Articles By Braden Gall

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There are many reasons a sports fan can come to the realization that the college game is a better product than the professional version. Some of that has to do with charming, sleepy college towns and the scenic tailgating. The college game has bigger stadiums filled with more dedicated fans, historic bands and student sections. The offenses are more innovative and the rivalries are drenched in decades of bitterness.

Last but certainly not least, are the college games' traditions. Important locations, songs, items and activities give a deeper meaning and create a deeper connection among fans and the teams they love. And to each other as well. The sense of community at a great college game is stronger than in any other major American sport. The ACC has its fair share of historic practices and strange behaviors. From a legendary rock in South Carolina to a beat-up old lunch pail in Virginia, the ACC can match up with any other league in the nation when it comes to traditions. Here are some of Athlon Sports' favorites:

Howard's Rock and The Hill
Legendary Clemson coach Frank Howard was given a massive rock from Death Valley, Calif., back in the early 1960s. It sat in Howard's office for years until IPTAY executive director Gene Willimon placed it atop a pedestal in 1966 at the top of the east end zone on the "hill" that the team runs down before entering Memorial Stadium each home game — the legend says Howard actually asked Willimon to throw the rock away. The next year, the team started rubbing the rock for good luck in the season opener and have been doing it ever since. The crowd comes to a rolling boil before each game while the Tigers players gather atop the hill waiting for the word to charge the gridiron. Many have called it the most exciting 25 seconds in sports.

Chief Osceola and Renegade
The planting of the spear at Doak Campbell Stadium is one of college football's finest traditions. Chief Osceola and his Appaloosa horse Renegade are the official symbols of the Florida State Seminoles, and they both ride out to midfield before each home game to slam a burning spear into the 50-yard line logo. With the support of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Osceola has been making this pre-game journey since 1978.

The Hokie Slab and "Enter Sandman"
There is little history or tradition with the "Enter Sandman" entrance theme for the Virginia Tech Hokies. In 2000 after playing the BCS title game the year before, Virginia Tech put up a massive new video screen and outsourced the pre-game video production. However, the powers that be in Blacksburg had to pick the song and, clearly, they chose wisely. Besides the signature entrance music, the players also gather in a long tunnel from the lockers to the field and slap a slab of signature Hokie Stone before emerging into a frenzied Lane Stadium.

Georgia Tech's Ramblin' Wreck
When that 1930 Ford Model A Sport coupe comes peeling across Bobby Dodd Stadium at historic Grant Field, the Yellow Jackets faithful go berserk. Bearing the same name as the student body population, The Ramblin' Wreck has been leading the football team into home games since 1961. With cheerleaders draped all over the sides and crisp, whitewall tires, the car is not only an amazing college football tradition but also a work of art.

Miami's Smoke Tunnel
Using plumes of billowing smoke isn't some new or unique tradition reserved for Miami alone. However, the U is one of the originals, as the Hurricanes have been charging the field before home games through a cloud of smoke since the 1950s. Led by Sebastian the Ibis, powerhouse teams in South Florida have been demoralizing opponents by simply running out onto the field.

The Sod Cemetery
A professor issued a challenge in 1962 that Florida State team captain Gene McDowell was happy to meet. He was asked to return to FSU with "some sod" from Between the Hedges at Georgia. Ever since, before leaving for road games in which Florida State is the underdog, facing Florida or any championship game, FSU captains explain the significance of the Cemetery to their teammates. Captains continue to return home with a piece of the opponents' turf to be buried just outside the gates of the practice field.

Florida State's War Chant
There are various historical takes on when, where and how this Florida State tradition began, but many point to a big game against Auburn in 1984. The band played the traditional cheer but the student section continued chanting after the band finished and it stuck. By the next season, it was a stadium-wide phenomenon that birthed the now-historic tomahawk chop.

Best of the Rest:

Touching Testudo
Purchased in 1933 by University of Maryland students, the statue of Testudo (formerly Gorham) is a 300-pound bronze statue of a Chesapeake Bay Diamondback Turtle. The members of the football team touch the statue before taking the field of play at each home game.

Virginia Tech's Lunch Pail
Then co-defensive coordinators Rod Sharpless and Bud Foster brought a beat-up, old coal miner's lunch pail from New Jersey in 1995 to use as a motivational ploy. Now a well-known and established tradition of the Hokies' program, each week, the pail contains goals, hurdles and mission statements.

Pitt's Cathedral of Learning
At 535 feet, Pitt's tower is the tallest educational building in the Western Hemisphere. And the "victory lights" on the top floors are lit after every Pitt win.

Syracuse's No. 44
Retired in 2005, only the best Orange Men have ever been worthy of wearing the prestigious No. 44, including Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little.

NC State's Fury The Wolf
Former NC State head coach Tom O'Brien created Fury the Wolf to bolster the Wolfpack's entrance to Carter-Finley Stadium. The 400-pound bronze wolf was installed in 2008. Packaged with Tuffy the live Finish Tamaskan Dog, there is no mistaking the canine pride at NC State.

Rolling the Quad at Wake Forest
When Wake Forest moved to Winston-Salem in 1956, students needed to replace the ringing of the Wait Hall bell. So they began rolling Hearn Plaza, better known as the Quad.

NC State's re-entry policy
This is much less tradition as much as it is just awesome. Very few stadiums and arenas allow re-entry and Carter-Finley Stadium is one of them. I wonder what the students do out there in the parking lot?

Duke's Cameron Crazies
No, this one doesn't count but it does deserve mention as few hoops traditions compare to the football versions. This one most definitely does.

Teaser:
From a legendary rock in South Carolina to a beat-up old lunch pail in Virginia, the ACC can match up with any other league in the nation when it comes to traditions. Here are some of Athlon Sports' favorites.
Post date: Monday, July 8, 2013 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-50-defensive-linemen-bcs-era
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Greatness is defined in so many different ways. Statistical production, individual awards, team success, longevity, supporting cast, level of competition, raw talent and athletic ability all factor heavily in determining overall greatness. Sometimes, you simply know greatness when you see it.

So all factors were considered when trying to determine who the greatest defensive linemen of the BCS era have been. Here are the Top 50 defensive lineman since the BCS was implemented in 1998:

Agree or disagree with our ranking of College Football's Top 50 D-Linemen of the BCS Era? Let us know on Twitter at @AthlonSports, using the hashtag #AthlonDL50.

1. David Pollack, DE, Georgia
The Bulldogs' defensive end is the most decorated defensive lineman of the BCS era. Pollack is a three-time first-team All-SEC and All-American, twice earning consensus All-American honors. He won the SEC Player of the Year award twice in 2002 and '04 as well as the Bednarik, Hendricks (twice), Lombardi and Lott Awards. He and roommate David Greene helped lead Georgia to its first SEC title (2002) in two decades. His highlight-reel plays — namely against South Carolina — and UGA all-time sack record (36.0) makes him the greatest defensive lineman of the BCS era.

2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska
If anyone is as decorated as Pollack it’s the Boy Named Suh. The star defensive tackle from Portland (Ore.) won the 2009 Outland and Nagurski Trophies as well as the Lombardi, Bednarik and Willis Awards. He was the first defensive player to win AP Player of the Year honors since its inception in 1998 and he finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in ’09. That year Suh claimed the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award when he came up just seconds shy of leading the Huskers to their first conference championship since 1999. He finished his career with 215 tackles, 57 for a loss, 24 sacks and six blocked kicks.

3. Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU
The local kid from Baton Rouge won everything there is to win in the college ranks. He helped lead LSU to an SEC and BCS National Championship in 2007 while earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. He also claimed the Outland, Nagurski and Lott Trophies as well as the Lombardi Award — becoming the first LSU Tiger to win any of those prestigious awards. Dorsey wound up ninth in the Heisman voting '07 too. He was a two-time All-American and finished with 179 tackles, 27 for a loss and 13 sacks. He started 31 of his 52 career games and was drafted fifth overall in the 2008 NFL Draft.

4. Terrell Suggs, DE, Arizona State
The star pass-rusher is best known as the NCAA’s all-time single-season sack master when he totaled 24 QB takedowns in 2002. That year, Suggs was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and the inaugural Ted Hendricks Award winner. The accolades didn’t end there, however, as he also took home the Lombardi, Nagurski and Willis trophies as well. He led the NCAA with 31.5 tackles for a loss and forced six fumbles that year tool. He finished his Sun Devils career with 163 tackles, a school-record 65.5 for a loss, 44 sacks and 14 forced fumbles. He was the 10th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.

5. Julius Peppers, DE, North Carolina
From a talent standpoint, few players have ever been able to match Peppers' freakish quickness and size. As a two-sport star in Chapel Hill, Peppers was a freshman All-American in 1999 before leading the nation in sacks (15.0) as a sophomore. He capped his junior season as a consensus All-American along with Lombardi, Bednarik and Willis Trophy honors. Peppers finished 10th in the Heisman voting in 2001. He started 33 of 34 possible career games and finished with 167 tackles and 30.5 sacks. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.

6. Corey Moore, DE, Virginia Tech
The undersized linebacker turned defensive end helped establish the modern era of Hokies football. By his junior season, Moore earned Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors with 67 tackles, 18.5 for a loss and 13.5 sacks for a team that beat Alabama in the inaugural Music City Bowl. A year later, Moore set the Big East single-season record with 17 sacks en route to the BCS National Championship game. He was a unanimous All-American, Nagurski Trophy and Lombardi Award winner and earned his second Big East Defensive Player of the Year award. He finished his collegiate career with 58.0 tackles for a loss and 35.0 sacks.

7. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Certainly there is some projecting with this freakish athlete but no player has had a two-year start to a career like Clowney. He started as the SEC Freshman of the Year and earned freshman All-American honors after 36 total tackles, 12 for a loss, eight sacks and five forced fumbles. He refined his craft and exploded as a sophomore with 54 tackles, 23.5 for a loss and 13 sacks to go with three more forced fumbles, as he finished sixth in the Heisman voting a year ago. He was a unanimous All-American, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and the Ted Hendricks Award recipient. Should he bring the school’s first SEC crown to Columbia, he may have a case as the greatest defensive lineman in the BCS era.

8. Chris Long, DE, Virginia
The son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie, Long entered the starting lineup as a sophomore, totaling 46 tackles, 10 for a loss and two sacks. As a junior, Long posted 57 tackles, 12 for a loss and four sacks. As a senior, he claimed ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors as well as the Dudley and Hendricks Awards. He was a unanimous All-American after 79 total tackles, 19 tackles for a loss and 14 sacks in his final season, in which he also finished 10th in the Heisman voting. He finished his career with 182 tackles, 36.5 tackles for a loss and 20 sacks before being selected No. 2 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft.

9. Elvis Dumervil, DE, Louisville
After a slow first two seasons in Louisville, Dumervil burst onto the national scene with a 10-sack junior campaign. That was only a glimpse of things to come, however, as Dumervil posted one of the greatest single-seasons in NCAA history. As a senior, he set the NCAA record with six sacks against Kentucky and broke Dwight Freeney’s Big East single-season record with 20 sacks. He also set the NCAA record with 10 forced fumbles and claimed Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Nagurski, Hendricks and consensus All-American honors. He finished 10th in the Heisman voting that year as well before going in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft.

10. John Henderson, DT, Tennessee
As a freshman, Henderson helped lead the Vols to the 1998 BCS National Championship. By the time he had reached the end of his senior season, Henderson had posted 165 tackles and 20.5 sacks — a huge number for an interior defensive lineman — in two first-team All-American seasons. He is one of just four defensive players of the BCS era to claim the historic Outland Trophy and was taken with the ninth overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. 

Related: The Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

11. Dwight Freeney, DE, Syracuse
Starring during the glory years of Orange football, Freeney left school as a two-time, first-team All-Big East performer after setting the conference’s single-season sack record (17.5). He finished with a school-record 34 career sacks and, at one point, posted 17 consecutive games with at least one QB takedown. His record-setting 2001 campaign made him a unanimous All-American and he finished ninth in the Heisman voting. Freeney posted 51.0 tackles for a loss in a Syracuse uniform and was the 11th overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.

12. Brian Orakpo, DE, Texas
The trophy case for the former Longhorn defensive end is packed with Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Nagurski, Lombardi, and Hendricks trophies. He was an All-American who played in 47 career games in Austin, posting 132 tackles, 38 tackles for a loss, 22 sacks and six forced fumbles in his tenure. The Big 12 Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-American saw his career slowed by a knee injury in 2007 or else his numbers would be even higher. He was a contributing member in all 13 games of the 2005 BCS National Championship run and was taken 13th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.

13. Jerry Hughes, DE, TCU
After filling a backup role for his first two seasons, Hughes took over as a full-time starter in 2008. He recorded 18.5 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks and forced six fumbles en route to his first of two Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year awards. He also earned All-American honors that year. He returned to Fort Worth as a senior and posted 54 tackles and 11.5 sacks in his second MWC DPOY and All-American season. He was awarded the Hendricks and Lott Trophies in 2009 before being a late first-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Hughes ended his Horned Frogs career with 139 tackles, 39 for a loss, 28.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles.

14. Haloti Ngata, DT, Oregon
Arguably the best NFL defensive tackle of his generation, Ngata had to overcome a torn ACL in college. Once he recovered, the big interior stuffer posted 107 tackles, 17.5 for a loss and 6.5 sacks over his final two seasons in Eugene. He was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and the Morris Trophy winner before being selected 12th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft

15. Tommie Harris, DT, Oklahoma
Harris was a dominant interior lineman for three of the better Sooners teams of the BCS era. He helped lead his team to the BCS championship game in 2003 while claiming the Lombardi and Willis trophies. He was a two-time consensus All-American and the 14th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.

16. Lamarr Woodley, DE, Michigan
The Wolverines' terror off the edge posted 12 sacks as a senior en route to the Lombardi and Hendricks Awards. He was a unanimous All-American before being drafted in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Steelers.

17. Alex Brown, DE, Florida
The two-time, first-team All-American set the school record for sacks before his Gators career ended. Brown was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2001 and helped Florida claim the 2000 SEC title. He was a three-time, first-team All-SEC player and finished his career with 161 tackles, 47 for a loss and 33 sacks before getting taken in the fourth round of the 2002 NFL Draft.

18. Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
The No. 1 prospect in the nation battled a knee injury during his sophomore year but still posted 58 tackles — including 11 in the ACC Championship game win over Georgia Tech — 10.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. However, Bowers exploded as a senior by leading the nation in tackles for a loss (26.0) and sacks (15.5) to go with his 67 total stops. He was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous first-team All-American and claimed both the Nagurski Trophy and the Hendricks Award.

19. Rien Long, DE, Washington State
The All-American who stayed in his home state is one of just four defensive players to win the Outland Trophy during the BCS era. He was a first-team consensus All-American in 2002 before leaving early for the NFL Draft, where he was a fourth-round pick of the Tennessee Titans.

20. Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC
Ellis was one of the big fellas up the middle who helped the Trojans to four straight conference titles and two BCS championship appearances (2004-05). He was a Morris Trophy winner and the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 and a unanimous All-American in '07. He was the seventh overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. 

Related: The Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era

21. Casey Hampton, DT, Texas
From 1997-2000, Hampton started 37 straight games for the Horns. He posted an absurd 329 tackles and nine forced fumbles. He was a consensus All-American and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 before being taken in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft.

22. Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama
A two-time All-American, Cody helped lead Alabama back to the national championship promised land in 2009. He finished his two-year SEC career with 51 total tackles, 10.5 for a loss and two key blocked kicks. He was a second-round pick by the Ravens in 2010.

23. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
This strong bull in the middle is one of the greatest players in OSU history. He was a two-time Morris Trophy winner in the Pac-10 and earned conference Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2010. The consensus All-American was a second-round pick of the Bears in the 2011 NFL Draft.

24. Vince Wilfork, DT, Miami
Although Wilfork didn’t start until his third year, he was still a proven commodity on teams that played for a BCS national title in 2001. A track and field star as well, Wilfork was a first-team All-Big East performer and has gone onto a Hall of Fame-caliber NFL career.

25. Jamal Reynolds, DE, Florida State
Reynolds helped lead the Seminoles to three consecutive BCS national championship games. He was named the Lombardi and Willis Trophy winners after a 58-tackle, 12-sack season in 2000. He was named a unanimous All-American and taken in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft.

26. David Ball, DE, UCLA
The Bruins' edge rusher led the nation in sacks in 2003 with 16.5 and finished with a school-record 30.5 career sacks. He was the Morris Trophy winner, Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American in 2003.

27. Gaines Adams, DE, Clemson
The 2006 ACC Defensive Player of the Year finished with 157 total tackles, 41.5 tackles for a loss and 26 sacks in 46 career games. He was a unanimous All-American as a senior and was taken fourth overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. Adams tragically passed away from cardiac arrest in 2010.

28. Corey Simon, DT, Florida State
A consensus All-American, Simon helped lead Florida State to back-to-back BCS championship games with a win in the final game over Virginia Tech in 1999. He left school with a then-record 44.0 tackles for a loss and was taken sixth overall in the 2000 NFL Draft.

29. Tamba Hali, DE, Penn State
A unanimous All-American and Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, Hali pushed Penn State to its last Big Ten championship as well as a win in the Orange Bowl following the 2005 season. He led the Big Ten with 17.0 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks before being picked 20th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft.

30. Darnell Dockett, DT, Florida State
The four-year starter for Florida State was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2003. He left Tallahassee with 247 total tackles, 10.5 sacks and a school-record 65 tackles for a loss. He was a third-round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.

Related: The Top 50 Wide Receivers of the BCS Era

31. Shaun Cody, DT, USC
Consensus All-American who won back-to-back national championships with the Trojans.

32. J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Star end posted 106 tackles, 36.5 TFL and 11.5 sacks in just two seasons in Madison.

33. Chad Lavalais, DT, LSU
National Defensive P.O.Y. in 2003 who won the BCS national title and started 41 career games.

34. Jevon Kearse, DE, Florida
The Freak played just one year in the BCS era but helped lead the Gators to a national title in 1997.

35. Mathias Kiwanuka, DE, Boston College
Two-time All-American, Big East Defensive Player of the Year and three-time all-conference player.

36. Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma
Played in the 2008 BCS title game and finished with 33.0 tackles for a loss and 14.5 career sacks.

37. John Abraham, DE, South Carolina
Posted 23.5 career sacks and was a first-team All-SEC performer.

38. Erasmus James, DE, Wisconsin
Willis Award winner, consensus All-American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

39. Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
All-American who won the Hendricks and Willis Awards after leading the nation in sacks (16.0).

40. Courtney Brown, DE, Penn State
Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.

Related: The Top 30 Tight Ends of the BCS Era

41. Richard Seymour, DE, Georgia
42. Marcus Spears, DE, LSU
43. Mario Williams, DE, NC State
44. Will Smith, DE, Ohio State
45. Justin Smith, DE, Missouri
46. Shaun Ellis, DT, Tennessee
47. Kevin Williams, DT, Oklahoma State
48. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
49. Tom Burke, DE, Wisconsin
50. Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue

Related: The Top 50 Offensive Linemen of the BCS Era

The Next 25:

51. Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
52. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
53. John Simon, DE, Ohio State
54. Devon Still, DT, Penn State
55. Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
56. Kenechi Udeze, DE, USC
57. Albert Haynesworth, DT, Tennessee
58. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
59. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Boston College
60. Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma
61. Jared Devries, DE, Iowa
62. Demarcus Ware, DE, Troy
63. Rod Wright, DT, Texas
64. George Selvie, DE, USF
65. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
66. Jerel Worthy, Michigan State
67. Justin Tuck, DE, Notre Dame
68. Gerard Warren, DT, Florida
69. Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida
70. Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan
71. Dan Bazuin, DE, Central Michigan
72. Bill Swancutt, DE, Oregon State
73. Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pitt
74. Larry English, DE, Northern Illinois
75. Jason Babin, DE, Western Michigan

Top 50s of the BCS Era:

The Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
The Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era
The Top 50 Wide Receivers of the BCS Era
The Top 30 Tight Ends of the BCS Era
The Top 50 Offensive Linemen of the BCS Era


Agree or disagree with our ranking of College Football's Top 50 defensive linemen of the BCS Era? Let us know on Twitter (@AthlonSports), using the hashtag #AthlonDL50

Teaser:
College Football's Top 50 Defensive Linemen of the BCS Era
Post date: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 15:36
Path: /college-football/top-25-defensive-heisman-candidates-2013
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Heisman voters are beginning to see the error of their ways.

Yes, the quarterback is still the most important position on the field. And no, offensive linemen are not going to start dominating college football's most prestigious award anytime soon. And no true defensive player has yet to win the award. However, defensive players are finally starting to get their due

A defensive player has been a Heisman finalist in three of the last four seasons. Nebraska's nose tackle supreme Ndamkong Suh finished fourth behind Colt McCoy, Toby Gerhart and Alabama's first Heisman winner Mark Ingram in 2009. In 2011, the voters sent special teams dynamo and opportunistic defensive back Tyrann Mathieu to New York. And in the most recent voting, Manti Te'o finished second behind Johnny Manziel after leading Notre Dame to a perfect regular season in 2012.

South Carolina's freak of nature Jadeveon Clowney isn't the frontrunner to win the 2013 Heisman Memorial Trophy. However, there is no reason to believe he won't be in Manhattan come December. And he certainly leads a long and impressive list of amazing college football defenders who absolutely deserve to be mentioned among "College Football's Most Outstanding Player(s)."

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (12/1)
There is little doubt that Clowney is the most physically gifted player in the nation. He is a near lock as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. And because he set the table as a sophomore with a monster hit against Michigan and huge numbers statistically, he has a great chance at landing in New York. The monster defensive end finished third in the nation in sacks (1.08 pg) and second nationally in tackles for loss (1.96 pg). He enters his third year with 21.0 sacks, eight forced fumbles and 35.5 tackles for a loss and because he plays a stat-heavy defensive position, his box score will speak for itself. However, winning the SEC East might be a must if Clowney hopes to take home the trophy.

2. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
He is a first-team All-American. He is the top linebacker prospect in the nation for next year’s NFL Draft. He plays a stat-heavy position as the leader of the defense for the two-time defending BCS champs. He led the Crimson Tide in tackles a year ago and enters his final season with 211 tackles, 14.0 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, five interceptions and three career defensive touchdowns. And his team will be preseason No. 1 again. He could very easily be this year’s Manti Te’o in terms of team success and individual production.

Related: The SEC's Top Heisman Candidates in 2013

3. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
The freakish, five-star athlete from Los Angeles Loyola broke onto the national scene in 2012. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound edge rusher led the Bruins in sacks (13.5) and tackles for a loss (21.5) and constantly disrupted the opposing backfield. He makes plenty of big plays — Barr had four forced fumbles and a blocked kick last year as well — and plays for a team with conference championship hopes. Packaged with his elite first-round NFL upside, Barr has a chance to win all types of national awards this fall.

4. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
There may not be a harder hitter in the nation than Shazier and that includes Clowney. He flies all over the field with elite speed and athleticism as he led the 12-0 Buckeyes in tackles (115) and tackles for a loss (17.0). He posted five sacks, forced three fumbles and returned his only interception for a touchdown. He has electric ability and looks to make the big play at all times. Once he refines his craft and plays more under control, he will have a chance to make some Heisman waves — especially, if the Buckeyes go unbeaten once again.

Related: The Big Ten's Top Heisman Contenders in 2013

5. Stephon Tuitt, DL, Notre Dame
From a physical standpoint, Tuitt might be one of the few players in the nation who can compete with Mr. Clowney. A potential top-10 NFL pick, Tuitt brings elite size, speed and skill to a position that produces big-time highlights — like this one. The massive sophomore led the team in sacks (12.0) a year ago and returns to what should be the nation's top defensive line. Tuitt will be the Irish's star defender this year.

6. Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia
The guy taking over for Jarvis Jones will pleasantly surprise in 2013. Jenkins is bigger and more physical than Jones and brings an elite work ethic to the rebuilt Georgia 3-4 defense. He played in all 14 games as a true freshman a year ago and finished second on the team in sacks (5.0). With a chance at a national title at a playmaking, stat-heavy position, Jenkins could easily find himself where Jones couldn't — in New York at season's end.

7. Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
The Cougars' outside defender is penciled in as a first-round selection next May as he returns to lead one of the more underrated defenses in the nation. The do-everything linebacker posted an absurd 22.0 tackles for a loss to go with 53 total tackles, 13.0 sacks, six forced fumbles, two blocked kicks and a pair of interceptions — one returned for a touchdown. With Ziggy Ansah in the NFL this fall, Van Noy takes over as the star of the BYU defense.

Related: 2013's Top Independent Heisman Candidates

8. Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
The star defensive end came to TCU as one of the most heralded recruits to ever sign with the Horned Frogs. He didn't wait long to make his mark and prove the hype was legit, as he finished third in the Big 12 in sacks (10.0) a year ago. Fields led the league's top defense by posting 53 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and an interception. He is suspended for the season opener against LSU meaning he will miss a national opportunity to make a big statement, otherwise he would have a strong argument as a top-5 candidate on this list.

9. Aaron Lynch, DE, USF
Lynch is clearly the most talented defender in the newly minted American Athletic Conference. The monstrosity of a defensive end starred as a true freshman at Notre Dame in 2011, leading the team in sacks. After his breakout debut in South Bend, he transferred back home to Florida and sat out last season. Now eligible, Lynch could swing the balance of power in the AAC with his play along the line of scrimmage. He could easily be a top-10 pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

Related: The American Athletic Conference's Top Heisman Contenders in 2013

10. Will Sutton, DL, Arizona State
The star defensive lineman for the Sun Devils led the Pac-12 in sacks (13.0) and tackles for a loss (23.5). He was virtually unblockable last season and he was rewarded with Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He returns for his senior season and leads what was one of the best defenses west of the Mississippi. If ASU can win the South it will be because of Sutton's play and that could get him some Heisman love.

11. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The No. 1 safety in the nation is returning as one of the defensive leaders for the two-time defending BCS national champions. He dominated the back end of arguably the best defense in the nation, patrolling the secondary to the tune of five interceptions a year ago. He makes plays against the both the run and the pass and has to be considered the most complete, best all-around defensive back in the nation.

12. Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford
There are three superstars on the Cardinal's defense this fall and Murphy is the most likely to get some Heisman publicity. He led the team in sacks (10.0) and tackles for a loss (18.0) while posting 56 total tackles and returning his lone interception for a touchdown. With marquee showdowns and national championship aspirations, Murphy could find himself in the mix for the stiff-armed trophy.

Related: The Pac-12's Top Heisman Contenders in 2013

13. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Despite missing the final seven games of the season, Jeffcoat still finished second on the Longhorns in sacks (4.0) and tackles for a loss (11.0) as well as fumbles forced (2). The son of Jim Jeffcoat is a refined, polished pass-rusher who proved his recruiting hype was real when he posted a great sophomore season (8.0 sacks, 16.5 TFL). If Texas has a defensive turnaround like many in Austin are hoping for, it will be because of the electric play of Jeffcoat.

Related: The Big 12's Top Heisman Contenders in 2013

14. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
The first-team All-American patrols the back end of the Cardinal secondary. He is a projected first-round NFL Draft pick heading into his final season for Stanford after a huge 2012 campaign. Reynolds totaled 47 tackles and returned six interceptions for 301 yards and three touchdowns. More big plays like that from Reynolds and he will be getting much-deserved Heisman love.

15. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Unfortunately, defensive tackles have to be truly transcendent (e.g., Suh or Oregon's Haloti Ngata) to be considered legitimate Heisman contenders. This LSU star could easily be the best player in the nation at his position, as he is now one of the most experienced members of the Bayou Bengals' defense. He should build substantially on his 30-tackle, 3.0-sack, 10.0-TFL sophomore season.

16. Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
This might be a bit optimistic but Thompson has all the tools to become one of the nation's best players as just a sophomore. He posted 74 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss, three interceptions and recovered one big fumble against Washington State last season. Now he shifts from safety to linebacker to get around the football more. Fans in the Northwest can bet that UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will will find all sorts of ways to utilize this future superstar on the field.

17. A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
The star tackler for the Vols led the SEC in stops last year and was fourth nationally (138 total tackles). Yet, on a team that was horrendous on defense and didn't make a bowl game, he needs some extra pizzazz to be mentioned among the nation's top defenders. Well, he scored six rushing touchdowns a year ago as a goal-line back on 12 carries. Lead the nation in tackles and score six more touchdowns again this fall and Johnson will get plenty of national respect.

18. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
The Beavers' edge rusher is one of the most underrated defensive players in the nation. He finished with 44 total tackles, 9.0 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss for arguably the most improved defense in the nation last year. With Pac-12 North division title expectations looming in 2013, Crichton won't be an unknown for much longer.

19. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
As long as he stays healthy, Borland is as big a playmaker as there is in the nation. He enters his senior season with 13 career forced fumbles, three career interceptions, 13.0 career sacks and a ridiculous 41.0 tackles for a loss. All of this alongside his 309 career total tackles for the three-time defending Big Ten champions.

20. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
The issue with cornerbacks and the Heisman is the lack of opportunities. The best covermen are left alone by opposing quarterbacks so one would have to be special (e.g., Charles Woodson) to compete for this award. But I.E.O. makes enough big plays — see 2012's four interceptions and six forced fumbles — to deserve consideration.

21. Morgan Breslin, DE, USC
If USC expects to return to Pac-12 contention, Breslin needs to build on his outstanding 2012 campaign. He was tied for fifth nationally in sacks a year ago (13.0) in his first season at Heritage Hall. He added 19.5 tackles for a loss and 62 total tackles.

22. Lamarcus Joyner, DB, Florida State
The former elite five-star recruit is rounding into form for the defending ACC champion Seminoles. He makes big plays in the secondary and leads a defense that could once again be one of the nation's best. What gives Joyner an edge, however, might be his special teams play. He averaged nearly 25 yards per return on 18 kick returns last year.

Related: The ACC's Top Heisman Contenders in 2013

23. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
The supremely talented coverman should get national respect for his overall ability. He posted 78 total tackles, forced four fumbles and blocked two kicks a year ago, but what makes him a Heisman contender is his versatility. Should Will Muschamp need Purifoy on offense or special teams, he could deliver big-time plays.

24. Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
The junior could be the next big star nationally for the Broncos' defense. He posted 48 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and an interception last year. Should Boise State run the table or finish 12-1, Lawrence will get much of the credit on defense.

25. Andrew Jackson, LB, Western Kentucky
There is a good chance WKU becomes a huge story in 2013 with Bobby Petrino leading the way and Jackson would be both the reason and a beneficiary. Jackson totaled 122 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, 2.0 sacks and four forced fumbles a year ago. Look for Jackson to become more of a household name this fall.

Best of the Rest:

Domnique Easley, DT, Florida
Dion Bailey, S, USC
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama
Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU
Hayes Pullard, LB, USC
Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas
James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
Josh Harvey-Clemons, S/LB, Georgia


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Teaser:
The Top 25 Defensive Heisman Candidates in 2013
Post date: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 14:53
Path: /college-football/top-independent-heisman-contenders-2013
Body:

Notre Dame is tied with USC (counting Reggie Bush) and Ohio State for the all-time NCAA lead with seven Heisman Trophy winners. Army has three such awards and Navy has a pair of stiff-armed trophies.

That being said, only one of those 12 Heisman campaigns — Tim Brown in 1987 — took place after 1965. Needless to say, it has been a long drought for these three formerly esteemed programs. Manti Te’o nearly ended that trend last year with a remarkable senior season.

While Army, Navy and Notre Dame have been the preeminent Independent programs for nearly two decades in college football, Independent Heisman Trophies were much more common place than one might imagine. Miami’s Vinny Testaverde in 1986, Boston College’s Doug Flutie in 1984, South Carolina’s George Rogers in 1980 and Pitt’s Tony Dorsett in 1976 all won the great honor as an independent.

So who are the best Independent Heisman candidates in 2013? 

1. Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
A potential top-10 NFL draft pick next spring, Tuitt is one of the most physically impressive ends in the nation. The first-team All-American will spearhead one of the nation’s best defensive lines and plays a stat-heavy position, unlike teammate Louis Nix. Tuitt posted 47 total tackles, 12.0 sacks, 13.0 tackles for loss, forced three fumbles, blocked a kick and provided one of the most exciting highlights of last season with his 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Navy.

2. Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
The Cougars' outside defender is also penciled in as a first-round selection next May as he returns to lead one of the more underrated defenses in the nation. The do-everything linebacker posted an absurd 22.0 tackles for loss to go with 53 total tackles, 13.0 sacks, six forced fumbles, two blocked kicks and a pair of interceptions — one returned for a touchdowns.

3. Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy
The young, hard-working freshman from Nashville, Tenn., took some time to earn his spot in the starting lineup. But when he finally broke through in Week 6 against Central Michigan, he blossomed into one of the more impressive first-year players in the nation. He finished with 898 yards passing and a 9:2 TD:INT ratio to go with his 649 yards rushing and 10 scores on the ground. More importantly, he led the Midshipmen to a 6-2 record. The Middies' sophomore signal-caller could explode onto the national scene in 2013.

4. Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU
Wide receivers simply don’t get many Heisman votes but Hoffman is one of the nation’s top pass-catchers. He hauled in 100 passes for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago. He has to break in a new quarterback this time around, but new starter Taysom Hill (more on him in a second) has tons of ability and the system is a very statistically friendly one.

5. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU
This sophomore from Pocatello, Id., is one of the most gifted athletes on the Cougars roster and he has fans excited about the future of BYU football. He missed the final seven games of the year but showed flashes of elite ability as just a freshman before getting hurt. He threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 336 yards and four more scores on the ground as Riley Nelson’s backup.

6. Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Elite All-American player who plays an unheralded position that doesn't pad stats.

7. George Atkinson III, RB, Notre Dame
Is the starter for now and has speed to burn. He will post big numbers if he gets 250 touches.

8. Raymond Maples, RB, Army
Could build on his 223-att., 1,215-yard, 2-TD season from a year ago if he can hold onto the ball.

9. Greg Bryant, RB, Notre Dame
The Irish's sleeper has elite ability and could easily take over the starting role.

10. Austin Franklin, WR, New Mexico State
Posted 74 receptions, 1,245 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore last year.

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Teaser:
The Top Independent Heisman Contenders in 2013
Post date: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 14:44
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Big Ten
Path: /college-football/big-tens-top-heisman-contenders-2013
Body:

The Big Ten dominated the Heisman Trophy in the 1990s.

From 1991 to '99, the Big Ten claimed four Heisman Trophies — Desmond Howard (1991), Eddie George ('95), Charles Woodson ('97) and Ron Dayne ('99). However, since the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher won the award 14 years ago, only one Big Ten player has claimed the most coveted trophy in sports (Troy Smith, 2006).

That trend could change this year. If one league is going to knock the SEC off its recent Heisman pedestal — it’s won four of the last six — it might be the Big Ten.

Elite national championship-caliber quarterbacks and productive, extremely versatile All-American tailbacks fill the list of potential Big Ten Heisman Trophy contenders in 2013 (complete with updated Vegas odds):

1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (13/2)
The Buckeyes' quarterback was easily the biggest finalist snub this past season, as he ended up finishing fifth in the voting. As the unquestioned leader of an unbeaten Ohio State squad, Miller single-handedly carried the Bucknuts to victory week after week. He was fourth in the Big Ten in rushing (105.9 ypg), second in passing efficiency and second in total offense. Few players on this list can improve their numbers like Miller will in his second year in Urban Meyer's unstoppable spread scheme. His electric, playmaking ability, raw toughness and perfect fit in the system make him a virtual lock as a Heisman contender next season — as well as a potential top overall NFL Draft pick.

2. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska (18/1)
Few players make the eye-popping plays in the backfield like Martinez. He showed marked improvement in efficiency and decision making this fall, leading the Big Ten in total offense (277.9 ypg) and passer rating (141.59). He finished with 2,871 yards passing, 1,019 yards rushing and accounted for 33 total touchdowns. A pair of potential showdowns with Braxton Miller will likely determine T-Magic’s Heisman fate. Four more losses for the Big Red and Martinez will find it hard to get to New York without elite statistics.

3. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan (33/1)
Fans in Ann Arbor have been waiting for Gardner for years and 2013 will be his chance to shine. In just five starts last year, the former elite recruit accounted for 18 touchdowns, just five interceptions and 264 yards of offense per game. He fits Brady Hoke's scheme better than Denard Robinson yet Gardner has similar athletic ability. His ability to pass the football could set him apart from his former teammate and could make him the Big Ten Player of the Year.

4. Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern
The Northwestern offense is as dynamic as any in the nation and Mark will be the centerpiece. He rushed for 1,366 yards, caught 20 passes and scored on two punt returns. He can do everything for a team looking to win its first Big Ten title since 1995. With exciting players returning around him, Mark's only negative heading into the season will be the losses along the offensive line. That said, the Wildcats normally plug in the next guy on a roster that isn't ever overloaded with talent.

5. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (25/1)
Nebraska has always loved to run the football and the explosive back will finally be the full-time starter in Lincoln. After then-incumbent Rex Burkhead went down with an injury last season, Abdullah stepped in and the sophomore provided big support in the running game. He posted six 100-yard efforts over a nine-week span in place of Burkhead and he should get the lion's share of carries this fall.

6. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
As a redshirt freshman a year ago, Gordon rushed for over 600 yards on more than 10 yards per carry. His 216-yard effort against Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game was a glimpse of his elite upside. And he did all of that as the third stringer behind Montee Ball and James White. With Ball gone, it should be the bigger, more physical Gordon not the smaller more all-purpose White who gets the feature back workload for new Badgers coach Gary Andersen in 2013.

7. Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern
Not many players can boast a stat line like Colter’s. In 2012, he threw for 872 yards and eight touchdowns and also rushed for 894 yards and 12 touchdowns. And over the last two seasons, he has caught 59 passes for 635 yards and three scores. He will continue to split time with the more pro-style Trevor Siemian and that will impact Colter's Heisman upside. But make no mistake, Colter has electric athletic ability and he will be at his best now with two full seasons under his belt.

8. Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
If Hyde can stay on the field and hold off a deep and talented depth chart of running backs, he has a chance to be one of the league’s most productive players. He averaged nearly 100 yards per game a year ago (97.0) and scored 16 touchdowns, including at least one score in each of the final seven games of the year. He is a perfect fit for the Miller-led, Urban Meyer-designed spread offense.

9. Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
He will have to break in a new quarterback (who could be a true freshman) but Robinson established himself as the league’s premier wide receiver in 2012. He was the only Big Ten player to top 1,000 yards receiving (1,018), 70 receptions (77) or 10 touchdown receptions (11). If this offense can find some consistency at quarterback, Robinson could post an All-American season for Bill O’Brien’s potent and creative offense.

10. Indiana’s Quarterback
Tre Roberson appears to be the frontrunner here, but it may not matter who gets the snaps. Roberson is an electric athlete who was off to a huge start last year through six quarters — 368 yards, 2 TD, INT, 133 yards rushing, 3 TD — before being lost for the season with an injury. That said, Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld helped this offense lead the Big Ten in passing (311.2 ypg). As long as Kevin Wilson is calling the plays, whoever is under center for the Hoosiers will have a big season.

11. James White, RB, Wisconsin
The former high school teammate of Giovani Bernard, White may be destined to be the greatest backup running back in amateur football history. He posted 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman behind John Clay. He then rushed for 713 yards and six scores behind Montee Ball. Last year, he posted 806 yards and 12 scores behind Ball again. With Gordon taking over as the primary back, White is once again in a supporting role.

12. Taylor Lewan, OL, Michigan
A big body and a big personality make this offensive tackle one of the most high-profile hog mollies in the nation. Lewan will be the heart and soul of this Michigan offense in 2013 — one that could win the Big Ten championship. His first-round NFL Draft potential helps his case as well.

13. Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska
Bell has one major advantage over Penn State’s Robinson in the race to be the Big Ten’s best wide receiver. He has a great quarterback in Taylor Martinez. Bell has the speed and big-play ability to land in the national conversation. He just needs to build on his 50-catch, 863-yard, 8-TD sophomore season.

14. Mark Weisman, RB, Iowa
The guy whose name rhymes with Heisman was forced into action last year and quickly became an Iowa cult hero. The burly, blue-collar runner stepped into the lineup and rushed for four consecutive 100-yard games before getting nicked up late in the year. Should he stay healthy and get the carries, Weisman will post big numbers.

15. Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
It will be very interesting to see how the new offensive coaching staff impacts the production in the passing game for the Badgers. Abbrederis figures to be the most dependable and most consistent receiver in the league once again and could see a boost in his production in the new scheme.

Big Ten Team Previews

Leaders DivisionLegends Division
IllinoisIowa
IndianaMichigan
Ohio StateMichigan State
Penn StateMinnesota
PurdueNebraska
WisconsinNorthwestern

Best of the Rest:

16. Zach Zwinak, RB, Penn State
17. Derrick Green, RB, Michigan
18. Donnell Kirkwood, RB, Minnesota
19. Michigan State’s Running Back
20. Akeem Hunt, RB, Purdue
21. Spencer Long, OL, Nebraska
22. Stephen Houston, RB, Indiana
23. Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois
24. Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB, Michigan
25. Jacob Pederson, TE, Wisconsin

Five Defensive Players to Watch:

Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

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Teaser:
The Big Ten's Top Heisman Contenders in 2013
Post date: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 14:19
All taxonomy terms: College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/secs-top-heisman-trophy-contenders-2013
Body:

Much like the rest of college football, the SEC has taken over the Heisman Trophy debate.

Herschel Walker (1982) and Bo Jackson ('85) won memorable Heisman Trophy awards in the early 1980s. However, between 1986 and 2006, the league won one stiff-armed trophy (Danny Wuerffel, 1996).

Yet, the SEC wasn’t satisfied with just winning the BCS National Championship every single year. The league has won four of the last six Heisman Trophies, including the first such award for the Alabama Crimson Tide (Mark Ingram, 2009).

With the defending Heisman Trophy winner, the nation’s No. 1 defensive player, the two-time defending BCS champion quarterback and a quarterback who will own every major career SEC passing record returning to the nation’s best conference, there is no reason to think this trend will end in 2013.

Here are the SEC’s top Heisman Trophy candidates for 2013 (complete with updated Vegas odds):

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (14/1)
There is little doubt that Clowney is the most physically gifted player in the nation. He is a near lock as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. And because he set the table as a sophomore with a monster hit against Michigan and huge numbers statistically, he has a great chance at landing in New York. The disruptive defensive end finished third in the nation in sacks (1.08 pg) and second nationally in tackles for loss (1.96 pg). He enters his third year with 21.0 sacks, eight forced fumbles and 35.5 tackles for loss and because he plays a stat-heavy defensive position, his box score will speak for itself. However, winning the SEC East might be a must if Clowney wants to become just the second true defensive player to ever win the Heisman.

2. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (9/2)
What else is there to say about Manziel? His numbers speak for themselves and his Cotton Bowl performance will go down in Aggie lore as one of the greatest postseason performances by a Heisman winner of all time. But Tim Tebow couldn’t repeat. Neither could Mark Ingram, Matt Leinart or Sam Bradford. All were elite talents like Manziel, but the odds of repeating are 1-in-77. And now that SEC defensive coordinators will be spending the next five months figuring out ways to stop him, a repeat of his production seems highly unlikely mostly because he set the bar so high for himself in 2012.

3. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (12/1)
The Dawgs' signal caller will make a push to rewrite the Georgia and SEC record books with another big year in Athens. He led the nation in passing efficiency and has 77 total touchdowns in the last two seasons. With a loaded offense returning around him, Murray just needs to eliminate the bizarro game from his resume — e.g., Florida and South Carolina in 2012, Mississippi State in '11 — to be an NYC finalist. He might also need to finish a season in Atlanta with a win instead of a loss.
4. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama (12/1)
Looking for another true sophomore to win the award? Look no further than the extremely gifted Yeldon. As just a freshman, he rushed for 1,000 yards and 10 scores as a backup last season en route to a national championship. Nick Saban’s offense is a proven Heisman commodity for running backs and Eddie Lacy has moved on to the NFL. If Yeldon gets 200+ touches, he easily has the skill to make it to New York.

5. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
It will be tough for Gurley to top his freshman numbers in the brutal SEC, but his quarterback and offensive line return intact. He led the league in rushing by a running back and scored 17 times. Only Trent Richardson has ever scored 20 rushing TDs in SEC history as a running back. With Murray and Gurley in the same backfield, one has to wonder if the UGA vote will be split between two elite players.

6. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama (10/1)
A big part of why Yeldon will be successful will be the return of McCarron. The O-line will have to be rebuilt (to some extent), but the talent at the skill positions could be better than Saban has ever had at the Capstone. If McCarron goes for 30 TDs and just three interceptions again, he will most definitely be in the Heisman race. The biggest issue is his offensive system may never allow for big numbers from the quarterback as names like Ingram, Richardson, Lacy and Yeldon get most of the attention.

7. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
He is a first-team All-American. He is the top linebacker prospect in the nation for next year’s NFL Draft. He plays a stat-heavy position and runs the defense for the two-time defending BCS champs. And his team will be preseason No. 1 again. He could very easily be this year’s Manti Te’o in terms of team success and individual production.

8. Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida (40/1)
The Gators quarterback flashed brilliance through the air at times last year (see the Tennessee game) and on the ground all season (see the Vanderbilt game). If the Gators can provide him with a capable supporting cast, his raw athletic ability will shine in 2013. He has all the physical tools to take the next step in his development and become one of the nation’s breakout stars this fall.

9. Ben Malena, RB, Texas A&M
If fans want a deep sleeper pick for a monster 2013 campaign it would be the Aggies running back. He rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and scored nine touchdowns despite only getting 138 carries on the ground. Now with Christine Michael gone and Kevin Sumlin wanting to keep his star quarterback healthy, the powerful Malena could break onto the national scene as one of the SEC’s best running backs.

10. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Few players in the nation have as explosive a first step as Cooper. He was on full display in the SEC and BCS championship games a year ago. He finished with 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns as just a true freshman on 59 receptions for a hefty 16.9 yards per catch. With a great offensive line, quarterback and running game, Cooper could be facing single coverage all season.

11. Ladarius Perkins, RB, Mississippi State
The Bulldogs tailback won’t ever be confused with the burly power backs this league has been known for, but he has tons of ability and proved himself a year ago. In his first season as the starter, the explosive and versatile Perkins rushed for 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns. He also is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and will get plenty of touches in Dan Mullen’s spread offense.

12. Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia
As a true freshman, change-of-pace, backup last year, Marshall rushed for 759 yards and scored nine total touchdowns. Behind an offensive line with all five starters back and Murray at quarterback, Marshall has a chance to improve on those numbers significantly this fall. The only thing keeping him from an All-American season might be fellow backfield mate Todd Gurley.

13. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
The heady wide receiver had as good a season as any Vandy wideout in history. He led the SEC with 94 receptions, was second with 1,323 yards and caught eight touchdowns. He will have to try to repeat those numbers with a new quarterback under center this fall.

14. Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia
The big-play dynamo for the Dawgs should quickly establish himself as one of the nation’s most explosive wideouts now that he is a full-time offensive player. He can stretch the field and excels in the slot and will have one of the nation’s top offenses returning around him.

15. Tyler Russell, QB, Mississippi State
The Dan Mullen-coached quarterback showed great signs of growth last year, finishing with one of Mississippi State’s best passing seasons in history. Should he improve even slightly on his numbers (2,897 yards, 24 TD, 10 INT) and pull an upset or two, he could place himself as the league’s No. 4 passer

16. HaHa Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The nation’s best safety is eyeing a third straight BCS national title.

17. Jake Matthews, OL, Texas A&M
The pedigree, track record and NFL upside are there. Will be protecting Manziel’s blindside.

18. Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia (pictured below)
Taking over for Jarvis Jones as SEC’s top outside linebacker/pass rusher.

19. Cyrus Kouandjio, OL, Alabama
Arguably the top left tackle prospect in the nation on potential three-time BCS champ.

20. Wesley Tate, RB, Vanderbilt
Very talented runner who has plenty of competition in the Dores backfield.

21. Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina
If he can stay on the field, he could be the best darkhorse candidate in the SEC.

22. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
Topped 1,000-yards last year and set to be unleashed in new, up-tempo offense under Guz Malzahn.

23. Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia
Second-best tight end in the nation is wildly underrated by fans — not by opposing coaches.

24. Antonio Richardson, OL, Tennessee
First-round talent with elite upside and a chance to prove himself against Clowney.

25. Matt Jones, RB, Florida
Could also be Mack Brown or Kelvin Taylor. A Gators workhorse back would be in the mix.
Best of the Rest:

26. Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
27. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
28. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
29. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
30. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
31. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
32. Henry Josey, RB, Missouri
33. Brandon and Trey Williams, RB, Texas A&M
34. Marlin Lane, RB, Tennessee
35. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
36. Jeff Scott, RB, Ole Miss
37. Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss
38. Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
39. A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
40. Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama 

2013 SEC Team Previews

East DivisionWest Division
FloridaAlabama
GeorgiaArkansas
KentuckyAuburn
MissouriLSU
South CarolinaMississippi State
TennesseeOle Miss
VanderbiltTexas A&M

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Teaser:
The SEC's Top Heisman Trophy Contenders in 2013
Post date: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 13:58
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, News
Path: /college-football/complete-history-acc-realignment
Body:

Did you know that Georgia Tech has won three more SEC championships (five) than South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Vanderbilt combined? Or that the Gamecocks were a founding member of the ACC? Or that Grinnell College spent 10 years competing with Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Missouri and Kansas in the Big 8?

The point is that conference realignment isn't a new phenomenon. In fact, it's been ongoing for over 100 years of collegiate athletic competition. However, the rapid speed with which changes happen these days is tied directly to the exponential growth in revenue these sports can provide. It has impacted virtually every program in the nation at one time or another, and the ACC is certainly not immune to change.

Current commish John Swofford had to be proactive as of late with rumors swirling for the better part of two years about potential ACC poaching from other leagues. It turns out, he was right to be concerned as at least one of the league's founding members is departing for greener pastures. That said, the ACC responded swiftly to solidify its place in the college football hierarchy. And it took some unique strategies to stabilize it's long-term future.


The ACC Commissioners:

James Weaver, 1954-70
Robert James 1971-87
Eugene Corrigan, 1987-97
John Swofford, 1997-present

Related: 2013 ACC Football Predictions
Related: The ACC's 2013 All-Conference Teams


The ACC Timeline:

1953: After losing a multitude of members to the SEC in 1932, the once massive (23 member) Southern Conference loses eight key members to the formation of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The SoCon had a league-wide ban on postseason play and this is why many believe the ACC got started to begin with. Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, South Carolina and, a few months later, Virginia became the charter members.

1971: South Carolina decided to leave for independence and would later join the SEC in 1991.

1978: After only containing seven teams for most of the 70s, Georgia Tech left the Metro Conference for the greener pastures of the ACC.

1991: Also from the Metro Conference, Florida State’s decision to join the ACC might have been the most important maneuver in ACC history. The Noles went on to dominate the league for the first decade and it played in the first three BCS National Championship games (1998-2000). The 1999 title is the league’s only BCS National Championship.

2004: Miami and Virginia Tech both officially joined in the summer of 2004. Adding the two football powers gave the ACC two more viable national championship football programs to package with FSU.

2005: Boston College comes aboard the next year, giving the ACC 12 teams and the opportunity to split the conference into two divisions and host a title game. After taking the Canes, Hokies and Eagles, the Big East countered with expansion of its own and is still on life support to this day.

2011: In an effort to get out in front of the curve, John Swofford continued to stabilize his league by adding two more Big East powers, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, to the group. The ACC technically expanded to 14 before any other major BCS league.

2012: Founding member Maryland became the first such ACC program to jump ship in the modern rounds of realignment. The Terrapins wanted more league stability and a much bigger payday and got both in a move to the Big Ten. The Terps will begin play in the Big Ten in 2014. To counter the loss of Maryland, Swofford moved quickly to find a replacement and settled on Louisville. The Cardinals will play in the American Athletic Conference before joining the ACC in 2014.

2013: In a shrewd legal move by the conference, the ACC signed a "Grant of Rights" deal locking in ownership of media rights for all member institutions. This is a simple but effective way to keep teams from leaving the ACC in the short term. From now until the end of the GOR contract (2027), if a school leaves the league, the ACC will retain the media rights, effectively rendering the move to another league fairly pointless. Additionally, Syracue and Pittsburgh will make their debut in the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

2014: At this time next year, Maryland will officially become a member of the Big Ten while Louisville will be become an official member of the ACC. Notre Dame will also play five games a year against ACC foes beginning in 2014. 

Related: The ACC's Top Heisman Candidates in 2013


ACC BCS Bowl History:

Notes: Year is representative of the fall football season, not the actual date of the bowl
(#) = final national BCS ranking

1998 Fiesta (NCG): (1) Tennessee 23, (2) Florida State 16
1999 Sugar (NCG): (1) Florida State 46, (2) Virginia Tech 29
2000 Orange (NCG): (1) Oklahoma 13, (2) Florida State 2
2001 Orange: (5) Florida 56, (10) Maryland 23
2002 Sugar: (3) Georgia 26, (14) Florida State 13
2003 Orange: (9) Miami 16, (7) Florida State 14
2004 Sugar: (3) Auburn 16, (8) Virginia Tech 13
2005 Orange: (3) Penn State 26, (22) Florida State 23 (3 OT)
2006 Orange: (6) Louisville 24, (14) Wake Forest 13
2007 Orange: (8) Kansas 24, (3) Virginia Tech 21
2008 Orange: (19) Virginia Tech 20, (12) Cincinnati 7
2009 Orange: (10) Iowa 24, (9) Georgia Tech 14
2010 Orange: (4) Stanford 40, (13) Virginia Tech 14
2011 Sugar: (13) Michigan 23, (11) Virginia Tech 20 (OT) 
2011 Orange: (23) West Virginia 70, (15) Clemson 33
2012 Orange: (13) Florida State 31, (16) Northern Illinois 10 

Overall Record: 3-13
National Championships: 1-2

Related: Ranking the ACC's Football Stadiums in 2013
Related: Ranking the ACC's Football Uniforms in 2013


The History of the ACC:

Special thanks to Wikipedia.com for the above image. Please help keep Wikipedia free for all by donating here.

2013 ACC Team Previews

AtlanticCoastal
Boston CollegeDuke 
ClemsonGeorgia Tech
Florida StateMiami
Maryland North Carolina
NC State Pittsburgh
SyracuseVirginia
Wake Forest Virginia Tech


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College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 81-100
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Teaser:
The Complete History of ACC Realignment
Post date: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 10:19
Path: /college-football/history-big-east-realignment-birth-american-athletic-conference
Body:

Did you know that Georgia Tech has won three more SEC championships (five) than South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Vanderbilt combined? Or that the Gamecocks were a founding member of the ACC? Or that Grinnell College spent 10 years competing with Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Missouri and Kansas in the Big 8?

The point is that conference realignment isn't a new phenomenon. In fact, it's been ongoing for over 100 years of collegiate athletic competition. However, the rapid speed with which changes happen these days is tied directly to the exponential growth in revenue these sports can provide. It has impacted virtually every program in the nation at one time or another and the Big East is certainly not immune to change.

In fact, the Big East as a football-playing conference is technically dead. Realignment has pulverized the league formerly known as the Big East as just one school from the league's football birth, Temple, is still a member of the recently created American Athletic Conference (UConn didn't start playing football in the Big East until 2004 and Rutgers is leaving after 2013).

So the calendar flips to July once again this year with a whole new round of changes to track. But never fear, Athlon Sports has you covered with a complete history of Big East Conference athletics — and the subsequent birth of the American Athletic Conference.


The Big East Conference Commissioners:

Dave Gavitt, 1979-1990
Mike Tranghese, 1990-2009
John Marinatto, 2009-2012
Joseph Bailey (interim), 2012
Mike Aresco, 2012-2013/Present

Related: 2013 American Athletic Conference Predictions


The Big East Conference Timeline:

1979: The Big East Conference was originally a league designed as a basketball conglomerate. The northeast was, and still is, a hoops hotbed for talent, fans and NCAA championships. The league started with Boston College, UConn, Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Syracuse as its members. Rutgers and Holy Cross were also invited to join but declined.

1980: Villanova accepted an invitation one year later.

1982: Pittsburgh was asked to join the Big East in its third year of existence. That same year, Penn State requested entrance to the league, but the league members voted against accepting the Nittany Lions. What do you think the Big East would look like today had PSU been allowed to join back in 1982? For the record, Penn State won two national championships in football: 1982 and 1986. The entire dynamic of this league’s existence can be traced back to that one decision made in 1982 when Penn State was denied admission.

1991: The Big East (finally) decides to embrace football and adds major football programs Miami, Rutgers, West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Temple to the group and takes part in its first Big East football season. One year earlier, Penn State had joined the Big Ten and two years later their athletics programs began Big Ten competition (1993).

1995: Notre Dame’s Olympic sports join the Big East. Irish football remains Independent.

2001: The Miami Hurricanes win the Big East's first and only BCS-era National Championship with what many believe to be the best college team ever assembled. Miami would go on to lose in the BCS title game the following year and has yet to return to the championship game since.

2004: Miami and Virginia Tech begin the demise of the Big East as a football power conference by bolting for the ACC. Temple is also kicked out of the league as well.

2005: Boston College follows the Hurricanes and the Hokies to the ACC. To combat the major losses, Mike Tranghese counters by adding Cincinnati, Louisville, South Florida in all sports and DePaul and Marquette in all sports expect football.

2012: West Virginia, and what would have been TCU, both decide through a very public and ugly divorce to join the Big 12. The Big East scrambles to fill it’s schedule by re-inviting the Owls of Temple — who instantly accept the invitation for football only. TCU had previously accepted an invitation to join the Big East from the Mountain West but changed its mind when the Big 12 extended its own invitation to the Horned Frogs. TCU never played a game of any kind as a Big East institution.

2012: On the verge of losing Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC, the "Catholic 7" secede from the Big East to form a new basketball only league. DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova will be joined by Butler, Xavier and Creighton in what should be an excellent hoops conference. Additionally, Boise State and San Diego State balk at joining the now defunct Big East football conference and instead stick with the Mountain West. Rutgers announces that it is defecting to the Big Ten Conference, and Louisville quickly follows suit in announcing its own move to the ACC.

2013: Pittsburgh and Syracuse officially join the ACC in all sports, and the American Athletic Conference is born. Houston, SMU, Memphis and UCF join Cincinnati, Temple, Louisville, Rutgers, UConn and South Florida in a one-year, 10-team AAC. This lineup will last just one season as the next two seasons are scheduled to feature more changes. Additionally, Notre Dame ships all of its non-football sports to the ACC while inking a deal to play at least five ACC football games per season.

2014: This time next year, Louisville will officially become a full member of the ACC and Rutgers will officially become a full member of the Big Ten. Meanwhile, to fill the gaps, East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa will join the AAC ranks.

2015: Navy will become a football only member of the Big East.

Related: Top American Athletic Conference Heisman Contenders in 2013


Big East BCS Bowl History:

Notes: Year is representative of the fall football season, not the actual date of the bowl
(#) = final national BCS ranking

1998 Orange: (8) Florida 31, (15) Syracuse 10
1999 Sugar (National Championship): (1) Florida State 46, (2) Virginia Tech 29
2000 Sugar: (3) Miami 37, (7) Florida 20
2001 Rose (National Championship): (1) Miami 37, (2) Nebraska 14
2002 Fiesta (National Championship): (2) Ohio State 31, (1) Miami 24 (2OT)
2003 Orange: (9) Miami 16, (7) Florida State 14
2004 Fiesta: (6) Utah 35, (21) Pitt 7
2005 Sugar: (11) West Virginia 38, (7) Georgia 35
2006 Orange: (6) Louisville 24, (14) Wake Forest 13
2007 Fiesta: (9) West Virginia 48, (4) Oklahoma 28
2008 Orange: (19) Virginia Tech 20, (12) Cincinnati 7
2009 Sugar: (5) Florida 51, (3) Cincinnati 24
2010 Fiesta: (7) Oklahoma 48, UConn 20
2011 Orange: (23) West Virginia 70, (15) Clemson 33
2012 Sugar: (22) Louisville 33, (4) Florida 23

Overall Record: 8-7
National Championships: 1-2

Related: Ranking the American Athletic Conference Uniforms for 2013
Related: Ranking the American Athletic Conference Stadiums for 2013



The History of the Big East Conference:

Special thanks to Wikipedia.com for the above image. Please help keep Wikipedia free for all by donating here.

The History of the American Athletic Conference:

2013 American Athletic Conference Team Previews

CincinnatiRutgers
ConnecticutSMU
HoustonSouth Florida
LouisvilleTemple
MemphisUCF


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College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 26-40
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Teaser:
History of Big East Realignment; Birth of the American Athletic Conference
Post date: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 10:08
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Tennessee Titans, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/tennessee-titans-2013-schedule-analysis
Body:

The 2013 season will be a critical one for all involved with the Tennessee Titans. This team needs to show dramatic signs of improvement and it is imperative the Titans are in the playoff mix heading into the final month. And since scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season, Athlon is analyzing every team's 16-game slate.

Tennessee Titans 2013 Schedule:

Week 1: at Pittsburgh
Week 2: at Houston
Week 3: San Diego
Week 4: NY Jets
Week 5: Kansas City
Week 6: at Seattle
Week 7: San Francisco
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: at St. Louis
Week 10: Jacksonville
Week 11: Indianapolis (Thurs.)
Week 12: at Oakland
Week 13: at Indianapolis
Week 14: at Denver
Week 15: Arizona
Week 16: at Jacksonville
Week 17: Houston

Order your 2013 Tennessee Titans Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

Out of the Gate: The '13 campaign begins in rough fashion with back-to-back road trips to division frontrunners in the AFC. Starting on the road in Pittsburgh and Houston will likely have fans much less excited for the home opener in Week 3 against San Diego. The good news, however, is that both the Chargers and Jets (Week 4) are winnable home swing games that will decide much in the way of the AFC pecking order. And with the Chiefs coming to town in Week 5, a 3-2 start is well within reach — and mandatory if this teams wants to compete for a wild card berth.

Toughest Stretch: In three consecutive games, the Titans will face three teams from the best division in football. Games with Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis are, thankfully, separated by the off weekend. An equally tough stretch of three straight road games late in the year against Oakland, Indianapolis and Denver will be tough as well. There isn't a long, arduous stretch for the Titans but each of these short three-game runs will prove to be more than difficult.

Swing Games:at PIT (Week 1), NYJ (Week 4)
Crossover Divisions:AFC West, NFC West
Bye Week:Week 8
Opp. 2012 W/L %:.488 (23rd)
Athlon's SOS Rank:20th

Easiest Stretch: From Week 3 to Week 5, the Titans will face three of the worst teams in the AFC all at home in Nashville, Tenn. The importance of winning at least two, if not all three, of these games cannot be understated. It is not only the three easiest games of the year not named Jacksonville, but they will come after what is all but assured to be an 0-2 start to the year. A stumble early in this stretch and the Titans can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.

Circle The Calendar: The Week 11 Thursday night appointment in Nashville with Andrew Luck coming to town will be a great game. Not only have the Titans and Colts built a long-standing divisional rivalry — mostly because of Tennessee favorite Peyton Manning — but this game could prove critical for Tennessee. An upset win over the Colts could totally change the complexion of the AFC wild card race with plenty of time left in the season (six games) to make moves in the standings.

Divisional Notes: A road game to Houston in Week 2 will be the only AFC South game the Titans play in the first nine weeks of the year. This means, of course, that five of the final eight games will come within the division. Since this team figures to progress throughout the season, this should be considered a blessing. However, having to face Andrew Luck twice in three weeks packaged between long road trips to Oakland and Denver won't be easy. Last but certainly not least, hosting Houston in the season finale could be murderous or divine — depending on whether or not Houston is locked into their playoff seed or not.

Playoff Push: There are worse final months to the season than what the Titans will deal with but there are much better ones too. Games with Arizona at home and Jacksonville on the road in Weeks 15 and 16 are huge breaks and could provide some late-season momentum. Dates with the Colts and Broncos on the road are nasty tests that appear to be certain losses. And as stated, Houston could be needing a win to stay alive in the postseason race or could be resting all of its good players in the final week. Only time will tell.

Buy your 2013 Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Preview Magazine

Fantasy Playoff Run (Weeks 14-16): The Titans’ offense won’t like how their fantasy playoff schedule starts, but for championship week the opponent couldn’t be much more appealing. Denver and Arizona both finished among the top 12 defenses in yards allowed last season, but Jacksonville came in at No. 30. The Jaguars (29th against fantasy RBs) also could provide Chris Johnson with the opportunity to be a deciding factor in championship week.

2013 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHoustonDenver
Miami CincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New EnglandClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas ChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY GiantsDetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen BayNew OrleansSan Francisco
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

Teaser:
Athlon breaks down each and every team's schedule for the 2013 NFL season.
Post date: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-football-2013-all-american-team-recruits
Body:

Be it around the water cooler or on a message board, there is nothing in sports quite like a recruiting debate.

There is technically no right or wrong answer and the truth isn’t revealed until, in most cases, many years later. Clearly, scouting high school football recruits is an inexact science and it leads grown adults — mostly men — to act much like the 17-year old football prospects they are tracking.

Some five-stars turn out to be super stars like Jadeveon Clowney while others never live up to the hype. There are simply too many unpredictable factors for recruiting rankings to be right all the time. Some years are better than others and some scouting websites are better than others.

A quick look at Athlon Sports' 2013 preseason college football All-American team shows you the mixed bag that is recruiting rankings.

Athlon Sports' 2013 All-America Team

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (2011)

The Aggies superstar wasn’t considered a can’t-miss quarterback prospect back in 2011 when he signed with Texas A&M. Other than TAMU, only Oregon, Stanford, Baylor and Iowa State offered him scholarships to major conference programs. The Kerrville (Texas) Tivy product was a three-star quarterback who was ranked as the No. 14-best dual-threat signal caller in the nation and was the No. 45-rated player in the state of Texas. After a year of learning the college game as a redshirt, Manziel proved most everyone in the recruiting business wrong by winning the Heisman Trophy last fall.

Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (2011) National Recruit

The Oro Valley (Ariz.) Canyon Del Oro sophomore was ranked by Athlon Sports as the No. 30 running back in the nation, the No. 5 player in the state of Arizona and the No. 212 overall recruit in the country. He held three Pac-12 offers to play college football from Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado. The coveted tailback was a four-star prospect by Rivals.

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia (2012) AC100

The workhorse back from Tarboro (N.C.) High was a late riser in the recruiting rankings, but when all was said and done, Gurley was a top 100 prospect nationally. He was ranked as the No. 11 running back in the nation and was the No. 83 player in the Athlon Consensus 100. It didn’t take long for this superstar tailback prospect to make his mark on the SEC.

Marqise Lee, WR, USC (2011) AC100

The superstar wide receiver hails from California prep powerhouse Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra. He was the No. 64-rated prospect in the nation, the No. 6-rated player in the state and the No. 10-rated wide receiver in the country. His offer sheet was a who’s who of college superpowers. Lee played on the same team as AC100 wide receivers George Farmer (2011), Robert Woods (2010) and four-star Paul Richardson (2010). How did anyone stop that passing attack?

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (2011) AC100

The electric wide receiver from South Fort Myers (Fla.) had one of the best freshman seasons of all-time. He was ranked as the No. 4 wide receiver in the nation behind only George Farmer (USC), Jarvis Landry (LSU) and Trey Metoyer (Oklahoma). He was a five-star prospect by Rivals and was the No. 24-rated player in the entire nation according to the Athlon Consensus 100.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington (2011) AC100

The Huskies' tight end is yet another feather in the cap for the recruiting gurus. He was the No. 3-rated tight end in the nation behind Nick O’Leary (Florida State) and Jay Rome (Georgia) back in the 2011 class. He was the No. 33-rated player nationally in the AC100 and barely missed getting a fifth star from Rivals or 247Sports.

Gabe Ikard, C, Oklahoma (2009)

The versatile pivot from Oklahoma City's Bishop McGuinness wasn’t a highly touted prospect coming out of high school nationally. In fact, he was the No. 15-rated tight end as a three-star recruit by Rivals. However, the Sooners All-American had a great offer sheet including scholarships from Notre Dame, Stanford, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State among others.

David Yankey, G, Stanford (2010)

The Cardinal have made a living under Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw on the East Coast recruiting and Yankey is another great example. The Roswell, Ga., native who played at Centennial was a three-star prospect coming out of high school and was considered the 47th-best offensive tackle in the nation. Much like Ikard, however, the mid-level recruit had a great offer sheet, including Clemson, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and UCLA.

Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor (2009)

If Yankey and Ikard were highly thought of three-star prospects, Richardson would have to be considered a lower tier three-star. Ranked as the No. 90 offensive tackle in the nation, his offer sheet was limited to just Baylor – partially because he committed early in the process and never wavered. Another factor that impacted his recruitment was the move from New Orleans to North Crowley in Fort Worth, Texas, after Hurricane Katrina during his prep career.

Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan (2009) National Recruit

Hailing all the way from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral, Lewan came to Michigan as a highly touted prospect with offers from all over the nation. He wasn’t a top 100 recruit, but was a four-star player who had his pick of schools. He was rated as the No. 194 overall player, the No. 16 offensive tackle and the No. 5 player in Arizona by Rivals.

Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M (2010) AC100

The son of Texas legend Bruce Matthews, the Missouri City (Texas) Elkins product was on everyone’s radar as one of the top recruits in the nation four years ago. He was the No. 3-rated offensive lineman in the nation and was No. 33 overall in the 2010 Athlon Consensus 100. He had offers from every major power in the nation and barely missed landing the coveted fifth star from Rivals.

De’Anthony Thomas, AP, Oregon (2011) AC100

Few prospects were as can’t-miss as Thomas was coming out of Los Angeles Crenshaw. The explosive do-everything talent was the No. 1 “Athlete” in the nation and was the No. 5 overall player in the nation in the ’11 AC100. The Black Mamba could have played anywhere in the nation, but made the last-second switch from USC to Oregon. He was a five-star recruit by everyone in the scouting business.

Duke Johnson, KR, Miami (2012) AC100

Randy “Duke” Johnson signed with the Hurricanes out of Miami (Fla.) Norland last season before setting all sorts of freshman records in the ACC. His size was a point of contention among recruitniks but he finished the recruiting cycle as a top-40 player nationally (AC100 No. 36). Johnson was the No. 6 running back in the nation behind fellow big name freshmen Johnathan Gray, Keith Marshall, Trey Williams, Rushel Shell and T.J. Yeldon, and had offers from every major program in the nation. Rivals listed him as a five-star recruit as the No. 1 all-purpose back in the nation.

Venric Mark, PR, Northwestern (2010)

Johnson and Thomas were elite all-purpose recruits while the Houston (Texas) St. Puis X prospect has dramatically outperformed his recruiting stock. The three-star’s offer sheet wasn’t nearly as impressive as it should have been, as Arizona, Arizona State and Houston were the most high-profile programs to offer. Mark was completely unranked by Rivals when he signed with Northwestern.

All-American Defense As Recruits:

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (2011) AC100

The Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe defensive end was the unanimous No. 1-rated prospect in the nation in the Class of 2011. Obviously, this made him the top player in his state and the top player nationally at his position. He literally could have picked any of the 120 (at the time) programs in the FBS ranks to play his college ball. In two short seasons, he has established that he was ranked exactly where he should have been and appears poised for a Heisman Trophy run in 2013. He also has a good shot at being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame (2011) AC100

A few spots behind Clowney in the 2011 rankings was this Monroe (Ga.) Area defensive end. Tuitt was ranked as the No. 8 defensive lineman in the nation by Athlon Sports and was the No. 44 overall player in the Athlon Consensus 100. His offer sheet was a who’s who of college football blue bloods, including Florida, Georgia, LSU, Auburn and South Carolina.

Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame (2010) National Recruit

The massive nose tackle from Jacksonville (Fla.) Raines barely missed landing in the 2010 AC100. Nix was ranked as the No. 102 player in the nation and the No. 9-rated defensive tackle. Like most superstar defensive line recruits from the state of Florida, Nix had his pick of any college team in the nation.

Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State (2009)

From Corona (Calif.) Centennial, Sutton came to Arizona State sporting only four BCS offers. They included Arizona, Nebraska and Boise State in addition to the Sun Devils. He was the No. 42-rated defensive tackle and the No. 40-rated player in the state of California in the ’09 class. He was a three-star prospect by Rivals.

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama (2010) National Recruit

Mosley just missed landing in the AC100 as a linebacker from Theodore (Ala.) High. He was the No. 113-rated overall prospect in the nation. Mosley finished as the No. 9-rated linebacker in the nation and the No. 3-rated player in the state of Alabama. Every program in the Southeast as well as a few from the Big 12 (Oklahoma) and the West Coast (Stanford) wanted to ink the star tackler.

Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU (2009)UCLA, Boise State, Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Colorado and Stanford all wanted this four-star talent from Reno (Nev.) McQueen. He was listed as the No. 24-rated “athlete” in the nation as his projected position was up in the air. The number of Pac-12 schools that offered him prove the hype was legit for this talented Cougar.

Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State (2011) National Recruit
The hard-hitting tackler from Ohio State came to Columbus by way of Plantation (Fla.) High School. He had a massive offer sheet with names like USC, Michigan, LSU, Alabama and many others competing with the Buckeyes. Shazier was ranked as the No. 12 linebacker in the nation and barely missed landing in the AC100 as the No. 111 overall prospect in the country back in 2011.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon (2011)

The cornerback from Chino Hills (Calif.) High was a four-star recruit by Rivals, but wasn’t a top 100 prospect. He had offers from more than half of the Pac-12 Conference as well as plenty of other smaller schools on the West Coast. He was not ranked by Athlon Sports but was the No. 17-rated cornerback in the nation by Rivals.

Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (2010)

Hailing from Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge in the deep South, Roby flew under the recruiting radar nationally and regionally. He wasn’t rated highly by any of the scouting services, as he was a low three-star prospect who actually was ranked as a wide receiver. But his offer sheet should have been an indication as to his star potential, as programs like Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, South Carolina and West Virginia all wanted the unheralded coverman.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama (2011) AC100

Hasean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix was considered the No. 1 safety in the nation coming out of high school in 2011. He attended famed Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando and picked Alabama over offers from every other powerhouse in the nation. Clinton-Dix was the No. 10 overall prospect in the nation in the ’11 Athlon Consensus 100.

Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford (2010)

This Woodberry Forest (Va.) School prospect is yet another example of Stanford’s recruiting success on the East Coast. This three-star recruit wasn’t highly touted and had a limited, but solid offer sheet. This star safety picked the Cardinal over Duke, North Carolina and NC State.

Related College Football Content

College Football's Top 25 Teams for 2013
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 26-40
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 41-60
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 61-80
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 81-100
College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of BCS Era
College Football's Top 50 Wide Receivers of BCS Era
College Football's Top 30 Tight Ends of the BCS Era

Teaser:
Where did Athlon's preseason All-American team rank as recruits coming out of high school.
Post date: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC South, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL
Path: /tampa-bay-buccaneers-2013-schedule-analysis
Body:

Greg Schiano's Tampa Bay Buccaneers have some nice pieces to work with moving forward. There are a lot of talented players in key positions, but the Bucs are facing an uphill battle in the loaded NFC. And since scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season, Athlon is analyzing every team's 16-game slate.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2013 Schedule:

Week 1: at New York Jets
Week 2: New Orleans
Week 3: at New England
Week 4: Arizona
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Philadelphia
Week 7: at Atlanta
Week 8: Carolina (Thurs.)
Week 9: at Seattle
Week 10: Miami (Mon.)
Week 11: Atlanta
Week 12: at Detroit
Week 13: at Carolina
Week 14: Buffalo
Week 15: San Francisco
Week 16: at St. Louis
Week 17: at New Orleans

Order your 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

Out of the Gate: In a bizarre and meaningless twist, the Bucs will face three straight "New" teams to start the year with the Jets, Saints and Patriots to open the season. Two of those will come on the road with a home game against Arizona wrapping up the first month, so a 2-2 start would have to be considered an excellent beginning. The one piece of good news for the start to the year is getting divisional foe New Orleans at home. Pull an upset in that game and build on it to open up 3-1 and Tampa Bay could be staring at a postseason run.

Toughest Stretch: The last three weeks of the regular season will be daunting for this young Bucs squad. Not only will Tampa Bay face four road games in the last six weeks but the final two games of the year will come in St. Louis and New Orleans against key NFC playoff contenders. Toss in a home game with the defending NFC champion 49ers in Week 15 and Tampa Bay boasts one of the hardest final three weeks of the year. The good news is there are plenty of wins leading into this stretch...

Swing Games:PHI (Week 6), at DET (Week 12)
Crossover Divisions:NFC West, AFC East
Bye Week:Week 5
Opp. 2012 W/L %:.500 (17th)
Athlon's SOS Rank:14th

Easiest Stretch: The toughest portion of the schedule will be preceded by the three easiest weeks of the season, as the Lions, Panthers and Bills fill Weeks 12-14 of the Bucs' 2013 schedule. Additionally, Tampa Bay will face Miami two weeks earlier. So while there are reasons for optimism in both Carolina and Miami, Tampa Bay has to believe it can win those four games (in a five-week stretch) if it expects to compete for a playoff spot in the extremely stacked NFC.

Circle The Calendar: There are some interesting battles on this slate, including a rematch of former Big East coaches when Doug Marrone — who was 2-1 against Schiano in college — and the Bills come to town in Week 14. However, fans in Tampa won't ever forget the Mike Williams touchdown that wasn't against New Orleans on the final play of the game in last season's meeting. The Saints held on to a 35-28 win in Tampa in Week 7 after Williams' apparent game-tying touchdown was overturned because the wide receiver had stepped out of bounds. Games with the key division rival don't need any extra fuel, but this team will be ready to welcome Drew Brees and company to town in Week 2.

Divisional Notes: The Bucs will face just one NFC South opponent in the first six weeks of the year when the Saints come to town in Week 2. Then Tampa Bay will play divisional games in four of the next seven (Week 7-13), including both games with Atlanta and a Thursday night short-week home tilt with Cam Newton. The next game with Atlanta (Week 11) also will come on a short week as well. The season wraps up with a brutal road NFC South game in the Superdome in New Orleans — in a situation where both teams likely will need to win to get into the playoffs.

Playoff Push: There is just as much to hate about the end of the '13 schedule as there is to like. Weeks 12-14 appears to be all winnable games that could set the Bucs up for a playoff push. However, the final three weeks of the year might be the team's toughest stretch. Not only does the NFC frontrunner come to town in Week 15, but the Bucs must go on the road for the final two weeks to face fellow playoff hopefuls in the Rams and Saints. The Bucs must make headway prior to the final three weeks — meaning this team likely needs nine or 10 wins in the first 14 weeks to expect a postseason berth.

Buy your 2013 Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Preview Magazine

Fantasy Playoff Run (Weeks 14-16): Doug Martin had better enjoy that Week 14 date with Buffalo, the 30th-ranked defense against fantasy RBs, because the sledding gets much tougher after that. San Francisco surrendered the fourth-fewest points to RBs and St. Louis (15th in rushing defense in 2012) added linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety T.J. McDonald to its defense in the draft. The 49ers and Rams also were top-12 defenses against QBs.

2013 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHoustonDenver
Miami CincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New EnglandClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas ChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY GiantsDetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen BayNew OrleansSan Francisco
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

Teaser:
Athlon breaks down each and every team's schedule for the 2013 NFL season.
Post date: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC West, Seattle Seahawks, NFL
Path: /seattle-seahawks-2013-schedule-analysis
Body:

Pete Carroll is building quite a franchise in the Great Pacific Northwest. Seattle made the playoffs a year ago, won a postseason game and return largely intact. Now, the Seahawks are eyeing a third trip to the playoffs in just four seasons under Carroll. And since scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season, Athlon is analyzing every team's 16-game slate.

Seattle Seahawks 2013 Schedule:

Week 1: at Carolina
Week 2: San Francisco
Week 3: Jacksonville
Week 4: at Houston
Week 5: at Indianapolis
Week 6: Tennessee
Week 7: at Arizona (Thurs.)
Week 8: at St. Louis (Mon.)
Week 9: Tampa Bay
Week 10: at Atlanta
Week 11: Minnesota
Week 12: BYE
Week 13: New Orleans (Mon.)
Week 14: at San Francisco
Week 15: at New York Giants
Week 16: Arizona
Week 17: St. Louis

Order your 2013 Seattle Seahawks Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

Out of the Gate: While San Francisco will be dealing with one of the toughest first months in the NFL, Seattle gets the Jaguars and Panthers in the first three weeks. Yes, a home game against those very Niners and a trip to Houston are both incredibly daunting tasks, but this team could easily start 3-0 — Seattle pounded San Francisco at home last year — and that would be a huge first punch in the NFC West race. Interestingly enough, the Seahawks will play all four AFC games by Week 6 and will finish with 10 straight NFC games.

Toughest Stretch: From Week 10 to Week 15 the Seahawks will face four teams that made the playoffs last year and the New Orleans Saints. Three of those games will come on the road in Atlanta, San Francisco and New York (Giants). In between are home games with Adrian Peterson and a "Monday Night Football" matchup with Drew Brees. This is a huge stretch against elite competition heading into the final two weeks of the season. The good news is an off weekend comes in Week 12, but even then it seems to be going to waste as it falls between home games and because the Saints game is on a Monday night.

Swing Games:MIN (Week 11), at NYG (Week 15)
Crossover Divisions:NFC South, AFC South
Bye Week:Week 12
Opp. 2012 W/L %:.516 (11th)
Athlon's SOS Rank:14th

Easiest Stretch: This one is easy. From Week 6 to Week 9, Seattle will be heavily favored in three games and likely favored in the fourth. Tennessee and Tampa Bay face long road trips to Seattle and stand little chance of winning at CenturyLink Field. Between those two games will be two NFC West road trips. The trip to the desert against Arizona comes on a short week on Thursday night. That leaves the toughest game of this stretch coming in St. Louis on Monday night. However, Carroll and company will have 11 days to prepare for Jeff Fisher's physical and pesky Rams.

Circle The Calendar: Either battle with the 49ers would work. The home game will come early in the year and gives the Seahawks a distinct home-field advantage. Therefore, the Week 14 trip south to the Bay Area has to be the most important game of the season for Seattle. This team crushed the Niners 42-13 late in the season a year ago, but lost on the road 13-6 in mid-October. A sweep of SanFran could mean home field throughout the playoffs and an inside track on the Super Bowl.

Divisional Notes: Two games with the 49ers cannot be undersold as they may be the two most important NFC games of the year. But St. Louis actually had the best record in NFC West play a year ago. The good news for Seattle is the timing of those battles with the Rams. The season finale comes at home and could mean nothing for Seattle, who could be locked into the playoffs or the division crown already. The road trip to St. Louis, were the Seahawks lost 19-13 last season, comes on a Monday night following a Thursday night game, giving Carroll and his team four extra days to prepare. Strangely, both games with Arizona will come as precursors to bigger games with the Rams.

Playoff Push: The final month should provide plenty of intrigue for Seahawks fans. There are huge tests with the Saints, Niners and Giants to start December but the year will end with back-to-back home NFC West games with Arizona and St. Louis. There is more good news for Seattle as the bye week comes in the final possible week (Week 12) and allows for this team to get a breather at the last possible moment — making them one of the most rested teams heading into the final month of play this year.

Buy your 2013 Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Preview Magazine

Fantasy Playoff Run (Weeks 14-16): Russell Wilson was a pleasant surprise last season, but could have his work cut out for come fantasy playoff time. The Seahawks will play division rival San Francisco and the Giants on the road before coming home for an NFC West tilt with Arizona. The 49ers and Cardinals were both top-10 fantasy defenses against QBs last season, while a cross-country trip is never easy on the West Coast teams.

2013 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHouston Denver
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New EnglandClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY GiantsDetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen BayNew OrleansSan Francisco
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

Teaser:
Seattle Seahawks 2013 Schedule Analysis
Post date: Monday, July 1, 2013 - 14:30
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC West, San Francisco 49ers, NFL
Path: /nfl/san-francisco-49ers-2013-schedule-analysis
Body:

Jim Harbaugh had his San Francisco 49ers less than 10 yards from a Super Bowl victory last year. With brilliant offseason moves and another great draft class, the Niners are the frontrunner to repeat as NFC champions. And since scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season, Athlon is analyzing every team's 16-game slate.

San Francisco 49ers 2013 Schedule:

Week 1: Green Bay
Week 2: at Seattle
Week 3: Indianapolis
Week 4: at St. Louis (Thurs.)
Week 5: Houston
Week 6: Arizona
Week 7: at Tennessee
Week 8: at Jacksonville
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Carolina
Week 11: at New Orleans
Week 12: at Washington (Mon.)
Week 13: St. Louis
Week 14: Seattle
Week 15: at Tampa Bay
Week 16: Atlanta (Mon.)
Week 17: at Arizona

Order your 2013 San Francisco 49ers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

Out of the Gate: The Niners will have the toughest first two games of the season of any team in the NFL. And the importance of games with Green Bay and Seattle cannot be understated, as both could determine playoff seeding. In addition, the NFC West could easily be on the line at CenturyLink Field just seven days into the season. And things don't get any easier for the 49ers either as they get a visit from Andrew Luck and the Colts in Week 3 and travel to St. Louis in Week 4. Most teams would be staring at an 0-4 start to the year but not San Francisco. It has to be bittersweet that the two toughest games in the division will be out of the way in the first month.

Toughest Stretch: The first five weeks of the season have to be considered the toughest stretch for the defending NFC champs. On top of two huge road divisional games and tests with elite signal-callers Aaron Rodgers and Luck at home comes a visit from the Houston Texans. The final seven weeks of the season won't be easy but the elite level of competition in the first five weeks makes the start to the season the most daunting stretch of the 2013 slate for San Francisco.

Swing Games:GB (Week 1), at WAS (Week 12)
Crossover Divisions:NFC South, AFC South
Bye Week:Week 9
Opp. 2012 W/L %:.520 (9th)
Athlon's SOS Rank:8th

Easiest Stretch: As the defending NFC champs, there shouldn't be any truly easy stretches. However, there is a five-week run following the Week 5 tilt against Houston that should provide some easier wins. The 49ers will face the Cardinals, Titans and Jaguars — arguably the three worst teams on their schedule this year — in three consecutive weeks. Then San Fran gets an off weekend before a visit from Carolina in Week 10. Four losing teams from a year ago and the bye week makes Weeks 6-10 the easiest stretch of games for Harbaugh and company.

Circle The Calendar: Week 2 in Seattle will be downright epic. The Link's crowd is always rowdy and both sides know full well what will be at stake in this monstrous NFC West showdown. Last year, the Niners edged past the Seahawks at home 13-6 in mid-October. However, Pete Carroll's boys put a beatdown on Harbaugh's guys 42-13 in Week 16 last year. These two coaches have had a long-standing rivalry dating back to their Pac-10 USC-Stanford days and now they may boast the two best teams in the league. This could be the biggest game of the entire NFL calendar in 2013.

Divisional Notes: This could be the toughest division in football but the Niners are luckier than the other three teams in the NFC West as they don't have to face, well, the 49ers twice. That said, road trips to both Seattle and St. Louis will be nasty in the first month. The home rematches with both will take place in back-to-back weeks to start December. With so much space between these key divisional games, it is likely that all three teams will be dramatically different in the second bouts. Arizona, which is no easy out, will be a welcome sight for San Francisco in Weeks 6 and 17.

Playoff Push: The final month won't be easy for the Niners but there is plenty to like about this end to the season. Road trips to Tampa Bay and Arizona both happen within the final three weeks and three huge NFC showdowns come in Candlestick Park. St. Louis had Harbaugh's number a year ago and will be a tough out while home-field advantage and the NFC West will hang in the balance when Seattle and Atlanta visit during December. The final home game of the year against the Falcons will come on "Monday Night Football" and should be one of the most anticipated games of the year.

Buy your 2013 Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Preview Magazine

Fantasy Playoff Run (Weeks 14-16): Colin Kaepernick could have one of the toughest fantasy playoff schedules of any of his peers. The dual-threat has to face top-seven fantasy defenses against QBs in Seattle and Atlanta, although both of those games are at home, as well as Tampa Bay’s upgraded secondary on the road. The Seahawks (sixth against fantasy RBs) and Buccaneers (No. 1 in rushing defense last season) also weren’t that kind to RBs either.


2013 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHoustonDenver
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New EnglandClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (7/1)Tennessee (7/3)San Diego (7/2)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY GiantsDetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen BayNew OrleansSan Francisco
Washington (7/3)MinnesotaTampa Bay (7/2)Seattle (7/1)


Other Related NFL Content:

Ranking the NFL's Toughest Schedules of 2013
10 Things Every Fan Should Know about the 2013 NFL Schedule

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, June 28, 2013 - 12:31
All taxonomy terms: AFC, New York Jets, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-york-jets-2013-schedule-analysis
Body:

The 2013 season feels like a transition year for the New York Jets despite the fact Rex Ryan is still leading the ship. But with lots of new faces in key positions, the Jets could be in store for a long '13 season. And since scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season, Athlon is analyzing every team's 16-game slate.

New York Jets 2013 Schedule:

Week 1: Tampa Bay
Week 2: at New England (Thurs.)
Week 3: Buffalo
Week 4: at Tennessee
Week 5: at Atlanta (Mon.)
Week 6: Pittsburgh
Week 7: New England
Week 8: at Cincinnati
Week 9: New Orleans
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: at Buffalo
Week 12: at Baltimore
Week 13: Miami
Week 14: Oakland
Week 15: at Carolina
Week 16: Cleveland
Week 17: at Miami

Order your 2013 New York Jets Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

Out of the Gate: There are winnable games in the first month for Ryan and the Jets. New York will face Tampa Bay and Buffalo at home with a road trip to Nashville, Tenn., capping the first month. A road trip to New England on a short week feels like a potential bloodbath, but if the Jets can win one or two of the first four, signs would be very positive for a team in desperate need of good news.

Toughest Stretch: This one is easy. From Week 5 to Week 9, the Jets will face five teams all projected to make the playoffs this year — three of which have played in the Super Bowl within the last four seasons. The other two will involve road games with two frontrunners for this year's Super Bowl in Atlanta and Cincinnati. The Jets need to make headway in the first month because an 0-5 stretch is waiting for them in October.

Swing Games:at TEN (Week 4), OAK (Week 13)
Crossover Divisions:AFC North, NFC South
Bye Week:Week 10
Opp. 2012 W/L %:.496 (19th)
Athlon's SOS Rank:23rd

Easiest Stretch: The first month may provide some wins but the final month is the easiest. Two games with Miami, home games with the Raiders and Browns and a road trip to Carolina might be the easiest finish in the NFL this fall. These five games will feature five opponents who combined to lose 50 games a year ago and could help save Ryan's job should the Jets pull some upsets.

Circle The Calendar: What is the marquee showdown for a team expected to be one of the league's worst? A visit to the Super Bowl champs in Week 12? Two battles with former rival Tom Brady that will feature endless loops of butt fumble footage? How about a Monday night trip to Atlanta? Sure, these games feature big-time opponents but no one thinks the Jets can win a single one of them. That said, there are many swing games on this schedule and a few wins over those teams could give this team a seven-win season. So the home and season opener against Tampa Bay might be the most exciting and most watchable Jets game of the year.

Divisional Notes: The AFC East slate is pretty spread out for the J-E-T-S. Games with New England on the road and Buffalo at home will come in back-to-back weeks early in the season, but New York only has one divisional game between Week 4 and Week 10. The final three AFC East games will come in the final seven weeks and the final two be against the Dolphins. There are plenty of wins to be had in the weak AFC East, but both games with the Patriots appear to be guaranteed losses.

Playoff Push: As previously stated, the final month of the season will be the Jets' easiest stretch of games. It is hard to see this New York team making a playoff push but there are definitely wins to be had in December. Two with Miami and one each with Cleveland, Carolina and Oakland would be a cakewalk for most of the playoff contenders, but Ryan's squad will have to battle to pick up some victories. That said, a 3-2 finish could give the current coaching regime another year to rebuild.

Buy your 2013 Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Preview Magazine

Fantasy Playoff Run (Weeks 14-16): No current Jet finished among the top 20 at their position in fantasy last season, so chances are that many fantasy players may not rely on this roster in 2013. However, if some weapons emerge, it’s possible some Jets could pay off come playoff time. For example, Oakland, Carolina and Cleveland were all in the bottom 13 against fantasy RBs in '12, and the Raiders and Panthers were among the bottom 10 defenses against TEs.


2013 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHoustonDenver
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New EnglandClevelandJacksonvilleOakland (6/28)
NY JetsPittsburgh (7/1)Tennessee (7/3)San Diego (7/2)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY GiantsDetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen BayNew OrleansSan Francisco (6/28)
Washington (7/3)MinnesotaTampa Bay (7/2)Seattle (7/1)


Other Related NFL Content:

Ranking the NFL's Toughest Schedules of 2013
10 Things Every Fan Should Know about the 2013 NFL Schedule

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 11:53
Path: /node/23321
Body:

The Pac-12 Conference doesn’t win a lot of Heisman Trophies, but when it does, it dominates.

Over the last 30 years, the league has just three such stiff-armed awards, but USC won those three Heisman in a four-year span from 2002-05: Carson Palmer (2002), Matt Leinart (’04) and Reggie Bush (’05). That said, the Pac-12 has been close recently with Heisman finalists LaMichael James, Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart coming extremely close to winning the trophy.

On top of that, recent trends are pointing toward another potential Heisman run for the Pac-12. An influx of elite offensive coaches and a dearth of electric underclassmen gives this conference as good a chance as any to win sports most prestigious award.

Here are the Pac-12’s top Heisman contenders for 2013 (complete with updated Vegas odds):

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (16/1)
Manziel gets most of the love as a redshirt freshman, but Mariota wasn’t far behind. Thanks to big leads by Oregon, he didn't see a ton of action deep into most second halves and still led the nation in road passing efficiency. Overall, he led the Pac-12 in passer rating and scored 37 total touchdowns. He plays with poise and confidence well beyond his years. The big question mark will be the loss of head coach Chip Kelly. The last time Oregon switched head coaches internally, there was little drop off, but one has to think this offense will take a small step back. Yet, as the leader of Oregon's offense, the supremely gifted 6-foot-4, 200-pound second-year starter should be destined for at least one trip to NYC in his career.

2. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (40/1)
Carey was the most underrated player in the nation last fall. He led the nation in rushing (148.4 ypg, 1,929 yards), set the Arizona single-season rushing record and the Pac-12 single-game rushing record (366 yards). He scored 24 times and helped turn the Wildcats from a four-win team in 2011 to an eight-win, zone-read monster. And he did all of this as a sophomore. With spread guru Rich Rodriguez calling the shots, the tough-nosed workhorse has a chance to post huge numbers once again in 2013. Charges were recently dropped concerning Carey’s domestic dispute and he has been punished internally by RichRod, so all signs are go for a huge 2013 campaign… as long as he walks the straight and narrow.

3. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon (14/1)
An elite big-play machine, Thomas’ biggest weakness is actually one of his biggest strengths. The Oregon scheme lends itself to huge numbers but it also distributes the football. Simply, he needs more than 137 touches on offense to get to New York. The change in head coach will also play a role with Thomas' campaign like it will Mariota's. That said, few players in the nation are as captivating and explosive as Thomas. His 18 rushing touchdowns, 14 receiving touchdowns and four return touchdowns in just two seasons prove that pretty clearly.

4. Marqise Lee, WR, USC (14/1)
With a proven commodity at quarterback coming back, Lee might be a Heisman frontrunner nationally. But with Matt Barkley — and counterpart Robert Woods who drew plenty of defensive attention — leaving for the NFL, Lee’s numbers will almost assuredly go down. Those numbers, however, were extraordinary a year ago as he was No. 2 in the nation in receptions per game (9.1) and yards per game (132.4) and he scored 15 times. He is an elite player who may not have the supporting cast to get to Radio City Music Hall.

5. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA (25/1)
The Bruins finally found a quarterback. The redshirt sophomore-to-be threw for three 300-yard efforts in his first four career games. He then led his team to the Pac-12 title game, scored 38 total touchdowns and produced nearly 4,100 yards of total offense in just his first year under center. The show will be all his in Westwood now that Johnathan Franklin is gone.

6. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
In just his first year under center, Kelly finished No. 2 in passing efficiency in the Pac-12 and averaged more than 273 yards of total offense per game. He also threw at least four touchdowns in a game four times in the final eight contests. With a host of talented surrounding cast, the efficient Sun Devils passer could easily push for Pac-12 Player of the Year honors.

7. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
The Huskies tailback and his 1,439-yard, 16-TD sophomore season flew well under the national radar a year ago. But with four starters back along the offensive line and his quarterback entering his third season as the starter, Sankey has a great chance to earn national acclaim as a junior. Even just a slight increase in production would place Sankey among the nation’s best.

8. Silas Redd, RB, USC
Redd scored in seven of his first nine games as a Trojan and posted three 100-yard efforts in his first five. But he slowed over the course of the year and dealt with small injuries late in the year. Still, he posted 1,018 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns in his first season in L.A. With a new quarterback, he should now be the focal point of the offense.

9. Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
It took eight games but David Shaw found his replacement for Andrew Luck when he inserted the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder into the lineup a few plays into the Colorado game. Hogan proceeded to lead the Cardinal to a 6-0 record to end the season — including the school’s first Rose Bowl win since 1972 — with efficient and dynamic play under center. He passed for 1,096 yards (71.7%) with nine touchdowns while providing a spark on the ground with 263 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns. Look for much bigger things in ’13 from the Cardinal signal caller. 

10. Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
Now that C.J. Anderson and Isi Sofele have departed the backfield and Keenan Allen is in the NFL, Bigelow becomes the main offensive weapon in Berkeley. And few players nationally have as much upside as the electric tailback (see Ohio State game). He has big-play ability and will be right at home in Sonny Dykes high-octane offense.

11. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The next dynamic, versatile all-purpose type for Mike Riley. Extremely explosive.

12. Keith Price, QB, Washington
Look for the Husky's QB to return to his record-setting form in 2013.

13. Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State
Should build on solid freshman season: 940 yards and 13 TDs.

14. Arizona’s Quarterback
Anu Solomon would post much bigger dual-threat numbers while Jesse Scoggins might win the most games. But both players are chasing B.J. Denker entering fall practice. 

15. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
The nation's top tight end is in store for a huge (and final) year in Seattle.

16. USC’s Quarterback
Cody Kessler and Max Wittek will battle for one of the most Heisman-worthy positions in the nation.

17. Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon
Marshall will fill the Kenjon Barner role and could see more touches than DAT.

18. UCLA’s Running Back
Jordan James and Paul Perkins will battle for touches in void left by Franklin.

19. Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State
Year No. 2 under Mike Leach has to better than Year No. 1, right?

20. Anthony Wilkerson, RB, Stanford
Will get the first crack at taking over for Stepfan Taylor. Tyler Gaffney and Barry Sanders will play too.

2013 Pac-12 Team Previews

NorthSouth
CaliforniaArizona
OregonArizona State
Oregon StateColorado
StanfordUCLA
WashingtonUSC
Washington StateUtah

Best of the Rest:

21. Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
22. DJ Foster, RB, Arizona State
23. Christian Powell, RB, Colorado
24. Zach Kline, QB, California
25. Travis Wilson, QB, Utah
26. Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon
27. Kasen Williams, WR, Washington
28. Shaquelle Evans, WR, UCLA
29. Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
30. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC 

10 Defensive Players to Watch:

Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
Dion Bailey, S, USC
Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford
Morgan Breslin, DE, USC

Related College Football Content

College Football's Top 25 Teams for 2013
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 26-40
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 41-60
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 61-80
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 81-100
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 101-125
College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of BCS Era
College Football's Top 50 Wide Receivers of BCS Era
College Football's Top 30 Tight Ends of the BCS Era

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 07:24
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, New England Patriots, NFL
Path: /new-england-patriots-2013-schedule-analysis
Body:

It's been quite an offseason for the New England Patriots. But even murder scandals and public contract disputes won't keep Tom Brady and the Pats from being the clear-cut AFC East frontrunner. And since scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season, Athlon is analyzing every team's 16-game slate.

New England Patriots 2013 Schedule:

Week 1: at Buffalo
Week 2: New York Jets (Thurs.)
Week 3: Tampa Bay
Week 4: at Atlanta
Week 5: at Cincinnati
Week 6: New Orleans
Week 7: at New York Jets
Week 8: Miami
Week 9: Pittsburgh
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: at Carolina (Mon.)
Week 12: Denver
Week 13: at Houston
Week 14: Cleveland
Week 15: at Miami
Week 16: at Baltimore
Week 17: Buffalo

Order your 2013 New England Patriots Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

Out of the Gate: There should be little doubt that the Patriots will start the 2013 season 3-0. But a 4-0 first month will be difficult as New England will visit one of the NFC's best in Week 4 when it heads south to Atlanta. A 3-1 start looks like the worst possible scenario while a 4-0 first month wouldn't be far fetched at all.

Toughest Stretch: Tom Brady and his squad will face the other three projected AFC division winners over a four-game stretch. Games with Pittsburgh, Denver and at Houston will be tell-all tests in the conference that could have huge seeding implications. A road trip to take on Cam Newton mixed in makes the heart of the Pats' schedule the toughest of the year. There is good news, however, as the off weekend falls right in the middle of this run (Week 10).

Swing Games:DEN (Week 12), at HOU (Week 13)
Crossover Divisions:AFC North, NFC South
Bye Week:Week 6
Opp. 2012 W/L %:.508 (14th)
Athlon's SOS Rank:9th

Easiest Stretch: The final four weeks provide some easier games but the first three weeks of the '13 slate look about as "easy" as an NFL schedule can get. Home games with the Jets and Bucs could get ugly quickly while a road test in Buffalo could feature the NFL debuts for both the head coach (Doug Marrone) and quarterback (EJ Manuel).

Circle The Calendar: Huge AFC tests with Pittsburgh, Houston, Denver, Cincinnati and Baltimore will all carry playoff seeding import. But the date to circle will be the visit from New Orleans and Drew Brees in Week 6. Should Brady throw a touchdown in each of the first five games, he will be attempting to tie Brees' NFL record for consecutive games with a TD pass at 54... against Brees himself. Coincidence? Hard to believe.

Divisional Notes: No team in the NFL may have an easier divisional slate than the Patriots. A pair of games each with Buffalo, Miami and the New York Jets mean no team has a better shot at 6-0 in their division than New England. Two of those will come right out of the gate to start the year before back-to-back AFC East games in Weeks 7 and 8. The next two come in the final three weeks with a home game against Buffalo capping the year.

Playoff Push: The Patriots have two huge road games in December with Houston and Baltimore. But Belichick's team also will have three games in which they are likely to be heavy favorites. And since the Houston game comes in Week 13, the Pats will finish with an extremely manageable final four weeks. If a 3-1 finish is the worst possible scenario, the Pats could have a big leg up in the race for the all-important first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.

Buy your 2013 Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Preview Magazine

Fantasy Playoff Run (Weeks 14-16): The wide receivers have changed in New England, but they still have Tom Brady throwing to them and a fantasy playoff schedule that opens against Cleveland. The Browns were the 30th-ranked fantasy defense against WRs last season. Miami (15th) and Baltimore (17th) fared better, but Brady has impressive career statistics against the Dolphins, and the Ravens have several new faces in their secondary and, more important, no more Ed Reed.

2013 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHouston Denver
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New EnglandClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY GiantsDetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen BayNew OrleansSan Francisco
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

Teaser:
Athlon breaks down each and every team's schedule for the 2013 NFL season.
Post date: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, Miami Dolphins, Miami Dolphins, NFL, NFL
Path: /nfl/miami-dolphins-2013-schedule-analysis
Body:

The Miami Dolphins began the season 1-3 last year but finished 6-6 in their final 12 games. So year No. 2 under Joe Philbin begins with cautious optimism. And since scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season, Athlon is analyzing every team's 16-game slate.

Miami Dolphins 2013 Schedule:

Week 1: at Cleveland
Week 2: at Indianapolis
Week 3: Atlanta
Week 4: at New Orleans
Week 5: Baltimore
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Buffalo
Week 8: at New England
Week 9: Cincinnati
Week 10: at Tampa Bay
Week 11: San Diego
Week 12: Carolina
Week 13: at New York Jets
Week 14: at Pittsburgh
Week 15: New England
Week 16: at Buffalo
Week 17: New York Jets 

Order your 2013 Miami Dolphins Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

Out of the Gate: Year two under Philbin will begin with three road games in the first four weeks. And other than the season opener against Cleveland, the Fish will play three projected playoff teams during that span. Road trips indoors to face elite quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Drew Brees will be tough for the Fins defense while hosting Matt Ryan and company is no joke either. A 1-3 start to the year is likely.

Toughest Stretch: And considering Week 5 features a home visit from the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, Miami will deal with its toughest stretch right out of the gate. The Dolphins will face a four-week stretch against teams that won 41 games a year ago. Unfortunately, the Saints and the Colts should be improved this fall while the Falcons and Ravens are looking to retain the status quo. The good news is this team enters the perfectly placed bye week in Week 6 in dire need of a rest.

Swing Games: at IND (Week 2), SD (Week 11)
Crossover Divisions: AFC North, NFC South
Bye Week: Week 6
Opp. 2012 W/L %: .520 (8th)
Athlon's SOS Rank: 21st

Easiest Stretch: Few teams have as obvious an easy stretch as Miami will deal with from Week 10 to Week 13. Home games with Carolina and San Diego provide big chances for wins while road trips to in-state Tampa Bay and AFC East bottom dweller New York Jets aren't very daunting. The Fish have a chance to make a run as the calendar flips from November to December.

Circle The Calendar: The Mike Wallace storyline might be the top story to track if the Dolphins aren't making a playoff push. A Week 14 visit to Pittsburgh will bring the former Steelers' star wide receiver back to Heinz Field for a late-season showdown. It also will be the first time the Steelers will get a crack at the former Packers assistant who helped to defeat the Steel Curtain in Super Bowl XL in 2010.

Divisional Notes: The Dolphins won't play an AFC East game until Week 7 when Buffalo comes to town. Then six of the final 11 will come in the division, including the final three games of the year. There are four very winnable games with the Bills and Jets with two nasty uphill battles with the Patriots. However, a December home game with the Pats provides Miami a signature win opportunity during the playoff push.

Playoff Push: There are wins to be had in the final month — the Jets twice and Buffalo — but there are also two tough tests against New England and Pittsburgh. A 3-2 record in the final month would likely put the Fish in second place in the AFC East and in contention for a Wildcard bid. Anything better than that would be a huge success.

Buy your 2013 Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Preview Magazine

Fantasy Playoff Run (Weeks 14-16): Sean Payton is back to steer the Saints’ offense, which gets a double dose of Carolina in the fantasy playoffs. Believe it or not, but the Panthers were top five against fantasy WRs last season. If this holds up again, it could be good news for Jimmy Graham owners, as Carolina didn’t perform nearly as well (23rd) against TEs. The Rams also were a top-10 fantasy defense against WRs last season.


2013 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East AFC North AFC South AFC West
Buffalo Baltimore Houston Denver
Miami  Cincinnati Indianapolis Kansas City
New England Cleveland Jacksonville Oakland (6/28)
NY Jets (6/27) Pittsburgh (7/1) Tennessee (7/3) San Diego (7/2)
       
NFC East NFC North NFC South NFC West
Dallas  Chicago Atlanta Arizona
NY Giants (6/25) Detroit Carolina St. Louis (6/27)
Philadelphia (6/26) Green Bay New Orleans San Francisco (6/28)
Washington (7/3) Minnesota Tampa Bay (7/2) Seattle (7/1)


Other Related NFL Content:

Ranking the NFL's Toughest Schedules of 2013
10 Things Every Fan Should Know about the 2013 NFL Schedule

Teaser:
<p> Athlon breaks down each and every team's schedule for the 2013 NFL season.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: New Orleans Saints, NFC, NFC South, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-orleans-saints-2013-schedule-analysis
Body:

Sean Payton returns to the New Orleans Saints after his team went through a tortuous 2012 season. He has his sights set on a return to the postseason this fall. And since scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season, Athlon is analyzing every team's 16-game slate.

New Orleans Saints 2013 Schedule:

Week 1: Atlanta
Week 2: at Tampa Bay
Week 3: Arizona
Week 4: Miami (Mon.)
Week 5: at Chicago
Week 6: at New England
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Buffalo
Week 9: at New York Jets
Week 10: Dallas
Week 11: San Francisco
Week 12: at Atlanta (Thurs.)
Week 13: at Seattle (Mon.)
Week 14: Carolina
Week 15: at St. Louis
Week 16: at Carolina
Week 17: Tampa Bay

Order your 2013 New Orleans Saints Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

Out of the Gate: There will be loads of intensity in the home season opener against arch rival Atlanta in the Superdome as Payton makes his triumphant return to the sideline. But after that, three games with Tampa Bay, Arizona and Miami shouldn't scare Drew Brees and company. A 3-1 mark to start the year is a very real possibility.

Toughest Stretch: There is an unenviable four-week stretch to end November that could decide the Saints' postseason fate. New Orleans will have back-to-back home games with the NFC postseason hopefuls Dallas and San Francisco before facing the Falcons on a short week and the Seahawks on a long one on the road. The only comfort will be the extra three days of rest between the trip to Atlanta and the trip to Seattle. From Week 11 to Week 13, the Saints could face the best three teams in the NFC.

Swing Games: at CHI (Week 5), DAL (Week 10)
Crossover Divisions: NFC West, AFC East
Bye Week: Week 7
Opp. 2012 W/L %: .539 (3rd)
Athlon's SOS Rank: 11th

Easiest Stretch: Both the first and last month of the regular season are fairly manageable, but the final four weeks seem like a big blessing for the Big Easy. Not only were all four teams under .500 a year ago but three of them will come in the division. A road game at the Rams will be the toughest game of the final four weeks.

Circle The Calendar: Drew Brees' consecutive game streak with a touchdown pass would be tied by Tom Brady the same week the Saints come to town in a strategically placed bout with the Patriots. Recent radio fodder from "Mayhem in the AM" only adds fuel to the Falcons-Saints fire, so both of those games are worth circling. But Payton's return to the sideline in the Superdome in the season opener against division favorite and arch rival Atlanta in Week 1 has to be the biggest date on the calendar for Who Dat nation.

Divisional Notes: The Saints have an odd divisional slate as they will start the season with two NFC South games and will finish the year with three out of four coming within the division. Playing Cam Newton twice in a three-week span in the second half of the year could be sneaky dangerous. And the massive road game at Atlanta will come on a short week between physical tests with San Francisco and Seattle.

Playoff Push: Few teams will have the opportunity to win games in the final four weeks like the Saints. Two games with Carolina and one each with St. Louis and Tampa bodes extremely well for New Orleans' push for the postseason. All three teams pose interesting challenges but combined for 26 losses a year ago and none are predicted to make the postseason in 2013.

Buy your 2013 Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Preview Magazine

Fantasy Playoff Run (Weeks 14-16): Sean Payton is back to steer the Saints’ offense, which gets a double dose of Carolina in the fantasy playoffs. Believe it or not, but the Panthers were top five against fantasy WRs last season. If this holds up again, it could be good news for Jimmy Graham owners, as Carolina didn’t perform nearly as well (23rd) against TEs. The Rams also were a top-10 fantasy defense against WRs last season.


2013 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East AFC North AFC South AFC West
Buffalo Baltimore Houston Denver
Miami (6/25) Cincinnati Indianapolis Kansas City
New England (6/26) Cleveland Jacksonville Oakland (6/28)
NY Jets (6/27) Pittsburgh (7/1) Tennessee (7/3) San Diego (7/2)
       
NFC East NFC North NFC South NFC West
Dallas  Chicago Atlanta Arizona
NY Giants (6/25) Detroit Carolina St. Louis (6/27)
Philadelphia (6/26) Green Bay New Orleans San Francisco (6/28)
Washington (7/3) Minnesota Tampa Bay (7/2) Seattle (7/1)


Other Related NFL Content:

Ranking the NFL's Toughest Schedules of 2013
10 Things Every Fan Should Know about the 2013 NFL Schedule

Teaser:
<p> Athlon breaks down each and every team's schedule for the 2013 NFL season.</p>
Post date: Monday, June 24, 2013 - 11:15
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Roto, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-june-24
Body:

Every Monday, Athlon Sports covers the hottest hitters in fantasy baseball over the past seven days as well as gets you ready for this week's action. Be sure to check back each week as our fantasy junkies analyze the best waiver wire pick ups, top starting pitching spot starts and sift through bullpens from around the league.

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (June 17-23):

  Name Pos. Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Pedro Alvarez 3B PIT 5 4 10 0 .414 1.383
2. Jay Bruce OF CIN 6 6 7 0 .276 1.266
3. Hanley Ramirez 3B/SS LAD 6 3 7 0 .500 1.542
4. Chris Davis 1B/OF BAL 5 4 10 0 .348 1.357
5. Edwin Encarnacion 1B/3B TOR 7 3 8 0 .364 1.326
6. Nelson Cruz OF TEX 3 3 11 0 .379 1.124
7. Raul Ibanez* OF SEA 4 4 9 0 .321 1.117
8. Ryan Howard 1B PHI 4 3 7 0 .476 1.633
9. Paul Goldschmidt 1B ARI 5 4 6 0 .364 1.326
10. Joe Mauer C/1B MIN 8 2 4 0 .407 1.226
11. Miguel Cabrera 3B DET 3 2 6 0 .536 1.427
12. Gregor Blanco* OF SF 4 0 4 2 .500 1.160
13. Maicer Izturis* 2B/3B/SS TOR 7 2 5 0 .364 1.118
14. David Wright 3B NYM 5 3 5 0 .361 1.156
16. Ben Revere* OF PHI 6 0 2 4 .320 .640
15. Shane Victorino OF BOS 4 1 7 2 .333 .968
17. A.J. Pierzynski* C TEX 6 2 7 0 .320 1.050
18. Ian Kinsler 2B TEX 6 0 6 1 .407 .859
19. Jed Lowrie 2B/SS OAK 6 1 6 0 .407 1.045
20. Evan Longoria 3B TB 6 3 5 0 .280 1.067
21. Nick Franklin* 2B/SS SEA 4 2 9 1 .241 .773
22. Anthony Rizzo 1B CHC 6 2 5 0 .350 1.140
23. Austin Jackson OF DET 7 0 3 0 .522 1.172
24. Adam Dunn* 1B/OF CWS 5 2 8 0 .280 .920
25. David Ortiz 1B BOS 3 2 6 0 .429 1.181

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Weekly Waiver Wire:

Nick Franklin, 2B/SS, SEA (35% owned in Yahoo! Leagues)
The elite prospect is delivering for the Mariners and for fantasy owners alike these days and is still just 35-percent owned. His .283/.848 slash line would make him valuable at either middle infield position, but his complete production line makes him a must-add: 10 R, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 3 SB in just 92 at-bats. Go to the waiver wire today.

Jonathan Lucroy, C, MIL (64%)
Lucroy just got finished with one of the best months of his career. He hit .360/1.027 with five home runs and 21 RBIs in 89 at-bats. He may have his slumps from time to time but this guy can hit — as his 40 RBIs attest.

Jason Castro, C, HOU (46%)
If you need a back-stop, this might be the week to snag one off the wire. Castro is a former first-round pick who is finally rounding into form. He clubbed six homers at a .313 clip over the last month. Don't be afraid to punt on bad draft picks (looking at you Miguel Montero).

Eric Hosmer, 1B, KC (60%)
Time to get back on the Royals train. Hosmer is hitting .294 over the last month with 15 runs, 15 RBIs and four stolen bags to go with his two homers. Mike Moustakas might be turning it around and Billy Butler is showing signs of life. Is it time to get back on the Royals bandwagon?

Nate Schierholtz, OF, CHC (16%)
There is no track record or glaring talent that indicates the Cubs outfielder is worth owning. But owners can no longer ignore his production. As of Monday morning this is his tidy roto line in 199 at-bats: 30 R, 10 HR, 29 RBIs, 4 SB, .296/.905. That'll play.

Last Week:

Brandon Crawford, SS, SF: 3/15, 2 R
Zack Cozart, SS, CIN: 6/24, 3 R, HR, 2 RBI
Omar Infante, 2B, DET: 9/27, 2 R, 2 2B, HR, 3 RBI, SB
Kelly Johnson, 2B/OF, TB: 2/11, R, HR, RBI
Josh Rutledge, 2B/SS, COL: 4/18, 4 R, 2B

 

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Yovani Gallardo MIL 21.0 2 15 0.00 0.81
2. Matt Harvey NYM 20.0 2 26 1.80 0.75
3. Madison Bumgarner SF 14.0 2 18 1.29 0.71
4. Max Scherzer DET 20.0 3 22 2.25 1.00
5. Mike Leake* CIN 23.0 2 10 1.57 0.70
6. Cliff Lee PHI 15.0 2 15 2.40 0.60
7. Corey Kluber* CLE 21.2 3 15 1.66 1.15
8. Matt Cain SF 19.2 1 21 2.29 0.81
9. Jeff Locke* PIT 14.0 1 8 0.00 0.71
10. Ervin Santana KC 14.2 1 9 0.61 0.68
11. Jhoulys Chacin* COL 20.2 3 8 1.74 1.02
12. Chris Capuano* LAD 11.0 1 9 0.00 0.64
13. Erik Bedard* HOU 13.1 1 14 0.68 0.90
14. Josh Collmenter* ARI 8.0 1 9 0.00 0.38
15. C.J. Wilson LAA 14.0 2 7 1.29 0.86
16. Bartolo Colon OAK 21.0 3 10 2.14 1.14
17. Stephen Strasburg WAS 12.0 1 13 1.50 0.83
18. Miguel Gonzalez* BAL 21.2 2 12 2.91 0.83
19. Esmil Rogers* TOR 13.2 2 6 1.98 0.80
20. Gio Gonzalez WAS 14.0 0 19 1.93 0.79

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

1. Jose Fernandez, MIA (Tues.) vs. Minnesota (63% owned)
The star rookie pitcher won't win a ton of games this year due to his team, but he is starting to show people why he was such an elite prospect. He's allowed three earned runs in his last three starts (20.0 IP) with 25 strikeouts and two wins. Look for more against the Twins this week.

2. Eric Stults, SD (Sun.) at Miami (42%)
The Padres starter has a streak of five consecutive starts with two runs allowed or fewer. He also has just three walks over that span with 25 strikeouts. The Marlins lineup will provide little challenge for the developing eighth-year vet.

3. Jeff Locke, PIT (Tues.) at Seattle (74%)
Locke has been lucky this year but he is starting to prove that it's more than just good BABIP numbers. In five of his last seven starts he has allowed nary a run and has allowed just four total earned runs over that span. A trip to Seattle won't hurt his awesome 2.01/1.13 ratios much.

4. Ricky Nolasco, MIA (Fri.) vs. San Diego (22%)
The Marlins starter has always had tantalizing talent and quality strikeout rates. He has allowed one earned run in three of his last seven starts and has only allowed more than three ER once over that span. The Padres don't have a full complement of (no Yonder Alonso, Everth Cabrera or Cameron Maybin) players and could afford some good numbers.

5. Kyle Lohse, MIL (Tues.) vs. Chicago Cubs (49%)
He has posted three straight starts with one earned run (20.0 IP) and got one of his two wins this year. He struck out 14 over that span with just 19 baserunners. Expect another quality start from the Brewers starter.

Closing Morsels:

The Tigers DFAed Jose Valverde after a couple of horrendous outings so Joaquin Benoit becomes the go-to guy in Motown. This is a last-resort option right now until Detroit can find a full-time ninth inning guy. Proceed with caution... Boston's Andrew Bailey gave up four home runs over the last few weeks and while he could certainly regain the closer's job at some point, it appears the Red Sox will use a committee to finish off games for the time being. Koji Uehara gets the first look while Junichi Tazawa and lefty Andrew Miller could also figure into the mix. Add in that order and at your own risk... Rafael Betancourt could be back with the Rockies as soon as Thursday and should slide right back into the ninth inning for Colorado... The Brewers' bullpen situation is still in a state of flux as Jim Henderson and Francisco Rodriguez have seen time as both set-up and closing options. Last year's star closer, John Axford, hasn't figured in the mix. K-ROD might be 1a while Henderson is 1b.

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

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: June 24</p>
Post date: Monday, June 24, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/accs-top-heisman-contenders-2013
Body:

The ACC has won two Heisman Trophies. Ever.

Florida State has provided both awards to the league when quarterbacks Chris Weinke won the award in 2000 and Charlie Ward took home the stiff-armed trophy in 1993. Both quarterbacks also have National Championship rings on their fingers as well.

Needless to say, the ACC is lagging behind the rest of big-time college football when it comes to the most prestigious award in sports. Miami and Boston College do have Heismans sitting in their trophy cases but those — Vinny Testaverde, Doug Flutie and Gino Torretta — all took place in the Big East Conference. And C.J. Spiller in 2006 was the last ACC player to even crack the top 10 in the voting.

So could 2013 break the 12-year Heisman drought in the ACC? It’s certainly possible as more than one elite player has a chance to represent the league in New York come December.

Here are the ACC’s top Heisman candidates for 2013 (complete with current Vegas odds):

1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (16/1)
Few players posted numbers comparable to Johnny Heisman, but Boyd was one of them. He led the ACC in passing efficiency (165.59) and total offense (339.2 ypg) and was fifth and seventh in each category nationally. He scored 46 total touchdowns (36 pass, 10 rush) and has a host of elite weapons returning. More importantly, this team should be the preseason favorite in the ACC with Boyd under center and Chad Morris calling the plays. He is one of few players who will have the numbers, the marquee showdowns (vs. Georgia, at South Carolina), the potential championship and the offensive support to win the Heisman.

2. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (14/1)
The De’Anthony Thomas of the East Coast, Johnson led the ACC in kickoff returns and was third in all-purpose running as just a freshman. As the season went on, Al Golden trusted Johnson more on offense and he topped 100 yards three times in his last four games. The key will be his role in 2013 as Golden looks to get him more involved in the traditional offense. He could see a big jump from 139 carries a year ago, and should that happen, fans can bet the sophomore speedster's numbers will be eye-popping.

3. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (--)
When it comes to raw upside and physical talent, Watkins is second to none nationally. But staying healthy and focused has been an issue for the electric playmaker, causing him to miss four games in his first two years. With DeAndre Hopkins off to the NFL and his quarterback Boyd returning, the sky could be the limit for the star wideout. Consistency will be the name of the game for the junior-to-be.

4. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech (--)
Many people were massively disappointed by the 260-pound quarterback in 2012. He rallied the Hokies late and the offense should be improved in 2013 under new coordinator Scott Loeffler, but Thomas needs to show more growth as a passer (18 TD, 16 INT) to get to New York. The good news is he did run the ball more effectively and threw it with more accuracy as a sophomore than he did as a junior. A return to 2011 will get Thomas back in the mix.

5. Stephen Morris, QB, Miami (25/1)
The Canes quarterback blossomed as a junior in 2012. Morris set a Miami single-season total offense record (3,415) as well as the ACC’s all-time single-game record with 566 yards against NC State. In fact, he threw for over 1,000 yards (1,002) over a two-game span to finish the month of September. He proved to be dependable as well, tossing just seven interceptions in a school-record 421 attempts. With the youth developing around him and the running game improving, the Hurricanes gunslinger is poised for a big senior season this fall.

6. Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland (40/1)
This dynamic, explosive all-purpose talent can do a little bit of everything. As just a true freshman, he is the leading returning all-purpose “runner” in the ACC at 172.4 yards per game and a sick 15.7 yards per play. He ran the ball 20 times for 114 yards. He caught 54 passes for 848 yards. He returned 22 punts for 221 yards. And he returned 25 kicks for 713 yards. He could easily double his eight total touchdowns from a year ago and that would put him squarely in Player of the Year contention.

7. Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina (--)
Playing in Larry Fedora’s high-flying offensive scheme will give Renner a chance to compete for the nation’s top honor. He lost plenty of talent to the NFL (Gio Bernard, Jonathan Cooper) but also has tons of future draft picks returning. He trails only Boyd as the ACC’s most efficient returning starter as he tossed just seven interceptions and completed 65.4-percent of his passes a year ago (422 att.). He won’t add much to the running game so he will have to post huge numbers through the air — and likely win the Coastal Division — to get Heisman consideration. But after 3,356 yards, 28 TDs and a co-division title a year ago, that isn’t far fetched at all.

8. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State (--)
The raw talent and pure athletic ability of Winston has fans in Tallahassee raving about their future signal-caller. He has a huge arm, elite size, above-average mobility and the poise of an upperclassman. If his offensive line and running game can give him some help, Winston could easily lead his team to an ACC title and complete for Player of the Year honors.

9. Vad Lee, QB, Georgia Tech (--) 
Lee is the next in line to pilot Paul Johnson’s triple option attack. Like Josh Nesbitt and Tevin Washington before him, Lee’s physicality and athletic ability are a perfect match for the Yellow Jackets’ offensive scheme. Lee saw his playing time steadily increase last season, as Johnson got more comfortable going to the sophomore. He got 19 carries and threw nine passes in the first six games, but carried 77 times for 358 yards and six touchdowns while throwing 47 times over the final eight games of the year. His playing time last year should help the 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior-to-be immensely as he takes over as the leader of the Ramblin’ Wreck in '13.

10. Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse (--)
In his first year as the starter, Smith delivered admirably with 1,171 yards on 227 carries. The 220-pounder came on strong in the second half as well, posting five 100-yard efforts and all three touchdowns in the season’s final seven games. Look for a new coaching staff and new quarterback to lean on Smith early and often in 2013.

11. Kevin Parks, RB, Virginia (--)
The short but powerful running back is finally looking at a full-time work load for the Cavaliers. And with Steve Fairchild now calling the plays, Parks could be in for a huge season. The powerful little back is great between the tackles and, despite splitting time his first two years, has had plenty of success around the goal line (15 career TD).

12. James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State (--)
The Noles tailback was one of the most highly touted prospects in the nation a few years ago and 2013 is his time to shine. He is an extremely gifted and physical player who is at his best between the tackles and around the goal line — as his 11 touchdowns last year indicate. He only gets better with a heavy workload and could become a star as a junior. He could easily be Winston’s best friend early in the season as Jimbo Fisher breaks in his new quarterback.

Best of the Rest:

13. Tanner Price, QB, Wake Forest
14. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
15. James Hurst, OL, North Carolina
16. David Sims, RB, Georgia Tech
17. Roderick McDowell, RB, Clemson
18. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State
19. Quinshad Davis, WR, North Carolina
20. Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest

Five Defensive Players to Watch:

Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
Lamarcus Joyner, DB, Florida State
Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina


Prep for the 2013 season on Twitter @AthlonSports


Related College Football Content

ACC Predictions for 2013
ACC's 2013 All-Conference Team
College Football's Top 25 Teams for 2013
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 26-40
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 41-60
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 61-80
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 81-100
College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of BCS Era
College Football's Top 50 Wide Receivers of BCS Era
College Football's Top 30 Tight Ends of the BCS Era

Teaser:
<p> The ACC's Top Heisman Contenders in 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, June 24, 2013 - 08:00
Path: /nfl/minnesota-vikings-2013-schedule-analysis
Body:

There are plenty of storylines to track in Minnesota this year. The team made the playoffs a year ago and Adrian Peterson topped 2,000 yards rushing. Can either repeat remains to be seen. And since scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season, Athlon is analyzing every team's 16-game slate.

Minnesota Vikings 2013 Schedule:

Week 1: at Detroit
Week 2: at Chicago
Week 3: Cleveland
Week 4: Pittsburgh
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Carolina
Week 7: at New York Giants (Mon.)
Week 8: Green Bay
Week 9: at Dallas
Week 10: Washington (Thurs.)
Week 11: at Seattle
Week 12: at Green Bay
Week 13: Chicago
Week 14: at Baltimore
Week 15: Philadelphia
Week 16: at Cincinnati
Week 17: Detroit

Order your 2013 Minnesota Vikings Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

Out of the Gate: There are wins to be had for Minnesota in the first four weeks of the season. They won't be easy and they carry plenty of importance, but these games are winnable. Road trips to divisional foes Detroit and Chicago open the 2013 season before home games with AFC North foes Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Only one of those four is picked to make the postseason (PIT) and that one comes at home. The first month also ends with an off weekend in Week 5.

Toughest Stretch: The Vikings better pick up some wins early in the year because few teams will deal with a six-week stretch like Minnesota will from Week 7 to Week 12. Four road games against the Giants, Cowboys, Seahawks and Packers sandwiched around home tests with the Redskins and Packers makes this arguably the toughest six-week slate in all of the NFL in 2013.

Swing Games: CAR (Week 6), at SEA (Week 11)
Crossover Divisions: NFC East, AFC North
Bye Week: Week 5
Opp. 2012 W/L %: .516 (10th)
Athlon's SOS Rank: 2nd

Easiest Stretch: The first four weeks and the final three provide some chances for wins. Philadelphia and Detroit combined for 24 losses a year ago and the Vikings will play both at home in the final three weeks. Certainly, a road trip to Cincy won't be easy, but a 2-1 finish is a must for the Vikes. As is a 3-1 start if the Purple People Eaters want to return to the postseason.

Circle The Calendar: Anytime All Day is running the football it should be appointment viewing. And he could be pushing for another 2,000-yard season in the final month of the season. But a mid-season road trip to Seattle could give football fans a matchup between the league's best defense and the league's best running back. That game will be as physical as any in the league this fall.

Divisional Notes: Not many teams will start the season with back-to-back divisional games on the road like the Vikings. The good news is that it isn't the Packers, but getting off to a fast start won't be easy with trips to Detroit and Chicago. More bad NFC North news kicks in during that nasty six-game stretch that will include two with the division favorite Packers. A home game with the Bears would be the seventh game in that stretch. The only good news in the division for Minnesota is a home season finale against the Lions — which could be a huge playoff-clinching type of win.

Playoff Push: There are worse ways to finish the season. There are three extremely winnable home games against the Bears, Eagles and Lions in the final five weeks. The two AFC North road trips to Baltimore and Cincinnati look equally as daunting but nether is picked by Athlon Sports to win their division. The first and last months will determine where the Vikings end up next season.

Buy your 2013 Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Preview Magazine

Fantasy Playoff Run (Weeks 14-16): It doesn’t matter which team the Vikings play: If you own Adrian Peterson, you are taking your chances with the reigning MVP. For this season’s fantasy playoffs, Peterson gets three of last season’s middle of the pack fantasy defenses against RBs in Baltimore (18th), Philadelphia (16th) and Cincinnati (15th). Even if Christian Ponder shows dramatic improvement in 2013, the Ravens and Bengals were both in the top six fantasy defenses against QBs.


2013 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East AFC North AFC South AFC West
Buffalo Baltimore Houston Denver
Miami (6/25) Cincinnati Indianapolis Kansas City (6/24)
New England (6/26) Cleveland Jacksonville Oakland (6/28)
NY Jets (6/27) Pittsburgh (7/1) Tennessee (7/3) San Diego (7/2)
       
NFC East NFC North NFC South NFC West
Dallas  Chicago Atlanta Arizona
NY Giants (6/25) Detroit Carolina St. Louis (6/27)
Philadelphia (6/26) Green Bay New Orleans (6/24) San Francisco (6/28)
Washington (7/3) Minnesota Tampa Bay (7/2) Seattle (7/1)


Other Related NFL Content:

Ranking the NFL's Toughest Schedules of 2013
10 Things Every Fan Should Know about the 2013 NFL Schedule

Teaser:
<p> Athlon breaks down each and every team's schedule for the 2013 NFL season.</p>
Post date: Friday, June 21, 2013 - 12:20
Path: /nfl/timeline-demise-new-england-patriots
Body:

This isn’t going to be pretty for the New England Patriots.


Contract disputes, broken forearms, video scandals and Super Bowl disappointments are one thing. Murder is an entirely different issue all together.


New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who is originally from Bristol, Conn., has been tied to the investigation of the murder of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd near the tight end’s $1.3 million Massachusetts home. Lloyd was shot and found dead Monday night about a mile from Hernandez’ North Attleborough mansion.


And it doesn’t look good for the Patriots star tight end.


Every American has the right to be “innocent until proven guilty,” but the court of public opinion has no choice but to rule on Hernandez. His track record of behavior has been well documented and in no way conjures up an image of innocence.


Hernandez is currently the subject of a civil lawsuit in which he allegedly shot a Connecticut man in February — a man who claims to have been a friend of his for many years. He also has a long history of drug issues both at Florida and throughout the NFL Draft process.


Unfortunately, for the once untouchable and revered football genius that is Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, this is simply the latest — and by far the worst — incident in a long line of questionable occurrences that have slowly destroyed this once proud football team.

New England hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 2004 and a murder investigation will be the final nail in the Pats' dynastic coffin. The franchise became the shining example for NFL success when it won three Super Bowls in four years in the early 2000s. However, for the better part of the last decade, this organization has been cannibalizing itself with more punch lines than a Jaguars home game in December.


And its demise began with a perfect season.


2007: Randy Moss and Spygate
Moss is an awesome football player. There is no doubting his ability. But there are plenty of doubts about his character, work ethic and dedication. But Belichick took a risk on the troubled wideout and it paid off in the short term with a monster '07 season. Moss helped lead the Patriots to the NFL’s second unbeaten regular season in history. That same year, however, Belichick was also hit with the largest fine ever imposed on an NFL coach during the 87-year history of the league. Busted for filming the New York Jets’ sideline signals during a game, he was fined $500,000 while the Patriots were hit with a $250,000 fine of their own and forced to forfeit their 2008 first-round pick. Moss had plenty of success for the Pats but his career in Boston came to an abrupt and controversial end three years later when he was traded four weeks into the 2010 season.


2008: Super Bowl XLII
Tom Brady was 3-0 in Super Bowls when he and Moss led the 18-0 Patriots into Super Bowl XLII against the upstart New York Giants, who won the NFC title after getting into the playoffs as a wild card team. With history within the Patriots' grasp, the highest scoring team (589 points) the NFL has ever seen was held to just 14 points by a stellar Giants defensive line. Eli Manning and David Tyree were the heroes that Super Sunday, not Brady or Moss. It was the beginning of the end.


2009: Scott Pioli Heads West
The VP of Player Personnel in New England responsible for building all but one of the Patriots' Super Bowl teams left the organization following the 2008 season to become the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs. This is what Belichick had to say when he lost his long-time wingman: “To sum up in words everything Scott Pioli has meant to this organization and to me personally would be difficult, if not impossible. There is no more capable, hardworking, loyal, team-oriented person than Scott Pioli.” Needless to say, losing Pioli was a huge blow to the Patriots' long-term stability and personnel decisions have been questionable at best since his departure.


2009: Fourth and 2

With 2:23 left in the fourth quarter of a critical Week 10 showdown with archrival Peyton Manning and the Colts, Belichick’s coaching prowess was called into question for the first time. Leading by six, he elected to go for it on fourth and two from his own 28-yard line. The Patriots failed to convert and the Colts scored three plays later to win the game 35-34. It was the first crack in Belichick’s coaching armor, as he was skewered by fans and experts alike for the horrendous decision. His public whining about the spot of the ball the following Monday only stoked the media fire.


2010: The Tight End Draft
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were elite college players, but both had major red flags on their draft resumes. This is why the Patriots were able to snag both players in the second and fourth rounds, respectively, in the 2010 NFL Draft. Hernandez has an obviously checkered past (and present) off the field and Gronkowski was a wild man with severe injury problems while at Arizona. Well, after three seasons in the league, both players’ warts have returned to haunt New England. Gronkowski can’t stay healthy or out of grainy, late-night cell phone videos while Hernandez is involved in a murder investigation. (Brandon Spikes also was part of this draft class.)


2010: Brandon Spikes Suspended
The troubled middle linebacker from Florida was a second-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. The talented tackler violated the NFL’s banned substances policy, however, and was suspended for four games prior to Week 14 of his rookie year. Additionally, he was involved in a bizarre sex tape incident with Doc Rivers' daughter, Callie, and his brother is serving a life sentence in prison for first-degree murder after a drug deal went bad in 2001. Neither of these tidbits are an indictment of his character but are merely statements of fact.


2011: Albert Haynesworth Trade
The Patriots gave up a fifth-round pick in late July 2011 to acquire the troubled and self-absorbed defensive tackle. Haynesworth built a long reputation for poor work ethic and is widely considered a clubhouse cancer. He lasted six games with New England and was placed on waivers four months later after a public sideline confrontation with assistant coach Pepper Johnson.


2012: Super Bowl XLVI
The Patriots once again met the New York Giants in the biggest sporting event of the year. And once again, Brady was defeated by the younger Manning. The Patriots coughed up yet another second half lead to the G-Men as Manning led three unanswered scoring drives in the final 21 minutes of play. The Patriots were held scoreless for the final 26:20.


2012: Aqib Talib's Rap Sheet
Where to begin with the former Kansas Jayhawks star corner? At the rookie symposium, he got into a fight with fellow Bucs rookie Cory Boyd. The following year, he was arrested by Florida police after beating up a taxi driver and resisting arrest. In 2011, a felony warrant was issued for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after he fired a gun at his sister’s boyfriend. And last year, the talented defensive back was suspended by the NFL for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. Belichick and the Pats re-signed Talib to a one-year deal this March.


2013: Wes Welker’s Contract Dispute
Cutting ties with veterans is a tough but necessary part of life in the NFL. Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick had to make a difficult decision on their star wide receiver this offseason, but clearly the Patriots mishandled the situation. Public comments disparaging Welker’s representation were inaccurate and the last-second offer from the Pats left little room for any negotiation. It may seem like an insignificant issue, but it became a very public divorce over a player who will go down as one of the greatest and most beloved in franchise history.


2013: Tebow-a-palooza
Is Belichick simply doing old friend Urban Meyer a favor? Is Robert Kraft simply trying to sell team merchandise during the offseason? Do the Pats think Tim Tebow can play tight end — considering the sudden lack of depth at the position? Or is Belichick simply THAT arrogant? Whatever the reason, the signing of Tebow this summer will be a major distraction with little chance of return on investment.


This, of course, brings us to Odin Lloyd’s murder.


The slow and painful demise of the once venerated franchise appears to be culminating as one of its biggest stars finds himself as the centerpiece of a murder investigation. Innocent or guilty, New England must cut ties with Hernandez immediately and suffer the consequences both from a PR and depth chart standpoint.


Tom Brady is set to enter his 14th NFL season and will turn 36 in August. How many more years does he have left? Two? Maybe three? Yes, the Patriots play in a horrendous AFC East in the much weaker American Football Conference so they should make the playoffs again this fall. But there will come a time in the very near future when Brady will have to walk away from the game. And when that happens, fans in New England better hope the Red Sox and Bruins are still winning games.


Because it sure as hell doesn't look like Belichick will give them anything to cheer about.

Teaser:
<p> Timeline: The Demise of the New England Patriots</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 14:15
All taxonomy terms: Green Bay Packers, NFC, NFC North, NFL
Path: /nfl/green-bay-packers-2013-schedule-analysis
Body:

The Packers have gone to the playoffs four straight seasons and in five of head coach Mike McCarthy's seven seasons. And since scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season, Athlon is analyzing every team's 16-game slate.

Green Bay Packers 2013 Schedule:

Week 1: at San Francisco
Week 2: Washington
Week 3: at Cincinnati
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Detroit
Week 6: at Baltimore
Week 7: Cleveland
Week 8: at Minnesota
Week 9: Chicago (Mon.)
Week 10: Philadelphia
Week 11: at New York Giants
Week 12: Minnesota
Week 13: at Detroit (Thurs.)
Week 14: Atlanta
Week 15: at Dallas
Week 16: Pittsburgh
Week 17: at Chicago

Order your 2013 Green Bay Packers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

Out of the Gate: The start to the season won't be easy for the defending NFC North champs. Two road trips to playoff teams in San Francisco and Cincinnati are packaged around a visit from Robert Griffin III, provided he's healthy and on the field. The first month ends abruptly, however, with the earliest possible off weekend in Week 4. A winning record after the first four weeks would be considered a successful start to the year.

Toughest Stretch: Where to begin? The first three are nasty and a four-week stretch in the middle is equally tough (Weeks 8-11). But the final four games will be the toughest and likely most important. Massive NFC matchups with Atlanta and Dallas lead up to a rare visit from historic AFC power Pittsburgh in Week 16 before the season ends on a tough road trip to Chicago. The Packers' fate — and playoff seeding — won't be determined until the final four weeks of the 2013 campaign.

Swing Games: at SF (Week 1), ATL (Week 14)
Crossover Divisions: NFC East, AFC North
Bye Week: Week 4
Opp. 2012 W/L %: .533 (6th)
Athlon's SOS Rank: 5th

Easiest Stretch: From Week 4 to Week 7, the Packers will face only one tough opponent. The off weekend feeds into home games with Detroit and Cleveland as well as a road trip to Baltimore. Other than the Ravens, who are clearly not the same team that won the Super Bowl, this four-week stretch should allow for the Packers to breathe somewhat. Additionally, this stretch feeds into games with the Vikings, Bears and Eagles — all of whom are picked to miss the playoffs this year.

Circle The Calendar: There are awesome storylines all over this schedule. A trip to the Bay in a playoff rematch in Week 1, a budding rivalry game with the New York Giants and a trip south to hated rival Dallas in Cowboys Stadium are all huge playoff seeding games. But the date to circle is Week 16. A rematch of Super Bowl XL takes place when the Steel Curtain invades Lambeau Field for a rare cross-conference showdown. Arguably the top two fan bases from the top two franchises will meet in a cold late-season battle. What's not to love?

Divisional Notes: The Packers will play five of their six NFC North games in the second half of their season. Only a home game with the Lions dots the first half of the schedule. But in the middle of the year, divisional games will come hot and heavy. Over a six-week stretch from Week 8 to Week 13, Green Bay will play four divisional games. The season then ends with the oldest and best rivalry game in all of the NFL — in Soldier Field in Chicago.

Playoff Push: As mentioned, the final four weeks might be the toughest of the year, so the playoff push isn't going to be easy for the Pack. But that comes with the territory of being one of the most successful and powerful teams in the league. The real issue may be fatigue and roster depletion. The bye week comes so early that Green Bay could be limping into the final few games. Green Bay will play 13 straight games to end its season.

Buy your 2013 Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Preview Magazine

Fantasy Playoff Run (Weeks 14-16): The matchup against Atlanta should be equally entertaining and high scoring, as two of the NFL’s best offenses go head-to-head. The road game against Dallas (19th against the pass in 2012) should be business as usual for Aaron Rodgers and company. The same can’t be said, however, for that championship week date with Pittsburgh, which was No. 1 against the pass and No. 2 against fantasy QBs last season.


2013 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East AFC North AFC South AFC West
Buffalo Baltimore Houston Denver
Miami (6/25) Cincinnati Indianapolis Kansas City (6/24)
New England (6/26) Cleveland Jacksonville (6/21) Oakland (6/28)
NY Jets (6/27) Pittsburgh (7/1) Tennessee (7/3) San Diego (7/2)
       
NFC East NFC North NFC South NFC West
Dallas Chicago Atlanta Arizona
NY Giants (6/25) Detroit Carolina St. Louis (6/27)
Philadelphia (6/26) Green Bay New Orleans (6/24) San Francisco (6/28)
Washington (7/3) Minnesota (6/21) Tampa Bay (7/2) Seattle (7/1)


Other Related NFL Content:

Ranking the NFL's Toughest Schedules of 2013
10 Things Every Fan Should Know about the 2013 NFL Schedule

Teaser:
<p> Athlon breaks down each and every team's schedule for the 2013 NFL season.</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 12:30
All taxonomy terms: Detroit Lions, NFC, NFC North, NFL
Path: /nfl/detroit-lions-2013-schedule-analysis
Body:

Jim Schwartz is entering a critical season in Detroit. A good season is likely needed to keep his job as the Lions' head coach. And since scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season, Athlon is analyzing every team's 16-game slate.

Detroit Lions 2013 Schedule:

Week 1: Minnesota
Week 2: at Arizona
Week 3: at Washington
Week 4: Chicago
Week 5: at Green Bay
Week 6: at Cleveland
Week 7: Cincinnati
Week 8: Dallas
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: at Chicago
Week 11: at Pittsburgh
Week 12: Tampa Bay
Week 13: Green Bay (Thurs.)
Week 14: at Philadelphia
Week 15: Baltimore (Mon.)
Week 16: New York Giants
Week 17: at Minnesota

Order your 2013 Detroit Lions Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

Out of the Gate: The first month isn't all that daunting (relatively speaking, of course) to start the season. None of the four teams to start the Lions' season are predicted to go to the postseason and this group combined for an 0-2 playoffs mark a year ago. With two divisional games coming at home and a winnable trip to the desert, the Lions could easily begin the season with two or even three wins in the first month. A slow start could spell doom for this coaching regime.

Toughest Stretch: Three of the final five games will feature playoff teams from a year ago and it means the toughest portion of the Lions' slate will come in December. Detroit will face the last three Super Bowl champions before capping the season with a visit to the Twin Cities to take on Adrian Peterson — who could be charging for an NFL rushing record in the season finale. And mixed in is a trip to Philly to take on Chip Kelly and what should be a much-improved Eagles team.

Swing Games: at ARI (Week 2, TB( Week 12 )
Crossover Divisions: NFC East, AFC North
Bye Week: Week 9
Opp. 2012 W/L %: .539 (T-2nd)
Athlon's SOS Rank: 16th

Easiest Stretch: There is no easy stretch for the Lions as this team plays seven games against playoff teams from last year. The good news is the schedule features just five games with predicted playoff teams this year. The first month could provide some victories, and Detroit also will have two winnable games against Tampa Bay and Philadelphia over a three-week stretch (Week 12-14) later in the season.

Circle The Calendar: There are loads of historic NFC rivalry games on the schedule this year as the Lions will play the NFC East in crossover play. But a home game against the Bears in Week 4 might be the most important game of the year. A win could cap a successful first month and would give the Lions some momentum in the division heading into back-to-back road games. A loss could send the Lions spiraling into a new coaching staff. A potential record-setting performance from Adrian Peterson in the season finale will also be must-see TV.

Divisional Notes: The worst part of the Lions' NFC schedule is that they don't get to face the Lions twice. The Packers, Bears and Vikings combined for 31 wins a year ago and all three have eyes on the postseason again this year. Detroit will face all three in the first five weeks of the season and wrap up with a road trip to Minnesota. The Bears may be heading in the wrong direction and Green Bay is still the kings of the NFC North, so back-to-back games in Week 4 and 5 against those two rivals could determine the Lions' divisional fate early in the year. Games with the Vikings bookend the 2013 campaign.

Playoff Push: The month of December will likely be the toughest five-week stretch for the Lions in '13. It means they will have to get work done before the calendar flips. The Packers and Giants are picked to win their divisions this year and the Ravens are the defending champs. If Schwartz wants to keep his job, he better have plenty of wins before he enters the final month of the season.

Buy your 2013 Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Preview Magazine

Fantasy Playoff Run (Weeks 14-16): Matthew Stafford will be more than happy to see just how far Philadelphia’s defense, which allowed the second-most fantasy points to QBs last season, has come. At first glance the Ravens and Giants may look scary, but the Lions get both at home, inside on the turf, and both defenses, especially the defending Super Bowl champs, have seen a lot of changes on their respective depth charts.


2013 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East AFC North AFC South AFC West
Buffalo Baltimore Houston Denver
Miami (6/25) Cincinnati Indianapolis (6/20) Kansas City (6/24)
New England (6/26) Cleveland Jacksonville (6/21) Oakland (6/28)
NY Jets (6/27) Pittsburgh (7/1) Tennessee (7/3) San Diego (7/2)
       
NFC East NFC North NFC South NFC West
Dallas Chicago Atlanta Arizona
NY Giants (6/25) Detroit Carolina St. Louis (6/27)
Philadelphia (6/26) Green Bay (6/20) New Orleans (6/24) San Francisco (6/28)
Washington (7/3) Minnesota (6/21) Tampa Bay (7/2) Seattle (7/1)


Other Related NFL Content:

Ranking the NFL's Toughest Schedules of 2013
10 Things Every Fan Should Know about the 2013 NFL Schedule

Teaser:
<p> Athlon breaks down each and every team's schedule for the 2013 NFL season.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime, Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/greatest-and-most-bizarre-athlete-name-changes-all-time
Body:

What’s in a name? Much more than a few letters, that is for sure.

Teams change their nicknames all the time. Some organizations refuse to change their name despite odd arithmetic — looking at you, Big Ten. Everything from branding to religion has been cited as a reason to change a name. Some have done it simply to gain exposure and command headlines while others have been forced to change due to societal pressures and sensitivities.

However, this list doesn't apply to the men-less Syracuse Orange or 10-team Big 12 Conference. This one is dedicated just to the greatest and most bizarre athlete name changes of all-time. Here are some of our favorites:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Born: Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr.

Growing up in Harlem, Alcindor was quickly discovered as one of the greatest basketball prospects in the history of the sport. He led Power Memorial Academy to three straight New York City Catholic titles before signing with UCLA and leading the Bruins to three straight national championships. He was raised Roman Catholic, however, before his final season at UCLA he joined the Nation of Islam and converted to Sunni Islam in the summer of 1968. The move prompted a name change to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which means "generous servant of the mighty one." At an official press conference in June 1971, the reigning NBA MVP told the world he wanted to go by his Islamic name instead of his given name.

Muhammad Ali
Born: Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.

Named after his father and raised a Baptist by his mother in Louisville, Ky., Ali won a pair of national Golden Gloves titles, an Amateur Athletic Union National Championship and a Light Heavyweight Gold Medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics as Cassius Clay. Clay won his first World Heavyweight Championship against Sonny Liston in 1964 — the same year he joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Eleven years later, Ali officially converted to Sunni Islam. He likely didn't have to change his already intimidating name to become arguably "The Greatest" in American sports history.

Metta World Peace
Born: Ronald Williams Artest, Jr.

Not only is this name change one of the most bizarre, it’s also the most ironic. From the Queensbridge projects in Queens, New York, Artest had a hardened edge from his childhood — one story has him witnessing a murder on the court of a YMCA hoops tournament. After three years at St. John’s, the troubled Artest was a first-round pick by the Bulls. In 2004, Artest sprinted into the stands to attack a fan and was given the longest suspension in NBA history. Artest has gained a reputation for being a great defender on the basketball court, but he also never lost his troubled edge. However, in 2011 in a bizarre effort to change his entrenched image and “inspire and bring youth together all around the world,” he officially changed his first name to “Metta” and his surname to “World Peace.”

Sugar Ray Robinson
Born: Walker Smith, Jr.

Many believe the welterweight and middleweight champion was the best pound-for-pound fighter of all time. But many don’t know his birth certificate from Ailey, Ga., read Walker Smith, Jr. After moving to Harlem, and at 14 years old, he attempted to enter his first boxing tournament. But since AAU had a 16-year-old age minimum, Smith had to borrow his friend’s membership card in order to compete. His friend’s name was Ray Robinson. His manager George Gainford added “Sugar” a few years later because his boxing style was a “sweet as sugar.” The rest is history.

Chad Ochocinco
Born: Chad Javon Johnson

The brash wide receiver has made a lot of bizarre — and questionable — decisions in his time as an athlete. Through social media and savvy business moves, Johnson grew his brand both on and off the field until his absurd 2008 name change. Interestingly enough, his official name to change to Chad Ochocinco — which doesn’t even mean eighty-five — coincided with his worst season in the NFL to date. He was never the same player again, has since changed his name back to Chad Johnson and was released from the Dolphins in 2012 due to domestic abuse issues.

Ahmad Rashad
Born: Robert Earle Moore

A College Football Hall of Famer, Moore starred at Oregon as both a wide receiver and running back. He was drafted in 1972 in the first round by the St. Louis Cardinals and converted to Islam the same year. Bobby Moore became Ahmad Rashad — meaning "Admirable One Led to Truth" in Arabic — after his mentor Rashad Khalifa. He played for 11 seasons in the NFL and has built a remarkable career as one of sports top broadcasters.

The other Karim Abdul-Jabbar
Born: Sharmon Shah

Shah was a standout running back for the UCLA Bruins in 1995 and was already a member of the Muslim faith when his Imam gave him a new name. The newly minted Karim Abdul-Jabbar quickly gained national notoriety due to its similarities to famed Bruins great hoops star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The basketball Abdul-Jabbar filed a lawsuit in 1998 against the football Abdul-Jabbar, feeling the then Dolphins running back was profiting from the hoops Hall of Famer’s name. Thus, Shah changed his name a third time and is now known as Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar.

Fausto Carmona
Born: Roberto Heredia Hernandez

This story is a long and circuitous one for the current Tampa Bay Rays pitcher. In order to play professional baseball in America, the Dominican native had to obtain an illegal visa under the name Fausto Carmona. He debuted for the Cleveland Indians in 2006 and went 19-8 in his second season, as he helped the Indians to the playoffs in 2007. However, in January 2012, Dominican police arrested Hernandez after leaving the U.S. Consulate, accusing him of using a false identity. When the Indians found out that not only was their starting pitcher not named Fausto Carmona but was also three years older than reported, they placed him on the restricted list. He signed with the Rays 12 months later and is now a member of their starting rotation.

World B. Free
Born: Lloyd Bernard Free

A former NAIA star at Guildford College, Free landed in the NBA as a second-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers. But in 1981, on his third NBA team, Free legally changed his first name from Lloyd to World. His nickname “All-World” was the inspiration. He played for five different NBA teams over a 12-year NBA career. He was an All-Star as a Golden State Warrior, was honored by Cleveland as a “Cavaliers Legend” and is currently a Director of Player Development and Community Ambassador for the 76ers.

Bison Dele
Born: Brian Carson Williams

Dele’s story is a tragic and bizarre one that involves a famous musician father (Eugene Williams of The Platters), a nine-year NBA career, a post-career name change honoring his Native American and African ancestry and a terrible South Pacific disappearance. A catamaran trip with Captain Bertrand Saldo, girlfriend Serena Karlan and brother Miles Dabord (born Kevin Williams) ended when Dabord brought the boat into port in Tahiti by himself. No one has ever heard from anyone else aboard the ship since and Dabord eventually overdosed on insulin months after the fatal voyage while reportedly under police suspicion, only adding to the mysterious circumstances.

Pele
Born: Edison Arantes do Nascimento

Born in Brazil and named after Thomas Edison, Pele’s name doesn’t come from a religious belief, bizarre self-image or important family heritage. The greatest soccer player the world has ever seen is named Pele because he couldn’t say his favorite player’s name correctly when growing up. Local Vasco da Gama goalkeeper Bile was young Nasciemento’s favorite player but he couldn’t say the name correctly and it stuck — despite years of trying to rid himself of the nickname. Now, his one-word name is the most recognized in all of soccer history worldwide.

Leo Nunez
Born: Juan Carlos Oviedo

At age 17, the Dominican pitcher started using the name Leo Nunez — his 16-year-old best friend at the time. The former Royals and Marlins relief pitcher was simply trying to gain an extra year to sell to MLB clubs. He signed with the Pirates before being traded to the Royals for catcher Benito Santiago. After four uneventful years in Kansas City and four similar ones in Miami, Nunez was placed on the restricted list in September 2011 in order to return to the Dominican. He signed a statement saying he used fake identification and was allowed to re-sign in the majors (Tampa Bay). He is currently on the 60-day disabled list.
 

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf
Born: Chris Wayne Jackson

One of the SEC’s best players, Jackson excelled as a guard at LSU. He was the third overall pick by the Denver Nuggets in 1990 and went on to a 11-year NBA career with three franchises. He converted to Islam in 1991 and officially changed his name in 1993 — the same year he won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. He is best known for not standing for the National Anthem and calling the U.S. flag a symbol of oppression. He played in Turkey, Russia, Italy, Greece, Saudi Arabia and Japan after his NBA career ended.

He Hate Me
Born: Torrold Deshaun Smart

With a first name like Torrold, it is easy to see why Smart wanted to change his name and went by Rod most of his life. However, the former Western Kentucky running back took it to another level when he put “He Hate Me” on the back of his XFL jersey in 2001. Technically, it was short for his nickname “They Hate Me” but it didn’t fit on his Las Vegas Outlaws jersey. While he clearly wasn’t as committed to his nickname as Ochocinco or World Peace because it was just a nickname and not legally changed, Smart’s “He Hate Me” was the XFL’s top selling jersey. After one year in the XFL and one cup of coffee with the Edmonton Eskimos, Smart actually had a brief NFL career with the Eagles (2001) and Panthers (2002-05). Had he legally changed his name, he might be up there with Ron Artest and Chad Johnson.

Hulk Hogan
Born: Terry Eugene Bollea

This might be a reach because the name Hulk Hogan is simply a character created out of thin air. However, Bollea has built a career as a wrestler, actor, TV personality and entrepreneur due to his brand as Hulk Hogan. No actor has ever absorbed a character like Bollea’s permanent transformation and has turned it into a multimillion dollar brand for himself. Why would he ever go back to being called Terry or Gene?

Teaser:
<p> The Greatest and Most Bizarre Athlete Name Changes of All-Time</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 15:30

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