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All taxonomy terms: Gabrielle Douglas, News, Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympics-photo-day-us-gymnast-gabrielle-douglas
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London Olympics 2012 Photo of the Day

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

See more 2012 Olympics coverage.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Presents the Most Striking Images from London 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 10:49
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-awards-best-lockdown-cornerbacks
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Darrelle Revis was a superstar do-everything athlete at Pitt. He was an electric punt returner and team leader. But what got him paid in the NFL is his ability to smother the opposition's best receiving weapon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best of the Rest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

2012 College Football Awards:

Top 25 Heisman Candidates

The Nation's Top Pure Lockdown Cover Corners

Teaser:
<p> 2012 College Football Awards: Best Lockdown Cornerbacks</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC South, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL
Path: /nfl/tampa-bay-buccaneers-2012-nfl-team-preview
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Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers check in at No. 25.

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

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

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

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

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

Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Top Tampa Bay Buccaneers Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specialists

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

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

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

Final Analysis: 4th in the NFC South

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

Related: 2012 Tampa Bay Bucs Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

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

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

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

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

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@TBBuccaneers (Followers: 71,675)

Top Bucs To Follow:

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

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

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

The Buccaneers Beat:

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

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

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

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

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

Buccaneers Blog Roll:

The Tampa Bay Times has its own beat blog here, the Lakeland Ledger's beat here and SB Nation's blog at BucsNation.com.

ThePewterReport.com has a large following @PewterReport (7,404).

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

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

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

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

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

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

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

- by Braden Gall and Mark Ross

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Tampa Bay Buccaneers Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 07:30
Path: /college-football/big-easts-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
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Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Big East Content

Ranking the Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012
Ranking the Big East Linebacking Corps for 2012

Ranking the Big East Defensive Lines for 2012

College Football 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers

Ranking the Big East's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

Top 25 Big East Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Big East Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big East Team

Which Big East Teams Are on the Rise Heading into 2012?

Teaser:
<p> Big East's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 06:19
Path: /college-basketball/ranking-nations-top-college-basketball-coaches
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Through the last two weeks, Athlon Sports ranked each coach in the ACC, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC along with the top 20 coaches from outside those seven conferences.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

1. Tom Izzo, Michigan State

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

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

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

 

2. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke

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

Record at Duke: 854-232 (336-149 ACC)

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

 

3. John Calipari, Kentucky

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

Record at Kentucky: 102-14 (40-8 SEC)

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

 

4. Bill Self, Kansas

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

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

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

 

5. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

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

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

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

 

6. Rick Pitino, Louisville

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

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

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

 

7. Roy Williams, North Carolina

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

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

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

 

8. Billy Donovan, Florida

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

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

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

 

9. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

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

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

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

 

10. Brad Stevens, Butler

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

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

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

 

11. Mike Montgomery, Cal

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

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

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

 

12. Shaka Smart, VCU

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

Record at VCU: 84-28 (38-16 Colonial)

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

 

13. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh

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

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

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

 

14. Thad Matta, Ohio State

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

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

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

 

15. Sean Miller, Arizona

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

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

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

 

16. Bob Huggins, West Virginia

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

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

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

 

17. Tom Crean, Indiana

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

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

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

 

18. John Beilein, Michigan

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

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

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

 

19. Mark Few, Gonzaga

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

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

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

 

20. Buzz Williams, Marquette

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

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

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

 

21. Mike Brey, Notre Dame

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

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

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

 

22. Jim Calhoun, Connecticut

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

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

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

 

22. Ben Howland, UCLA

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

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

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

 

24. Matt Painter, Purdue

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

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

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

 

25. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt

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

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

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

 

26. Frank Martin, South Carolina

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

Record at South Carolina: first season

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

 

27. Rick Barnes, Texas

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

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

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

 

28. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma

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

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

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

 

29. Rick Majerus, Saint Louis

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

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

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

 

30. Leonard Hamilton, Florida State

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

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

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

 

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

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

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

Kiko Alonso, LB, Oregon Alonso was mostly known around the Pac-12 before 2011 for his off-the-field incidents. However, all of that appears to be in the rearview mirror after his performance last season. Although Alonso recorded only 46 tackles, he earned Rose Bowl Defensive Player of the Game honors and finished the regular season on a high note with an interception in the win over Oregon State. If Alonso can build off the momentum from the Rose Bowl, he should be one of Oregon’s top defenders.

Dion Bailey, LB, USC Fans around the Pac-12 are certainly familiar with Bailey, but expect him to emerge as a household name nationally in 2012. He redshirted in 2010 and moved from safety to linebacker in spring practice last season. The move paid big dividends for the defense, as Bailey’s emergence helped the Trojans rank 18th nationally against the run. He recorded 81 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions and earned Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honors last season. Bailey doesn’t have prototypical linebacker size, but his speed will be valuable against all of the passing offenses in the Pac-12.

Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona It’s a loaded year for running backs in the Pac-12, but Carey could finish near the top of the Pac-12 in rushing yards. Arizona returns all five starters on the offensive line, and new coach Rich Rodriguez is implementing his spread attack, which has produced big rushing totals at West Virginia and Michigan. Carey rushed for 425 yards and six touchdowns last season, while also catching 15 passes for 203 yards and two scores. With a full complement of carries (200 or more), look for Carey to easily surpass 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Deandre Coleman, DE, California The Golden Bears have produced two first-round picks on the defensive line in the NFL Draft in two out of the last three years. And all signs point to Coleman being the next standout California end. Playing in a 3-4 scheme won’t allow Coleman to post huge numbers, but in a backup role he recorded 19 tackles and two sacks last season. Look for the junior to emerge as one of the Golden Bears’ top defenders in 2012.  

Michael Eubank, QB, Arizona State Yes, Eubank has zero career starts, but it’s hard to ignore his talent and potential in Arizona State’s offense. At 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds, the redshirt freshman has the size to stand tall in the pocket but is also a terrific athlete to make plays on the move. Eubank will be asked to create plays with his feet, especially early in the year while he gets acclimated to life as a starting college football quarterback. Todd Graham’s high-octane offense was a bust at Pittsburgh, but the personnel is in place for Arizona State to score plenty of points in 2012 – provided the hype around Eubank is real.

Tony Jones, RB, Colorado Rodney Stewart has expired his eligibility after four successful years as Colorado’s starting running back. Jones played sparingly as a redshirt freshman last season, recording 297 yards and two touchdowns on 78 attempts. He was also a factor in the passing game, catching 27 passes for 168 yards and two scores. At 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds, the sophomore doesn’t have prototypical size to be an every down back – but neither did Stewart. Expect Jones to record 175-200 carries and he may have to carry the offense early in the year with a new quarterback taking over under center.

Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLANot only is Kendricks under pressure to repeat last year’s impressive performance as a freshman, but he also has to pickup where his brother (Mychal) left off at California. Mychal was the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, and the Bruins certainly hope Eric can produce that type of season in 2012. He ranked second on the team with 77 tackles and recorded two sacks. Kendricks is expected to patrol the middle of UCLA’s new 3-4 scheme and will be one of the conference’s top breakout players.

Andrei Lintz, TE/WR, Washington StateWith Mike Leach’s pass-first offense coming to Pullman, there should be plenty of receptions to go around in 2012. Marquess Wilson should be the go-to target for quarterback Jeff Tuel, but there’s plenty of room for Lintz to get involved. The senior has only eight receptions through the first three years of his career but could easily surpass those totals in the season opener. Lintz has spent his career in Pullman as a tight end but will slide to the slot receiver role in 2012. At 6-foot-5 and 249 pounds, the senior will be a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses.

Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon Don’t look now, but the Ducks have another dangerous weapon ready to unleash on opposing defenses. Lyerla caught only seven passes for 147 yards and five touchdowns last season but will be a bigger part of the offense in 2012. The sophomore is a great athlete and is speed/size combination will be a difficult matchup for opposing linebackers and safeties – provided Marcus Mariota or Bryan Bennett pickup where Darron Thomas left off under center.

Wayne Lyons, CB, Stanford The secondary was the weak link in the Cardinal’s defense last season. And the situation may not be much better in 2012, especially with safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas expiring their eligibility. Lyons was expected to play a key role in Stanford’s secondary last year but played in only two games due to a foot injury. At 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds, he has the size, speed and strength to matchup against some of the top receivers in the Pac-12.

Steven Manfro, RB, UCLAThe Bruins are set with Johnathan Franklin returning at running back, but Manfro created a buzz in UCLA’s spring practice. In the spring game, he rushed for 20 yards on two attempts but caught seven passes for 105 yards. Manfro likely won’t beat out Franklin for carries, but expect the redshirt freshman to play a significant role in the offense this season.

Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State Mannion is a known commodity to fans around the Pac-12, but he’s not a household name around the nation. He wrestled the starting job away from Ryan Katz early last year and finished with 3,328 yards and 16 touchdowns. As expected with a redshirt freshman, Mannion made a few mistakes (18 interceptions), but also threw five touchdowns over the last two contests of 2012. With a full offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback, Mannion should be more comfortable and all signs point to a much better sophomore season. Helping his cause will be a solid receiving corps, but the offensive line and rushing attack needs to be better in 2012.

Chris McCain, LB, California With Mychal Kendricks playing in the NFL, the Golden Bears need a new standout at linebacker. Despite missing three games due to injury, he recorded 29 tackles, 1.5 sacks and six tackles for a loss as a freshman in 2011. McCain has intriguing size (6-foot-6) and after playing well in his debut season, the California coaching staff hopes he can kick that up a notch in 2012.

Ty Montgomery, WR, StanfordThere’s no question the Cardinal will miss quarterback Andrew Luck but enough pieces return to expect another run at a double-digit win season. Montgomery did most of his damage in the second half of last year, finishing with 24 receptions for 350 yards and two touchdowns. To help take the pressure off of new quarterback Brett Nottingham, Stanford will lean on its rushing attack but also needs to take some shots downfield. Montgomery is a big-play threat and his performance in the second half of 2012 suggests he could push for 50 receptions. 

Eric Rowe, S, UtahWith an abundance of solid quarterbacks and receivers, it’s not easy starting as a freshman in the secondary in the Pac-12. Rowe did exactly that last year, recording 69 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and one interception. He will team with junior Brian Blechen to form one of the conference’s top safety combinations. Although Rowe likely won’t be a household name by the end of 2012, expect the sophomore to push for all-conference honors.  

Matt Scott, QB, Arizona With Nick Foles firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback last year, former coach Mike Stoops made the right decision to redshirt Scott. The senior has one more year of eligibility and should breakout with an opportunity to play in Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense. Scott has averaged 6.6 yards per carry on 99 career attempts and completed 114 of 176 throws for 1,301 yards and six touchdowns. With his experience and mobility, Scott should be a good fit in Arizona’s new offense.

Xavier Su’a-Filo, OT, UCLA The Bruins have been struggling to find the right combination on the offensive line over the last few years but will get a boost with the return of Su’a-Filo from a two-year Mormon mission. As a true freshman in 2009, he started all 13 games and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. Su’a-Filo may need a few games to knock off the rust, but he should contend for a spot on the All-Pac-12 team by the end of the year.

Randall Telfer, TE, USCWith Robert Woods and Marqise Lee headlining the receiving corps, it’s not easy for Telfer to get much recognition. In his freshman campaign last year, he nabbed 26 receptions for 273 yards and five touchdowns. Telfer also earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2011. It’s a good year for tight ends in the conference, as Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins and UCLA’s Joseph Fauira are All-American candidates, while there’s plenty of depth with Stanford’s Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz returning. Telfer may not earn first-team all-conference honors but he will be a much bigger factor in USC’s offense in 2012.

Shaq Thompson, S, WashingtonIf Washington wants to have any shot at competing for the Pac-12 North title, the defense has to show major improvement from 2011. Although the Huskies probably aren’t ready to lean on their defense to win games, this unit should be much better in 2012. New coordinator Justin Wilcox is an improvement over Nick Holt, and Thompson’s arrival gives Washington a difference maker in the secondary. He ranked as the No. 6 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and will be expected to start from the opening snap.

George Uko, DT, USC – With the departures of Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris at tackle, the interior of the line is a big concern for coordinator Monte Kiffin. Uko was a top 100 recruit coming out of high school and was a key member of the line rotation in 2011. He recorded 18 tackles and two starts, while also earning 1.5 sacks. Uko is expected to step in the starting lineup and will be a key cog in USC’s rush defense in 2012.

Kasen Williams, WR, Washington With Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar expiring their eligibility, quarterback Keith Price will have a new No. 1 wide receiver. All signs point to Williams stepping into that role, especially after catching 36 passes for 427 yards and six touchdowns last season – as a true freshman. As a sophomore, Williams should have a much better grasp of the offense and should easily surpass last year’s totals.

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Related Pac-12 Content

College Football's 20 Worst Coaching Tenures of the last 50 Years
Ranking the Pac-12's Linebacking Corps for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Athlon's 2012 All-Pac-12 Team

Top 25 Pac-12 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 Football's Breakout Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Illinois Fighting Illini, Big Ten, News
Path: /news/illinois-coach-tim-beckman-sings-seventh-inning-stretch
Body:

Illinois coach Tim Beckman was a busy man last week. The Big Ten held its annual media days in Chicago on Thursday and Friday, and Beckman made an appearance at Wrigley Field on Saturday to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh inning stretch.

Sing might be a generous word.

Beckman was a good coach at Toledo and appears to be a good fit at Illinois but let's just say his singing needs a little bit of work. Beckman's seventh inning stretch at Wrigley isn't the worst, but we don't think this one will go on Illinois' highlight reel this year.

Teaser:
<p> Illinois Coach Tim Beckman "Sings" Seventh Inning Stretch</p>
Post date: Sunday, July 29, 2012 - 23:57
All taxonomy terms: College Football, College Basketball, NFL, NBA, MLB
Path: /college-football/athlon%E2%80%99s-essential-eleven-links-day-9
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for July 27.

• Former NFL player and current agent Ralph Cindrich appeared on a Pittsburgh radio show and essentially accused Alabama coach Nick Saban of cheating.

• Not only were the United States’ Olympic uniforms made in China, but you can’t find anyone that actually likes the way they look. No word yet if the athletes will have their names on the berets like Rusty from European Vacation.

• Staying with unusual looks, check out Nebraska’s alternate uniform for the Wisconsin game this season.

• Joe Lucia looks at ten top targets who could be moved soon with MLB’s trade deadline approaching rapidly.

• A 48-year man in Oklahoma City repeatedly told police that he was Justin Bieber while being arrested.

• All eyes were on new Denver quarterback Peyton Manning on the first day of Broncos training camp.

• Next season’s NBA schedule was released. The opening-night tripleheader will be headlined by the Celtics meeting the Heat and Steve Nash debuting in Los Angeles.

• Slate.com has a great interactive piece on how Olympians compare over time.

• Apparently Diamondbacks pitcher Trevor Bauer likes to rap. Good thing he has a ton of pitching potential.

• Bears defensive back D.J. Moore decided to reach out to his fans to borrow a television for training camp.

• The fun/nightmare has already started at Jets training camp, as the New York media wades through the Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow quarterback competition. Check out what one reporter says to Sanchez…

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


July 26

• Jaguars management has stated that Maurice Jones-Drew will not get a new contract with two years left on his current deal, so the Pro Bowl running back will not report to training camp.

• Who would not want a ‘Zim Bear’ from the Tampa Bay Rays?

• Wow, a Gary and Ace sighting.

Northwestern’s new uniforms are a little different.

• Mark Ennis of Big East Coast Bias has an interesting piece on Charlie Strong and Louisville using preseason predictions as motivation.

• Bleacher Report’s Michael Felder looks at an excellent recruiting start for Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, who is trying to majorly upgrade his talent level on defense.

• So apparently Audrina Patridge’s bikini is “causing a commotion” on Twitter. After extensive research, we see no reason for controversy.

• Will USC coach Lane Kiffin pilfer leading rusher Silas Redd off of the Penn State roster?

• Gawker breaks down entertainment’s craziest family, the Jacksons.

• It looks like NFL management may be giving up on expanding to an 18-game schedule.

Eccentric San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson is out for the season due to injury, so he has plenty of time on his hands. And Sasqutach from the Jack Links ads is tired of getting punked out in the woods. So naturally, they decided to have a talk show together.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


July 25

• Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was hit in the hand by a pitch last night in Seattle. The fracture will likely cost the three-time MVP at least six weeks on the disabled list.

• The Dodgers new ownership promised big things when took over earlier this season, and that started last night with their acquisition of three-time All-Star Hanley Ramirez.

• Oh, the irony.

• Panthers center Ryan Kalil lets us know that Carolina will win this year’s Super Bowl.

• CBS’ Jon Heyman has all the details on Phillies star pitcher Cole Hamels signing a contract extension to stay in Philadelphia.

The Dark Knight Rises star Christian Bale visits with victims of the Aurora tragedy.

• ESPN blogger David Ubben has the latest and greatest from Big 12 Media Days.

RIP George Jefferson.

• The U.S. Olympic basketball easily handled Spain last night in what could be the gold-medal game in London.

• U.S. women’s soccer goalie Hope Solo’s autobiography comes out in August. The Olympian details a rough childhood and says that she was conceived during a conjugal visit.

• A group of Penn State football players decided to make a statement on their commitment to the program after the massive NCAA sanctions that were handed down earlier this week.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


July 24

• The decision for some top Penn State players of whether or not to transfer could have a big impact on the 2012 college football season.

• Ichiro Suzuki may have faded from his former All-Star level with the Mariners over the last couple of seasons, but he could be a valuable asset to the Yankees.

• Check out the unique and inspiring story of former Iowa State marathoner Guor Marial, a Sudanese refugee who will compete in the 2012 Olympics in London as an independent athlete.

• Michigan has unveiled a special uniform for the huge season-opener in Dallas versus defending national champion Alabama.

• Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee ranks the SEC’s head coaches.

• Leave it to Jack Daniel’s to write the nicest cease-and-desist letter ever.

• Jim Young shares some entertaining stories from ACC Media Days.

• The Marlins dealt veterans Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to the Tigers yesterday. Could shortstop Hanley Ramirez be leaving Miami next?

• As expected, USC and Oregon were picked overwhelmingly by the Pac-12 media to win their respective divisions.

• After all of the craziness involving Dwight Howard this offseason, the Magic may not move him.

• When the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes of the CFL get together, the excitement level is going to be high. We all know that. But former New Mexico State and current Ti-Cat receiver Chris Williams loses his cool and celebrates a little early on this return.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


July 23

• The NCAA delivered its sweeping sanctions on the Penn State football program today.

• The NCAA is often criticized, but many around the country believe the controversial organization got it right when it comes to Penn State’s punishment.

• ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg looks at the damaging effect of Penn State’s scholarship reductions.

• The Chicago Cubs dressed as “Superheroes” in St. Louis on Sunday. They may have looked super but played more like Nick Fury, getting outscored 23-1 in a weekend of getting swept by the Cardinals.

• Peyton Manning and the Broncos have reached out to the victims of the Aurora tragedy.

• Mandatory.com looks at some unusual past Olympic events. Solo synchronized swimming?

• The SI Golf Group breaks down the dramatic British Open finish, from Adam Scott’s collapse to the win for Ernie Els to what it means moving forward.

• The Oakland A’s swept the Yankees over the weekend and have gone 14-2 in the month of June.

• So Chad Johnson Ochocinco is now back to, well, Chad Johnson.

• The pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona (now Roberto Hernandez) must serve a suspension for using a false identity. His Indians teammates welcomed Hernandez back with three birthday cakes.

• Boxer Adrien Broner looked like he was going for a marriage proposal after his recent fight, but this happened instead.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 

Teaser:
<p> The best sports links from the NFL, college football and basketball, MLB, the NBA, NASCAR and the world of entertainment.</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 11:58
All taxonomy terms: News, Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympics-are-here
Body:

The 2012 Summer Olympics: What to Watch, July 27
The Opening Ceremony
Time: 7:30 pm Eastern (tape delay), NBC


Years of preparation and months of hype are finally giving way to actual competition, but today's highlight is undoubtedly the Opening Ceremony kicking off the Games of the XXX Olympiad (careful when you Google that phrase, by the way).

In addition to the entrance of hundreds of athletes and the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron that will burn for the next fortnight, the Opening Ceremony is designed to showcase the culture of the host country, so it's no surprise that Londoners have chosen to feature two of England's most significant cultural contributions: James Bond and the Beatles. Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire) has assembled an extravaganza titled "The Isles of Wonders," and among those wonders will be a major role for actor Daniel Craig, best known for portraying James Bond, and a performance from Beatle Sir Paul McCartney that will close the night.

In between, there are reports that 70 sheep will take part in the ceremony, along with a few horses, chickens and sheep dogs. Seriously. Draw your own conclusions.

Bookmark this Site
In addition to checking back with Athlon Sports for daily updates on what to watch and what you might have missed, check this site for real-time updates on record-setting performances, courtesy of our friends across the pond at The Guardian.

Teaser:
<p> James Bond and a Beatle Headline Opening Ceremony</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 11:51
Path: /nascar/pennells-picks-pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-brickyard-400
Body:

After a well-deserved off week, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the famed yard of bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for this weekend's Crown Royal presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard.

The annual Brickyard 400 is considered one of the most prestigious races of the season by those in the garage area. In 18 visits, 11 drivers have put their name on the winner's trophy at the famed speedway, seven of them former series champions. Winning at Indianapolis is no simple feat, and will rank among the most important victories in a driver's career.

Veteran Jeff Gordon knows just how special it is to score a victory at IMS. The Hendrick Motorsports driver won the inaugural event in 1994, and has since gone on to collect a total of four Brickyard 400 wins, the most among all Cup drivers.

In last year's event, Gordon had one of the strongest cars in the field, leading 36 of the 160 laps. While he had plenty of fuel to make it to the end, his task was to chase down leader Paul Menard, who was attempting to stretch his fuel mileage to the end. Gordon charged nearly to the back bumper of Menard's No. 27 Chevrolet, but was forced to settle for second as Menard went on to score his first career Sprint Cup Series victory.

As the season moves to Indianapolis this weekend, Gordon is mired in 17th in the series standings and running out of time if he wants to be a part of the championship battle in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. An up-and-down season has left him scratching his head for answers, it seems things have finally started to fall into place for Gordon and his Alan Gustafson-led team.

Since their 35th-place showing at Darlington in May, Gordon’s No. 24 team has scored five top 10s in the last eight races — moving him from 24th in points to 17th. Headed to one of his best tracks (he holds the second-best average finish), the four-time champion is in dire need of a win. Going off their notes from last year, look for the veteran to record his name in the record books again and kiss the bricks for the fifth time.

If Gordon wants to score that all-important fifth Brickyard 400 win and join the in Chase wild card discussion, he will have to beat teammate Kasey Kahne and defending series champion Tony Stewart.

Kahne started on the outside of the front row in last year's event, led 48 laps, but was foiled in the fuel mileage gamble in the closing laps and finished 18th. This season, Kahne has been making the most of his time at Hendrick Motorsports, scoring two wins, including the last Cup Series race at Loudon two weeks ago.

While Gordon may hold the most wins at Indianapolis, Stewart holds the best average finish among active drivers (8.1). The former open-wheel star has two wins at the Brickyard and has finished inside the top 10 in nine of his 13 starts. This season Stewart and his Steve Addington-prepped team have three wins, and this organization knows how to step up when it matters most. It’s safe to say that anytime the circuit hits the brickyard, Stewart is on everyone’s radar.

Five Favorites: Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth

Richard Childress Racing's Kevin Harvick has flown a bit under the radar thus far in the 2012 season, but that is about to change as the series heads closer to the Chase. Currently sitting sixth in the championship standings, Harvick has three top 5s and nine top 10s through the first 19 races.

The proud new father has been solidly consistent this year, finishing outside the top 20 on only two occasions. Harvick is the 2003 Brickyard 400 champion and also holds the third-best average finish (10.0) among active drivers.

Although it appears Harvick is a safe bet to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, a win would go a long way when the 12-driver field is reset following Richmond in September. Look for Harvick and his Shane Wilson-led crew to contend for that win on Sunday.

Whenever any form of motorsports heads to Indianapolis, one name stands above the rest is Roger Penske. The famed team owner has a total of 15 victories in the Indianapolis 500, but is searching for his first NASCAR victory at the yard of bricks.

While the majority of attention surrounding this organization has focused on AJ Allmendinger’s failed drug test and the fallout from that announcement, Brad Keselowski is set to put the attention back where it belongs: on the track.

“It definitely gives you a sense of pride when you go to Indy as a member of Penske Racing," Keselowski said. "You look at everything Mr. Penske has been able to accomplish there in open-wheel racing. It would be one of the coolest things I could ever do in a racecar if I could get him his first win in the Brickyard 400. I really think we have a good chance to do that on Sunday.”

Keselowski is among the best in the garage at overcoming adversity and rising to the occasion at the most significant times, and this week should be no different. At the famed speedway, Keselowski holds the 10th-best average finish (14.0) and was ninth in last year's race.

With three wins to his credit in 2012, Keselowski is 10th in the championship standings, but in search of more victories. Overcoming adversity and stepping up on the sport's biggest stages are among Keselowski's most notable attributes, so look for a solid day out of the No. 2 team this weekend.

The defending Brickyard 400 winner, the aforementioned Menard, was able to score that illusive first career Sprint Cup Series victory last year by stretching his fuel mileage to the end, but result was no fluke, as he also had one of the strongest cars of the day. Only once has the defending race winner gone on to win the following year at Indianapolis (Jimmie Johnson, 2008 and ’09), but could Menard be the second?

Much like in 2011, Menard is currently on the outside of the top 10 in championship standings in 15th. With time running out before the Chase field is set, a win would once again put Menard solidly in the wild card discussion heading to Richmond.

Five Undervalued Picks: Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer

It is not often that a former race winner at a track is a darkhorse pick, but considering the type of season Jamie McMurray and his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, are having, it is hard not to consider them as such.

McMurray, the 2010 Brickyard 400 winner, has the seventh-best average finish (13.1) among active drivers with one win, three top 5s and five top 10s. McMurray was fourth in last year's event, but has finished outside the top 15 on four occasions.

This season, however, both McMurray and Montoya have been out to lunch. After a host of internal changes during the offseason, the expectations were high for team owner Chip Ganassi, however his cars currently sit 20th and 21st in the championship standings.

Of course, this is Indy, and much like fellow team owner Penske, Ganassi expects to run well here. Montoya has been a contender throughout the years in the Brickyard 400, only to have mistakes on pit road and accidents ruin solid runs. In fact, aside from finishing second in his first attempt at Indy in a stock car in 2007, Montoya has finished 28th or worse in three of his five starts.

This weekend, however, the Ganassi teammates are running in Friday’s Grand-Am Road Racing Series at Indy. Whether this will take away or contribute to the team's overall effort is up for debate.

Another former Indianapolis 500 winner you may want to keep an eye on is Penske Racing's Sam Hornish Jr. Taking the reins of the No. 22 Dodge from the suspended Allmendinger, Hornish now has the rare opportunity at a second chance in the Sprint Cup Series.

Hornish has struggled to adjust to the unexpected promotion to Cup over the past two races, but at a track he is comfortable racing at, perhaps this team will come into their own with Hornish as their driver this weekend at Indianapolis.

Five Darkhorse Picks: Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sam Hornish Jr., Regan Smith, Jeff Burton

If there is one certainty for this weekend's race at Indianapolis, perhaps it is going with Chevrolet drivers on your fantasy lineup. Since the Cup Series has been racing at IMS, the bowtie brigade has won 13 of 18 races, including the last nine events.

Among the most unique tracks on the schedule, the key to success at Indy will be a solid setup that makes the car work well throughout all four of the track's unique corners. Fuel mileage was a deciding factor in last year's race, and may play a major role in this year's race as well.

Best of luck to all the fantasy racers out there this weekend, and if you win, don't think twice about going out and kissing the bricks on your patio.

Best Average Finish at Indianapolis (Wins):
1. Tony Stewart — 8.1 (2)
2. Jeff Gordon — 9.1 (4)
3. Kevin Harvick — 10.0 (1)
4. Carl Edwards — 11.0 (0)
5. Clint Bowyer — 11.8 (0)
6. Mark Martin — 12.9 (0)
7. Jamie McMurray — 13.1 (1)
8. Greg Biffle — 13.1 (0)
9. Kyle Busch — 13.1 (0)
10. Brad Keselowski — 14.0 (0)


by Jay Pennell
Follow Jay on Twitter: @JayWPennell

 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkorses for your Fantasy NASCAR team as the series heads to the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400.</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 11:27
All taxonomy terms: Arizona Cardinals, NFC, NFC West, NFL
Path: /nfl/arizona-cardinals-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

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 Arizona Cardinals check in at No. 26.

There’s only one storyline for the Arizona Cardinals this season: Can Kevin Kolb play? The Cardinals have the pieces in place — an emerging defense, a dynamic receiving combo, two quality backs — to challenge the San Francisco 49ers for supremacy in the NFC West. But none of that will matter if Kolb isn’t the quarterback the Cardinals thought he was when they acquired him from the Philadelphia Eagles before the 2011 season. It’s not that the Cardinals have lost faith in Kolb; they just haven’t seen enough to know whether he’s the long-term answer at quarterback or the embodiment of a disastrous trade.

If Kolb can play like he did when he outperformed Michael Vick to be the Eagles’ opening day starter in 2010, the Cardinals have the talent around him to be a playoff team. If he’s the skittish, injury-prone quarterback he was last season, the franchise will be set back five years.

Offense

With the exception of the unproven Kolb, the Cardinals certainly have the skill players to be a force in the NFC. The first-round selection of Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd gives Arizona a much-needed No. 2 receiver and, more important, should provide Larry Fitzgerald more room to operate in the middle of the field. The Cardinals didn’t have anyone who could stretch a defense, so opponents would simply shift a safety to Fitzgerald’s side and double-team him every play. Floyd’s presence should counter that gambit.

The one-two punch also exists in the backfield. Beanie Wells is a powerful runner who played through pain to rush for 1,047 yards last season. He can make tacklers miss and is a powerful goal line threat. He might not get as many carries this year, however, because of the presence of second-year pro Ryan Williams, who missed all of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. The Cardinals were raving about Williams’ home run ability during training camp. He and Wells give Arizona the best running back combination in the NFC West.

The questions, of course, are whether Kolb can get the ball to Fitzgerald and Floyd, and whether the much-maligned offensive line can keep the quarterback upright and open enough holes for Wells and Williams.

Kolb has the talent. But he needs to stay in the pocket longer rather than run at the first sign of trouble. He also needs to be more accurate with his throws. In his first season as a starter, Kolb completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 1,955 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in nine games.

Of course, Kolb’s skittishness is also due to the fact the line provided him little protection. Arizona should be solid up the middle, but Levi Brown has to provide better protection at left tackle, and the Cardinals have to hope fourth-round draft pick Bobby Massie can play immediately at right tackle. Otherwise, Kolb will be running for his life again, and the talents of Fitzgerald, Floyd, Wells and Williams will go to waste.

Related: Top Arizona Cardinals Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Few people outside of Arizona may have noticed, but the Cardinals were one of the better defenses in the league the second half of the 2011 season. They didn’t allow more than 23 points in any of the final eight games after giving up 20 points or more in six of the first eight games.

The transformation, which occurred when the players became more comfortable playing the blitzing, pressure schemes of defensive coordinator Ray Horton, is why Arizona went 7–2 over its final nine contests.

Arizona has deluxe playmakers at all three levels: Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell up front, soon-to-be-All-Pro Daryl Washington at inside linebacker, and safety Adrian Wilson and cornerback Patrick Peterson in the secondary.

There are a couple of concerns on the defensive side of the ball. Nose tackle Dan Williams has yet to play up to his status as the club’s first-round pick in 2010. He has the talent to be an elite run-stuffer, but he needs to lose weight and take the game more seriously.

Also, the Cardinals didn’t have a single player with double-digit sacks in 2011, so it’s imperative young outside linebackers Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield provide some pressure. Acho could have a breakout year. He had seven sacks as a rookie, and the coaching staff raves about his intelligence and approach to the game.

The Cardinals also need to force more turnovers, which should happen naturally as the defense matures. Arizona had just 10 interceptions and 12 forced fumbles.

Specialists

The Cardinals have arguably the best return game in the NFL. The new kickoff rules somewhat negated the impact of LaRod Stephens-Howling, but he’s still a threat to go long every time he touches the ball.

There’s no arguing the point that Peterson is the best punt returner in the world. All he did as a rookie was return four punts for touchdowns, tying an NFL record. Peterson has no fear — one of his returns was a 99-yarder in overtime to beat the St. Louis Rams — and if he makes the first tackler miss, watch out. It will be a shock if teams punt the ball to him this year.

Arizona’s kicking game isn’t quite as dramatic, but it’s solid. Dave Zastudil averaged 45.2 yard per kick and dropped 24 punts inside the 20. Veteran placekicker Jay Feely made 19-of-24 attempts, but he missed two of six from 30-39 yards. That shouldn’t happen.

Final Analysis: 3rd in the NFC West

It’s almost impossible to predict how the Cardinals will fare, because the uncertainty at quarterback is so great. But in some ways, this is a make-or-break year for Arizona. If Kolb performs well, Arizona should make the playoffs and challenge the 49ers for first place in the NFC West. If he doesn’t, Arizona likely will release him after the season and start anew its search for a franchise quarterback.

There’s also some question whether the regime of coach Ken Whisenhunt will survive if the Cardinals stumble to a third straight non-winning season. Whisenhunt is a quality coach and has brought some much-needed stability — and success — to the organization, but it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, and team president Michael Bidwill isn’t the most patient of men.

Here’s the best-case scenario for this season: Kolb settles down, Arizona’s offensive line is just good enough to give him time to get the ball to Fitzgerald and Floyd, and the Cardinals make the playoffs as a wild card.

Related: 2012 Arizona Cardinals Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Tweet This
The Cards never know what defensive tackle Darnell Dockett will say on his Twitter account, which is why it’s so fun to follow. In 140 characters, he’ll ruminate about the Cardinals, the NFL, social issues, his body, fashion, etc. His Twitter isn’t for the politically correct crowd, but for a few laughs — and groans — @ddockett is the place to be.

Growing Up
First-round draft pick Michael Floyd was suspended from the Notre Dame football team after a drunk driving incident. But by all accounts Floyd learned from his mistake and matured both as a person and a leader. Rather than enter the supplemental draft, he stayed in school for his senior year and earned his degree in sociology.

Role Model
Floyd couldn’t have found a better home than the Cardinals. Arizona desperately needed a No. 2 receiver, and he already had formed a tight bond with wideout Larry Fitzgerald. Both players are from Minnesota, and the two have worked out together. Fitzgerald will take Floyd under his wing and give him a place to live: Fitz has let several teammates stay with him in the past.

What Did They Talk About?
In April, former Soviet Union head of state Mikhail Gorbachev was in the Valley to speak at a fundraiser for the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Gorbachev needed to get to New York after the speech, and lo and behold, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill, who’s a licensed pilot, was heading there in his private plane. So, he gave Gorbachev and his party a lift.

Favorable Slate
The Cardinals should send a bouquet of roses to the NFL schedule-maker. Arizona plays three of its first four games at home; it has consecutive road games just once; and it caught favorable dates for two possible cold-weather games: It’s at New England on Sept. 16 and at Green Bay on Nov. 4. The only downside to the schedule: Only three of the final eight games are at home.

Levi’s Coming
Fans were surprised when the Cardinals re-signed left tackle Levi Brown in the offseason. Brown hasn’t lived up to expectations since being selected with the fifth overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, and the prevailing wisdom was both sides needed to part ways. But Arizona didn’t think there was a better option in free agency, and Brown said there was “unfinished business” in Arizona.

A “Big” Steal?
The Cardinals may have lucked out when Ole Miss tackle Bobby Massie fell to them in the fourth round. Massie was projected to be a second-round pick. The 6'6", 316-pound Massie will get every opportunity to be the starting right tackle, and he’ll have plenty of motivation. He was mystified by his drop in the draft and said, “It just makes me hungry.”

The Nickname
Running back/kickoff returner LaRod Stephens-Howling has one of the coolest monikers in the NFL. He’s known as The Hyphen. Simple, but sweet.

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: Mon., July 30

Order your 2012 Arizona Cardinals Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Arizona Cardinals Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Arizona Cardinals Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Arizona Cardinals 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 08:05
All taxonomy terms: Arizona Cardinals, NFC, NFC West, NFL
Path: /nfl/arizona-cardinals-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

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 Arizona Cardinals official twitter account:

@AZCardinals (Followers: 19,285)

Top Cardinals To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 27, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
  Larry Fitzgerald WR @LarryFitzgerald 1,322,050
  Alfonso Smith RB @FonzoAZ46 162,491
  O'Brien Schofield DE @Ob_Scho 153,734
  Darnell Dockett DT @DDockett 111,283
  Jay Feely K @JayFeely 61,365
  Patrick Peterson DB @The_Real_P2 50,641
  Beanie Wells RB @BeanieWells26 46,493
  William Gay CB @WilliamGay23 38,959
  Kevin Kolb QB @KevinKolb_4 20,435
  Stewart Bradley LB @StewBradley 20,008
  Adrian Wilson S @Adrian_Wilson24 19,088
  Calais Campbell DE @Campbell93 17,332
  Adam Snyder OL @ASnyds68 12,811
  Ryan Williams RB @LilSweetness34 12,675
  Sam Acho LB @TheSamAcho 10,996
  Todd Heap TE @ToddHeap86 10,187
  Quentin Groves LB @QuentinGroves 9,915
  James Sanders S @JamesSanders36 8,815
  Daryn Colledge OL @DarynColledge71 8,771
  Crezdon Butler CB @ButlerBoy28 6,932
  Stephen Williams WR @SteveWill_14 5,465
  Rashad Johnson S @49foyamind49 5,286
  Dan Williams DT @MrDanWilliams 4,941
  Andre Roberts WR @ARob12_Cards 4,444
  Michael Adams CB @MeezyBaby27 3,431
  A.J. Jefferson CB @AJJefferson 2,450

In case you wanted to follow arguably the greatest Cards QB in history, Kurt Warner, check him out @Kurt13Warner. His 265,845 followers tops the current roster.

Additionally, if you Cardinals fans want to keep up with the University of Phoenix Stadium, check out @UOPStadium.

The Cardinals Beat:

Darren Urban has covered the Arizona Cardinals for 13 seasons: @Cardschatter (23,562)

Kent Somers, Beat writer for The Arizona Republic: @kentsomers (12,567)

Arizona Sports 620, flagship radio station of the Arizona Cardinals: @AZSports620 (9,387)

Dave Pasch, ESPN & Arizona Cardinals broadcaster: @DavePasch (2,783)

Jody Jackson, Sports reporter and anchor for Fox Sports Arizona: @Jody_Jackson (3,002)

Craig Morgan, Fox Sports Arizona: @cmorgancbsfoxaz (1,263)

Cardinals Blog Roll:

Check the SB Nation's Cardinals site RevengeOfTheBirds.com.

A couple of other must-bookmarks are RaisingZona.com, CardinalsGab.com and @AZCardsBuzzTap.

The ESPN NFC West blog is run by Mike Sando and you can follow him @ESPN_NFCWest

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: Mon., July 30

Order your 2012 Arizona Cardinals Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Arizona Cardinals Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Arizona Cardinals Schedule Analysis

- by Braden Gall and Mark Ross

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Arizona Cardinals Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: Olympic Gold Medals, Olympics
Path: /olympics/what-country-has-most-gold-medals-over-last-five-olympics
Body:

As we head into the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, we take a moment to look back at the gold medal-winning dominance of the United States over the past five games. Here's a look at how the U.S., China, Russia and other countries stack up in the medal count. 

Teaser:
<p> Most Gold Medals Over the Last Five Olympics</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 07:16
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-darkhorse-national-title-contenders-2012
Body:

Predicting college football's national champion is never an easy task. In addition to combing through schedules, returning starters, players lost and statistics, there are several factors impossible to account for. Injuries and luck will have a major impact on the 2012 season - and neither can be projected. 

Most of college football's national title winners will come from within the top 10 of most preseason polls, but there are always a few darkhorses sneaking into the top 10 at some point during the season. 

What teams could be a darkhorse national title contender in 2012? Using Athlon's projected top 25 for 2012, the criteria was simple - the teams must be ranked anywhere outside of the top 10 to qualify. Although Georgia and South Carolina are popular sleeper picks, both teams are ranked inside of Athlon's projected top 10

Do Preseason Rankings Matter for College Football National Champions?

(Athlon’s projected 2012 final rank in parenthesis)

1. Texas (11)

Why They Will: If the adage of a strong running game and defense win championships is correct, the Longhorns will be in great shape. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron combined for 1,205 yards and 10 touchdowns as freshmen last season. This duo should only get better in 2012 and will face competition for carries from incoming freshman Johnathan Gray. The defense returns six starters off a unit that ranked sixth nationally against the run and 11th in yards allowed. The defensive line and secondary should be among the best in college football.

Why They Won’t: Quarterback play. Regardless of how well Texas can run the ball and play defense, it needs to bolster the passing attack. The Longhorns averaged just 189.9 yards per game through the air last season and enter 2012 with uncertainty under center. David Ash appears to have an edge over Case McCoy but this position is still a question mark for coordinator Bryan Harsin. The schedule isn’t too overwhelming, but the Longhorns catch Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma in their first three Big 12 games - not exactly the best news for a team struggling to find a starting quarterback.

2. Virginia Tech (16)

Why They Will: How’s this for success: The Hokies have won at least 10 games every year since 2004 and recorded five BCS bowl appearances during that stretch. The offensive line was hit hard by departures, but quarterback Logan Thomas is poised to build off a solid sophomore season. The defense should be among the best in the nation, especially with a defensive line that has speed, depth and talent at each position. Virginia Tech’s schedule is very favorable, as it could be 7-0 heading into a road test at Clemson on Oct. 20. An away date at North Carolina on Oct. 6 will be tricky, but the Hokies catch a break by hosting Florida State on Nov. 8.

Why They Won’t: Despite the promise surrounding quarterback Logan Thomas, four new starters on the line are concerning. Center Andrew Miller is a good place to start rebuilding but there’s very little experience and depth at the other positions. Depth is also an issue in the secondary, but the starting group is one of the best in the ACC. Special teams are usually a strength in Blacksburg, but the Hokies struggled to find a consistent punter last year.

3. Wisconsin (17)

Why They Will: The defending Big Ten champs suffered some losses, but the cupboard is far from bare. Running back Montee Ball is back after rushing for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, while six starters return from a defense that ranked third in the Big Ten in yards allowed. The offensive line lost some of the unit’s top players, but center Travis Frederick and tackle Ricky Wagner are two of college football’s top linemen. The non-conference slate should allow Wisconsin to begin the year 4-0 and there’s really only one tough conference road game (Nebraska). With Ohio State and Penn State banned from the conference title game, the Badgers are a clear favorite to return to Indianapolis and a win over Michigan, Michigan State or Nebraska would be a solid boost in the polls on the final weekend of action.

Why They Won’t: Although 11 starters are back, the Badgers have some holes to fill. Although quarterback Danny O’Brien has starting experience from his time at Maryland, he’s no Russell Wilson. O’Brien is more of a pocket passer and won’t give Wisconsin the dual-threat potential that Wilson brought to the table last year. As if breaking in a new quarterback wasn’t enough, the Badgers will have a new offensive coordinator – one of six new assistants on the Wisconsin coaching staff.  The Badgers will also have a new starter at kicker and punter, which could be a concern in close games this season.

 

4. Michigan State (18)

Why They Will: Replacing quarterback Kirk Cousins and three key receivers won’t be easy. However, the Spartans aren’t short on talent on offense, as running back Le’Veon Bell is back after rushing for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. The offensive line should be improved with four starters returning. The defense should be among the best in college football, as junior William Gholston, linebacker Max Bullough and cornerback Johnny Adams could earn All-American honors in 2012. The schedule is challenging but also brings plenty of opportunities to earn marquee wins. 

Why They Won’t: The balance of power in the Big Ten is clearly with the Legends Division. If Michigan State can knock off Michigan and Nebraska, it would take a big step forward in the conference title race. However, beating both teams won’t be easy with a road date in Ann Arbor. The schedule doesn’t get any easier with dates against Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Needless to say, if Michigan State finishes the regular season unbeaten, it will have earned a spot in the national title game. New quarterback Andrew Maxwell is talented but has very little experience. Although Maxwell should be a solid passer, there could be a few bumps in the road as he gets acclimated to the starting role – especially with new faces taking over in the receiving corps.

5. Louisville (23)

Why They Will: If you are looking for a team on the rise, look no further than Louisville. Sure, the Cardinals record is just 14-12 in the last two years, but the program is on the right track under coach Charlie Strong. Louisville has also played a handful of young players over the last two seasons, including sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. As a freshman last year, Bridgewater threw for 2,129 yards and 14 touchdowns. He should only get better in 2012, especially with a talented group of young receivers returning. The defense should rank among the best in the conference, and the incoming recruiting class will bolster the depth and talent on each level, particularly at linebacker with Nick Dawson and Keith Brown. The Cardinals have some tricky games on the schedule but should be favored in each contest. 

Why They Won’t: Even if the Cardinals can navigate through the season with one loss or an undefeated record, it’s a longshot they would climb high enough in the BCS standings to play for the national title. The Big East does not have a strong reputation right now, which will hurt Louisville in terms of national respect. In order for the Cardinals to make a run at the national title game, they need some help from their Big East foes. Getting Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and South Florida to make a run into the top 25 would help the conference’s reputation and give Louisville a boost in schedule strength. The biggest personnel issue for Louisville is youth. Eleven sophomores could earn starting spots in the two-deep, while there’s only six seniors expected to see significant snaps in 2012.  

6. Boise State (24)

Why They Will: With just seven returning starters, the Broncos are flying under the radar in most preseason rankings. Boise State is predicted to finish 24th in Athlon’s 2012 rankings but have finished outside of the top 16 in the Associated Press poll just twice since 2002. Despite only one starter returning, the Broncos should have one of the Mountain West’s top defenses, while there’s plenty of firepower on offense if a quarterback emerges. The schedule is favorable, especially if Boise State can find a way to win on road trips against Michigan State and Nevada.

Why They Won’t: Although there’s a lot of promise with the returning roster, Boise State lost some key players. Quarterback Kellen Moore, running back Doug Martin, defensive tackle Billy Winn, end Shea McClellin and safety George Iloka were all key cogs in Boise State’s recent success and expired their eligibility after the 2011 season. Boise State reloads fast but there are a lot of losses to overcome. Joe Southwick and Nick Patti appear to be capable quarterbacks but winning on the road in East Lansing for the first start in your career is not easy. The Broncos are probably underrated in Athlon’s 2012 rankings but seem to be a year away from pushing for a BCS bowl appearance.
 

-By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related College Football Content

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012
Ranking the Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012

College Football Rankings for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

20 Worst College Football Tenures of the Last 50 Years

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Darkhorse National Title Contenders for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 06:40
All taxonomy terms: USA Basketball, NBA, Olympics
Path: /nba/usa-basketball-not-guaranteed-gold
Body:

The majority of the 2008 Beijing Olympics “Redeem Team” — the gold medal squad led by LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul — returns to defend its global roundball crown. This time, the team will also include Kevin Durant, the NBA scoring champion, Finals runner-up and MVP of the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey (leading a roster with no ’08 Olympians).

At first glance, Team USA appears poised to claim its 14th Olympic gold medal in men’s basketball. That, however, is not necessarily a given. There are several potential problems that could derail the overwhelming favorites.

INJURIES

Dwyane Wade (knee), Dwight Howard (back) and Derrick Rose (knee) will be sitting out with injuries. Wade was the leading scorer on the “Redeem Team,” Howard was the national team’s starting center and Rose was the NBA’s MVP in 2010-11. This leaves Team USA without three of the top 10 players in the world.

M.I.A.

Andrew Bynum and Rajon Rondo would be potential replacements for Howard and Rose, at center and point guard, respectively. But both have made it clear that they do not want to play basketball during the NBA offseason. “I love my summers. I’ll leave it at that,” said Rondo, the NBA’s assists leader last season.

FINALS HANGOVER

LeBron just won his first NBA title. Both Durant and Russell Westbrook are fresh off a disappointing defeat. Who knows where the focus of that talented (yet emotional) trio will be in the weeks leading up to London?

SIZE

Without the imposing 6'11", 265-pound Howard patrolling the paint, Team USA will be forced to lean on reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler for heavy minutes or go small, with LeBron playing more like Karl Malone than Magic Johnson. A quicker lineup lacking size down low may run into a problem against Spain’s wall of 7-footers.

SHOOTING

LeBron, Kobe, Carmelo and Durant are all scorers, but Team USA lacks the pure outside shooters that are emphasized under FIBA rules — which include a shorter 3-point line (22'1" compared to NBA’s 23'9" distance), wider lane and no basket interference (unlike NBA). The team’s top playmaker, Paul, may also be its best jump shooter.

MOTIVATION

In 1992, the “Dream Team” avenged the humiliating 1988 bronze-medal showing. In 2008, the “Redeem Team” got payback for the shocking bronze-medal finish of 2004, while also securing hardware for first-time gold medalists like Kobe and LeBron. Heading into London, the only motivation appears to be national and personal pride. Hopefully that will be enough.
 

Teaser:
<p> USA Basketball Is Not Guaranteed Gold in London</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 06:39
Path: /college-football/tennessee-football-2012-make-or-break-year-derek-dooley
Body:

The fan base isn’t happy. He’s working for a new athletic director. He won one SEC game in 2011. Simply Derek Dooley needs to win – and win right away.

For 37 days — a stretch that spanned from the final game of the 2011 regular season all the way to Jan. 3 of the new year — Tennessee coach Derek Dooley remained silent. He was off the grid, unable to address the mounting media requests that were piling up after one of the most disappointing losses in UT history.

When Dooley finally broke his silence, he had to address a laundry list of issues, the majority of which were negative in nature. He concluded the discourse with a message squarely directed at his fan base, a loyal group that has endured plenty of adversity since Phillip Fulmer’s firing in 2008.  

“I can tell you this: I’ve never been more excited about an offseason in all of my coaching career,” Dooley said. “As disappointed as I am about how the season ended, I’m equally optimistic about our team and our program heading into next year.”

For Vol fans, time wasn’t enough to heal the wounds inflicted by their team’s 10–7, season-ending loss to Kentucky. It wasn’t just that the Vols had lost to the Wildcats for the first time since 1984, and it wasn’t just that it kept UT out of a bowl game for the second time in four years. It was how the Vols lost that left an unsettling feeling that still hovers above the program and above Dooley’s head going into the 2012 season.

UT’s new athletic director, Dave Hart, was just two months on the job when it happened, but he quickly understood the gravity of the situation.

“I had a negative reaction. People should have had a negative reaction,” Hart said in December. “There would have been something dramatically wrong if there wasn’t a negative reaction to that particular performance on that particular day. Now, you’re into the unacceptable category.”

Avoiding the “unacceptable” will keep Dooley in good graces with his new boss. How Hart defines “unacceptable” in Dooley’s third year at UT, though, will differ significantly from what it meant during the first two seasons.

Asked if there were a certain number of wins that Dooley, who is 11–14 after two seasons at UT, needs to hit this year in order to feel comfortable with his future at Tennessee, Hart bristles, saying that he will “never do that.” He does, however, acknowledge that the Vols aren’t young anymore, and that type of excuse won’t be acceptable if they are to have a similarly lackluster season in 2012.

“That assessment, it goes deep,” Hart says. “It’s not an inch deep and a mile wide. It’s an honest assessment of all the prongs that you’re developing to try to have a championship-level program.”

Championship-level programs don’t often have the kind of staff turnover Dooley and the Vols experienced throughout the offseason. They also don’t have a star player drawing all sorts of negative attention for his inability to conform to standard rules and procedures.

Tennessee, unfortunately, had a heavy supply of both before the first of April, and those are the challenges Dooley has to overcome before the Aug. 31 season opener in Atlanta against NC State.

Starting with wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett, who was said to have retired but was paid like he was fired, and ending with secondary coach Terry Joseph, who left for a similar position at Nebraska just three weeks before the start of spring football, the Vols lost seven of their nine on-field assistant coaches from 2011. The two holdovers — wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney — are working with different position groups than they were last year. 

The second coach to part ways with Dooley, former special teams/tight ends coach Eric Russell, told the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review that he didn’t leave UT for Washington State because it was close to his hometown of St. Maries, Idaho. Rather, Russell was concerned about his long-term future.

“I think at Tennessee, it was going to come down to how many games you won the next year, and unfortunately nobody’s got a crystal ball,” Russell told the newspaper.

Dooley, aware of the “sinking ship” perception that came with the methodical exodus, says he thinks the turnover is a “healthy thing.”

“I think when you go through a tough year it’s hard on the coaches and hard on the players,” Dooley says. “Sometimes change is a welcome thing and everybody is going to have that and they’re going to walk into their meeting room with a new face, a new personality and it’s a good opportunity for the players to start over from scratch. They can put away anything that they wish they hadn’t done in the past.”

The past season was good for wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, but the past few months have been bad enough to warrant non-stop speculation about his future with the team. According to multiple media outlets, a confrontation with a strength coach during the offseason kept Rogers away from the program for nearly a month. He returned in time for spring practice but was briefly suspended for another infraction and held out of one practice before returning to the team yet again. Dooley denies that he was giving preferential treatment to Rogers.

“I don’t worry about (him being a distraction),” Dooley says. “And if he is, then we handle it just like any other player.”

Dooley’s disciplinary tactics won’t be what matters once the Vols start playing football. Winning can truly fix things in a hurry at Tennessee, which is coming off one of its worst-attended seasons since the expansion of Neyland Stadium.

The Vols return 17 starters, a group that includes promising quarterback Tyler Bray and all of five offensive linemen — but does not include standout wide receiver Justin Hunter, who returns after missing most of the 2011 season with a torn ACL. Under new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, the Vols are going to play out of a 3-4 base defense, something Dooley says he’s wanted to do for years.

The schedule is as favorable as it’s been in years. The Vols get rivals Florida and Alabama at home, and they swap last year’s games against LSU and Arkansas for Mississippi State and SEC newcomer Missouri. 

While certainly at the top of the list, wins and losses aren’t the only variables that factor in when predicting Dooley’s future with the Vols.

Dooley left Louisiana Tech to become the Vols’ new coach in 2010 only because UT had just lost Lane Kiffin after one season. The program, for all intents and purposes, was in shambles. It clearly wasn’t a quick fix, and Dooley agreed to a contract that reflected it. His six-year deal stipulates that he would be owed $5 million if he were to be fired before Feb. 15, 2013. It drops down to $4 million for 2014 and 2015.

UT is still making monthly payments on Fulmer’s $6 million buyout. The athletic department, which boasts a budget that tops $100 million, made just $14,447 in net income during the 2010-11 fiscal year, according to BusinessofCollegeSports.com.

“We’ve got to get football healthy,” Hart says. “But that’s not all on Derek Dooley.”
 

This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 SEC Preview Annual.

Related SEC Content

SEC 2012 Linebacker Rankings
SEC 2012 Defensive Line Rankings

SEC 2012 Offensive Line Rankings
SEC 2012 Wide Receiver Rankings
Athlon's 2012 SEC Predictions
2012 College Football Bowl Projections

Which SEC Teams Are on the Rise or Decline Going into 2012?

SEC's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers
Athlon's 2012 All-SEC Team

Teaser:
<p> Tennessee Football: 2012 Is a Make-or-Break Year for Derek Dooley</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 06:36
All taxonomy terms: College Football, USC Trojans, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/usc-football-matt-barkley-has-sights-set-national-championship
Body:

The official announcement came on a bright December day just before Christmas, and throughout Southern California, the stunning news flicked on smiles like so many twinkling holiday lights.

Matt Barkley was coming back.

USC’s blond poster boy was giving up the potential millions he could have earned as an NFL first-round draft choice to play his senior year for his beloved Trojans. Barkley’s return culminated the university’s remarkable climb back from those controversial NCAA sanctions to the glittering pinnacle of the college football hierarchy.

And just like that, Barkley became an all-time USC hero, the quarterback of a potential national championship contender, the frontrunner for the 2012 Heisman Trophy and a poster boy for all that is good and clean and pure about amateur athletics.

It was a decision that delighted people from the coastline of Santa Monica to the desert of Palm Springs. It also surprised almost everybody, beginning with those in the university football offices.

“I thought he was gone,” says coach Lane Kiffin. “I think 95 percent of the kids would have left under similar circumstances.”

But Barkley isn’t like 95 percent of the kids. In many ways, he is the collegiate equivalent of Tim Tebow, so squeaky clean that he’s already been on humanitarian missions to Nigeria, South Africa and Mexico and still has the same girlfriend he first met at age 5 in preschool.

Barkley is one of those kids who’s never even missed a snap, let alone a practice. He is deeply religious, a self-described “technology nerd” who is more likely to be found playing his guitar in church than at some wild party.

“I keep telling people I’m still waiting for him to do something wrong,” says Kiffin.

It could be a long wait. Especially now that Barkley has turned his back on the NFL, preferring to play another year in front of the adoring, sold-out crowds in the L.A. Coliseum.

“I know my decision affected a lot of people,” Barkley says. “But it wasn’t just about having so much fun in college. I’ve had a great time. But this was more about making the most out of what you started. Today, there is such an emphasis on instant gratification. I kind of wanted to send a message to guys around the country: Finish what you start.

“We went through so much, starting with the end of the (Pete) Carroll era, with the sanctions and no bowls and stuff. But in the second half of the season last year we could see ourselves rising out of it. We started playing for each other and having fun again.”

Maybe Les Barkley, Matt’s proud dad, puts it best: “After all they went through, Matt just thinks this team can do something extraordinary. He thinks they can create memories that will last a lifetime, something they can tell their kids and grandkids about some day.”

Now you know why this is the most eagerly awaited football season at USC since Carroll’s stirring national championship runs.

One of the reasons — maybe one of the biggest — for Barkley’s return is his first-hand knowledge of how good this team can be. He understands, better than anybody, that he will have the luxury of the finest pair of wide receivers in college football in All-American Robert Woods and soon-to-be All-American Marqise Lee. In 2011, Woods and Lee combined for a staggering 184 receptions, 2,435 yards and 26 touchdowns.

With potential All-America safety T.J. McDonald also back for his senior season, the Trojans will return the entire back seven on defense, most of their offensive line and a feisty 1,000-yard runner in ever-improving Curtis McNeal.

Most of all, though, there is Barkley, the 6'2", 230-pound Heisman candidate, the quarterback who is ready to join Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer among the USC royalty at the position, the poised, strong-armed senior who could shatter most of the Trojans’ career passing records before he is finished.

“It’s crazy to think about that,” Barkley says. “I grew up watching those guys play quarterback at USC. The fact that we’re friends now is even crazier. I still think Leinart is the best college quarterback to ever play the game, and Carson had just a tremendous senior year after a lot of coaching changes. Guys like that showed perseverance.”

Barkley has demonstrated more than a little of that himself. He was rushed in by Carroll to start as a true freshman, and although he played well early in his freshman season — most notably in a Week 2 win at Ohio State — his inexperience eventually caught up to him. Through his first two-and-a-half seasons, he had some great games, but he had some shaky ones, too.

Then, sometime in the middle of 2011, it was as if a cardinal and gold light clicked on. “It was right around the Notre Dame game,” Barkley says. “I think I started having more confidence in my teammates. I’d been a little apprehensive early, but everything started to fall into place and there was more chemistry, more mojo, as a team.”

In his final six games last year, he threw 23 touchdown passes with just three interceptions. He was 26-of-34 for 323 yards and four TDs in the huge upset victory at Oregon, then topped it off by competing 35-of-42 attempts (including 19 of his first 20) for 423 yards and six TDs in the 50–0 blitz of cross-town rival UCLA that elevated the Trojans into the top five nationally.

Because of the sanctions, there was no bowl invitation waiting. But there are no such constraints this season. That’s why Barkley is so excited and why he thinks both he and the team can get better.

“There are things I can improve on,” he says. “I want to become a more accurate passer, raise my completion percentage. I want to play with more precision. I definitely felt ready for the NFL, but because of my decision, I think I’ll be even more ready next time. I always think more experience can help.”

His Christian faith is as important to Barkley as it has been to the more high-profile Tebow. “We just express it differently,” Barkley says. “He’s more outward about it, I’m more private. But I’m glad he stuck to his guns. I’ve talked to him a couple times on the phone and I admire him as a leader.”

At USC these days, the one being admired is the Trojans’ clear-cut leader, the Pac-12’s rightful heir to Stanford’s Andrew Luck, the self-effacing senior who is more than happy to show that the collegiate experience is not just limited to mindless jocks getting ready for the NFL.

Somebody better cue up those highlight reels. On college football’s grandest stage, Matt Barkley’s eagerly anticipated final act could be something special.
 

This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Preview Annual.

Related Pac-12 Content

Pac-12 2012 Linebacker Rankings
2012 College Football Bowl Projections

Pac-12 2012 Defensive Line Rankings

Pac-12 2012 Offensive Line Rankings

Pac-12 2012 Wide Receiving Corps Rankings

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Grading the Best and Worst CFB Hires for 2012

Pac-12's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Pac-12 Team

Teaser:
<p> USC Football: Matt Barkley Has Sights Set on National Championship</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 06:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/college-football-national-champions-do-preseason-rankings-matter
Body:

Who is the sleeper team to watch in 2012? Who is a national title darkhorse? Who can come out of nowhere and shock the college football world?

Every year, college football analysts and experts at Athlon Sports rank all 124 teams and project how we feel the final standings will look. This year, the USC Trojans are our pick to beat the LSU Tigers for the 2012 BCS National Championship.

We also compile our list of potential national championship sleepers each year. Teams who are built to potentially run the table and surprise the preseason pollsters.

But when trying to pick your national title winner — or pinpoint those capable of making a historic run — there are a few figures to consider. Preseason rankings may seem arbitrary to some of you, but every BCS National Champion has been ranked in the preseason AP Top 25. And it has been nearly three decades since an unranked team won the AP national title.

Be Ranked In the Preseason Top 20
Only one team ranked outside of the AP Top 20 has ever won a BCS National Championship. The Auburn Tigers of 2010, behind junior college transfer and relative unknown commodity Cam Newton, began the year ranked No. 22 in the nation. The Tigers are the lowest ranked preseason team in the BCS era to win the title and are the first team outside of the top since 1990 to even clinch a share of the title. Additionally, Oregon began 2010 outside of the top 10 at No. 11 — making the 2010 BCS National Championship game the only national title contest in the last 30+ years to features two teams that began outside of the top 10 in the preseason polls.

Really Though, Be Ranked In The Top 10
Four times in 14 years has the national champ come from outside the preseason Top 10. In addition to Auburn, Oklahoma in 2000 was ranked 19th, LSU in 2003 was ranked 15th and Ohio State was ranked 13th. Only three additional teams since 1984, Notre Dame in 1988 (13th) and Michigan in 1997 (14th) and Georgia Tech in 1990 (UR), have won the national title starting outside of the top 10. And Tech didn’t claim the AP title in 1990.

Unranked Champions Don't Happen
Since 1982, the year I was born, only twice has a team unranked in the preseason gone on to win the AP/BCS national championship. The 1984 BYU Cougars and the 1983 Miami Hurricanes are the only champs to start the year outside of the Top 25 and finish on top since 1982. Technically, Georgia Tech claimed a share of the national title in 1990 after beginning the season unranked. However, it didn’t claim the AP title that year, preseason No. 5 Colorado did.

The Top 5 Is the Place To Be
Four of the last five national champions were ranked in the top five in the AP preseason poll. Alabama in 2009 and Florida in 2008 were No. 5 — although, it should be noted that Athlon Sports had the Gators No. 1 in 2008 — while LSU in 2007 and Alabama in 2011 both began No. 2.

In fact, 16 times in the last 32 seasons has the national champion begun the year in the top five. This means, according to Athlon Sports’ rankings, that there is a 50% chance that Alabama, LSU, USC, Oregon and Oklahoma will win the title. It also means there is only a 50% chance that the champion comes from the other 119 teams. Both the 2003 and 1997 split champs were outside of the top five and both the 1991 champs were inside the preseason top five. The 1990 championship featured one unranked team (Georgia Tech) and one top five team (Colorado).

No. 1 Is Good, But Not That Good
So where is No. 1 in all of this you ask? The USC Trojans in 2004 were the last AP preseason No. 1 team to claim the national championship. In fact, since 1982, only three preseason No. 1 teams have gone on to win the title. Florida State in 1999 and 1993 were the only two other teams to match the ’04 Trojans of wire-to-wire dominance. In fact, the preseason No. 1 team in the AP poll hasn't even played in the national title game since 2006 when Ohio State lost to Florida. More teams have lost the national title game as preseason No. 1's than have won it in the BCS era. Yes, six trips (of 14) to the BCS title game is extremely accurate — and obviously most fanbases would take a guarenteed trip to the title game — but more times than not that team loses (2-4). Which, frankly, is all that matters.

No. 2 Is the Spot
Four of the last 12 national champions began the season ranked No. 2 in the preseason, more than any other preseason rankings by a wide margin. Eight times has the No. 2 team played in the BCS National Championship game, more than any other slot. Of the 28 total BCS title game teams, nearly 30% have started the season as the No. 2 team in the AP poll. And who is likely to be preseason No. 2 this fall? Either LSU or Alabama is a pretty good guess. And yes, that would give the SEC a seventh straight championship as well as a second

Where Not To Be?
The preseason number you don’t want your team to be? Third or fourth. No team in the BCS era has won a title beginning the year ranked No. 3 or No. 4. Florida in 1996 was the last preseason No. 4 team to claim the title and Miami in 1991 was the last team ranked No. 3 in the preseason to win the big prize. So for Athlon, this knocks out Alabama (No. 3) and Oregon (No. 4). Elsewhere inside the top 10, sixth hasn't won a title since 1997 and ninth hasn't clinched the championship since 1992. For good measure, eleventh hasn't won a title in the last 32 seasons.

What do all these numbers mean for college football in 2012? Maybe not much. But the stats do indicate that preseason polls are extremely accurate measuring sticks when attempting to pinpoint the quest for the Crystal Ball. So buy your Athlon Sports College Football preview magazine here!

Here is a quick list of how each of the national champs have ranked in the preseason:

Year Team AP Rank BCS Runner-Up AP Rank
2011 Alabama No. 2 LSU No. 4
2010 Auburn No. 22 Oregon No. 11
2009 Alabama No. 5 Texas No. 2
2008 Florida No. 5 Oklahoma No. 4
2007 LSU No. 2 Ohio State No. 10
2006 Florida No. 7 Ohio State No. 1
2005 Texas No. 2 USC No. 1
2004 USC No. 1 Oklahoma No. 2
2003* LSU No. 15 Oklahoma No. 1
2003* USC (AP) No. 8 -- --
2002 Ohio State No. 13 Miami No. 1
2001 Miami No. 2 Nebraska No. 4
2000 Oklahoma No. 19 Florida State No. 2
1999 Florida State No. 1 Virginia Tech No. 11
1998 Tennessee No. 10 Florida State No. 2
1997* Michigan (AP) No. 14 -- --
1997* Nebraska No. 6 -- --
1996 Florida No. 4 -- --
1995 Nebraska No. 2 -- --
1994 Nebraska No. 4 -- --
1993 Florida State No. 1 -- --
1992 Alabama No. 9 -- --
1991* Miami (AP) No. 3 -- --
1991* Washington No. 4 -- --
1990* Colorado (AP) No. 5 -- --
1990* Georgia Tech Unranked -- --
1989 Miami No. 3 -- --
1988 Notre Dame No. 13 -- --
1987 Miami No. 10 -- --
1986 Penn State No. 6 -- --
1985 Oklahoma No. 2 -- --
1984 BYU Unranked -- --
1983 Miami Unranked -- --
1982 Penn State No. 8 -- --

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> College Football National Champions: Do Preseason Rankings Matter?</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/memories-moe-norman
Body:

Moe Norman was a painfully shy, eccentric Canadian prone to wearing garish, mismatched outfits. He was also quite possibly the greatest striker of the golf ball in history. No less of an authority than Tiger Woods has said that only two golfers in history “owned their swing”: Ben Hogan and Moe Norman. “I want to own mine,” Woods added with a hint of envy.
Norman’s swing featured an abbreviated backswing and shorter-than-normal follow-through that produced uncanny accuracy. And it was purely self-taught; Norman never took a lesson in his 75 years.
His shyness — some have speculated that Norman might have suffered from a form of autism — precluded a career on the PGA Tour. But Norman did share his unique approach to golf with thousands of fortunate players through a long series of clinics. One of his partners in these clinics also happens to be Craig Shankland, a member of Athlon Sports’ Elite Eight staff of golf instructors. Here, Craig shares his memories of Moe, golf’s greatest ball-striker and most unique personality, a true legend of the game.

Printed here are my thoughts and remembrances of Moe Norman, many of them from the clinics that we did together over 18 years.
I present these with a deep sense of respect for his incredible skill at ball-striking and consistency. There will never be another like him. Watching Moe hit balls was riveting. You could not believe how good he was time after time.
People have asked me why Moe and I got along so well. I reply by noting that many have called me a champion of idiosyncrasies. I have always loved people who would come along with unusual styles and could beat your brains in. I have taught people not to change their style, but to nurture it and show how it could be an asset. I hate people who rebuild something like that and ruin individuality.
Moe had an unusual, brilliant style that I deeply admired. In turn, he also admired and respected what I did. We had a mutual respect.
Moe had some difficulty trusting and relating to people. If someone came up to Moe for an autograph, he would turn away. If I told Moe that the person was a very good player, he would sign the autograph. He only talked to people who could play — if I told him so. He knew then that they respected him and were not there to ridicule him.
When I would ask him if people should copy his swing, he would laugh. “How can anyone copy my swing? They would come and take you away,” he would say. “You can’t be me. Everyone is copying everyone else. Be yourself; don’t try to be me. You can’t be me.”

The first time I met him was during one of my free clinics. He was in the audience. After I finished what I thought was a perfect display of shotmaking and shot-shaping, he approached me. “Do you know who I am?” he asked. “Yes, Moe Norman,” I said. He replied, “How would you like me to come next week and show you how a ball should really be hit?” I told him to come on. We did clinics together for the next 18 years.

He was very comfortable hitting balls. He was uncomfortable around people he didn’t know. Hitting balls was his life; no one could do it better. After hitting balls, he would withdraw, getting lost in his own world where no one else could disturb him.
Moe never gave any credence to putting. “There’s no skill in that,” he would say. “Hitting pins in regulation — that takes skill.”
Moe once told me that during a practice round for the Canadian Open, he was playing with Canadian golf great George Knudson. Moe offered to play for $5 per pin hit in regulation. George agreed with a laugh, thinking that no one hits pins in regulation. After three holes, Moe had hit three pins, and George walked back to the clubhouse.

On the first hole of a practice round, a 230-yard par 3, the media assembled around Moe and teased him about his putting. Moe pulled a club from his bag, struck the ball perfectly, and turned to the reporters, saying, “I’m not putting today.” The ball rolled into the hole for a hole-in-one. It was one of 17 holes-in-one that Moe hit.

Moe broke all the rules of conventional golf mechanics. He held the club in the palms of his huge hands. I always said he had no wrists, only arms with hands. He used an abnormally wide stance; most players, even pros, would whiff while trying to address the ball in his footprints. He started the club at least a foot behind the ball. He reached for the ball, extending his arms as far as they would go, arms and shaft on a single axis. He faced the ball at impact, his feet flat on the ground. His arms did all the work. His body seemed to react to his powerful arm swing.

We went to Bay Hill to do a clinic for a medical company. Moe didn’t know the way from Daytona, so he said he would follow me in his car. We started onto I-95 heading for I-4 and Orlando. When I looked in my rear-view mirror, I didn’t see Moe. I slowed down to 50 mph. Finally, I spotted him in his car, going 45 max. Truck drivers were honking and yelling. But Moe had the volume turned up so high in his Cadillac that he was oblivious to the noise. When we finally got to Bay Hill, the noise from his radio was deafening. Science and math tapes were blaring from his tape player, with the volume turned up as high as it would go. He was in a world all his own.
When we got there, we went looking for the practice area where the clinic would be held. Arnold Palmer came toward us in his cart and said, “Hi. How are you, Moe?” Immediately, Moe shot back, with an obvious reference to Palmer’s lack of accuracy off the tee: “I haven’t had a thorn bush stuck up my ass for the last seven years. How about you, Arnie?” Palmer cracked up. He knew that Moe was never in the bushes.

Over 41,352 people attended our clinics. How do I know? Moe counted every person who ever attended a clinic. He knew the exact number of balls we hit and how many tees we used each time.

Moe showed up exactly at the time of the show, never earlier. He was never late. He would have continued to hit balls forever for the crowd if he could have. If there were golf balls in a pile or on the ground, anywhere, he would hit them. You would often find him hunting for range balls on the edge of the range, on lake banks, in deep rough, off on his own. If there were snakes and alligators in there, he didn’t care.

He came down to Florida each year in a new Cadillac. He would proudly show it to me. Inside the trunk were new clothes and golf balls all over the place. New Titleists out of their packs. “Imagine that,” he said. “They gave me all these balls. Why did they give me all these? All I need is one.”

Sometimes the weather got really hot during the clinics. Moe would be there in his turtleneck, a Gucci sweater and heavy twill slacks. “Aren’t you hot?” I would ask him. “I don’t sweat,” he would reply. “Look at my hands.” They would be dry as a bone.

Moe told a story about a day he played with Sam Snead: “There was a par 5 with a stream across the fairway. I pulled out my driver. Sam said, ‘You can’t carry the stream today; it’s into the wind.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to carry the stream. I’m going to run the ball across the bridge. I did it, and Snead couldn’t believe it. When we got to the bridge, he said, ‘I can’t believe you did that.’ I rolled a ball across the bridge and said, ‘See? It fits.’”

Moe hit 32 balls off the same tee one day without touching the tee. He simply would place another ball atop the same tee, until finally, on the 33rd ball, he moved the tee slightly with his shot. “How long have you had that tee?” I asked him. “Seven years,” he said. “I’ve only used one ball and one tee in seven years. It’s a cheap game!”

On a hole that required a driver and a wedge, Moe would sometimes hit wedge and driver, in that order. When asked why, he said, “To have fun. And I still made birdie.”

Moe-isms
Here’s a sample of some of Moe’s many sayings over the years.

To older audiences: “Stop worrying about when you are going to die, but how good you are going to live. Get off your ass and go practice!”

On the Vardon (overlap) grip: “It stinks. You’ve got 10 fingers. Why would you take any of them off the club? How dumb is that?”

On his grip: “Where do you hold a baseball bat, a tennis racquet, a hockey stick? In the palms of your hands. That’s where the meat is, not in the fingers. You’re playing a tune. Fingers are fast, palms are quiet.”

On how tightly he held the club: “I draw blood with my left hand.”

On gripping the club like a bird or a tube of toothpaste: “That’s crap. It’s all bunk.”

“The most important inches in golf are the five and a half inches between your ears.”

“In my backswing, I place a coin 41 inches behind the ball and two tees 22 inches in front of the ball. I swing back over the coin to get extension and between the two tees to keep the clubhead square 22 inches after impact. I see that in my mind, and I do it.”

“I don’t take divots. I comb the grass. Give me your Rolex watch; I’ll hit it right off the top. I wouldn’t break it. I’d hit the ball off the top of your head and wouldn’t harm a hair. I’d give you the best butch cut you ever had.”

“I’m a superintendent’s dream. ‘Look, Moe was here. No sign of any divots, just where his shoes were.’”

“Distance is only a word. I am accuracy-oriented. What good is it if you hit the ball 300 yards into the trees?”

On the last time he missed a fairway: “1974. The ball hit a sprinkler head and bounced out of bounds.”

“The ball does exactly what I tell it to do, every time.”

“You play hoping golf; I play knowing golf. You hope it’s going down the fairway. I know it’s going down the fairway.”

“I swing the whole golf stick. Swing the clubhead? That’s crap. You have to learn to swing the handle first. If you can’t control the handle, how can you swing the clubhead?”

“There’s no such thing as a bad lie.”

“There’s no wrist roll in my swing. You could cook an egg on the clubface after impact, sunny side up.”

“Hogan and I hated 36-hole events. In the afternoon round, we were always in our morning divots!”

“I use smooth force, not brute force.”

“My right hand is an ornament on the club.”

“I lead so well. The handle always gets to the ball first. The handle is past my left leg before the ball is hit.”

“I hit my right shoulder on my downswing, I lag so much. One day, I lagged so much, I hit my right ankle!”

On starting the club so far behind the ball: “It does four things for me. You can’t take the club outside, you can’t lift the club up, you are already in your turn, and it eliminates a foot of the swing!”

“I hit the ball down my chosen line of aim, every time.”

“Hogan said, ‘The straight shot is an accident.’ I told him, ‘Come with me and you will see a lot of accidents.’”

“I’ve hit 5,000,000 balls and never had a sore muscle in my life. I can stand here all day and hit balls.”

“I’m the greatest ball-striker because I have the fewest moving parts.”

“Golf is not a turning action. It’s a shifting action.”

“It’s a swing, not a hit. You should have a pulling action.”

“Golf is not supposed to be work. It’s supposed to be fun. So have fun.”

“I never get mad. Getting mad makes you swing worse.”

“Golf is easy. People make it hard.”

“I feel like a windmill, never jerky.”

“You will never see a cleat on my left shoe (his foot would remain flat on the ground). My big toe never moves.”

“I don’t force it, I finesse it. I don’t bash it, I bump it.”

“I can’t hit the ball off line if I want to; my swing won’t let me. I can’t hit a bad shot if I tried; my swing won’t let me.”

“I want my left knee past the ball before impact.”

“I am the straightest that ever lived. If there was ever a tournament at midnight, I’d win. I know where to find my ball every time. I wish the fairways were four inches wide. The ball will fit!”

On how he wanted to be remembered: “I’ll be walking down the fairway, off into the sunset with a big smile on my face. Isn’t it great to have been able to do something no one else in the world can do!”
 

Teaser:
<p> Moe Norman was an eccentric Canadian golf genius who Tiger Woods considers one of the greatest ballstrikers of all time.</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 15:52
All taxonomy terms: Mississippi State Bulldogs, SEC, News
Path: /news/mississippi-state-football-reveals-new-uniforms
Body:

Under coach Dan Mullen, Mississippi State is a program on the rise and has made a few uniform and helmet changes in the last few years. The Bulldogs will have another tweak in 2012, adding a white stripe on the helmet and a brighter maroon color on the home jerseys.

Here's a look at Mississippi State's new jerseys for 2012:
 

New Mississippi State Home Jersey

New Mississippi State Home Jerseys with Alternate Gray Pants:

New Mississippi State Away Jersey:

 

Here's a sideview of Mississippi State's alternate uniforms (with shoulder stripe):


 

Teaser:
<p> Mississippi State Football Reveals New Uniforms</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 15:42
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/5-olympic-sports-united-states-sucks
Body:

Numbers do not lie.  With 2296 cumulative medals in the Summer Olympics, the United States is irrefutably the most dominant participating country in the history of the Olympic Games.  Despite this, there are events in which the U.S. has seen little success.  Here are five events where you'll be certain not to see an American atop the podium.  

 

5.  Weightlifting

From 1904 to 1968, the US won 38 medals in Men’s Olympic Weightlifting, 15 of which were gold.  Despite our initial dominance in the sport, since 1972, we’ve only managed to win 3 medals (none of which were gold).  The reasons for our fall from dominance are varied, most critical of which is a lack of financial incentive for our nation’s most talented athletes.  From the 1970s and until the fall of the Iron Curtain, the medal podium was dominated by the USSR.  However, China has recently emerged to be the major player in Olympic Weightlifting, having taken 8 of 15 possible gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  With only one man, Kendrick Farris, having qualified for the United States, don’t look for our losing streak to end any time soon on the men’s side. 

 

4.  Judo

One of the three different martial arts featured in the Olympic Games, Judo is a combat sport whose ultimate goal is for competitors to take down an opponent and hold them in submission using a myriad of techniques.  Historically, Japan has dominated the sport that they invented around the turn of the 20th century with 65 overall medals, 35 of which are gold.  The United States has a respectable overall medal count at 10, however they’ve never taken home a gold medal in the sport.  With only 5 entrants at the London Olympics, the United States is unlikely to break their winless streak.  Kayla Harrison, the 2010 World Judo Champion at 78 kilograms, represents Team USA’s most promising contender for their first gold medal in this event. 

 

3.  3000m Steeplechase

Kenyan athletes have historically dominated the Men’s 3000m Steeplechase, an obstacle race that has runners clear 28 ordinary barriers and seven water jumps over a 3000m track.  You have to go back to the 1980 Olympics to find a year where Kenya did not produce a Steeplechase champion.  The United States has not won a gold medal in this event since 1952 and has not reached the podium at all since 1984.  Top US qualifier Daniel Huling’s time at last month’s Olympic Trials was 8:29:00, well off the sub-8 minute pace that the top Kenyan competitors have posted in 2012.  In London, expect Kenya to continue its’ domination of this distance event.     

2.  Table Tennis

Table Tennis made its Olympic debut at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and has been dominated by China ever since.  China’s overall medal count stands at 41, 20 of which are gold. South Korea, the next closest nation has won 17 medals, only 3 of which are gold.  The United States has never medaled in Table Tennis and barring a major upset in London, will continue to languish in mediocrity.  To demonstrate our ineptitude in this event, Team USA’s top ranked player, Timothy Wang, is only #408 in the world.  

1.  Men’s Football (Soccer)

The United States’ failure to produce a competitive men’s football squad has been well documented over the years especially as the US Women’s National Team has enjoyed tremendous success ever since the sports’ inception as an Olympic event.  The men’s squad has won 1 silver and 1 bronze medal however; both medals came from the 1904 Olympics where only 3 teams participated in the tournament.  The 108 year medal-less streak will undoubtedly continue in London, as the United States failed to qualify for the 2nd time out of the last 3 tournaments after losses at the hands of El Salvador and Canada.  On the bright side, the women’s squad enters the London Olympics as heavy favorites to take home a 4th gold medal for the United States.  

 

By Eric Chalifour

Teaser:
<p> Hey, we can win them all</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 12:35
All taxonomy terms: Northwestern Wildcats, Big Ten, News
Path: /news/northwestern-football-upgrades-uniforms
Body:

Northwestern football hasn't made many dramatic changes to its uniforms in recent years, but there are some noticeable tweaks in the new version released by Under Armour for 2012.

The Wildcats will stick with the same purple and white color scheme, but the uniforms now have a stripe in the center of the jersey and there's some sharp-looking gloves featuring the Northwestern logo.

Here's a look at Northwestern's new uniforms for 2012:


Northwestern's new away jersey:


Here's a look at the new home jersey:

 


Here's a closer look at the Northwestern uniforms with gloves featuring the school logo:
 


And the white jersey-purple pants combination:

Teaser:
<p> Northwestern Football Upgrades Uniforms</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 10:08
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, Miami Dolphins, NFL
Path: /nfl/miami-dolphins-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

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 Miami Dolphins check in at No. 27.

After another uninspiring season, owner Steve Ross initially sought to snare the biggest fish in order to create a splash in the fragmented South Florida sports market, while placating a fan base angry about his retention of unpopular general manager Jeff Ireland. He recruited free agent coach Jeff Fisher, who turned him down as Jim Harbaugh had the offseason before. He made a pitch to future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, but Manning never seemed to take the Dolphins’ situation seriously. And so, instead, Ross had to settle for a ripple, with the hiring of former Green Bay offensive guru Joe Philbin to pace the sidelines, the drafting of Ryan Tannehill to someday take the snaps, and the re-signing of Paul Soliai and Cameron Wake to anchor the defense.

“What we talked about was building a foundation, building a program, building a football team that could deliver sustained success over a period of time,” Philbin says of interviewing with Ross. “I’ve coached in the National Football League for nine years and college for 19. I don’t know if you ever go into a game where you don’t feel like you have a chance to win.”

The Dolphins have a chance to win a couple more games this season, but due to the limitations of the offensive talent base, grander accomplishments will have to wait.

Offense

While he wasn’t the primary play-caller, Philbin did design the offensive gameplans for a Packers team that led the NFL in points scored en route to a 15–1 regular-season record. Now he takes over a team that finished 20th in the NFL in scoring.

Clearly there is work to do, especially after the Dolphins dumped their leading receiver, talented but troubled Brandon Marshall, for two third-round choices. Marshall’s statistics were misleading — his 1,214-yard total could have been higher if not for plenty of critical drops. Still, his departure leaves Brian Hartline, who has good hands and decent speed, and solid slot man Davone Bess as the most experienced returnees. Neither will have defenses sweating.

The Dolphins added another wide receiver in June when they signed Chad Johnson (who is no longer Chad Ochocinco after legally changing his last name, again) to a one-year deal. Johnson gets the chance to not only play for his hometown team, as he was born and raised in Miami and played at Miami Beach High School, he also will get a chance, perhaps his last one, to resurrect his NFL career. Johnson, 34, appears to be on the tail end of a productive career, as he caught only 28 passes for 329 yards and one touchdown in 12 forgettable games with New England last season.

Philbin has made it clear that he would prefer to spread the ball around rather than be reliant upon one receiver. That means opportunities for raw second-year speedster Clyde Gates, holdover tight end Anthony Fasano, promising H-back Charles Clay, rookie tight end Michael Egnew and even Reggie Bush split wide.

Bush will work plenty out of the backfield as well, after proving skeptics wrong with a strong season as a feature back. Rather than wearing down, Bush played better as the season progressed, finishing with a 5.0-yard average. Ideally, he’ll get more help this time from Daniel Thomas, the 2011 second-round pick who had trouble staying healthy as a rookie. Lamar Miller, a natural runner from Miami, also could get a look.

They will work behind an offensive line that needs a full return to health for cornerstone left tackle Jake Long and continued development from second-year center Mike Pouncey. The other three spots are somewhat in flux. Veteran Richie Incognito will get the first look at left guard, and second-round pick Jonathan Martin has a chance to step into the right tackle spot voided by long-time (but declining) fixture Vernon Carey.

So who will they protect? Matt Moore returns as the stopgap starter, after relieving the ineffective and injured Chad Henne and then outperforming expectations in 2011. The Dolphins were 6–6 under the mobile journeyman. His inaccuracy makes him a less than an ideal fit for Philbin’s style of offense, so the Dolphins will also open the competition to David Garrard, a Pro Bowler in 2009 who sat out last season with a back injury.

Eventually, Miami will turn to the rookie Tannehill, who has the skill set to become a franchise quarterback. Tannehill has an advantage in that he will be learning under his college coach, Mike Sherman, the Dolphins’ new offensive coordinator. Several factors make it possible that he plays early — his familiarity with the system, his ability to make short and intermediate throws on the move and Dolphins fans’ desperation for a savior.

Related: Top Miami Dolphins Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Miami’s defense deserved better in 2011, consistently keeping the score close only for the offense to squander chances. Much of the unit is back, though it will often be aligned differently, as new coordinator Kevin Coyle brings more of his 4-3 schemes from Cincinnati.

That change will affect several key players — Wake will move from linebacker to defensive end and Soliai from nose tackle to defensive tackle. In any case, it’s critical for the Dolphins to find and develop more playmakers.

Vontae Davis and Sean Smith will each enter their fourth seasons at cornerback, and while they combined for six interceptions, Miami is searching for more consistency, especially from Smith. Richard Marshall takes over in the slot for Will Allen, but the Dolphins may have some issues at safety without Yeremiah Bell, who had slowed some but was considered a team leader. Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones still have much to prove at safety.

Up front, Miami should be solid, at least in terms of its starters. Wake’s sack total slipped, but he remains one of the NFL’s most dynamic pass-rushers. Soliai is a run-stuffer. Randy Starks is a solid all-around player. And Jared Odrick, in his first full season, had moments where he lived up to his first-round selection. 

The linebackers are led by Karlos Dansby, who is adept in coverage and made a lot of tackles but not as many game-turning plays as his contract suggests. Kevin Burnett played well after a slow start, and former Patriot Gary Guyton joins the group. This is a big year for Koa Misi, another Ireland draft choice who hasn’t made much impact.

Specialists

For several years, this has been both a compliment of an individual and a criticism of an organization: Punter Brandon Fields, at times, has been the Dolphins’ most dangerous player. He turned in another excellent year, repeatedly flipping field position. Kicker Dan Carpenter was spottier at times, but he did connect on 13-of-16 from beyond 40 yards. Miami has several options to take back kicks, with Bess and occasionally Bush in line to return punts.

Final Analysis: 4th in the AFC East

Hopes were high when Bill Parcells arrived in 2008, bringing Ireland and Tony Sparano with him, and winning the AFC East with an 11–5 record. Miami is 20–28 since, and only Ireland remains, though he’s been hearing “Fireland” chants for quite a while. The fan base may have lost patience with him, but it is likely to give Philbin some leeway, as he tries to implement an exciting offense to go with an already-decent defense. He promises that he and his staff will teach “with enthusiasm, with clarity, with simplicity and accuracy.” The most accurate prediction for this team? That would be something around six or seven wins.

Related: 2012 Miami Dolphins Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Reggie Takes Manhattan
Reggie Bush finally emerged into the feature back spotlight in 2011, rushing for 1,086 yards. During the offseason, he happily shared the spotlight, not with another runner, but with Kelly Ripa. Bush twice appeared as a guest host on LIVE! With Kelly, interviewing the likes of Tom Selleck.

Mourning A Friend
By the time Junior Seau signed with the Dolphins in 2003, Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas were already established stars. Still, both admired and followed their new teammate. So it was no surprise that, in the wake of his suicide, both released statements saying they were “devastated.”

Exciting Addition
On its own, drafting a quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) in the first round for the first time since 1983 (Dan Marino) would have created a buzz. Then Tannehill appeared with his wife Lauren at the press conference. Lauren, a beautiful blonde, is a former Texas A&M cheerleader and a model.

Pulling Right
Steve Ross, like the man from whom he bought the Dolphins (H. Wayne Huizenga), has made no secret of his political preferences. During the offseason, Ross and his wife Kara hosted a $2,500 per person fundraiser for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at Ross’ Palm Beach, Fla., home.

Um, No Pressure
Ross once said at a high school event that Chad Henne “has been the greatest quarterback the University of Michigan has had, and I’m sure that I’m hoping, as is everyone else, that he goes down as the greatest quarterback in Miami Dolphins history — and you know what that will mean.” At Tannehill’s press conference, Ross said, “Let’s hope that someday we can retire this number.”

Down To One
Bill Parcells came to the Dolphins as a supposed savior. The failure of his tenure is best embodied by his first draft. After the recent offseason, which was run by Jeff Ireland (who collaborated with Parcells on that draft), eight of the nine players picked are no longer with the team. The only exception is Jake Long, taken first overall.

New Leaf
­The Dolphins have been secretive and combative in recent years where the media is concerned. This offseason, though, chief executive officer Mike Dee, new coach Joe Philbin and Ireland made introductory stops at several local outlets. That’s what happens after your season ticket sales plunge, and two other local teams (Heat and Marlins) start stealing attention and sponsors

Revolving Door
Don Shula coached 392 regular-season games over a 26-year period. Since he was forced out at the end of the 1995 season, six different full-time coaches have coached the last 256 games over a 16-year period. And now Miami turns to Philbin, the seventh coach.

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: Fri., July 27

Order your 2012 Miami Dolphins Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Miami Dolphins Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Miami Dolphins Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Miami Dolphins 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 08:01
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, Miami Dolphins, NFL
Path: /nfl/miami-dolphins-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

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 Miami Dolphins official twitter account:

@MiamiDolphins (Followers: 143,800)

Top Dolphins To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 26, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Reggie Bush RB @Reggie_Bush 2,524,123
2. Vontae Davis DB @VontaeDavis21 126,546
3. Tony McDaniel DT @TonyMcDaniel78 107,353
4. Mike Pouncey OL @MikePouncey 101,560
5. Nolan Carroll CB @CarrollCity 60,253
6. Reshad Jones S @ReshadJones9 41,179
7. David Garrard QB @DavidGarrard9 33,698
8. Ryan Tannehill QB @RyanTannehill1 28,133
9. Brian Hartline WR @BrianHartline 25,642
10. Davone Bess WR @DavoneBess 22,638
11. Josh Kaddu LB @JoshKaddu 22,169
12. Sean Smith CB @SeanSmith24 21,817
13. Cameron Wake DE @Kold91 20,134
14. Guy Guyton LB @GaryGuyton59 19,991
15. Lamar Miller RB @MillerTime_6 13,317
16. Jamaal Westerman DE @JamaalWesterman 12,705
17. B.J. Cunningham WR @BJCunningham 12,273
18. Anthony Fasano TE @Anthony_Fasano 8,252
19. Randy Starks DT @Starks94 7,838
20. Clyde Gates WR @EdmondGates 6,184
21. Roberto Wallace WR @Roberto_Wallace 5,735
22. Legedu Naanee WR @Naanee11 4,871
23. Kheeston Randall DT  @KRan409 3,037
24. Rishard Matthews WR @_RMatthews 1,720
25. Jonathan Martin OL @J_Martin71 996

The quarterback issues for the Dolphins since Dan Marino have been very well documented. But you can still keep up with the Hall of Fame quarterback and Miami Dolphins legend: @DanMarino (78,520).

You can also follow Mike Dee, Miami Dolphins CEO: @MikeDeeFins (3,485)

The Dolphins Beat:

Omar Kelly, Columnist, blogger for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: @OmarKelly (20,099)

Armando Salguero, Miami Herald columnist: @ArmandoSalguero (16,878)

Ethan Skolnick, Palm Beach Post: @EthanJSkolnick (16,679)

Izzy Gould, Beat writer for Sun Sentinel: @IzzyGould (12,284)

Ben Volin, Beat writer for The Palm Beach Post: @BenVolinPBP (9,519)

Mike Berardino, Beat writer for Sun Sentinel: @MikeBerardino (7,674)

Ken LaVicka, Beat reporter for ESPN 760: @KLV760 (3,137)

Brian Biggane, Palm Beach Post sports writer who covers the Miami Dolphins: @bbiggane (1,572)

Jesse Agler, Miami Dolphins radio host: @finsjesse (5,911)

SunSentinel Dolphins, Sun-Sentinel Dolphins reporters: @SSMiamiDolphins (2,958)

Dolphins Blog Roll:

The Daily Dolphin, The Palm Beach Post's Dolphins blog

Sun Sentinel's Miami Dolphins blog

The SB Nation site covering Miami, The Phinsider, is run by Kevin Nogle and he can be followed @ThePhinsider   

Follow the Dolphins Buzz every day @DolphinsBuzzTap and visit DolphinsGab.com as well as PhinPhanatic.com.

The ESPN AFC East blog is run by James Walker  and you can follow him @ESPN_AFCEast

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: Fri., July 27

Order your 2012 Miami Dolphins Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Miami Dolphins Season Preview
Related: 2012 Miami Dolphins Schedule Analysis

- by Braden Gall and Mark Ross

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Miami Dolphins Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 08:00

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