is the longest play Joseph has allowed since Week 6.

So in starting Smith you have to hope the Panthers will be moving him all over the field, letting him find seams and empty pockets with which to catch the ball and go to work. But just two TDs allowed by Joseph all season and just one game above 67 yards allowed by Joseph all season certainly has to be a scary proposition to think about when you shift Smith into your starting lineup.

Smith, who was quiet last year with the terrible QB play the Panthers had, came out like gangbusters in 2011. He had a 33.8-point game right out of the gate and followed with 16.2 before a 2.5 dud in Week 3. He bounced back in Week 4 with 22.10 points, followed by 15.4, 9.1 18.4 and 20.7 by Week 8. Seven of his first eight games he scored at least 9.1 points and six of his first eight he scored at least 15.4 — you couldn’t ask for much more from a mid-to-late-round pick by most drafters.

But then the inconsistent fantasy days followed more often than not. Week10, coming off a bye, was 5.8 points, followed by 15.1, 9.2, 4.2 and last week’s 15.5.

In the last two wins, Smith has not been a good play; in the last two losses he has scored at least 15 points. Herein lies the problem. It’s safe to say the visiting Panthers are going to get gashed by Houston RBs Arian Foster and Ben Tate and be down in this game from the jump. So the trend of Smith scoring well when the team is losing could continue.

However, the Texans have won seven in a row by an average of 15 points per game and the hopes of Smith racking up points as part of a trailing team could be shutdown by Joseph, who over those last seven games has allowed 17 catches, for 192 yards and one TD — 2.4 catches, 27.4 yards and .14 TDs per game for an average of 4.78 fantasy points in Athlon’s half-PPR format.

So you take Smith’s inconsistencies versus Joesph’s consistency and I’m shying away from the veteran receiver in Week 15.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> Carolina's top receiver has a tough match up in Jonathan Joseph</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 09:37
Path: /news/if-lions-rb-kevin-smith-active-hell-run-through-raiders

If Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith is active, you play him against the Oakland Raiders in Week 15.

It’s as simple as this. You saw what Ryan Grant did last week against the Raiders right? He came out of nowhere, and busted off a 47-yard TD run in the first three minutes that no one thought he could still do and finished with 85 yards and two scores on the day.

Smith aggravated a high ankle sprain in Week 13 and had an exit that frustrated many owners in what would have been a good matchup against the New Orleans Saints. He sat out last week’s game against Minnesota and has been limited in practice this week while he deals with the injury.

The running back situation is such that it’s hard to be wrong because there aren’t that many healthy ones left to have to make a decision. But in weeks like this where Rashard Mendenhall, Frank Gore have matchups that barely make them worth plays; Adrian Peterson is coming back from a three-game layoff due to a high ankle injury of his own and Michael Turner, Maurice Jones-Drew, LeGarrette Blount and Felix Jones have already played, with a matchup that’s easy on paper, it would certainly be nice to have Smith in the fold.

The Raiders are ranked 28th this season against fantasy running backs and are 21st the last three weeks. Since Week 9, Oakland has allowed Willis McGahee to run for 163 yards and two scores on 20 carries, Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews to combine for 130 total yards, Matt Forte and Matt Forte and Marion to combine for 147 total yards, Reggie Bush 100 yards rushing and a score and Ryan Grant and John Kuhn 144 total yards and two scores. They were also the benefactors of Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte having to exit early due to injuries against them.

Detroit hasn’t been the model team when it comes to running the ball this season — it ranks 24th in rushing at 100.5 per game and is ranked 21st with just eight rushing TDs from its running backs — but if Smith is active he will be a good workhorse to help control a game the Lions should be in control of as the Raiders are reeling as of late.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> Detroit's running back has a nice match up, if he can get on the field</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 09:34
Path: /news/continue-ride-hot-redskins-rookie-rb-roy-helu

He continues to get it done since coach Mike Shanahan made the correct call and decided to let the rookie be the main ball carrier in Washington. Now he gets a Giants defense that has been more than friendly over the past few weeks to not only running backs but wide receivers as well.

Good news for Helu owners, he can be both for you.

Helu has 73 carries for 334 yards and 13 receptions and 102 yards over the last three weeks. That’s an average of 24.3 carries for 111.3 yards to go with 4.3 catches for 34.0 yards and two TD in just the last three weeks.

Yes, please.

And that’s before you’ve seen the numbers the Gitans have allowed the last five weeks.

The Giants have allowed Felix Jones to come off the bench and get 106 yards rushing on 16 carries and 31 yards on six catches last week. They allowed Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles to combine for 163 yards rushing on 29 carries and seven catches for 89 yards and two scores in Week 12; they allowed LeSean McCoy to rush for 113 yards on 23 carries and add a non-McCoy like two yards on three catches in Week 11.

All told, since Week 10, the Giants have allowed 558 yards rushing on 115 carries (4.9 YPC) and 25 catches for 196 yards and three total touchdowns. They aren’t giving up much via the end zone, but they sure are letting backs run up and down the field en route to the goal line.

In addition to the terrible run defense, the Giants pass defense is ranked 29th and has allowed more TDs and less interceptions than the Patriots (24-15 to 21-18). So the Redskins might actually be able to stay in this one to keep Helu relevant as a pure runner.

The hope of course is that Shanahan does not come and screw us Helu owners in our semifinal weeks, but this looks to be showcase time for the 4-9 Redskins and there’s no better player on the team to showcase right now than Roy Helu.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> Helu should continue to put up big fantasy numbers in Week 15</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 09:28
All taxonomy terms: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers, News
Path: /news/chargers-philip-rivers-just-edge-qb1-status-against-ravens

Numbers can certainly be skewed when it comes to who has done what against whom in recent weeks in the NFL. Safe to say this is what we are dealing with when it comes to looking at San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers as QB1 against Baltimore in Week 15.

The Ravens No. 1 against fantasy QBs this season and are ranked third against them over the last five weeks, but have faced the likes of Dan Orlovsky, Colt McCoy, Alex Smith, Andy Dalton and Tarvaris Jackson.

However, it is not just the below-average QBs the Ravens have been able to give trouble.

They have had five games against veteran, fantasy-start worthy QBs this season — Ben Roethlisberger twice, Matt Hasselbeck, Mark Sanchez and Matt Schaub — and those five averaged 261.4 yards per game with four total TDs and six interceptions for an average of just 12.9 fantasy points per game amongst them.

So the numbers say the yards are there to be had for veteran QBs, but the TDs will be limited to one per game and all of the veterans were intercepted at least once.

This is where the problem lies when it comes to starting Rivers. After a struggling start to the season — 11 TDs, 14 interceptions and three lost fumbles over the first nine games — he is now more protective of the ball in the air. He has thrown 11 TDs to three INTs over the last five games and no picks in the last three games; he does have two lost fumbles in the last five games.

The yardage has always been there for Rivers this season. Only twice has he dipped below 240 yards. He has five games above 16 points in his last six outings. But can he survive behind his offensive line’s struggles going against this defense for long enough to have the good outweigh the bad?

It is unlikely the Chargers’ ground game will get going against the No. 2-ranked rush defense. So Rivers will have to have success through the air. Rivers has Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and rookie Vincent Brown at his disposal. The only troublesome trio Baltimore has had to face this season is that of the Steelers twice (280 and 330 yards in the two meetings). Rivers also has tight end Antonio Gates, who is unlike any other the Ravens have had to face this year, and he gives the Chargers four targets with which to work in addition to Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews as pass catchers out of the backfield.

In three games vs. Baltimore, Rivers averages 276.7 yards passing with six TDs and three interceptions. The Week 15 game is in San Diego, on national television and Rivers is throwing for 285 yards per game with 13 TDs and eight interceptions in seven home games this season — six of which came in the first nine weeks of the season.

And there’s Rivers’ December numbers over his career — 25 games, 22 wins, 5,754 yards, 46 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for a 102.0 QB rating.

Rivers is not a top-12 QB for me this week, because I don’t trust his offensive line to keep him upright, but I would still start him ahead of his opponent Joe Flacco as well as Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> Rivers needs to shake off his rust against the top-flight Ravens</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 09:28
All taxonomy terms: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers, News
Path: /news/antonio-brown-will-shine-steelers-49ers-defensive-struggle

Something’s got to give when the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to San Francisco for a Week 15 Monday night game. And Antonio Brown might be the one to help blow it open for the Steelers.

The San Francisco 49ers have the No. 1 rushing defense in the league at 70.5 yards allowed per game and no touchdowns surrendered. No back has eclipsed 64 yards rushing this season. But they also bring just the 19th-ranked passing defense that allows 234.5 yards per game with 18 touchdowns allowed and 18 interceptions. The Steelers are ranked sixth against the run (97.0 YPG) with six TDs allowed and No. 1 against the pass (179.1 YPG).

San Francisco brings the seventh-ranked rushing offense (126.9 YPG) and 29th-ranked passing offense (182.1 YPG). Pittsburgh brings the ninth-ranked passing offense (257.1 YPG) with 21 TDs and 11 interceptions and the 17th-ranked rushing offense (114.5 YPG).

Advantage: Steelers passing game.

However there are two BIG question marks heading into the game. First, whether Ben Roethlisberger (ankle) will start and secondly, whether he will have enough time to be productive behind a beat up offensive line. Center Maurkice Pouncey has already been declared out. The 49ers are ranked 14th in the league with 32 sacks.

So let’s assume the 17th-ranked run game of the Steelers is shut down by the top-ranked run defense of the 49ers as we all expect and Pittsburgh will be able to have success through the air. If it’s Roethlisberger, the deep ball can still be there, if it’s Charlie Batch in for Big Ben, then Brown can still be productive as the receiver that can catch passes all over the field.

In PPR leagues, Brown should thrive. And in non-PPR leagues, he showed that if you wait he will pay off — see his 79-yard TD catch in the closing minutes to help the Steelers beat the Browns two Thursdays ago.

Brown has been targeted 24 times in the last four weeks for 16 catches, 385 yards and one score. That’s just the last month, In the three games before that, Brown was targeted 35 times — 35 TIMES — for 21 catches, 278 yards and a score.

Since Week 10, the 49ers have allowed four receivers to eclipsed 60 yards — Mario Manningham (6-77-1), Victor Cruz (6-84-0), Anquan Boldin (4-63-0) and Larry Fitzgerald (7-149-1) and have given up six total touchdowns to receivers in those five weeks.

You hope that Big Ben can play and be mobile enough to keep his solid connection going with Brown, but even if it’s Batch it is hard to sit a top-12 fantasy receiver over the last four weeks, on a team that is ninth in passing, going against a 49ers team that gives up the pass and will struggle to find any offense — ground or air.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> The emerging Steelers wide receiver should break through against San Fran</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 09:24
Path: /news/you-have-sit-ben-roethlisberger-against-49ers-monday-night

First off, this is written Sunday morning before the Week 15 early games kick off. With that in mind, and knowing you have to set your lineup here in the next couple of hours, can you honestly take the chance that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may not play Monday night in San Francisco?

This is the semifinals. This is the quarterback position we are talking about. That’s a big position to leave up to hope for more than 24 hours after the rest of your lineup has finished their games.

Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle sprain against the Cleveland Browns two Thursdays ago but managed to get himself back in the game after halftime, limp around in the pocket and be productive. Eventually, he found Antonio Brown for the game-winning 79-yard touchdown pass down the sidelines in the closing minutes.

Eleven days removed from that injury and one cross-country flight later, we are all hoping that Roethlisberger can play because we know the Steelers aren’t going to be able to run against the 49ers’ top-ranked rushing defense (70.5 yards per game) that has allowed no rushing touchdowns. So we would like to feel confident that Big Ben will be out there to make other fantasy stars we count on valuable in the semifinals — namely receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.

I think the 49ers’ 19th-ranked pass defense that allows 234.5 yards per game will still be vulnerable with Charlie Batch as the Steelers’ signal caller, so Wallace and Brown should be safe starts. Pittsburgh has the ninth-ranked passing offense in the league at 257.1 yards per game with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The 49ers, in addition to being ranked 19th against the pass have allowed 18 TDs with 18 interceptions.

But it all seems tied in to the health of Roethlisberger.

He sat out three practices before participating Friday, something the coaches said they wanted to see him do before they made a decision on his status. Roethlisberger has certainly proven his toughness over the years, even in coming back into the Cleveland game in which he suffered the latest injury. Can he backpedal enough to get out of the way of the pass rush that is certain to come from the 49ers’ defensive line — one that won’t have to deal with center Maurkice Pouncey now that he’s already been declared out? Can he step into his throws to make accurate connections with Wallace and Brown?

There are just too many question marks surrounding Roethlisberger for me to wait until Monday night to see if he can go. And if he does go, will he be able to make it through the entire game as an effective QB?

Unless you want to pick up San Francisco’s Alex Smith now and wait if you have no other options, then might I suggest Christian Ponder, Rex Grossman, Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton or even Kyle Orton to get garbage-time production against the Packers.

And if you do go the Smith route, keep in mind he faces the NFL’s No. 1 pass defense and its sixth-ranked rush defense. Good luck.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> You can't take a chance that the Steelers quarterback will sit out</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 09:10
All taxonomy terms: New York Jets, Shonn Greene, News
Path: /news/can-shonn-greene-keep-it-going-against-eagles

Oh, Shonn Greene are you teasing us or is this for real?

The New York Jets’ running back has certainly paid off for those of us who waited all season for him to do just that. He has three straight double-digit weeks for the first time this season and now faces a Philadephia Eagles defense that is ranked 18th against the run at 115.1 yards per game. However, the Eagles have given up the eighth-most rushing yards to RBs the last three weeks (355).

Greene had 10.5 points against Buffalo in Week 12, busted off his season high of 30.9 points in Week 13 against Washington and came back with 26.2 points against Kansas City last week. And this is with QB Mark Sanchez having three rushing touchdowns the last five weeks. It has helped that Greene has added nine catches for 96 yards — 14.1 points in Athlon’s half-PPR scoring fotmat — to help counter Sanchez vulturing those scores.

But is this a mirage or can we start Greene in the semifinals of our fantasy football playoffs?

Well, the Jets are facing Michael Vick and a still high-powered yet inefficient Eagles offense, Run the ball, control the clock and keep Vick off the field. Greene can certainly help the Jets do that.

New York allowed Reggie Bush to run for 103 yards n 14 carries and get five catches for 27 yards last week in Miami. A week earlier, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch gashed the Jets for 148 yards and two scores on 22 carries. Lynch and Bush are two of six runners to gain over 100 yards against the Jets and two of eight to get at least 86.

Greene needs to get in the end zone to make it a successful day, and he has done that four times in the last three games after having done it just twice in the previous 11 games. He has games of 78, 88 and 129 yards rushing the last three games after having just two games above 78 in the previous 11. He has three games of three catches in a row after having just one game of over three catches in the previous 11.

So it has either clicked for Greene or he is peaking at just the right time. Whatever it is, the combination of his recent performances and that of the Eagles against opposing running backs makes Greene a solid start in Week 15.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> The Jets running back might finally be living up to expectations</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 09:09
Path: /news/rashard-mendenhall-not-even-flex-play-against-49ers

This is not what you like to write about a player you helped project as a top-10 fantasy pick in Athlon Sports’ 2011 fantasy football magazine, but Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall can’t even be considered a Flex1 against the San Francisco 49ers Monday night.

I’d love to say the factors are the beat up offensive line, or that Charlie Batch may have to start in place of Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback or it’s just because the San Francisco rush defense is just too good to waste your time. All those are certainly factor, but in regards to how a true first-round back should perform, Mendenhall hasn’t really been worth an RB1 or RB2 slot all season — and he’s one of the few workhorse backs left.

Mendenhall has had just one game over 100 yards — a 23-for-146 effort against Jacksonville in Week 6 — and all the other games have been 76 yards or less, including eight at 60 or less. He has banged out the occasional two-TD game — Weeks 10 and 13 to help offset rushing days of 60 and 44 yards in those two contests — but otherwise has gone six games without a score. And as a pass-catcher, forget it. He had at least had 23 or more catches the last two years; this year he has just 13.

So that’s just the 13 games leading up to the matchup against the 49ers. The resurgent team from San Francisco is tops in the league in rushing defense and have basically made starting a player against it a waste of a roster spot.

The 49ers allow just 70.5 yards per game and have not surrendered a touchdown. No back has eclipsed 64 yards rushing this season; so at least Mendenhall will feel comfortable that he’s right at home with these numbers.

Like Frank Gore on the 49ers’ side, who also is just barely a flex going against the Steelers’ sixth-ranked rushing defense (97.0 YPG) that has allowed just six TDs this season and only two to running backs since Week 5, Mendenhall would probably need a turnover deep in San Francisco territory or a trip inside the 5 to have a legitimate chance at scoring a TD.

One thing going for Mendenhall is that he has five scores in the last five games — none coming beyond 10 yards. So he is clearly the go-to guy around the goal line. The Steelers can get down there with their passing offense going against the 49ers’ 19th-ranked passing defense that allows 234.5 yards per game.

But at what cost do you play a RB like Mendenhall who will go up against a team that gives up the pass but still has not allowed a single rushing TD this season?

Injuries might have killed you this season and you are forced to start Mendenhall, and I am sorry for that. But if you also have players like Willis McGahee, Cedric Benson, Pierre Thomas, Brandon Jacobs, Ben Tate, Marion Barber, Donald Brown, I would pop them in before the Pittsburgh back if for nothing but the upside.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> The Steelers running back is in the worst fantasy spot against San Francisco</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 08:53
All taxonomy terms: Arizona Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald, News
Path: /news/larry-fitzgerald-has-brutal-match-do-you-have-guts-sit-him

The long ball will need to be Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s friend in Week 15 if he plans on having success against Cleveland Browns standout corner Joe Haden.

Haden got burned two Thursdays ago on a late pass to Antonio Brown, who turned it up field for a 79-yard touchdown to help win the game for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Prior to that catch, Haden had limited receivers to two catches for 21 yards on two targets.

A week earlier, Haden was targeted four times against Baltimore and allowed no catches. In Week 12, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green caught three balls for 110 yards, Haden giving up a long of 51 to Green during the final minute of the game. Green also had gains of 35 and 24 yards against the Browns.

So the moral of the story: You better hope Fitzgerald breaks a big one to be a decent producer for you in fantasy football.

Outside of the 51-yarder to Green and the 79-yarder to Brown, Haden had not given up a pass longer than 41 yards this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Green was also on the receiving end of that play, his only catch of their Week 1 game that went for one of the three scores Haden’s allowed this season.

As for consistent production, receivers have pretty much just been able to get long-ball bulk over the last five weeks. Haden gave up 79 of his 94 yards on the catch to Brown last week. He gave up no yards in Week 13. He gave up 125 yards in Week 12 against Cincinnati with the late 51-yard play and another 35-yard catch. He allowed 73 yards against Jacksonville with a long of 28 and 48 yards against St. Louis with a long of 24. In that time, Haden’s been targeted 31 times and given up 17 catches.

Fitzgerald’s 6-3 frame and ability to go up and grab any ball certainly puts him in the category to be able to get a long ball from QB John Skelton. And having Skelton, who’s willing to push the ball down field more than Kevin Kolb, will be a benefit for Fitzgerald today. But the numbers do say that Fitzgerald’s likely success will come from a long ball as opposed to consistent production.

The Browns do have the second-ranked pass defense thanks to being thrown on a league-low 27.6 times per game thanks to their 31st-ranked rush defense (150.9 yards per game). So this could be a game where Beanie Wells gets going again.

You would hope the run game would open up room for Fitzgerald, but Haden knows he is taking on one of the game’s best for the first time in the NFL, and for the most part of 60 minutes per game this season he has not backed down from his responsibilities.

Fitzgerald is coming off a 7-for-149-1 TD game with a long of 53 in there against the 49ers. His other longs of the season include 73, 47, 66, 42 and 41. You have to lower your expectations against Haden, but you can’t sit a receiver like Fitzgerald.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> The Arizona Cardinals wide receiver could be held in check, but what can you do</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 08:53
Path: /news/if-james-starks-and-brandon-saine-are-out-play-ryan-grant-if-two-are-active-sit-both

Green Bay Packers running backs James Starks (ankle) and Brandon Saine (concussion) are game-time decisions in Week 15 against the Kansas City Chiefs. And this makes the status of the aforementioned as well as Ryan Grant completely up in the air in regards to their use in fantasy football.

It’s the semifinals of the fantasy football playoffs for most, and game-time decision is not something we like hearing this time of year. We are already biting our nails with every decision we make anyway, and having already had two games in the books on Thursday and Saturday that we may or may have not chosen wisely makes setting your rosters in the next few hours even more crucial.

I was completely off about Ryan Grant as the lead back last week against Oakland. Saine’s concussion certainly helped Grant get more looks, but he hadn’t done anything all season, the Packers’ backs hadn’t done anything all season and Grant busts off a 47-yard TD run in the first three minutes and then scores on a 6-yarder in the middle of the second quarter.

Grant finished with two scores and 85 yards on 10 carries. Starks’ one TD in Week 1 was the only other TD a Green Bay feature back had scored this season, and the Packers, despite beating teams by an average of 13.2 points per game coming into the Oakland beatdown, were 22nd in rushing attempts per game at 25.7 and 29th in rushing yards per game (96.5). Guess that philosophy changed against the 28th-ranked Raiders.

If Grant is the only back available in Week 15, you might as well roll with him again.

The Packers will be without No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings but have plenty of other targets for Aaron Rodgers to find and keep the offense moving just as efficiently as they have all season. And they should be up again on a Chiefs team that allows 23.5 points per game (23rd), 341.8 yards per game (15th), 209.3 yards per game in the air (10th) and 132.5 yards per game on the ground (26th).

The Chiefs are seventh worst against fantasy running backs this season and have allowed 133.4 yards rushing per game and 41 yards receiving per game with three scores to the position over the last five weeks.

But if Saine can return, he steals looks from Grant and has better hands out of the backfield. If Starks returns, we already know how that worked with Grant and Starks together — Grant was practically invisible.

Starks reportedly had trouble getting his ankle to respond this week and did not practice. Saine did not practice this week, either. If the 13-0 Packers feel they can get it done against the 5-8 Chiefs with Grant and fullback John Kuhn alone, and they should be able too, then there would be no reason for a playoff team to risk the health of their two younger backs.

This is one of those games where if all three are active I avoid all three as you did all season prior to Starks’ injury, but if Grant is the only one then he’s a must play as a flex at worst.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> The Green Bay Packers running back situation is tricky this week</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 08:48
Path: /news/joe-flacco-wont-score-over-16-fantasy-points-against-chargers

What do we do with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in Week 15 at San Diego?

A week after scoring 4.2 fantasy points against Cleveland, thanks to RB Ray Rice running wild, Flacco bounced back with 16.08 points against Indianapolis.

We could look at trends, if you put any stock in them, and how Flacco has done this season after scoring at least 16 points.

In four-point passing TD leagues, he scored 20.96 in Week 1 and followed with 9.88 at Tennessee. He scored 28.26 the next week at St. Louis and followed with 3.22. It then took until Week 11 for Flacco to reach at least 16 points, scoring 17.6 against Cincinnati, which he followed with 10.64 against San Francisco.

So the trend is three games above 16 fantasy points prior to last week and drop offs of 11.08, 25.04 and 6.96 the following weeks for an average drop of 14.36 points after 16-point performance.

Now he gets the Chargers, who are favorable to running backs over the last five weeks and ho-hum against quarterbacks.

Baltimore brings a hot RB in Ray Rice — 497 yards rushing, 177 yards receiving, 24 catches and four TDs in the last five weeks — and an average QB in Flacco that you never know what you’re going to get.

In the past five weeks against RBs, San Diego has faced C.J. Spiller (56 total yards), Maurice Jones-Drew (188 total yards and 1 TD), Willis McGahee (117 rushing yards), Matt Forte (85 total yards) and Michael Bush (242 total yards and 1 TD) for an average of 17.76 fantasy points in Athlon’s half-PPR scoring format. All told, the Chargers are 18th against fantasy RBs over the last five weeks.

In the last five weeks against QBs, the Chargers have faced Ryan Fitzpatrick (176 yards, 2 INTs), Blaine Gabbert (195 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT), Tim Tebow (143 yards, 1 TD), Jay Cutler (286 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 1 rushing TD) and Carson Palmer (299 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT). All told, the Chargers are 20th against fantasy QBs over the last five weeks.

So, again, what do we do with Flacco this week? Trends say he won’t produce. The Chargers defense is averaging right around, oddly enough, 16 points per game allowed to QBs the last five weeks.

There’s more upside to starting Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, Rex Grossman and Andy Dalton over Flacco because I think the chance of being guaranteed the 16 from these four is greater than hoping Flacco will be consistent enough to get there. Plus, the success Rice has had this season on the ground scares me away from the Raven QB.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> The Ravens quarterback should struggle against San Diego</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 07:35
All taxonomy terms: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings, News
Path: /news/can-you-trust-adrian-peterson-play-60-minutes-against-saints

Here we go again with Adrian Peterson, Week 15 and an injury in the fantasy football playoffs.

The Minnesota Vikings’ running back has missed the last three games with a high ankle sprain, and is expected to return today against the visiting New Orleans Saints.

Let’s not forget when we all thought Peterson would start in the fantasy playoffs in Week 15 of last season on a 5-9 Vikings team. He didn’t. We were left scrambling. And many a fantasy players’ season was abruptly ended as the Peterson-less Vikings fell 40-14 to the Chicago Bears.

That was a Monday night game against and we found out 45 minutes before kickoff that Peterson was a no-go. He practiced on the Saturday before the Monday night game but was a late scratch, and too late for many owners to try and slide Toby Gerhart into their starting lineups.

At least this week it is an early game and we will have enough time to make the adjustments if any news comes down.

Peterson was a full participant at practice but when you hear coach Leslie Frazier say “we’ll have to kind of work him in there,” and “we’ll have to monitor how he’s doing,” that doesn’t necessarily exude confidence in starting perhaps the best back in the NFL.

Frazier has said he is certain Peterson will start and his No. 1 back came out of a week of practices without soreness. But that is practice.

This is going up against a Saints defense that, is ranked 15th against the run and coming off a game in which they held Chris Johnson to 23 yards on 11 carries — and that’s a game the Titans were in until the last seconds. The Saints defense is also giving up the 30th most passing yards per game (268.0) on the fourth most attempts per game (39.1). So it could be the Vikings trying to go to the air to either stay in the game or try to get back into the game, because on the defensive side, Minnesota is 18th in yards per game allowed (350.2) and 30th in points allowed per game (28).

Peterson himself estimated on Friday that he was at 85 percent and everything looks like it’s a go for Sunday’s game against New Orleans. But this is Week 15. This is the semifinals for most. This is the time when we scrutinize every little thing in order to get your lineup just right in order to advance. And when you have a stud back returning from injury to play for a 2-11 team as big underdogs against a 10-3 New Orleans team it makes you wonder: Will he stay in the whole time? Will the Vikings be in the game long enough to keep the run game relevant?

My dilemma, in a non-PPR league with no flex, is Shonn Greene and Roy Helu on hot streaks, having already decided to start Felix Jones on Saturday night because the matchup was too enticing and now what to do with Adrian Peterson returning from injury.

I’ve never been a fan of “if you drafted them high then you start them,” but if Peterson says he is good to go then he’s good to go. And I will start him along side Felix Jones and hope to see them both in Week 16.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> The Vikings running back has a lot of fantasy owners worried in week 15</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 07:19
All taxonomy terms: Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers, News
Path: /news/frank-gore-only-flex-play-49ers

It’s hard to think Frank Gore is anything more than a flex running back this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

You would have to hope for the 49ers defense to force some turnovers deep on Pittsburgh’s side of the field — which is possible with the battered offensive line the Steelers must send out there Monday night, or Charlie Batch possibly starting at QB for Ben Roethlisberger — for Gore to have much chance at success.

San Francisco brings the seventh-ranked rushing offense (126.9 YPG) into the game to try and get past the Steelers’ sixth-ranked rushing defense (97.0 YPG) that has allowed just six TDs this season and only two to running backs since Week 5.

And you’d be hard pressed to think the 49ers’ 29th-ranked passing offense (182.1 YPG) will open up much for Gore as the Steelers are No. 1 in the league against the pass at 179.1 yards per game.

So you can thank Gore for staying relatively healthy as a second-round pick and producing four straight games of 19.4 points or more right before the midway point of the schedule and seven double-digit games altogether through 14 weeks this season. He is now battling knee and ankle injuries and has Pittsburgh to contend with in the semifinals of most fantasy football leagues.

When others tell you in the preseason, “in prepping for your draft, that you can’t look to the fantasy playoffs as part of your draft,” I’m here to tell you that’s wrong. Look who are still the top run defenses against fantasy running backs as we enter the semifinals: Baltimore’s No. 2, Pittsburgh’s No. 6 and the New York Jets are No. 7.

If you have a back facing one of these three defenses over the next two to three weeks, good luck.

Like Gore, hope that your guys did a good enough job to keep you afloat through the regular season and you drafted depth or built it on the waiver wire to be able to push names like Gore, Ryan Mathews and now Rashard Mendenahll having to face the No. 1 49ers rush and fantasy RB defense aside this week in order to slide in that depth this week as a starting RB1 or RB2.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> San Francisco's running back has a tough go against the Steelers</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 07:14
All taxonomy terms: Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans, News
Path: /news/chris-johnson-will-put-big-numbers-against-colts

It doesn’t get any better than this at the running back position does it? Chris Johsnon, the former 2,000-yard back, who can take it to the house on any play, going against the Indianapolis Colts and their 30th-ranked rush defense. And it’s in your semifinal week.

But let’s pump the brakes a bit.

Chris Johnson has almost been a rich man’s LeGarrette Blount this season. A few flashes here and there, but overall a disappointing fantasy season. He has just four games over 64 yards this season and three of those came in the last five weeks. He has four touchdowns this season and three of those came in the last five weeks.

So is he peaking or his he teasing? It’s hard to say. One thing that is for certain is he faced these same terrible Colts in Week 8, a 27-10 win by the Titans, and mustered up 34 yards on 14 carries and 17 yards on three catches. Unless you were in a full-PPR league, Johnson had barely been a flex play before his three explosions in Weeks 10, 12 and 13.

In those three weeks he rushed for 130 yards and a score against a pitiful Carolina defense, 190 yards against an even worse Tampa Bay defense and his high-water mark of the season — a 153-yard, two-TD game against a reeling Buffalo defense. CJ2K was back.

But in between those three explosions resurfaced the early 2011 CJ. He had 12 carries for 13 yards against Atlanta and last week he had 11 carries for 23 yards against a suspect New Orleans defense in a game the Titans were in until the final play.

So it leaves me wondering: Which CJ will we see today? Is it the one we loved two years ago, the one we liked last year or the one we are tolerating this season?

Coming off a dud against New Orleans and having only produced 51 total yards in a Week 8 matchup against Indy in Week 8 does not give me great confidence heading into the Week 15 matchup.

But the Colts have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to RBs in PPR leagues over the last five weeks and that’s with New England’s 21st-ranked rush offense in there. Since CJ’s bust against them in Week 8, the Colts allowed Michael Turner to gain 71 yards and a TD, Maurice Jones-Drew 114 yards and a TD, Carolina’s duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart 139 yards and two Williams scores and Ray Rice 103 yards and a score and six catches for 46 yards.

Javon Ringer was put on IR this week, leaving Jamie Harper as the backup. QB Matt Hasselbeck is ailing with a calf injury. All signs, and stats are pointing toward the Titans leaning on CJ a lot in this game, and he should be able to come through for you and them.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> The TItans running back will shake off inconsistencies against lowly Indianapolis</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 06:59
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Fiesta Bowl
Path: /college-football/greatest-fiesta-bowl-performances-bcs-era

-by Mitch Light (follow at @AthlonMitch)

With the 14th season of BCS bowl action about to take place, Athlon reviewed the tapes of the four (now five) biggest bowl games in college football. Since 1998, teams have been fighting to land a spot in the BCS and here are the players who made the most of their opportunities.

Here are the Top Fiesta Bowl Performances of the BCS Era:

5. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State, 2006
The Buckeyes won the Fiesta Bowl for the third time in four years thanks in large part to Smith’s exploits at quarterback. The junior completed 19-of-28 passes for a career-high 342 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 66 yards on 13 carries. Two Ohio State receivers, Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn Jr., topped the 100-yard receiving mark.

4. Alex Smith, QB, Utah, 2005
Running Urban Meyer’s spread option offense to near perfection, Smith led Utah to a 35–7 win over Pittsburgh that completed a perfect 12–0 season. The future No. 1 pick of the San Francisco 49ers completed 29-of-37 passes for 328 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions and added 68 yards on the ground. The Utes were the first team from a non-BCS conference to earn a spot in a BCS bowl.

3. Joey Harrington, QB, Oregon, 2002
Oregon was ranked No. 2 in the nation in both major polls but got squeezed out of the BCS National Championship Game in favor of Nebraska. Harrington and the Ducks’ offense took their frustrations out on Colorado, ranked No. 3 in both polls, in a surprisingly lopsided 38–16 win. Harrington completed 38-of-42 passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns, including a 79-yard strike to Samie Parker that tied the record for longest pass reception in Fiesta Bowl history.

2. Pat White, QB, West Virginia, 2008
A true dual-threat quarterback, White abused the Oklahoma defense with 150 yards rushing on 25 carries and 176 yards passing as the Mountaineers rolled up 525 total yards en route to a 48–28 win over the Big 12 champs. West Virginia was coached by Bill Stewart, who stepped in for Rich Rodriguez, who bolted for the top job at Michigan after the regular season.

1. Jared Zabransky, QB, Boise State, 2007
In what will always be remembered as one of the most exciting bowl games in history, Zabransky and the upstart Broncos stunned heavily favored Oklahoma, 43–42 in overtime, after converting a Statue of Liberty play into a two-point conversion on their first possession of the extra session. Zabransky finished the game with 262 yards passing and three touchdowns.

<p> Athlon Sports ranks the best Fiesta Bowl performances of the BCS Era.</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers, News
Path: /news/ryan-mathews-has-tough-match-hes-still-rb2

San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews is coming off three straight games of at least 112 yards rushing after four straight games under 112 total yards.

So which Mathews are we going to get Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15?

Well, the Ravens are ranked second in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (85.8). They have allowed just six rushing touchdowns all season and are No. 3 in scoring defense at 15.5 points allowed per game.

Hope for Mathews to get something done in the receiving game since it is unlikely he will have much success getting in the end zone — carries Mike Tolbert will likely steal anyway. Mathews has 45 catches on 53 targets for 420 yards and no scores this season. He racked up nearly half of those catches and a majority of those yards — 19 for 254 — in the first four weeks. And in those four games, he had rushing totals of 45, 64, 98 and 81.

Mathews finally broke threw with a 100-yard game in Week 5 against Denver, racking up 125 yards on 24 carries, but he managed just one catch for seven yards.

So the trend with Mathews is: if he’s rushing well he’s not catching much. If he’s not rushing well — say under the 85.8 the Ravens are allowing — then his catches are at least helping offset the lack of production as a runner. Mathews has been under 85.8 yards rushing in seven games this season and in those seven he’s averaged 4.3 receptions for 45.9 yards and 51 rushing yards for 12.7 fantasy points in Athlon’s half-PPR scoring format.

Look for Sunday night to certainly be a low-rushing day. The Ravens have only allowed two backs to get above the 85.8 rushing yards a game they allow — Maurice Jones-Drew had 105 yards in Week 7 and Marshawn Lynch had 109 yards and a score in Week 10. Four backs have at least 50 receiving yards against the Ravens since Week 6 — three of them coming since Week 10.

So there is hope for Mathews if he’s used as a runner and receiver, and the numbers on his poor rushing days suggest he can still get you to double digits.

It depends on what you want Mathews for this week. He is probably a mid-level RB2 who you start ahead of Marion Barber, Ryan Grant, Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, Rashard Mendenhall, C.J. Spiller, any Cleveland RB, any Kansas City RB.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> The Chargers will lean heavily on Ryan Mathews Against the Ravens</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 01:52
Path: /news/dez-bryant-will-be-odd-man-out-against-bucs-laurent-robinson-strong-play

Who is the fantasy odd man out for the Dallas Cowboys when they take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Week 15 game Saturday night?

Odds are it is receiver Dez Bryant.

In the year of “Gotta Eat,” not everyone can be fed on this Cowboys team despite the deliciously appetizing meal the Bucs statistically seem ready to serve up.

Laurent Robinson is not going away despite the return of a Miles Austin, who is still not 100 percent with his hamstring injury. Bryant will likely draw Tampa Bay’s top cornerback, Aqib Talib, who is expected to return from a hamstring strain that sidelined him last week. Jason Witten is still a premiere tight end and now the Cowboys run with all-purpose back Felix Jones.

So many players. So many matchups to exploit. Only one football. Only 60 minutes.

With the loss of power back DeMarco Murray, will Jones slide into that role with the same amount of carries? Will he get the same amount of touches, just more in the passing game? Will Dallas go to more three-receiver sets, making Robinson, Austin and Bryant all appealing plays the next few weeks of fantasy? Unfortunately it’s going to take semifinal week of the fantasy playoffs for the Cowboys to figure out what they want to do offensively. Or they could just exploit a bad Bucs defense however they want and it will change entirely in Week 16.

Jones is a great play as basically the only Dallas RB left. Tampa Bay has lost seven in a row, is ranked 28th in rushing yards allowed (139.7) on a sixth-most 30.2 attempts per game and are ranked last in touchdowns allowed (19).

As for Witten, he is averaging 10.79 fantasy points per game this season — ranked sixth at his position — and the Bucs have not really had to deal with too many top tight ends. The faced New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham in Week 6 and gave up seven catches for 124 yards on 11 targets and faced him again in Week 9 when he had six catches for 78 yards on eight targets. Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez is the only other TE to see at least eight targets, and he had two catches for 18 yards and a TD in Week 3’s 16-13 Falcons win. Witten has seen under eight targets just once in the last five weeks, and he caught five balls for 87 yards and a TD on six targets in that game vs. Baltimore.

So Jones and Witten should be safe to get theirs. That leaves Robinson, Austin and Bryant.

In fantasy you can’t sit the hot hand and Robinson has been that. His targets have dropped each of the last two weeks, but he continues to produce. Since Week 8, he has 50 targets, 32 catches, 530 yards and eight scores. Only in Week 13 did he not score, but still had 4-for-72.

Austin came back from his hamstring injury, and is still reportedly not 100 percent, but turned seven targets into four catches for 63 yards and a score. He had two catches for 53 yards in the Week 9 game against Seattle before re-injuring his hamstring early in the game. Clearly, he is still a favorite target of QB Tony Romo.

And that brings us to Bryant. He was targeted just two times last week, one week after being targeted a season-high 14 times with no Miles Austin in the lineup. He is always a threat to catch the deep ball — see his one catch for a 50-yard touchdown last week — but going against Talib and with so many mouths to feed in the Dallas offense, Bryant will have to be the one to lower your expectations for this week.

Talib has not necessarily lit the world on fire this season. He’s coming off a hamstring injury that’s sidelined him the last two games and Bryant could blow right past him in his return. But Talib has only allowed over 54 yards once since Week 4 and only two TDs in that same time.

Someone has to be the odd man out and stats point to Bryant.

The Cowboys have three receivers that can be the one-long TD type of players and even Jones can take one to the house from anywhere on the field. So it’s almost hope and pray for Bryant with all three receivers active.

I hope I’m wrong, because I have Bryant in two leagues, but unless the Cowboys and Romo put up Case Keenum-Houston Cougars numbers, someone is going to get a little less to eat Saturday night.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> Bryant will likely be the odd man out against Tampa Bay</p>
Post date: Saturday, December 17, 2011 - 13:35
Path: /news/legarrette-blount-not-trustworthy-start-against-cowboys

The running back situation in the NFL in Week 15 is pretty dire. Two of them have already played in Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner, and they were certainly started in most leagues. And here we are for a Saturday night game, nationally televised by the NFL Network, with a decision to make about Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount.

Starting Blount means there are two questions you have to ask yourself: Do you trust Blount? Do you trust that Bucs coach Raheem Morris will stick with him even in the likelihood that the Bucs will be down?

Tampa Bay has lost seven in a row and in those seven games Blount has cracked double digits in fantasy three times. In the four wins in six games before this losing streak, he cracked double digits twice, including his only 20-point game of the season against the last-place Colts. So five out of 11 games played he has double digits, six he doesn’t.

Plus, there is little margin for error when using Blount as there is a fumble issue that makes it an even smaller margin if your league takes away points for lost fumbles. Blount has fumbled nine times since entering the league last season and has lost six of them. Four of those fumbles, and three lost ones, have come in the last three games.

And now for the big HOWEVER.

The Cowboys are ranked 24th against fantasy running backs this season, and in seven games against sub-.500 teams Dallas has allowed an average of 74.7 yards rushing per game, 13.6 yards receiving per game on an average of 2.9 catches and four total TDs for an average of 13.7 fantasy points per game. Dallas is 6-1 in those games, winning by an average of 10.6 points.

So even in games the Cowboys are beating bad teams by 10.6 points, the high producers at RB of those teams are still collectively averaging 13.7 fantasy points.

I have Blount in a dynasty league and the only thing that gives me hope is he and the Bucs will be better in the near future; but as a week-to-week play he scares the daylights out of me. It’s said to forgive and forget in fantasy, but I cannot forgive the 1.9-point egg he laid against a terrible Carolina defense in Week 13 when the Bucs got down early and he had 11 carries for 19 yards. It came on the heels of back-to-back 100-yard games against the Packers and Titans when we had all but given up on Blount after three games of 34, 72 and 34 yards with no touchdowns. He bounced back with the 74-yard, goal line TD game last week for 12.5 fantasy points.

Again, it comes down to whether or not you trust Raheem Morris to continue to use Blount no matter what the score. If the numbers play out and you plan on using Blount as an RB3 or flex2, I would be happy with 13.7 points from that position in a playoff week. I’m just not sure I can go on that limb with a back that has burned me more than helped me,

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> Tampa Bay's running back could pay off big, but it's not likely</p>
Post date: Saturday, December 17, 2011 - 13:32
Path: /news/felix-jones-should-put-big-numbers-saturday

Felix Jones is back. And we are all clamoring to use the Dallas Cowboys’ running back in Saturday night’s Week 15 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

And why wouldn’t we? Tampa Bay has lost seven in a row, is ranked 28th in rushing yards allowed (139.7) on a sixth-most 30.2 attempts per game and are ranked last in touchdowns allowed (19).

But in the second NFL Network game of the week, are we going to see a matchup where a team clearly has the ability to run on the other but decides to do a lot of damage through the air? Along with Felix Jones at running back, Miles Austin, Laurent Robinson, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are no slouches offensively for the Cowboys.

Seems eerily familiar to the Atlanta-Jacksonville game on Thursday night where Michael Turner had a clear advantage, but had 19 carries for 61 yards and a short TD thanks to field position off a fumbled punt return by the Jaguars. Roddy White wound up with a 30.5-point day, Julio Jones had 17.6 fantasy points and Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez were relatively non-existent with 1.7 and 1.9 points.

The one difference for the Cowboys if they get up big, as opposed to the Falcons, could be that they have no other backs to really turn to. Jones is in there because DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner are on IR, Tashard Choice is long since gone and Sammy Morris was just signed off the street. So Jones, who recently returned from a high ankle sprain of his own, might have to be the opener, the set-up man and the closer for the Cowboys.

The Bucs have allowed the last four true feature backs they have faced to gash them.

Frank Gore went off for 125 yards and a score in Week 5; Matt Forte for 145 yards and a score in Week 7; Arian Foster 845 yards rushing and a score and 102 yards receiving and a score in Week 10 and Chris Johnson 190 yards in Week 12. In between, Carolina’s duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart had 138 total yards and a score in Week 13; New Orleans’ trio of Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory had 257 total yards and two scores in Week 9 and the Saints needed four players to combine for 109 yards and a score in Week 6.

Point being, they are easy to run on and have also given up 65 catches for 617 yards and four scores this season.

All signs point to Felix Jones being a great start. The question is: How great?

Do you start him in his first game back as the true feature back? He can’t be a power back but he can be the all-purpose back that the Bucs have certainly had trouble with this season?

So where does he rank this week? Does he go ahead of players like Shonn Greene and Roy Helu who have been hot as of late? Does he go ahead of an Adrian Peterson returning from an ankle injury against a Saints team likely to have their way with the Vikings?

I start Peterson ahead of him because he’s Peterson, but after that, Jones is a great play. He did average 99 total yards with two touchdowns over the final eight games of last season and saw those numbers dip this season before the injury to 63.6 total yards with just one TD. The lack of TDs is the only concern with Jones as the Cowboys certainly have plenty of other targets, but he should rack up plenty of yards against the Bucs.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

<p> The Cowboys running back should be in all starting lineups against the Bucs</p>
Post date: Saturday, December 17, 2011 - 11:25
Path: /college-football/college-football-bowl-predictions

Bowl season kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 17 in Albuquerque and ends on Jan. 9 in New Orleans with the BCS Championship. With 35 games on the docket, there's plenty of options to keep college fans interested over the next month.

Athlon's editors offer their predictions for all 35 games with a slight twist. The picks were made with confidence points, 1 being the least and 35 being the most. 

The six editors were split on the Rose Bowl, but all are picking Alabama to knock off LSU in the national championship. 

  Braden Gall Charlie Miller
New Mexico: Temple vs. Wyoming Wyoming (4) Wyoming (11)
Idaho Potato: Utah State vs. Ohio Utah State (5) Utah State (1)
New Orleans: SDSU vs. UL Lafayette UL Lafayette (6) UL Lafayette (20)
St. Petersburg: FIU vs. Marshall FIU (7) FIU (9)
Poinsettia: TCU vs. Louisiana Tech TCU (34) TCU (30)
Las Vegas: Boise State vs. Arizona State Boise State (35) Boise State (31)
Hawaii: Southern Miss vs. Nevada Nevada (8) Southern Miss (28)
Independence: North Carolina vs. Missouri Missouri (17) Missouri (8)
Little Caesars: Western Michigan vs. Purdue Purdue (23) Purdue (15)
Belk: Louisville vs. NC State Louisville (27) NC State (13)
Military: Air Force vs. Toledo Air Force (24) Air Force (12)
Holiday: California vs. Texas California (3) Texas (10)
Champs Sports: Florida State vs. Notre Dame Florida State (25) Florida State (18)
Alamo: Baylor vs. Washington Baylor (30) Baylor (33)
Armed Forces: BYU vs. Tulsa BYU (2) Tulsa (19)
Pinstripe: Rutgers vs. Iowa State Rutgers (22) Rutgers (6)
Music City: Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State Mississippi State (9) Mississippi State (29)
Insight: Iowa vs. Oklahoma Oklahoma (29) Oklahoma (32)
Meineke Car Care: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern Texas A&M (21) Texas A&M (24)
Sun: Georgia Tech vs. Utah Utah (20) Georgia Tech (2)
Liberty: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt Vanderbilt (33) Vanderbilt (21)
Kraft Fight Hunger: Illinois vs. UCLA UCLA (11) Illinois (14)
Chick-fil-A: Virginia vs. Auburn Auburn (26) Auburn (27)
TicketCity: Penn State vs. Houston Penn State (31) Penn State (17)
Outback: Michigan State vs. Georgia Georgia (16) Georgia (7)
Capital One: Nebraska vs. South Carolina South Carolina (12) South Carolina (4)
Gator: Ohio State vs. Florida Ohio State (15) Florida (3)
Rose: Wisconsin vs. Oregon Oregon (28) Wisconsin (5)
Fiesta: Stanford vs. Oklahoma State Stanford (1) Stanford (23)
Sugar: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech Michigan (19) Virginia Tech (16)
Orange: Clemson vs. West Virginia Clemson (14) Clemson (34)
Cotton: Kansas State vs. Arkansas Arkansas (32) Arkansas (26)
Compass: SMU vs. Pittsburgh Pittsburgh (10) Pittsburgh (25) Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State Northern Illinois (18) Northern Illinois (22)
BCS National Title: LSU vs. Alabama Alabama (13) Alabama (35)


  Steven Lassan Mitch Light
New Mexico: Temple vs. Wyoming Temple (6) Temple (31)
Idaho Potato: Utah State vs. Ohio Utah State (13) Utah State (32)
New Orleans: SDSU vs. UL Lafayette San Diego State (3) San Diego State (22)
St. Petersburg: FIU vs. Marshall FIU (30) Marshall (21)
Poinsettia: TCU vs. Louisiana Tech TCU (31) Louisiana Tech (4)
Las Vegas: Boise State vs. Arizona State Boise State (35) Boise State (35)
Hawaii: Southern Miss vs. Nevada Southern Miss (25) Southern Miss (9)
Independence: North Carolina vs. Missouri Missouri (24) Missouri (23)
Little Caesars: Western Michigan vs. Purdue Western Michigan (10) Purdue (24)
Belk: Louisville vs. NC State NC State (2) Louisville (10)
Military: Air Force vs. Toledo Air Force (15) Toledo (25)
Holiday: California vs. Texas Texas (11) California (2)
Champs Sports: Florida State vs. Notre Dame Florida State (29) Notre Dame (26)
Alamo: Baylor vs. Washington Baylor (33) Baylor (20)
Armed Forces: BYU vs. Tulsa BYU (16) Tulsa (11)
Pinstripe: Rutgers vs. Iowa State Rutgers (4) Rutgers (12)
Music City: Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State Mississippi State (34) Mississippi State (27)
Insight: Iowa vs. Oklahoma Oklahoma (32) Oklahoma (33)
Meineke Car Care: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern Texas A&M (21) Texas A&M (28)
Sun: Georgia Tech vs. Utah Georgia Tech (22) Georgia Tech (29)
Liberty: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt Vanderbilt (19) Vanderbilt (19)
Kraft Fight Hunger: Illinois vs. UCLA Illinois (1) UCLA (7)
Chick-fil-A: Virginia vs. Auburn Virginia (12) Virginia (8)
TicketCity: Penn State vs. Houston Penn State (7) Penn State (18)
Outback: Michigan State vs. Georgia Georgia (18) Georgia (5)
Capital One: Nebraska vs. South Carolina South Carolina (9) South Carolina (6)
Gator: Ohio State vs. Florida Ohio State (20) Ohio State (13)
Rose: Wisconsin vs. Oregon Wisconsin (5) Oregon (3)
Fiesta: Stanford vs. Oklahoma State Oklahoma State (23) Oklahoma State (17)
Sugar: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech Michigan (8) Michigan (16)
Orange: Clemson vs. West Virginia Clemson (27) Clemson (34)
Cotton: Kansas State vs. Arkansas Arkansas (28) Arkansas (30)
Compass: SMU vs. Pittsburgh Pittsburgh (14) Pittsburgh (14) Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State Northern Illinois (26) Northern Illinois (15)
BCS National Title: LSU vs. Alabama Alabama (17) Alabama (1)


  Mark Ross Patrick Snow
New Mexico: Temple vs. Wyoming Temple (34) Temple (27)
Idaho Potato: Utah State vs. Ohio Ohio (16) Utah State (17)
New Orleans: SDSU vs. UL Lafayette UL Lafayette (11) San Diego State (23)
St. Petersburg: FIU vs. Marshall FIU (33) FIU (18)
Poinsettia: TCU vs. Louisiana Tech Louisiana Tech (9) TCU (33)
Las Vegas: Boise State vs. Arizona State Boise State (35) Boise State (35)
Hawaii: Southern Miss vs. Nevada Southern Miss (17) Southern Miss (14)
Independence: North Carolina vs. Missouri North Carolina (1) Missouri (26)
Little Caesars: Western Michigan vs. Purdue Western Michigan (2) Purdue (8)
Belk: Louisville vs. NC State NC State (22) Louisville (7)
Military: Air Force vs. Toledo Air Force (3) Toledo (16)
Holiday: California vs. Texas Texas (4) Texas (19)
Champs Sports: Florida State vs. Notre Dame Florida State (28) Florida State (15)
Alamo: Baylor vs. Washington Baylor (25) Baylor (34)
Armed Forces: BYU vs. Tulsa BYU (21) BYU (13)
Pinstripe: Rutgers vs. Iowa State Rutgers (12) Rutgers (6)
Music City: Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State Mississippi State (30) Mississippi State (32)
Insight: Iowa vs. Oklahoma Oklahoma (23) Oklahoma (29)
Meineke Car Care: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern Texas A&M (32) Texas A&M (28)
Sun: Georgia Tech vs. Utah Utah (5) Utah (5)
Liberty: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt Vanderbilt (6) Vanderbilt (24)
Kraft Fight Hunger: Illinois vs. UCLA Illinois (29) UCLA (1)
Chick-fil-A: Virginia vs. Auburn Virginia (19) Virginia (9)
TicketCity: Penn State vs. Houston Penn State (20) Penn State (12)
Outback: Michigan State vs. Georgia Georgia (7) Georgia (22)
Capital One: Nebraska vs. South Carolina South Carolina (31) Nebraska (4)
Gator: Ohio State vs. Florida Florida (18) Ohio State (31)
Rose: Wisconsin vs. Oregon Oregon (15) Wisconsin (2)
Fiesta: Stanford vs. Oklahoma State Oklahoma State (26) Oklahoma State (21)
Sugar: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech Virginia Tech (8) Michigan (10)
Orange: Clemson vs. West Virginia Clemson (14) Clemson (20)
Cotton: Kansas State vs. Arkansas Arkansas (24) Arkansas (25)
Compass: SMU vs. Pittsburgh SMU (13) Pittsburgh (11) Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State Northern Illinois (27) Northern Illinois (3)
BCS National Title: LSU vs. Alabama Alabama (10) Alabama (30)

<p> Athlon's editors offer their predictions for all 35 bowl games.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Saturday, December 17, 2011 - 08:47
All taxonomy terms: USC Trojans, News
Path: /news/matt-kalil-leaves-nfl-draft-whats-next-usc-and-matt-barkley


USC’s 2012 national title hopes hinge squarely on the NFL decision of two players – quarterback Matt Barkley and left tackle Matt Kalil. The Trojans were dealt their first blow for next season on Thursday night, as Kalil decided to forego his final year of eligibility and will enter the NFL Draft. He is expected to be one of the first 15 picks off the board in April.

Barkley has yet to make a decision on his future, but most believe the two players are a package deal. However, the junior quarterback could still return to USC, but will be missing arguably his top offensive lineman next season.

Kalil’s departure is huge loss for a team that was just starting to find the right mix on the offensive line. The Trojans finished first tied for first nationally with just eight sacks allowed in 2011.

With a gaping hole at left tackle, USC could move Kevin Graf from the right side to fill Kalil’s spot. One bit of positive news for USC: The rest of the group should return intact. Center Khaled Holmes earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors this season and should be one of the top linemen in the conference in 2012. Also, guard Marcus Martin was one of the top freshman linemen in college football this year.

With Kalil’s decision out of the way, the focus shifts to Barkley. If he returns, the junior will likely be the Heisman frontrunner, as well as leading the Trojans to a top-five ranking in preseason polls. Considering USC has been on a bowl ban the last two years, there is an opportunity for Barkley to lead this team back to a BCS bowl or a spot in the national title game. But will that be enough for him to stick around?

Barkley is widely-regarded as the No. 2 quarterback on most draft boards, just behind Stanford’s Andrew Luck. And considering he would likely be one of the first five players selected in the NFL Draft, it’s unlikely he will return to Los Angeles for his senior year – especially with Kalil announcing his departure.

If Barkley goes to the NFL Draft as expected, three candidates will battle for the starting quarterback job in the spring: Jesse Scroggins, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek.

Even though all three candidates are inexperienced, the cupboard wouldn’t be totally bare for the new quarterback. The receiving corps is among the best in the nation, as Robert Woods and Marqise Lee should contend for All-American honors. Also, tight end Randall Telfer had a solid freshman campaign and figures to be a bigger part of the attack in 2012. The Trojans also have a good stable of running backs, led by Curtis McNeal and D.J. Morgan.

If Barkley joins Kalil as an early entrant into the NFL Draft, USC’s national title hopes will take a back seat in 2012. However, coach Lane Kiffin has done a good job on the recruiting trail and the talent in the program is back on the rise. Even if the Trojans aren’t a national title contender next year, with all of the coaching changes and turnover in the Pac-12 South Division, it’s very likely they will remain the favorite to play Oregon in the 2012 conference title game.  

<p> Matt Kalil leaves for NFL Draft - what's next for USC and Matt Barkley?</p>
Post date: Friday, December 16, 2011 - 14:16
Path: /college-football/arik-armstead-recruiting-update

-by Braden Gall (follow at @AthlonBraden)

The recruitment of the nation’s No. 4 prospect, two-way star lineman Arik Armstead, has been anything but smooth.

The 6-foot-7, 280-pound stud from Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove committed to the USC Trojans in June of 2010. His older brother, Armond Armstead, is currently a senior defensive end for the Trojans. However, after experiencing chest pains last spring, Armond was hospitalized briefly and held out of workouts. After many negative tests for every condition possible, Armond was redshirted and not cleared to play by USC.

Subsequently, Arik, the Athlon Consensus 100 No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in the nation, decommitted from USC shortly thereafter in October.

The Trojans are reportedly still in the mix, but time is running out for Lane Kiffin. Armstead has technically graduated (he has enough credits to enroll in college) and is set to enroll in the coming weeks. The elite prospect is also a star hoopster and will likely be playing on the hardcourt as the well as the gridiron in college. This aspect of his recruitment will also weigh heavily in his decision as he is seeking a quality basketball program.

Notre Dame's Brian Kelly, for example, has used head basketball coach Mike Brey to help recruit the stud lineman and claims that the youngster could be operating on a college roster as soon as he gets to campus. With the loss of Tim Abromaitis for the year to injury, Brey could certainly use another big body.

Armstead visited the Notre Dame Fighting Irish officially on October 21, the Alabama Crimson Tide on November 4 and the Oregon Ducks on November 18. He was on the Berkeley campus last weekend, letting Jeff Tedford and company court him. His final visit could come as early as this weekend at Auburn. It would be his fifth and final visit.

He claims that he has not eliminated anyone yet — leaving upwards of two dozen schools vying for his services. However, proximity and official visits are the two biggest indicators in recruiting. This would give Cal and Oregon the edge, obviously, over Notre Dame and the Yellowhammer programs. He will get all of his official visits out of the way so that he can spend the holiday break mulling it over before making his final decision. As an early enrollee and potential basketball star, fans won’t have to wait too much longer to see the big Pleasant Grove prospect in action.

Although he is listed as an offensive tackle, Armstead is just as likely to end up on defense. Very simply put, he is a huge prospect. He has incredible length and is a rangy athlete for a player who will line up in the trenches. And he has the power to match, as he simply overpowers blockers when on defense. He has solid “get-off” that translates well to both sides of the ball and shows quality agility/quickness for a player of his size. He has prototype size and athleticism for both positions. He can dominate the line of scrimmage no matter what side of the ball he is on.

Refining his technique and fundamentals will be huge for Armstead. Things like hand placement, pad level and footwork will all improve rapidly once he settles on a position. Even the experts are torn on whether he projects to the O-line or the D-line. In fact, has him listed as both the nation’s No. 1 offensive tackle and the nation’s No. 1 defensive end. Three of the ranking services have declared Armstead the top prospect in the nation, while clearly thinks the "least" of him at No. 29 overall.

How Armstead ranks:

ESPN: No. 15 overall, No. 2 offensive tackle
Rivals: No. 29 overall, No. 4 strongside defensive end
Scout: No. 1 overall, No. 1 offensive tackle
247Sports: No. 1 overall, No. 1 offensive tackle, No. 1 defensive end
O-D: No. 1 overall, No. 1 offensive tackle
NCSA: No. 3 overall, No. 1 defensive end

<p> Arik Armstead: Recruiting Update</p>
Post date: Friday, December 16, 2011 - 12:18